“Leadership, Social Memory and Judean Discourse in the Fifth-Second Centuries BCE”

The topic of this volume is fairly straight forward: leadership, social memory, and Judean discourse in the 5th to 2nd centuries BCE. Notably, all the essays assume (1) a living audience and (2) historicity is not an issue. So, I’ll dive right into the contributions.

Ehud Ben Zvi considers how Judeans explored political thought through the understanding(s) of an ideological Israel and memories of the past. These two elements served as a sort of “playground to explore concepts related to political thought in the early Second Temple period” (23). He carefully contextualizes this conceptual playground within an imperial, Persian context. As a Persian satrapy, their king was technically the Persian king; however, this was not compatible with Judean thought. Consequently, their communal memories tend to problematize monarchy. Such problematization was a result of “the historically contingent circumstances of Yehud” (25) within a large satrapy. This contribution is particularly intriguing because it both (1) focuses on Judean thought during the Persian period and (2) engages with the Hebrew Bible as a reflection of political though from that period. With regard to the approach and method, I appreciate the contribution; however, it lacks any focused discussion of particular texts, or even a small group of texts. Likewise, Zvi references the Judeans as “a community.” I wonder, though, to what extent it truly was a unified community. If we view the Hebrew Bible as an example of how Judeans engaged in political thought, it may be beneficial to focus on how various forms of political though reflect various communities of Judeans.

James M. Bos offers an overview of the Hebrew Bible through propaganda theory. In order to deal with the reality that propaganda did not exist prior to WWI, at least as a theory, he works through the characteristics of propaganda in order to offer a definition of ancient propaganda. Finally, he offers a broad-overview of how the collective memory written in the Hebrew Bible can be read, viewed, and analyzed as a form of ancient propaganda. In terms of the approach, I enjoy Bos’ idea. In some ways, it seems obvious that the Hebrew Bible may contain some sort of propaganda. Yet, his definition is problematic. His definition of ancient propaganda does not seem to engage with the broader Near Eastern world. In other words, if he is going to offer a definition for ancient propaganda, it would be better to define it within the spectrum of ancient propaganda in broader cultural and social patterns.

Furthermore, while it may seem obvious that the Hebrew Bible may contain ancient propaganda, further textual analysis in absolutely necessary. For the most part, his analysis consists of referencing themes in various books and offering conjectural comments. For example, after discussing Josiah’s reform as a sort of ancient propaganda, he notes that “negative consequences for competing sacred sites would also have been measurable.” Although this may be true, he offers no further justification for this conjecture. He also comments with statements such as “in Haggai, it is suggested”; however, he does nothing to engage with the text directly. Because the article is full of these types of unsubstantiated conjectures, there are many holes within his thesis. Thus, while I do appreciate his idea of utilizing propaganda theory in viewing the Hebrew Bible, much works needs to be done with regard (1) defining ancient propaganda and (2) substantiating claims about ancient propaganda in the Hebrew Bible.

Kåre Berge examines how biblical books may have possibly legitmated leadership authority. The paper, though, is quite unclear. From the beginning, she claims that the study is about how some biblical books could legitimate leadership authority. She attempts to substantiate this through discussion of scrolls which were “lost” in the Hebrew Bible (Ez. 2-3; Jer. 36; 2 Kgs 22-23). These “lost books” supposedly “legitimize the written ones, giving them a “canonical” authority” (46). Unfortunately, the remainder of the contribution is convoluted and lacks critical analysis of the text itself. Likewise, the contribution is so full of unsubstantiated states beginning with “if”, “would”, “could”, etc. Because the statements are unsubstantiated, her proposal that biblical texts function as a legitimating device for post-exilic Yehud is more of an undeveloped idea than an argument. For example, the notion that “lost books” give “canonical authority” is far-fetched. There is no discussion as to why this is so. This sort of thing occurs throughout the contribution: there are many ideas without any discussion about the text itself. In conclusion, I found this contribution to be lacking in clarity, purpose, and argumentation.

Reinhard Müller analyzes Deuteronomy’s law on kingship, their divergence from traditional Near Eastern/Israel/Judah concepts of kingship, and their meaning (i.e. literary and historical contexts). First, Müller argues that Israelite monarchy is not prominent in the literary context of Deut. 17. Then, he focuses on Deut. 17:14-20 and argues that vss. 18-19 were a later addition. Third, after a lengthy philological discussion, Müller convincingly argues that notions of kingship in Deut. 17 may have developed in light of 1 Sam. 8. Consequently, the lack of monarchic functions in Deuteronomic law may be a reaction to the failed monarchy within 1 Samuel. Returning to the late additions, namely, vss. 18-19, Müller relates the textual elements about following Torah in Deut. 5:32-6:2 and Deut. 31:12-13. Because the two aforementioned verses are about how the general public engage with Torah, he suggests that the king’s relationship with Torah is meant to be more intimate than the common people. In light of this textual analysis, he suggests that Deut. 17 is an implicit etiology for the downfall of the monarchy because historical kingship failed. Deut. 17 also indicates that kingship is not necessary for Israel’s identity, at least theoretically.  Furthermore, he suggests that the centrality of writing and reading Torah for the kings may reflect how scribes perceived themselves in Persian period Yehud.

Without a doubt, this is the best contribution in this volume. Unlike the others, it offers a thorough philological analysis of the text. Likewise, the analysis is substantiated and offers a new way to understand how the notion of kingship developed in Judean literature. I highly recommend this article for anybody researching kingship in Yehud/Judah.

Viewing Genesis to 2 Kings as a literary experiment (via narrative) of political theory, Geoffrey P. Miller briefly examines 6 narratives. In these narratives, the theory of theocracy is explored; however, as the narrative demonstrates, theocracy tends to fail throughout the biblical narrative. This article begins with an excellent premise. I am in full favor of reading Genesis to 2 Kings as a sort of literary experiment of political theory; however, Miller offers no discussion texts. Rather, he offers general themes of texts in order to demonstrate how it is explores political theory. In each of the six examples, he fails to explicitly engage with the Hebrew Bible. Were Miller to engage with the text, he would have a strong article. His premise is a great approach to the text. Yet, the lack of critical analysis of the text and unsubstantiated claims is highly problematic.

Christophe Nihan analyzes and compares various discussion regarding Davidic kingship in Ezekiel (esp. Ez. 4-24 , 37/37, and 40-48). For each representation of utopian Davidic kingship, Nihan thoroughly works through the respective texts. After this analysis, he concludes that each representation in Ezekiel expresses a distinct, royal utopia. First, the early texts (Ez. 4-24) tend to represent the Davidic ruler as an administrator for the deity. Then, in Ez. 34/37, the Davidic ruler is removed from military leadership; rather, he is simply the agent of the deity with respect to political and cult issues. Finally, in Ezk. 40-48, the Davidic leader is primarily a cult leader. Flexibility in Ezekiel’s portrayal of the Davidic leader is important because it demonstrates how Ezekiel “seeks not so much to de-emphasize or criticize royalty but to reinterpret it significantly from a distinctive, utopian perspective” (103). Nihan’s quality of argumentation and philological reasoning are thorough and, consequently, construct a solid argument regarding Davidic kingship in Ezekiel. This contribution is, arguably, next to Reinhard Müller’s contribution in terms of scholarly rigor.

Terje Stordalen  argues that Job 29-30 reflects a rhetoric which reflects the natural of social discourse is local formation. Thus, the chapters may reflect expectation about local leaders in the Southern Levant. Like other contributions, this chapter is a good idea; however, it is problematic. First of all, Stordalen attempts to establish Job 29-30 as filling “a role in the second part of the dialogue that is somehow comparable to the role played by Job’s curse and lament (ch. 3) in the first part” (114). This framework, though, makes broad claims about the entire structure of Job. Stordalen’s division, though, lacks any substantial argumentation as to why Job is structured the way argued for. Thus, this first part of the article is unnecessary and weak. The second part of the contribution, though, is much stronger. First, he argues for the presentation of Job as an elder in Job 29-30. Then, by drawing on an anthropological of late traditional Chinese society as a possible framework, he suggests that Job’s speech in 30:32-8 reflects typical speech by top leaders in a society. Consequently, this role of a leader speaking down the societal latter is reversed through rhetoric. Within this reversal, Stordalen argues that the only “leader” quality which Job does not lose is rhetorical excellence. In short, I think Stordalen has tapped into an intriguing thing, namely understanding the notions of elders in the Southern Levant via the social expectation of one in a text. Unfortunately, he lacks focus on the text itself.

Drawing on the social memory of foreign kings from the Persian and Hellenistic periods, Thomas M. Bolin utilizes archaeology and textual evidence in order to reconstruct a world view of possible Judean readers. In particular, he focuses on how people remembered kings. Regarding pre-Persian and Hellenistic texts, Bolin offers an overview, noting that “the default portrayal of Yahweh’s attitude toward foreign rulers… is that he views them as instruments of his will regarding Israel” (136). Then, he utilizes the Chroniclers account of 2 Kings 23 in order to illustrate how Persian/Hellenistic social memory has maintained the belief of kings as Yahweh’s unwitting servants; however, Chronicles expands this attitude by further intensifying these attitudes. Notably, Bolin acknowledges that a source-critical approach may suggest these changes by the Chronicler as intentional; however, he cautions that the intentionality is not necessary because “memories are shaped over long periods of time and change can often be seen as organic” (138). Social memory of kingship is more complex with regard to Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel, wherein his relationship with God is reimagined. It is reimagined by focusing on a more positive memory of Yahweh towards Nebuchadnezzar, and negative memory of his son, Belshazzar. These varying reflections on kingship reflect various social locations of different groups of scribes and elite males, argues Bolin. While this may be true, it isn’t necessarily the case. For, it may be that one scribe or elite group reflected on kingship in a variety of ways. Thus, while it is true that people constructed memories of kingship in different ways, Bolin doesn’t contributes anything substantial in terms of what it actually means and why it is significant.

Beate Ego examines the crossroads of Persian/Hellenistic ideology and the book of Esther as a political theology. Notably, her contribution is explicitly a summary of her forthcoming series in Biblischer Kommmentar. Therefore, there is much argumentation and data which is missing from the piece. In short, though, she first establishes that Esther is structured as a reversal structure. Following, she contextualizes the importance of prostrating in Esther to the broader cultural scheme, namely the issue of Greeks prostrating to Persians. Likewise, the dat of the Persians, Ego notes, comes into conflict with the Torah of the Jews. A brief criticism, though: we should be careful when noting the Torah as the dat of the Jewish people, for we don’t know exactly what constitutes Torah for Esther. Next, she highlights a few terms which may highlight the historico-theological dimension of Esther, or the idea of Israel’s redemption. With this established, she suggests that Esther should be dated to a period in which somebody would have known both Persian and Greek culture. Finally, she suggests that Purim functions as a communal expectation of future salvation. In general, this contribution was solid; however, it seems to have overstated the argument for Esther and Purim as “expectations of salvation.” I confess, though, that this is difficult to judge or critique, for this contribution is merely a summary of a 463 page study.

Anne Fitzpatrick-McKinley’s contribution reconstructs a highly plausible historical situation of the Nehemiah Memoir. She does so by examining the dynamics between various parties in NM and by comparing those dynamics with other group dynamics from the Persian period. Following this analysis, she compares the presentation of Nehemiah’s leadership in NM with its later reception in Maccabees and Ecclesiasticus. This contribution is particularly valuable. Her comparison of NM political leadership with forms of political leadership in other regions, such as Tayma, Paphlygonia, Mysia, and Lycia, contextualize social and political dynamics of NM within the broader picture of the Persian empire. I highly recommend this article for those seeking to understand the history of the post-exilic Judah.

Lynette Mitchell examines three Greek constitutions from the 5th century BCE. She then consideres how these constitutions were used and why they were important. To be completely honest, I have no experience in studying classics. Thus, I am unable to comment on the quality of the contribution. I can say, though, that it seems very out of place. In a volume about Judean social memory in the 5th century BCE, a contribution on Greek political thought is an odd addition.

Wolfgang Oswald compares 1 Samuel 8 with the “Constitutional Debate” in Herodotus’s Histories. In particular he compares how each text explore alternative forms of government. On the bases of 1 Samuel 8 and all of the DH, he suggests that, perhaps, 1 Sam 8 was the first treatise on political theory of state. While this contribution is interesting, it makes no significant observations. Nor does it introduce any challenging ideas. In the comparison of Histories with 1 Samuel 8, he paints with large strokes. These strokes, though, seem more like generic musings than actual arguments. In short, this contribution was well-written with some interesting thoughts, such as a suggestion that 1 Samuel 8 should be read as the first political theory of state. Besides that, though, the contribution lacked strong arguments and grounds for comparison of the texts.

Diana V. Edelman analyzes Judges 13-16 (the Samson narrative) in light of Herakles and Alexander. In doing so, she makes a strong argument for the possibility of how Hellenistic Jews may have understood Samson. Notably, she has strong grounds for the comparison, such as the tendency to associate ancestry with Herakles, coins bearing the image of Herakles, and late comparisons between Samson and Herakles (Church Fathers, Middle Ages). Through comparison of Samson and Herakles, Edelman notes 11 characteristics of Herakles and Samson. If those features were known about Herakles in a Jewish context, they may have influenced the understanding. She furthers this by comparing Samson with Alexander, who was said to have been from the bloodline of Herakles. This portion of the argument, though, is much weaker. Because Samson may have been understood as a leader who misuses power against the Philistines, she claims that Alexander may have helped to inform that, though. In claiming this, though, she fails to demonstrate any Hellenistic Jewish link between Alexander/Herakles and Samson. Thus, while this is all an interesting theory, it remains a possibility and nothing more.

Ann-Mareike Schol-Wetter compares how Judith and 1 Maccabees create an image of Israel, namely of its enemies, organization, and ideal population. In Judith, she concludes that there are not “good” Jews and “bad” Jews; rather, “zeal” in the book of Judith is used to construct an in-and an out-group. On the other hand, the “zeal” in 1 Maccabees focuses more on the “enemy within.” Furthermore, biblical predecessors of Judith includes the young version of David (i.e. the David (1) who is not in office and (2) is a model of faith and initiative). On the other hand, 1 Maccabees focuses on the priestly and military office of David. Finally, based on the previous analyses, she notes that Israel’s organization is a dynastic government in 1 Maccabees; however, Israel’s organization in the book of Judith is more like that of a strong, “antidynastic figure” who operates on her own strength and will-power. Thus, through comparison of the biblical predecessors,  understandings of “zeal”, and broader notions of social organization in 1 Maccabees and Judith, Schol-Wetter makes a strong argument for Judith simply as a different understanding of Judean identity. Whereas 1 Maccabees is concerned with the internal aspect of Judean identity, Judith is more focused on the issue of Jew vs. non-Jew. This article is a wonderful contribution. Her examination of the texts are thorough and nuanced, unlike many of the contributions throughout this volume. This contribution is a must for people interested in early Jewish constructions of identity.

In conclusion, this volume is a mixed bag. It contains a select few articles which make convincing and thorough arguments. For the most part, though, many of the contributions are not based in strong analysis of the literature at hand and weak argumentation for both conclusions and comparative methods.




2 thoughts on ““Leadership, Social Memory and Judean Discourse in the Fifth-Second Centuries BCE”

  1. The section on propaganda theory resonated with me. I think the word that should be used is “myth”. Honestly, I think the two words are essentially synonyms; the difference between the two is context. We associate propaganda most closely with Nazi Germany, and I think this provides some excellent insight into the term and how it closely it resembles myth. What the Nazis were very successful in doing was re-casting Germany in terms of its myth: Wagner, the Teutonic gods, the very mystical connotations of the Thousand Year Reich were all very compelling–and seductive to too large a segment of the population. These ideas had this appeal because they spoke to a non-rational part of human consciousness. Communism had some of these characteristics; adherents believed in inexorable History, and so they could feel part of a movement towards the perfection of humankind. Very potent stuff put to very evil ends. One of my profs said that it was only possible to do evil on the scale of Hitler or Stalin or Mao if they truly believed they were performing a great good. Propaganda? Or myth? I often refer to WWII as a religious war, and only half in jest.

    This describes the role of myth as set out by Joseph Campbell. Myth is a way of organizing and so understanding the universe. It usually has the function of placing one’s people more less at the center of things, which the Hebrew Bible certainly does. A lot of this discussion would necessarily entail a debate on when the Hebrew Bible was written; I tend to a later date. Although I think much of the material in, say, Kings, was the attempt of later Judeans to co-opt the history of Israel, which was the more significant of the two states. This would serve the purpose of providing a mythical basis for Judeans to make political claims. Here is where myth crosses into propaganda: when it’s used for political purposes. Often what starts as myth then moves into the realm of propaganda, even if that term would not be invented until the 20th Century.

    But there is some really good stuff here. Thanks.

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