BMCR 2005.08.10

Jews in a Graeco-Roman World

, Jews in a Graeco-Roman world. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998. 1 online resource (ix, 293 pages). ISBN 1423788974. $72.00.

Overview and Essay 1, “Jews, Greeks, and Romans” by Martin Goodman (3-14) [RAK]1

This collection of previously unpublished articles edited by Martin Goodman opens with the question “How different from other people in the Graeco-Roman world were the Jews?” For himself, Goodman proposes that “the oddities of the Jews in the Graeco-Roman world were no greater than that of the many other distinctive ethnic groups, such as Idumaeans, Celts, or Numidians, who between them created the varied tapestry of society in this region and period” (4-5). He wonders (always a good PhD exam question) “how evidence about Jews and Judaism would be interpreted if we did not have such material preserved [by surviving rabbinic Judaism and Christianity] for these special religious reasons. What would be known of the Jews in this period if there were no rabbinic or patristic texts, no biblical writings, no works by Josephus, Philo, or other Jewish authors preserved by Christians , , , and nothing about Jews from the Roman world from the period after Constantine had placed a Christian filter over so many of the actions of the Roman state?” (5). What if Jews were “studied with the same tools as other peoples and other religions in the Graeco-Roman world, on a par with Gauls or Spaniards, or the worshippers of Isis or Mithras”? (6).

Goodman goes on to outline the sorts of primary evidence available for approaching the subject in this manner: literary references, documentary materials (e.g. papyri), inscriptions, archaeological and iconographic remains. He points out that the interpretive framework provided by the disqualified Jewish and Christian sources (in this challenging methodological game) often colors even the work of epigraphists, numismatists and archaeologists in assessing their presumably more “objective” evidence. How would we know what constituted a “Jewish” name? Do we learn anything useful from the (unexpected) appearance of a Jewish coin in a given area? When is a pool just a pool (and not a ritual bath)? Or a scene depicting a ram caught in a thicket just decoration (wallpaper, mosaic carpet)?

Judaism as known from these limited sources would appear as an esoteric cult with strange dietary customs, a peculiarly strict attitude to sacred time (the sabbath), the odd practice of circumcising boys, a peculiar avoidance of images, an objectionable refusal to worship the gods of others, and a great leader of the distant past who had been called Moses. . . . It would be known that Judaism was the religion of a particular nation, but also that it was possible for outsiders to become full members of the Jewish religion in the same way that they could embrace a philosophy (11-12).

What is more, Goodman continues, such an approach would provide little awareness of “the centrality of the Bible as a sacred text, both in the sense that its words carry specially sanctified authority and in the sense that a scroll of scripture is a sacred object” (12). Except perhaps by extrapolation from the Dead Sea Scrolls (which, in transgression of his own methodological caveats, Goodman describes as “writings of the obviously strange Jews who produced the sectarian texts found by the Dead Sea” 12), what would be known of “the centrality of the covenant between God and Israel or the importance of eschatological speculation in Judaism of this period?” (12). “Nor would historians be able to guess at the variety which consisted [existed?] within Second Temple Judaism” (12).

In short, in Goodman’s scholarly world of “as if,” “historians would still be aware of Jews as a distinct ethnic and religious group, but Jews would not seem anything like as marginal in the Graeco-Roman world as they do when their own, often jaundiced, views of the outside provide the basis for understanding them. Jews lived alongside non-Jews even in many parts of their homeland [Judea] to a much greater degree than scholars tend to allow” (13). “The corollary of this attempt to understand Jews without using special Jewish [and Christian] evidence [from the surviving traditions] is that, if it shows that Jews were after all not so different from other people, then the Jewish evidence itself can and should be used to illuminate wider Graeco-Roman history” (13). “The important question of the relation between public cult and domestic rituals or private emotions in ancient paganism might reasonably take the relation in Judaism of attitudes to the Temple and to personal religion as its starting point. . . . The main use of Jewish evidence may not be so much as an instance from which generalizations can always be made but more as a means to check or stimulate models for understanding how ancient society worked” (14).

Within this provocative methodological experiment, Goodman also provides a preview of the rest of the volume, which is divided into four parts: (1) “The Hellenistic and Roman World: Jewish Perspectives” (essays 1-4), (2) “Social Integration?” (essays 5-6), (3) “Similarities?” (essays 7-12), and (4) “Differences?” (essays 13-16). The use of question marks in these last three divisions is appropriate to the overall tone of this anthology in its attempt to ask questions and open new avenues of investigation and synthesis even while revisiting some old themes and issues. Not all of the contributors — all of whom are recognized authorities on the subjects with which they deal — will share Goodman’s mindset as described above, but they all attempt to make better headway in their subject areas by avoiding past pitfalls and focusing on the primary evidence. As Goodman puts it at the end of his essay:

The contributors to this volume have approached their discussions of the relationship of the Jews to the rest of the Graeco-Roman world from diverse perspectives and with the benefit of a variety of techniques and types of evidence. It is a prime aim of the book to familiarize readers from different backgrounds with all such approaches and to persuade them that this material can be made mutually comprehensible both to classicists and to those primarily concerned with Jewish history. Obscurantist specialists in both fields have too often in the past used their expertise as a means to prevent others from trespassing on ‘their’ history. Such attitudes are now generally changing, and our intention in this collection is to help to open up and encourage research across the boundaries between these disciplines, to the benefit of both. (14)

The volume concludes with an extensive bibliography of works cited, organized chapter (essay) by chapter and thus including lots of overlap/replication (251-278), followed by a valuable subject index (279-293). Bibliographical references in each essay are somewhat cryptic, normally giving only the author’s last name and the date of publication, thus necessitating frequent reference to the bibliographies. The frontmatter also provides a list of abbreviations and a page identifying the contributors by academic position and location (mostly from Britain and Israel). Doubtless numerous suggestions for additional bibliography could be made, and it would have been a good idea to preface the bibliography with a section on items of general value for contextualizing the reader. For example, missing from the bibliography, and from many contemporary discussions of the subject, is the important essay by the late Kurt Treu, “Die Bedeutung des Griechischen fuer die Juden im roemischen Reich” [“The Significance of Greek for Jews in the Roman Empire”] from KAIROS 15 (1973) 123-144 [an English translation by William Adler and Robert Kraft is available online and at a second site.

The book has few typographical or similar blemishes: correct “Aufsteig” to “Aufstieg” on the Abbreviations page; on p.12 line 4 from below (text), “consisted” should probably be “existed” (see above); on p.53 line 3 from below (text), read “Reinach” (as in n. 19; not included in the bibliography), not “Reinarch.” It is perhaps also worth noting [with SM] that the term “Romanization” seems to play different roles in chapters 9 and 16. Sacha Stern employs the concept of “Romanization” to indicate something the rabbis resisted (250), while Satlow at the end of his own piece argues that the rabbis themselves never employed such a “culture conflict” category (143).

Essay 2: Erich S. Gruen, “Jews, Greeks, and Romans in the Third Sibylline Oracle” (15-36) [BP]

In this essay, Gruen scrutinizes the Third Sibylline Oracle for what it can tell us about “Jewish self-image” and the “means and the motives” of the incorporation of these pagan texts by Hellenized Jews in the Greco-Roman world. Gruen locates these within a Hellenistic and eschatological context. To accomplish this, he deftly sifts through arguments by past scholars on issues ranging from the “unity or diversity of composition” (17-18), the dating of the text (18-29), and its provenance (29-33). In addressing the issue of composition, Gruen highlights the events from the late Republic and early empire to which the Third Sibylline Oracle refers. He concludes that the mixture and overlap of historical events is too confused to allow for there having been a main corpus which was later redacted and suggests instead that “multiple layers [were] built over time by diverse interests and sources” (18). In challenging the mid-second century BCE dating of the text, which is based on the identification of the thrice mentioned seventh king of Egypt as Ptolemy VI Philometer, Gruen discredits earlier theories that this text represents an attempt by Egyptian Jews “to ingratiate themselves with the Ptolemaic dynasty and to express a common basis for relations between Jews and Gentiles in Egypt” (19). He further thoroughly debunks attempts at identifying the so-called triumvirate and Cleopatra in the text. Gruen unpacks the historical references to demonstrate that this text does not represent a contemporary historical situation. Instead, he places this text firmly in the tradition of apocalypticism: not recording events which have happened but envisioning what will come. Gruen concludes that this text represents Jewish resentment NOT ingratiation and connection (29). In turning to provenance, Gruen shows how the alleged Egyptian context has been based on the supposed Ptolemaic references which he has problematized with his historical analysis. The centrality of Rome as the ultimate villain in the oracle suggests to Gruen a broader Hellenic context. Gruen locates the vituperative attacks on Rome in the text in the eschatological foreboding of doom awaiting the Power which has already victimized the Greeks with whom the Hellenized Jews wished to identify and sympathize (33). Unfortunately, “efforts to locate the message in precise time and place, with concrete intent and expectation, lead to blind-alleys” (33).

On the whole, Gruen tackles all these scholarly debates in order to refocus attention on the apocalypticism of the Sibyl’s message and its significance for understanding Judaism in a Hellenistic context. Not surprisingly, this article will be of great use to students of Roman history, Greco-Roman religions and Hellenistic Judaism alike. Gruen has claimed this text for ancient historians who might not otherwise examine this corpus of texts, and he has placed the eschatological tradition out of which this text developed firmly within the Hellenic oracular milieu.

[Added note by RAK]

Gruen opens the door to exploring such questions as when, how, and in what forms these sorts of Jewish materials evolved, and what they meant to their various audiences, including possibly “pagan” and certainly later Christian users.

Essay 3: Seth Schwartz, “The Hellenization of Jerusalem and Schechem” (37-46) [RAK]

Thus the main use of Jewish evidence may be not so much as an instance from which generalizations can always be made but more as a means to check or stimulate models for understanding how ancient society worked. So Seth Schwartz suggests in his contribution to this volume that the experience of the Jews in the Hellenistic period provides a model of the process of Hellenization which can be applied elsewhere, and it is worth enquiring how many other (less well-documented) peoples in the Roman empire opposed the might of the state and yet, like the Jews, somehow flourished culturally, economically, and socially without ever identifying themselves with Roman society. (Goodman 14)

Seth Schwartz attempts to explore, admittedly more deeply than the hard evidence permits, the dynamics involved in “the Hellenization of native cities” in Asia Minor (Sardis) and Syria-Palestine (Jerusalem and Shechem). “This type of city is of particular interest because it illustrates in the most critical way possible the changing character of ethnicity in the Hellenistic period, for it seems likely that apart from those who, wherever they lived, could plausibly claim Greek ancestry, the prevailing definition of ‘Greek’ now became formal: a citizen of a city with a Greek constitution was Greek” (37).

Schwartz is especially interested in the dynamics of “public” and “private” as a possible explanatory lever for understanding how earlier (native) features could survive into and even help transform the nature of such Hellenistic cities. “Greekness was now essentially a public and formal property,” so that “some preservation of the native culture, for which there is Hellenistic evidence, must have been taking place elsewhere than in the public sphere” (38). In terms of externals, Hellenization in these locations was based on a Greek political structure (constitution) and led to establishment of a gymnasium and ephebate,and an appropriately Hellenized temple and/or religious awareness — “by becoming Greek, a community reordered its religious, cultural, political life along a new ideological axis” which was also economically demanding since it involved “the construction and maintanance of gymnasia, hippodromes, theatres, bathhouses, maybe new temples” and thus “cost lots of money” (41). Nevertheless, “the new Greekness functioned in two different ways to preserve elements, displaced and altered, of traditional cultures” (42). One avenue was the rather public preservation of traditional terms, offices, languages and myths, notably in religious contexts. But the other way, available to our eyes mainly through analogy and speculation, is the “preservation of local types of sexual behaviour, cuisine, medical/magical practice, even of pre-Greek languages. … The very public and formal character of Greekness allowed the change to be less drastic than it might seem” (43).

With such a reconstruction in view, based on the slivers of pertinent evidence relating to the test cities in Asia Minor and Syria-Palestine, Schwartz bravely moves to broader applications: “If I am right about the heightened sense of the private created by the diffusion of Greek culture in the third and second centuries BCE, then Hellenization was the first of several cases of large-scale and radical cultural transformations in the high and late antique Mediterranean and Near East which I believe all follow a roughly similar pattern, for reasons which I admit I do not know” (43). Thus the Hasmonean Judaization of Palestine perhaps constitutes “a sort of counter-Hellenization,” affecting public life much more than private where various non-Jewish survivals are in evidence (e.g. Edomite practices). Similarly, if more grandly, the Christianization of the Roman empire follows similar patterns — “the character of the public culture changed” and with it eventually even the shape of the cities as the private values of the publicly dispossessed produced major modifications (e.g. the once priviliged urban elite retire from their city homes to country estates, which further contributed to the reshaping of the cities).

Ultimately, this provocative essay is less about “the Hellenization of Jerusalem and Shechem” than about how older cultural elements (language, stories, characteristic practices, values) can survive and even contribute to change even in the face of very concrete and radical external political and social transformations. Schwartz sees the concrete externals “creating an unpoliced private space” (44) in which some of the older features can to some extent exist and even resurface. This is an enormous topic which he can barely begin to explore in this essay. His subsequent monograph (2001) on Imperialism and Jewish Society, 200 B.C.E. to 640 C.E. (Jews, Christians, and Muslims from the Ancient to the Modern World) takes the subject and arguments further. Of course, at some levels he is correct — even under the most rigorous external conditions older values and features can survive and resurface (we have several modern examples). Exactly how and why this is true must vary significantly with time, place, and circumstances. Differences between the Hasmonean Judaization of Palestine and the 4th century (and subsequent) Christianization of the Roman world are quite radical, whatever similarities one wishes to highlight. Similarly the success of Islam, which Schwartz wisely avoids more than mentioning in this essay, introduces other variables. There is much to quarrel about, both methodologically and at the level of detail. Nevertheless, allowing Schwartz to prod one to think about these smaller and larger issues is itself a major boon.

Essay 4: Daniel R. Schwartz, “Josephus’ Tobiads: Back to the 2nd Century?”(47-61) [TK]

Daniel Schwartz shows succinctly in his essay on the political history of the early second century BCE how the tendency of classical historians to dismiss the evidence of one Jewish author, Josephus, about Hellenistic politics is unwarranted, but not all Jewish texts are equally valuable in this regard: reflections of political history in rabbinic texts are only comprehensible as such because that history is already known from other sources. It is hard to think of any aspects of wider political history that could ever be firmly asserted on the basis of rabbinic evidence alone. (Goodman 13)

In an effort to demonstrate the “use of Jewish evidence for the study of Graeco-Roman history,” Daniel Schwartz turns his attention to early second century BCE Seleucid Syria. Following the defeat of the Ptolemaic army in 200 BCE, Antiochus III annexed Coele-Syria and, lacking any further challenges in the East, turned his attention towards Europe where he was met head-on by the newly disentangled (from the Second Punic War) Romans and repeatedly defeated. The subsequent Treaty of Apamea weakened the Seleucids both militarily and economically. Schwartz wonders why, at this time of Seleucid frailty, Ptolemaic Egypt did not attempt to reclaim Coele-Syria, noting that the “standard” solution rests upon the assumption that the union between Antiochus’ daughter, Cleopatra I, to Ptolemy V Epiphanes (in 193 BCE) was enough to bring some amount of stability to the region. For Schwartz, this explanation is not entirely satisfactory as “one would normally expect that there were some other terms to the agreement.”

Further muddying the waters, perplexing evidence from the accounts of Polybius, Livy, and Josephus is introduced in which there is some confusion about who controls Coele-Syria. Livy 42.29.5 (supported by Josephus, Jewish War 1.31) portrays Antiochus IV as an opportunist who considered using Roman involvement in the Third Macedonian War (171 BCE) “to raise disputes about Coele-Syria in order to have a cause for war (against Egypt).” But, asks Schwartz, why is such action necessary if Coele-Syria is firmly in Seleucid hands? He answers his question in the following manner (49-50):

Obviously, both of our questions — why did Ptolemy V do nothing to regain Coele-Syria, and what did Livy and Josephus mean by disputes Antiochus could raise about Coele-Syria — could easily be resolved by the suggestion that Ptolemaic Egypt had indeed received back, from the Seleucids, some measure of their lost interests in that province…. Now the fact of the matter is, that Josephus indeed reports just such a Seleucid concession.

This concession comes in the form of Cleopatra’s dowry a generation earlier which, according to Antiquities 12.154, was constituted of the tributes of Coele-Syria, Samaria, Judaea, and Phoenicia. Schwartz next informs the reader that it is into this context that Josephus introduces the Tobiads who are responsible for the collection of taxes in Coele-Syria.

According to Schwartz, Josephus’ mention of the Seleucid dowry has been universally dismissed for three reasons: 1) Appian and Porphyry claim that Antiochus III gave Coele-Syria (as opposed to the tax-income from the province) to Ptolemy V as Cleopatra’s dowry; 2) Polybius (28.20.6-10) mentions that Antiochus IV himself denied that his father had given Coele-Syria to Ptolemy V and convinced both himself and his audience (of Greek envoys) that he was right; 3) Josephus incorrectly placed the Tobiads in the early second century BCE rather than in the more generally accepted mid-to-late third century BCE. “Accordingly,” writes Schwartz, “it is explained that Josephus thought the story concerns the second century and therefore invented his story of Cleopatra’s dowry in order to account for Ptolemaic taxation after the Seleucid conquest.”

The first two objections are handled in a streamlined manner for it is the third objection that is of the most interest to Schwartz and to which he responds in eight points. All of his responses ably address the “Tobiad question,” (although point two has some degree of circularity to it) but it is the seventh point that seems to be the capstone of his argument and the caution that he wishes to give to historians of antiquity. Noting that there is normally a rush of “scholarly enthusiasm” when a new item of evidence is discovered that often leads to an exaggeration of the item’s importance, Schwartz argues that this is precisely what occurred following the 1918 unearthing of the Zenon Papyri. The papyri “clearly place a rich Tobias in Tranjordan, and in contact with the Ptolemaic government, in 259 BCE.,” but in their enthusiasm, argues Schwartz, scholars contended that this Tobias was the father of the Joseph ben Tobias mentioned by Josephus (as having thrived in the early second century BCE, thereby causing a chronological discrepancy between Josephus and the Zenon Papyri. “The fact is,” argues Schwartz, “that we know of Tobiads for centuries prior to the third century BCE and of ‘sons of Tobias’ in the second century BCE as well ( Ant. 12.239-40) in the same region and with the same characteristics, so the discovery of epigraphic evidence for any Tobias cannot, by itself, pin down the dating of one mentioned in the literature.”

Schwartz’s conclusion (61) suggests the following:

[H]istorians might take a new look at the subject [of Josephus’ account of the situation in Coele-Syria and the positioning of the Tobiad account] and, while leaving those papyri in the third century, where they were found, leave Josephus’ story where he put it — in the second, and receive with more of an open mind his account of Cleopatra’s dowry. If that will help explain Ptolemaic passivity, Livy 42.29.5, and Josephus, War 1.31, so much the better.

Schwartz’s essay does the scholar a solid service. First, it strengthens claims found in the works of three historians that Ptolemaic Egypt still had a stake in Coele-Syria, a stake that the Seleucid king Antiochus IV wanted to wrest from its grasp long after the former (Ptolemaic) empire’s defeat at the hands of the latter (Seleucid) a generation earlier. Second, the cautious note Schwartz sounds is doubly effective in that it not only brushes away the assumptions of an earlier generation of scholars, but also serves as a reminder to modern students of antiquity not to repeat the missteps of our predecessors.

Part 2: Social Integration?

Essay 5: Benjamin Isaac, “Jews, Christians and others in Palestine: The Evidence from Eusebius” (65-74) [BP]

Jews lived alongside non-Jews even in many parts of their homeland to a much greater degree than scholars tend to allow, as Benjamin Isaac shows in this book. (Goodman 13)

Putting aside efforts to come up with raw numerical population data or elaborate definitions of social identity, Isaac’s goal in this essay is to employ the underutilized (in Isaac’s estimation) Onomasticon of Eusebius, the early fourth century Christian church historian and panegyrist of Constantine, in order to address the question of “what was the distribution of the various population groups in Palestine: pagans, Jews and Christians” (65). Isaac grants the “mixed” nature of the urban population, but wants to problematize the assumption that rural villages were “monocultures.” Given this goal, Isaac’s article deals largely with justifying the relevance of the Onomasticon for addressing the question at hand. Isaac argues that the Onomasticon represents “consistent contemporary information” with respect to garrisons, roads, and city territories; thus, Isaac extrapolates that when Eusebius designates a village as either “entirely inhabited by Christians” or a “village of the Jews,” such labels must be meaningful as well. This assumption is vital to Isaac’s argument, since only “eighteen of the hundreds of villages” are precisely labeled with such terms by Eusebius (eleven Jewish, three Christian, and four Samaritan). A more serious problem with the Onomasticon is that it refers only to villages that have biblical importance. Isaac’s reasoning that the number of sites considered is high “in absolute terms” (69) is less convincing. He attempts to deal with this problem further by comparing Eusebius’ labeled Jewish settlements with rabbinic sources (70-71), the Christian heresiologist Epiphanius (71) and archaeological evidence of synagogues contemporary with Eusebius (71-73).

Isaac concludes with a suggestion that villages could rarely be described as homogeneous, and that Eusebius labeled the ethnically (or religiously) distinct eighteen villages as exceptions. The norms would be villages made of a mixture of pagans, Jews, Christians and Samaritans. Given this useful exploration of a particular application of Eusebius’ Onomasticon, there were a few lines of inquiry which might have strengthened the argument. First, it would have been useful if an attempt had been made to deal with what Eusebius meant when he defined a place as Jewish, Christian or Samaritan. Granted Isaac stated that he did not want to deal with the complex issue of “identity,” but Eusebius’ own definition of these labels should not be assumed. Secondly, Isaac might have focused a bit on what biases might have influenced Eusebius’ labeling of these sites or even his purpose in writing this work. Finally, what was the relationship of this listing of biblical sites to Eusebius’ other works? Despite these unanswered questions, Isaac’s article exemplifies the praiseworthy goal of Goodman’s collection, namely to open up disciplinary boundaries and incorporate varied evidence types to make sense of Jews in their Greco-Roman environments.

Essay 6: David Noy, “Where were the Jews of the Diaspora buried?” (75-89) [SP]

As David Noy points out in his chapter, there is good reason to suppose that in such areas they were generally buried alongside non-Jews except where there is specific evidence for exclusively Jewish catacombs. (Goodman 13)

David Noy presents a review article briefly summarizing what is known of the many varieties of Jewish burials outside Palestine, with comparative material from Jerusalem and Beit Shearim presented as well. His primary diaspora location for examples is Rome and its environs, although he notes briefly the work of Trebilco in Asia Minor.

These examples are loosely stitched together along with his assumptions and those of others, without presenting his thinking in the form of argument, observations, or extended development of conclusions based on the physical facts. One might ask, for example, whether the people who were inhumed/entombed/cremated or otherwise had a discernible fate for their physical remains were actually Jews. Noy acknowledges the difficulty of this question, but, for the examples he gives, one must take him at his word that this burial or that cremation is that of a Jew. We do not know, for example, whether (where names are available) he counts any non-Semitic names as Jewish, counts some such names as Jewish if they are well-attested, or counts all names in contiguity with clearly Semitic names as Jewish. Thus, this article serves best as a prolegomenon to an independent reconsideration of the phenomena associated with Jewish burials in the Diaspora.

Part 3: Similarities?

Essay 7: Albert Baumgarten, “Graeco-Roman Voluntary Associations and Ancient Jewish Sects” (93-112) [SP]

According to Albert Baumgarten, the distinctive parties within Judaism which emerged in the Hellenistic age were for some reason more all-embracing than equivalent non-Jewish groups: they were greedy institutions which engaged much of the identity and efforts of their members, unlike equivalent philosophical schools or clubs, which involved only a part of their members’ lives. (Goodman 3-4)

Baumgarten’s article is a treat, an excellent example of complex comparison. He begins by describing the diversity of the phenomena being compared, and asks “How can two sets of entitites, each set itself so multiform, usefully be compared to each other?” In order to make such complex comparisons, for which there is a relative abundance of ancient material, Baumgarten needs an exceptional command of Hellenistic and Hebrew literature, and to make sense of it all, a wide knowledge of secondary discussions in sociology and history. Indeed, Baumgarten has the requisite command of material germane to the topic. With Baumgarten at the helm, the journey is fairly smooth, and we arrive at the destination with a much greater depth of understanding of the similarities and differences between Graeco-Roman voluntary associations and the Jewish sects at the turn of the era. Baumgarten concludes:

As is regularly the case in successful comparative studies, a point clearer on one side of the comparison will have suggested a fruitful line of investigation on the other. (110)

In this case it is the hypothesis of dislocation that accompanies urbanization of the population, fairly clear in the case of Graeco-Roman voluntary associations, that may account for the rise of the Jewish sects.

In one of the comparisons, between the Epicureans and the Essenes, Baumgarten lays out the evidence so clearly that, without needing to be explicit, it is easy to see that what has been called “monastic” is anachronistic and that restrictive community rules were found in a number of places in the ancient world. As Baumgarten indicates, even closer similarities between the restrictive Essene community rule and that of Greek associations is found in the imaginary Greek utopias, such as that of Iambulus’ Children of the Sun (101). While Baumgarten does not chase down and comment on every implication, such examples provide a space, perhaps between reality and imagination, for the Therapeutics of Philo, or the Greek and Syriac History of the Rechabites, that sound so much like the Essenes or the Qumran community.

Another comparison points up the dependence of voluntary associations, as well as sectarian Jews, on widespread literacy among their members. Unfortunately, Baumgarten does not develop the implications of this point, though many more questions can be asked.

In ending his discussion of the rise of sects in comparison with the proliferation of voluntary associations in an environment of urban dislocation, Baumgarten concludes that:

The solution at this stage is still incomplete. To complete it, at the very least one would need to find evidence — direct and indirect, to the extent possible — for a migration from the cities to the towns, and to Jerusalem in particular …. (111)

It seems more consistent with the previous discussion to read “migration from the countryside to the towns.”

Essay 8: William Horbury, “Antichrist among Jews and Gentiles” (113-134) [SP]

More might be culled from Jewish sources about the general history of ancient religion, not just because, as William Horbury shows in his paper, some very basic notions found among Jews were also shared by pagan Romans, but primarily because so much more is known of the workings of Judaism than of any other cult. (Goodman 13-14)

This article deals with a fascinating topic in a less than fully satisfying manner. Horbury displays a mastery of the primary sources in Jewish biblical, apocryphal, Qumran, and pseudepigraphical materials; the NT and the early church fathers; and materials from Greek mythology. He alludes to the earlier scholarship that has considered the figure of the antichrist in Judaism and Christianity and the scholarly debate about whether an antichrist figure predates the arrival of Christianity on the world scene.

Perhaps partly due to Horbury’s decision to refer to many ancient sources, the types of “Judaism” underlying his sources are largely undifferentiated. Similarly, the “Christianity” of which he speaks appears to be rather monolithic, represented by the NT and the early Church Fathers, and a few of the Jewish Pseudepigrapha obviously adopted and adapted, and transmitted, by Christians.

Horbury seems to use the term “antichrist” as an unspecific, categorical name for the opponent of some form of authority, whether God’s anointed king or priest or prophet, or the long calm reign presided over by Caesar Augustus, or the Jewish theocracy of the early Hellenistic period, or the less specific rule of God in the hearts of humans, or a variety of eschatological saviors. This lack of specificity makes for a relatively confusing article that leaps from reference to reference. The article might make more sense if one knew instantly the text of all the references in all the literature cited.

That is to say, Horbury lacks precision, first, in defining what he means by “antichrist,” and, second, in distinguishing between the varieties of literary treatments of “antichrist” he has catalogued. These varieties include the following:

* an actual ruler (Antiochus IV; the myth of Nero’s return),

* mythic oppositional figures of the remote past (giants, Titans),

* an imagined future eschatological adversary,

* a prophecy fulfilled (repeated discussion of Isaiah 11),

* a specific adversary of an anointed hero/savior, and

* a more general adversary of the righteous.

Horbury concludes that “despite the contrast between Christian and Jewish views drawn in much study of antichrist, Christian notions of antichrist derived from Jewish tradition . . . [which], however, had many points of correspondence with non-Jewish expectations current in the Greek and Roman world. The myth of the Titans and the giants was picked out by both Christian and pagan observers as particularly close to the antichrist myth. … [Thus] it may not be out of place to speak of antichrist among gentiles as well as Jews in the Roman empire.” (132-133).

Essay 9: Michael L. Satlow, “Rhetoric and Assumptions: Romans and Rabbis on Sex” (135-144) [Sμ, σπ]

Michael Satlow shows how the assumptions of Palestinian rabbis about the social significance of particular homosexual acts were closer to those of their gentile neighbours than of their brethren in Mesopotamia. (Goodman 4)


Michael Satlow seeks to illuminate methodological issues surrounding description and analysis of “similarities and differences between various groups” (135). In so doing, he considers three aspects of masculine sexuality: homoeroticism, the concept of “wasted seed” and rabbinic ideals of masculinity, demonstrating that the Palestinian rabbis have more shared assumptions with elite Greek and Roman men than they do with Babylonian rabbis. He concludes that the Palestinian rabbis’ “fundamental way of thinking at least about sexuality is virtually identical to those they label the ‘other'” (143). In this case, argues Satlow, it makes little sense to look for “influences,” which depend on the false assumption that these groups start out with real, discernable differences.

Satlow writes clearly and provides compelling illustrations for each of his three examples, building one conclusion upon another. Of particular interest are his illustrations of Babylonians misreading Palestinian ideas. On the one hand he does what this volume promises it will do, that is, he offers methodological insight into how Jews related to the rest of the Graeco-Roman world. On the other hand, the cost is to condense in too-brief compass a host of complex topics, such as how to interpret rabbinic literature, the relationship of the Palestinian and Babylonian talmuds, the meaning of ancient rhetoric, definitions of homosexuality and the construction of masculinity. Perhaps this is inevitable, and Satlow does consider all of these elsewhere in his work. Yet the reader receives the impression that she is reading an abstract. His conclusions depend on arguments more alluded to than made. The interesting examples he develops are rather overwhelmed by this shorthand theoretical apparatus.


Satlow compares the underlying assumptions of the men who were Palestinian rabbis, Babylonian rabbis, and authors of (largely unspecified) Roman sources. That is, he explicitly states his assumption, without detailing evidence, that the authors of all his ancient sources were men (136).

Satlow has done considerable prior work on sexuality in the ancient world, so that here he asserts, rather than documents, his findings, referring to his own earlier work. From that earlier work he draws two examples. The first describes the attitudes toward homoerotic anal penetration shared by Palestinian rabbis and Roman authors. Specifically, the categorical view that anal penetration was humiliating and feminizing, involving lost control, was not shared by Babylonian rabbis. The second example focuses on the Babylonian redactor’s phrase “wasteful emission of semen,” and also concludes that neither Palestinian rabbis nor Roman authors on masculinity would have shared the assumption that such emissions, by masturbation, interrupted intercourse, or homoerotic behaviors, were by themselves cause for concern.

What does appear to be shared by all the authors, according to Satlow, is the belief that a distinguishing feature of masculinity is self-control (138-143). This self-control defines what it is “to turn a ‘male’ into a ‘man'” (141). And, Satlow argues, an essential attribute of women in the rabbinic and Roman views is the inborn inability to exercise the virtue of self-control.

Satlow summarizes as follows:

The influence of the Greeks and the Romans on Palestinian rabbis went far beyond the occasional practice, linguistic oddity, or legal institution; many of the assumptions that generated Palestinian rabbinic rhetoric on sexuality almost certainly derived from those of the Greeks and Romans …. all share fundamental thought-categories and assumptions (143).

To Satlow, these identifiable assumptions, often differing from the assumptions of the Babylonian rabbis/redactor(s), bespeak a shared Mediterranean world, distinct from Arab or Eastern cultures (144).

Satlow’s article has some infelicities of expression. For example, he construes the English translation of a Yiddish/German injunction to “Be a mensch,” as “Be a MAN,” where the word actually means “be a human being” rather than “act with traits of manliness,” as Satlow construes it (141). Being a human being may well involve a willingness to depart from stereotypically gendered behavior. At other points, Satlow occasionally loses control of his referents with pronouns that lack clear antecedents.

It is not clear from this article whether Satlow has discussed differences and similarities that make a difference. That is, the rabbinic world may have been a small part of late antique Judaism(s), and the Roman souces cited (Juvenal 2.54-6 and Musonius Rufus 12.3) do not seem extensive or sufficiently representative (142).

Essay 10: Joshua Schwartz, “Gambling in Ancient Jewish Society and in the Graeco-Roman World” (145-166) [SP]

Joshua Schwartz points to parallel practices in gambling and other leisure activities (although he claims that Jews did such things with greater moderation). (Goodman 4)

Joshua Schwartz gives us an informative article that surveys available textual information on gambling, supplemented by the small amount of archaeological information. None of the information Schwartz presents is unequivocal evidence from which it is easy to draw conclusions. Thus, and admirably, he begins his chapter with an Introduction that summarizes the major difficulties of the material. Then, as difficulties arise, he supplements the evidence with informed suppositions and critical observations, more often of the rabbinic world than of the Graeco-Roman world.

This is not a minimalist approach; as S. points out, there are a “limited number of gambling sources [in rabbinic literature] … [so that] sometimes it will be necessary to generalize from one time to another within the Second Temple, mishnaic, or talmudic periods or from Palestine to Babylonia and vice versa (146).”

Although S. uses recognizable approaches to the rabbinic period, he does not identify them or note their critical limitations. Thus, he carefully dates three traditions (from m. Shabbat, m. Rosh HaShanah, and m. Sanhedrin) according to content and rabbinic citations, without critical awareness that this is a controversial technique among historians.

Consistently throughout the article, S. or the editor refers to Tractate Rosh HaShanah by the abbreviation R. Sh., reflecting the underlying Hebrew, where it is generally abbreviated R.H. in the English sources with which I am familiar. It is eventually clear which passage is intended, from the context, but the reader may spend some time trying to figure out if there is an unknown tractate designated R. Sh. The list of Abbreviations is of no help in this matter.

Also, S. invokes a troublesome group of unexamined assumptions in one of his conclusions. He states:

It should also be pointed out that none of the archaeological material found can be connected specifically with either women or children. Taken together with the fact that all of the Jewish literary traditions we have examined refer to adult males, it is possible that such gambling as did take place in Jewish society within the frameworks we have examined was basically a matter for adult males and not women and children. The conservative nature of Jewish society probably imposed sufficient social restrictions on such activity by women or children. This was quite different from the situation in Graeco-Roman society (163).

What is troublesome are a) the assumption that anything not specifically associated with women or children must be the province of adult males, b) merging this assumption about the archaeological data with the textual data taken to refer only to adult males, and c) further assuming social restrictions on women and children that differed from Graeco-Roman society. On this last point see Ross S. Kraemer, “Jewish Women and Women’s Judaism(s) at the Beginning of Christianity,” where she repeatedly demonstrates that what we know of Jewish women’s lives in the Graeco-Roman period probably does not indicate great differences from what we know of the lives of non-Jewish women (60-61, 72).

Essay 11: Hannah M. Cotton, “The Rabbis and the Documents” (167-180) [SM]

In many aspects of life many Jews may have behaved like gentiles even in those matters which other Jews, including rabbis at the time, believed should be performed according to distinctively Jewish rules, as Hannah Cotton suggests in her study of the Jewish marriage documents found in the Judaean Desert. (Goodman 13)

Hannah Cotton considers marriage documents from caves in the Judaean Desert, notes a variety of similarities and differences between Greek and Aramaic documents, and concludes “there was no normative, authoritative and uniform marriage contract which Jews knew that they had to use” (177). Addressing the larger themes of the volume, Cotton argues that although the documents provide evidence for practices which differ from later halachic norms, “the writers of these documents cannot and should not be regarded as assimilated Jews” (173). In so far as Cotton raises questions about how to consider these behaviors in light of later norms, and especially in so far as she uses her expertise with these Judaean Desert texts to elucidate particular practices, this article is very interesting. In particular, she discusses signed oaths and the hotly debated issue of “pre-marital cohabitation.” Nonetheless, it might have been preferable if Cotton allowed her sources to present their own problems in their own terms rather than trying to solve them on other (rabbinic) grounds. The definitions Cotton offers, if satisfying her need to exonerate her document writers for their not being “in harmony with what eventually came to be normative Jewish law” (172), do little to further discussion of how to think about these people and their practices. According to Cotton: “I have not found a better definition for what is Jewish than that such material eventually received halachic sanction, and is present in halachic sources” (171-2). How many other writers in this volume would accept such a definition? The explicit equating of “Jewish” and “rabbinic” forecloses the very investigations made possible by Judaean documents such as those Cotton considers. Are some Judaisms more likely than others to be accepted and affirmed by the embryonic rabbinic movement? Why? Can we articulate arenas wherein we would expect most divergence? How is this process part of the larger Graeco-Roman world? What ramifications does it have for general study of this period? By choosing the definition she does, Cotton relinquishes more than she offers.

Essay 12: Aharon Oppenheimer, “Jewish Penal Authority in Roman Judaea” (181-191) [BP]

The ability of the state to turn a blind eye to Jewish penal jurisdiction, as documented by Aharon Oppenheimer in his chapter, is highly significant for the general history of the operation of Roman government in less prominent provinces. (Goodman 14)

Aharon Oppenheimer uses Talmudic sources to investigate the extent to which Rome “recognize[d] local law in the provinces” and the extent to which local rulers could sentence offenders (181). Oppenheimer explores the following issues: the relationship between the Roman provinces of Judaea and Syria, the right for the Jewish courts to decide capital cases, the police force of the Patriarch, the use of non-Jews to carry out a sentence laid down by a Jewish court, the ability for individuals to appeal Jewish court decisions to Roman authorities, and the extent to which the Jews could make and enforce judgements concerning monetary penalties among Jews.

While Oppenheimer adduces intriguing examples from rabbinic commentary relevant to the issues at hand, a step outside the Talmudic sources would greatly enhance most of his arguments and would offer much needed context. For instance, Oppenheimer recounts the visit of a few Roman soldiers to study under Gamaliel and what that might mean for the relationship between Judaea and Syria, noting that “the juxtaposition of events [Roman soldiers based in Syria studying Jewish law under Gamaliel and permission of some sort being granted to Gamaliel from the governor of Syria] is certainly evidence of some sort of connection between the two [provinces of Syria and Judaea]” (183). Oppenheimer ignores the voluminous evidence from Josephus in his Antiquities and Jewish War and from epigraphic sources for the relationship between the ever-shifting status of Judaea in the first and second centuries and its provincial neighbor to the north. Josephus tells us quite a lot about the administration of Judaea, as a province from 6 to 44 CE under a praefectus of equestrian rank who operated under the imperium of the governor of Syria, although there were a few exceptions when limited local authority was granted to local rulers (F. Millar, The Roman Near East, 31 BC – AD 337 (Cambridge, MA, 1993), 47). From 44-66 CE, the province was administered by a procurator of equestrian status and after the First Jewish Revolt it was garrisoned with a legion and placed under a legatus of ex-praetor rank. Inscriptions give us his title: leg(atus) Augusti leg(ionis) X Fret(ensis) et leg(atus) pr(o) pr(aetore) provinciae Iudaeae (ibid., 76). After the Bar Kochba revolt, Judaea and the surrounding region becomes Syria-Palestina with two Roman coloniae (Caesarea and Aelia Capitolina), two legions, and an ex-consular governor (ibid., 61 and 107). There is no need for a deduction of this relationship based solely on Mishnaic sources as Oppenheimer suggests (182-83); the evidence for the relationship between Syria and Judaea and for the occupation by Roman soldiers is quite clear.

When analyzing the ability of the Jewish authorities to rule in capital cases, Oppenheimer presents Mishnaic cases involving death sentences meted out to animals that have killed humans. While Oppenheimer does briefly include limited evidence from Origen concerning implicit, de facto rights given to the Jewish Patriarch to judge on capital cases and the use of a police guard and non-Jews to do so, he does not explore or even acknowledge what would be an intriguing application of his discussion: the trial of Jesus. Recorded in the canonical Christian Gospels, this trial is preserved in texts that are roughly contemporary with the sources which Oppenheimer considers and that are produced within communities which are, at the least, varieties of the Judaism under discussion by Oppenheimer. Even with all of the source critical issues which would have to be considered, episodes relevant to Oppenheimer’s argument include the seizure and trial of Jesus by various high priests, scribes, and elders (Matthew 26.3-4, 57-68; Mark 14.43, Luke 22.52, 66, John 18.12-14), the handing over of Jesus to Pilate, the local Roman authority (Matthew 27.1-2, 11-14, Mark 15.1-5, Luke 23.1, John 18.30-31), who passes him to the Roman soldiers for punishment (Matthew 27.27-31, Mark 15.16, John 19.1-1-2), but not before a dispute over authority in which Pilate suggests that this matter is under the jurisdiction of Herod (Luke 23.6-7). In ignoring this trial, Oppenheimer also neglects a large body of scholarship concerning these proceedings in their first century Jewish context. The Gospel accounts of the trial and punishment of Jesus demonstrate that the Roman and Jewish authorities were engaged in a complicated dialogue with one another, attempting to negotiate a tenuous working relationship. This one trial touches on several aspects of Oppenheimer’s argument: the right of the Jewish authorities to decide capital cases, their use of a police force, and their use of non-Jews to carry out sentences.

In terms of his final point on the extent to which Jewish authorities could make and enforce monetary penalties, Oppenheimer makes no mention of additional epigraphic evidence which would shed more light upon the issue at hand. Several contemporaneous Jewish funerary inscriptions refer to monetary penalties which must be paid to the Jewish authorities by anyone who violates the tomb. Take for instance the Rufina inscription from Smyrna in Asia Minor in which those who bury someone in her tomb who is not intended to be buried there are fined “1500 denarii to the most sacred treasury and 1000 denarii to the Jewish community,” with a copy of this formula having been “deposited in the public archives” (IvS I.295 = CIJ 741). Clearly, Rufina is calling on the authority of the Jewish community in Smyrna to enforce a monetary penalty. Additionally, in Asia Minor in particular, we know a great deal about the granting by the Romans of certain legal privileges to Jewish communities (Josephus Antiquities 14.12-26 and P. Trebilco, Jewish Communities in Asia Minor (New York 1991), 8-12 [see below]). The comparanda from Asia Minor for these same sorts of issues could greatly enrich Oppenheimer’s interpretation of the Palestinian situation.

Oppenheimer does not offer any specific examples for parallels where the Roman legal authority co-existed with, or overlaid, local judicial practices. We should look outside Palestine not only for evidence of Jewish penal authority, as in the case of the enforcement of monetary penalties against tomb violators in Smyrna and the legal privileges of Jewish communities in Asia Minor in general, but also for parallels of Roman penal authority in dialogue with the authority of existing judicial-religious ruling authorities in the eastern and western provinces of the Empire. Examples include Roman interaction with, but ultimate annihilation of, Druidic law among the Gauls and Germans. Julius Caesar recorded how the Druids decided rewards and punishments in controversies, public and private, with respect to all crimes including murder, inheritance and boundary disputes ( Gallic Wars 6.13). Druidic power was crushed by the Romans at roughly the same time as the crack-down in Judaea in response to the first Jewish revolt. An example of a more peaceful dialogue between the Roman rule and a local ruling priesthood is provided by the overlap of Roman control onto the existing Egyptian priesthood and its legal authority. Such parallels, among many, give much greater context for the ways in which Rome interacted with existing, local judicial-religious authority.

Oppenheimer has published widely over the past three decades on Jews in the Greco-Roman period. Much of this work has been published in Hebrew, but some has been translated into English. It appears that this article exhibits some of the same problems noted by Lester Grabbe in his mention of Oppenheimer’s 1977 work, Am ha-aretz: A Study in the Social History of the Jewish People in the Hellenistic-Roman Period (Leiden 1977; see L. Grabbe, Judaism from Cyrus to Hadrian II: The Roman Period [Minneapolis 1992]). There are certain “methodological deficiencies [resulting in] a harmonized picture drawn from rabbinic sources [which] is projected back into pre-70 times” and taken entirely out of the wider context (Grabbe, 2.523-4, following S.J.D. Cohen reviewing Oppenheimer in JBL 97(1978) 596-97). A broader consideration of many of these issues discussed above, as well as others such as Roman provincial law in general, would give more texture to Oppenheimer’s argument. Despite, or perhaps because of, this article’s limited focus on the rabbinic sources for the administration of “Jewish Penal Authority in Roman Judaea,” however, Oppenheimer does bring to the forefront the relevance of this valuable source of evidence so often ignored by classical scholars of Greco-Roman Judaea.

Part 4: Differences?

Essay 13: Lee Levine, “Synagogue Leadership: the Case of the Archisynagogue” (195-214) [SP]

This view is reinforced by the claim by Lee Levine that it is misleading to seek to understand synagogue leaders simply from parallels with the Graeco-Roman world because there is so much rabbinic evidence about such leaders that it is impossible to reconcile with the evidence about non-Jewish officials. (Goodman 4)

In this article Levine surveys the geographical extent of the great variety of sources attesting to the use of the title “archisynagogue.” His focus is on what information can be gathered concerning the communal function of those who bore the title; he concludes that over and above each source’s specific concern, we have noted evidence time and again that this office included responsibilities other than religious or financial ones. An archisynagogue was looked upon by Jews and non-Jews alike as a leader and representative of his [sic] community. (212)

That is, Levine appears to conclude that the archisynagogue was a male leader of the synagogue, while quoting evidence that pairs the title with a woman’s name. Indeed, he names as the first of the recent discussions of the title Bernadette Brooten’s groundbreaking study Women Leaders of the Ancient Synagogue, and summarizes her contribution in one sentence, without comment. He then goes on to use neutral language, sprinkled with masculine pronouns, for the remainder of the article. He concludes with emphatic use of the masculine pronoun without ever engaging Brooten’s thesis directly.

Had he wished to focus only on the function of the archisynagogue, the use of gender-neutral language would have been appropriate. As it is, the author ducks the issue, and at the same time takes a stand, without supporting his position.

In any event, L.’s article is especially valuable for the wealth of references he has collected, though one suspects that Brooten and others may have similarly exhaustive collections.

Essay 14: Margaret Williams, “The Structure of the Jewish Community in Rome” (215-228) [Sπ, βπ]

Similarly Margaret Williams argues that Jewish synagogues should not be identified with the collegia in the city of Rome, claiming that Jewish communal organization had a uniquely centralized character different from that of other ethnic and religious groups. (Goodman 4)


The article by Williams begins by reporting a “consensus” view on the organization of the many synagogues of Rome — that they were loosely organized collegia, with no ruling council — and then argues the contrary. Williams bases her argument on her reading of Josephus and other sources, and argues cogently and coherently that indeed there was an overall sense of a unified Jewish community at Rome.

While her philological argument is soundly developed, she seems to have little in the way of inscriptional evidence — a single instance of a 3d century CE “archigerousiarch” — to support her contention that the Roman Jewish community had a self-governing gerousia, “council.” She buttresses this argument by making reference to the mode of self-government by councils found in Judaea,and surmises that this mode was similarly the source for the existence of the Alexandrian gerousia.

The evidence is not strong enough or plentiful enough to disconfirm the view that the Roman Jewish community lacked a ruling council. Williams carries the argument as far as it can go, however, and both possibilities deserve serious attention in future discussions.


In her essay, Williams challenges the “conventional view of the structure of Roman Jewry,” that the synagogues of the Jews at Rome were organized as private, exclusive and autonomous collegia, ruling out any sort of larger Jewish organization at Rome along the lines of the gerousia at Alexandria. She advances her argument in systematic fashion, first by countering the definition of the Roman synagogues as collegiate associations, then by presenting evidence for a central structure of Roman Jewry. Williams counters the collegia hypothesis by noting the minimal overlap between terms for collegiate offices and the terms for office holding in synagogues. In addition, she details the conflation of a passage from Josephus ( Ant. 14.215) and two from Suetonius ( Iul. 42.3 and Aug. 32.1), which has led, in her opinion, to the misidentification of synagogues at Rome as collegiate in nature. The problems with the Josephus passage, contained in the long list of purported decrees which Josephus argues to be evidence of Roman favor towards the Jews are well summarized by Williams (217-220).

Williams, however, is harsher in her scrutiny of evidence against her claims of a unified supra-synagogal structure than on the sources which support her claims. She discredits the decree as recounted in Josephus, but uses Josephus as the starting point for a description of the corporate Jewish community at Rome (222-3); she points to the lack of alignment in terms used for collegia and synagogue officers (217), but allows for the absence of any explicit textual reference to a gerousia at Rome (222). In discussing Roman Jewry as an entity, Williams includes the expulsion of the Jews from Rome en masse (224). This was an action frequently taken against astrologers as well (even at the same time as Jews), yet this does not lead us to assert that there was a centrally organized group of astrologers (Suetonius, Tib. 36).

As parallels to the postulated “supra-synagogal structure” of Roman Jewry, Williams offers the Sanhedrin, the organization of the Qumran sect, the Jerusalem council under James and the Apostles as represented in Acts and even Josephus’ administration of Galilee in 66-67 (225). For officers in this administrative structure, Williams suggests the archigerousiarch inscription [G.H.R.Horsley, New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity 1 (1981), no. 73] as evidence. Williams’ hypotheses are intriguing, but leave interesting implications remaining for consideration. In particular, what does such a supra-synagogal organization do for an understanding of Roman Jewry? It certainly suggests a separation of Jews, at least organizationally, from other inhabitants of Rome. What does such separation mean for Jewish identity, both internal and by others? Should we expect this gerousia structure outside Rome, elsewhere in Diaspora urban centers with multiple synagogues? How might such an organization change our interpretation of the larger Jewish community at sites like Sardis or Dura? Williams has certainly opened the door to new ways of understanding the corporate identity of Jews in urban contexts, even if her evidence for Rome itself remains somewhat ambiguous.

Essay 15: Tessa Rajak, “The Gifts of God at Sardis” (229-240) [DB]

The archaeologists who linked to the Jewish deity the huge basilica found in the centre of Sardis because of the similarities between the iconography there and that of synagogues (identified as such by inscriptions) elsewhere might have been led by the Sardis dedications to Pronoia (‘forethought’) to follow Varro in identifying Jupiter/Zeus as the object of Jewish worship, since Pronoia was identified with Zeus by the Stoics;2 it is only by looking at the Jewish texts which survive through the Jewish and Christian traditions, as Tessa Rajak does in her study of these inscriptions, and by adopting assumptions about Jewish monotheism, that a historian can in fact suggest that Pronoia was not (as one might have expected from the dedications) herself the object of worship in the Sardis building. (Goodman 10-11)

Tessa Rajak’s article seeks to “work towards a closer definition of the Sardian Jews’ integration” (230-231) and to examine what kept the Jews as Jews. Basing her work on A.T. Kraabel’s article “Pronoia at Sardis,” she re-examines the sources of the epigraphic use of the term “pronoia,” concluding that the benefaction inscriptions at Sardis “expose traces of the mechanisms of self-differentiation” and provide evidence that the Jews of Sardis maintained their distinctiveness (231) and were capable of deploying the forms of Jewish self-expression available from the wider world.

Rajak’s discussion of the “pronoia” inscriptions is largely concerned with refuting Kraabel’s article in which he postulates that the influence of the Jewish use of the term “pronoia” at Sardis is pagan, not Jewish.2 Rajak is especially concerned with the “theological weight” Kraabel thinks the Sardis Jews placed on “pronoia.” She argues that his interpretation leads to the conclusion that Sardis Jewry was “intellectually and spiritually as well as socially indistinguishable from its pagan environment” (233). Additionally, his thesis ignores the “excellent Jewish-Greek pedigree” (233) of “pronoia.” She claims that 4 Maccabees 9.24, in particular, uses “pronoia” in the same absolute sense as the Sardis inscriptions. (Kraabel disagrees; see n. 1 below.) The possible 2nd century CE dating of 4 Maccabees (235, contradicting her statement two paragraphs earlier that 4 Maccabees is earlier than Philo and Josephus and the general consensus that its dating is pre-70 CE, puts it chronologically closer to the Sardis inscriptions than other pronoia references in Hellenistic Jewish literary sources. Another reason for the unqualified used of “pronoia” is that the name of God is frequently absent in Jewish inscriptions and “this preference would in itself constitute a reason to leave pronoia unqualified” (235). And since “pronoia” is prominent in (Greek?) donor epigraphy as a “designation for the care and concern of benefactors,” this Jewish usage can be seen as “re-allocating the beneficence [to God], giving current Greek terminology … a deliberate and value-laden twist” (236).

The phrase the “gifts of God” which appears in some of the Sardis inscriptions is “in keeping with what might be judged to be the general spirit of Jewish benefactions, with their tendency…to undercut the claims of donors” (236) and highlight what comes from God. What is remarkable about the Sardis inscriptions, according to Rajak, is the contrast with what was “typical.” Greek donors “declare themselves…as donating ἐκ τῶν ἰδίων [‘from their own means/goods’] and expect to be thanked for it…It can only be a wholly deliberate departure when the Jews declare that it is God who should be thanked” (238).

Rajak concludes by stating that the Jews of Sardis used subtle means to mark themselves off as a group. They had to be familiar with the language of both Greek benefaction formulae and expressions employed by the wider Greek-speaking Jewry. The result was a local brand of Jewish epigraphy whose distinctiveness may or may not have been understood by the wider Sardis community.

There are several problems with Rajak’s discussion. First, she misses Kraabel’s main thesis: that even though the term “pronoia” may have a pagan origin, the Jews of Sardis took it and used it in a language completely their own (Kraabel, 95). He is clear that the “pronoia” texts should be understood within a monotheistic framework. Secondly, she does not find fault with Kraabel where she could. He argues that, with only one other exception, no other synagogue uses “pronoia.” However, this is an argument out of silence rather than hard evidence. Rajak misses this point altogether. Thirdly, even if 4 Maccabees was written in the 2nd century CE, how does this really support Rajak’s thesis? The language of 4 Maccabees itself is thoroughly influenced by Greek philosophy. Would not the source of influence of “pronoia” in this text be just as suspect as that in Sardis? What makes 4 Maccabees more Jewish (less Greek) than Kraabel’s reading of the Sardis inscriptions?

Essay 16: Sacha Stern, “Dissonance and Misunderstanding in Jewish-Roman Relations” (241-250) [SM]

Sacha Stern studies the social and political consequences of misunderstandings between Jews and Romans. In doing so, he tests the concept that Jewish evidence is typical of conquered peoples in the Roman world. In one case, he discusses the image of “ploughing over Jerusalem,” finding that Mishnah Taanit interprets as destructive that which “is interpreted as a constructive act” in an Aelia coin (243). He further argues that this coin type “was sufficiently common to have been known to the Jews and rabbis of Palestine, and to have played a significant part … in the making of mishnaic tradition” (245). Stern finds this misunderstanding interesting but of little consequence. As a contrasting case he discusses the Jewish rejection of a gift by a Roman on his festival day (247) because of fears that, in accepting this gift, the Jew will cause the Roman to offer a sacrifice. Stern stresses the distinctiveness of this situation, concluding that “the persistence of such misunderstandings as late as the third century was more specific to Palestinian Jews, and resulted from their deliberate resistance to Romanization” (250). Although Stern’s second example appears only in the two talmudim, and may or may not describe an historical occurrence, Stern explores a nexus of exciting ideas surrounding gift-giving, including the socio-political functions, the relative status of donor and recipient and the extent of the “religious significance of this occasion” (249) for the Roman sender of the gift.

Postscript [RAK]

While numerous loose ends remain (indeed, that is clearly part of Goodman’s point in introducing the collection), we have also learned much that is positive, if not entirely new, from this anthology:

* There were Jews who produced Greek literature that developed non-Jewish attitudes and themes;

* Jewish sources can be useful — with all due caution (especially regarding rabbinic materials) — to the secular student of the Greco-Roman period;

* and even in Palestine/Israel, as well as throughout the Graeco-Roman world, Jews can often be seen as thinking and acting no differently from their non-Jewish neighbors — although sometimes clear lines of demarcation are also apparent.

Martin Goodman has spent much of his scholarly career making similar points in various ways, and this volume provides a further contribution to those efforts, especially by highlighting the complexities that pertain to life “back then,” just as to our own lives. The title makes one stop and think — why “Jews in a Graeco-Roman World” rather than “in the”? But an even more accurate title might be “Some Jews in Some Graeco-Roman Worlds.”


1. Reviewed by the members of the 1999 advanced seminar on early Judaism and early Christianity at the University of Pennsylvania conducted by Ross S. Kraemer (now at Brown University) and Robert A. Kraft [RAK, framework, ##1, 3] and attended by Susan Marks [SM, ##9, 11, 16], Debra Bucher [DB, #15], Sigrid Peterson [SP, ##6-10, 13-14], Beth Pollard [BP, ## 2, 5, 12, 14], Shira Lander, William “Chip” Gruen, Sarah Schwarz, Brad Kirkegaard, Jill Gorman, and Kim Haines-Eitzen — the reviewers have been joined more recently by Todd Krulak [TK, #4]. Main responsibility for each review is indicated by the reviewer’s initials. Final editing is the responsibility of Beth Pollard ( and Robert Kraft ( We apologize for the extreme delay in making this review-anthology available, but are pleased to say that the book is no less relevant and important today than it was when it first appeared in 1999.

2. A.T. Kraabel, “Pronoia at Sardis,” in B. Isaac and A. Oppenheimer, eds. Studies on the Jewish Diaspora in the Hellenistic and Roman Periods. Te’uda 12. Tel Aviv: Ramot Publishing, 1996, 75-96. He bases his argument on two factors: in none of the Jewish sources does the word carry the singleness of meaning which it has in the Sardis inscriptions; and if the influence of other Jewish texts using “pronoia” was so widespread, we would find it in other synagogues as well (87).