Friday, July 18, 2014

Shanks on the GJW and the Jehoash inscription

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: First Person: Gold from the Temple? Hershel Shanks’s First Person in the July/August 2014 issue of BAR. Mr. Shanks notes Leo Depuydt's response to the Gospel of Jesus' Wife and then he (Shanks) comments on the authenticity of the Jehoash (Joash) Inscription, adding some additional information about the gold globules on it.

I have commented unfavorably on some of Depuydt's statements, but I'm not sure what the point was of quoting him in this essay. All he seems to be saying is that the papyrological evidence alone suffices to show that the text is a modern fake (albeit, using ancient materials). Given the recent advances in the discussion by Christian Askeland and Stephen Emmel,* that sounds about right to me. Although if Hershel is implying that the material tests ought to be applied nevertheless, I agree with him.

*I just discovered that my post of 23 June (linking to Alin Suciu's blog post about Stephen Emmel's new observations) apparently did not publish correctly. But it's there now, so go have a look at it. And further background on the GJW is here and links.

More on the new Huqoq mosaics

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: New Huqoq Mosaics. Huqoq synagogue in Israel reveals additional depictions of Samson in the Bible
New mosaics from the fifth-century C.E. Huqoq synagogue in Israel were found during the 2013 excavation season. Directed by Professor Jodi Magness of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Shua Kisilevitz of the Israel Antiquities Authority, the Huqoq Excavation Project uncovered another mosaic depicting a scene of Samson in the Bible, as well as a mosaic that might depict a scene from the Apocrypha. ...
Background here and links.

Tenure at YU

CONGRATULATIONS TO RICHARD HIDARY (and his seven colleagues), who just received tenure at Yeshiva University: YU Grants Tenure to Eight Faculty Members Yeshiva University grants tenure to eight faculty members in fields ranging from art history to mathematics and Judaic studies (Arutz Sheva).
Hidary received his PhD from New York University, where his studies culminated in a book titled Dispute for the Sake of Heaven: Legal Pluralism in the Talmud (Brown Judaic Studies, 2010). At Stern, he teaches courses in Bible, Second Temple Jewish history and the Dead Sea Scrolls, Talmud and Midrash, and Jewish ethics.

He is currently working on his second book, which will explore the Greco-Roman context of the Talmud and Midrash, with particular focus on the relationship between the art of persuasive speaking that dominated the educational system of the Roman empire and the rabbis’ roles as preachers and teachers.

Restoration of Deir Al-Surian painting

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS: Which Macarius? A painting of Saint Macarius has been uncovered at the Deir Al-Surian Monastery in Wadi Al-Natroun, reports Sherif Sonbol (Al-Ahram).
The Deir Al-Surian Monastery in Wadi Al-Natroun boasts some gems of holy architecture and design, with the Church of the Holy Virgin, the Gate of Prophecies and the uniquely detailed gypsum altar. It also contains the relics of Mary Magdalen, and the famous Monk in a White Robe. Yet the newly discovered painting of “Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in heaven with the souls of the blessed on their bosoms” — in its simple, comics-like style — is arguably the most striking object.

It was uncovered in 2000, and even then it could be seen that the art continued to the left, together with Syriac inscriptions. Last month restorers were finally completing work on removing the 18th-century plaster concealing The Three Fathers under the management of the Netherlands-Flemish Institute in Cairo Professor Karel Innemée.


A representation of Saint Macarius, as Innemée explained, the new painting was found in nearly perfect condition by a conservation mission led by the Polish archeologist Cristobal Calaforra. To its right there is a small figure of a monk standing on a grapevine, with the contour of a head suggesting a second monk behind him, possibly a reference to Saint Macarius of Alexandria, who is cited in Volume XXIX of the Historia Monachorum: he is said to have refused the gift of a bunch of grapes on falling ill out of humility.

The painting to the left, however, suggests it might be a representation of Macarius the Great. It is a large cherubim with a human face and three other heads around his own: of a lion, a bird and a bull, a reference to the vision of Ezekiel. The cherubim has six green eye-covered wings, two of which cover his body: a possible reference to the Apocalypse of Sain John. With one hand he holds the arm of Macarius, perhaps guiding him to a new place to live in the Desert of Sketis.

Left of the painting there are inscriptions in Syriac and Coptic. The Syriac text is well preserved and speaks of the death of Mar Maqari of Takri, Abbot of the monastery, in AD 888. It wishes that he will join Saint Macarius in heaven and rest in the lap of Abraham (a clear indication that the text is in reference to the painting to its right).

Noted not only because of the cool cherub (not "cherubim," which is plural) and the Syriac and Coptic inscriptions, but also because the Deir Al-Surian Monastery is well known (at least to PaleoJudaica readers) for its remarkable collection of manuscripts in many languages, a catalogue of which has recently been published. Background on the manuscripts, catalogue, and Monastery is here and links.

Dovekeepers miniseries

THE DOVEKEEPERS, Alice Hoffman's novel about the fall of Masada, is being made into a 4-hour miniseries by CBS. The media are all over this one, now that they've heard that the cast includes a hot witch: Casting announcement: Cote De Pablo to star in THE DOVEKEEPERS (
LOS ANGELES – Cote de Pablo will star in THE DOVEKEEPERS, a four-hour CBS miniseries event from executive producers Roma Downey and Mark Burnett, which will be broadcast in 2015. The project is based on Alice Hoffman's acclaimed historical novel about four extraordinary women whose lives intersect in a fight for survival at the siege of Masada.

De Pablo will play Shirah, one of the four women, who is a sensual, mysterious and fiercely independent single mother with uncanny insights and a quiet and mysterious power. She is derided by many as the 'Witch of Moab,' as she covertly practices forbidden ancient rites of magic and is keenly knowledgeable about herbal remedies. However, those in need don't hesitate to approach her for her help and generosity of spirit.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Elbadawi on the Qur'an and Aramaic

The Impact of Aramaic (especially Syriac) on the Qur'ān

Emran Elbadawi
Article first published online: 2 JUL 2014
DOI: 10.1111/rec3.12109
© 2014 John Wiley & Sons Ltd
Religion Compass
Volume 8, Issue 7, pages 220–228, July 2014


The impact of Aramaic (especially Syriac) on the Qur'ān has long been a matter of debate among scholars, especially among those of the western academe but also within circles of traditional Muslim scholarship. Central to this discussion is the language and audience of the Qur'ān. Studies on the Qur'ān's foreign vocabulary gradually gave way to more in depth analyses on the text's relationship to Syriac Christian literature as well as debates surrounding the Jewish-Christian dimensions, the text's audience. The textual theories employed in studying the Qur'ān's relationship to the Syriac language and Biblical canon contain the strongest debate concerning the impact of Aramaic (especially Syriac) on the Qur'ān. These textual theories have been given consideration in recent scholarship, which reads the Qur'ān in light of the Aramaic translations of the Gospels, as well as the Syriac translation of the Didascalia Apostolorum.
Requires a paid personal or institutional subscription for full access.

Prof. Elbadawi's book is noted here. For "Christoph Luxenberg," see here and here and links. And other relevant recent books are noted here and here.

Mazuz, Jews of Medina

The Religious and Spiritual Life of the Jews of Medina

Haggai Mazuz, Bar-Ilan University

In The Religious and Spiritual Life of the Jews of Medina Haggai Mazuz offers an account of the halakhic character of the Jewish community of Medina in the seventh century CE. Making use of a unique methodology of comparison between Islamic and Jewish sources, Mazuz convincingly argues that the Jews of Medina were Talmudic-Rabbinic Jews in almost every respect. Their sages believed in using homiletic interpretation of the Scriptures, as did the sages of the Talmud. On many halakhic issues, their observations were identical to those of the Talmudic sages. In addition, they held Rabbinic beliefs, sayings and motifs derived from the Midrashic literature.

More on Golb ruling

THE NEW YORK TIMES: Son of Dead Sea Scrolls Scholar Is Sentenced to Two Months in Jail (James C. McKinley Jr.). Excerpt:
The sentencing of Raphael Golb, the son of a prominent Dead Sea Scrolls scholar, came two months after the Court of Appeals struck down the state’s aggravated harassment law under which he had been charged, ruling that it was unconstitutionally vague and broad. The law made it illegal to communicate with someone “in a manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm.”

But State Supreme Court in Manhattan upheld Mr. Golb’s convictions on criminal impersonation and forgery counts, for which he received the sentence of two months in jail and three years’ probation.

Justice Laura A. Ward ordered Mr. Golb to surrender on July 22.

Mr. Golb’s lawyer, Ron Kuby, said he had filed a new appeal of the jury’s verdict in light of the Court of Appeals decision, and said, in hindsight, that the original trial judge had made critical mistakes in instructing the jury.

Outside court, Mr. Golb said he had been sentenced to jail for what he considered at the time to be satire. He called the trial unfair. “It’s dangerous,” he said. “It could happen to anyone.”
Background here and links.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Exodus movie

HERE COMES ANOTHER BIBLICAL EPIC: First Look at Ridley Scott’s ‘Exodus’ (Anthony Weiss, The Forward). You can watch the trailer there. It would be cool if the angel of death looked like the Alien.

Perhaps another mention of Scott's Prada ad narrating the Gnostic text Thunder, Perfect Mind is called for (commentary here and links).

Brock interview

MARGINALIA: Coffee Table Talk with Sebastian Brock. Sebastian Brock on his life and work and the field of Syriac Studies. Timothy Michael Law interviews Dr. Brock in a podcast.

Christians and fasts in the Talmud

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Why Early Jews Didn’t Care at All About Christians. In a struggle against the idea of history, Jewish life strives to change as little as possible, even when new religions take over. Excerpt:
In Western culture, we tend to see Christian history as absolute history, and we learn about Jewish history largely in terms of its interactions with Christianity—whether that means persecution in the Crusades, or emancipation at the time of the French Revolution, or the failure of European assimilation in the 20th century. One reason I find it so illuminating to read the Talmud is that it presents an autonomously Jewish understanding of the world, in which Jews act rather than react. Indeed, the Talmud might even be said to struggle against the whole idea of history. Seder Mo’ed seems to inhabit a timeless time of ritual repetition, during which Jewish life strives to change as little as possible, keeping itself ready for the arrival of redemption.

The reference to Christianity in Ta’anit 27b comes during a discussion of fasting, which is this tractate’s main subject. In earlier chapters, we have heard about the procedures for fasting in response to drought and other calamities. Yet there are also certain fast days that are fixtures on the Jewish calendar, and the last chapter of Ta’anit explains their rationale. Some of these fasts remain central to Jewish practice—the 9th of Av, and to a lesser extent the 17th of Tammuz, which falls today, in a rare coincidence of the Daf Yomi calendar with the Jewish calendar. But the Talmud begins by talking about a whole category of fasts that disappeared from post-Temple Judaism: the fast of the “non-priestly watches.”
Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Sanders on Balaam

SETH SANDERS: A Pagan “Prophet Like Moses”: Balaam and the Problem of Other People’s Revelation ( Conclusion:
A careful look at the biblical account of Balaam shows that the same is true of this material: it too has a past of its own that we may begin to recover with the help of source criticism, a careful look at diverse rabbinic tradition, and the Deir Alla inscription. More specifically, the Balaam’s legend points to the diversity, and thus the threat, of prophetic and divine sources of knowledge. Parashat Balak presents him as such a powerful source of external authority because he is not one of us, capable of giving us truths from outside. Other parts of the Tanach present him as a seducer and an object of hate, perhaps for the very same reason. He is a symbol of the Torah’s disturbing but purposefully multiple sources, which Sifrei and Gittin so memorably pull apart but which are woven together in the Torah itself. As someone else’s revealer enshrined in our own scripture, he helps reveal the Old Testament of the Old Testament.
Also, I like this evaluation of the Deir Alla text:
It is not that the text is Aramaic, Canaanite, or some mishmash of the two, but that it represents an older stream of language from which the two had not yet diverged. From the viewpoint of Northwest Semitic dialects, Balaam in fact does speak from a long time ago and a galaxy far, far away. What connects these disparate linguistic observations is the words’ otherworldliness: Balaam’s language is just strange enough to evoke another space and time while being basically comprehensible.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Review of Satlow, How the Bible Became Holy

MARGINALIA: Timothy Michael Law on How the Bible Became Holy. The Timely History of a Timeless Story. The review concludes:
Satlow’s reconstruction often outruns the evidence and gives in to the temptation to narrate ancient religious history through the lens of political conflicts among the elites. How the Bible Became Holy is nonetheless a book that raises vital questions about one of the most important books in history. Satlow covers a span of history from the ancient Near East to Late Antiquity, and even though the Bible is his central concern, his command of the broad outline of ancient history in this region impresses. He successfully forces us to think about how authority developed and was not intrinsic to the writings that now make up the Bible. To articulate the intricacies of the Bible’s history would overwhelm most historians. It is a complex story, but one that Satlow narrates with bold ingenuity and conviction.
Earlier reviews etc. are noted here and links.


AUTOMATION: 'Robot sofer' writes down Torah (Press Association).

"Rock-Giants in Noah"

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: Rock Giants in Noah: Can the Book of Enoch shed light on Noah the movie? The short answer, as regular PaleoJudaica readers already know well, is yes. The full BAR article by Ronald S. Hendel (summarized here) is available only to paid subscribers, but you can read about the relationship between Noah and 1 Enoch (etc.) here and links.

Reduced jail-time for Golb

THE RAPHAEL GOLB IDENTITY-THEFT CASE: After Appeal, Jail in NYC Dead Sea Scrolls Case (Jennifer Peltz, AP). He has been re-sentenced to a lesser jail term of two months (originally six months), although he can still appeal even this.

Background here and many links.

UPDATE: Lawrence Schiffman comments here.

Eighth Enoch Seminar

H-JUDAIC: CFP: Eighth Enoch Seminar: Apocalypticism and Mysticism (Milan, 21-26 June 2015). I will be there, giving a main paper.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Rosenfeld on the Israel Forgery Trial

AMNON ROSENFELD: The Antiquities Game - Behind the Trial of the Century (Bible and Interpretation)
The IAA rejected our conclusions out of hand and scolded the GSI for even allowing tests on unprovenanced antiquities. The major criticism was not against the scientific validity of our research, but that the very testing of unprovenanced items would encourage looting at many of Israel’s archaeological sites. We were accused of sensationalism, naivety, and branded as intruders into the domain of biblical scholars and archaeologists.
(As reported over the weekend by Jack Sasson and Joseph Lauer and noted at the link, tragically, Dr. Rosenfeld died in a car accident on the 10th of July. May his memory be for a blessing.)

This is a long article and I won't try to excerpt it. For my part, I remain unconvinced on philological grounds that the Jehoash (Joash) Inscription is genuine and I find persuasive the argument that the plentitude of unprovenanced biblical-era Hebrew inscriptions vs. the few in Aramaic, Ammonite, Moabite, etc., as well as in contrast to the paucity of inscriptions found in controlled excavations, is suspicious and points in the direction of a lot of those Hebrew inscriptions being forgeries.

More on the Jehoash Inscription and the Israel Forgery Trial here and links. Some years ago I linked to a summary article of the case made by Dr. Rosenfeld and his colleagues for the authenticity of the Jehoash Inscription, also at Bible and Interpretation. My thoughts on how to deal with unprovenanced inscriptions are collected here and here and links.

Also, I have said earlier that I have not yet encountered a peer-review publication defending the authenticity of the Jehoash inscription on philological grounds. That still stands, but I should flag the following article mentioned in Dr Rosenfeld's piece (and noted earlier here):
Cohen, C. ( 2007). “Biblical Hebrew Philology in the light of research on the new Yeho’ash Royal Building Inscription’ in: New Seals and Inscriptions: Hebrew, Idumean, and Cuneiform, Ed. by Meir Lubetski (Hebrew Bible Monographs, 8), Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, pp. 222-284 [I have corrected the page numbering, which is cited incorrectly in the article - JRD]
Cohen is agnostic about the authenticity of the inscription, but he does not think it can be demonstrated philologically to be a modern forgery.

Reviews of Satlow, How the Bible Became Holy

MICHAEL SATLOW'S HOW THE BIBLE BECAME HOLY (Yale University Press) has been reviewed twice recently.

By Sarah Ruden in the Wall Street Journal: Book Review: 'How the Bible Became Holy' by Michael L. Satlow. Jews cherished scripture as one of the few things that allowed them to endure and transcend alien hegemony. Excerpt:
The operative paradox that Mr. Satlow misses is that of popularity and adaptability. No words were more self-consciously and thunderously "holy" than the curses inscribed on pharaohs' tombs as warnings, but these must merely have entertained the robbers who sacked every funerary hoard they could find. What's at issue isn't a writer's intention that a text be holy, or any authority's treatment of it as holy, but the broad assent that the text can win for its holiness.
By Rathe Miller in Picking and choosing among sacred texts to make the Bible. Excerpt:
I would wager that the book's title is more a marketing ploy by Yale University Press than the author's choice - it is a misnomer. More accurate would be: How the Texts That Became the Bible Slowly Acquired Authority. Or perhaps: Canonicity Happens.
Earlier reviews etc. noted here, here, and here.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Miracle-working sages in the Talmud

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Why Even the Greatest Rabbis Can’t Be Trusted. Talmudic thinkers debate the ethics of winning God’s favor, and when a holy person can be too righteous.
In this week’s Daf Yomi reading, Chapter 3 of Tractate Ta’anit, the Talmud turned from the laws of fasting to give us a feast of aggadah. This chapter, I learned from the Koren Talmud, is known in early commentaries as the “Chapter of the Pious,” because it mostly consists of legends about the great sages and their ability to work miracles with God’s help. In telling these stories, however, the Talmud is also pursuing a serious ethical investigation: The rabbis are trying to determine exactly what qualities enable men to win God’s favor. Just as important, the Talmud insists that even the power of the pious is capable of being abused. The ability to coerce God can lead to hubris and vanity—the vices that lie in wait for people proud of their own sanctity.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.