Cover image for Letters from Home: The Creation of Diaspora in Jewish Antiquity By Malka Z. Simkovich

Letters from Home

The Creation of Diaspora in Jewish Antiquity

Malka Z. Simkovich

Pre-Order, Releases June 18

$74.95 | Hardcover Edition
ISBN: 978-1-64602-274-8

$24.95 | Paperback Edition
ISBN: 978-1-64602-275-5

Available as an e-book

230 pages
6" × 9"
1 map
2024

Letters from Home

The Creation of Diaspora in Jewish Antiquity

Malka Z. Simkovich

“A brilliant study of how Second Temple letter-writers and authors constructed diaspora and shaped their own identities, which resonate with our own times as well.”

 

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  • Reviews
  • Bio
The announcement by the Persian king Cyrus following his conquest of Babylon in 539 BCE that exiled Judahites could return to their homeland should have been cause for celebration. Instead, it plunged them into animated debate. Only a small community returned and participated in the construction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. By the end of the sixth century BCE, they faced a theological conundrum: Had the catastrophic punishment of exile, understood as marking God’s retribution for the people’s sins, come to an end?

By the Hellenistic era, most Jews living in their homeland believed that life abroad signified God’s wrath and rejection. Jews living outside of their homeland, however, rejected this notion. From both sides of the diasporic line, Jews wrote letters and speeches that conveyed the sense that their positions had ancient roots in Torah traditions. In this book, Malka Z. Simkovich investigates the rhetorical strategies—such as pseudepigraphy, ventriloquy, and mirroring—that Egyptian and Judean Jews incorporated into their writings about life outside the land of Israel, charting the boundary-marking push and pull that took place within Jewish letters in the Hellenistic era. Drawing on this correspondence and other contemporaneous writings, Simkovich argues that the construction of diaspora during this period—reinforced by some and negated by others—produced a tension that lay at the core of Jewish identity in the ancient world.

This book is essential reading for scholars and students of ancient Judaism and to laypersons interested in the questions of a Jewish homeland and Jewish diaspora.

“A brilliant study of how Second Temple letter-writers and authors constructed diaspora and shaped their own identities, which resonate with our own times as well.”
Letters from Home is a brilliant and innovative exploration of ancient Jewish identity-construction that successfully overcomes the biases pervading earlier scholarship. The book’s insightful literary and rhetorical analyses show how Jewish ‘letter-writers’ from both Hellenistic-era Judea and Egypt negotiated the historical and theological meaning of the demographic dispersion of their community, while dialogically shaping their respective identities.”

Dr. Malka Z. Simkovich is Crown-Ryan Chair of Jewish Studies and Director of the Catholic-Jewish Studies program at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. She is the author of The Making of Jewish Universalism: From Exile to Alexandria and Discovering Second Temple Literature: The Scriptures and Stories That Shaped Early Judaism.