Academic journal article The Jewish Quarterly Review

Mediterranean Exchanges: A Response to Seth Schwartz's Were the Jews a Mediterranean Society?

Academic journal article The Jewish Quarterly Review

Mediterranean Exchanges: A Response to Seth Schwartz's Were the Jews a Mediterranean Society?

Article excerpt

If YOU have THE OCCASION to read Seth Schwartz's most recent book, don't make the mistake that I did and assume that the word "Mediterranean" refers to a body of water. There is nothing here about seafaring, trade routes, or piracy. The term "Mediterranean" as Schwartz uses it is a reference not so much to a specific locale but to a certain way of doing history, an approach associated with Fernand Braudel's The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of ? h 'dip II (Paris, 1949). The scholarship inspired by Braudel's work seeks to understand the history of the various peoples living around the Mediterranean, but what has come to distinguish it is not its focus on the Mediterranean Sea per se but an ecological/anthropological approach that stresses the factors that held otherwise diverse peoples together in a shared transethnic, transreligious culture - the ethos and social practices they held in common, and the lines of connection that cut across their linguistic, geographical, and religious differences. What Schwartz is really asking through his title is: "What can Mediterraneanbm tell us about ancient Jewish society?" - a question that may make this book less appealing for those readers hoping for another book about Jewish pirates or port Jews, but which gives Schwartz an opportunity to explore early Jewish sociology, how Jews in the Second Temple period and Late Antiquity related to one another and to others they encountered in the Greco-Roman Mediterranean.

To understand Schwartz's project, then, we have to understand what he means by Mediterraneanism. The term "Mediterranean," as the classicist Susan Alcock has noted, has become fashionable in academic circles of the last two decades - a number of serials now bear it as a title or subtitle - and it bears a variety of meanings and connotations.1 What Schwartz has in mind is the approach exemplified by Peregrine Horden and Nicholas Purcell in the The Corrupting Sea (2000), an ambitious eighthundred-page effort to establish the unity of premodern Mediterranean culture prior to the period that Braudel covers.2 Much of The Corrupting Sea is engaged in historical ecology, a description of landscape, vegetation, flood patterns, and other environmental variables that helped to shape Mediterranean culture, but that part of their approach is largely irrelevant to Schwartz's study, which makes only a few perfunctory references to the climate and geography of the Mediterranean; for him, the Mediterranean isn't really a place but a heuristic model, and the question of how its distinctive topography and ecology might have shaped early Jewish culture is almost completely irrelevant to what he is trying to do. What Schwartz does take from Mediterranianism is its preoccupation with "connectivity," Hordern and Purcell's term for the pathways, literal and metaphorical, that linked the peoples of the Mediterranean across distance and cultural difference. Connectivity often refers to the roads, navies, and other conduits that directly connect far-flung places, but it also encompasses what Alain Bresson calls "virtual connectivity," international, transcultural behaviors that facilitate trade, diplomacy, and other kinds ol interaction and exchange. 3 The locus ol Were the Jeu\< a Mediterranean Society? is precisely the virtual connectivity that linked ancient Jews to the Greco-Roman Mediterranean world - the gift-giving and other forms of ritualized generosity used in the period to develop and sustain relationships of reciprocity, allegiance, and dependence.

The form of connectivity of most interest to Schwartz is what classicists refer to as euergetism, a very rough equivalent to what we refer to as philanthropy, "private liberality for the public good," in the words of the classicist Paul Veyne. The term is a neologism of modern scholarship, derived from the wording of Hellenistic decrees honoring persons who "do good to the city" (euergetein ten polin) through some donation of resources or act of public service. …

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