The Hebrew Bible: New Insights and Scholarship

By Frederick E. Greenspahn | Go to book overview

Chapter 8

From Judaism to Biblical Religion
and Back Again

Ziony Zevit

Although a pseudo-historical, rabbinic tradition maintains that Judaism evolved from the biblical religion of ancient Israel and that the rabbis who lived after the destruction of the Second Temple guided this evolution through oral teachings originating at Sinai, critical historians think otherwise. A contemporary understanding of the relationship between the religion of ancient Israel and Judaism tends to see rabbinic Judaism as the end-product of a radical reformation by closely knit circles of likeminded, passionately religious men over a period of some 300 years, from about 100 B.C.E. to 200 C.E. These remarkable individuals revamped totally whatever ancient Israelite religion had become by the second Hellenistic century, reforming it in accordance with the sensibilities of their particular form of Judaeo-Hellenistic culture, transforming it into a new religion.

Although new in fact, their Judaism fiercely maintained the authority of the Bible as a divinely ordained constitutional document, the divine origin of the Torah, and the dogma of monotheism. In order to accommodate biblical texts to newly emerged social, political, economic, and intellectual circumstances, the rabbis also accepted that the older texts had to be interpreted and assumed the authority to do so. The assumption of such authority would have been meaningless had they not had supporters and followers. The institution they created as a place of gathering for study, teaching, adjudicating, and even praying was the study house.

Rabbinic Judaism differed from Israelite religion in that its leaders were not charismatic prophets and not teachers descended from priestly families passing on traditional lore. During the First Temple period and part of

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