Beginnings of Judaism
Dr. Isaiah M. Gafni is the Sol Rosenbloom Professor of Jewish History at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where he earned his Ph.D. and has taught for more than 40 years. He was formerly the Director of the Mandel Center of Jewish Studies at the university and also previously served as Director of Graduate Studies at the university's Rothberg International School. He has been a visiting professor at numerous American universities, including Harvard, Yale, and Brown. Professor Gafni has written extensively on a broad range of topics relating to the social, religious, and cultural history of the Jews in late antiquity, including more than 100 entries in the Encyclopaedia Judaica. Professor Gafni was honored as the Louis Jacobs Fellow in Rabbinic Thought at Oxford University in 1994 and received Hebrew University's Michael Milken Prize for exceptional teaching. Professor Gafni has written or edited more than 15 books on aspects of Jewish history, including Land, Center and Diaspora: Jewish Constructs in Late Antiquity. His book The Jews of Talmudic Babylonia: A Social and Cultural History was honored with the 1992 Holon Prize in Jewish Studies.
01: The Beginnings of Judaism-Biblical Roots
Much of today's Judaism developed after the completion of the Hebrew Bible, which Jews have nevertheless traditionally referred to as the source of their history, beliefs, and practices. In examining Judaism's biblical roots, we discover how the Jewish religion reconciles this seeming contradiction.
02: New Challenges in the Late Biblical Period
We encounter the historical contexts in which post-Biblical Judaism developed. The Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman empires, as well as the short-lived Jewish kingdom founded by the Hasmoneans, all made unique contributions to Judaism's development, both in the land of Israel as well as in the Diaspora.
03: Jews under Persian Rule-The Return to Zion
Persian rule over Israel lasted for more than 200 years. Beginning with the return to Judea of the descendants of the Jewish captives who had been forcibly removed by the Babylonians, we follow the rebuilding of Jewish communal life in their homeland.
04: The Challenge of Hellenism
Alexander the Great's incorporation of Palestine into the greater Hellenistic world, and the broad-based acculturation—or even threatened assimilation—that followed posed a challenge to Jewish identity that would be a constant factor in the lives of Jews for centuries to come.
05: The Maccabees-From Rebels to Kings
The revolt of the Hasmoneans—a family of Jewish priests led by Judah the Maccabee—against the Seleucids, who ruled over Judea in the early 2nd century B.C.E., ultimately led to the establishment of an independent Jewish state that would survive until the Roman conquest of Judea in 63 B.C.E.
06: The Canonization of the Hebrew Bible
After the gradual emergence of a tripartite canon of sacred texts—Torah, Prophets, and Writings—during the Second Temple period, Jewish authors embarked on the study, interpretation, translation, imitation, and retelling of these extant sacred scriptures.
07: Translating the Bible-The Septuagint
If the Hebrew Bible was to be made accessible to all Jews, a Greek translation was required. The version that emerged, in stages, is known as the Septuagint (Latin for "seventy"), because of the number of scholars said to have produced it.
08: Adding to the Bible-The Apocrypha
In its final form, the Septuagint includes not only the earliest complete translation of the Hebrew Bible, but also 14 or 15 texts not found in the Old Testament. We look at these texts, commonly referred to as the Apocrypha, Latin for "hidden."
09: Tobit-A New Path of Righteousness
We take a closer look at the Apocrypha's book of Tobit, a delightful novel on the merits of righteousness, which in many ways points to a new or reinforced set of religious and ethical values that would become particularly relevant for Jews in the Second Temple period.
10: Retelling the Bible-The Book of Jubilees
The canonization of the Bible opened the way for new retellings of biblical stories, with new interpretations read into ancient characters and situations. One of the most impressive is the revised rendition of Genesis and Exodus supplied by the book of Jubilees in the 2nd century B.C.E.
11: Revealing the Unknown
By the late Persian or early Hellenistic period, Jews believed that ongoing prophecy in its biblical form had been discontinued. But mankind's thirst for knowledge of the innermost secrets of the world was not quenched, and this information was now supplied by a new literary genre known as Apocalypse.
12: "Judaism" or "Judaisms"?
As Second Temple Judaism evolved into a "religion of the book" and its central texts became more accessible, diversity of opinion and interpretation naturally increased. Religious disputes led to sectarianism, with each group convinced that it alone observed the Law properly.
13: Sectarianism-Pharisees and Sadducees
At some stage of Hasmonean rule in Judea, three distinct schools of thought arose within the Jewish community. Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes embraced different opinions about God's relationship to this world, and were no less divided along political and social lines.
14: Out of the Caves-Discovery at Qumran
In the spring of 1947, a young Bedouin shepherd entered a cave south of Jericho and set into motion the most spectacular archaeological discovery of the 20th century, encompassing far more than what have come to be known as the Dead Sea Scrolls.
15: The End of Days-Messianic Eschatology
The post-biblical period introduced some major changes into the entire range of eschatological contemplation. During the Second Temple period the focus shifted beyond God's administration of a just system of rewards and punishments in this world to also include each individual's "life after death."
16: Other Lands, Other Jews-The Diaspora
One of the most significant departures of post-biblical Judaism from its earlier biblical days was the establishment of a widespread Jewish Diaspora, or dispersion. What the prophets had considered the ultimate punishment for sins had now become reality.
17: Judaism in the Hellenistic World
Jewish literary activity flourished in the Greek-speaking world, and especially in Hellenistic and Roman Egypt, with Jews adopting almost every literary genre in their attempts to present Judaism to the Greek mind, as well as to a Jewish community that had adopted Greek as its primary language of discourse.
18: Changing God's Address-Temple to Synagogue
The Second Temple period represents a major turning point in Judaism's self-image. While the primary focus of religious expression remained the Temple of Jerusalem, an alternative institution—the synagogue—began to appear, leading to a major decentralization and democratization of Jewish religious behavior.
19: Rome Arrives in Jerusalem
Jewish independence under the Hasmoneans came to an abrupt conclusion with the Roman conquest of Judea in 63 B.C.E. The Romans experimented with different approaches in attempting to establish control, but the ultimate result was anarchy, a violent uprising, and the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple.
20: Parting with the Temple
Religious ideologies are not always limited to the spiritual world of contemplation, but frequently serve to motivate individuals or groups toward political involvement and even military action. We look at the impact of some of these ideologies on relations with Rome.
21: From Jerusalem to Yavne-Rabbinic Judaism
As Judaism evolved into a "book religion," teachers or interpreters of the sacred texts slowly assumed a position of prominence alongside the traditional priesthood. Removal of the Temple gave these teachers—rabbis—an unchallenged position of spiritual authority.
22: The Shaping of Rabbinic Judaism
Six hundred years of Second Temple history, culminating with the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E., witnessed the erosion of the biblical frameworks of the Temple and priesthood, monarchy, and prophets. We see how the values of Rabbinic Judaism, no less than the revised forms of religious expression, became the new standards of Judaism.
23: A Violent Epilogue-Bar Kokhba
Not all Jews opted immediately for the Rabbinic alternative to Second Temple realities. Sixty-two years after the destruction of the Temple, the image of a militant messiah at war with Rome appeared once again.
24: From "Roots" to "Tree"
This closing lecture puts the lessons of the course into perspective, addressing key issues that include diversity in Judaism; Judaism's self-perception as either a nation, a religion, or a culture; the triumph of the Babylonian rabbinate; reconciliation with an ongoing dispersion; and the directions taken by Judaism during the past two millennia.