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Historical Fictions and Hellenistic Jewish Identity

Third Maccabees in Its Cultural Context

Sara Raup Johnson (Author)

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In this thoughtful and penetrating study, Sara Raup Johnson investigates the creation of historical fictions in a wide range of Hellenistic Jewish texts. Surveying so-called Jewish novels, including the Letter of Aristeas, 2 Maccabees, Esther, Daniel, Judith, Tobit, Josephus's account of Alexander's visit to Jerusalem and of the Tobiads, Artapanus, and Joseph and Aseneth, she demonstrates that the use of historical fiction in these texts does not constitute a uniform genre. Instead it cuts across all boundaries of language, provenance, genre, and even purpose. Johnson argues that each author uses historical fiction to construct a particular model of Hellenistic Jewish identity through the reinvention of the past. The models of identity differ, but all seek to explore relations between Jews and the wider non-Jewish world.

The author goes on to present a focal in-depth analysis of one text, Third Maccabees. Maintaining that this is a late Hellenistic, not a Roman, work Johnson traces important themes in Third Maccabees within a broader literary context. She evaluates the evidence for the authorship, audience, and purpose of the work and analyzes the historicity of the persecution described in the narrative. Illustrating how the author reinvents history in order to construct his own model for life in the diaspora, Johnson weighs the attitudes and stances, from defiance to assimilation, of this crucial period.

Part I. Historical and Historiographical Contexts
1. Political Subordination and Indirect Historiography
2. Greeks, Romans, and Barbarians: The Cultural Politics of Hellenism

Part II. Text and Narrative
3. Genos Politeion: Book 6, Rome, and Hellenism
4. Akme Politeion: Roman and Achaen Virtues
5. Metabole Politeion: Roman and Achaen Degeneration in the Fragmentary Books

Part III. Ideological and Political Contexts
6. Collective Representations and Ideological Contexts
7. Practical Contexts and Political Realities

Sara Raup Johnson is Associate Professor of Modern and Classical Languages at the University of Connecticut.
"An engaging book with a fresh approach, which makes important contributions to several different scholarly conversations. Johnson's fluid notion of genre commends her work. She also presents a very strong reading of 3 Maccabees. With recent interest in the ancient novel, greater availability of the texts, and renewed interest in ways of shaping Jewish identity during this period, this exceptionally well-written book will have broad appeal."—Carl Holladay, author of A Critical Introduction to the New Testament: Interpreting the Message and Meaning of Jesus Christ

"Historical Fictions and Hellenistic Jewish Identity contributes a systematic and coordinated study of the use and misuse of historical tradition in quasi-fictional Hellenistic Jewish text. It treats this material in an original, highly critical, and extremely stimulating manner."—Louis Feldman, author of Josephus's Interpretation of the Bible

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