English, Recent Publications

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.

English, Recent Publications

RSK’s New Book and Paradigms of Gender Research

In a recent review at the Review of Biblical Literature, Gail Streete looks at Ross Shepard Kraemer‘s newest book, Unreliable Witnesses: Religion, Gender, and History in the Greco-Roman Mediterranean.  It is a fascinating take on how one of the foremost gender theorists working on Ancient Judaism has changed her views over the past few decades. In many ways, RSK’s (if you’ll pardon my French) evolution mirrors some of the debates still current among Talmudists, where feminists like Charlotte Fonrobert and, it seems to me, Daniel Boyarin, claim that female voices can be discovered in rabbinic works by reading closely for disturbances in the textual architecture, and scholars like Ishay Rosen-Zvi who have despaired of ever accomplishing such  “recoveries.”

In other reviewing news, Josh Lambert over at Tablet Magazine, lists a number of interesting recent and forthcoming publications on identity and conversion, including Matthew Thiessen’s Contesting Conversion: Genealogy, Circumcision and Identity in Ancient Judaism and Christianity, and an edited volume entitled Sacrifice, Scripture and Substitution: Readings in Ancient Judaism and Christianity. Also of some interest is Yoel Finkelman’s forthcoming book on Artscroll (scroll down).

Conferences, English, Recent Publications

Bar Ilan Talmud Conference Proceedings

Back in 2007, I attended a Talmud conference at Bar Ilan University. It was an international meeting, and included a nice variety of scholars from both sides of the Atlantic, along with a “continental” Talmudist or two. The proceedings have recently been published by Bar Ilan University Press under the title Malekhet Mahshevet: Studies in the Redaction and Development of Talmudic Literature (eds. Aron Shemesh and Aron Amit).   Although the volume does not include all of the original papers, I’ll quote Uriel Shklunik by saying that the volume is like finely sifted flour.  Some highlights are the ongoing debate about the dating of the Stam between Robert Brody and Shamma Friedman, Yaakov Elman’s continued research of the introduction to talmudic tractates, and Steven Fraade’s preliminary probe: “Anonymity and Redaction in Legal Midrash.” For an English table of contents, see here.