The Cambridge History of Judaism. Volume 3: The Early Roman Period

By Lapin, Hayim | Shofar, Summer 2002 | Go to article overview

The Cambridge History of Judaism. Volume 3: The Early Roman Period


Lapin, Hayim, Shofar


edited by William Horbury, W. D. Davies, and John Sturdy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. 1254 pp. $140.00.

This latest and long-delayed volume of the Cambridge History of Judaism is a welcome addition to the growing list of reference works on ancient Judaism. As books go, this one is more difficult to review than most. It is quite long, the individual chapters, frequently quite technical, are written by specialists, and it lacks the editorial coherence of the 1973-1987 revision of E. Schürer, History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ (rev. ed. G. Vermes, et al. [Edinburgh: T&T Clark]) to which (along with its companions in the series) the present volume otherwise invites comparison. It has also been long in the making. Volumes 1 and 2 of the series appeared in 1984 and 1989 respectively, and it appears that at least some of the contributions were submitted by the early 1980s. As a whole, this volume appears to be organized into the following clusters of chapters: archaeology (Chapters 1-4), including a chapter on inscriptions; the history of Jews and Palestine from 63 BCE to 70 CE (Chapters 5-7); the synagogue (Chapters 9-12); groups, parties, and movements of (or attributed to) Jews, and two individual writers (Josephus and Philo) (Chapters 13-28); and a final assortment of chapters that extends some topics (rabbis, the diaspora, and magic and gnosticism) into the post-70 period (Chapters 29, 30, 32, see also Chapter 8), but also includes a chapter on "The Legacy of Egypt in Judaism" (Chapter 31).

While the book is an important acquisition for even basic reference collections in Jewish studies, a few words of warning to the unsuspecting reader are in order. The lack of editorial coherence leaves room for some unexpected results. One gets a better discussion of "The Hellenistic-Roman Diaspora CE 70 to CE 235," as such, in the chapter by Williams on the significance of inscriptions (Chapter 4) and in Horbury's contribution on "Women in the Synagogue" (Chapter 12) than in Levine's chapter by that title, which is for the most part focused more narrowly (and quite informatively) on diaspora synagogues than on the history of Jews in the diaspora. And the chapters on Philo and Josephus (Chapters 28, 29), although presumably conceived of in parallel with one another when first assigned, approach their respective subjects rather differently.

The variety of authors also makes for occasionally rather sharp, and undersignposted, differences of opinion, of which I highlight one particularly prominent set. Readers who have followed the controversies over the interpretation of the Dead Sea Scrolls in recent years will not be surprised to learn that Golb's contribution (Chapter 25) argues vigorously against precisely the kinds of views espoused by Campbell (Chapter 24). Muddying the waters for the uninitiated still further, while Campbell maintains a certain methodological distance from the identification of the Dead Sea sect with Essenes known from Josephus, Philo, and Pliny, Betz's chapter on Essenes (Chapter 15) simply assumes such identification. …

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