the ‘iranian influence on judaism’ at bible and interpretation

There is an excellent article by Jason M. Silverman (Trinity College Dublin) entitled “Iranian influence on Judaism” at Bible and Interpretation.

It’s a topic of great interest to me, and I’m assigning it as immediate reading to my Mythology of Otherworldly Journeys class here at the University of Iowa, where we are presently discussing potential Zoroastrian influences on Jewish and Christian conceptions of the afterlife. The article (and forthcoming book) will be great resources for the study of Second Temple Judaism.

At one point, Silverman discusses the problem within Biblical Studies of quantifying one culture’s “influence” upon another, especially when the former culture favors oral means of communication:

It is perhaps not surprising in a field centered on the study of a collection of written texts (the Bible) that researchers sometimes assume that all ideas that appear in that collection come from other texts. This assumption can lead to real interpretative difficulties, but it also ignores the many ways in which humans communicate and share concepts. The realm of spoken communication is very important for Iranian influence on Judaism (as it is for the origins of the Hebrew Bible).

When investigating influence, one needs to take into account the ways ideas travel in a world run primarily through spoken language. The search for quotations and direct borrowings from other texts has dominated past research. The direct use of earlier texts—while important—is not the only nor even the most important way in which ideas could be transmitted between peoples and even authors. More nuanced ways of looking for influence are needed. The key, as noted above, is to look for interpretive changes in texts. Once these are identified, one can ask whether or not said changes relate to the cultural milieu of the time, one of which was the Achaemenid Empire.

And Silverman hits the nail on the head when he argues that influence may take the form of adoption, reinterpretation, or rejection of and apologies against another culture’s religious conception:

It bears repeating that the kinds of influence will vary in different instances. In some cases, Iranian texts may have been borrowed and adapted for new Judaean texts. In other cases, existing Judaean concepts may have been reinterpreted in line with Iranian ideas. In still others, Iranian ideas may have been rejected and argued against, perhaps being inverted as a rhetorical strategy. Further, there remains the possibility that biblical texts became re-interpreted after they were written by Jewish and Christian communities, using ideas ultimately derived from Iran.

Do head over to Bible and Interpretation and read the article.

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