BAR 35:06, Nov/Dec 2009
Biblical Views: Judaism—Back to Basics
“You never get too good for the basics.” Some such caution will be familiar to anyone who has trained in a sport, musical instrument or language. We understand that we will have to get through the basics at the start. The hard part is realizing, months or years into training, that we can never leave behind those building blocks: working endlessly on balance and form; constantly practicing scales; struggling with the unsexy conjugation of verbs.
It is the same with academic work. Important insights have originated in the teaching of introductory courses. That is where we come to grips over and over again with the most basic tools and evidence of our disciplines. Each year, as our specialized research and writing progress, we return to the basics with new eyes. And the constant questioning of these foundations, by us and by our students, can expose weaknesses in the fundamentals. I suggest that one of our most rudimentary categories, ancient “Judaism,” could benefit from rethinking.1