Saturday, May 31, 2014

Robinson, The Nag Hammadi Story

The Nag Hammadi Story (2 vols.)
From the Discovery to the Publication

James M. Robinson

The Nag Hammadi Record [sic] is not a history of research in the usual sense of a Forschungsbericht, which would report on the massive amount of scholarship that has been devoted to the content of the Nag Hammadi Codices for more than a half-century. Rather it is a socio-historical narration of just what went on during the thirty-two years from their discovery late in 1945, via their initial trafficking, and then the attempts to monopolize them, until finally, through the intervention of UNESCO, the whole collection of thirteen Codices was published in facsimiles and in English translation, both completed late in 1977.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Reed on the Gospel of Barnabas

ANNETTER YOSHIKO REED: "Muslim Gospel" Revealing the "Christian Truth" Excites the Da Vinci Code Set. Jesus Christ on a Cross: Not.

This is an excellent and very detailed account of the very late, apocryphal, Islam-influenced Gospel of Barnabas. New interest in this gospel was stimulated a couple of years ago with a report that an ancient Syriac copy of it had been seized from smugglers in Turkey. In reality that manuscript turned out to be an early modern copy of a Syriac version of the canonical Gospel of Matthew, and perhaps even a modern forgery of that. Nevertheless, the story continues to surface here and there. The Gospel of Barnabas also was in the news back in 2008 as a source used for an Iranian movie about Jesus.

Professor Reed's article was published in Religion Dispatches, but I'm happy to see that Salon has reprinted it. It deserves wide dissemination.

The Mesha Stele

THE BIBLE PLACES BLOG: Artifact of the Month: Mesha Stela (Moabite Stone). Looking through the PaleoJudaica archive, I am surprised that the Moabite Stone inscription hasn't been received more attention here. But a couple of posts dealing with it are here and here. And here's a Bible History Daily post from October 2013 which I seem to have missed: The Importance of Bible Artifacts Found Outside the Trench: The Moabite Stone.

Cross-file under Northwest Semitic Epigraphy.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Pearce (ed.), The Image and Its Prohibition in Jewish Antiquity

The Image and Its Prohibition in Jewish Antiquity [Paperback]

Sarah Pearce (Editor)


ISBN: 9780957522800 | Published by: Journal of Jewish Studies | Series: Supplement Series | Volume: 2 | Year of Publication: 2013 | Language: English 288p, 50 illustrations


Against the commonly held opinion that ancient Judaism was an artless culture, this sumptuously illustrated book offers new ways of looking at art in Jewish antiquity. Leading experts, under the editorship of Sarah Pearce, skilfully explore different functions of images in relation to their prohibition by the Second of the Ten Commandments. The visual world of ancient Judaism often reflects a tense confrontation between Mediterranean, artful classical culture and the image-filled, yet law-inspired biblical literature. Readers will encounter a rich collection of objects and texts analysed in different contexts, from Solomon’s Temple to late antiquity. The imageless God of monotheistic Judaism combated the polytheistic cults of Israel’s neighbours with the use of symbols. Figurative, floral and geometrical embellishments of synagogues served as decoration and not for worship. Narrative biblical scenes in the Dura-Europos synagogue played an educational and political role in Jewish society on the outskirts of the Roman Empire. Antique Jewish art exercised a profound influence on medieval Islam and even on the modern Western visual world. This book is aimed at both the scholarly world and all readers interested in religion and art.
The was a book launch in Oxford for this book yesterday.

New SBL text resources

PETER M. HEAD: Launch of SBL Text-Critical Resources Web Page.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

What language(s) did Jesus speak?

ARAMAIC WATCH: Pope, Netanyahu spar over Jesus' native language.
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Pope Francis and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traded words on Monday over the language spoken by Jesus two millennia ago.

"Jesus was here, in this land. He spoke Hebrew," Netanyahu told Francis, at a public meeting in Jerusalem in which the Israeli leader cited a strong connection between Judaism and Christianity.

"Aramaic," the pope interjected.

"He spoke Aramaic, but he knew Hebrew," Netanyahu shot back.

They are probably both right. Jesus is quoted speaking Aramaic in the New Testament (and possibly Hebrew too). It is clear from the epigraphic evidence that Aramaic was the normal spoken language in first-century CE Galilee and the Dead Sea Scrolls attest to a literary use of Hebrew in Palestine in the first century. Whether a Galilean tradesman like Jesus spoke Hebrew is a more difficult question. My guess is that he probably did know it well enough to read the Hebrew Scriptures, but I can't prove it. There is very little first-century epigraphic evidence for the colloquial use of Hebrew in Palestine. The Bar Kokhba texts show that Hebrew was a spoken language in the early second century, but it is unclear whether this represents a long-term ongoing tradition of speech or a revival of Hebrew during the Bar Kokhba revolt. Ghil'ad Zuckermann says that the lower classes spoke Hebrew in Jesus' time, but there isn't any compelling evidence that this is so.

A few earlier posts on the languages Jesus spoke are here, here, and here.

UPDATE: R. Stephen Notley: Your Holiness, Bibi was right – Jesus spoke Hebrew! (The Times of Israel; HT Gerald Rosenberg). This requires some unpacking.
The inscriptional and literary evidence reflects a reality not unlike what we find with the Dead Sea Scrolls. Of the 700 non-biblical texts from the Qumran library, 120 are in Aramaic and 28 in Greek, while 550 scrolls were written in Hebrew.
No, unlike the ratios within the Dead Sea Scrolls (which belonged to highly literate people), the inscriptional (epigraphic) evidence for first-century Palestine gives us quite a bit of Aramaic but scarcely any Hebrew.
Jesus lived in a trilingual land in which Hebrew and Aramaic were widely in use. A relative latecomer, Greek was introduced in the 4th century B.C.E. with the arrival of Alexander the Great and his Hellenistic successors.

By the first century C.E. Aramaic served as the lingua franca of the Near East, and there is little question that Jesus knew and spoke Aramaic. Hebrew, on the other hand, was in more limited use as the language of discourse among the Jewish people.
The New Testament presents Jesus knowledgeable of both written and spoken Hebrew.

He is portrayed reading and teaching from the Bible, and there are clear indications in these accounts that he used the Hebrew Scriptures.
Jesus is shown to be knowledgeable about the Hebrew Bible, but it's hard to say for sure if he knew it directly or via Aramaic paraphrases. In the episode in Luke 4:16-30 he is portrayed as reading directly from a scroll of Isaiah, which would have been in Hebrew, but this story is told only by Luke and we don't know if it has anything to do with the historical Jesus. As I said, I suspect he could read the Hebrew Bible, but I can't prove it.
In this he was not alone. We have not a single example of a Jewish teacher of the first century in the land of Israel teaching from any other version of the scriptures than Hebrew.
We don't have anything remotely resembling a comprehensive knowledge of Palestinian Jewish teachers in the first century, so this doesn't prove much of anything. Both Paul and Josephus were Palestinian Jews and they knew and used the Greek Bible as a matter of course, albeit when living outside Palestine. And there is an Aramaic targum of the biblical book of Job among the Dead Sea Scrolls, so it's not hard to imagine people teaching from it.
In addition, Jesus is often described speaking in parables. These were delivered orally in popular, non-scholarly settings. They were also in Hebrew. Outside of the Gospels, story-parables of the type associated with Jesus are to be found only in rabbinic literature, and without exception they are all in Hebrew. We have not a single parable in Aramaic, so it seems that according to Jewish custom one did not tell parables in Aramaic. To suggest that Jesus told his parables in Aramaic is to ignore overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
The rabbinic parables were written down in the third century CE or later and one must make a careful stratigraphic argument to locate any Tannaitic rabbinic tradition in the first century. Some of them may well go back to the first century, but again, those are hardly a comprehensive collection. Given the paucity of our evidence, these arguments from silence that such and such is not attested in first-century Palestine do not have much force.

I think Jesus probably did know Hebrew, but let's not draw more confident conclusions than our evidence warrants.

UPDATE (4 June): More here.

That catalogue of Syriac manuscripts again

LIV INGEBORG LIED: The Epistle of Baruch, Josephus' Jewish War 6, the Book of Thecla and Psalm 151: some observations on Brock/van Rompay's catalogue of Syriac manuscripts in the Dayr al-Suryan. More on this manuscript catalogue and on the Monastery at Deir al-Surian is here and links.

If memory serves, that Syriac copy of Josephus' Jewish War, book 6, in Codex Ambrosianus B.21 is rather unhelpfully titled 5 Maccabees. (My list of books of the Maccabees is now up to 8 Maccabees and counting.) And there is apparently another book of 5 Maccabees preserved in Garshuni and Arabic which has overlapping content with that 5 Maccabees as well as an unclear relationship to the medieval compendium Josippon. I don't blame that scribe of Ms. Deir al-Surian, Syr 9 for being confused about the identities of those books of the Maccabees.

The Talmud on the Days of Awe and repentance

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Can God Be Tricked Into Forgiving Unethical Behavior? Talmudic rabbis set out to debate the religious calendar, and wind up talking about religious sincerity. Excerpt:
The Gemara’s discussion of the first mishna in Tractate Rosh Hashanah extends all the way through page 15—an unusually long stretch of commentary. It is with the second mishna, on Rosh Hashanah 16a, that the rabbis turn their attention to the holiday’s spiritual significance. On Rosh Hashanha, we say every year, God inscribes us in the Book of Judgment, and on Yom Kippur he seals the judgment. During those 10 intervening days, Jews are supposed to pray urgently for God to judge them mercifully and not to write them down for a death sentence. That is why this period is known as the Days of Awe.

You don’t have to think about this system for very long, however, before some serious problems present themselves. ...
Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Congratulations to John Huehnergard

THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO: University to bestow seven honorary degrees at 519th Convocation.
John Huehnergard, a widely admired scholar of Semitic languages and linguistics, historical linguistics, writing systems and ancient Near Eastern history, will receive a Doctor of Humane Letters.

Huehnergard is professor of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, and professor emeritus of Semitic philology at Harvard University. He received his PhD from Harvard University in 1979.

He is the author of several books and many articles on the history and grammar of the Semitic languages, his main area of research. He concentrates on ancient Semitic languages, especially Akkadian—the cuneiform language of ancient Mesopotamia—Aramaic and Hebrew. He is also interested in theoretical aspects of comparative and historical linguistics, and in the history of writing and literacy.

Among current research projects are a revision of the standard lexicon of biblical Hebrew, with his wife and colleague Jo Ann Hackett, and a book on comparative Semitic grammar.

Huehnergard teaches graduate courses on Semitic linguistics and various Semitic languages, and undergraduate courses on the world’s writing systems and on lost languages and decipherment.

His work was the topic of a 2012 Festschrift, Language and Nature, co-edited by Rebecca Hasselbach, associate professor in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, and Na’ama Pat-El of the University of Texas at Austin.

Huehnergard was nominated by Dennis Pardee, professor in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. Christopher Woods, associate professor in the Oriental Institute and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, and the College, will present Huehnergard at Convocation.
When I was a doctoral student at Harvard in the 1980s I studied Comparative Semitics and the Historical Grammar of Hebrew under Professor Huehnergard. Past posts mentioning him are here, here, here, and here.

Congratulations, John, for a very well deserved honor!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Workshop on Kingship in Ancient Iran

Kingship in Ancient Iran
A project of the Institute of Iranian Studies, School of History


An interdisciplinary workshop
12–13 June 2014, University of St Andrews

This interdisciplinary workshop seeks to investigate and re-examine intersections between religious ideology and sovereignty in pre-Islamic Iran. Its ultimate aim will be to offer invited experts from a wide range of disciplines a venue to exchange perspectives, exploring how recent developments in Iranian Studies and neighbouring disciplines may reshape our understanding of ancient Iranian forms of sovereignty. Although the Sasanian kings’ attempts to define themselves as the heirs of the Achaemenid dynasty and the rivalries with the Roman Empire offer a rich backdrop against which the idea of kingship and religious authority can be examined, our discussions will extend beyond this era and will be organized thematically to examine the cultural memory of ancient Iranian kingship in the Islamic era; political as well as art historical perspectives; court culture; shifts of gravity between sovereignty and religious authority; the interactions of religious minority communities with the image of the Sasanian kings and finally the reflections of imperial aspirations in the Middle Persian tradition, including exegetical literature.

The keynote lecture will be delivered by Prof. Shaked.
I plan to attend this and am looking forward to meeting Shaul Shaked and Shai Secunda (the latter known to PaleoJudaica readers from the Talmud Blog) in person there.

Bardakjian and La Porta (eds.), The Armenian Apocalyptic Tradition

The Armenian Apocalyptic Tradition
A Comparative Perspective

Edited by Kevork B. Bardakjian, University of Michigan and Sergio La Porta, California State University

The Armenian Apocalyptic Tradition: A Comparative Perspective comprises a collection of essays on apocalyptic literature in the Armenian tradition. This collection is unprecedented in its subject and scope and employs a comparative approach that situates the Armenian apocalyptic tradition within a broader context. The topics in this volume include the role of apocalyptic literature and apocalypticism in the conversion of the Armenians to Christianity, apocalyptic ideology and holy war, the significance of the Book of Daniel in Armenian thought, the reception of the Apocalypse of Ps.-Methodius in Armenian, the role of apocalyptic literature in political ideologies, and the expression of apocalypticism in the visual arts.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Oslo conference on ms annotations

LIV INGEBORG LIED: Bible as Notepad. Conference in Oslo. It takes place in December. I will be there and am slated to present a paper on a manuscript of the Hekhalot Rabbati. Follow the link for the conference program and registration information.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Paper on the "evil inclination"

THE TALMUD BLOG: The “Evil Inclination” in Narsi, the Bavli, and its Meaning – A Working Paper. HT Gerald Rosenberg.

Some Marginalia reviews

Jodi Magness on Joan E. Taylor’s The Essenes, the Scrolls, and the Dead Sea

"In this monograph, Joan Taylor makes a strong case in support of the “Essene hypothesis,” identifying the inhabitants of Qumran as Essenes who deposited the Dead Sea Scrolls in the nearby caves. Taylor devotes the first half of the book to a close reading of ancient authors on the Essenes (not just Philo Judaeus, Flavius Josephus, and Pliny the Elder, but others such as Dio Chrysostom). In the second half of the book, she discusses Qumran and the Dead Sea region, and the Dead Sea Scrolls."

Magness is less enthusiastic about the second half of the book. Past PaleoJudaica posts on the archaeology of Qumran are collected here, and posts relating to the Qumran "community" (whatever that may mean) are collected here.

Eva Mroczek on David A. deSilva’s The Jewish Teachers of Jesus, James, and Jude: What Earliest Christianity Learned from the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha

"The fields of Early Judaism and Christian Origins have progressed beyond arguments about the influence of Judaism upon Jesus or Christianity. The task now is more richly to describe early Judaism as a diverse world that includes Jews of many stripes, including followers of Jesus. DeSilva’s textual analyses point in this very direction. But his analytical categories and methodological starting points undermine what is no doubt a well-meaning attempt to speak to a theologically-motivated audience about something they are only now beginning to be able to hear."

Helen Bond on Chris Keith and Anthony Le Donne’s Jesus Criteria and the Demise of Authenticity

"How, then, are we to go about reconstructing the historical Jesus without the traditional criteria? This will undoubtedly be the challenge for the next few decades."

More from Helen Bond on the historical Jesus here.