The Forgotten Jewish Texts That Came after the Bible

July 13 2017

The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the middle of the last century, together with the mining of the ancient texts found in the Cairo Genizah, has given scholars access to a wide range of Jewish religious texts composed in the approximately four centuries between the end of the biblical period and the composition of the Mishnah (the earlier stratum of the Talmud) around 200 CE. In Outside the Bible, three distinguished scholars of ancient Judaism have brought together translations of these works. Hindy Najman writes in her review:

Prior to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, scholars assumed that there was some kind of closing of the canon in the Maccabean period [the 3rd and 2nd centuries BCE] or even slightly later, in the 1st century CE. References to the 24, or 22, books or occasional allusions to the end of prophecy were often cited to justify this hypothesis. Of course, this presupposed that there was already something like a canon, a set of texts that approximated our present-day Tanakh, or Hebrew Bible, and that other ancient Jewish texts stood outside of this collection.

What the biblical manuscripts discovered at Qumran definitively showed was that the canon didn’t close in the Second Temple period, indeed that it is anachronistic to think in these terms. Texts such as Jubilees show that new works were being written that continue to make comparable claims [about their own importance and sanctity] to Deuteronomy and Chronicles, while others, such as Philo’s Questions and Answers on Genesis and Exodus, interpret and develop already established authoritative biblical works. This demonstrates both that biblical books were being authorized and stabilized on the one hand and that there was ongoing and continuous writing of texts that can only be described as biblical on the other. Revelation did not end with the advent of interpretation.

The [old] schematic understanding of the history of Judaism as occurring in two [distinct] phases—first the Bible and then rabbinic interpretation of the Bible—is, in short, deeply mistaken.

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More about: ancient Judaism, Apocrypha, Dead Sea Scrolls, Hebrew Bible, History & Ideas, Second Temple

The Impossibility of Unilateral Withdrawal from the West Bank

Feb. 19 2019

Since throwing his hat into the ring for the Israeli premiership, the former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz has been reticent about his policy plans. Nonetheless, he has made clear his openness to unilateral disengagement from the West Bank along the lines of the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, stating the necessity of finding “a way in which we’re not controlling other people.” Gershon Hacohen argues that any such plan would be ill-advised:

The political and strategic precepts underlying the Oslo “peace” process, which Gantz echoes, vanished long ago. The PLO has unequivocally revealed its true colors: its total lack of interest in peace, unyielding rejection of the idea of Jewish statehood, and incessant propensity for violence and terrorism. . . . Tehran is rapidly emerging as regional hegemon, with its tentacles spreading from Yemen and Iraq to the Mediterranean Sea and its dogged quest for nuclear weapons continuing apace under the international radar. Even the terror groups Hizballah and Hamas pose a far greater threat to Israel’s national security than they did a decade ago. Under these circumstances, Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank’s Area C, [the only part still under direct Israeli control], would constitute nothing short of an existential threat.

Nor does Israel need to find a way to stop “controlling other people,” as Gantz put it, for the simple reason that its control of the Palestinians ended some two decades ago. In May 1994 the IDF withdrew from all Palestinian population centers in the Gaza Strip. In January 1996 it vacated the West Bank’s populated areas (the Oslo Accords’ Areas A and B), comprising over 90 percent of the West Bank’s Palestinian residents, and handed control of that population to the Palestinian Authority (PA). . . .

This in turn means that the real dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as within Israel itself, no longer revolves around the end of “occupation” but around the future of eastern Jerusalem and Area C. And since Area C (which is home to only 100,000 Palestinians) includes all the Jewish West Bank localities, IDF bases, transportation arteries, vital topographic sites, and habitable empty spaces between the Jordan Valley and the Jerusalem metropolis, its continued retention by Israel is a vital national interest. Why? Because its surrender to a potentially hostile Palestinian state would make the defense of the Israeli hinterland virtually impossible—and because these highly strategic and sparsely populated lands are of immense economic, infrastructural, communal, ecological, and cultural importance, not to mention their historical significance as the bedrock of the Jewish ancestral homeland

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More about: Benny Gantz, Israel & Zionism, Two-State Solution, West Bank