Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A Pseudepigrapha Journal in the News

The Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha gets a mention in today's Jerusalem Post. Some of the issues covered in class last week appear as well.
Lack of 2nd Temple period rabbinic control may have caused assimilation

A deep linguistic and cultural chasm between the Jewish communities of the West and their brethren in the East led to the almost total assimilation of Western Greek- and Latin-speaking Jews during the last centuries of the Roman Empire, according to a study by Prof. Doron Mendels of the Hebrew University and Dr. Arye Edrei of Tel Aviv University published in the January issue of The Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha.

"We have quite decisively shown that the view that the rabbis [of the Talmud] had authority over the whole Jewish Diaspora in the Hellenistic period and later is not true," Mendels, an expert on the Hellenistic world and its Jews, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.


According to Mendels, "In the East, they spoke Aramaic and Hebrew, whereas in the West they spoke Greek and Latin. This gap was never bridged by the rabbis. They never translated all the rabbinic [material], which for a long time [remained] oral."

Prof. Aharon Oppenheimer of Tel Aviv University says the thesis put forward by Mendels and Edrei "makes sense." Given the oral nature of the rabbinic texts, "there's a great likelihood that for Jews in Rome, only pieces or fragments arrived, not whole tractates or chapters," he said.

"Because of this language gap," continued Mendels, "the two parts of the Jewish Diaspora had different corpora of literary works. The eastern side had the Bible, the midrashim, the Mishna and the Talmud, whereas the western part had the Bible in Greek, and also part of the Apocrypha, the external texts."

These Apocrypha, such as the second Book of Maccabees, were excluded from the Jewish canon in the East by the rabbis. Thus, "the Jewish bookshelf was different in the West and the East as a consequence of the language gap," Mendels said. "Even the Haggada of Passover, developed in the second century, wasn't translated into Greek."

You can find the January 2007 issue of the JSP, which contains this article, here. The abstract can be accessed for free, but you have to have a paid personal or institutional subscription to download the article itself.