When I was growing up, the impression I got is that there was a huge gap in
ancient Jewish literature between the last books of the Bible, closing shortly
after Cyrus the Great let the Jews return to their homeland in 538 BCE, and the
Mishna, the first written formulation of the Oral Torah, written at the start
of the third century CE.
This is unfortunate, because the rabbinic Judaism of the Mishna is very
different to the ancient Israelite religion depicted in the Bible, and because
of a taboo against writing down the Oral Law, there's very little to see how
we got from the one to t'other. The Talmud paints a picture that "we've always
done things this way", but, as liv first pointed out to me a
dozen years and more ago, this is Pharisaic propaganda. The Pharisees
radically reformed Judaism, recentring it from the Temple to the synagogue and
home, to enable it to survive the destruction of the Temple, but, because they
lived in a society that rejected innovation in religion, they had to make out
everything new they came up with to have gone back to the year dot, even where
the Bible clearly disagrees with it.
But it's not actually true that the literary record between the close of the
Bible and the Mishna is as empty as one might think. There's a whole bunch of
documents that were written during this period, which the Jews largely went to
forget about; we call them the Apocrypha, and the Pseudepigrapha (and the
writings of Philo of Alexandria and Josephus, and *ahem* the Gospels).
None of these give us an in-depth examination of the development of the Oral
Law or the embryogenesis of Pharisaic Judaism, but there are some clues
if you look for them.
For example, one of the two main prayers in the Jewish liturgy is the `Amida.
The Talmud gives a
variety of contradicting accounts of how this prayer originated, over the
course of hundreds if not thousands of years. However, if you want hard
evidence, look to the Wisdom of Ben Sira,
a sequence of prayers following the same themes as the central prayers of the
weekday `Amida (though the words are completely different).
A second example: The Bible is clear that מְלָאכָה "work" is forbidden on the
Sabbath, but does not give more than a few hints as to what this includes:
collecting things in (Ex. 16:26, Numbers 15:32) or transporting them into
(Jer. 17:19ff) the public domain, conducting business (Amos 8:5, Neh. 10:31,
13:15. The Talmud uses hermeneutics to derive, from the fact that the order to
keep the Sabbath is given immediately in the Torah after the instructions on
how to build the Mishkān (Tabernacle), that the activities prohibited on the
Sabbath are those that went into the construction of the Mishkān. However,
this smacks of post-facto justification to me. If you look in the Book of
Jubilees, however, written three and a half centuries before the Mishna, the
last chapter gives a list of
activities prohibited on the Sabbath. With the exception of sexual
intercourse (which probably reflects the mores of the all-male monastic Qumran
community), the list pretty much reflects modern Jewish practice, but does not
correlate at all with the 39 categories derived by the Talmud.
So, returning to the main subject, I became intrigued to know what exactly
there are written in the late- and post-Biblical periods, and when it was
written, and here's what I found out:
( View piccy )
Titles in green are ones I have read, those in red ones I would like to try
and get to read some time; those in orange ones I have read but no longer
remember anything of. :-( The collection of works is not a
comprehensive list of everything written during this period.
The dates here are not systematic: some date ranges indicate uncertainty as to
when the book was written, others that it was written over a period. The dates
come, where possible, from books on my shelf, and where not, from Wikipedia.
A few of the dates need a little explanation: Ecclesiastes (קֹהֶלֶת), Wikipedia
says, has two different sets of dates proposed for it depending on whether it
has Greek influence, about which there is no agreement. And though the primary
text of 2 Enoch dates to the first century, this text was tweaked to add
Christian and Gnostic references any time up to the seventh century.
Lastly, the impression I get is that the Book of Daniel represents the
gathering of a series of stories about its eponymous hero written over the course of
centuries. Daniel 10 and 11 describe, as a prophesy and with almost all names
removed, the political history of the Greek period of occupation of the Land of
Israel, breaking off in the middle of the Hasmonean revolt, from which it is
deduced that this is when this part of the book was written. But Ezekiel,
writing centuries earlier, and a contemporary of the biblical Daniel (if he
existed) makes reference twice to Daniel (or Dan'el: the word is written
without the י) as a famously wise man, which I take as evidence for the Daniel
stories starting in this own time.
Returning to the original point, the upshot is that the period between the
close of the Bible and the Mishna is anything but devoid of Jewish literary
representation. This confirms my suspicions, but I did have a few surprises in
what I have learned from this little project, which can I suppose be summed up
as surprise at how short the period between the close of the Bible and earliest
of the works in the Dead Sea Scrolls actually was.
I had thought, a little while ago, that the chronology was:
the history in Chronicles ends with the return of the Jews to the Land of
Israel, and the last of the prophets wrote within a generation of this; then
followed Ezra and Nehemiah, about sixty years after the return. Then I
discovered that, though the history in Chronicles only goes up to the return
(the end of the book quoting the opening of Ezra), the genealogy of the House
of David is given for a further six generations, into the fourth century, so I
thought the book must have been edited to add this after the rest of it was
But now I discover what's actually the case is that Malachi was writing a full
century after the first return from the Babylonian exile; and Ezra and Nehemiah
weren't written (according to Wikipedia and the Hertz Chumash—though I'd like to
get another look at the Soncino Daniel-Ezra-Nehemiah, which gives different
dates IIRC) until after the last generation mentioned in Chronicles
(though the men themselves lived a little beforehand).