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Jews in a Graeco-Roman World.

Jews in a Graeco-Roman World, edited by Martin Goodman. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998. 293 pp. $70.00.

This volume contains 16 essays by as many scholars, on various aspects of relations between Jews and Gentiles in the ancient world. The introductory essay by the editor argues, reasonably, that the oddities of the Jews in the Graeco-Roman world were no greater than those of many other distinctive ethnic groups, such as Idumaeans or Celts. In support of this thesis he invites us to consider what we would know about the Jews if we had only the testimonies of pagan authors and epigraphic and papyrological evidence. A real test of the thesis, however, would require that we also examine what we know of other ethnic groups. Engaging as this essay is, it is somewhat misleading as an introduction to the volume, since the question it poses is not pursued in the other essays. These are grouped under four headings: "The Hellenistic and Roman World: Jewish Perspectives"; "Social Integration?"; "Similarities?"; and "Differences?."

The first group, presented under the heading "The Hellenistic and Roman World: Jewish Perspectives," contains three essays in addition to Goodman's introduction. Gruen's essay, now incorporated in his book Heritage and Hellenism, notes the differing attitudes of the Sibyl to Greeks and Romans. Since he rejects most proposed historical references in the book, however, he leaves the impression that most of the oracles were written a propos of nothing in particular, a feature which he mistakenly claims to be typical of apocalyptic literature. Seth Schwartz argues that the hellenization of Near Eastern cities, best exemplified in the cases of Jerusalem and Shechem, involved nothing less than a redefinition of what it meant to be a Greek. Daniel Schwartz argues that the saga of the Tobiads belongs in the second century B.C.E. rather than the first, and that the value of Josephus for the history of the Hellenistic period has been underestimated.

Part II, "Social Integration?," contains two essays. Benjamin Isaac considers the evidence from Eusebius on Jews, Christians, and others in Palestine and concludes that the overwhelming majority of villages had a mixed population, Jewish, Christian, Samaritan, and pagan. David Noy asks where Diaspora Jews were buried, and concludes that the development of separate Jewish burial areas was a relatively late phenomenon.

Part II, "Similarities?," has six essays. Albert Baumgarten discusses voluntary associations and Jewish sects. He notes that the sects made greater demands on their members, but suggests that both phenomena resulted from the trend to urbanization in the Hellenistic period. William Horbury assembles the evidence for an "Antichrist" figure in pre-Christian Jewish texts, and suggests that the Titans played a similar role in Graeco-Roman mythology. He is undoubtedly correct that the figure of the Antichrist derives from the combat myths that were ubiquitous in the Mediterranean world and the Near East, but his retrojection of the term Antichrist into the pre-Christian period blurs some significant distinctions. Michael Satlow argues that the Palestinian rabbis shared the assumptions of elite Greek and Roman men on the subject of sex. Joshua Schwartz discusses rabbinic attitudes to gambling. Archaeological evidence for gambling in Palestine declines in the Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine periods, relative to ea rlier times, but the attitude of the rabbis to casual gambling gradually became more relaxed. Hannah Cotton discusses legal documents from the Dead Sea area and argues that they should not be regarded as marginal. Neither should they be harmonized with rabbinic halakha. Rather, they should he taken to reflect the practices on which the rabbis wished to put their stamp. Aharon Oppenheimer argues that the Romans had their own judicial system in Palestine, side by side with the Jewish courts that existed under Roman supervision.

Part IV, "Differences," has four essays. Lee Levine discusses the role of the Archisynagogus. Margaret Williams argues that the Jewish community in Rome was remarkable for its isolation from its Roman environment. Tessa Rajak discusses the epigraphic evidence from Sardis and emphasizes the regional variety of the Jewish Diaspora. Sacha Stern closes out the volume with a discussion of some misunderstandings in Jewish-Roman relations. He takes as examples the symbolism of ploughing Jerusalem when it was reconstituted as Aelia Capitolina and a story of a rabbi who refused a gift from a Roman official.

It should be clear from this brief summary that the section headings are rather arbitrary, and that some of the essays could just as easily be placed in a different part. One suspects that the divisions were imposed on this highly diverse collection to reassure the publisher of its thematic unity. But it should also be clear that this is a remarkably interesting and learned collection of essays, many of which open up new angles of approach to the study of Judaism in the Hellenistic, and more especially the Roman periods. The diversity of the essays offers something for many different interests. Gruen and Horbury are somewhat exceptional in the volume in focusing on literary evidence, mainly from the pre-Christian period. Seth and Daniel Schwartz deal with historical issues, also from the Hellenistic age. The predominant contributions of the volume, however, are to the social history of Jews in the Roman period. Isaac and Noy (and also Rajak) deal with archeological evidence; Cotton and Oppenheimer with legal documents; Baumgarten, Levine, and Williams with community organization (Baumgarten's essay deals mainly with the Hellenistic period); Satlow, Joshua Schwartz, and Stern (and also Rajak) with cultural values and assumptions. The essays of Satlow and Joshua Schwartz are noteworthy for their attention to aspects of culture that seldom receive attention in standard treatments; Baumgarten's work is important for its thorough-going sociological approach. But there is much to be learned from all these essays, and if they are characterized more by diversity than by thematic unity, they suggest that the same may be true of Judaism in the Greek and Roman periods.
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Collins, John J.
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 2001
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