Friday, November 14, 2014

Anxious revolutionary years

PHILIP JENKINS has two posts up at the Anxious Bench on the second and third centuries BCE as revolutionary years for ancient Judaism:

Revolutionary Years 1
In the third and second centuries BC, the Jewish world changed very rapidly, and we see the development of many themes and debates that would shape both Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism – the Last Judgment and eschatology, angels and demons, afterlife and apocalypse. In that process, one very short period of thirty or so years demands our attention, as the centerpiece of a wide-ranging spiritual revolution.

Revolutionary Years 2
In a very short period in the second century BC – mainly between 170 and 140 – Jewish thought and religion changed swiftly and fundamentally, creating a world that is familiar to later historians from Early Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism. I have already described some of the scriptures that emerge from this world, but let me here explore some of the religious themes that now rose to central significance.


Multilingualism Conference

JUDAIC STUDIES AT YALE UNIVERSITY: Multilingualism Conference.
Over the past 20 years there has been a great deal of new work done on multi-lingualism, on material findings, and on the interaction between text and image in antiquity. These findings have had significant implications for the way we think about dynamic interactions between and within cultures in antiquity. The planned conference will explore new research on the transfer of culture in antiquity with respect to language, image, daily practice, religious ritual, and material culture.
Follow the link for the schedule (7-9 December).

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Sanders on the aporia of the Torah

SETH SANDERS: The Early History of Scriptural Unreason.
Here is where we can grasp Hebrew literature’s original aporia, in the gap between the Torah and its readers that made it sometimes seem so problematic and irrational. How did the Torah first become a puzzle to its early tradents, a problem to be solved?
Asking the important questions.

On Berlin and Brettler, The Jewish Study Bible, 2nd edition

INTERVIEW: Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler on the Hebrew Bible (OUP Blog).
Winner of the 2004 National Jewish Book Award for Scholarship, The Jewish Study Bible is a landmark, one-volume resource tailored especially for the needs of students of the Hebrew Bible. We sat down with co-editors Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler to talk about the revisions in the Second Edition of The Jewish Study Bible, and the Biblical Studies field as a whole.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

IOSOT Congress volume and Neusner Festschrift

Congress Volume Munich 2013

Christl M. Maier, University of Marburg

This volume presents the main lectures of the 21st Congress of the International Organization for the Study of the Old Testament (IOSOT) held in Munich, Germany, in August 2013. Seventeen internationally distinguished scholars present their current research on the Hebrew Bible, including the literary history of the Hebrew text, its Greek translation and history of interpretation. Some focus on archeological sources and the reconstruction of ancient Israelite religion while others discuss the formation of the biblical text and its impact for cultural memory. The volume gives readers a representative view of the most recent developments in the study of the Old Testament.

Contributors are: Olivier Artus, Ehud Ben Zvi, Beate Ego, Irmtraud Fischer, Christian Frevel, Shimon Gesundheit, Timothy P. Harrison, Louis C. Jonker, James L. Kugel, Christoph Levin, Amihai Mazar, Steven L. McKenzie, Konrad Schmid, Yvonne Sherwood, Zipora Talshir, Akio Tsukimoto, and Jacques Vermeylen.

A Legacy of Learning
Essays in Honor of Jacob Neusner

Edited by Alan J. Avery Peck, College of the Holy Cross, Bruce Chilton, Bard College, William Scott Green, University of Miami, and Gary G. Porton, University of Illinois, Urbana.

In a career spanning over fifty years, the questions Jacob Neusner has asked and the critical methodologies he has developed have shaped the way scholars have come to approach the rabbinic literature as well as the diverse manifestations of Judaism from rabbinic times until the present. The essays collected here honor that legacy, illustrating an influence that is so pervasive that scholars today who engage in the critical study of Judaism and the history of religions more generally work in a laboratory that Professor Neusner created. Addressing topics in ancient and Rabbinic Judaism, the Judaic context of early Christianity, American Judaism, World Religions, and the academic study of the humanities, these essays demarcate the current state of Judaic and religious studies in the academy today.

Sahidic Old Testament Project

GOOD NEWS: Sahidic OT Project at Göttingen!!! (ETC).

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A new Syriac Gospel in which Jesus married Mary Magdalene? I don't think so.

SHORT ANSWER, NO: Is this proof Jesus married and had two sons? Ancient manuscript said to be 'lost gospel' with a sensational twist (Harry Mount, The Daily Mail).

Barrie Wilson and Simcha Jacobovici have published a book about the well-known Syriac version of the Old Testament pseudepigraphon Joseph and Aseneth, in which they claim that the story is really a secretly-coded one about Jesus marrying Mary Magdalene. That's right: Jesus and Mary are not mentioned at all in this "Gospel," it is a story about two Old Testament characters and one has to impose an allegory of Jesus and Mary onto it, based on an imagined marriage.

The Syriac version of Joseph and Aseneth happens to be our earliest copy of the text, but we know (from the comments in the larger work in which it now imbedded) that the Syriac is a translation of a Greek text. We have many copies of this Greek text in more than one version. The origin of the Greek work is debated by scholars. Some think it is a Second-Temple-era Jewish text and others that it is a late-antique Christian one. The translator of the Syriac and the person who commissioned the translation seem to think that the book is an allegory. An allegory of what is not entirely clear, due to an unfortunate manuscript break, but something to do with "our Lord the Word." Presumably Joseph represents Jesus. I would guess that Aseneth correspondingly represents the gentile Church.

So, if Joseph and Aseneth is a Christian work (and I am not yet persuaded otherwise) and if the Syriac writers are correct in reading it as an allegory involving Jesus (and it's possible that they are), it still does not follow that the allegorical marriage of Joseph and Aseneth has anything at all to do with a literal marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. The allegorical marriage of Jesus and the Church goes back to the New Testament (e.g., Ephesians 5:21-33 and Revelation 19:6-8; 21:2). The idea of a marriage of Jesus to Mary Magdalene is not explicitly attested in antiquity (the almost certainly forged Gospel of Jesus' Wife notwithstanding). It would take a lot of evidence to persuade me that Joseph and Aseneth is about Jesus and Mary.

Even if it were demonstrable that Joseph and Aseneth was about a marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, this would merely be evidence for a creative apocryphal notion thought up sometime in late antiquity (and there were many, many such notions). It would remain to prove that this text told us anything about the historical Jesus and Mary and that would be very difficult indeed to establish.

Although I always like to see the Old Testament pseudepigrapha getting some media attention, it is too bad that the fascinating and entertaining text Joseph and Aseneth is being tied in the public mind to this ingenious but highly implausible connection with a literal marriage of Jesus.

It's always possible that there is some stunning argumentation in the book that will make me change my mind, but I'm not holding my breath. I'm not going to get around to reading the book anytime soon, or more likely ever. But I will keep an eye on reviews and other scholarly commentary to see if anything interesting does arise from it.

Did Jesus actually marry Mary Magdalene? I have commented here. I put up a post on the Wilson-Jacobovici notion about Joseph and Aseneth back when it was first hinted at about a year ago, linking to very helpful comments by Mark Goodacre and Richard Bauckham.

Some responses from New Testament specialists in various media:

ABC News: Alleged 'Lost Gospel' Claims Jesus Had Wife, 2 Children: Authors of a new book say they have evidence to back up claims the savior was married to Mary Magdalene. Mark Goodacre is interviewed briefly. [Bad link now corrected.]

James McGrath: Married with Children? Recent Headlines About Jesus and Mary Magdalene.

Greg Carey: Another Jesus and Mary Magdalene Hoax.

Robert Cargill (who has already read the book): Review of “The Lost Gospel” by Jacobovici and Wilson. Key excerpt:
By that same allegorical logic, you could swap out the names of Samson and Delilah and claim that Mary Magdalene cut Jesus’ hair. Or swap out Adam and Eve and conclude that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were the primordial couple. Or read David and Bathsheba allegorically and end up with Jesus having a son named Solomon, who is guarded by the Priory of Sion, and…well, you get the picture.
UPDATE: Also Simcha Jacobovici has some pre-publication comments about the book in The Times of Israel, noting that the Syriac text was translated by Professor Tony Burke (of York University and the blog Apocryphicity): It begins!

And so it does.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Sight-reading a Maimonides autograph in the British Library

SAUL J. SINGER: Confessions Of A Judaica Document Collector (The Jewish Press).
I am walking through the British Library in London, which serves as the state repository for, among other things, treasured original documents. Outstanding works in the collection include a unique Aristotle papyrus, four original Magna Cartas, the 4th-century Greek Codex Sinaiticus Bible, a Gutenberg Bible, and Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks.

Mr. Singer's collection is mostly of modern Judaica and, although it is of great interest on its own terms, it is not very relevant to PaleoJudaica. But this cool little vignette caught my eye:
And then I turn around – and there it is, unbelievably right before my eyes: A handwritten responsa by Moshe ben Maimon, otherwise known as the Rambam or Maimonides. It is protected behind glass, but I can come within only a few inches of it and almost – almost – touch it.

As I begin to decipher the letter, trembling with excitement, a museum docent arrives with his group of some fifteen followers and offers a comprehensive and detailed discourse on Maimonides: renowned physician and Jewish philosopher, author of seminal texts on Jewish law, etc.

A member of the group asks: “But what does it say?” The docent bursts into a broad smile. “You know,” he says, grinning ear to ear “I have been conducting this tour for over 15 years, and no one has ever asked me that question. I don’t know the answer, but I will find out.”

I slowly raise my hand, which he acknowledges with a nod. “Although the Hebrew is old-style and I cannot read all of it,” I tell them, “this is a response to a question of Jewish law posed to Maimonides in which he essentially writes that the doctrine of caveat emptor (“let the buyer beware”) has no place in Jewish law. That is, the seller has an absolute duty to disclose to the buyer all the material faults of the item known to him, and his failure to do so not only constitutes grounds for a ruling in the buyer’s favor, but also establishes a religious violation.”

With thick British eyebrows raised high, the docent asks, “Are you a Jewish scholar, then, sir?” I respond, much amused, “No, and I leave behind a long trail of rabbis and teachers who would happily disabuse you of that notion. Actually, I’m an average Orthodox Jew whose parents gave him the gift of a yeshiva education.”

I proceed to describe and contrast the yeshiva day school system in the United States and Britain, explaining that what is common to both is that every elementary school child is able to read the Bible in the original Hebrew, as well as centuries-old Hebrew and Aramaic texts. They are all awestruck.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Stuckenbruck, The Myth of Rebellious Angels

Loren T. Stuckenbruck
The Myth of Rebellious Angels

Studies in Second Temple Judaism and New Testament Texts

The mythical story of fallen angels preserved in 1 Enoch and related literature was influential during the Second Temple period. This myth, initially attested in the Enochic Book of Watchers and picked up in further parts of 1 Enoch , was received in writings composed in Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek, and had a profound impact on streams of religious thought in the western and oriental world, as well as in Africa. This volume collects studies by Loren T. Stuckenbruck that explore aspects of this influence in some of the literature and demonstrate how it was reused and adapted to address new cultural and religious contexts ( Book of Giants , Book of Jubilees , Dead Sea Scrolls, Book of Tobit, Book of Daniel, Genesis Apocryphon , Philo). In addition, apart from whether influence of the fallen angels’ tradition can be established, Stuckenbruck analyses the degree to which it offers a theological framework through which to reconsider theological approaches to several New Testament texts (Synoptic Gospels, Gospel of John, Acts, Pauline texts, and the Book of Revelation). Themes covered in the essays include demonology, prominent evil figures, giants, exorcism, petitionary prayer, the birth and activity of Jesus, the holy Spirit, conversion of Gentiles, "apocalyptic" and the understanding of time, and theological anthropology.
Follow the link for the TOC and ordering information.