Podcast episode

Episode 11: The Long Secret History of Judaism, Part I

However we want to define ‘the west’, the Jews are there right from the beginning, a persistent ‘foreign’ presence and simultaneously a defining feature of western intellectual life. This episode introduces the Jews and Judaism, two different, but linked, historical realities. We look a bit at the Jews, the near eastern Semitic people whose strange history led to their occupying a paradoxical place as foreigners at the heart of the western world. We also discuss Judaism, the religion of the Jews, and the amazing transformations it has undergone over millennia, from a henotheistic cult with typically near-eastern characteristics to a radically monotheistic faith of the cosmopolitan Græco-Roman world.

We introduce three crucial contributions which Judaism made to the development of western esotericism:

  • the themes of exile and redemption so central to post-exilic Jewish thought
  • the esoteric hermeneutic techniques with which Rabbinic thinkers began to interrogate their textual canon, a kind of reading which had a profound influence on the subsequent history of esoteric interpretation in the west,
  • and the esoteric texts of Hekhalot and Merkavah ‘mysticism’, fascinating Judaic writings which give us a window on early Jewish interiority and the experiential side of Jewish religious life, and which lie at the roots of the later movement known as kabbalah.

Works Discussed in this Episode:

  • Wellhausen, J., 1878. Geschichte Israels, Band I. G. Reimer, Berlin. Here is an English translation of the Prolegomena to the History of Israel, a later version of this important work.
  • The Bible (I like the King James version).

Recommended Reading:

  • Baden, J. S., 2012. The Composition of the Pentateuch: Renewing the Documentary Hypothesis. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT/London.
  • Dozeman, T. B. & Schmid, K. (Ed.), 2006. A Farewell to the Yahwist? The Composition of the Pentateuch in Recent European Interpretation. Society of Biblical Literature, Atlanta, GA.
  • Gmirkin, R. E., 2006. Berossus and Genesis, Manetho and Exodus. T & T Clark, London.
  • Gnuse, R. K., 1997. No Other Gods: Emergent Monotheism in Israel. Sheffield Academic Press, Sheffield.
  • Noll, K., 2001. Canaan and Israel in Antiquity: An Introduction. Sheffield Academic Press, London/New York.


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