February 27, 2005
Not Just One Judaism
Whereas Christian historians had, until recently, treated Jesus’s contemporaries as constituents of “late Judaism,” (as though Judaism were about to come to an end after Jesus’ ministry) and tended uncritically to repeat whatever the New Testament reported about them, scholars from the 1950’s onward have rediscovered the thriving diversity in Second Temple Judaism, incorporating various theological parties holding conflicting beliefs, espousing conflicting responses to Roman domination, and generally illuminating the social milieu in which an improbable message about a crucified Galilean wonder-worker developed into a rapidly-growing religion alongside the Judaism out of which it sprung.
While it’s safe to talk about first-century “Judaism” in the most vague terms, students should develop the habit of checking their assumptions, of learning about and recalling the pronounced variety in Judaic belief and practice (to the extent that many scholars now casually refer to first-century Judaisms).
On any given day, the streets around the Temple in Jerusalem might include gentile merchants and Roman officials, Pharisees, Sadducees, perhaps a visiting Essene, an incognito rebel, a venturesome Samaritan, and hundreds of Judeans unaffiliated with any given party.
External Links: PBS posts short statements on first-century Judaism by Shaye Cohen, Paula Fredriksen, and L. Michael White