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Approaching Yehud: New Approaches to the Study of the Persian Period (Society of Biblical Literature Semeia Studies) Paperback – November 14, 2007
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The book is an important one because it summons readers to much unlearning and relearning about the Bible. The unlearning concerns the historical positivism in which most progressives are schooled. The relearning involves seeing, as against a static view of scripture, that the Bible is a generative, intentionally constructive tradition that is a response to particular historical crises that jeopardized the identity of the community. The generative, constructive quality of the text is on exhibit everywhere in this collection of essays. --Walter Brueggemann, Christian Century
About the Author
Jon L. Berquist is Executive Editor for Biblical Studies at Westminster John Knox Press in Louisville, Kentucky. His writings on the Persian period include Judaism in Persia's Shadow: A Social and Historical Approach. In recent years, he has also taught at New Brunswick Theological Seminary in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
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Approaching Yehud, edited by Jon Berquist and published by the Society of Biblical Literature, proposes to address new methods and avenues of approach to the study of Yehud. It is a collection of diverse essays of variable quality that address a few important points but many simply miss the mark. As a whole, the book fails to deliver all that is promised in the title.
The first essay by Melody Knowles regarding pilgrimage during the Persian Period is quite good. She is careful to define pilgrimage during the Persian period and explain how it differs from the modern notion. Her analysis is rooted in scripture and she uses an intertextual approach beginning with the aforementioned period books and using the Psalms of Assent and excerpts from the Prophets. She raises an important question of how and in what form such pilgrimages would occur in absence of a fully functioning cult and makes the correct conclusion that the people of the time would look to the relevant Psalms and Prophetic utterances with hopeful expectation. She does not address the important issue of the general mobility of leaders between the golah and Yehud. Such visits would not be pilgrimages, by her definition, but may have been important in maintaining community between the two locations and continuity of shared culture and religion. The reformation and restoration of the Israelite religion may have been business addressed by such visits as well as trade and administrative duties. I find the latter activity of great import if such information is available.
Richard Bautch's essay on intertextuality in the Persian period is a relevant review of the apparently recent approach of reading across texts to gain insight into the Persian period. Although this endeavor may be fruitful, one must first demonstrate that the texts that are read in this matter were produced, redacted or reinterpreted by the people of the time and understood as the proposed intertextual reading claims. Given that there is no consensus on the exact dating of texts, how they were compiled, if they were redacted and what, if any change was made based upon period theological agenda, this approach will be met with skepticism unless a strong argument can be made for methodological soundness. Intertextuality, in my opinion, is an emerging approach worthy of consideration but is a long way from becoming normative. The essay is worth reading.
Donald Polaski writes what is perhaps the best essay in the collection regarding inscriptions and texts. He compares a famous Persian stone relief inscribed in two Persian languages to the Stone of Witness of Joshua. The essay is worth reading more for what it says about Joshua than Yehud unless, as the author hypothesizes, the cited passages from Joshua were redacted under Persian influence in the shadow, sort to speak, of the Persian monuments. There are no period monuments from Yehud or by Israel. Despite this deficiency, the essay makes no great claims of proof of Persian influence and the interpretation of Joshua is worth reading the essay.
David Janzen explores the very important issue of Ezra's demand that the people purify themselves by divorcing foreign wives. In this well considered essay, he explores the problem from the texts and what we know of the period raising questions as to the extent of the mixed marriage problem, the unprecedented demand of divorce as opposed to the prohibitions in Deuteronomy and elsewhere. He also explores the issue of purity as it affects the mixed marriage problem (purity of the land and people before YWYH). Finally he applies some modern sociological theories of racial and national purity based upon the socio-economic conditions of the time. He uses this as a launching pad for exploring the sociological concept of witches which I feel is a bit strained. In my opinion, Ezra's actions were part of a larger reflex toward strict internal and external purity to prevent soiling the land and the wrath of YWYH. Exploration of whether this admittedly unusual event was a foretaste of what Jesus would later critique the Pharisees would seem a more relevant and fruitful endeavor.
Christine Mitchell gives an interesting essay consisting of an intertextual "Midrash" on Lamentations 1:1. Her conclusions regarding empire and right to rule are interesting but strain the text and certainly are the result of Midrashic technique. I don't know if I agree with her analysis but the process and conclusions are interesting and lively.
Unfortunately the quality and relevance of the essays deteriorate after Christine Mitchell. Brent Strawn's interpretation of the Apadana reliefs and Isaiah 60 is detailed well thought out but rests on assumptions about interpreting such reliefs in relation to scripture which is inspired text. When the foundational assumptions become accepted methodology the conclusions reflect the assumptions rather than actual fact. This is a general observation regarding archeology and scriptural interpretation: methodology drives conclusions rather than an inspired reading of the text.
Ruiz's analysis of Ezekiel and his behavioral sign of imitating exile before the golah community is interesting but sheds little light on the issues at hand. At best it gives some good expository points regarding exile and the symbolism of the "baggage" the exile takes with him. He compares the Cuban-American NT Scholar Fernando Segovia's personal experience with "exile" from Cuba and tried to draw understanding of the Exile of 586 from modern experience. The basic premise is flawed for Dr. Segovia was not an Exile but a political refugee accepted into a welcoming new country. The comparison between political exile from persecution and exile with utter destruction is just not believable. Although people such as Dr. Segovia experienced hardships and displacement, the two situations are not comparable. The event of 586 was a tidewater, corporate and individual devastation that is compared to the Holocaust. A further problem is with the notion of "post colonialism" as a concept applicable to Yehud. The author is one of several who are trying to change the view of the study of Yehud, as in the words of the General Editor "from exile/restoration life under/with empire." Modern experience with European colonialism cannot be applied to the Persian period without sound proof that this application is valid. In as much as we know little about Yehud under Persian rule other than some basic policies from the Persian side, we cannot compare the 20th Century Colonial Collapse after WWII to the situation of Persian rule and collapse in the Achmaemenid period. Empire and the experience of the subject people must first be understood on their own terms and then parallels drawn. Here again we have hypothesis driving interpretation which, IMO, is a flawed endeavor.
This leaves John Kessler's interesting essay "Diaspora and Homeland in the Early Achaemenid Period: Community, Geography and Demography in Zechariah 1-8." This essay is a well organized interpretation of the text under examination. The author makes a good case for questioning our current understanding of the composition of the population in exile and of the remnant population in Yehud and who qualifies for inclusion in the new community of the restoration. The reader will need to evaluate the interpretation and conclusions for his/herself. I feel that the essay is worthy of the debate. Certainly, more than most, this work gets to the heart of a great issue in Yehud study.
The final set of essays concern a feminist approach to the treatment of women in Yehud. These essays demonstrate academia run amuck and out of control. The essayists, IMO are over reading the period books with a feminist agenda. This is clearly demonstrated in Jennifer Koosed's essay "Qoheleth in Love and Trouble" in which the author wines about presumed misogyny in the wisdom literature. The essay has no relevance to the topic at hand and should not have been included. Herbert Marbury's reading of Proverb 7 into the "strange woman" to be divorced in Yehud is not convincing. There has been a trend for feminist minded authors to try to read the wisdom literature's symbolic references to lady wisdom and lady folly into other texts. Gordon Fee (Pauline Christology) debunks this approach and the notion that lady wisdom is somehow pre-existent and its Christological implications. Reading misogyny into the wisdom literature is, IMO flawed and misses the point of the text. Surely then, extending such ideas to the foreign wives of Yehud are all the more problematic.
Overall, this collection of essays is a mixed bag. I believe that many of the approaches will fall by the wayside. However, given the limitations and challenges facing scholars of this period, new and sometimes radical approaches should have voice and be subject to evaluation. In as much as there is no clear picture of this period one interested in Yehud and the exile cannot afford to miss any work in the area. Certainly there are some quality essays raising important issues. However, the feminist and post-colonial approaches "doth protest too much" and rest on unproved hypothesis and assumptions.
Ruiz: "That being the case, Exek 20:32 can be recognized- through a post-colonial optic- as an expression of destitution, Perez Firmat's second stage of exilic adaptation, in which 'the awareness of displacement crushes the fantasy of rootedness.'" (p129)
Marbury: "Similar to the sociopolitical liminality of the marginally subjugated strange/foreign women in Yehud, a comparable spatial and temporal liminality is produced in the discourse of the text." (p178)
Koosed: "However, beginning with the linquistic theories of Saussure, tanslated into psychoanalysis by Lacan, and furthered in philosophy and literary criticism by Barthes and Derrida, the stability of language and identity has been undermined." (p183). Another amazing bit of non-Biblical analysis is her remark: "...I am not only a woman but a biblical scholar- another aspect of my identity sometimes in concert and sometimes in conflict with my sexual identity." (p184)
After reading stuff like this, I regretted not having dined in a Persian restuarant while discussing useful scholarly literature.