Izates, Helena, and Monobazos of Adiabene: A Study on Literary Traditions and History. By MICHAL MARCIAK. Philippika, vol. 66. Wiesbaden: HARRASSOWITZ VERLAG, 2014. Pp. 316, illus. [euro]62.
A captivating tale in Josephus's Antiquities of the Jews (Ant. 20:17-96) describes the conversion to Judaism in the first century C.E. of members of the royal family of Adiabene in northern Mesopotamia. Marciak uses this tale as a starting point for fulfilling his intention to "deliver the first ever monographic study on the family of royal converts from Adiabene in the broader perspective of the cultural and political environment of Hellenistic and Parthian Adiabene" (pp. 18, 267). In this intention, he has succeeded admirably, because, as will be seen, he has undertaken an exhaustive study, including not only examination of this and other relevant passages in the works of Josephus, but also of the works of other ancient authors, including an exploration of rabbinical literature. What is more, he has studied artifacts from archaeological investigations both in Jerusalem and Mesopotamia, and additional numismatic and epigraphic evidence as well. Throughout his exposition of these sources, Marciak concurrently evaluates the work of previous scholars on these topics, and documents it thoroughly in the notes to each chapter.
Described by Marciak as "slightly revised" (p. 11) from his doctoral dissertation produced in 2012 for the University of Leiden, this work is clearly intended for a specialized audience. Readers will need at least some familiarity with the relevant ancient languages and literatures, since words and phrases in ancient (and modern) languages are for the most part presented without English translations. The work could have benefited from a thorough final edit, as there are a number of grammatical errors. While this may seem a quibble, in some passages these errors may affect the reader's ability to fully grasp the author's intent.
Marciak begins by presenting an exegesis of Josephus's conversion story of Helena and her son King Izates of Adiabene. He is concerned with presenting the story as a "conscious literary product" (pp. 18, 117), indeed, as modeled on the ancient bios or biographical account of an eminent person from birth to death. In fact, Josephus even describes a portent of the future greatness of Izates that is delivered to his father Monobazos before his birth. Marciak demonstrates that many such literary tropes are employed...