Collected essays –

Collected essays — The Jewish Family in Antiquity edited by Shaye J. D. Cohen

Osiek, Carolyn

SHAYE J. D. COHEN (ed.), The Jewish Family in Antiquity (BJS 289; Atlanta: Scholars, 1993). Pp.


+ 167. $40.95.

This first book-length collection of studies on the ancient Jewish family breaks a silence that has happened, as Cohen remarks in the introduction, not for lack of evidence but for lack of interest. Its origin is the Hellenistic Judaism Section of the SBL in 1990-91. Mostly descriptive rather than methodological, the essays span a wide variety of topics.

Part 1, Assumptions and Problems,” consists of one essay, “Family/ies’ in Antiquity: Evidence from Tannaitic Literature and Roman Galilean Architecture, “by Miriam Peskowitz (pp. 9-36). This most consciously methodological chapter of the book lays out many of the problems and challenges, locating the Jewish family within the ancient Mediterranean region, and the task of historical research on the Jewish family within the resurgence of present interest in the ancient family in general. It unlocks the stereotyping of the ancient Jewish family, discusses the variety of evidence, and centers on the evidence for household economic production.

Part 2, “Parents, Children, and Slaves,” contains four chapters. O. Larry Yarbrough, “Parents and Children in the Jewish Family of Antiquity” (pp. 39-59), reviews biblical and rabbinic material on the education of children (mostly sons), parents’ duties to raise and educate children, and children’s obligations to parents, including caring for them in old age. Comparison with Greco-Roman moralists leads to the conclusion that the Jewish way of life was not distinctive in its expectations of parents and children. The chapter concludes with helpful bibliographical notes. Adele Reinhartz, “Parents and Children: A Philonic Perspective” (pp. 61-88), surveys Philo’s discussion of parents and children and concludes that it is characterized by three basic features: an indissoluble bond of kinship and love, the inherent hierarchical superiority of parent to child, and the superiority of male over female. She concludes, contrary to some modern estimates, that Philo must be at least somewhat typical of Alexandrian Judaism rather than a lone distinct voice. Ross S. Kraemer, “Jewish Mothers and Daughters in the Greco-Roman World” (pp. 89-112), highlights the rare glimpses we have of mother-daughter relationships, such as those of Edna and Sarah in Tobit and of Jephthah’s daughter Seila and her mother in Pseudo-Philo Biblical Antiquities, as well as Babatha’s complicated family relationships known from the Cave of Letters–the last a surprising indication that polygamy was still sometimes practiced in the Roman period. The lack of evidence for mother-daughter relations, Kraemer concludes, is not evidence of lack of relationship but of the low degree to which these relationships were valued by male writers. Dale B. Martin, “Slavery and the Ancient Jewish Family” (pp. 113-29), surveys the scant evidence of Jewish slavery from literature and epigraphy and concludes that Jewish slavery, both by Jews and of Jews, does not stand out from the general profile of slavery in the same time and place.

Part 3, “Rabbinic Law,” contains one chapter, Michael Satlow, “Reconsidering the Rabbinic ketubah Payment” (pp. 133-51). Satlow argues that the ketubah as marriage settlement is a rabbinic innovation datable to about the late first century C.E., in spite of rabbinic traditions that seem to ascribe it to earlier times, thus raising the methodological question of continuity and innovation in rabbinic law. Possible reasons for this innovation are left for later investigation.

Part 4, “By Way of Comparison: Some Greek Families,” contains one chapter, Sarah B. Pomeroy, “Some Greek Families: Production and Reproduction”(pp. 155-63). Pomeroy, a noted classical Greek historian, puts forth evidence that in classical Greece professions were passed from father to son, the office of priestess patrilineally to the oldest female, and the role of hetaira from mother to daughter. No suggestions are given for integration of this information into the subject of the volume except in Cohen’s introduction to the book. Delightfully for this kind of publication, the book concludes with an index of names and principal subjects.

While the various treatments are uneven and exploratory, this is a welcome first attempt in a neglected area, an arrabon of good things to come from future research.

Copyright Catholic Biblical Association of America Oct 1995

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