Encounters by the Rivers of Babylon.

AuthorPearce, Laurie
PositionBook review

Encounters by the Rivers of Babylon. Edited by URI GABBAY and SHAI SECUNDA. Texts and Studies in Ancient Judaism, vol. 160. Tubingen: MOHR SIEBECK, 2014. Pp. vi + 469. [euro]189.

This volume, the proceedings of a May 2011 conference at the Scholion Interdisciplinary Center for Humanities and Jewish Studies at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, brings together essays by scholars at the vanguard of an emerging interest in the intellectual interactions between Babylonians, Iranians, and descendants of the Judean population exiled to Babylonia in the early sixth century BCE.

The opening essay, Yaakov Elman's "Contrasting Intellectual Trajectories: Iran and Israel in Mesopotamia," is, at roughly ninety pages, the volume's longest. Elman invokes Axial Age theory as a heuristic to tease out the cognitive styles and modes of explanation from the textual output of scholars and scribes of Mesopotamia, rabbis of the Babylonian Talmud, and Zoroastrian priests as a means to assess contacts, commonalities, and differences between them. The correspondence of the chronological end-point of the Axial Age with diminished production of cuneiform documents in the Hellenistic period contributes to Elman's setting-aside of a consideration of the production of knowledge in cuneiform, unfortunate in view of its (limited) continuity until the first century CE. To be sure, Elman may not have engaged with evidence for astronomical knowledge, as it stands apart from the genres with which his main argument is concerned. The broad scope of this essay, which serves as an introduction to the entire volume, might have invited a more sustained engagement with the Mesopotamian material. Fortunately, his suggestion that minimal influence of each cultural community on the others is detected does not inhibit his co-contributors from their explorations of that influence and contact.

Two of the three authors of studies in the section "Society and Its Institutions" consider cuneiform evidence for the location of Judeans in the social and economic landscape of Mesopotamia in the Neo-Babylonian and Achaemenid periods as a means to apprehend their contacts with the producers and products of intellectual activity. In "Locating Contact in the Babylonian Exile: Some Reflections on Tracing Judean-Babylonian Encounters in Cuneiform Texts," Caroline Waerzeggers begins by considering the creation of Hutu mythico-history in the wake of their dislocation subsequent to their 1972 genocide. Identification of features of the Judean exile that echo Hutu narratives lends the essay a superficial tone of comparative anthropology. Waerzeggers retrains focus on the encounters suggested in the volume title, building on her earlier work on the Babylonian Chronicles (2012) and Liverani's (2010) suggestion that the Babylonian Chronicle series influenced construction of the biblical Chronicles. She speculates responsibly about ways Judeans could have come into contact with individuals with access to the text and intellectual background of the Babylonian Chronicles. Her carefully articulated argument based on delineating various social networks is the boldest statement in the volume that new tools and methodologies contribute to the shaping of research questions at a larger and more innovative scale.

Ran Zadok's "Judeans in Babylonia--Updating the Dossier" provides one of his most synthetic narrative presentations of onomastic and prosopographic evidence in the cuneiform sources. He highlights the divide between urban and rural communities and emphasizes geographic origin and distribution in assessing data...

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