The Memory of the Temple and the Making of the Rabbis | BYU Studies

The Memory of the Temple and the Making of the Rabbis

The Memory of the Temple and the Making of the Rabbis
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The Memory of the Temple and the Making of the Rabbis
The Memory of the Temple and the Making of the Rabbis
Author Naftali S. Cohn,
Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013

The Memory of the Temple and the Making of the Rabbis

Reviewer Avram R. Shannon,

As John Lundquist already pointed out years ago, ancient temples served as "the central, organizing, unifying institution in ancient Near Eastern society."1 For many of the monarchies that populated the ancient Near East and the empires that dominated later antiquity, the temple undergirded and supported the kingship in its political as well as religious roles. This system worked very well when the groups in power controlled the temple and were able to use its authority to support their own rule and authority. However, because temples can be destroyed or sidelined in the vagaries of war and the development of societies, groups are not always able to maintain a direct connection between their authority and the temple. But in the midst of such changes to cultures and societies, it is still possible for a group to support and maintain its authority by appealing to the temple, even if that temple no longer stands.

With The Memory of the Temple and the Making of the Rabbis, Naftali Cohn has written a book that adds much to our understanding of the earliest stages of the rabbinic movement and its connection to the temple, which had defined Judaism and the covenant people for a millennium. Outside of the world of Jewish studies, Cohn's book provides a methodological framework for discussing the role that the temple and its institutions play in a wide variety of religious discourses, including Latter-day Saint discourse about scriptures and temple rituals. Cohn's book is a must-read for anyone interested in the formation of the rabbinic movement and in religious identity formation. It is also a valuable read for those interested in how the temple fits into a broader religious discourse. The reader should note that The Memory of the Temple contains some very specific and technical argumentation, but its broader point can be of real use for those interested in temple studies broadly.

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