Jews in a Graeco-Roman World, Edited by Martin Goodman

Shofar, January 31, 2001 | Go to article overview

Jews in a Graeco-Roman World, Edited by Martin Goodman


Jews in a Graeco-Roman World, edited by Martin Goodman

This volume contains 16 essays by as many scholars, on various aspects of relations between Jews and Gentiles in the ancient world. The introductory essay by the editor argues, reasonably, that the oddities of the Jews in the Graeco-Roman world were no greater than those of many other distinctive ethnic groups, such as Idumaeans or Celts. In support of this thesis he invites us to consider what we would know about the Jews if we had only the testimonies of pagan authors and epigraphic and papyrological evidence. A real test of the thesis, however, would require that we also examine what we know of other ethnic groups. Engaging as this essay is, it is somewhat misleading as an introduction to the volume, since the question it poses is not pursued in the other essays. These are grouped under four headings: "The Hellenistic and Roman World: Jewish Perspectives"; "Social Integration?"; "Similarities?"; and "Differences?."

The first group, presented under the heading "The Hellenistic and Roman World: Jewish Perspectives," contains three essays in addition to Goodman's introduction. Gruen's essay, now incorporated in his book Heritage and Hellenism, notes the differing attitudes of the Sibyl to Greeks and Romans. Since he rejects most proposed historical references in the book, however, he leaves the impression that most of the oracles were written a propos of nothing in particular, a feature which he mistakenly claims to be typical of apocalyptic literature. Seth Schwartz argues that the hellenization of Near Eastern cities, best exemplified in the cases of Jerusalem and Shechem, involved nothing less than a redefinition of what it meant to be a Greek. Daniel Schwartz argues that the saga of the Tobiads belongs in the second century B.C.E. rather than the first, and that the value of Josephus for the history of the Hellenistic period has been underestimated.

Part II, "Social Integration?," contains two essays. Benjamin Isaac considers the evidence from Eusebius on Jews, Christians, and others in Palestine and concludes that the overwhelming majority of villages had a mixed population, Jewish, Christian, Samaritan, and pagan. David Noy asks where Diaspora Jews were buried, and concludes that the development of separate Jewish burial areas was a relatively late phenomenon.

Part II, "Similarities?," has six essays. Albert Baumgarten discusses voluntary associations and Jewish sects. He notes that the sects made greater demands on their members, but suggests that both phenomena resulted from the trend to urbanization in the Hellenistic period. William Horbury assembles the evidence for an "Antichrist" figure in pre-Christian Jewish texts, and suggests that the Titans played a similar role in Graeco-Roman mythology. He is undoubtedly correct that the figure of the Antichrist derives from the combat myths that were ubiquitous in the Mediterranean world and the Near East, but his retrojection of the term Antichrist into the pre-Christian period blurs some significant distinctions. Michael Satlow argues that the Palestinian rabbis shared the assumptions of elite Greek and Roman men on the subject of sex. …

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