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  • They Shall Purify Themselves”: Essays on Purity in Early Judaism by Susan Haber
  • Thomas Kazen
“THEY SHALL PURIFY THEMSELVES”: ESSAYS ON PURITY IN EARLY JUDAISM. By Susan Haber. Edited by Adele Reinhartz. Early Judaism and Its Literature 24. Pp. x + 240. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2008. Paper, $32.95.

This book consists of four published articles and additional unpublished material by the late Susan Haber. Previously unpublished texts make up a little less than two thirds of the book, and we are indebted to Adele Reinhartz for taking on the task of editing all of this into a volume and thus making more of Haber’s texts publicly available. [End Page 430]

Susan Haber was a gifted Ph.D. student whose untimely death brought an end to a promising second career as a scholar of Second Temple Judaism. Her published articles reveal broad interests and capacities, but her main focus is on purity and impurity. She wrestles with the issue of how to characterize and understand various types of impurity, in particular the scholarly construct separating ritual and moral, or literal and metaphorical impurity.

The explicit focus of the first part of the book, called “bibliographical studies,” consists of three chapters that are similarly structured and could perhaps have been reworked into one single Forschungsbericht. Haber provides an account of how scholars have interpreted the relationship and difference between so-called ritual and moral impurity in the Hebrew Bible (chap. 1), in Second Temple Judaism (chap. 2), and in Qumran (chap. 3), from David Hoffmann to Jonathan Klawans—or, I would rather say in the latter case, to Martha Himmelfarb. This is a clear and informative review of scholarship as far as it goes, that is, up to the year 2000 or 2001.

The second part, called “literary studies,” contains three articles published elsewhere and one unpublished study. Chapter 4 about the mother-martyrs of 2 Maccabees was published in Women in Judaism 4 (2006). Haber discusses the portrayal of these mothers as circumcisers and instructors of their sons, pointing out their role as representatives of the ordinary people. Chapter 6, first published in JSNT 26 (2003), discusses the hemorrhaging woman in Mark 5, arguing a middle way between two opposing feminist interpretations. Haber shows that there is indeed a purity issue in the Markan narrative, but that the focus is on the woman’s health, and that her healing through faith expresses Mark’s Christology. I have interacted with this article elsewhere, in a memorial volume for Haber (Purity and Holiness in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity; Mohr Siebeck, 2013), suggesting that a plausible case can be made for an underlying pre-Markan tradition for this narrative, which could solve some of the tensions between the apparent allusions to Leviticus and Mark’s quite different focus. Both chapters reflect Haber’s interest in biblical women and interaction with feminist exegesis.

Chapter 7, previously published in JSNT 28 (2005), discusses the theological revision carried out by the author of the letter to the Hebrews. Here Haber demonstrates her competence to deal with New Testament letters, drawing (at least in part) on social identity theory to explain the author’s revision of the priestly Torah and the Israelite cult.

In this part of the volume, only chapter 5, about metaphor and meaning in the Dead Sea Scrolls, is not published elsewhere. It analyzes purification language in relation to sin, and temple imagery in relation to the community, in order to learn how the yahad employed metaphor. In the first half of this chapter (originally a separate paper), Haber’s interest in the relationship between ritual and moral impurity, or between impurity and sin, again comes to [End Page 431] the surface. The reason for the order of these chapters is probably chronological, with 2 Maccabees followed by Qumran texts, Mark, and Hebrews.

In the third part, “Historical Studies,” we find two chapters: one on synagogues (chap. 8) and one on pilgrimage (chap. 9), or rather, both focus on purity and purification, but with a focus on synagogue worship and temple festivals respectively. These chapters also include basic introductions to purity law and purity practice in general. Chapter 8...


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