The Other Judaisms of Late Antiquity

2nd Edition

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Alan F. Segal
Library of Early Christianity
  • Waco, TX: 
    Baylor University Press
    , August
     2017.
     308 pages.
     $39.95.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9781481307598.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

The second edition of The Other Judaisms of Late Antiquity by Alan Segal combines two of the author’s works, presented here in separate parts. The first part contains seven chapters originally published in 1987 under the same title as the present work, while the second part includes four chapters originally published as “Heavenly Ascent in Hellenistic Judaism” in 1980. Thematically the two parts are linked through their project of reading Hellenistic Jewish, early Christian, and rabbinic sources together. The present volume provides a close reading of a number of key topics relevant for students of early Judaism and Christianity.

A collection of various issues occupies the first half of the volume. The opening chapter tackles the nature of dualism, or “two powers in heaven,” in early Jewish, Christian, and gnostic sources. Demonstrating a firm grasp on the scholarship of his day and a broad expertise in the primary texts, Segal suggests that the radical approach to a theological dualism found in some gnostic sources emerged from the “battle between the rabbis, the Christians, and various other ‘two powers’ sectarians who inhabited the outskirts of Judaism and Christianity” (43). Chapter 2 employs a social scientific perspective to assess the term “ruler of the world” and traces the transformation of this concept through a variety of early Jewish and Christian texts. Hellenistic magic is the subject of the third chapter, in which Segal argues against essentialist definitions of magic—a point of enduring relevance. The subsequent chapters address other major themes including martyrdom, nomos, and covenant. Throughout each of his analyses, Segal regularly evinces an erudite integration of diverse primary sources and offers what were a number of novel interpretations when originally published.

The second part of this edition is a collection of essays that all revolve around the topic of heavenly ascension. Segal begins by enumerating critiques of the theory that the portrayal of salvation and ascent in some of the gospels were influenced by versions of the gnostic salvation myth. Keeping the criticisms of this hypothesis in mind, Segal offers a different approach to evaluating the parallels between various instances of heavenly ascent. Drawing upon Lévi-Strauss’ structuralist framework, Segal highlights the key structural elements common to different versions of this tradition in many different corpora, from the writings of Philo to early Christian texts. Segal offers a nuanced narrative of these shared traditions, each of which is formulated to meet the particular needs of the community it reflects.

In many ways this second edition of The Other Judaisms of Late Antiquity is a welcome reintroduction of Segal’s work to the scholarly conversation. The particular intersection between Hellenistic Jewish, early Christian, and gnostic sources is an important and often overlooked component of undergraduate courses on ancient Judaism. Segal’s knowledgeable engagement with these materials provides a valuable resource for teaching. However, scholarly discussion of many of the topics addressed in the present work has significantly advanced in the past thirty years. Readers would greatly benefit from mention of some of the most pivotal studies conducted since Segal originally authored this material. Whether described in an introduction or appended as “further reading” to each chapter, a brief section that mentions Daniel Boyarin’s analysis of the “two powers in heaven” tradition, Yuval Harari and Gideon Bohak’s work on Jewish magic, and many other such transformative studies would greatly have enhanced this second edition. Perhaps this concern is an issue for the Library of Early Christology series more broadly. Nevertheless, Segal’s studies remain pertinent and are a welcome read alongside the wealth of scholarship that has accumulated since the original publication of his work.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Matthew Goldstone is Adjunct Assistant Professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary.

Date of Review: 
January 25, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Alan F. Segal (1945–2011) was professor of religion and Ingeborg Rennert professor of Jewish studies, Barnard College.

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