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Jewish People in Classical Antiquity

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Jewish People in Classical Antiquity: From Alexander to Bar Kochba
By John H. Hayes and Sara R. Mandell. (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998. Pp xiii, 246.) ISBN: 0-664-25727-5.

Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - October 1, 2000

Jewish history is, and always had been, a contentious area of study. Personal ideologies, political sensibilities, and religious overtones often color the study of Jewish History. In The Jewish People in Classical Antiquity: From Alexander to Bar Kochba, John H. Hayes and Sara R. Mandell have taken on the task of exploring a vital period of Jewish history. This period, which ranges from 333 B.C.E. to 135 C.E., encompasses an exceptionally volatile period beginning with the conquest of Palestine by Alexander the Great and culminating with the termination of the Second Jewish Revolt against Rome.

Many authors have found it difficult to approach this era without allowing their own personal biases to encroach upon their work. In an era that is so tinged with religious overtones, this is not unexpected. In The Jewish People in Classical Antiquity, the authors, John H. Hayes (Professor of Old Testament at Emory University) and Sara R. Mandell (Professor of Religious Studies at the University of South Florida), strove to be as unbiased as possible and to present a truthful and historical account of the period, for the most part they succeeded admirably.

The text is divided into four parts.

Throughout the text, the authors strove to tell the story of the Jewish-Judea community - from their vantage point. As well as from the viewpoint of the Roman's and other ruling entities. They were brutally honest when explaining the machinations of the Temple state and the political infighting that often crippled the ability of the Jews to wage a successful campaign for self-rule. Most important, they took great pains to explain, and document, how the political and religious intricacies of the Jewish community affected their relationship with Rome. The text also illustrated how political turmoil in Rome affected the civil and religious life of the Jewish community in Palestine. Meticulous care was also taken to explain how and why the Jews went to war against Roman rule and why Rome viewed the Roman-Jewish wars as revolts and not as real wars. The insights offered on this topic are invaluable to explaining how the Roman's viewed their world, and their responsibilities to those areas which they had annexed and to those kingdoms which they viewed as client states.

By far, the most valuable assets contained in this book are the plethora of time-line and genealogy charts, maps, and translations of period texts that serve to explain and highlight important aspects of the time. Students of both Jewish and Roman History will find the time-line charts invaluable. These charts offer detailed information covering major events, information on the various rulers and important officials, including a chronology of who held the position of High Priest and how he came to power. In addition these charts offer a comparison of ongoing Roman and Jewish affairs. This allows the student to see, at a glance, what was going on in Rome and, at the same time, what was going on in Jewish Palestine.

This text was written for both students and scholars of classical antiquity. The narrative is lucid, compelling and provides a wealth of information on a significant period in both Roman and Jewish History. In addition, the text illustrates how Rome dealt with other religious and political institutions that fell within their purview.

Related Reviews:

Jews in a Graeco-Roman World, Edited by Martin Goodman.
Unlike other minority groups which became intertwined with the Roman apparatus, the Jews not only maintained their own cultural identity and practices, but they also left behind written and archeological records of their existence and life under Roman rule. In Jews in a Graeco-Roman World, Goodman, has brought together a series of essays on the topic of Jewish life in the Graeco-Roman world.

Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora: From Alexander to Trajan, By John M. G. Barclay.
Academic study of Jewish history during the Graeco-Roman period is usually focused on Jewish life in Judea. Often overlooked are the far flung and substantial Jewish communities that were scattered around the Mediterranean. Until recently, if a reader had a desire to study this period of the Jewish diaspora, they quickly found that a basic text on this subject did not exist. This oversight has been corrected with the publication of Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora.

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