Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Daf Yomi: starting tractate Sanhedrin

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Reading Torah Against the Grain. Daf Yomi: Do Talmudic rabbis seek justification for givens by retrofitting biblical text to their needs? The case of the Sanhedrin courts.
The new tractate we began this week, Tractate Sanhedrin, focuses on the role of judges and courts in Jewish law. Fittingly, it is named after the body that held supreme judicial power in the Land of Israel during the Second Temple period and beyond. The Great Sanhedrin was a body of 71 judges sitting in Jerusalem; it appointed various Lesser Sanhedrins, made up of 23 judges, to hear cases in the towns and provinces of Judea. The Great Sanhedrin survived the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE and continued to meet in other locations until the fourth century CE.
Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

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The Menorah exhibition and the history of Roman Jewry

VATICAN MENORAH EXHIBITION:St. Peter’s Menorah. How the Vatican warmed to Jews over the last century (Fredric Brandfon, Tablet Magazine). This article uses the current Menorah exhibition in Rome as a launching point for surveying the history of Jews in Rome since the end of the Great Revolt in CE 70. Excerpt:
Those papal processions were in turn modeled after the ancient Roman triumphs, such as the one memorialized in the Arch of Titus. In fact, upon the election of each new pope, the pontiff would march triumphantly through Rome, reiterating the Roman tradition of a triumphal procession that is depicted in the Arch. Homage was paid to the pope by a Jewish delegation carrying a Torah scroll. They would present the scroll to the pontiff, probably at the Arch. The new pope would ceremonially accept the Torah, but, at the same time, volubly reject the Jewish interpretation of it. He would then either throw the Torah to the ground or pass it unceremoniously to an underling.

The Arch would serve doubly to remind Roman Jews of their subservient status; first, as a people humbled by the Romans, and second, as a subordinated community under papal hegemony. When, in the 16th century, Jews were no longer required to present the new pope with the Torah, they instead had to lavishly decorate the pope’s processional route, including bedecking the Arch of Titus with tapestries and banners. Not surprisingly, these humiliations gave rise to a well-known Roman Jewish custom: Jews prohibited themselves from walking beneath the Arch of Titus.

That custom remained in place until Dec. 2, 1947, three days after the United Nations decision to partition Palestine and allow a Jewish state. On that day, Roman Jews and Jews from across Europe awaiting transport to Palestine gathered at the Arch. Led by Rome’s chief rabbi, David Prato, they again placed a banner on the Arch. But this time it was a blue-and-white Jewish banner with two dates: the date of the Roman destruction of the Second Temple and the date of the UN decision to partition Palestine. After the singing of Hatikvah, the assembled crowd deliberately broke with tradition and marched through the Arch from west to east toward Jerusalem, in the opposite direction of the Jews who had come to Rome as slaves of Titus in 70 CE.
For past PaleoJudaica posts on the Vatican Menorah exhibition, start here and follow the links. For past posts on ancient menorahs and representations of menorahs, start here and follow the links.

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Oy va-avoy!

YONA SABAR: Hebrew Word of the Week: oy va-avoy "oh dear; woe, alas" אוי ואבוי. An onomatopoetic expression formed from the combination of two biblical Hebrew words of lamentation.

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What is Tisha B’Av?

COMING NEXT WEEK: What is Tisha B’Av? It is one of the saddest days in the Jewish calendar, but why - and how - do we mark it? (Daniel Sugarman, The Jewish Chronicle).
Tisha B’Av, the ninth day of the Jewish month of Av, is a fast day, commonly known as the saddest day in the Jewish calendar.

It commemorates the destruction of both the First and Second Jewish Temples in Jerusalem, the first by the Babylonians, circa 587 BCE, and the second by the Romans in 70 CE. However, the fast has also become associated with other tragedies which have taken place over the course of Jewish history.

[...]
A good introduction to this multifaceted fast day.

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Monday, July 24, 2017

The Shikhin excavation 2017

ARCHAEOLOGY: SAMFORD EXCAVATION IN ISRAEL SHEDS LIGHT ON ANCIENT LAMP WORKSHOP (The Alabama Baptist). I have been following reports on the excavation at Shikhin for the last several years. This article has some information on the discoveries this year.
[Excavation director James Riley] Strange, [ associate director Mordechai] Aviam and a team of students and volunteers have worked on the site for six seasons. Their recent excavations in May and June uncovered part of the house and workshop of an oil lamp maker.

Although the house was typically simple — with packed earthen floors and, probably, mud plaster on the walls — it held a unique surprise. In an area thought to have been a courtyard, the team discovered a special kiln for firing oil lamps and other small vessels, with two complete, identical oil lamps and a small bowl still inside.

Many kilns from various periods have been discovered in Israel — all of them used to fire jugs, storage jars, cooking pots and other large vessels.

These usually measure more than 16 feet in diameter. The kiln in the Shikhin potter’s house, the first of its kind found in Israel, measures less than three feet in diameter, with a central pillar made of stone and brick that supported an upper floor.
There is also a little information on a coin find.

Past posts on the Shikhin excavation are here, here, here, here, and here.

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Commemorating Jonah's (traditional) Tomb in Iraq

THREE YEARS: ISIS Destroyed Jonah’s Tomb, but Not Its Message. Iraqis of Armenian, Arab, Assyrian, and Jewish descent recall what the shrine symbolized on the third anniversary of its destruction. (SARA FARHAN, ATOOR LAWANDOW, AND SIGAL SAMUEL, The Atlantic).
But the tomb was much more than a tourist destination; it was a constant, potent symbol. Overlooking the city, it reminded all Maslawis of the interconnectedness of Iraq’s diverse religious populations. It was the antithesis of sectarianism. As such, ISIS’s decision to blow it up read as an attempt to erase the shared history of the many religious populations that Mosul housed, and to erase the very notion that such populations can share anything at all. But now that Mosul has been liberated from ISIS, we—three Iraqis from different religious backgrounds—hope all our communities will have a hand in rebuilding the city and its holy sites.
I noted the destruction of the (traditional) Tomb of Jonah just after it happened here. For other past posts on the Tomb of Jonah, go here and follow the links. Past posts on the (traditional) Tomb of Nahum are here and links. And for past posts on the Yazidis, start here and follow the links.

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Jerusalem survey results

THE BIBLE PLACES BLOG: Survey Results: Favorite Site in Jerusalem (Todd Bolen). I noted the survey here last week.

I was the one who voted for the Shrine of the Book. But I thought carefully about Hezekiah's Tunnel, which got the most votes. I also thought carefully about the Dome of the Rock, which apparently didn't get any votes.

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T. Solomon: Solomon's women, plus some more demons

READING ACTS: Testament of Solomon: Several Biblical Expansions (Phil Long). Dr. Long's past posts on the Testament of Solomon were noted here.

For past posts in his ongoing series on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, follow the links in the latter post. Lately he has been writing about the Testamentary literature. Cross-file under Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Watch.

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A panel discussion on Hannibal's failure

PUNIC WATCH: Why did Hannibal ultimately fail? A history of the Punic Wars. Tommy Graham interviews an expert panel in a Talking History podcast. I don't have time to listen to it right now, but I thought I would draw it to your attention.

For many past PaleoJudaica posts on Hannibal and the Punic Wars, start here and follow the links.

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Sunday, July 23, 2017

Charity in the Rabbinic literature

PROF. GREGG E. GARDNER: How Tzedakah Became Charity (TheGemara.com).
“Tzedakah” in the sense of communal charity, civic benefaction, and an individual form of giving came into being during the tannaitic period, with the help of the Greeks and a little-known king named Munbaz.
Munbaz was a real king: Monobazus, the son of Queen Helena of Adiabene. The Kingdom of Adiabene was located at the site of Erbil in modern Iraq. Helena and her family converted to Judaism in the first century CE. The story about Munbaz in the Tosefta is presumably legendary, but it is instructive in some ways nonetheless.

For past posts on Erbil and the House of Adiabene, see here and links.

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Tamruqim

YONA SABAR: Hebrew Word of the Week: tamruqim "cosmetics, perfumes, ointments" תמרוקים. Used in the Bible of Esther's cosmetics.

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Ancient lemons and citrons

CITRUS: Sour Note: In Ancient Rome, Lemons Were Only for the Rich (Laura Geggel, Live Science). The title may seem unpromising, but this article does have an angle of interest for ancient Judaism. The citron has been important as part of the celebration of the festival of Sukkoth since antiquity. The article has images of a late-antique synagogue mosaic and some ancient Jewish coins which feature citrons.

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Seizure of Aramean land in Turkey still unresolved

ASSYRIAN (MODERN SYRIAC) WATCH: Legal Limbo of Turkey's Assyrian Christian Properties Still Unresolved (Barbara G. Baker,WorldWatch Monitor via AINA).
In less than two weeks, the Mardin Governorate had stepped back from its decision to give the Christian properties over to control of the Muslim directorate. Calling together representatives of the three Syriac foundations whose properties had been confiscated, the governorate cancelled the transfer on 3 July; but that left the disputed properties back again under treasury control.

The Mardin Governorate's original court order transferring the Syriac deeds to the Religious Affairs Directorate was dated 12 August 2014. The Syriac church had not been informed of this judicial action taken nearly three years ago.

The 3 July cancellation order specified that a legal amendment was required "for the problem's exact solution". The Syriac community agreed, with the Syriac foundation chairmen sending a formal petition that same day, requesting Ankara to take a second step: transfer the ownership of all the church property deeds currently held by the treasury over to their respective Syriac foundations.

To date, the Syriac community has received no response to their petition from Turkey's central government.

Unless Ankara agrees to return the seized properties to official church ownership and amends the law, the Syriac community is left with only one alternative: file 100 or more separate court cases to gain back their centuries-old properties, a very expensive and lengthy option that would take years to complete.

"They can give them back to us, or not; it's up to them!" one Syriac leader who wished to withhold his name told World Watch Monitor. "It's out of our hands. We can't do anything unless they reveal the realities!"

"But always," he sighed, "they are coming to us with a club! You have taken them away from us. Now are you going to give them back? Or do you just want us to leave?"
The actions of the Turkish Government could be taken to look that way. Whatever the full merits of the case, and I cannot myself claim to have complete information, the world is watching. It needs to be resolved.

This article has detailed background on the story. For additional background, see here and links.

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Saturday, July 22, 2017

Balaam and the Book of Revelation

DR. RABBI JOSHUA GARROWAY: Balaam the Seducer of Jews and an Early Christian Polemic (TheTorah.com).
Ancient Jewish interpreters imagined Balaam as the prototypical Gentile seducer. This trope was used by John of Patmos, the author of the book of Revelation and himself a Jew, to polemicize against his rivals among the early Christians.

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Misinterpreted giant skeletons

REMNANT OF GIANTS: Ancient misinterpretation of large bones as mythological giants. Deane Galbraith notes a new article in Historical Biology. He also offers some corrections.

As an aside, Josephus also reports that skeletons of giant were known in his day.

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Review of Hunt, "Hannibal"

BOOK REVIEW: 'Hannibal' relates the famous general's story with wonderful energy. Archeologist and historian Patrick Hunt distills his survey of literature about the Second Punic War into a brightly dramatic story that covers virtually every anecdote connected with Hannibal. (Steve Donoghue, CSM).
We'll never be any closer to the actual truth of it than Livy and Polybius let us get, so the approach Patrick Hunt uses in his book – taking each working cog of the Hannibal story in its turn and a shining bright light of inquiry on it, bringing everything together so readers can have it all before them – is probably the wisest. And those readers can then go back to Livy on their own time.
I noted the book recently here. Follow the links there (cf. here) for many past posts on Hannibal and the Punic Wars.

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Heiser, The Unseen Realm

FRANK VIOLA: Interview with Michael Heiser: The Unseen Realm. This is a long interview with Dr. Heiser about his recent book, The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible (Lexham Press, 2015). Old Testament Pseudepigrapha and ancient Mesopotamian traditions figure prominently in the book and the interview.

PaleoJudaica has occassionally mentioned Dr. Heiser and his blog, Paleobabble.

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Friday, July 21, 2017

What is a waqf?

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Amid Temple Mount tumult, the who, what and why of its Waqf rulers. Jordan lost control of Jerusalem in 1967, but is now at the heart of a crisis that threatens to plunge the city into violence (Dov Lieber, Times of Israel). The Waqf has come up frequently in PaleoJudaica posts about the Temple Mount. Readers may find this article interesting. It explains what a waqf is, gives the background of the one that administers the Temple Mount, and explains what the arrangement has been. The recent terrorist attack just outside the site has thrown the longstanding status quo into turmoil.

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Biblical kings and gigantic wine bottles

PHILOLOGOS: Why Are Extremely Large Wine Bottles Named after Biblical Kings? The convoluted story of jeroboams, rehoboams, methuselahs, and more (Mosaic Magazine).
Ours is not a Bible-reading age. Ask the average American what the names Jeroboam, Rehoboam, Nebuchadnezzar, and Shalmaneser have in common and he is more likely to guess that all belong to rock bands than that they belong to biblical kings. And even though ours is a wine-drinking age, how many of those who know the right answer would know that there is a second answer, too: namely, that these same names also denote different sizes of wine bottles?

[...]
This makes me think of the song The Mesopotamians by They Might Be Giants. Also, for some reason it really pleases me that the largest bottle of wine (30 liters!) is called a "melchizedek."

Be all that as it may, Philologos proposes a very plausible answer to the question in the headline.

Cross-file under Asking the Important Questions.

P.S. Yes, I know that Methuselah was an antediluvian patriarch, not a king, and that Melchior is a postbiblical name for one of Matthew's magi, who are unnamed in the Bible and who aren't called kings. Don't be such a nerd.

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A papyrologist weighs in on the Hobby Lobby settlement etc.

THE FACES AND VOICES BLOG: The Green collection and the Museum of the Bible: 443,000 square meters of mess. Papyrologist Robert Mazza shares her expert opinion on the Hobby Lobby case and its implications for the Green Collection and the Museum of the Bible. And in a more recent post she follows up the story with some related news: Green papyri: Egypt steps in.

Dr. Mazza is Lecturer in Classics and Ancient History at the University of Manchester and is currently a Research Fellow at the Rylands Library.

Background on the recent Hobby Lobby settlement with the U.S. Justice Department is here and here. And follow the relevant links for many past posts on the Museum of the Bible and the Green Collection.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Mandeans in Australia

MANDEAN (MANDAEAN) WATCH: Meet the Mandaeans: Australian followers of John the Baptist celebrate new year (Siobhan Hegarty, ABC News).
Baptism, or masbuta, is the key ritual of this gnostic faith. Unlike Christians, Mandaeans may be baptised hundreds, even thousands of times over the course their life.

This week marked Kahshuzahly, or Mandaean New Year's Eve, and Mandaeans around the world flocked to flowing rivers for a special ceremony.

Anwar Hasan, the 13-year-old daughter of a local priest, was one of the 100 or so Mandaeans who went to the banks of the Nepean River.

Baptisms, she said, are an opportunity to cleanse and refresh one's life and soul.
Their Mandean liturgical language is Mandaic, an ancient Aramaic dialect. Like other religious minorities in Iraq, the Mandeans have suffered much persecution since the Iraq War.

For more on this week's Mandean new-year celebrations, see here. And for many past posts on the Mandeans, follow the links that start there.

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Thursday, July 20, 2017

Survey: your favorite site in Jerusalem

THE BIBLE PLACES BLOG: Reader Survey: Favorite Site in Jerusalem (Todd Bolen). I have submitted my response. You are welcome to go and do likewise. I found it difficult to narrow it down from my top three. I'll let you know when the results are in.

I hope Todd is right about those ancient archives. We have been waiting for them a long time. Some of us became so impatient that we went and collected one ourselves.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Young on two books by Paul (etc.) and the Law

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Description, Redescription, and Textual Practices: Thiessen’s and Kaden’s Critical Interventions (Stephen Young).
Description and Redescription – the classic interrelated activities that animate critical scholarship on religion. This roundtable affords the chance to examine two books that push the descriptive and redescriptive envelopes in their sectors of biblical studies. Matthew Thiessen’s Paul and the Gentile Problem rigorously describes Paul’s discourses about the Jewish law and Gentiles, while David Kaden’s Matthew, Paul, and the Anthropology of Law innovatively redescribes Paul and Matthew’s discourses about the Jewish law with theoretical resources from Jonathan Z. Smith, Michel Foucault, and the anthropology of law. ...
I quote just one observation that I found particularly thought provoking:
It is one thing for us modern scholars to persuade ourselves about what is going on in Paul’s letters by investigating how he (as a literate intellectual) may have accessed his ancestral writings and how his interpretive activity may have significantly shaped his writings to Gentiles. In this case, our experiments with excavating possible textual allusions and Paul’s potential transmission and transformation of “traditions” may be crucial. But it is another thing to presume that Paul’s persuasiveness to his (largely illiterate) ancient consumers necessarily turned on their ability to recognize these finely-grained, textual-interpretive steps that we modern scholars devote journal articles and academic monographs to elucidating.[5] Thiessen could more precisely combine his exhaustive comparative readings with an exploration of Paul’s persuasiveness through a sensitivity to practices themselves; practices associated with sacred writings in the Greco-Roman Mediterranean.
Yes, Paul was an educated member of the elite. What made his message persuasive to so many uneducated, lower-status people? I doubt that it was his sophisticated scriptural exegesis.

This is another instalment in AJR's series from the SBL 2016 Pauline Epistles Review Panel. I noted earlier essays in the series here and links.

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Testament of Solomon: so many demons!

READING ACTS has two posts on the Testament of Solomon.

What is the Testament of Solomon?
Testament of Solomon: A Catalog of Demons

The Testament of Solomon is a late-antique Christian work that knows material from the New Testament, but which also is familiar with Jewish traditions. My PhD student Bankole Davies-Brown explored this matter in detail in his unpublished doctoral dissertation: “The Jewish Background of the Testament of Solomon” (University of St. Andrews, 2004).

Past posts in Phil Long's series on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha have been noted here and links. His recent posts have been on the Testamentary literature. Cross-file under Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Watch.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Betulah

YONA SABAR: Hebrew Word of the Week: betulah "virgin; virgo" בתולה.

This essay does not mention the matter of Isaiah 7:14 and it its use in Matthew 1:23, but it is indirectly relevant. The word used in Isaiah 7:14 means a "young woman" (who may or may not be a virgin). The word betulah is not used. The Septuagint mistranslates that word into Greek as parthenos, which does mean "virgin." Matthew's exegesis depends on the meaning of the Greek word. See here, here and here for more.

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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Hurtado on representing the views of others

LARRY HURTADO: On Representing the Views of Others.
The following exhortation about representing the views of others is primarily directed to students and younger scholars. One of the aims I’ve striven for over the 40+ years of my scholarly work has been to represent the views of other scholars fairly, and especially those views with which I take issue.

[...]
There are some very useful observations in this post.

It is human nature that when we have strong views on a matter and we encounter disagreement — including thoughtful and well-reasoned disagreement — we tend to lapse into cognitive dissonance and create a caricature of the opposing view in our minds. This is the origin of the "straw-man argument," but the effect can be more subtle. This happens to everyone and it is very difficult to avoid.

One of the main purposes of blind peer-review is to ferret out and correct misunderstandings that arise from cognitive dissonance. It is an imperfect tool, but is one of the best ones we have. Professor Hurtado offers some other tools that he has found useful.

Let me add one of my own, which I got from the philosopher of science and epistemologist Karl Popper. When I set out to respond to a position with which I disagree, first I look for ways to make the case for that position stronger. Can weak arguments be reformulated more clearly and compellingly? Can I find any evidence that my opponent has missed which offers additional support to the case I want to refute? I try to make sure that I am responding not just to my opponent's case as presented, but to the strongest possible case I can formulate for my opponent's position. I find that this approach helps me process positions with which I disagree more receptively and with better comprehension. Try it. I think you will find it works.

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Hayes on two books on Paul (etc.) and the Law

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: How Faith Effects the Incorporation of the Gentile (Christine Hayes).
What a pleasure to read two such fascinating books – Matthew Thiessen’s Paul and the Gentile Problem and David Kaden’s Matthew, Paul, and the Anthropology of Law – whose intersections, differences and complementarities promise to enrich and reform the scholarly conversation on Paul and the Law. I’d like to structure my remarks around these features – the books’ intersections, their one primary point of difference and the way in which this difference might in fact be crucial to a full understanding of Paul.

[...]
AJR continues its series from the SBL 2016 Pauline Epistles Review Panel with this essay. I noted an earlier essay in the series here.

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T. Moses: so many Moses pseudepigrapha!

READING ACTS has two posts on the Latin Moses fragment that is generally known by the title "The Testament of Moses."

What is the “Testament of Moses”?
Testament of Moses

Richard Bauckham has argued convincingly that there were at least two Moses pseudepigrapha circulating in antiquity: the Testament of Moses and the Assumption of Moses. He thinks that the (more) original Greek version of the Latin fragment was the Testament of Moses, which is quoted in Jude 9. I have argued that the Latin fragment could be a separate work from either the Testament of Moses or the Assumption of Moses.

I agree that the internal evidence indicates that the Latin fragment is a first-century Jewish work. I do not see any convincing evidence that the now mostly-lost Greek version was a translation of a Hebrew original.

See my The Provenance of the Pseudepigrapha (Brill, 2005), pp. 149-154, for details.

Past posts in Phil Long's series on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha are noted here and links. For some time he has been working though the Testamentary literature. Cross-file under Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Watch.

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Kotel

YONA SABAR: Hebrew Word of the Week: Kotel "(The Western) Wall" כתל. There are many words for "wall" in Hebrew.

I am behind on these Hebrew Word of the Week columns. I will try to catch up this week.

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