Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 6 (2006) - Review

Lisbeth S. Fried, The Priest and the Great King: Temple-Palace Relations in the Persian Empire (Biblical and Judaic Studies, Vol. 10; Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2004). Pp. xvi + 266. Cloth, US$39.50. ISBN 1-57506-090-6.

In The Priest and the Great King, Lisbeth S. Fried addresses the general economic and political statuses of local priesthoods in the Persian empire, and the effect that these had on temple-palace relationships (cf. p. 6). Understanding the role of temple officials from Babylonia, Egypt, Asia Minor, and Yehud, Fried proposes, should determine whether temple elites lost, maintained, or accrued power under the Persian empire.

The progression of Fried's chapters ([1] Introduction; [2] Temple-Palace Relations in Babylonia; [3] Temple-Palace Relations Egypt; [4] Temple-Palace Relations Asia Minor; [5] Temple-Palace Relations Yehud) follows the problem she intends to address: “Current scholarship holds that, as long as Jerusalem sent funds to Susa, the Persian administration was lax and nondirective, permitting the Jews to develop their own form of government according to their own traditions” (p. 2). Fried's concern over this problem reflects a growing movement in scholarship (especially biblical scholarship) that views the Persian empire as something other than a benevolent and disinterested entity.

She proposes to address the problem by applying three hypotheses: those of self-governance (pp. 2-3), Persian imperial authorization of local norms (pp. 3-4), and S. N. Eisenstadt's model of bureaucratic empires (her chosen model; pp. 4-5). Unfortunately, these hypotheses receive little attention—apart from a few wanton nods—throughout the rest of the book. The scrutinized evidence is the archival and inscriptional data from Babylonia, Egypt, Asia Minor, and Yehud.

In chapter 2, Fried sifts through the Neo-Babylonian- and Persian-period archives left at the Eanna temple in Uruk and the Ebabbar temple in Sippar. She provides an important and extensive discussion of officers and roles in the temples (or related to) and the relationships these had with the imperial government (Babylonian and Persian; cf. pp. 8-20). Fried concludes that the imperial government controlled the judicial system, the temple economies, and the temple resources generally. This demonstrates to her that the law of the state, not the religious ‘law’ of the local cult, governed local areas (cf. pp. 47-48).

In chapter 3, Fried analyzes a number of Egyptian hieroglyphic inscriptions, Demotic texts, the Elephantine papyri, and the texts of the well-known Greek historians. She concludes here that the state authorities (pharaohs, both Egyptian and Persian) maintained control over the judicial systems and over the local temples/cults. While she argues that Persian control in these areas is shown in several sources (Udjahorresnet's inscription [pp. 63-65]; various texts discussing Cambyses's conquest and desecration of Egyptian temples [cf. pp. 68-74]; and the Elephantine papyri [cf. pp. 86-106]), her conclusion appears to rest significantly on the Elephantine papyri. These papyri, she states, reveal the workings of the administrative and judicial roles of the satrap, of the governor, and of the garrison commander (cf. p. 95). Even still, the section on the impact of Achaemenid rule (pp. 63-92) is informative and illustrates how proactive the imperial administration was in its territories (compared to a generally held belief that the imperial government tended to be ‘hands off’).

At times, the other Egyptian evidence appears only loosely related to her main argument, whereupon Fried turns to the Elephantine papyri. To this reader, however, it is not clear within her presentation as to what extent the administrative situation in a Jewish mercenary colony reflected that of the larger Egyptian satrapy. Perhaps the roles and relationships of this evidence--and those that the evidence describes--could have been clarified with a stronger theory/method/model.

In chapter 4, Fried analyzes a sampling of inscriptions including Darius's letter to Gadatas, a border dispute between Miletus and Myus, an inscription from Sardis, a decree of Mylasa, the trilingual inscription from Xanthus, and other texts. From these she concludes there was no universal concern for foreign cults in the Persian empire, and that, for instance, priestly exemptions from taxes and corvée labor were exceptions to the rule (pp. 154-155). These inscriptions, together with the evidence from Babylonia and Egypt, Fried argues, confirm that local priesthoods and local elites lost power under the Persian empire (p. 155). Her argument in this chapter is less tightly integrated than those of the previous chapters on Babylonia and Egypt. Perhaps this is due to her evidence being only a few isolated texts that tend to focus on conflict resolution.

In the final chapter, Fried analyzes the biblical books of Ezra-Nehemiah, Haggai-Zechariah, and Second Isaiah, the writings of Josephus and other Greek historians, the Elephantine papyri, and various coins, bullae, and seals from Syria-Palestine. She draws two primary conclusions: (1) the model of imperial rule that she introduces in the chapters covering Babylonia, Egypt, and Asia Minor applies equally to Yehud; and (2) the model proposed by Eisenstadt is the best descriptor of Persian-period Yehud (p. 233). Her conclusion that Ezra 1-6 is an imperial temple-building account (pp. 158-183) does not avoid all question--due in part to the general questions that continue to plague the authenticity of the imperial decrees in Ezra and to the questions regarding the actual building date of the temple. I found also that her argument that the text of Nehemiah portrays the struggle of an imperial administrator against the landed aristocracy (cf. pp. 206-212) paralleled on many points M. Smith's 1971/1987 argument.

Without doubt, Fried comes armed with a breathless array of evidence. However, that evidence also poses a possible Achilles heel: she fails to present a strong theory/method/model through which to interpret it. Thus, it is easy for the reader to become lost within the encyclopedic collection of primary texts. While Fried offers brief and sporadic references to the hypotheses mentioned in her introduction, they seemingly exist only for gratuitous confirmation of already-had conclusions (cf. p. 106). Nowhere does she devote any adequate space to telling her readers what Eisenstadt's model is, how she in particular is using it, and how it interprets the evidence covered. Neither does she adequately demonstrate why the other hypotheses fail.

Nevertheless, Fried's important study demands that future scholarship give lucid attention to the power of the Persian imperial government over its provinces—even over local temples, which is of pertinent interest for investigations covering Persian-period Yehud. I find this work to be an important one of which serious scholars should take careful notice

Jeremiah Cataldo, Drew University