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Why Did Paul Go West?: Jewish Historical Narrative and Thought
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Why Did Paul Go West?: Jewish Historical Narrative and Thought


Bloomsbury 2013

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Why Did Paul Go West? addresses topics on the authority of texts and their transmission, as well as different strategies of narration in ancient texts. Doron Mendels provides extensive treatment of issues such as linearity, emporality, and simultaneity of texts, while working to examine four core themes. The first theme is the narrator and his strategies in the historiography of the Hellenistic period. The second theme is Jewish historical thought in the Hellenistic period and beyond. The third theme is issues of Hellenization in Palestine—power, honor, gifting, etiquette and sovereignty, and their presentation in the main narrative of the Hasmonean period. Finally, Mendels gives attention to the “split” in the Jewish diaspora between east and west, as exemplified from a Christian point of view. It is this that unites these themes into a sustained examination of Jewish historical narrative and thought.

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Praise for the Print Edition

Doron Mendels is one of our finest historians of Judaism in the Hellenistic age. In the series of essays that make up this splendid volume, he offers numerous fresh insights into early Jewish historiography. The essays are notable for their combination of theoretical sophistication and careful textual analysis. The series of studies on the political theology and rhetorical strategies of 1 Maccabees are especially welcome and whet one's appetite for Mendels’ forthcoming commentary on this vitally important book.

Daniel C. Harlow, professor of religion, Calvin College

While Professor Doron Mendels' book Why did Paul go West? focuses on the Hellenistic period, its great interest lies not only in its investigation of the ancient world, but above all in the way in which this investigation is made fruitful for an understanding of current historical and political realities. Indeed, the originality of its contribution is found both in what Doron Mendels terms a ‘polyphonic reading’ of I Maccabees, revealing Hellenistic practices of remembering and reconfiguring (at times subverting) the past, and also in its groundbreaking examination of the deeper implications of this biblical text for an understanding of the modern conception of ‘political theology.’ Professor Mendels brilliantly demonstrates how the Hellenistic context of Jewish history, in which God and the prophets no longer seemed to guide the people, clearly foreshadows what 20th century political theory has termed a political ‘state of exception,’ thus raising the problem of sovereignty in a way that has lost nothing of its significance for our contemporary world.

—Professor Jeffrey Andrew Barash, University of Picardie, Amiens, France

Professor Mendels—a prolific scholar of early Judaism and perceptive contributor with new theoretical insights on ancient history—provocatively challenges the Judaism-Hellenism dualism. In recent decades it has been intellectual fashion to deconstruct the time-honoured Judaism-Hellenism dichotomy and to assert that all forms of early Judaism simultaneously were part and parcel of Hellenism. Mendels dissolves the absolute nature of the argument by highlighting the vast differences in terms of Hellenistic influence that existed between various forms of Judaism in the Western and Eastern part of the Roman Empire. The discussion is brought considerably further by nuanced reinstallation of former scholarship's dualism.

—Professor Anders Klostergaard Petersen, Aarhus University, Denmark

About Doron Mendels

Doron Mendels is Max and Sophie Mydans Professor of Humanities in the department of history at Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel. His recent publications include: Identity, Religion and Historiography and The Media Revolution of Early Christianity.