Fortress Press

Judaism: Practice and Belief, 63 BCE–66 CE


Practice and Belief, 63 BCE–66 CE

E. P. Sanders (Author)


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In this now-classic work, E. P. Sanders argues against prevailing views regarding the Judaism of the Second Temple period, for example, that the Pharisees dominated Jewish Palestine or that the Mishnah offers a description of general practice. In contrast, Sanders carefully shows that what was important was the "common Judaism" of the people with their observances of regular practices and the beliefs that informed them.

Sanders discusses early rabbinic legal material not as rules, but as debates within the context of real life. He sets Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes in relation to the Judaism of ordinary priests and people. Here then is a remarkably comprehensive presentation of Judaism as a functioning religion: the temple and its routine and festivals; questions of purity, sacrifices, tithes, and taxes; common theology and hopes for the future; and descriptions of the various parties and groups culminating in an examination of the question "who ran what?" Sanders offers a detailed, clear, and well-argued account of all aspects of Jewish religion of the time. 

  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Paperback
  • ISBN 9781506406107
  • eBook ISBN 9781506408170
  • Dimensions 6 x 9
  • Pages 922
  • Publication Date August 1, 2016



Preface to the Fortress Press edition
Part I: Context
Part II: Common Judaism
Part III: Groups and Parties


"Judaism: Practice and Belief is the most comprehensive, fresh, and original study of Judaism during the era in which Christianity arose. This is a book about what ordinary Jews in antiquity believed and how they practiced their religion in Palestine. Written with clarity and tremendous insight, this is a masterful study by one of the greatest scholars of our time."

Susannah Heschel | Dartmouth College

"This reissue of E. P. Sanders’s pioneering 1992 work on late Second Temple Judaism comes at a time in the study of early Judaism when it is most needed. In recent years there has been a drift away from the classical sources of Philo, Josephus, the early rabbinic literature, and the Hebrew Bible in reconstructing the practices and beliefs of Jews at the turn of the Common Era. Ed Sanders brings us back to common ground for all to (re)consider as archeology and Dead Sea Scrolls research provides stunning new data to supplement and enhance the old."

Eric Meyers | Emeritus, Duke University

"E. P. Sanders tells us that this is the book he always wanted to write, and it shows. The work breathes deep sympathy towards the subject. A vivid picture of Jewish practice and the underlying convictions is painted, and the account is permeated by fresh insights on page after page. A sheer delight both for a beginner and for a more advanced reader!"

Heikki Räisänen | Emeritus, University of Helsinki

"In this detailed, sympathetic description of late Second Temple Judaism as a way of life, Sanders radiates admiration and respect for the Pharisees who 'wanted to get everything just right' and urges us to see Herod in a 'better light.' But most of all he wants—and succeeds—in showing how the 'ordinary people' whom he most respects lived, worked, and believed. If this account of 'common Judaism' does not encompass the evident wickedness within this society, yet in directing our gaze away from leaders, revolutionaries, apologists and activists generally and towards the 'common folk' Sanders follows an important trend in modern historical research and one that is most welcome in our own field."

Philip R. Davies | University of Sheffield

"Over two decades after its initial publication, Judaism: Practice and Belief remains the most comprehensive overview of its subject matter available. Though well aware of the diversity within late Second Temple Judaism, Sanders emphasizes the theological convictions and practices that gave Jews a sense of shared identity. To be sure, Sanders explores the distinctive characteristics of the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes, but his focus is squarely upon what he calls 'common Judaism,' the Judaism of both priests and ordinary people who did not consider themselves members of one sect or another. As an authoritative reference on the fascinating details of how  Jews in this period celebrated festivals, observed the Sabbath, related to the Temple, offered sacrifices, kept kosher, and maintained purity (or not), the book remains unparalleled.  Its return to print is a welcome development for scholars and general readers alike."

Mark A. Chancey | Southern Methodist University

"Students of ancient Judaism, rejoice! Fortress Press is bringing back into print this essential volume of E. P. Sanders, long out of print. Judaism Practice and Belief is essential reading for anyone interested in the observances, practices, and beliefs of Jews in the century before the destruction of the temple in 70 CE."

Shaye J. D. Cohen | Harvard University