Roots of Rabbinic Judaism: An Intellectual History, from Ezekiel to Daniel, by Gabriele Boccaccini

By Fonrobert, Charlotte | Shofar, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview
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Roots of Rabbinic Judaism: An Intellectual History, from Ezekiel to Daniel, by Gabriele Boccaccini


Fonrobert, Charlotte, Shofar


Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002. 230 pp. $24.00.

With the present volume Gabriele Boccaccini presents a fascinating and creative narrative of the evolution of Judaism during what is commonly called the Second Temple Period. Indeed, this book is seductive in its ambition since it offers a comprehensive narrative with few problems left unsolved. Josephus' historiography of Second Temple politics is combined with a reading of numerous Jewish texts from the period leading up to the Maccabean revolt, and each and every texts fits neatly into the intellectual trajectories as Boccaccini develops them in his narrative. In its very comprehensiveness, however, the book also arouses suspicions as to whether in the end such a narrative can hold, at least to this reviewer.

Roots of Rabbinic Judaism is part of Boccaccini's ongoing project to write an "intellectual history of ancient Jewish thought" (p. 27). The author here builds upon ideas developed in two previous monographs (Middle Judaism: Jewish Thought, 300 B.C.E. to 200 C.E., 1991, and Beyond the Essene Hypothesis: The Parting of the Ways between Qumran and Enochic Judaism, 1998). He also promises a future study of the more immediate "origins of rabbinic Judaism," which he considers to be Pharisaism, while the current volume is devoted only to the "roots of rabbinic Judaism," to be sought in the Jewish literature of the Persian and the pre-Maccabean Greek period. It therefore discusses texts with which we are already well familiar, ranging from Ezekiel, the priestly source of the Pentateuch, and Chronicles writings via 1 Enoch and Job, Qohelet, Ben Sirach to Daniel. But Boccaccini's innovativeness lies in undoing traditional canonical boundaries, such as the Hebrew Bible itself. Instead, he regroups the texts into entirely different intellectual or rather ideological trajectories, for which he himself invents somewhat idiosyncratic designations, namely Zadokite, Enochic, and Sapiental Judaism. These three "systems of thought" (p. 31) form the root-system of the "genealogical tree" (p. 36) of Judaism.

Before we turn to analyzing these three systems and their competitive struggles more closely we should take note of what is at stake for the author and his larger project. He draws on scholarship (Jacob Neusner, Martin Jaffee and Shaye Cohen) that recognizes rabbinic Judaism as a post-destruction innovation or "reform movement" (p. xiv) and Christianity as a sibling religion. But he seeks the intellectual roots for both in the Second Temple period. What he describes as Zadokite Judaism, therefore, provides the roots for what will eventually emerge as Rabbinism through the mediation of Pharisaism, while the earliest "roots" of Christianity are to be traced to Enochic Judaism, with more immediate "origins" in the non-Qumran wing of the Essene movement (p. xvi). Thus, the two are not just siblings from the first and second century C.E. onwards. Rather, the kinship metaphor is transformed into that of a genealogical tree. The entire "Judaic tree" (p. 37), of which Christianity "in all the variety of its species" (p. 35) and rabbinic Judaism will eventually form strong and prolific branches, is "the monotheistic religion of YHWH" (p. 35). For Boccaccini, Christianity is a Judaism not simply because Jesus happened to be a Jew, but because it has much earlier roots that feed the "Judaic tree."

Let us then turn briefly to the "tripartition of Jewish thought in the Persian period" that Boccaccini describes in this book. Each of the systems of thought with their corresponding movements has a political history that is matched by a coherent ideology. All three of them are involved in an ongoing straggle with each other which is the product of power struggles on back stage, fought with great intensity.

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