Guidelines for Research Papers in Religious Studies 469.01


Following is a listing of some suggested topics in the study of Judaism during the Post-Biblical or Second Temple era. The items are intended as broad areas or research, not as specific titles for papers. Most of the items could be dealt with in several different ways, and have generated a considerable amount of scholarly literature.


The Qumran Documents (Dead Sea Scrolls)

Fragment of the 'Zadokite Work' (Damascus Covenant) from the Cairo Genizah
Fragment of the Damascus Covenant from the Cairo Genizah
Much controversy surrounds the question of who composed these texts. Initially, the consensus of scholarship argued that they had been produced by a particular Jewish sect, most likely the Essenes. Recent studies have challenged that view, attributing them to either a different group (e.g., Jewish Christians) or to a broad spectrum of assorted groups.

Sects and Movements


There are several fundamental questions and controversies in the study of Pharisaism, including: Its origins and relationship to other groups such as the Scribes and Hasideans, Rabbis, etc.; its possible socio-economic dimensions; its distinctive beliefs: e.g., the Oral Torah, Resurrection; its modes of Biblical interpretation.


This is the least studied of the major movements, and is known (almost) exclusively through the negative statements of its opponents. It is important (but difficult) to attempt to try to see the Sadducees as they would have seen themselves.


Most recent scholarship on the Essenes deals with their connection to the Dead Sea Scrolls, some of which (e.g., the Community Rule ) are very close to Josephus description of the group.

Hellenistic Judaism

The Judaism of Hellenized communities, especially in centres like Alexandria, had its own distinctive character; e.g., its concern with philosophy and allegorical interpretation of scripture. Scholars have suggested that it was this type of Judaism that formed the basis for the successful Christian mission to the diaspora. At the same time, the diaspora Jews remained submissive to the Judaism and Jewish leadership of the Palestinian centre.
Philo's allegorical interpretations of the Bible make fascinating reading, and contain much material for a research paper.


The Evolution of the Bible

The selection of the books that would eventually become the Hebrew Bible was going on throughout the Second Temple era. While the contents of the Torah and most of the Prophets were apparently determined very early, the list Hagiographa evolved slowly and erratically throughout the era, and perhaps afterwards. The Apocrypha provide an example of books that were evidently included in some people's Bibles, but not in others. Some have suggested that certain writings from the Dead Sea Scrolls were accepted by the Essenes as "scripture." Did the differences among the various groups result in part from their acceptance of different books as inspired?
Most scholarly literature about the evolution of the Bible presumes a Christian model of "canonization," according to which theological decision were proclaimed by official councils or synods about whether a given work was prophetic or inspired. The Jewish sources seem to relate to more practical criteria: whether the work is to be read aloud in the synagogue, or if it "defiles the hands." You should give some thought to the question of historical methodologies.



Ideas about the afterlife


Jewish Observances and Laws

The calendar and festivals:

Pharisaic Judaism employed a lunar-solar calendar, whereas some other movements had purely solar calendars. What were the origins and implications of this dispute?
The Biblical festivals were understood and observed in different ways by different Jewish groups. Focus on one or more of the festivals, and explore the origins and implications of these differences.

The Sanhedrin and the court system:

Many sources (e.g., Josephus, the New Testament, Rabbinic tradition) speak of the Sanhedrin as the main institution for the interpreta tion, legislation and adjudication of Jewish religious law. These sources often present differing pictures of its structure and functions. Note: Many discussions focus on the Sanhedrin s role in the trial of Jesus.

The Jerusalem Temple and the Priesthood

All observers agree that the Jewish religion at this time was dominated by the Temple, the sacrificial cult, and the priests who administered it. Sanders has some very insightful things to say about how these institutions affected the day-to-day spirituality of the general population, but there is a great deal more that be said in describing such phenomena as sacrifices, pilgrimages to the Temple, the status and duties of the priesthood, etc.

Dietary and Purity Laws

The Bible lays down many laws which influence and regulate the manner in which food may be produced and consumed (e.g., tithes, heave-offering, prohibitions of certain species)

Marriage and the family

The roles of husband and wife; the legal mechanisms for establishing and dissolving marriages; polygamy, levirate marriage, laws of inheritance, etc.

Prayer, liturgy and the synagogue

The formal liturgy of Judaism is not well documented until the Talmudic era; though it is evident that elements of those prayers had existed long before. Scholars have pointed to passages in the Apocrypha (especially Ben-Sira) as reflecting stages in the evolution of the Jewish liturgy,and texts from Qumran have provided much new information on this question that is still being evaluated.
The origins and history of the synagogue are not clear, and have been open to a variety of modern reconstructions.


The range of available literature is vast. Following is a very selective listing of some of the better general works in the area.
For specific topics consult more specialized references, such as the Religions Index (available in the Reference section of the library in print and on CD-Rom).
The Sanders textbook has an excellent bibliography on pp. 544-53. Note especially his lists of English versions of primary sources.
Consult with me! It can t hurt.

Recommended works:








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