Peoples of an Almighty God

Competing Religions in the Ancient World

Jonathan Goldstein

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February 19, 2002
590 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
ISBN: 9780300140590
Cloth

Some ancient civilizations, notably the Babylonians and the Israelites, held fast to the belief that their particular god (or gods) were stronger than all other heavenly powers and gods combined, supremely able to protect their well-being and success as a nation. This belief (which resounds in the modern-day rallying cry "God is on our side") led to some foolhardy and rash decisions, particularly when it came to war. For a nation defeated or conquered by a foreign power inevitably faced the profound, perplexing question: "Why did our God, who has sworn to protect us, allow this to happen?"

Jonathan A. Goldstein turns to the religious literature of these ancient peoples to discover how they reconciled their beliefs with the realities of history. In a magnificent blend of several academic disciples (literary criticism, political theory, biblical and classical history), he compares and contrasts the responses of different eras and nations – from the Israelites, Babylonians, and Egyptians to the Zoroastrians, Iranians, and Persians under Alexander the Great. Goldstein’s close readings of literature written following such devastating events as the fall of the Israelites to the Assyrians and the Babylonians demonstrate that theology, far from being a static and unchanging set of beliefs, evolves with the course of history. Revealing how each defeat helped to shape and define the religious beliefs of the conquered, Peoples of an Almighty God clearly demonstrates that no belief can remain unchanged or untouched by the beliefs of other people.

Jonathan A. Goldstein studied at Jewish Theological Seminary and received a doctorate at Columbia University, where he was an instructor in history for two years. He was a professor of ancient history and classics at the University of Iowa from 1962 until his retirement in 1997. In addition to many scholarly articles, Goldstein is the author of the definitive commentary on the First and Second Books of Macabbees for the Anchor Bible series. He lives in Iowa City, Iowa.

"An extraordinary work of scholarship, lucid, readable, profoundly insightful."– Chaim Potok

"Never less than stimulating and at times brilliant." –The Society for Old Testament Study Booklist

"For scholars of ancient Near Eastern civilizations, this work by Goldstein, author of I Maccabees and II Maccabees in the "Anchor Bible" commentaries series, offers a chronological textbook survey on history, culture, and the power of belief to craft a national identity. The organizing principle is that ancient Israel and Babylon each defined themselves as "peoples of an almighty god," where prophetic announcements (and subsequent failures) colored their historical and literary production. The rest of the book follows Near Eastern history and politics from roughly 733 B.C.E. (the reign of Ahaz) to the Maccabean revolts in 142 B.C.E. Here, Goldstein concludes that the Babylonians gave up hope owing to the god Marduk's long silence; the Jews, by contrast, see in this moment the fulfillment of Isaiah 10.27 and the end of the Age of Punishment. Replete with prophecy and apocalyptic politics, culture, and conquest, this latest entry in the "Anchor Bible Reference Library" series clearly excels at presenting broad, sweeping historical concepts. One must necessarily accept the designation of "peoples of an almighty god" to follow the arguments, but in so doing, one finds a lengthy, detailed discussion that is worth joining."— Sandra Collins, Library Journal

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