Johanan Ben Zakkai Chapter Summary

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The account of Johanan ben Zakkai’s efforts to find a peaceful ending to the Jewish-Roman war in 66-74 C.E. in some respects resembles Jeremiah’s earlier pleas for the exiled Israelites to peacefully endure their captivity in Babylon (c. 610 B.C.E). Both emphasized the importance of preserving the Torah’s beliefs, rites, and practices, over political freedom or popular rebellion. Where Jeremiah was able to earn the respect of Nebuchadnezzar, Johanan ben Zekkai was able to secure the blessing of Vespasian and find an alternative means to preserve their religious traditions. The narrative chronicles the events surrounding Johanan ben Zakkai’s efforts in Jerusalem around 70 C.E. when Vespasian, the Roman general—later emperor—conquered Jerusalem…show more content…
The rebellion of the Judean factions against the Roman garrisons occurred when the Romans breached the Temple and stripped it of its treasuries in efforts to satisfy the Roman citizens who were protesting the heavy taxation implemented upon them. The city of Jerusalem was sieged and later conquered and destroyed in 70 C.E. under Vespasian’s rule. The narrative specifically describes Johanan ben Zakkai’s prophesies toward the Judean rebels and the wise actions of ben Zakkai that in due course preserved Judaism and established the rabbinic academy at Yavneh. Although the author of this narrative is unknown, the emphasis on the actions of ben Zakkai, the lack of detail concerning the Roman or the Jewish rebels, and the focus on the creation of the Rabbinic school seem to suggest the author was someone affiliated with the rabbis. This connection to the Rabbinic school is further corroborated by how the author seems to present Johanan ben Zakkai in a heroic light—as the preserver of Judaism. The account also lends prominence to the Rabbinic school at Yavneh, and describes its establishment as almost miraculous. The narrative is most likely not contemporary to the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E., but it is written in a way that is familiar with detail, suggesting that not much time had passed between the…show more content…
Johanan claimed that the Romans asked for nothing more than signs of submission (“one bow or one arrow”), and had spoken to them for “one day, two days, three days, and they still would not attend to him.” Instead the rebels continued to profess an ideology that political control over Jerusalem signified more to them than the sacrificial rites which the Temple offered. The Jewish army failed to heed to the admonitions of ben Zakkai who had interpreted—from Isaiah 10:34—that “the Temple [would] not be surrendered to a commoner, but to a King.” The apparent disconnection between the theology and warnings of the Torah, and the aspirations of the Jewish rebel faction greatly opposed the ideology of the Rabbinic Jews who saw the Torah and its supplemental interpretation—Oral Law—as the sole component of dictation for their lives: the law and the prophecy for the land (an ideology that outlasts the Second Temple). The rabbi’s interpretations of the laws within the Torah explicates a congruency with the historical argument proposed by some historians, that the rabbis descended from the Jewish religious sect of the Pharisees. The Pharisees abandoned political aspirations for piety, during the decline of the Maccabean period and the rise of Herod; they adopted the laws of the Torah along with

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