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3 - The pursuit of the millennium in early Judaism

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 March 2010

Graham N. Stanton
Affiliation:
King's College London
Guy G. Stroumsa
Affiliation:
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
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Summary

This chapter originates in research done as background for a monograph-length study of sectarianism in ancient Judaism now completed, titled The Flourishing of Jewish Sects in the Maccabean Era: An Interpretation. That study seeks to answer the question of how and why groups such as Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes and the Qumran covenanters emerged and flourished at the time they did. Fundamental to the larger study is the conclusion that sectarianism is endemic in Judaism. In other words, this everpresent potential is not always realized fully; in fact, sectarian schism among Jews tends to come in waves of fervent activity separated by many years, often centuries, of relative calm. As such, sectarianism is similar to messianism, also a constant in Jewish life as a result of the biblical heritage, but also breaking out in waves of intense and imminent expectation. Since the pattern of the two phenomena – sectarianism and messianism – is similar, we must ask whether the path traced by the wave of one overlaps that traced by the other, and (particularly if so, and if the overlap is frequent) whether there might be an inherent connection between these two waves. Some encouragement that this might be the case is provided by a comment of Ankori's, writing about the period which saw the emergence of Karaism:

Indeed, messianism and sectarianism during the early Muslim era march inseparably hand in hand in an endeavor to remold the fate of the Jewish people and the heart of that people as well.

A preliminary assessment of the data for Judaism in the Second Temple period indicates that a similar conclusion is likely.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 1998

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