The Emergence of Yehud in the Persian Period: A Social and Demographic Study (JSOTS 294)

Written by Charles E. Carter Reviewed By Mark J. Boda

In this book Charles Carter provides an excellent resource for students of the Persian Period in Judah and the literary works produced in this era (Ezra–Nehemiah, Chronicles, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, etc.). He assembles data from diverse sources inaccessible to the layperson, and provides a new analysis of the settlement pattern and population distribution of the Persian province of Yehud (Judah). He takes a minimalist view both geographically and demographically, restricting Yehud to the central hills of Judah and excluding sites in the Shephelah and Coastal Plain (ch. 2), and estimating the population at 13,350–20, 650 (chs 3 and 4). Carter uses this data to paint a picture of the social conditions in Persian period Yehud, in contrast with the periods before and after this era, e.g. Judah was one third of its pre-exilic size, and Jerusalem one fifth (ch. 5). He then draws out the implications of his conclusions for various theories proposed over the past century to explain the social fabric of this small Persian province (ch. 6).

The two final chapters provide the most helpful information for those studying this period. Carter identifies several general economic patterns for this province, including: the gradual emergence of a moneyed economy alongside a traditional in kind taxation system, the enjoyment of a considerable degree of autonomy by the province in establishing its own mints, an agricultural pattern based as previously on a mix of agrarian and animal husbandry, and a tributary mode of production. He shows how his view of a small Yehud fits with general trends established already for this period, and contends that a small Yehud would still provide for the extensive literary activity posited by many scholars for the Persian period, and would explain the kind of economic insecurity evidenced in the books of Haggai and Nehemiah. The survival of the province was ensured in the end by the support of a Persian overlord who needed security in western Palestine. In addition, the great concern in this period for the preservation of the ‘true seed’ of Israel, evidenced especially in Ezra-Nehemiah, fits well with a small Yehud where the need for ritual purity and ethnic boundaries would be essential for survival.

Other views about the sociology of the Persian period are refined and criticised in Carter’s work. Hoglund’s view that this province was comprised primarily of small, unwalled villages is confirmed, while Weinberg’s view of the urbanising effect of the Bürger-Tempel-Gemeinde is undermined. Of the various views on the rise of apocalyptic communities (Plöger, Hanson, Berquist, Cook), it is Cook’s suggestion that fits the evidence the best.

Carter’s dissertation-become-book (Duke University) is a helpful resource for those who study the Persian period. It bridges the gap between the socio-archaeological and literary guilds and provides much needed information for scholars of this era. It is not an easy read, with long lists and charts, but it makes more obscure materials available to a much wider public. Carter’s introduction is a helpful guide to the present state of methodology for the interpretation of history in the biblical guild. Although at times he appears more sceptical of the biblical text than he needs to be (ch. 2), he is sensitive to the literary features of the text and not given to simplistic readings. One must understand, however, that his work remains an interpretation of the data and will continue to be refined with further reflection and additional discoveries.

Mark J. Boda

McMaster Divinity College, McMaster University