Jews in the Hellenistic and Roman Cities

By John R. Bartlett | Go to book overview

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INTRODUCTION

Studying the Jewish Diaspora in antiquity

Sean Freyne

The essays collected here seek to make a contribution to the study of the Jewish Diaspora in the ancient world, a topic that is of interest to scholars in many fields - historians of Judaism and early Christianity, archaeologists, epigraphists, Greek and Roman historians and historical sociologists interested in issues of ethnicity and identity. These papers were first delivered in spring 1997 at a conference organised under the auspices of the Consultative Committee for the Bible and the Ancient Near East in the Royal Irish Academy. The long delay since the conference would normally disqualify its papers from publication. Yet the conference committee is of the considered opinion - one happily shared by very understanding publishers - that the papers can still make an important contribution to an area that has not received the attention it deserves from students of Second Temple Judaism.

There are many factors that contribute to this relative neglect of Jewish Diaspora studies in antiquity, not least the scarcity of literary sources other than for Egypt. Yet one suspects this is not the only reason for their subordinate position within the burgeoning field of studies of Second Temple Judaism. These have been concentrated largely on the homeland, because of political reasons to do with the modern state of Israel, but also because of the amount and nature of the data that have been amassed within that milieu over the past half-century. The excitement generated by the Dead Sea Scrolls and their publication, and the intense interest in the archaeological data from Galilee, are just two examples of particular interests, important though they may be, setting, and to an extent skewing, the scholarly agenda. By contrast, the new data for the Diaspora have received much less attention, confined as they are for the most part to inscriptions and some limited archaeological evidence.

Perhaps also the very idea of the Diaspora as representing a painful experience for Jews of later centuries, felt most keenly in our own time because of the attempted extermination of European Jewry in the Holocaust, has cast a dark shadow over our perceptions of the Diaspora in earlier times also. As a topic for research, therefore, it inevitably had much less appeal for Jewish scholars. Studies such as those of Salo Baron, and more recently, Louis

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