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

Coming in June

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

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

224 pages
6" × 9"
1 map
2024

Letters from Home

The Creation of Diaspora in Jewish Antiquity

Malka Z. Simkovich

The announcement by the Persian king Cyrus in 538 BCE that exiled Judeans could return to their homeland should have been cause for celebration. Instead, it plunged Judeans 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, Judeans faced a theological conundrum: Had the catastrophic punishment of exile, believed to mark God’s retribution for the people’s sins, come to an end?

 

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The announcement by the Persian king Cyrus in 538 BCE that exiled Judeans could return to their homeland should have been cause for celebration. Instead, it plunged Judeans 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, Judeans faced a theological conundrum: Had the catastrophic punishment of exile, believed to mark God’s retribution for the people’s sins, come to an end?

While Jews in Judea believed that life abroad signified God’s wrath and rejection, Jews outside of Judea 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 construct of diaspora at the time—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.

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.