Bringing together scholars from a wide disciplinary range and organised into three chronological sections, the essays (of varied length) contribute to the developing field of “the sociology of the Second Temple period” and set out to distinguish what may be known with certainty about the politics, class, and material culture of Second Temple Palestine.
Opening the Achaemenid section, Kenneth Hoglund’s “The Material Culture of the Persian Period and the Sociology of the Second Temple Period” discusses the nature of the data—toponymic lists of Ezra‚Nehemiah and jar-stamps and coins from “Yehud”—concluding that they indicate a decentralized rural population such as calls into question the construct “urban aristocracy.”
Then, John Wright’s “A Tale of Three Cities: Urban Gates, Squares and Power in Iron Age II, Neo-Babylonian and Achaemenid Judah” provides a update on the phenomenon of ancient city governance. Using Foucauldian insights he sees power being created by a succession of barriers, boundaries, and various access routes in order to support the power of the king or priestly class. Wright further identifies the development of citizenly power with the development of the structures and roles of “city squares.”
Opening the “Hellenistic” section, Lester Grabbe’s “The Jews and Hellenization: Hengel and his Critics” reminds readers that “[i]t is not the job of the historian to take sides or adopt the denominational prejudice of the sources” (p. 64) and criticizes that mode of discussion. Grabbe provides a thorough analysis of the data and of what claims may safely be made. His main criticism is that complex sociological phenomena have been summarised in key words, e.g., “Greek” and “Hellenization” ‘and then sweepingly applied in areas where exactitude is required. He also resists the too simple opposition of Judaism and Hellenism, believing that many factors contribute to cultural change.
Kenneth Hoglund’s second contribution, “The Material Culture of the Seleucid Period in Palestine: Social and Economic Observations” identifies the Seleucid-encouraged development of “wealth” in the cities with the concomitant appearance of an urban underclass.
In “Ben Sira and the Sociology of the Second Temple,” Richard Horsley and Patrick Tiller discuss the underlying purpose of Ben Sira’s writings using a nuanced adaptation of Lenski’s (1966) theories of power and privilege. They identify the class of scribes as having to manoeuvre for position between the ruling priestly groups and the peasants. The ruling group wished to delegate only the tedious aspects of their business to the scribes, the maintenance of day-to-day societal law-keeping and harmony, and in exchange would mete out a small measure of power and authority.
Next, John Halligan, the co-editor, provides his analysis of “Conflicting Ideologies Concerning the Second Temple” distinguishing the threat of the dominating Seleucid ideals of “[o]rder, class, status, wealth and power” (p. 109) to the existing “order” in Jerusalem. Under the re-alignment of power the temple began to lose its “ideologically centralizing and stabilizing effect” and “became the site of contention” (p. 115) for Yehud’s ruling echelons.
Robert Doran’s “Jewish Education in the Seleucid Period” presents the evidence of a wide, even “liberal,” education being available to citizens of the time. He rejects the monolithic, negative portrayal of the “gymnasium” that he finds in many discussions, believing its origin to be the Books of the Maccabees, their biased perspective contradicting the picture of city gymnasia enculturated to match the needs of their inhabitants that he finds portrayed in wider sources.
Opening the section headed The Hasmoneans is Richard Horsley’s second contribution, “The Expansion of Hasmonean Rule in Idumea and Galilee: Towards a Historical Sociology.” Horsley resists the too-ready identification of “religion” as a controlling factor in the politics of the times and asks that scholars eliminate the “Christian-centred” bias of secondary sources and concentrate their attention on the complex of religion, economics, politics and culture that in combination motivated rulers’ and peasants’ actions and lives.
James Pasto’s “The Origin, Expansion and Impact of the Hasmoneans in Light of Comparative Ethnographic Studies (and Outside of its Nineteenth-Century Context)” discusses the pitfalls of the “dual nature of critical scholarship” (Wilk 1985), namely, that uncovering meaning and also presenting it in some informal or hidden dialogue with the present (p. 168). Pasto meticulously discusses the familiar terminology—Jew, Judaism, Judeans and Hellenism—to uncover their appropriate meanings and de-specialize the nature of the changes that happened within Judaism.
Completing the book Lester Grabbe’s second contribution, “Betwixt and Between: The Samaritans in the Hasmonean period” shows how little may be made, after all, from the little information available and concludes that, in spite of small differences, Jews and Samaritans had much in common and that their “differences” may have been “manipulated” by them within the sources in order to accommodate the needs of different groups or circumstances.
The book is well-supported by a Bibliography and Indices of References and Authors, and makes a strong contribution to the field.