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Sacred scripture and ‘defiling the hands’

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Chapter Summary

Much has been written about the creation of the canon of the Jewish bible. After Graetz in 1871 it was long assumed that the disputes of the rabbis about whether the Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes defile the hands constituted the final discussion among the Jewish authorities which led to the closure of the canon. The whole notion of 'defiling the hands', whatever its cause, is itself rather strange, as a number of scholars have observed. According to the bible, defilement, when it occurs, is assumed to affect the whole body, not just the hands. There is much evidence that the Pentateuch had a special position in Jewish life in the Second Temple period as at other times. So, for instance, the annual festival on Pharos described by Philo celebrated the translation into Greek of the Pentateuch alone.

Keywords: Canon; defiling the hands; Greek; Jewish bible; Pentateuch; Philo; Second Temple period



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