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Yeshua in Context » Background to Gospels, Pharisees, Sadducees » The Invisible Jews, Until the Sixth Century CE

The Invisible Jews, Until the Sixth Century CE

People often think that Judaism was led by the Pharisees in an unbroken chain from before the time of Yeshua to the present day. In this mistaken notion of history, the Pharisees of Yeshua’s time were the influential leaders of world Jewry who morphed into the rabbis of renown. The truth, well-documented in such books as E.P. Sanders’s Judaism: Practice and Belief and J.D. Shaye Cohen’s From the Maccabees to the Mishnah, is that the Pharisees and the early rabbinic movement were not that influential until at least the sixth century CE.

Contributing to the faulty view of rabbinic dominance in early Jewish history is the Mishnah and Talmud and Midrashic literature. This, taken together, is called rabbinic literature. And in the rabbinic literature, the dominance of the rabbinic movement is greatly exaggerated.

Also contributing to this distorted view of early Jewish history is a sad reality: most of the Jews in the early centuries are invisible to us today. Literature from the Jewish communities of the Roman empire outside of rabbinic literature is scarce. The rabbis seem to have been the leaders of the Jewish world because their literature, almost exclusively, survives. But historians have enough evidence to know that the widespread Jewish communities of the early centuries were not so rabbinic in practice and that the rabbinic movement was a small one, growing slowly in importance and influence.

What sort of people set the standards for the synagogues of early Judaism? For the most part, they are invisible Jews. We only wish we could know more about synagogue life in those times.

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Filed under: Background to Gospels, Pharisees, Sadducees

One Response to "The Invisible Jews, Until the Sixth Century CE"

  1. Andrew T. says:

    As they say, history is written by the winners.

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