Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2004.03.29

Menachem Mor, Aharon Oppenheimer, Jack Pastor, Daniel R. Schwartz, Jews and Gentiles in the Holy Land in the Days of the Second Temple, the Mishna and the Talmud.   Jerusalem:  Yad Ben-Zvi Press, 2003.  Pp. 200.  ISBN 965-217-205-7.  

Reviewed by Matthew Kraus, Williams College (
Word count: 1659 words

Typical of most collections of articles based on a conference, Jews and Gentiles in the Holy Land in the Days of the Second Temple, the Mishna and the Talmud consists of disconnected pieces which vary in quality. The international research conference, held at the University of Haifa in 1995, represented a joint effort between the Universities of Tel Aviv and Haifa to explore the land of Israel during the Greco-Roman Period.

Some articles, such as "Augustus' Policy and the Asian Jews" by Miriam Ben-Zeev (pp. 15-26) and "The Ibis and the Jewish Question: Ancient 'Anti-Semitism' in Historical Context" by Gideon Bohak (pp.27-43), do not correspond to the title of the book. Nevertheless, such lapses on the part of the editors should not detract from some very fine investigations presented by a distinguished group of researchers that will interest scholars of Judaism in the Greco-Roman world. Bohak's contribution is a case in point. Influenced by the works of Hall and Dauge,1 Bohak convincingly demonstrates how Greek ethnography mediated the negative conceptualization of Jews by Greek authors. Since Greeks mapped anti-barbarian attitudes onto Jews, we cannot characterize such attitudes as "anti-Judaism", a specialized distaste reserved only for Jews (pp.41-43). Greeks hated Jews in the same way and with the same kind of categories as they hated Egyptians. It could be objected that Bohak overstates the anti-Judaism and anti-Egyptianism of Classical antiquity since he does not examine the admiration of the alien sage that also characterizes Greco-Roman ethnography. That said, Bohak should be particularly commended for his methodological insights, his contextualization of anti-Judaism within the broader Greco-Roman world, and his delightful translation of an anti-Egyptian section from Anaxandrides' Cities (p.32). Nevertheless, one would not expect to find this essay in a book putatively limited to Jews and Gentiles in the Holy Land. In all fairness to Bohak, his article fits the title of the conference "Relations between Jews and Gentiles in the Period of the Second Temple, Mishnah, and the Talmud".

Rather than belabor the distracting idiosyncracies of the editing, it is more useful to analyze a collection of unconnected articles separately, highlighting their strengths and weaknesses.

In "L'éducation des princes hérodiens à Rome et l'évolution du clientélisme romain" (pp.44-62), Mireille Hadas-Lebel traces the cultural factors and influences associated with the presence of Herodian princes at the imperial court in Rome from a young age. Hadas-Lebel offers more than the practical explanation that having children as hostages guaranteed nice behavior on the part of Herod and his descendants in Judea and that this policy typified the Roman strategy to consolidate the loyalty of client states. Hadas-Lebel notes in addition that client kings benefited from their children being educated in the imperial court and learning how to deal with Romans (p.47). Hadas-Lebel also demonstrates the prevalence and impact of the female patron/client relationship in the case of women of the Julio-Claudian court and the Judean royal family (p.54), as well as the intergenerational component of this relationship (p. 55). Thus, Hadas-Lebel rightly articulates the internal Jewish factors as well as the external Roman interests determining the Roman policy of educating children of client rulers at Rome.

Jan Willelm van Henten's "2 Maccabees as a History of Liberation" (pp. 63-86), which characterizes the Second Book of Maccabees as two festal letters (2 Macc. 1:1-2:18) added to a history of liberation (2 Macc. 2:19-15:39), is much less convincing. Not only does the text mention freedom only twice (2 Macc. 2:22 and 9:14), it never mentions slavery, except in the attached letter (2 Macc. 1:27).2 Since these two references to freeing the city of Jerusalem occur in a list of redemptive acts, they cannot be construed as representing the entire character of the work. Moreover, while van Henten claims that the history ends with the definitive liberation of the Temple and emancipation of Jerusalem, the text, according to van Henten, only implies that the Seleucid garrison had been expelled from the ἄκρα, hardly a "definitive" liberation (p.67). Although van Henten notes the thematic connection between the festival of Hanukah and Sukkot as the time when Solomon dedicated the Temple (pp.75-77), he does not draw the logical conclusion that Second Maccabees can also be characterized as a history of the rededication of the Temple. This explanation accounts equally well for the excellent connection van Henten makes between the opening letters of 2 Maccabees and similar letters inviting participation in the Σωτήρια at Delphi or festival of Artemis Leukophryene at Magnesia (pp.79-82): the Hasmoneans adapted a Greek custom of attaching an historical account to a festal letter of invitation.

Menahem Luz tackles the fascinating question of why Gadara happened to produce so many Cynics (Menippus, Meleager, and Oenomaus) in "The Cynics of the Decapolis in Eretz Israel in the Hellenistic Period" (pp.97-107). It would have been helpful for Luz to distinguish between the influence of Gadara on specific content and the influence of Gadara on general techniques associated with cynic discourse, for Luz compellingly demonstrates that the common critique of religious superstition by Menippus, Meleager, and Oenomaus may have resulted from the predominance of demoniacs at Gadara (pp.106-107). Such an observation, however, indicates that cynics could accommodate their critiques to the local situation, just as Horace satirizes the boorish "client", an especially Roman type (Sat. 1.9). More striking would be a connection between Gadara and a common feature of Menippean satire, κατασκοπία -- "observation from an unusual point of view, typically from on high".3 Could this result from the actual view from Gadara high above the baths of Hamat Gader and the Sea of Galilee?

The keynote address of the conference and the finest article in the collection is Joseph Mélèze Modrzejewski's "'Filios Suos Tantum' -- Roman Law and Jewish Identity" (pp.108-136). Brilliantly combining talmudic texts with papyrological, inscriptional and legal evidence, Modrzejewski attributes the matrilineal principle to Roman influence. After definitively dating Hadrian's ban on circumcision to 119/120 CE (pp.121-123), Modrzejewski calls attention to an important detail in Antoninus Pius's rescript of the ban after the Bar Kochba war: only male children could be circumcised (p.132). This meant that an adult male could not convert to Judaism without violating Roman law. Given this situation and the fact that Roman Law also traced lineage of barbarians through the mother, the rabbis opted for matrilineal descent. If a Jewish woman married a gentile male, the male would not be able to convert. If a Jewish male married an non-Jewish female, there would be nothing preventing her conversion (which does not involve circumcision; see pp. 128-136). Therefore, matrilineal descent would be the most practical solution and correlate with a Roman matrilineal principle. This article should be considered standard reading for discussions on matrilineal descent and Hadrian's ban on circumcision.

Did the rabbis of the Mishnaic period reject Ben Sira from the canon as sectarian because of its openness to god-fearers? Etienne Nodet makes this claim in "Ben Sira, God-Fearers and the First Christian Mission" (pp.137-151). The evidence is rather slim especially since Nodet does not demonstrate that rabbis were hostile to god-fearers4 and account for the chronological gap between the time when Ben Sira was written and the activities of the rabbis.

The final articles in the collections merit particular praise. By examining land confiscation and settlement polices, tax burdens, and public works, Jack Pastor defends Herod against the charge of treating Jews and gentiles unequally in "Economic Policy as a Measure of Evenhandedness" (pp.152-164). Jonathan J. Price provides an excellent introduction to the status quaestionis regarding the prevalence of Latin among Jews in "The Jews and the Latin Language in the Roman Empire" (pp. 164-180). Finally, in "Diodorus Siculus 40.3 -- Hecataeus or Pseudo-Hecataeus" (pp.181-197), Daniel Schwartz challenges the conventional view that Diodorus Siculus 40.3 preserves an authentic fragment from Hecataeus of Abdera On the Jews.

Since the editors apologize for the long hiatus between the conference (1995) and the publication of the book (2003), it would be unfair to take them to task for the delay especially if such a delay ultimately makes no difference. Thus, although Shaye Cohen's book on Jewish identity that appeared 1999 includes a lengthy study of the matrilineal principle, Modrzejewski's article and Cohen's work complement each other.5 However, in some cases, the delay did have an affect. For example, Ben Zeev, who could not have taken Gruen's recent works into consideration during the conference, mentions Gruen in the article (p.21) but does not engage with his work.6 Ben Zeev claims that Augustus's edict responds to constant attacks on Jews by neighboring Greeks and that the edict, to some degree, applies to all Jews. Ben Zeev does not address Gruen's opposite arguments for the decrees being unique to Asia Minor and the time period and not reflecting a widespread hostility to Jews throughout the Roman empire. It should also be noted that Peter W. van der Horst's solid piece on "The Last Jewish Patriarch(s) and Greco-Roman Medicine" (pp.87-96) was published in 2002 in his collected essays.7 The essay was "collected" before it was distributed. Other editorial problems plague this work. Not only does the foreword, by summarizing the articles seriatim, fail to unify the essays in any way, it even inaccurately states that "Luz suggests that these[cynic] philosophical circles made an impression on the Jewish inhabitants of the area and influenced the Sages" (p.10). Although Luz works on cynic/rabbinic connections and has published in this area, this particular piece does not discuss the subject. In addition, it would have made more sense to arrange the articles thematically rather than alphabetically by author. For example, the articles of Pastor and Hadas-Lebel nicely complement each other.

Although the editing of this book may not have best served the contributors, this in no way should detract from the many fine individual essays. The conference included an excellent group of scholars and the quality of the articles reflects this. While I did not find every essay convincing, all were enjoyable and intellectually stimulating reads replete with learned insights.


1.   E. Hall, Inventing the Barbarian: Greek Self-Definition through Tragedy, Oxford, 1989 and Y.A. Dauge, Le Barbare: Recherches sur la conception romaine de la barbarie et de la civilisation (Collection Latomus, 176), Bruxelles, 1981.
2.   δοῦλος appears five times, but refers to servants of God.
3.   Joel C. Relihan, Ancient Menippean Satire, Baltimore and London, 1993, p.7.
4.   According to Saul Lieberman, Greek in Jewish Palestine, 1942 (Reprint, 1994), p.84, the rabbis view semi-proselytes, including god-fearers, favorably. See also Marc Hirshman Torah for the Entire World, Tel Aviv, 1999, pp.42-44 (in Hebrew).
5.   Shaye Cohen, The Beginnings of Jewishness, Berkeley, 1999, pp.263-307.
6.   Erich Gruen, Diaspora: Jews amidst Greeks and Romans, Cambridge and London, 2002, pp.84-104.
7.   Pieter W. van der Horst, Japheth in the Tents of Shem: Studies on Jewish Hellenism in Antiquity. Leuven: Peeters, 2002, pp. 27-36.

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