Sunday, October 4, 2020

Purity and Impurity in Second Temple Judaism

Few Christians today linger over the ritual purity laws in the Pentateuch. This lack of familiarity with the Torah, and with how the Torah was understood in ancient Judaism, is often combined with a profound failure of historical imagination. The predictable result: major misreadings of the New Testament.

In this 28-minute video, prepared for students in my introduction to early Judaism course, I explain how Jewish systems of purity really worked 😏: 

There are still plenty of mistakes in delivery, production and, no doubt, in content, but this one turned out better than most of the videos I've produced so far. (It also takes the prize for most time-consuming to prepare.) I justify its length by telling my students to watch it at 2x speed.

I should note that I make no claim to originality here. The model I present is essentially that of Jonathan Klawans with a side of E.P. Sanders.  

Comments, corrections and recommendations for further reading are welcome.

A Working Bibliography

Hayes, Christine E. Gentile Impurities and Jewish Identities: Intermarriage and Conversion from the Bible to the Talmud. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
Kazen, Thomas. Jesus and Purity Halakhah: Was Jesus Indifferent to Impurity? 2d ed. CB 38. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2010.
Klawans, Jonathan. Impurity and Sin in Ancient Judaism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
________. “Notions of Gentile Impurity in Ancient Judaism.” AJS Review 20.2 (1995): 285–312.
Meier, John P. A Marginal Jew Volume 4: Law and Love. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009.
Poirier, John C. “Purity beyond the Temple in the Second Temple Era.” Journal of Biblical Literature 122 (2003): 247-265.
Rogan, Wil. “Purity in Early Judaism: Current Issues and Questions:” Currents in Biblical Research 16.3 (2018): 309-339.
Sanders, E. P. Judaism: Practice and Belief: 63 BCE - 66 CE. London: SCM Press, 1998.
Thiessen, Matthew. Jesus and the Forces of Death. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2020.
Wassen, Cecilia. “The Jewishness of Jesus and Ritual Purity.” Scripta Instituti Donneriani Aboensis 27 (2016): 11–36.

In addition to Klawans and Sanders, I found the chapter on Purity in John Meier's 4th volume as well as the recent essays by Wil Rogan and Cecilia Wassen especially helpful. It will be obvious that I am not finally persuaded by Thomas Kazen or John Poirier.