Judaea in the Hellenistic-Woman World
Biblical books (especially 1Macc, 2Macc and Dan as well as the Gospels and the Acts) and the works of Flavius Josephus provide uniquely rich evidence for Judaea, a peripheral area of the Seleukid Kingdom or the Roman Empire respectively. Readers have too long been inclined to take the accounts literally, but now there is a recent trend that conceives of these writings as literature largely disconnected from historical realities. This modernist approach runs the risk of obfuscating the sources, experiences, concerns and intentions of the authors, editors and translators. All of them had specific audiences before their eyes and were induced by concrete motivations towards their literary endeavours. When historical and literary analysis go hand in hand, we have a good chance of approximating the situation in which texts or parts thereof were composed or ideas were expressed for the first time.
Much underexplored have been the letters of Seleukid kings and Roman magistrates that are frequently encapsulated in the historical narratives. The individuals behind 1Macc (and in part also 2Macc) as well as Josephus treated those documents with the utmost respect, not least because they believed that the letters could be checked and thus the reliability of their works be put to a test. Far from composing or manipulating the documents for their narratives, authors and editors maintained them largely as they had found them, even if these did not fully support the intended claims. Such discrepancies should not be treated as errors that need correction, but rather open the door to understanding the different hands and perspectives that contributed to the complex tradition that has come down to us.