The Dead Sea Scrolls Turn 70

The first of the Qumran documents reached the eyes of Western scholars in 1947; the remaining texts were found over the course of the next nine years. After recounting the story of the scrolls’ publication, Lawrence Schiffman takes stock of how they have changed the study of ancient Judaism and Christianity:

[Since the scrolls have been studied systematically, scholars] have come to understand the varying modes of biblical interpretation that would later influence the authoritative texts of Judaism and Christianity. In the scrolls we find Jewish legal midrash, some of it as complicated as what we find in later rabbinic literature. We also find modes of interpretation, like the genre of rewritten Bible [books], that point toward the aggadic [i.e., narrative] midrash of the rabbis. [Another genre known as] pesher, contemporizing biblical interpretation, points toward the fulfillment passages of the Gospels. . . .

Many new details have [also] emerged about sectarianism in the Jewish community of the land of Israel in the late Second Temple era. Eventually, after the destruction of the Temple, a consensus developed around rabbinic Judaism that became the basis for the subsequent history of Judaism. Through the scrolls, one can trace many details of agreement and disagreement between groups, clear examples [both of] a common Judaism [shared across sectarian lines] and of the conflict between groups.

Indeed, the notion of common Judaism has become increasingly significant, and can be seen by studying Dead Sea Scrolls’ Sabbath codes and other legal tractates that often have numerous parallels to those found in the later rabbinic corpus. Even while this allows us to observe continuities in Jewish practice, such as in the mikva’ot (ritual baths) found at the sectarian site at Qumran, we must not forget that disagreements about Jewish law were the main factor that separated Jewish groups and movements in Second Temple times. Yes, many theological differences existed. However, these were manifested most clearly in the differing opinions about Jewish practice and ritual.

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More about: Ancient Israel, ancient Judaism, Christianity, Dead Sea Scrolls, History & Ideas, Midrash

 

Israel’s Nation-State Law and the Hysteria of the Western Media

Aug. 17 2018

Nearly a month after it was passed by the Knesset, the new Basic Law defining Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people” is still causing outrage in the American and European press. The attacks, however, are almost uniformly incommensurate with this largely symbolic law, whose text, in the English translation found on the Knesset website, is barely over 400 words in length. Matthew Continetti comments:

Major journalistic institutions have become so wedded to a pro-Palestinian, anti-Benjamin Netanyahu narrative, in which Israel is part of a global trend toward nationalist authoritarian populism, that they have abdicated any responsibility for presenting the news in a dispassionate and balanced manner. The shameful result of this inflammatory coverage is the normalization of anti-Israel rhetoric and policies and widening divisions between Israel and the diaspora.

For example, a July 18, 2018, article in the Los Angeles Times described the nation-state law as “granting an advantageous status to Jewish-only communities.” But that is false: the bill contained no such language. (An earlier version might have been interpreted in this way, but the provision was removed.) Yet, as I write, the Los Angeles Times has not corrected the piece that contained the error. . . .

Such through-the-looking-glass analysis riddled [the five] news articles and four op-eds the New York Times has published on the matter at the time of this writing. In these pieces, “democracy” is defined as results favored by the New York Times editorial board, and Israel’s national self-understanding as in irrevocable conflict with its democratic form of government. . . .

The truth is that democracy is thriving in Israel. . . .  The New York Times quoted Avi Shilon, a historian at Ben-Gurion University, who said [that] “Mr. Netanyahu and his colleagues are acting like we are still in the battle of 1948, or in a previous era.” Judging by the fallacious, paranoid, fevered, and at times bigoted reaction to the nation-state bill, however, Bibi may have good reason to believe that Israel is still in the battle of 1948, and still defending itself against assaults on the very idea of a Jewish state.

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More about: Israel & Zionism, Israel's Basic Law, Israeli democracy, Media, New York Times