Council Of Jamnia And Old Testament Canon (by Peter Shirokov And Dr. Eli Lizorkin-eyzenberg)

Yavne CouncilJamnia or Yavneh (יַבְנֶה) in the 1st century AD was a small town located along Israel’s southern coastal plain between Jaffa and Ashdod. It is believed that Jamnia hosted the discussions pertaining to the establishment of the Jewish canon. According to Rabbinic sources, when the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed by Titus in 70 AD, Yochanan ben Zakkai (a leading Pharisaic proto-rabbinic leader who opposed the Saddusaic leadership) established a center of learning in Jamnia. This attracted proto-rabbinic scholars to this area. After the Temple’s destruction, Jamnia gradually became a new spiritual center in Israel. Israel’s legislative body (the Great Beit Din later referred to as the Sanhedrin) relocated to Jamnia (Babylonian Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 31a). Other names often associated with Jamnia are Gamliel II, the leader of Bet Din and Akiva ben Joseph, a charismatic leader from the days of Bar Kochba Revolt. (To read in original and to make a comment click HERE).

(This text is an excerpt from an entry in Online Lexham Bible Dictionary by Logos Press).

Since the late nineteenth century, many scholars have believed that in approximately 90 AD a religious council convened in Jammia and closed the boundaries of what eventually became the Jewish canon. The idea of the Council of Jamnia was first introduced by Heinrich Graetz in 1871. It was assumed that since Christians had the Nicean and Chalcedonian councils to establish such matters, something similar took place in Jamnia at the turn of the century. Graetz’s theory became the widely accepted view. Phrases such as “on that day” contained in rabbinic discussions (Mishna, Yadaim 3:5-4:4 and Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot 28a) on the topic of authority of books created an impression that this was a deliberation that took place during a single session, thus creating the misnomer of the Council of Jamnia. Since the 1960s, Graetz’s theory has been questioned. (Jack P. Lewis, Lee M. McDonald, James A. Sanders and Sid Z. Leiman and others).Today modern scholars are skeptical as to whether there was ever a synod in Jamnia dedicated specifically to matters of canonization.

There are several important ancient sources (Josephus, Against Apion 1:8; 4 Ezra 14:44-45, Babylonian Talmud, Baba Bathra 14b and others) which indicate that a generally accepted list of sacred writings already existed in the days of Jamnia. The Jamnia sages, for example, explored the merits of Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Ruth, Esther, Proverbs and Ezekiel. However, their inquiries into selected teachings, contained within those books, should not be seen as attempt to settle the status of those books.

Whether the sages held a special council or if their discussions about the holy books were ongoing, the enduring significance of Jamnia lies not in the closing of the Jewish canon, but in ensuring the cultural and religious survival of the Jewish people. Prior to 70 AD, Judaism was fragmented into various sects. The Jamnia sages intentionally promoted an inclusive, pluralistic and non-sectarian Judaism. In light of new circumstances, they created a more flexible system of Torah interpretation that accounted for diversity and charted a new way to relate to God and his covenant with Israel (Shaye Cohen). They shaped the possibility of new Jewish faith and life without sacrifices, priesthood and the centrality of the Jerusalem Temple.

The spiritual developments that took shape at Jamnia proved to be very timely. The Second Jewish Revolt against Rome (132-135 AD) further destabilized the Jewish society. The loss of countless lives, destruction of Jerusalem itself, expulsion of Jews from its vicinity and widespread persecutions under Hadrian devastated the nation and brought a new era of Jewish life outside of Judea (Josephus, Jewish Wars VI. 9.3; Cassius Dio, Roman History LXIX, 14:1). After the Bar Kochba Revolt in the days of Antoninus the Jamnia scholars established a new center in the Galilean city of Usha (140 AD) and continued their task of preserving traditions and interpretations of Torah that became the foundation of Mishna. (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 31b, Song of Songs Rabba II. 5).

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  1. […] to Britannica (n.d.; see Lizorkin-Eyzenberg, 2014), Jewish scholars decided, at the Council of Jamnia (90 A.D.), that the books later identified as […]

  2. Márcio Azevedo

    How important is the council of jamnia to the Old Testament?

  3. Donovan Pillay

    I have just come across this article, so firstly thank you for this insight into the council of Jamnia. I do have one question after reading this. Did the council then change the the Old Testament teachings with regards to sacrifice as the Temple was destroyed? Does this lead to not needing sacrifice anymore?

    I hope someone will answer as I see the last post was 2014.

  4. […] will then proceed to throw around historical precedent and references to the first-century Council of Jamnia, but it’s all really smoke and […]

  5. Marinete Almeida

    I love history judaica for comentary ! ! ‘m studies inglish

  6. Ray Luff

    I have a few questions about the Council of Jamnia in AD 90;

    1. Is it true that at the council of Jamnia that until that time there were 16 deuterocanonical books but the council at that time decided to from then on to consider two of the deuterocanonical books as Scripture. (Those two being the book of Esther and the Song of Solomon).

    2. Is it true that these books have no Hebrew source for them and that the first time they appeared was in the Septuagint which was translated by 71 Jewish Rabbis in approximately 250 BC?

    3. Is it true that the decision was made to discontinue the usage of the Septuagint because the translation of the Jewish term “Ha Mashiak” to the Greek term “Ho Christos” was assisting in the conversion of Jews to Christianity. And that the decision was made in that council to no longer refer to Greek term “Ho Christos” but to forever refer to the Hebrew term “Ha Mashiak”?

    Your fellow Zionist,
    Ray T. Luff

    1. Peter Shirokov

      Dear Ray let me see if I can help with some answers.
      1. I believe there were many books that Jewish people read and “canonical/deuterocanonical” were net the categories they had in mind. I do not know if it was 16…. Books were judged largely on their content. As far a discussion of Jaminia I find no evidence that they were trying to settle “canon” They did discuss the holiness of books (whether they defile hands – original terminology) and looked at how Torah is reflected in them. You would see how Songs of Solomon and Esther came up. It is hard to see Torah teaching reflected in them. It takes some creativity… follow the link to read Yadaim 3:5-4:4 which i cite in the article.
      2. I am not an expert on these two books, but there are different versions in existence. Greek and Hebrew do differ. No doubt you are familiar with the concept of “vorlage” prototext which predates the LXX and MSS. To answer your question further research is required, but hopefully I can point you in the right direction. Dr. Emanuel Tov may have insightful info on this.
      3. I am not aware of the Jamina scholars debating this exact point. The latter rabbis, did express their disapproval of LXX, but that was a different generation and not related to the Jamnia main objectives. Symmachus and Aquilla translations were preferred. I am not familiar with conversations about “Christos” issue in Jewish sources. If this cannot be substantiated by ancient sources the issue may be “anecdotal” . If you know of any ancient sources, please share the references, I would be interested to take a look at that.

    2. Dave Kinsella

      Ray, as far as I’m aware we’re not even sure how the Septuagint came to be. There is one legend about it, but it has no supporting evidence in it’s favour.

  7. Lynette Hogden

    I love learning the history of The Holy Land and the people. Thank you for the spot of the history you have sent me. From Lynette Hogden

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Lynette, you are most welcome! Glad you a part of our study group.