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Isaac, Benjamin, and Yuval Shahar [Eds.]


Judaea-Palaestina, Babylon and Rome: Jews in Antiquity.


Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 2012. IX, 324 S. = Texts and Studies in Ancient Judaism, 147. Lw. EUR 99,00. ISBN 978-3-16-151697-9.


Catherine Hezser

This jubilee volume on the occasion of Aharon Oppenheimer’s re­tirement from Tel Aviv University contains papers presented at a conference in his honour in 2009. The authors of the chapters are friends and colleagues of Oppenheimer and their research focuses on areas related to his own: rabbinic literature, ancient Jewish history, relations between Jews and non-Jews, and archaeology. The 17 contributions appear under four headings: The Image of Jews among Non-Jews, The Image of Non-Jews among Jews, Social History, and Issues in Modern Scholarship. At the end of the vol­-ume a list of Aharon Oppenheimer’s publications is provided.
Some of the contributions discuss issues of the first century C. E. that are also relevant for the study of early Christianity: Albert I. Baumgarten suggests that both the ancient evidence (three pas­-sages in Luke) and modern social scientific considerations suggest that the Pharisees undertook certain »outreach« activities, trying to make other Jews join their movement. Unfortunately, this hypothesis rests on a rather literal understanding of stories about Phari­sees inviting Jesus to a meal. Joshua Schwartz stresses the diversity in Second Temple Judaism and argues that Jews and Jewish Christians would not have differed much with regard to their practices and beliefs: »It was not theology, ritual or tradition that drove the groups apart but politics, local and international« (73). Günter Stemberger reviews the question of the Birkat ha-minim and the separation between Jews and Christians. Although the curse of heretics was part of the Amidah prayer in the first or second century already, its precise meaning and function remain unclear. The author maintains that the prayer gained an anti-Christian significance only after the split had taken place. Therefore it »cannot have played more than a minimal role in the separation of Chris­tians and Jews« (88). The presentation of Jesus’ origin, birth, and childhood in the various recensions of the Babylonian Talmud and the Toledot Yeshu are the subject of Peter Schäfer’s contribution. Both the gospels and later rabbinic traditions seem to be the basis of the Toledot Yeshu’s birth narrative which developed in the Middle Ages, probably only after the thirteenth century. The core elements of this narrative, shared by the Hebrew versions, is the insistence on Miriam’s innocence in giving birth to her bastard son Yeshu, whose »crime is kept within the boundaries of the rabbinic taxonomy« (161).
Tessa Rajak’s and Martin Goodman’s articles focus on the end of the Second Temple period and the destruction of the Temple. Rajak examines the relationship between armed resistance and the discourse on martyrdom in the time between the Maccabees and the Bar Kokhba revolt. She argues that the Jewish martyrdom tradition is richer than has been assumed so far and is linked to revolts against the ruling powers. Goodman asks how certain pro-Roman members of the Jewish elite, who would have been near the Jerusalem Temple at the time of its destruction, would have experienced the event and reacted to it. Would they have lost faith in the God of Israel or maintained their commitment to Judaism? Also related to the Roman conquest is Yuval Rotman’s examination of rabbinic attitudes towards redeeming war captives in comparison with Christian customs and Roman law. In the second century »both Jews and Christians had to redefine their position towards the pagan state that captured, enslaved and executed their coreligion­ists« (247).
Most of the rest of the chapters are dedicated to Judaism and Christianity in late antiquity. Shaye J. D. Cohen analyses a passage in Pseudo-Ignatius (4th c. C. E.) which contrasts Sabbath obser­-vance amongst Jews and Christians and compares it with rabbinic discussions on the topic. His reference to Jews dancing and clapping on the Sabbath, in contrast to Christian »meditation on laws«, is supported by Augustin and serves to contrast »carnal Judaism with spiritual Christianity« (39). Rabbinic attitudes toward dancing and clapping on the Sabbath remain ambiguous. Whether the re­-ferences are historically reliable and whether the Jews referred to represented »common Judaism« remains uncertain (49). Vered Noam examines the applicability of the concept of corpse uncleanness to gentiles on the basis of biblical and rabbinic sources. Most tannaitic sources imply that a gentile cannot contract impurity. A possible reason could be rabbis’ essentialist distinction between gentile and Jew. Or one could argue that rabbis created a hierarchy in which »the members of the chosen, elite community […] are all liable to impurity« whereas outsiders are immune (102).
Despite the fact that Aharon Oppenheimer’s scholarship fo­-cused on Babylonia, only two contributions in this volume deal with Babylonian Jewish history and the Babylonian Talmud. David Goodblatt approaches the subject from a historical point of view and makes an assessment of »what we don’t know« about Jews in the Parthian Empire, despite scholarship on the issue especially since the 1960s and 1970s. He maintains that »in some areas we know even less than we once thought we knew« (263). Rabbinic sources often seem to be later »anachronistic projections of claims of authority« (265). He concludes that »the most we can reasonably learn from the rabbinic material is the presence of some Jews in Parthian Media by the middle of the first century and their participation in support of the Jerusalem Temple« (ibid.). Other literary sources are »vague at crucial points« (268) and material evidence is basically non-existent.
Richard Kalmin reexamines the notion of the »evil eye« in the Babylonian Talmud in comparison with references in Palestinian rabbinic literature. Whereas Palestinian rabbis tended to associate both the evil eye and astrology with the »other«, from whom they distinguished themselves, Babylonian rabbis seem to have had a more positive attitude toward these practices. They stressed the »knowledge they gained from astrologers« (132) and were willing »to portray the evil eye as an inner-rabbinic concept« (133). Nevertheless, the Babylonian Talmud stops short of presenting prominent rabbis as casting an evil eye or engaging in astrology. Reasons for these differences must be sought in the cultural context of the tradents and editors of these texts.
This conference volume should interest any scholar of ancient Judaism, rabbinic literature, early Christianity and patristics. The chapters make valuable contributions to discussions in these fields.