Abraham as a Mediterranean Mediator
SBL 2011 (London)
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Abraham as a Mediterranean Mediator and the Possible Origins of the Judeo-Spartan Connection
Much has been written about the tantalizing claims regarding a connection between Judea and Sparta. For the most part, the extensive scholarship has focused on the exchange of letters between Jerusalem and Sparta appearing in I Macc. 12:1-23, and on the question whether all, or some, of these letters form an authentic correspondence or a conscious forgery. I my paper I propose to approach the issue from other perspectives, which have received less scholarly attention. To begin, the “Spartan narrative” of I Macc. will be examined within its own literary context, focusing on the mention of special prayers in the Temple for Spartan well-being and on the role of Abraham in the story, in addition to the story of Jason’s flight to Sparta (II Macc). Next will be adduced little noticed evidence from both Hasmonean and later contexts, implying that the relation between the two polities was widely celebrated and of long duration – much more so than would be expected if the story had been a mere fabrication intended to gain a specific and temporary goal. Finally I intend to examine Bickerman’s suggestion, that the source of the connection is not to be looked for in a Jerusalemite (or Spartan) fabricator, but rather in more organic process of familiarization between Spartan culture and Judaism taking place in the Libyan polis of Kyrene. I shall try to buttress this suggestion using: (a) evidence from Gentile sources on the antiquities of the Jews; (b) analysis of Abraham’s role as a mediator between the Jews and Mediterranean (and other) communities; (c) parallel examples of Greek identity adopted by barbarian communities; (d) the methodology of social network analysis, to show how intercommunal connections are born out of initial contact in a third locale, shared by the two communities.