Sepphoris


Stuart S. Miller, Studies in the History and Traditions of Sepphoris, (SJLA 37; Brill: Leiden, 1984). Pp. xii + 160. HLf 76.

 This volume is the author's revised 1980 New York University doctoral dissertation. The work was directed by F.E. Peters, B.A. Levine and L.H. Shiffman. Accordingly, it represents an interdisciplinary research project combining the interests of the sponsors in the Greco-Roman Near East, the Bible and Aramaic texts and language, especially the cult of ancient Israel, and the critical, non-positivist study of rabbinic literature, history and religion.

The monograph is part of the Studies in Judaism in Late Antiquity, a series of scholarly publications edited by Jacob Neusner of Brown University and reflecting the most innovative and advanced critical scholarship in the humanities in the contemporary academic world.

This study more than lives up to its distinguished scholarly pedigree. Miller gives us a methodologically sophisticated, painstakingly researched, and extraordinarily accurate analysis of a narrow but exemplary topic: Sepphoris of the Greco-Roman Galilee in Hellenistic and late antique times.

In the first part of the monograph, M. focuses on the specific issues of the nature of the Castra or military camp near Sepphoris and on the `Archei or archives of the city. In chapter one M. presents each Tannaitic source relating to the "old" Castra in its original language, then translates and comments at length on the evidence. The footnotes indicate that M. has covered all of the relevant traditional and modern commentaries and scholarly works, and has checked the manuscript evidence for variants of note in his texts and their parallels.

M. examines all claims with equal seriousness and assesses them against the available evidence. So, for example, M. considers the argument in the Talmud that the site of Sepphoris be identified with Qitron (Judges 1:30) and concludes that the matter must be left "in doubt until more reliable archaeological evidence can be found (p. 27)." Such understatement throughout M.'s study reflects both the detachment of a dissertation and the prevalent openness and definitiveness of current American scholarship in the academic study of rabbinics, also characteristic of the work of this book's sponsors and the editor of the series in which it appears.

Miller goes somewhat beyond his evidence in drawing his final conclusions regarding the history of the castra and archei of Sepphoris. But such minimal speculation is expected based on the extensive evidence M. has assembled. In his analysis of the sources regarding the famous priestly settlement at Sepphoris, M. evaluates a variety of claims that priests lived in the city throughout the Second Temple era and that priests fled there following the destruction of the Temple and subsequent to the failure of the Bar Kokhba revolt.

Throughout the work, M. shows strong critical awareness of his textual evidence. This is evident for instance in his discussion of the possible existence of a mishmar of Yeda`yah and the use of the term "sons of Yeda`yah" in rabbinic sources. M. suggests that the appearance of the latter phrase in a late midrashic compilation finds its way into that text from medieval liturgical sources and does not reflect an earlier unstated rabbinic historical tradition in talmudic sources (p. 135).

The book concludes with a general call to scholars to recognize the value of rabbinic textual traditions for the general historical analysis of the Land of Israel in the late antique period. This book brilliantly demonstrates how rabbinic texts, critically assessed, can be brought into fruitful conversation with archaeological and external Greco-Roman evidence. M.'s highly recommended study is a significant methodological and substantive advance in the study of Judaism in late antiquity.

The book has a thorough and valuable bibliography and useful indexes.

            Tzvee Zahavy, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55455