His results focus on the general diversity of Jewish world and religious thoughts in the Second Temple period, with mild intention of advocating for the "common Judaism" (Judaism as practiced by the common people) and the religiosity as shown in the liturgical life. Different from N.T. Wright's summary of the themes of early Judaism (Monotheism, Election, Eschatology), Cohen concludes, ""...the three themes of the Shema are the Kingship of God, Reward and Punishment, and Redemption...by virtue of its central place in the liturgy, serves well as a convenient outline of Jewish beliefs (76)." Apparently unaware of, or uninterested in, Wright's thesis of Israel's corporate notion of Israel's national identity, Cohen remarks, "It is perhaps not surprising that outsiders saw the Jews as a single people or ethnic group. But in fact, for all of their disagreements and rivalries, ancient Jews were united by a common set of practices and beliefs that characterized virtually all segments of Jewry...This common Judaism was the unity within the diversity (14)." Also different from Wright, Cohen notes the "innovative" development of reward and punishment to the individuals as opposed to the corporate reward and punishment in the Second Temple period, "Ezekiel claims that every person receives his or her just deserts from God. The author of Chronicles, a work of the Persian or early Hellenistic period, implemented this theory in his revision of the book of Kings. The Deuteronomic historian was satisfied with the doctrine of corporate responsibility, but the Chronicler was not (85)." And finally, Cohen's reconstruction of the eschatology in the Second Temple Judaism is much closer to the traditional Christian understanding and more distant to Wright's version: "Preexilic Israel and Second Temple Judaism also differed in their understanding of theodicy, God's administration of justice...Preexilic Israel believed that God administered justice in this world. Jerusalem and the temple will be restored to their former glory and God's annointed one (messiah) shall reign securely, All of these eschatological doctrines....are innovations of Second Temple Judaism (10)." Critiques: It is very unfortunate that Cohen's work has been rarely heeded by biblical scholars.
Previously read in 2004, and turned to again and again as a resource for studying the Second Temple period.
As the author noted in the beginning of the book this was a time of a diverse group of sects, groups and social/cultural dynamic within Judaism and interaction with those on the outside such as Hellenistic and Roman culture. -The author had a good discussion about the term Hellenistic Judaism because it is not as if there is a Judaism that was non-Hellenistic versus that which was Hellenistic during the Post-Persian period; rather the Hellenism of the Judaism of those period was one of degrees; Cohen sees the term better used as a chronological indicator of the religion after Alexander the Great. -The end of the book had a helpful Further reading section in which the author introduces to the reader scholarly editions of primary sources and also important secondary sources. For instance on location 261 the author does not think history can answer the question of whether or not Christianity is the fulfillment of the Old Testament. For instance in location 1804 Cohen assumes Ecclesiastes was a product of the Hellenistic period rather than Solomonic in origins. Conclusion I do recommend this book but also caution it be read with Christian discernment and maturity.
The major change in the current edition is a new, concluding chapter on the "parting of the ways" between Jews and Christians. I cannot imagine how the prior editions would read, as the book builds thematically toward that chapter. As soon as we can identify a Christian church from documentary or material evidence, it did not mix with Jewish communities in "the land of Israel"* or in the diaspora. Likewise, this telos is a function of the book's audience. In my judgment, Cohen assesses the New Testament, and Christian evidence on the period more generally, scrupulously and even generously: He treats Jesus as a healer, speaks of "post-resurrection" communities, and considers Paul a very strange Jew, but also a significant Jewish writer of the period and a source of evidence for Jewish language and internal politics. Some takeawaysperhaps not new to you, but new to me: The only Jewish writer who ever self-identified as a Pharisee was Paul, and then of course as an ex-Pharisee.
This chapter discusses the "separation" that took place between Judaism and Christianity. The end of the book includes extensive bibliography and suggestions for further study for those who desire to go beyond this "introduction." Writing as a life-long Christian and as a pastor, this book opened my eyes to ways of thinking about the period of the gospels and the apostles in new ways. The way Christians interpret and discuss Jews and Judaism of the period needs to become more nuanced and charitable.
Chapter 8 is the best section of "new" material as it takes you from the Jewish culture and history to that of Christianity. The first two editions lacked this section, but that was not an oversight it was intentional as the book is about the culture and history of Israel before the advent of Christianity. For students of the Bible and Christianity I think that this textbook is a must read as it will bring together many aspects of the nation of Israel that answer underlying questions that you might have as to why they rejected the Messiah, why they act the way they do and the frustration they must have felt with the subjugation they underwent by being over run and ruled by foreign kings and dictators forever.
He explores the relationship between Jews and Gentiles and their cultural connections and separations, the range of Gentile reactions to Jews, the practices and beliefs of the "religion" of the Jews throughout the period; the community of the people and its institutions; the existence and nature of the sects (or lack thereof); text and canon; development of rabbinic Judaism; he concludes with the separation of Judaism and Christianity. Nevertheless, overall, an important work for understanding the developments within Judaism through the Second Temple Period into the Rabbinic era.
Every serious student of the development of early Christianity should know something about second temple Judaism, and this book provides a good foundation upon which further studies can be pursued.
D. Cohen is the Littauer Professor of Hebrew Literature and Philosophy in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations of Harvard University.