Academic journal article Shofar

Texts and Traditions: A Source Reader for the Study of Second Temple and Rabbinic Judaism, by Lawrence H. Schiffman

Academic journal article Shofar

Texts and Traditions: A Source Reader for the Study of Second Temple and Rabbinic Judaism, by Lawrence H. Schiffman

Article excerpt

Texts and Traditions: A Source Reader for the Study of Second Temple and Rabbinic Judaism, by Lawrence H. Schiffman

Lawrence Schiffman has gathered a rich collection of excerpts from primary sources illustrating the religious aftermath of the destruction of the Second Temple and the development of this piety through the Talmudic period. This body of readings was edited "to provide evidence for the general picture" presented in the author's From Text to Tradition: A History of Second Temple and Rabbinic Judaism, published in 1991. Each section of the Source Reader illustrates its parallel chapter in the earlier work. The introductory essay preceding each chapter in the Source Reader allows it a usefulness quite on its own.

Schiffman's History took a "dynamic and interactive" approach to the various kinds of Judaism that rubbed against each other in the aftermath of the destruction of Solomon's Temple, fairly treating nascent Christianity as one of the sects of Judaism before its radical divergence. Though the Source Reader has twice as many pages as the History it illustrates, it would be impossible even in a more immense reader to provide illustration of anything like the full range of the community life of post-biblical faith.

Unfortunately, written primary examples are not to be found yet for all the various sects. Literary evidence often must be drawn from a sect's critics. The Sadducees, for example, are known from their critics' descriptions, principally Josephus and sections of the Mishnah. Anything like a sampling from all the sects that emerged in the period after the exile will never be available. The winners of religious contests as well as wars write the memoirs. It is their privilege to cast the losers as they will.

How illuminating it would be to read, from their own hand, the pious motivations of the Zealots who sacrificed themselves at Masada. What we have of their fervent views from Josephus' Jewish War did not capture the thoughtful foundation of the intense faith so many people were willing to die for. Other sects, whose identity blended in with the life of the remote towns and villages where they lived, will remain forever unidentified until a civil engineer's bulldozer scrapes aside layers of earth, revealing some precious page describing an unknown community's private attempt at living the Torah life in a difficult time.

It would be fascinating to read more of how the mix of alien ideologies came into Judaism during the Persian and Greek periods. The evidence is reflected, among other places, in the silent synagogue floor mosaics of the third and fourth centuries C.E. The canards Josephus summarized in his Against Apion suggest confused Gentile attempts to understand Judaism as well as graceless slander. As Louis Feldman has ably demonstrated, there was philosemitism as well as antisemitism in the ancient world. …

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