PSCO Presentation: 14 January, 2010

“Law and Prophecy in Ancient Judaism”

Alex P. Jassen (University of Minnesota)


One of the central pre-occupations of Jewish individuals and groups in the Second Temple period was the continued application of biblical law. Jews grappled with how to make biblical law portable to new sociological, theological, and political settings. Alongside new forms of law, Jewish individuals and groups developed new methods for authorizing their legislative activity. Nearly all groups agreed on the centrality of Moses as the first lawgiver in Israel's history. But what authority did later legislators have and what strategies were employed to ensure that these later legislators were viewed as legitimate mediators of the divine law? Scholarship on this question has tended to focus on approaches that de-emphasize the prophetic and revelatory aspects of lawgiving in ancient Judaism — e.g., the Oral Torah of rabbinic Judaism or the one-time revelation on Sinai as represented in the Temple Scroll. Several other texts from the Second Temple Period — in particular those representing the sectarian community of the Dead Sea Scrolls — indicate that many Jews claimed prophetic authority for their legislative activity. This paper will explore the intersection of law and prophecy in various streams in Second Temple Judaism. The goal will be to outline the various ways in which the formation of Jewish law was regarded as a prophetic experience and how the appeal to prophecy served to authorize that legislative activity.  


Alex P. Jassen is Assistant Professor of Early Judaism in the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Studies at the University of Minnesota . He is also a member of the University's Center for Jewish Studies and Program in Religious Studies. Dr. Jassen completed his Ph.D. in Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University in 2006. His research and teaching concentrates on the Dead Sea Scrolls, the literature of Second Temple period Judaism, and general Jewish thought. He is a member of the international editorial team responsible for publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls. He is the author of Mediating the Divine: Prophecy and Revelation in the Dead Sea Scrolls and Second Temple Judaism (Brill, 2007), winner of the 2009 John Templeton Award for Theological Promise; Scripture and Law in the Dead Sea Scrolls (forthcoming with Cambridge University Press); as well as many articles and reviews; and co-editor of Scripture, Violence, and Textual Practice in Early Judaism and Christianity (Brill, 2009).  Dr. Jassen is currently working on a book on religious violence in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Meeting and Dining

All are welcome! Those wishing to dine together before the seminar will meet at 6:00 pm in the Cohen Hall Second-Floor Lounge to go next door to the food court in Houston Hall.

Suggested Reading

Jassen, Alex P. "The Presentation of the Ancient Prophets as Lawgivers at Qumran," Journal of Biblical Literature 127:2 (2008): 307–37.

Schiffman, Lawrence H. "The Temple Scroll and the Systems of Jewish Law in the Second  Temple Period." Pages 239–55 in Temple Scroll Studies: Papers Presented at the International Symposium on the Temple Scroll: Manchester, December 1987. Edited by G. J. Brooke. JSPSup 7. Sheffield : JSOT Press, 1989.

Shemesh, Aharon, and Cana Werman. "Halakhah at Qumran : Genre and Authority." Dead Sea Discoveries 10 (2003): 104–29.

Urbach, Ephraim E. "Halakhah ve-Nevuah." Tarbiz 18 (1946–47): 1–27. Repr. pages 21–49 in Me-'Olamam shel Ḥakhamim: Qoveṣ Meḥkarim. Jerusalem: Magnes, 1988.