Die Institution des jüdischen Patriarchen


Eine quellen- und traditionskritische Studie zur Geschichte der Juden in der Spätantike

[“The Institution of the Jewish Patriarch: A Source-critical Study in the History of the Jewish People in Late Antiquity”]

(Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1995), 401 pages.

English Abstract

Discussing, broadly speaking, the susceptibility of rabbinic texts to historical analysis, my first book focuses on a central chapter of Jewish history during the late Roman era: the institution of the Jewish Patriarch (Hebrew: nasi). Here, I challenge the widely-held assumption that the Patriarch served as the highest representative of the Jews—in either the political or religious sense—after the destruction of the Second Temple (70 CE) had spelled the demise of its High Priesthood. 

By re-reading almost all of the relevant source material – rabbinic texts, Roman laws, writings of Church Fathers, and epigraphical sources – I question the traditional picture of the Jewish Patriarch as a hereditary institution with roots in the Second Temple period (i.e. prior to 70 CE) that continued to exist up to Byzantine times. I argue instead that we cannot prove the existence of a Jewish “Patriarch” prior to Judah the Patriarch, at the turn of the second century CE. In my opinion, even Judah I’s reputation as Patriarch was more a result of his scholarly influence than the consequence of an institutionalized position. What is more, the Patriarch did not represent the Jewish people at large; rather, he was one of the most revered members of a scholarly elite—the classical rabbis—that in certain ways resembled other elites, both pagan and Christian, of the late Roman Levant.