Three Postmodern Jewish historians: Alan F. Segal, Shaye J.D. Cohen and Lawrence H. Schiffman

Some time ago I reviewed three new and solid works of Jewish historians. I argued that each wrote out of his own experience in life.

That's simple postmodern analysis. My colleagues approved.

Here is the essay called "Three Noble Surveys: A Post-Modern Reading of Shaye J.D. Cohen, From the Maccabees to the Mishnah, Lawrence H. Schiffman, From Text to Tradition: A History of Second Temple and Rabbinic Judaism, Alan F. Segal, Rebecca's Children."

The first points:
Books like these first, may make a contribution to research in a discipline if they are more than mere summaries and show some innovative conceptualization. Second, they may have value for teachers if they serve as particularly complete, creative and accurate statements of the data and scholarship that they represent. Third, they may serve theological purposes if they provide some justification of a contemporary form of Judaism [or Christianity] in a prior formative age, or support some implicit claim of greater authenticity for a current world view or way of life.

Let us expand on this last point. An Orthodox Jewish analysis will search for “Torah-true” ideals, emphasize ritual [e.g., prayer], focus on a textual canon, on elite rabbinic leadership, highlight internal sectarian debate and differentiation, downplay interfaith relations, ignore populist involvements in religious decision, deny the prominence of changes and adaptations based on social and historical circumstance, consider acculturation an evil, and emphasize particularism.

A Conservative Jewish investigation will emphasize the analysis of family structures, democratic ideals, evolutionary change, institutional development [e.g., synagogues], communal leadership patterns, the interface of scholarship and rabbinic learning, rites of passage as opposed to other rituals, and treat acculturation as a struggle fraught with contradiction and ambivalence.

A Reform Jewish approach will seek to differentiate Jews from Christians and highlight the opportunities for interfaith understanding and cooperation. It will emphasize theology in a Protestant model, acculturation as a positive force and universalism.

Just how much do these three introductory surveys of the Second Temple and Early Rabbinic Judaism by three well-known Jewish scholars reflect their respective religious affiliations?
More of the essay...

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