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Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora from Alexander to Trajan.

Diaspora Judaism has become a `growth industry' in recent decades. The main events and leading participants in that story include the following:

The pioneers who assembled basic source materials: inscriptions by J.-B. Frey in Italy (1936, 1952); papyri by V. Tcherikover in Israel (1957-1964); art and symbols by E. R. Goodenough in the USA (1953-1968); more recently, literary sources in Greek and Latin by M. Stern (1974-1984).

The work of classicists E. Bickerman, A. Momigliano, H. J. Leon, E. M. Smallwood and L. Feldman.

The contributions of L. Robert and M. Simon in France and M. Hengel in Germany.

The re-edition of E. Schurer's The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ (1973-1987) into a model of the multidisciplinary, collaborative work the subject increasingly requires.

Most of these studies also involved Jews in Palestine. Barclay's Introduction rehearses gains and discoveries which are specific to the Mediterranean Diaspora: new evidence from archaeology; specialized corpora of inscriptions and new editions of diaspora literature; new, full-length studies of particular diaspora Jewish communities, based on these improved sources and new data. Finally, he salutes `a new critical spirit' which questions the `conventional wisdom' about the Mediterranean Diaspora, and in particular the very old assumption of a univocal or `normative' Judaism. Scholars today know they should expect diversity, and give more attention to each community in its environment, and in the wider context of Greco-Roman society and religion.

American universities brought to light two promising diaspora synagogues, each in a rich urban context: at Dura Europus in Syria, found by Yale archaeologists in 1932; and at Sardis in Turkey, discovered by a Harvard-led team in 1962. Sardis and Dura have generated a stream of often revisionist studies ever since. In addition, the establishment of academic Jewish studies on many campuses, pioneered by Jacob Neusner at Brown University in the 1970s, brought those scholars and post-graduate students into the larger academy, and into mutually productive contact with classics, history, archaeology and art history.

It was clearly time to pull all of this together in a comprehensive study, one which began from the Diaspora rather than retaining the Land of Israel as the norm. This Barclay has done, in a study which at 500 pages is still selective rather than exhaustive, restricted to five locations -- Egypt, Cyrenaica, Syria, Asia and Rome -- and thirteen authors. In Egypt, Artapanus, Ezekiel, The Letter of Aristeas, Aristobulus and Philo represent `convergence' with the ambient culture, while antagonism toward that culture is determinative of Wisdom of Solomon, 3 Maccabees, Joseph and Aseneth, and the Egyptian Sibylline Oracles. Pseudo-Phocylides, Josephus, 4 Maccabees and the Apostle Paul represent the rest of the Diaspora.

Barclay's method is sensible and clear; it is the most important contribution of the study. The first main section takes up Egypt: chapters two and three on the history from Alexander to Trajan, chapters six and seven on the cultural `convergence' or `antagonism' of the authors listed above. In between is the most valuable and problematic part of the book. The most important difference between the Diaspora and the Land of Israel, after all, was that Jews were a majority in their own land in the latter, and a minority in a non-Jewish culture in the former. Chapter four offers `analytical tools' to clarify all that it meant to be a Jew in a non-Jewish culture; it quickly goes beyond the terms which have long been employed in such definitions -- orthodoxy, deviation, hellenization, `normative Judaism' -- to three more productive categories:

Acculturation, which has to do with the level of Greek language

and education which particular Jews had acquired.

Accommodation, the uses of Acculturation.

Assimilation, or social integration.

The scales for Assimilation and Acculturation go from minimum to maximum. (Chapter five provides examples of Egyptian Jews of high, medium or low assimilation.) Accommodation however is bi-polar; one extreme is the submersion of Jewish cultural uniqueness, the other, `antagonism' to Greco-Roman culture. Nearer the middle of this scale were great numbers of Jews making individual decisions as to what and how much of Judaism to retain and what to reinterpret in hellenistic terms, what from the non-Jewish world to oppose and what to include. There was no typical diaspora community, much less a typical Jew. Philo, for example, turns out to be `Jewish to the core and Hellenized to the same core'.

Part two covers the other four diaspora locations, with chapters eight to ten on Cyrenaica and Syria, Asia, and Rome; eleven and twelve do in briefer compass what five to seven did for Egypt.

The last two chapters offer conclusions, chapter thirteen in its presentation of Paul as an `anomalous' diaspora Jew. Necessarily, given his vocation as apostle to the Gentiles, Paul was highly assimilated. In education and his use of Greek he was more acculturated than many other diaspora Jews. But he is toward the `opposition' extreme on Barclay's Accommodation scale: much less open to making common cause with hellenistic culture than Philo or Josephus ... or Luke! -- compare Romans 1-2 With Acts 17.

Chapter fourteen summarizes the ethnic bond of ancestry and social practice which held diaspora communities together, and what to non-Jews were unusual and bizarre views and customs which would always set Jews apart.

If our books are tools, this one is a Swiss-Army knife, slicing through knotty problems, cutting methodological issues down to size, filleting large bodies of data to lay bare their inner workings, and fitted with handy attachments (e.g. a fine run-down on primary sources) to expand its usefulness still further. And anyone can put it to use! It is as accessible to a university's classical archaeologist as to a seminary's specialist in Johannine literature -- and to their students. Scholars with research interests which touch diaspora Judaism at any point will acquire their own copies. Its synthesis of the new material and its power to spark provocative ideas among its readers will enrich almost any research on the New Testament. It is essential for specialists in Luke or Paul, and recommended for any undergraduate or research library.
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Author:Kraabel, A.T.
Publication:The Journal of Theological Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 1998
Words:1008
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