• Written Record and Membership in Persian Period Judah and Classical Athens

    Aubrey Buster (see profile)
    Bible. Ezra, Bible. Nehemiah, Literacy--Study and teaching, Memory--Study and teaching
    Item Type:
    Book chapter
    Biblical studies, Classical studies, Ezra-Nehemiah, Literacy studies, Memory studies
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    The biblical books of Ezra and Nehemiah present the returnees to Jerusalem re-establishing their society after the devastation of the Babylonian exile. The question of "who is in" and "who is out" of this newly re-constituted group brings with it the corresponding question of authority: by what means are such boundaries determined? From the 6th- 4th centuries BCE, roughly contemporaneously with Ezra and Nehemiah's missions, Athens also underwent a reconsideration of its membership. A series of civic reforms increased the stringency of citizenship requirements and installed prohibitions against intermarriage. Extant records of several "identity trials," in which the validity of a person's citizenship was challenged, provide us with dramatic accounts of the evaluation of related evidence. An individual's ability to produce societally endorsed proof of their membership determined whether they were permitted to remain within the community. Authoritative proof of membership, however, was defined very differently in Athens and Jerusalem. While both societies reference the keeping of written membership records, the use of these records varies considerably. In my paper, I compare the relative use of textual records in determining membership in Athens and Yehud as recorded in the extant texts from Athenian identity trials and Ezra-Nehemiah respectively. Throughout my analysis I focus primarily on the authoritative weight granted to documents: are written documents considered acceptable and valued evidence of membership? This comparison reveals a distinct difference in the authority granted to written records versus oral witnesses in cases of disputed identity in each society. This analysis ultimately contributes to a discussion of the evolution of textual authority alongside textual use in the ancient Mediterranean, as well as suggesting fruitful direction for further research in interdisciplinary research between classics and biblical studies.
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    3 years ago
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