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Ancient Judaism (book)

First English translation
(publ. Free Press)

Ancient Judaism (German: Das antike Judentum), is a book written by Max Weber, a German economist and sociologist, in early the 20th century. The original edition was in German - the essays on Ancient Judaism appeared originally in the 1917–1919 issues of the Archiv für Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialforschung. Marianne Weber, his wife, published the essays as Part Three of his Gesammelte Aufsatze zur Religionssoziologie' in 1920–1921. An English translation was made in 1952 and several editions were released since then.

It was his fourth and last major work on the sociology of religion, after The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, The Religion of China: Confucianism and Taoism and The Religion of India: The Sociology of Hinduism and Buddhism. In this work he attempts to explain the factors that were responsible for the early differences between Oriental and Occidental religiosity.[1] It is especially visible when the asceticism developed by Western Christianity is contrasted to mystical contemplation developed in India.[1] Weber's premature death in 1920 prevented him from following Ancient Judaism with his planned analysis of Psalms, Book of Job, Talmudic Jewry, early Christianity and Islam.

Weber wrote that

Anyone who is heir to traditions of modern European civilization will approach problems of universal history with a set of questions, which to him appear both inevitable and legitimate. These questions will turn on the combination of circumstances which has brought about the cultural phenomena that are uniquely Western and that have at the same time (...) a universal cultural significance[1]

Weber notes that Judaism not only fathered Christianity and Islam, but was crucial to the rise of modern Western state, as its influence were as important to those of Hellenistic and Roman cultures.


Types of asceticism and the significance of ancient JudaismEdit

Weber noted that some aspects of Christianity sought to conquer and change the world, instead of withdrawing from its imperfections. This fundamental distinctiveness of Christianity (when compared to Far East religions) stems originally from ancient Jewish prophecy. Weber stated his reasons for investigating ancient Judaism:

History and social organization of Ancient IsraelEdit

Weber analysed the interaction between the Bedouins, the cities, the herdsmen and the peasants, the conflicts between them, and the rise and fall of United Monarchy. The brief time of United Monarchy divided the period of confederacy since the Exodus and the settlement of the Israelites in Canaan from the period of political decline following the Division of the Monarchy.[3] Weber discusses the organisation of the early confederacy, the unique qualities of Israelite relations to the God of Israel, the influence of foreign cults, types of religious ecstasy and the struggle of the priests against ecstasy and idol worship. Later he describes the times of the Division of the Monarchy, social aspects of Biblical prophecy, social orientation of the prophets, demagogues and pamphleteers, ecstasy and politics, ethic and theodicity of the Prophets.

Those periods were significant for religious history, as the basic doctrines of Judaism that left their mark on Western civilisation arose during those times.[3]

Reinhard Bendix summarising Weber's work writes:

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c Reinhard Bendix, Max Weber: an intellectual portrait, University of California Press, 1977, p.200
  2. ^ Reinhard Bendix, Max Weber: an intellectual portrait, University of California Press, 1977, p.204
  3. ^ a b Reinhard Bendix, Max Weber: an intellectual portrait, University of California Press, 1977, p.213
  4. ^ Reinhard Bendix, Max Weber: an intellectual portrait, University of California Press, 1977, p.256

Further readingEdit

  • Hans H. Gerth, Don Martindale (eds.), Max Weber. Ancient Judaism Free Press, 1967, ISBN 0-02-934130-2
  • Irving M. Zeitlin, Ancient Judaism: Biblical Criticism from Max Weber to the Present, Polity Press, 1986, ISBN 0-7456-0297-5
  • Jacob Neusner. Max Weber revisited: Religion and society in ancient Judaism. Oxford Centre for Postgraduate Hebrew Studies, 1981.