Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Meerson and Schäfer et al., Toledot Yeshu

Toledot Yeshu: The Life Story of Jesus
Two Volumes and Database. Vol. I: Introduction and Translation. Vol. II: Critical Edition
Ed. and Transl. by Michael Meerson and Peter Schäfer with the collaboration of Yaacov Deutsch, David Grossberg, Avigail Manekin, and Adina Yoffie

The Book of the Life of Jesus (in Hebrew Sefer Toledot Yeshu ) presents a "biography" of Jesus from an anti-Christian perspective. It ascribes to Jesus an illegitimate birth, a theft of the Ineffable Name, heretical activities, and finally a disgraceful death. Perhaps for centuries, Toledot Yeshu circulated orally until it coalesced into various literary forms. Although the dates of these written compositions remain obscure, some early hints of a Jewish counter-history of Jesus can be found in the works of Christian authors of Late Antiquity, such as Justin, Celsus, and Tertullian. Around 600 CE, some fragments of Jesus' "biography" made their way into the Babylonian Talmud; and in 827, archbishop Agobard of Lyon attests to a sacrilegious book about Jesus that circulated among Jews. In the Middle Ages, the book became the object and tool of an acrimonious controversy. Jews, Christians, and theists, such as Ibn Shaprut, Luther, and Voltaire, quoted and commented on Toledot Yeshu , trying to disprove the beliefs of their opponents and revealing their own prejudices. The narrative was translated into Latin and many vernacular languages and soon branched into numerous versions with only a few basic facts in common. The present publication provides researchers with reliable conclusions regarding the narrative's origin and evolution. In addition, the purchase of the volume offers full online access to a comprehensive database of Toledot Yeshu manuscripts, designed to encourage and facilitate further research about this important book in the history of Jewish-Christian polemics. All Hebrew and Aramaic manuscripts are edited in the present book and database: an unusual combination of a traditional critical edition with an electronic research tool. The database features a full-text search of all manuscripts as well as printing and downloading capabilities. The price includes access to the database (for one simultaneous user). Access for institutions is provided through the IP address, for private individuals through username and password. An activation code is enclosed in the book. Access to a free seven day trial period can be obtained here: toledot [AT] .
Also, related, at the Jesus Blog: Mika Ahuvia on Toledot Yeshu.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Pollack et al. (eds.), World Philology

World Philology
Edited by Sheldon Pollock
Benjamin A. Elman
Ku-ming Kevin Chang

$45.00 • £33.95 • €40.50
ISBN 9780674052864
Publication: January 2015
464 pages
6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
4 tables

Philology—the discipline of making sense of texts—is enjoying a renaissance within academia after decades of neglect. World Philology charts the evolution of philology across the many cultures and historical time periods in which it has been practiced, and demonstrates how this branch of knowledge, like philosophy and mathematics, is an essential component of human understanding.

Every civilization has developed ways of interpreting the texts that it produces, and differences of philological practice are as instructive as the similarities. We owe our idea of a textual edition for example, to the third-century BCE scholars of the Alexandrian Library. Rabbinical philology created an innovation in hermeneutics by shifting focus from how the Bible commands to what it commands. Philologists in Song China and Tokugawa Japan produced startling insights into the nature of linguistic signs. In the early modern period, new kinds of philology arose in Europe but also among Indian, Chinese, and Japanese commentators, Persian editors, and Ottoman educationalists who began to interpret texts in ways that had little historical precedent. They made judgments about the integrity and consistency of texts, decided how to create critical editions, and determined what it actually means to read.

Covering a wide range of cultures—Greek, Roman, Hebrew, Arabic, Sanskrit, Chinese, Indo-Persian, Japanese, Ottoman, and modern European—World Philology lays the groundwork for a new scholarly discipline.

BMW Hannibal Tour

PUNIC WATCH: BMW i3, i8 take on 2014 Hannibal Tour (Wheels24).
FOLLOWING HANNIBAL'S TRAIL: Three winners of a contest in Europe, organised by Bridgestone and German car magazine AutoBild, were invited to take part in a journey from Munich to Rome following Hannibal's journey with elephants over the Alps in 218BC, driving the new electric BMW i3hatchback and hybrid BMW i8 sports car. ....
Of course they were.

Monday, December 29, 2014

The papyrus market in the news

THE TELEGRAPH: The online battle for papyrus texts. Papyrus scrolls are also now increasingly desirable items in the distinctly 21st Century world of the online auction trade, writes Philip Sherwell.
They are tattered yellowing fragments of bygone civilisations, ancient manuscripts that open a remarkable window on previous millennia, including the earliest days of Christianity.

But papyrus scrolls are also now increasingly hot items in the distinctly 21st Century world of the online auction trade.


When a fragmentary parchment sheet from the 3rd century AD featuring portions of Paul’s epistle to the Romans was bought at Sotheby’s for £301,000 auctioneers and antiquity experts alike were stunned.

But although there is no suggestion of any impropriety in these particular sales, scholars are alarmed by the burgeoning online trade as some unscrupulous sellers also cash in.

They portray a free-ranging trade, particularly on the online auction giant eBay, where precious documents are carved up for sale, potentially stolen goods are trafficked and forgers can flourish.

Brice Jones, a papyrologist and lecturer in New Testament and Early Christianity at Concordia University in Montreal, has become an online scrolls sleuth, scouring auction websites for manuscripts that are often incorrectly labeled or their provenance unclear.

I have linked to Brice C. Jones with reference to such matters here, here, here, and here. For a somewhat different view on the Green Collection, see the comments of Roger Pearse noted here. The article also mentions the sad (in different ways) stories of The Gospel of Jesus's Wife and The Gospel of Judas.

Hurtado Festschrift

CONGRATULATIONS TO LARRY HURTADO: Mark, Manuscripts, and Monotheism (Festschrift for Larry Hurtado) (Tommy Wasserman, ETC).

Coptic postdocs

ALIN SUCIU: Two Positions Available in the Project “Digital Edition and Translation of the Coptic-Sahidic Old Testament” (Göttingen Academy of Sciences). Closing date: January 20, 2015. More on the project here.

DSS coming to L.A.

PRESS RELEASE: SDSU Jewish Studies program tells 2015 plans.
• Dead Sea Scrolls: The Exhibition, curated by SDSU’s Jewish Studies Program Director, Dr. Risa Levitt Kohn, opening March 10, 2015 at The California Science Center in Los Angeles. This traveling exhibition, different in content and design than the San Diego show of 2007, opened in New York City in 2011 and has been on display in Philadelphia, Boston, Cincinnati and Salt Lake City. The exhibition features over 600 objects, including ten Dead Sea Scrolls and is the largest collection of Israeli archaeological artifacts ever exhibited outside of Israel.
I have been following the peregrinations of this exhibition for years. Background here and many links. I reviewed the 2007 exhibition of the Dead Sea Scrolls in San Diego here.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The "Dead Sea Scrolls" of China on display in Taiwan

CULTURAL ICON WATCH: NMH exhibit to feature Taoist artifacts (Taiwan Today).
A total of 183 artifacts depicting the history of Taoism are to be displayed in a special exhibition at the National Museum of History Dec. 20 to March 29, 2015, in Taipei City.

Among these items:
Another highlight is a collection of the oldest extant bamboo slips quoting Lao Tzu, which date to the Warring States Period (476-221 B.C.). The equivalent for Taoism of the Dead Sea Scrolls to the Hebrew Bible, the slips have never before left mainland China.

“The unearthing of these bamboo slips proves the existence of Lao Tzu the person and his thought,” Wang [Jichao, head of the exhibition department of the Hubei Provincial Museum,] said, explaining the significance of the texts.
Sort of. In fact the name Lao Tzu means "Old Man," which may in this context just mean "Wise Philosopher" rather than a proper name, so the work may be anonymous. It would be clearer to say that these manuscripts show that the literary work called "Lao Tzu" (better known as the Tao Te Ching) does indeed go back to the Warring States Period.

Now this has nothing to do with ancient Judaism, except as an interesting parallel discovery in China. I note it mainly because of the comparison with the Dead Sea Scrolls, which, at least in the West, serve as the template for a momentous discovery of ancient manuscripts.

A decade ago I noted and discussed a similar manuscript discovery in China as an example of the Dead Sea Scrolls as cultural icon.

BAS on 2015 excavation opportunities

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: Digs 2015: Blast from the Past. Read the full article from the January/February 2015 issue of BAR (Megan Sauter).
BAR’s January/February issue—known as the “Dig” issue—has been highlighting excavation opportunities for the past 40 years. This year, in addition to sharing reports and images from the 2014 excavation season, we checked in with individuals featured on the cover of past “Dig” issues, along with some BAS scholarship recipients, to see what they’re doing now. Read their updates, enjoy essays from this year’s BAS scholarship winners and explore excavation opportunities in 2015 with our annual dig guide.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Review of Hasan-Rokem and Gruenwald (eds.) Louis Ginzberg’s Legends of the Jews

BOOK REVIEW IN THE FORWARD: Reconsidering Louis Ginzberg's Legendary 'Legends of the Jews' Enduring Lovability of 6-Volume Paean to Heroes (Benjamin Iwry).
Louis Ginzberg’s Legends of the Jews: Ancient Jewish Folk Literature Reconsidered
edited by Galit Hasan-Rokem and Ithamar Gruenwald
Wayne State University Press, 224 pages, $44.99

The legacy of the Talmudist Louis Ginzberg exemplifies the benefits of lovability in Jewish studies. Those familiar with the life of Henrietta Szold (1860-1945), founder of Hadassah and Ihud, the political party in Mandate Palestine, are aware of Szold’s unrequited passion for Ginzberg, which ended sadly for her when he married another woman. Szold cotranslated part of Ginzberg’s “Legends of the Jews,” (1909-1938; in six volumes plus an index by Boaz Cohen). The work was eventually published over three decades and widely reprinted in different editions. If any work of stunning erudition can be called loveable, then surely Legends retains this allure.


So although some contemporary critics, notably Bernhard Heller in “The Jewish Quarterly Review” (July 1933) offered detailed amplifications or suggestions about the “Legends,” the work and its author have attracted ecstatic praise. Which makes “Louis Ginzberg’s Legends of the Jews: Ancient Jewish Folk Literature Reconsidered” unusual for offering conceptual criticism of Ginzberg’s methodology. Coedited by Galit Hasan-Rokem, professor of folklore emerita at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Ithamar Gruenwald, professor emeritus of Jewish philosophy at Tel Aviv University, this new book derives in part from a colloquium at the fifteenth Congress of the World Association of Jewish Studies in August 2009.

I have cited Ginzberg's Legends of the Jews occasionally in PaleoJudaica posts (here, here, here, here, and here) and even once or twice in my published work. It is old and out of date now, but it is an unparalleled retelling of Jewish traditions about the Bible for nonspecialists and the notes on primary sources remain useful even for specialists. As noted in the past posts, it is available online.

On the authorship of the Gospels

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS: Are the Gospels Anonymous? (James McGrath). Yes, but ...


ARASH ZEINI has some recent posts of interest:

Avestan research 1991–2014. Links to a helpful article (part 1) by Almut Hintze which surveys the field. Much of it is technical, but the first part is quite accessible to nonspecialists (like me!).

Scribal practices in the Turfan Christian community. Recent article by Mark Dickens. Much more on Turfan and its direct and indirect importance for ancient Judaism (notably, the Book of Giants) here and links.

Mani at the court of the Persian kings. New book from Brill by Iain Gardner, Jason BeDuhn and Paul Dilley.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Did Jesus exist?

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: Did Jesus Exist? Searching for Evidence Beyond the Bible. Lawrence Mykytiuk’s feature article from the January/February 2015 issue of BAR with voluminous endnotes. The answer to the question, of course, is yes, he did. Not that we necessarily know much about him beyond that. This article is a useful discussion, aimed at nonspecialists, of the earliest extra-biblical references to Jesus.

I was a little surprised not to see any reference to the published work of Ken Olson, who argues that Eusebius wrote the longer Testimonium Flavianum (a variant of Mykytiuk’s Alternative 2, which Mykytiuk rejects). More on that here.

Some past PaleoJudaica posts on the did-Jesus-exist question are, here, here, here, here, and here. I have touched on the question of the Historical Jesus occasionally. Some posts are collected in the last post linked-to in the preceding sentence, and see also here and (on the languages Jesus spoke) here and here.

More on Professor Mykytiuk's work is here and links.

Tenth-century BCE bullae found

ARTIFACTS: New Finds Suggest Biblical Kings David and Solomon Actually Existed. Six clay seals found at the archaeological site of Khirbet Summeily in Israel offer evidence that supports the existence of Biblical Kings David and Solomon, says a team of archaeologists led by Dr Jeff Blakely of the University of Wisconsin-Madison (

I don't usually note stories about Iron Age finds unless there are inscriptions involved, but this one merits some comment. The title is a bit exuberant, raising hopes that these clay seals mention something that we can connect to a Davidic or Solomonic royal government. Alas, no. Some have seal markings impressed, but none bear any writing. Nevertheless, they are of considerable interest. The second paragraph of the article sums up their importance:
The official clay seals, or bullae, unearthed by Dr Blakely’s team at Khirbet Summeily – a small Biblical period village (10th-8th century BC) located in the northern part of Israel’s picturesque Negev desert – provide evidence that some type of government activity was conducted there in that period.
The business about David and Solomon comes from the inference that evidence for this level of literacy and social organization in this comparatively remote location implies a stronger central government than archaeologists often allow for in this period. And if a stronger central government, why not one headed by David or Solomon, just as the Bible says? Maybe so, but I'm not getting too excited until someone finds a tenth-century inscription that mentions one of them.

All that said, these are the first bullae from as early as the tenth century BCE and we are very lucky to have them. Let's hope the archaeological luck holds and they find some more, this time with some writing on them. And I wouldn't say no to one that refers to David or Solomon. That would be especially lucky, but it's hardly unthinkable. As I noted just a couple of days ago, there is a ninth-century inscription that mentions "the House of David."

Gold in them there caves?

MORE LOOTERS: Four arrested for attempting to loot ‘hidden treasure’ from ancient West Bank cave. Two Palestinians and 2 Israelis charged with colluding to dig up buried gold from Roman-Byzantine period (Daniel K. Eisenbud, Jerusalem Post).
Two Palestinians and two Israelis were arrested earlier in the week for allegedly colluding to attempt to loot buried gold from a protected ancient cave near the West Bank, the Antiquities Authority announced Wednesday.

According to an Antiquities Authority official, the two Arab suspects, from Tulkarm, were caught “red handed” by inspectors from the organization’s robbery- prevention unit digging a 4.5-meter hole at the 1,800-year-old site, which dates to the Roman-Byzantine period.

The suspects were found with excavation equipment, including a generator, electric drill, lighting, shovels and numerous buckets, the official said in a statement.

Who thinks up these things? If the reports are accurate, it sounds as though some people put a lot of effort and money into a high-risk project with extremely speculative returns. They'd have been better off buying lottery tickets.

Similar recent story here.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Harvard Semitic Museum refurbished

THE HARVARD GAZETTE: The old, made new. Refurbished Semitic Museum celebrates the past while reorienting for the future (Corydon Ireland). This article describes the new renovated Semitic Museum, but also gives a capsule history from its opening in 1903. As I've mentioned before, I got my PhD back in the 1980s from the Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations ("NELC") program at Harvard. Most of my courses were taught in the Semitic Museum, back when most of the artifacts were locked up in the basement and unavailable. Professor Lawrence Stager was hired during the time I was a student there and he was the one who set about changing all that. I'm surprised he isn't mentioned in the article. Nevertheless, it is a highly informative piece that is hard to excerpt. But here's just one taste:
Central to understanding the museum’s past is its first director, David Gordon Lyon (1852-1935). Born in Alabama, educated in Germany, and the first university chair of Assyriology in the United States, Lyon was an energetic scholar of Semitic languages, whose passion was establishing a museum.

“The beginning of this wonderful story goes back to this gentleman,” said Manuelian, who is Phillip J. King Professor of Egyptology. “He was quite a dynamic lecturer and speaker,” and brought with him from Germany the idea of “the seminar principle,” that a good collection accelerates understanding and scholarship.

The joint lecture discussed the persistent and peripatetic Lyon, the shifting fates of the museum building, and the Harvard collection of more than 40,000 Near Eastern artifacts.

A devout Baptist with an appetite for exactitude but with discipline leavened by Southern charm, Lyon taught Hebrew, Assyrian, Syriac, Aramaic, Akkadian, and other languages first set down in cuneiform. For 40 years he collected artifacts, and recorded trips to the Holy Land with deadpan ethnographic photos of ordinary life. “Lyon was a pioneer,” said Greene, a documentarian of what turned out to be the last two decades of the 500-year-old Ottoman Empire, then in decline.

He also wrote obsessively in diaries. There are 38 volumes — one a year — culled from small notebooks that Lyon would transcribe at night. Today, they provide a rare window into the Harvard of a century and more ago.

Christmas 2014

MERRY CHRISTMAS to all those celebrating!

Posts of Christmas past are collected here and links. And more recent Christmas-related posts are here and here.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Hanukkah menorah bracelet excavated

COSMIC SYNCHRONICITY WATCH: Archaeologists uncover 1,600-year-old menorah bracelet on Hanukkah. Last day of Mount Carmel excavation turns up rare turquoise glass shard (Lazar Berman , Times of Israel).
Archaeologist Limor Talmi was minutes away from wrapping up her excavation of an ancient garbage pit last Thursday,when a piece of 1,600-year-old glass was brought to her, bearing imprints of menorahs.

The timing was fortuitous, not only because she was readying to close up shop but because it was also the second day of Hanukkah, the Jewish holiday most closely associated with the seven-branched candelabra.

“Like in a good story, on the last day, when we needed to finish the dig, in the last box, in the last half hour, when we said, ‘That’s it, yalla, we need to close up and go,’ the head of the glass department brought this item to show me,” Talmi told the Haaretz daily.

The shard, found in the Mount Carmel national park near Elyakim during an Israel Antiquities Authority dig of refuse pits, features two menorahs. One of the menorahs is shown with its candles lit.

Cool. And for a change the timing of the announcement was determined only by fate. Perhaps that and it being the last day of the excavation, which in itself seems to be a magnet for important discoveries.

Follow the link for a photo. More on ancient depictions of menorahs is here, here (end of post), here (Magdala again!), and here, and links.

The Tel Dan Stele and "the House of David"

THE TEL DAN BEYT DAVID INSCRIPTION is another old discovery that has received some new attention recently. The attention is not because of Christmas this time; rather, it is because the stele is currently on display at a major museum exhibition in New York:
Ancient rock adds evidence of King David’s existence
Stone slab with earliest reference to House of David, on display at Met, said to be ‘one of the most important Biblical artifacts ever found’

By Menachem Wecker December 16, 2014, 2:52 am 54

NEW YORK (JTA) — Dimly lit, the stone slab, or stele, doesn’t look particularly noteworthy, especially when compared to the more lavish sphinxes, jewelry and cauldrons one encounters en route to the room where it is installed.

Indeed, in a Twitter post this fall, art journalist Lee Rosenbaum described the nearly 13-by-16 inch c. 830 BCE rock, as “homely.”

What’s significant about this stone — on view at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art as part of its “Assyria to Iberia at the Dawn of the Classical Age” exhibit running through January 4 — is its inscription: the earliest extra-biblical reference to the House of David.

“There is no doubt that the inscription is one of the most important artifacts ever found in relation to the Bible,” Eran Arie, curator of Israelite and Persian periods at the Israel Museum, wrote in the exhibit catalog.

Some background to the whole question of the historicity of David and Solomon is here and links.

Did Jesus preach at Magdala?

THE DAILY MAIL: Did Jesus preach at this synagogue? Archaeologists excavate 2,000-year-old ruins in ancient town of Magdala where Christ is thought to have taught disciples
  • Synagogue is thought to have been focal point when Jesus visited Magdala
  • Ruins discovered during preparation to build a hotel beside Sea of Galilee
  • Ancient town of Magdala lies under what is now Migdal in northern Israel
  • Jewish artefacts date back to the time of Jesus and the rise of Christianity
  • Discovery has led to thousands of Christian pilgrims visiting the site
  • Site now owned by Catholic organisation Legion of Christ who claim Jesus preached at the synagogue during his time in what is now northern Israel
  • (Richard Grey).
This story is not new, but is being widely disseminated in the media for Christmas. Its real interest is the discovery of a first-century synagogue at this site, whatever the site may have been called in the first century. Did Jesus preach there? Maybe, but the identification of the site with a supposed Magdala ("The Tower") from which Mary came is based on a chain of inferences that is not entirely secure. It's not even clear that Mary's nickname referred to her home town. Maybe she was just tall. Joan Taylor (who seems to be coming up a lot here lately) gave her professorial inaugural lecture at KCL on this question and I heard it when she presented it at a plenary session of the 2014 British New Testament Conference.

Much background on the excavation of Magdala is here and links.

UPDATE (27 December): The Mail article seems to have vanished, at least for now, but here is an earlier one from the Mail that covers some of the same ground with a heavy emphasis on Mary Magdalene: The clues found near Mary Magdalene's home that suggest Jews and early Christians once worshipped together (Victoria Woollaston). And here's a more recent one from Israel Today: Synagogue Where Jesus Preached Uncovered (David Lazarus).

The history of the Hasmoneans

HAARETZ: Meet the Hasmoneans: A brief history of a violent epoch. Judas Maccabeus' death would mark the end of the Maccabean revolt against the Greeks – and the start of the extremely unstable Hasmonean dynasty.. Elon Gilad provides a pocket history of the Hasmoneans from the death of Judah to the time of Herod the Great.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Taylor responds to review and discusses priestly garments

MARGINALIA: The Essenes and the Qumran Settlement – By Jodi Magness. Jodi Magness on Joan E. Taylor’s The Essenes, the Scrolls, and the Dead Sea.
Taylor provides a valuable analysis of ancient authors on the Essenes, but her interpretation of the settlement at Qumran is idiosyncratic and unfounded.
I already noted this review here, but now Taylor has a response: MRBlog: Joan Taylor responds to Jodi Magness.

For many past posts on the archaeology of Qumran, see here, here, and links

Bonus: What did Jewish Priests Wear? (Joan E. Taylor, the ASOR Blog). Excerpt:
The trouble is that in general Jews (Judaeans) just looked like everyone else. As Shaye Cohen has noted, there is not a single comment in the whole of Graeco-Roman literature that describes any specifics of Jewish appearance (apart from male circumcision, which could not, as a rule, be seen). Jews were not even identifiable in terms of male beardedness.Cohen points to certain rulers who wanted Jews to wear distinctive clothing to mark them out as different when they were otherwise indistinguishable. Textiles found in Masada and the Judaean desert caves indeed indicate that Jews wore exactly the same garments as elsewhere in the Mediterranean world. And there is not a single example of Parthian-like pants.

In my view,the coin image defines the kneeling figure by the one distinctive type of dress Judaeans had: their ‘Parthian-like’ priestly dress. ...
Free registration is required to read the full text of the latter essay.

Divorce, infertility, and green goo in the Talmud

LAST WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Only the Wife Knows If the Husband’s ‘Semen Shoots Like an Arrow’ And other problems of divorce, infertility, and urination, in this week’s Talmud study.
Last week, we read that it is a mitzvah to produce children, in accordance with God’s instruction to Adam and Eve, “be fruitful and multiply.” The rabbis debated how many children a Jew had to produce to fulfill the commandment, with some saying a boy and a girl was enough, while others said two boys were needed. (Notably, no one was content with two girls, presumably because a daughter did not continue a family’s line and property.) But is it only men who .are commanded to have children, or are women equally obligated? This was a subject of disagreement in this week’s Daf Yomi reading. In Yevamot 65b, the mishna reads: “A man is commanded with regard to the mitzvah to be fruitful and multiply, but not a woman. Rabbi Yochanan ben Beroka says that a woman is also commanded.”

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Blogging update

SORRY FOR THE DEARTH OF BLOGGING. I've been down with a cold and such energy as I have has gone to holiday matters. I hope to be back soon.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Urgent: Middle Eastern languages at Manchester

THE BRITISH ASSOCIATION FOR JEWISH STUDIES has set up a petition to protest the planned elimination of degree-level study of the Persian, Turkish, and Modern Hebrew languages from its curriculum. The text of the petition is as follows:
Protect Modern Hebrew and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Manchester

British Association for Jewish Studies

It is with dismay that we the undersigned have learned that the University of Manchester, which boasts a proud tradition of social responsibility and engagement with global challenges, has taken a decision to withdraw its provision of degree-level modern Hebrew language teaching, along with Persian and Turkish. We fully recognise the financial difficulties facing many UK universities and the low number of students who elect to take such degrees, but we expect a world class university like Manchester to take a stand to protect vulnerable subject areas of such vital concern in the world today. We call upon the University of Manchester to reconsider this decision which will seriously impoverish the UK provision of education in Middle Eastern languages and which will have a detrimental effect on the University's international standing in Jewish Studies, in particular.

University of Manchester

The British Association for Jewish Studies is aware of the decision taken by the University of Manchester to discontinue the provision of Modern Hebrew, Persian and Turkish, and to withdraw ten Middle Eastern Studies degree programmes. We write now to urge you in the strongest possible terms to reconsider this decision and reinstate this important provision of Jewish Studies and related subjects.

Academic colleagues across the UK are well aware of the financial constraints faced by universities in light of student numbers. However, the University of Manchester is currently internationally renowned for its provision in Jewish Studies, something to be proud of at a national level. We would appeal to you to reconsider the importance of preserving and protecting this small yet distinguished subject area, and retaining the associated staff.

The British Association for Jewish Studies is firmly of the opinion that universities have a responsibility to protect so-called ‘minority’ subjects and ensure their continued intellectual vitality, especially as they remain central to the wider advancement of knowledge and understanding of global challenges. We need only look at current world affairs to see the importance of academic study on the Middle East. If key language provision of education in such areas is lost, we risk reducing expertise in and engagement with the Middle East. There is a moral imperative for universities such as Manchester to continue to provide education and language training for the next generation of scholars and policy makers in such a crucial sphere of world affairs.

As a national association, we conduct an annual survey of Jewish Studies related teaching in the UK, and we are therefore well placed to advise you that your decision will have serious implications for the future development of the academic field of Jewish Studies. The fact that student numbers are small – and they are small everywhere in the UK – only makes it more likely that the closure of modern Hebrew and related degrees at one of the key providers of Jewish Studies in the UK will inevitably result in fewer experts in the field, and, as such, there will be a long term impact on the number of research-active staff in Jewish Studies at Manchester and in the UK more generally.

In addition, the closures could have a serious impact on the research activity of the Centre for Jewish Studies at Manchester, a world-leading institution. A reduced presence in teaching may be understood as a reduction of activity in Jewish Studies and related subjects, thus making it harder to attract the best scholars and funding success. At the very least, the closures would be interpreted as a reduced commitment to Jewish Studies and related subjects at Manchester, and would not reflect well on the UK’s position in Jewish Studies.

Jewish Studies at Manchester has always been highly respected both nationally and as a world-leader in the field, and is one of the principal providers of Jewish Studies in Higher Education in the UK. As you are no doubt aware, our annual conference will take place at the University of Manchester this year. We are extremely concerned about the high profile impact of your decision on Jewish Studies at a national level, and also on the reputation of the University of Manchester and the UK as world-leading providers of such subjects.

We implore you to reconsider this decision.
I have signed the petition with the following comment.
Although the subjects are specialized and no doubt attract a small number of students, their importance, both social and historical, far outweighs the limited size of the programs. It is hard to think of a worse moment in history for a major university to decide that it should be investing *less* effort in understanding the Middle East. Moreover, the University of Manchester has an excellent and well-earned reputation in Jewish Studies and it should be building on this rather than diluting it.
Please follow the link above and sign the petition too.

Charlesworth on The Lost Gospel

JAMES H. CHARLESWORTH has posted a review of Wilson's and Jacobovici's The Lost Gospel on You will recall that the book argues that the Syriac version of the Old Testament pseudepigraphon Joseph and Aseneth is a first-century document that gives a veiled account of the marriage and family life, etc., of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Charlesworth does not accept this: Has Lost Gospel Been Found Proving Jesus Married Mary of Migdal?

Professor Charlesworth is perhaps best know for his editing of the of massive and magisterial two-volume Old Testament Pseudepigrapha in the 1980s.

HT Joel L. Watts, who comments further here.

Also, Mark Goodacre has now posted Richard Bauckham's seven-part review of the book as a single PDF file here.

Background here and here.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Metatron and Mrs. Coulter

ARCHANGEL METATRON WATCH: Baddies in books: Mrs Coulter, the mother of all evil. On the surface she’s all glamour and respectability - but the villain from Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials is malice in a furlined hood (Imogen Russell Williams, The Guardian). Just a reminder that Metatron was an important character in that very successful trilogy.
When it comes to the mother of all evil, Mrs Coulter, chief antagonist of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, is a serious contender for the title. A charismatic fusion of archetypes - stepmother, fairy godmother, wicked witch - she distils pure terror into the shape of “a beautiful young lady whose dark hair falls shining delicately under the shadow of her furlined hood”. On the outside, she’s just the sort of groomed, sophisticated parent a motherless pre-teen might wish for, but Metatron, the Regent of Heaven, has her measure in The Amber Spyglass ...

Hanukkah 2014

HAPPY HANUKKAH (CHANUKKAH) to all those celebrating! The festival begins this evening at sundown.

Past Hanukkah-related posts are collected here and links and there are more recent ones here and here.

Also, Haaretz has a recent piece by Rabbi Yehoshua Looks about one of the major characters in the story: On the eve of Hanukkah, a story of a fallen high priest. The tension in defining boundaries between religious and secular life and practice remains with us millennia after Jason the high priest built a contentious gymnasium in Jerusalem. Excerpts:
From the charcoal drawings of two warships and the inscriptions inside the tomb, one speculation is that Jason was a naval commander who sailed the coast of Egypt. But in her book "Doubt: A History," Jennifer Michael Hecht tells another story from that era, of a Jewish high priest named Jason who had lost his standing as he pandered to the pull of assimilation.


According to Hecht, Antiochus retired the pro-Ptolemaic Jewish high priest, a son of High Priest Simon, replacing him with Simon's more progressive younger son Jason, who secured his selection with a bribe. Jason, who was born Joshua but, tellingly, chose to go by the Greek version of his name, already had a strong following of Jews who opposed the strict application of Jewish law. Jason, Hecht writes, quickly took steps to make the finer things of Greek culture available to Jews, and his first order of business was building a gymnasium in Jerusalem, at the foot of the Temple Mount.

The attitude to these events, as recorded in the Book of Maccabees, is clear.


Ironically, today’s Maccabiah Games, also known as the Jewish Olympics, in its naming reflects a case of modern amnesia. What the games celebrate, the Greek ideals of physical skill and prowess, are in part, what the Maccabeans were fighting against. Metaphorically, Jason the high priest, buried in the tomb in the heart of modern day Jerusalem or wherever, is probably smiling.
This is a premium article and the full text may not be up for long, so read it now while you have the chance.

Litigation over the Crowns of Damascus

MANUSCRIPTS OF THE HEBREW BIBLE: Open book: Syrian Jewish bibles might spark ownership dispute (Daniel Estrin, AP).

More on the Crowns of Damascus and related matters here and links.

Marriage, sex, virginity, and even celibacy, in the Talmud

LAST WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Virgins, ‘Partial Virgins,’ Sodomy, Bestiality, Prostitutes, Marriage, and Forbidden Sex. In the patriarchal society of the Talmud, a woman’s body is always under the supervision and scrutiny of men.
In last week’s column, I wrote about the surprising frankness with which the rabbis of the Talmud address sexual matters. In America, we are used to regarding religion and sexuality as opposites or enemies, constantly coming into conflict over issues like abortion and homosexuality. This must be, in part, a legacy of America’s Christian heritage, for since Paul, Christianity has placed a high value on chastity and asceticism. Still, while we may regard the Talmud as comparatively sex-positive, the rabbis were not advocating free love. As we saw in this week’s reading from Tractate Yevamot, they drew a tight connection between sex, love, marriage, and procreation. According to Rav Huna, in Yevamot 61b, “Any intercourse that does not increase [i.e., result in children] is nothing other than licentious sexual intercourse.”

Incidentally, Ben Azzai, one of the four rabbis who entered Paradise (the one who died there), gets a mention in this week's column. It seems he never got married.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Apocryphal Christmas

'TIS THE SEASON: Christmas Stories in Christian Apocrypha. The birth of Jesus in the apocryphal gospels (Tony Burke, Bible History Daily).

Ancient Jewish epitaph in Greek

INSCRIPTION: Ancient Jewish tombstone found repurposed in 19th century Muslim mausoleum. Samuel and his family rediscovered 1,800 years later in the cemetery of the former Jewish capital in Galilee (Ran Shapira, Haaretz).
A roughly 1,800-year old stone inscription from a Jewish tomb has been found in the wall of a 19th-century Muslim mausoleum in the Upper Galilee, where it was repurposed from being part of a door lintel to part of a wall.

The partially broken stone is written in Greek, not Hebrew or Aramaic, which is the usual language on ancient Jewish tombs. But it lists the members of a clearly Jewish family that lived in Zippori, then called Sepphoris, between the 2nd and 5th centuries CE.

According to the inscription, "Samuel son of… and his wife… and his entire family" were buried at the site.

Past posts on Zippori/Tzippori/Sepphoris are here and here and links.

Mladen Popović awarded €1.5 millon ERC grant

CONGRATULATIONS TO MLADEN POPOVIĆ: Prestigious ERC Starting Grant for Mladen Popović. Innovative research on authors of Dead Sea Scrolls wins European grant of €1.5 million
Last Monday, the European Research Council (ERC) awarded a grant of €1.5 million to Prof. Mladen Popović of the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies for his project The Hands that Wrote the Bible. Digital Paleography and Scribal Culture of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Popović can use the funding to continue developing his pioneering research on the Dead Sea Scrolls. He now intends to discover who wrote these ancient documents.
Follow the link for additional details on his project. I first heard the good news last week at the Bible as Notepad Conference, where we were exploring many related issues. HT to the OT/ NT Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha page on Facebook for the link.

Bible as Notepad Conference concluded

I'M BACK FROM OSLO, where I attended the Bible as Notepad Conference. Besides the many interesting papers, highlights included a visit to Martin Schøyen's house to view some of his vast collection of manuscripts, and having the chance to hear Malachi Beit-Arie tell stories about Israeli academic life fifty years ago and about his doctoral supervisor Gershom Scholem.

Thanks to Liv Ingeborg Lied and her associates and assistants for a very stimulating conference.

(Photo courtesy of Liv Ingeborg Lied. Click on the image to enlarge it.)

UPDATE: Professor Lied has posted her introductory presentation for the conference. Go here and follow the link. And she has a related post here.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Feldman and Goldman, Scripture and Interpretation

Feldman, Ariel / Goldman, Liora
Scripture and Interpretation
Qumran Texts that Rework the Bible

Ed. by Dimant, Devorah

Series: Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 449

Aims and Scope

The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls more than sixty years ago has revealed a wealth of literary compositions which rework the Hebrew Bible in various ways. This genre seems to have been a popular literary form in ancient Judaism literature. However, the Qumran texts of this type are particularly interesting for they offer for the first time a large sample of such compositions in their original languages, Hebrew and Aramaic. Since the rewritten Bible texts do not use the particular style and nomenclature specific to the literature produced by the Qumran community. Many of these texts are unknown from any other sources, and have been published only during the last two decades. They therefore became the object of intense scholarly study. However, most the attention has been directed to the longer specimens, such as the Hebrew Book of Jubilees and the Aramaic Genesis Apocryphon. The present volume addresses the less known and poorly studied pieces, a group of eleven small Hebrew texts that rework the Hebrew Bible. It provides fresh editions, translations and detailed commentaries for each one. The volume thus places these texts within the larger context of the Qumran library, aiming at completing the data about the rewritten Bible.

Safrai (ed), The Literature of the Sages

The Literature of the Jewish People in the Period of the Second Temple and the Talmud, Volume 3 The Literature of the Sages
First Part: Oral Tora, Halakha, Mishna, Tosefta, Talmud, External Tractates.

Edited by Shmuel Safrai

The literary creation of the ancient Jewish teachers or Sages ‒ also called rabbinic literature ‒ consists of the teachings of thousands of Sages, many of them anonymous. For a long period, their teachings existed orally, which implied a great deal of flexibility in arrangement and form. Only gradually, as parts of the amorphous oral tradition became fixed, was the literature written down, a process that began in the third century CE and continued into the Middle Ages. Thus the documents of the rabbinic literature are the result of a remarkably long and complex process of creation and editing.
The volume here re-issued was a classic when published in 1987. It made lasting contributions through its careful and succinct analysis of specific natures of various documents, and their textual and literary forms. In its time it incorporated ground-breaking developments and it remains required reading for those who missed it the first time.
In the future CRINT plans to publish a revised and updated companion volume that is to reflect recent debate and a greater range of scholarly views, reference to developments in scholarship regarding Second Temple, Qumran and New Testament as well as to ancient Mesopotamian and Persian sources and archaeology. New methodologies from the Humanities and reference to digitation of source material will also be incorporated.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Dick on Gnosticism

GNOSTICISM WATCH: The 10 best adventure novels from 1965. Joshua Glenn shows why 1965 was a very good year for science fiction, comic books, and spy novels (BoingBoing).
Philip K. Dick’s science fiction adventure The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. Via an odyssey of nested hallucinations, Dick burns the Gnostic idea that the world is the creation not of God, but of an evil, lesser deity, forever into the reader’s mind. The title character is a demiurge who brings to mankind a “negative trinity” of “alienation, blurred reality, and despair.” Probably my favorite PKD novel, after A Scanner Darkly.
More on Philip K. Dick here. And lots more on modern reflections of Gnosticism here and here and links.

Gauthier, Psalms 38 and 145 of the Old Greek Version

Psalms 38 and 145 of the Old Greek Version

Randall X. Gauthier

One of the critical, ongoing discussions in Septuagint Studies today concerns the issue of how texts were understood by their translators, and how those translations are able to provide the modern reader with clues to that original interpretation. In Psalms 38 and 145 of the Old Greek Version, Randall X. Gauthier provides a word by word, sentence by sentence, commentary on Psalms 38 and 145 in the Septuagint (LXX) version, or more accurately, the Old Greek (OG) version. Specifically, this study attempts to understand the semantic meaning of these psalms at the point of their inception, or composition, i.e. as translated literary units derivative of a presumed Semitic Vorlage.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Early Christian literature in Ethiopic

ALIN SUCIU: Panel on Early Christian Literature Preserved in Classical Ethiopic (Ge’ez) (from Timothy B. Sailors). The Panel meets in Warsaw at the 19th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies in August of 2015.
One of the more important sources for the study of early Christian literature are the versions of these writings preserved in Classical Ethiopic (Ge’ez). This panel will provide the opportunity to focus upon the all too often under-appreciated Ge’ez versions of these works of literature originally composed in the first several Christian centuries. These include books that would come to be part of the Christian Bible, writings categorized among the so-called ‘Apostolic Fathers’ or ‘Apologists’ or ‘Church Fathers’ and so-called early Christian ‘Apocrypha’, consisting, for example, of apocalypses, acts of apostles and testaments. Moreover, many of the ancient church orders from this era are importantly preserved in Ge’ez versions, as are other writings of a monastic, didactic or legendary nature.
As is well known, some important Jewish literature from the Second Temple period — 1 Enoch and Jubilees – is also preserved complete only in Ethiopic.

Tolan et al., Jews in Early Christian Law

Jews in Early Christian Law
Byzantium and the Latin West, 6th-11th centuries

J. V. Tolan, N. de Lange, L. Foschia, C. Nemo-Pekelman (eds.)

379 p., 156 x 234 mm, 2014
ISBN: 978-2-503-55052-7
Languages: English, French
The publication is available.
Retail price: EUR 70,00 excl. tax
How to order?

The sixth to eleventh centuries are a crucial formative period for Jewish communities in Byzantium and Latin Europe: this is also a period for which sources are scarce and about which historians have often had to speculate on the basis of scant evidence. The legal sources studied in this volume provide a relative wealth of textual material concerning Jews, and for certain areas and periods are the principal sources. While this makes them particularly valuable, it also makes their interpretation difficult, given the lack of corroborative sources.
The scholars whose work has been brought together in this volume shed light on this key period of the history of Jews and of Jewish-Christian relations, focusing on key sources of the period: Byzantine imperial law, the canons of church councils, papal bulls, royal legislation from the Visigoths or Carolingians, inscriptions, and narrative sources in Hebrew, Greek and Latin. The picture that emerges from these studies is variegated. Some scholars, following Bernhard Blumenkranz, have depicted this period as one of relative tolerance towards Jews and Judaism; others have stressed the intolerance shown at key intervals by ecclesiastical authors, church councils and monarchs.
Yet perhaps more than revealing general tendencies towards "tolerance" or "intolerance", these studies bring to light the ways in which law in medieval societies serves a variety of purposes: from providing a theologically-based rationale for social tolerance, to attempting to regulate and restrict inter-religious contact, to using anti-Jewish rhetoric to assert the authority or legitimacy of one party of the Christian elite over and against another. This volume makes an important contribution not only to the history of medieval Jewish-Christian relations, but also to research on the uses and functions of law in medieval societies.
The interests of this book actually extend back to the fourth century.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Bloomsbury books

Constantine Tischendorf
The Life and Work of a 19th Century Bible Hunter

By: Stanley E. Porter

Published: 18-12-2014
Format: Paperback
Edition: 1st
Extent: 200
ISBN: 9780567658029
Imprint: Bloomsbury T&T Clark
Dimensions: 216 x 138 mm
RRP: £16.99
Online price: £11.89
Save £5.10 (30%)

About Constantine Tischendorf

Constantin von Tischendorf was a pioneer. He existed in an age when biblical studies as we know it was being formed, when the quest for forgotten manuscripts and lost treasures was being undertaken with no less zeal and intrigue than it is today. It was Tischendorf who found, and preserved, the oldest extant version of the complete bible that we know of, the so-called Codex Sinaiticus, which he discovered in poor condition at St Catherine's Monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai, in 1846.

With the discovery of the Codex Tischendorf, and others, was to take the study of biblical texts further than ever before, through linguistic methods, and attention to the most ancient sources available. In many ways Tischendorf was a father figure of the modern Historical Critical Method.

In this short biography, Stanley E. Porter, himself one of the most respected scholars of the New Testament and Koine Greek currently writing, gives a portrait of Tischendorf's life and work, together with an annotated republication of Tischendorf's influential work on the Gospels.

Published to celebrate Tischendorf's bicentenary, in 2015, this volume will be a must for those seeking to understand how the study of biblical manuscripts began, and to understand the man who discovered the oldest version of the bible as we know it.

The Body in Biblical, Christian and Jewish Texts

Editor(s): Joan E. Taylor

Published: 19-06-2014
Format: Hardback
Edition: 1st
Extent: 296
ISBN: 9780567254269
Imprint: Bloomsbury T&T Clark
Series: The Library of Second Temple Studies
Illustrations: 10 illus
Dimensions: 234 x 156 mm
RRP: £60.00
Online price: £42.00
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About The Body in Biblical, Christian and Jewish Texts

The body is an entity on which religious ideology is printed. Thus it is frequently a subject of interest, anxiety, prescription and regulation in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, as well as in early Christian and Jewish writings. Issues such as the body's age, purity, sickness, ability, gender, sexual actions, marking, clothing, modesty or placement can revolve around what the body is and is not supposed to be or do.

The Body in Biblical, Christian and Jewish Texts comprises a range of inter-disciplinary and creative explorations of the body as it is described and defined in religious literature, with chapters largely written by new scholars with fresh perspectives. This is a subject with wide and important repercussions in diverse cultural contexts today.

The Temple in Text and Tradition
A Festschrift in Honour of Robert Hayward

Editor(s): R. Timothy McLay

Published: 18-12-2014
Format: Hardback
Edition: 1st
Extent: 344
ISBN: 9780567062697
Imprint: Bloomsbury T&T Clark
Series: The Library of Second Temple Studies
Dimensions: 234 x 156 mm
RRP: £75.00
Online price: £52.50
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About The Temple in Text and Tradition

The Second Temple period is an era that marked a virtual explosion in the world of literature, with the creation, redaction, interpretation, and transmission of Jewish texts that represented diverse languages and ideologies. The creation of many of these writings coincided with the growth of the Jewish community beyond the borders of Israel; therefore, among those for whom the Temple played a diminishing role. The transition period from Temple to texts was accompanied by conflicting interpretations about the role of the Temple as well as diverse theological understandings about God and the Jewish people.

Drawing on the expertise of leading specialists in Second Temple Judaism, Temple, Texts, and Traditions explores the rich traditions of the Jewish people as they were expressed and interpreted in their writings in that period, which included writings that later became recognized as Scriptures.
Follow the links for TOCs and ordering information.

Dimant, Collected Studies

Devorah Dimant
History, Ideology and Bible Interpretation in the Dead Sea Scrolls

Collected Studies

In this volume Devorah Dimant assembles twenty-seven thoroughly updated and partly rewritten articles discussing various aspects of the Dead Sea Scrolls that she published over the past three decades. An introductory essay written especially for this volume surveys the present state of research on the Scrolls. Dealing with major themes developed in the Dead Sea Scrolls, the author reflects the rapid expansion and change of perspective that has taken place in research on the collection in recent years following its full publication. Among the topics treated are the nature and contents of the Scrolls collection as a whole, the specific literature of the community that owned this collection, the Aramaic texts and the apocryphal and pseudepigraphic works found therein. Each of these chapters contains an inventory list of the texts under discussion. In the article on the entire Scrolls collection she provides an updated inventory and analysis of all the Dead Sea Scrolls. Besides these general surveys, the volume includes discussions of particular themes such as the history of the community related to the Scrolls, its self-image and particular interpretation of biblical prophecies, and its notion of time. In addition, various previously unknown apocryphal works found among the Scrolls are analyzed, such as Pseudo-Ezekiel (4Q385-4Q386,4Q388), Apocryphon of Jeremiah C (4Q385a-4Q390), Apocryphon of Joshua (4Q522), Pesher on the Periods (4Q180, with a fresh edition), and a new edition and interpretation of the Words of Benjamin (4Q548).

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Odeberg the Nazi sympathizer

REBECCA LESSES: Hugo Odeberg and Nazi Germany.
Hugo Odeberg, professor of theology at the University of Lund in Sweden from 1933-1964, is of interest to those who study early Jewish mysticism because in 1928 he published the first edition and translation into English of a Hekhalot text. This is a text known in several of the manuscripts as Sefer Hekhalot, but which he called 3 Enoch, as if it proceeded in a linear fashion from 1 Enoch and 2 Enoch. His publication of Sefer Hekhalot brought the knowledge of this work into the scholarly world, and it continues to be influential up until today in the study of the Hekhalot literature. (Philip Alexander published another English translation of the work in James Charlesworth's Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, volume 1, published in 1983. He used Odeberg's critical edition as the basis for his translation).

Notwithstanding Odeberg's importance for the history of modern scholarship of the Hekhalot literature, I think we need to take another aspect of his career into consideration when we continue to use his work.

In the 1930s Odeberg became a sympathizer with the Nazis, and he worked together with antisemitic German theologians in the later 1930s and 1940s. This aspect of his career is finally being revealed by current research on the involvement of Swedish scholars and theologians in the Nazi movement. Should this influence our use of Odeberg's work in contemporary research on the Hekhalot literature? I think that at the very least it should be mentioned when we cite his research. Odeberg also wrote on the Gospel of John, and his scholarship is still used also by some researchers.

Disturbing. Read it all.

The DSS and Syriac Christianity

PHILIP JENKINS: Christians in Babylon (The Anxious Bench). Excerpt:
Recently, scholar Joseph Amar examined this Jewish context in an important article published in the Times Literary Supplement (October 3, 2014) under the title “A Shared Voice: When Jews and Christians Drank from the Same Wells.” Because it is paywall-protected, I will summarize its conclusions here.

Amar noted how closely Mesopotamian Christians resembled not just sectarian Judaism in general, but specifically the world of the Essenes and the Dead Sea Scrolls. “Like the Qumran sectarians, they used the word ‘holiness,’ – qadishutha in Aramaic – as the technical term for their practice of celibacy. And like the ‘Men of Holiness’ at Qumran, they took vows that spoke of an impending battle between good and evil. ” A direct link between the community that produced the scrolls and the Christians of Mesopotamia seemed to be the only way to account for such explicit parallels.”
I explore some of these parallels in an exercise in counterfactual history presented at a conference some years ago: "The Odes of Isaiah: A Newly Discovered Syriac Pseudepigraphon - A Thought Experiment." The paper was later published as "Counterfactual History and the Dead Sea Scrolls," (see here for full citation).

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Talmud-related dissertations 2014

THE TALMUD BLOG: Dissertations and Thesis, 2014.

Yardeni, Understanding The Alphabet of the Dead Sea Scrolls

Understanding The Alphabet of the Dead Sea Scrolls
By: Ada Yardeni

The most important discovery of documents written in the “Jewish” script is the discovery of the documents from the Judean desert, known as “the Dead Sea Scrolls”.

From the Foreword by Weston W. Fields*

“Dr. Ada Yardeni stands at the head of her field, and this book is the best ever produced on the topic… The book excels in so many ways… all of which will appeal to professional and lay
readers alike.

“…the book masterfully describes the information it is possible to glean from a careful, even minute, examination of the letters and words of ancient Hebrew and Aramaic documents. …all the knowledge that must be assimilated by anyone who aspires to begin the long journey toward at least a partial expertise in the analysis of ancient Hebrew and Aramaic inscriptions and texts.

“…she has provided a glimpse of the very inner workings of her mind; indeed, that she has divulged to the reader her ‘trade secrets.’

“This book sets a new standard in the field of ancient Hebrew and Aramaic paleography.”

* Weston W. Fields, Ph.D., is Executive Director of The Dead Sea Scrolls Foundation
The web page isn't very clear, but it looks as though this book has a 2012 publication date. I just found out about it, thanks to a mention by Eibert Tigchelaar on Facebook.

Bible as Notepad Conference

I'M OFF TO OSLO, for the Bible as Notepad Conference, noted earlier here. As you can see from the program, I am presenting a paper on “Notes in the Text? The Unique Secondary Readings in MS Leiden Or. 4730’s Text of the Hekhalot Rabbati." The abstract is as follows:
MS Leiden Or. 4730 is a late (16th or 17th century) Italian manuscript that includes the complete text of the Hekhalot Rabbati (Synopse §§81-277), the longest text in the corpus of the Hekhalot literature. It seems to come from a good Vorlage with a high density of original readings, but at some point this text has been extensively altered by a scribe. The manuscript contains hundreds of unique secondary variants, including omissions, replacement of words with synonyms, or other changes in wording. In effect, rather than being annotated with notes in the margins, the text was overwritten with notes in the text itself. These alterations can be detected only through traditional textual criticism, which reveals a pattern of unique secondary readings. From a traditional text-critical perspective they are "clutter" to be dismissed as useless for reconstructing a (more) original text. But from the perspective of New Philology they evidence a peculiar pattern of deliberate scribal alterations, one that has the potential to tell us more about this creative scribe and the scribe's agenda. This paper will catalogue and categorize the unique secondary readings in this manuscript in order to make some sense of what the scribe was doing and why.
As usual, I have preposted some things for while I am away and I will blog as time and internet connections permit, so please keep coming back as normally.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Pretend to be a Time Traveler Day 2014

IT'S THAT DAY AGAIN: Pretend to be a Time Traveler Day.

The Facebook page is here. Past posts on the day with related links are collected here.

Dead Sea cave robbers reported caught

IAA PRESS RELEASE: In a Dramatic Operation on the Cliffs of the Judean Desert: Antiquities Robbers Caught Red-Handed Trying to Plunder (December 2014). Today (Sunday) an indictment was submitted against the robbers who were apprehended by Israel Antiquities Authority inspectors.
Today (Sunday) an indictment was submitted against the robbers who were apprehended by Israel Antiquities Authority inspectors, with the assistance of the Arad police

This is the first time in 30 years that antiquities robbers have been caught on the desert cliffs

Today (Sunday) an indictment was handed up against antiquities robbers who tried to loot Dead Sea scrolls from the Judean Desert. This comes in the wake of a dramatic capture carried out last weekend by inspectors of the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery of the Israel Antiquities Authority, with the assistance of the Arad Rescue Unit. The apprehension of the robbers was part of a complex operation to locate the Dead Sea scroll robbers, which lasted more than a year.

Early in the morning hours members of the Arad Rescue Unit, which were undergoing routine training at the time, identified suspicious movement in a cave in the northern cliff of Nahal Ze’elim, in the region of the Leopard’s Ascent.

Inspectors of the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery of the Israel Antiquities Authority were called to the scene and they placed the cave under surveillance utilizing observation and photographic equipment. The suspects were observed in the cave carrying out an illicit excavation while using a metal detector and a large amount of excavating equipment.

The suspects dug in an ancient cave which is known in archaeological circles as “The Cave of the Skulls”. They caused tremendous damage in the cave by digging through layers of earth while destroying archaeological strata and historical evidence from the Roman period c. 2,000 years ago and the Chalcolithic period c. 5,000 years ago.

The cave is located in the side of the cliff, 150 meters above the bottom of Nahal Ze’elim and some 70 meters below the top of the cliff. It can only be reached on foot via a narrow goat’s path on top of rock fall, that passes upright bedrock walls and is extremely dangerous.

The suspects – all young men from the village of Seir in the vicinity of Hebron – demonstrated considerable expertise in reaching the cave by climbing and rappelling from the cliff while using special equipment they possessed.

After observing and documenting the suspects in action, the suspects began climbing to the top of the cliff during the evening while carrying on their back ancient finds (such as a 2,000 year old lice comb from the Roman period) and all of the digging equipment that included excavation tools, break-in equipment, two sophisticated metal detectors, lighting equipment and ropes, as well as large amounts of food and water, which indicate their intention to remain in the cave for many days. Inspectors of the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery awaited the suspects at the top of the cliff. Upon arrival the suspects were immediately caught by the Israel Antiquities Authority personnel. They were detained and taken for questioning to the Arad police station where, with the assistance of the Arad police and investigators, they were interrogated for many hours and gave their version of events.

The suspects were arrested and brought for arraignment before a judge in the Be’er Sheva‘ Magistrates Court. Their detention was extended twice and an indictment was handed up today by the Southern District Attorney's Office.

According to Amir Ganor, director of the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery in the Israel Antiquities Authority, "For many years now gangs of antiquities robbers have been operating along the Judean Desert cliffs. The robbers attempt to locate and find Dead Sea scrolls, pieces of ancient texts and unique artifacts that were left in the caves, particularly during the Great Revolt against the Romans in 66–70 CE and the Bar Kokhba Revolt in 132–135 CE, when Jewish fighters fearing the Roman army sought refuge in the desert. These finds are sold for large sums of money in the antiquities markets in Israel and around the world. What makes the Judean Desert so unique is its dry climate that enable the preservation of rare leather, bone, and wooden objects, including the Judean Desert scrolls, pieces of parchment and papyrus, on which various texts were written, among them the Holy Scriptures, books of the Bible, legal contracts and historical stories. Over the years many of the plundered finds reached the antiquities markets in Israel and abroad, but it has been decades since perpetrators were caught red-handed. This is mainly due to the difficultly in detecting and catching them on the wild desert cliffs”.

Following the recovery of some unique artifacts that had been plundered by antiquities robbers in this region, the then director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, the late Shuka Dorfman, decided the Judean Desert would receive special treatment, enforcement would be increased and an attempt would be made to identify the caves in which the rare finds were being looted. The task was assigned to the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery which began operating in the Judean Desert both openly and covertly.

One of the main groups of robbers that operated in the Judean Desert in recent years has now been apprehended. The group was found in possession of unique archaeological relics that had been plundered from the cave. The Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery reported that in the coming weeks additional suspects will be investigated who are connected to the theft and destruction of the antiquities sites in the region.

The Israel Antiquities Authority invests a vast amount of resources and effort in order to safeguard and protect the heritage values of the State
HT Joseph Lauer, also lots of coverage by the media. Follow the link for photos of the cave and the comb.

Report on that UNESCO conference

ARUTZ SHEVA: UN Attempt to Save Jewish Sites from ISIS - Too Little Too Late? Urgent conference held to preserve ancient sites in Iraq and Syria - but how serious is UNESCO about protecting Jewish heritage sites? Lyn Julius saw little to be optimistic about. Excerpt:
In one important respect the conference might achieve results: museum chiefs declared they would treat with suspicion any artifacts offered to them from the Middle East, and would conduct "due diligence" checks as far as possible. But private collectors were less likely to be circumspect about the provenance of items. The international art market was a vessel too leaky to render watertight.

It is tempting to conclude that organisations like UNESCO, which were founded on the pillars of intergovernmental law, seem well past their sell-by date in a world where non-state actors ride roughshod over "kaffir" international treaties and conventions. Even before the era of Islamic state, neither Syria nor Iraq were signatories to the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the event of armed conflict.

The great and the good gathered on that foggy day in Paris were right: education was the answer. But it would take many generations to instil respect for the Other. Too late for the Jews of Iraq and Syria, at any rate.
Background here.

UPDATE: In an e-mail message Joseph Lauer notes the following:
The Comments section following the article contains the following exchange.

Richard McBee, who has written on Art for The Jewish Press, noted and asked, “The Dura Europos synagogue murals (235 CE), the earliest and most important example of Jewish narrative art, were proudly displayed at the National Museum of Damascus in the heart of Damascus, Syria, currently in the midst of a prolonged civil war. Does anyone know what is being done to safeguard this invaluable Jewish heritage or even if they are still extant?”

Lyn Julius, who wrote the Arutz Sheva article, responded, “I think the murals are safe. Dr Abdulkarim, the General director of Antiquities in Syria, who addressed the conference, said everything under his control was safe.”

We can only hope that is correct and that the murals will always be safe.
Let's hope so. Background on the situation at Dura Europos is here and links.

Bauckham on The Lost Gospel

MARK GOODACRE: Richard Bauckham, Assessing the Lost Gospel: All Seven Parts (The NT Blog). Background here and links.

UPDATE: Philip Jenkins reports his own, perhaps not entirely unrelated discovery over at The Anxious Bench: The Jesus Identity!

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Manichaean hymns

Berliner Turfantexte (BTT 31)
Miscellaneous Hymns
Middle Persian and Parthian Hymns in the Turfan Collection

D. Durkin-Meisterernst (ed.)
464 p., 12 b/w ill., 210 x 297 mm, 2014
ISBN: 978-2-503-54628-5
Languages: English
The publication is available.
Retail price: EUR 80,00 excl. tax

This edition presents a large collection of (unpublished) fragments of Middle Persian and Parthian Manichaean hymns, both in the original language and translated into English.
This is an edition of a large number of fragments of Middle Persian and Parthian Manichaean hymns in the Berlin Turfan Collection. M. Boyce in the register of her 1960 Catalogue of the Iranian Manuscripts in Manichaean script in the German Turfan Collection identified fragments of hymns 'to the Third Messenger' (group 44); 'Parthian hymns written in couplets, unclassified' (group 58) and 'Hymns, unclassified, including poems' (group 81). Though some of these fragments have been published in the meantime and others are very small, this yields more than 250 previously unpublished fragments, many of considerable size. The fragments are presented in diplomatic edition together with a transcription and translation into English. Since most of the hymns are abecedarian they are presented as far as possible in strophic form. An extensive introduction, notes, a complete glossary and facsimiles of joined fragments accompany the edition.
Will interest: Students of Manichaeism; of Central Asian history and cultures; of comparative religion; of Iranian languages and literatures.
Not of direct interest to ancient Judaism, but of tangential interest because Turfan is also the source of important fragments of the Book of Giants. See here and here and links.

A Mass in Old Church Slavonic

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS: How Often Do You Hear a Mass in Old Church Slavonic? (Susan Lewis, WRTI). Now's your chance.

For much more on Old Church Slavonic and its importance for Old Testament pseudepigrapha and ancient Judaism, see here and many links.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Retro-Talmudic burial?

A PROPOSAL TO REVIVE A VERY OLD CUSTOM: Rabbi Seeks to Bring Back Cave Burial. Head of Etzion Bloc Religious Council seeks to bring back Talmudic era custom of exhumation and use of ossuaries.
Israel is dealing with a shortage of cemetery space, and a new initiative in the Etzion Bloc suggests an original solution – exhuming the dead person's remains one year after his funeral and reburial inside an ossuary that is placed inside a burial cave.

This was the customary way for Jews in the Land of Israel to bury their dead during Talmudic times, some 1,500 years ago.

The idea is being floated by Rabbi Rafael Ostroff, Chairman of the Etzion Bloc Religious Council.

The custom actually goes back at least to the Second Temple period.

Bohak, A Fifteenth-Century Manuscript of Jewish Magic

A Fifteenth-Century Manuscript of Jewish Magic: MS New York Public Library, Heb. 190 (Formerly Sassoon 56), Introduction, Annotated Edition and Facsimile, by Gideon Bohak. (Sources and Studies in the Literature of Jewish Mysticism 44), in HEBREW: Volume 1 328 pages, Study and Edition, Black and White Printing; Volume 2, 272 pages. ISBN 1-933379-49-9. SOLD AS A TWO VOLUME SET. The Jewish magical tradition was transmitted from generation to generation both orally and via manuscripts, which are well attested at least from the tenth to the twentieth centuries. Many hundreds, and perhaps even thousands, of manuscripts of Jewish magic have survived, and are available in public and private collections all over the world. And yet, no attempt has ever been made to penetrate this world in a systematic manner, or to edit any single manuscript of Jewish magic in its entirety. Hence the importance of the present edition, of a fifteenth-century manuscript, copied somewhere in the Arabic-speaking world by a Jewish scribe, Moses son of Jacob and Marhaba, and containing both Kabbalistic texts and an endless stream of magical recipes for every imaginable purpose. The edition of the manuscript is annotated with copious footnotes, is preceded by a detailed introduction and followed by detailed indices, and is accompanied by a color facsimile of the entire manuscript.

Friday, December 05, 2014


NEW RESEARCH GROUP: The Dead Sea Scrolls (European Association of Biblical Studies). The group also has a call for papers for the EABS meeting in Cordoba, Spain, in July of 2015. Jeremy Penner, one of the organizers, has e-mailed to note that the application deadline is February, 2015, and that the meeting will be part of the city’s celebrations of the 700th anniversary of the synagogue.

Ancient Jew Review

The Ancient Jew Review is the one stop for all your Ancient Jewish needs. The site regularly produces original content pieces, reviews books, interviews scholars of note on past and future projects, discusses contemporary issues, and creates a community of engaged readers with digital and in person discussion and book groups. The site also curates news and social media discussions relevant to Ancient Judaism. Finally, we provide a space to collaborate and create resources for students and scholars of Ancient Judaism.
Looks like an interesting and very ambitious site and I wish them the best, although the "one stop for all your Ancient Jewish needs" is a bit cheeky. I trust you will still want to keep visiting PaleoJudaica.

The Red Tent

TELEVISION: Best-selling ‘Red Tent’ to be star-studded miniseries (Phyllis Braun Arizona Jewish Post).
Anita Diamant’s beloved international best-seller, “The Red Tent,” is coming to the screen as a Lifetime miniseries, premiering Dec. 7 and 8.

“The Red Tent” is the tale of Dinah, the daughter of Leah and Jacob, whose story was almost a footnote in the Bible — a brief and violent detour within the more familiar chapters of the book of Genesis.

Told in Dinah’s voice, “The Red Tent” brings to life the traditions and turmoils of ancient womanhood. It begins with the story of Dinah’s mothers — Leah, Rachel, Zilpah and Bilhah — the four wives of Jacob.


Spring 2015 broadcast of The Dovekeepers

TELEVISION: CBS Miniseries 'The Dovekeepers' to be Broadcast Tuesday March 31 and Wednesday April 1, 2015.
CBS today announced THE DOVEKEEPERS, a four-hour limited event series from executive producers Roma Downey and Mark Burnett, will be broadcast Tuesday, March 31 and Wednesday, April 1, 2015 (9:00-11:00 PM, ET/PT).

The project stars Cote de Pablo, Rachel Brosnahan and Kathryn Prescott in the title dovekeeper roles, Sam Neill as first-century Jewish scholar and historian Josephus, and Diego Boneta as a star warrior of the Jewish army at Masada. The series is based on Alice Hoffman’s bestselling, critically acclaimed historical novel about a group of extraordinary women whose lives intersect in a fight for survival at the siege of Masada.

Background here and links.

Enoch as the Son of Man

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS: Which "Son of Man": Christ, Enoch, or Other? A great deal of academic ink has been shed over a simple academic error ( Philip Jenkins calls out R. H. Charles for the latter's mistranslation (i.e., speculative and unhelpful emendation) of a key verse (1 Enoch 71:14) in the Similitudes of Enoch.

Crimea as Temple Mount?

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Putin Says Crimea Is Russia’s “Temple Mount.” That will generate some commentary.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Cyrus the tolerant?

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS: What would Cyrus do? Tolerant governments produce societal harmony by winning people’s hearts and minds. Cyrus recognized this 25 centuries ago. (Katrina Lantos Swett, Jerusalem Post). Excerpt:
In later centuries, some Greeks preferred the vision of a coercive monoculture to Cyrus’ vision of toleration. When the villain of Hanukka, Antiochus of Syria, tried to impose this on the Jews, the Maccabees defeated him. But the quest for a monoculture did not end. It continued in Europe and remains even in modern times through radical strains of secularism. It continues in the Middle East with violent religious extremists like IS.

Today, researchers are confirming the obvious: Tolerant governments produce societal harmony by winning people’s hearts and minds. Cyrus recognized this 25 centuries ago. The result was security and peace. IS and other brutal tyrants do not acknowledge this, and the result is insecurity and strife. Cyrus and his vision will endure. IS will not. It’s destined for the ash heap, the final home for tyranny of every kind.
As often when Cyrus comes up, there is some idealization and projection of modern values onto him in this piece. It is true that Cyrus adopted the policy of tolerance of the cultures of the peoples he subjugated - as long as they surrendered promptly and thereafter kept order and paid the exactions charged by the Persian overlords. But if they didn't, he would kill them. His colonialism had effective propaganda and seems to have been administered competently, and it certainly was an improvement on the policies of his Assyrian predecessors and indeed of ISIS today. But ultimately this is damning with faint praise. It was still colonialism and imperialism and its exemplary value in the present is very limited.

I have earlier similar comments here and links. And for much, much more on Cyrus the Great and the Cyrus Cylinder, see here and follow the many links.

"Maccabee on the Mantel"

HANUKKAH TOY: Maccabee on the Mantel, For Jewish Tyke Who Has Everything (Ed Rampell, The Forward).
Move over “Elf on the Shelf” — the “Maccabee on the Mantel” may be just the ticket for the Jewish child aged three to eight who has everything.

The 10-inch plush depicting a smiling, bearded, robe-, sandal- and helmet-clad ancient Maccabean warrior bearing a Star of David-emblazoned shield comes with an illustrated storybook that briefly explains Hanukkah’s origins and significance.


Wednesday, December 03, 2014

“I was shown another calculation.”

SETH SANDERS: Apocalyptic Science.
Strangely, the earliest known Jewish apocalypse is also the earliest known Jewish scientific work. The Aramaic fragments of the Astronomical Book of Enoch, composed in the 3rd century BCE or earlier and found at Qumran, represent the first appearance of astronomy and mathematics in Jewish literature. But this science comes in a vision. The angel Uriel takes the patriarch Enoch on a heavenly journey where he sees the clockwork of the universe: the gates through which the sun, winds and heavenly bodies regularly move.


The editors of this earliest collection of Enochic works drew on the image, and grammar, of Moses’ passively gained vision–with the passive of the causative of the standard Biblical Hebrew verb of seeing–to frame Enoch’s own passively gained visions with the passive of the causative of the standard Aramaic verb of seeing. If the language of knowledge in Aramaic Enoch is both a reference to the Priestly Tabernacle vision and a distinctive editorial device shared between the Astronomical Book and the Book of the Watchers, then the Aramaic evidence bears on an old question about the creation of early Enochic literature. It means that the creators of this early literature drew more subtly and deeply on the language and imagery of the Pentateuch than has previously been acknowledged.

I would not in the first instance assume that the phrasing in Aramaic 1 Enoch was based on the description of the revelation of the Priestly Tabernacle to Moses in the Pentateuch. Rather, I would guess that both arise from the tradition of ancient Near Eastern revelatory visions such as the Sumerian account of the dream revelation of the temple of Ningursu to King Gudea of Lagash. But I haven't seen Seth's full argument and he may well have good grounds for finding a specific connection with the Pentateuch.