Books in Brief
The Paleo-Hebrew Leviticus Scroll (11QpaleoLev)
David Noel Freedman and K. A. Mathews
(Winona Lake, Indiana: American Schools of Oriental Research, 1985) 142 pp., $19.95
With this publication, Professor Freedman has completed his Dead Sea Scroll assignment. This also marks the completion of the publication of all scroll materials from Qumran Cave 11. It is an occasion for rejoicing. We look forward to the day when this can be said of other Dead Sea Scroll materials, especially the important fragments from Cave 4 that are still largely unpublished.
The publication of this scroll was accomplished, as is becoming increasingly the case, with the assistance of a doctoral student who wrote a dissertation that in turn became the basis of this official publication. In this case the student was co-author K. A. Mathews.
The volume has been beautifully produced by Eisenbrauns for the American Schools of Oriental Research. It includes an impressive five-page pull-out with a clear picture of the entire scroll. It also contains a special series of high-contrast photographs that depict the paleo-Hebrew letters with remarkable clarity.
It is surprising that in this day and age, the price of this volume is so inexpensive. At $19.95, it should be affordable by students and aficionados, as well as by the prosperous and libraries.
The scroll itself includes seven columns, the last seven of the original manuscript, the Book of Leviticus. However, only about one-fifth of the height of the scroll has survived, the bottom fifth. This much, nevertheless, remains beautifully preserved.
The scroll is written in what scholars refer to as paleo-Hebrew script. This is basically the Hebrew script used before the Babylonian Exile, but in the Qumran period it was copied in a deliberately archaizing way. This entire scroll was written in what was, even then, an archaic script. This is in contrast to almost all the other Biblical manuscripts from Qumran, which were written in the so-called square Aramaic script—the Hebrew script adopted in Babylonia and regularly used thereafter, including modern times.
Why was this particular Biblical scroll—and a few others—written in archaic Hebrew script? Unfortunately, there seems to be no clear answer. It is as if a book were printed today using a colonial script.
This scroll is by far the longest document in existence in paleo-Hebrew script, and this gives it a special importance. It is too bad that the authors’ analysis is hampered by the fact that only a small portion of the Biblical texts from Qumran Cave 4 has been published. These could provide valuable comparisons—but alas the comparisons cannot be made. Another Biblical text written in paleo-Hebrew, from the Book of Exodus, was found in Cave 4, but only a small fragment of this document (4QpaleoExm) has been published. As the authors note, “In some cases our survey is restricted by the fragmentary nature of the material [that has been published] or the absence of full publication” (p. 55). A sad state of affairs. (See “BARview: Failure to Publish Dead Sea Scrolls Is Leitmotif of New York University Scroll Conference,” in this issue.)
In any event, this is a welcome addition to the Dead Sea Scroll publications.
Oxford Bible Atlas (Third Edition)
Edited by Herbert G. May; revised by John Day
(New York, Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1984) 144 pp., $18.95 hardcover, $9.95 paperback
In his article “Putting the Bible on the Map,” BAR 09:06, James Fleming compared 19 Bible atlases, one of which was the 1974 edition of the Oxford Bible Atlas. Although outdated, this atlas received good marks for its treatment of geography and history. Now, with the debut of its third, newest edition, this atlas should be reevaluated.
At first glance, it seems that nothing has been changed, because the table of contents is the same and every map and accompanying text are on the same page as in the second edition. However, careful examination shows that many subtle changes took place during the preparation of this edition. All the maps have been updated according to the latest information available. It seems that the editors read Fleming’s review and updated the location of the sites of Gath and Debir. In addition, many other sites have been either relocated, added or eliminated. Several sites, such as Beeroth, Gath and Goshen, have a question mark placed by them showing the present uncertainty concerning their identity or location.
The chronological charts have been updated and several photographs replaced with ones of better quality, better information, or with photographs that are more appropriate to the topic under discussion. The texts have also been updated and reworked wherever necessary. These subtle changes include a slight rewriting of paragraphs dealing with Egyptian influences on Israelite culture, especially religion; Mesopotamian influences, such as those of Nuzi on patriarchal customs and stories in Genesis; re-evaluation of historical episodes before and during the monarchy. The text on pages 107–108, dealing with the patriarchs and with Palestine during the Bronze and Iron Ages has been completely rewritten. On the whole, the re-editing of the texts shows as much care as in the following brief example:
Second edition—“Rameses II (c. 1301–1234) of the 19th Dynasty was the Pharaoh of the oppression. … ”
Third edition—“It seems likely that Rameeses II (c. 1290–1224) of the 19th Dynasty was the Pharaoh of the oppression. … ”
The most important change is the updating of site locations and site identifications. All the maps reflect archaeological work done on both sides of the Jordan. The colored relief maps are very good, better and bolder in this edition than in the second. The maps transmit to the reader the feel for the terrain that is so important to the understanding of history. The gazetteer, an especially useful feature of this atlas, has been updated. It provides information about each site’s place in history, in the Bible and in archaeology.
On the whole, the third edition of the Oxford Bible Atlas is an excellent reference book, not only because it illustrates Biblical history, but also because its texts contain a good summary of the history and archaeology of the Bible. The third edition of the Oxford Bible Atlas follows in the footsteps of its excellent former editions. This most recent atlas on the market is an important addition to the library of every student of the Bible.
The Christians as the Romans Saw Them
Robert L. Wilkin
(New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1984) 214 pp. $17.95
Christianizing the Roman Empire (A.D. 100–400)
(New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1984) 183 pp., $18.00
Film classics like Quo Vadis, The Robe and Ben Hur exemplify an old and popular image of Christian life in Roman times that still is widespread. On one side are the decadent Romans with their extravagant banquets, hordes of slaves and savagely cruel gladiatorial shows. These “pagans”—the very name is a Christian coinage—hardly seem to have had any religious sensibilities at all. Either they appear as simple-minded worshippers of idols or else as skeptical and hedonistic rationalists. Against these are the Christians—gentle, affectionate toward one another, intense in their faith, steadfast even in the face of the cruelest torments.
But are such portrayals fair to the realities of history? Two recent books answer this question with a firm no. The Romans were neither so bad nor the early Christians so good as the popular image of them that has persisted through the centuries.
Robert Wilkin’s fine and very readable study offers an effective challenge to the stereotyped image of pagans in the Roman period. Wilkin sets himself the task of investigating from a sympathetic perspective what pagan critics in the Roman world had to say about the growing Christian movement. He wants to know what disturbed these people about Christianity and why they viewed this movement as a threat to cherished social and religious values.
While Wilkin manages to take note of virtually all pagan reactions to Christianity during this period, his book focuses especially upon the viewpoints of five critics. To represent the second century, Wilkin chooses the senatorial aristocrat and provincial administrator Pliny, the physician and philosopher Galen, and a self-chosen defender of traditional values, Celsus. The third century is represented by Porphyry, a brilliant neo-Platonist who strongly favored ascetic practices, and the fourth century by the Emperor Julian, who renounced the Christianity of his youth in favor of an enthusiastic commitment to traditional Greco-Roman religion. Wilkin not only sets forth clearly the main charges advanced against Christianity by these individuals, but also gives enough information about their cultural environments and values so that we can understand why they reacted as they did.
In one of the best chapters of the book, for example, Wilkin explains why people like Pliny thought of Christianity as a “superstition” that threatened Roman cultural values. Romans of Pliny’s social class viewed themselves and their society as very religious. Above all, they valued pietas (piety), that is, a sense of reverence for the traditions of family, city and cultic life. For them, Christians were arrogant innovators who had the audacity to propose that only their religious views were true. Christians (and Jews) who refrained from participation in public sacrifices or who sought exemption on religious grounds from military or administrative service could only be fanatics and misanthropes. Even though Christians could, and did, offer a defense against such charges, Wilkin’s point is that this is how they, in fact, appeared to many men and women of traditional upbringing and conviction.
Wilkin also stresses how charges by outsiders even had the power to influence the ways in which Christians presented and explained themselves. Galen, for example, looked at the Christian movement and decided that it should be described as a “philosophy” or way of life. To be sure, he thought that Christians had a woeful ignorance of the importance of demonstrative arguments. However, in their lives, he noted, they manifested virtue in a manner “not inferior to that of genuine philosophers.” Earlier generations of Christians had generally avoided referring to themselves as members of a “philosophy”; the term seemed too pagan. But when outsiders began to give them this designation, Christians themselves began to find the term useful in explaining themselves to a wider world.
Celsus, Porphyry and Julian all took note of the continued existence of Judaism alongside Christianity and used this as a weapon to attack Christian claims to be the “true Israel.” Julian even promoted the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem as a direct means of refuting Christian teachings and prophecies. For Wilkin, these critics clearly demonstrated “that Christianity had an irrevocable tie to Judaism and that its deviation from the mother religion had left it with a permanently bad conscience” (p. 197). While Christianity was not the sole claimant in the early Roman Empire to be the true heir of Israel—most other groups within Judaism (for example, the Pharisees and the Essenes) had made similar claims—Wilkin does put his finger on a continuing point of tension for Christianity—its relationship to Judaism. Not noted by Wilkin is the fact that this use by pagans of Judaism as a polemical weapon against Christianity probably contributed to the heightened Christian-Jewish tensions that occurred in the period after Constantine.
When dealing with pagan testimony, Wilkin sometimes fails to bring the same critical sense to bear that he would normally demand of himself in studying Christian texts. Lucian’s satirical comments about Christian gullibility are used, for example, as grounds for the rather doubtful general conclusion that “Christians were an easy target for the racketeers of the Roman Empire” (p. 98). Overall, however, his book offers a most reliable corrective for any casual dismissal of paganism as religiously unserious. Wilkin suggests that most of what he writes is familiar enough to the specialist. Perhaps so, but his synthesis of the evidence as a whole should prove quite stimulating to specialist and non-specialist alike.
Ramsay MacMullen’s book, Christianizing the Roman Empire, takes a look at the other party in the controversy, the Christians. It is 019MacMullen’s contention that a clear and unblinking examination of the historical facts will demonstrate beyond a doubt that the Christians of old were neither so committed nor so intense in their faith as we might imagine.
In a classic study of the notion of “conversion” in antiquity, Arthur Darby Nock argued that this was an experience known only to Christians, Jews and those few others who committed themselves intensely to a philosophical “way” like Stoicism or neo-Pythagoreanism. Ordinary pagans did not convert when they took up the worship of some particular divinity, for they did not commit themselves by personal decision to an exclusive creed or way of life. Christianity and Judaism, on the other hand, required such adherence as a condition of participation.
Along with most other scholars, Wilkin accepts Nock’s analysis; MacMullen does not. For him “conversion” is something much less personal and intense, and therefore much more common and expected. He defines it as “listening to and accepting revered teachings” (p. 14). A person converting to Christianity “accepts the reality and supreme power of God and determines to obey Him” (p. 5). MacMullen charges that Saint Augustine’s very reflective and protracted conversion experience too often functions as the model for Christian conversion. In fact, at the level of ordinary life where most people found themselves, the “acceptance” of God was a much less complex affair. MacMullen contends that most conversions to Christianity were, in fact, the result of the fear and awe engendered by (apparently) miraculous acts. Such demonstrations served to prove that the Christian God had more power than other gods, and therefore must be accepted.
For MacMullen, doctrines and teachings and even the fortitude of Christian martyrs had little to do with the conversions of most people to the Christian movement. No, the people would cry, “Great is the God of the Christians,” when they saw that that God could work more powerful miracles.
Most ordinary Christians, MacMullen argues, had very little doctrinal awareness. People simply were aware of accepting a single and sole God who would punish them if they did not accept him and would bless them with life after death if they did. Using such selected Christian sources as the Acts of the Apostles and the apocryphal Acts, MacMullen concludes that acceptance of Jesus was not a typical aspect of the Christian conversion experience. (I find this a puzzling proposition, one that ignores, for example, the fact that even the earliest pagan critics of Christianity were well aware of the centrality of Christ to the Christians.)
In the aftermath of Constantine, when Christianity acquired legal status and then legal supremacy, a host of non-religious concerns helped to promote conversions. People might become Christians for reasons of personal gain or advancement or because of a marriage. At times the state used naked force to coerce adhesion to Christianity. Saint Augustine did, in fact, approve the use of governmental force for bringing people to adherence to the true faith, and MacMullen takes this approval as representative of a supposed Christian consensus in late antiquity.
MacMullen concludes from his evidence that even into the fifth century paganism remained very strong, and that of those who were Christian most were such only nominally. Even before the time of Constantine, when Christianity was illegal and often under attack, only a “trivial portion” of Christians were such in more than name (p. 107).
MacMullen makes some valid points. Paganism did show a tenacious survival capacity. Not every Christian was all that knowledgeable or committed to the faith. Then, as now, there were quite different degrees of adherence. Yet MacMullen hardly offers us new knowledge when he tells us that some people became Christians to gain social status, or because their fiances insisted upon it, or even because of governmental coercion, however deplorable that appears to us in our modern context.
One of MacMullen’s major concerns is to determine how Christianity could have grown from less than about fifty thousand members at the beginning of the second century (Wilkin’s figure) to something approaching five million adherents in the early fourth century. His description of traditional paganism is rather different from that of Wilkin. For MacMullen, paganism was “spongy, shapeless, easily penetrated” and therefore ready to give way to “a sharply focused and intransigent creed” like Christianity (p. 16). But MacMullen’s depiction of most early Christians shows them as anything but “sharply focused” in their faith. Their monotheism was hardly unique. As presented by MacMullen, their beliefs were a thin soup indeed. And the miracles that supposedly served as the principal vehicle for 021Christian conversion were not, as MacMullen himself admits, a unique phenomenon either. Jews were famed as exorcists in this period, and miraculous powers were associated as well with many pagan philosophers. Christian miracle workers probably often did seek to “destroy” by their demonstrations belief in other gods (pp. 108–109), yet nothing really compelled the outsiders who witnessed such acts of power to treat Christian miracles as that different from the miracles of anyone else. Why should outsiders adopt the perspectives of insiders? Claims to the contrary, such as those found in the apocryphal Acts and the lives of Gregory the Wonderworker, are the biased assessments of insiders and must be treated with caution. In any case, even the Gospel writers, whom MacMullen draws upon to prove that Jesus himself used miracles as his chief instrument of conversion, knew perfectly well that people could witness a miracle, admit its reality, but then treat it perhaps as a divine act, perhaps as something demonic, perhaps even as a passing oddity. These writers certainly did not uncritically assume that miracles functioned as automatic proof!
MacMullen also seems to connect the “sharp focus” of Christianity with its (supposed) assignment of damnation to all unbelievers. (In fact, some Jews held such views about non-Jews, and some Christians seem to have been of a different mind—see, for example, 1 Timothy 4:10.) If the Christian God was perceived as so fearful a being, he was apparently not awe-inspiring enough to overcome the merely nominal commitment that MacMullen generally (see p. 107), but not always (see p. 118), attributes to most early Christians.
All of this leaves a quite confusing impression. Ramsay MacMullen is a scholar of note. His earlier book, Enemies of the Roman Order, is a classic study of subversive movements within the Roman Empire. Yet this present volume, emotional and even venomous at points, despite its claim to strict adherence to historical methodology, presents a thesis that is largely unconvincing.
Few Christians were those paragons of perfection presented in the Hollywood film epics. Yet what MacMullen’s study fails to account for is the very fact it sought to investigate, the power within the Christian movement that led to its hundredfold expansion over two centuries, even in the face of civic harassment, mob violence and several elaborate efforts to provide a “final solution” to the Christian problem. MacMullen asks good questions, but others will have to provide the answers.
Hebrew Inscriptions: A Classified Bibliography
Robert W. Suder
(Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania: Susquehanna University Press, 1984) 170 pp., $29.50
This volume fills the need for a comprehensive listing of books and articles on Hebrew inscriptions. It will be an important resource for scholars carrying on research in Hebrew epigraphy and related fields.
Although the title gives no reason to expect it, the book also contains a bibliography on Ammonite, Moabite and even proto-Canaanite inscriptions. There is an appendix listing studies of Hebrew, Ammonite, Edomite and Moabite seals, and of inscribed weights and measures.
The main bibliography is arranged by site, and there is an index to the various entries organized according to the dates of the inscriptions. This combination will make the book very easy to use.
In the introduction, Suder avers that the listings are comprehensive through 1982, and after quite a bit of spot checking I can contradict him on only one point. The English edition of Yohanan Aharoni’s Arad Inscriptions, published in 1981, is not included.
The Paleo-Hebrew Leviticus Scroll (11QpaleoLev)
David Noel Freedman and K. A. Mathews
(Winona Lake, Indiana: American Schools of Oriental Research, 1985) 142 pp., $19.95