The Beginnings of Jewishness: Boundaries, Varieties, Uncertainties
In modern times, various Jewish groups have argued whether Jewishness is a function of ethnicity (membership in a descent group, a function of birth), nationality (citizenship in a state, a function of politics), religion (membership in a group characterized by various beliefs and practices), or all three. These fundamental conceptions were already in place in antiquity; the peculiar combination of ethnicity, nationality, and religion that would characterize Jewishness through the centuries first took shape in the second century B.C.E. This book studies the ways in which these elements were understood and applied in the construction of Jewish identity -- by Jews, by gentiles and by the state -- in such a way that the question "Who was a Jew?" could be variously answered.
Under the influence of Hellenistic culture and politics, the Hasmoneans re-fashioned the Judaean state into a league that would allow the incorporation of non-Judaeans. At more or less the same time, the progression from ethnicity to religion had advanced to the point that individual gentiles who came to believe in the God of the Jews were accepted as Jews themselves. But these two models of "conversion, " political enfranchisement and religious change, were not the only ways in which a gentile could cross the boundary and become a Jew. The boundary was fluid and not well marked, and there were competing definitions of it.
According to rabbinic law, the status of the offspring of intermarriage is determined matrilineally: a Jewish mother bears a Jewish child, a non-Jewish mother bears a non-Jewish child. Shaye J.D. Cohen discusses the contexts in which the prohibition against intermarriage evolved, and makes somefresh suggestions about what influenced its evolution. A final section studies a Mishnaic text that stands at the intersection of several of the book's concerns: matrilineal descent, conversion, and the tension between Jewishness as ethnicity and Jewishness as religion.
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This is a scholarly and comprehensive look at early Jews and Jewishness. The subtitle is a good summary, boundaries, varieties, and uncertainties. The narrative is basically let's look at the evidence and oh boy, is it not simple and clean.
JEWS AND OTHERS I
Was Herod Jewish?
loudaios ludaeus Judaean Jew
Ioudaizein to Judaize
The Rabbinic Conversion Ceremony
The Matrilineal Principle