Sanders - Judaism

Sanders, E. P.  Judaism

Sanders, E. P.  Judaism: practice and belief, 63 bce-55 ce

Е.Р. Sanders p. cn.

Includes bibliographical references and index. isbn 1-56338-016-i,—isbn 1-56338-015-3 (pbk.)



This is the book I always wanted to write, or at least close to it. It deals with Judaism as a functioning religion in the early Roman period (usually called for convenience ‘the first century’). Though there are substantial chapters on theology and the famous parties (Sadducees, Pharisees and Essenes), the accent is on the common people and their observances. These two emphases, I think, strike the right balance in a work on the history of a religion.

In 1966 I decided to study what I then thought of as ‘practical piety’. I was fascinated by E. R. Goodenough’s depiction of Judaism: rabbinic Judaism was a small island in a sea of another form of Judaism, which shared the general characteristics of Hellenistic mysticism. I thought that a study of pious practices, such as prayer, purifications and offerings to the temple, might help clarify the relationship between Palestinian and Diaspora Judaism. This is not the place to recount why I changed projects and wrote Paul and Palestinian Judaism instead of‘Diaspora and Palestinian Religious Practice’.

I mention this only to explain that I have finally returned to a topic that I wanted to study 25 years ago, though then I would have pursued it somewhat differendy. I have by no means lost confidence in the common-denominator theology that I described in P(*!PJ\ on the contrary, I am more convinced than ever that a broad agreement on basic theological points characterized Judaism in the Graeco-Roman period. Now I wish to place theology into its proper historical context, religious practice.

The first draft of this book was short; I had aimed at writing an introduction to Jewish religious practice in no more than 200 pages. I soon realized, however, that my views on several crucial issues were so different from those that prevail that the reader would not know how to evaluate them if I did not discuss the sources in detail. I then determined to apply the same principle to the entire book, except for the introductory chapters on the history of the period. I have studied afresh almost every point covered in the present work, seldom relying on received scholarly opinion, and I have attempted to let the reader see how I have understood the primary sources. The consequence is that ancient sources are quoted and discussed much more fully than is usually the case in books covering such a substantial period.


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