The Priest and the Great King

  • Lisbeth S. Fried
  • Nov 1, 2005
  • Series: Volume 8 - 2005

Lisbeth S. Fried, The Priest and the Great King: Temple-Palace Relations in the Persian Empire. Biblical and Judaic Studies from the University of California, San Diego 10. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2004. Pp. xvi + 266. Hardback, $39.50. ISBN 1575060906.

This volume addresses an area of study that has received renewed interest in the field of biblical studies in the past few years: the extent of Persian domination or influence in Judah (539-333 B.C.E.). Traditional scholarship has maintained that the Persian Imperial Empire was both benign and relatively complacent in its ruling of conquered people groups for the sake of loyalty. This view stemmed originally from the t the text of the Cyrus Cylinder (536 B.C.E.). Recently, new and nuanced theories have evolved regarding the extent of imperial control over satrapies (provinces) of the Persian Imperial Administration. Fried's work is a revision of her Ph.D. dissertation completed at New York University under Baruch A. Levine. It focuses on the Judean priesthood and the extent to which it attained secular authority during Achaemenid occupation. She makes note of three hypotheses and tests them against archival and inscriptional data from the temples of the western satrapies of Babylon, Egypt, and Asia Minor to determine the Persian Empire's relationship to these temples. She believes that if the relationship between the Great King and the local priesthoods is consistent throughout the western satrapies, then the relationships surveyed will be indicative of Judah.

A brief synopsis of the three theories Fried engages with is given in the introduction. M. Dandamayev's theory of self-governance proposes that the Persians interfered as little as possible in the political and social structures of the provinces. Administrative changes were made under Darius, but little control was exerted as long as taxes were sent to Susa. Frei and Koch's view of Persian imperial authorization argues that royal representatives in the provinces authorized local norms and customs and so transformed them into locally applied imperial laws. Fried attempts to prove the third theory, Shmuel N. Eisenstadt's hypothesis of foreign or central control considers temple-palace relations in Yehud (Judah). This theory proposes that all power was in the hands of the king and his representatives, with local priesthoods having no control over the land in their domains.

A chapter each is reserved for analysis of the temple-palace relations of Babylonia, Egypt, and Asia Minor. The final chapter, which is the longest, deals with temple-palace relations in Yehud. Fried goes into much greater detail in this chapter once she has established the general framework or degree of imperial influence evident in the three temples surveyed. She notes the lack of archival data from Judah as compared to the extensive archives from Babylon and Egypt, but adds that the written material (biblical books of Ezra-Nehemiah, Haggai-Zechariah, and Second Isaiah) is both extensive and difficult to analyze due to the world view of the narrator.

In chapter two, Fried begins her in-depth analysis of temple-palace relations in Babylonia by examining the archival data from two temples (Eanna at Uruk and Ebabbar at Sippar) in Mesopotamia from the Neo-Babylonian and early Persian periods. She takes an extensive look at the temple personnel and their degree of control or autonomy within the temple. Next, she moves to examine relations under Nabonidus and Cyrus, and ends with an eye to the resources of the temple and their allocation. She concludes that Persian authorities strove to limit the power of indigenous elite by appointing upper level temple personnel, judges, city mayors and governors from outside the temple community, thus strengthening imperial loyalty and control. This coheres with Eisenstadt's model.

In the next chapter she examines temple-state relations in Egypt, to determine if imperial influence was applied differently on the outskirts of the empire. She begins prior to Achaemenid conquest and then examines the effect of Persian domination. Insights from archives in Aramaic (including the archives from Elephantine among others), Greek, and Demotic are incorporated to support the conclusions found in Babylonia: dominant imperial influence of Persia in the ruling of districts and cities by imperially appointed officials. She concludes, "The temples-and the entire satrapy were run by the Persian rulers as a fiefdom for the king." (p.106)

In chapter four Fried analyzes the data at Asia Minor, noting that the data from this geographic region is meager compared to the other two regions. With no archival data, she relies on Darius's letter to Gadatas, a border dispute between Miletus and Myus, the donation of Droaphernes, a decree of Mylasa against the opponents of Mausolus, and the trilingual inscription of Xanthus. She notes the lack of universal concern for foreign cults under Achaemenid rule. Noting the decline in power and influence of the local priesthoods in Asia Minor consistent with Babylonia and Egypt, she once again proves Eisenstadt's model of bureaucratic empires.

In the final chapter Fried evaluates temple-palace relations in Yehud, beginning with the restoration of the temple and ending with the missions of Ezra and Nehemiah. Fried deduces that Temple-palace relations in Yehud are deemed consistent with the picture painted from the overview of the temples examined in the western satrapies of Babylonia, Egypt and Asia Minor. She strongly argues against any evidence of self-rule in any provinces, and claims Yehud was held tightly at all times under Persian imperial control.

Fried should certainly be commended for her extensive analysis of archival and inscriptional data in this work. She has done rigorous research and a thorough synthesis of the material surveyed. Nevertheless, several potential weaknesses are worth mentioning. To begin with, one must keep in mind, the lack of direct historical evidence available to date, specifically regarding Judah for this time period. Additionally, although recent archaeological finds have brought new insights regarding the social-political situation under Achaemenid imperial rule, there is neither consensus nor certainty in the dating of a number of these finds (i.e. fortified sites-garrisons, bullae and coinage). Thus to come to such confident conclusions regarding the degree of imperial influence on Judah by parallel comparisons to other satrapies, can prove to be speculative.

Second, it is evident that Fried reads her archival and inscriptional evidence with a strong commitment to proving Eisenstadt's bureaucratic model. A potential weakness is not fully engaging other scholars that might offer alternative explanations.

Lastly, for those who might hold a higher view of the historical value of the biblical material, her analysis of Ezra and Nehemiah gives pause. In summary, Fried's work is informative and adds but another piece of understanding to the puzzle of this intriguing and important time period in history.

Linda Foote Brown
Denver Seminary
November 2005