Kosher Sects

Since the dawn of academic Jewish studies, critical scholars had a few pet topics.  Chief among these was Jesus of Nazareth and his relationship to Judaism, and Sectarianism.  Indeed, everybody loves sects.

A recent volume, proceedings of a UCL conference, represents the most recent contribution to the study of sectarianism and Judaism – now from a historical perspective.  The table of contents shows that the book has been divided into three sections: Ancient, Medieval-Modern, Theory and Practice. The section on Ancient is most germane to the readers of this blog:

Prologue: How Do We Know When We Are On To  Something? (Albert I. Baumgarten)

Religious Variety and the Temple in the Late Second Temple  Period and Its Aftermath  (Martin Goodman)

The ‘Sectarian’ Calendar of Qumran   (Sacha Stern)

Determining Sectarian by ‘Non-Sectarian’ Narratives in  Qumran (Ida Fröhlich)

The Nazoraeans as a ‘Sect’ in ‘Sectarian’ Judaism?   A Reconsideration of the Current View via the Narrative  of Acts and the Meaning of Hairesis  ( Joan E. Taylor)

Legal Realism and the Fashioning of Sectarians in Jewish  Antiquity ( Christine Hayes)

Of these , the article of greatest interest is Hayes’.  Here is the summary which appears at the end of the article:

The case I have argued is this: despite a surface appearance of great diversity, rabbinic representations of heretics (especially Sadducees and minim) for all their individual differences share a common element—a realist resistance to rabbinic legal nominalism and creative Scriptural exegesis. Ranging from skepticism to incredulity, from ridicule to outright hostility, the resistance of these non-rabbinic others leads ultimately to rejection of both the law and legal authority—either Pharisaic-rabbinic, as in the case of the Sadducees, or in the more extreme case of the min, both rabbinic and Scriptural. I have argued that the literary representation of heretics in classical rabbinic literature is rooted in a historic phenomenon: a divergence in legal epistemologies that can be traced to the late Second Temple period, involving (a) groups, often with a priestly orientation, who favored an approach to the law that placed a high value on epistemological certainty, and (b) a group or groups who were willing on occasion to set aside considerations of “the way things really are” in the determination of the law. The former viewed as absurd the nominalist tendency of the latter to overrule determinations of law that commanded a high degree of epistemological certainty, a tendency found in Pharisaic and later rabbinic law

It’s published by Brill, and we all know what that means, but you can still read the volume at your local, academic library.

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