School/Council of Jamnia

By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: History

  • In 70 CE, the temple was destroyed in Jerusalem and many Jews fled for their lives to the ancient city of Jamnia.
  • It was located near the coast of Palestine and was basically a Gentile city.
  • After the temple was destroyed in Jerusalem in 70 CE, a noted Hillelite Rabbi – Yohanan ben Zakkai – relocated to the city of Jamnia and founded a Jewish school there.
  • Legend has it that he escaped out of Jerusalem by having people announce his death and then carry him out of the city in a casket.
  • Once outside the city, he supposedly met with the Roman General Vespasian, who granted his prayers to flee to safety in Jamnia.
  • Scholars think other Jewish scholars were already in this city.
  • Tradition has it that the factional fighting between the schools of Hillel and Shammai ended abruptly at this time, with the school of Hillel gaining control.
  • Jamnia was also the home of the Sanhedrin (on two occasions).
  • This is also where the political parties of Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes met their end.
  • It is believed that this school was the foundation for Rabbinic Judaism.
  • It attracted Jews who escaped the tragedy of Jerusalem and were noted scholars.
  • They, in turn, raised another generation of gifted individuals.
  • This school gathered and affirmed the past traditions while also sowing the seeds for future progress.
  • It provided a place for the study of Midrash, Mishnah, Talmud, and Aggadah. Systematic study and debate were the order of the day.
  • The school lasted until about 140 CE, then died away following the Bar Kokba revolution.
  • Scholars have long believed a council was held in Jamnia around 90 CE.
  • It was a council comprised of a small collection of Rabbinic Jewish leaders.
  • Scholars used to think that the Old Testament canon was fixed at this council.
  • Some of the latest research, however, questions whether this council actually took place at all.
  • The events that occurred are known only through rabbinical writings. None of these writings are from rabbis who were alive at that time.
  • When they do refer to Jamnia, they write it as either “Jabneh” or “Yabneh,” which are the Hebrew spellings.
  • If this council did occur, dissenting scholars argue that the participants only looked at a few books, namely Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes. These books would have been part of the “Writings” (third) division of the Hebrew Bible. That suggests that the first (Torah) and second (Prophets) divisions were already fixed.
  • Scholars aren’t sure whether any binding decisions were made at this time.
  • Josephus and others refer to 22-24 books of the Bible prior to this council.
  • His number is arrived at by combining several books (Ruth-Judges, Ezra-Nehemiah, Jeremiah-Lamentations, The Twelve Minor Prophets, 1 and 2 Kings, Samuel, and Chronicles).
  • Some scholars, however, think a decision was made at this council to reject the Septuagint or Koine Greek Old Testament at this time.
  • Since the Septuagint contained all the books of the Apocrypha, they were rejected at this time as well.
  • Those books were considered to be of value for church reading, but were not considered divinely authorized.
  • The council also might have discussed some doctrinal issues, since they were deciding what was normative for Judaism.
  • The result of this school was that the Hebrew language was preserved and the division between Christianity and Judaism was made clear.
  • Indeed, this council (if it occurred) probably ratified what was already in common use and did not blaze any new trails.
  • Nor did they remove any books from the canon that had already been established.
  • It should be clear, however, that this would have been a small group. Many Jews didn’t even know about this council. Hence, there are differences among Diaspora Jews regarding the canon.
  • The Alexandrian Canon, for example, does include the apocryphal books.
  • Nonetheless, Jamnia was the place for study, contemplation, and a renewal of traditions for a restructured religious life.
  • It is likely that these discussions preceded and went well beyond the council of Jamnia.


Aune, David, E. "Revelation." Word Biblical Commentary. Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1997.

Barclay, William. "Revelation." Daily Study Bible. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press. 1975.

Boring, M. Eugene. "Revelation." Interpretation. Louisville, KY: John Knox Press. 1989.

Gaebelein, Frank. "Revelation." Expositor's Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing. 1985.

Keck, Leander. "Revelation." New Interpreter's Bible. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press. 1995.

Osborne, Grant. "Revelation." Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 2002.

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