“The Invention of Judaism” by John J. Collins— The Role of Torah in Ancient Judaism

Collins, John J. “The Invention of Judaism: Torah and Jewish Identity from Deuteronomy to Paul”, University of California Press, 2017.

The Role of Torah in Ancient Judaism

Amos Lassen

Many assume that Judaism is the Torah and the Torah is Judaism. However, in “The Invention of Judaism”, John J. Collins persuasively argues this was not always the case. The Torah became the touchstone for most of Judaism’s adherents only in the hands of the rabbis of late antiquity. For 600 years before this, from the Babylonian Exile to the Roman destruction of the Second Temple, there were enormous variations and diversity in the way the Torah was understood. Collins gives us a comprehensive account of the role of the Torah in ancient Judaism by exploring key moments in its history, beginning with the formation of Deuteronomy and continuing through the Maccabean revolt and the rise of Jewish sectarianism and early Christianity.

John J. Collins is considered to be an influential scholar of the Old Testament and the Hebrew Bible. Here he surveys an enormous amount of literature, both primary and secondary, summarizes it masterfully, and then makes that his thesis. This is a wise and mature look at the place of Torah and it is beautiful to see Collins looking at alternatives proposed by others, both radicals and conservatives, and then taking the position best supported by the evidence and not leaning to either of these predetermined options. Writing about Torah is always important and what we get here is important to the history of the Jewish religion and affects both thought and practice.


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