The Beginnings of Jewishness: Boundaries, Varieties, Uncertainties / Edition 1

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In modern times, various Jewish groups have argued whether Jewishness is a function of ethnicity, of nationality, of religion, or of all three. These fundamental conceptions were already in place in antiquity. The peculiar combination of ethnicity, nationality, and religion that would characterize Jewishness through the centuries first took shape in the second century B.C.E. This brilliantly argued, accessible book unravels one of the most complex issues of late antiquity by showing how these elements were understood and applied in the construction of Jewish identity—by Jews, by gentiles, and by the state.

Beginning with the intriguing case of Herod the Great's Jewishness, Cohen moves on to discuss what made or did not make Jewish identity during the period, the question of conversion, the prohibition of intermarriage, matrilineal descent, and the place of the convert in the Jewish and non-Jewish worlds. His superb study is unique in that it draws on a wide range of sources: Jewish literature written in Greek, classical sources, and rabbinic texts, both ancient and medieval. It also features a detailed discussion of many of the central rabbinic texts dealing with conversion to Judaism.

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Editorial Reviews

Steven Fine
This is the most important books on ancient Judaism to appear in recent years. More than that: Shaye Cohen's monograph on the origins of Jewish identity is a pleasure to read, prudent in handling the evidence and yet crisply written, even when the going gets tough.
Archaeology Odyssey
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520226937
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 1/17/2001
  • Series: Hellenistic Culture and Society Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 441
  • Sales rank: 819,827
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.13 (d)

Meet the Author

Shaye J. D. Cohen is Ungerleider Professor of Judaic Studies and Professor of Religious Studies at Brown University. His earlier books include Josephus in Galilee and Rome: His Vita and Development as a Historian (1979) and From the Maccabees to the Mishnah: A Profile of Judaism (1987).

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Table of Contents

A Note on God and Parentheses
Prologue: Jews and Others 1
Pt. I Who was a Jew? 11
1 Was Herod Jewish? 13
2 "Those Who Say They Are Jews and Are Not": How Do You Know a Jew in Antiquity When You See One? 25
3 Ioudaios, Iudaeus, Judaean, Jew 69
Pt. II The Boundary Crossed: Becoming a Jew 107
4 From Ethnos to Ethno-religion 109
5 Crossing the Boundary and Becoming a Jew 140
6 Ioudaizein, "to Judaize" 175
7 The Rabbinic Conversion Ceremony 198
Pt. III The Boundary Violated: The Union of Diverse Kinds 239
8 The Prohibition of Intermarriage 241
9 The Matrilineal Principle 263
10 Israelite Mothers, Israelite Fathers: Matrilineal Descent and the Inequality of the Convert 308
Epilogue: Jews, Judaism, and Jewishness: Us and them 341
App. A Was Martial's Slave Jewish? 351
App. B Was Menophilus Jewish? 358
App. C Was Trophimus Jewish? 360
App. D Was Timothy Jewish? 363
Glossary of Some Hebrew Terms 379
Bibliography and Abbreviations 381
General Index 393
Index of Premodern Sources 411
Index of Modern Scholars 419
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