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Social and Economic Life in Second Temple Judea.

Social and Economic Life in Second Temple Judea. By Samuel L. Adams. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2014. ISBN: 978-0-6642-3703-5. xiii and 252 pages. Paper. $35.00.

The task Adams accepted is a difficult and crucial one: how do we understand the social and economic realities in Judea, from about 530 B.C.E. to the destruction of the Second Temple (dedicated in 516 B.C.E., remodeled and expanded by King Herod, and destroyed by the Romans in 70 C.E.). During these six centuries Judea fell under the following imperial powers: the Persians, Alexander the Great, the Ptolemies, the Seleucids, and the Romans. The only exception to imperial domination was the century during which the Maccabees and their successors ruled.

Adams arranges his results in five chapters: family life and marriage, the status of women and children, work and financial exchanges, taxation and the role of the state, and the ethics of wealth and poverty in wisdom literature and apocalyptic. His principal sources are the Bible, including the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, Josephus, the Elephantine archive (fifth century), the Zeno Papyri (third century), the Dead Sea Scrolls, and archaeology. The biblical evidence is very helpful, but of course social and economic information is often incidental to the biblical authors' agendas.

Family life was patrilocal (the wife moved into the husband's household) and patrilineal (inheritance passed from father to son). Originally the husband paid a bride price to the wife's father, but eventually a dowry system developed, with payments from the wife's family to the husband's family. In addition to theological issues, there were also financial consequences to intermarriage with outsiders, with a potential of net loss of financial resources. Adams notes the significant roles played by women in subsistence farming and also in cubic matters. Children in ancient times were treated as small-scale adults, quite different from the freedom granted them in modern society. Daughters faced more limited options than sons. Both wives and female children were in vulnerable positions.

Agriculture was tenuous employment. By the time grain was set aside for next year's planting and for taxes to foreign countries, there was less than one-third that could be consumed. Coinage developed during the Second Temple period, and interest on loans was very high. Creditors were often free to change the terms of a loan at any time. Usury was high. Two of the upwardly mobile vocations were those of the scribe and the priestly class. Throughout this study the financial crisis reported in Nehemiah 5 plays a major role.

The tax system under the various empires was very onerous. Nehemiah declined to take the taxes contributed to previous governors, but he was in no position to reduce the taxes granted by the Persians. Under the Ptolemies and the Romans, local Judean citizens engaged in tax farming, making sure that the imperial powers, local governors, and the priestly class were adequately funded. The tax farmer himself often became extraordinarily wealthy.

Adams writes clearly and engagingly, and provides helpful summaries at the end of every chapter. Given the importance of these centuries for the development of early Judaism, the life of Jesus, and the realities of the early church, it is hard to overestimate the importance of these social and economic factors. Alas, there is still much that we do not know.

Ralph W. Klein
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Author:Klein, Ralph W.
Publication:Currents in Theology and Mission
Article Type:Book review
Date:Feb 1, 2015
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