The Voluntary Nature of the Nehemiah Covenant in Rabbinic Literature

in Review of Rabbinic Judaism
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Much scholarly attention has been devoted to the central covenant text in Nehemiah, namely, chapters 8–10, in terms of its sources, literary structure, and theology. An important aspect of the discussion is the consensual spirit with which the Nehemiah covenant was undertaken, even more so than the Sinai covenant, which is referenced in the Nehemiah material (Neh. 9:13). Rabbinic sources, from the Jerusalem Talmud through the various midrashic collections, also put a marked emphasis on the spirit of voluntarism and religious initiative that characterizes the post-exilic covenant experience. Thus the rabbinic sources anticipate certain conclusions of modern scholarship, at least on the ideational level. This paper suggests that the rabbis’ attraction to the theme of voluntary acceptance of the covenant stipulations on the part of the post-exilic community stems from the view of that theme as a conceptual forerunner for the popular acceptance of rabbinic authority.

The Voluntary Nature of the Nehemiah Covenant in Rabbinic Literature

in Review of Rabbinic Judaism



BodaPraying the Tradition pp. 35–37.


See also McCarthy“Covenant and Law” p. 34.


BodaPraying the Tradition p. 36. I would not go so far however as Sperling in positing that postexilic covenant texts relate to the covenantal relationship between God and Israel as exclusively unconditional. See S. David Sperling “Rethinking Covenant in Late Biblical Books” in Biblica 70 (1989) pp. 50–72.


See EskenaziIn an Age of Prose pp. 100–101; David A. Glatt-Gilad “Reflections on the Structure and Significance of the ‘ămānah (Neh. 10 29–40)” in Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 112 (2000) pp. 393–394. For a persuasive suggestion explaining the sociological background to the emphasis on national unity in Neh. 8–10 see Mark Leuchter “Coming to Terms with Ezra’s Many Identities in Ezra-Nehemiah” in Louis Jonker ed. Historiography and Identity (Re)formulation in Second Temple Historiographical Literature (lhb/ots 534; New York and London 2010) pp. 54–62.


BlenkinsoppJudaism pp. 104–106. In the same context Blenkinsopp takes note of the text in Ezra 10 in which various members of the community sign on to the commitment to divorce their foreign wives. Blenkinsopp’s contention that the list of names in Neh. 10 is a later artificial creation does not affect the issue of form.


See BodaPraying the Tradition p. 143.


Y. Blidstein“Decrees and Enactments: On the Status of the Sage and the Authority of the Community,” in Akdamot 26 (April 2011) pp. 91–103 [Hebrew].


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