Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 5 (2004-2005) - Review

Oded Lipschits and Joseph Blenkinsopp, eds., Judah and the Judeans in the Neo-Babylonian Period (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2003).  Pp. xii + 612. Cloth. ISBN 1575060736. US$49.50.

            The material in this volume is the result of an international conference held at the University of Tel Aviv, 29-31 May, 2001, entitled, Judah and the Judeans in the Neo-Babylonian Period.   The goal was to bring together scholars from different specializations to discuss various aspects of the history and culture of the Neo-Babylonian kingdom and its relationship with Judah and the Jewish population.  This period has often been considered a dark age in Jewish history, an idea that must be revised in part because of this book.  There are five sections in the book, each containing between two and five papers each. 

The first section centers on the ideas of Hans Barstad (The Myth of the Empty Land: A Study in the History and Archaeology of Judah during the ‘Exilic’ Period.  Oslo: Scandinavian University Press, 1996) and the myth of an uninhabited Palestine after the invasion of Nebuchadnezzar II in 586 B.C.E.  He clarifies and updates his article in this volume (‘After the Myth of the Empty Land: Major Challenges in the Study of Neo-Babylonian Judah’), concluding that the land of Judah operated in much the same way after 586 as it had before.  L. Fried (‘The Land Lay Desolate: Conquest and Restoration in the Ancient Near East’) claims that the land was drastically changed since now both temple and palace were removed, and that the residents of Judah did not start the temple rebuilding until after the vessels were brought back from Babylon.  B. Oded (‘Where is the “Myth of the Empty Land” to be Found? History versus Myth’) argues, similar to Fried, that there was a marked decline in population in the region.  S. Japhet (‘Periodization: Between History and Ideology: The Neo-Babylonian Period in Biblical Historiography’) uniquely theorizes that the biblical writers exhibited somewhat of a comparative indifference towards this period. 

The second section (‘Cult, Priesthood, and Temple’) contains articles concerning information (or lack thereof) about the religious system after the conquest.  J. Blenkinsopp (‘Bethel in the Neo-Babylonian Period’) sees Bethel as an alternate sanctuary in this period while Y. Hoffman (‘The Fasts in the Book of Zechariah and the Fashioning of National Remembrance’) provides material from which to understand the fasts in Zechariah.  The next three contributors attempt to make a case that various exilic and post-exilic biblical texts mirror inner-Judean politics and conflicts (G. Knoppers, ‘The Relationship of the Priestly Genealogies to the History of the High Priesthood in Jerusalem’, Y. Amit, ‘Epoch and Genre: The Sixth Century and Growth’, and D. Edelman, ‘Gibeon and the Gibeonites Revisited’).

            The third section (‘Military and Governmental Aspects’) has articles by R. Sack (‘Nebuchadnezzar II and the Old Testament: History and Ideology’), D. Vanderhooft (‘Babylonian Strategies of Imperial Control in the West: Royal Practice and Rhetoric’), who take opposite sides concerning whether the Babylonians continued the Assyrian policies of statecraft.  Sack argues for continuity, Vanderhooft against.  J. Betlyon (‘Neo-Babylonian Military Operations Other than War’) exposes the weaknesses of Babylonian policies towards its conquered peoples, and A. Lemaire (‘Nabonidus in Arabia and Judah in the Neo-Babylonian Period’), describes new documents pertaining to Nabonidus.

The fourth section (‘The Sixth Century B.C.E.: Archaeological Perspectives’) has four contributions.  C. Carter (‘Ideology and Archaeology in the Neo-Babylonian Period: Excavating Text and Tell’) claims that the paucity of archaeological material for this period does not argue for or against the ‘empty land’ theory.  O. Lipschits (‘Demographic Changes in Judah Between the Seventh and Fifth Centuries B.C.E.’) posits that the land lost about 65-70% of the population during the exile.  A. Zertal (‘The Province of Samaria [Assyrian Samerina] in the Late Iron Age [Iron Age III])’ believes that Samaria was the administrative capital during this period, and J. Zorn (‘Tell en-Nasbeh and the Problem of the Material Culture of the Sixth Century’) sheds light on this important site during this period. 

The last section (‘Exiles and Foreigners in Egypt and Babylonia’) has two articles: B. Porten (‘Settlement of the Jews at Elephantine and the Arameans at Syrene’) contends that the Elephantines were descended from the northern tribes, and R. Zadok (‘The Representation of Foreigners in Neo- and Late-Babylonian Legal Documents [Eighth through Second Centuries B.C.E.])’ compiles a massive amount of evidence for West Semites in Mesopotamia during the first millennium. 

            The book has a tremendous wealth of data and interpretive research, and thus will no doubt be a focal point in future discussions and research concerning the early part of the Jewish Exile, which has also now been addressed by R. Albertz (Israel in Exile: The History and Literature of the Sixth Century B.C.E. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 2003).  The editors are to be commended for their labors. 

Mark W. Chavalas
University of Wisconsin-La Crosse