I first came across Gabriele Boccaccini’s works at the Siegal College of Judaica. I was working on master’s thesis and had chosen the topic of Israelite/Jewish identity in the Second Temple period. Most scholars in the late 20th century have shifted away from the view that rabbinic Judaism was existent, as we now know it, in the Second Temple period. But this view often dominated both Jewish and Christian academic circles. As a scholar, Boccaccini never degrades rabbinic Judaism as a theological system. In fact for me, in many ways his work provides an excellent understanding of, as the title states, the roots. His approach is also beneficial in an unexpected manner since it alleviates rabbinic Judaism of traditional Christian views of deicide, etc.

Boccaccini favors the notion of a complex environment during the Second Temple Period. Rabbi Dr. Jacob Neusner’s characterization of multiple Judaisms, as opposed to a single Judaism at this time, is especially persuasive since many groups saw themselves as legitimate successors to an ancient tradition to the exclusion of others, despite commons strands between them. Boccaccini favors this view. The differences between groups were often displayed in fierce, bitter polemics or arguments. Gabriele Boccaccini relates,

“Sometimes the competition among species happened to increase so much as to destroy any sense of mutual recognition. Although each claimed to be faithful to the same ancient tradition, one was no longer available to recognize the legitimacy of the other.”[1]

Gabriele Boccaccini readily admits many of the challenges present in the study of Jewish thought in antiquity. notes,

“The major obstacle to the study of ancient Jewish thought is ironically not the lack of documentation by the way in which sources have come down us, grouped into denominationally determined corpora, or canons (the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament, the New Testament, the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, the Dead Sea Scrolls, etc. In our Christian-influenced civilization, such denominational division has given birth to a denominationally divided scholarship with clear boundaries between Christian and Judaic studies, canonical and noncanonical studies…Contemporary critical scholarship is no longer bound by canonical or denominational divisions. There is now a growing awareness also is the general public that Christian and Jewish sources cannot be studied apart from one another or canonical documents in isolation from the noncanonical.”[2]

Boccaccini has also authored other compelling works including Middle Judaism and Beyond the Essene HypothesisI highly recommend all his works.

From Amazon

In a bold challenge to the long-held scholarly notion that Rabbinic Judaism was already an established presence during the Second Temple period, Gabriele Boccaccini here argues that Rabbinic Judaism was actually a daring reform movement that developed following the destruction of the Jerusalem temple and that only took shape in the first centuries of the common era.

Through careful analysis of Second Temple sources, Boccaccini explores the earliest roots of the Rabbinic system of thought in the period from the Babylonian exile to the Maccabean revolt, or from Ezekiel to Daniel. He argues convincingly that a line of thought links Rabbinic Judaism back to Zadokite Judaism through the mediation of the Pharisaic movement.

Sure to be widely debated, Roots of Rabbinic Judaism will be of interest to anyone studying the origins and development of modern Judaism.

[1] Gabriele Boccaccini, Roots of Rabbinic Judaism: An Intellectual History, from Ezekiel to Daniel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 43. See also Lawrence H. Schiffman, From Text to Tradition: A History of Second Temple and Rabbinic Judaism (New York: Ktav, 1991), 36.

[2] Gabriele Boccaccini, Roots of Rabbinic Judaism: An Intellectual History, from Ezekiel to Daniel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 28.

Posted by Rabbi Dr. Juan Marcos Bejarano Gutierrez the director of Yeshivat Meor Enaim. He is the author of The Converso Dilemma: Halakhic Responsa and the Status of Forced Converts and 19 additional books on various Jewish topics.