Friday, March 06, 2015
This year marks the centenary of the book publication of Gustav Meyrink’s serialized novel “Der Golem.” Until a 2006 episode of TV’s “The Simpsons,” where Bart Simpson stole a golem from Krusty the Clown, Meyrink’s was probably the most famous adaptation of the ancient Jewish legend in which a man of clay is brought to life by magic as a “sort of friendly Jewish Frankenstein,” as Germanist Cathy Gelbin stated in “The Golem Returns.” ...Gershom Scholem weighed in on the book too:
And Gershom Scholem, then a brilliant young student of Jewish mysticism, complains in “On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism”: “By taking up a figure of Kabbalistic legend and transforming it in a very peculiar way, Meyrink tried to draw a kind of symbolic picture of the way to redemption. Such literary adaptations and transformations of the golem legend have been frequent… Meyrink’s work, however, far outdoes the rest. In it everything is fantastic to the point of grotesque… Behind the facade of an exotic and futuristic Prague ghetto, Indian rather than Jewish ideas of redemption are expounded. The alleged Kabbalah that pervades the book suffers from an overdose of Madame Blavatsky’s turbid theosophy.” ... Scholem concluded: “I visited Meyrink on one or two other occasions, and he never failed to astonish me.”The Golem is a very popular figure in modern popular culture and you can find many PaleoJudaica posts on him here and links.
There is a problem with the timing, too, which could also be an artifact of the book having been redacted long years after the event.That about sums up the historical and philological issues. The only thing I would add is that the lack of Greek language or other Greek influence in the book may be more a cultural than a chronological feature. Most of the Hebrew sectarian texts from the Dead Sea Scrolls are similarly devoid of Greek influence even though they were written well into the Hellenistic period. They just didn't like Greek culture. Esther too may have been written in the Hellenistic period by a writer with a similar aversion.
The Book of Esther says Mordechai was exiled from Judah with King Jeconiah: "Now in Shushan the palace there was a certain Jew, whose name was Mordechai… Who had been carried away from Jerusalem with the captivity which had been carried away with Jeconiah king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away" (Esther 2:5-6).
But King Jeconiah was expelled from Judah by Nebuchadnezzar 130 years before Xerxes ascended the throne. Surely a contemporary writer like Mordechai would have known that.
And then there’s the language of the book. On the one hand, the fact that no Greek influence made it into Esther is strong evidence that the book was written before the Achaemenid Dynasty was destroyed by Alexander the Great in 330 B.C.E., marking the start of the Hellenistic period.
On the other hand, the form of the Hebrew of the book, and, even more so, the form of the many Persian loanwords embedded in it, both indicate that the book was likely written toward the end of the Achaemenid Dynasty.
Taken together, the evidence of the vagueness about the king and the timeline problems, and the language, indicate that the redaction was by a Jewish scribe writing in Shushan in the middle of the 4th century B.C.E., about events that apparently happened more than a century before.
The rest of the article summarizes various interesting scholarly speculations about the book and is worth a read.
Thursday, March 05, 2015
(Joel Stashenko, New York Law Journal).
An appeals court has affirmed a two-month jail sentence for a blogger whose case prompted the state Court of Appeals to rule that the state's second-degree aggravated harassment statute was unconstitutional.HT Stephen Goranson.
A unanimous panel of the Appellate Division, First Department, upheld Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Laura Ward's sentence, which included three years of probation, for Raphael Golb in People v. Golb, 13595.
If I understand the situation correctly, Mr. Golb is now out of appeals and must serve his sentence. Reuters also has an article that notes the following:
Golb, who has remained free during the appeals process, is scheduled to begin his sentence on July 22, the district attorney's office said.Background on the Golb Dead-Sea-Scrolls internet-impersonation case is here and follow the many links.
From Yahwism to Judahism
Some scholars have argued that there were multiple factors involved in the reasons why the exiled Judahites did not abandon Yahweh for Marduk, but the scaffolding for the multiplicity as it is normally defined is of such a patchwork character as to be unwieldy.
By Charles David Isbell
Director of Jewish Studies
Louisiana State University
Susanna Drake. Slandering the Jew: Sexuality and Difference in Early Christian Texts. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013. 184 pp. $55.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8122-4520-2.
Reviewed by Gail Labovitz (American Jewish University 15)
Published on H-Judaic (February, 2015)
Commissioned by Matthew A. Kraus
According to the Flesh: Sexual Slander as a Tool of Early Christian Anti-Jewish Rhetoric
Two decades ago, Daniel Boyarin took the title of his book Carnal Israel from Augustine’s Tractate Against the Jews, where in the course of interpreting 1 Corinthians 10:18 (“Behold Israel according to the flesh”), Augustine describes the Jewish people as “indisputably carnal.” Stating at the outset that “Augustine knew what he was talking about,” Boyarin therefore announced his intent to “assert the essential descriptive accuracy of the recurring Patristic notion that what divides Christians from rabbinic Jews is the discourse of the body, and especially sexuality.” In this new book, however, Susanna Drake returns to the rhetoric itself. Although she cites Augustine, and Boyarin’s interpretation of his words, as “the initial provocation for the present study” (p. 112, n. 8), her concerns are not the accuracy, but the intent and implications of such accusations made by Christian writers against Jews in late antiquity: what did it mean not only for Augustine, but for a number of early Christian writers--and those for whom they wrote--to accuse Jews of carnality? Her questions are: How did the figure of the “carnal Jew” come to function as a topos of early Christian literature? When did this topos first appear, and what purposes did it serve? How did the stereotype of the carnal Jew serve Christian leaders as they forged the boundaries between orthodoxy and heresy, Christianity and Judaism? And what can the development of this topos tell us about ancient understandings of gender and sexuality (p. 2)? To this end, she examines “the sexualized representations of Jews in writings by Greek church fathers from the first through fifth centuries CE” (p. 2); the authors she focuses on are the unknown author of the Epistle of Barnabas, Justin Martyr, Origen, Hippolytus, and John Chrysostom.
Overall, this new edition is a great pleasure to work with – and to learn from, beginning to end. No doubt it will be the fountainhead from where all future research on the literary history of Esther midrashim begin. When read on its own, this midrash will ever-beguile you with its playful hermeneutics (another valuable introductory chapter outlines Esther Rabbah’s many different interpretive strategies) and surprising traditions.
Wednesday, March 04, 2015
The Jewishness of Josephus: an Interview with Sören Swoboda
This is an interview with Sören Swoboda, author of Tod und Sterben im Krieg bei Josephus: Die Intentionen von Bellum und Antiquitates im Kontext griechisch-römischer Historiographie (“Death and Dying in War in the Works of Josephus: The Intentions of Bellum and Antiquitates in the Context of Greco-Roman Historiography”). The book was published in 2014 by Mohr Siebeck. Dr. Swoboda is currently a member of the Theological Faculty at the University of Jena, in Germany. The interview was conducted at the SBL meeting in November 2014.The Understudied and Marginal Josephus: Bringing Him into the Conversation (Jacob Feeley)
Indeed, outside his usual haunts, Josephus appears rather like a strange guest at a dinner party, politely acknowledged with smiles or nods, but rarely approached. This is in part understandable. That Josephus wrote in Greek, an extremely difficult language which takes years if not decades to master, may deter students of Jewish Studies in particular. Josephus, moreover, does not speak as readily to the immediate concerns of contemporary Jewry. For Classicists, with their prejudice for literary style (a stylist, Josephus was not), their unfamiliarity with the Jewish tradition, and the general decline in knowledge of the Bible, Josephus can appear arcane or unappealing. Even those who refer to his works tend to use them as repositories of useful data rather than interpreting them on their own terms.
Can Jews rely on gentile courts to dispense justice? The question arose in this week’s Daf Yomi reading, in the course of an extended discussion of the major subject of Tractate Ketubot so far: female chastity. And the rabbis’ answer speaks volumes about their experience with the Roman and Persian governments they lived under. Many moments in the Talmud make clear that Jews in Talmudic times—as in much, perhaps most, of Jewish history—saw non-Jews as potential persecutors. (In Tractate Eruvin, for instance, we learned that a Jew should never live alone among gentiles, for fear that they will murder him.) And the Talmud periodically refers to times when the laws cannot be enforced due to government persecution—as happened after the Bar Kochba revolt in the 2nd century C.E., not long before the Mishna was written down.Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.
Michael J. Taylor, Antiochus the Great. Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military, 2013. Pp. xviii, 190. ISBN 9781848844636. $39.95.
Reviewed by Filippo Canali De Rossi, Liceo Classico Dante Alighieri (email@example.com)
Il libro è una biografia di Antioco III inserita nella storia della dinastia dei Seleucidi, a partire dal fondatore Seleuco I Nicatore fino agli ultimi epigoni. È la storia di un grande impero sovranazionale e delle strategie messe in atto per la sua creazione e successiva espansione, conservazione e difesa della sua esistenza.
Tuesday, March 03, 2015
- Studies say language shapes what we see by making us focus on objects
- Blue doesn't appear at all in Greek stories and other ancient written texts
- As a result, scientists believe ancient civilisations didn't notice the colour
- Egyptians - who were the only culture that could produce blue dyes - were the first civilisation to have a word for the colour blue in 2500 BC
- The Himba people in Namibia do not have a word for blue and tests have shown they have difficulty distinguishing between green and blue (Ellie Zolfagharifard, The Daily Mail)
The blue and black (or gold and white) dress that sweeped the internet last week revealed just how differently two people can see the world.This story, which I have noted before, is making the rounds and the Mail's coverage is as good a place to find it as any. For the blue-black/white-gold dress, see here. (I see white-gold.)
But it's not just about lighting conditions or optical illusions - evidence is mounting that until we have a way to describe something, we may not see its there.
Ancient languages, for instance, didn't have a word for blue and scientists believe as a result our ancestors didn't notice the colour even existed.[...]
It wasn't just the Greeks. Blue also doesn't appear in the Koran, ancient Chinese stories, and an ancient Hebrew version of the Bible, according to a German philologist named Lazarus Geiger.
In principle it makes sense that people might not be able to distinguish a color if their language didn't have a word for it. That said, I am not persuaded that ancient Hebrew did not have a word for blue. Ancient garments dyed with the tekhelet dye look to me to be in shades of blue, although I'm only looking at photos and the tones may be more bluish-purple. But there also is the Hebrew word sappir, which is a kind of gem, either sapphire or lapis lazuli, both of which we would call blue. This seems to me to be good evidence that the ancient Israelites could see something like our color blue.
His unblinking black eyes are what first draw you in. Beneath curled brazen locks, his piercing gaze is arresting — in part because he’s an unblemished four-foot statue older than Jesus. Visitors to the Israel Museum will soon lock gazes with this rare Roman bronze — one of just a handful remaining intact from the ancient world — when it goes on public display for the first time in June.It's a nice statue all right. But given that it's unprovenanced and bought on the antiquities market, I just hope it's genuine.
The 1st century BCE nude, with its original colored-glass eyes, was among several hundred ancient Near Eastern and Greco-Roman artifacts recently donated to the Israel Museum by New York art collectors Robert and Renee Belfer in honor of the institution’s 50th anniversary. The museum hailed the addition as a “transformative gift” that helps flesh out its already impressive collections.
The adolescent figure’s identity is uncertain, as the object it once held in its right hand is missing. “If divine, the possibilities include Hercules, who might have held his club, or Bacchus, who would have held his kantharos,” or two-handled drinking bowl, the catalog description of the statue reads. “If an athlete, he could have held a palm branch or a wreath.”
His provenance is likewise obscure. What’s known is that he was obtained by late TV mogul John W. Kluge after passing through the hands of at least two other antiquities retailers. The Belfers bought the boy at a Christie’s auction in New York for a cool $1,351,500 in 2004.
Background on the collection is here.
Monday, March 02, 2015
Archaeologists working in Nazareth — Jesus' hometown — in modern-day Israel have identified a house dating to the first century that was regarded as the place where Jesus was brought up by Mary and Joseph.As usual with these things, the real story is that we now have detailed records of the excavation of a first-century Jewish house in Nazareth, which is archaeologically quite important. That there is a Byzantine and Crusader-era tradition that it was the house of Jesus hardly amounts to significant evidence that it was.
The house is partly made of mortar-and-stone walls, and was cut into a rocky hillside. It was first uncovered in the 1880s, by nuns at the Sisters of Nazareth convent, but it wasn't until 2006 that archaeologists led by Ken Dark, a professor at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom, dated the house to the first century, and identified it as the place where people, who lived centuries after Jesus' time, believed Jesus was brought up.
He lived long and prospered. May his memory be for a blessing.
Prof. Shmuel Ahituv, of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, will be awarded the Israel Prize in Biblical Research, the Education Ministry announced on Thursday.
Sunday, March 01, 2015
Why Is There a Bible and What Do Women Have To Do With It?
Gender, Ben Sira, and the Canon
What makes Ben Sira stand out within this larger cultural gender ideology is that the women he fears most are not the women on the street, or even the singing girls he expects to encounter at banquets (Sir. 9:1-9). Rather, in a far more acute manifestation of gender anxiety, the woman he fears most is his own wife.
The following essay is adapted from Ben Sira and the Men Who Handle Books: Gender and the Rise of Canon-Consciousness (Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2013).
By Claudia V. Camp
John F. Weatherly Professor of Religion
General editor, Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies
Texas Christian University
Saturday, February 28, 2015
Those Who Know
Ever since my undergraduate years, I have been interested in early Christian history and Gnosticism. In the next few posts, I will talk about some of the things I have learned about Gnosticism, why it is so important, and some of the areas I am still trying to explore in my present book project. Here, I will just define my terms, and identify my main questions.More on Kabbalah and Gnosticism here.
The Beginning of Wisdom
I am assembling that package of ideas out of pure imagination, and I can point to no group of texts that prove its existence. What I am suggesting is that a large part of Gnosticism could, hypothetically, have been constructed without wandering too far outside Judaism as it existed, in its very diverse and sectarian forms, during the first century AD.True, but I still want some texts.
Athens, Jerusalem and Nag Hammadi
Gnosticism thus emerges from a world in which Platonism more generally defined had become a common currency of philosophical language and thought. Of the vast number of ideas and theories that Plato and his successors generated, some are particularly relevant to our subject here, in providing the intellectual vocabulary of Gnosticism.Gnostics and Platonists
Although the origins of Gnostic thought are controversial, many of the core themes and terms undoubtedly stemmed from Greek philosophical thought, especially Platonism. That did not necessarily mean that early Gnostics were taking these ideas directly from Greek thinkers or schools, rather that they came from a Jewish (and emerging Christian) world that had long sought to integrate Platonic concepts. Any attempt to separate Greek and Jewish elements in this synthesis is doomed to failure.Asking the Wrong Question
I have been puzzling over the origins of Gnosticism, and we can certainly find some plausible answers to that issue. Jewish, Greek and Christian, (and possibly Persian), the building blocks were all clearly there. Perhaps, though, I have been asking the wrong question all along. Instead of asking why some people came up with that particular set of answers, we should rather inquire why others didn’t.Philo’s Answer
Greek philosophy made it all but impossible to reconcile the transcendence of God with a deity who created and ruled the world, with a deity like that portrayed in the Hebrew Bible. During the Second Temple era, that clash of visions was deeply troubling for Jews who wished to integrate into the Greek-dominated international culture.Dating the Gnostics
Of the thinkers who tried to reconcile the systems, the best-known was Philo of Alexandria (25 BC – 50 AD), whose life overlapped with figures like Jesus and Paul. ...
Obviously, arguing from silence is risky. The account I have given here is drawn from Irenaeus, who was widely traveled and well-connected, but who did not necessarily know everything that was in progress in every corner of the Christian world. He knew Asia Minor, Rome and Gaul at first hand, but might not have had such good connections elsewhere. As I have remarked, such early accounts of Gnosticism are curious in their geographical emphasis. They focus on Alexandria and Antioch, with much commuting to and from Rome. Few pay much attention to the quite intense activity that seems to have been in progress in Mesopotamia, where Jewish Christian, baptismal and Gnostic sects were highly active no later than the early second century. Perhaps Irenaeus was simply missing some key events and activists.I'm sure Professor Jenkins's answers will continue to be interesting and I look forward to hearing more. Background to the series is here.
Alternatively, perhaps Irenaeus really was depicting historical reality, in which Gnosticism really was an innovation of the late first century, at least a generation or two after Jesus’s time. And at least in its early days, it was strictly confined to Syria, even to Antioch itself.
The question then arises: why then, and why there?
For my part, I have not found any arguments for a pre- (or non-) Christian Jewish Gnosticism in antiquity persuasive. The development of Gnosticism seems much easier to me once you add Pauline theology (notably its demotion of Jewish law) into the mix of Judaism and Platonism. And, tellingly, none of the surviving Gnostic texts deal with the halakhic and national/ethnic issues that the demiurgic myth would inevitably have raised. I have discussed the issues in greater detail here and here.