Jodi Magness’s new book examines Judaism in ancient Israel through the lens of archaeology
Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2011, 375 pp.
In the examination of any ancient society, it is most often the life of elites that historians are most familiar. Contemporary literary sources generally provide far more information about a society’s rulers than its peasants and, as such, knowledge of ancient daily life relies more heavily on archaeology. Daily life in ancient Israel, for example, has figured more prominently in the study of Israel in the time of Jesus as archaeological techniques grow more sophisticated and more information comes to light through excavations.
In her new book Stone and Dung, Oil and Spit: Jewish Daily Life in the Time of Jesus, Professor Jodi Magness looks at the archaeological evidence of Judaism in ancient Israel and contrasts it with some of modern scholarship’s literary interpretations of texts from the era. In so doing, a portrait of daily life in ancient Israel begins to emerge, and Israel in the time of Jesus comes to light.
Magness’s book is reviewed in the pages of Biblical Archaeology Review by Professor Shaye J.D. Cohen of Harvard University. Dr. Cohen points out that Magness is an expert in the archaeology of ancient Israel and of Qumran in particular. This leaves her ideally placed to examine the practice of Judaism in ancient Israel as illustrated by the archaeological record.
Cohen asserts, however, that because Magness is not an expert in the interpretation of Jewish classical texts, her arguments predicated on literary interpretation are somewhat weaker than those based on archaeology. Nevertheless, Magness paints a convincing portrait of daily life in ancient Israel and brings to light the practice of Judaism in ancient Israel by not just its rulers, but its general population.
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