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The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Studies Provides a comprehensive survey of Biblical scholarship in a variety of disciplines.

History, Politics, Law, and Economy

History

Since biblical literature is inextricably bound up with history, classical literature's parallel interests have naturally been applied to biblical history. The histories intersect, so the connections between the disciplines have been strong, making it impossible to work on biblical history without at the same time being familiar with the questions, methods, and conclusions of classical historians. The Bible is rather laconic in providing a chronologically clear framework; the study of biblical history, particularly from the Persian period on, depends substantially on a framework supplied by Greek and Roman historians and refined by classical scholars. Historians such as Herodotus (Persian period), Quintus Curtius Rufus (Alexandrian period), Appian (Civil Wars), Suetonius and Tacitus (early Imperial period) are vitally important for biblical history.

Relevant to biblical study are such matters as Greek city-states, Greek expansionism, Alexander and his conquests, the Diadochoi and the subsequent empires that impinge on the biblical regions (especially the Seleucids and Ptolemies), the rise of Rome and Roman expansion, Roman civil unrest and strife, Imperial developments from Augustus onwards, provincial acquisitions, Rome's dealings with Parthia and other states in the region. Classical investigations into Roman borders and boundaries (limēs), the roles and organization of the army, and persons who appear within biblical history have also influenced the course of biblical studies.

Josephus is a special case, studied by both classicists and biblical scholars. He wrote about Judaism as a Jew (under the patronage of Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian) but within a Roman Imperial setting, drawing on Roman, Greek, and Jewish authorities. In many cases, we owe what we know about Jewish events and dates and even people, especially in the first century BCE and the first century CE, to Josephus. Some points of intersection are of considerable significance for the Bible: the Hasmonaean Revolt and its aftermath, the careers of the various members of the Herodian dynasty, the census under Quirinius, and the Jewish Revolt, to mention just a few. While Josephus is only tangentially within the purview of classical scholars, partly because his writings were preserved by the early church, his work is fundamentally important for the history of the relevant periods, not to mention other issues such as Roman Imperial administration, biography, apologies, historiography, and hermeneutics.

Civic and Political Institutions

Classical analyses of Greek and Roman civic organization and institutions are directly relevant to the related institutional features of biblical life: studies of the polis (‘city’) and the forms it took in the East, on the one hand, and the importance of the colonia (‘colony’), on the other. This is true of the provincial organizations of Persian, Seleucid, and Ptolemaic empires, and also of Roman provincial institutions. Since biblical events took place within the context of the Graeco-Roman world, the comparative materials which classicists bring to bear on events and issues are often essential for adequate understandings. For example, the division of Herod's kingdom and the subsequent alterations in that tripartite arrangement, the situation at the time of Jesus' execution, and the events leading up to the Jewish Revolt ultimately depend on knowing about the Roman political system in a minor province such as Judaea.

The large-scale organization of Graeco-Roman society (slavery, social status, roles of women) as well as its small-scale features (imported cults, roles and significance of healing centres) has formed the bedrock of similar studies by biblical scholars. Local voluntary associations, for example, have become important in studies of the organization of Jewish and Christian communities, especially in regions outside Palestine/Judaea.

Economy and Trade

The central and long-recognized importance of trade and commerce in the early Roman period took time to seep into biblical studies. It has influenced interpretations of the rise of Christianity and developments within Judaism in the same periods. The Augustan pax romana opened up or modified trade and transportation routes, which in turn affected the Jewish state and its neighbours, especially under Herod the Great, for whom development of the economy was important. When Christianity was emerging from Judaism, its earliest expansionary moves were to cities and regions that were developing as commercial centres and that had significant Jewish communities, such as Caesarea Maritima, Antioch, Ephesus, Corinth, and Alexandria. An appreciation of the dynamic growth of Judaism and Christianity—and their interplay—depends in part on how the economy was organized, trade encouraged, and professions incorporated into the local economies.

Law

Biblical studies of law (torah, nomos), whether Jewish or Christian, are less directly dependent upon classical scholarship than might be true of other sub-areas treated in this chapter. While Greek and Roman law are compared for the light they shed on each other, they have not much influenced the study of Torah. Discussions of biblical law, within both Israelite and Second Temple Judaism, have tended to be cast, understandably, within the context of other ancient Near Eastern bodies of law. Ancient writers on Judaism's law within the context of Roman culture, such as Philo and Josephus (both in a Diaspora context), have shown a considerable concern for understanding that Torah within a Roman or Greek context. Legal studies in the early rabbinic period, when the Mishnah and Tosefta were compiled, have tended to be less concerned with this issue.

Nevertheless, specific aspects of Roman law have had a direct bearing on interpretation of biblical literature. Given that one of the prime duties of public officials was maintenance of public order, the application of their powers could be extensive. How did they exercise their powers with respect to individuals and groups? What criminal procedures were used? What were the rights of citizens and resident aliens? What limitations were there on penal practices? How were criminals executed? In some cases, understanding Roman law results in calling into question the accuracy of early Christian accounts. Representative issues include the degree to which Rome gave Judaism, especially in the Diaspora, special status, as Josephus claims; the legal position of Christianity in the Roman state; the extent of Roman persecution of fledgling Christianity; the grounds on which Christians were executed; the frequency of ‘martyrdoms’; and public attitudes to ‘games’ in the amphitheatres of the Roman world.

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