Thursday, June 22, 2017

Exhibition of Roman emperor's coins at Israel Museum

NUMISMATICS: Coins of the Realm: Heads (And Tails) of the Roman Empire on Display at Israel Museum. Roman emperors shown as they really looked – while their slogans could be taken from today’s headlines (Nir Hasson, Haaretz).
This coin [of the idiosyncratic Emperor Elagabalus] now be viewed in a new exhibit at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, starting on Thursday. ”Faces of Power: Coins from the Victor Adda Collection” displays 75 gold coins of Roman emperors and their wives never shown to the public before. The collection of gold coins was donated to the Israel Museum by Johanna Adda Cohen, an 89-year-old resident of Rome. Her father, Victor Adda, was a Jewish businessman originally from Egypt and he collected the coins in the first half of the 20th century. When the family moved to Italy from Egypt, they smuggled the coins out in the pockets of relatives and friends.

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T. Asher: Don't be evil.

READING ACTS: Testament of Asher. This Testament is particularly interested in the "two ways" ethical framework.

Earlier posts in Phil Long's blog series on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha are noted here and links. He has been posting recently on the Greek Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs. Asher is number ten. Cross-file under Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Watch.

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Burrus on Jewish sarcophagi

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Dissertation Spotlight | Sean P. Burrus.
Sean P. Burrus, Remembering the Righteous: Sarcophagus Sculpture and Jewish Identities in the Roman World (Duke University, 2017).

... In Remembering the Righteous: Sarcophagus Sculpture and Jewish Identities in the Roman World, I examined two groups of sarcophagi from the Jewish communities of Beth She'arim and Rome and explored how the different provincial and cosmopolitan contexts of each influenced the choices and tastes of Jewish patrons. ...

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Looking at potsherds in archaeological digs

The recent discovery of a previously invisible inscription on the back of an ancient pottery shard, that was on display at Jerusalem’s Israel Museum for over 50 years, has prompted Tel Aviv University researchers to consider what other hidden inscriptions may have been discarded during archaeological digs, before the availability of high-tech imaging.
This as a result of the story about the newly-recovered text on Arad Ostracon 16 which I noted here and here. Here's what they're thinking of doing about it:
As a result of the new discovery, researchers will approach how they handle pottery shards found during archaeological digs differently.

“Maybe they should just image everything,” [Tel Aviv University applied mathematician Arie] Shaus said. “Using low-cost equipment like the camera used in this discovery would allow each excavation to buy or construct one… or at least create a filtering system whereby only samples of pottery, which could have been used for writing, are saved and scanned. Maybe we have lost more inscriptions than we have found, but didn’t figure it out until now. It’s tragic, but we are also optimistic, because now we have the technology to do this.”
Bring it on!

A more primitive method for identifying inscribed ostraca is to dip each one in water. That is supposed to sometimes makes otherwise unnoticeable writing stand out. When I worked at excavations in Israel in the 1980s as a lowly staff member, I dipped approximately a zillion potsherds. I never found any writing. This new technology sounds more promising.

Cross-file under Technology Watch.

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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Graduation 2017


This week is full of graduation ceremonies at the University of St Andrews. Many PhD students in the School of Divinity graduated. Well done!

So did many undergraduates. Among them are a number of Semitic philologists whom I have taught over the last several years. Here are some of them with me at the Divinity garden party yesterday.

Congratulations to (L to R) Sarah, Allison, Shelby, and Barbora. They are heading off now to do various things, but some will continue with Semitics. In the autumn Sarah begins a Master's degree in Biblical Studies at Kings College London and Barbora begins a PhD in Comparative Semitics at the University of Chicago. It has been great to work with all of them and I wish them the best in their future endeavors.

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Bible Cat revisited

REMNANT OF GIANTS: Biblical Cats Again. With reference to my post On cat domestication yesterday, Deane Galbraith reminds us that he once argued that the lilith-creature in Isaian 34:14 could be a cat. I see that I noted that post back in December of 2015. I usually check my own archive for related posts, but I guess I forgot this time.

Deane doesn't refer to any secondary literature, so I assume this is his otherwise unpublished idea. But he makes a plausible circumstantial case that lilit (לילית) in Isaiah could refer to some type of cat.

That said, it is a creature that dwells in ruins, which would apply more naturally to a wild cat then a domesticated cat — especially in antiquity when there was no archaeological tourism. Okay, I cannot rule out that Lilith in Isaiah was a cat. But I need more evidence before I'm willing to backtrack on my statement yesterday that the Hebrew Bible never mentions domesticated cats.

Past PaleoJudaica posts on Lilith are here and many links.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Inheritance, terumah, and the transgendered in the Talmud

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: How a Cucumber Decides Whether a Son Inherits Over a Donkey. With surprising analogous thinking, ancient Talmudic sages tackled very modern questions—by accident or foresight, depending on how liberal your views—of transgender rights, the rights of unborn fetuses, women’s rights, and wealth distribution.
This week, in chapter nine of Tractate Bava Batra, we saw an example of how the laws of teruma ["heave offering"] can serve the rabbis to elucidate a very different area of halachah. Chapter Nine continues the discussion of the laws of inheritance, addressing the status of bequests promised to a child born posthumously. The Mishna in Bava Batra 140b imagines a situation in which a dying man who is an expectant father bequeaths money to his unborn child, saying, “If my wife gives birth to a male, the offspring shall receive a gift of 100 dinars,” or “If my wife gives birth to a female the offspring shall receive 200 dinars.” The law is that these are binding bequests, and once the children are born they receive the designated amount from the estate.

This is clear enough, but the rabbis identify two possible ambiguities. What if the wife gives birth to twins, a boy and a girl? In this case, both children are given the promised sum, 100 dinars for the boy and 200 for the girl. And what if the child is born neither male nor female? What if it is a tumtum, the legal term for a person whose sex organs are concealed and is thus of indeterminate gender?
He does come back to the terumah part and it does involve cucumbers.

There's more on the tumtum here.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

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T. Gad

READING ACTS: Testament of Gad.

I have noted previous posts in Phil Long's blog series on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha here and links. The series has recently focused on the Greek Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs. Cross-file under Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Watch.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

On cat domestication

ARCHAEOLOGY MAGAZINE: DNA Study Reveals Tale of Cat Domestication.
Most house cats alive today descend from cats that can be traced back to Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt.
I think it is interesting that Israel is on the list. Here's a fun fact for you. Although the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament do mention dogs from time to time, generally disparagingly, they never once mention domestic cats. Sure, there are references to lions and other big cats, but not domesticated ones. The word "cat" never even appears.

Cats are mentioned in the Old Testament Apocrypha in the Letter of Jeremiah 22.

Offhand, I can't think of any references to domesticated cats in any Old Testament Pseudepigrapha or New Testament Apocrypha. But I don't have comprehensive concordances for these and there may be references that I don't remember. If you find any, drop me a note.

UPDATE (21 June): A cat in Isaiah? Maybe.

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The Forging Antiquity Project

EVANGELICAL TEXTUAL CRITICISM BLOG: Forging Antiquity Website and Blog (Tommy Wasserman). With information on the Macquarie University/Heidelberg University project. I have already noted the Markers of Authenticity Blog back at the end of 2016.

Also, the post has full details about some SBL sessions in November which deal with the problems of forgeries and unprovenanced artifacts.

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T. Naphtali

READING ACTS: Testament of Naphtali (Phil Long). As I have mentioned before, there is a medieval Hebrew version of the Greek Testament of Naphtali which perhaps shares a Jewish Second-Temple-era source with the Greek text.

In the second volume of Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: More Noncanonical Scriptures (MOTP2) we hope to gather all the ancient and medieval Hebrew material that is possibly related to the Greek Testament of Naphtali.

Earlier posts in Phil Long's blog series on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha are noted here and links. His recent posts have been on the Greek Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs. Cross-file under Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Watch.

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Melville's Gnostic apocryphon?

THE ANXIOUS BENCH: Alternative Scriptures: Melville’s “Lost Gnostic Poem.” (Philip Jenkins). Melville's poem wasn't lost. He gave it that title.

Were the Albigenses descended from the ancient Gnostics? Who knows? Some people thought so and Melville hints at the idea in his poem.

Earlier posts in Professor Jenkins's series on "alternative scriptures" are noted here and links.

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Monday, June 19, 2017

"Persepolis Administrative Archives"

BIBLIOGRAPHICA IRANICA: Persepolis Administrative Archives. Notice of a new article in the Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2017. Looks like a useful overview and bibliography.

For past posts on the Persepolis Fortification Archive and its its complex and contentious political history start here and here and follow the links. It is not directly relevant to ancient Judaism, but it provides us with background information on scribal practice and Aramaic in Iran in the Persian Period.

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News on Rabbi Steinsaltz's recovery

UPDATE: RABBI STEINSALTZ LAUNCHES NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF TORAH (Jeremy Sharon, Jerusalem Post). The new translation of the Torah is noteworthy, but so is this:
Steinsaltz himself did not travel to the event since he is still recovering from a severe stroke he suffered in December 2016, although he has partially returned to work of late, and has begun authoring new articles.

The rabbi is perhaps best known for his monumental translation and elucidation of the Talmud, but has also authored more than 60 books on Jewish thought, life and mysticism and is an Israel Prize laureate.
Continued good wishes for his recovery.

For background on Rabbi Steinsaltz and his work, especially his Hebrew and English translations of the Talmud, aee here and links.

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Translation of the Dialogue of Simon and Theophilus

ALIN SUCIU: Guest Post: Anthony Alcock – Disputation between Simon a Jew and Theophilus a Christian. A translation of the Latin text with a very brief introduction. Roger Pearse notes the post and gives additional background information.

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Chiesa, Filologia storica della Bibbia ebraica

EVANGELICAL TEXTUAL CRITICISM BLOG: Chiesa’s Historical Philology of the Hebrew Bible (Peter Gurry). It's good to know about these things. I hope there will be an English translation someday.

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Sunday, June 18, 2017

Review of Coşkun and McAuley (eds.), Seleukid Royal Women

BRYN MAYR CLASSICAL REVIEW: Altay Coşkun, Alex McAuley (ed.), Seleukid Royal Women: Creation, Representation and Distortion of Hellenistic Queenship in the Seleukid Empire. Historia Einzelschriften, 240. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2016. Pp. 322. ISBN 9783515112956. €62.00. Reviewed by Branko F. van Oppen de Ruiter, Allard Pierson Museum, University of Amsterdam (
This collection brings together a selection of papers on Seleucid queenship delivered at the fourth “Seleucid Study Day” workshop held at McGill University, Montreal, on February 20-23, 2013. Apart from a preface, prologue and introduction, the volume’s twelve chapters are divided into three parts: (1.) the first generation of queens, i.e., Apame and Stratonice I; (2.) the representation of royal women, i.e., Laodice I, Cleopatra Tryphaena, and female portraiture; and (3.) queenship on the periphery of the empire. In all, sixteen authors (eight of whom are from Canada) have contributed to the publication, which additionally comes with a substantial bibliography (31 pp.), three indices (13 pp.) and four genealogies.
The Book of Daniel has a lot of interest in the Diadochoi (the generals that succeeded Alexander the Great) and their royal lines. Two of the women who feature in the book under review, Laodice I and Berenice II, were involved in the events of Daniel 11:6-9. Like the other people in that chapter, they are not named.

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Menē Inc. weighed in the balance?

ARAMAIC WATCH: (Digital Journal).
TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwired - June 15, 2017) - Goldmoney Inc. (TSX:XAU) ("Goldmoney"), a precious metal financial service and technology company, today announced its investment in Menē Inc. ("Menē"), a newly formed direct-to-consumer fine jewelry venture. Menē will manufacture and retail timeless 24 karat gold jewelry online through an innovative first-to-market user experience and transparent pricing model.

Naturally the Aramaic word caught my eye. The press release goes on to explain the name:
Menē - The Name

Menē ("meh-ney") is an ancient Aramaic word with a deep meaning that links jewelry, gold, money, and savings. A "Menē", reflecting 567 grams of pure gold, is the first written word for "money" as codified in the Code of Hammurabi approximately 4,000 years ago. For much of written history, humans exchanged value by pricing goods and services in units of "menē", which provided a predefined measurement of gold. Those units were often ultimately settled as pure 24 karat jewelry that could be readily exchanged. This ancient tradition, though often misunderstood by economists, is alive and well in the East where pure gold jewelry powers a savings economy in which jewelry is bought, sold, exchanged, and borrowed against as an asset that maintains its purchasing power.
Yes it is an old word for a unit of weight and the information about the Code of Hammurapi is interesting. But to modern people the word is best know from the biblical phrase "Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin" in the story of the writing on the wall in Daniel 5. It was the text of the writing and its (somewhat esoteric) interpretation was "You have been weighed in the balance and found wanting." The "you" was the kingdom of Babylon, which fell to the Persians that night. (See here especially, but also here and here.)

Now Menē Inc. sounds like a nice company and I wish them well. But I wonder if they fully thought through the implications of their name. Given what even minimally biblically literate people will hear in their heads when they encounter it, it is not what I would have chosen for my brand.

But that's just me. I hope I'm wrong and that Menē is successful.

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DeConick on Czachesz, Cognitive Science and the New Testament

THE FORBIDDEN GOSPELS BLOG: Book Note: Cognitive Science and the New Testament (István Czachesz). April DeConick reviews an important new textbook. The application of cognitive psychology to the study of the ancient past is a relatively new approach. It has contributed much to our understanding already and it shows great promise.

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Phoenician textual criticism

PHOENICIAN WATCH (SORT OF): Phoenix: A New Hotbed of Textual Criticism (Peter Gurry, Evangelical Textual Criticism Blog). And that is a good thing. Congratulations to Peter and his colleagues at Phoenix Seminary.

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Omarkhali, The Yezidi Religious Textual Tradition

BIBLIOGRAPHIA IRANICA: Yezidi Religious Textual Tradition. Notice of a new book: Omarkhali, Khanna. 2017. The Yezidi Religious Textual Tradition: From Oral to Written. Categories, Transmission, Scripturalisation and Canonisation of the Yezidi Oral Religious Texts with Samples of Oral and Written Religious Texts and with Audio and Video Samples on CD-ROM. (Studies in Oriental Religions 72). Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag.

Cross-file under Yazidi Watch. Earlier work on the Yazidis by Khanna Omarkhali has been noted here. For past PaleoJudaica posts on the Yazidis, their Gnosticism-themed religion, and their tragic fate in the hands of ISIS, start here and follow the many links.

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Saturday, June 17, 2017

Review of Cynthia Baker, "Jew"

JEWISH PHILOSOPHY PLACE BLOG: (Deleuze & Guattari) Jews + Jews + Jews (Cynthia Baker) (Zachary Braiterman). Jews, Judeans, and rhizomes. This approach has some similarities to Jonathan Z. Smith's "polythetic" approach as applied to Judaism, which I have discussed here.

HT AJR Twitter.

Past posts on Cynthia Baker's recent book, Jew, are here and links.

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Additional NT Apocrypha bibliography

AWOL BLOG: Additions to e-Clavis: Christian Apocrypha, June 2017 . There are four new entries and another has been expanded. Cross-file under New Testament Apocrypha Watch.

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A new biography of Gershom Scholem

Dr. Amir Engel, a lecturer in German language and literature at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the author of the newly published Gershom Scholem: An Intellectual Biography, analyzes the unique legacy of a leading scholar of Jewish mysticism and one of Israel’s first public intellectuals.
I have noted two other recent books on Scholem here and here and links.

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Visiting the ancient library of Pergamum

THE HOLY LAND PHOTOS' BLOG: Pergamum (Turkey) Library.

Spoiler: the books are all gone.

Nevertheless, most ancient libraries have disappeared without a trance, so it is very worthwhile to have a look at one whose architecture has partially survived. Carl Rasmussen takes us on a tour.

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More Enoch from Takeyasu Sawaki

GAMING NEWS: PS4/PS Vita Exclusive The Lost Child Gets 1080p Screenshots Showing the Return of El Shaddai’s Enoch. The Lost Child pays homage to its predecessor El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron with the return of Enoch and the Nephilim (Giuseppe Nelva, Dual Shockers). This new game is by Takeyasu Sawaki, who produced El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron some years ago. (Background is here and links). The Lost Child includes early purchase bonuses involving the the Enoch of the previous game and the Nephilim. Again, the author makes creative use of the mythology of Enoch, the watchers, and the giants.

Cross-file under Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Watch.

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Friday, June 16, 2017

More on Arad 16

UPDATE: 'If there is any wine, send': Soldier's urgent request dating back to 600BC is found inscribed in Hebrew on the back of a pottery shard (Shivali Best, Daily Mail). This Mail article mostly covers the same ground as the many media treatments from yesterday. But I link to it because it includes photographs, more information on the details of the decipherment of the new inscription on the back of Arad 16, and more on the suggested improved readings for the text on the front side.

It gives a translation of the new text on the back:
The English translation of the inscription on the back of the shard says:
'If there is any wine, send {1/2 1/4?}. If there is anything (else) you need, send (=write to me about it). And if there is still <>, gi[ve] them (an amount of) Xar out of it. And Ge'alyahu has taken a bat of sparkling (?) wine.'
I don't have time to go over that text, so I have no comment at present. The article does provide a photo and a drawing of it.

As for the proposed improvements on the front, some of the new readings are rather different from what I saw when I prepared the Arad inscriptions for my epigraphy general exam many years ago. But my transcription then was based on the lesser-quality photo available at the time. Again, I don't have time to go over this in detail now. I note that the Mail\s translation leaves out the name "Hananiah" after "your friend" in line 1. I think this is a transcription error. The name is clearly visible on both the photo and the drawing.

Yes, there is a photo and a drawing, so epigraphers can check on the new readings at their leisure. The discussion will soon move to the peer-review literature, but perhaps blogging epigraphers can have a go in the meantime. (Christopher Rollston, call your office!)

Background here.

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Doudna deconstructs Qumran archaeology

THE BIBLE AND INTERPRETATION: Deconstructing What We’ve Always Been Told About Qumran.
It is misleading to speak of a single “main period of habitation” of a single group or community at Qumran which ended at the time of the First Revolt. Analyses of pottery, language, women, dining, animal bone deposits, and scroll deposits surprisingly converge in suggesting a different picture: the true “main period” of activity at Qumran was mid- and late-first century BCE.

[The following is excerpted from Gregory L. Doudna, “Deconstructing the Continuity of Qumran IB and II with Implications for Stabilizing the Biblical Texts”, in I. Hjelm and T.L. Thompson, eds., Interpretation Beyond Historicity. Changing Perspectives 7, ed. I. Hjelm and T.L. Thompson (New York: Routledge, 2016), 130-154. See full article for bibliography.]

By Gregory Doudna
June 2017
For more on Dr. Doudna's theories, which so far have not found much acceptance among Qumranologists, see here and links.

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Review of Bonnet and Bricault, Quand les dieux voyagent

BRYN MAYR CLASSICAL REVIEW: Corinne Bonnet, Laurent Bricault, Quand les dieux voyagent: cultes et mythes en mouvement dans l'espace méditerranéen antique. Histoire des religions. Genève: Labor et Fides, 2016. Pp. 314. ISBN 9782830915969. €29.00 (pb). Reviewed by Megan Daniels, University of Puget Sound (
In placing side-by-side a series of 12 divine journeys from Mesopotamian Ishtar’s descent to the Netherworld to the role of the Torah in uniting the Jewish diaspora, the authors aim to move beyond the traditional divisions of monotheism and polytheism inherent in the study of ancient religions: “Sont-elles utiles, adéquates, fécondes pour parler des religions de l’Antiquité et en comprendre les logiques?” (p. 11) The question of false dichotomies3 and the obstructions they create when it comes to grasping some of the more fundamental aspects of ancient religions is a worthy one to ask, and is consequently one of the strengths of this work.
The essays deal with the ancient Near East, Phoenicia and Carthage, ancient Judaism, and early Christianity.

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The English composer and the Acts of John

THE ANXIOUS BENCH: Alternative Scriptures: Gustav Holst’s Hymn of Jesus (Philip Jenkins).
The result was that almost a century ago, a strictly mainstream, celebrated, English composer produced and staged a work containing evocative Gnostic hymns, and liturgical dance. And all derived from a long-lost alternative scripture – a Gnostic gospel.
The Berlin-Strasbourg Apocryphon (see here) also has a hymnic dance with Jesus and the apostles.

Earlier posts in Professor Jenkins's series on "alternative scriptures" are noted here and here and links. Cross-file under New Testament Apocrypha Watch.

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T. Dan

READING ACTS: Testament of Dan. Dan sounds a bit vampiric here, doesn't he?

Earlier posts in Phil Long's blog series on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha are noted here and links. In recent posts he has been surveying the Greek Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs. Cross-file under Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Watch.

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Thursday, June 15, 2017

Was the Shapira scroll a real Dead Sea Scroll?

FORGERY OR THE REAL THING? The Shapira Scroll was an Authentic Dead Sea Scroll — by Shlomo Guil in the Palestine Exploration Quarterly 149 (2017), pp. 6-27.

Wilhelm Shapira astonished the European academic world in 1883 by offering for sale fifteen or sixteen leather fragments of an ancient Hebrew scroll containing parts of Deuteronomy, but in a version that deviated from the Masorah. The script of the scroll, known to us today as paleo-Hebrew, is an archaism of the pre-exilic Hebrew script. The sale offer was made to the British Museum and the asking price was one million British pounds. The British museum was willing to consider the offer and appointed Christian David Ginsburg to ascertain the authenticity of the scroll.

Ginsburg analyzed the fragments of the Shapira scroll for almost three weeks but it was Charles Clermont-Ganneau, the renowned French scholar, who publicly announced on 21 August 1883 that the scroll is a forgery. On the following day, Ginsburg wrote to Bond, the director of the British Museum, that the manuscript is in fact a forgery.

This article attempts to demonstrate that the Shapira scroll was an authentic manuscript by presenting circumstantial evidence in favour of the scroll. The evidence focuses upon physical characteristics of the scroll as well as upon paleographic aspects.
This journal requires a paid personal or institutional subscription for you to access the articles. But the author has posted this article at Also, G. M. Grena has posted a summary and discussion at his LMLK Blog: The 1883 Dead Sea Scroll.

Chanan Tigay published a book on the story of the Shapira scroll last year. For past PaleoJudaica posts noting the book (I have not read it) and discussing the Shapira fragments, start here and follow the links.

Shlomo Guil is an independent researcher in Israel and he has published a number of other articles. I don't know him or know anything else about him. But he has produced an article good enough to pass peer review in a reputable specialist journal. That means that the scholarly discussion of the Shapira scroll as a possibly genuine ancient artifact has now begun. The case is perforce circumstantial, since the Shapira fragments are now lost and presumed (entirely? mostly?) destroyed. But Guil does raise some circumstantial points in favor of the authenticity of the scroll based on material and paleographic factors. I don't doubt that there will be more social media commentary, but the real discussion needs to proceed in the peer-review literature and it will probably take years to reach any consensus. But Shlomo Guil has played by the rules and thrown down the gauntlet. It will be interesting to see the reactions of paleographers and specialists in the material culture of ancient scrolls.

There is some hope (see update) that at least one of the Shapira fragments still survives. It would be worth some effort to try to track it down. Meanwhile, Guil's article reproduces some drawings of the scroll made at the time and I have posted links to these and other images here. That is at least something to work with.

I remain to be convinced that the Shapira scroll was a real ancient document. If you want to read a case made against that idea which was published in 1965, after the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, have a look at Oskar K. Rabinowicz, "The Shapira Scroll: A Nineteenth-Century Forgery" Jewish Quartely Review 56 (1965), 1-21. It is available on JSTOR. You may also want to look at the detailed review of the story of the Shapira scroll posted by Michael Press in The Appendix: “The Lying Pen of the Scribes”: A Nineteenth-Century Dead Sea Scroll. He thinks it was a forgery too, but he weighs a lot of evidence pro and con.

Be all that as it may, the case is now reopened and we will see what happens.

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New readings on an Arad ostracon

EPIGRAPHY AND TECHNOLOGY WATCH: Revolutionary technology reveals dazzling ‘hidden’ text on biblical-era shard. Pottery from almost 3,000 years ago found to feature previously unseen rare First Temple Hebrew writing; other finds from same era now also to be reinvestigated (Amanda Borschel-Dan, Times of Israel). You have to read pretty far into this article before it addresses the obvious question — What does it say? But we do get there eventually:
Ostacon No. 16 is a letter sent to Elyashiv from Hananyahu — the team speculates he was a quartermaster in Beersheba — and discusses the transfer of silver. After the MS imaging experiment, newly discovered inscriptions show that Hananyahu also asked for wine.
I think they mean newly discovered letters — on the back of the ostracon, which appears blank to the naked eye.

The readable inscription on the front of Arad 16 is badly damaged after the first three lines. According to the article, the new multispectral imaging process has also clarified the readings on that side.

More please. Bit by bit, a letter at a time, whatever it takes. Until we're done.

The AWOL Blog has a link to the new PLOS ONE article on which the above story is based.

UPDATE: Incorrect link now fixed!

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Huge mikveh excavated at Machaerus

ARCHAEOLOGY: Archaeologists Find Monumental Mikveh at King Herod's Palace in Jordan. Machaerus, King Herod's fortress in Jordan which was razed by the same Roman legion that destroyed Masada, before which Salome did her dance and John the Baptist was killed (Philippe Bohstrom, Haaretz).
The Machaerus fortress was erected on a prominent hill about 32 kilometers southwest of Madaba. The mikveh ritual bath and immersion pool used for purification were apparently built for the Herod royal family's personal use.

The bath is the biggest of its kind ever found in Jordan. It boasts 12 steeps and a reserve pool containing water to fill the pool when its water ran low.
A long article with lots of background on Machaerus. Past PaleoJudaica posts on Machaerus are here and here.

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T. Zebulon

READING ACTS: Testament of Zebulon.

Earlier posts in Phil Long's blog series on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha are noted here and links. In recent posts he has been surveying the Greek Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs. Cross-file under Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Watch.

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Unexpected influences on Swartz and Satlow

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Unexpected Influences | Michael Swartz and Michael Satlow. The Blues and Jewish magic, Tolstoy and causality.

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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Review of Burke and Landau (eds.), New Testament Apocrypha (part 4)

Tony Burke and Brent Landau, New Testament Apocrypha: More Noncanonical Scriptures, volume 1 (Eerdmans, 2016).
Part One is here.
Part Two is here.
Part Three is here.

Final Comments

This volume is a major contribution to more than one field. The texts are well chosen, the translations flow smoothly, the introductions cover the important matters and evaluate the evidence judiciously. The volume is well edited and carefully proofread. One could debate this or that conclusion or interpretation, but the positions taken by the contributors are consistently well and cautiously argued. The one or two errors I noticed were trivial (e.g., on p. 437 at n. e., "cherubim" should read "seraphim"). I can think of very little to criticize. A little more attention to questions of genre in the introductions to the individual works would be welcome. There is no specific section for genre in the outline template, although sometimes one is added. Some contributors cover the issue well, while others could have said more.

Potential readers should keep in mind that this volume is a supplement to earlier collections of New Testament Apocrypha in English, especially those by James and Elliott. The volume includes a few relatively early texts (i.e., from the third century or earlier). These are of interest to specialists in early Christianity. Most of the texts are from the fourth century and later. They are of particular interest to specialists in late-antique and medieval popular Christianity. The volume contains a vast wealth of stories, scriptural exegesis, and informal theology which entertained and informed lay audiences for many centuries. But do be aware that it belongs on the bookshelf next to Elliot’s work, not as a replacement for it.

The volume demonstrates compellingly that the composition and use of New Testament Apocrypha continued into the Middle Ages and beyond, and that some of these works were vastly popular and influential. The Dialogue of the Paralytic with Christ is not the first work a modern reader would turn to for spiritual inspiration. Nevertheless, it survives in many manuscripts and was copied into the twentieth century. The Apocalypse of the Virgin is ubiquitous in the Greek manuscript tradition and it too was copied into the twentieth century. The Tiburtine Sibyl was more influential in the West than the canonical Book of Revelation.

The texts in the volume come in the genres we know from the New Testament, but not exclusively. Several texts are “pseudo-apostolic memoirs,” a genre developed in Coptic-speaking circles in the fifth century. But even the genres we know are developed creatively. The genre of “gospel” is stretched well beyond what counts as a gospel in the New Testament. Some of the “acts” include elements of hagiography, martyrdom, and romance novel. The volume classifies The Tiburtine Sibyl as an apocalypse, but it lacks an angelic interpreter and adopts the poetic canons of pagan Sibylline oracles. The Epistle of Christ from Heaven is an ancient chain letter attributed to Jesus.

These texts also expand the range of what we might think of — at least based on the New Testament — as normal subject matter for scripture. The classic example is The Infancy Gospel of Thomas, whose boy Jesus comes across to a modern reader as frighteningly powerful and impulsive, rather like Anthony Fremont in the Twilight Zone episode “It’s a Good Life.” But the new texts provide additional examples. There is Papias’s debased story of the death of Judas. The Dialogue of the Paralytic with Christ presents an incognito Jesus who mercilessly torments a paralytic to test his faith before he heals him. And then there is that ancient chain letter again.

A number of the texts read like ancient and medieval fanfic about John the Baptist, Mary Magdalene, Simon Peter, Cornelius the Centurion, and so on. Several of the texts have women as the main characters: Mary Magdalene; Xanthippie, her sister Polyxena, and her sister’s companion Rebecca; the pagan Sibyl; and, of course, the Virgin Mary.

The high level of textual variation in the manuscripts of many, if not most, of these texts challenges the traditional scholarly understanding of what a text is. The scribes who transmitted these texts seem often to be as concerned with retelling an entertaining or edifying story as copying a fixed text. Canonical works with fixed texts are probably the exception, while the variform texts in this volume are more representative of ancient and medieval literature.

In conclusion, this volume is an excellent supplement to Elliot’s collection of New Testament Apocrypha. It makes many new texts available in translation. It expands the range of what we have thought of as New Testament Apocrypha, mainly by including texts from late antiquity and the Middle Ages. I look forward to the second volume.

I recommend this book highly. Make sure your research library has a copy. It is inexpensive enough (especially through Amazon) that your local public library should be willing to buy one as well. And if you have any interest in the subject of New Testament Apocrypha, then buy a copy for yourself.

UPDATE (15 June): Philip Tite comments here.

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T. Issachar

READING ACTS: Testament of Issachar.

Earlier posts in Phil Long's blog series on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha are noted here and links. In recent posts he has been surveying the Greek Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs. Cross-file under Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Watch.

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Sahidic Coptic OT online

AWOL BLOG: News from the Coptic Scriptorium: Old Testament corpus release. Cross-file under Coptic Watch.

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The afterlife in Zoroastrianism

BIBLIOGRAPHIA IRANICA: Zoroastrian afterlife beliefs and funerary practices. An article by Almut Hintze in the new (2017) Routledge Companion to Death and Dying. The article is available at

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Review of Barton and Boyarin, Imagine No Religion

BRYN MAYR CLASSICAL REVIEW: Carlin A. Barton, Daniel Boyarin, Imagine No Religion. How Modern Abstractions Hide Ancient Realities. New York: Fordham University Press, 2016. Pp. 325. ISBN 9780823271207. $35.00 (pb). Reviewed by Anders Klostergaard Petersen, University of Aarhus (
Barton’s and Boyarin’s monograph is related to Brent Nongbri’s Before Religion: A History of a Modern Concept (New Haven, Yale UP 2013), a volume that has justifiably attracted considerable attention in disciplines devoted to the study of the ancient Graeco-Roman world. Barton and Boyarin refer in important places to Nongbri who has also provided them with their introductory, orally-transmitted, Edwin Judge contention that one should avoid the term religion in translations of ancient texts. Barton and Boyarin follow this injunction with relentless effort, arguing that any rendering of Greek and Latin terms (notably thrēskeia and religio, but also the related terms deisidaimonia and superstitio) by the word ‘religion’ is an anachronistic distortion. The argument is cogently pursued in Tertullian and Josephus (and some additional authors) held emblematically to illustrate the problem at stake.

But do the authors overshoot their point by moving from the emic to the etic?

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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Talmud on property as gift vs. inheritance (etc.)

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: An Old Jew Is on His Deathbed, and Says to His Son… In this week’s ‘Daf Yomi,’ what’s right—and what’s legal—in matters of inheritance.
Over the past several weeks, Daf Yomi readers have seen how the Talmud regulates the inheritance of property, building on biblical laws to create a more complex and flexible system. According to the Torah, for example, a man is not free to bequeath his property to whomever he wishes. Rather, inheritance follows an established order, going first to his sons, then his daughters, then his brothers, and finally to more distant male relatives. But as we saw earlier in Tractate Bava Batra, later Jewish law created a workaround, allowing the testator to give his property as a gift, rather than bequeath it as an inheritance. A gift is not subject to the same strict rules.

But it raises certain complexities ...

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

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Cynthia Baker's "Jew" and the Samaritans

MARGINALIA REVIEW OF BOOKS: Thinking with Samaritans and Cynthia Baker’s Jew. Matthew Chalmers on Cynthia Baker’s Jew. Marginalia's Forum on Cynthia Baker’s Jew is publishing a series of essays on the book. This is the third in the series.
As a scholar researching ancient and modern representations of Samaritans, I should confess that my first interaction with any book about Jewish identities is often to flip to the index and see whether it mentions them. Samaritans, after all, are a Torah-observant group who also trace their identity back to ancient Israel. Baker’s book does not. I suggest that exploring this omission tells us something more about what Baker’s book does, while also helping to articulate some broader ramifications for the study of Jews and beyond.
Mr. Chalmers then applies Professor Baker's methodology to the study of the Samaritans.

For past essays in the series and more information about the forum, see here and links.

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Looting arrests in the Galilee

APPREHENDED: Hiker helps stop antiquities-robbing gang in northern Israel. Caught in action after a foot chase, two out of three thieves taken to Nazareth for investigation (Amanda Borschel-Dan, Times of Israel). Well done, alert hiker. The apprehension took place near Tzippori/Sepphoris. It sounds as though there has been a lot of nefarious activity in the north lately.

There have been quite a few looting arrests in Israel and the West Bank in 2017. I have noted some, probably not all. See here and links.

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Poetry on the Gospel of Thomas

THE ANXIOUS BENCH: Alternative Scriptures: A Bit Of Bible Long Lost. The Greek fragments of the Gospel of Thomas (the one later found complete in a Coptic translation in the Nag Hammadi Library - see here) were published at the end of the nineteenth century.

This gospel became so well know that someone promptly published a poem on it. Not long after that, someone else quoted it in a textbook for school children.

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T. Judah: apocalyptic

READING ACTS: Apocalyptic in the Testament of Judah. This post discusses a messianic passage that could be read plausibly as a Jewish composition.

Earlier posts in Phil Long's blog series on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha are noted here and here and links.

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Monday, June 12, 2017

Review of Burke and Landau (eds.), New Testament Apocrypha (part 3)

Tony Burke and Brent Landau, New Testament Apocrypha: More Noncanonical Scriptures, volume 1 (Eerdmans, 2016).
Part One is here.
Part Two is here.
Part Four is here.

The Remaining Texts

I discuss the remaining texts in the order that they appear in the volume.

Apocryphal Acts and Related Traditions

The Acts of Barnabas (pp. 317-336, ed. Glenn E. Snyder) was composed in Greek by the late fifth century. It survives in two Greek recensions and a Latin translation. It is a collection of stories about the ministry and travels of Barnabas and John Mark, narrated by the latter. It concludes with an account of the martyrdom of Barnabas, after which John Mark and his companions appropriate and bury Barnabas’s remains and then escape to Alexandria.

The Acts of Cornelius the Centurion (pp. 337-361, ed. Tony Burke and Witold Witakowski) was composed in Greek sometime between the fourth and tenth centuries and survives in a long and a short version. This work expands the story of the conversion of the Cornelius of Acts 10-11 and recounts his elevation to sainthood after his death. This chapter translates a Greek manuscript and an Ethiopic translation, both representing the long version.

John and the Robber (pp. 362-370, Rick Brannan) is a story told at the conclusion of a homily by Clement of Alexandria and thus dates to the late second or early third century at latest. Some later authors, including Eusebius, repeat Clement’s account. The story tells of a young protégé of John the Apostle who goes bad and takes up with a group of robbers. John finds it necessary to round him up and bring him to repentance.

The History of Simon Cephas, the Chief of the Apostles (pp. 371-394, ed. F. Stanley Jones) was composed in the second half of the fourth century. It has never before been translated from Syriac into any modern language. Mostly it summarizes material from the canonical Book of Acts and other sources to give an account of the ministry of Peter. It includes his interactions with Simon Magus and a toned-down version of the famous episode in which Christ meets Peter and tells him he has returned to be crucified again because Peter is too weak to accept martyrdom.

The Acts of Timothy (pp. 395-405, ed. Cavan W. Concannon) survive in Greek and Latin manuscripts, but the work seems to have been composed in Greek in the late fourth or (more likely) early fifth century. It is of mixed genre, combining features of acts with features of martyrdoms. It presents Timothy as the bishop of Ephesus until his martyrdom.

The Acts of Titus (pp. 406-415, ed. Richard I. Pervo) survives and was composed in Greek. Its current form seems to date from the early seventh century, but this is probably an abbreviation of a longer life of Titus composed in the late fifth century. Pervo regards this work to be more a “hagiographical biography” than an apocryphal acts. It draws on traditions about Titus in the New Testament and the Acts of Paul. It also traces Titus’ lineage to Minos, King of Crete. Showing unusual sympathy for Jews for an early Christian document, it has an influential relative of Titus protect those in Crete from any consequences arising from the Judean revolt against Rome.

The Life and Conduct of the Holy Women Xanthipple, Polyxena, and Rebecca (pp. 416-452, ed. David L. Eastman) was composed in Greek in the fifth or sixth century. It has features of apocryphal acts and hagiography, but also reads like an unlikely (ancient) romance novel aimed at female monastics and devoted to promoting sexual abstinence. Three very different women undergo various adventures, some of them harrowing, but they survive unscathed and embrace a profoundly ascetic Christianity. The Apostle Paul is a central supporting character and other New Testament figures appear from time to time.


The Epistle of Christ from Heaven (pp. 455-463, ed. Calogero A. Miceli) survives in manuscripts in a vast number of languages, but it likely originated in Greek. The first surviving mention of it was by the bishop of Ibiza in the late sixth century. (That’s right: Ibiza!) This remarkable work amounts to a chain letter from Jesus (who has been theologically homogenized with God). It survives in countless variations, the common core of which is to promote observation of Sunday as the Lord’s Day. This volume translates a comparatively early (fifteenth century) Greek manuscript of the epistle.

The Epistle of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite to Timothy concerning the Deaths of the Apostles Peter and Paul (pp. 464-480, ed. David L. Eastman) survives in versions in multiple languages. The lost Greek original was probably composed in the late sixth or early seventh century. Dionysius the Areopagite is mentioned in Acts 17:34 and is best known as the pseudonym of a fifth-sixth-century writer whose philosophical-theological works laid the foundation for subsequent Christian mysticism. This epistle is unrelated. It gives a fictional eyewitness account of the martyrdoms of Peter and Paul.


The (Latin) Revelation of John about Antichrist (pp. 483-491, ed. Charles D. Wright) survives in two Latin recensions as well as in medieval English and Irish versions. It was composed in Latin, probably in the mid-twelfth century. In it, Christ reveals information to John about the Antichrist and other eschatological matters.

The Apocalypse of the Virgin (pp. 492-509, Charles D. Wright) was composed in Greek between the sixth and ninth centuries, probably earlier rather than later in that range. Hundreds of manuscripts survive with an enormous amount of textual variation. It tells the story of the visit of Mary to various parts of Hell, after which she enlists all the angels and saints to badger God into providing the damned Christian sinners with an annual period of respite from the lake of fire. It was a vastly popular work in Eastern Christianity.

The Tiburtine Sibyl (pp. 510-525, Stephen J. Shoemaker) was composed in Greek in the fourth century. This Greek version is lost, but is preserved substantially in a Latin translation. The surviving Greek text is of an expanded recension produced in the early sixth century. Shoemaker translates the Latin version. The work is an apocalyse set in the mouth of an early pagan Roman prophetess and is a late example of a Jewish and Christian tradition of writing oracles in the names of various Sibyls. We published a translation of the Greek version by Rieuwerd Buitenwerf in MOTP1, pp. 176-188. That translation includes detailed notes on the historical allusions in the work. It is unclear to Shoemaker why we regarded it as an Old Testament pseudepigraphon. (MNTA1, p. 512 n. 9), presumably because the oracles refer to events in the Christian era. But as he also noted (p. 515), the Sibylline literature has traditionally been included among Jewish and Christian apocryphal literature. The pagan Sibyls, like Ahiqar and Zoroaster, were adopted into the biblical tradition as prophets or sages. But they traditionally lived in the Old Testament period and so, at least in the case of the Sibyls and Ahiqar, have been treated as Old Testament pseudepigrapha in past collections. We continued that tradition (cf. MOTP1, xxviii) but have no objection to classing the Tiburtine Sibyl as a New Testament apocryphon as well. It is good to have the complementary translations in both volumes.

The Investiture of Abbaton, the Angel of Death (pp. 526-554, Alin Suciu with Ibrahim Saweros) is another example of the genre pseudo-apostolic memoir. It survives in a single tenth-century Sahidic Coptic manuscript, but it was probably composed in the fifth or sixth century. This work is a book within a book: the (probably pseudonymous) author Timothy of Alexandria describes how he obtained a revelatory book from an old man in Jerusalem and then transcribes the supposed content of the book. It narrates how the angel Muriel was transformed into Abatton (i.e., Abaddon, Hebrew for “destruction”) the Angel of Death. This work may be based on a Muslim source, but it is also possible that the Investiture and parallel Islamic traditions draw on an earlier common source. An Arabic Christian source offers a refutation of the story of Abatton and this chapter translates the relevant passage in an appendix.

In the next post I will give an overall evaluation of MNTA1 and make some general comments about it. Spoiler: I like it.

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Schiffman on the Magdala Stone

PROFESSOR LAWRENCE H. SCHIFFMAN: The Magdala Stone. A reprint of his article in Ami Magazine. The Magdala Stone is a first-century CE artifact that appears to depict the Second Temple in Jerusalem. It is currently on display in the Vatican Menorah Exhibition in Rome.

Professor Schiffman notes in particular, some potential implications of the Stone for the function of the synagogue in the first century.

Background on the Magdala Stone is here and follow the many links.

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T. Judah: women, money, and wars

READING ACTS: Women and Money in the Testament of Judah (Phil Long).

The Book of Jubilees also relates Judah's battles with the Amorites (chap. 34) and with the sons of Esau (chapters 37-38).

A medieval work called Midrash Vaiysa‘u also tells versions of the same two stories and seems to be based on Second Temple era sources in Greek. Martha Himmelfarb has translated Midrash Vaiysa‘u in Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: More Noncanonical Scriptures (ed. Bauckham, Davila, and Panayotov; Eerdmans 2013), 1:143-159.

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Dead Sea Scrolls found in the first millennium?

THE ANXIOUS BENCH: Alternative Scriptures: Finding the First Scrolls (Philip Jenkins). A cache of Dead Sea Scrolls seems to have been found around 800 CE. It is possible that someone copied the fragments of the Damascus Document in the Cairo Geniza from one of those scrolls. Professor Jenkins doesn't mention this, but it's also possible that someone copied the Cairo Geniza fragments of Aramaic Levi from material that came from that discovery. We don't know: both suggestions are speculative but plausible.

For more on that discovery as related by the Patriarch Timonty in a Syriac letter, see this essay by John Reeves for my Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Course back in 1997: REFLECTIONS ON JEWISH APOCRYPHAL AND PSEUDEPIGRAPHICAL SURVIVALS IN MEDIEVAL NEAR EASTERN RELIGIOUS TRADITIONS. I also talk about Timothy's letter in an introductory page for my 2005 course on the Dead Sea Scrolls: Introduction to the Scrolls from the Judean Desert. As I note there, the (heretical but vastly learned) church father Origen knew of scrolls discovered "near Jericho" around 200 CE.

Earlier posts in Professor Jenkins's series on "alternative scriptures" are noted here and links.

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Review of "Rabbi Akiva"

BOOK REVIEW: Bringing A Talmudic Sage Back To Life (Burton L. Visotzky, The Forward).
By Barry W. Holtz
Yale University Press, 248 pages, $25
Enter Barry W. Holtz, Baumritter Professor Of Jewish Education at JTS. In his new portrait of his hero, Rabbi Akiva “the teacher par excellence,” Holtz takes careful account of the scholarship about and challenges to writing rabbinic biography in recent decades. He looks at individual stories about Rabbi Akiva and treats each of them through a literary critical lens. His scholarly acumen is such that he accounts for current historians’ pronouncements on the forces that shaped the late first and second centuries. He treats the often multiple versions of these stories to understand their development and, most important, their religious meaning for readers then and now.
Past posts on the book are here and links.

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Sunday, June 11, 2017


AWOL BLOG: Open Access Journal: Journal of Greco-Roman Judaism and Christianity (JGRChJ). I thought I had mentioned this journal fairly recently, but the last post I can find on it is from 2006. So it's high time to mention it again. Lots of interesting articles on early Christianity and ancient Judaism.
As the articles included in previous volumes indicate, the scope of this journal remains broad, with articles welcome on many areas of relevance to the journal’s aims. Nevertheless, the approach of the journal is also specific—to publish only the highest quality articles that examine the ways in which the Greco-Roman world was the world of the New Testament and early Judaism. The emphasis in the journal is thus on a range of possible approaches and bodies of material, including historical, linguistic, papyrological, epigraphical and synthetic studies of the kind that are often lacking in other journals. In fact, we encourage contributors to attempt to draw various areas of related knowledge together in their submissions.
UPDATE (12 June): A reader has pointed out that the correct title of the journal is Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism.

Hurtado on the language of history

LARRY HURTADO: How We See Historical Changes. Beware of metaphors that covertly import evolutionary assumptions into the flow of ancient events.

Review of Jones, Philosophy of Mysticism

H-JUDAIC: Miller on Jones, 'Philosophy of Mysticism: Raids on the Ineffable.' Author: Richard H. Jones Reviewer: Michael Miller
Richard H. Jones. Philosophy of Mysticism: Raids on the Ineffable. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2016. 438 pp. $95.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-4384-6119-9; $31.95 (paper), ISBN 978-1-4384-6118-2.
The book is about mysticism and gives some attention to Jewish mysticism. The reviewer thinks it could have given more.

Pregill on Cynthia Baker's "Jew"

MARGINALIA REVIEW OF BOOKS: Between Jew and Muslim. Observations on Cynthia Baker’s Jew from the Perspective of Islamic Studies (Michael Pregill). Marginalia's Forum on Cynthia Baker’s Jew is publishing a series of essays on the book. This is the third published, although it is listed as fourth in the series.

For past essays in the series and more information about the forum, see here and here.

Christian Apocrypha at the 2017 CSBS meeting

APOCRYPHICITY: 2017 CSBS Christian Apocrypha Session Report (Tony Burke). Dr. Burke reports on the papers presented at the Annual Meeting of the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies in the last weekend in May.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Masada siege

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: The Masada Siege. The Roman assault on Herod’s desert fortress (Robin Ngo). This was originally posted in 2014, but I seem to have missed it then. To access the BAR article that it introduces, you need a paid personal or institutional subscription.

For past posts on the siege of Masada, the archaeology of the site, and related matters, see here and links (cf. here and here).

More on those 53 confirmed biblical people

EPIGRAPHY: Purdue researcher verifies the existence of 53 people in Hebrew Bible (Purdue Exponent). PaleoJudaica has been following the research of Lawrence Mykytiuk on ancient Hebrew inscriptions for some time. A few years ago he produced a list of 50 biblical persons who were also mentioned in contemporary ancient inscriptions. Then this spring he added three more to make a list of 53. But, as I noted at the latter link, the BHD essay did not specify who the three new people were. Now this Purdue press release gives the answer:
The three new people are Tattenai (also translated as Tatnai), a Persian governor during the time of Ezra (after the Babylonian exile); and two high officials of Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II: Nergal-sharezer, called the “samgar” official, and Nebuzaradan, “the chief of the guards.”
Read the press release for further details about them and about the whole project.

Review of Piotrowski, Matthew’s New David at the End of Exile

2017.05.11 | Nicholas G. Piotrowski, Matthew’s New David at the End of Exile: A Socio-Rhetorical Study of Scriptural Quotations. NovTSup 170. Leiden: Brill, 2016. ISBN: 9789004326781

Reviewed by Max Botner, Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main.

Burke (ed.), Fakes, Forgeries, and Fictions

NEW BOOK FROM WIPF AND STOCK: Fakes, Forgeries, and Fictions. Writing Ancient and Modern Christian Apocrypha: Proceedings from the 2015 York Christian Apocrypha Symposium. EDITED BY Tony Burke. FOREWORD BY Andrew Gregory.
Fakes, Forgeries, and Fictions examines the possible motivations behind the production of apocryphal Christian texts.

Did the authors of Christian apocrypha intend to deceive others about the true origins of their writings?

Did they do so in a way that is distinctly different from New Testament scriptural writings?

What would phrases like "intended to deceive" or "true origins" even mean in various historical and cultural contexts?

The papers in this volume, presented in September 2015 at York University in Toronto, discuss texts from as early as second-century papyrus fragments to modern apocrypha such as tales of Jesus in India in the nineteenth-century Life of Saint Issa.

The highlights of the collection include a keynote address by Bart Ehrman ("Apocryphal Forgeries: The Logic of Literary Deceit") and a panel discussion on the Gospel of Jesus' Wife, reflecting on what reactions to this particular text--primarily on biblioblogs--can tell us about the creation, transmission, and reception of apocryphal Christian literature.

The eye-opening papers presented at the panel caution and enlighten readers about the ethics of studying unprovenanced texts, the challenges facing female scholars both in the academy and online, and the shifting dynamics between online and traditional print scholarship.
Past posts on the 2015 symposium and the book (when it was forthcoming) are here, here, here, and here.

Tooman and Barter (eds.), Ezekiel - now published

NEW BOOK FROM MOHR SIEBECK: Ezekiel. Current Debates and Future Directions. Ed. by William A. Tooman and Penelope Barter. 2017. XV, 552 pages. Forschungen zum Alten Testament 112
Published in English.
Ezekiel studies are flourishing. The 27 essays collected in this volume were first presented at two symposia on the theme “Ezekiel in International Perspective” at the Society of Biblical Literature conferences in St Andrews and Vienna. The principal aim was to widen contact, cultivate understanding, and foster collaboration between international colleagues who, though working on the same ancient text, possess diverse points of view and operate from different methodological frames. The meetings allowed moments of introspection, providing the freedom and opportunity to reflect on questions of appropriate evidence, suitable methodology, and argumentative plausibility by juxtaposing papers from diverse perspectives. The resulting collection is a portrait of the discipline in the present and a prospectus for future research.
Follow the link for the TOC.

Lat year I noted the book as forthcoming here. Dr. Tooman is one of my Hebrew Bible colleagues at the Divinity School of the University of St. Andrews and Dr. Barker received her PhD under his supervision. Congratulations to both on the new volume.

Friday, June 09, 2017

Review of Burke and Landau (eds.), New Testament Apocrypha, vol. 1 (part 2)

Tony Burke and Brent Landau, New Testament Apocrypha: More Noncanonical Scriptures, volume 1 (Eerdmans, 2016).
Part One is here.
Part Three is here.
Part Four is here.

Gospels and Related Traditions of New Testament Figures

I discuss the gospels (etc.) in roughly the order of their dates of composition, but also with some attention to thematic similarities.

A number of the gospels and gospel fragments are relatively old — from as early as the second or even the late first century.

Potentially the earliest text is The Death of Judas according to Papias (pp. 309-313, ed. Geoffrey S. Smith). I suspect it was included more for the sake of completeness than for any sense that it is anything like an early “gospel.” Papias wrote in Greek and flourished in the late first and early second centuries. He was acquainted with oral traditions that went back to the first generation of Jesus' followers. His work survives only in quotations. Two rather different versions of this one are extant. Smith translates both. Whatever knowledge Papias may have had of the time of Jesus, this account is merely a crass tall tale.

There are two very fragmentary texts among the Oxyrhynchus papyri. Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 210 (pp. 109-124, ed. Brent Landau and Stanley E. Porter) is a single leaf from a third-century Greek codex. It is very badly damaged and little can be said confidently about it except that it involves an angel, Jesus, and God. Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 5072 (pp. 125-139, ed. Ross D. Ponder) is a Greek page dated to within fifty years on either side of 200. If the dating is correct, it may not be much, if any, later than Papyrus Egerton 2, the earliest surviving apocryphal gospel fragment. One side narrates an exorcism which has affinities with exorcism accounts in the Synoptic Gospels. The other side deals with discipleship and Jesus is perhaps the speaker. The name Jesus does not actually survive in the extant text of P. Oxy. 5072.

The editors prudently provide double translations of both papyri. The first translation includes only the words that can be read or confidently reconstructed on the papyrus. The second attempts to fill out the scant surviving text with reasonably cautious but conjectural reconstructions of the missing text.

The Revelation of the Magi (pp. 19-38, ed. Brent Landau) survives complete only in a Syriac translation embedded in the eighth-century Chronicle of Zuqnin (Zūqnīn). Landau regards Syriac to be its original language and he dates its composition to the late second or early third century. A much shorter version of the story survives in a fifth-century Latin text. It was translated as “The Apocryphon of Seth” by Alexander Toepel in MOTP1, 33-39. The Revelation of the Magi is arguably the earliest surviving apocryphon that deals with the magi of Matthew’s infancy narrative and it is in any case the longest and most detailed ancient work about them. It appears to place their home in China. Jesus is the star of Bethlehem and he can appear in a multiplicity of other forms. The text is also remarkably tolerant toward other religions. Due to copyright concerns, this volume publishes only a summary of the text, but it still takes up most of nine pages.

The Infancy Gospel of Thomas (pp. 52-68, ed. Tony Burke) was probably composed in Greek in the second century, but the best text is a Syriac translation. Burke has recently published a new edition of the Greek and he is working on one of the Syriac. He translates the Syriac here.

Scholars assumed that this gospel was the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas mentioned by patristic writers, which caused some confusion. The discovery of the Coptic version of the Gnostic (?) Gospel of Thomas in the Nag Hammadi Library set matters right. The Infancy Gospel tells entertaining and sometimes disturbing stories about the miraculous deeds of Jesus as a child. The earliest version shows the characters of those around Jesus developing as they realize he must be a god or angel. But the bloodthirsty child Jesus does not change. Later versions try to tone down the bloodthirsty aspects and portray Jesus with some character development.

Some of the gospels in this volume were composed roughly in late antiquity (that is, the third to the sixth centuries).

The Legend of Aphroditianus (pp. 3-18, ed. Katharina Heyden) was probably composed in Greek in the third century at Hierapolis in Syria. It survives only embedded in later works or in versions excerpted from those works. It seems to be a Christian appropriation of the ancient Syrian Atargatis cult and it also has parallels with the third-century apocryphal correspondence between King Abgar and Jesus. It consists of Hellenic oracles and a retelling of the infancy story of Christ which shows considerable interest in the magi.

The Toledot Yeshu (pp. 158-164, ed. F. Stanley Jones) is a remarkable case of a Jewish parodic anti-gospel that was probably composed in Aramaic in Palestine in the third or fourth century. It survives in many translations and three main recensions, the Herod-group, the Helen-group, and the Pilate-group. Each is named after a character who is distinctive in that group. The translation is of an Aramaic fragment from the Herod-group. It arguably preserves material from the earliest surviving version of the story. This volume was published too late for the editor to make use of the recent edition of the Toledot Yeshu, edited by Meerson and Schäfer et al. Perhaps the MNTA series editors will want to consider returning to it in a future volume.

The Berlin-Strasbourg Apocryphon (pp. 165-183, ed. Alin Suciu) came to the attention of the world in the late 1990s under the title The Gospel of the Savior. It survives in three fragmentary Coptic manuscripts. Suciu has re-named it and concluded that it is not a gospel. Rather it belongs to the genre of “pseudo-apostolic memoirs” composed in Coptic no earlier than the fifth century. The surviving material mostly involves a dialogue between Jesus and the apostles, although Jesus also ascends to the seventh heaven and later they all perform two hymnic dances of the cross.

Some apocryphal gospel-related works retell the story of John the Baptist. One such work is The Life and Martyrdom of John the Baptist (pp. 247-67, ed. Andrew Bernhard). It was probably composed in Greek in the late fifth century, perhaps in Syria. It survives in multiple recensions. It purges all hints of conflict between Jesus and John or their disciples which appear in the four canonical gospels. Bernhard translates what he judges to be the earliest surviving text.

This volume translates two other works about John. An Encomium on John the Baptist (pp. 217-246, Philip L. Tite) is a Coptic text whose Greek original could have been composed anywhere between the late fourth and the tenth centuries, with later in the range being more likely. The Life of John the Baptist by Serapion (pp. 268-292, ed. by Slavomír Čéplö) survives only in Arabic (Garshuni) manuscripts and was likely composed in Egypt in the fourteenth century, with parts perhaps translated from Coptic.

An Encomium on Mary Magdalene (pp. 197-216, ed. Christine Luckritz Marquis) is another gospel-related work whose protagonist is someone other than Jesus. It is actually another example of the genre of the pseudo-apostolic memoir. It survives in Coptic fragments and seems to have been composed in the mid-fifth or early sixth century.

Finally, some of the gospels in this volume were composed as late as the Middle Ages.

On the Priesthood of Jesus (pp. 69-108, ed. William Adler) was composed in Greek, probably in the seventh or eighth century and perhaps by a Jewish-Christian author. It is notable for preserving a tradition that Jesus (through his mother) had both a Davidic and a Levitical ancestry, and thus was qualified to serve in the priesthood. Already in the second century CE, the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs placed Jesus in both roles, so the idea is very old. We should resist efforts to emend the Testaments when they give Jesus a dual Judahite-Levitical lineage. This apocryphal gospel is one piece of evidence that some Christians accepted it. This gospel had some cultural influence in the Eastern Church. It survives in three recensions. Alder regards the long recension to be the earliest. He translates four manuscripts of the work and an early summary of it to present the full range of textual variation. The long recension displays a benign attitude toward Judaism for the era, but later versions became more hostile.

The Dialogue of the Paralytic with Christ (pp. 140-151, ed. Bradley N. Rice) is preserved in Armenian and Georgian versions in manuscripts from the thirteenth century on. Arguably, however, these were translated from an Arabic version written as early as the ninth century. This work is something of a “dark comedy” (p. 140) which features a dialogue between a faithful and pious paralytic with an infuriatingly doubting Jesus. Nevertheless, Jesus heals the paralytic in the end. Despite the provocative nature of this work, its transmission persisted in the Caucusus into the twentieth century.

The Hospitality of Dysmas (pp. 39-51, ed. Mark Glen Bilby) is an addition to some manuscripts of the Acts of Pilate. It narrates the fanciful prehistory of the good thief who was crucified with Christ according to Luke 23. Dysmas renders aid to the holy family at the time of Jesus’ birth. This leads to the healing of his own leprous child and earns him the honor of his later martyrdom with Christ. The work shows considerable interest in Mary and her beauty. It was composed and transmitted in Greek. It is one of many versions of the story. Some of these downplay or eliminate the idea that the protagonist was a thief. It was probably composed in the twelfth or thirteenth century.

The Legend of the Thirty Pieces of Silver (pp. 293-308, ed. Tony Burke and Slavomír Čéplö) recounts the fictional prehistory of the coins Judas used to betray Jesus. It survives in a Western version in Latin and an Eastern version in Syriac and Armenian. It can be traced back to the twelfth century. Its was composed sometime before that, but exactly when is unclear. This volume translates both the Eastern version and the Western version.

In the next post I will survey the rest of the texts translated in the volume: the apocryphal acts and related traditions, the epistles, and the apocalypses.

UPDATE (15 June): Philip Tite comments on parts 2 and 3 of this review here. He is the translator of the Encomium on John the Baptist (see above) and he clarifies his view about its original language.

Machaerus in photos

Machaerus is a fortified hilltop palace overlooking the Dead Sea in Transjordan, southeast of the mouth of the Jordan river. The fortress was erected by the Hasmonean king Alexander Jannaeus (103–76 BC) and was destroyed by Pompey’s general Gabinius in 57 BC, but later rebuilt by Herod the Great. Upon Herod’s death, his son Herod Antipas inherited the fortress where Salome is said to have danced in return for the head of John the Baptist. During the First Jewish Revolt, Jewish rebels took control of the fortress which was besieged and destroyed by the Romans in 72 AD.

Carole continues with a more detailed summary of the site's history and some good photos.

HT AJR. A past PaleoJudaica post on Machaerus is here.

Zedekiah in parallel timelines

THE BIBLE AND INTERPRETATION: Engaging Biblical Plurality: The Zedekiahs in the Books of Jeremiah.
Unfortunately, many biblical scholars and religious educators—whether consciously or unconsciously—overlook this history and its divergent texts, often endorsing one form of Jeremiah over the other. Such partiality can lead to incomplete biblical scholarship or religious exclusivism. Granted, religious communities often show partiality based on current canonization; however, the canons changed over time, and both versions of Jeremiah have been considered sacred in Jewish and Christian history. So both versions need to be taken seriously by interpreters regardless of affiliation.

See also: The Last King(s) of Judah: Zedekiah and Sedekias in the Hebrew and Old Greek Versions of Jeremiah 37(44):1–40(47):6 (Mohr Siebeck, 2017).

By Shelley L. Birdsong
North Central College
June 2017
This is a good illustration of how important the Septuagint is for understanding the transmission of the text of the Hebrew Bible. This particular case is not just a matter of textual criticism. It involves two editions of the text which tell two different stories about King Zedekiah.

T. Levi: priesthood

READING ACTS: Testament of Levi and the Priesthood (Phil Long). Just to be clear, the Greek Testament of Levi gives every indication of having been written in the second century CE, as a very free translation of the much earlier Aramaic Levi. This is not just a matter of Christian "interpolations," although the new work is certainly Christian. Aramaic Levi has been substantially edited in other ways. Notably, the long section of instructions for sacrificial rites which forms the core of Aramaic Levi has been very much abbreviated in the Testament of Levi. Whoever wrote the Testament of Levi did not find ritual law interesting.

The presentation of the priesthood in Aramaic Levi is problematical. It presents Levi as a priest and a founder of the priesthood in his own time. Yet in the Pentateuch God founds the Levitical priesthood in the time of Moses and the priesthood itself is limited to the family of Aaron (later, of Zadok, Aaron's descendant). More on that here.

The first part of the Testament of Levi basically echoes the view of Aramaic Levi. I am not sure whether Testament of Levi 14-18 is compatible with this view. It seems mostly interested in the Aaronid (Zadokite) priesthood of the biblical and Second Temple periods. But I would have to look into it more carefully to have a confident opinion.

Earlier posts in Phil's blog series on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha are noted here and links. The last two posts in the series have also been on the Greek Testament of Levi.


YONA SABAR: Hebrew Word of the Week: tamar - "date palm (tree and fruit); Tamar (name)" תמר. Professor Sabar also suggests that the Aramaic name for Palmrya, Tadmor, may be related to this root.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

1 Enoch and Ethiopia

THE CSCO BLOG: The Book of Enoch the Prophet (Sofanit Abebe). This blog post gives a brief introduction to 1 Enoch. It focuses on the importance of 1 Enoch for Ethiopian Christianity, with particular reference to the Andǝmta commentary tradition.

Cross-file under Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Watch.

T. Levi: apocalyptic

READING ACTS: Apocalyptic in the Testament of Levi. Phil Long explores apocalyptic chronology and messianism in the last four chapters (14-18) of the Greek Testament of Levi. He also has some comments on Aramaic Levi.

Unfortunately, we don't have the end of Aramaic Levi. What is left of it has parallels with the Testament of Levi chapter 13, and perhaps some words and themes in chapter 14, but no more. So we don't know how much of Testament of Levi 15-18 is based on Aramaic Levi. I agree that some of it probably is.

It's hard to tell whether Aramaic Levi drew on Daniel's seventy weeks as a messianic prophecy. On the one hand, 11QMelchizedek (11Q13) probably quotes from Daniel 9. 11Q13 also uses a pattern of jubilee years in a context involving Melchizedek as an eschatological redeemer. So such ideas were circulating in Second Temple Judaism. But on the other hand, the Synoptic Apocalypse (Mark 13 and parallels) also quotes from Daniel 9 and applies it to a messianic eschatological context. So early Christianity was using these ideas too. I just don't know what was in the lost ending of Aramaic Levi.

Earlier posts in Phil's blog series on the OTP are noted here and links. That post from yesterday was also on the Greek Testament of Levi.