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Judah and the Judeans in the Achaemenid Period: Negotiating Identity in an International Context.

Judah and the Judeans in the Achaemenid Period: Negotiating Identity in an International Context. Edited by ODED LIPSCHITS; GARY N. KNOPPERS; and MANFRED OEMING. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2011. Pp. xvi + 600, illus. $64.50.

The essays in this volume were presented at an international conference at the University of Heidelberg in 2008. The last decade saw heightened interest in all things concerning the Achaemenid Empire and this compilation echoes another volume edited by Lipschits and Oeming, Judah and the Judeans in the Persian Period (2006), with a few changes of contributors. The focus of the present volume is less on Judah as an isolated entity of the empire, concentrating instead on the international context. Issues of identity, whether self- or externally constructed, are highlighted. Contributions range from linguistic and theological analyses of Persian-period literature, including biblical texts, to essays on historiography and archaeology.

The volume consists of two major parts, one dealing with biblical evidence touching upon identity and the second with factors contributing to the issue of identity. K. Schmid opens the volume, arguing for Ishmael's inclusion in the covenant between Yahweh and Abraham in Gen. 17. For Schmid, Ishmael and Isaac are "equal with regard to fertility and land holdings ... within the greater region of 'the whole [sic] land of Canaan'" (p. 25). The post-exilic redactors of P argued (through the story of Abraham) for the promise of land and descendants to Judeans, Israelites, Edomites, and Arabs alike, a striking position compared to earlier, less "ecumenical" positions of biblical writers and redactors. Noting the degrees of strictness about whether foreigners can join the people of Israel by acknowledging the Jewish God, J. Shaper continues the theme of inclusivity, proposing that stricter standards (as found in Ezek. 10:2-3) are engendered by acceptance of existing writings as the Torah. The more lenient texts (e.g., Isa. 56: 3. 6-7) reveal writers not entirely sold on the divine and prescriptive status of the writings aspiring to be Scripture.

In the next essay A. Hagedom explores the invisible presence of the Persian cultural milieu in some biblical texts. After analyzing Gen. 20:1-18, he concludes that the Persian period serves as its backdrop even if the reader is unaware of this. Hagedom's explanation is that the text's provenance precludes the writer(s) from going beyond rethinking the importance of the Persian period; instead, the passage concentrates on maintaining a distinct ethnic identity through ritual purity. In contrast, the book of Esther, although permeated with "Persianness" as a historical setting, looks on the Persian period retrospectively and is more concerned with preserving identity in a distinct cultural and imperial context.

C. Nihan also discusses ethnicity and identity, analyzing the provenance and composition of Third Isaiah (Isa. 56-66). Nihan addresses an ideological expose of the connections between the former and Ezra-Nehemiah, focusing on the inclusion/exclusion of proselytes in the post-exilic community. Contrary to the sectarianism of Ezra-Nehemiah, Third Isaiah, according to Nihan, insists that Judean ethnicity goes beyond the mere requirements of ancestry, since "observance of central Judean ethnic markers, paradigmatically, the Sabbath [...] and the (Mosaic) covenant [...], are now even more significant" (p. 92). Nihan suggests that Third Isaiah is at least open to foreigners entering the temple without desecrating it.

J. Middlemas echoes this sentiment, maintaining that Third Isaiah expresses a vision of Yahweh's community that encompasses foreign nations, including "those forbidden by the Deuteronomic Code from inclusion" (p. 115). Although more inclusive geographically and internationally, community membership is still governed by covenantal compliance. D. Rom-Shiloni approaches another important issue, the Babylonian exilic ideology. Using social-psychology categories of ethnicity, she reveals its duality: The exiles are regarded as the core of the true Israel, whereas the remnants that stayed in Jerusalem comprise the periphery, the other.

The treatment of foreign nations is also addressed. J. Worle suggests that the difficult geopolitical situation in late fourth-century B.C.E. Judah affected the representation of foreign nations in the Book of the Twelve. Based on the analysis of the redactional layers of the corpus, he suggests that the reason the Foreign Nations Corpus I is sharply negative about the foreigners is the oppression of the people of Judah and the Diaspora. Y. Dor, after a thorough literary-textual analysis of Ezra 9-10 and Neh. 9:1-3, 13:1-3, and chapters 23-30, concludes that the socially cruel and "alien to the biblical spirit" process of casting off "foreign wives" was a ritual rather than a historical fact. The symbolic rite of separation served to accept outsiders amid the postexilic community: "Purifying the separated people by the symbolic rite made their reintegration possible" (p. 186).

K. Southwood tackles the same passage from Ezra, but from a different point of view. Adopting P. M. Blau's model of viewing society as a series of groups, "delineated according to contextually relevant distinctions such as ethnicity, class, or political subdivision" (p. 194), Southwood interprets Ezra's purging of foreign women as an act of preserving a single ethnos by a group concerned about its survival. In the final essay of part one, Fulton notes an important similarity between Persian-era genealogies in Achaemenid and Judean texts: the kings and priests often appealed to distant past times to legitimize their present authority. Apparently in an atmosphere of suspicion and political and ideological competition, Persian-period Judean priests and kings utilized and even created genealogies to substantiate claims to authority.

The contributions to the second part of the volume go beyond biblical evidence, focusing primarily on cultural-historical, social, and environmental factors of identity. P.-A. Beaulieu warns that although it is tempting to see in the predominance of Yahweh-based personal names in epigraphic evidence from late monarchical Judah a marker of identity, the issue is not so simple. Whereas it is possible that Yahwistic names were enforced politically over the entire society by overzealous religious elites, at other times they were "purely indexical" or symbols of Judean identity and cultural tradition "without subscribing to a particular theological agenda" (p. 259). In her provocatively titled essay "'Judean': A Special Status," L. Pearce notes that contrary to the biblical evidence, cuneiform documentation does not attest to special status of Judean deportees within the Neo-Babylonian and Achaemenid worlds. Instead, their socioeconomic status was comparable to that of other population groups, "from their agricultural obligations to their occupation of administrative roles at the levels held by other state dependents" (p. 275).

D. Redford's chatty essay (with sentences such as "After tasting the heady wine of the Joseph story, to be cast into this shoddy narrative is like plunging into a barrel of plonk") explores the historical memory belying the "Israel in Egypt" biblical traditions. He concludes that the stories of Joseph and Moses had numerous parallels among Canaanite communities, representing more or less the appropriation and adoption of "traits, cultic acts, myths, folklore, and foundation legends" (p. 333) of the indigenous inhabitants of Egypt and Canaan.

The next three essays explain the importance of Egypt, particularly the community at Elephantine, for questions of identity, cultural exchange, and literary connections in the Persian period. A. Lemaire analyzes ostraca from Elephantine and concludes that identity was primarily evident through language of ritual and religion. J. Quack explores the possible interaction between Egyptian and Aramaic literature and concludes that "the contact between ... [them] must have been quite intense" (p. 393). Curiously, despite the "intensity," the author maintains that the Jews and other Aramaic-speaking peoples lacked status in the Persian Empire, and, therefore, that their literature did not affect Egyptian literature meaningfully. Finally, B. Becking argues that the "Jewish" identification of a segment of the Elephantine community is anachronistic for fifth-century B.C.E. Yahwism. He concludes that the inhabitants were "the descendants of a branch, or various branches, of the poly-Yahwism that we may understand to have been in existence in Judah before the Yahweh-alone movement" (p. 415). Becking concedes that his presupposition is tentative because we know little about the development of Yahwism.

R. Kratz also attempts to illuminate the problem of identity in Persian-period texts. He concludes that the Hebrew Bible and Elephantine texts fused historical reality with the preexisting theological and national framework available to the writers from the received biblical tradition. Because of this phenomenon, unwrapping history from the biblical tradition is often impossible. O. Tal sees a possibility for tracing manifestations of identity through the iconography of the indigenous coinages of Persian-period Palestine. In his view, coin images projected in a vivid form local imagery that expressed power relations and underscored political affinities. J. Blenkinsopp concentrates on the formation of social identities of "Judeans" and "Jews" in the wake of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. The figure of Abraham was "seminal" in Judah and in the Babylonian diaspora, since both appealed to his life trajectory in their claims to the land and membership in the in-group.

R. Albertz correlates a story of Bagoses in Josephus' Jewish Antiquities 11.297-301 with texts from Elephantine and constructs a complicated but plausible chain of events leading to the command of Artaxerxes II to Ezra "to prepare and publish a religious document that would allow several central sanctuaries to exist and pave the way for a coexistence of a more inclusive and a more exclusive concept of Jewish identity" (pp. 500-501). In Albertz's view, the concept of Jewish identity was rather fluid in the Persian period, subject to internal strife and external political pressures.

J. Wright's research on the relatively significant number of Jewish conscripts in the Ptolemaic and Seleucid armies suggests that this was a consequence of their service in imperial armies during the Persian period. In their traditional "go-between" role, the Jews could both protect imperial interests and defend native interests (p. 517). Furthermore, their involvement in military service possibly contributed to the formation of illustrious legends of militarily successful figures such as Moses and Abraham.

D. Vanderhooft concentrates on the role of scribes and scripts in the development of distinct identity and self-consciousness after the diminishing of Judean scribal training in Hebrew in the Persian period. However, the Paleo-Hebrew script experienced revival towards the end of the Persian period, something probably signaling that "the Hebrew script was revived in association with a project of expressing identity" (p. 539).

M. Oeming asks a core question: Why did Judaism emerge in the Persian period despite factors against such a development? He enlists the Book of Tobit to answer it. Ultimately, the answers the book provides revolve around concepts of a clear ethical monotheism, a distinction between Jews and non-Jews, the existence of promoters of orthodoxy among those who succumbed to assimilation, Jerusalem as the spiritual center, hope for a new Davidic kingdom, and an eschatological vision of a future where the faithful are promised a reward (pp. 557-58).

In the final essay A. Kloner analyzes archaeological and epigraphic evidence from the Idumean site of Maresha, interpreting the social and religious life of the inhabitants in the Persian and Hellenistic periods. Kloner suggests that "there are parallelism and close modeling between these customs and those of the neighbors, the Jews of the time" (p. 572). His conclusion, however, is that the Idumeans were the main ethnicity in Maresha because some findings from Maresha predate those found at "Jewish" sites.

The volume closes with indices of authors and scripture.

The contributions here vary in clarity of presentation and depth. The editors attracted a truly international assemblage of scholars representing a wide spectrum of viewpoints. Unfortunately, the volume would have benefited from further editing of articles by non-native speakers of English; at times, a reader will itch for pen to correct some unconventional word choices.

This volume is not aimed at casual readers; serious students of theology, linguistics, archaeology, and history of the Achaemenid period will find the exhaustive bibliography useful as a springboard for further discovery. Many contributors humbly acknowledge that the issue of identity in the Achaemenid period needs additional inquiry. Nevertheless, it is a welcome addition to the growing body of knowledge on Persian-period Judah.


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Author:Jigoulov, Vadim
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book review
Date:Apr 1, 2015
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