» » Imperialism and Jewish Society: 200 B.C.E. to 640 C.E. (Jews, Christians, and Muslims from the Ancient to the Modern World)

Imperialism and Jewish Society: 200 B.C.E. to 640 C.E. (Jews, Christians, and Muslims from the Ancient to the Modern World) epub

by Seth Schwartz


Imperialism and Jewish Society: 200 B.C.E. to 640 C.E. (Jews, Christians, and Muslims from the Ancient to the Modern World) epub

ISBN: 0691117810

ISBN13: 978-0691117812

Author: Seth Schwartz

Category: Other

Subcategory: Humanities

Language: English

Publisher: Princeton University Press (February 1, 2004)

Pages: 336 pages

ePUB book: 1732 kb

FB2 book: 1747 kb

Rating: 4.6

Votes: 380

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Schwartz is a leading expert on the Jews in the Roman Empire .

Schwartz is a leading expert on the Jews in the Roman Empire. Using scholarly publications, he has produced a new synthesis that will provoke much debate among scholars. "Imperialism and Jewish Society comprises a highly ambitious discussion of a very wide sweep of Jewish history, with novel insights into major issues of the general interpretation of that history and into numerous minor matters of a widely disparate nature. There are interesting observations on every page. The book divides the period into three parts - 200 BCE through the two major Jewish revolts ending in 135 CE, the high imperial period between 135 and 350 CE, and late antiquity 350 to 640 CE.

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to the mid-fourth century, with failed revolts and the alluring cultural norms of the High Roman Empire, Judaism all but disintegrated.

This provocative new history of Palestinian Jewish society in antiquity marks the first comprehensive effort to gauge the effects of imperial domination on this people. to the mid-fourth century, with failed revolts and the alluring cultural norms of the High Roman Empire, Judaism all but disintegrated. However, late in the Roman Empire, the Christianized state played a decisive role in ''re-Judaizing'' the Jews. The state gradually excluded them from society while supporting their leaders and recognizing their local communities.

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Schwartz's compelling sweep of Jewish history from 200 . traces the impact of different types of foreign domination on the inner structure of ancient Jewish society, primarily in Palestine. 1) Schwartz argues that ND century . Jonathan Kaplan, . iv. is at Congregation Avodat Yisrael, Philadelphia, PA.

Series: Jews, Christians, and Muslims from the Ancient to the Modern World. This provocative new history of Palestinian Jewish society in antiquity marks the first comprehensive effort to gauge the effects of imperial domination on this people. Published by: Princeton University Press.

This imperial domination-whether Greek, Roman, or Christian-had a decisive impact on not only Jewish society but indeed on Judaism itself. Judaism in antiquity (and by implication its modern descendents), Schwartz argues, owes as much, or even more, to colonialist powers as it does to the tradition of the Bible.

Seth Schwartz is the Lucius N. Littauer Professor of Classical Jewish Civilization and professor of religion at Columbia University. He is the author of "Imperialism and Jewish Society, 200 BCE to 640 CE" (Princeton) and "Josephus and Judaean Politics. Imperialism and Jewish Society, 200 . Jews, Christians, and Muslims from the ancient to the modern world Jews, Christians, and Muslims Princeton paperbacks.

Jews, Christians, and Muslims captures the increasingly sophisticated attention paid by scholars in recent decades to the historical relations-political, social, intellectual, and cultural-among these three groups. The series publishes innovative and wide-ranging scholarship that addresses an expansive array of issues, such as political and economic conflict; religious, intellectual, and social interactions; and mutual influences in ritual, liturgy, imagery, symbols, literature, law, family, and other spheres.

Imperialism in Jewish Society will be widely read and much debated . IMPERIALISM AND JEWISH SOCIETY traces the impact of different types of foreign domination on the inner structure of ancient Jewish society, primarily in Palestine. It is intuitively obvious that the ancient Jews (assuming that they behaved like a recognizably human group) were profoundly affected by the imperial powers under which they were constrained to live. It is equally obvious that the effects of imperialism were not limited to reaction-to the impulse to circle the wagons that has so often been attributed to the Jews by historians and others.

This provocative new history of Palestinian Jewish society in antiquity marks the first comprehensive effort to gauge the effects of imperial domination on this people. Probing more than eight centuries of Persian, Greek, and Roman rule, Seth Schwartz reaches some startling conclusions--foremost among them that the Christianization of the Roman Empire generated the most fundamental features of medieval and modern Jewish life.

Schwartz begins by arguing that the distinctiveness of Judaism in the Persian, Hellenistic, and early Roman periods was the product of generally prevailing imperial tolerance. From around 70 C.E. to the mid-fourth century, with failed revolts and the alluring cultural norms of the High Roman Empire, Judaism all but disintegrated. However, late in the Roman Empire, the Christianized state played a decisive role in ''re-Judaizing'' the Jews. The state gradually excluded them from society while supporting their leaders and recognizing their local communities. It was thus in Late Antiquity that the synagogue-centered community became prevalent among the Jews, that there re-emerged a distinctively Jewish art and literature--laying the foundations for Judaism as we know it today.

Through masterful scholarship set in rich detail, this book challenges traditional views rooted in romantic notions about Jewish fortitude. Integrating material relics and literature while setting the Jews in their eastern Mediterranean context, it addresses the complex and varied consequences of imperialism on this vast period of Jewish history more ambitiously than ever before. Imperialism in Jewish Society will be widely read and much debated.

The author's objective is to demonstrate how changes in Jewish society through some 800 years can be related to the policies of and developments within the empires to which it was subject. It is an attempt to place Israel within the context of the different ethnicities and nationalities of the eastern mediterranean, to understand how it was subject to the same empire-wide influences as these others, and to identify in what way - and why - the developments in Jewish society converged on or diverged from those of the other societies.

The book divides the period into three parts - 200 BCE through the two major Jewish revolts ending in 135 CE, the high imperial period between 135 and 350 CE, and late antiquity 350 to 640 CE.

In the early period, his main point is that all the empires that ruled Judea - Persian, Macedonian and Roman until 70 CE - implicitly or explicitly regarded the Jews' "ancient practices" - including both the Temple rites and the exclusivity of the Jewish God - as the "constitution" of the Judean or Jewish people. The policies of Antiochus IV Epiphanes should be seen as an exception to this rule, and were not an inevitable result of Hellenization. The latter was - more than a cultural hegemony imposed by the Macedonian conquerors - a process in which, by adopting Greek/Macedonian lifestyles - including their deities - local elite groups sought to increase their prestige and influence. It was natural therefore that this trend would be most evident among the elite of the Jewish people too, the priesthood. The exclusivity of Jewish worship however set a barrier to Jews integrating more thoroughly into the political organization of the Greco-Roman empires. The author points out that Judah Maccabee and his brothers were not fighting the Hellenizing trend as such, so much as Antiochus' atypical interference in Jewish religious practice. Once their point had been made, the Hellenization of Judean elites proceeded apace with the Maccabeans' Hasmonean successors.

To the extent that God, Torah, and Temple were regarded as the "constitution" of Judea, the author points out that these in fact defined the permissible limits of Jewish belief and practice under the early Roman empire. He therefore argues that there was a much greater religious conformity than the emphasis on different Jewish sects would lead one to expect. He speculates that adherence to a sect may have been much more widespread - as much as 30% of the male population - than is generally believed. The effect of this argumentation is to reduce the significance of sects to that of alternative country clubs.

Following the destruction of the Temple, direct Roman rule of Palestine - which had started effectively with death of Herod the Great in 4 BCE - became even more direct, as there was no longer a Judean aristocratic or priestly class to act as mediators. Although not triggered by the trauma of a rebellion, this trend - of the elimination of local rulers and "client kings" and their replacement by Roman procurators or governors - was completed in most other parts of the empire by the end of the first century CE. The second and third centuries saw the increasing homogenization of all parts of the empire - culturally and religiously. Without any national leadership and without the central religious focus of temple worship, most Jews too - although they may have felt a degree of separateness that the author does not define - would have been undifferentiated from other inhabitants (and from, the 220's citizens) of the Roman empire. What this means, according to the author, is that - particularly in the cities - Jews led their lives at least as much in accordance to the dictates of Roman law and urban culture as in accordance to Torah precepts. In particular, participating in rites of pagan worship may have been a necessary accomodation to living life as a citizen in the empire. Torah law was the concern only of the rabbis and their immediate following, who were marginal to and had no authority over the bulk of the Jewish population. The author's assertion of the virtual assimilation of the bulk of the Jewish population in the pagan population seems to owe more to the absence of evidence for Torah observance- for example, the absence of practical legislation in the Mishnah - rather than any more positive proof of alienation from Torah .

From the beginning of the 4th century, the diffusion of Christianity and its adoption as the official religion of the empire created a "sea change" throughout the empire, namely the separation of religion as a discrete category of experience (i.e. no longer embedded seamlessly in everyday life) and the growing identification of the population with specific religious communities. It was this that brought about the renewal of Jewish communal life, rather than any rabbinic influence. In fact the rabbis did not participate in this renewal until the 5th century; rather it was the patriarchate - alienated from the rabbis since the 3rd century - who were seen by the imperial authorities as the religious hierarchy for the Jews, much as bishops were for the Christian communities. As the empire became increasing identified with the orthodox church, it became more "officially" hostile to Judaism - although the effects of this hostility may have been somewhat mitigated in practice (for example the 4th-6th centuries was the great age of synagogue building, in spite of this having been severely curtailed and eventually proscribed in the Theodosian code). The consequent marginalization of those who opted to stay Jewish - unlike with paganism, it was not possible to make an accomodation with Christianity - had the effect of making Jews draw together in self-sufficient communities.

The author pursues a thesis of the parallel development, in late antiquity, of Christian and Jewish community life, and seeks to draw many similarities between them; the proliferation of rural communities/villages each of which had its monumental house of worship, the similar attitude towards the church and synagogue as "sacred space", supposed similarities in the style of worship, and even the growth of iconoclasm in both during the 6th and 7th centuries. The general point - that the Christianization of the empire was the trigger for the renewal of Jewish communal life, not the beginning of its end - has much merit. However, many of the parallels are tendentious, and seem to depend on a degree of speculation about things which, in the author's words are "not recoverable". He supports his argument about the decidedly non-rabbinic view of the sanctity of the synagogue and the significance of the liturgy (about which all we know is from rabbinic sources, which he has dismissed as irrelevant at this point) with a very contrarian interpretation of the Sepphoris and similar mosaics. It is only toward the end of the period that he sees more differentiation from Christian worship, which he attributes to the "rabbinization" of the communities and their "judification" of Jewish worship and liturgy.

Although the author makes a good case for the marginal role of the rabbis until the 5th century, in relation to the bulk of the Jewish population - and S.J. Cohen differs on this only to a degree - he does not satisfactorily account for the continued vitality of this small group through at least 200 years and more of apparent isolation, until they emerge as the leaders and shapers of the Jewish religion in the 5th and 6th centuries. Maybe this is not in his purview, as it does not relate to either empire or society, but it leaves a big hole in the picture.

This is no doubt an outstanding work of scholarship, but the academic language and style make it a difficult book for the general reader (this reviewer had to read the book twice from beginning to end, and some sections three or four times). It also assumes a detailed knowledge of the history , and at least a passing acquaintance with the archaeology and literary sources of the period. The author is wont to preface his analyses with what seems like a complete denial of any possibility of knowing anything certain about what he is about to discuss. This is however just a thorough covering of the academic posterior before he launches into what are often very radical historical interpretations. Many of the author's theses - informed by his macro-imperial rather than micro-Jewish perspective - are often challenging to traditional Jewish narratives - particularly of the 2nd through 5th centuries CE. However, when you are able to stand back and embrace the new perspective, it is a refreshing experience - both at the detailed level and overall.
History becomes falsehood, falsehood becomes myth, myth becomes cannon, cannon becomes Holy Writ, Holy Writ determines history, and, readers, here we are.
This is an unusually ambitious monograph. It seeks to describe the history of Jewish society from the Maccabean revolt to the Muslim attacks that ensured the decline of the Roman Empire in the East. Schwartz argues throughout his book that what we consider to be Judaism was much weaker throughout this period than we have been lead to believe. Arguing against the Zionist ethos that marked much of the archaeology of Palestine, Schwartz emphasizes the elite nature of Jewish doctrines and the limited depth of Judaic doctrine. Not even the Maccabean revolts should be considered an attack on hellenization. He also emphasizes the almost unbroken imperial support for the temple from the Persians to Nero. A certain ideological mindset did occur among the common people after the Maccabean's victory which lasted until the Jewish revolt. But for the next several centuries afterwards Jewish doctrines became shadowy and marginal for most Jews as the centre of Jewish doctrine, the Temple had been irretrievably shattered. Rabbis were a distinctly marginal presence in Jewish life and what archaeological evidence shows the strong influence of paganism in Jewish life. Only with the christianization of the empire from the fourth century onwards did synagogue construction truly bloom, rabbinical influence really increase and iconophobic ideologies develop. Much of this revival was partly the result of Christian exclusion of Jews from the patronage networks that run the empire, but it also included the adaption of Christian motifs.
The book is extensively footnoted and the bibliography is 23 pages long. But most of this consists of the extensive secondary literature. The actual primary evidence which exists is unavoidably scarce. Much of Schwartz's strongest evidence consists of archaeological evidence, which, however, he does not reproduce in the book. But much of Schwartz's case is based on negative evidence, the absence of support. Schwartz has written well in the past in criticizing nationalist misinterpretations of the Jewish past. One recalls his article in Past and Present emphasizing the increasing marginality of Hebrew in post-exile Judea. And his work coincides with the "minimalist" school of archaeological interpretation which is extremely critical of the accuracy of the Tanakh not just up to Moses, but to the kings of a united Israel.
This general mindset has some major problems. The most important one is that if Jewish monotheism was such a late development that it was essentially imposed by Ezra and Nehemiah, why did it succeed? Why didn't the defeated Jews simply view the Babylonian captivity as proof of the strength of Babylonian and Persian gods and abandon their old rituals like their now forgotten neighbors? The same problem arises with the Roman destruction of Jerusalem. Schwartz's discovery of pagan symbols and motifs in the ruins of overwhelmingly Jewish Tiberias is certainly peculiar. Yet why did Judaism survive at all, why would the Romans tolerate it since one could argue that it was the most "monotheist" Jews who were most likely to be "seditious?" Moreover, if most Jews accepted Paganism why does this not appear in Christian-Jewish polemic? If Jews renounced their faith, why is there so little record of their support for their new beliefs, or critiques of the old? Much of Schwartz's archaeological evidence and his discussion of rabbinic commentary of it (he suggests that it was evasive in complying with it) comes close to arguing that since pagan religiosity was so ubiquitious that any orthodox presence could not have existed. Yet Christians faced the same challenges of pagan idolatory, yet they eventually survived and triumphed.
The limitations of the evidence are quite severe. Schwartz himself acknowledges we have little on the economic background of post-revolt Palestine. We also have few sources on the extent and compliance of the Jewish common people (though the absence of pig bones in the Maccabean and Herodian period suggests that most people kept kosher). Surprisingly there is little on the diaspora, though Keith Hopkins has suggested that more than 80% of Jews lived outside modern Israel. At one point Schwartz suggests that literacy was very small in Jewish communities, 10% is a generous estimate, with only 1% being able to read the holy scriptures. Perhaps, but when one considers that the early Christian apostles were not of a social class likely to be literate, and that their many argument was trying to show, not very successfully, that Jesus fufilled prophecies from the scriptures, one suspects that something was wrong. At another point Schwartz argues that the Maccabeans did not really resist Hellenization because they followed the Hellenic process of coining. One might equally argue that Reformation Europe was becoming more like China because it used compasses and gunpowder. Ultimatley this is not a fully convincing book.
Seth Schwartz's Imperialism and Jewish Society is ambitious, attempting to show that the influence of the rabbis in Palestine came far later than normally presumed, and that Jews in Palestine lapsed into a kind of semi-pagan, semi-Jewish ethos, which was only cast off rather late, and with help from the formation of Christian Churches and the Christianization of the Roman Empire. This is a thesis that is bound to upset some; to see the formation of Rabbinical Judaism as a reaction to the Christianization of the Empire will be read as an affront to notions of ancient (and modern) Jewish nationalism.

Far more problematic is that while Schwartz marshals a great deal of material in this volume, he admits many times that we simply do not have enough unequivocal evidence about the day to day lives of Jews in Palestine at this time. This waffling has its effect on the book, which lacks punch and drive. Overall, Schwartz tries to argue from silence, which in historical studies is a dangerous thing to do. Generally, it is better to say nothing at all.