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The Council of Jamnia or Council of Yavne is a hypothetical 1st century council at which it is postulated the canon of the Hebrew Bible was defined.

Some time before the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD, Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai relocated to the city of Yavne/Jamnia, where he received permission from the Romans to found a school of Halakha (Jewish law).[1] His school became a major source for the later Mishna, which records the Tannaim, and a wellspring of Rabbinic Judaism.

In 1871 Heinrich Graetz, drawing on Mishnaic and Talmudic sources, concluded that there must have been a late 1st century Council of Jamnia which had decided the Jewish canon. This became the prevailing scholarly consensus for much of the 20th century, but from the 1960s onwards it came increasingly into question. In particular, later scholars noted that none of Graetz's sources actually mentioned books that had been withdrawn from a canon, and questioned the whole premise that the discussions of the rabbis were about canonicity at all.

Late first century developments attributed to Jamnia

Today, there is no scholarly consensus as to when the Jewish canon was set. Nevertheless, the outcomes attributed to the Council of Jamnia did occur whether gradually or in a definitive, authoritative council. Several concerns of the remaining Jewish communities in Israel would have been the loss of the national language, the growing problem of conversions to Christianity, based in part on Christian promises of life after death. What emerged from this era was twofold:

  1. A rejection of the Septuagint or Koine Greek Old Testament widely then in use in Hellenistic Judaism along with its additional books not part of the Biblical Hebrew/Biblical Aramaic Masoretic Text.
  2. The inclusion of a curse on the "Minim" which probably included Jewish Christians.[2] According to the Jewish Encyclopedia article on Min:[3] "In passages referring to the Christian period, "minim" usually indicates the Judæo-Christians, the Gnostics, and the Nazarenes, who often conversed with the rabbis on the unity of God, creation, resurrection, and similar subjects (comp. Sanh. 39b). In some passages, indeed, it is used even for "Christian"; but it is possible that in such cases it is a substitution for the word "Noẓeri," which was the usual term for 'Christian'... On the invitation of Gamaliel II., Samuel ha-Ḳaṭan composed a prayer against the minim which was inserted in the "Eighteen Benedictions"; it is called "Birkat ha-Minim" and forms the twelfth benediction; but instead of the original "Noẓerim" ... the present text has "wela-malshinim" (="and to the informers"). The cause of this change in the text was probably, the accusation brought by the Church Fathers against the Jews of cursing all the Christians under the name of the Nazarenes."

Sociologically, these developments achieved two important ends, namely, the preservation of the Hebrew language at least for religious use (even among the diaspora) and possibly the final separation and distinction between the Jewish and Christian communities, though the separation is more complex than just a single event, see also List of events in early Christianity. (Through nearly the end of the first century, Christians of Jewish descent continued to pray in synagogues.) But see also John Chrysostom#Sermons on Jews and Judaizing Christians, dated 386-387.

Some of the books not admitted into the Hebrew canon, such as Wisdom and 2 Maccabees, gave the only textual support for the common first century Jewish belief in the after-life. The martyrs' prayers for the dead and the living praying and offering sacrifices for the dead motivated Martin Luther to reject these books as apocryphal because they supported Catholic doctrine and practice.

Speculation regarding a "Council of Jamnia"

Heinrich Graetz introduced the notion in 1871; based on Mishnaic and Talmudic sources, he concluded that there must have been a Council of Jamnia which had decided the Jewish canon sometime in the late 1st century. This became the prevailing scholarly consensus for much of the 20th century. However, from the 1960s onwards, based on the work of Jack P. Lewis, Sidney Z. Leiman, and others, this view came increasingly into question. In particular, later scholars noted that none of the sources actually mentioned books that had been withdrawn from a canon, and questioned the whole premise that the discussions were about canonicity at all, asserting that they were actually dealing with other concerns entirely.

Jacob Neusner published books in 1987 and 1988 that argued that the notion of a biblical canon was not prominent in second-century Rabbinic Judaism or even later and instead that a notion of Torah was expanded to include the Mishnah, Tosefta, Jerusalem Talmud, Babylonian Talmud and midrashim.[4]

Jack P. Lewis wrote in The Anchor Bible Dictionary Vol. III, pp. 634-7 (New York 1992):

The concept of the Council of Jamnia is an hypothesis to explain the canonization of the Writings (the third division of the Hebrew Bible) resulting in the closing of the Hebrew canon. ... These ongoing debates suggest the paucity of evidence on which the hypothesis of the Council of Jamnia rests and raise the question whether it has not served its usefulness and should be relegated to the limbo of unestablished hypotheses. It should not be allowed to be considered a consensus established by mere repetition of assertion.

Albert C. Sundberg, Jr. wrote in "The Old Testament of the Early Church" Revisited 1997:[5]

Are there alternatives to Jamnia (or later Usha)? As we have seen, it was at Jamnia that the tradition says the Hillelites gained the ascendancy over the house of Shammai. It was the school at Jamnia that became a substitute for the Sanhedrin of Jerusalem. It was at Jamnia that the third section of the Hebrew canon was first named. It was the Jamnia decisions that, while not "official," came to be generally accepted in post-destruction Judaism. It may be that we have followed too quickly after Lewis in his attack upon Jamnia in order to foster his belief in a Hebrew canon from pre-Christian times. But that case, as we have seen, is confounded by numerous difficulties. With the time of canonization of the Hebrew tripartite canon now probably fixed between 70 and 135 C.E., and as a triumph of the Hillelite Pharisee in post-destruction Judaism, what alternatives are there to Jamnia as the venue?

Some scholars argue that the Jewish canon was fixed earlier by the Hasmonean dynasty.[6]


  1. Talmud Gittin 56a-b, p.95, Kantor
  2. Birkat ha-Minim
  3. Min
  4. McDonald & Sanders, The Canon Debate, 2002, page 5, cited are Neusner's Judaism and Christianity in the Age of Constantine, pages 128-145, and Midrash in Context: Exegesis in Formative Judaism, pages 1-22.
  5. "The Old Testament of the Early Church" Revisited 1997
  6. Philip R. Davies in The Canon Debate, page 50: "With many other scholars, I conclude that the fixing of a canonical list was almost certainly the achievement of the Hasmonean dynasty."


  • Kantor, Mattis, The Jewish timeline encyclopaedia: a year-by-year history from Creation to the present day, Jason Aronson Inc., Northvale N.J., 1992

External links

cs:Palestinský kánon eo:Jamnia ja:ヤムニア会議 pt:Concílio de Jamnia