cover image The Origins of Judaism: An Archaeological-Historical Reappraisal

The Origins of Judaism: An Archaeological-Historical Reappraisal

Yonatan Adler. Yale Univ, $45 (384p) ISBN 978-0-300-25490-7

Adler, an archaeology professor at Ariel University in Israel, debuts with a bravura study of the emergence of traditional Jewish rituals and practices. Examining archaeological finds and ancient texts by non-Jewish authors, he details the periods and circumstances when such observances as dietary laws, ritual purity, and wearing tefillin came into practice. He traces the beginning of Judaism to “sometime in the middle of the second century BCE or earlier” based on the apparent familiarity that Early Hellenistic authors Demetrius the Chronographer and Joshua Ben Sira had with the Pentateuch. The author contends that the discovery in Jerusalem of skeletal remains of scaleless fish (which are unkosher) dating to the “first half of the first millennium BCE” indicate that the contemporary understanding of kashrut might not have become widespread until more than 100 years afterward. Adler’s facility with a wide range of historical evidence is as impressive as it is persuasive, as when he parses stone inscriptions, papyri, and ancient structures uncovered by archeological digs to argue that synagogues likely came into being around the early first century CE. Buoyed by penetrating historical analysis and lay reader–friendly prose, this is sure to become a key text in future discussions of Jewish religious history. (Nov.)