Friday, June 28, 2019

On Boyarin on the origin of "Judaism"

NEW BOOK: How Christians Invented 'Judaism,' According to a Top Talmud Scholar. One of the greatest living scholars of the Talmud, Daniel Boyarin ponders the place where the two traditions were born, in brotherly rivalry but with a common biblical origin (Tomer Persico, Haaretz premium).
His latest book thus joins a series of studies that call into question the popular-naive conception of Judaism. Starkly put, Boyarin asserts that until a few hundred years ago, there was no such thing as “Judaism,” in the sense of an abstract category of thought and thus of life. Indeed, the term is not found in the Torah, Prophets or Writings, the Mishna or Talmud, the works of the early medieval Geonim, of Rabbi Judah Halevi or of Maimonides. None of them knew of the existence of such a thing as “Judaism.” The term’s first appearances date from the 12th century (for example, in the “Midrash Sekhel Tov,” by Rabbi Menachem Ben Shlomo), and even then it denotes not a particular culture or a particular religion but a condition – that is, the condition of being a Jewish person.
In antiquity there was no distinction between nationhood and religion. You worshipped your national god(s). Judaism arose in that environment and retains the concept of a national identity.

I haven't read Professor Boyarin's new book (Judaism: The Genealogy of a Modern Notion, Rutgers University Press), so I can't comment on it. Dr. Persico has some criticisms. Have a look at the article and see what you think.

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