Akiva: Life, Legend, Legacy

Akiva: Life, Legend, Legacy

Akiva: Life, Legend, Legacy

Akiva: Life, Legend, Legacy

Synopsis

The legendary Akiva ben Yosef has fascinated Jews for centuries. One of and arguably the most important of the Tannaim, or early Jewish sages, Akiva lived during a crucial era in the development of Judaism as we know it today, and his theology played a major part in the development of Rabbinic Judaism. Reuven Hammer details Akiva's life as it led to a martyr's death and he delves into the rich legacy Akiva left us.

That legacy played an extraordinarily important role in helping the Jewish people survive difficult challenges to forge a vibrant religious life anew, and it continues to influence Jewish law, ethics, and theology even today. Akiva's contribution to the development of Oral Torah cannot be overestimated, and in this first book written in English about the sage since 1936 Hammer reassesses Akiva's role from the period before the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE until the Bar Kokhba revolt in 135 CE. He also assesses new findings about the growth of early Judaism, the reasons why Akiva was so outspoken about "Christian Jews," the influence of Hellenism, the Septuagint, and the canonization of the Hebrew Bible. Ultimately Hammer shows that Judaism without Akiva would be a very different religion.

Excerpt

I consider it a privilege to be writing a book about Akiva ben Yosef for the Jewish Publication Society, not only because of the significance of the subject, but because the first important work on Akiva in English was written some eighty years ago by my esteemed teacher and mentor Louis Finkelstein of blessed memory and reprinted by jps in 1962 (Akiba: Scholar, Saint and Martyr). It is important, however, to make it clear that this volume is not intended in any way as an update or revision of Professor Finkelstein’s monumental work. His book remains an outstanding study that still stands on its own merits. More importantly, his work and mine are fundamentally different in their aims. Professor Finkelstein, with his encyclopedic knowledge and breadth of vision, took all the sources, integrated them, and created a full-fledged biography of the great Sage, placing the sources in historical contexts according to his understanding. My work, on the other hand, makes no such attempt, since current scholarship places a great emphasis on differentiating between the reliability of various sources.

Over the past half-century much progress has been made in understanding the history of the period between the end of the Great Revolt and that of the Bar Kokhva Rebellion (73 CE–135 CE) as well as in the way in which the Rabbinic sources concerning that period are to be understood. Modern scholarship and new, more sophisticated interpretation of the Rabbinic sources have changed our perspective on many aspects of Rabbi Akiva’s life and legacy. Not all scholars agree on all of these matters concerning Akiva, as is to be expected. Some seek ways to verify the historicity of at least . . .

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