In this compilation, Rainer Albertz and Bob Becking present thirteen essays related to Judean religion in the Persian era, originally presented at the first meeting of the European Association for Biblical Studies (August 6‚9, 2000 in Utrecht). As the name of the Association might imply, the essays tend mostly toward biblical interpretation. All of the contributions are valuable, with less unevenness in quality than found in some such compilations.
Albertz’s own contribution, “The Thwarted Restoration,” exposes the inappropriateness of “restoration” to describe what happened in Yehud. In relevant biblical texts, correlated with developments in the Persian empire, Albertz detects both pro- and anti-monarchical factions in Yehud. The national-religious faction, intent on restoring the Davidic monarchy, failed, while factions who emphasized temple building over dynastic restoration, or who were uninterested in any sort of restoration, succeeded.
In “Law as an Expression of Religion (Ezra 7‚10),” Becking explores the function and character of torah in Yehud. He does so in explicit contrast to earlier scholars who construed post-exilic Yahwism’s emphasis on “law” as a degeneration of longstanding Israelite faith. Torah, Becking’s study suggests, expressed a symbol system that helped the Yahwistic community cope with their problems by presenting that community as the sole legitimate heir of the pre-exilic Israelite and Judean communities.
The title “What Is New in Yehud? Some Considerations” is entirely apt, but might not immediately reveal to readers the matters treated therein. Ehud Ben Zvi argues that post-exilic Yehud is marked by both continuity and discontinuity with pre-exilic Judah and pre-monarchic Israel, and he focuses his attention here on the discontinuities. Specifically, Ben Zvi analyzes the concept of “exile,” the emphasis on a constructed past which marginalizes the present, limited resources, and the centrality of authoritative texts as unique features of Yehudian religion and society.
Mark Boda interrogates the book of Zechariah in “Zechariah: Master Mason or Penitential Prophet?” Boda challenges the notion that temple rebuilding is a foremost priority in Zechariah 1‚8. Boda argues that penitence, based on earlier prayer traditions, plays a far more important role than temple rebuilding in those chapters.
In “The Law of Moses: The Memory of Mosaic Religion,” Meindert Dijkstra asks why and how Moses came to be remembered so prominently in exilic and post-exilic tradition. Dijkstra does not seek to investigate the historical Moses, but rather the history of traditions about Moses. Dijkstra perceives a “crisis” in Israelite Yahwism in the eighth and seventh centuries bce, during which a new literate elite promoted the idea of a religiously pure “golden age.” The written torah, with Moses as lawgiver, became a crucial feature of this movement, which came to full flower after the exile.
The contention that P radically adjusted D’s festival calendar lies at the heart of William Johnstone’s “The Revision of Festivals in Exodus 1‚24.” Johnstone argues that Diaspora priests revised the festivals, especially transferring their associations from agricultural rhythms to historical memories. These revisions made the festivals practicable for Diaspora Jews.
Antje Labahn perceives “Antitheocratic Tendencies in Chronicles.” Chronicles’s descriptions of Levitical and priestly duties provide Labahn’s entry point. In Chronicles, Levites are secular administrators even more than cultic functionaries, performing duties analogous to those necessary for the functioning of a provincial government in Yehud. The Levites decisively influenced Yehud by positioning themselves between the people at large and the political rulers as the administrators of social institutions—somewhat displacing the more narrowly focused priests.
Prophetic critiques of venerating the spirits of dead kings, suppression of household gods, interdiction of mourning rites, and prohibition of necromancy are signs of “The Changed Status of the Dead in Yehud,” Herbert Niehr argues. Niehr suggests that the increasing stringency of Yahwistic monotheism is by itself insufficient to explain these interventions against veneration of the dead. Rather, both the priestly and Deuteronomistic schools had particular reasons for suppressing veneration of the dead. The priests’ view of death and the dead was influenced by negative Mesopotamian attitudes toward these. The Deuteronomists opposed veneration of the dead because it impeded cultic centralization in the Jerusalem temple.
Thomas Pola examines “Form and Meaning in Zechariah 3.” There, the high priest gains both royal and prophetic privileges, including access to the divine council. These endowments are oriented chiefly toward the high priest’s role in the atonement of the people, just as he himself is purified in the vision. Pola also argues that apart from portions of v. 5, Zechariah 3 is a literary unity. In “Messianic Expectations in the Early Postexilic Period,” Wolter H. Rose focuses on Haggai’s and Zechariah’s oracles associated with Zerubbabel. Rose shows that Haggai 2 assures Zerubbabel of special protection during political upheaval, but does not predict his elevation to kingship. Similarly, the צמח oracles in Zechariah 3–6 point to a future “messiah,” not Zerubbabel. Rose also argues that Zechariah 4 does not advance a royal-priestly diarchy.
Material remains prompt and inform Rüdiger Schmitt’s essay, “Gab es einem Bildersturm nach dem Exil? Einige Bemerkungen zur Verwendung von Terrakottafigurinen im nachexilischen Israel.” After surveying the distribution and probable functions of terracotta figurines dating to the Persian era in Syria-Palestine, Schmitt concludes that the presence of such figurines in Judean refuse piles does not testify to a unique post-exilic Judean iconoclasm.
Zipora Talshir strongly criticizes studies of the Greek text of 1 Esdras “as it is.” In “Synchronic Approaches with Diachronic Consequences in the Study of Parallel Redactions: First Esdras and 2 Chronicles 35‚36; Ezra 1‚10; Nehemiah 8,” Talshir argues that synchronic studies of 1 Esdras end up making implausible claims by flattening out the various stages in the book’s development. Features of the Vorlage, for example, are credited to the translator, or minor translation choices are treated as decisive issues.
David Vanderhooft’s “New Evidence Pertaining to the Transition from Neo-Babylonian to Achaemenid Administration in Palestine” rounds out the volume. Vanderhooft focuses chiefly on the appointment of Jews to administrative offices. The “anecdotal” data from Babylonian- and Persian-era tablets show that Jews were not incorporated into the Babylonian administration, and indeed that the Babylonians barely “administered” Judea at all. The Persians, however, did incorporate ethnic minorities, including Jews, into the imperial and provincial bureaucracies.
In a review of this length, it is not possible to individually assess the strengths and weaknesses of each essay in such a compilation. Each essays is thought-provoking; in my judgment, the contributions by Albertz, Becking, Ben Zvi, Niehr, Rose, and Vanderhooft are the most interesting. All students of Yahwism in the Persian period will benefit from this volume. The meeting organizers, volume editors, and contributors are to be thanked and commended for presenting this resource to the academic community.