Varieties of Early Judaism
Dr. John C. Reeves
Office hours: W 1:00-2:00; TR 2:30-3:30; or by appointment
This course focuses upon the history and literature of the period during which rabbinic Judaism develops and evolves into the classical expression of Jewish religiosity; i.e., from roughly 450 BCE to the mid-600s CE. Special attention will be devoted to the literature produced by the rabbinic Sages in order to introduce students to the basic corpora of oral Torah, as well as to the various ways in which the rabbis read and supplemented written scripture. Some comparative study of contemporary non-rabbinic currents of Jewish religious expression will also transpire.
In order to complete the assignments for this course, the following texts are required:
Lawrence H. Schiffman, Texts and Traditions: A Source Reader for the Study of Second Temple and Rabbinic Judaism (Hoboken, N.J.: Ktav Publishing House, 1998).
Martin S. Jaffee, Early Judaism: Religious Worlds of the First Judaic Millennium (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1997).
Peter Schäfer, Judeophobia: Attitudes Toward the Jews in the Ancient World (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997).
You are also required to have access to a Hebrew Bible (the Christian ‘Old Testament’) and the so-called Old Testament Apocrypha in a responsible English translation.
Supplementary required readings will be assigned or distributed by the instructor as needed.
1. Homework exercises. An indeterminate number of written exercises (around one per week) will be prepared and submitted for in-class discussion and out-of-class evaluation. These exercises vary in length from less than one (1) to a maximum of three (3) typewritten or electronically printed pages. All of these exercises will be announced and explained by the instructor during the course of or at the conclusion of a class meeting. The instructor’s evaluation of the student’s collective written exercise performance (√+ = A-; √ = C+; √- = D) will comprise 20% of the course grade.
2. Research project. One (1) formal research project to be presented in written form (approximately 12-15 pages, exclusive of notes and list of sources) that focuses upon a particular topic relevant to the emergence and development of rabbinic Judaism. A suggested list of topics is provided later in this syllabus; otherwise, in consultation with the instructor, the student should select a topic of individual interest that permits such an extended exposition, analysis, and/or evaluation. A 250-word précis of the paper, coupled with a brief oral seminar report, is due Tuesday, November 4 (and Thursday, November 6 if necessary). A final draft of the paper and its formal presentation orally to the seminar falls due the final two sessions of class (i.e., December 4 and 9). The research project and its component parts (i.e., précis, final draft, and two oral presentations) account for 50% of the course grade.
3. Final take-home essay. Instead of an end-of-semester three-hour examination, you will prepare a final essay wherein you will be expected to synthesize some of the major issues and themes discussed in class and in the required readings, and to demonstrate your knowledge of the specific source materials and facts which pertain to those issues and themes. The topic(s) for the final essay will be distributed in class at the final seminar meeting. This essay will be delivered to the instructor on the date and at the time officially mandated for this course by the UNC Charlotte administration. We will then spend some time discussing the insights and conclusions generated in these essays. The final essay and the accompanying discussion is worth 20% of the course grade.
4. Individual involvement. Almost perfect attendance (see below) is an essential requirement for this course. Each class meeting builds upon the knowledge gained during previous meetings. Moreover, in-class discussion, close reading, and analysis by both the instructor and class members comprise a significant portion of every class meeting. Preparation for every class often involves the completion of a series of assigned readings and/or written assignment(s). Students are expected to contribute in an informed manner to the public analysis and discussion of any assigned topic, and the instructor reserves the right to administer occasional unannounced ‘pop-quizzes’ should he deem the situation so warrants (grades for such quizzes are averaged with those of the homework exercises). The instructor’s assessment of one’s attendance, class preparation, and informed oral contributions will constitute 10% of the final course grade.
5. Zakhor (Remember!): Mastery of the assigned readings and diligent class attendance are necessary prerequisites for the successful completion of this course. Each student is responsible for all lectures, class discussions, assignments, and announcements, whether or not he/she is present when they occur.
a. The grading scale used in this course is as follows:
|91-95+||A||demonstrable mastery of material; can creatively synthesize|
|81-90||B||some demonstrable proficiency in control of material & analysis|
|71-80||C||satisfactory performance of assignments; little or no analysis|
|61-70||D||inadequate and/or faulty understanding of material|
b. One of the requirements of this course is to complete the work of the course on time. Sometimes there are legitimate reasons for late work—an illness or other emergency. ‘Emergency,’ however, does not include your social involvements, travel plans, job schedule, disk and/or printer failures, the state of your love life, your obligations to other courses, or general malaise over the state of the world. The world has been in a mess as long as anyone can remember, and most of the world’s work is done by people whose lives are a mass of futility and discontent. If you haven’t learned yet, you had better learn now to work under the conditions of the world as it is. Therefore:
1) All unwritten papers and unsubmitted written assignments will be averaged as a 0 in the computation of the course grade. No exceptions will be considered or granted.
2) All papers and written exercises are due on the dates scheduled in the syllabus, or on the date announced by the instructor in class (usually, the following class meeting). ‘Late’ submissions bear the following penalties: one day late/one letter grade; two days late/two letter grades; three or more days late/F. For accounting purposes, letter grades bear the following values: A=95; A-=92; B=85; C+=78; C=75; D=65; F=30. An untyped paper or written assignment automatically receives the grade F, as do those typed papers which violate the required parameters or which the instructor deems physically unacceptable and/or grammatically incomprehensible.
3) Attendance at class meetings will be monitored by the instructor. One or two absences are unexceptional, three (3) is the limit of tolerability. Each successive absence (regardless of rationale) lowers the Individual Involvement component of your assessment by one letter grade; seven (7) or more earns an automatic F in that component. Please note that the instructor does not distinguish ‘excused’ from ‘unexcused’ absences. A continuing pattern of unsanctioned late arrivals and/or early departures will be tallied as absences.
c. Assistance and solicitation of criticism is your right as a member of the class. It is not a privilege to be granted or withheld. Do not hesitate to request it nor wait too late in the course for it to be of help.
Rough Course Outline
1. Surveying the political landscape: a ‘multicentric’ Judaism?
a. Israel in Mesopotamia
b. Israel in Egypt
c. Israel in ‘Eretz Israel’
Schiffman, 65-116; 130-69; 175-86; 195-97; 235-66; 372-407; 434-72; 487-95; 561-617; 749-61.
Isa 19:16-24; Jer 24:1-10; 29:1-19; 42:1-44:30; Dan 1-6; Esth 1-10; 3 Macc 1-7; Susanna; Bel & the Dragon.
Elias Bickerman, From Ezra to the Last of the Maccabees: Foundations of Postbiblical Judaism (New York: Schocken Books, 1962).
Idem, The Jews in the Greek Age (Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 1988).
Gabriele Boccaccini, Beyond the Essene Hypothesis: The Parting of the Ways between Qumran and Enochic Judaism (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1998).
Idem, Roots of Rabbinic Judaism: An Intellectual History, from Ezekiel to Daniel (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2002).
Isaiah Gafni, “Babylonian Rabbinic Culture,” in Cultures of the Jews: A New History (ed. David Biale; New York: Schocken Books, 2002), 223-65.
Fergus Millar, The Roman Near East: 31 BC – AD 337 (Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 1993).
Jacob Neusner, A History of the Jews in Babylonia (5 vols.; Leiden: Brill, 1965-70).
Bezalel Porten, “The Jews in Egypt,” in The Cambridge History of Judaism, Volume 1: The Persian Period (ed. W. D. Davies and Louis Finkelstein; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 372-400.
Peter Schäfer, The History of the Jews in Antiquity: The Jews of Palestine from Alexander the Great to the Arab Conquest (n.p.: Harwood Academic Publishers, 1995). A revised edition of this work has recently been published by Routledge.
2. Formulating Jewish identity(s)
a. Factionalism in the Persian & Hellenistic periods
b. Developing an ‘ethnic semiotic’: the linguistic & behavioral lexicon
c. The emergence of Jewish scripturalism
Schiffman, 117-20; 266-307; 336-67; 424-27.
Isa 56-66; Hag 1-2; Zech 1-8; Mal 1-3; Ezra 1-10; Neh 1-13; 1 Esdras (= 3 Ezra) 1-9.
1 Macc 1-16; 2 Macc 1-15.
James E. Bowley and John C. Reeves, “Rethinking the Concept of ‘Bible’,” Henoch 25 (2003): 3-18.
Gary G. Porton, “Diversity in Postbiblical Judaism,” in Early Judaism and Its Modern Interpreters (ed. Robert A. Kraft and George W. E. Nickelsburg; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1986), 57-80.
John C. Reeves, “Scriptural Authority in Early Judaism,” in Living Traditions of the Bible: Scripture in Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Practice (ed. James E. Bowley; St. Louis: Chalice Press, 1999), 63-84.
Morton Smith, “The Dead Sea Sect in Relation to Ancient Judaism,” New Testament Studies 7 (1960-61): 347-60.
Idem, Palestinian Parties and Politics that Shaped the Bible (New York: Columbia University Press, 1971).
Jonathan Z. Smith, “Fences and Neighbors: Some Contours of Early Judaism,” in William S. Green, Approaches to Ancient Judaism: Volume II (Brown Judaic Studies 9; Chico, Calif.: Scholars Press, 1980), 1-25.
3. Viewing ‘Judaism’ from the outside
Josephus, Contra Apionem (entire).
John G. Gager, “Judaism as Seen by Outsiders,” in Early Judaism and Its Modern Interpreters (ed. Robert A. Kraft and George W. E. Nickelsburg; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1986), 99-116.
Idem, The Origins of Anti-Semitism: Attitudes toward Judaism in Christian and Pagan Antiquity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983).
Erich S. Gruen, “The Use and Abuse of the Exodus Story,” in his Heritage and Hellenism: The Reinvention of Jewish Tradition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), 41-72.
Menahem Stern, Greek and Latin Authors on Jews and Judaism (3 vols.; Jerusalem: Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1974-84).
4. Dynamics of texts and traditions
a. The myth of two Torahs
b. The taxonomy of rabbinic literature
Schiffman, 497-559; 619-82.
Back to the Sources: Reading the Classic Jewish Texts (ed. Barry W. Holtz; New York: Summit, 1984), 31-211; i.e., the articles on Bible, Talmud, and Midrash.
H. L. Strack and G. Stemberger, Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark, 1991).
5. Ritual space and performance in early Judaism
Schiffman, 472-74; 682-734.
Mishnah tractates Tamid and Middot (entire).
Ancient Synagogues Revealed (ed. Lee I. Levine; Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 1982).
Carl H. Kraeling, The Synagogue: The Excavations at Dura-Europos, Final Report 8.1 (Augmented ed.; New York: Ktav, 1979).
Lee I. Levine, The Ancient Synagogue: The First Thousand Years (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000).
Eric M. Meyers and A. T. Kraabel, “Archaeology, Iconography, and Nonliterary Written Remains,” in Early Judaism and Its Modern Interpreters (ed. Robert A. Kraft and George W. E. Nickelsburg; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1986), 175-210.
6. Transformative knowledge
a. The rabbinic Sage as ‘holy man’
b. Jewish gnosis and the Hekhalot literature
c. Magic and mystery in Mesopotamia
Philip S. Alexander, “Incantations and Books of Magic,” in Emil Schürer, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ (175 B.C.—A.D. 135) (3 vols. in 4; rev. ed.; ed. G. Vermes, F. Millar, and M. Goodman; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1973-87), 3/1:342-79.
Peter Brown, “The Rise and Function of the Holy Man in Late Antiquity,” Journal of Roman Studies 61 (1972) 80-101; repr. in idem, Society and the Holy in Late Antiquity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982), 103-52. See now idem, “The Rise and Function of the Holy Man, 1971-1997,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 6 (1998): 353-76.
Garth Fowden, “The Pagan Holy Man in Late Antique Society,” Journal of Hellenic Studies 102 (1982): 33-59.
Moshe Idel, “Subversive Catalysts: Gnosticism and Messianism in Gershom Scholem’s View of Jewish Mysticism,” in The Jewish Past Revisited: Reflections on Modern Jewish Historians (ed. D. N. Myers and David B. Ruderman; New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1998), 39-76.
Rebecca M. Lesses, Ritual Practices to Gain Power: Angels, Incantations, and Revelations in Early Jewish Mysticism (Harrisburg, Pa.: Trinity Press International, 1998).
Idem, “Exe(o)rcising Power: Women as Sorceresses, Exorcists, and Demonesses in Babylonian Jewish Society of Late Antiquity,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 69 (2001): 343-75.
Gershom G. Scholem, Jewish Gnosticism, Merkabah Mysticism, and Talmudic Tradition (2d rev. ed.; New York: The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1965.
Idem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (3d rev. ed.; New York: Schocken Books, 1961), 40-79.
Some Possible Research Project Topics
- Continuity/discontinuity of some biblical precept, custom, etc. into the rabbinic period
- Rabbis as ‘holy men’—miracle-workers, etc.
- The nature of rabbinic authority as contrasted with another form of late antique social dominance
- Rabbinic knowledge of and interaction with non-Jewish lore or literature
- Attitude of the Sages toward representational art
- Comparative study of rabbinic exegesis of scripture with one or more non-rabbinic models
Suggestions for Further Reading
Study of the history and literature of early Judaism has spawned a tremendous amount of secondary scholarship—so much that I will not even attempt to provide a short list of important treatments. I will only mention two important reference works which every student of Jewish studies should frequently consult: the Encyclopaedia Judaica (16 vols. + supplements; Jerusalem: Keter, 1971); and H. L. Strack and G. Stemberger, Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark, 1991). These works provide numerous bibliographical suggestions for further reading, and I encourage everyone to learn how to use each of these resources.