Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Goldblatt's Monograph "Elements of Ancient Jewish Nationalism" [REVIEWS]

Here is the substantive portion of Chapman's thorough review of the book:

"     The existence of modern Zionism and the State of Israel makes any study of ancient Jewish nationalism more immediate and controversial than a monograph on Scythian nationalism, for instance, and this also places a greater burden upon the author to prove his case.  David Goodblatt alludes directly to this situation when summing up his chapter on Zion nationalism:
'Nevertheless, it appears to me at least possible that the Judean rebels of 66-70, with their emphasis on Jerusalem and its temple, created the first Zionist movement.  Taht is, they used the name 'Zion' to express and invoke Jewish nationalism....Perhaps it was the widely circulating 'small change' that was intended to carry the goal of the rebels to the masses.  That goal was the freedom of Zion.  Better yet, perhaps both the silver and bronze coinage carried the message of the rebel leaders.  If so, their attempt to mobilize the masses to fight for what the Zionist anthem Hatiqvah calls ['the land of Zion and Jerusaelm'] justifies our characterizing the ideology of the rebels as ancient Zionism--or Zion nationalism. (pgg. 202-203'
      I have quoted Goodblatt at length because this piece shows in nuce how attuned the author is to modern theoretical ideas about nationalism in his concern for mass communication, while at the same time displaying real mastery of the ancient material, in this case the coinage of the first revolt.  Throughout this book, Goodblatt consistently balances theoretical issues with keen analysis of a very broad range of literary, epigraphic, and numismatic evidence.
      Elements of Ancient Jewish Nationalism is, in fact, the most theoretically sophisticated and thoroughly documented book written on the topic, yet Goodblatt manages to wear his learning lightly, never descending to jargon-laced obfuscation in an attempt to impress.  His first chapter situates his own work vis-a-vis the modernist and primordialist approaches to nationalism, and he then poses the question, 'What then are the differences between ethnic identity and national consciousness?' (p. 9).  Goodblatt locks horns with Benedict Anderson's idea of 'imagined community' by characterizing it as 'a deracinated, partially demythologized version of the subjective belief in a common descent' (9), while he highlights Anthony Smith's models of 'national identity' and 'ethnic community' and Smith's musings on the existence of ancient Jewish natioanlism (he cites Smith's National Identity, but not Chosen People, Oxford, 2003; for further explanation of the ethnic, or German, model, and the civic, or French, model, of national identity, also see Hans Kohn, Prelude to Nation-States, 1967).  After exploring the conceptual question of ethnicity (with Herodotus 8.144 on [ta ethnos] as a touchstone; see now E. Gruen, ed., Cultural Borrowings and Ethnic Appropriates in Antiquity, 2005) and concluding 'I find it difficult and not helpful to distinguish ethnicity from nationality,' Goodblatt distinguishes 'the concept of a nation...from that of a state,' and he defines national identity as 'a belief in a common descent and shared culture available for mass political mobilization' (p. 26).  He then describes nationalism as 'the invocation of national identity as the basis for mass mobilization and action' (p. 27).  Referring to 'mass' activity is crucial for his argument, since this is one of the key criteria that modernists refuse to see in ancient settings, thus denying the existence of nationalism in antiquity (or callling it proto-nationalism).  For Goodblatt's analysis of his own work's improvement upon Doron Mendel's The Rise and Fall of Jewish Nationalism (1992/1997) and Seth Schwartz's Imperialism and Jewish Society (2001), one should flip to the concluding chapter of this book before reading the main body.
     Chapters 2 and 3 form a pair, 'Constructing Jewish Nationalism:  The Role of Scripture' and 'Constructing Jewish Nationalism:  The Hebrew Language.'  In Chapter 2, Goodblatt must contend with the problem of low ancient literacy posing a roadblock when construcitng a national identity (one must ask, Does any modernist question whether Burkina Faso is a nation with only a 12.8% literacy rate, according to the U.N. in 2005?).  He sets out to show taht 'widespread and regular public recitation of biblical texts would explain how ideas of common descent and shared culture could reach a mass audience,' and he thinks it was possible in limited fashion during the Persian period and was 'certainly what was going on by the Hellenistic perio' (p. 48).  Goodblatt performs an interesting exercise with Keith Hopkins' proposed survival ratio of texts at less than 1:10,000, and he demonstrates that 'the archaeological evidenc from the late first century (Qumran and Masada) and early second century (caves with refugees form the Bar Kokhba revolt) Judah thus suggests that biblical scrolls were fairly plentiful and widely diffused' and that 'many of these manuscripts, like many or most ancient books, were performance texts'(pg. 47).  Here he is responding to the modernists who cannot image nationalism before newspapers, radio, and television, and at the same time he is placing his work firmly within the framework of orality scholarship (p. 34).  In Chapter 3, I wish he had addressed Josephus's decision to compose his first version of the Bellum Judaicum...but there is no doubt that 'the existence of the Hebrew, even as a purely literary or artificial language, served to help construct Jewish identity' (p. 70).
    Chapter 4, 'A Kingdom of Priests:  The Priestly Component in Ancient Jewish Nationalism,' builds upon his previous book, The Monarchic Principle (1994).  He examines priests as 'preservers and teachers of the national literature' and 'actual rulers of Judah,' as well as 'their provision of an ideology of resistance to foreign domination' (p. 75).  This last element invovles a complicated argument that includes a reading of Josephus, Contra Apionex 2.165 on theocracy as being equivalent to priestly rule (contra J. Barclay's Brill commentary note on this, also published in 2006 and, therefore, unavailable to Goodblatt).  His proposal that priests originally may have concocted the idea later used by the rebels of 'no lord but God' and 'the idea of 'zeal'' (p. 99) is though provoking.
     Chapters 5.6, and 7 stand as a triptych of the three ancient Jewish nationalal identities:  Israel, Judah, and Zion.  Goodblatt handles well the minimalist debate on the reconstruction of Israel's history.  A discussion of the name 'Hebrews' might also have been helpful here.  Overall, Goodblatt deftly proves Anderson's point (about Viet Nam) that names truly matter, and that when the rebels of both revolts chose a name for their national identity, they rejected the Hasmonean 'Judah' in favor of 'Israel' (p. 138; Josephus, perhaps tellingly, only uses the name 'Israel' once at AJ 9.95, while he uses 'Israelite' quite commonly in his account of events before the exile).  Chapter 6 convincingly argues that 'ethnos of the Judeans' was a pre-Hasmonean moniker 'in contemporary non-Judean documents' (p. 146), was used by the Hasmoneans and Herod, as well as his descendants, for their nationalist self-presentations, and that 'the gentile form privileges the people over the territory, ethnicity over geography' (p. 157).  I was only surprised by Goodblatt's omission of the gospel of John 19:19-22, where Pilate composes a titulus for Jesus that reads [Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews] in three languages, since Goodblatt cites the gospel of Mark and even Jerome for Herodian titles.
     Most exciting is Chapter 7 on Zion nationalism, which grapples with the sudden use of this term on bronze, but not silver, coinage of the first revolt and the fact that it does not get reused during the second revolt.  Though it never appears in Josephus (p. 187), 'the mention of 'Zion,' which could allude to the temple mount or to the temple itself, could be an expression of this rebel ideology' (p. 185).  Goodblatt moves on to study the lack of 'Mount Zion' in the Mishnah and Tosefta, showing how much hmore common is the phrase 'the temple mount'...  Through exhaustive quotation, he demonstrates that 'the temple mount' was not a common phrase in Second Temple times' but quite common by the third century (p. 201).  Though Goodblatt never mentions Mount Moriah as a name (Josephus does so only once at AJ 1.224, perhaps because in Greek it sounded like 'folly'--see L. Feldman's note in this Brill commentary), he does explain that Mt. Zion even shifts location by the Byzantine era.
Review by Honora Howell Chapman

See also:

Bakhos' review:  LINK

Porter's review:  LINK

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