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Review of Biblical Literature Blog

An Early History of Compassion: Emotion and Imagination in Hellenistic Judaism
Mirguet, Françoise

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017 pp. viii + 272. $99.99

Description: In this book, Françoise Mirguet traces the appropriation and reinterpretation of pity by Greek-speaking Jewish communities of Late Antiquity. Pity and compassion, in this corpus, comprised a hybrid of Hebrew, Greek, and Roman constructions; depending on the texts, they were a spontaneous feeling, a practice, a virtue, or a precept of the Mosaic law. The requirement to feel for those who suffer sustained the identity of the Jewish minority, both creating continuity with its traditions and emulating dominant discourses. Mirguet's book will be of interest to scholars of early Judaism and Christianity for its sensitivity to the role of feelings and imagination in the shaping of identity. An important contribution to the history of emotions, it explores the role of the emotional imagination within the context of Roman imperialism. It also contributes to understanding how compassion has come to be so highly valued in Western cultures. The book approaches Judeo-Hellenistic literature from the innovative perspective of emotions and offers an in-depth study of pity/compassion in regard to its historical development and to its different social functions, especially in regard to the construction of identity, making it appealing to scholars of ancient Judaism and Christianity who are seeking alternative approaches. The book also explores the textual/imaginative foundation on which early Christians draw in their discourses on compassion, making it appealing to scholars of Christianity who deal with compassion and other related virtues/emotions. The book explores the history of a popular emotion in contemporary Western societies: compassion - making it appealing to those interested in the larger history of compassion, especially in regard to its transformation into a virtue and its political uses.

Subjects: Bible, Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, Old Testament Apocrypha, Tobit, Ecclesiasticus (Sirach), Pseudepigrapha, Literature, Methods, Reception History

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Review by Tyler Smith
Published 7/11/2019
Citation: Tyler Smith, review of Françoise Mirguet, An Early History of Compassion: Emotion and Imagination in Hellenistic Judaism, Review of Biblical Literature [] (2019).

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