Why Scripture Doesn’t Talk about Law, Religion, or Belief (Joshua Berman)

We may uncritically assume that biblical authors think of religion, law, and belief in the same way that we do. Dr. Joshua Berman, however, notes that the ancient Hebrews didn’t have the contemporary Western concepts of religion and belief, which involve individualistic intellectual assent to the right propositions. Likewise, the concept of law in the Bible isn’t a clear-cut list of dos and don’ts.

In this episode, Dr. Dru Johnson talks with Dr. Berman about his new book Ani Ma’amin: Biblical Criticism, Historical Truth, and the Thirteen Principles of Faith. They discuss how the Jewish faith cannot be fully expressed in abstract ideas, but instead, must be expressed in concrete, contextualized practice and accompanied by critical intellectual exploration. Along the way, Dr. Berman corrects our modern understanding concepts such as those of religion, belief, and law in the Bible. He also explains some of the problems with contemporary trends in biblical studies towards source criticism, and the methodological failures of viewing the biblical texts as “zippered” or “redacted.”


  • 0:00 Ani Ma’amin
  • 1:24 Why terms such as law, religion, and belief are alien to the Hebrew Bible
  • 7:20 The modern versus the ancient understanding of religion
  • 9:48 Modern “belief” versus ancient lived experience
  • 17:40 Law as more than dos and don’ts
  • 21:43 The problems with biblical source criticism and modern biblical scholarship
  • 37:02 Maimonides, Jewish belief, and the way of life

For the nerdier version of Dr. Berman’s book, check out Inconsistency in the Torah: Ancient Literary Convention and the Limits of Source Criticism

Show notes by Micah Long.

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Credits for the music TBM podcast: hebraicthought.org/credits.