Recommended Books On Ritual Purity Laws

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Jack Poirier calls attention to four books on a topic that few readers of the New Testament understand.

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.)

Jack Poirier

For an introduction to the ancient Jewish concept of ritual purity, see Joshua N. Tilton’s JP article, “A Goy’s Guide to Purity“—JP.

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  • Jack Poirier

    Jack Poirier

    Jack Poirier is the chair of biblical studies at the newly forming Kingswell Theological Seminary in Cincinnati, Ohio (scheduled to open in Fall 2008). Jack earned his doctorate in Ancient Judaism from the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, where he wrote a dissertation…
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