The Jewish Manumission Inscriptions of the Bosporus Kingdom

Overview

E. Leigh Gibson analyses a little-known group of Greek inscriptions that record the manumission of slaves in synagogues located on the hellenized north shore of the Black Sea in the first three centuries of the common era. Through a comparison of this corpus with manumission inscriptions from elsewhere in the Greco-Roman world and an analysis of Greco-Roman Judaism's own interaction with slavery, she assesses the degree to which the Black Sea Jewish community adopted classical traditions of manumissions. In so ...

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Overview

E. Leigh Gibson analyses a little-known group of Greek inscriptions that record the manumission of slaves in synagogues located on the hellenized north shore of the Black Sea in the first three centuries of the common era. Through a comparison of this corpus with manumission inscriptions from elsewhere in the Greco-Roman world and an analysis of Greco-Roman Judaism's own interaction with slavery, she assesses the degree to which the Black Sea Jewish community adopted classical traditions of manumissions. In so doing, she tests the often-repeated assumption that these Jewish communities developed idiosyncratic slave practices under the influence of biblical injunctions regarding Israelite ownership of slaves. More generally, she reconsiders the extent of Jewish isolation from or interaction with Greco-Roman culture.Against the backdrop of Greek manumission inscriptions, the Jewish manumissions of the Bosporan Kingdom are unremarkable; they follow the basic outlines of Greek manumission formulae. A review of Greco-Roman Jewish sources demonstrates that biblical precepts on slaveholding were not implemented, even if they were still admired. One element of the manumissions, the ongoing obligation required of the slaves, is somewhat enigmatic and possibly indicates that the Bosporan Jewish community indeed had distinctive manumission practices. These obligations have been commonly interpreted as requiring the slave to participate in the religious life of the community as a condition of his manumission and possibly his concurrent conversion. A close analysis of the clause reveals a more straightforward interpretation: the obligation was a kind of paramone clause, a common feature of Greek manumission inscriptions.E. Leigh Gibson demonstrates that the Jews of this region incorporated Greek manumission practices into their communal life. The execution of private legal contract with the community of Jews as witness in turn suggests that the wider Bosporan community extended respect and recognition to its local Jewish community.

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Meet the Author

E. Leigh Gibson, Born 1966; 1987 B.A., 1995 M.A. in Religion at Princeton University; 1997 Ph.D. at Princeton University; since 1997 Assistant Professor at the Department of Religion, Oberlin College.

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