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Judaism: Practice and Belief, 63 BCE–66 CE

ISBN: 9781506406107

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In this now-classic work, E. P. Sanders argues against prevailing views regarding the Judaism of the Second Temple period, for example, that the Pharisees dominated Jewish Palestine or that the Mishnah offers a description of general practice. In contrast, Sanders carefully shows that what was important was the “common Judaism” of the people with their observances of regular practices and the beliefs that informed them.

Sanders discusses early rabbinic legal material not as rules, but as debates within the context of real life. He sets Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes in relation to the Judaism of ordinary priests and people. Here then is a remarkably comprehensive presentation of Judaism as a functioning religion: the temple and its routine and festivals; questions of purity, sacrifices, tithes, and taxes; common theology and hopes for the future; and descriptions of the various parties and groups culminating in an examination of the question “who ran what?” Sanders offers a detailed, clear, and well-argued account of all aspects of Jewish religion of the time.

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“Non-Christian Jewish authors emphasized that sacrifice provides the occasion for repentance and confession of sin. This agrees with the interiorization of religion to which we earlier referred. Blood does not atone automatically. Those who bring sacrifices should ‘ask for pardon and forgiveness for their sins’ (Spec. Laws 1.67).” (Page 415)

“The present argument is that priests maintained their traditional responsibilities, though they did not have a monopoly of them.” (Page 283)

“Being Jewish meant living in a certain way; ‘Judaism’ was more a way of life than a doctrinal system.” (Page 3)

“The sacrifice represents the sanctification of ‘the mind of the worshipper’ (Spec. Laws 1.203). Those who participate are thus ‘changing their way for the better’ (1.227). In short, Moses ‘holds the sacrifice to consist not in the victims but in the offerer’s intention and his zeal’ (1.290). God so values repentance that he gave to it ‘the same honour as to innocence from sin’ (1.187).” (Page 416)

“There were only a few Sadducees, more than 4,000 Essenes, and (at the time of Herod) 6,000 Pharisees (Antiq. 13.298; 18.20; 17.42). We cannot assume that these numbers are precise, but we should accept what they imply: that relatively few Jews belonged to one of the parties and that the Pharisaic party was the largest of the three, followed by the Essenes.” (Page 20)

E.P. Sanders is emeritus arts and sciences professor of religion at Duke University. His Jesus and Judaism was winner of the 1990 Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Religion. His volume Paul and Palestinian Judaism received the 1978 National Religious Book Award, Scholarly Book Category, from the Religious Book Review. He is also the author of Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People.


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    Digital list price: $31.99
    Save $6.00 (18%)