The Public Reading Of Scripture In Early Judaism -- By: Michael Graves

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 50:3 (Sep 2007)
Article: The Public Reading Of Scripture In Early Judaism
Author: Michael Graves


The Public Reading Of Scripture In Early Judaism

Michael Graves

Michael Graves resides at 1495 Johnstown Lane, Wheaton, IL 60187.

I. Introduction

The public reading of Scripture has long been a central component of Jewish practice. The special significance of this component lies partly in its great antiquity: the communal reading of Scripture is pre-rabbinic, and its earliest attestations, even in rabbinic literature, provide a unique glimpse into the world of first-century Judaism. Beyond this, however, the public reading of Scripture is also significant because of the ways in which the Rabbis themselves shaped and formed the practices that they inherited. Much can be learned about the theology of rabbinic Judaism from the Rabbis’ appropriation and development of Scripture reading as part of the liturgy.

The study of ancient Jewish liturgy has a special significance for students of early Christianity. It is generally accepted that specific elements of early Christian worship can best be understood in light of the Jewish practices out of which they are thought to have arisen.1 The earliest layer of material is believed to offer potential insights into the liturgical context of the NT,2 and later traditions are used for comparative purposes to trace the development of Christian liturgical practices during the patristic period.3 This approach has yielded many important insights, and there is every reason to think that the origins and development of the Scripture reading rubric in early Jewish (and later, specifically rabbinic) liturgy will have the same comparative value.

Yet, the use of Jewish liturgical practices to reconstruct early Christian worship is not without difficulties. One of the major problems is the fact that many Christian historians, to some extent following older Jewish scholarship, have operated with the assumption that Jewish liturgy was essentially fixed and uniform in the first century ad. This assumption, however, cannot be reconciled with the available evidence. Recent scholarship on the history of Jewish worship has painted a more complex picture of Jewish liturgical development, thus forcing scholars of Christian liturgy to rethink the potential

relationships between early Jewish and Christian forms of worship.4 Out of this new research has arisen greater awareness of the diversity and flexibility in the earlier stages of development, and also a more skept...

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