The Jewish World in New Testament Times (63 BCE-66CE)

(Winter 2001; McMaster University)

Course description:

This course will examine Judaism in the first century with attention to both the common denominators of practice and belief shared by virtually all Jews and the diversity which existed with regard to the various parties, movements and sects (the Jesus movement included). We will give attention to forms of Judaism as practised both by the general populace in everyday social life and by the more educated or scribal groups. This will entail analysis of a range of literary and artefactual evidence concerning Jewish life in both Palestine and the cities of the Roman empire (the "diaspora"). We conclude with several regional case studies, shedding light on the relationship between diaspora Jews (in Egypt, Asia Minor and Rome) and their Greek or Roman neighbours. This course will provide students with a foundational knowledge of ancient Judaism, while also aiding in the general development of critical skills in the analysis of historical sources (archeological and literary) and modern scholarly discussions and debates.

Required books

  • Bible (modern translation with "Apocrypha" such as NRSV [available at the bookstore for about $17], NEB, Jerusalem)
  • E.P. Sanders, Judaism: Practice and Belief 63BCE-66CE. Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1992.
  • Richard A. Horsley and John S. Hanson, Bandits, Prophets and Messiahs: Popular Movements in the Time of Jesus. Harrisburg: Trinity Press International, 1999 [1985].
  • Course pack (containing primary and secondary sources)
Evaluation (further assignment information at end of syllabus):
  • Book review paper, due Feb. 7 in class (review of Horsley and Hanson; 5 pp. max.) 20%
  • Statement of major paper topic, due March 7 in class (with thesis and bibliography) (2 pp.) 5%
  • Major research paper, due April 4 in class (10-15 pp.) 30%
  • Final exam 35%
  • Participation 10%

Lecture schedule:

Unit 1: Orientation

Jan 3

Introduction to second-temple Judaism and the academic study of religion:

Sources and approaches

Key issues and debates in the study of Judaism

Readings: Sanders, chs. 1-2

Jan 10

Historical overview I: Judaism and its context from the exile (586 BCE) to the Roman destruction of the temple (70 CE)

Readings: 1 Maccabees (Bible with Apocrypha); Josephus, War 1.31-69 (course pack); Sanders chs. 3-4; Horsley and Hanson, ch. 1

Discussion (Jan 16): Hellenistic rule and the Maccabean revolt as a turning point (1 Maccabees)

Jan 17

Historical overview II

Readings: Josephus, War 2.169-177 (Pilate), 184-203 (Gaius Caligula), 223-308 (Felix and years leading to war) (course pack); Sanders, ch. 9, 5

Discussion (Jan. 23): Roman rule and tensions in Israel (Josephus passages)


Unit 2: Common Denominators within Judaism - Monotheism, Temple, Covenant and Law

Jan 24

Monotheism and the Temple as symbolic centre

Nature and functions of the Temple (priests, Levites and sacrifice)

Common people and the Temple: Festivals and holy days

Readings: Leviticus 1-11, 25; Deuteronomy 15-16 (Bible); Sirach 50:1-21 (Bible); Letter of Aristeas 83-120; Josephus, Antiquities 3.237-54 (festivals); 15.380-425 (Herod's temple) (course pack); Sanders, chs. 5-7, 8, 10

Discussion (Jan 30): The Temple's function and meaning (above readings)

Jan 31

Covenant and Law: Sabbath, circumcision, purity

Readings: Genesis 17; Exodus 19-20; Leviticus 11-27 (Bible); Letter of Aristeas 128-172; Philo, Decalogue and The Special Laws I 1-65 (course pack); Sanders chs. 11-12

Discussion: Philo of Alexandria on the Law (Philo passages)

Feb 7

Common characteristics of the Jewish world-view: Covenantal nomism; God's kingly rule and his plans for the future of his people, Israel

Readings: Isaiah 60; Sirach 36:1-22 (Bible); Psalms of Solomon, esp. ch. 17 (course pack); Sanders, chs. 13-14; Horsley and Hanson, ch. 5 (Zealots)

Discussion: The Future of Israel (land and people) (above readings)

*Book review due in class Feb 7


Unit 3: Diversity of Judaism - Sects, Parties and Movements

Feb 14

Introduction to the diversity of Judaism

Sadducees and aristocrats

Pharisees: Practice and belief

Readings: Josephus, War, 2.119-166; Antiquities 18.12-15 (course pack); Mark 12:18-27, 38-40; Matthew 23 (Christian polemic); Sanders, chs. 15, 18-19

Discussion: Pharisees' beliefs, practices and functions within society (above)

Feb 28

Essenes and the Dead Sea Scrolls: Jewish apocalypticism

Readings: "Rule of the Community" (course pack); 2 Esdras 3-14 (Bible); Josephus, War 2.119-166; Sanders, chs. 16-17

Discussion: Life in the Dead Sea community ("Rule of the Community"); The Jewish apocalyptic worldview (Columns 3-4 of "Rule"; 2 Esdras 3-14)

Mar 7

Popular prophetic and messianic movements: Theudas, Athrongeus, John the Baptist, Jesus and others

Readings: Josephus, Antiquities 18.116-119 (John the Baptist) + Josephus passages in Horsley and Hanson

Discussion: Popular movements and responses to them -- Assessing Horsley's work (Josephus passages + Horsley and Hanson)

*Statement of major paper topic due in class March 7

Mar 14

Other dimensions or strands of Judaism reflected in the literature: Wisdom and "Pietist" literature; Asceticism

Readings: Wisdom of Solomon (Bible); Psalms of Solomon; Philo, On the Contemplative Life (course pack); Sanders, ch. 20

Discussion: Jewish asceticism and the case of the Therapeutae (Philo)


Unit 4: Diaspora Judaism in the Roman Empire - Regional Case Studies

Mar 21

Introduction to the diaspora

Jews through Greco-Roman eyes

Egypt: Greek-Jewish tensions in the first century

Readings: Philo, Flaccus; Barclay, "Jews in Roman Egypt: From Augustus to Trajan" (course pack)

Discussion: Greek-Jewish tensions during the reign of Gaius Caligula (Philo)

Mar 28

Asia Minor: Cohabitation and conflict in the Greek cities

Readings: Josephus, Antiquities 14.185-267; Barclay, "[Jews in the] Province of Asia" (course pack); Inscriptions from Roman Asia (handout)

Discussion: Jewish groups and the Greek inhabitants of western Asia Minor (Josephus)

April 4

Rome: Expulsions and ongoing Jewish presence

Readings: Tacitus, Annals, 2.85.4-5; Suetonius, Claudius 25.4 (handout); Acts 18:2; Rutgers, "Roman Policy toward the Jews: Expulsions from the City of Rome during the First Century C.E." (course pack)

Discussion: Roman policy towards the Jews: Nature and causes of the expulsions (Rutgers)

*Major paper due in class April 4


Outline of Assignments

Assignment 1: Book Review Paper (5 pages, no longer; Feb 7)

Read Horsley and Hanson's, Bandits, Prophets and Messiahs. Write a review of the book, which entails:

- Outlining the main argument (or point) of the book and how the author builds up this argument in sub-arguments throughout the chapters.

- Discussing the author's methods (or approach) and use of evidence to support his or her points.

- Providing a critical assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the book. Does the author achieve what he set out to do? Is the argument convincing or not, and in what ways? What theoretical assumptions and/or value judgements influence the author's reconstruction of history? Be sure to provide concrete examples (citing page numbers in parentheses) of the problems or strengths you discuss.

The purpose of this assignment is to provide you with early feedback concerning your writing and critical skills so that you can work on problematic areas (in writing labs at the university and on your own). The review paper should have a clear thesis statement (concerning your evaluation of the book) which is supported throughout the paragraphs. The paper should be clearly written and structured with no spelling or grammatical errors. Be succinct and do not exceed the prescribed length.