Even before the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD, Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai relocated to the city of Yavne/Jamnia and received permission from the Romans to found a school of Jewish law there, becoming a major source for the later Mishna. However, some sources suggest that this was after 90 CE. His school is often understood as a wellspring of Rabbinic Judaism. The Council of Yavne or Council of Jamnia refers to a council under Rabbi Yohanan's leadership, that was responsible for defining the canon of the Hebrew Bible.
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:
- A rejection of the Septuagint or Koine Greek Old Testament widely then in use among the Hellenized diaspora along with its additional books not part of the Biblical Hebrew/Biblical Aramaic Masoretic Text.
- The inclusion of a curse on the "Minim" which probably included Jewish Christians (Birkat ha-Minim). According to the Jewish Encyclopedia article on Min: "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 the final separation and distinction between the Jewish and Christian communities. (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.
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"
introduced the notion in 1871; based on Mishnaic
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.
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:
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?
The Jewish Encyclopedia on the period of Jamnia
The Jewish Encyclopedia
's 1905 article on ACADEMIES IN PALESTINE
- The destruction of Jerusalem put as abrupt an end to the disputes of the _.22House_of_Hillel.22_vs._.22House_of_Shammai.22 as it did to the contests between political parties [Sadducees, Pharisees, Essenes, Zealots ]. It was then that a disciple of Hillel, the venerable Johanan ben Zakkai, founded a new home for Jewish Law in Jabneh (Jamnia), and thus evoked a new intellectual life from the ruins of a fallen political existence. The college at Jabneh, which at once constituted itself the successor of the Great Sanhedrin of Jerusalem by putting into practise the ordinances of that body as far as was necessary and practicable, attracted all those who had escaped the national catastrophe and who had become prominent by their character and their learning. Moreover, it reared a new generation of similarly gifted men, whose task it became to overcome the evil results of still another dire catastrophe — the unfortunate Bar Kokba war with its melancholy ending. During the interval between these two disasters (56-117), or, more accurately, until the War of Quietus under Trajan, the school at Jabneh was the recognized tribunal that gathered the traditions of the past and confirmed them; that ruled and regulated existing conditions; and that sowed the seeds for future development. Next to its founder, it owed its splendor and its undisputed supremacy especially to the energetic Gamaliel, a great-grandson of Hillel, called Gamaliel II., or Gamaliel of Jabneh, in order to distinguish him from his grandfather, Gamaliel I. To him flocked the pupils of Johanan ben Zakkai and other masters and students of the Law and of Biblical interpretation. Though some of them taught and labored in other places — Eliezer ben Hyrcanus in Lydda; Joshua ben Hananiah in Beḳiin; Ishmael ben Elisha in Kefar Aziz, Akiba in Bene Beraḳ; Hananiah ben Teradyon in Siknin — Jabneh remained the center; and in "the vineyard" of Jabneh, as they called their place of meeting, they used to assemble for joint action.
- In the fertile ground of the Jabneh Academy the roots of the literature of tradition — Midrash and Mishnah, Talmud and Aggadah — were nourished and strengthened. There, too, the way was paved for a systematic treatment of Halakah and exegesis. In Jabneh were held the decisive debates upon the canonicity of certain Biblical books; there the prayer-liturgy received its permanent form; and there, probably, was edited the Targum on the Pentateuch, which became the foundation for the later Targum called after Onkelos. It was Jabneh that inspired and sanctioned the new Greek version of the Bible — that of Akylas (Aquila). The events that preceded and followed the great civil revolution under Bar Kokba (from the year 117 to about 140) resulted in the decay and death of the school at Jabneh. According to tradition (R. H. 31b), the Sanhedrin was removed from Jabneh to Usha, from Usha back to Jabneh, and a second time from Jabneh to Usha. This final settlement in Usha indicates the ultimate spiritual supremacy of Galilee over Judea, the latter having become depopulated by the war of Hadrian. Usha remained for a long time the seat of the academy; its importance being due to the pupils of Akiba, one of whom, Judah ben Ilai, had his home in Usha. Here was undertaken the great work of the restoration of Palestinian Judaism after its disintegration under Hadrian. The study of the Law flourished anew; and Simon, a son of Gamaliel, was invested with the rank that had been his father's in Jabneh. With him the rank of patriarch became hereditary in the house of Hillel, and the seat of the academy was made identical with that of the patriarch.
- Kantor, Mattis, The Jewish timeline encyclopaedia: a year-by-year history from Creation to the present day, Jason Aronson Inc., Northvale N.J., 1992