Dan Libenson of the Judaism Unbound podcast returns to the show. This time we discuss best-selling Israeli author Yochi Brandes' novel 'The Orchard'. Dan translated the book into English. The novel centres on Rabbi Akiva, the man who forged rabbinic Judaism after teh fall of the Temple. Along the way we encounter a host of other rabbis and Paul of Tarsus. We also ponder the difficulties of translation and working out what actually happened in history.
So much to cover: the discovery of the oldest Jewish bible, the Leningrad Codex; and the oldest Christian bible, the Codex Sinaticus. At the Cairo Geniza, finds revealed another thousand years of manuscripts. The Didache was recovered, and another bunch of books discovered in an obscure tomb in Egypt, revealing a Christianity hitherto unknown. The Dead Sea Scrolls then showed that Judaism was not the dessicated religion that the New Testament described.
As the Tanakh tells it, the Jewish nation comprised a united body-politic from the fall of the kingdom of Israel right through the return. The only division in Judaism was between those who followed God’s laws, and those who strayed. From the time of the Seleucids on, the people fragmented into factions and religious renewal movements. Prime amongst these were the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes: maybe.
The Maccabeans reach their apogee under John Hyrcanus I, and his sons Aristobulus and Alexander Jannaeus. Alexander's widow, Alexandra Salome, became known as a ruler of wisdom and moderation. Her incompetent children and successors John Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II blew it all in a fratricidal civil war. The Romans stepped in, ditched the Maccabean ditzes, and installed more reliable bureaucrats: Antipater, and his son Herod.
The Book of Jubilees was preserved by the Ethiopian Orthodox. Until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, it was held to be a parody of Jewish thought. Now we know the book was immensely popular with Jews and Christians until the early Middle Ages. The book re-writes Genesis and Exodus. Jubilees claims a higher authority than those books. It creates a new sacred calendar, and invents the figure we call Satan. I also have something to say about that odious book written at the same time,...
The book of Daniel is one-half comfy folktales, and one-half crazy. It was the only one of the many Jewish apocalyptic books to make it into the Old testament because it was the only book to talk of the resurection of the dead. It gets every historical detail wrong. Nonetheless, it can claim to be the founding document of the USA. Daniel's use of a common Hebrew idiom, "son of man", has created huge theological problems. That part of 1 Enoch called the Book of Parables re-creates the term...
Rival high priests Jason and Menelaus plunge Judah into turmoil. Many Jews thought that both Jason and Menelaus were too Greek for their own good. Antiochus IV over-reacts and attempts to quash the civil strife. The Maccabeans stage a nationalistic rebellion. Judas Maccabeus reclaims the temple and creates Hanukkah. After Judas' death, his brother Jonathon transforms from insurgent to high-priest.
The Judeans spent 120 happy years under the Hellenistic rule of the Egyptian Ptolemies. They chafed under the rule of the Hellenistic kingdom of the Seleucids, who faced severe geopolitical challenges. The social and economic tidal wave of international Hellenism challenged every aspect of Judean life and thought. A country Jewish priest called Mattathias revolted against this globalisation: Make Judah Great Again!
First in a mini-series on the history of the Jews and the province of Judea under the Hellenistic empires, and under the Maccabees. I start with a summary of the history I will expand on in the next few episodes. Then I present our sources for that history, Josephus and Maccabees. I conclude with a few notes about the oddities of the Ethiopian orthodox biblical canon.
Apocalypses were popular reading amongst Jews in the centuries they spent under Roman rule. Rabbinical Judaism blotted the apocalypses from its collective memory. Christianity incorporated them into its very soul. I cover the greatest apocalypse of them all, 1st Enoch. The book of Tobit is my special guest star.
Jews produced a vast number of religious books in the centuries before the birth of Jesus. They had no influence on later Judaism, but profoundly influenced Christianity. We call them parabiblical or pseudipigraphical. Their significance was not appreciated until the discoveries of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
The Jews have a placid existence under Persian rule, and create Judaism. They reconstruct their religion, one now without kings and prophets. From on, the Law is all. I discuss the last of the books of the Tanakh: the romances of Esther and Judith, the hateful but mercifully brief prophet Obadiah, and the funniest book in the canon, Jonah.
Governor Nehemiah and priest-scribe Ezra finally bring the Jews back home from Babylon. Modern scholars reverse the Biblical order of the two, and so do I. The two institute a tax-payer-funded theocracy. Ezra rejects the old Hebrew religion and founds modern Judaism. Intermarriage is forbidden. Against that stance is the Book of Ruth.
The prophet Malachi, traditionally ac
After Sheshbazzar's failure, the second wave of returnees are led by the enigmatic figures of the supposed Davidic king Zerubbabel and the high-priest Joshua. Those returning spurn those who stayed behind, implying that the only real Jews are those who were exiled. Zerubbabel inexplicably disappears from the narrative at the moment of his triumph. The book of Esdras Alpha rehabilitates him.
The prophets Haggai and Zechariah are sources for the period. Zechariah writes the first...
The Babylonian empire is rendered helpless when its king Nabonidus goes on a ten year holiday to Arabia. The best-ever benevolent autocrat, Cyrus the Great of Persia, has no trouble mounting a friendly takeover of the empire. Cyrus urges the Jews to return home under the mysterious Sheshbazzar. Cyrus is applauded by Second Isaiah, who introduces the Age of Aquarius, and some new theology.
Our most important sources for the Return are the books known as Ezra and Nehemiah in Catholic and Protestant bibles. The Jews have a single book, called Ezra. There a whole bunch of other books of Ezra, many to be found in Russian and Greek bibles. 1 Esdras, 2 Esdras, 2 Esdras, Latin Esdras, Esdras Alpha, the Greek Apocalypse of Ezra, the Latin Vision of Ezra, the Questions of Ezra, the Revelation of Ezra. What a muddle! Colombus used 4 Esdras to discover America.
In the book of Ezekiel God transforms from furious father to jealous husband. The prophet is commanded to protest against the Judeans with performance art. He has a few passages no-one can make head nor tail of. I also reluctantly tackle the book of Job, that most difficult of books.
In the first episode of series two, I begin with the Judeans in exile in Babylon. We move from the prophet Jeremiah to the prophet Ezekiel, and his crazy imagery, imagery that has inflamed Christian iconography for centuries. But not only Christians. Ezekiel is the father of Jewish mysticism, a movement which the rabbis only quashed in the early Middle Ages.
My special guest is Dan Libenson of the Judaism Unbound podcast. We talk about the Bible, the history of the Jewish religion, the difficulties of translation, how Jews and Christians think about God, and many other matters. All good fun!