Differences of Interpretation

Uploaded by heterodoxism16 on 19.10.2010

Ezra and Nehemiah's reforms can be seen as a direct response to the events of Israel's
history. What's happened before just cannot be allowed to happen again. And they view
the tragic history as a cautionary tale. It's calling upon the people to make the necessary
changes to avoid a repeat disaster. There's only one way to guarantee that Israel will
never again be destroyed. She has to live up to the covenant she failed to honor in
the past. She has to rededicate herself to the covenant and this time she has to be single-minded
in her devotion to God, because history has shown that God will punish faithlessness and
betrayal. Israel can't be led astray by the beliefs and practices of her neighbors, and
so a strict policy of separation has to be enforced if Israel's going to finally be cured
of the desire for idols. Again, it's interesting that in Jewish tradition--the Jewish tradition
is that the flirtation with idolatry, which had plagued Israel in the First Temple Period,
ceased to exist in the Second Temple Period. So again, this is another area in which Jews
earned for themselves a reputation in antiquity. They have a reputation for their strict monotheism,
their scrupulous avoidance of foreign gods. They will not bow down to another god. There
is this people that doesn't intermarry, they don't work one day a week, and they won't
bow down to our kings or to other gods; these are the kinds of things [observations] you
find in writings in this period. So Ezra and Nehemiah, backed by Persian imperial authority,
help to create and preserve--not just preserve--create and preserve, a national and religious identity
for Jews at a precarious time. Their reforms were not universally welcomed. Already, even
in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah which give a very sympathetic account of their work,
obviously, we can see rumblings and discontent. There are other works that are going to express
opposition to the separatism of Ezra and Nehemiah. Isaiah 56:1-7, an interesting passage, it
states quite explicitly that foreigners who have joined themselves to God are welcome.
They are welcome in the temple; they are welcome even to minister before God. There is a good
deal of historical evidence for the assimilation of foreigners within the Jewish community
going on all the time. Non-Jews became Jews, they married Jews. We know of one family,
the Tobiad family, quite influential--they were originally an Ammonite family. Now, that
is a group that is explicitly prohibited from entering the congregation in Deuteronomy!
But this is a family that adopted Jewish identity, became fully assimilated. So clearly there's
great difference of opinion on this matter. In the last two lectures we're going to be
focusing a lot on the diversity of approaches to the whole question of Israelite or Jewish
identity, and the relationship to the Gentile world. So, although under Ezra, the Torah
became the official and authoritative norm for Israel, although under Ezra, Judaism took
the decisive step towards becoming a religion of Scripture, based on the scriptural text.
This did not in itself result in a single uniform set of practices or beliefs. Adopting
the Torah as a communal norm simply meant that practices and beliefs were deemed to
be authentic, to the degree that they accorded with the sense of Scripture--and interpretation
of Scripture varied dramatically. So that widely divergent groups now, in the Persian
period and as we move into the Hellenistic period, widely divergent groups will claim
biblical warrant for their specific practices and beliefs. So in short, Ezra may have unified
Israel around a common text, but he didn't unify them around a common interpretation
of that text. Alright, when we come back we'll be looking at about four more books, all of
which set up very interesting and different views on some of these basic questions.