Ancient Judaisms

“Most Jews… already had the belief in the resurrection of the dead, and they believed in a just God who forgave sin.  Thus this new Galilean saviour would be for them a redundancy – there was nothing broken or missing in their system that his death and resurrection could fix or fill”. (Amy-Jill Levine – Professor Vanderbilt and Cambridge)

A strong sense of God’s moral justice was inescapable in contemporary Jewish faith and piety, though it was joined to a sense of his ready forgiveness.  (Leslie Houlden – Professor Kings, Oxford)

Before the ascendancy of the Pharisees and the emergence of rabbinic orthodoxy after the fall of the Second Temple, Judaism was more complex and variegated than we had supposed. The apocalyptic strain in Judaism was much stronger and more widespread than historians of Judaism have thought. Literature with strains of apocalyptic eschatology and exegesis found in such works as Daniel and Revelation, and particularly in the Pseudepigrapha, should have given us warning. But such literature was considered peripheral, the product of strange dreamers on the fringes of Judaism, not the doctrine of major Jewish communities or sects. (Frank Moore Cross – Professor Harvard)

What do Jews say in reply…. If I commit a sin I’ll repent.  The system is built in and allows for human frailty.  And it’s not as if God creates us in such a sinful state that we then depend on God to send me a remedy for that fundamental sinful state.  No.  god knows that we humans are frail creatures we are fallible.  We commit a sin.  We atone for our sins.  We repent.  We engage in Torah study, charity, good deeds.  And that makes up on some level for the sin that we committed.  And that’s fine.  That would be what a Jew would say in reply.  To which a Christian would say “that’s not enough” to which a Jew would say “ it is”.  (Shaye Cohen – Professor Harvard)

The apocalyptic movement became the most important theological movement in Judaism during the Hellenistic period, and it was also to playa decisive role in the formation of Christianity.”(Helmut Koester – Professor Harvard)

All faithful Jews knew they had sinned.  They knew only God could forgive, and they asked God for forgiveness.  They felt subsequently that God had cleansed them of their iniquities.  (Rev. James Charlesworth – Professor Princeton Theological Seminary)

Jesus is commonly spoken of in the New Testament as the one who redeems and saves, as having redeemed the human race and brought it salvation; and in the Old Testament there are many references to God as redeeming and saving.  It was also known from the Old Testament, however, and emphasised by Jesus, that God forgives sins; but it would seem that many Jews were not convinced by a mere statement to this effect.  It was difficult for them to believe that the guilt of their sins had been completely cancelled.  Thus John the Baptist came calling on people to repent of their sins, but he also introduced the symbol of baptism to show that the guilt of their sins had been washed away. (William Montgomery Watt – Professor Edinburgh)

Judaism, I will argue, is best seen not as a single organism-like tradition but as a family of traditions… family resemblance between them…(Michael Satlow – Brown)

How unique is Jesus’ fundamental message?  New Testament scholars… have claimed that the concept of God’s Rule (or the Kingdom of God) was not found within Judaism; hence, the thought was unique to Jesus.  These scholars were not adequately informed of early Jewish thought.  God’s Rule (or the Kingdom of God) appears in numerous Jewish documents that antedate Jesus.  … …  Terms such as God’s Rule (the Kingdom of God) the Son of Man, and the Messiah are found in pre-70 Jewish writings that have been recovered over the past three centuries.  Since Jesus’ closest followers were fishermen or workers, it seems unlike they had access to such documents or were conversant with such concepts and terms.  However, because he was inquisitive, and occupied himself by discussing Torah with Pharisees and others, and was obsessed with knowing God and the traditions of Israel, Jesus probably knew such learned traditions…. Jesus, however, was also creative and developed some revolutionary concepts.  His concept of suffering was extremely challenging to those Jews who expected a triumphant Messiah.   His inclusion of the outcasts and the marginalised was unprecedented and especially offensive to many priests in Jerusalem.  Jesus was a genius.  While he spoke the language of his generation and was deeply influenced by early Jewish theology he did not merely repeat or redefine earlier teachings or traditions.   (Rev. James Charlesworth – Professor Princeton Theological Seminary)

Unfortunately we cannot go back to some “pure, authentic Torah” received and handed on by Moses.  Jewish tradition and Christian tradition both believe there was one, and Jewish tradition believer that it was preserved by the rabbis.  Ultimate, this is a matter of faith.   No one can establish the text of such a Torah, and historians cannot tell us of a time when one monolithic Judaism was accepted unquestionably by all Jews as authentic.  … even in the first century several forms of Judaisms existed side by side, and each lay claim to being the authentic Torah.  Christianity, in its turn, made a similar claim, that Jesus was the “fulfilment” of Torah, and that Christians were the “true Israel”.  (Norman Solomon – Oxford)

Renewal and reform movements in Palestinian Judaism are well represented in the first-century generations preceding the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple AD 70; they flourished in a religious context which lacked sharply defined doctrines and practices, where there was no clearly accepted orthodoxy or authority.  Not only was there a range of distinguishable sects 9the most notable being, of course the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the Essenes – but there was a number of others, most prominent among which was the “Philosophy of Judas” with his politically active followers, the Sicarii and Zealots); there was, in addition a bewildering array of individual ascetics, prophets and preachers who frequently drew in great crowds and commanded dedicated followings.   What they often shared in common was a passion for the Torah and the Temple, but what often distinguished them a was their precise definition, in ritual practice, of purity and sacrifice.  Messianic expectations were in the air – but they were by no means shared equally by all, nor was there even agreement on the nature of those messianic hopes.  (Professor G.W. Clarke – University of Western Australia)

Outside Rome analysis of the religious life of the empire is extremely difficult. The imperial world includes an enormous variety: Roman cults borrowed from Rome, traditional Greek civic cults (as at Nysa), newly created cults (Mithraism, Jews and Christians). It has always been tempting to talk in terms of neat abstract categories: Judaism; Christianity; Mithraism. Those categories, especially Judaism and Christianity, used to be seen as exclusive entities. That is, their theological and practical positions each had a central core, consistent across place and time: round that core were a number of awkward or heretical deviant groups which could be treated as simply marginal. They were exclusive of each other and of other religious groups of the time. However the current trends in the study of Judaism and Christianity are firmly against the normative assumptions of the old picture. So in the context of Judaisms and Christianity it has become conventional to recognise diversity within each system (so “Judaisms”, “Christianities”). It is then a matter for debate as to whether each of these two bundles were neatly separate religions in a way that other religious practices of the Empire clearly were not. (Emily Kearns – Oxford)

The one document above all others that came to predominate in Judaism after the Muslim conquest, both in itself and in its application to the Talmuds, was the Mishnah (meaning “study” or “oral tradition”).  How this text came about, how representative it is of Judaism in the early centuries, and why it became normative are puzzles that none can satisfactorily answer… It is clear that the Mishnah contains early traditions, but it is no easy task to determine the dates of the various traditions or even to confirm the date for the redaction of the Mishnah as 200 CE.  (James K. Aitken – Cambridge)

Many have assumed that there was active Jewish proselytism in the Second Temple period.  (James K. Aitken – Cambridge)

By the end of the Second Temple Period there was already an acknowledgement of a collection of important books in Judaism that paved the way for a canon.  (James K. Aitken – Cambridge)

The most important thing is to disabuse oneself to the idea that the primary role of the prophets was ever seen to be that of predicting the future.  The term they would have used of themselves was the Hebrew word nabi, which refers either to their “call” by God or to the fact that it is their task to issue a “call” or summons to other on his behalf.  Our own word is based on the Greek translation, but even in Greek “prophet” originally meant an interpreter of the divine and only came to mean a predicter because part of that interpretation may of course involve some reference to the future.  Thus it is only once we see them in their own terms that we shall properly understand them.  Any reference to the future always remains subordinate to their primary intention, which is their desire to address God’s call for repentance and justice to their own contemporaries.  … Once, then, we have jettisoned any notion of prediction constituting a major element in the prophetic role, their real concerns can at last begin to emerge in their proper light.  They have a vision of individual and nation responding to the divine covenant in such a way that none is marginalised by all can find their proper place.  Hence a recurring theme is the call for social justice, particularly for those least able to care for themselves – “the stranger, the fatherless and the widow” (e.g.  Jer 7:6).  That the message of the prophets cannot be narrowly confined to purely individualistic notions of salvation is thus one lesson that modern study of the text has forced upon us. Another is that the traditional Protestant contrast of the prophet of the word standing against the ritualistic priest cannot be allowed to continue, except at any rate in a very modified form… it now appears that there was a much closer relationship between prophet and priest than was once thought.  (David Brown – Professor St Andrews previously Durham and Oxford)

Jewish law had been fairly tolerant of fornication between unmarried men and women, of men using Gentile prostitutes, and of concubines – indeed, as the Bible recorded, the ancient Hebrews had often had multiple wives.  (Faramerz Dabhoiwala – Oxford)

Taken as a whole, the Dead Sea Scrolls contain copies – and in some cases multiple copies – of every book in the Hebrew Bible except for the book of Esther… However there is not a single copy of any book from the New Testament to be found among them. There are, though, in the scrolls, a number of statements and ideas that would eventually evolve into portions of the Christian canon and that anticipated the religious developments that were to come very soon.  This is especially evident when comparing the War Scroll, in which God and his angels are described as joining the “Sons of Light” (the Essenes) in wiping out their enemies the “Sons of Darkness” with the gospel of Paul “… For you are all sons of light” … and John “While you have the light believe in the light that you may become sons of light”.  (Eric H. Cline – Professor George Washington, previously Stanford, Yale)

In the Mosaic law there was no rejection of polygamy, and it was practised occasionally by Jews into New Testament times and by some early Christians; but Christians have long rejected this.  (William Montgomery Watt – Professor Edinburgh)

Judaism has a cosmic story to tell, of a divine plan revealed through historical sequences.  This was in sharp contrast to the prevailing view that the world is cyclic: the rotation of good times and bad times, the rise and fall of civilisations, the revolving wheel of fortune.  Even today, the unidirectional linear-time world view of Western civilisation rest uneasily with other cultural motifs, such as the dreaming of the Australian Aborigines or the cyclicity of Hindu and Buddhist cosmologies.  (Paul Davies – Arizona State University)

From the viewpoint of the Jewish and pagan literature in the century following Jesus, Jesus was at most a blip on the radar screen. The term marginal Jew is a way to shock Christians into the realization that Jesus was not a Christian but a Jew, and, far from appearing so important in his own time and place, to many educated people of the time he would have seemed very marginal. (J. P. Meier – Professor University of Notre Dame)

[Babylonian exile] At the same time as Homer’s poems were becoming the national epic of the Greeks, the Judeans started to define themselves by their own biblical texts
and their faraway city “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we
wept when we remembered Zion”… … It was there [in Babylonian exile] that the
Bible began to take shape…. Judaism developed new laws to emphasized that they
were still distinct and special.  (Simon Sebag Montefiore – Professor University of Buckingham)

The trend [in the Roman Empire] towards monotheism starts before Christianity – not
before Judaism, but before Christianity, to a great extent under Jewish
influence. There were either converts to Judaism or what I would call
fellow-travellers – people who thought that the Jewish religion was the best on
the market but who did not want to undergo what was demanded of a convert to Judaism – for men, circumcision for instance – and who were God-fearers, heaven-fearers – people who accepted the idea not only of a single true God above all the
other gods who were not really divine which were reflections and in that sense
who were devaluated and in that sense not really divine.  And some people also believed in the main prophetic tradition of the Hebrew Bible starting from Abraham – who was not really a Jew – and who saw themselves in this long process of prophetic biblical monotheism… or pagan intellectuals who believed that there was only one real
god – the Neo-Platonists.  It is quite broadly recognised that one can speak of pagan monotheists who did not believe in the biblical prophetic monotheism.  So
there are two kinds of pagans who are searching for the one God above all gods,
or beyond all gods.  My instinct tells me
that the attraction of Jewish monotheism starts before the empire through Jewish
communities, including in Rome, the Jewish God offers something that was not
offered or otherwise on the market of religions in a sense.  And to some people this appears very attractive – in particular women in the imperial family and in the upper
classes of society from the fourth century onwards are attracted by Jewish
monotheism.  (Guy Stroumsa – Professor Oxford)

Judaism as polychromatic.  (Guy Stroumsa – Professor Oxford)

[third and fourth century developments]  [As] Peter Brown states flatly: “We live
in a world where it is imperative that we should learn to understand
revolutions.” It is a religious revolution because we are witnessing the
crumbling of the ancient systems of the Greeks and Romans, but also that of
Israel, founded as it was on daily sacrifices at the Temple of Jerusalem. Of
all these religious systems, Judaism alone survived and was able to reconstitute
itself but at the price of radical transformations. (Guy Stroumsa – Professor Oxford)

I would like to try to show how one may

follow, roughly from Jesus to Muhammad, the transformation of

the very concept of religion. In a sense, then, the conversion of

Constantine and the Christianization of the empire permitted

the establishment of a new sort of religion that was unknown in

the ancient world. To a great extent, the religious transformations

of Late Antiquity mark the foundation of European culture… …

merely the consequences? Are the religious ideas of Christians

the source of the observed transformations, or should we say that

the Christians, more so (or better) than other religious groups,

were able to make use of the new conditions offered by a culture

in transformation? Without denying the dialectic between religion and culture,

I support the idea that these transformations

were above all religious in nature.

Sacrifices, especially blood sacrifices,

underline this point. In the ancient world, they were in effect at

the very heart of religious activity, certainly of any public and official

religious activity, both among Jews and pagans. Thus, Emperor Julian,

called the Apostate, could write in the second half

of the fourth century:

“The Jews conduct themselves like Gentiles except that they recognize only one God. This is something particular to them that is foreign to us. For the rest, however, we share the same ground—temples, sanctuaries, altars, rituals of purification, and some injunctions where we do not diverge from each other—or else only in an insignificant way”…. … Well before the interdiction [prohibition] of sacrifices around the end of the
fourth century, however, one could follow a great debate within
Hellenic thought about the necessity and value of sacrifices. On
this subject, there was a profound change in sacrificial ritual, the
linchpin of the pagan system, which was transformed from an
alliance between the community and its gods into the preparation of a mystical experience (Guy Stroumsa – Professor Oxford)

The idea that the blood of the human victim was not spilled, that the sacrifice had been avoided at the last moment, was of course a central idea in Jewish consciousness: this was exactly what had happened to Isaac, whose sacrifice had not been performed. The binding of Isaac, his Aqeda in Genesis 22, was a theme of central importance in first-century Jewish imagination. Much later, when this binding became a sacrifice, it remained a key theme in patristic thought and also in Christian representations, as is shown by the ubiquity of the scene on sarcophagi. Isaac, indeed, quickly becomes in Christian thought a typos, or a figure of Christ…Philo of Alexandria comes back several times to the significance of this  point, he even adds, using the esoteric language of the mystics and announcing the revelation of a great secret, that Isaac was not, contrary to appearance, the son of Abraham, but rather of God! The maternity of Sarah is not in doubt, but Philo believes he knows that God, before giving birth to Isaac, miraculously returned Sarah to virginity. Thus we have from a contemporary
of Paul’s the idea that Isaac was the son of God and of a virgin!
The texts are irrefutably there and yet nobody seems to have
discussed them.
How can one explain why such a tradition does
not seem to have been remarked upon and interrogated, except
because it is quite simply too “huge” and overthrows too many
firm convictions? (Guy Stroumsa – Professor Oxford)

I should not wish to deny Hellenistic influences on New Testament literature, thought and institutions. But I am not sure

I would choose Paul as the most Hellenistic figure in the New Testament. He was a good Pharisee. … …  Further, the Pharisaic party is by no means free of Greek influence. In fact, Greek influence was impossible to escape. The whole of Syria‑Palestine in this period was steeped in Hellenism, its influence ubiquitous.  (Frank Moore Cross – Professor Harvard)

The war against Rome [AD
68-72] also dampened eschatological fervor: Messianic hopes were signally dashed and soberer spirits must surely have turned their backs on the apocalyptic
fanaticism that had aggravated the disasters of the Jewish people. Apocalyptic
hopes were shattered further sixty years later with the debacle of Bar Kokhba and the
conversion of Jerusalem into a pagan city. As a result it is possible that in
certain circles the eschatological element in apocalyptic was played down and a
form of the tradition arose which was much less concerned with the future and
more interested in the mysteries of the heavenly world. (P. Alexander –
Professor University of Manchester)

[Role of rabbi in Judaism as it developed after AD 70] The rabbi was no mere academic: He was a holy man who through his knowledge and his power could protect society from demonic attack; he had a mediatorial role between God and man; he prayed for rain in times of drought,
and, because of his holiness, had an especially close relationship to God. The
ability to ascend to heaven and to reach God’s throne would have been regarded
as facilitating his work. (P. Alexander – Professor University of

[Christian view of this Jewish history]  Christianity is responsible for
an entirely different perspective and periodization. Nineteenth-century
scholars, especially in Germany, used the term “late Judaism” (Spsuyudentaim) to designate the religion and society of the Jews after Ezra or after the Maccabees. The term disparaged, and was meant to disparage. the Judaism it designated. The Judaism of the Second Temple period was “late” because it was approaching
the end of its appointed time
and was about to relinquish to Christianity
whatever value it still retained. “Late Judaism” was a sterile, lifeless organism, waiting
in vain for the infusion of spirituality that only Christianity could provide
After the birth of Christianity, “late Judaism” lost all importance and could
be ignored by scholars and Christians alike. The fact this Judaism continued to
flourish and develop for millennia after the period of “late Judaism” did not
affect the currency of the term, because the term derived not from historical
analysis but from theological belief.  (Shaye Cohen – Professor Harvard)

Israel and Second Temple Judaism also differed in their understanding of theodicy, God’s administration of justice.
Everyone agreed that God rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked, but
God’s accounting methods were the subject of intense scrutiny Pre-exilic Israel believed that God administered
justice in this world.
The righteous and the wicked were not always the
direct recipients of God’s attentions, because God could reward or punish their
offspring in their stead (emphasis
on the collective). Second
Temple Judaism insisted that God punishes or rewards only those who deserve it,
and that the conduct of one’s ancestors is irrelevant (emphasis on the individual). Since God does not always seem to set matters right in this world, he must do so in the next. Second Temple Judaism therefore elaborated complex schemes of reward and punishment after death or at the end time. Some of these schemes included the resurrection of the dead. Just as God will reestablish justice for the individual, he shall do so for the nation by destroying the yoke of the nations and restoring the sovereignty of the people of Israel. Jerusalem and the temple will be restored to their former
glory and Gods anointed one (messiah) shall reign securely. All of these
eschatological doctrines (that is, doctrines concerning the end time or ultimate
future) are innovations of Second Temple Judaism
.  (Shaye Cohen – Professor Harvard)

there is explicit evidence for pagans who decided to
move in the direction of becoming Jews. These are known in the sources as ‘God‐fearers’ (σεβόμενο ι—or ϕοβούμενοι—τὸνΘεόν). It is
generally accepted by now that this term denotes Jewish sympathizers of Gentile
origin, who were attached to synagogues in the Diaspora, but had not yet been
fully converted to Judaism.  Indeed, the
evidence in the Acts of the Apostles often presents Paul’s audiences (even the
earliest among them) as consisting of people ‘who revered (or feared) God’
(Marie-Zoe Petropoulou)

During the period between 30 B.C. and A.D. 117 three armed

uprisings and revolts demonstrate that the situation of the Egyptian Jews were deteriorating and moved towards their extermination: the armed uprising at the death of emperor Gaius Caligula in A.D. 4 1, the impact of the Jewish war in Palestine on the tensions in Egypt, A.D. 66 and 70-73, and the suicidal Messianic revolution of Jews in Cyrene and Egypt in the years A.D. 115-117The Jewish revolt was Messianic in character. Its aim was to destroy pagans and their polytheistic temples, and to establish Jewish control of the entire area, and probably also with the final aim of delivering Judaea and Jerusalem from Roman occupation. The aim was the liquidation of the Roman regime and the setting up of a new Jewish commonwealth, whose task was to inaugurate the Messianic era. In Cyrene a Jewish Messiah appeared, King Loukuas-Andreas. The revolution was crushed by the Roman legions.  (Peder Borgen – Professor Trondheim) [italics added] 

Oasis Elim.  A remarkable departure from
the Septuagint text is found in a dialogue between Moses and his father-in-law
in which Moses describes a dream. In
his dream Moses is conveyed to Sinai’s peak,
where he sees a gigantic throne and upon it, God himself in human semblance. God
bids him approach the throne, gives him
the sceptre, seats him on the throne and crowns him. From the throne, Moses beholds the whole universe. According to the interpretation, Moses
will cause a great throne to arise, and he himself will rule over mortals.
Moreover, he will see all things in the present, past and future. The fragments
place emphasis on the Passover, and they express a cosmic understanding of
Jewish existence. Moses’ cosmic kingship implies a claim by the Jewish
nation to be the ruler of the
world. Accordingly, the opposing Egyptians who fought against the Jews, were destroyed. The tragedy shows how an Egyptian Jew employs Greek literary form to interpret Jewish self-understanding. The tragedy was written during the second half of the third century or the first half of the second century B.C.2 2 This picture of Moses’ heavenly ascent and divine kingship shows that Philo’s corresponding understanding of Moses was not an innovation made by him. Philo oscillates between military and spiritual warfare, but he testifies to the continuation
of a militant eschatology in
the Jewish community, ideas which probably inspired some Jews to take up arms at the death of Gaius Caligula in A.D. 41, and in the revolts of A.D. 66 and A.D. 115-17.  (Peder Borgen – Professor Trondheim)

A comprehensive body of material in Philo of Alexandria’s expository writings deals with proselytes [gentiles] who become Jews.  In a corresponding way synagogal communities at a later time attracted many gentile Christians. Thus John Chrysostom of Antioch preached in 386–87 A.D. against the Jews and against Christians who go to the synagogue on the Sabbath, who receive circumcision, celebrate the Jewish Pesach, keep the Jewish dietary laws and other observances, such as fasting. (Peder Borgen – Professor Trondheim)

The reason why we have difficulty in (and are sometimes prevented from) distinguishing what Philo borrows from Greek philosophy and what he owes to his own religion is that we have insuffcient knowledge of both Hellenism and Judaism of the time. What is curious however is that the Christians (at least those of the early generations as they expressed themselves through apologists) reproached the pagans unceasingly for their polytheism; while Philo, although he asserted that only the supreme, unique God could be adored, only rarely attacked such polytheism, and he even seems to see in the pagan world that surrounded him a measure of monotheism. Perhaps this can be explained by the fact that his attention was focused on the philosophy of his time rather than on the religious practices of the masses. (C. MONDÉSERT  – Professor Institut des Sources Chretiennes) 

Paul was informed by the apocalyptic-Pharisaic tradition. In that tradition, despite the firmly entrenched doctrine that the Law was perfect, unchangeable and eternal, some expected that Elijah would be a Messianic forerunner who would explain obscurities in the Law; that in the Messianic Age or in the Age to Come difficulties in the Law would be explained; that certain enactments would cease to be applicable; and that there would be changes in the commandments concerning things clean and unclean. But more than all this, there are late passages where a New Torah for the Messianic Age is envisaged and others where the Law is to be completely abrogated at that time. As before and after, but especially in the FIrst century when Judaism was more varied than at a later time, the content and character of the one perfect Law was a matter of intense debate. How was it to be interpreted? The answers were many. (W.D. Davies – Professor Princeton and Duke)

The origins of Christianity are immensely complex. They have usually been approached in two main ways which, paradoxically enough, have not been mutually exclusive. One approach, not strictly historical, bearing the authority of a very long history and renewed with vigour in the First half of the twentieth century, has emphasized the radical newness of the Christian Gospel as a supernatural phenomenon breaking into the world with a startling discontinuity which defies rational analysis. The other approach, more characteristic of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, has sought to understand the emergence of Christianity as a phenomenon to be interpreted within and over against the contemporary First-century religions. The second approach has generally forked in two directions, one leading to the Graeco-Roman world and one to the Jewish. The Christian movement has correspondingly been illumined mainly in terms either of Hellenistic syncretism or of the Judaism of the First century. Only in the twentieth century has the recognition grown that the Hellenistic and Judaic cultures and religions of the first century cannot be easily separated but reveal deep interpenetration.  (W.D. Davies – Professor Princeton and E.P. Sanders Professor Oxford)

Additions to the Introduction…center on the discussion of how the distinctiveness of Jewish belief and faith interacts with the surrounding Hellenistic culture. The Torah may provide a common basis for postexilic Judaism, but interpretations of it are multiform in nature. Collins sees these interpretations as part of a dynamic process where the purpose of a religion is to assemble resources for living rather than the articulation of consistent systems.  (From David Denver review of Between Athens and Jerusalem by John J. Collins)  

Given the fact that Jubilees predates the earliest New Testament documents by roughly 200 years, it is often argued that traditions of the Aqedah influenced
Christian reflection on the death of Jesus. Both the traditions of the Aqedah
and the presentation of the death of Jesus in the New Testament have striking
similarities: Isaac is the ‘beloved son’, as is Jesus; Isaac goes willingly to
his death, as does Jesus; Isaac’s sacrifice is a Passover event, as is the
death of Jesus.4 (Luis Huizenga – Notre Dame)

There is a deep gap between the Jewish attitude toward the Hebrew Bible as a living authoritative Scripture the commandments of which every Jew must follow, especially as expressed in the “Written Torah” and interpreted and conceptualized
in the “Oral Torah.” Christians, on the other hand, believe that with
the arrival of Jesus all the Torah’s commandments became irrelevant and that
they are not obliged to follow them whatsoever (e.g., Rom 10:4; 13:10). (Howard Abraham – Professor University Missouri)

[earlier scholars had] argued coherently, but inaccurately, that rabbinic Judaism was a form of barren legalism, which was simply rejected by Jesus and replaced by Christianity. In their view, rabbinic Judaism represented a decaying religion… [but in reality] the Judaism that was contemporaneous with Jesus and the early church not only showed vibrancy and vigour but also had a positive influence on Jesus and the development of the early church…. … close relationship between Jesus and his fellow Jews, especially the Pharisees. … …  scholarly awareness of first-century Judaism, in all its varieties, is greater than ever before. The ramifications are manifold. We are now taught that Jesus, his family and his followers were Jewish. The Jewish background to Christianity is now stressed. The rediscovery of the Jewishness of the origins of Christianity has not only led to a greater awareness of the Jewish context but also to the realization that too often Christians have pictured Torah as a burden rather than as a delight. It is now appreciated more than ever before that Jesus was a faithful Jew and that Jesus was born, lived and died a Jew; that the first Christians were Jews; that the New Testament is, for the most part, a Jewish work.  (Howard Abraham – Professor University Missouri)

In Christianity, God is said to have incarnated His son, Jesus, as a human; thus the essence of the Christian myth is that a divine figure became a human being. This follows the pattern of Jewish myth where it is angels who are incarnated as human. Genesis 6 describes how the Sons of God cohabited with the daughters of men, begetting giants. Rabbinic commentaries identify the Sons of God as two angels, Shemhazai and Azazel, who descended from on high, took on human form, and sought out human women for lovers.136 These angels revealed all kinds of heavenly secrets, including magical spells, and taught women the arts of seduction. In addition, the prophet Elijah, who was taken into heaven in a fiery chariot, is an angel who often appears in human form on earth.137 Another variant of this divine-to-human pattern concerns how the talmudic sage Rabbi Ishmael was conceived. It is said that Rabbi Ishmael’s mother was so pious that God sent the angel Gabriel to take the form of her husband and to meet her at the mikveh, the ritual bath, and to conceive a child with her. She, of course, had no idea that it was a disguised angel and not her husband who met her. She conceived that day, and when Rabbi Ishmael was born, he was said to have been as beautiful as an angel.138 This is the same theme of human women having intercourse with an angel, but here it is with God’s approval, while the angels Shemhazai and Azazel broke their promise to God that they would not fall into sinful ways. So too are there myths in which the patriarch Jacob is identified as an angel who came down to earth in human form. We can now see that this myth, so strange at first, is part of an explicit pattern in Jewish mythology, that of a divine figure becoming human. Sometimes these echoes even become overt. The first century philosopher, Philo, proposed that it was God who begat Isaac, not Abraham, although God made sure that Isaac closely resembled Abraham. Philo even says that this child was born to the “virgin” Sarah. Here we find a direct parallel to later Christian lore. Indeed, there are an extensive number of parallels with Hellenistic and Canaanite mythology. What this indicates is that Jewish mythology was not isolated from the other mythologies. It was resonant with the motifs that were the psychic currency of their neighboring cultures. (Howard Abraham – Professor University Missouri)

Christianity and Islam have been the creeds of
conquerors, carried into new regions by the sword and turned back by the sword
as well. Judaism has been the religion of the underdog, and the history of the
Jews for two thousand years has been history seen from the bottom. No
explanation of Judaism’s survival wholly removes one’s surprise… … Their
scriptural identity played an important role in the survival of the Jews as a

people: but being a people of the book – or a people of both the book and the
commentary, the Torah and the Talmud – preserved the Jews only among other
peoples of the book, among Christians and Moslems.
(Alan Ryan – Professor Oxford)

you want to understand Jesus, you have to understand something (really, many
things) about ancient Judaism. Sad but true: I cannot assume that my students
will come into my classes knowing anything about ancient Judaism. Worse, most
classes on Jesus attempt to provide some instruction of Judaism (normally
Second Temple Judaism) and this is done by viewing Judaism through the lens of
Christian literature. This is like introducing one’s children to Star Wars
by first exposing them to Spaceballs.
(Antony Le Donne – Professor Twickenham)

at the Temple in Jerusalem] Aslan speaks of the extravagance of the temple cult
in Jerusalem.  This is an important discussion and deserves a better
explanation than Aslan provides.  He overextends his claims about the
burden of expense of the sacrificial system. He argues that the animals
designated for sacrifice were of extravagant cost. “This is not the time for
thrift,” he writes.  But Aslan fails to emphasize the accommodation that
the priesthood made for impoverished worshipers.  (Antony
Le Donne – Professor Twickenham) [from review of Zealot by Reza Aslan]

Segal skillfully and judiciously employs
theories from the social sciences to analyze
the scant data available to the historian of first-century Judaism in order to understand the social, economic, and political contexts
in which rabbinic Judaism and Christianity emerged. (from Barbara H. Geller Nathanson
review of Alan F. Segal “Rebecca’s Children”)

Segal begins
his study by tracing the evolution of the Israelite
concept of covenant which, as embodied in Torah, served as the basic myth or root metaphor
not only of ancient Israel but also of the many Jewish groups which developed during the Persian and Hellenistic periods. As Segal observes, all segments of Jewish society
were affected by Hellenization
, albeit at different rates. The Maccabean
revolt was caused in part by the different responses to Hellenistic culture among Judea’s social classes. (from Barbara H. Geller Nathanson review of Alan F. Segal
“Rebecca’s Children”)

Segal explicates Jesus’
movement in the context of other varieties of first-century Judaism,
and in particular in the context of Jewish apocalypticism and messianism, noting that pre-Christian Jewish speculation concerning the Messiah focused
on his role as the individual who would bring God’s justice to the world (p. 67). Like other Jewish groups, Christians sought to ground their world view through their interpretations of the Hebrew Bible -here, their understanding of the significance of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus as the suffering
Messiah. Christianity was able to transform itself from an apocalyptic sectarian
movement to a “religion of personal piety ” with broad appeal to non-Jews, without sacrificing the strong group cohesiveness characteristic of apocalyptic and millenarian communities (p. 95). (from Barbara H. Geller Nathanson review of Alan F. Segal “Rebecca’s Children”)

Not the least of the intellectual legacies of Judaism is the tenacity of the conviction that history must have a meaning. (Alan Ryan – Professor Oxford)


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