Negotiating Diaspora: Jewish Strategies in the Roman Empire

By Feldman, Louis H. | Shofar, Winter 2006 | Go to article overview

Negotiating Diaspora: Jewish Strategies in the Roman Empire


Feldman, Louis H., Shofar


Negotiating Diaspora: Jewish Strategies in the Roman Empire, edited by John M. G. Barclay. Library of Second Temple Studies, 45. London: T & T Clark International, 2004. 161 pp. $49.95.

This is a collection of six essays originally presented at a conference at the University of Glasglow in 2001. They are built around three themes: local and translocal identities, clarity and ambiguity in cultural expression, and power and the politics of representation as seen in Josephus' essay Against Apion. As Barclay points out in his insightful introduction, these essays serve as a background for numerous global diasporas in our own day, and, in particular, dual identities of peoples removed from their original homeland.

Margaret Williams, "Being a Jew in Rome: Sabbath Fasting as an Expression of Romano-Jewish Identity," boldly argues that the references in Augustus, Pompeius Trogus, Petronius, and Martial to fasting on the Sabbath reflect the actual practice of Jews in Rome in contrast to the practice of Jews elsewhere. Inasmuch as, however, rabbis from Palestine frequently visited Rome during the first century, we may object that it seems unlikely that they would not have noted and commented upon such a deviation from the rabbinic insistence that fasting on the Sabbath is prohibited. Moreover, nowhere in rabbinicliterature do we hear that the Roman Jews or Jews in any other area had this or any other peculiar practice. Furthermore, Ovid (Ars Amatoria 1.416) and Plutarch (Quaestiones Convivales 4.6.2.671D-672A) describe the Sabbath as a day of feasting. We may suggest that the origin of the view that the Sabbath is a fast day may be due to the fact that the Sabbath is viewed, quite correctly, as a day of abstention from work; and the word nesteia (which means both "fasting" and "abstention"), as used by Strabo (16.2.40.763), who was not a Roman, in reference to the Jews' abstention from work on the day that Jerusalem was captured by Pompey in 63 B.C.E., came to be understood as a day of abstention in general.

Sarah Pearce, "Jerusalem as 'Mother-City' in the Writings of Philo of Alexandria," insists that there is no tension between the notion of Jerusalem as mother-city and Alexandria as home. The fact that Apion accused the Alexandrian Jews of having a dual allegiance, that a bitter pogrom that broke out when the Jewish king Agrippa I visited Alexandria in 38, and that, as Pearce notes, Philo himself (In Flaccum, 46) says that the Alexandrian Jews regard Jerusalem as their mother-city would seem to argue otherwise.

Alexander Panayotov, "The Jews in the Balkan Provinces of the Roman Empire: The Evidence from the Territory of Bulgaria," commenting on new evidence of Jewish inscriptions from Bulgaria dating from a period between the third and sixth centuries, notes the acculturation of the Jews, in that while drawing on biblical tradition in the depiction of the menorah, rhe Jews often had dual names, biblical and Greek, and used inscriptional formulae reminiscent of the non-Jewish environment. …

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