Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Aspects of Samaria’s Religious Culture During the Early Hellenistic Period

Gary N. Knoppers 

In the first volume of his extensive study, A History of the Jews and Judaism in the Second Temple Period, Grabbe comments that a number of peculiar problems confront the would-be historian in attempting to write about the Persian period. Among these are the survival of few primary (contemporary) documents, the types of extant written sources, large gaps in the available sources, and the fact that most narrative descriptions written about this era in antiquity are late works in Greek or Latin, presenting events from a Hellenic or Roman perspective. When he later turns to discussing the history of one of Judah’s neighbors, Samaria, during the Achaemenid era, Grabbe describes our present knowledge as “skimpy.” One might add that scholarly reconstructions have been hampered by an over-reliance on late Judean biblical texts, most of which are polemical in tone, and the testimony of Josephus. Happily, as Grabbe himself notes, recent discoveries have begun to change this picture. The publication of the Samaria papyri and seal impressions, the publication and analysis of hundreds of Samarian coins, and the partial publication of the Mt. Gerizim excavations have enhanced our knowledge and complicated older reconstructions of the religious history of the region of Samaria during the Achaemenid and Hellenistic eras.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Lester L. Grabbe, Ezra-Nehemiah (pdf)

The books of Ezra and Nehemiah have not been the most popular of the books in the Hebrew Bible. Yet they have had great influence on how the Jewish religion is assumed to have developed. They describe the reconstruction of the Jewish temple and state after their destruction by the Babylonians in 587/586 BCE and set the theme for the concerns and even the basis of Early Judaism which is usually seen as the Torah. The figure of Ezra has been profoundly associated with the origin or promulgation or interpretation of that Torah. The consequence is that the books of Ezra and Nehemiah are in many ways the foundation of much scholarship, not only about the development of the Jewish religion but even of how the Old Testament (OT) literature emerged.

The aim of this book is to make a contribution to a better understanding of these two books which, in my opinion, are crucial writings in the Hebrew Bible. My study has implications for the history of Israel and Judah, the religion of Israelites and Judeans, the literary development of the OT, and OT theology. This is inevitable because of the importance of Ezra and Nehemiah for all these areas. All the various implications are not drawn here because of my focus purely on Ezra and Nehemiah. Some of the consequences were drawn in chapter 2 of my Judaism from Cyrus to Hadrian (1992a) and will be dealt with in more detail in my forthcoming Yehud: The Persian Province of Judah (in preparation).

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Two Recensions of the Book of Ezra: Ezra-Nehemiah (MT) and 1 Esdras (LXX)

Dieter Bohler

Abstract: Like Proverbs, Jeremiah and Daniel, the book of Ezra has been transmitted in two recensions: Ezra-Nehemiah in the Hebrew Bible and 1 Esdras in the Greek Bible. Each version has its own distinct literary shape. Both editions overlap in the account of Zerubbabel's temple building and Ezra's mission. In addition to this common material both versions contain special property: 1 Esdras starts with the last two chapters of Chronicles (Ezra MT only with the last verses) and includes the so-called guardsmen story, a Zerubbabel legend not found in Ezra-Nehemiah. On the other hand Ezra-Nehemiah contains the account of Nehemiah's city building lacking in 1 Esdras. The article shows that this last difference in literary shape is connected with a whole series of small textual differences between the overlapping material of two versions which therefore betray themselves as being part of an intentional recension rather than scribal errors. The Zerubbabel and Ezra account of 1 Esdras does not expect a coming Nehemiah story whereas MT's Zerubbabel and Ezra text is compatible with the following Nehemiah account.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Archaeology and the List of Returnees in the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah

Israel Finkelstein

The list of returnees (Ezra 2, 1-67; Nehemiah 7, 6-68) forms one of the cornerstones for the study of the province of Yehud in the Persian period. Because of the lack of ancient Near Eastern sources on Yehud, discussion has focused primarily on the biblical texts and has thus, in certain cases, become trapped in circular reasonin. The only source of information that can break this deadlock is archaeology. The finds at the places mentioned in the list of returnees seems to show that it does not represent Persian-period realities. Important Persian-period places not mentioned in the list support this notion. The archaeology of the list seems to indicate that it was compiled in the late Hellenistic (Hasmonaean) period and represents the reality of that time.

In a recent article (Finkelstein, in press) I questioned Nehemiah 3's description of the construction of the Jerusalem wall in the light of the archaeology of Jerusalem in the Persian period. The finds indicate that the settlement was small and poor. It covered an area of c. 2-2.5 hectares and was inhabited by 400-500 people. The archaeology of Jerusalem shows no evidence for construction of a wall in the Persian period, or renovation of the ruined Iron II city-wall. I concluded with three alternatives for understanding the discrepancy between the biblical text and the archaeological finds: 1) that the description in Nehemiah 3 is utopian; 2) that it preserves a memory of an Iron Age construction or renovation of the city-wall; 3) that the description is influenced by the construction of the First Wall in the Hasmonaean period. All three options pose significant difficulties, but the third one seems to me the least problematic. In any event, I argued, the archaeology of Jerusalem in the Persian period must be the starting point for any future discussion of this issue. Accordingly, I believe it is now time to deal with the other lists in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah in the light of modern archaeological research — first and foremost with the list of the returnees to Zion (Ezra 2.1—67; Nehemiah 7.6—68).

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Genesis and the Moses Story

Genesis and the Moses story were two competing myths of origin for Israel that were literarily and conceptually independent from each other. They both explained in different ways how Israel came to be.See also Genesis and the Moses Story: Israel’s Dual Origins in the Hebrew Bible (Siphrut 3; Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2010)

By Konrad Schmid
Professor of Hebrew Bible and Ancient Judaism
University of Zurich, Switzerland
October 2010

In the 20th century, the so-called Documentary Hypothesis with its four elements J, E, P, D was a commonly accepted explanation for the literary growth of the Pentateuch. This hypothesis is based on the assumption that there are three similar narrative accounts of Israel's history of the creation, the ancestors, the exodus, and the conquest of the land: J, E, and P. The story line of the Pentateuch was considered very ancient. J adapted the structure of the narrative from the old creeds of ancient Israel, and the structure of the narrative accounts of E and P were mere epigones or imitations of J. However, in the last thirty years, serious doubts have arisen concerning this model. Only P, because of its clear structure and its specific language, has remained generally uncontested.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Origin of Biblical Israel

Philip R Davies
University of Sheffield


The most important development in recent years in the study of the history of ancient Israel and Judah has been, in my opinion, the interest in Judah during the Neo-Babylonian period, a period previously somewhat neglected, and strangely so, since it offers the most peculiar anomaly: for the entire period, a province called ‘Judah’ was in fact governed from a territory that, as the Bible and biblical historians themselves would describe it, was 'Benjamin’. The former capital of the kingdom of Judah, Jerusalem, was replaced by Mizpah. In the majority of modern histories of Israel/Judah that I have consulted, no explanation is offered for this choice.

How long this state of affairs continued remains unclear: the narratives of Ezra and Nehemiah are silent about this (as they are confused about the rebuilding of the Temple), and, as Edelman has recently argued (Edelman 2005), Jerusalem was probably not restored as the capital of Judah until the middle of the 5th century at the earliest (indeed, if Jerusalem had been the capital before the time of Artaxerxes, the story of Nehemiah would be largely pointless!).

Thus, for well over a century, the political life of Judah was centered in a territory which had once been part of the kingdom of Israel. How, when and why it became attached to Judah is unknown. The claim in 1 Kings 12:16-21 that Benjamin sided with Judah when the ‘kingdom’ was ‘divided’ is hardly to be taken as reliable. If, when the Assyrians divided the territory of the former kingdom of Israel into provinces, the territory we know as ‘Benjamin’ was allocated to Assyria’s vassal Judah, it seems not to have been involved in the campaign of Sennacherib—or had it been, it would  have probably been removed from Judah. Perhaps it was annexed by Josiah: but if so, why would it not have been reclaimed by Egypt or by Babylon after his death?). The reign of Manasseh looks more probable, given the favourable relations between him and Assyria.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Jerusalem in the Persian (and Early Hellenistic) Period and the Wall of Nehemiah

Israel Finkelstein, Institute of Archaeology, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv 69978, Israel  
Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Vol 32.4 (2008): 501-520 


Knowledge of the archaeology of Jerusalem in the Persian (and Early Hellenistic) period — the size of the settlement and whether it was fortified — is crucial to understanding the history of the province of Yehud, the reality behind the book of Nehemiah and the process of compilation and redaction of certain biblical texts. It is therefore essential to look at the finds free of preconceptions (which may stem from the account in the book of Nehemiah) and only then attempt to merge archaeology and text.

The Current View

A considerable number of studies dealing with Jerusalem in the Persian period have been published in recent years (e.g. Carter 1999; Eshel 2000; Stern 2001: 434-36; Edelman 2005; Lipschits 2005, 2006; Ussishkin 2006). Although the authors were aware of the results of recent excavations, which have shown that the settlement was limited to the eastern ridge (the City of David), they continued to refer to a meaningful, fortified 'city' with a relatively large population.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


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