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Alexander Mosaic, c.100 B.C.E.

Alexander Mosaic, c.100 B.C.E.


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6.10: Alexander Mosaic

Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker provide a description, historical perspective, and analysis of the Alexander Mosaic.

The link to this video is provided at the bottom of this page.

Alexander Mosaic, c. 100 BCE, tessera mosaic from the House of the Faun, Pompeii, 8 feet 11 inches × 16 feet 9 inches (this Roman floor mosaic may be based on a lost Hellenistic painting by Philoxenos of Eretria, The Battle of Issus, c. 315 BCE), Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples.


Contents

The two main figures are easy to see. Darius has a worried expression on his face. The Persian soldiers have a stern look.

The mosaic was found again on October 24, 1831 in Pompeii. It was moved to Naples in September 1843. It is in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale.

In 2003 the International Center for the Study and Teaching of Mosaic (CISIM) in Ravenna, Italy, wanted to make a copy of the mosaic. [4] The mosaic master Severo Bignami and his eight-person team took a large photograph of the mosaic. It took them 22 months to make a copy of the mosaic. The copy was put in the House of the Faun in 2005.


Alexander Mosaic (c.100 BC), Pompeii, wood engraving, published in 1884 - stock illustration

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6.10: Alexander Mosaic

Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker provide a description, historical perspective, and analysis of the Alexander Mosaic.

A YouTube element has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view it online here: http://pb.libretexts.org/temp/?p=2625

Alexander Mosaic, c. 100 BCE, tessera mosaic from the House of the Faun, Pompeii, 8 feet 11 inches × 16 feet 9 inches (this Roman floor mosaic may be based on a lost Hellenistic painting by Philoxenos of Eretria, The Battle of Issus, c. 315 BCE), Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples.


Events between the Testaments

Answer: In order to figure out what events, wars or fulfilled prophecy between the testaments occurred we should first know some approximate dates. Malachi, the last book in the Old Testament, was written roughly around 400 B.C. The conception of John the Baptist, the first major event listed in the New Testament (Luke 1), took place in the middle of 6 B.C. (see our timeline of Jesus' birth for more info).

What wars occurred during the period roughly between the Old and New Testaments (400 B.C. to 6 B.C.)? A key military event, famous even today, took place between Alexander the Great and the Persian Empire. Both parties went to war with Alexander defeating the Persians, in several major battles, from 333 to 331 B.C.

After Alexander died in 323 B.C. various wars broke out among his generals for control of his empire, which was eventually split it into four parts. These wars and their outcome were predicted by Daniel (see Daniel 11:3 - 4 8:3 - 8, 20 - 22).

Another war that took place during this time period was between the Seleucid kingdom and the Egyptians led by the Ptolemies. Perhaps the most famous person of the Ptolemy line to rule Egypt in this period was Cleopatra, who committed suicide in 30 B.C. The Seleucids and the Egyptians fought back and forth over Palestine, Judea and the Holy Land. The land of Palestine ultimately fell to the Hellenistic Seleucid Empire, ruled by Antiochus IV Epiphanes, in about 175 B.C.

The Jews today commemorate, at Hanukkah, the result of wars that gave them at least temporarily effective national independence against the Seleucid. This war was is also mentioned in Daniel 8:9 - 14 and 11:31, and is covered in the books of the Maccabees commonly found in Catholic Bibles.

The Seleucid Greek ruler, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, persecuted the Jews very harshly for their religion, including ordering the burning of all the copies of the Old Testament. He also prohibited circumcision and outlawed the animal sacrifices. He even offered pigs up at the Temple of Jehovah, and had it made the Temple of Zeus instead!


Timoclea

In his biography of Alexander the Great, Plutarch (c. 46–119 AD) tells the story of Timoclea in the Battle of Thebes.

During the conflict, several Thracian soldiers broke into Timoclea’s house. The captain of this group of soldiers was aggressive towards Timoclea and raped her.

Still not satisfied, he then inquired about Timoclea’s wealth. She responded by saying there was money hidden in her garden. The captain followed her outside.

Timoclea showed the captain the well and told him she’d hidden treasure there whilst the city was under siege. The insatiable captain then peered into the well, expecting to see his prize.

Immediately, Timoclea pushed him into the well with a burst of strength. And she didn’t stop there. She wanted to do more than humiliate the captain: she wanted to kill him.

She grabbed several large stones scattered around the base of the well and threw them down at the man who had ravaged her body. Timoclea continued to do this until the captain was dead.


Find out more

History of Alexander by Arrian Anabasis, translated by A de Sélincourt, edited by JR Hamilton (Penguin Classics, 1971)

'Life of Alexander' in Plutarch. Greek Lives translated by R Waterfield (Oxford World Classics, 1998)

The Greek Alexander Romance edited by R Stoneman (Penguin, 1991)

Legends of Alexander the Great by R Stoneman (Everyman, 1994)

Conquest and Empire: The Reign of Alexander the Great by AB Bosworth (Cambridge University Press, 1988)

Alexander the Great: The Heroic Ideal by P Briant (Thames and Hudson, 1996)

Alexander the Great: The Hunt for a New Past by Paul Cartledge (Pan Macmillan, 2004)

Alexander of Macedon, 356-323 BC. A Historical Biography by P Green (University of California Press, 1991)

Alexander the Great. A Reader edited by I Worthington (Routledge, 2003)


Conquests of Alexander the Great Left Traces in Modern Cuisine

Mosaic of Alexander the Great in Pompeii, c. 100 BC. Credit: Public domain

Alexander the Great had an enormous influence on the ancient world, as we all know, as a result of the Greek conqueror’s military campaigns across the Near East, reaching as far as India.

By Giorgio Pintzas Monzani

In every book and every historical discussion on Greek history, it is rare not to see a debate on the imperial reach of Alexander the Great: according to many, he was an undisputed genius of military policy and diplomacy according to others, simply a violent tyrant with great skill in subterfuge.

Whichever one’s position towards the historical facts and the personage in question, we cannot deny that the cultural importance of these conquests led to the creation of a first great “globalization.”

But here I would like to expand on an under appreciated aspect of this revolution and cultural fusion, cuisine — the fulcrum, especially in ancient times, of social relationships between people and countries.

Alexander the Great’s influence stretched from military realm to social customs

The evolution of customs, flavors and rituals that link food to the sacred and divine underwent an enormous upheaval during and after the conquests of the young Macedonian king.

In this article and in subsequent stories I will try to retrace the march and the journey that built the foundations of a new common cultural identity and brought about the birth of new flavors and gastronomic influences.

The first leg of the journey to one of the three macro cultures we will be analyzing concerns Persia and its ancient and contemporary culture — which is not confined within present-day Iran, as many claim.

In 334 BC Alexander crossed the Hellespont and marched toward victory over Darius III and the conquest of the Persian empire, following the shores of present-day Turkey and continuing southward.

Despite the fact that his initial journey took place close to the sea (in order to have the support of his fleet), Alexander never had maritime control, making supplies by sea problematical. This led to the emergence of new military figures, such as senior officers of the baggage trains, whose task was the management of them and their supplies.

Persia opened up new social realm to Greek conquerors

This included salt (despite the accurate territorial studies before the march, the presence of salt was never certain despite the various lands’ proximity to the sea), amphorae of red wine, an initial supply of cereals and nuts (such as figs), honey, spices (such as saffron) and especially the stocks of what today could be called a superfood, sea buckthorn.

After a year of wars and sieges, thanks to the battle of Isso in 333 BC, the Persian empire found itself on its knees and stripped of its important territories, and it welcomed Alexander as a liberator and not as a conqueror.

Supplies for Alexander and his army were no longer a problem: the conquered territories allowed him the necessary supplies to continue the conquests and the consolidation of the new rising empire, without having to rely on the Greek territories and the western capitals.

It was in this period that the real cultural marriage between the ancient Western and Eastern world began.

The first impact with Persian gastronomic culture and its related social customs had great effect on the Greek warriors. In fact, when Alexander entered the doors of the royal palace of Persepolis and saw the dining rooms and representations of banquets on the walls, he understood what luxury and decadence truly were.

Sumptuous Persian banquets featured much drinking, array of savory and sweet foods

But even before the Alexandrian campaigns, during the second Persian war, General Pausanias had marveled at discovering the eating habits of the opposing generals, uttering the following words “he who has so much, comes to rob the Greeks of their miserable life.”

The Persians were used to sumptuous banquets and the act of dining was always undertaken with much more magnificence and luxury than in Greece.

The majesty and the long duration of their banquets served almost as a theatrical backdrop for their exceedingly refined and elegant repasts.

A strong presence of meat and fish, often cooked very slowly (like our stews), exotic fruits that enriched breads and sweets, delicate sauces prepared by the best cooks of the empire, spices imported from nearby India and rice as an accompaniment to the main dishes: all this made the Persian empire the most gastronomically evolved civilization at that time.

Greek culture in those times was much more rigid and crude about social conventions regarding eating dining was only a side dish to the “symposiums,” and almost exclusively dealt with the basic sustenance of daily life.

So why were two different worlds so fundamental in the development of future gastronomy?

Mainly because of the radical differences between the two culinary and social worlds, the sudden clash between them originated a sudden opening of borders in terms of gastronomy, with an exchange of customs, habits and matters between the two people.

Rice, dates, sauces, fish roe, combinations of sweet and savory tastes exchanged between cultures

Rice was imported in the western world thanks to the conquest and military campaigns of the Macedonian king. In the Persian world it already played a central role in daily nutrition in fact the main dishes of royal banquets were based on flavored and spiced rice, to be served with meat stews.

The use and consumption of dates, despite their name deriving from the Greek δαχτυλο (finger) because of their elongated shape, were not well known in the Greek world: it is even said that Alexander the Great’s army, during a rest, tasted the fruit of the palm and choked on them, causing the Persians to laugh at them.

Another important turning point in this culinary exchange was the reciprocal exchange in sauces: Greeks taught to the Persian world the complexity of sauces made of fish and their roe, which were used with many dishes.

On the other side, the culture of combining sweet and sour tastes, so characteristic of Persian-influenced countries, made the opposite journey, entering Greek kitchens and enriching fried fish and vegetables.

The mastery of grilled cooking in the Greek world — together with the knowledge of marinades and spices of Persian cooks — led to the birth of one of the most famous street foods in the world, kebab.

There was another great difference between the Persian and Greek social cultures that is, the actual organization of the meal.

In Greece, the meal had a shorter duration than in the western world, even paradoxically in banquets, which were famous for their long duration food was the initial part with wine as a continuation for the rest of social ritual.

Persians, after having indulged in the pleasure of the savory main dish, would then provide some sweets and small bowls of fruits, which were part of the next dishes offered.

The concept of sweets in Greece, in contrast, was more of a delicacy at the end of the meal, and not as an essential taste as part of the meal itself.

Regarding the duration of the act of eating, Persians said about Greeks that “they stop eating while they are still hungry because after the meal they are not served any food of value.”

Greek “symposiarchs” kept excess drinking to a minimum in time of Alexander the Great

However, as regards the banquet, we must point out that, despite their magnificence and passion for luxury, the Persians lacked one of the things that we still see lacking in social gatherings around the world today: the social graces.

The behavior of Persians, and especially those of the higher social classes during banquets, often became violent the habit of not drinking watered down wine often led to annoying behaviors, especially towards the king’s women, who were often harassed by drunk diners.

Thus with the arrival of Greeks, who at the time were strangely defined as uncouth, was introduced the figure of the “symposiarch,” a person appointed by the king or master of the house with the task of controlling the flow of wine — and subsequently the behavior of diners.

What can be deduced through the study of this fusion of macro cultures?

Every time we follow a stereotype, even today, we risk missing the true reality: the Persians rethought themselves when they saw that the Greek world was not as coarse and superficial as they had thought.

And the Greeks? We can only imagine the incredulity in their eyes when they realized that despite what they themselves had thought, Persia was a land of deep culture and knowledge, not just a place of barbarians.

We can therefore continue to define Alexander the Great, as not only a tyrant and a conqueror, but perhaps a synthesizer of cultures. Indeed, in a way, the term “globalization” finds in his deeds its first great, and ancient, definition.

Giorgio Pintzas Monzani is a Greek-Italian chef, writer and consultant who lives in Milan. His Instagram page can be found here.


Imperialism and Jewish Society, 200 B.C.E. to 640 C.E.

Documented by disparate and uneven evidence, Jewish history in Second Temple Judaea and Roman Palestine is a tough nut to crack. Of late, scholars have preferred targeted studies of circumscribed collections of evidence and, in many cases, have overturned long-standing interpretations. Rare, however, has been the attempt to write a new master narrative of the period. With Imperialism and Jewish Society Seth Schwartz ventures onto this rough terrain and has produced “a large scale synthetic revision” of this period neither infused with Christian triumphalism nor driven by reaction to it (5). While the broad scope of this book ensures that some will inevitably challenge Schwartz’s readings of specific evidence or his overarching thesis, students of this period will remain indebted to Schwartz for his sweeping and masterful reconsideration of the literary, archaeological, and numismatic evidence from some eight centuries of Jewish history in ancient Palestine.

Schwartz forges a bold vision of ancient Jewish history from his conviction that Judaism in this period is largely shaped by the nature of imperial rule to which Jewish society was subject. With methods employing induction and deduction, indebted to structural functionalism and committed to a “moderately positivistic” and minimalist interpretation of evidence (2), Schwartz traces the complex effects imperial oversight worked on Judaism, including those aspects considered most distinctively Jewish. Emphasizing the generative force of imperialism, Schwartz divides his study into three parts, each reflecting an era of imperial oversight: the imposition of Persian rule through the first revolt, from the Bar Kokhba revolt through 350 and finally the period of Christian imperial domination, 350-640. The conclusions he draws at each stage are revisionary, but none is more provocative than Schwartz’s views on Jewish society and Judaism under Christian Imperial rule: “quite a lot of Jewish culture was, to be vulgar about it, repackaged Christianity” (179).

Chapter 1 highlights three episodes in early Jewish history, the establishment of Persian rule in Judaea, the Maccabean revolt and Hasmonean expansion, and finally the activities of Herod the Great. In contrast to the standard historiography that stresses the pre-existing and eternal nature of “Judaism,” Schwartz emphasizes the Persians’ role in the making of a Jewish nation through their funding of the Second Temple and their institution of the Torah as the law of the land.

With respect to Hellenization, Schwartz distinguishes the cultural infusion that begins in the fifth century BCE from the imposition of Hellenic imperial rule in the wake of Alexander the Great’s conquests. The former proceeded uneventfully, but the creation and refounding of cities in the model of the Greek city-states during the latter exerted new pressures on Jewish society. Jews in greatest contact with outsiders faced pressure not just to act Greek but to become fully Greek. As Schwartz suggests, “it was now not unthinkable that nations [including Judaea] might simply be willed out of existence by their upper classes’ desire to be Greek, to reconstitute themselves as the citizen body of a Greek city” (27). Thus for Schwartz, the cultural force of Hellenization itself does not cause tension and fissures within Judaean society rather, Hellenic imperial rule under the Seleucids ignites tensions that eventually lead to the Maccabean revolt. Schwartz demotes independent Hasmonean rule to a byproduct of imperial rule as Hasmonean royalty progressed “through the ranks as Seleucid courtiers” (33). In contrast, Herod’s rule ultimately played a role more akin to the period of Persian rule, both periods in which foreign imperial powers transformed and furthered Judaism. Through his active patronage and especially his Mediterranean-wide building program, Herod was able “to turn Judaean institutions into Jewish ones by enhancing their attractiveness to non-Judaean Palestinian Jews and Jews of the Diaspora” (45) and by extending Jewish cultural homogeneity throughout Palestine, its environs and the Diaspora.

Against the prevailing consensus that has emphasized the divisions within Judaism of this period, Schwartz posits in chapter 2 that under the heavy formative hand of imperial rule significant homogeneity existed in Jewish society. The “three pillars of ancient Judaism — the one God, the one Torah and the one Temple” — were dominant in concrete and symbolic terms and unified Jewish society. (49) Because sponsorship on the part of foreign ruling powers figured so prominently in the maintenance of these core values (for instance, Persian sponsorship of rebuilding the Temple and their support for Torah as constitution), “deviant” groups are by Schwartz’s logic powerless and harmless or are less deviant than usually thought. Into the former category falls the Qumran community, whose texts recall a crucial (and successful) instance of persecution at an early stage of the community’s formation. The majority of the much-discussed sects fall into the latter category. With respect to apocalyptic literature, Schwartz follows those who have stressed this literature’s critical but not dismissive stance toward priestly matters and interprets its mythological dimensions as a complement to covenantal nomism, all of which supports the triad of God-Torah-Temple. And in commenting on the Sadducees and Pharisees, Schwartz argues that they emphasized their differences but they are relatively minor in the context of their shared commitment to Temple and Torah.

In the second part of the book, Schwartz tackles the history of the region following the Bar Kokhba revolt, a poorly-documented period documented. Rejecting a common impulse to use later documents to fill this void or to attribute the void to the vagaries of preservation, Schwartz stresses that the destruction of the Temple and the elimination of Torah as the local constitution, in Schwartz’s analysis two of the three pillars of ancient Judaism, decimated Jewish life.

Chapter 3 traces the implications of this stance for the traditional (but increasingly discredited) historiography in which rabbinic authority rise from the ashes of failed revolts. Embracing a minimalist reading of evidence, Schwartz places the rabbis among a small minority of Jews who maintained a more active memory of Jewish life. The rabbis would ultimately prove to be the longest-lived and most successful of this group, but in the early second century they were largely peripheral and commanded little authority. As for the patriarchate, Schwartz thinks that “it was at most a thin terminological veneer imperfectly concealing in most places a basically self-regulating euergetistic structure,” one borrowed from the pagan environment (127). And, in a reversal of traditional logic which explains the appeal of the patriarchs in the Diaspora as an outgrowth of their eminence in Palestine, Schwartz suggests they were powerful in Palestine because they had met with success in the Diaspora. After all, in the aftermath of the revolt it would have been in the Diaspora and not in Palestine where the patriarchs would have sought to raise money.

While accepting the revised historiography concerning the rabbis, Schwartz issues an important qualification. The history of the rabbis is not synonymous with the history of Jews and Judaism in the region, the topic for chapter 4. Instead Schwartz suggests that the bulk of Jews, in the wake of the withdrawal of their overlords’ support for Jewish institutions, may have come to forget Judaism and either succumbed to or embrace pagan culture. A minority retained a fondness for the “disintegrated shards of Judaism, surviving as a non-exclusive religious option in a religious system that was basically pagan” (105). In support of this characterization, Schwartz offers rabbinic anecdotes as well as archaeological and numismatic evidence. Pivotal is Schwartz’s contention, in part based on the hotly debated issue of synagogue dating, that those parts of the Galilee densely inhabited by Jews were bereft of Jewish iconography or sentiment in public spaces, on coins, or in funerary inscriptions, all of which were instead dominated by pagan iconography. Pagan iconography even dominated Beth Shearim, a burial complex favored by what Schwartz calls “Torah-oriented Jews.” In short, so little remained Jewish about this region that Schwartz provocatively entitles the chapter: “Jews or Pagans? The Jews of the Greco-Roman Cities of Palestine.”

Even though the rabbis and patriarchs represented a small minority of Jewish society in the aftermath of the revolts, Schwartz examines how they co-existed with “the Pentateuchal horror of paganism” in chapter 5. Rabbis found an ingenious solution according to Schwartz: in acts of “misprision” and “misinterpretation,” they narrowly defined pagan religiosity as consisting exclusively of cultic activity (164). Following this reasoning, rabbis could co-exist with a plethora of pagan culture and images, recoiling only from active engagement in cultic worship. Analysis of M. Avodah Zarah 3:4 leads to the conclusion that the “meta-legal principles that underlie rabbinic legislation on avodah zarah as a whole in a way that highlights their contrast with the rigorist interpretation of the Pentateuch” (167).

Part III bears a heavy burden, namely to explain what revivified depleted post-revolt Judaism. Schwartz is at once true to his commitment to situate Jewish history in the context of imperial rule and at his most daring. According to Schwartz, Christian imperial administration presented the Jews of Palestine with two options: further integration with dominant (and now increasingly Christian) practices or withdrawal. Jews chose the later but even in adopting this response, Judaism benefited from Christianity’s presence, a presence that formally recognized the Jewish community and their leaders and also provided models of religious life from which the Jewish community borrowed. According to Schwartz, much of the reinvigorated Judaism of this period was “repackaged Christianity” (179).

In Chapter 6, Schwartz begins to build his argument on opposing scholarly interpretations of the period, integrating them as a stage for new conclusions. Here Schwartz concedes that each of the two main positions on late imperial period Palestinian Judaism include compelling elements. With Heinrich Graetz, Schwartz believes that imperial legislation reveals an increasing hostility to Jews. Yet, along with more contemporary scholars, he recognizes that Judaism experienced a revival in this period, as marked by increased synagogue construction, Jewish iconography and a renewed literary tradition, developments which are often explained as a pay-off for friendly relations between Jews and non-Jews. But Schwartz declines to follow either camp and instead suggests a more complex explanation, one that incorporates aspects of each.

On the one hand, Judaism formed a “unique category of humanity, like neither the orthodox Christians nor pagan nor heretics, who were gradually outlawed” (192) and as such won legal recognition, an innovation over the earlier period in which “Judaism is only legal in the sense that no one has ever bothered to declare it illegal, unlike Christianity” (190). On the other hand, from the perspective of Christian imperialism’s emphasis on ” religious uniformity,” (194) Judaism posed a considerable challenge: “to be eclectically Jewish and pagan marked you as a successful accommodationist but to be eclectically both Jewish and Christian marked you as a heretic” (192). And so imperial legislation also increasingly marginalized Jews. But this isolation was not a prelude to collapse. Rather, responding to the same social forces that shaped Christianity and indeed borrowing from Christian examples, Judaism emerged from late antiquity revitalized.

In chapter 7, Schwartz explains the emergence of synagogues and churches in the small villages of Palestine of the fifth and sixth centuries as the result of the arrival “Greco-Roman urban culture of euergetism” in the countryside (202). At the same time local communities developed a sense of their own religious significance. Local communities, of course, had always existed, but in religious terms they had considered themselves part of the people of Israel. In late antiquity, however, he sees “the emergence of the local community as a full-blown social institution…something freighted with religious significance in its own right” (200).

Because the growth in synagogue construction is a crucial piece of evidence for the process of rejudaization and because the origins and dating of Palestinian synagogues has been such a fiercely contested question, in chapter 8 Schwartz analyzes this debate in detail. Dating the growth in synagogue construction to the fourth and fifth centuries (208-212), he argues that synagogues took on new significance in this period, namely as essential part of village life, “a miniature Israel” (238). The way that communities refer to themselves in extant inscriptions (200, but explored at greater length in chapter 10), and early rabbinic literature’s reluctant recognition of the village as significant unit are evidence for his claim. Rabbis, Schwartz contends, preferred to retain Biblical emphasis on “the individual Jew as a member of the nation of Israel” (228) and worried that villagers mistakenly understood their synagogues as replacement temples (237). Thus the early rejudaization of Palestine occurred without rabbinic support or guidance.

Having established the synagogue as an important locus of rejudaization, in chapter 9 Schwartz considers the nature of this revival with respect to the place of Torah, the development of a Jewish iconography and the production of liturgical poetry. While rabbis had continued to cherish the Torah, the bulk of Jews did not share this sentiment. Reverence for Torah scrolls as expressed in synagogue architecture increased during this period, with synagogues retrofitted and eventually designed to incorporate permanent Torah enclosures. The increased importance of the scroll also resulted in ritual changes. The emergence of targumim, improvised oral translation of the Torah into Aramaic, is traced to this period as well as piyyutim“complex and allusive manipulation of the week’s Torah lection” (243).

In contrast to the rabbinic focus on Torah, which was only slowly adopted by synagogue communities, local communities placed great value on synagogue decorative art to mark the sacredness of the synagogue. Synagogue art, especially zodiac-inspired mosaics, has been a hot topic of late and Schwartz engages in a detailed debate with Ze’ev Weiss, a prominent interpreter of the synagogue mosaic discovered at Sepphoris. In Schwartz’ reading of the Sepphoris synagogue mosaic, self-described as “a kind of minimalistic programmatic interpretation” (252), the art is “a kind of reflection of the heavens or microcosm” (257) or a “reflection of a heavenly temple” (259), an interpretation that would put this sort of decoration at odds with rabbinic concerns but would indicate no less a devotion to Judaism. Yet, just as Schwartz traced the increasing rabbinization of the place of the Torah in synagogues and their liturgy, so too does he suggest the same trend with respect to decorative arts. In many synagogues, a circular zodiac mosaic incorporating anthropomorphic images dominates the nave in the synagogue at En Geddi, a geometric design dominates and an ark and menorot appear on the apse floor. The floor is not, however, completely rid of zodiac-inspired motifs. The quadripartite schema of zodiac mosaics appears in an aisle and “most remarkably of all, it is not pictorial, but verbal, an inscription” (261).

Schwartz’s final chapter expands on a claim introduced in the early chapters of part III, namely that a distinctive terminology preserved in synagogue dedicatory inscriptions demonstrates that late antique synagogues regarded themselves as distinct religious communities. Language like laos, qahal, and ‘am suggest that communities came to claim “the special religious status, the obligations and the promises that God granted to and imposed on Jews as a whole, according to the Bible” (276). In fleshing out this claim, Schwartz points to both pagan and Christian parallels. The former tend to highlight the individual’s gift, in contrast to the Jewish inscriptions’ stress on the corporation. Similar dedications in church contexts stand between the pagan and Jewish examples in that they, like the former, emphasize the individual donor’s generosity and, like the latter, enjoy prominent placement in the sanctuary. In addition, church inscriptions often recognized their larger place in an ecclesial hierarchy, a feature absent in synagogue inscriptions. According to Schwartz, this “practically sectarian” stance of rural synagogues was at odds with the social and economic realities of the rural settlements: Jews “were participating in a general late antique process, itself a consequence of Christianization” (288, 289). In the synagogue context, the Greco-Roman traditions of euergetism had been modified by an egalitarian impulse.

This study is a great accomplishment, and we are all indebted to Schwartz for rethinking the narrative of Jewish history in this period. At the same time, this study also leaves some questions in need of further investigation and others unanswered.

A striking aspect of the book is Schwartz’s shunning of the discussion of what is a Jew, specifically a direct engagement with the sort of questions that Shaye Cohen addressed in The Beginnings of Jewishness: Boundaries, Varieties, Uncertainties (1999). There, Cohen attempted to unravel the complex use of the term Ioudaioi as a geographic, ethnic and religious marker. A similar analysis in Imperialism and Jewish Society would have connected Schwartz’s study to existing scholarship and likely would have yielded fascinating results. For instance, perhaps Schwartz is positing that “Judaism” was at first an ethnic or geographic marker, transformed under the Persians, Hasmoneans, and Herod into a religion (a term in itself upon which Schwartz’s comments would have also been welcome). After the revolts, perhaps “Judaism” was reduced to an ethnic status or geographic marker, but, under the influence of and borrowings from Christianity, ethnic Jews revived Jewish religion. We can only wish Schwartz had explicitly stated his own take on these issues.

In need of further investigation, too, is the place of the Diaspora during Palestinian Judaism’s transformation. Scholars have cautioned against invoking conceptual divides between Palestinian and Diaspora Judaism and it is a hard habit to break for many of us, including Schwartz. In this case, Schwartz’s isolation of Palestinian Jewish society, understandable as it is to keep his project manageable, is ultimately disappointing. After all, he undoes the usefulness of this divide in his discussions of the Patriarchs’ efforts in the Diaspora and the origins of the synagogue. Ideally this study would have integrated both regions and would have examined questions such as did the Diaspora hold to the same three pillars of Jewish identity — one God, one Torah, one Temple? If not, what substitution if any was made for the Jerusalem Temple. Were the smaller and dispersed communities of the Diaspora as influenced by imperial rule as was Palestine? Did Diaspora Judaism provide any kind of model for the rejudaization of late antique Judaism? In spite of these queries, Schwartz must be commended for his impressive rethinking of the master narrative of Palestinian Jewish society.


Watch the video: Alexander Mosaic from the House of the Faun, Pompeii (January 2022).

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