Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 7 (2007) - Review

Oded Lipschits, The Fall and Rise of Jerusalem: Jerusalem under Babylonian Rule (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2005). Pp. xiv + 472. Cloth, US$47.50. ISBN 1-57506-095-7.

This work is a revised and updated version of a Hebrew edition published in 2004, and reviewed in volume 5 (2004-5) of this journal by Michael Avioz . The Hebrew edition is a revision of a doctoral dissertation written under the direction of Nadav Na'aman and submitted to the Tel Aviv University in January 1997. The English edition is the definitive edition of the work. It was the subject of a session at the SBL History of the Persian Period Literature Group. The contents of that session are reflected in an article in this journal, namely David Vanderhooft (ed.) “In Conversation with Oded Lipschits, The Fall and Rise of Jerusalem (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2005),JHS 7 (2007). The book itself consists of five chapters bounded by a short introduction and summary and relevant front and back matter.

The first chapter is a historical review of the geopolitical situation through the Babylonian-Egyptian conflict in 609–605 BCE. Lipschits carefully traces the collapse of the Assyrian Empire, the rise of the Babylonian kingdom and the Saite dynasty in Egypt, and the competing strategic interests of the Babylonians and the Egyptians in the wake of the collapse. The historical reconstruction is very well written and argued, making it very enjoyable to read aesthetically and intellectually.

The second chapter continues the narrative of the first chapter, discussing the ongoing conflict between Babylon and Egypt, the early rule of Babylon over Judah, the fall of Jerusalem, and then a critical presentation of the biblical evidence concerning Babylonian rule in Judah from 586 to 538 BCE. Again, the historical reconstruction is well written and argued. The breadth of material that Lipschits handles is impressive and his footnotes in this chapter, and those that follow, are extensive and even by themselves make this book very useful.

The third chapter is a demographic and geopolitical analysis of the borders of Judah. Lipschits analyzes the evidence for the borders of Judah in the Iron Age, Persian period, and Hellenistic period and then argues for a geopolitical evolution. He argues for an essential continuity in the borders through the periods and so argues that the Babylonians largely created and maintained the administrative system that emerged in the Persian period. The discussion could have been improved with greater attention to Nabonidus and possible implications for Judah of his campaigns in Arabia. The chapter includes an extensive discussion of the lists in Ezra-Nehemiah as well as an archaeological analysis of settlement patterns, the distribution of fortresses and seals and stamped jar handles, and the evidence for Edomite presence in the Negev.

The fourth chapter discusses and analyzes the material culture of Palestine in the Babylonian period and concludes with another demographic analysis of Judah. In light of the title of the book, it is disappointing that Lipschits does not spend more time assessing the archaeological data for Jerusalem. Footnotes 104-106 might easily have provided the basis for such a discussion. Another conspicuous drawback of this chapter is the absence of pottery plates or photographs in support of the ceramic analysis. Nevertheless, on the whole, the chapter provides a valuable and important contribution concerning the period in question. Most importantly, Lipschits does not take Avi Ofer's publications of the survey data at face value and has valuably consulted the raw data in order to reach more judicious conclusions (see especially p. 231, fn. 169).

The fifth chapter recapitulates much of the historical discussion of chapter two, though this time with a view to the composition of the relevant biblical narratives and the nature of biblical historiography more generally. It is a somewhat frustrating chapter in that its purpose is not immediately apparent and indeed its overall contribution to the subject seems limited. It is especially here that I would have expected attention to the literary presentations of Jerusalem in the Babylonian period (or later) texts rather than a compositional argument concerning the Deuteronomistic history and the book of Jeremiah.

My chief criticisms of the book are not so much with what it states but what it does not state. First, Lipschits is almost entirely concerned with political and military history and only superficially exploits the information in biblical and extra-biblical materials related to the economic reorganization of the area. This avenue could have been pursued and would have greatly enhanced the discussion of Babylonian rule. Second, Ezekiel, Lamentations, and Habakkuk are not exploited to their potential. For example, Ezekiel 27 could have added substantially to a discussion of the economy of the Levant in the period and so Neo-Babylonian policy in the region. Third, Lipschits never provides a detailed analysis of the literary portraits of Jerusalem in the biblical texts in order to elucidate the different theological and ideological perspectives on the city, its destruction, or life in the city after the destruction. While the literary portraits do not always provide reliable political and military information, they do provide access to elite representation and ideologies current in the communities after the destruction. This is valuable historical insight in its own right and could have been contrasted with Lipschits'shistorical reconstruction of the political and military events or compared with the presentation and interpretation of other city destructions in Near Eastern literature. The absence of this information, in turn, highlights one of the ironic characteristics of the work, namely that it is primarily a discussion of Judah and Benjamin rather than Jerusalem in particular and so might more aptly be titled, The Fall and Rise of Judah.

Most of my criticisms, however, should not so much reflect negatively on the book but rather point to Lipschits'sability to stimulate and encourage critical reflection and my desire to have seen him deal as judiciously with the topics he omits as he does with the topics he explores. Overall, Lipschits has created an exceedingly valuable and insightful book that will undoubtedly remain one of the essential works of scholarship on Judah in the Neo-Babylonian period.

Ken Ristau, Penn State University