John J. Collins on the Invention of Judaism

In ASOR’s publication, The Ancient Near East Today (August 2017, vol. 5, no. 8), John J. Collins provides a very informative summary of his new book:

The Invention of Judaism: Torah and Jewish Identity from Deuteronomy to Paul. Taubman Lectures in Jewish Studies 7. Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2017.

Notably, for Collins, there is something distinctly religious (in concept, if not in name) about being Jewish by the second century BCE:

“In the second century BCE, the Syrian king Antiochus Epiphanes issued a decree proscribing the ancestral laws of Judea…. According to 2 Maccabees, chapter 6 “it was impossible either to keep the Sabbath, to observe the ancestral festivals, or openly confess oneself to be a Ioudaios.”…  It is clear that Epiphanes was not forbidding people to say where they were from. The decree presupposed a normative understanding of what it meant to be a Ioudaios: to observe the Law of Moses, at least in its distinctive practices. What Epiphanes tried to do was to suppress the distinctive identity of the people of Judah, by proscribing the traditional formulation of their way of life.”

Collins then describes how the Jewish Torah (Law) was largely unknown before Ezra’s arrival in Judah (traditionally dated to 458 BCE), and even then its laws were not followed in any literal sense until “the attempt by Antiochus Epiphanes to suppress it”.

It’s a good summary of the early development of Judaism, Jewish identity, and Torah observance: read the article here.