- Judeans and Jews: Four Faces of Dichotomy in Ancient Jewish History by Daniel R. Schwartz
Cooks treat the tomato as a vegetable, while botanists declare it a fruit; we do not know what tomatoes think. Jews are sometimes defined as a religion, sometimes as an ethnic group. But how do they think of themselves? Back in the days of David and Solomon this was not a problem; collectively, they were Israelites, of twelve tribes, one of them being Judah, in a joint covenant with the God of Israel. By Second Temple times most tribes had been lost, Judah dominated the remainder, and many settled in Egypt and elsewhere. Were they now Israelites, Judeans, Judahites, Jews, or what? A religion or a nation?
This is the problem with which Daniel R. Schwartz found himself confronted in translating books 18–20 of Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews. How should he translate the key Greek term Iudaioi, which in English may be rendered as “Judeans” (natives of the province of Judea) or “Jews” (people of a certain religion), a distinction not found in ancient Greek? The present book comprises four main chapters, in each of which Schwartz focuses on a specific illustration of this dichotomy.
The first chapter contrasts the two apocryphal books of Maccabees (Schwartz has himself published an excellent commentary on 2 Maccabees). 1 Maccabees was composed in Hebrew (the original is now lost), in Biblical style, in Judea, in accord with the ideology of the Maccabean court; it is broadly hostile to Gentiles and after the first four chapters gives a somewhat secular account of the military successes of the Hasmoneans, with scant reference to divine providence. 2 Maccabees is a diaspora work, composed in Greek; wicked Gentiles are the exception rather than the rule, the focus is on the Jewish polity of Jerusalem rather than the temple, and all depends on God’s providence rather than human valour.
The second dichotomy is that of priestly law (that of the Sadducees and Qumran) versus the law of the Pharisees and their successors, the rabbis. Schwartz presents this in terms of realism versus nominalism, equating to Judea versus the diaspora, an idea that he put forward in [End Page 472] two articles some twenty years ago and that he claims to have revised in line with criticisms. He seems to me to be reading far more into the texts than is justified, and occasionally misreading. For instance, the dispute between Sadducees and Pharisees as to whether animal bones contaminate does not depend, as Schwartz claims, on whether an a fortiori argument can be used from human bones to animal bones (Pharisees were adept at using a fortiori arguments in other contexts) but on the Pharisee notion that things become more sensitized to impurity the “higher” they are on the scale of life, not the lower.
The third and fourth dichotomies trace lifetime changes of attitude in the writings of Flavius Josephus and Heinrich Graetz respectively. Josephus moved from being a Jerusalemite priest and military commander to becoming the house historian of the Flavian emperors, a move from Judean to “universal” Jew; Graetz crucially revised his history of the late Second Temple period, adopting the term Judaer as a transitional term between Israelit (territorial) and Jude (religious community). In an appendix Schwartz demonstrates that both “religion” and “Judaism” existed in the Greco-Roman world.
The book’s conclusion—that reality is too mixed up to allow for one consistent translation of Iudaioi—is hardly earth-shaking, but the value of the work lies rather in the elegance and erudition with which the author presents his material, and the originality of his approach.
The publishers have annoyingly placed the invaluable notes at the end. In the absence of an index or even a bibliography it is difficult to check whether the author has cited Graham Harvey’s The True Israel: Uses of the Names Jew, Hebrew and Israel in Ancient Jewish and Early Christian Literature which reviews the basic material (so far as available at the time...