Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Research Associate in Biblical Hebrew Philology

JOB AT THE UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE: Research Associate in Biblical Hebrew Philology.

Golb and the freedom to annoy

THE NEW YORK TIMES ON THE RAPHAEL GOLB CASE: Top Court Champions Freedom to Annoy (John Leland). Excerpt:
The decision on Tuesday was mixed for Mr. Golb, a real estate lawyer who has a Ph.D. in comparative literature from Harvard. The seven judges threw out 10 charges, leaving Mr. Golb with misdemeanor convictions on nine counts of criminal impersonation and 10 of identity theft. The case now goes back to State Supreme Court in Manhattan for resentencing. Without the felony conviction, Mr. Golb can now reapply for his law license.

In striking down the statute on aggravated harassment dealing with speech that was merely annoying or alarming, the judges unanimously ruled that the law was unconstitutionally vague and overbroad. They cited another court’s ruling that “any proscription of pure speech must be sharply limited to words which, by their utterance alone, inflict injury or tend naturally to evoke immediate violence.” Mere annoying speech, the lingua franca of many New Yorkers, was not enough.
This seems to address the concerns raised by UCLA Law Professor Eugene Volokh. Background on the case is at that post, here, and links.

"The Hebrew Bible: A Critical Edition" Project

THE TIMES OF ISRAEL: Controversy lurks as scholars suss out original Biblical text. International team tries to reverse engineer changes made to holy text over thousands of years, but may invite new problems (Anthony Weiss). Excerpt:
For the past 14 years, the team behind “The Hebrew Bible: A Critical Edition” has been laboring on a project to sift through the text and reverse the accumulated imperfections and changes, returning the books of the Hebrew Bible to something like their original versions. The first volume is due out later this year.

“It is a little chutzpadik,” acknowledged Ronald Hendel, HBCE’s general editor and a professor of Hebrew Bible at the University of California, Berkeley.

It’s also a messy, painstaking and controversial endeavor that has been criticized by some of the world’s leading biblical scholars. The critics argue that what Hendel and his team are attempting to do is misleading, counterproductive or flat-out impossible.

“I think it will actually end up causing more problems,” said Michael Segal, a senior lecturer in Bible at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The difficulties in the project stem from the Bible’s long history of transmission from scribe to scribe through the centuries. HBCE is trying to reverse engineer that process, to sift through the various extant texts of the Bible and — by analyzing grammatical glitches, stylistic hitches and contradictions of the texts — establish a reading closer to if not the original, then at least the archetype on which the subsequent copies were based.
A good, thoughtful article that clearly and concisely lays out the complexities involved in the textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible.

UPDATE: Bob Buller sends the link to an earlier, longer version of the article that gives more context and detail: Scholars seek Hebrew Bible’s original text — but was there one? (JTA).

Magdala in the news

THE SITE OF MAGDALA, redicovered a decade ago, is profiled by the NYT: A Resort in Galilee Rises Where Jesus May Have Taught (Isabel Kershner). Excerpts:
Soon it was clear that the site was not just near Magdala; this was Magdala. The dig went on to uncover an ancient marketplace and a separate area of rooms with adjacent water pools, presumably used for producing the salty cured fish that Magdala was famous for; a large villa or public building with mosaics, frescoes and three ritual baths; a fishermen’s neighborhood, scattered with ancient hooks and other equipment; and a section of a first-century harbor. The ancient synagogue was discovered at the precise spot where the architects had planned to erect an ecumenical chapel, to the right of the hotel entrance.

The discovery of the ruins meant that the building plans had to be changed to accommodate them, and the restaurant and hotel are still under construction. But the new spirituality center is completed, with a boat-shaped altar that blends with a view of the harbor and the Sea of Galilee. “Jesus used to preach to the crowds from Peter’s boat, so we tried to reproduce that idea here,” said Father Solana, who belongs to the Legionaries of Christ, an order founded in Mexico. “Our plans, with a higher providence, merged very, very strongly.”

The pope is not scheduled to visit Magdala during his three-day trip to the region, which will include stops in Jerusalem, Jordan and Bethlehem. Instead, the tabernacle from the boat altar will be taken to the Notre Dame Center in Jerusalem to receive his blessing. Afterward, on May 28, the site will be officially inaugurated as the Magdala archaeological park, and the adjacent spirituality center will be dedicated in the presence of Israeli government representatives and the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal.


The ancient synagogue had some unusual features, including an ornately engraved stone block that archaeologists say was probably used as a table for reading the Torah. It is carved with columns and arches, a seven-branched menorah with vessels for wine and oil to each side, a 12-leaf rosette and chariots of fire. The stone appears to be a miniature of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, which was destroyed in the year 70, adorned with symbols also meant to commemorate the First Temple.
Lots more on Magadala, its menorah engraving, and its mosaics is here and links.

Schrodinger's Cat and corpse impurity

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Which Is More Sacred: a Festival or Shabbat? A Mitzvah or Money?With great metaphysical creativity, Talmudic rabbis probe the exact limits of comparison and analogy. Excerpt:
To illustrate the concept, the Gemara turns to another, related area of law: the ritual impurity of corpses. “If there is a corpse in a house that has many entrances,” the law holds, “all the entrances are ritually impure.” This is because the corpse might pass through any of the entrances on its way out of the house, and so they are all considered potentially tamei. Once the corpse is actually taken out, however, the tumah only affects the actual entrance used, and the others go back to being ritually pure. Indeed, it’s enough simply to mentally designate one of the entrances as the one that will be used to transport the corpse, in order to remove impurity from all the others. (I’m reminded, as I have been before in the Talmud, of Schrodinger’s Cat: As in quantum mechanics, potentialities don’t turn into actualities until they are observed.)
I noted that column here and another column that takes up the same theme here. The analogy with quantum indeterminacy is very imperfect, but is entertaining. There's lots more going on in this week's column, so read it all.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Catalogues of Syriac and Coptic manuscripts

TWO NEW CATALOGUES OF MANUSCRIPTS have just been published. The first, from Peeters:
Catalogue of the Syriac Manuscripts and Fragments in the Library of Deir al-Surian, Wadi al-Natrun (Egypt)

Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta, 227

Authors: Brock S., Van Rompay L.

Year: 2014
ISBN: 978-90-429-2962-3
Pages: XXII-834 p.
Price: 105 EURO

Summary: Deir al-Surian, the famous Monastery of the Syrians in Egypt, has long been known for its unique collection of Syriac, Coptic, Arabic, and Ethiopic manuscripts. This catalogue provides detailed descriptions of 48 Syriac manuscripts (many of them composite) and the more than 180 fragments that are preserved in the Monastery today. Ranging in date from the 5th to the 18th century and with a majority of them being earlier than the 10th century, the manuscripts present us with major authors and works of the Syriac literary tradition. They include biblical texts (among them the earliest dated Gospel manuscript in any language), original Syriac compositions, and translations from Greek and (occasionally) Coptic. Several works were previously unattested. Connections with manuscripts from Deir al-Surian that are preserved in European collections (primarily the British Library) are indicated wherever relevant. Colophons and various kinds of notes by scribes, readers, owners, and occasional visitors also receive attention, thus allowing interesting glimpses into the history not only of individual manuscripts, but also of the Monastery and its library. Accompanying the catalogue is an album containing more than 300 pages of images.
Follow the link for TOC and ordering information. Past posts on the Monastery of Deir al-Surian and its library are here and links. And Liv Ingeborg Lied has recently located Syriac quotations of 2 Baruch and 4 Ezra through this catalogue.

The second, from Franz Steiner:
Alessandro Bausi (Hrsg.), Paola Buzi (Bearb.)

Coptic Manuscripts

Part 7: The Manuscripts of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin Preussischer Kulturbesitz. Part 4: Homilectic and Liturgical Manuscripts from the White Monastery. With two documents from Thebes and two Old-Nubian manuscripts

Band 21.7
Verzeichnis der Orientalischen Handschriften in Deutschland (VOHD)

274 p.
7 Tafeln, cloth bound
ISBN 978-3-515-10711-2
Again, for more information, follow the link. Past posts pertaining to the White Monastery are here, here, and here. And Alin Suciu comments on the catalogue in this post: Catalogue of the Coptic Manuscripts in the Collection of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin.

UPDATE: This discussion on the Hugoye list notes the recent book by Saadi Al-Malih, Books and Documents of Iraqi Minorities (Un ponte per, 2013), which may turn out to be of related interest regarding Syriac manuscripts.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Majority of Golb convictions upheld

ROBERT CARGILL: NY Court of Appeals Upholds 19 Convictions Against Raphael Golb in Dead Sea Scrolls Case.
The NY Court of Appeals has upheld 9 convictions of criminal impersonation and all 10 forgery convictions in the case of the People of NY v. Raphael Golb. The court vacated the top charge of identity theft (felony), 5 criminal impersonation convictions, all aggravated harassment convictions, as well as the conviction on the count of an unauthorized use of computer.

Background here, with many, many links.

Goodacre (et al.) on Casey

MARK GOODACRE: Maurice Casey (1942-2014). His own comments and reminiscences, with links to blog posts by others.

Background here.

Schäfer awarded Dr. Leopold Lucas Prize

CONGRATULATIONS TO PETER SCHÄFER: Der Judaist Peter Schäfer erhält den Dr. Leopold Lucas-Preis 2014. This year Professor Schäfer is the recipient of the well-deserved Dr. Leopold Lucas Prize, given annually by the Evangelical Theological Faculty of the University of Tübingen, with an award of 50,000 Euros. You can read the somewhat glitchy Google translation of the German press release here.

The publication of the Festschrift for Professor Schäfer in 2013 was also noted here.


HAARETZ: Word of the Day / Azazel: What the hell does it mean? Israelis use this word all the time but have no idea that it’s a name of an ancient desert goat-demon worshiped by their ancestors (Elon Gilad).
Israelis use the word a-za-ZEL all the time, but they don’t know what it really means.

It appears in phrases like “le'azazel eem zeh” which translates to “the hell with it” and “lekh le'azazel” which translates as to “go to hell” - but azazel doesn’t actually mean hell. There's also “sa'ir le'azazel,” which means scapegoat, but azazel doesn’t mean scape either. It is a very mysterious word indeed.

There is, of course, the goat offered to Azazel on the Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16, but there is much more. Just one comment:
We learn more about Azazel from the Book of Jubilees and the Book of Enoch, where it says :“And Azazel taught men to make swords and knives and shields and breastplates; and made known to them the metals [of the earth] and the art of working them; and bracelets and ornaments; and the use of antimony and the beautifying of the eyelids; and all kinds of costly stones and all colouring tinctures. And there arose much godlessness, and they committed fornication, and they were led astray and became corrupt in all their ways.” (8:1-3)
Maybe. The Ethiopic text reads Azazel, but the Aramaic fragments from the Dead Sea Scrolls and the ancient Greek translation (both of the Book of the Watchers, the first section of 1 Enoch in chapters 1-36) read Asael (עשאל), which is a different name that means "God has done." The latter is a perfectly good name for an angel. It looks as though the demonic name Azazel has been substituted in the Ethiopic for the angelic name Asael. That said, an Aramaic fragment of the Book of the Giants (4Q203 frag. 6, again, from the Dead Sea Scrolls) does refer to Azazel, apparently as one of the Watchers, so the name confusion seems to pre-date the Ethiopic translation. The second section of 1 Enoch, the Similitudes or Parables, has Azazel throughout, but we have nothing but the Ethiopic for this section and it is entirely possible that here too the original was Asael.

Monday, May 12, 2014

The bat qol

PHILOLOGOS ON THE BAT QOL (HEAVENLY VOICE): Is There an Echo in Here? And Other Questions About a Bat-Kol.
Can this [Greco-Roman] myth [of Echo and Narcissus] be the source of the rabbinic bat-kol? It certainly is possible; other Greek myths show up in rabbinic literature in concealed form, too. And because an echo has no clear source and seems to come now from nowhere in particular, bat-kol took on its second meaning of “a voice from the blue” — that is, a heavenly pronouncement. A bat-kol, for the early rabbis, was not the same as the voice of God that was heard by the biblical Prophets and did not have the weight of prophetic authority. Its status, indeed, was ambiguous, since the hearer of it could never be sure just where it emanated from or whose will it reflected. Heaven, in rabbinic thought, was also populated by angels sometimes acting on their own, and a bat-kol could come from them, too.
This reminds me a bit of the old joke about the man who fell off the side of a high cliff but managed to grab a bush a partway down. He called out, "Is anyone up there?" Then a voice from heaven thundered, "I am here. Let go of the bush and I will catch you." The man looked up at heaven, looked down at the ground far below, and then looked up again and called out, "Is anyone else up there?"

The bat qol (bat kol) figures in earlier PaleoJudaica posts here and here.

Review of van der Vliet and Hagen (ed.), Qasr Ibrim

J. van der Vliet, J. L. Hagen (eds.), Qasr Ibrim, Between Egypt and Africa: Studies in Cultural Exchange. (NINO symposium, Leiden, 11-12 December 2009). Egyptologische uitgaven, 26. Leiden; Leuven: Nederlands Instituut voor het Nabije Oosten; Peeters, 2013. Pp. vi, 191. ISBN 9789062582266. €42.40 (pb).

Reviewed by Stanley M. Burstein, California State University, Los Angeles (

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

Well-preserved settlement sites are often called another “Pompeii.” Though most don’t live up to the billing, Qasr Ibrim is one of the exceptions. Located roughly half way between the first and second cataracts of the Nile in the frontier zone between Egypt and Nubia, Qasr Ibrim was, during its long history from the early first millennium BCE to the nineteenth century CE, one of the principal urban and military centers of Lower Nubia. Moreover, not only did it survive the flooding of Lower Nubia by the Aswan High Dam, but the anaerobic conditions created by the hot and dry climate of the region have resulted in the exceptional preservation of organic materials of all kinds, from garbage to luxury textiles, leather goods, and papyrus and parchment documents. With publication of the extraordinarily rich finds from the Egyptian Exploration Society excavations at Qasr Ibrim still far from complete, books dealing with the site are of necessity essentially progress reports. That is certainly true of this excellent volume, which contains thirteen papers delivered at a conference held at Leiden in December, 2009 on the theme of cultural interaction between Egypt and the Mediterranean basin and the interior of Africa.

More on Qasr Ibrim, which is the site where Coptic fragments of 2 (Slavonic) Enoch were recovered, is here and here. And editor Joost Hagen has been mentioned recently here.

UPDATE: Stephen Goranson sends reference to an article that challenges the identification of the Qasr Ibrim Coptic fragments with 2 Enoch: "The Angel of Tartarus and the Supposed Coptic Fragments of 2 Enoch," Böttrich, Christfried, Early Christianity, Volume 4, Number 4, December 2013, pp. 509-521(13).

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Sartre-Fautriat and Sartre, Inscriptions grecques et latines de la Syrie

Inscriptions grecques et latines de la Syrie: Le plateau du Trachôn et ses bordures

Annie Sartre-Fautriat et Maurice Sartre

Bibliothèque archéologique et historique, BAH 204

Inscriptions grecques et latines de la Syrie, tome XV, fasc. 1 et 2

Beyrouth, Presses de l’Ifpo, 2014

ISBN 978-2-35159-395-0

28 x 22 cm, 730 p., 2 volumes (358 + 392 p.)

80 €

This new volume of IGLS contains all the greek and latin inscriptions of the Leja, the large basaltic triangular plateau situated south of Damascus and which was called Trachôn, the « Rough », by ancient sources. This name gives a perfect image of this wilderness and desolated country. The inscriptions illustrate the life during the ancient greek and roman periods in the villages built around or on the plateau, specially in the south part, more cultivated. These texts are essentially religious consecrations, dedications for emperors or governors, commemorations of private or public buildings, epitaphs, milestones of the roman road crossing the plateau from north to south. Most of them have been published by travellers and scholars since the beginning of the XIXth century, but a big lot of them have been found by the authors of this book during their explorations of the country.