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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.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

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

Israel Agreed Not to Retaliate During the Persian Gulf War—and Paid a Price for It

Feb. 19 2018

During the Persian Gulf War of 1991, Saddam Hussein fired 39 Scud missiles at Israel, killing one person and causing extensive property damage. Under intense pressure from the first Bush administration to sit still—ostensibly because Israeli involvement in the war could lead Arab states to abandon the White House’s anti-Iraq coalition—Jerusalem refrained from retaliating. Moshe Arens, who was the Israeli defense minister at the time, comments on the decision in light of information recently made public:

[W]hat was George H.W. Bush thinking [in urging Israel not to respond]? His secretary of state, James Baker, had accompanied the U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Charles (Chas) Freeman, on a visit to King Fahd in Riyadh on November 2, 1990, two-and-a-half months before the beginning of the war, to obtain the king’s approval for additional deployment of U.S. troops in his kingdom in preparation for the attack on Iraq.

He was told by the king that although they would not welcome Israeli participation in the war, he understood that Israel could not stand idly by if it were attacked by Iraq. If Israel were to defend itself, the Saudi armed forces would still fight on America’s side, the king told Baker. So much for the danger to the coalition if Israel were to respond to the Scud attacks. Israel was not informed of this Saudi position.

So why was President Bush so intent on keeping Israel out of the war? It seems that he took the position, so dominant in the American foreign-policy establishment, that America’s primary interest in the Middle East was the maintenance of good relations with the Arab world, and that the Arab world attached great importance to the Palestinian problem, and that as long as that problem was not resolved Israel remained an encumbrance to the U.S.-Arab relationship. If Israel were to appear as an ally of the U.S. in the war against Iraq, that was likely to damage the image the U.S. was trying to project to the Arabs.

In fact, immediately upon the conclusion of the war against Saddam Hussein, Baker launched a diplomatic effort that culminated in the Madrid Conference in the hope that it would lead to a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It didn’t. . . .

Read more at Jerusalem Post

More about: George H. W. Bush, Israel & Zionism, Israeli history, Peace Process, Persian Gulf War, US-Israel relations