Prolegomena to the History of Ancient Israel, by Julius Wellhausen, , at sacred-texts.com
Even now Palestine continued for a while to be the centre of Jewish life, but only in order to prepare the way for its transition into thoroughly cosmopolitan forms. The development of thought sustained no break on account of the sad events which had taken place, but was only directed once more in a consistent manner towards these objects which had been set before it from the time of the Babylonian exile. On the ruins of the city and of the temple the Pharisaic Judaism
which rests upon the law and the school celebrated its triumph. National fanaticism indeed was not yet extinguished, but it burnt itself completely out in the vigorous insurrection led by Simeon bar Koziba (Bar Cochebas, 132-135). That a conspicuous rabbin, Akiba, should have taken part in it, and have recognised in Simeon the Messiah, was an inconsistency on his part which redounds to his honour.
Inasmuch as the power of the rabbins did not depend upon the political or hierarchical forms of the old commonwealth, it survived the fall of the latter. Out of what hitherto had been a purely moral influence something of an official position now grew. They formed themselves into a college which regarded itself as a continuation of the old synedrium, and which carried forward its name. At first its seat was at Jamnia, but it soon removed to Galilee, and remained longest at Tiberias. The presidency was hereditary in the family of Hillel, with the last descendants of whom the court itself came to an end. 1 The respect in which the synedrial president was held rapidly increased; like Christian patriarchs under Mahometan rule, he was also recognised by the imperial government as the municipal head of the Jews of Palestine, and bore the secular title of the old high priests (nasi, ethnarch, patriarch). Under him the Palestinian Jews continued to form a kind of state within a state until the 5th century. From the non-Palestinian Jews he received offerings of money. (Compare Gothofredus on Codex Theod., xvi. 8, "De Judæis;" and Morinus, Exer. Bibl., ii. exerc. 3, 4).
The task of the rabbins was so to reorganise Judaism under the new circumstances that it could continue to assert its distinctive character. What of external consistency had been lost through the extinction of the ancient commonwealth required to be compensated for by an inner centralisation proportionately stronger. The separation from everything heathenish became more pronounced than before; the use of the Greek language was of necessity still permitted, but at least the Septuagint was set aside by Aquila (Cod. Justinian., Nov. 146) inasmuch as it had now become the Christian Bible. For to this period also belongs the definitive separation between the synagogue and the church; henceforward
[paragraph continues] Christianity could no longer figure as a Jewish sect. Intensified exclusiveness was accompanied by increased internal stringency. What at an earlier period had still remained to some extent fluid now became rigidly fixed; for example, an authentic text of the canon was now established, and at the same time the distinction between canon and apocrypha sharply drawn. The old tendency of the scribes to leave as little as possible free to the individual conscience, but to bring everything within the scope of positive ordinance, now celebrated its greatest triumphs. It was only an apparent movement in the direction of liberty, if regulations which had become quite impossible were now modified or cancelled. The most influential of the rabbins were indeed the least solicitous about the maintenance of what was old, and had no hesitation in introducing numerous and thoroughgoing innovations; but the conservatives R. Eliezer ben Hyrcanus and R. Ishmael ben Elisha were in truth more liberal-minded than the leaders of the party of progress, notably than R. Akiba. Even the Ultramontanes have never hesitated at departures from the usage of the ancient and mediæval church; and the Pharisaic rabbins were guided in their innovations by liberal principles no more than they. The object of the new determinations was simply to widen the domain of the law in a consistent manner, to bring the individual entirely under the iron rule of system. But the Jewish communities gave willing obedience to the hierarchy of the rabbins; Judaism had to be maintained, cost what it might. That the means employed were well adapted to the purpose of maintaining the Jews as a firmly compacted religious community even after all bonds of nationality had fallen away cannot be doubted. But whether the attainment of this purpose by incredible exertion was a real blessing to themselves and the world may very well be disputed.
One consequence of the process of intellectual isolation and of the effort to shape everything in accordance with hard and fast rules and doctrines was the systematisation and codification of juristic and ritual tradition, a work with which a beginning was made in the century following the destruction of Jerusalem. Towards the end of the 2nd century the Pharisaic doctrine of Hillel as it had been further matured by Akiba was codified and elevated to the position of statute law by the patriarch Rabban Judah the Holy (Mishna). 1 But this was only the
first stage in the process of systematising and fixing tradition. The Mishna became itself the object of rabbinical comment and supplement; the Tannaim, whose work was registered in the Mathnetha (Mishna, δευτέρωσις = doctrine), were followed by the Amoraim, whose work in turn took permanent shape in the Gemara (= doctrine). The Palestinian Gemara was reduced to writing in perhaps the 4th or 5th century; unfortunately it has been preserved to us only in part, but appears to have reached the Middle Ages in a perfect state (compare Schiller-Szinessy in the Academy, 1878, p. 170 seq.). Even thus the process which issued in the production of the Talmud was not yet completed; the Babylonian Amoraim carried it forward for some time longer, until at last at the rise of Islam the Babylonian Gemara was also written down.
In the 5th century Palestine ceased to be the centre of Judaism. Several circumstances conspired to bring this about. The position of the Jews in the Roman Empire had changed for the worse with the elevation of Christianity to be the religion of the state; the large autonomy which until then they had enjoyed in Palestine was now restricted; above all, the family of the Patriarchs, which had come to form a veritable dynasty, became extinct. 1 But this did not make an end of what may be called the Jewish church-state; henceforward it had its home in Babylonia. From the period of the exile, a numerous and coherent body of Jews had continued to subsist there; the Parthians and Sassanidæ granted them self-government; at their head was a native prince (Resh Galutha,—can be clearly traced from 2nd century A.D. onwards) who, when the Palestinian patriarchate came to an end, was left without a rival. This remarkable relic of a Jewish commonwealth continued to exist until the time of the Abassides. 2 Even as early as the beginning of the 3rd century A.D. certain rabbins, at their head Abba Areka (Rab), had migrated from Palestine and founded a settlement for learning in the law in Babylonia. The schools there (at Pumbeditha,
[paragraph continues] Sora, Nahardea) prospered greatly, vied with those of Palestine, and continued to exist after the cessation of the latter, when the patriarchate became extinct; thus they had the last word in the settlement of doctrine.
Alongside of the settlement of tradition went another task, that of fixing the letters of the consonantal text of the Bible (by the Massora), its vowel pronunciation (by the punctuation), and its translation into the Aramaic vernacular (Targum). Here also the Babylonians came after the Palestinians, yet of this sort of erudition Palestine continued to be the headquarters even after the 5th century.
With this task—that of attaining to the greatest possible conformity to the letter and of continuing therein—the inner development of Jewish thought came to an end. 1 The later Hebrew literature, which does not fall to be considered here, contributed very few new elements; in so far as an intellectual life existed at all among the Jews of the Middle Ages, it was not a growth of native soil but proceeded from the Mahometan or Latin culture of individuals. The Kabbala at most, and even it hardly with justice, can be regarded as having been a genuine product of Judaism. It originated in Palestine, and subsequently flourished chiefly in the later Middle Ages in Spain, and, like all other methodised nonsense, had strong attractions for Christian scholars.
539:1 The following is the genealogy of the first Nasi:—Gamaliel ben Simeon (Josephus, Vita, 38) ben Gamaliel (Acts v. 34, xxii. 3) ben Simeon ben Hillel. The name Gamaliel was that which occurred most frequently among the patriarchs; see Codex Theod. xvi. 8, 22.
540:1 The Mishna succeeded almost, but not quite, in completely doing away with all conflicting tendencies. At first the heterodox tradition of that time was also committed p. 541 to writing (R. Ishmael ben Elisha) and so handed down,—in various forms (collection of the Baraithas, that is, of old precepts which had not been received into the Mishna, in the Tosephtha). Nor did the active opposition altogether die out even at a later period; under favouring circumstances it awoke to new life in Karaism, the founder of which, Anan ben David, lived in Babylonia in the middle of the 8th century.
541:1 Compare Gothofredus on Cod. Theod., xvi. 8, 29, ad voc. "post excessum patriarcharum."
541:2 See Nöldeke, Tabari; 68, 118, and Kremer, Culturgeschichte des Orients unter den Chalifen, i. 188, ii. 176.
542:1 Compare F. Weber, System der altsynagogalen palästinischen Theologie, Leipsic, 1880.