Jacob Neusner was one of the best-known scholars of Jewish studies in the 20th century. He reckoned that the three most influential Jews of all time were Moses, Jeremiah, and Yohanan ben Zakkai. Odds are you’ve heard of Moses and Jeremiah. Moses was the great lawgiver. Jeremiah was the great prophet who had the bad luck to see Jerusalem destroyed by Babylon in the year 587 BC.
But Yohanan who? What’s he famous for? Here is a wonderful overview by Dr. Randy Ingermanson: “The Greatest Rabbi You Never Heard Of“
Some of you have “met” Dr. Randy Ingermanson in my Patreon Youtube Zoom meetings which he attends when he has time (see https://www.patreon.com/jamesdtabor). I have known him for many years and he and his wife Eunice have participated in our Mt Zion excavation for several seasons. Randy has his Ph.D. in Physics from UC Berkeley but spends most of his time now as a writer and novelist. His historical “Jesus” fiction I find most fascinating. You can read more about Randy here: https://www.ingermanson.com/about/ and explore his web site for much more. His blog is ever fascinating and you will love his light hearted but poignant humor.
I think he might be right–that many with interests in the historical Jesus and late 2nd Temple Judaism, might not know much about Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai. Randy references the late Jacob Neusner in the opening of this fascinating post. I knew him quite well and have dozens of his books, including the classic, A Life of Yohanan ben Zakkai Ca. 1-80 C.E. (Brill, 1970). When I arrived at the University of Chicago in 1972, and met my mentor Jonathan Z. Smith, he introduced me to Neuser and his prolific work, pioneering a serious critical historical work on “Rabbinic” sources.
I hope you enjoy this post, you can sign up for Randy’s newsletter and I find his books endlessly fascinating. There are a lot of novelists out there–including some of you–who write fiction related to the historical Jesus. I find Randy one of the best and I am honored that some of my historical work has influenced him. Check out his work.