von Ehrenkrook, Jason: Sculpting Idolatry in Flavian Rome: (An)Iconic Rhetoric in the Writings of Flavius Josephus, 226 pages, ISBN : 9781589836228, $29.95
(Society of Biblical Literature, Atlanta 2011)
Compte rendu par Ilona Skupinska-Lovset, University of Lodz

Nombre de mots : 950 mots
Publié en ligne le 2012-12-13
Citation: Histara les comptes rendus (ISSN 2100-0700).
Lien: http://histara.sorbonne.fr/cr.php?cr=1641
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          The presented publication is well supplied with scientific apparatus as the treatise of six chapters encompasses a substantial body of footnotes, and is enriched by  abbreviations, acknowledgments, two appendices, a bibliography, an index of ancient sources, index of modern authors and subject index. Such a complex scientific apparatus makes the book easy to “cross-read” and to find and confront additional information. The language of the publication is as a rule precise. The subject concerning the question of the existence of the visual representations in Jewish art, mainly in the form of sculpture in the round or reliefs constitutes the departure point of the deep ploughing discussions.  In light of  the writings of Josephus, the problem appears  seemingly well  known.  However, the reviewed book adds both new facts and new interpretations.


          In  chapter one, entitled “ Reading Idolatry in(to) Josephus”, the author is pointing to the text in Josephus commonly used in the discussions of the Jewish viewpoint considering visual depiction of the human body in the period before the year A.D.70  (the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple). This period was viewed as an age of strict aniconism, or even anti-iconism, regardless of context or function of the illustrative material. It is underlined that discussing the ideology of the writings of Josephus means discussing the official doctrine of the Jerusalemite priesthood, which implied a strict interpretation of the second commandment. How close this  official position stood to the actual life of the culturally complex population, inhabiting not only Jerusalem but  the country-side outside the capital city,  may be a question of dispute. For such discussions the written material appears generally too scarce, the archaeological material appears often inconclusive.


          In his discussion the author documents his assumptions  with rich bibliographical notes that are useful to the reader.  He points out that Jews, according to the current opinion during the Second Temple period, took a more restrictive position in their interpretation of the proscription, including “ all forms of figurative art, regardless of context and function”. He argues instead that Jews by “the large” understood the biblical prohibition of images to encompass only images with some kind of cultic association (p. 6).


          In the crucial chapter entitled “ Sculpture and Politics of Space in ‘Bellum Judaicum’” he leans on the models formed by Mircea Eliade more than 50 years ago (1959) and more recent supplementary writings in order to interpret the situation in the period described by Josephus. Judea and Jerusalem represented accordingly circles of holiness. In the Greco-Roman world, sculpture was traditionally being linked to the holy. For Josephus Judea and Jerusalem represent a remarkable reversal of current Greco-Roman norms, which means that the absence of sculpture defines sanctity and marks the area as  a “locus consecratus”. Such a situation is valid for the entire territory, as even the “chora” of Judea is deemed sacred by virtue of its absence of statues ( p. 125). The author further explains and documents that the use of statuary to map identity is widely attested in Greek literature. Such a situation also applies to the Rome of the Flavian period, known to Josephus. Josephus, in his sacred map presented in Bellum Judaicum, adds to the country elements of power and authority. In Josephus’ perception of Jerusalem  with  the Temple as the centre of the universe both Judea and Jerusalem are presented  as “a sculpture-less Haven”. This, the author continues, denotes the uniqueness of the placement of Jerusalem and Judea in the space of Hellenism, as  other territories in the contemporaneous  period of time  are filled with sculptures. Through the perception of Athens both by  Pausanias and Saint Paul as a centre” full of sculptures”,  Jason von Ehrenkrook explains, Josephus demonstrates the current evaluation of the relation between sculpture and space. Rome, as the author tells, was also “a city full of Gods”. According to Josephus, the testimonies of Herod, Pilate and especially the emperor Caligula, exemplify the danger of tyranny in their attempts “to  remap” Judea according to indicia of Greek space. Josephus by such phrasing wanted, as the author tells, to preserve orthodoxy from corruption of the omnipresent Hellenism. Josephus chooses to support his opinion by referring that similar interpretations of the tendency  for keeping to old customs, directed against Hellenism,  were at heart contemporaneous in Rome. Josephus praises Vespasian and Titus for respecting Judean customs as to sacred  space ( cf. p. 130). The Temple was destroyed by the action of radical Jewish rebels, not by the emperor Titus, he explains in Bellum Judaicum (cf. BJ I.27-28).


          In the “ Antiquitates Judaicae” Josephus is looking at the past and idealizing it. The author sees “the turning back to the roots” as a typical way of thinking at that time, both in Greece and Rome. In this chapter the author also supplies references to the idea of a man being shaped in the image of God and is thus providing links between humanity and the statues. The broad selection of examples with quotations makes the chapter a stimulating lecture.


          Chapter 6 is opposed to the model of diachronic exegetical transmutation. Jewishness  is presented in contrast to Roman rule. The author stresses the complexity in the relation Jews  versus Rome, and points to the survival of the Jewish state as a result of keeping to its own cultural traditions.


          The book is stimulating and written from a modern perspective. All the arguments are formulated clearly and precisely by Jason von Ehrenkrook. The subject was presented as doctoral thesis at The University of Michigan, which explains both the construction of this book and the type of argumentation used.