Why didn’t the Elephantine community know how to perform Passover? What happened to them that that piece of knowledge was lost? When did they lose it, or did they ever have it?

Your question is a great one, and the answer hinges on several factors we aren’t sure of. When did the Elephantine community arrive in Egypt, who were they, and where did they come from? I’vre read a host of conflicting arguments that I don’t completely understand, but one theory is that these were Jews who […]

Why did the Jews blame themselves for the Babylonian crisis? Is it possible that they thought they did something wrong and broke their laws when in actuality no such thing happened?

I love your question. I would definitely argue that Deuteronomy comes along and is read into history retroactively. Many scholars believe the historical texts from Joshua through kings were edited by Deuteronomists (that is, people who believe all bad things come from disobeying the rules in Deuteronomy, especially worship of foreign gods and marrying foreign […]

How do the historical contexts of the Deuteronomy writings reflect the challenges faced by the Hebrew people during the Babylonian invasion?

To clarify, the major prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel were prophecying during the initial Babylonian conflict, which begans in the 600s BCE. Jeremiah seems to have been predicting the destruction of Judeah by Babylon or in some places explaining why it is happening, while Ezekiel was prophesying in Babylon, dictating to a scribe named Baruch. Isaiah […]

Regarding the Greek additions to Esther, added for Hellenized Jewish readers: Why would using her skills to help her people not be enough? 

I loved your question. I too would have thought Esther’s sacrifice would be enough, but by the Greek period, Hellenized Jews seemed to think Esther was more whore than hero. Perhaps that was because of her sexual training and the Greek emphasis on female virginity. (Hestia, Artemis, and Athena were considered virgins, and Greeks even […]

How were these gods or goddesses were “removed” from history? If their existence is in conflict with the First Commandment, how are they in the bible at all?

This is something we’re going to talk about a lot. For now I’ll just respond with two points: The first commandment  seems not to say that only Yahweh -El ( translated “The Lord your God”)  should be worshipped. It says “you will have no other gods before the face” (meaning “ahead of me” or “above […]

When did the Christian and Jewish traditions diverge regarding obeying the 613 laws such as the Laws of Kahrut (dietary laws)?

I’m not sure about the answer to your question (if I understand it correctly) , but I would say that Paul is the key figure in Christians drifting away from the Mizvot in general. As you probably know, Paul got into a huge debate with the Jerusalem Jesus movement about diet and circumcision, and most would say […]

If Ezra taught even those who didn’t know God about God, why couldn’t he teach the innocent foreign wives and children about God too, rather than sending them away?

My answer to your question is that knowledge of God was not enough to make you part of the post-exile Judahite community. I mentioned in my comment to Zac’s question that other Torah-observing groups existed, such as the group you mention in Takeaway 4 that “turned on” the Judahites. The Elephantine group considered themselves part […]

Why did Moses smash the tablets that the original commandments were written on? Why smash the one physical piece of “law” that was handed directly to him straight from YHWH?

Here’s my take on the tablet smashing–it’s probably been espoused by many others. Exodus has a second version of the commandments (ch 34), attributed by Friedman to J. They are completely different, but that’s kind of glossed over. I think that the authors editing the sources together had to find a way to explain two […]

Why is it that that means of devotion changed so much? It went from killing your child to follow just a set of rules. Why/what happened that made worship so distinct and different between Genesis and Exodus?

For an answer to that, I believe you can thank P and the post-exile redactor, who wanted to emphasize peaceful ways of surviving under foreign rule. To survive as a tiny vassal community, the Israelites obviously couldn’t practice child sacrifice very widely. They couldn’t rely on prophets who tended to present God as vengeful, mysterious, […]