There was No ‘Council’ of Jamnia!

Ben at Dunelm Road shares an anecdote from this week where he asked Loren Stuckenbruck about the Council of Jamnia:

Professor Loren Stuckenbruck gave an interesting paper this week on the area of the apocrypha and its interaction with Jewish and Christian canons. He didn’t mention the council at Jamnia so I asked about its role in the debate. I got an odd look from him, and he responded in a gracious manner saying that it is highly debatable that that ever happened. Doh! So I asked him to clarify. He didn’t go into detail but said a process of standardization occured but mostly in the 2nd century and that the process was retrojected back into the first century. So, for those of you like me that were fed the Jamnia story, learn your lesson from my experience and hold your tongue in public discussions.

I’ve been shouting at the top of my lungs that there was no ‘council’ of Jamnia since my days in the AOL chat rooms but nobody ever wanted to listen.  Too many scholars said there was one, they’d say.  So it’s so nice to see someone else relaying a report of its gross exageration!  Like I once said to Kevin Edgecomb regarding the farce that is the ‘council’ of Jamnia, “It’s always struck me as one of those scholarly myths like ‘Q’ or objectivity.” ;-)


15 thoughts on “There was No ‘Council’ of Jamnia!

  1. You may need to qualify your statements better. There seems to be significant evidence that Jewish scholars met and studied at Jamnia. As far as a ‘synod’ or ‘council’ to determine canon, that has no basis.

  2. Andrew: I don’t know how I could qualify it any better. I placed ‘council’ in inverted commas every time I used it, and I claimed that there was no ‘council’ of Jamnia. What more is there?

  3. Nick: What I mean is that someone not familiar with the topic could very well assume “council” to refer merely to a group of individuals meeting on a regular basis. Typically the argument (as I’ve seen it) is framed around the phrase “synod of Jamnia” which is part of the anachronism that resulted in our wrong assumptions in the first place.

    My two cents at least. I be misrepresenting what I’ve read. My memory isn’t always the greatest.

  4. Nick, in that case you would love Daniel Boyarin’s book “Border Lines”, because he not only argues that the council of Jamnia/Yavneh is a later myth of origins but he also argues that binitarianism was perfectly at home in Jewish thought (and only later rejected by the Rabbis). But I don’t know if it is implausible that the council of Jamnia represents one response to the devastation of losing the temple, and for a classic defense of its role see Shaye Cohen, “The Significance of Yavneh” Hebrew Union College Annual 55 (1984): 27-53.

  5. Nick, I too were fed the Jamnia story. I only wish F.F. Bruce were alive today. It seems that I was introduced to this by his writings……..can’t remember, though I believe it is mentioned more than once in his “Canon of Scripture”. Also have you read “The Cambridge History of the Bible”? I have a three volume set.

  6. Mike: Thanks for reminding me about Boyarin’s book. I’m going to get it when I get my next Amazon gift certificate. I’ve benefited greatly from his HTR article “The Gospel of the Memra: Jewish Binitarianism and the Prologue to John.”

    Drew: Bruce said: “It is probably unwise to talk as if there was a Council or Synod of Jamnia which laid down the limits of the Old Testament canon.” (The Canon of Scripture, 34) Amen to that, but he continues to talk about what occured at Jamnia in a way that doesn’t seem altogether different than a council or synod where the rabbis debated which books ‘defiled the hands.’

  7. learn your lesson from my experience and hold your tongue in public discussions.“?

    Ironic statement – holding in such questions results in looking smart but failing to learn. I’ve always preferred being corrected to remaining ignorant. But maybe that’s too easy for me to say sitting here in the cheap seats. (?)

  8. No offense, but this is old news. H.H. Rowley was casting doubt on any ‘conciliar’ activity in Jamnia in the 1950s, and J.P. Lewis in the early ’60s …

  9. I think Loren made that clear and Nick understood that. Even Wikipedia established that :-)

  10. Christopher: None taken, because that’s my point! It’s amazing that people still talk about a ‘council’ of Jamnia.

    Steph: And we all know that if its on Wikipedia is must be true!

  11. Obviously, one should not venture too deep in this research as there are so many opposing views on where there was a meeting, a council, a synod, whatever in Jamnia. It winds up being subjective, and to this one, there was some sort of meeting of the minds to determine when to end adding/deleting books/writings approved by Moses. This opens another bag of worms!! Good to know alittle of Hebrew work. Just don’t argue, or were you there???

  12. Jesse: I’ll admit that there’s a certain level of subjectivity in all historical inquiry, but this alleged council left behind no traces that it actually took place. That there were rabbis and others in Jamnia is not a matter of dispute. And I’m sure we can say that they talked about more than the weather, but to suppose a council that discussed something like the canon of the OT is just not supported by any evidence.

  13. Jamnia or not, we’re missing an important focus here. There appears there were real changes made to the Hebrew scriptures and/or canon either by subtraction or addition around that time in history as evidenced by the dating of Dead Sea Scrolls; Older scrolls agree with Septuagent, apparently, and newer DSS agree with the Masoretic text, apparently. My desire is to get to the original “vorlage” text as close as possible.

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