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.