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Wright Fried Volume Damnatio Memoria Nehemia

Wright Fried Volume Damnatio Memoria Nehemia

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Published by Jacob L. Wright

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Published by: Jacob L. Wright on Aug 17, 2011
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 Jacob L. Wright 
To Sara Japhet 
The phrase
damnatio memoriae
in modern idiom describes a practice of theSenate of the Roman Empire officially condemning a ruler or member of theelite after his death. In pronouncing an
abolitio nominis
on an individual, theSenate sanctioned not only the seizure of his property but also the erasure of hismemory—from annals, official lists (
), coins, inscriptions, and statues. Thus,after Lucius Aelius Seianus attempted to overthrow the emperor Tiberius, hisstatues were torn down and his name was struck from the public record andscratched off coins. In other cases, such as that of Marcus Opellius Marcrinus,books written by the condemned were confiscated and burned. As Eric Varnerobserves in
 Mutilation and Transformation
, “The Romans themselves realizedthat it was possible to alter posterity’s perception of the past especially asembodied in the visual and epigraphic record.”
 The practice of (de facto)
damnatio memoriae
is not unique to the RomanEmpire. Indeed, it is attested in most ancient societies and continues today in various forms. In the world of academia, for example, it is known as historicalrevisionism. With respect to ancient societies, we have rich evidence from both
Egypt and western Asia for the alteration or defacement of epigraphic and icono-
graphic memories. One should distinguish
damnatio memoriae
from iconoclasmand usurpation. Akhenaten’s actions against Egyptian deities were, properly speaking, iconoclastic, while the attempts of Horemheb and the Ramessides toerase the memory of Akhenaten and his three immediate successsors belong tothe category of 
damnatio memoriae
. Similarly, one may have attempted to erase
1. Eric R. Varner,
 Mutilation and Transformation: Damnatio memoriae and RomanImperial Portraiture
(Monumenta Graeca et Romana; Leiden: Brill, 2004), 1.
certain aspects of history, such as Hatshepsut’s full status as pharaoh.
To thesecases we may add Egyptian attempts to suppress the memory of private,nonroyal
 personae non gratae
such as the viceroys from the Eighteenth Dynasty,Usersatet and Nakhtmin, as well as Rekhmire and Menna.
In addition to thedestruction or deportation of statues, monuments, and other symbols of anopponent’s power, the archeological record from western Asia knows many examples of a victor erasing names in order either to wipe out his enemy’smemory or to usurp his monument. The fear that a later generation might blotout and supplant inscribed names resonates in the imprecations engraved on awide array of durable memory media.
 In ancient Israelite society, memory erasure may be studied in relation tothe destruction of progeny, statues, cultic spaces and objects, monumental archi-tecture and landscapes, municipalities (“urbicide”), place names, and not leastinscriptions (e.g., the Tel Dan inscription, which appears to have been intention-ally shattered at a later time),
libraries, and portable texts.
The theme of memory preservation and erasure reverberates throughout biblical literature.One encounters it, for example, in the commands to wipe out the memory of “Canaanite” cult and culture (e.g., Deut 7:24–25), in its notions of the deity keeping heavenly books from which names can be erased, and in the way itsauthors themselves commemorate names, events, and places from Israel’s pastand homeland.
The memory-mindedness of the biblical authors reflects a largerconcern for the survival of self and society after the ravages of war. It belongs tothe project of building peoplehood in response to the dangers posed by thepolitics of statehood. An indispensable component in this project of forming anIsraelite collective identity is biblical historiography.
Its practitioners knew not
2. See Catherine Roehrig et al., eds.,
Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharaoh
(New Haven:Yale University Press, 2005).3. See discussion in Peter James Brand,
The Monuments of Seti I: Epigraphic, Historical and Art Historical Analysis
(Probleme der Aegyptologie 16; Leiden: Brill, 2000).4. See Karen Radner,
Die Macht des Namens: Altorientalische Strategien zur Selbsterhal-tung 
(Santag 8; Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2005), 252–66.5. Relevant to this topic is the conference, organized by Natalie N. May, at the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute on “Iconoclasm and Text Destruction in the Ancient NearEast” (April 2011).6. I plan to discuss this memory erasure in relationship to ancient Israel in a forthcomingstudy (to be published by Oxford University Press).7. With respect to a culture of commemoration in Hellenistic-period Judah, the prologueto Ben Sira’s “Praise of the Ancestors” (44:1–15) witnesses to a possible formal, ritual settingin which the names of national heroes were commemorated with the help of texts like “Praiseof the Ancestors.” The final lines call on the congregation collectively to join the reader inproclaiming the praise of great figures.8. For the importance of stories to the formation of a collective identity, see most recently Rogers M. Smith,
Stories of Peoplehood: The Politics and Morals of Political Membership
 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).
only how to remember, by collecting, combining, and composing texts, but alsohow to forget, by omitting, editing, and erasing memories they deemed deleteri-ous to their visions of society and community.Against this backdrop, we can better appreciate the anxiety that permeatesNehemiah’s memoir with respect to the potential amnesia of his human anddivine audience. Throughout his account, he petitions the deity to remember hisown meritorious deeds as well as the transgressions of his enemies. To those whowould wish upon Nehemiah
#:)$# #/< %/'
(“May his name and memory bewiped out!”), Ben Sira’s later encomium responds
#:)$ :'
(“May his memory be glorified!”). In conclusion to a passage of his memoir in which he sharply censures the Jerusalem priesthood (13:4–14), Nehemiah utters an earnest plea tohis divine and human readers:
#':/</# '!+ =' '='<3 :< '2% %/= +#
, “Donot wipe out my good deeds that I performed for the house of God and for itsservice!” Yet, as I seek to show in this paper, the pro-priestly authors of 1 Esdrasdid not heed this plea.In
Rebuilding Identity
I argue that the emergence of the book of Ezra–Nehemiah should be viewed as a history of responses to Nehemiah’s first-personaccount by the first generations of the account’s readers.
That this thesis bearsdirectly upon the dating and interpretation of 1 Esdras is not coincidental.My aim was, not least, to provide a context for understanding the existence of 1 Esdras, whose most salient feature, when viewed from the perspective of Ezra–Nehemiah, is the complete absence of Nehemiah’s first-person account, on theone hand, and the substantial augmentation of the account of Zerubbabel withthe story of the youths, on the other.The question of the priority of Ezra–Nehemiah—and, as I argue, the ulti-mate priority of the Nehemiah memoir—is by no means a peripheral one; to thecontrary, it is critical to the appreciation of the social, political, and theologicalforces that shaped Second Temple history and that produced these two books.
According to the findings of my analyses, Nehemiah’s account posed many prob-
lems for early generations of readers. They responded to it by 1) contextualizingthis account in a wider historical framework (Ezra–Nehemiah); 2) transformingthe image of Nehemiah (the Nehemiah legend in 2 Maccabees); 3) removing theportions of it that were problematic (Josephus); or 4) removing his accountentirely from the history of the restoration (1 Esdras).Other scholars have already made a compelling case for the priority of Ezra–Nehemiah on text-critical grounds.
The present article presents a different
9. Jacob L. Wright,
Rebuilding Identity: The Nehemiah Memoir and Its Earliest Readers
 (BZAW 348; Berlin: de Gruyter, 2004).10. See Edmund Bayer,
Das dritte Buch Esdras und sein Verhältnis zu den Bu
chern Esra-Nehemia
(BibS[F] 16/1; Freiburg: Herder, 1911); Bernhard Walde,
Die Esdrasbücher der Septuaginta, ihr gegenseitiges Verhältnis untersucht 
(BibS[F] 18/4; Freiburg: Herder, 1913);Zipora Talshir,
1 Esdras: From Origin to Translation
(SBLSCS 47; Atlanta: Society of Biblical

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