Tuesday, December 06, 2011

BMCR reviews

Philip A. Harland, Travel and Religion in Antiquity. Studies in Christianity and Judaism/Études sur le christianisme et le judaisme, 21. Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2011. Pp. xii, 289. ISBN 9781554582228. $85.00.

Reviewed by Josephine Shaya, The College of Wooster (jshaya@wooster.edu)


This interdisciplinary collection of essays tackles the complicated and significant role of travel and movement in ancient Mediterranean religions. Its chapters address issues of pilgrimage, travel narratives, ethnography, migration and occupational travel through the examination of literary, epigraphic, papyrological and archaeological sources. Focusing primarily on the eastern Mediterranean, it explores travel in the religious lives of ancient Mesopotamians, Judeans, Greeks, Romans, Nabateans, and Christians. Its chronological, geographic and methodological range is impressive and the chapters only grow stronger when seen in dialogue with one another.

Philip Harland is also a blogger, and another recent book by him was noted here, along with a link to his blog. And note that the "Preview" link above goes to a website for the book under review.
Wendy J. Cotter, The Christ of the Miracle Stories: Portrait through Encounter. Peabody, MA: Baker Academic, 2010. Pp. xxvi, 293. ISBN 9780801039508. $29.99 (pb).

Reviewed by Bilal Bas, Marmara University (bilalbas@hotmail.com)

Table of Contents

The book deals with the miracle stories attributed to Jesus in the Synoptic tradition. In her earlier Miracles in Greco-Roman Antiquity: A Sourcebook for the Study of New Testament Miracles Stories, Cotter focused on the miracles attributed to gods and heroes in Greco-Roman antiquity and the significances regularly claimed for them in order to reconstruct a backdrop against which the Jesus miracles can be placed. In this book, Cotter addresses the encounter between Jesus and the petitioner.


Marius Heemstra, The Fiscus Judaicus and the Parting of the Ways. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament. 2. Reihe, 277. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2010. Pp. xi, 241. ISBN 9783161503832. €59.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Jack Gibson, Grace Brethren High School (JJG1227@yahoo.com)


In this provocative and clearly-written study, Marius Heemstra analyzes the fiscus Judaicus under Domitian and Nerva. Dealing with issues such as the dating of 1 Peter, Hebrews, and Revelation, the birkat ha-minim, and the parting of the ways between Judaism and Christianity, he contributes to current discussion in several fields, including early imperial Roman history, early Christian history and early rabbinic Judaism. While the fiscus Judaicus has not been entirely ignored in these fields, it has largely been minimized. Heemstra seeks to correct this oversight, arguing that the administration of this tax by Domitian and Nerva exerted a profound influence upon early Judaism and Christianity, and that our understanding of the end of the first century C.E. should be altered accordingly.

Regarding this point:
Based upon his interpretation of the fiscus Judaicus under Domitian and Nerva, Heemstra examines the dating of several New Testament books. His argument for dating 1 Peter to the period of 70-85 C.E., however, is somewhat tenuous. The only reason he provides is that the author of 1 Peter uses the term “Babylon” to refer to Rome (96). Yet, it is an argument from silence that Christians would not have used such terminology at an earlier date. Jews prior to 70 C.E., and Jewish Christians in particular, had substantial reason to hide their disdain for Rome by using a codeword. Claudius’ decree in 49 C.E. would have been especially problematic for Jewish Christians, such as Paul, who were preaching to Gentiles. Combined with the expulsion of all the Jews from Rome due to a disturbance regarding Chrestus (Suetonius, Claudius, 25), which likely involved a dispute between Jews who followed Jesus and those who did not, the Jewish Christians had sufficient reason at a much earlier date than after the Jewish revolt to have disdain for Rome.
The idea of Rome as Babylon is, as the reviewer notes, an obvious one in the context of late Second Temple Judaism in general, not just Judaism after the Roman destruction of the Temple. Moreover, this connection was already made, long before the New Testament, in the Qumran Pesher to Habakkuk. The pesher uses a sectarian code-word for the Romans (Kittim) in places where the original text of Habakkuk had Kasdim, "Chaldeans." "Chaldeans" is another biblical term for Babylonians, so the Qumran sectarians already thought of Rome as a stand-in for Babylon.