The Origins of an International Judaism – Gary Knoppers, Professor of Theology

The Origins of an International Judaism – Gary Knoppers, Professor of Theology


I am interested in Ancient Israelite History. The time of the Babylonian exhile
when some Judaeans are forcibly deported from their land. Then, some Judaeans return back home. At that point, if you will, kind of an
international judaism begins. There are major transformations taking place and I am interested in those transformations. You would think that the homeland is
running things, but from some of the literature we see within early Judaism it is actually the diaspora communities
that are calling the shots. One of the books
I am interested in Ezra and Nehemiah. Many of the
initiatives come from these diaspora communities. Nehemiah who becomes governor of Judah comes from Sousa and he, in some ways, reforms the
homeland, according to a kind of set of principles
that he holds dear to him. Those principles may not be dear to many
of the people in the homeland, so my research wrestles with those kind of interesting dynamics. Different texts speak with different
voices. So, for example, the books of Kings narrate kind of a massive exhile of the
ten northern tribes. Chronicles, another work, is a later work than Kings, does not discuss the northern exhile frontally, but it becomes clear that from this author’s perspective only a portion of the
people were exhiled from their land and the rest remained. This is really important because it
shows that the author or authors of Chronicles have a larger idea of what it means to be Israelite. Paying
attention to these differences between different writings really helped
illuminate the history of early Judaism. The reception history, the way that
biblical texts were understood, and interpreted in later generations is also really important. So, one of my interests in teaching students, especially graduate students, is how some of these later texts within the Old Testament interpret older texts within the Old Testament. People of the Old Testament are very earthy. They are very real life. They have many struggles. They have many issues and problems. I like that kind of realism in narrating the past and the challenges
they met. The literature is very powerful. One way that we can learn from these people in antiquity is to
respect the kinds of adjustments that they made to living under foreign circumstances. Some become quite engaged with society and
some even rise to positions within the
framework of foreign government and trying to
make life better for the people. This offers, sort of, one model for how to move forward. There are things
that people can do even in circumstances that are not ideal to
better their families, to serve others and society. One can see in this
literature people wrestling with issues of
imperial control with relation between religion and politics,
society. I think in some ways are important in
ancient context but, also, important today.

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