Monday, November 24, 2014

Review of Relics

AMUSING: 'Relics' sees the present as the past, set in the future (Graydon Royce, Star Tribune).
It is the year 2314 and we are ushered through exhibits that purport to show what life was like back in 2014. Something called “The Great Wipe” had destroyed all life on Earth and these future historians are proving to this audience that there was once an advanced culture.

So, a skeleton fossil reveals the ear buds still hooked up to an ancient device we know as the iPod. A hooded sweatshirt, it was assumed, was worn with the hood in front, a “trough top” that can be filled with popcorn (now, that’s actually not a bad idea).

Dumpsters in the 21st century are interpreted as personal cisterns as three actors do a riff reminiscent of Beckett’s “Endgame.” And the car brush/scraper so essential this time of year was understood by these researchers as a scrubbing utensil for humans. An actor demonstrates how “ancient peoples” used what we know as cake frosting as hand and body cream.

If “Relics” has any lasting impact, it will be to provoke a smile next time you walk through an exhibit like “The Dead Sea Scrolls” or “Tutankhamun.” Just how do we really know that the ancient Egyptians used cosmetics made of clay?
It's good for ancient historians and archaeologists to be reminded of this sort of thing from time to time.

Burt, The Courtier and the Governor

NEW BOOK FROM VANDENHOECK AND RUPRECHT:
Sean Burt
The Courtier and the Governor

Transformations of Genre in the Nehemiah Memoir


1. Edition 2014
230 pages
ISBN 978-3-525-55076-2
Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht

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PDF eBook 79,99 €

The Nehemiah Memoir, the narrative of the royal cupbearer sent to rebuild Jerusalem, is central to Ezra-Nehemiah’s account of Persian Judah. Yet its emphasis on one individual’s efforts makes it a text that ill-fits the book’s story of a communal restoration. Sean Burt analyzes the nature of this curious text through the lens of genre criticism and identifies the impact of its use of genres on its early reception in Ezra-Nehemiah. Drawing upon contemporary theorists of literary genre, within the field of biblical studies and beyond, he builds an understanding of genre capable of addressing both its flexibility and its necessarily historical horizon. Burt argues that the Nehemiah Memoir makes use of two ancient genres: the novelistic court tale (e.g. Esther, Ahiqar, and others) and the “official memorial,” or “biographical” genre used across the ancient Near East by kings and other governmental officials for individual commemoration. This study contends that the narrative subtly shifts genres as it unfolds, from court tale to memorial. Nehemiah the courtier becomes Nehemiah the governor. While these genres reveal an affinity to one another, they also highlight a central contradiction in the narrative’s portrait of Nehemiah. Nehemiah is, like the people of Jerusalem, beholden to the whims of a foreign ruler, but he also simultaneously represents Persia’s power over Jerusalem. Burt concludes that the Nehemiah Memoir’s combination of these two ultimately incommensurate genres can account for how the writers of Ezra-Nehemiah modified and corrected Nehemiah’s problematic story to integrate it into Ezra-Nehemiah’s vision of a holistic restoration enacted by a unified people.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Mesopotamian Anti-witchcraft Rituals

NEWS YOU CAN USE: Corpus of Mesopotamian Anti-witchcraft Rituals (AWOL).

Hurvits et al., A Concise Lexicon of Late Biblical Hebrew

NEW BOOK FROM BRILL:
A Concise Lexicon of Late Biblical Hebrew
Linguistic Innovations in the Writings of the Second Temple Period


Avi Hurvitz in collaboration with Leeor Gottlieb, Aaron Hornkohl, and Emmanuel Mastéy

The Hebrew language may be divided into the Biblical, Mishnaic, Medieval, and Modern ‎periods. Biblical Hebrew has its own distinct linguistic profile, exhibiting a diversity of styles ‎and linguistic traditions extending over some one thousand years as well as tangible diachronic ‎developments that may serve as chronological milestones in tracing the linguistic history of ‎Biblical Hebrew. Unlike standard dictionaries, whose scope and extent are dictated by the contents of the ‎Biblical concordance, this lexicon includes only 80 lexical entries, chosen specifically for a ‎diachronic investigation of Late Biblical Hebrew. Selected primarily to illustrate the fifth-century ‘watershed’ separating Classical from ‎post-Classical Biblical Hebrew, emphasis is placed on ‘linguistic contrasts’ illuminated by a rich collection ‎of examples contrasting Classical Biblical Hebrew with Late Biblical Hebrew, Biblical Hebrew with Rabbinic Hebrew, and Hebrew with Aramaic.‎

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Review of Vidas, Tradition and the Formation of The Talmud

THE TALMUD BLOG: Itay Marienberg-Milikowsky reviews M. Vidas, 'Tradition and the Formation of The Talmud.' In Hebrew!

This book was also noted earlier here.

Newsom, Daniel

NEW BOOK FROM WESTMINSTER JOHN KNOX:
Daniel (Book)
A Commentary


by Carol A. Newsom

ISBN: 9780664220808
Trim Size: 5.875 x 8.75
Page Count: 472
Weight: 0.00

Format: Book
Product Number: 0664220800
Publication Date: 11/14/2014

Description

The book of Daniel is a literary rich and complex story known for its apocalyptic style. Written in both Hebrew and Aramaic, the book begins with stories of Daniel and three Jewish young men Hananiah (Shadrach), Mishael (Meshach), and Azariah (Abednego) who are exiles among the remnant from Judea in Babylon in sixth century b.c.e. It ends with Daniel's visions and dreams about the Jewish community that offer comfort and encouragement as they endure persecution and hope for deliverance into God's kingdom.

Newsom's commentary offers a fresh study of Daniel in its historical context. Newsom further analyzes Daniel from literary and theological perspectives. With her expert commentary, Newsom's study will be the definitive commentary on Daniel for many years to come.

The Old Testament Library provides fresh and authoritative treatments of important aspects of Old Testament study through commentaries and general surveys. The contributors are scholars of international standing. The editorial board consists of William P. Brown, Professor of Old Testament, Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia; Carol A. Newsom, Charles Howard Candler Professor of Old Testament, Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia; and Brent A. Strawn, Professor of Old Testament, Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.
Follow the link for reviews and ordering information.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Slavonic digitization project.

SLAVONIC WATCH: Ancient manuscripts get a new lease of life (Georgy Manaev, Russia Beyond the Headlines)
A project is underway to digitize the most valuable books from Russian library collections. RBTH visited the scanning department of the Russian State Library to see how ancient manuscripts are being brought into the digital age.

In the mid-2000s, the Russian State Library (RSL) launched the National Electronic Library project with the aim of digitizing books published before 1831.

Many important texts have already been scanned; from the hand-written Archangel Gospel of 1092 – the fourth oldest known East Slavonic manuscript – to the Octoechos, a book of Orthodox Church psalms printed in 1491 in Krakow. It is one of the first books to use Cyrillic script and is worth several million dollars – although, of course, it belongs to the state and will not be sold. “These books only used to be released by special permission – and only then to prominent scholars,” explains Tatyana Garkushova from the library’s scanning department as she flicks between priceless ancient manuscripts on her computer screen. Now they are available to everyone at the RSL Digital Library page.

[...]
For more on Old Church Slavonic and why it is important to PaleoJudaica, see here and links. For many more manuscript digitization projects, see here and links.

The monasteries of Wadi Natrun

ANSAMED: Egypt: Wadi Natrun, the desert of ascetics. Excerpt:
'An oasis of peace, where protection can be sought in these terrible times experienced by the country'', continued the monk who tells the ancient story of these monasteries. They are completely self-sufficient, hosting true farms exceeding 4,000 hectares, as Anba Bishoy, where 220 monks live, including a 'qsar', a small fortification which thanks to a drawbridge enabled monks to seek refuge from invasions and devastation that until the 7th century affected the region.

Choosing to visit Wadi Natrun, as Father Bejimi recalls, means seeking to draw closer to this world made of simplicity and spirituality. There are no mosaics or breath-taking frescoes among these walls. The art made by Coptic monks, often living in extreme poverty, however includes small masterpieces such as bas-reliefs, paintings, manuscripts, codes, icons, wood caskets, painted fabrics.

Some of the frescoes and icons date back to the 7th century, decorating the main church dedicated to the Virgin close to the monastery of Syrians, the smallest of the four. As well as preserving the most important work of Coptic art after the year 1,000, Deir El Soriany is famous for its vast library (in the 19th century, 1,000 books were moved to the British Museum).
Much more on the Deir al-Surian Monastery and its manuscripts is here and links.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Anxious conference papers

THE ANXIOUS BENCH: Why a Conference Paper is Usually Just a Conference Paper. Some timely advice from Dr. Beth Allison Barr. While we're on the subject, there are a couple of old PaleoJudaica posts on presenting conference papers here and here.

SBL 2014

I'M OFF TO SAN DIEGO for the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature.

This year I am responding to two reviews of my 2013 book Hekhalot Literature in Translation: Major Texts of Merkavah Mysticism (Brill), on which much background here and links. Here is the information on the part of the session which deals with my book:
Mysticism, Esotericism, and Gnosticism in Antiquity
11/25/2014
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Room
: 500 (Level 5 (Cobalt)) - Hilton Bayfront (HB)

Theme: Early Judaism
Featuring reviews of James Davila, Hekhalot Literature in Translation: Major Texts of Merkavah Mysticism (Brill, 2013).

M. David Litwa, University of Virginia, Presiding
Ra'anan Boustan, University of California-Los Angeles
Review of James Davila, Hekhalot Literature in Translation (20 min)
Rebecca Lesses, Ithaca College
Review of James Davila, Hekhalot Literature in Translation (20 min)
James Davila, University of St. Andrews, Respondent (25 min)
Discussion (10 min)
I am staying in San Diego for Thanksgiving with friends after the conference. I will be very busy in the next ten days or so, but I will blog as much as I can, and I have also preposted lots of things. So do keep coming back as usual.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Saving Iraqi manuscripts

RESCUE OPERATION: Unique Christian Manuscripts Safeguarded in Kurdistan (Sharmila Devi, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, reposted by AINA).
Arbel, Iraq -- Thousands of ancient Christian manuscripts are being kept safe at an undisclosed location in Kurdistan after being spirited out of Qaraqosh in the Nineveh plain in August, just hours before the town was seized by Islamic State fighters.

Father Nageeb Michaeel, a Dominican priest who master-minded the operation to salvage the unique collection, did not want to say where the collection was being held for fear of attack by ISIS sympathisers. But he allowed Rudaw to see it.

The collection is being kept in an air-conditioned room and it includes manuscripts and documents dating from the 13th century. They represent a sizeable part of Iraq's cultural heritage, he said.

[...]
The article does not specify the language(s) of the manuscripts, but my guess is that they are in Syriac and Arabic. Who knows what treasures are hidden in them?

Recent related posts, mostly with less in the way of good news, are (especially) here, and also here, here, and here, with many links.

Levirate marriage - it's even more complicated

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Brother’s Wife. Unless He Dies. Then—Well, Here’s the Thing… In this week’s ‘Daf Yomi,’ questions of obligation in matters of levirate marriage, and how values change with time.
In my last column, I discussed the rabbis’ edict that converting to Judaism in order to marry a Jew is forbidden. The principle behind the rabbis’ thinking was that, if you are going to take up the considerable responsibility of following Jewish law and sharing the Jewish fate, you must do so only out of a desire to serve God and not to obtain any personal benefit—even one as altruistic as marrying someone you love. In this week’s Daf Yomi reading, this same principle was invoked in a different context, when the rabbis considered the possible motives that might lead a man to contract a levirate marriage with his yevama, his deceased brother’s wife.

[...]
More on levirate marriage here. Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

More on the Shmita

ART: Israel’s Shmitta Year: From The Perspective of Artists (Eva L. Weiss, The Jewish Week).
The works are meant to evoke artists’ conceptions of what is fallow and the freedom implicit in letting go, according to curator Dr. Anat Chen, director of Emunah College’s art program. This Hebrew year, 5775, marks the observance of the ancient agricultural sabbatical in the Land of Israel. The College chose an artistic take on the cyclical event, in contrast to the more commonly heard debates on the loopholes of Jewish law or calls for environmentalism and social justice.
Background on the Shmita (sabbatical year in Israel) is here.

The story of the GJW

JOEL BADEN AND CANDIDA MOSS: The Curious Case of Jesus’s Wife. Lab tests have suggested that a papyrus scrap mentioning Jesus's wife is authentic. Why do most scholars believe it's fake? (The Atlantic). An excellent, thoughtful account of the whole affair from its beginning to the present. Yours truly is quoted, along with many other bibliobloggers who contributed to the debate. The article concludes:
Indeed, in the scholarly world of ancient history and ancient texts, little is truly unimaginable—because so little, in the end, is truly known. Despite the piles of evidence suggesting that the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife is a forgery, there remains the possibility, however slim, that it is authentic. So the question becomes this: How much historical reconstruction are scholars willing to stake on such narrow grounds? Or, alternatively: Even if the fragment were proved beyond a doubt to be authentic, could one small piece of papyrus really be so important as to fundamentally change our understanding of the past? The problem with reconstructing the distant past is that with so little evidence available, the discovery of even the tiniest pieces can lead to outsize ramifications. It’s a situation ripe for abuse. The more sensationally these sorts of discoveries are reported, the more such abuse we can expect.
Incidentally, quite a few specialists now think that the Secret Gospel of Mark may be an authentic ancient text (see, e.g., here, here, and links), even though not so many years ago the case for it being a forgery seemed just about closed. So you never know.

Background on the Gospel of Jesus' Wife is here, with links going back to the announcement of its discovery.

Burke on translating Syriac Joseph and Aseneth

TONY BURKE: Translating Joseph and Aseneth: My Role in Jacobovici and Wilson’s “Lost Gospel.”

Background here.