Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 13 (2013) - Review

Harlow, Daniel C., Matthew J. Goff, Karina M. Hogan, and Joel S. Kaminsky (eds.), The “Other” In Second Temple Judaism: Essays In Honor of John J. Collins (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2011). Pp. 548. Hardcover. US$65.00. ISBN 978-0-80286-625-7.

The “Other” In Second Temple Judaism is a recent Festschrift celebrating the remarkable achievements of John J. Collins. The preface contains a list of doctoral dissertations supervised by Collins as well as a list of his publications from 1973 until 2010 (excluding over 200 book reviews and various articles of which he simply kept no record). It is evident that Collins's intellectual curiosity has led to the enrichment of several interrelated fields, each converging on the Second Temple period. In this volume, a total of twenty-seven essays are organized into five parts—Hebrew Bible, Wisdom Literature, Apocalypticism, Dead Sea Scrolls, and Jews among Greeks and Romans.

As indicated by the title, the reader will find reflections on the “Other” and consequently the “Self.” Notions of the Other and the Self play a crucial role in the formation of Jewish and Christian identity, ancient and modern. By addressing this important theme, the volume has its own momentum. It is inspired by Collins, but does not depend on his popularity.

The Festschrift's size permits only partial review of its contents. In the two paragraphs that follow, I provide a brief description of the five parts. After this, I single out several essays of particular interest.

The essays in “Part One: Hebrew Bible” (Kaminsky, Newsom, Berthelot, Niditch, Ackerman, Lim, Finitsis, Jacobs) explore notions of the Other in the context of Israel's chosenness and ethnic exceptionalism. “Part Two: Wisdom” (Hogan, Pinette, Goff, Adams, Harrington) focuses on the emergence of wisdom texts in the Second Temple period, which form a subtle undercurrent to mainstream tradition. In the presence of the Other, wisdom texts polemicize as well as exhort. “Part Three: Apocalypticism” (DiTommaso, Freyne, Nickelsburg, Raphael, Harlow) presents the Other against the backdrop of shifting biblical horizons. The Other is contextualized along the grand schemes of history, between creation and eschatology.

The contributions in “Part Four: The Dead Sea Scrolls” (Berg, VanderKam, Reymond, Chazon and Miller) probe the Qumran sectarian texts for articulations of self-understanding, which are often made in contradistinction from the Other. The belief that God's election is exclusive generates sectarian identity. “Part Five: Jews among Greeks and Romans” (Goodman, Gruen, Doran, Ahearne-Kroll, Kugler) engages the tortuous cultural milieu of late antiquity. A dominant theme emerges—the Other is not always “other” (i.e., antagonistic). A majority of Second Temple literature paints the Other as inimical. In the new socio-political climate of the Greco-Roman world, however, the marginal authors of this literature have become the Other.

Turning now to individual essays, Joel S. Kaminsky, in “Israel's Election and the Other in Biblical, Second Temple, and Rabbinic Thought,” explores how Judaism construes the Other as a means of self-definition. In discussing Israel's election theology, he places the Other (i.e., non-Israel) in two broad categories, (a) non-elect: the vast majority of foreigners who ultimately benefit from Israel's “elect” status, and (b) anti-elect: the traditional enemies of Israel. Kaminsky also argues that certain passages, in which God saves his people and destroys the enemy (e.g., Isa 65:13–15), eventuate in the DSS and the NT a “revisioning” of the three categories elect, non-elect, and anti-elect by means of dualistic lenses of those saved and lost to God (p. 22).

Carol A. Newsom, in “God's Other: The Intractable Problem of the Gentile King in Judean and Early Jewish Literature,” examines how “the varying symbolic strategies of elimination, domination, and assimilation are worked out in various texts to attempt to resolve the anxiety producing contradiction represented by the foreign king” (p. 36). Newsom provides a much needed discussion on the definitional and theoretical understanding of the term “Other.” She first entertains post-structural Lacanian usages—specular and symbolic. In an anthropological sense, this refers to “that person or group of people symbolically constructed as foreign or alien so as to serve as a definitional boundary for the self” (p. 34). Next, Newsom defines her use of the Other, building on E. Levinas's work Totality and Infinity.[1] Here, the Other is described as “that which is opposite to me…radically exterior…utterly transcendent, exceeding me” (p. 35). With reference to Fredric Jameson,[2] Newsom concludes that a literary text intends “to invent formal and imaginary solutions to unresolvable social contradictions” (p. 48). This strategy seeks to “encompass” the Other.

Matthew Goff's essay, “‘The Foolish Nation That Dwells in Shechem’: Ben Sira on Shechem and the Other Peoples in Palestine,” argues for the originality of the derogatory statement in Ben Sira 50:25–26: “My soul is disgusted by two nations, and the third is not even a people: those who live in Seir and Philistia, and the foolish nation that dwells in Shechem.” His argument is based on the following grounds: (1) The passage is consistent with what can be inferred about opinions regarding Shechem in the time of Ben Sira. (2) These verses accord with the negative attitude that Ben Sira exhibits throughout the book towards the non-Judean people of Palestine, especially in the “Praise of the Fathers.” (3) Ben Sira's praise of the high priest Simon in 50:1–24, who leads worship at the Jerusalem Temple, has a natural counterpart in an ad hoc slur against Samaritans, who worship at Mount Gerizim (pp. 174–5).

Samuel L. Adams begins his essay, “Poverty and Otherness in Second Temple Instructions,” with discussion on Sir 13:23, focusing on the preferential treatment of the rich and neglect of the poor. Adams describes a transition that he claims fundamentally altered the wisdom tradition, when “[l]ess privileged persons, like the struggling fellow in Ben Sira's illustration, began to engage in sapiential discourse” (p. 190). Examining 4QInstruction (1Q26; 4Q415–418, 423), Adams points to the tension between wisdom traditions and the economy. He states, “[V]arious sages continued to struggle with an appropriate response to material holdings, especially the longstanding association between divine favor and material success” (p. 192). In Adam's essay, the poor and marginalized are the Other.

Daniel J. Harrington, in “Transcending Death: The Reasoning of the ‘Others’ and the Afterlife Hopes in Wisdom 1–6,” builds on 1974 essay of Collins “Apocalyptic Eschatology as the Transcendence of Death.”[3] Harrington summarizes, “[F]ear of ultimate loss in death is countered by hope for a form of life that transcends death. And this hope in turn gives the freedom needed to respond properly to the demands of wisdom and righteousness in the present” (p. 204). Harrington's essay is articulate and well written. In conclusion, he emphasizes the meaning of baptism in connection to resurrection.

George W. E. Nickelsburg's essay, “The We and the Other in the Worldview of 1 Enoch, The Dead Sea Scrolls, and Other Early Jewish Texts,” illustrates how the authors of these texts describe reality in terms of the “counterposition and interaction of the We and the Other” (p. 261). In 1QHa, for example, the author is unable to define himself without reference to the Other (p. 272). Nickelsburg suggests that both 1 Enoch and the Qumran Scrolls share a polarizing worldview, and characterize the Other as oppressor, conqueror, or religious opponent (p. 270).

Daniel C. Harlow, in “Idolatry and Alterity: Israel and the Nations in the Apocalypse of Abraham,” explores the influence of idolatry and monolatry on each other in the history of biblical thought. He states, “Just as changing conceptions about God gave rise to different notions of idolatry, so differing ideas about idolatry shaped the Jewish understanding of God” (p. 303). Harlow suggests that the Apocalypse of Abraham could have been read as a polemic against Jewish artisans making and selling idols, “with the eponymous hero of the tale serving as exemplar” (p. 330).

Shane Berg's essay, “Religious Epistemology and the History of the Dead Sea Scrolls Community,” shows that attending to “questions of religious epistemology” (i.e., the construction and legitimation of “claims about knowledge”) is fruitful for thinking about the history of the community and the rise of the teacher (p. 334). Berg argues, for example, that in the Hodayot one can find evidence of a “dramatic transformation” in epistemological perspective (p. 334).

James C. Vanderkam, in “The Wicked Priest Revisited,” proposes that greater clarity on the Priest's historical identity will result from (1) collecting every reference, (2) discarding rhetorical, generic, stereotypical, or polemic uses, and (3) using those left for the purposes of historical identification (p. 353). VanderKam accepts the theory that the Wicked Priest was also the High Priest. This is suggested, in part, by the word play between הראש הכוהן and הרשע הכוהן in 1QpHab 1.13 (note also the word play between the terms הון and עון, pp. 356–57). Furthermore, he argues that the verb משל is not used to describe the activity of a king, and thus rules out Alexander Jannaeus as the Wicked Priest. This argument is plausible if one assumes that משל in 1QpHab has a semantic-historical correlation. The situation is ambiguous, however, because משל is also a word play.

Eric D. Reymond, in “Poetry of the Heavenly Other: Angelic Praise in the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice,” explores syntactic features of angelic language in the Songs (4Q400–407). He draws implications from the Testament of Job, in which his daughters sing in angelic dialects. In both Songs and Testament of Job, Reymond focuses on the author's reticence to divulge what the angels are saying. Reymond's discussion of Otherness revolves around this concept. He states, “The fact that the daughters' texts are not quoted functions, among other things, to underline the Otherness of their poetry, that it is of a character totally different from the more human poems and dirges by other characters within T. Job” (p. 369).

Martin Goodman's “Romans, Jews, and Christians on the Names of the Jews,” investigates the function of naming within the Greco-Roman milieu. He highlights the burgeoning diversity and conflict between religious groups. Goodman suggests that it is important to avoid ascribing “essential” meanings to words (as words take on different meanings in different contexts). He concentrates, rather, on the “shifting connotations of the names used to refer to the Jews during the first two centuries c.e.” (p. 392). Furthermore, he argues that terminological shifts and consequent reification of identity boundaries between Jews and Christians take effect after 135 c.e., after Gentile Christians are unwilling to be called Jews.

Erich S. Gruen, in “Jews and Greeks as Philosophers: A Challenge to Otherness,” reviews the traditional identification of Gentiles as the Other in Jewish and biblical history. He remarks, “The Hellenistic period witnessed a far more complex and ambivalent relationship between Jews and Gentiles…than conventional dualities would suggest” (p. 403). He concludes by demonstrating the mutual regard, at least on a philosophical level, shared by Jews and Greeks.

Robert Doran, in “The Persecution of Judeans by Antiochus IV: The Significance of ‘Ancestral Laws,’” draws attention to the unusual events surrounding the Maccabean crisis. He explores the sequence of events—revolt followed by persecution—but posits that the inverse is equally plausible. In discussing the attempt to extirpate Sabbath observance, dietary practice, and circumcision, Doran suggests that these were not attacks on Judaism per se, but the consequence of obstructing the advancement of Greek nomos (p. 432).

Robert A. Kugler, in “Dispelling an Illusion of Otherness? Judicial Practice in the Heracleopolis Papyri,” contends that many Jews opted for simple lives, and therefore fell in line with the dominant Egyptian judicial structures. This was the path of least resistance. He states, “At least in terms of legal practice, Judean Otherness was not so certain” (p. 457). Kugler shows that these papyri demonstrate much in common with the literature of Hellenistic-Egyptian neighbors. He also shows that they were conscious “of ways in which they were not like their neighbors” (p. 469). Kugler concludes in consonance with many of the well-written essays in this volume—the characterization of the Other is often more nuanced (positive/negative, flat/round) in Jewish and Christian tradition than the focus on any one particular expression would suggest.

This volume covers an impressive sweep of Second Temple history and literature. Few areas are left untouched. The reader will, however, need to look elsewhere for at least two matters. First, the volume lacks an essay on the extensive Persian imperial and cultural influences on Second Temple Judaism, particularly the religious currents of Zoroastrianism and/or dualism, which may contribute to the epitomization of the Other. Second, the reader will not find a consistent working definition of the “Other.” The most helpful discussion is provided by Newsom, which serves the volume well as it is near the beginning. Still, the inconsistency can be felt. The reader is left with the task of discerning the implicit function of the term in each essay. Some contributors address the Other only tangentially.

At any rate, the lack of a cogent definition may be analogous to the semantic diversity reflected in the primary literature. It certainly mirrors the shifting, polyvalent, and nuanced function of the Other in the imaginative and creative process of identity formation in early Judaism. Overall, Collins's erudition has left an indelible mark on the fields related to this period, each shaped in some way by his prolific career. The processes of Jewish and Christian identity formation, and the intricate socio-literary dynamics involved are more visible, more transparent thanks to his scholarship.

Anthony R. Meyer, McMaster University

[1] Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority (trans. Alfonso Lengis; Philosophical Series, 24; Pittsburg: Duquesne University Press, 1969). reference

[2] Fredric Jameson, The Political Unconscious (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1981). reference

[3] John J. Collins, “Apocalyptic Eschatology as the Transcendence of Death,” CBQ 36 (1974), 21–43. reference