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The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Studies Provides a comprehensive survey of Biblical scholarship in a variety of disciplines.



Diaspora and Rabbinic Judaism

Catherine Hezser

The study of the history, literature, and religious beliefs and practices of ancient Jews in the Land of Israel and the Diaspora provides the proper background and context for the study of the later books of the Hebrew Bible, the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, and the New Testament writings. From the time of the Babylonian exile, and especially from Hellenistic times onwards, a vibrant Jewish Diaspora existed alongside the Jewish community in the Land of Israel (see Barclay 1996; Rutgers 1995 and 1998; Isaac and Oppenheimer 1996). During the time of the Second Temple (520 BCE to 70 CE) and throughout rabbinic times Israel nevertheless remained the centre of world Jewry (cf. Gafni 1997). The books of the Hebrew Bible and the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha were written by Jews who lived in the Diaspora or the Land of Israel; the books of the New Testament were written by Jewish and Gentile Christians in various Diaspora locations which also had Jewish communities. Thus the direct experience of Jewish life or the indirect knowledge of and interaction with Jews would have had an impact on the literature which the biblical authors created.

The significance and canonization of the Hebrew Bible was crucial for the development of both rabbinic Judaism and early Christianity. In the first centuries CE both of these movements emerged as inheritors and interpreters of the biblical tradition. Their partly similar and partly different interpretations led to analogous phenomena as well as to disputes, animosities, and competition. Besides the Bible, the Graeco-Roman cultural tradition had a major impact on both rabbinic Judaism and early Christianity. Again, similarities as well as differences in the respective adaptation of this tradition can be observed. Since both ancient Judaism and early Christianity were influenced by the Bible on the one hand and by Graeco-Roman culture on the other, analogies in the usage of certain literary forms and artistic symbols, in the development of institutions and offices, and the evolution of prayer and liturgy occurred.

These analogies have to be examined in their respective historical, literary, and cultural contexts. They may be due to partly similar, yet also partly different, adaptations of earlier biblical and/or Graeco-Roman prototypes rather than to direct influence of Diaspora or rabbinic Judaism on early Christianity, or vice versa. The critical examination of the partly similar and partly different ways in which early Judaism and Christianity evolved out of their common biblical heritage and Hellenistic and Roman cultural environment constitutes a challenge and opportunity for scholars today.

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