Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 4 (2002-2003) - Review

Lee I. Levine, Jerusalem: Portrait of the City in the Second Temple Period (538 BCE-70 CE) (Philadelphia, PA.: Jewish Publication Society, 2002), Pp. xviii, 486. Hardcover. ISBN: 0827607504. $ 45.

Those who appreciate any incarnation of Joachim Jeremias' more focused Jerusalem zur Zeit Jesu (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1962) will welcome this more accessible, expanded and updated study of Jerusalem. As a "completely revised and greatly expanded version of a more popular" Hebrew edition (p. xi), the text is quite easily read. Statements here or there are the exceptions: "Assemblages of pottery were been found (sic) on the eastern slope..." p. 26); or, "...presented chronologically, it seems that that (sic) the king undertook this project..." (p. 199).

The text is divided into three major parts: "From Cyrus to the Hasmoneans;" "Herodian Jerusalem" and "The First Century C.E." Part I is further divided into three chapters pertaining to the Persian, Hellenistic and Hasmonean Eras respectively while Part II is divided into more specific chapters covering "The Historical Dimension," "The Urban Landscape," "The Temple and Temple Mount" and "Jerusalem in the Greco-Roman Orbit: The Extent and Limitations of Cultural Fusion." Similarly, Part III is divided into chapters covering "The Historical Dimension," "The Urban Configuration," "Social Stratification," "Religious Ambience" and "The Destruction of Jerusalem (66-70 C. E.)." There is an impressive Bibliography, a helpful Glossary of over sixty largely ancient or transliterated terms and a thorough Subject Index. However, some subjects like "Elephantine" (pp. 34-35) or "'Aqedah" (p. 41, listed in the glossary) as well as many of the cities, towns or villages included in the text's maps are not present in this index. Despite the heavy use of Scripture and other texts, there are no indices for Scripture or related literature.

According to the author, the objective for the book was to "focus on the 600 years of the Second Temple period by tracing the city's urban, demographic, topographical and archaeological components, replete with its unusual variety of political regimes, public institutions, socioreligious groupings, and cultural and religious frameworks" (p. xiii). With such a comprehensive "focus," it is not too surprising to find the discussion shift between interpretations of texts and other artifacts. So, for example, during the presentation of the "Hasmonean Era," one reads not only of the great deal of territory added to the city (pp. 106-109), but also about ideological distinctions between Jerusalem's Pharisees and Sadducees (pp. 124-130).

Overall, Part I is somewhat thin. Levine covers the years 539-63 B.C.E. with as much discussion (about 150 pages) as that given to Herodian Jerusalem (Part II) or the Jerusalem of the first century C.E. (Part III). While there is less data from which to draw, Lee does not explore or debate as much as he does in the really masterful work of Parts II and III. Instead, Part I is often a mix of interpreting Scripture (canonical or otherwise) and Josephus. Similarly, three-fourths of the one hundred pages covering the Hellenistic and Hasmonean Eras quote Josephus and/or Maccabees. While the tendentiousness and hence reliability of such texts is here and there mentioned (for example, pp. 126, 179, 223, 302 and 408), they are nevertheless quite the sources. For readers familiar with biblical criticism, this discussion may seem unnecessary or may even detract from other insights. For those unfamiliar with differing methods appropriate for interpreting literature vs. non-textual artifacts, however, the texts can appear as source worthy as unearthed broad walls. Incidentally, Eastern Orthodox readers of Part I will be surprised to hear I Esdras is "apocryphal" (p. 20) as will Roman Catholics pause when reading Tobit (p. 139) is apocryphal.

Parts II and III continue to refer to texts from Josephus, the rabbis, or other Scripture. However, information here is heavily augmented by other studies. The pace and presentation in Parts II and II are quite engaging as, for example, one reads about the key historical points in Rome's influence over Jerusalem as well everything from Herod's building projects to his family intrigue and political maneuvering. Levine's expertise with the material covered in the last two parts of the text will be quite appealing and justifies attention by both scholars and history buffs.

Finally, the dust jacket's assertion that "readers will find helpful the many photos, maps and illustrations..." is only partially true. Some photos (for example the stone weight of Figure 91) are very helpful and interesting. Others are not. For example, Figure 6: "Yehud's borders," offers no key to explain why two cities (Gezer and 'En Gedi) are marked by dots or Mitzpah is marked by a star enclosed by a square while two dozen other cities are marked by stars alone. Figures 7 and 13 are approximately 2--inch square pictures of bullae and jar handles no one of which can be seen with any clarity. Figures 8 and 35 are similarly sized maps that show Palestine and the Nabataean Empire respectively and with some of the names reduced to a blur and difficult to read. Other figures are dark and lack contrast (for example, Figures 15 and 100), as if poor reprints of the much higher quality graphics from the earlier Hebrew language edition.

Ken Stenstrup
St. Mary's University of Minnesota