Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 10 (2010) - Review

Levine, Lee I. and Daniel R. Schwartz, (eds.), Jewish Identities in Antiquity: Studies in Memory of Menahem Stern (TSAJ, 130; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2009). Pp. xxv + 442. Hardcover, € 119.00, ISBN 978-3-16-150030-5.

This volume offers papers delivered at a conference in memory of Menahem Stern eighteen years after his tragic death. The event was convened in June 2007 at Hebrew University, Jerusalem, with two public evening sessions at Yad Izhak Ben Zvi. Eighteen was chosen as the interval of years from Stern's passing because it aptly represents the numerical value of חי, ‘living’ (v).

The theme “Jewish Identities in Antiquity” was chosen for its ability to embrace the myriad developments that occurred in Jewish history over the millennium or so covered by the contributors. It “stems from the recognition,” writes co-editor Lee Levine in his Introduction, “that Jewish life and society in the thousand-year period from Alexander's conquest in the fourth century b.c.e. to the Arab conquest of the seventh century c.e. underwent countless changes, both sudden and gradual” (xv). After an homage to Stern's fidelity to the philological-historical method by co-editor Daniel Schwartz (“Menahem Stern [1924–1989]: His Place in Historical Scholarship”) and an overarching hypothesis on the dynamics affecting early Israelite-Jewish identity by Levine (“Jewish Identities in Antiquity: An Introductory Essay”), this theme is engaged by participants in three chronologically circumscribed sections. In the first, untitled in the volume, are papers treating issues that emerge in the Hellenistic, Hasmonean, and Roman periods of the Second Commonwealth: Doron Mendels, “Memory and Memories: The Attitude of 1–2 Maccabees toward Hellenization and Hellenism”; Oren Tal, “Hellenism in Transition from Empire to Kingdom: Changes in the Material Culture of Hellenistic Palestine”; David Goodblatt, “‘The Israelites who reside in Judah’ (Judith 4:1): On the Conflicted Identities of the Hasmonean State”; Uriel Rappaport, “The Connection between Hasmonean Judaea and the Diaspora”; Erich Gruen, “Kinship Relations and Jewish Identity”; Silvie Honigman, “Jewish Communities of Hellenistic Egypt: Different Responses to Different Environments”; Joseph Geiger, “The Jew and the Other: Doubtful and Multiple Identities in the Roman Empire”; and Albert Baumgarten, “How Experiments End.”

In the second section three contributions (with an Introduction by Isaiah Gafni) are drawn from a symposium in the conference titled “In the Wake of the Destruction: Was Rabbinic Judaism Normative?”: Hillel Newman, “The Normativity of Rabbinic Judaism: Obstacles on the Path to a New Consensus”; Ze'ev Safrai and Chana Safrai Z''L, “To What Extent Did the Rabbis Determine Public Norms? The Internal Evidence”; and David Levine, “Between Leadership and Marginality: Models for Evaluating the Role of the Rabbis in the Early Centuries CE.” Two more in this section deal with questions of pre- to post-70 c.e. continuity: Moshe David Herr, “The Identity of the Jewish People Before and After the Destruction of the Second Temple: Continuity or Change?” and Steven Fraade, “The Temple as a Marker of Jewish Identity Before and After 70 CE: The Role of the Holy Vessels in Rabbinic Memory and Imagination.”

Essays in the third section consider matters of Late Antiquity. Three (with another introduction by Lee Levine) derive from a forum titled “Was There a Crisis in Jewish Settlement in the Eastern Galilee of Late Antiquity?” in which Uzi Leibner and Jodi Magness debated the third and fourth century c.e. implications of Leibner's archaeological-demographic survey of Eastern Galilee: Leibner, “Settlement Patterns in the Eastern Galilee: Implications Regarding the Transformation of Rabbinic Culture in Late Antiquity”; Magness, “Did Galilee Experience a Settlement Crisis in the Mid-Fourth Century?”; and Leibner again, “The Settlement Crisis in the Eastern Galilee during the Late Roman and Early Byzantine Periods: Response to Jodi Magness.” Five more papers in this section tackle other topics from this period: Tessa Rajak, “The Greek Bible Translations among Jews in the Second Century CE”; I. Gafni, “How Babylonia Became ‘Zion’: Shifting Identities in Late Antiquity”; Adiel Schremer, “The Christianization of the Roman Empire and Rabbinic Literature”; Zeev Weiss, “Between Rome and Byzantium: Pagan Motifs in Synagogue Art and Their Place in the Judaeo-Christian Controversy”; Oded Irshai, “Jewish Violence in the Fourth Century CE—Fantasy and Reality: Behind the Scenes under the Emperors Gallus and Julian.” Articles by Lee Levine, Honigman, Leibner and Weiss are enhanced with eleven illustrations; for reference the editors have completed the volume with indices of sources and scholars.

If these contributions are measured by the degree of theoretical and methodological awareness through which they broach early Jewish identity, they fall along a continuum. One is virtually framed on such awareness: Honigman's regionalization of Ptolemaic Egyptian Jewry through the prism of Fredrik Barth's “constructivist definition of ethnicity” (pp. 119–20). Several others, by contrast, simply apply traditional historical-philological techniques without giving such explicit attention to method: Rappaport's assay of the Hasmonean-Diaspora relationship, for instance, through the revisitation of Second Temple sources (e.g., the letters at the beginning of 2 Maccabees), literary production (the translation of Esther into Greek) and institutions (e.g., the half-shekel donation); or Weiss's case for the twofold Jewish posture to late Roman and early Christian art through a review of motifs (the zodiac, the 'Aqedah) and thematic patterns in synagogal mosaics of Late Antiquity. The remaining contributions can be plotted somewhere between these two types of approach.

One of the volume's core strengths lies in the plausible challenges that several of its contributors bring to commonly held views on the topics they engage. To give but a sample, Mendels on the minimal degree to which Hellenism affected the sources of 1–2 Maccabees; Gruen on Jews who identified with other societies “not as a compromise but as an enrichment of their self-esteem” (p. 116); Rajak on understanding the impetus behind Aquila's Greek Bible translation “within the cultural context of the Greek world that the Jews inhabited” (p. 322) rather than as a reaction to Christian adoption of the LXX; and Irshai on the “solely political context” (p. 409) of Jewish aggression in the Gallus revolt and on the essential lack of evidence for Jewish vandalism of church structures in the Julian riots. Taken with the targeted attention given to the issue of rabbinic normativity in the symposium, as well as the focus on third and fourth-century issues raised by Leibner's survey of Eastern Galilee in the forum, these essays (and others like them) render the volume, not only a fitting tribute to Professor Stern, but a significant benchmark for the study of early Jewish history and Judaism.

Michael Allen Daise, The College of William & Mary