Tuesday, September 27, 2016

An ancient triclinium in Jerusalem?

ARCHAEOLOGY: Researchers: Jerusalem Structure Was Dining Room of Ancient City Council. Archaeologist Alexander Onn compares the Second Temple era hall with Israel's parliamentary cafeteria, a modern meeting place of the ruling elite (Nir Hasson, Haaretz).
About five years ago, near the Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem, archaeologist Alexander Onn discovered remnants of an unusual building from the Second Temple period that has been dated to the end of the 1st century B.C.E.

The structure consists of two large rooms connected by a water system that featured a decorative fountain.

Archeologists have been in agreement that this was a large, opulent building from the Herodian period, perhaps the most opulent beyond the confines of the Temple Mount, but what it was used for had not been clear. The accepted assumption up until recently was that it was a large public fountain of the kind familiar from public squares in Roman cities at the time.

Now, however, Prof. Joseph Patrich of Hebrew University and Dr. Shlomit Wexler-Bedolah of the Israel Antiquities Authority say this was the triclinium, the site of the dining halls and reception areas of the city council of Jerusalem at the time. In some respects, that would make it like today’s Knesset cafeteria, the ultimate meeting place of the ruling elite.

Earlier this year there was mention of the discovery of a triclinium in France, the use of which was compared to Roman influences in Judea. And the "scriptorium" at Qumran has also been argued, controversially, to be a triclinium.

Jewish and gentile courts in the Talmud

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Jew vs. Non-Jew vs. Jew. In this week’s ‘Daf Yomi,’ Talmudic sages attempt to deal with the risks inherent in communal loyalty taking precedence over common law and principled justice.
One of the most delicate and unsettling issues for me, in writing about my Daf Yomi reading, is the Talmud’s treatment of the relationship between gentiles and Jews. As a Jew in 21st-century America, I have a basic sense that religion should be irrelevant to questions of law and justice. If a Jew and a non-Jew are parties to a lawsuit, I take it for granted that they will go before a government court and receive impartial justice. Any suggestion that Jews owe loyalty to each other and their own laws, rather than to common laws and universal standards of justice, distresses me. And if I am honest, one of the reasons it distresses me is that I worry what non-Jews will make of it. Anti-Semites past and present love to charge that Jews are loyal to each other but hostile to outsiders—which is one reason why modern Jews have been such passionate universalists.

But universalism was not a reality for Jews living in the Roman and Persian Empires in the first centuries CE. As we have seen in various ways in the Talmud, non-Jews were assumed to be hostile; Rome, in particular, was seen as Edom, an ancient enemy of the Jews, the destroyer of the Temple and persecutor of Judaism. The safest course for Jews was to have as little as possible to do with gentiles. Back in Tractate Eruvin, for instance, the rabbis warned that a Jew should never live among non-Jews. A similar idea came up in this week’s reading, in Bava Kamma 114a, where Rav Ashi says: “In the case of a Jewish man who sells a gentile a plot of land that is on the border of the property of his fellow Jew, we excommunicate him.” Why such a harsh punishment? “Because we say to him: You have placed a lion on my border.” A non-Jewish neighbor would, the Talmud assumes, cause trouble for a Jew—and the non-Jew would have the power of the government and its laws on his side.

The ancient world did not live by modern rules — see, e.g., here and here and links. People conducted themselves accordingly.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

DSS photo gallery

JUST BECAUSE: Gallery of Dead Sea Scrolls: A Glimpse of the Past (Live Science).

Crackdown on Chinese Jews in Kaifeng reported

THIS DOESN'T SOUND GOOD: Chinese authorities reportedly crack down on Jewish revival in Kaifeng.
(JTA) — Chinese authorities reportedly have cracked down on a Jewish revival in the city of Kaifeng.

The government has shut down Jewish organizations, prohibited residents identifying as Jewish from gathering for Jewish holidays and removed public identification of Jewish historical places on the city in central China, The New York Times reported over the weekend.

About 1,000 Kaifeng residents claim Jewish ancestry in a city population of 4.5 million, and about 100 to 200 have been active in Jewish religious and cultural activities, the Times reported.

Judaism is not one of China’s five state-licensed religions, which are Buddhism, Catholicism, Islam, Protestantism and Taoism.

So license it then. It sounds as though the Chinese Government would do well to review its policies and lighten up a bit. The world is watching.

The Jewish community in Kaifeng goes back to at least around 900 CE and a Jewish presence in China is attested still earlier. Background here and here and links. The New York Times article by Chris Buckley, mentioned above is here: Jewish and Chinese: Explaining a Shared Identity.

I wish that there were more good news in the stories I pass on about surviving ancient religious communities like the Kaifeng Jews and the Yazidis.


YONA SABAR: Hebrew Word of the Week: rimmon “pomegranate.”
The pomegranate is one of several components of the Sephardic seder for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year holiday. The symbolic reason for eating it is “so that we become filled with mitzvot (good deeds, religious observations), as the pomegranate is filled with seeds.” Interestingly, the English word also means “apple/fruit full of grains (seeds),” from French-Latin pomum granatum. Compare to Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruits.
And there's more on the possible etymologies of the word.

Monday, September 26, 2016


AWOL: Open Access Journal: Textus: Annual of the Hebrew University Bible Project. I already noted this journal a few years ago here, but I haven't been keeping up with subsequent volumes. Recently I did note one article on the Ein Gedi Leviticus scroll here, but the current volume (26, 2016) includes more articles, all online for free:
The Development of the Text of the Torah in Two Major Text Blocks
E. Tov

How Could a Torah Scroll Have Included the Word זעטוטי?
G.A. Rendsburg

Reconstructing the Old Hebrew Text of the Book of Joshua: An Analysis of Joshua 10
K.D. Troyer

4QXIIg (4Q82) as an Editorial Text
A. Lange

Hebrew Bible job at Saint Louis University

The Department of Theological Studies at Saint Louis University is inviting applicants for a tenure-track position as Assistant Professor in Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. As the chair of the search committee, I am contacting you in order both to solicit nominations for particularly promising students or recent graduates and to ask that you encourage such candidates to apply for this position.

Our department is committed to world-class research, as well as innovative and transformative teaching. Faculty in our department work with undergraduate, masters and doctoral students, benefit from extensive library holdings in the area of biblical studies and theology, receive the support of graduate research assistants ranging from 5-20 hours a week, and enjoy a 2-2 teaching load with classes capped at 25 students. We are looking, therefore, for candidates who will not only be effective teachers in the classroom, but also show a great deal of promise in their research. I have included (below) the job advertisement which you will also find on the AAR-SBL website.

The Department of Theological Studies at SAINT LOUIS UNIVERSITY invites applications for a full-time, tenure-track position in Hebrew Bible/Old Testament at the rank of assistant professor. A doctorate is required by the time the appointment begins on August 15, 2017.

Area of specialization is open. However, preference will be given to applicants who diversify existing expertise and pedagogical approaches within the department and who work in an interdisciplinary manner. The successful candidate will have strong research competencies and the ability to teach a range of subjects at the undergraduate and graduate levels. The standard teaching assignment in the department is 2/2 and faculty regularly receive the support of graduate research assistants. Additional duties include advising and mentoring students and participating in faculty governance at the department, college and university level.

Regardless of his or her own faith tradition, the successful candidate will demonstrate a strong commitment to the university’s Catholic and Jesuit mission, which affirms the importance of diversity and fosters an inclusive work environment.

All applications are made online at http://jobs.slu.edu and include a (1) cover letter, (2) curriculum vitae, (3) statement of research agenda, (4) one sample of scholarly work no longer than 30 pages, (5) a teaching statement where we invite you also to describe your cultural competencies and experiences engaging a diverse student body, and (6) three letters of reference. Applications are due November 4. Questions about this position should be directed to: Pauline Lee, Associate Professor of Chinese Religions, Department of Theological Studies, Saint Louis University, 3800 Lindell Blvd., Saint Louis, MO 63108. Contact email: leepc@slu.edu.
Saint Louis University is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer and encourages applications from women and minorities.

Nabatean inscriptions

AWOL: Nabataean: Corpus of Nabataean Inscriptions.
The Corpus of Nabataean inscriptions on DASI has been accomplished thanks to the agreement with the CNRS laboratory UMR 8167 – Mondes Sémitiques, under the scientific supervision of L. Nehmé. Presently it includes all the tomb inscriptions from Hegra.
Nabatean was the written Aramaic dialect that was the official language of the ancient Arabic-speaking Nabateans in the region of modern Jordan extending into northwestern Saudi Arabia. It's script was the basis for the later Arabic alphabet. More on that here. For much more on the Nabateans (Nabataeans) see the immediately preceding post on The gardens of Petra and follow the links, or run "Nabatean (Nabataean) Watch" through the blog search engine.

The gardens of Petra

NABATEAN (NABATAEAN) WATCH: Monumental Forgotten Gardens of Petra Rediscovered After 2,000 Years. Cool fountains and a huge pool in mid-desert enabled by strikingly advanced stone-carved irrigation and water storage system (Philippe Bohstrom, Haaretz).
Recent excavations at Petra have revealed a startlingly advanced irrigation system and water storage system that enabled the desert city's people to survive – and to maintain a magnificent garden featuring fountains, ponds and a huge swimming pool. The engineering feats and other luxuries attest to the ancient Nabatean capital's former splendor and wealth some 2,000 years ago.

Petra is perhaps best known for its sandstone canyon that leads directly to Al Khazneh, The Treasury, seen in the climax to "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" where the hero archaeologists, played by Harrison Ford and Sean Connery, ride out of the canyon and into the Treasury in their quest for the Holy Grail.

However, 2,000 years ago, Petra was renowned for completely different reasons. It was one of the most famous water stops in the Middle East, where camel caravan routes linked distant cities. Now archaeologists are discovering the Nabataean capital, situated in the southwestern deserts of Jordan, once was adorned with an exquisite, artificially irrigated garden. It featured paths likely shaded by vines, trees and date palms, and grasses, which were cultivated next to a huge, 44-meter wide swimming pool.

The Nabataeans’ ability to tame nature, and conspicuous consumption of a precious resource, water, was pure propaganda. It was a means to display wealth and power, which they could do thanks to the ingenious hydraulic system they invented, which allowed the people not only to reserve enough water for their own needs, but to water the lavish garden with fountains and an open-air pool. It had previously been unthinkable that water, a scarce resource in the desert wastes, would have been used for anything but necessity.

The recent explorations and excavations of Petra in Jordan have been producing a lot of new information. See, recently, here for newly discovered monumental architecture and here for the recovery of two ancient mythological statues. See also here for some recent scholarly work on Petra and the Nabateans. And here's another post on the Petra gardening system from last year. Follow the links in those posts for much more on Petra. This work has been going on for some time. The 2007 Smithsonian article noted here already foreshadows some of the recent discoveries.

Jewish history recognized in India

EXHIBITION: History of a faith: Exploring the last 3,500 years of Jewish cultural heritage (Sunday Guardian Live).
A special exhibition exploring the cultural and social roots of the Jewish community is being hosted in New Delhi throughout this month. Previous editions of the show have been held in cities like New York, Paris and Copenhagen, writes Srija Naskar.

Indian government leaders and ambassadors from different nations met recently for the Asian premiere of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s historic exhibition, People, Book, Land: The 3500 Year Relationship of the Jewish People with The Holy Land at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts. It was co-organised by UNESCO, the first such exhibit gaining UN approval, and sponsored by governments of Israel, US and Canada. This exhibit has been presented at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, the UN headquarters in New York, the Vatican, the US Congress, Israel’s Knesset, as well as in cities like Copenhagen and Chicago.

The exhibit traces 35 centuries of Jewish people’s relationship with their land, emphasising the universal and particularistic values that inspired the unique journey of the Jewish people throughout history and inspired Jews to retain an unbreakable bond and love for their ancestral homeland.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said, “ It is appropriate that the Asia launch of this exhibit is taking place in New Delhi as the Jewish people know that throughout history they have always been welcomed by the people of India.”

Rabbi Cooper is also interviewed about the exhibition by Indranil Banerjie in The Asian Age: Now in India: A glimpse of the 2,000-year [sic] history of the Jews.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Congress volume for 15th IOSCS meeting, 2013

XV Congress of the International Organization for Septuagint and Cognate Studies: Munich, 2013
Wolfgang Kraus (Editor), Michael N. Van Der Meer (Editor), Martin Meiser (Editor)

ISBN 9781628371383
Status Available
Price: $99.95
Binding Paperback
Publication Date September 2016
Pages 780

Essays from experts in the field of Septuagint studies

The study of Septuagint offers essential insights in ancient Judaism and its efforts to formulate Jewish identity within a non-Jewish surrounding culture. This book includes the papers given at the XV Congress of the International Organization for Septuagint and Cognate Studies (IOSCS), held in Munich, Germany, in 2013. The first part of this book deals with questions of textual criticism. The second part is dedicated to philology. The third part underlines the increasing importance of Torah in Jewish self-definition.

  • Essays dealing with questions of textual criticism, mostly concerning the historical books and wisdom literature and ancient editions and translations
  • Philological essays covering the historical background, studies on translation technique and lexical studies underline the necessity of both exploring general perspectives and working in detail
I noted the Congress just after it happened here.

Stökl Ben Ezra, Qumran


Die Texte vom Toten Meer und das antike Judentum

[Qumran. The Dead Sea Scrolls and Ancient Judaism.]
2016. XIII, 462 pages.
utb Jüdische Studien 4681/3

34,99 €
ISBN 978-3-8252-4681-5

Published in German.
Hardly an archaeological discovery has so revolutionized our understanding of ancient Judaism and the emergence of the Hebrew Bible as the Dead Sea Scrolls. In this textbook, Daniel Stökl Ben Ezra discusses clearly the most important theories on the Qumran scrolls in their archaeological context. Who were the owners of the scrolls, how did they live and think? What can we learn from the scrolls about the Hebrew Bible's text, editorial and canon history? Particular attention is paid to the meaning of the scrolls for the understanding of ancient Judaism beyond the circle of their once owners. Qumran scroll themes such as interpretation, Halacha, prayers, mysticism, and eschatology are systematically brought into discussion with other ancient Judaism sources, including Hellenistic and rabbinical texts, the New Testament, and archaeology.

Amal Clooney calls out the UN for the Yazidis

YAZIDI WATCH: Amal Clooney Says U.N. Has Failed Yazidi Women (Lucy Westcott, Newsweek via San Diego Jewish World).
Renowned human rights lawyer Amal Clooney criticized the United Nations for failing to act on behalf of the persecuted Yazidi minority group, thousands of whom remain enslaved by the Islamic State militant group (ISIS).

Clooney spoke during a ceremony for Nadia Murad Basee Taha, a 23-year-old Yazidi woman who was kept as an ISIS sex slave for three months before she escaped. On Friday, Murad was appointed as a Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking for the U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Earlier this year, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said ISIS is committing a genocide against several minority groups in Iraq and Syria, including Yazidis, Turkmen and Christians.

"Make no mistake: What Nadia has told us about is genocide,” Clooney said during a speech on Friday. “And genocide doesn't happen by accident. You have to plan it."

Clooney, a barrister at Doughty Street Chambers in London who focuses on international and human rights law, will represent the Yazidis in an International Criminal Court case, in which she plans to seek accountability for the genocide, sexual enslavement and trafficking of Yazidi women and girls by ISIS. ISIS believe Yazidis are non-believers as they follow an ancient religion and are not Muslim.

Good for Ms. Clooney. She is doing a brave thing that is not without personal risk. Background on the Yazidis, their Gnosticism-themed religion, and their tragic fate in the hands of ISIS, is here with many links.

The Memoirs of Og

REMNANT OF GIANTS: Og the Giant’s Memoirs now on Chabad.org. Some past PaleoJudaica posts on Og the giant are here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Mahnaz (ed.), Zoroastrianism

BIBLIOGRAPHIA IRANICA: Zoroastrianism: Religious texts, theology, history and culture. Notice of a new book: Moazami, Mahnaz (ed.). 2016. Zoroastrianism: A collection of articles from the Encyclopaedia Iranica (Encyclopaedia Iranica Extracts – EIE), 2 vols. New York: Encyclopaedia Iranica Foundation.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The case of the missing verse

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS: Why Is There No Nun Verse in Ashrei? (Mitchell First, Jewish Link of New Jersey). Interesting analysis of the problem of a missing verse (that should begin with the letter nun) in the acrostic poem in Psalm 145.

There's more here on the longer passage about Nahash the Ammonite found in a copy of 1 Samuel 10/11 in one of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Armitage, Theories of Poverty in the World of the New Testament


Theories of Poverty in the World of the New Testament

[Gedanken zur Armut in der Welt des Neuen Testaments.]
2016. XVI, 301 pages.
Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 2. Reihe 423

89,00 €
sewn paper
ISBN 978-3-16-154399-9

Published in English.
David J. Armitage explores interpretations of poverty in the Greco-Roman and Jewish contexts of the New Testament, and, in the light of this, considers how approaches to poverty in the New Testament texts may be regarded as distinctive. Explanations for the plight of the poor and supposed solutions to the problem of poverty are discussed, noting the importance in Greco-Roman settings of questions about poverty's relation to virtue and vice, and the roles of fate and chance in impoverishment. Such debates were peripheral for strands of the Jewish tradition where poverty discourse was shaped by narrative frameworks incorporating transgression, curse, and the anticipated rescue of the righteous poor. These elements occur in New Testament texts, which endorse wider Jewish concern for the poor while reconfiguring hope for the end of poverty around an inaugurated eschatology centred on Jesus.

Syriac inscriptions from Kazakhstan

SYRIAC WATCH: Evidence of ancient Christianity discovered in Kazakhstan (Tom Davis, SWBTS News).
EDITOR’S NOTE: The following report is by the Tandy Institute for Archaeology’s Tom Davis, professor of archaeology and biblical backgrounds at Southwestern Seminary as well as chair of its archaeology department.
New Syriac epigraphic material on the Silk Road:
The ancient city of Ilyn Balik, known from pilgrims’ travels and historical texts, has been discovered in Kazakhstan. Historians of Christianity along the Silk Road have known of travelers’ accounts of Christian communities in the region and in the ancient city of Ilyn Balik, but now, recent excavations at the village of Usharal, 60 kilometers from the Chinese border, have uncovered the ancient city as well as the site’s cemetery, where eight gravestones have been found.

This discovery is the first archaeological evidence for a Christian community in the borders of the Republic of Kazakhstan. This discovery supports the understanding of ancient Kazakhstan as a multi-cultural center between the East and West, with Muslims, Buddhists and Christians living among the local herdsmen and nomadic tribes.


The team discovered seven inscribed gravestones clustered on the surface outside of the main area of settlement of the site. The suspected grave markers all have inscribed Nestorian-style crosses, and two of them have fragmentary inscriptions.

The new discoveries provide context for the previously discovered inscribed stone and most likely indicate an extra-mural cemetery and possibly an associated Christian community. One of the inscriptions in Old Syriac has been partially deciphered by the Tandy Institute’s epigrapher, Ryan Stokes, associate professor of Old Testament at Southwestern, and indicates a date of 1162 A.D.

HT AINA. I have noted discoveries of Syriac texts in China (see here, here, here, and here and links), but this is the first time I have encountered Syriac in Kazakhstan.

NovT TC reviews

ETC BLOG: A Bounty of Text Critical Reviews in the Latest NovT (Peter Gurry). Most of them deal with New Testament textual criticism, but one involves ancient Judaism.


THE BRITISH LIBRARY MEDIEVAL MANUSCRIPTS BLOG: Palimpsests: The Art of Medieval Recycling (Peter Toth).
The art of recycling — re-using waste materials to reduce consumption of fresh raw materials — may seem alien in a medieval context. Yet when it comes to writing, past peoples were often much more sparing than many of us today.
Seen on Facebook. Past PaleoJudaica posts on palimpsests are collected here, with subsequent posts here and here.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Tilly et al. (ed.), L'adversaire de Dieu

L'adversaire de Dieu – Der Widersacher Gottes
6. Symposium Strasbourg, Tübingen, Uppsala. 27.-29. Juni 2013 in Tübingen

Hrsg. v. Michael Tilly, Matthias Morgenstern u. Volker Henning Drecoll unter Mitarb. v. Hendrik Stoppel

[The Adversaries of God. The Sixth Strasbourg-Tübingen-Uppsala Symposium. Tübingen 27–29 June 2013.]
2016. XIV, 359 pages.
Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 364

Published in German.
This trilingual collection contains studies on how the literary guises of God’s enemies originated, how they were presented and what meaning they held in the Jewish Holy Scriptures, the Christian Bible, ancient and rabbinical Jewish writings, in early Christianity and in gnostic texts. Exegetic-philological, history of religion, Jewish- as well as conceptual and history of theology aspects are all comprehensively dealt with. Scholars from the universities of Strasbourg, Tübingen and Uppsala’s evangelical theology faculties examine Satan, Beelzebub, the Anti-Christ, the diabolical, demons, evil intent and other God-opposing forces, as well as the Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier’s treatment of evil, in their contributions.

The Los Lunas inscription, once more

NEW WORLD FORGERY WATCH: Oldest Paleo-Hebrew Ten Commandments Found Where?! (Tsivya Fox, Breaking Israel News).
It may surprise many people to learn that the oldest known Ten Commandments written in Hebrew on stone may not be in the Holy Land, but in America. The controversial carving resides west of Los Lunas, New Mexico at the bottom of a place called Hidden Mountain. Named the Los Lunas Decalogue Stone, it is also known as “Mystery Stone”, “Phoenician Inscription Rock”, or “Mystery Rock”. It contains the text of the Ten Commandments written in ancient Paleo-Hebrew.

Here we go again. The Los Lunas inscription forgery shows up in the media every few years. I replied to pretty much the same set of claims a few years ago here. If I may quote myself:
The Harvard Professor—Robert Pfeiffer—died in 1958 and it is not clear from the coverage here that he said "yes" in the sense of thinking that it was possible that it was an ancient inscription.

This [earlier] article gathers together some entertaining anecdotes and occasionally some interesting information, but ultimately it tries to find a "debate" where there is none. No epigrapher of ancient Hebrew is willing today to defend the authenticity of the inscription. (James Tabor tried once in a popular article, but this article reports that he has changed his mind.)
Further detail there. And as always, let me reiterate this:
As usual, if a trained specialist wants to publish an article in a peer-review journal which argues that the stone is really an ancient inscription that shows the presence of pre-Columbian Jews in New Mexico, I would be willing to listen to the argument. But in the meantime, it's a fake.
Follow that link for additional past posts on the subject. In particular, in this post I mentioned that the late Cyrus Gordon argued that the inscription was a genuine late antique (Samaritan) artifact. The 1995 article was in the Japanese (English-language) journal Orient and you can download it for free here. You can read his discussion of the New World inscriptions, including the Los Lunas inscription, in the first several pages. No real case is made. By real case I mean a serious, detailed paleographic and orthographic analysis. If someone wants to do that and to get it published in a peer-review journal, there would be a case to consider. There isn't now. My past posts on the Los Lunas inscription also deal with the Bat Creek stone inscription and the Newark Stones.

Still more on the Ein Gedi Leviticus scroll

TECHNOLOGY WATCH: An Early Leviticus Scroll from En-Gedi: Preliminary Publication) (Michael Segal, Emanuel Tov, William Brent Seales, Clifford Seth Parker, Pnina Shor, Yosef Porath with an Appendix by Ada Yardeni. This is the scholarly publication in Textus 2016 that generated all the recent excitement. I've only had time for a quick look at the first part of it. Given the C-14 test results given in the article, I am baffled by the original report that said they dated the scroll to the late sixth century CE.

The recent media coverage has generally been good, but a couple of headlines have gotten overly excited:

Digitally unwrapped Hebrew scroll reveals earliest copy of Old Testament Bible scripture (The Straits Times)

Scientists finally read the oldest biblical text ever found (The Independent)

There are many Dead Sea Scrolls fragments of the Hebrew Bible that are older than the oldest date posited for the Ein Gedi Leviticus Scroll. And arguably the oldest biblical text ever found was in the Ketef Hinnom silver amulets from the seventh century BCE.

Background here and links.

Interview with Dr. Ilana Sasson on Judeo-Arabic

PHILOLOGY: Recovering Judeo-Arabic. Local scholar translates Karaite Bible commentary of Yefet ben Eli (LARRY YUDELSON, Times of Israel).
When Dr. Ilana Sasson of Teaneck was growing up in Israel, the child of Iraqi immigrants, she was embarrassed by the Arabic her parents would speak at home.

“I wanted people to speak Hebrew,” she said. “Kids who had Yiddish in their house felt the same. It was more so for those of us coming from the Islamic world, since Arabic was identified as the language of the enemy.”

Her childhood self would be quite surprised, therefore, that Dr. Sasson wrote a dissertation on a Judeo-Arabic translation and commentary on the biblical book of Proverbs. A revised version of the dissertation was published this summer by Brill Publishers as “The Arabic Translation and Commentary of Yefet ben Eli on the Book of Proverbs.”

I noted the book when it came out this summer.
So what is Judeo-Arabic?

Briefly, it’s the distinctive versions of Arabic used by Jews.

But it’s not so simple.

“There is a big debate now,” Dr. Sasson said. “There’s a scholar at New York University, Dr. Ella Habiba Shohat, who claims that we shouldn’t say Judeo-Arabic, we should just say Arabic.”

That’s because “Arabic has so many dialectics and so many levels. Every ethnic group has its own. Yemenites cannot understand Moroccans, their dialects are so far apart from each other.”

Jews, Dr. Shohat argues, may have spoken a different dialect than their Muslim neighbors. But still, it was closer to their neighbors’ than that of distant Jews.

Yet in the traditional understanding of Judeo-Arabic as a unique thing, there are two possible definitions, Dr. Sasson said. “One says that anything written or said by a Jew in Arabic is by definition Judeo-Arabic. The other says anything in Arabic written in Hebrew characters is Judeo-Arabic.” (As it happened, some of the manuscripts she worked from were written in Arabic characters.)
I generally think of Judeo-Arabic as Arabic written in Hebrew letters, but that's because that type of Judeo-Arabic is relevant to my own research. As the article says, the matter is more complicated. Some past PaleoJudaica posts involving Judeo-Arabic are here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

As an aside, as I have noted before, there sure is a lot of good philology going on in Teaneck, New Jersey. See here and here and links.

Mystic golem in Berlin

GOLEM WATCH: Mystic golem spotlighted in Berlin Jewish Museum exhibit. New show links Jewish mud man to artificial intelligence in metaphor for scientific advancement spiraling out of control(KIRSTEN GRIESHABER, AP/Times of Israel).

The golem in the top photo looks a bit like Laa-Laa.

Earlier PaleoJudaica posts on past and present manifestations of the Golem legend are here and many links.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

More on the Ein Gedi Leviticus scroll

TECHNOLOGY WATCH: Modern Technology Unlocks Secrets of a Damaged Biblical Scroll (Nicholas Wade, NYT). This scroll is back in the news, with massive coverage in the last day. This NYT article is representative.
Nearly half a century ago, archaeologists found a charred ancient scroll in the ark of a synagogue on the western shore of the Dead Sea.

The lump of carbonized parchment could not be opened or read. Its curators did nothing but conserve it, hoping that new technology might one day emerge to make the scroll legible.

Just such a technology has now been perfected by computer scientists at the University of Kentucky. Working with biblical scholars in Jerusalem, they have used a computer to unfurl a digital image of the scroll.

It turns out to hold a fragment identical to the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible and, at nearly 2,000 years old, is the earliest instance of the text.

Most of this is old news from 2015, but the last quoted paragraph brings us to something new:
The date of the En-Gedi scroll is the subject of conflicting evidence. A carbon-14 measurement indicates that the scroll was copied around A.D. 300. But the style of the ancient script suggests a date nearer to A.D. 100. “We may safely date this scroll” to between A.D. 50 and 100, wrote Ada Yardeni, an expert on Hebrew paleography, in an article in the journal Textus. Dr. [Emanuel] Tov said he was “inclined toward a first-century date, based on paleography.”
The original reports said that the carbon dating indicated a sixth-century CE date. I don't know how we get from there to 300. And this is an interesting case where the results of materials-science testing conflict with results from a more traditional method of dating — paleography. This sort of mixed result is a reminder that we can't always take evidence from materials science as decisive. And so here is where we currently stand regarding this scroll:
Both Dr. Tov and Dr. [Michael] Segal said that scholars might come to consider the En-Gedi manuscript as a Dead Sea scroll, especially if the early date indicated by paleography is confirmed.

“It doesn’t tell us what was the original text, only that the Masoretic text is a very ancient text in all of its details,” Dr. Segal said. “And we now have evidence that this text was being used from a very early date by Jews in the land of Israel.”
The original report was noted by PaleoJudaica here, with past links on the use of non-invasive technologies and on the work of Professor Brent Seales, who accomplished the virtual opening of the scroll and who is also working on the carbonized Herculaneum scrolls. Subsequent posts mentioning the Ein Gedi Leviticus scroll are here, here, and here.

Incidentally, the assertion quoted above in the current NYT article that the manuscript "at nearly 2,000 years old, is the earliest instance of the [Masoretic] text" is open to debate. I edited a manuscript of Genesis called 4QGenesisb (mentioned here) for DJD 12 which has a text (of fragments of Genesis 1, 2, 4, and 5) which is perfectly identical to the Masoretic Text apart from one tiny spelling difference and which dates paleographically to around the same time as the Ein Gedi Leviticus scroll. I believe that the biblical manuscripts found in the Bar Kokhba-era caves (placed there c. 132-135 CE) also consistently agree with the Masoretic Text. So there was already evidence that it was very old.

Menorah engraving found in Abila, Jordan

ARCHAEOLOGY: Archaeologists Find First Sign of Jews in Ancient Abila, Jordan. A menorah carving found in a church provides the first physical evidence of a long-assumed Jewish population in the Hellenistic city (Philippe Bohstrom, Haaretz).
A menorah carved on a stone block, found in a 1400-year-old Byzantine church in Abila, Jordan is the first tangible evidence of a Jewish presence in the ancient Hellenistic city that been assumed, but not proven.

There is ample evidence of Jewish presence in the region, such as an ancient synagogue discovered in nearby Jerash. But in 36 years of excavations at Tell al-Abila, also known as Selukeia, no traces of Jews living in the Roman trading hub had been found before.

The depiction of the seven-branched menorah, with a branching three-legged base, was found on a stone in the second tier of a wall, near the floor, while excavating a Byzantine church from the 6th or 7th century CE.

The menorah stone is in a secondary context, but it must be at least somewhat older than the church into which it was built. More on the Arch of Titus and its menorah is here (scroll down for photos) and here and links. Some other past posts involving ancient menorahs are here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and links.

Gardner on charity in ancient Judaism

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Charity in Ancient Judaism: Problems and Prospects (Gregg Gardner). Past posts on the writer's book, The Origins of Organized Charity in Rabbinic Judaism, are here and here. Another relevant recent AJR essay is also noted here.

The Son of David in Romans

READING ACTS: Is Jesus the Son of David? – Romans 1:3. With background from the Hebrew Bible and Second Temple-era literature.

An earlier post in Phil Long's Romans series was noted here.

Tarbiz 84.1-2

Shlomo Naeh - שם משמר and שם שבת : A Further Study of the Temple ‘Seals’

Menahem Kahana - The Relations between Exegeses in the Mishnah and Halakhot in the Midrash

Shimon Fogel and Uri Ehrlich - On the History of the Ancient Version of the ‘Hashkivenu’ Blessing

Eran Viezel - Medieval Bible Commentators on the Question of the Composition of the Bible: Research and Methodological Aspects

Aviram Ravitsky - Saʿadya Gaʾon and Yaʿqūb al-Qirqisānī on the Logical Structure of the Rational and Traditional Laws: Logic and Kalām in the Karaite-Rabbanite Controversy

Avishai Bar-Asher - Kabbalah and Minhag: Geonic Responsa and the Kabbalist Polemic on Minhagim in the Zohar and Related Texts

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Review of Milgram, From Mesopotamia to the Mishnah

THE BIBLICAL REVIEW BLOG: “From Mesopotamia to the Mishnah” by Jonathan S. Milgram (William Brown).
Jonathan S. Milgram. From Mesopotamia to the Mishnah: Tannaitic Inheritance Law in its Legal and Social Contexts. Texts and Studies in Ancient Judaism 164. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2016, 201 pp.
As a result of Milgram’s study, we more clearly observe the relationship between Roman, Greek, and ancient Near Eastern laws and tannnaitic traditions. He does this by revealing various tannaitic traditions throughout his work, traditions previously unobserved. In short, he allows us to better understand tannaitic law within its ancient, legal context. Hopefully future scholars will further elucidate the complex web of laws from Jewish traditions and other ancient legal tradition and how they possibly influence each other. For the scholar who does this, Milgram’s monograph is an importance reference.
I noted the book when it came out this summer. More on Jonathan Milgram is here.

British Library Greek Manuscripts online

AWOL: Launched Today: British Library Greek Manuscripts. Ancient Judaism is represented (at least) by this 16th-century manuscript of the Letter of Aristeas. The website was launched on Monday 19 September.

Lied on the media and the Gospel of Jesus' Wife

LIV INGEBORG LIED: The Gospel of Jesus's Wife saga and the role of the media. Professor Lied has posted her paper for the recent Fragments of an Unbelievable Past Conference, "Media Dynamics and Academic Knowledge Production: Tracing the Role of the Media in the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife Saga," at Academia.edu. Background on the conference is here and links.

David's commander in the Qeiyafa inscription?

EPIGRAPHY AND THE BIBLE? ’Eshbaʿal Son of Bdʿa Whose Name Found at Qeiyafa Identified as the Commander of the First Platoon of the Heroes of David (Prof. Moshe Garsiel, posted in the blog of Dr. Lea Mazor, About Bible, Teaching and Education). An interesting argument that involves considerable speculative reconstruction. It would be extraordinarily lucky if we happened to find a tenth-century BCE Hebrew inscription that mentioned a minor biblical character, but I can't say it's impossible.

HT reader Yoel.

Past posts on Khirbet Qeiyafa and the inscription are here , here, here, and here.

Review of Stuckenbruck and Boccaccini (eds.), Enoch and the Synoptic Gospels

ATHEOLOGY BLOG: An Important New Book on the Background of the Biblical Gospels (Stewart James Felker).
An important new volume of essays, Enoch and the Synoptic Gospels: Reminiscences, Allusions, Intertextuality, is being released this week. (Table of contents and relevant links can be found at the end of this post.) This is the first volume to collect some of the papers given at the 2013 Enoch Seminar conference, and is to be followed next year by the volume The Early Enoch Tradition and the Synoptic Gospels.

The book was noted as forthcoming here. I was at the 2013 Enoch Seminar and posted on it here and here and links.