Book Review: Talmud And Apocrypha

Talmud And Apocrypha, by R. Travers Herford

It is one thing to say that a book like this is useful when it comes to understanding the development of the Mishnah and the Pharisees and their approach, but to accept this book as authoritative suffers from some severe problems.  For one, the author is a firm believer of various documentary theories (which he supports using some rather dodgy and tautological ad popularum logic, saying that “all serious critics” believe that Daniel was written in the second century, for example).  For another, the author has a strongly negative view of Christianity that appears to be founded on Hellenistic Christianity rather than biblical Christianity.  The author’s view of Christian ethics appears to be that where it is new it is not true and where it is true it is not new when looked at in the context of pro-Torah second temple Judaism.  This is the sort of book that a reform Jewish audience would likely read to learn about the relationship of biblical religion with rabbinic Judaism and Christianity, but that is not likely to be viewed with as charitable an eye by a Christian reading audience because of its poor reasoning and its wildly different worldview and presuppositions.

The author begins this work of more than 300 pages with an introduction (1) and a discussion of the Old Testament as the source of later Jewish ethical teaching (2).  The author then turns to the development of Jewish ethics along the rabbinical line (II) starting with Ezra (1), moving to the sopherim (2), talking about the unwritten Torah (3), the revolt by Torah-observant Jews against Hellenism (4), the rabbinical line down to Hillel (5), the ethical teaching of the rabbis as found in the halachah (6), and the haggadah (7).  After this the author writes about the non-rabbinical literature, which he views with considerable less respect in general (III).  This section includes a discussion about apocryphal and pseudographical work in general (1), the origin and authorship of the non-canonical works (2), the book of Ben Sira (3), the book of Enoch (4), the book of Jubilees (5), the testaments of the twelve patriarchs (6), the remaining non-canonical works (7), and the relationship between non-rabbinical literature and the Pharisees (8).  After this the author chooses to tackle the teaching of the synoptic Gospels (9), the reason for the common ground that exists between Jewish and Christian ethics (10), the passage of the Jewish ethical teaching into Christianity (11), and a closing chapter on the abortive attempts by Philo to marry Jewish and Hellenistic thinking (12).

There are at least a few elements of this book that are worthy of discussing. For one, the author appears to be immensely critical of Hellenism, which is itself a good thing as far as it goes.  However, the author has a low view of scripture and that allows him to paint a false equivalence between the authority of the written text and that of the oral tradition of those who usurped the leadership of the religious community of Judaism during the Second Temple Period by denying the role of the priests and Levites in teaching Judaism to the people of Judea as a whole.  He then makes the same point in denying the legitimacy of Jesus Christ in representing the authority of God, painting it as equal to the obviously human (and not particularly legitimate) authority of the rabbis.  These false equivalences make this book a tedious exercise in dodging the real issue and in refusing to accept the seriousness of the authority issue, making this book ultimately a failure in defending the perspective of the Pharisees and in creating a legitimate space for the unsupported laws and traditions of the Pharisees and their successors.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Book Reviews, Christianity, History and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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