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LITERACY AMONG THE JEWS IN ANTIQUITY Meir Bar-Ilan Bar-llall University bari/ A review of Jewish Literacy in Roman Palestine. By Catherine Hezser. Text.;; and Studies in Ancient Judaism 81. Pp. x + 557. Tilbingen: Mohr Siebeck. 2001. Cloth, $193.00. Professor C. Hezser (pronounced "Hesher" in English) has written a book with the goal of establishing a new standard of scholarship in the field of Jewish literacy in antiquity. This ambitious book is intended to open a new era in this field where previous studies tended to be partial and sporadic. Her bibliography is immense (around nine hundred books and articles). However. it shows an over-emphasis on archeological fmds in Israel on the one hand. while ignoring some of the main papers dealing with literacy in antiquity on the other.I In any case, the book is impressive. though it is not without its drawbacks. The book is organized into three parts, each on a specific theme, and subdivided into chapters. After an introduction. Part 1 is devoted to "The Conditions for the Development of Literacy," and is divided into the following chapters: 1) Education; 2) The Costs and Distribution of Texts; 3) The Socio-Economic Functions of Literacy; 4) Religion and Literacy; 5) Language Usage. Part 2 is titled "The Occurrence of Writing" and is divided into the following chapters: 1) Letters; 2) Documents; 3) Miscellaneous Notes; 4) Inscriptions; 5) Literary Writing; 6) Magical Writing; 7) Summary. Part 3 5 titled "Participation in a Literate Society" and is divided into the following chapters: 1) The Readers of the Texts; 2) The Writers of the Texts; 3) Degrees and Distribution of Literacy. Only from looking at the structure of the book and its contents can one appreciate the scholarship, skill. and expertise of the scholar who wrote the book. Beginning with the work of J. Goody. the author provides a good (though lengthy) introduction describing illiteracy in antiquity from a socioanthropological point of view. This introductory chapter (pp. 2-17) is a kind of an abstract of Goody's views and those of his followers (with 135 footnotes that mostly cite Goody's works), letting the new comer get more than a rough idea about an unfamiliar subject. which is usually discussed by anthropologists . Goody personally experienced the awakening of Africa to literacy and later analyzed the dawn of literacy in the Sumerian and Greek civiliza1 Sec the bibliography at Hebrew Studies 44 (2003) 218 Review Essay tions.2 In this volume, the author applies Goody's views to the question of literacy in the context of Roman Palestine Judaism. However, one would expect the author not only to mention parallel phenomena, but also to point out their relevance to her own field. In other words, what conclusion can be drawn from the dawn of literate cultures that are applicable to the Jews under Roman Palestine, where literacy had prevailed for more than a millennium? Part I (pp. 37-109) includes a lengthy chapter devoted to every facet of education in ancient Israel. However, when one recalls that "education" is not necessarily connected with literacy, and even today official education does not necessarily result in literacy, one wonders whether this discussion is not superfluous . Just as previous scholars have already expressed their opinion on education without any attempt to tackle literacy (as reviewed on pp. 40-43), the author could similarly have discussed literacy without considering education (especially since there was no attempt to determine the percentage of literate people). Unfortunately, this erudite scholar touches only in passing on the importance of the rate of literacy. It should be recalled that the shift from prehistory to history began with writing, a fact that presents the scholar with a challenge of evaluating the rate of literacy during the ages, a task that Professor Hezs~r does not tackle. Thus the main problem is not whether former scholars were right or wrong concerning this major issue, but rather, what is the scholar's new method by which he, or she, understands ancient literacy. The author also ignores literacy as affected by social status. She discusses literacy among kings...