Words, sources, and individuals that may be unfamiliar to readers are briefly defined or identified here.
apocalypse — a literary genre in which the secret workings of the universe are disclosed to the author through visions and visitations from heavenly beings. Apocalypses reveal how earthly events are viewed from a heavenly perspective. Apocalypses typically use fantastic imagery to portray politically subversive messages.
apocalyptic — pertaining to apocalypses and the kind of world view expressed therein.
baraita — a tradition of the tannic sages preserved in a rabbinic source later than the Mishnah.
Bavli — see “Talmud” below.
B.C.E. — “Before the Common Era,” a more neutral way of referring to the age “Before Christ” (B.C.).
Bet Midrash — “House of Study,” the ancient rabbinic academy.
C.E. — “Common Era,” a more neutral way of referring to the age in which we all live (A.D.).
Dead Sea Scrolls — ancient Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic manuscripts discovered in caves surrounding Qumran. Many of the manuscripts were copies of Scripture, others were writings composed by the Qumran sect, which was probably a branch of the Essenes.
diaspora — the Jewish community living outside the land of Israel.
exegesis — the art of interpreting a text.
exegetical — pertaining to the art of interpretation.
Gentile — any non-Jewish person.
halakhah — a legal ruling on religious matters, or the approach a teacher and his followers took toward the commandments of the Torah as a whole.
halakhic — pertaining to halakhah.
Josephus — a Jerusalem priest of the first century C.E. who served as commander of the Jewish revolt against Rome in the Galilee. Josephus defected to the Romans prior to the capture of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple. In Rome Josephus authored two important histories of the Jewish people: The Jewish War and Antiquities of the Jews. Josephus also wrote a treatise explaining Jewish customs and refuting accusations leveled against the Jewish people entitled Against Apion. Finally, Josephus wrote an autobiographical account, Life, of his role in the Jewish revolt and his defection to the Romans.
Mechilta de-Rabbi Ishmael — a tannaic commentary (midrash) on the book of Exodus.
Mechilta de-Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai — a tannaic commentary (midrash) on the book of Exodus.
midrash — ancient Jewish exegesis of Scripture.
Midrash Rabbah — a rabbinic commentary on the five books of Moses (Gen.; Exod.; Lev.; Num.; Deut.) and the five megillot (scrolls) read at Jewish festivals (Ruth; Song; Eccl.; Lam.; Esth.).
Mishnah — the earliest collection of rabbinic halakhah (ca. 200 C.E.).
Philo — a first-century Jewish philosopher and aristocrat from Alexandria in Egypt. He wrote several books of allegorical interpretations of the Jewish Scriptures in which he attempted to harmonize Judaism and Greek philosophy. Philo also led a delegation of Jews from Alexandria to petition Gaius Caligula, the Roman emperor, to rescind his order to place a statue of himself in the Temple in Jerusalem.
qal vaḥōmer — an extrapolation from a small case to a big one. The qal vaḥōmer argument is often found in rabbinic literature as well as in the teachings of Jesus, e.g.: If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him?
pseudepigraphical — written under a false name.
Qumran — an enclave in the Judean desert north where the sect that wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls was located.
rabbinic — pertaining to the ancient Jewish sages who followed in the footsteps of the Pharisees after the Jewish Revolt against Rome that ended in the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E.
Septuagint — (abbreviated LXX) the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures.
Sifra —a tannaic commentary on the book of Leviticus.
Sifre on Deuteronomy — a tannic commentary (midrash) on the book of Deuteronomy.
Sifre on Numbers — a tannic commentary (midrash) on the book of Numbers.
Talmud — a rabbinic commentary on the Mishnah, encyclopedic in scope. Two recensions of the Talmud exist, the Talmud Yerushalmi (Jerusalem Talmud), edited in the land of Israel, and the Talmud Bavli (Babylonian Talmud), edited in Babylonia. The Babylonian Talmud became the dominant and authoritative version, whereas the Jerusalem Talmud often preserves earlier material originating from Palestinian Jewry.
Tanna — a rabbinic sage whose career was carried out prior to the codification of the Mishnah. Plural: Tannaim
Tannaic — pertaining to the Tannaim.
Torah — the five books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy) that constitute the core of Jewish tradition.
Tosefta — a collection of rabbinic halakhah compiled a generation after the Mishnah.
Yerushalmi — see “Talmud” above.