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Judaism to (1800) - Forms Of Memory, Concepts Of Corporate Personality, The Centrality Of Ritual Performance, Different Forms Of Order In Judaism

biblical millennium rabbinic literature

As a religion developing over three millennia, Judaism changed, diversified, and acculturated to many cultural and spiritual environments, while maintaining at the same time some basic characteristics. In the following, an attempt is made to describe both the continuities and the variations characteristic of the various forms of Judaism up to 1800.

Four main concepts organize the majority of the developments in this period: memory, corporate personality, performance, and order. A traditional form of mentality, Jewish culture has been oriented toward an accumulative understanding of the development of literature and has preserved much of the earlier forms of literature, though strongly reinterpreted, as part of homogenizing enterprises in search of cohesion.

Beginning in the Middle Ages, Judaism developed into a complex ray of processes that combine biblical, rabbinic, and speculative trends in different ways and proportions. The biblical trend is represented by materials that constitute the biblical literature of the first millennium B.C.E. and is concerned basically with what happened in history and what is the best religious behavior, understood as the commandments of God.

The rabbinic trend deals with literatures, primarily interpretive narratives that began to appear in the first millennium C.E., that aim to explicate the biblical materials: the Mishnah (compiled c. 200 C.E..) and the Talmuds (Palestinian, c. 400, and Babylonian, c. 500) deal with the codification of the biblical commandments, and with detailed explanations of how to perform them, while most of the Midrashic literatures interpret the historical parts of the Bible, that is, what happened and how, and what is missing in the elliptic biblical style.

During the second millennium C.E., philosophical and mystical forms of Judaism emerged. These can be described as speculative, since they put a stronger emphasis on the question why than did the biblical and rabbinic writings. Drawing from a variety of Greek, Hellenistic, Arabic, and Christian sources, and sometimes even from Hindu ones, more comprehensive accounts of the meaning of Judaism, including new theologies and anthropologies, were articulated by Jewish thinkers.

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