The Origins of Judaism, Yonatan Adler

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MrMacSon
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The Origins of Judaism, Yonatan Adler

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The Origins of Judaism: An Archaeological-Historical Reappraisal, Yale University Press, 2022
Yonatan Adler https://www.degruyter.com/document/doi/ ... l#contents


Book Description:

A groundbreaking new study that utilizes archaeological discoveries and ancient texts to revolutionize our understanding of the beginnings of Judaism Throughout much of history, the Jewish way of life has been characterized by strict adherence to the practices and prohibitions legislated by the Torah: dietary laws, ritual purity, circumcision, Sabbath regulations, holidays, and more. But precisely when did this unique way of life first emerge, and why specifically at that time?

In this revolutionary new study, Yonatan Adler methodically engages ancient texts and archaeological discoveries to reveal the earliest evidence of Torah observance among ordinary Judeans. He examines the species of animal bones in ancient rubbish heaps, the prevalence of purification pools and chalk vessels in Judean settlements, the dating of figural representations in decorative and functional arts, evidence of such practices as tefillin and mezuzot, and much more to reconstruct when ancient Judean society first adopted the Torah as authoritative law. Focusing on the lived experience of the earliest Torah observers, this investigative study transforms much of what we thought we knew about the genesis and early development of Judaism.

https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctv2z0vv3c (via the 'book info' box)




Preface

The biblical tradition provides a sweeping narrative, spanning the course of a millennium, about the reception of the Torah among the people of Israel. The account begins when the God of Israel first gives his set of laws to Moses at Mt. Sinai and continues until the time when Ezra and Nehemiah bring about a restoration of this Torah in Persian-era Jerusalem. This is a chronicle of discontinuities, characterized by long periods when the Torah was entirely neglected, but punctuated by intermittent episodes of rediscovery and restoration at the hands of virtuous leaders. Already before Moses descends from the mountain, the people transgress by setting up a golden calf. Subsequent prophets through the centuries repeatedly scold Israel for its various iniquities, and time after time the nation is punished for its sins.

This dim narrative of disobedience is punctuated now and again when a righteous leader returns the people to observance of the Torah’s laws. Jehoshaphat, for example, sends teachers throughout the land to teach Torah to the people (2 Chr 17: 7–9). Hezekiah restores observance of the Passover, as it had not been celebrated “since the days of Solomon son of David, king of Israel” (2 Chr 30:26). Josiah similarly restores observance of the Passover, as it had not been offered “since the days of the judges who judged Israel nor in all the days of the kings of Israel and the kings of Judah” (2 Kgs 23:22; see also 2 Chr 35:18). On the authority of a Persian king, Ezra arrives in Jerusalem and publicly expounds from a long-forgotten Torah, restoring observance of Sukkot rites that had been neglected “from the days of Jeshua son of Nun to that day” (Neh 8:17). And finally, Nehemiah discovers the populace of Persian-era Jerusalem negligent of the Sabbath and immediately sets about to restore proper observance of the day (Neh 13:15–22).

This biblical tradition is certainly not “history” in the modern sense of the word. “History,” from the ancient Greek “historía,” refers to the open-ended, methodical investigation into questions that people in the present choose to pose about the past. That the biblical tradition was never “history” becomes abundantly evident when we consider the fact that the tradition provides no citations, includes no footnotes, and affords no bibliographic lists of sources. Rather than a methodical inquiry into the past, the biblical tradition about Israel’s reception of the Torah is very much a living declaration in the present, a call to action in the here and now. It proclaims that the Torah is divine, and as such its commandments are sacred and to be kept assiduously. It warns against complacency, as the Torah is liable to be ignored and even forgotten if sufficient care is not taken to maintain its continual observance. It comforts that even if transgression occurs, full repentance through restoration of Torah observance is always possible. Its message is acutely relevant to the lives of those who inherited the tradition, and it adjures those who have thus received it to pass it onward as a legacy to subsequent generations.

As a call to action in the present, the biblical tradition about how the Torah came to be observed by Israel is undeniably true in the deepest, most fundamental sense of the word. It is this tradition that has fostered not only the survival but also the astonishing development and flourishing of Jewish communities throughout the many centuries of frequently recurring persecutions and hardships. To paraphrase the Hebrew thinker Ahad Haʿam (1856–1927), more than the Jewish people have kept the Torah, the Torah has kept the Jewish people. Undoubtedly, the biblical tradition about the early reception of the Torah has served as the bedrock of Jewish identity, and hence existence, through the generations.

Despite its crucial place in forging the Jewish past and present, the biblical tradition about the origins of the Torah and how it came to be observed is decidedly not the point of departure of the book that is before you. The biblical account has been studied in the past from countless angles, both traditional and critical, and doubtless will continue to be a subject of intense interest well into the future. As crucial as the biblical tradition has been as a call to action throughout the millennia, it will not be subject to investigation within the framework of the present study.

Instead of the biblical tradition about Israel’s reception of the Torah, this book takes as its starting point the lived experiences of the Jewish people as they have actually practiced their Judaism over the centuries through the observance of the laws of the Torah in their everyday lives. It is this practical Judaism, rather than the biblical tradition about it, that stands at the center of the present book. The aim of this study is to apply systematic historical and archaeological methods to seek the earliest evidence for the emergence of precisely this practical Judaism within the routine lives of ordinary people in antiquity.

The title of this book announces that it will conduct a “reappraisal” of Judaism’s origins. What is to be reappraised here is not the biblical tradition, however, which as I have just explained will not be subject to investigation. Rather, my aim is to reevaluate a certain scholarly hypothesis, dating back to the nineteenth century but still current today, that locates the emergence of Judaism in the so-called postexilic period.

The Origins of Judaism is actually a play on the title of a volume published by Eduard Meyer in 1896, Die Entstehung des Judentums: Eine historische Untersuchung (The origin of Judaism: A historical investigation). Meyer’s work represents the culmination of a century of Protestant biblical scholarship which posited that the Babylonian exile marked a complete rupture in the history of Israel, dividing between a preexilic “ancient Israel” and a postexilic “Judaism.” The postulate was that the Pentateuch was promulgated as the law of the Jews among the returnees to Judea from Babylonia during the Persian period, and that with this an entirely new creation called “Judaism” was born. The evidence adduced for this idea derived primarily from literary-critical analyses of the biblical texts themselves, and therefore scholars’ attention focused more on intellectual history—the history of ideas communicated by biblical authors—rather than on social history surrounding the actual behaviors and practices of the general populace of Judea.

Since the late nineteenth century, we have experienced an explosion of archaeological and epigraphic discoveries that have consequentially led to the exponential expansion of our knowledge about the practical observance of Torah among ordinary Judeans in antiquity. This new body of material evidence allows us today to turn our attention to social history, and specifically to the question of when rank-and-file Judeans first began to observe the rules and regulations of the Torah on a wide-scale basis. The present study seeks to do just that; it aims to mine this treasure trove of new data, and concurrently to reexamine the long-available historical resources in order to assess the origins of what we might call “Judaism.”

A Note on Translations and Transliterations

Translations of ancient texts mostly follow standard editions, but I have emended these in some cases as I deemed necessary. For the Hebrew Bible, Apocrypha, and the New Testament, I have usually followed the New Revised Standard Version. For Jewish Pseudepigrapha, I have usually followed OTP. For Philo, I have generally followed Colson and Whitaker, Philo. For Josephus, I have mostly followed Thackeray, Marcus, and Feldman, Josephus. For other Greek and Latin sources, unless otherwise indicated, I have followed M. Stern, GLAJJ. All other translations of ancient and modern texts are my own, unless otherwise noted.

Transliterations from Hebrew, Aramaic, and Syriac mostly follow the Society of Biblical Literture’s “academic style” as described in B. J. Collins et al., The SBL Handbook of Style, 56–58, 63. Exceptions are the fricative bêt, which I transliterate as “v,” the fricative kāp, which I transliterate as “kh,” and the fricative , which I transliterate as “f.” Transliterations from Greek follow the online transliteration software at https://www.lexilogos.com/keyboard/greek_conversion.htm. Names of people, places, and written works are provided according to their standard spellings in English, without diacritical marks.


It's briefly mentioned by DCH here viewtopic.php?f=6&t=7992 :
DCHindley wrote: Tue May 25, 2021 5:30 pm
https://www.timesofisrael.com/bad-judea ... nt-israel/

The article is mainly about the archaeology related to Jewish observance of the Torah dietary commands. That the command not to eat pork was clearly observed according to the lack of such remains in the relics, the equally prohibited consumption of scale-less/finless "fish" was, in reality, not evident at all. Judeans everywhere ate lots of them.

There are all sort of debates ongoing about how this situation could have come to be. However, be that as it may, I think the most interesting thing said by the author of the article, Amanda Borschel-Dan, is this:


Birth of a religion

In [Ariel University’s Dr. Yonatan] Adler’s upcoming 2022 book from Yale University Press, The Origins of Judaism, he will discuss more fully when the religion as a practice was born. Spoiler: It’s centuries later than when the Torah was redacted.

“We don’t have evidence for any of these [Torah] practices or prohibitions prior to the second century before the common era, that is to say from the period of the Hasmonean Dynasty,” said Adler. “We do not have any evidence that the Judean masses, that your regular every day Judean you would have met on the street of Jerusalem, prior to the middle of the second century BCE had any knowledge of the Torah and or that he observed the rules of the Torah.”

Adler is the first to emphasize the archaeology maxim that the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence.

“Judaism could have begun before the mid-2nd century,” he said, but the lack of evidence currently makes that conjecture. “It could have emerged during the long Hellenistic period — sometime during this time is the best time to be seeking the emergence of Judaism.”


For a while now I have suggested that Judaism as a belief system had "re-fashioned" itself in Hasmonean times. This is very interesting, not whether ancient Jews had a different definition of what qualified as a "scale-less fish" or whatever.

Shades of Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible by Russell E. Gmirkin © 2017 – Routledge

DCH

StephenGoranson
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Re: The Origins of Judaism, Yonatan Adler

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One potentially good thing, so far, is that the title word, Origins, is plural. Defining Judaism (ioudaismos, etc.) itself has a long history.
The Jewish-Mother-born later Carmelite monk Rufeisen court case in Israel, iirc, basically decided that a Jew is a person the majority of Jews consider to be a Jew.
(L. Schiffman wrote a book, Who Was A Jew.)
If one thinks a Jewish person has a home Passover seder, that works only after the Second Temple.
(When did lineage tracing switch from father to mother? Shaye Cohen has written about this.)
If one thinks a Jew is identified by wearing a "Star of David," that is many centuries later.
In other words, the definition may well be considered diachronically.
Last edited by StephenGoranson on Fri Nov 04, 2022 4:33 am, edited 1 time in total.
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neilgodfrey
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Re: The Origins of Judaism, Yonatan Adler

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MrMacSon wrote: Wed Nov 02, 2022 10:27 pm The Origins of Judaism: An Archaeological-Historical Reappraisal, Yale University Press, 2022
Yonatan Adler https://www.degruyter.com/document/doi/ ... l#contents

Thanks for the notice. I look forward to reading it. Till then, of interest is this opening paragraph of the concluding chapter:
In each of the preceding chapters, we investigated practices and prohibitions legislated in the Torah which had come to be widely observed by the first century CE as integral components of a commonly followed Judaism. In chapter after chapter, we sought textual and material evidence that might indicate if these practices and prohibitions were being observed by regular Judeans in the centuries prior to the first century. In each and every case, we learned that the trail of the available evidence ends in the second century BCE at the earliest. In the preceding chapter, we learned that the second or first century BCE provides the earliest available evidence that regular Judeans were gathering in synagogues in order to read and interpret the Torah communally. The entirety of this evidence clearly establishes the second century BCE as the terminus ante quem for the initial widespread dissemination of the Torah among the Judean masses and its common acceptance as authoritative law. In simpler terms, Judaism as it is defined in this book must have emerged either sometime in the middle of the second century BCE or earlier.
Dontcha love that little rider at the end there, "or earlier"!
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Re: The Origins of Judaism, Yonatan Adler

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neilgodfrey wrote: Fri Nov 04, 2022 12:11 am Dontcha love that little rider at the end there, "or earlier"!
I presume he means, that if "the trail of the available evidence ends in the second century BCE at the earliest," Judaism had to have started then or have been present before then.

It does say next:

The present chapter will be devoted to going beyond this data-driven terminus ante quem and will explore when it would have been most likely for the Torah to have been adopted as authoritative law among the Judean masses. We will begin by investigating the likelihood that this might have occurred as early as the Persian period, an idea that many scholars take for granted (as we saw in the section “The History of Scholarship” in the introduction). As it will be shown that there are good reasons to think that at this time many Judeans knew nothing of the existence of anything resembling the Pentateuch ... https://www.degruyter.com/document/doi/ ... 9-010/html

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Re: The Origins of Judaism, Yonatan Adler

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MrMacSon wrote: Fri Nov 04, 2022 12:31 am

It does say next:

The present chapter will be devoted to going beyond this data-driven terminus ante quem and will explore when it would have been most likely for the Torah to have been adopted as authoritative law among the Judean masses. We will begin by investigating the likelihood that this might have occurred as early as the Persian period, an idea that many scholars take for granted (as we saw in the section “The History of Scholarship” in the introduction). As it will be shown that there are good reasons to think that at this time many Judeans knew nothing of the existence of anything resembling the Pentateuch ... https://www.degruyter.com/document/doi/ ... 9-010/html

Yes, indeed. The Persian era has always been an assumption based on hypothetical models about the history of the Jewish religion and origins of the books that became the Bible. Some historians have tended to blame the lack of evidence on the over-eager archaeologists who were impatiently brushing aside what must have been the Persian era evidence in order to find the remains of David and Solomon.

Or maybe there just wasn't very much to brush aside in the first place. The evidence I have seen points to very sparsely populated area around Jersusalem during the Persian era. As one historian has said, what has been often praised as tolerance on the part of Persian rulers in allowing local regions to foster their own customs and religions should perhaps be more accurately described as neglect of the provinces. There was no interest in rebuilding and less support for any such efforts. It was the Greeks who led the rebuilding projects and it was under their rule that the population of "Judea" increased and urbanization gathered momentum.

I am reminded of RGPrice's question: why did the Judeans or Yehudians look on the Persian era as a turning point? I long thought the hypothesis of Hellenistic origins was "way too extreme" to be considered seriously and assumed the Persian era was the matrix of Judaism. But the evidence against it is a pain and does open up many hard questions.
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Re: The Origins of Judaism, Yonatan Adler

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neilgodfrey wrote: Fri Nov 04, 2022 2:16 am
MrMacSon wrote: Fri Nov 04, 2022 12:31 am

It does say next:

The present chapter will be devoted to going beyond this data-driven terminus ante quem and will explore when it would have been most likely for the Torah to have been adopted as authoritative law among the Judean masses. We will begin by investigating the likelihood that this might have occurred as early as the Persian period, an idea that many scholars take for granted (as we saw in the section “The History of Scholarship” in the introduction). As it will be shown that there are good reasons to think that at this time many Judeans knew nothing of the existence of anything resembling the Pentateuch ... https://www.degruyter.com/document/doi/ ... 9-010/html

Yes, indeed. The Persian era has always been an assumption based on hypothetical models about the history of the Jewish religion and origins of the books that became the Bible. Some historians have tended to blame the lack of evidence on the over-eager archaeologists who were impatiently brushing aside what must have been the Persian era evidence in order to find the remains of David and Solomon.

Or maybe there just wasn't very much to brush aside in the first place. The evidence I have seen points to very sparsely populated area around Jersusalem during the Persian era. As one historian has said, what has been often praised as tolerance on the part of Persian rulers in allowing local regions to foster their own customs and religions should perhaps be more accurately described as neglect of the provinces. There was no interest in rebuilding and less support for any such efforts. It was the Greeks who led the rebuilding projects and it was under their rule that the population of "Judea" increased and urbanization gathered momentum.

I am reminded of RGPrice's question: why did the Judeans or Yehudians look on the Persian era as a turning point? I long thought the hypothesis of Hellenistic origins was "way too extreme" to be considered seriously and assumed the Persian era was the matrix of Judaism. But the evidence against it is a pain and does open up many hard questions.
One can of course use the sparse population of Judea during the Persian period as an argument that the major components of the Pentateuch predate the Persian period but were combined together during the Persian era.
David Carr for example does this in Formation of the Hebrew Bible: A New Reconstruction

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Re: The Origins of Judaism, Yonatan Adler

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andrewcriddle wrote: Mon Nov 07, 2022 10:16 am
One can of course use the sparse population of Judea during the Persian period as an argument that the major components of the Pentateuch predate the Persian period but were combined together during the Persian era.
And yet, one has to reconstruct a scenario where Pentateuchal literature was being composed or redacted in a culture where such literature appears to have been unlike any other and in a world where Judeans left evidence that they had no knowledge of a holy sabbath day of rest, of an exodus-passover myth, of a Mosaic law, of a central place of worship.... (Elephantine).
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Re: The Origins of Judaism, Yonatan Adler

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I've quoted a few key extracts relating to Yonatan Adler's conclusions on various Judean practices --

https://vridar.org/2022/11/17/the-late- ... -evidence/
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Re: The Origins of Judaism, Yonatan Adler

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neilgodfrey wrote: Thu Nov 17, 2022 12:39 am I've quoted a few key extracts relating to Yonatan Adler's conclusions on various Judean practices --

https://vridar.org/2022/11/17/the-late- ... -evidence/
Excellent Vridar posting.

The Smithsonian has an article on Adler's book at https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/ ... b2MYA84siE
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Re: The Origins of Judaism, Yonatan Adler

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Just a comment on a comment, by NG, which reads:
"And yet, one has to reconstruct a scenario where Pentateuchal literature was being composed or redacted in a culture where such literature appears to have been unlike any other and in a world where Judeans left evidence that they had no knowledge of a holy sabbath day of rest, of an exodus-passover myth, of a Mosaic law, of a central place of worship.... (Elephantine)."

First, putting aside the question whether some regard Torah literature as somewhat like some others.

Again, absence of evidence (in Elephantine extant text) is not evidence of absence.
In 2007, reviewing the 2006 Berossus book, I wrote, in part:

"....Gmirkin mentions a letter among the Elephantine papyri written from a Jewish mercenary colony in upper Egypt dating from the 5th century to the High Priest in Jerusalem which fails to reveal a knowledge of some of the most basic events in the Jewish tradition and claims that it supports his position that the Pentateuch was not then in existence. What is strikingly omitted in his discussion is the fact that the colony also wrote a letter to the Samaritans. What distinguishes the Samaritans from the orthodox Jews is basically three items: (1) the place of worship (Gerazim or Jerusalem) (2) purity of descent (the Samaritans were considered to be a mixed race of Jews and infidels) and (3) the canon of scripture -- the Jews accept The Law, The Prophets and The Writings whereas the Samaritans accept only the Pentateuch. It would seem that the omission of the letter to the Samaritans was deliberate since it undermines Gmirkin's position.

....Also, the temple in Elephantine does not attest to non-existence of written Torah then, any more than does the later temple at Leontopolis. In fact, the Elephantine papyri, Cowley 33 and 32, may well attest to Deuteronomy 12, and possibly the Pentateuch as well, by promising to the governor of Yehud to comply with its explicit law limiting the burnt sacrifice, the 'olah, to one place only."

Correcting my text above: the TaNaK, of course, was not canonized until later. But some of the rest--for instance the bit about Leontopolis--may remain pertinent.
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