Through his publications on ancient Judaism and early Christianity Alan Segal has contributed immensely to clarifying ambiguities, unraveling complexities and recalling half-forgotten adversaries. His writing shows the way to cross many boundaries of thought and methodology. This characteristic of his research reflects the openness and ingenuousness of Alan himself, a direct and honest scholar and a treasured friend.
I here analyze a few aspects of one of Segal’s early books, Rebecca’s Children: Judaism and Christianity in the Roman World. The book surveys how Rabbinic Judaism and Early Christianity took shape primarily during the formative age of Late Antiquity. Segal treats the Hellenistic roots of these religions, the social world of first century Israel, Jesus who is called a Jewish Revolutionary and Paul who is described as a Convert and Apostle. Segal moves on in the book to summarize the origins of rabbinic Judaism and discusses how the twin offspring of ancient Israel, the rabbinic and Christian communities went separate ways, as the matriarch Rebecca’s twin children, Jacob and Esau parted ways in the biblical account in Genesis. In comparing the theologies of these twins, Segal insists we, “… must attend to the real social matrix in which the religious thought existed.”
I compare here Segal’s Rebecca’s Children with two comparable books and I ask a few perennial and fundamental questions about religious scholars who write about their own religions. The two other introductory surveys of the Second Temple and Early Rabbinic Judaism by Jewish scholars are Shaye J.D. Cohen, From the Maccabees to the Mishnah, and Lawrence H. Schiffman, From Text to Tradition: A History of Second Temple and Rabbinic Judaism.