Surviving Sacrilege: Cultural Persistence in Jewish Antiquity

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In a world of relentless and often violent change, what does it take for a culture to survive? Steven Weitzman addresses this question by exploring the "arts of cultural persistence"--the tactics that cultures employ to sustain themselves in the face of intractable realities. Surviving Sacrilege focuses on a famously resilient culture caught between two disruptive acts of sacrilege: ancient Judaism between the destruction of the First Temple (by the Babylonians) in 586 B.C. and the destruction of the Second Temple (by the Romans) in 70 C.E..

Throughout this period Jews faced the challenge of preserving their religious traditions in a world largely out of their control--a world ruled first by the Persians, then by the Hellenistic Seleucid Kingdom, and finally by the Roman Empire. Their struggle to answer this challenge yields insight into the ingenuity, resourcefulness, and creativity of a distinctive period in Jewish history, but one with broad implications for the study of religious and cultural survival.

Detecting something tenaciously self-preserving at the core of the imagination, Weitzman argues that its expression in storytelling, fantasy, imitation, metaphor, and magic allows a culture's survival instinct to maneuver within, beyond, and even against the limits of reality.

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Editorial Reviews

Bryn Mawr Classical Review

All in all the present book reads very fluently and argues compellingly. The Jewish ways of 'Surviving Sacrilege' are presented in a very convincing way and illustrated by many examples that make Weitzman's argument vivid and easy to follow. Even one who would not concur with Weitzman's main thesis will find this book most readable.
— Marcus Sigismund

Bryn Mawr Classical Review - Marcus Sigismund
All in all the present book reads very fluently and argues compellingly. The Jewish ways of 'Surviving Sacrilege' are presented in a very convincing way and illustrated by many examples that make Weitzman's argument vivid and easy to follow. Even one who would not concur with Weitzman's main thesis will find this book most readable.
Erich Gruen
A fine piece of work, very well conceived, on an important subject, lucidly and engagingly written. The research is admirable,
Weitzman demonstrates his main thesis unequivocally, and the book is eminently readable.
Saul Olyan
A compellingly argued study that provides nuance for our understanding of ancient Judaism, demonstrating just how creative and energetic efforts to preserve and perpetuate a ritual legacy can be. And through his many engaging examples, Weitzman shows how crucial the imagination can be in cultural survival. This book is a breath of fresh air. It will have a big impact on the way we think about ritual.
Robert Orsi
This book's deepest subject is the human imagination itself, and the way the hardness of the world dissolves when the religious imagination goes to work on it. Weitzman's anatomizing of the Jewish imagination at work is dazzling and exciting. Surviving Sacrilege is a work of very broad interest. It asks questions that will illuminate all scholarship on powerless cultures trying to make their way alongside powerful neighbors.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674017085
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 6/30/2005
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 204
  • Product dimensions: 6.36 (w) x 9.58 (h) x 0.71 (d)

Meet the Author

Steven Weitzman is Irving M. Glazer Chair in Jewish Studies, Indiana University.
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Table of Contents



1. After Babel

2. Maccabean Maneuvers

3. Friends in High Places

4. Optical Elusions

5. Flights of Fancy

6. Conjuring Power

7. Playing Dead

8. The Art of Cultural Persistence




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