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Traces of Monotheism in the Material Culture?

Changes in the Religious Symbol System in the Formative Phase of Pre-Hellenistic Judaism in the Iron Age-III and the Persian Period

The project sets out to analyze the changes within the iconographic symbol system in Israel/ Palestine between the time of Judah's statehood (until 587 B.C.) and the Hellenistic period (333/32 B.C. onwards), their connection to iconographic developments of the neighboring cultures of the southern Levant and their relation to the evolution of biblical monotheism. The project will place special emphasis on the formative phase of early Judaism in the fifth and fourth centuries BCE, and discuss the influence of religious beliefs on changes within the religious and symbolic system in Persian Judah. The underlying thesis for this research program is that the constitution and development of major religious traditions cannot be accurately described without reference to their reciprocal influence on culture, symbolic systems, and traditions. Accordingly, we will analyze the formative phase of Pre-Hellenistic Judaism, focusing on the transformations within the material culture. Therefore the project will focus on the description of continuities and discontinuities in the iconographic system of the Persian period in connection with developments in the Iron Age and the early Hellenistic period. The research will therefore proceed as follows: 1.Description and discussion of the iconographic findings of the Persian period in Israel / Palestine (Yehûd, Phoenician hinterland, Idumaea / Edomite-influenced regions) from a religious-historical perspective, based on both associated primary sources and other archaeological, epigraphic, and literary sources, 2.Assessment of the relevant material in order to draw developmental lines from the Iron Age-IIB until the early Hellenistic period, emphasizing both continuity and discontinuity, and taking into consideration regional political, economic and demographic particularities, 3.Examination of the general thesis according to which the formation of early Judaism is not only reflected in the literary traditions regarding the Sabbath, circumcision, endogamy and non-pictorial monotheism, but also in the material culture of the Babylonian-Persian period.

The approach and aim of the project is not to isolate the findings within the Persian province of Yehûd but, instead, to discuss them in depth against their own regional background as well as against the backdrop of the historical development to which they testify, so with regard to the Iron Age on the one hand, and the early Hellenistic period on the other. The project will thus contribute towards a precise description and classification of the formation process of early Judaism in the Second Temple Period. Integrating the material culture will provide further backing for the primary thesis of this research program, according to which religious traditions such as early Judaism - which are traditionally analyzed and interpreted by scholars in terms of autonomous development - could actually form and develop only through adaptation to and separation from other cultural traditions. In this respect, the project represents a further contribution to the internal discussion about "axial times" as a paradigm for the constitution of religious traditions.

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