Scholia Reviews ns 16 (2007) 42.
Fergus Millar, The Greek World, The Jews, and the East. Volume 3: The Greek World, the Jews, and the East. Studies in the History of Greece and Rome. North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 2006. Pp. xxvii + 516. ISBN 0-8078-3030-5. US$29.95. Further Details.
Lisa R. Holliday
Appalachian State University, Boone, North Carolina
The Greek World, the Jews and the East completes a three-part series of the collected articles of Fergus Millar. The previous collections, sub-titled The Roman Republic and the Augustan Revolution, and Society and Culture in the Roman Empire dealt with the rise of Rome and Roman expansion.[] This volume focuses on the Greek east, covering the period from the conquests of Alexander through the fifth century C.E.
The articles are organized into three groups, 'The Hellenistic World and Rome', 'Rome and the East', and 'Jews and Others'. The topics covered are broad, ranging from studies of individual regions like Phoenicia in 'The Phoenician Cities: A Case-Study of Hellenization' (pp. 32- 50), to the effect of increased trading routes on the east in 'Caravan Cities: The Roman Near East and Long Distance Trade by Land' (pp. 275-99). In all of these works, Millar’s emphasis on the necessity of an expansive historical context is evident in the diversity of sources he utilizes and his ability to look beyond the period in question to later and earlier developments. This approach allows him to explore the period and location in question from new and often insightful perspectives.
This collection addresses the broad question of cultural blending through interaction. As Millar aptly notes, this is a complex undertaking. Firstly, in order to assess influence, Millar attempts to take the measure of pre- existing cultures, a difficult task in regions such as central Syria, where sources are limited. Secondly, Millar utilizes different measuring tools to judge interaction often in combination, such as exploring how ancient authors constructed their own histories as in the case of Josephus, 'Hagar, Ishmael, Josephus and the Origins of Islam' (pp. 351-77), through language evidenced in inscriptions, 'Latin in the Epigraphy of the Roman Near East' (pp. 223-42), while at others, it is in architecture as at Dura-Europos, 'Dura-Europos under Parthian Rule' (pp. 406-31). Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, Millar uses different contexts, such as the city and countryside, expansion and interaction, as well as religion and literature.
Cities and the countryside provide two different views of cultural mixing. Many cities in the east, those planted by Alexander or later by Rome, were places of intense interaction, whereas the countryside did not tend to experience it to the same degree. In 'The Problem of Hellenistic Syria,' (pp. 3-31) Millar challenges the idea that the blending of Greek and Syrian cultures occurred during the Hellenistic, rather than Roman period. He describes the entire region as an enigma that has eluded many aspects of scholarly analysis (p. 27). His intention is to determine the degree to which Syria could be described as hellenized at all. In order to gauge this, Millar begins by looking to pre-Alexander Syria. Utilizing papyri and inscriptions, to the extent that he is able, Millar explores hellenization within some of the cities of Syria and concludes it did indeed take place. In order to examine the southern and interior regions of Syria, Millar turns to the two books of the Maccabees for evidence of settlement patterns. However, Millar concludes that such a relative lack of information may be a 'reflection of a real absence of development and building activity in an area decimated by war and political instability' (p. 28). Of the urban areas, Millar concludes that there was a blending of local traditions with Greek, whereas in the hinterland, it is impossible to judge.
The city emerges again as a place of cultural fusion in 'The Roman Coloniae of the Near East: A Study of Cultural Relations' (pp. 164-222) and 'The Phoenician Cities' (pp. 32-50). Looking to places like Nabataea and Palmyra, Millar notes that though hellenization occurred in these areas, it was not an active process spurred on by the development of the polis. Such political and economic changes did not necessarily result in social changes. Rather, the blending of Phoenician and Greek cultures began during the time of colonization and continued in large part because of the similarities that already existed between Phoenician and Greek cities. In Greek culture, the Phoenicians 'could find, among other things, themselves, already credited with creative roles' (p. 50).
The exchange of cultures, however, was not always a peaceful process, as Millar explores in 'Hellenistic History in a Near Eastern Perspective: The Book of Daniel' (pp. 51-66) and 'The Background to the Maccabean Revolution: Reflections on Martin Hengel’s Judaism and Hellenism' (pp. 67-90). In the latter, Millar seeks to expand on the scholarship of Martin Hengel by looking at both the cult in the temple as well as placing the revolt within the larger context of second century Syria. Though the Jews were Greek in outlook, the extent to which there was an active hellenizing movement within Judaism is questionable. Rather, Millar sees this as a superficial Hellenism (p. 89). Antiochus’ forced conversions to Hellenism were the catalyst for the revolt, and the reform movement within Judaism was confined to the priesthood. Millar concludes that, 'we should not look for the intellectual background of a syncretistic reform movement within Judaism, because we have no clear evidence that such a movement existed' (p. 90).
The entrance of Rome into the east prompts a similar set of questions from Millar in the articles 'The Greek City and the Roman World' (pp. 106-35) and 'Polybius between Greece and Rome' (pp. 91-105). The latter focuses on the Histories of Polybius. Though Polybius was writing a Roman history and identified himself with Rome, Millar finds a conflicting strain running through Polybius’ works: Polybius did not support Roman control of formerly independent Greek poleis. Millar notes that nowhere does Polybius offer an explanation for Rome’s success, though in his introduction, Polybius had clearly intended to offer a moral element. He is silent about Rome’s expansion, a fact that Millar takes as significant. Ultimately, Polybius’ work reflects his earlier place as a member in the Achaean League and his appreciation of free cities.
As Millar enters further into the Roman world, hellenization provides the backdrop for religious developments, and his emphasis on the importance of a larger context allows him to view well-researched events, like the trial of Jesus or the activities of Paul of Samosata, from a new angle. In 'Reflections on the Trial of Jesus' (pp. 139-63), Millar begins by arguing that the Gospels should be considered in the context of Palestine. After a careful examination of the synoptic Gospels, he contends that the Gospel of John provides the most historically accurate source for the trial of Jesus. Turning then to cultural and religious values within Palestine, Millar notes the importance of the Temple in Jewish life as a place of both community and religion. He concludes by observing that not only does John recognize the significance of festivals and the importance of the temple in his account, but that the trial of Jesus itself was influenced by the same considerations.
Millar uses the same method in his analysis of the life of Paul of Samosata in 'Paul of Samosata, Zenobia, and Aurelian: The Church, Local Culture, and Political Allegiance in Third-Century Syria' (pp. 243-75). By considering Paul within the context of the Roman Empire and its influence, he opens the life of Paul to questions about local culture versus the dominant culture. Even in the third century, Syria was a diverse region, home to many local cults, and home to assorted cultures. As Palmyrene control expanded into Syria, political loyalties were divided, and Millar contends that Paul was in the middle of this. Paul, referred to as the ducenarius of Zenobia, seems to have been if not allied, perhaps sympathetic to Palmyrene control in Antioch. However, a large portion of the Christian community there was not, and their appeal to Aurelian to intervene reflects a political element, as does the identification of Paul with Zenobia (p. 271).
How writers view their world is a theme that reappears in two of collection’s ending articles, 'Porphyry: Ethnicity, Language and Alien Wisdom,' (pp. 331-50) and 'Hagar, Ishmael, Josephus and the Origins of Islam' (pp. 351-77). The former considers ethnicity as expressed through the language of the third century Neoplatonist Porphyry. Millar poises the question: Is Porphyry a product of the Greek world? Given that Porphyry was from Tyre, this question is significant, especially when attempting to evaluate the threads of Porphyry’s thought. Millar looks at Tyre and Phoenicia, but finds no evidence of either Roman or Phoenician influences in Porphyry. Ultimately, Millar concludes that Porphyry had no knowledge of any language and culture, but Greek: 'The hypothesis which the mundane factual evidence suggests is simple that his cultural and intellectual identity was Greek and that his intellectual career was conducted "at Rome"' (p. 350).
'Hagar, Ishmael, Josephus and the Origins of Islam' continues this line of investigation, though the topic is one of the most intriguing in the entire collection. Millar explores ancient constructions of histories and what these constructions imply about cultural values, as well as how cultures relate to each other. He begins with the works of Josephus, who, Millar argues, took over a very Greek way of relating to the past, except when it came to describing the Arabians. Using Tacitus as an example, Millar shows that Greeks and Romans saw history in terms of 'legendary or divine founders who themselves had a place within Greek mythology or mythical history' (p. 353). In his description of the Arabians, Josephus drops this approach to describe the Arabians in terms of individuals, as descendents of Ishmael. He emphasizes a common descent and source of religious observances, including circumcision. Later writers will continue this; Sozomenus connects the Saracens to the descendents of Ishmael. Ultimately, Josephus’ account 'had an important posthumous role in the formation of Islam' (p. 377).
In the concluding essay, 'Redrawing the Map' (pp. 487- 509), which was written by Millar for this collection, Millar considers the dominant trends in historical scholarship and gently offers a new approach to how 'we might "redraw the map"' of the ancient world: 'The suggestion of an alternative "ancient history", in which not just the origins of Greek culture but the whole of Greek history up to the Islamic conquests would be seen in its wider Eastern Mediterranean of Near Eastern context, is in a sense no more than a return to cultural and religious origins. But it gains its point . . . from the total transformation of our capacity to confront the material evidence directly' (p. 509).
[] Fergus Millar, Hannah M. Cotton and Guy MacLean Rogers, Rome, the Greek World, and the East. Vol 1, The Roman Republic and the Augustan revolution (Chapel Hill, North Carolina and London 2002); Fergus Millar, Hannah M. Cotton and Guy MacLean Rogers, Rome, the Greek World, and the East. Vol. 2, Government, Society, and Culture in the Roman Empire (Chapel Hill, North Carolina and London 2004).