The Myth of “Post Temple Judaism”
Versus the Reality of Post Pauline Christianity
The Tannaitic and Amoraic periods of Jewish history parallel the first several centuries of the Common Era. The classical works of the Mishna, the Talmud, and most of the midrashim were formulated in this era. The authors saw it as their holy duty to preserve the spirit and the soul of Judaism for future generations. They saw no need to discuss Christianity with their readers. They were Jews, they lived and breathed Judaism, and their focus was on the faith of their ancestors.
During the same period, the founders of Christianity were doing their work. The Christian scriptures and the writings of the early Church Fathers were also formulated in the first several centuries of the Common Era. These people saw it as their holy duty to preserve the spirit and the soul of Christianity for future generations. But they did not stop there. They found the time and the patience to lecture to their audience about Judaism. The authors of the Christian scriptures and the early Church Fathers felt the need to share their prejudiced view of Judaism with the readers of their works.
Modern day missionaries take the lead of these early Christians, and spend a disproportionate amount of energy pontificating about Judaism. Instead of studying the questionable origins of their own belief system, they weave elaborate myths about the development of Judaism. They ignore the natural fault-line that existed in the early Church between Jew and gentile, and preach about dissension within the Jewish community where no such fault-line existed. They exaggerate the significance of a few schismatics in the Jewish community, while they dismiss the influence of people whose impact was widely felt in the early Christian community (2Corinthians 11:5, Galatians 1:6). The missionaries try to revive controversies that were put to rest at the grass-roots level, while dismissing controversies that were settled by the mouth of the sword. The missionaries spend more time discussing the fictitious “Post Temple Judaism”, then they do examining the reality of “Post Pauline Christianity”.
Putting the hypocrisy of the missionary aside, let us analyze the criticism directed against the origins of Judaism. What exactly are the missionary arguments? And how do these arguments stand up to a serious study?
The basic charge of the missionary is that Judaism was contrived after the scriptures were sealed. According to the missionary, modern Judaism is not an accurate representation of the Judaism espoused by the scriptural prophets. The missionary points to the various sects that existed in the Jewish community in Second Temple times. In the view of the missionary, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes were equally influential in the Second Temple community. The missionaries claim that it was the Pharisees who invented the Oral Law which was not accepted by the community at large. Only after the destruction of the Temple, did the disciples of the Pharisees forcibly impose their version of Judaism upon the nation.
This fanciful rendition of Jewish history falls apart when we examine the scriptures and other historical evidence. The scriptures testify that the Jewish people possessed a coherent and unified spiritual leadership in the early years of the Second Temple. Ezra, who was a recognized leader of the Babylonian Jewish community was granted the power to enforce and to promulgate the teachings of Judaism under the rule of the Persian kings (Ezra 7:25,26). Ezra, Haggai, Zechariah and Nehemiah worked together to establish the spiritual roots of the community in the Land of Israel (Ezra 5:1, Nehemiah 10:30). It is only under a unified leadership commanding widespread respect that the establishment of a new holiday could take root amongst the Jewish community that was scattered throughout the Persian Empire (Esther 9:27,28 – compare 2Chronicles 30:10).
Anyone who accepts the validity of the Jewish scriptures must accept that the spiritual leadership of the Jewish people in the beginning of the Second Temple era possessed the authentic understanding of the Law of Moses. The only question that can be asked is which of the later Second Temple communities are the true heirs of Ezra and Nehemiah? Was it the Pharisees, the Sadducees, or the Essenes? Only one of these groups could be the true inheritor of Ezra and Nehemiah while the other two groups must be schismatics, who broke off from the main body of the nation.
We have learned from the scriptures that in the early days of the Second Temple, the Jewish people possessed a unified spiritual leadership. This leadership was respected throughout the far reaches of the diaspora. This would only be possible if these scattered communities shared a common understanding of the Law. They must have possessed a strong network of coordinated leadership that held sway throughout the provinces of the Persian Empire and beyond.
The historical records of the later Second Temple era reveal that the Sadducee and the Essene communities were limited to the Land of Israel. There is no record of any Sadducee or Essene presence in Babylon or Rome, both of which possessed large Jewish communities. There is nothing to indicate that the Sadducees or Essenes possessed anything that resembled a network of leadership with international influence. The Pharisees on the other hand possessed a highly coordinated network of leadership that was respected throughout the entire Roman Empire and beyond.
The Pharisees relied on this network of leadership to apply their calendric decisions. The calendar of the Pharisees was based on monthly and yearly decisions of the central body of leadership. The respect that this body of leadership commanded enabled the international Jewish communities to celebrate the biblical holidays in unison. The respect commanded by the central Pharisaic body of leadership was not limited to the Jewish community. A large number of Pre-Nicean Christians also followed the calendric decisions of the spiritual leadership of the Pharisees. This phenomenon was so widespread in the Christian world that the Nicean council found it necessary to prohibit this practice.
There can be no question that the Pharisees were the true heirs of Ezra. The far-reaching extent of Pharisee influence can only be understood if we accept that the common root of all the scattered Jewish communities was Pharisaic. The Sadducees and the Essenes were obviously newcomers to the scene who only impacted the immediate area in which they originated.
A second missionary accusation that crumbles upon examination, is the myth of “Post Temple Judaism”. The missionaries claim that the Pharisaic leaders changed the foundations of Judaism after the destruction of the Second Temple. The missionary contends that the destruction of the Temple was such a blow to the Jewish belief system that a new theology had to be created.
This erroneous theory is put to rest when we take stock of the historical reality of the times. During the time of the Second Temple, the Jewish people were scattered throughout the Roman Empire. Especially significant was the community in Babylon whose population was comparable in size the community in the Land of Israel. The foundations of the Babylonian community were established with the destruction of the First Temple. That community flourished and thrived for five centuries without a Temple.
While the Second Temple was standing the two major Jewish communities stood side by side; the Israeli community and the Babylonian community. The Israeli community had a Temple, the Babylonian community did not. Yet throughout the Second Temple era these two communities smoothly cooperated with each other. The fact that one community had a Temple and the other did not, did not prevent them from seeing eye to eye on spiritual matters. The importance of the Temple notwithstanding, it does not affect the belief system of Judaism.
This concept should not come as a surprise to anyone who accepts the validity of the Jewish scriptural canon. The circumstance of Jewish community without a Temple occurred while the scriptural prophets were still active. The prophet Ezekiel was a member of the original Jewish community in Babylon. God commanded Ezekiel to encourage his brethren; “Therefore say, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Although I have cast them far off among the heathen, and although I have scattered them among the countries, yet will I be to them as a little sanctuary in the countries where they shall come” (Ezekiel 11:16).
Wherever the Jewish people find themselves, they are assured that God is their eternal sanctuary (Psalm 90:1). As devastating as the loss of the physical sanctuary was to the Jewish people, they are comforted with the fact that God’s presence never left them. With God as their eternal sanctuary, the Jewish people never saw a need to invent a new belief system.
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal