Friday, March 19, 2010
[a page of the Talmud surrounded by commentaries]
One of the unique features of Judaism is the structure of Judaic literature.
Judaic literature was written in five primary stages with authors in the later stages never contradicting those in the earlier stages:
- The prophets; 1300 BCE to 300 BCE.
- The early rabbis; 300 BCE to 200 CE
- The Talmudic rabbis; 200 CE to 500 CE
- The Talmudic commentaries; 500 CE to 1500 CE
- The commentators on the Talmudic commentaries; 1500 CE to present.
Other religions have two stages – the founder and the commentators on the founder. There is the New Testament and canon law, the Koran and the Sharia, etc. The founder of course has special importance, however after him any great scholar is entitled to offer an opinion. In the Catholic Church, for example, Doctors of the Church continue to be added up to the present.
In Judaism, a rabbi living in 1000 CE would never have considered contradicting a rabbi who lived in 100 CE and likewise a rabbi living in 1600 CE would never contradict a rabbi living in 1000 CE. Needless to say, no one after 300 BCE claimed to have the gift of prophesy. This is why the canon of the Bible was closed. There was universal reverence for the sages of each earlier era. This is in spite of the fact that since the destruction of the First Temple, 2,400 years ago, the Jewish people have not possessed any central authority capable of declaring and enforcing a new era of Judaic literature. These eras seem to have formed spontaneously because of a universal recognition that current leaders did not possess the spiritual and academic greatness of earlier ones.
In my opinion, this is clearly proof of the great spiritual level which the Jewish people were elevated to 3,300 years ago at Mt. Sinai and from which they have been gradually descending ever since.
Posted by jewish philosopher at 3:23 AM