Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 8 (2008) - Review
In The Troubles of Templeless Judah, Jill Middlemas proposes to recover the history and the voice of the people of Judah who remained in the land after the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BCE. She approaches her subject first, through a critical summary of textual and archaeological evidence concerning the history and religion of Judah from 587 through 516 BCE (Chapters 1—3) and second, through a careful study of the theological and ideological underpinnings of four of the five poems of Lamentations (Chapter 4). The body of the work is complemented by an introduction that addresses the need for the present study as well as defines the literary corpus and historical period in which the work is situated; a conclusion that neatly summarizes the book; and an excellent bibliography, index of biblical references, subject index, and table of contents.
In the introduction, Middlemas observes that research on the period immediately following the destruction of the city and temple of Jerusalem has focused on the concerns and interpretation of the Golah rather than the people in the land. She notes that this likely results from the bias of the biblical texts and the relative lack of evidence that exists, textually and archaeologically, by which to resolve this problem. Her solution is a re-analysis of the historical and archaeological evidence and new readings of texts that might pertain to the people of the land, culminating in a reading of Lamentations, which she regards as the text that most plainly reflects the views of the people of the land.
In Chapter One, Middlemas provides a historical reconstruction of the early Neo-Babylonian period in Judah, primarily through a critical engagement with previous studies by David Vanderhooft, Oded Lipschits, Hans Barstad, Joel Weinberg, Rainer Albertz, Ephraim Stern, and Charles Carter. Her position is developed largely in opposition to David Vanderhooft as she favors a view that the Neo-Babylonians established a provincial administration, centered in Mizpah, which had economic viability, vis-à-vis Vanderhooft's position that the Neo-Babylonians did not support an imperial provincial administration.
In Chapter Two, Middlemas looks at biblical passages concerning idolatrous cults among the people of land in Judah. Her central claim in this chapter is that passages attributing idolatrous worship to the people of the land reflect an ideological and political bias. Interestingly, Middlemas does not commit to whether or not the claims have a factual basis, but her point, in any case, is that the worship of the people of the land exhibits considerable continuity with pre-exilic Judah and its condemnation by the Golah is purely subjective.
In Chapter Three, Middlemas examines evidence for ongoing Yahwistic worship in sixth-century Judah. She accepts that it is plausible, even probable, that Yahwistic worship continued at either the temple ruins in Jerusalem and/or at Bethel, but she also observes that most texts, particularly laments, attributed to the Neo-Babylonian period actually have an uncertain provenance. Middlemas also appropriately recognizes that lament in the biblical text reflects a broader ANE milieu and, therefore, cannot be simplistically related to historical events or, in its general or formal tendencies and themes, define the outlook of a particular group.
In Chapter Four, Middlemas analyzes four of the five poems of Lamentations to ascertain any unique beliefs and outlook that may characterize Judahite religion in contrast to Golah religion. She ultimately identifies five themes from Lamentations that she considers unique to Judahite religious expression (and therefore not present in Golah literature): (1) the concentration on the extent of unalleviated human suffering, (2) the explicit assertion of uncertainty in future possibilities, (3) a deconstruction of the efficacy of human sin [as an explanation for the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple], (4) the need to witness to pain through the vocalization of grief especially within worship, and (5) the forming of grief in such a way as to limit it and evoke a future orientation (p. 232).
The strength of Middlemas' work is the research presented in Chapter Four. Her method leads to productive conclusions that might distinguish Judahite religion from Golah religion and so provides an excellent foundation for the future research program she envisions, namely to apply her insights to a study of the Deuteronomistic History. The other parts of her work though are somewhat underwhelming as Middlemas rarely interacts directly with or brings to bear new primary sources and evidence but rather tends to summarize and evaluate secondary scholarship. As such, it might provide a useful introduction for people who are not well read in this area but it does not break any new ground and does not substantially inform the analysis in Chapter Four. For scholars of this historical period, it would suffice to read the conclusion, which is a wonderfully written, concise summary of the book, and Chapter Four, which provides an original contribution to the subject; and then, eagerly await Middlemas' future work, for she certainly reveals careful judgment and a creative mind that will continue to advance our knowledge of the Neo-Babylonian period in Judah as she has done here.