The Four Stages of Rabbinic Judaism

The Four Stages of Rabbinic Judaism

The Four Stages of Rabbinic Judaism

The Four Stages of Rabbinic Judaism


This concise volume provides a lucid introduction to the genesis and development of Rabbinic Judaism.Jacob Neusner outlines and examines the four stages in which the initial period of the historical development of Rabbinic Judaism divides, beginning with the Pentateuch and ending with its definitive and normative statement in the Talmud of Babylonia. He traces the development of Rabbinic Judaism by exploring the relationships between and among the cognate writings which embody its formative history.


Rabbinic Judaism privileges the Pentateuch as the verbatim record of part of God’s revelation Moses at Sinai, the written part. To frame their statement the sages of that Judaism transformed the narrative and diverse case-rules of the Pentateuch into a systematic account of holy Israel’s social norms. Then the whole Torah, written and oral, set forth the law and theology of the social order that God had in mind in revealing himself by giving the Torah to Moses for Israel. the priority accorded to the Pentateuch by Rabbinic Judaism in its formative age provides the definitive indicator of that Judaism, marking that off from all other Judaisms of the same time and place. Other, competing Judaisms privileged other portions of Scripture altogether and none of them built their normative structure upon the foundations of the Pentateuch in particular. Only Rabbinic Judaism did. By “the Pentateuchal stage,” therefore, I mean, how do the Five Books of Moses, read as a continuous, unfolding story, shape the religious system that accords to those books a primary position?


To begin with, we have to take up what is logically the generative issue: What lessons are there to be learned from the Pentateuch when read as the principal part of God’s revelation to Moses?

The first response is negative but carries its own positive charge as well: sages did not read the Pentateuch as a linear, historical account of one-off events arranged in exact chronological sequence, nor did they receive an uninterpreted Scripture from Sinai. They therefore did not come to Scripture anticipating an account of beginnings, middles, and endings, nor did they account for themselves by telling stories, nor did they turn to Scripture for historical facts bearing self-evident messages of a normative character. Were sages to instruct us

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