“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.)


“The Origin of Heresy” by Robert M. Royalty Jr.

Robert M. Royalty Jr. The Origin of Heresy: A History of Discourse in Second Temple Judaism and Early Christianity. Routledge Studies in Religion 18. New York, NY: Routledge, 2014, 233 pp., $48.95  (paperback).

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

The Origin of Heresy by Robert M. Royalty Jr. explores the discursive rhetoric of difference in the Second Temple Judaism and early orthodox Christianity in order to draw out the heresiological patterns which became the norm in later “orthodox” Christianity. Importantly he approaches the emergence of Christianity not from the classic tenet of Christian historiography, namely “that unity and doctrinal purity preceded divisions, that truth precedes error” (10); rather, he presupposes many early Christianities in agreement with the Bauer thesis. Christian variety resulted in a project of political hegemony and unity. Along this hope for political hegemony and unity, Royalty draws out how the rhetoric of heresy, discourse which negotiates religious difference, functioned in early communities and eventually developed into Christian identity.

Part I draws out the discursive foundations and developments of heresy through rhetoric of difference from the Hebrew Bible to the most fully formed rhetoric in the Gospel from Matthew’s community. Various sources attest to differing approaches to the rhetoric of difference. Ancient Israelite literature often presents prophetic conflict. More often than not, the response is a push for ideological unity, reconciliation, and restoration, rhetoric responses to difference which early Christianity lacked. Developments in the Dead Sea Scrolls, Daniel, and the Hasmonean conflict represent, for Royalty, a shift into key rhetorical features for early Christianity: doxography of error, dualistic eschatology, excommunication based on doctrine, apocalyptic condemnation of opponents, rejection of alternative view points, and the “True Israel”.

With theses rhetorical features, he examines how rhetoric of difference for John the Baptizer and Jesus functioned politically, illustrating that heresy “was an intrinsic part of the origins of what eventually came to be Christianity” (63). Problematic, though, is his clean distinction between political and religious. Royalty even mentions the discussion of whether or not John’s message was political or religious. Such statement occur consistently throughout the work, assuming a clean division between political and religious. His methodology, though, does not thoroughly explore that distinction by which he analyzes the rhetoric of difference. Brent Nongbri in Before Religion (Yale University Press, 2015) provides a valuable statement on how politics and religion were one in antiquity, in contrast to modern conceptions of religion: “episodes that modern authors have identified as ancint “religion” have turned out to involve discourses that ancient authors themselves seem to have understood primarily in ethnic or civic terms” (63). That said, to label Jesus and John’s rhetoric as “political”, and even later texts by the same token, he does a disservice the cognitive world of the text, a world in which clear distinction between religion and politics was not evident.

Following discussion of Jesus and John, he proceeds to Paul and his rhetoric of difference. Through this analysis, Royalty draws out four significant ways in which Paul contributed to Christian heresiology: homonoai, a Roman political ideology for unity; apocalyptic dualism that negated opponents; value of apostolic tradition and “correct” interpretation; and demonization of opponents. These became fundamentals to Christian heresiology and later discursive moves expand the foundations to appeals to Roman imperialism.

Having explored historical Jesus, Chapter Five examines the Gospels as narratives of exlcusion, drawing also on the Gospel of Thomsas, Q, and the Didaches to trace the rhetoric of conflict. He notes four major rhetorical features: ideology of apocalyptic judgement, dualistic worldview, polemics against opponents with doxography of their beliefs, and contested issues about the identity of Israel. These four elements along with the Gopsel of Thomas demonstrate the wide ideological spectrum in early Christianity.

Part II examines the internal and external political functions of the notion of heresy in Orthodox tradition. First, through traditions in Colossians, the Pastoral Epistles, Revelate, the Johannnine, Ignatius, Polycarp, the Gospel of Mary and the Gopsel of Judas, Royalty explores how early Christianity policed Orthodoxy through political rhetoric of difference. Each of these documents testify “to ideological differences within early Christian communities. These different approaches to difference, however, identity orthodox heresiology as a unique strategy” (146). This ideology is explicitly imperialistic discourse, utilized as orthodox Christianity sought hegemony in the church and people.

As a result of the delay of the parousia, an apologia to Rome, and the ideology of church unity effacing difference, Chapter eight notes the discursive development of heresiology into a form of Christian imperialism, especially notable through Luke-Act’s silence about the diversity of early Christianities. All in all, Royalty’s work demonstrates how early Christianity utilized the rhetoric of heresy as a strategy to dealing with difference and internal and external boundaries. So, rather than approaching early Christianity through the typical lens of orthodoxy, Royalty’s reading offers a new and unique approach to the New Testament, namely one that evaluates “the discursive origins of Christianity and orthodoxy in the political context of competing Christianities in the first and second century” (176).

As a whole there is no doubt that Royalty approaches early Christianity from a unique angle. His analysis is beneficial in that it better illustrates the breadth of early Christianity and later Christianities discursive origins through the rhetoric of difference. Yet the work seems to be too narrow in its use of Second Temple Period literature and the Hebrew Bible. His rhetoric of difference in Israel (Chapter Two) is limited to Jeremiah, a test case in 1 Kings, and Deuteronomy. Discourse about Second Temple Period literature is limited to 4 Ezra, Daniel, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and Maccabees. In order to truly establish the origins of orthodox Christian heresiological traditions, it is necessary to explore more of the breadth of literary resources available, from both the Pseudepigrapha and Hebrew Bible.

Another contention I hold has to do with my critique about the distinction between political and religious. In his discussion about Pharisees and scribes in the Gospel of Matthew, Royalty never touches on the political relationship between the temple leadership and Roman rule. Because the Temple was the center of Jewish worship, it was key to maintaining peace and unity through the Judean province. Royalty only focuses on the religious disagreements between the Pharisees and Jesus. By ignoring the political nature of the Temple leadership and its relationship to Roman leadership, the text, namely the Gospel of Matthew, is misrepresented as being solely about religious disagreement.

In conclusion, while Royalty’s approach and work is valuable to studies of early Christianity, it is more of a launchpad for further studies than a work that will establish important precedents in the study of early Christianity. I do recommend it for studies on heresy and early Christianity, but only with the qualifier that its arguments need to be clarified and expanded.

“Shakespeare, the Bible, and the Form of the Book” edited by Travis DeCook and Alan Galey

ShakespeareTravis DeCook and Alan Galey (editors). Shakespeare, the Bible, and the Form of the Book. New York, NY: Routledge, 2014, 207 pp., $54.95(paperback).

*I would like to express my gratitude to Routledge for providing me with a review copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

How were the multiple forms and contested status of the Bible as the word of God taken up by Shakespeare? Politically and religiously, what elements of Shakespeare and the Bible are overlooked by modern, pre-modern, and enlightenment era readers? These are the sort of questions that this volume seek to answer in this work.

Covering an historical span from Shakespeare’s post-Reformation era to present-day Northern Ireland, the volume uncovers how Shakespeare and the Bible’s intertwined histories illuminate the enduring tensions between the materiality and transcendence in the history of the book (7).

In essence, rather than focusing on the Bible’s influence upon Shakespeare, this volume explores the complex relationship between the two through a multiple time periods. While this volume is surely pertinent to scholars of Shakespeare, I intend to focus on its value for Biblical Studies.

First of all, Shakespeare, the Bible, and the Form of the Book offers invaluable analysis of the reception of the Bible and its intertwinement with Shakespeare. For example, Andrew Murphy, in his article on Shakespeare and the Bible as the “roots of civilsation”, concludes that as Biblical literacy from early modern English translations faded, Shakespeare paradoxically became the secular divine text and “little more than a monotonous educational labor” (138). This paradoxical development offers fantastic analysis and a great starting point for projects on biblical reception. The majority of the articles within this volume contain valuable information on biblical reception, especially Randall Martin’s “Paulina, Corinthian Women, and the Revisioning of Pauline and Early Modern Patriarchal Ideology in The Winter’s Tale” and David Coleman’s “Disintegrating the Rock”.

Another major benefit of this volume are the insightful and perceptive analyses of how Shakespeare’s plays utilized not only the Geneva Bible’s text but also its glosses. In doing so, Barbara Mowat demonstrates the value of reading 17th century biblical commentaries in order elucidate often overlooked elements of Shakespeare. This approach, of course, is promising for biblical scholars. For instance, by approaching Shakespeare with the glosses of the Geneva Bible, biblical scholars can more fully explore the reception traditions behind themes and verses within the Hebrew Bible and New Testament.

Overall, Shakespeare, the Bible, and the Form of the Book is valuable to scholars of the Bible. More specifically, it provides excellent articles about reception and the Bible and Shakespeare’s intertwined roles ranging from the 16th to 21st centuries. It also provides unique insights for people performing Shakespeare. Without a shadow of doubt, this volume, edited by DeCook and Galey, is a necessity to exploring biblical reception that relates to Shakespearean literature or the Victorian era.

Upcoming Book Review on Shakespeare and the Bible

In contrast to much scholarship on Shakespeare and the Bible, “Shakespeare, the Bible, and the Form of the Book gives sustained attention to the Bible’s multiple forms and contested status, to the fraught tension between the Bible as transcendent Word of God and politically and historically mediated material text, and to how these interlinked phenomena were taken up by Shakespeare” (10). Shakespeare

I just started reading Shakespeare, the Bible, and the Form of the Book, edited by Travis DeCook and Alan Galey and published by Routledge, and look forward to reading of the nuances of history and Shakespeare which it illuminates. The review shall be up within the next few weeks!