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Were the Jews a Mediterranean Society?
Reciprocity and Solidarity in Ancient Judaism
Seth Schwartz

Paperback | 2012 | $25.95 | £20.95 | ISBN: 9780691155432
224 pp. | 6 x 9
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How well integrated were Jews in the Mediterranean society controlled by ancient Rome? The Torah's laws seem to constitute a rejection of the reciprocity-based social dependency and emphasis on honor that were customary in the ancient Mediterranean world. But were Jews really a people apart, and outside of this broadly shared culture? Were the Jews a Mediterranean Society? argues that Jewish social relations in antiquity were animated by a core tension between biblical solidarity and exchange-based social values such as patronage, vassalage, formal friendship, and debt slavery.

Seth Schwartz's examinations of the Wisdom of Ben Sira, the writings of Josephus, and the Palestinian Talmud reveal that Jews were more deeply implicated in Roman and Mediterranean bonds of reciprocity and honor than is commonly assumed. Schwartz demonstrates how Ben Sira juxtaposes exhortations to biblical piety with hard-headed and seemingly contradictory advice about coping with the dangers of social relations with non-Jews; how Josephus describes Jews as essentially countercultural; yet how the Talmudic rabbis assume Jews have completely internalized Roman norms at the same time as the rabbis seek to arouse resistance to those norms, even if it is only symbolic.

Were the Jews a Mediterranean Society? is the first comprehensive exploration of Jewish social integration in the Roman world, one that poses challenging new questions about the very nature of Mediterranean culture.


"Schwartz has a cogent voice worthy of profound attention in any dialogue concerning Jewish relations with the Hellenistic-Roman world. . . . Schwartz offers a close, very revealing analysis of the Hellenistic Jewish author Jesus Ben Sira and a refreshingly unorthodox discussion of that literary trickster Josephus. His analysis of Talmudic texts is persuasive."--Choice

"[T]here can be no doubt that Schwartz's book is essential reading for anyone working in the field. The attempt to answer two big questions at once is laudable, the analysis is carefully done, and the conclusions are complex. We need more studies operating on such a high level of abstraction."--Benedikt Eckhardt, Bryn Mawr Classical Review

"[T]he late Keith Hopkins--to whose memory this book is dedicated--would have enjoyed the combination of originality, erudition, theoretical sophistication, and refusal to accept accepted wisdoms that are evident on almost every page of this book."--Gideon Bohak, Shofar

"[H]owever one responds to any individual point in this book, Schwartz forces us to think and to view the familiar evidence from new perspectives. For this, his reader is in his debt."--Albert I. Baumgarten, Scripta Classica Israelica

"As is characteristic of Schwartz's scholarship, this book will prompt scholarly debate. I have learned much from it at the same time that it has raised questions with which I will wrestle long after having written this review."--Benjamin G. Wright, Journal of Jewish Studies

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Table of Contents:

Acknowledgments ix
Chapter one: Reciprocity and Solidarity 1
Chapter two: The Problem with Mediterraneanism 21
Chapter three: A God of Reciprocity: Torah and Social Relations in the Wisdom of Jesus ben Sira 45
Chapter four: Josephus: Honor, Memory, Benefaction 80
Chapter five: Roman Values and the Palestinian Rabbis 110
Chapter six: Conclusion: Were the Ancient Jews a Mediterranean Society? 166
Appendix: One Ben Sira on the Social Hierarchy 179
Appendix: Two Josephus on Memory and Benefaction 185
Abbreviations 191
Bibliography 193
Index 209

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