“The Routledge Encyclopedia of Ancient Mediterranean Religions”

Routledge Encyclopedia of Mediterranean Religions. General editor Eric Orlin. NY, New York: Routledge, 2016, pp. 1054.Religion

In a day and age when new encyclopedias seem to be published every other day, The Routledge Encyclopedia of Ancient Mediterranean Religions (henceforth referenced to as REAMR) is a breath a fresh air. Unlike many specialized encyclopedias, REAMR attempts to offer a general overview of a wide variety of cultures and practices relevant to the Mediterranean. These entries provide a cross-cultural perspective, noting unique and distinct elements of particular topics. Similarly, authors for entries were instructed to focus on writing for the Religious Studies field who did not share that specialty. In other words, a scholars writing an entry about the Hebrew Bible would assume the reader is within the field of Religious Studies; however, it should be oriented to a non-specialist in that particular field, such as a scholar of Islamic Studies.

This was, I think, successful for the most part. Although there were a few problematic entries, they generally presented the information in a clear and concise manner. Because the academic environment encourages inter-disciplinary scholarship, this volume offers an entry point into sub-fields distinct from ones own. Furthermore, the volume covers from the Bronze Age up to Late Antiquity. In terms of the traditions, it attempts to be as comprehensive as possible. So, the volume includes, though is not limited to, Judaism, Roman religion, Greek religion, Persian religion, Ugaritic religion, Canaanite religion, Egyptian religion, South Arabian religion, Zoroastrianism, and Islam. Thus, in terms of its diversity of represented religious traditions, this REAMR is distinguished from other encyclopedias.

Before I offer notes on particular encyclopedia entries, I have one primary criticism of the volume. The beginning of the volume comments on the issue of defining the category of religion: “The term religion is itself disputed, as a number of recent discussions have highlighted. Because we realized early on that we would need to include many headwords to provide cultural background that might not be strictly religious (such as Hellenistic Age), we decided that it was not necessary to offer a specific definition of “religion” in order to exclude material felt to be “non-religious”. (xvii)” They continue by noting that religion was often times not seen as a distinct category from social or cultural. In principle, this decision makes sense.

Even though it is difficult to define religion, the editors of REAMR missed an opportunity. For an entry titled “Religion” could have at least offered a succinct overview of the history of scholarship, problems, and various ways of defining ‘religion.’ This criticism, though, is minor. Even so, the volume is incredibly valuable as a whole. While individuals probably will not purchase this volume, there are two groups in particular for which is will be helpful: small organizations in need of a thorough dictionary on ancient Mediterranean religions [1] and universities with a small library budget. Regarding the latter, the volume is $285 as an eBook (Hardback $408). Because REAMR covers such a wide range of traditions and time periods, though, it is well worth the investment. As far as I am aware, few encyclopedias offer such a comprehensive overview of Mediterranean religious traditions at that price.

Following, I will offer notes on specifics within the volume:

  • Some contributions were unnecessarily lengthy. For example, the entry on ‘Conversion’ is about four pages. So, it seems more like a lengthy argument regarding the topic of Christianity and conversion than an overview/succinct explanation of conversion. Similarly, the following are too lengthy, each for differing reasons: ‘Gnosticism’, ‘Imperial Cult’, ‘Jerusalem’, ‘Jupiter’, ‘Sacred Law’ (6 pages), ‘Mithraeum’, ‘Orphism’, ‘Revelation of John’, and ‘Women’.
  • One contribution is particularly exemplary in terms of providing a broad overview of a major religion topic: ‘Cult Statue’. Although three pages long, it does an excellent job at offering an overview of cult statues in Mesopotamia, Egypt/Northwest Semitic areas, and Greece/Rome (See also the entries on ‘Domestic Religion’, ‘Myth’)
  • The entry on ‘Figurines’ is far too lengthy as an entry. More problematic, though, is that it seems hyper-focused on Greek figurines. It only briefly mentions ancient Near Eastern figures.
  • The entry on ‘Purity’ is far too focused on the Hebrew Bible and ancient Near East. Purity in other contexts is ignored.
  • The beginning of the volume has a series of maps and a chronology. The chronology places the following side-by-side: Near East, Judea, Egypt and North Africa, Greece and Asia Minor, and Italy. Both the maps and chronology are particularly helpful for understanding the broader world events within specific time periods.

Even with these critiques, the volume is excellent. REAMR offers a broad overview of many religious traditions and cultures. Because of this, it is a valuable addition to libraries, in particular to small schools with low budgets. The value of REAMR is well worth the cost.

Typos: pg. 321: “… resemble AGNES” martyrdom.”; pg. 87 “… The Arabization of the Near East let to a decline…” (presumably “led” to a decline); p. 334, ‘Ezra, Vision of’ (the caps formatting is funky).

[1] I make this comment based off my experience visiting a local NPR station. At it, a few encyclopedias were sitting around. I suspect that the were used as general references for reporting on any relevant issues.

“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.

 

 

“A History of Biblical Israel” by Ernst Axel Knauf and Philippe Guillaume

Ernst Axel Knauf and Philippe Guillaume. A History of Biblical Israel: The fate of the tribe and kingdoms from Merenptah to Bar Kochba. Bristol, CT: Equinox Publishing, 2016, pp. 266.

Grappling with and reconstructing a history of ancient Israel and Judah is a particularly difficult task. The data is challenging to work through due to things like the scarcity of relevant inscriptions and the redaction of biblical traditions and literature. Knauf and Guillaume, though, attempt such a reconstruction. They do so by framing the history within a timespan: Merenptah to Bar Kochba. Thus, they reconstruct a history between c. 1208 BCE and 136 CE. Guillaume and Knauf break up the timeframe by dividing it into three segments: pre-history of biblical Israel, formation of biblical Israel in the Persian period, and fragmentation of biblical Israel (Hellenistic and Roman periods).

Furthermore, Knauf and Guillaume continue by defining terminology for significant words: Israel (covers realities from various time periods), history, and history of Israel. On the point of history, they offer a helpful introduction to how the discipline of history can function. To explain one aspect of it, they choose for focus on conjonctures, “a French word meaning circumstances used mainly in economics” (4). So, in their reconstruction of ancient Israel, one major focus is the wave of circumstances especially in relation to the resources and wealth of the region. Additionally, regarding history of Israel, Guillaume and Knauf are careful to note the issue of bias with primary texts, whether the Hebrew Bible or Babylonian Chronicles. Consequently, they choose to position themselves between minimalists and maximalists. This positioning, though, does not offer a method for delineating between what may be a more accurate representation of the past and what may be narrative flourishes written by the texts editors.

Guillaume and Knauf then define four more notions: time (especially chronology); space (i.e. topography, altitude, geography, etc.); peasants, urbanites, and nomads (dependent on the conjoncture, time, and space); toponyms; and epochs/conjonctures. Regarding the fifth notion, the periods tended to be constructed by the elite class and do “not reflect socio-political phenomena, which are characterized by continuity rather than by clear-cut period” (22). As a solution, they suggest organizing history into century categories, each reflecting about a 100 year period. For Israel, 796 BCE – 734 BCE is a “short” eight century, while 734 BCE – 609 BC is a “long” seventh century. This way to categorize periods, though, is somewhat convoluted. It lacks explanation and does not offer further evidence for why such categorization is valuable. Additionally, they choose to place Israel’s history within the “macron-history of the Mediterranean systems through  braudel’s economic conjonctures” (23). In other words, they utilize trade and economy within the Mediterranean world in order to draw on the conjonctures of each period. This is one of the strongest points of the method, namely utilizing economic patterns throughout the Mediterranean as a broader economic framework for the history of Israel.

In Chapter One, Knauf and Guillaume argues that ancient Israel emerged in a context of shasu and ‘apiru who began to display more formal clan organization. With the climate change in the LB Age, a power vacuum enabled various tribal units to form, such as the Philistines. Furthermore, they suggest that the cultural memory of Exodus may be derived from a tendency of Canaanite groups to be captured on Egyptian “slave-hunting” expedition or to migrates to Egypt in times of famine. Chapter Two works through the rise of proto-Israelite tribes. After offering a theoretical approach that “rural and urban populations adapted to economic and politic changes by alternating between one mode and the other” (43), namely between more nomads and urban. They support this theory by considering the small tribes in Palestine in context of the Pax Aegytptiaca, in which economic development of the region was encouraged through trade networks with Egypt. They further attempt to figure out from where various tribes may have emerged; however, this portion lacks substantive arguments and is highly conjectural. Finally, they offer some thoughts on the religious background of Israel.

Chapter Three situates the successful rise of Saul and state formation in the copper production and trade routes of Midean, Edom, and various other iron or copper centers. Although highly conjectural and only based on possible correlation between biblical texts and the ‘Arabah copper mines, they claim that Saul’s son, Eshbaal, was the one who expanded the wealth and power of the tribe of Benjamin. This entire argument, though, is based on a particular reading Samuel. It lacks any real argument of substance. David, father of the tribal state of Judah, may have attempted to destabilize Saul’s rule. Uprisings by Absolom illustrate the fragility of David’s rule, though. For the remainder of the chapter, Knauf and Guillaume work through the biblical representation of Solomon, Jereboam I, the revival of Egyptian influence, and religion and literature of the period. Again, though, the use of the Hebrew Bible is problematic. Many references to it seems to function more as a way to support a pre-constructed thesis. This goes back to an earlier point that the book lacks any sort of method, or actual examples, or working critical through texts in the Hebrew Bible.

Chapter Four considers the consolidation of Levantine kingdoms as a consequence of shifting economic and power structures. Judah, Knauf and Guillaume suggest, was drawn into  the “revival of Mediterranean trade” through peace with Israel and marriage to the daughter of an Aramean (possibly) king, namely Omri. Omri vied for power via a military coup. Now in power, Assyrians considered Omri to be the founder of the kingdom of Israel. Within this dynasty, the Omrides may have placed the Canaanites into forced labour (Judges 1:27-28). Throughout Chapter Four, they outline the victories of losses of various leaders up to Jereboam II. Notably, Hazael is given a special place in the chapter for how he shook off the Assyrian hold. Finally, they review religion in the 9th century BCE, religious expansion by Jereboam II, and religion in the 8th century BCE. Like previous chapters, there are many interesting tidbits; however, for the most part, the writing in convoluted, difficult to follow, and does not thoroughly engage with the primary source material. If one is to be between a minimalist and maximalist, one must also explain how to decide what reflects the past and what does not.

Chapter Five highlights the climax as Judah and it ideology in Deuteronomistic literature by considering the integration of Judah and Israel into the Neo-Assyrian empire. Contextually, Phoenician  trade between Tyre and Sidon decreased, while Philistine trade increase. Consequently, Judah strengthened, while Israel declined. They further detail the how the Neo-Assyrian military functioned and how the military incorporated Israel and Judah into the empire. Finally, they outline important religious developments and literature in the late 8th and early 7th century. While the history reconstructed is helpful, there are many claims which are not substantiated. For example, Knauf and Guillaume use Ps. 82 as evidence that Yahweh was replacing Ashur as the highest deity; however, Ps. 82 references El, not Ashur. In other words, they use a support text without explaining why it supports their point. Likewise, they suggest that Manasseh’s shedding of innocent blood may “reflect the suppression of an opposition group that held the kind of anti-Assyrian ideas that inspired the… politics of the last kings of Judah” (120). While this may be the case, they offer no convincing  explanation for how or why this may be the case, save for the Chroniclers revision of Manasseh. In short, they often reference the Hebrew Bible; however, there tends too be little to no critical discussion of the texts.

Chapter Six discuses Judah during the Neo-Babylonian Empire. He focuses on the three deportations of the elite from Judah to Babylon. From these deportations, he suggests that they produced four rivaling Judean groups: an ultra-conservative group focused on the absence of Yahweh (Ezekiel in Babylon), a group focused on the legitimacy of the Davidic dynasty (Books of Samuel-Kings), the prophet-poetic tradition (Second-Isaiah), and the Jeremiah group which remained in Yehud (Jeremiah). The traditions from each of these groups “reflect the controversy over the correct policy under Babylonian rule regarding the concrete political demands of the Judean elite towards their Babylonian overlords” (141). This division is a valuable division of traditions. Thus, it is helpful for making sense of how the Judean population dealt with the new rule of the Neo-Babylonians. Chapter Six is, I think, one of the stronger chapters in the work. It offers the most thorough discussion of texts and draws from a variety of textual records.

Chapter Seven focuses on how the shift to the Persian Empire impacted Judean identity. The religious conflict which occurred during the reigns of Nebuchadnezzar II and Nabonidus, they argue, contributed to the movement towards monotheism. This was further reinforced by Cyrus’ capture of Babylon. Whether worshippers of Marduk, Sin, Ahuramazda, or Yahweh, they construct a history in which a supreme deity is becoming the norm. Between 582-525 BCE, Judean population decreased, they argue, because commerce shifted away from the Philistine controlled coast. Thus, many people migrated in order to find more favorable economies. Although a diverse group ideologically, Knauf and Guillaume suggest that Cyrus’ capture of Babylon may have reinforced the idea that Marduk and Ahuramazda “were other names for YHWH” (155). While one may claim that those were names for deities below YHWH, it seems far-fetched to claim that they were other names for Yahweh. Following, working through the period in which Jerusalem exiles returned to Yehud, they suggest that the re-establishment of Jerusalem may have been a strategic move. This move would enable the Persians to defend the Palestinian land bridge. This movement enabled Darius I to organizes the Persian Empire. This government, religious, and social organization is briefly explored in relation to the broader historical conjoncutres and Yehud. One difficult with Chapter Seven was clarity. The majority of it is convoluted. And it is oftentimes difficult to follow a single train of thought or logic.

Chapter Eight works through how conditions in the Persian Empire and Yehud may have given rise to an identity based on biblical Israel. Drawing primarily from Ezra-Nehemiah, Knauf and Guillaume reconstruct the conflict between Nehemiah and other groups. They are careful to note that the importance of these conflicts should not be exaggerated. Based on the social unrest represented in Nehemiah, they suggest that the Persian Empire may have desired returnees to Yehud in order to strengthen the economy. By strengthening the economy, the region would be enabled to supply Persian troops moving towards Egypt. This would only occur through increased manpower, which would come from the elite returnees. South of Yehud, the colony at Elephantine exemplifies the similarities and differences as Judean immigrants. In an awkward shift, they discuss the economic and political situations of Arabia and Idumea. Returning to Yehud, they offer a brief overview of the conflict between Samaria and Yehud, a conflict which reinforced an identity as biblical Israel. Regarding Ezra, they claim that the Torah, a collection of traditional material, was (1) serving to legitimate every Jew across the empire and (2) endorsed by the Persian administration as a sort of “Imperial Religious Police Department.” While point two is valuable, I doubt that the Torah necessarily legitimated every Jew. After all, to what extent can we view Ezra as an accurate representation of the past? Following, Knauf and Guillaume briefly illustrates how Torah’s demand for sacrifice served to strengthen Judean identity, both in terms of ritual practice and language. It seems, though, like they assume that all Torah traditions are rooted in the Persian period, which is not necessarily true. Their discussion of the role of Torah in forming Judean identity is, I think, almost too convenient and also convoluted. Finally, the discuss the other literary developments, the legacy of Bethel, and the newfound rule of Alexander. This chapter, like others, is often time convoluted. It is not always clear what Knauf and Guillaume are trying to do or where they are trying to take the reader.

Part III conclude works from the Ptolemaic administration in Alexandria, Egypt until the end of the Bar Kochba revolt. Chapter 9 briefly describes how Greek rulers only permitted Jerusalemite elite to act as tax collectors. Then, it briefly describes the various Hellenistic biblical texts. Chapter 10 outlines how Antiochus III of the Seleucid Empire permitted more autonomy to Yehud and how books like Tobit and the Books of Sirach exemplify Hellenistic influence upon Judeans. Based upon this autonomy granted to Yehud, they construct a history of the Maccabean revolt as a type of Jewish civil war. After the Seleucid empire collapsed, John Hyrcanus, Aristobulus I, and Salome Alexandra led the new nation of Judah. Throughout Chapter 10, though, Knauf and Guillaume offer a few places where a book “may” have been composed (i.e. Maccabees in the court of John Hyrcanus, Esther during the reign of Queen Salome, etc.). These possibilities, though, are not substantiated. Less conjectural thoughts and more substantial arguments would strengthen this chapter. Finally, Chapter 11 outlines the social, political, and economic conditions which led to the eventual rebellions and formation of Rabbinic Judaism.

As a text attempting to reconstruct a history, I had one major issue: it never attempts to offer a critical readings of the multitude of texts from which it draws. Particularly with regard to biblical texts, Knauf and Guillaume rarely took the time to work through the text which purportedly supported, or contributed to, their construction of history. Time and time again, they reference biblical texts without any discussion of the particular text. For example, they suggest that Marduk makes a veilded appearance in Gen 1:1-8 via the appearance of Tehom (Tiamat) (p. 148). Whether or not tehom references Tiamat, though, is not conclusive or agreed upon within scholarship. In other words, they utilize the text without approaching it critically.

Additionally, the book was somewhat convoluted. While the flow of some arguments was sometimes clear, it was sometimes difficult to follow the logic of the text. For example, Section 8.3 (p. 177-78) discusses the role of the Elephantine colony. In particular, the difference between biblical social standards and those of Elephantine is being addressed. Section 8.4 (p. 178), though, suddenly shifts to the impact of the Egyptian rebellion upon Persian rule in Arabia. The lack of continuity between 8.3 and 8.4 is obvious, as the ideas fail to connect in any logical way. This problem occurs consistently throughout the work. As a result, it is very difficult to understand what they are trying express.

On a more positive note, I did appreciate how they approach their reconstruction with particular regard to the conjonctures. Were the book primarily concerned with that, I may have enjoyed it more. Unfortunately, its aims and scope may have been too broad for its own good.

In conclusion, I do not recommend this book for research purposes. As an introduction, I tentatively recommend it. As a basic outline of ancient Israelite history and development of religious thought, there are some little tidbits which are valuable. For the most part, though, it is intertwined with unsupported claims and uncritically examined ideas. Thus, an inexperienced reader may fail to recognize the differences between substantiated claims and conjectures with no support.

UPDATE (6/26/2017): I forgot to mention one important detail. Throughout the book, Knauf and Guillaume make reference to various images, iconography. They fail, though, to engage with the iconography as things which need to be interpreted. Just as the Hebrew Bible requires a interpretation, so do the image from the ancient world. Thus, discussion of iconography would have strengthened their arguments.

“Being a Man: Negotiating Ancient Constructs of Masculinity” edited by Ilona Zsolnay

As the title state, this volume explores constructs of masculinity from a variety of regions and time periods in the ancient world. In light of the notion of evolving ideal masculine paradigms, an attempt is made to negotiate the “various ancient attitudes towards, and guidelines for, being a man” (5). It covers a wide range of materials, including, though not limited to, Sumerian literature, Indian literature, and 19th century Gothic imagination. Proceeding, I will offer a succinct summary of each chapter. Then, I will offer my criticism of the particular chapter.

In Chapter One, Ilona Zsolnay and Joan Goodnick Westenholz investigate Sumerian texts in order to survey the basic categories of males (assigned roles). A through analysis illustrates how “Sumerian constructions of masculinity are rooted in class distinctions and societally understood age parameters” (30). They also shed important light on the lexemes nita, Lu{2}, and sag. Thus, this article offers a valuable framework for future studies engaging in the topic of masculinity, or gender more broadly, in the ancient world. In the coming years, I look forward to seeing how people engage with this article and more thoroughly develop the categorization of men and masculinity in Sumer.

Julian Assante identifies overtones of sexuality in Assyrian iconography. She argues that “By looking at pictures that glorified the Assyrian male body and degrated the non-Assyrian body, that ranked and genderdered masculinities and that around and sublimated homosexual desire, all men of whatever rank participated in the maintainance of hierarchical tensiona nd the paradigm of penetrator and penetrated on which the imperial state was built” (74). Notably, it is clear that sexuality was important to Assyrians. Likewise, the question of penetrator vs. penetrated is important to consider. However, Assante’s conclusions quite speculative and not well substantiated. For example, she says at one point that “although we know virtually nothing concrete about the sexual tastes and habits of Assyrian kings… it might be said with some certainty that a king could “take” a eunuch if he wanted to without compromising his reputation for superlative manhood” (68). She bases this on the fact that eunuchs often worked with the harem of women. Yet, this is nothing more than speculation, and should be presented as such. Likewise, she seems to disregard time itself: “Given the eunuch’s dualistic attributes of warriro bedmate from Islamic period, it is left to the imagination what sexual roles eunuchs actually played in Assyrian campaigns” (73). The amount of time between the Islamic period and Assyrian campaigns is far too much to even “imagine.” And the call to compare eunuch’s during an Assyrian campaign with those during the Islamic period is simply sloppy. In short, the ideas in this contribution have potential; however, it is requires more thorough and reasonable arguments.

Mary R. Bachvarova explores Hittite constructions of masculinity for kings in the Late Bronze Age. Her analysis of various documents point to three major characteristics for a good, Hittite man: “”sexual restraint; curbing greed… and mutual care and loyalty across generations” (102).  Overall, her arguments are well-laid out and offer valuable insight into Hittite constructions of masculinity. One place, though, deserves mentions. While discussing Kumarbi’s response to looking at cliffs, and consequently sleeping with them, She notes that the rock is usually treated as female. Iconography, though, depicts the rock as male. The claim, though, should be expanded upon as regards the relationship between iconography and text. For, iconography and text are entirely different mediums. They must be treated as such, even when using one or the other to explain another. Nonetheless, the contribution is a wonderful example of how ancient societies constructed masculinity.

J.S. Cooper examines moments where masculinity is called into question, with particular focus on the deity Ishtar. In particular, he engages with the idealized masculinity, as opposed to “valorized modes of male behaviour” (112). Through his analysis, Cooper locates a rubric of mature vs. immature. With this rubric drawn from the texts, he concludes that ideal masculinity is to be a competent warrior. For this reason, Ishtar was not problematic for ancient Near Eastern religion(s) and culture. Like other contributions, Cooper’s article will be helpful for moving forward in attempting to understand masculinity in Near Eastern society.

Simon Brodbeck, a well known scholar of Indian literature, maps masculinities within the Ramayana and Mahabharata. First, he discusses how the Ramayana and Mahabharata are sometimes explicitly concerned with constructions of masculinity. Through both texts, the audience/reader is invited into the narrative as it navigates masculinities. Second, Brodbeck discusses the masculine construction of the Ksatriya. This model, though, is often times subverted by other problems and characters. Finally, he suggests that the texts sometimes merge the Brahmin and ksatriya masculinities into a new category of masculinity. Regarding this contribution, the most I can say is that it was interesting. As I study nothing related to Brodbeck’s field, I can’t offer any comments.

Ann Guinan and Peter Morris use Queer Theory interpretative strategies to “connect the dots… between the seemingly isolated but charged Mesopotamian texts” (151). Most notably, they attempt to offer insight into the structure of MAL 19-20. They do so in order to uncover the logic progression from one to the next. They further compare Omen 13 with Gilgamesh. Eventually, they conclude “an inexorable, almost geometric logic governs Mesopotamian imaginings of sex between male social equals” (168). While this may be argued, the texts from which they draw from are too few to make such a broad claim. The idea is great; however, it need substantial development in terms of evidence and tying together the various texts.

Through narrative of 2 Samuel 10:1-5 and the notion of hegemonic masculinities, Hilary Lipka outlines some relative, subordinate, and marginalized masculinities within biblical texts. This piece is important because it offers a model for other biblical scholars who focus on issues and questions of masculinities in the Hebrew Bible.

Marc Brettler first examines the words pairs ‘ish and ‘ishshah, zakar and neqebah. For Brettler, the former is gender and the latter is sex. In other words, biblical Israel saw, to a certain extent, a distinction between sex and gender, though it did not see many options between the two. While this is an interesting thought, I would appreciate further discussion of the passages throughout the Hebrew Bible. For the context in various places may impact how we understand the functions of ish/ishshah and zakar/neqebah. In light of this, Brettler argues that David Cline’s previous study of gender in the Psalms does not provide sufficient evidence to claim that Psalms is a male book. Further, Clines does not distinguish between sex and gender. So, Brettler complicates and nuances our understanding of Psalms and gender by exploring a variety of Psalms individual. He concludes that Psalms may be composed by one gender and used by another, and gendered language may have been accentuated or deemphasized as individual psalms were reworked. His consideration of gender leads to the suggestion that earlier Psalms are more focused on the “male” or “man”, while later Psalms bring in women from the periphery.

By far, this is one of the best contributions to the volume.

Martti Nissinen explores varying constructs of masculinity through the concept of relative masculinities. He argues that different finds of masculinity are appreciated in different ways in a variety of texts. Viewing masculinity as relational and constructed from ideal masculinities, he considers the spectrum from four perspectives: sexuality, body, empire, and religion. In terms of sexuality, namely physical sexual activity or lack thereof, Nissinen offers three examples in which masculinities are relative to the particular literary and historical context: prohibition of male-to-male penetration in a cult context (Leviticus 20:10-26), male-to male intimacy in a kingship ideology (David and Jonathan), and Jeremiah in a prophetic context. In terms of body, namely the physical appearance of a man, Nissinen selects eunuchs as a case study. He offers four varieties of eunuchs “as queering figures who challenge stable gender identities and transgress fixed gender categories” (228). Each example illustrates how eunuchs challenge gender identity in different ways. Third, Nissinen compares the Mesopotamian sha reshi to saris in the HB. He does so in order to show that eunuchs may have maintained authority and power within an empire context. Finally, Nissinen considers the possible relative masculinity of the qedeshim. Acknowledging that the qedeshim are represented in Deuteronomistic texts as male practitioners with of homoeroticism, he offers this as a possible example of a relative masculinity with the margins of ancient Judaen cultural memory. In short, Nissinen’s analysis is valuable in that it recognizes the diversity of how the Hebrew Bible represents marginalized and relative masculinities. Such considerations are essential, as we often times get stuck in viewing the HB as a single book rather than a compilation of various ancient texts and traditions.

Steven W. Holloway traces the reception of Gen. 6:1-4. He does so by examining its reception through four poets and artistic representation. He explores how the aforementioned attempt to engage with the performance of masculinity. While I found the contribution intriguing, it was far too much out of my zone of research to be able to offer any comments.

In summary, this volume is a mix bag. A few of the contributions are priceless. These may very well impact approaches to Near Eastern literature and Hebrew Bible (Brettler, Nissinen, Westenholz, etc.). Some contributions, though, contained good ideas without enough substance or support (Morris, Assante). The volume is a great addition for a library; however, I would not recommend it in ones person library. The material has such a disciplinary and historical range that it will only be helpful to a certain extent. For instance, while Brodbeck’s contribution on the Mahabharata was interesting, it is worlds away from Sumerology, Assyriology, and Biblical Studies. Likewise, I found Holloways contribution intriguing, but reception of biblical texts into the modern period is a very different ballgame than the rest of the contributions.

In short, I appreciated a few of the contributions; however, there was far too much range of material within the volume. It would be more helpful if the range of material were a little bit more focused.

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion.

 

“Religion in the Achaemenid Persian Empire”

 

Religion in the Achaemenid Persian Empire. Edited by Diana Edelman, Anne Fitzpatrick-McKinley, and Philippe Guillaume. Tubingen, Germany: 2016, Mohr Siebeck, pp. 390. 

Following in the footsteps of the volume entitled Assessing Biblical and Classical Sources for the Reconstruction of Persian Influence, History, and Culture (click here for my review), Religion in the Achaemenid Persian Empire seeks to explore more broadly the question of toleration and cultural exchange. In particular, the various articles demonstrates how the popular tendency of Persian tolerance is better understood a political strategy.

The book is divided into two parts, “Trends in Emerging Judaism” and “Other Religious Trends in the Persian Empire.” Both titles are self-explanatory as to their respective content. As will become apparent throughout reviews of each contribution, the volume offers a wealth of approaches. These various approaches are important to ongoing scholarship, as they offer alternative approaches, new data, and new conclusions to old problems. In an academic atmosphere where interdisciplinary work is becoming more important, this volume is refreshing.  

James Anderson begins by positing two types of dialectics in order to account for competing perspectives of monotheism (“Yahweh alone”) and polytheism (“Yahweh… alongside other gods). These dialectical tensions are paradoxical and directional. The aforementioned were applied as rhetorical strategies by priestly-scribes in Yehud during the Persian Period, Anderson suggests. While his idea that priestly-scribes created dialectical tensions as a rhetorical strategy, his argument lacks well-developed textual analysis. Absence of this is problematic because even he carefully notes the limited evidence. When the argument is more developed, it may be more convincing.

Philip Davies applies the theory of “translatability” to monarchy. For “any presentation of a state’s patron deity as king… is a claim about the state itself and its ruler” (27). Notably, Davies is careful to recognizes the intercultural currents between regions and regional autonomy of thought. As an approach to the influence of Persian religion and empire upon Yehud, he offers an intriguing approach; however, it may be fruitful as well to consider “translatability” outside the period of Persian Yehud. Even so, Davies’ contribution is an important development and consideration in the impact of Persia upon religion in Yehud.

Russel Hobson argues “the cultural memory of the Yehudite Yahwists from the Persian period reflects a renewed interest in the ethnic divisions of the Transjordanian region” (52). Hobson approaches the issue by tracing both developments in text and archaeological evidence for regional population. Being geographically grounded, Hobson’s argument is important because it connects archaeological evidence, cultural memory, and textual evidence into a coherent theory of Yehud culture and ideas of ethnic divisions during the Persian period.

Philippe Guillaume considers the Zoroastrian calendar in order to shed light on emerging Judaisms during the Persian period. He notes, first, the relationship between the Zoroastrian calendar, which attributes the calendar and time itself to Ahura Mazda. Likewise, Genesis roots the calendar in creation and makes Yahweh the “origin of time.” Second, he argues that Mesopotamian elements in the Avestan calendar are due, in part to the the overthrowing of Nabonidus. Following Cyrus’ victory over Nabonidus, the Avestan calendar with its Mesopotamian elements reached Palestine sometime between the reign of Cambyses and Xerxes. Based on this, Guillaume asserts that the Biblical week, the “Semitic week,” is the legacy of Zoroastrianism and derived from it. One of the major issues with Guillaume’s contribution, interesting as it is, is the lack of any framework. He fails to offer any sort of clear framework for his argument in order to convey its significance. Additionally, he seems to imply that he is the first to consider that “Genesis 1 has more to do with the creation of a new calendar than with the creation of the universe” (61). He is not. Although I am unable to access them at the moment, I have read several articles and commentaries which draw out the fact that Genesis one is establishing a new calendar. In short, Guillaume’s contribution may have valuable information for understanding how the Avestan calendar influenced the Judean calendar; unfortunately, the article lacks a structure that actually helps the reader to understand what he is arguing for.

Lowell K. Handy argues that Josiah is not necessarily understood as a role model for leadership in the Persian period; rather, he is understood as “peg” where good Judean religious leaders could hang their beliefs. Overall, the argument is unclear. Additionally, the significance of the argument is unclear.

Christian Frevel and Katharina Psychny evaluate E. Stern’s argument concerning the origins and functions of cuboid incense burners. Specifically, they focus on their association with foreign cults. By examining the distribution of cuboid incense burners and iconography, Frevel and Pyschny push against the claim that cuboid incense burners are of Pheonician origin (Stern’s claim) is deficient, even though the cuboid incense burners do bear a distinctive style. They suggest, then, that the absence of incense burners from Yehud may have more to do with the economic situation than religious distinctiveness. I am particularly fond of this contribution because it moves beyond the issues of religious differences; however, their conclusion should include more serious consideration of the religious distinctiveness. Even if the “depressed regional economic situation in Yehud” in archaeology yields no incense burners, the depressed situation may also explain why Yehud religion developed how it did. Thus, religious distinctiveness should be considered when comparing Yehud with coastal areas or trade routes. This minor critique, though, does not take away the value of this contribution. Without a doubt, this is one of the best contributions, and most valuable, to the volume.

Following the focus on Yehud, Part II moves onto non-Judean religious trends in the Persian Empire.

Anne Fitzpatrick-McKinley argues that Persians were not more “benevolent” than Assyrians. Like the Assyrians, their “benevolence” was political. Working through a wealth of data, Fitzpatrick presents a convincing and important argument that each empire, the Persians and Assyrians, “responded to the conditions they encountered and both could be wielders of terror and destruction as well as the sophisticated creators of diplomatic relations” (164). Overall, this article is extremely valuable and pushes against stereotypical representations of Persian benevolence as a religious practice. My only criticism with her work is that the boundary between political and religious is far too clear. Perhaps future work will consider the nuances of her conclusion when a more descriptive understanding of Persian/Assyrian politics/religion is considered as part of the conclusion.

Jason Silverman offers what he called “the bare outlines of what could be called an Achaemenid theology of kingship” (188). He approaches it through three major points: the figure of Yima, the topic of Achaemenid paradise, and Achaemenid rhetoric of peace through the concept of shiyati. For the figure of Yima, Silverman draws out his association with kingship. Following, he explores how the Persian concept of paradise was a micro-empire making a statement about the king himself. Additionally, he briefly considers how royal ideology used shiyati in order to connote their roles as “bringing in the perfection of the world through their efforts” (187). In short, Silverman argues that his outline of ‘royal theology’ offers a structure for analyzing the influence of Persia on elite circles. Overall, Silverman’s contribution is fantastic. His outlined royal theology enables future scholars to do further work on the interrelations between Persia and other nations during the Persian period. Although I’d like to see a more developed and firm structure, this is a wonderful starting point.

Yannick Muller considers how textual evidence of mutilation in linked to how Achaemenid Persia thought about the body and religion. First, he links the beheading of Leonidas and Cyrus the Younger to Sassanian Persia through the cult of Anahita. After examining practices in the Northern Pontic region and Scythian practices, Muller makes a strong claim about beheading: the cult of deities comparable to Anahita and the practice of beheading are rooted in Iranian culture. Having established a geographical and historical relationship between Iranian mutilation practices and Western Europe, he probes a similar issues relating the right hand and face mutilation. For each example of mutilation, Muller presents convincing textual evidence for the religious significance of mutilation in Achaemenid Persia. Without a doubt, this is one of the better contributions to the volume. It presents a new way of thinking about mutilation in history. More importantly, Muller successfully draws out world-understanding of ancient peoples. I am particularly interested in how Muller’s analysis may unlock a more thorough understanding of Judean-Persian relations. That is, Judean-Persian relations as it regards mutilation practices.

Diana Edelman analyzes iconography of the Sidonian double shekel. She first  reviews imagery in four groups of Sidonian coinage and contextualizes the motifs of all Sidonian coins. She concludes that the figure riding the chariot on the double shekel is meant to be the Great King of Persia. Needless to say, the erudite analysis of Edelman is strong and quite convincing. While the article is not well-structured and clear, the data and conclusions speak volumes. Most significantly, Edelman’s conclusions heralds a more nuanced understanding of how people groups in the Levant related to the Achaemenid Persian empire.

Mark Christian attempts to demonstrate how Phoenician religious contribution to the Persian fleet is minimized. Yet, it is still unclear exactly what Christian is arguing for. Even when he does put forth his conclusion it is problematic: “My inability to demonstrate a connection between Persian naval personnel, their gods, and their experiences at sea has proved disappointing. It also struck me as odd that so many details are missing. In spite of the danger of arguing from silence, I propose that Persian commanders and crew integrated their religious knowledge relative to weather and river gods” (312). This statement strikes me as odd, for it destabilizes any potential of his arguments. There is, though, nothing to destabilize. Most of the data from which he draws seems more than an amalgamation of incoherent data lacking cogency.

Damien Agut-Labordere briefly examines extant evidence for changes introduced by Achaemenid Persia to Egypt. Persian involvement in Egyptian temples during the reigns of Cambyses, Darius I, and Darius II, progressively increased. Cambyses abolished the donation network of Egyptian temples, only tempering it by exempting the temples from taxes to Persia. Darius I increased control over Egyptian finances through Persian administration. Darius II acted in a way which (1) confirmed Persian power and (2) maintained good political relations with the Memphite elite. His argument successfully pushes against Egyptological tendencies to understand Achaemenid religious tolerance as inadequate. Likewise, he offers strong evidence for a politically motivated “religious tolerance” within a small locale. Although it is the shortest contribution, it is one of the best written, most convincing, and most important contributions within the volume.

In a similar vein of Egyptology, Jared Krebsbach argues that Achaemenid patronage of Egyptian religious institutions (1) followed a non-interference rule and (2) allowed Persia to fulfill the proper pharaonic role as defenders of world order. Krebsbach considers hieroglyphic sources from the 27th dynasty in order to demonstrate this point. He provides additional evidence for politically driven patronage of particular Egyptian cults. His argument is important as it further the political intentions of Achaemenid Persian “religious toleration.” Like Agut-Labordere, Krebsbach provides a more localized example of Persian policies. Consequently, he offers a thoughtful argument against religious toleration and for political motivation of Persian policies.

Deniz Kaptan considers religious traditions in Achaemenid Anatolia through bullae with seal impressions and stelai fragments from Daskyleion. Daskyleion is important because it was the satrapal center of Achaemenid Anatolia. Though analysis of these artifact, Kaptan illustrates a mixture of new Anatolian cults during the period as well as active, older cults. Thus, Anatolian religious traditions during Persian rule is shown to have maintained great diversity. As with the majority of contributions to the volume, Kaptan constructs archaeological and textual data coherently in order to draw out a more localized example of how Achaemenid Persian religion impacted its various satrapies. This contribution in particular is interesting because it offers (potentially) a starting point for study of the relationship between the Levant and the Aegean region.

In conclusion, this volume, Religion in the Achaemenid Persian Empire, is a mixed bag. Some contributions contribute substantially to our understanding of the impact of Persian policies regarding religion; yet, some contributions fail to offer a coherent argument. The bad apples aside, the volume is wonderful. It offers a variety of approaches, new and renewed, to the study of the Achaemenid Persian empire and how it impacted various regions. More broadly, it is refreshing as it ushers in a renewed understanding of Achaemenid Persian empire ideology as it relates to religion. I highly recommend this work for studies on (1) emerging Judaism, (2) Achaemenid Persian studies broadly, and (3) the movement and exchange of ideas during Achaemenid Persian rule.

 

*I’d like to express my gratitude to Mohr Siebeck for providing a review-copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

 

“From Mesopotamia to the Mishnah” by Jonathan S. Milgram

Jonathan S. Milgram. From Mesopotamia to the Mishnah: Tannaitic Inheritance Law in its Legal and Social Contexts. Texts and Studies in Ancient Judaism 164. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2016, 201 pp..

Jonathan Milgram’s erudite study on tannaitic inheritance law contextualizes rulings on inheritance within the framework of the ancient Near East, Greek, and, most importantly, Roman law, which is contemporaneous with tannaitic law. Through a comparative legal approach, he explores how the legal collections “overlap conceptually, procedurally, and on occasion, even terminologically” (7). Naturally we are inclined to point towards biblical antecedents for the development of certain aspects within tannaitic law. Fundamental to Milgram’s thesis, though, is the lack of scriptural exegesis in tannaitic law discussing issues of inheritance. In other words, “new laws not only drop archaic biblical institutions but also embrace new methods that the rabbis observe” (27). Below I provide a summary of his arguments accompanied by my commentary.

Milgram first introduces standard methodological concerns: brief discussion of theories of legal development, ultimately focusing on the comparative legal approach; a framework for the relation between ancient law and the socio-economic environment of the tannaim; and a summary of his sources and proceeding arguments. In short, he sets out “to demonstrate the degree to which tannaitic inheritance laws are likely the product of their ancient legal, social, and economic contexts” (38)(Introduction). While it is good that Milgram utilizes such a broad set of ancient legal codes and demonstrates exceptional understanding of them through a comparative legal approach, his overall conclusions may have been sturdier with inclusion of the social and economic histories of the various ancient laws. For, inclusion of social and economic histories of ancient laws would have uncovered the relationship between law (ancient laws) and reality (social and economic histories). Such patterns within history would perhaps offer more cemented conclusions and legitimization for Milgram’s argument.

Establishing the origins of partibility, methods for disposing of assets, and capacity for transferring property in tannaitic law, Milgram claims the components do not originate in biblical law; rather, they emerge from the adaptation of Roman legal vocabulary and conceptualization within a nuclear family in an urbanized setting with private landholding patterns (Chapter One). For, biblical law fails to distinguish between inheritance and gift and no rabbinic scriptural exegesis exists for the inheritance laws, both primary aspects driving his arguments. Ancient Near Eastern and Roman laws of inheritance function, though, in a similar way as tannaitic Law. Roman law, though, is most similar because of the legal conceptualizations of mattanah (Latin: donatio) and yerushah (Latin: hereditas). While already established as parallel terms, Milgram’s analysis furthers the importance of their relationship by using them to highlight the tannaitic social and economic context. Additionally, through philological-historical analysis meant to highlight the distinction between gifting and inheriting in tannaitic law, he suggests mBB 8:5 contains evidence for a tannaitic approach which permits testate succession, as opposed the more commonly accepted intestate succession. Through highlighting these various similarities to Roman law and uncovering a suppressed tannaitic approach, Milgram demonstrates well the possibility that his observations affirm the impact of the social and economic reality of the rabbis upon tannaitic law.

Moving on to the question of possible origins for tannaitic flexibility in firstborn inheritance law, Milgram demonstrates how the legal flexibility developed due to the cultural heritage and contemporary horizons, even to the point of declaring no firstborn. In terms of cultural heritage, the flexibility of firstborn inheritance seems to develop from ancient Near Eastern and Biblical sources, sources which evidence flexibility in the status and inheritance of the firstborn. Only with more contemporary horizons of Greek and Roman legal writings, though, does tannaitic law fully develop due to an (1)urbanized tannaitic Palestine and (2) absence of firstborn allotment among Greeks and Romans. Within this chapter, clarification as to what constitutes biblical law in Milgram’s approach would have helped to clarify some of his arguments. For, in some interpretations, law is just as much the patriarchal narratives as it is the book of Deuteronomy.

In an exploration of testate succession in Tannnaitic law, Milgram thoroughly explores for the nearest legal parallel of testate succession in tannaitic law (Chapter Three). Accordingly, he argues that R. Yohanan ben Beroka introduces testate succession for agnates. After examining ancient Near Eastern and Greek parallels, these traditions are excluded as possibly connected because they tend to include adoption, something absent in tannaitic inheritance law. Only in Roman legal discourse, sui heredes, do we see a reasonable parallel. While Milgram emphasizes the context of contemporary Roman law, thereby further establishing the influence of Roman law upon tannaitic law, highlighting appropriation of the biblical model, as a partial antecedent to tannaitic law, into the tannna’s own Roman-Palestine, socio-political context is necessary. Consider his comment about R. Yohanan ben Beroka: “In that sense, the tanna remains fiathful to a fundamental tenet of the biblical model: the land remains in family hands” (95). Based on this, perhaps tannaitic testate succession may be, in part, an appropriation of biblical tradition, albeit a conjectural suggestion.

Shifting to inheritance by daughters, Milgram argues three major principles of tannaitic inheritance law (collection of an inheritance share, receipt of a dowry, and maintenance) possibly developed in a context of Roman law (Chapter Four). While the “cultural valuation of daughters” is evident in both Roman and tannaitic culture, actions of Romans, as opposed to law, demonstrate the valuation and tannaim legislation demonstrates valuation. Additionally, his analysis of mBB 8:4, one tannaitic tradition approaches sons and daughters as equal in inheritance.

Following this discussion, Milgram considers inheritance by wives. With the lack of biblical precedent and scriptural interpretations for tannaitic innovations of collection of maintenance and residence or payment of the ketubbah debt as two approaches to widow’s benefits, he argues the tannaitic law developed via local practices which rabbis may have observed and via ancient legal traditions from throughout the region (Chapter Five). A statement within the chapter raises, though, a question of his framework and, consequently, methodology. In short, he claims the Bible was authored in an ancient Near Eastern context (139). Although this is absolutely true, it fails to consider the whole picture. Scholars recognize the influence of Greek ideas and culture upon the development of biblical traditions. Thus, more serious consideration of the (possible) relationship between Greek and biblical traditions might enable a better understanding and timeline of the development of legal tradition in the Mediterranean.

Additionally, Milgram’s treatment of Ruth is poor. While it would be reasonable to conclude upon the fact that Naomi is a sort of trustee for future sons, he notes “the possibility of polemics in Ruth… impairs our ability to penetrate in what way… the book is representative of historical law or local custom” (140). This view, unfortunately, is very limited. In his recent commentary about the book of Ruth, Jeremy Schipper illustrates why Ruth should not necessarily be read as a polemic text. Milgram should have further engaged with Ruth. For such a rich repository of questions and issues of inheritance as found in the book of Ruth, the lack of discussion of Ruth is disappointing.

Having illustrated how tannaitic inheritance law was possibly influenced by contact with Roman law and cultural heritage of ancient Near Eastern and Greek law, he entertains the issue of how Jewish is Jewish inheritance law. As he puts it, “we are witness to competing and conflicting traditions that are, at times, interwoven with one another, waiting to be discovered and mined for the richness they add to the complex web of tannaitic inheritance traditions” (146).

As a result of Milgram’s study, we more clearly observe the relationship between Roman, Greek, and ancient Near Eastern laws and tannnaitic traditions. He does this by revealing various tannaitic traditions throughout his work, traditions previously unobserved. In short, he allows us to better understand tannaitic law within its ancient, legal context. Hopefully future scholars will further elucidate the complex web of laws from Jewish traditions and other ancient legal tradition and how they possibly influence each other. For the scholar who does this, Milgram’s monograph is an important reference.

“The Age of Agade” by Benjamin Foster

Benjamin R. Foster. The Age of Agade: Inventing Empire in Ancient Mesopotamia. New York NY: Routledge, 2016, 438 pp..

Renowned Assyriologist Benjamin R. Foster provides a comprehensive overview of the Akkadian Period in Mesopotamian history. As opposed to arguing for a particular point, the “work is intended to be documentary and descriptive, rather than analytic or constructivist” (xvi). Naturally some scholars are skeptic of the Akkadian era; yet, as Foster is not skeptic of the Akkadian era, he recognizes the role of skepticism: it “is always useful in keeping the fervent imagination in check” (xvi). On the other hand, notes Foster, venture is necessary for gain of historical knowledge. He approaches the Akkadian era with four guiding questions, each of which “marshal a coherent choice of facts or interpretations” (xvi), not generalized explanations of cause and effect.

ageofagadeChapter One exquisitely overviews the rise and fall of Akkad, from Sargon up to Sharkalisharri. Because Foster presents the history with such clarity, resulting is a solid framework by which the reader may more successfully grasp the rest of the work, as it offers a solid, well-grounded historical framework. He then offers an overview of the people and land of Akkad, incorporating socio-religious structure and how various polities, subjected to Agade, resisted imperial, Akkadian power (Chapter Two). Incorporating archaeology into his comprehensive overview, Chapter Three succinctly summarizes a variety of centers and settlements relevant to the Akkadian Empire. With this, Foster presents his understanding of ‘”Empire”:

“”Empire” is used here in its conventional sense of supreme and extensive political dominion, presided over by dynastic rulers, who claimed extraordinary, even superhuman or divine powers. It was an entity put together and maintained by force, with provinces administered by officials sent out from the capital in the heartland” (83).

Within his discussion of Akkadian centers and settlements, two maps (51, 81) provide excellent visuals for conceptualizing the geography of the Akkadian Empire and where various important centers stood in relation to each other. The focus on geography, thus, is very valuable for readers attempting to fully understand the Akkadian era. Like Chapter One about the overview of the rise and fall of Akkad, Chapter Three, about the Akkadian centers, provides a physical framework, namely geographical, for the remainder of the book.

Zooming into everyday life in the Akkadian era, Chapter Four overviews agricultural work and diet during the period. In particular, Foster illustrates how the production of agriculture was the “gears” of the Empire. Detailing specialized practices, outside of agriculture, he presents how a variety of raw materials were utilized to propel industries and crafts. Going into nuanced details of the types of ceramics, the cost of materials, metal ratios in materials, etc., the wealth of data is fantastic for beginning any research from a perspective of materiality (Chapter Five).

Chapter Six overviews religion in the Akkadian era, seemingly covering all major issues, such as deities, temples and their workings, holy objects, oaths, festivals, and magic. As much as Fosters presentation of religion in the Akkadian era is helpful, there are two problems. First, Foster never defines “religion” or explains how the overlap of religion, government, social, economic, etc., impact how we understand religious practices in the Akkadian era. This is a consistent struggle throughout the work. While it is a comprehensive overview, readers would benefit by understanding how Foster defined terminology, especially terms which tend to have so many nuances. Additionally, Foster propels a classic argument that “Ishtar’s cultic staff included performers of rites… who in some cases cut themselves or other performers as part of the rite” (151). His argument is rooted in statements like “I have given the cult-players their daggers and goads” (346). Nothing in this statement, though, even implies some sort of self-mutilation. This is important to Ilan Peled (Ugarit-Verlag, 2016: 187-188) who argues throughout his book, Masculinities and Third Gender, that claims for self-mutilation are often too far-reaching.

In Chapter Seven, Foster describes the structure of Akkadian politics and military, consistently highlighting the Akkadian king as the head of state and military matters. Through politics and military advances, the Akkadian Empire enabled trade, business, and economic growth (Chapter Eight). Transitioning more to abstract Akkadian ideas, Foster overviews art in the ancient world, art subsuming the categories of letters and numeracy (Chapter Nine). In a similar vein, Foster examines (Chapter Ten) Akkadian human values and expression of identity.

Finally, Foster focuses on the reception of the Akkadian era (Chapter Eleven), examining how literature and legend influenced later Mesopotamian ideals and cultures. He concludes with part II of reception history: Akkadian period in modern historiography (Chapter Twelve). While the wealth of knowledge and succinct summary by Foster are absolutely notable, the most intriguing details revolve around Tyumenev, Diaknoff, Nikolski, and Van der Meer. Being written in Dutch and Russian, ideas proposed by these four scholars are relatively inaccessible. Fosters inclusion of these scholars, consequently revealing them to other scholars, will hopefully propel their inclusion in future studies of the Akkadian era. After Chapter Twelve, Foster includes three Appendixes: Akkadian royal inscriptions, works attributed to Enheduanna, and two Sumerian poems about the Akkadian period. These texts are some of the main sources for Foster. Thus, their availability is helpful to the reader.

Needless to say, Benjamin R. Foster’s comprehensive overview of the Akkadian Empire, The Age of Agade, is indispensable. Beyond important summaries of Soviet historians in the book, Foster’s wealth of knowledge as a leading scholar in Assyriology marks The Age of Agade as a must-read, especially for beginning scholars or those beginning to research the period. While the book claims to be “accessibly written”, it should be noted that, at least for the general public or non-specialists, Foster writes at a very high-level. Even so, I highly recommend this work to scholars working in the field of Assyriology or Mesopotamian history and to non-specialists looking for an comprehensive understanding of the Akkadian era.

 

(Typographical error on page 301: “Tymenev” instead of Tyumenev.)