Friday, May 29, 2009

Book Review: Loyalty and Dissidence in Roman Egypt

Sehepunkte (Review by Livia Capponi)

Thanks to the What's New In Papyrology blog for pointing me to the above review.

Andrew Harker: Loyalty and Dissidence in Roman Egypt, Cambridge University Press

In 1954 the Church historian Herbert Musurillo re-edited a collection of all known Acta Alexandrinorum (or Acts of the Alexandrian Martyrs), and since then there has long been a need for a new study taking into consideration the newly published fragments of this fascinating literature. Andrew Harker's book must thus be welcomed as an entirely appropriate and timely work that fills a major gap in scholarship. The author must be congratulated on that.

After an Introduction, that distinguishes the "Acta Alexandrinorum proper" from an "Acta related literature", a literary genre that elaborated on older stories, Chapter 2 looks at the texts relating to the Alexandrian and Jewish embassies to Gaius and Claudius. Harker argues that the events of 38-41 led to the creation of the first Acta Alexandrinorum and provided a literary model which future writers of stories would follow. For Harker, the trial of Isidorus and Lampo, one of the most popular stories of the Acta, is to be set in 41 because it concerns the rights and status of the Alexandrian Jews, "an issue that Claudius dealt with in 41, and never, as far as we know, readdressed" (24). The Acta Isidori are regarded as literary products of the III. century, with some sections being originally written in the first century. All these texts, in Harker's view, were subject to manipulations by their authors, hence their numerous historical and chronological errors.

According to Harker (25), the Letter of Claudius to the Alexandrians on papyrus (PLond 6.1912, CPJ 2. 153) is an anti-Jewish version of an official document, as it comes from the papers of a Hellenised Egyptian, a tax official of Philadelphia (Fayum) called Nemesion, who probably sympathised with the plight of the Alexandrian Greeks. Harker thinks that the obscurities of the Letter are due to the manipulations by the copyist. He also questions (26) the authenticity of the edict of Claudius quoted by Josephus (Jewish Antiquities 19.279-85), suggesting that Josephus was responding to an argument used against the Jews by the Alexandrian Greeks, that Augustus limited Jewish rights by ending the Jewish ethnarchy. Harker also attributes the fragment of a speech of an Alexandrian ambassador requesting the restoration of the Boule (CPJ 2.150) to the time of Claudius, and not to Augustus, as was orthodox to believe (29). I find all these observations entirely convincing.

See the above page for the entire review.

No comments: