EAJS Conference Grant Programme 2015/16
Nationhood and Religion in Hellenistic-Roman Judaea
The Qumran Institute, University of Groningen, 21–23 June 2016
Main organiser: Professor Steve Mason (Qumran Institute, University of Groningen)
Co- organiser: Professor Mladen Popović (Qumran Institute, University of Groningen)
The European Association for Jewish Studies generously funded this highly successful conference in Groningen. While the events are still fresh, the organisers wish to express their deep gratitude for EAJS funding by fulfilling the requirement of a final report as fully and quickly as possible. Our report departs from the original conception and mission statement to summarise the content of the event, synthesise the results, discuss planned outcomes, and give the actual programme.
1. Conception and Aims
Our application for EAJS funding gave the following ‘event rationale’:
A significant development in the study of ancient history and ancient Judaism is the increasing attention paid by some scholars to Greek, Latin, and Hebrew ways of understanding and categorizing the world and its populations. While modern concepts of state and race have long been considered inapplicable to antiquity, newer research has questioned also the utility of the familiar ‘religion’ (e.g., Rives, Nongbri, Boyarin, Mason). Might a re-imagining of the world in ancient terms aid our self-understanding? After years of relevant debate, and given the possible importance of these issues for modern reflection on Jewish identity, Zionism, and modes of ‘Diaspora’ belonging, the time seems right for a closer examination of both methodological foundations and concrete applications.
In other words, especially since European Jewish Emancipation, ‘nation’ (Volk, peuple) and ‘religion’ have been the poles on the continuum along which discussions of Jewish identity have lived. Without daring to define either pole term—or their relationship—in the modern world, we wished to use them heuristically, as stimuli to explore ancient discourses of identity. Our central aim was thus to rethink the basics: foundations and specific cases in a dialectical relationship. So our focus was on the shared, unrepeatable experience. We wanted to gather congenial experts who had published or were leading current projects on these problems, from the grand sweep (Goodblatt, Zetterholm, Rajak, Berthelot, Lapin, Schremer, Schwartz) to particular corpora, problems, and texts (Stern, Stemberger, Schwartz, Bloch, Frey, Pearce, van Henten, van Ruiten). And we needed to construct a programme as conducive as possible to the goal.
Although bringing together European and Scandinavian scholars who rarely have the opportunity to meet was a primary concern, for a wide-ranging discussion of such large questions we thought it important to include Israeli and American scholars of note. All those invited expressed initial interest, though four had to withdraw at various points, because of irresolvable conflicts—even as we first tested various dates—or because of personal issues that arose closer to the agreed dates (J. Frey, H. Lapin, A. Schremer, J. van Ruiten). Several of those who eventually came and were eager to participate stressed from the start that they would not have anything completely new to say. We insisted that this was fine, for we were inviting them largely because of their previous publications, and were asking simply that they bring their perspectives to bear on the specific conference theme in dialogue with others.
2. Parts, Papers, and Discussions: Analysis
With this clear aim, we sought to craft a symposium structure optimally suited to achieving it. To be avoided, for example, was the ‘charter airline’ model: considering it a virtue to stack in as many people as possible—with twelve to eighteen 30-minute sessions per day, with 3-5 minutes for ‘Q & A’ policed by time-anxious chairs, a sheer test of stamina. Because we wished to promote a rich and thorough discussion, we needed to plan plenty of time for both formal and informal encounters. We also needed to give the sessions a shape that would promote interaction and dialectic: wholes and parts, larger syntheses and particulars, one set of assumptions challenged by another. Other considerations included issues of comfort, absorptive capacity, motivation, alertness, and conceptual clarity.
We settled on the following plan. We would divide the material in four parts, mainly by chronology but partly by theme, and give a morning or afternoon block to each: Hellenistic-Hasmonean, Roman-Herodian, Christian-and-Jewish, and rabbinic. And rather than schedule these over two full days, it seemed preferable to begin with an afternoon session and end with a morning (so Tuesday afternoon through Thursday morning). That would not overhelm people from the start, and would include only one long day (early morning until dinner+) in the middle. This arrangement proved necessary, in the end, as the end of June was heavily booked more than a year in advance. Some participants could not leave their European homes until early Tuesday because of prior commitments, and had to be home by Friday, yet they could still reach us for the opening lunch and first session.
Each of the four sessions would begin with a 45-60-minute keynote, raising central issues from the presenter’s perspective, to be followed by two half-hour case studies. Although this distinction could provoke resentment, we thought that among our list of invitees were some who seemed to prefer broad-stroke syntheses (long articles and books) and others who clearly relished detailed study of words, phrases, and particular texts. As far as we could tell, after answering a couple of queries about this, everyone was happy with the arrangement. In addition to the few minutes that might be available for clarifications at the end of each paper, we would ring-fence a full hour for discussion of all three, with the presenters of that session sitting together at the front semi-circular table of our Court Room venue.
Each session would be punctuated by a half-hour coffee/tea break, offering informal small-group chats in the foyer. Along with the hour lunch-break and the two group dinners, these proved valuable for stimulating interpersonal contact, and the making and strengthening of acquaintances.
I turn to a summary of what actually transpired.
A. Hellenistic-Hasmonean. With the late withdrawal of Jacques van Ruiten (Groningen), the opening session (Tuesday afternoon) comprised the overview by David Goodblatt (University of California–San Diego) and the case study by Daniel Schwartz (Hebrew University of Jerusalem). These two went together well, for Goodblatt reviewed the whole scholarly debate about the meaning of Greek Ioudaios and related terms, to which debate Schwarz was a key contributor. Goodblatt supported his published view (in a book on ancient Jewish nationalism) that ancient uses of ethnos language corresponded closely to modern conceptions of ethnicity and thence nationhood, so that ‘nation’ was not a bad rendering of ethnos. He challenged the common view of a distinction between insider and outsider language—according to which insiders spoke of Israel, outsiders of Judaeans/Ioudaioi—by demonstrating that Yehudim/Ioudaioi language was actually early and internally familiar, though to be sure outsiders did not speak of Israel.
Schwartz developed his earlier-published arguments for a shift from geographical-territorial to ‘religious’ senses of Ioudaios-language with a new example. Departing from the puzzling reference to ‘Galilee of the allophyloi’ in 1 Macc 5.15, he traced a shift in the meaning of galil, from ‘region/circle’ to the geographical area, and of allophyloi from Philistine (in LXX) to non-specific foreigner. In his view, the latter development imposed on the semantic range of allogenēs, which now took the narrower meaning of different descent, whereas allophyloi served for those of different culture or religion—the new term being needed, according to Schwartz, given his view of the growing scope for ‘religion’ after the Hasmonean period.
The first discussion period was wide ranging. It showed respect for both of these giants, as participants took the opportunity to probe them on many relevant matters (e.g., ethnicity in modern research, nationhood, the utility of religion), while clarifying their views on the specific presentations. These were found to be broadly compatible, with the exception that Schwartz maintained a separate category of religion or religion-like phenomena.
B. Herodian-Roman. Tessa Rajak (Oxford, emerita Reading) opened the session with a lively account of Masada, reconsidered from the perspective of the conference questions. She sought to find in the final events as portrayed by Josephus a sense of both his and the sicarii’s sense of national feeling. With all due qualifications and hesitations concerning the relationship between Josephus’ narrative and historical reality, she highlighted the potent theme of freedom in his account as a national aspiration. Her presentation was in part meant to qualify the marginalisation of Masada over the past three decades as a national symbol in Israel, by recovering a hard nationalist core in this increasingly doubted story. Although Josephus had excoriated these rebels often, she found him in the Masada story admiring their final act and asserting a national spirit. Rajak linked all of this with larger themes in Josephus and in the ambient literature of the Roman world.
Sarah Pearce (Southampton) followed with a case study of Philo on the terms laos (people) and ethnos. The latter is by far the most common in this author’s critically important corpus, and Pearce showed how ethnos language bears much of what we consider religious, and incorporating notions of sanctity and piety, in relation to both life under laws and such transitions as conversion. Pearce emphasised that her study was a first exploration and work in progress, which we all welcomed from such an expert: laying out the patterns of usage with preliminary analysis.
René Bloch (Bern) returned to questions pursued in his famous book on Tacitus’ presentation of the Jews (Hist. 5.1–13) as ethnography,[i] to reconsider that passage from the conference perspective. After noting that most discussion in recent decades has been about Greek terminology, he was asking about the Latin Iudaei of Tacitus. He emphasised the difference between this passage in Histories 5 and other ethnographical passages in Tacitus, in that it does not begin with the place or invoke the place-people bond (environmental determinism) common in the Roman author. Bloch suggested that this could reflect Tacitus’ view that Jews were not tied to a specific place, that their identity was translocal and largely religious or cultural.
The discussion sought clarifications from Pearce on Philo’s usage, though the preliminary nature of her survey did not invite strong challenge. More pointed questions came to Rajak and Bloch. Had Rajak really taken on board Josephus’ harsh treatment of the sicarii, not only before the Masada passage but also afterward, as he denounced the sicarii of Cyrene (even while admiring their courage in death)? On the other hand, Josephus specialist J. McLaren of Australian Catholic University in Melbourne—who travelled from Australia just for this conference at his own cost, though we had not invited a paper from him in view of the distance and cost—noted in potential/partial support of Rajak that the sicarii are not the ones who receive Josephus’ harshest criticism. Challenges to Bloch, which he took on board for further reflection, suggested that perhaps Tacitus’ failure to link Jewish national traits to the land matched his insistence that they were not autochthonous in the Jerusalem area (but rather from Egypt), that his accounts of their travels through desert to that hilly and grassy habitation might serve as a national character-forming foundation, and that Tacitus’s decision to begin with Judaean origins rather than landscape/native environment might result from a literary concern for symmetry (Hist. 5.2: Since I am about to describe the end of this urbs, it is fitting to begin with a description of its foundation)—all of which would connect the Iudaei to their famous homeland.
This discussion period was pleasantly interrupted near the end by a visit from University President Dr. Sibrand Poppema. He warmly greeted our international guests while highlighting Groningen’s commitment to the humanities. The organisers considered this an important moment, both for the guests to be recognised by the university’s highest official and for him (a medical scientist and administrator) to see the humanities in action.
C. Judaism and Christian Origins. The idea behind this session was to probe what recent research on Christian origins, which has taken surprising turns in relation to older scholarship—especially the tendency to include even Paul among the varieties of Judaism and a new insistence that Christians did not break from ethnic reasoning but understood themselves as a new ethnos (e.g., Denise Kimber Buell)—might suggest about Roman-period Jewish identity.
Magnus Zetterholm (Lund) gave the spirited overview lecture, laying out his view that Paul—key figure in the rise of gentile Christianity—remained wholly and observantly Jewish. His evidence ran along the following lines. Paul must have attended synagogue to have faced the beatings from countrymen that he claims. He spoke often (if only in Romans) about the divine nature of the Law. And his harsh statements about adopting Jewish law or undergoing circumcision were aimed exclusively at gentiles, whom Paul understood to be brought into Judaism broadly defined. Finally, by analogy with modern differences among Jewish groups and denominations, some of which would not consider the others truly Jewish (and yet probably would accept them as Jews), he sought to create space for Paul.
Jan Willem van Henten (Amsterdam) provided a case study of the Maccabean martyrs in 2 and 4 Maccabees. Van Henten contends in general that Judaism was unique in being a ‘national religion’ from an early point, but sees the nation-religion relationship in dynamic terms. He isolated national and religious motives (according to 2 Macc) for the martyrs and their role as ‘national heroes’, but he highlighted what he considered the specific concept of a national religion in 4 Maccabees, with politeia-related language fused with that of eusebeia. Time ran out before he could present the Christian connection, though he rapidly mentioned that Christian authors re-interpreted these martyrs as Christian heroes, for a new Christian ‘nation’, while erasing the Jewish identity markers.
George van Kooten (New Testament Professor in Groningen) offered as case study the statement in Paul’s letter to the Galatians (4.25) about ‘the present Jerusalem’ being in slavery. Although this is usually read in purely theological terms, in support of Paul’s claim that the Law of Moses enslaves those who live under it, van Kooten asked about possible political dimensions. Perhaps it referred to an actual sense of Jerusalem’s enslavement and suffering under the Roman empire? Situating his exploration in agreement with two broad tendencies in current NT scholarship—(a) to include Paul in Judaism and (b) to find anti-imperial motives among early Christian authors—van Kooten asked whether the steadily deteriorating conditions in Judaea might not stand behind Paul’s remark. He too stressed that he only wished to test a possibility.
The discussion period was again lively, and involved all three presenters equally. Zetterholm faced a number of challenges for what many perceived as his overlooking or downplaying of Paul’s statements about the end of the Law, antipathy toward it, and lack of identification as a Jew. Zetterholm responded by pointing out that there were exceptions to this perception—even if they were limited to Romans. (Why Romans alone should have had these statements remained unexplored.) Questions for van Henten focused on the politeia language of 4 Maccabees and its meaning in context, given that it can have to do with either self-policing (way of life) or political community. Challenges to van Kooten’s paper indirectly exposed the need for scholars of early Christianity and of ancient Judaism to be in closer dialogue, for again very different perceptions came to the surface. Whereas van Kooten assumed that the perception of slavery to the Roman Empire was a given in scholarship, as it obviously led to the war with Rome in 66, others present (McLaren, Mason) doubted the conventional picture of such a gathering storm of resistance to Roman oppression.
D. Rabbinic. The final session furnished a spectacular conclusion to the conference, and held everyone’s interest to the last moment. Since Adiel Schremer of Bar-Ilan University had been forced by circumstances to withdraw shortly before the conference, we had no longer opening paper. That was not a problem for the schedule, however, for we had planned three case studies for this session only. So we still had three papers (as with the other sessions), each of which could take a bit of extra time. Indeed, two of the notional ‘case studies’, though focused on particular questions, could be considered large-scale syntheses because of their sweep.
The first of these was from Katell Berthelot (Aix-en-Provence), who explored the changing treatment of the ger (resident foreigner, convert) from Israel-Judaea through the rabbinic period. She used her expertise in Philo to argue that Philo marked the end of a development in which there were two distinct ways for people to belong to Israel, by descent or by the kind of change of allegiance described in Philo’s De Virtutibus 102–103, essentially a religious move. She proposed that the rabbis, in a development from the third century onward, refined this duality in one unified whole by invoking (without naming) Roman principles of adoption, to create a way for converts to be fully integrated into Jewish ancestry and identity.
Günter Stemberger (Vienna) provided a more particular case study, of Mishnah Sanhedrin 1–2 and Tosefta Sanh. 1–4. These describe various court configurations, and mention the high priest and the king, but not patriarchs or rabbis (from the time of writing). He argued that the ‘constitutional’ system developed here could not reflect the reality of pre-70 Judaea-Israel; nor did it simply reprise the Bible. It is a utopian picture of an ideal state, and Stemberger tried to isolate its influences.
The ‘case study’ by Sacha Stern (University College London) again filled a vast canvas. Drawing largely from his book on calendars in Jewish and Christian antiquity, he asked the conference what these revealed about national-religious identity. His central contention, enriched by many nuances and insights, was that the period before the fourth-century rise of Christianity was marked by a pervasive assumption of calendrical variety, among but also within the various poleis and many peoples—something that posed no problem whatsoever for the functioning of those societies. Incidentally, he rejected the common view that Qumran and related sectarian splits had a calendrical motive. The modern assumption (S. Talmon, E. Durkheim) that calendrical unity was necessary for an ordered society did not hold for the pre-Christian world. S. traced the major change to Constantine’s rise and unification of the empire under Christian auspices, such that from the Council of Nicaea (325 CE) we see a new requirement of calendrical conformity, as part and parcel of theological agreement. Whereas Christians had earlier disagreed about the date of Easter, for example, such dissent now became heresy. Likewise in the Yerushalmi (4th cent.) and especially the Bavli (6th cent.) we find a new demand for agreement in calendar and excommunication of those who follow different schedules. The general idea seemed to be that national identity did not require calendrical agreement, but that the unified belief system or religion of Christianity did: one God, one truth, one calendar—though Stern did not spell this out in these terms.
Our final discussion period had a bit of extra time because of Schremer’s withdrawal. Discussion with Stemberger mainly probed his meaning in speaking of utopian or ideal constitution. He clarified both that it was not ideal in that murder and so on remained envisaged, and that it was utopian only for the tiny group of scholars who discussed it, not for society in general. Berthelot took many questions, some in relation to Philo and pre-rabbinic material (Did it not already imply fictive ancestry of converts, without resort to Roman adoption?) and some in relation to the adoption model itself: How much do we know about it? Why would the rabbis not mention it at all, when they explained so much in detail? How appropriate was it for families or communities as distinct from individuals? The first challenges to Stern came from a Groningen doctoral student (Marijn Vandenberghe) on the theoretical issues, in Durkheim and Weber: Did they really require calendrical unity for social order? The rest of the discussion with Stern was mainly about clarifications and analogues.
3. Synthesis: Unifying Themes
Several issues, methodological and substantive, came up repeatedly in different forms and guises. Goodblatt’s opening lecture, which grounded the whole problem-set of the conference in the Hellenistic-Hasmonean period (with glances back to the Exile), laid a foundation to which we often returned. Most obviously, the various connotations of Yehudim, Ioudaioi, and Iudaei in different authors and situations came back time and again. Oft repeated was that our problems arise most vividly in translation, cultural and verbal, in trying to bring over the meaning of ancient texts in English and in (unavoidably) modern perspective. As long as we are trying to think in ancient mindsets and texts in their languages we often feel we can manage, but then when we go to speak with each other we must use categories that we find our interlocutors don’t share. So we face a constant process of definition, challenge, and nuance in response.
Given that no modern English terminology simply equals ancient values and language, we all recognised anew that every effort was imperfect. While some of us insist that there was no category ‘religion’ in antiquity, but are willing to speak of culture as a catch-all for the common accoutrements of an ethnos or polis, others doubt that culture is any better and remain content with religion. Some insist that there was no Juda-ism discussable, but speak of Paul as a Christian; others claim that this is equally anachronistic.
A recurring problem set, from the Hasmonean period through the Roman, Christian, and rabbinic sessions, concerned those on the margins of Judaism in some way, particularly converts. What did ‘conversion’ mean in ancient terms (was it religious, political-national, or both?), and what were the possibilities for full identification with the nation, religion, or people? A fascinating phenomenon was the general agreement among participants that ancient writers recognised both birth-descent and voluntary joining as ways of becoming Jewish (Bible, Philo, Josephus, rabbis), combined with disagreement about (a) whether these two avenues distinguished national from religious identity and (b) whether the relationship between the two changed significantly with time and place in the Graeco-Roman world.
4. What comes next?
As I have explained above, we put on this conference in order to bring together leading scholars at different stages of their careers (three emeriti, several nearing retirement, several in their early prime, two guests and one host managing major ERC grants) to rethink together basic questions of ancient Jewish identity. We considered this a good in itself. To attract such busy and eminent scholars, we could not—and did not wish to—require in advance a commitment to some specific output. Such a utilitarian motive would have jeopardised the atmosphere of genuinely open discussion, and the willingness of participants both to refashion their published arguments in this context, under this particular stimulus, and to launch trial balloons in an atmosphere of trust. This was a symposium of scholars.
I took a few minutes at the end of our final discussion to poll participants on their interest in contributing their presentation to a volume of collected essays. Only six of the eleven indicated that they would like to publish their work in such a volume, and two or three of those raised their hands only halfway, or with a ‘quasi’ gesture. In some cases (Berthelot, Stern) it was clear that the work was part of a committed research project. In others (Pearce, van Kooten) it was in the nature of a trial balloon that would need considerably more work.
Brill Publishers were present at the back of the room for most of the conference, and they have offered publication in a volume. Some of those present in the audience (van Ruiten, McLaren) also suggested that they would be willing to work up a chapter to contribute to such a volume. At the moment, however, Mladen Popović and I are not convinced that such a volume would repay the efforts needed to produce it. We consider the conference a huge success—this has been confirmed by every participant. We have all had our thinking shaped and challenged by these encounters, as we have sought to understand better our colleagues’ different perspectives. This treasure will influence everything that each of us writes on the subject in the future, and the way we go about our research: what evidence we consult, what assumptions we make, what questions we are willing to entertain.
But this does not mean that a volume of essays from the conference is obviously desirable for the scholarly world. If colleagues embarked on other projects found this experience as valuable as they said, and the three or four colleagues most eager to publish their case studies offer them to journals, especially if they note their origin in the conference, that would be both a salutary ‘output’ and a contribution of the conference to scholarship. To reproduce the whole conference in a book, we think at the moment, would be to invite criticism for unevenness even if it were possible—and it is not.
Perhaps the most important consequence of the conference is that, in keeping with the main purpose of EAJS conference grants, it has created the possibility for European (and Israeli and American) scholars to share vital experiences in protracted open discussion. This has generated a feeling of trust, even across real differences of view, that promises much in future cooperation and shared projects. We left with a number of invitations extended to each other.
5. Conference Programme
Nationhood and Religion in Hellenistic-Roman Judaea
21–23 June 2016, University of Groningen
Organisers: Steve Mason and Mladen Popović
This conference is made possible by generous grants from the European Association for Jewish Studies (EAJS), the Royal Dutch Academy of the Sciences (KNAW), and the Nicolaas Mulerius Fund (Groningen).
Tuesday, 21 June
Welcome Lunch: 12:30–1:30.
1:45–5:30 Nationhood and Religion in Hellenistic-Hasmonean Judaea.
Chair Steve Mason
1:45 Welcome: Steve Mason and Mladen Popović
2:00 David Goodblatt, University of California—San Diego. “Where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” (Jonah 1:8): Questions of Identity in Jewish Antiquity
3:00 Daniel R. Schwartz, Hebrew University of Jerusalem. From Philistines to Gentiles: On allophyloi between the Septuagint and Josephus
3:30 Tea Break
4:00 General Discussion
Wednesday, 22 June
9:00–12:30 Nationhood and Religion in Herodian-Roman Judaea
Chair Mladen Popović
9:00 Tessa Rajak, University of Oxford. Writing and Re-writing Masada: Freedom, Faith and Nation
10:00 Sarah Pearce, University of Southampton. Jewish Life and Jewish Faith in Graeco-Roman Alexandria
10:30: Coffee Break
11:00 René Bloch, University of Bern. Tacitus on the Jews Reconsidered
11:30 General Discussion
12:15 Greeting from Dr. Sibrand Poppema, President of the University of Groningen
2:00–5:30 Implications of the Nationhood-Religion Question for Early Jewish-Christian Relations
Chair Jacques van Ruiten
2:00 Magnus Zetterholm, Lund University. Jews and Gentiles in the Synagogue: Revisiting the Birthplace of Christianity
3:00 Jan Willem van Henten, University of Amsterdam. Nation and Religion: the Case of Jewish and Christian Martyrdom
3:30: Tea Break
4:00 George van Kooten, University of Groningen. “The present Jerusalem (ἡ νῦν Ἰερουσαλήμ) is in slavery, but the Jerusalem above (ἡ ἄνω Ἰερουσαλήμ) is free” (Galatians 4.25-26): Political Aspects of Paul’s Description of Roman Jerusalem and Implications for Early Jewish-Christian Relations
4:30 General Discussion
Thursday, 23 June
9:00–1:00 Nationhood and Religion in the Rabbinic Period
Chair George van Kooten
9:00 Katell Berthelot, University of Aix-Marseille and CNRS: The Gerim in Rabbinic Literature: What Implications for the Definition of Israel?
9:30 Günter Stemberger, University of Vienna: Mishnah Sanhedrin 1–2: A Utopian Constitution of the Jewish State
10:00: Coffee Break
10:30 Sacha Stern, University College London. Time and Social Cohesion: Qumran, Nicaea, and Rabbinic Judaism
11:10 General Discussion
Farewell Lunch: 12:30–1:30.
Conclusion and Thanks
The organisers (Steve Mason and Mladen Popović) would like to reiterate their profound gratitude to the EAJS for sponsoring and fostering fundamental scholarship—not a mechanical or formulaic gathering to present dozens of small studies for another edited volume, but a gathering of leading scholars for collegial, respectful rethink of basic language and categories. This is an essential creative process, indispensable for the advancement of a sustainable research that truly listens and seeks to understand. With the unanimous testimony of the participants, we are sure that this event will bear fruit for many years to come.
Steve Mason (principal applicant)
with Mladen Popović (co-applicant) in agreement
[i] René S. Bloch, Antike Vorstellungen vom Judentum: der Judenexkurs des Tacitus im Rahmen der griechisch-römischen Ethnographie. Stuttgart: F. Steiner, 2002.