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Williams, Margaret H.


Jews in a Graeco-Roman Environment.


Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 2013. XIV, 462 S. = Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament, 312. Lw. EUR 149,00. ISBN 978-3-16-151901-7.


Catherine Hezser

This volume comprises twenty-two previously published articles written by W. over a period of approximately twenty years. They share the thematic focus on Jews and Judaism in the Graeco-Roman Diaspora between the first century B. C. E. and the sixth century C. E. The texts of the articles have been left unchanged except for creating a certain formal coherence. Instead of updating the bibliographies of individual chapters W. has added an Introduction in which recent literature on the subject is discussed. In this Introduction (1–29) she compares the state of Jewish Diaspora studies in 1986, when she began working in this area, to today and responds to the reception of her work on Jews in Italy and Asia Minor in antiquity. During the last twenty-five years many monographs and articles on the Jewish Diaspora have been published and a »general growth of interest in ethnic communities and identity-issues« (4) is noticeable, a phenomenon which may be due to our living in multi-cultural post-colonial societies. An additional reason for the recent increase in scholarship are the archaeological and epigraphic discoveries of the last decades, which initiated the reexamination of various issues. Especially noteworthy in this regard are the Sardis synagogue and the Aphrodisias inscriptions. W.’s own work has been largely inscription-based. At the same time, she has always been interested in the broader issue of exploring »cross-cultural relations in the Graeco-Roman world« (8) by focusing on Jews and Judaism.
The articles are arranged thematically in three parts: Jews of Ancient Rome (Part One); Diaspora Studies, dealing with the less well-known Jewish diaspora communities of the Roman Empire (Part Two); and Onomastic Studies (Part Three). Not quite fitting these themes but appearing at the end of Part Two is her 1997 article on the meaning of the term Ioudaios, updated at the end of the Introduction. She maintains that the discovery of twenty-one new inscriptions containing the term support her earlier hypothesis that »the principle meaning of the word was socio-religious«, »it was a marker of Jewish identity« (25) rather than denoting the inhabitants of Judaea.
The articles on the Jews of ancient Rome, collected in the first and largest part of the volume, range from issues of identity, ritual practice, and communal organization to detailed analyses of specific inscriptions. Especially interesting is the alleged development of a »Romano-Jewish identity« which developed in the aftermath of the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple and the Bar Kokhba revolt. Connections to Jerusalem and Judaea seem to have declined whereas more local, synagogue- and community-related identity mark­ers increased in the inscriptions: »the Jews of Rome reveal not only how the synagogue has usurped the role of the Temple in Jewish identity but also how Romanised that identity has now become« (46). Quintessential Roman notions of honour based on public office appear in the inscriptions of that time. One may ask whether many Roman Jews’ former slave status may not have led to a de-crease of Jewish identity too, for slaves would have been unable to maintain their religious practices and forced to adopt not only the name but also the pagan habits of their Roman masters. W. suggests that, nevertheless, »the attachment to the Law of Moses remains strong« (47), as iconographic depictions of the Ark of the Law, Torah scrolls, and the knife of circumcision in burial contexts indicate.
If Roman Jews were attached to the Torah, their religiosity seems to have differed from the Judaism which Palestinian rabbis represented. W. mentions Sabbath observance, abstention from pork, and circumcision as the kernel of Jewish religious practice Roman Jews adhered to. These practices were based on Torah law rather than rabbinic regulations and adapted to the specific Roman context these ex-slaves found themselves in. Roman authors depict the Sabbath as a day of fasting, a day of sorrow rather than celebration: »because of the unusual circumstances in which their community came into being, they developed an unusual way of expressing their identity« (61). If Roman Jews of the first centuries C. E. had a »centralised« rather than merely collegiate structure, as W. argues, this would be another major difference to Palestinian Judaism, which became decentralised after 70 C. E., but the existence of a gerousia as a centralised leadership body remains doubtful. A late reference in the Babylonian Talmud cannot be used as evidence for a second-century »Rabbinical court and seminary« (117) in Rome.
The articles collected in Part Two (»Diaspora Studies«) are based on inscriptions or literary references concerning Jews (or individuals W. considers to have been Jewish) in other, more obscure parts of the Jewish Diaspora in antiquity. W. argues, for example, that the grammarian Diogenes, mentioned by Suetonius as a lec-turer in Rhodes, was »a regular Sabbath synagogue preacher« (212). This hypothesis is almost exclusively based on the appearance of the word sabbata in Suetonius’ text. More persuasive is her dismissal of the hypothesis that an inscription from Aphrodisias indicates the interference of the Palestinian patriarch and his »apostles« in this Diaspora community in the third century C. E. Neither the patriarch nor his messengers are mentioned in the text. The in­-scription, »far from showing the Jews as an alien, […], Palestine-oriented minority group, […], shows exactly the opposite. Clearly the Jews in this inscription were thoroughly Hellenized and well-integrated into eastern Roman provincial society« (229). She reaches a similar conclusion for the Jews of Corycus in Cilicia: Jewish epitaphs were found in the city’s Christian necropolis and »follow the usages of the wider Greek community« (236). The ten Jewish inscriptions show »Jews not only functioning politically and economically within mainstream Corycean society but changing too as that society moved from paganism towards Christianity« (24): they be­come more recognizably Jewish. The Faustini family, known from the Venosa inscriptions, serves as another example of both acculturation and expression of Jewish identity: the later epitaphs are written in Latin and »reveal its continuing receptivity to local (i. e. Gentile) influences« (263). At the same time, the Jewish elements ( menorah symbol, Hebrew phrases) increased.
The third and last part of the book comprises a few onomastic studies based on literary texts and inscriptions. Often »Jewish« or Semitic names are the only indicators of an inscription’s Jewishness while the hellenized Jewish elite chose Greek (second) names. W. concludes that double naming was rare in the Diaspora and »in several respects different from that found in Palestine, […] a response to different social imperatives« (319).
The book ends with a cumulative bibliography, an index to citations and references, an index of modern authors, and a subject index. For all those working on and interested in Diaspora Judaism in the Roman period this collection provides convenient access to W.’s important studies in this area.