In the first of a series of blogs on recommended readings, I would like to call attention to four books (listed by date of release) on a topic that few readers of the New Testament understand: Jewish ritual purity laws. There are four books on the topic that I recommend to every student of the New Testament:
E. P. Sanders, Jewish Law from Jesus to the Mishnah: Five Studies (London: SCM, 1990);
Hannah K. Harrington, The Impurity Systems of Qumran and the Rabbis (SBLDS 143; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1993);
Jonathan Klawans, Impurity and Sin in Ancient Judaism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000);
Thomas Kazen, Jesus and Purity Halakhah: Was Jesus Indifferent to Impurity? (CBNT 38; Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 2002).
These books supplement each other rather well: e.g., Sanders challenges the mistaken idea that the Pharisees kept the purity laws in order to imitate the priests, while Harrington and Klawans do a good job of showing that the purity laws were observed more widely than Sanders allows, and Kazen does a nice job with the New Testament dimensions of the topic. Any of these books would serve as a good introduction to the topic of Jewish purity laws, although Sanders’s book is clearly the best for that. (There are many other books on the topic, but I avoided some that I think are problematic.)