Monday, December 12, 2016

Modern Ethiopic and Second Temple Judaism

PARALLELS: Ethiopian Judaism nearly identical to that practiced during Second Temple Period. Researcher Dr. Yossi Ziv has researched Ethiopian Judaism and found an amazing discovery: Ethiopian Jews' customs and traditions extremely similar to those described in Dead Sea Scrolls, Second Temple Era texts (Yael Freidson, Ynet News).
Dr. Yossi Ziv has been researching the religious rituals of the Ethiopian Jewish population still in Ethiopia and discovered that they maintained the same customs and traditions as the Jews of the Second Temple period for the past two thousand years.

"It’s knowledge which hasn't been written anywhere, and has been preserved in their traditions," the researcher said.

"They have been curating ancient customs that have disappeared from the world. They provide examples of how the leaders of the nation of Israel would have behaved during the time of the Second Temple."

Israeli-Ethiopian elders performing the Sigid ritual in Jerusalem (Photo: Reuters)

The professor released his findings at a seminar which was held at the Kfar Etzion Field School right before the Jewish-Ethiopian holiday of Sigid.

Ziv said that many Jewish-Ethiopian customs go against modern Jewish practice, but perfectly align with customs and rituals described on scrolls found in the Qumran caves and in books dating back to the Second Temple Period. The Qumran Caves are where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, which include the third oldest Hebrew Bible ever found.

Interesting, but two notes of caution are in order. The first is that comparisons like this one involve a lot of interpretive latitude. It is often far from clear how a Qumran text on halakhic matters should be interpreted and to what degree it demonstrates a particular practice in Second Temple Judaism. So any parallels with a later Jewish community have to be sifted exceedingly carefully and the implications of such parallels should be advanced with great caution.

Second, this research is being filtered through the media, which almost inevitably involves an added layer of distortion and misunderstanding which makes the claims even harder to evaluate. Note the last sentence quoted above. I don't doubt that it reflects a reporter's misunderstanding of something a researcher said, but as it stands, it's nonsense. No complete Hebrew Bible was found at Qumran, and the Qumran manuscripts include the oldest fragments of many books of the Hebrew Bible. Perhaps the researcher said the three oldest fragmentary manuscripts of books of the Hebrew Bible were found at Qumran? That would be about right. So who knows what else in the article is garbled?

As always, the sort of claims being advanced in this story should be published in a peer-review venue if scholars are to take it seriously.