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Ancient Judaism: New Visions and Views by Michael E. Stone (review)

From: Hebrew Studies
Volume 54, 2013
pp. 411-413 | 10.1353/hbr.2013.0026

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This latest work by Michael Stone, Professor Emeritus of Armenian Studies and Religious Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, collects free-standing pieces rather than tracing a single argument, but none of the essays here has been previously published: the author documents meticulously where he re-works his own earlier material (and in some cases, reaches different conclusions). The book has already received a number of favorable reviews; I focus here on what it offers to one particular group of readers.

Second-Temple literature is becoming an increasingly indispensible backdrop to traditional Hebrew Bible study: it now jostles with Ancient Near Eastern texts and languages for the attention of Bible scholars and students who seek to embed their work within the cognate cultures of the biblical writings. Like those older comparative fields, ancient Judaism can be forbidding, unfamiliar terrain to the Hebrew Bible specialist looking for a foothold; books like Stone’s therefore find a secondary (and large) audience among these Bible students hoping to orient themselves in the scholarly conversation of their next-door colleagues.

The first chapter, on “New Perspectives on the Context of Christian Origins,” traces the rather clean “vicious circle” (rather than a messier feedback loop) which in Stone’s view forms the environment for all enquiry into Second Temple literature: only those sources survive which were selected for their conformity to ancient orthodoxy, and these have in turn been studied through the spectacles of modern scholarly and confessional orthodoxies rooted in the privileged sources (p. 11). By something of a contrast, the second half of the chapter surveys the rich variety of “non-standard” Second Temple Jewish literature which does in fact survive, and Stone considers how much of it was preserved within Christian churches. This first glance at the history of scholarship distinguishes helpfully between the exegetical task, which may legitimately privilege certain texts as more illuminating for the study of, say, the New Testament, and the task of the historian of religion, whose descriptive goal rules out such selectivity (pp. 13–14); this clear division of responsibilities and methods is a salutary safeguard for the integrity of both projects.

Subsequent chapters focus on particular clusters of literature, and as well as offering inviting pathways into the material and fresh assessments of the state of scholarship, these studies give the secondary audience of biblical specialists much to think about and to go away and study. For instance, chapter 2 (“Adam and Enoch and the State of the World”) acts as a reminder to anyone working on the “fall from splendor” passages in Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah 14 that their study would be parochial and incomplete without consideration of what Stone calls “the Enochic axis.” Likewise, chapter 3 (“Apocalyptic Historiography”) is useful in tying biblical historiography into post-biblical apocalyptic in a more detailed and up-to-date way than some earlier and important steps in this direction already taken within biblical studies. This chapter is as useful and elegant a survey as any available, but it goes beyond simple round-up: Stone offers two “transformations” in a concluding analysis, arguing that, in contrast to a reading of the creation-exodus pattern which pits universalism against particularism, “humanity and Israel are not exclusive alternatives but two poles between which redemption moves.” Second, he proposes that “in the texts from the Second Temple period a remythologization of the world becomes evident,” seen across historical and metahistorical time and earthly and heavenly space (pp. 87–89). In chapter 4 (“Visions and Pseudepigraphy”), the emphasis on religious experience (shading into psychological experience) and the nuanced imagining of the processes of pseudepigraphy have been characteristic of Stone’s work; all this is still fresh and attractive, and would broaden the textual and theoretical horizons of anyone working on biblical prophecy or apocalyptic.

Three further chapters move away from treatments of individual branches of the literature toward underlying issues, though still studded with close readings of particular texts. Chapter 5 (“Bible and Apocrypha”) surveys the recent fortunes of the tripartite canon hypothesis, and isolates a number of problems before reaching some tentative conclusions: specifically, that collections of Torah and Prophets (the latter more fluid) could have had a specially...

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