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Lipschits, Oded, Knoppers, Gary N., and Manfred Oeming [Eds.]
Judah and the Judeans in the Achaemenid Period. Negotiating Identity in an International Context.
Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns 2011. XVI, 600 S. m. Abb. 22,6 x 15,2 cm. Geb. US$ 64,50. ISBN 978-1-57506-197-9.
The volume is the published output of an international conference held in Heidelberg in 2008 whose central focus was the economic and cultural circumstances of Judeans living within the Persian empire and their relations with other groups (IX). Yet, the editors claim the participants were also asked to engage in consideration of how early Judaism changed as a result of growing internationalization in the Persian empire (IX). This is a separate issue, since not all Judeans were Jews and not all Jews were Judeans, and this question makes religion the single aspect of cultural interest to be addressed, whereas in the first instance, other aspects were open to inclusion. Thus, the volume has conflicting foci, which becomes more and more apparent as one reads the array of essays included.
Ten papers are presented in Part 1 under the sub-heading, »Negotiating Identity: Diversity within the Biblical Evidence«, while thirteen comprise Part 2, »Negotiating Identity: Cultural, Historical, Social, and Environmental Factors«. Biblical texts and issues examined in Part 1 include the Priestly source in Genesis, particularly the Abrahamic covenant in Genesis 17 (K. Schmid); different understandings of torah in various books (J. Schaper); Genesis 20 and Esther (A. C. Hagedorn); Isaiah 56–66 (C. Nihan; J. Middlemas); shifts in in-group identities of Israel between the exilic and Persian periods (D. Rom-Shiloni); a proposed redactional layer in the Book of the Twelve that centers on the oracles of judgment against the foreign nations (J. Wöhrle); the intermarriage crisis in Ezra 9–10 (Y. Dor; K. Southwood); and priestly genealogies in Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah (D. Fulton). Contributions to Part 2 include Yahwistic names in late Babylonian onomastics (P.-A. Beaulieu); the status and activities of Judean deportees in Babylonia (L. Pearce); an Egyptologist’s analysis of the biblical exodus tradition in light of the Hyksos expulsion myth that took hold in the collective consciousness of Canaanite communities (D. Redford); everyday life for the Jewish mercenaries at Elephantine in Egypt as revealed in their surviving ostraca (A. Lemaire); intense contacts between non-biblical Aramaic literature and Egyptian literature in the Achaemenid period (J. F. Quack); Hananiah, Nehemiah, and Ezra as advocates for fellow members of a global diaspora of Judeans and the biblical transformation of such activity to define a Judean (R. Kratz); Yehudite identity at Elephantine (B. Becking); imagery used on local coinages in Persian-period Palestine as indicators of collective definition and mass media (O. Tal); an examination of the emergence of »Jew« as an ethnic-religious term (J. Blenkinsopp); a new interpretation of the Bagoses story in terms of a struggle between exclusive and inclusive definitions of Jewishness (R. Albertz); the influence foreign military service had on the growth of Jewish diasporas and their sense of identity (J. L. Wright); the use of Aramaic scripts in Yehud in the sixth century onwards and the revival of paleo-Hebrew in the fourth century (D. Vanderhooft); Tobit 1 and 4 as models of ideal of Jewish existence in the Diaspora exemplifying attitudes in the Chronistic history (M. Oeming); and Idumean religious and ethnic customs revealed in excavations at Mareshah (A. Kloner).
It could be argued that all the papers have addressed one or both of the stated topics in some fashion, even if very loosely. The editors indicate the included papers were selected amongst a wider group; they could have asked the contributors to be sure to indicate ex-plicitly how their revised papers related to either of the central topics, which would have given better cohesion to the volume. An introductory discussion of the issue of what makes a Jew or an Israelite vs. a Judean is sorely lacking; these terms are used interchangeably and too imprecisely by the contributors and the editors. The dual foci of the volume arise from this confusion. The paper by J. Blenkinsopp tackles this issue directly and could have been used for this purpose, placed first under a separate heading, with others asked to tighten up their terminology.
As a collection, there are many stimulating papers that provide valuable information about recent archaeological and extra-biblical textual remains from various areas of the Persian empire, particularly Yehud, Idumea, the Nippur region in modern Iraq, and the island of Elephantine in Egypt, but also the southern Levant more generally in the case of the paper on coins. This is a strength of the volume, which has also characterized the past three volumes from similar conferences organized by O. Lipschits, often with co-conveners. To include non-biblical specialists is necessary when dealing with the study of a wide-flung empire with multiple ethnic groups. The failure to include classicists is an unfortunate oversight, how-ever, since the largest body of texts about the Persian empire fall within their domain of expertise, and a few papers have cited Greek texts without engaging with the secondary literature from that discipline. – An important observation raised by J. L. Wright is the use of the label »Aramean« by Judeans in Elephantine to self-characterize in ten out of eleven legal contracts where both parties bear Yahwistic names (521–522); A. Lemaire, B. Becking, and R. Kratz fail to engage with this fact in their papers about Judean identity at Elephantine. J. Blenkinsopp cautions about the study of the origin and history of personal names (onomastics) and descriptions of an individual’s social and family connections (prosopography) to establish ethnic identity (469–470). P.-A. Beaulieu’s contribution helpfully addresses some factors that would influence name choice but he has overlooked the role of who controls the naming and the religion in a mixed household, and whether this varied among cultures within the Persian empire. Might some of those with Yahwistic names have been products of mixed ethnic marriages, who were identifying with a wider label or one that was applicable to one of the two parents? Equally importantly, as noted by J. L. Wright, had »Judean« become a term for members of a military unit at Elephantine because of historical origins that no longer were relevant for reflecting ethnic identity at the time of the papyri and ostraca (520–521)? If so, how does this impact on our identification of Judeans at the site?
This volume should be added to all university libraries as a resource for the study of those of Judean descent in the Persian empire and to the personal libraries of those interested in issues relating to Yehud and the formation of the canon. Biblical scholars interested in the growing collection and authority of biblical books and the possible impact on them of emerging trends in Judaism will find the contributions primarily in Part 1 good sources for thought-provoking reflection and, inevitably, sources for sparring partners. Given our lack of much firm data and the range of hypothetical understandings on offer, based on personal assumptions that will not always be shared, disagreement with certain proposals that have been made will be unavoidable. But dissention plays a vital role in advancing scholarship in a positive way, and consensus will never be attained, nor should it be without more extensive, incontrovertible evidence.