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

Iran’s Defeat May Not Be Immediate, but Effective Containment Is at Hand

Aug. 20 2018

In the 1980s, the U.S. pursued a policy of economic, military, and political pressure on the Soviet Union that led to—or at least hastened—its collapse while avoiding a head-on military confrontation. Some see reasons to hope that a similar strategy might bring about the collapse of the Islamic Republic. Frederick Kagan, however, argues against excessive optimism. Carefully comparing the current situation of Iran to that of the Gorbachev-era USSR, he suggests instead that victory over Tehran can be effectively achieved even if the regime persists, at least for the time being:

What must [an Iran] strategy accomplish in order to advance American national security and vital national interests? Regime change was the only outcome during the cold war that could accomplish those goals, given the conventional and nuclear military power of the Soviet Union. Iran is much weaker by every measure and much more vulnerable to isolation than the Soviets were. . . . Isolating Iran from external resources and forcing the regime to concentrate on controlling its own population would be major accomplishments that would transform the Middle East. . . .

It is vital to note that the strategy toward the Soviet Union included securing Western Europe against the Soviet threat and foreclosing Soviet efforts to pare America’s allies, especially West Germany, away from it while simultaneously supporting (in an appropriately limited fashion) the Solidarity uprising in Poland and the anti-Soviet insurgency in Afghanistan. It is not meaningful to speak of a victory strategy against Iran that does not include contesting Iranian control and influence in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq while strengthening and hardening the Arab frontline states (including Oman and Qatar) against Iranian influence.

Syria is Iran’s Afghanistan—it is the theater in which Iranian forces are most vulnerable, where Iranian popular support for the war is wearing thin, and where the U.S. can compel [Iran] to expend its limited resources on a defensive battle. Iraq is Iran’s Poland—the area Iran has come to dominate, but with limitations, and a country Iran’s leaders believe they cannot afford to lose. The U.S. is infinitely better positioned to contest Iran’s control over Iraq than it ever was in Poland (and similarly better positioned in Syria than it was in Afghanistan).

A long-term approach would focus on building a consensus among America’s allies about the need to implement a victory strategy. It would deter the Russians and Chinese from stepping in to keep Iran alive. It would disrupt the supply chain of strategic materials Iran needs to advance its nuclear and conventional military capabilities. And it would force Iran to fight hard for its positions in Iraq and Syria while simultaneously pressing the Iranian economy in every possible way. Such a strategy would almost certainly force the Islamic Republic back in on itself, halt and reverse its movement toward regional hegemony, exacerbate schisms within the Iranian leadership and between the regime and the people, and possibly, over time, and in a uniquely Iranian way, lead to a change in the nature of the regime.

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More about: Cold War, Iran, Politics & Current Affairs, Soviet Union, U.S. Foreign policy