Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Jordanian lead codices: (2) The inscriptions

THIS IS MY SECOND POST commenting on Samuel Zinnner's comprehensive report on the Jordanian Lead Codices: Son of the Star: Bar Kokhba and the Jordanian lead books, which has been published online by the Centre for the Study of the Jordanian Lead Books.

You can find the first post, which deals with the materials tests on the codices, here.
For previous posts on the codices, start here and follow the links.

With the discussion of the metals tests out of the way, let me turn to things that I can talk about with more authority — the inscriptions on the codices. As I said in the preceding post, I do not think there is a credible case that the lead codices are genuine ancient artifacts

Dr. Zinner has presented a basic decipherment of the texts and I accept it as essentially correct. But let’s be clear on what that means.

The people who made the codices made use of some coins from the various Jewish revolts, some other Hellenistic and Roman-era coins, and a second-century-CE grave epitaph. These are the sources for almost all of the text of the codices and at least most of the iconography. There is arguably some knowledge of the Bible and late antique and later magical and mystical traditions as well. See p. 214 of the report for a summary of the deciphered content.

They took these sources and copied out some coin texts with all sorts of creative reordering and creation of words that could be made from the letters. There is virtually no connected text; just words and the occasional brief phrase, plus apparently lots of nonsense sequences of letters. Sometimes words are backwards, arranged in geometric patterns, broken up with other letters in between, or some combination of such rearrangements.

Any attempt to make more sense of the texts amounts to a Rorschach test for cognitive dissonance. My own view is that this is exactly what their creators intended. To me the objects look like a modern, or at least comparatively recent, attempt to make evocative texts using the very little surviving material from the coins.

People who had access to very limited artifactual information about ancient Judaism created faux-artifacts on the basis of what they had. They used the coin inscriptions to make up texts that were ultimately meaningless, but always just on the verge of making sense. This was a cover for their lack of information and inability to produce a coherent and convincing ancient text. The texts on the codices offer just enough dots with just enough clear connections to invite their readers to try to connect more dots and make them say more than they do. That is my reading of them or, if you wish, the direction my own confirmation bias takes me.

To Dr. Zinner they look like something far more significant: an elaborate esoteric statement with evocations of nationalist ideology and mystical and apotropaic traditions. He draws on an impressive panoply of sources to make sense of them: Mesopotamian cylinder seals, Ophric gold plates, an ancient Celtic coin, Greek magical amulets, grave inscriptions, the Gospel of John, the Book of Revelation, late-antique Synagogue iconography, Sefer HaRazim, Babylonian incantation bowls, Samaritan theology, 3 Enoch, the Zohar, other Kabbalistic traditions, medieval and Renaissance magic, etc. This is an incomplete list, but it gives you the idea. His justification for drawing so much on later material is that these late traditions sometimes preserve much older material. This is true, but a very little of that goes a long way.

I do not find his interpretation convincing. If one compares material from a vast range of dates and provenances to the allusive and evocative texts on the codices, it would be hard not to find some interesting connections. I doubt that the analysis would pass muster in a peer-review publication without a great deal of pruning. (Of course, there is potentially a direct way to prove me wrong on that.) And even if we assume, for the sake of argument, that his analysis is mostly correct, I think it would amount to compelling evidence that the codices were produced in the Renaissance or later.

The most I can do in a blog post is suggest to you a broad interpretation of the epigraphic evidence of the codices which is an alternative to Dr. Zinner's. Have a look at the evidence and see which interpretation makes more sense to you. I blog, you decide.

I do not have time to comment on many of the claims in the report in detail, and to do so would try the patience of my readers. But I do want to say a little more about the use of the Abgar-Selaman inscription. I think it a crucial piece of evidence for our understanding of the codices.

That will be the subject of my next post.


Cross-file under Fake Metal Codices Watch. I acknowledge that various elements of the current discussion may point to some of the codices being something other than fake, but I remain to be convinced. See my coming posts for more. In any case, I continue to include this cross-file rubric so that readers can search it to find all my posts on the subject.

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6th-century building inscription excavated near Damascus Gate

ARCHAEOLOGY AND EPIGRAPHY: Emperor Justinian Mosaic Inscription Unearthed near Damascus Gate (JNi.Media).
According to [Greek epigrapher Dr. Leah] Di Segni, “This inscription commemorates the founding of the building by Constantine, the priest. The inscription names the emperor Flavius Justinian. It seems that the building was used as a hostel for pilgrims.” Di Segni added, “‘Indiction’ is an ancient method of counting years, for taxation purposes. Based on historical sources, the mosaic can be dated to the year 550/551 AD.”

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Rabbinics post at JTS

H-JUDAIC: Jewish Theological Seminary, Rabbinic Literatures and Cultures, Assistant Professor, Rabbinic Literatures.
The Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) is seeking a dynamic and creative assistant professor of rabbinic literatures and culture, including Talmud and Midrash. The candidate should have a passion for teaching and be engaged with current methodologies in the study of rabbinic history and literatures. The ideal candidate is an accomplished scholar and teacher who is committed to the mission of JTS.

The position is a three-year, non-tenure track, renewable position, with all the rights, responsibilities, and benefits of a full-time faculty appointment, beginning July 1, 2018. Candidates must have PhD in hand by July 1, 2018. Teaching will be principally in the JTS Rabbinical School, Kekst Graduate School, List College, and other programs of JTS.
Follow the link for application information. The deadline for full consideration is 20 October 2017.

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Seidler, "Jewish Identity on Trial: The Case of Mordecai the Jew"

NEW ARTICLE IN THE ONLINE JOURNAL OF HEBREW SCRIPTURES: Jewish Identity on Trial: The Case of Mordecai the Jew, by Ayelet SEIDLER.
Abstract : The book of Esther deals with issues of Jewish identity in exile. This article argues that early in the story (chapters 2 and 3) Mordecai is depicted as trying to assimilate into Persian culture before experiencing a reversal and returning to his Jewish identity, a development that occurs from chapter 4 onwards. This reading illuminates an important theme addressed in the book, namely, how the danger of assimilation threatens Jews in the Diaspora. The book portrays an ideal Jewish leader operating in a foreign court while adhering to his Jewish identity and serving his fellow Jews.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Israeli schoolgirl finds ancient half-shekel coin

NUMISMATICS: Ancient coin discovered in Halamish. 9-year-old girl finds coin from time of Temple with inscription 'Holy Jerusalem' (Mordechai Sones, Arutz Sheva).
A surprising and apparently shocking discovery in Neve Tzuf, in Binyamin: Hallel, a girl of about nine, discovered an ancient coin that turned out to be a half-shekel coin with the inscription "Holy Jerusalem."

Arutz Sheva spoke with the girl, Hallel, and her father, attorney Shimon Halevy, and Prof. Zohar Amar, who conducted the preliminary examination of the coin.

[...]
For past PaleoJudaica posts on half-shekel coins and their use, start here and follow the links.

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Joseph and Aseneth: questions of provenance

READING ACTS: Joseph and Aseneth (Phil Long). I discuss Joseph and Aseneth in my book, The Provenance of the Pseudepigrapha (Brill, 2005), pp. 190-195.

It should be mentioned that Joseph and Aseneth survives in Greek in several different recensions, two of which could be argued to be more original.

It is widely thought to be an Egyptian Jewish work, although it has also been read as a late-antique work by a Christian, a God-fearing gentile, or a Samaritan. It does read plausibly as a defense of gentile conversion to Judaism, but it could also be read as a Christian warning to avoid being "unequally yoked with unbelievers" (2 Cor 6:14).

I do not find credible the suggestion that the book was composed in Syriac and is a covert allegory about the marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. (Phil does not suggest this!)

See my book for more comments on the provenance of Joseph and Aseneth.

For notice of previous posts in Phil's ongoing series on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, start here and follow the many links.

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Annual bloggers' dinner at #AARSBL17

RELIGION PROF. BLOG: Bloggers’ Dinner and Drinks at #AARSBL17. James McGrath issues the annual invitation. The timing of this never seems to work for me. But I'll stop by if I can.

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Review of "Faces of Power" coin exhibition

NUMISMATICS: Israel Museum coin exhibit shows a daughter’s love is worth more than gold. Priceless collection of 75 gold Roman coins depicts evolution of propaganda and portraiture over 300 years (Amanda Borschel-Dan, Times of Israel).
Now this fit-for-a-king collection can be seen by the general public in the Israel Museum’s exhibit “Faces of Power,” temporarily on view in the Archaeology Wing.

The exhibit contains the portraits of 40 Roman emperors — and three usurpers — as well as the likenesses of 13 women who were members of the imperial family.

“These coins enable us to tell the story of the Roman gold currency for a period of more than 300 years, from the end of the first century BCE to the beginning of the fourth century CE,” writes Dr. Haim Gitler, the Tamar and Teddy Kollek chief curator of Archaeology and curator of Numismatics, in an impressive book of scholarly essays which accompanies the exhibit.

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Monday, August 21, 2017

The Jordanian lead codices: (1) The materials tests

AS PROMISED at the beginning of the month, I have some comments on Samuel Zinnner's comprehensive report on the Jordanian Lead Codices: Son of the Star: Bar Kokhba and the Jordanian lead books, which has been published online by the Centre for the Study of the Jordanian Lead Books. It is a massive work, over 1100 pages long. I will not attempt a detailed response, which would have to be very lengthy indeed. But I do want to address what I see as the main points raised in the report and to give you my views about them. So think of this as a long book review. This is the first of four blog posts on the report.

The second post, on the inscriptions on the codices, is here.

I begin with some comments on the materials tests on the lead. Apparently the definitive result of the tests at the University of Surry is that the tested codices in their current form must be at least 100 years old. More specifically, there were tests on the (polonium) radiation content of the lead and on alpha particle emission from the lead, and both gave results of zero. Reportedly the first indicates an age of not less than 100 years and the second an age of not less than 200 years. This is what the Lead Book Center report and the films say.

That said, there is an anomaly that I would like to have clarified. The University of Surrey’s press release refers to both tests and only claims that the they indicate that the lead is “more likely” to be over 100 years old. It says nothing about 200 years. And in the films, in an interview clip with Chris Jeynes (of the University of Surrey) repeated twice, he says that it is “very unlikely that the artifacts are less than fifty years old.” So we are hearing somewhat inconsistent claims here. I imagine that this is just a matter of confused presentation, but I do think it needs to be cleared up.

The films, the Surrey press release, and the report also make various claims about analysis of the corrosion on the codices as seen on the high-resolution photographs. These claims are not about tests done at Surrey and should be kept separate from those tests. The basic claims are that the corrosion would have taken at least a century, probably multiple centuries, and perhaps many centuries, to build up and the analyzers can think of no way that the effect could have been faked by a modern forger.

I am not specialist in metallurgy, ancient or otherwise, or in ancient material culture. I am not capable of a specialist’s critical evaluation of the tests and analyses. At the same time, I think that it is fair to demand a high standard of transparency and scholarly process when we deal with them.

The metals tests are potentially important, but I would like clarification on what exactly the Surrey tests prove. I also think the claims about the corrosion need to be filtered through peer-review in a journal on ancient material culture. Any of those claims that make the peer-review cut would need to be taken very seriously.

It is also unfortunate that none of the numerous lab reports on the tests on the codices have ever been published in full. I understand that this is largely or completely outside the control of the Lead Book Centre, but again I call upon those who own copyright of the lab reports to publish them in full.

I will anticipate my forthcoming comments to the extent of saying that what I see now is a confusing lack of correspondence between the physical evidence (the metals texts and analysis) and the textual and iconographic evidence. The textual and iconographic evidence does not align with the codices being ancient artifacts. Rather it points to their being clumsy modern productions. The physical evidence indicates that they are old and possibly very old. When the scientific tests and the more traditional forms of analysis do not line up, we have a problem.

This is not the first time we have been here. Remember the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife? The early reports told us that analysis of the physical appearance of the papyrus (by two professional papyrologists!) indicated considerable age.

There were materials tests for the GJW as well. The first round of Carbon-14 testing gave a date in the pre-Christian era, which was not particularly helpful. The second round gave it a still relatively ancient date of the eighth century CE. The ink used was also found to be consistent with an ancient origin. These were highly credible tests at the University of Arizona and Harvard University.

At the same time, from the beginning there were serious textual, linguistic, and paleographical problems with the GJW. In due course more information was uncovered, and now no specialist wishes to defend its authenticity. It’s a forgery.

Now all this should give us pause in relation to the Jordanian lead codices. On the one hand, the (duly vetted) opinions of scientists based on materials testing should be taken into account and indeed should be given considerable weight. But on the other hand, neither the tests nor the scientists are infallible. And there are serious problems with the idea that the codices are ancient artifacts.

I am willing to concede for the sake of argument that there is a core group of codices that are at least 100 years old and perhaps 200. But I regard any claims of greater age to be as yet not proven. And I cannot decisively rule out the possibility that even these results could have been faked by a clever modern forger. I think Dr. Zinner and I do not have any serious disagreements on this subject.

In my next post I will turn to more familiar (to me) matters regarding the inscriptions on the metal codices. Having now seen the full report and gone over its main points, I can say that I do not think there is a credible case that the lead codices are genuine ancient artifacts.

Cross-file under Fake Metal Codices Watch. I acknowledge that various elements of the current discussion may point to some of the codices being something other than fake, but I remain to be convinced. See my coming posts for more. In any case, I continue to include this cross-file rubric so that readers can search it to find all my posts on the subject. For past posts on the codices, start here and follow the many links.

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Report on ISBL Christian Apocrypha sessions

APOCRYPHICITY BLOG: 2017 International SBL Christian Apocrypha Sessions Report. Tony Burke is back from Berlin with a report. The content is broader than the title indicates. It includes papers on Jewish Apocrypha, a pagan text adopted later by pretty much everyone (Ahiqar), and Jewish-Christian material.

There's more on the 2017 ISBL meeting in Berlin here and here.

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Sin and eclipses according to the Talmud

ASTRONOMY: Solar Eclipse of 2017: Four Reasons It's Bad, According to the Talmud. Judaism's central rabbinic text says today's solar eclipse is nothing to celebrate (Allison Kaplan Sommer, Haaretz).
But at the downtown Brith Shalom Beth Israel synagogue Sunday evening, nestled in the historic southern city perfectly positioned for the Monday event, Dr. Jeremy Brown had bad news for a group who had gathered for a kosher meal on “Eclipse Eve”: in traditional Judaism, an eclipse is nothing to celebrate.

“Eclipses happen because people sin,” he said. There’s no getting around it, Brown says. The Talmud - the central text of rabbinic Judaism - is unambiguous in its interpretation of eclipses - both lunar and solar, as a form of divine punishment - a curse to be dreaded and feared, rather than a miraculous wonder of nature.

If that isn’t bad enough, Brown told his audience of Charleston locals and Jews who had come to the city for the big event, the four sins specifically blamed by the Talmud plunging the earth into eerie darkness are so notably bizarre and politically incorrect, that nobody really wants to talk about them.
This has led to a certain amount of exegetical difficulty in the centuries since.

Meanwhile, if you are in a position to observe today's eclipse, please stay safe!

An earlier post on today's eclipse is here. Some past PaleoJudaica posts dealing with (or debunking stories about) solar and lunar eclipses are here and here and links. And see also this recent post by Carl Rasmussen at the HolyLandPhoto's Blog: A Solar Eclipse and Old Testament Chronology.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Today's eclipse and King Hezekiah?

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: August 2017: An Eclipse of Biblical Proportions. Solar eclipses and Biblical events (Frederick Baltz). I don't recall seeing this explanation before for Hezekiah's reversing sun-shadow on the "dial of Ahaz" (2 Kings 20/Isaiah 38). In general I am skeptical about naturalistic explanations for biblical miracles. But I am not an astronomer. I don't have the expertise to evaluate this one. I blog, you decide.

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Sunday, August 20, 2017

Update on the Jubilees Palimpsest Project

THE JUBILEES PALIMPSEST PROJECT has some 2017 updates on its website which I have not yet noted. The project is devoted to technological reconstruction of (inter alia) the under-text of a Latin palimpsest manuscript containing the Book of Jubilees and a fragment of the Testament of Moses. In particular, they have now published a detailed reconstruction of the layout of the codex with sample photographic pages covering a few columns of Jubilees and, at the very end, the full text of the Latin Testament of Moses.

Past posts on the project are here, here, and here.

For other posts on palimpsest manuscripts, start here and follow the links.

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Collins & Manning, Revolt and Resistance in the Ancient Classical World and the Near East

BIBLIOGRAPHIA IRANICA: Revolt and Resistance in the Ancient Classical World and the Near East. Notice of a new book: Collins, John & J.G. Manning. 2016. Revolt and Resistance in the Ancient Classical World and the Near East: In the Crucible of Empire. Leiden: Brill. Follow the link for a description and the TOC.

Not surprisingly, the ancient Jewish revolts against various pagan overlords receive thorough coverage.

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Review of Orlin (ed.), Routledge Encyclopedia of Ancient Mediterranean Religions

THE BIBLICAL REVIEW BLOG: “The Routledge Encyclopedia of Ancient Mediterranean Religions” (William Brown).

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Genetic analysis and the lost ten tribes of Israel

THE BIBLE AND INTERPRETATION: Can Genetics Solve the Mystery of the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel?. By Steven Weitzman, Department of Religious Studies, University of Pennsylvania, Augusta 2017.
Geneticists will always need to rely on non-genetic evidence to make any historical sense of the data—written texts, oral traditions, and interviews with people about who they are and where their ancestors come from. Without such evidence it is impossible to turn the testimony of DNA into a coherent account of the past, and that process means that there will also always be some degree of imagination involved in the construction of genetic history, just as is the case for historical accounts based on ancient texts or archaeological finds.
This is a good reminder that scientific texts are not as objective as sometimes we would like to think.

For past posts on Professor Weitzman's research, including his recently published book, The Origin of the Jews: The Quest for Roots in a Rootless Age, see here and links.

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Saturday, August 19, 2017

Meat and milk, chicken and cheese

DR. JORDAN D. ROSENBLUM: Why Chicken and Cheese Became Prohibited. But Chicken and Egg Remained Permitted (TheTorah.com).
We have seen that normative rabbinic opinion prohibiting the consumption of meat with milk develops to include fowl—at least in practice—in the broader injunction in Deuteronomy 14:21 to not cook a kid in its mother’s milk. Unlike Philo, however, the rabbis decide that this biblical law is not about compassion, mercy, or kindness, but about compliance with divine rule.[12] And since, for the rabbis, the law isn’t about compassion, mercy, or kindness, then milk and eggs are not analogous. Eggs are not “milk,” so they present no problem, unless – like Philo – one is making an ethical argument, which the rabbis are not. And further, since the rabbis don’t consider eggs to be “meat,”[13] then there is no problem with cooking, eating, or deriving benefit from eggs and milk.
A past post on the biblical texts behind the rabbinic meat-and-milk prohibition is here.

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Review of Ben Zvi and Edelman (eds.), Leadership, Social Memory and Judean Discourse in the Fifth-Second Centuries BCE

THE BIBLICAL REVIEW BLOG: “Leadership, Social Memory and Judean Discourse in the Fifth-Second Centuries BCE” (William Brown).

I'm not sure why the review does not give full bibliographic information on the volume, but here it is: Ehud Ben Zvi and Diana V Edelman (eds.), Leadership, Social Memory and Judean Discourse in the Fifth-Second Centuries BCE (Equinox, 2016).

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Pedagogical candle-eating

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: On Pedagogy and Playing with Fire: How (and Why) to Eat a Candle in Class! (Jill Hicks-Keeton). This sounds like quite a stimulating and informative pedagogical exercise. But do read to the end of the essay before you try it in your own class.

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Catena manuscripts

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS: What is a Catena Manuscript and Why should we Care? (John Meade, ETC Blog). Catena manuscripts are important for the study of the Septuagint.

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Friday, August 18, 2017

On nine dubious DSS fragments

IN DEAD SEA DISCOVERIES: Nine Dubious “Dead Sea Scrolls” Fragments from the Twenty-First Century. By Kipp Davis; Ira Rabin; Ines Feldman; Myriam Krutzsch; Hasia Rimon; Årstein Justnes6; Torleif Elgvin and Michael Langlois. Abstract:
In 2002 new “Dead Sea Scrolls” fragments began to appear on the antiquities market, most of them through the Kando family. In this article we will present evidence that nine of these Dead Sea Scrolls-like fragments are modern forgeries.
Prepublished on the Brill website. I'm not sure whether you need a subscription to read it the full text, but do read it if you can.

Also, the recent ISBL meeting Berlin had a session on "Tracing and Facing Possible Forgeries: Methodology, Ethics, Policies." It was livestreamed and you can watch the video at the International Organization for Qumran Studies (IOQS) page on Facebook.

For past posts on the new Dead Sea Scrolls fragments that have come to light in recent years and the question of their authenticity, see here and links.

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Witches in the Bible?

DANGEROUS PHILOLOGY: Thou Shalt Not Suffer a Witch to Live: A Murderous Mistranslation? Not everybody agrees that the biblical reference in Exodus is to 'witches' as we understand them (Elizabeth Sloane, Haaretz).
“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” - Exodus 22:18 (22:17 in Hebrew)

This quote, found in the King James Version of the Bible, has been widely held responsible for the witch burnings that plagued Europe, and later America, in the Early Modern Period (1450 C.E. – 1750 C.E.). But the murderous practice may have all been the result of a Biblical mistranslation.

The original Hebrew word used in Exodus, translated as "witch," is mekhashepha. But what that word actually meant when Exodus was written thousands of years ago, we cannot know, leaving us with only modern interpretations.

[...]
I'm not sure that ancient Israelites would have made a sharp distinction between a "poisoner" and a "sorceror." In any case, there don't seem ever to have been many, if any, "witches" in the sense of people who practice magic to do evil. "Witchcraft" has functioned more as a social tool to use as an accusation against religious intermediaries who became troublesome in some way to the authorities.

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In defense of Dr. Blumell

HOBBY LOBBY FALLOUT: Accusations against BYU professor appear unsubstantiated (Jesse King, BYU Daily Universe).
BYU religion associate professor Lincoln Blumell was recently accused of working with illegally obtained artifacts owned by Hobby Lobby.

According to Blumell, he does not work with the type of artifacts he is accused of handling, and the claims appear unsubstantiated by anonymous sources.

[...]
David Meadows has already discussed this case, as noted here. One should always treat anonymous accusations with great caution.

Follow the last link above for background on this case, as well as for links to past posts on the Hobby Lobby settlement with the U.S. Justice Department, the Green Collection, and the soon-to-open Museum of the Bible.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Life/Apocalypse of Adam and Eve

READING ACTS: The Apocalypse of Adam and Eve. Phil Long posts on the Greek version of the Life of Adam and Eve, also known as "The Apocalypse of Moses."

This is his second post on the Life of Adam and Eve. The first was noted here. I have some comments there as well. Follow the links from there for past posts on his longstanding series on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Ancient glass exhibition at Yale

MATERIAL CULTURE: Yale Art Gallery serves up ancient glass in ‘Drink That You May Live’ exhibit (Joe Amarante, Litchfield County Times).
The exhibit “Drink That You May Live: Ancient Glass from the Yale University Art Gallery,” curated by Sara E. Cole, opened recently at YUAG and runs through Nov. 12, showcasing 130 objects from the gallery’s holdings.
It turns out that Hellenistic-era Israel made a significant contribution to glass-working technology:
“The single most significant revolution that occurred in glassmaking technology,” said Cole, “was the development of free-blown glass… and this occurred in the first to second century B.C. in what is today Israel.”
Past PaleoJudaica posts on ancient glass are here and links.

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Hobby Lobby and the Israeli antiquities market

RELIGION NEWS SERIVICE: After the Hobby Lobby scandal, a spotlight on antiquities sales in Israel (Michael Chabin).
JERUSALEM (RNS) – The arrest of five antiquities dealers who allegedly helped Hobby Lobby purchase illegally obtained ancient artifacts has shone a spotlight on the sale of antiquities in Israel and revived questions about the ethics of the trade in general.

On July 30 five Jerusalem-based Palestinian dealers were arrested and charged with tax evasion on the sale, which took place in the United Arab Emirates. Israeli and American authorities believe the dealers drafted bogus invoices and receipts for antiquities sold to Steve Green, president of the national craft store chain.

[...]
This article is basically a recap of what we already knew, but it includes commentary by some prominent Israeli archaeologists.

Background on Hobby Lobby's recent settlement with the U.S. Justice Department over improperly acquired antiquities is here and links. And follow the links there for past posts on the Green Collection and the soon-to-open Museum of the Bible.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

The Life of Adam and Eve

READING ACTS: The Life of Adam and Eve. The Latin version of this work is called "The Life of Adam and Eve." The Greek version is called "The Apocalypse of Moses." The title differs because the latter version frames the story as a divine revelation to Moses.

Recent work on this text calls into doubt that there was a Hebrew original behind the Greek and Latin. I agree that it was probably composed in Greek. A good case has also been made that it is a Christian composition. See M. de Jonge and M. Tromp, The Life of Adam and Even and Related Literature (Guides to Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha: Sheffield, 1997) and the relevant essays in M. de Jonge, Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament as Part of Christian Literature: The Case of the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchas and the Greek Life of Adam and Eve (SVTP 18; Leiden: Brill, 2003).

UPDATE: For previous posts in Phil's ongoing series on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, start here and follow the links.

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Sound in the classroom

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Sound Pedagogy (Sarit Kattan Gribetz).
Sound was not the central topic of this course, nor the primary mode of analysis – it was one of several. But I had never before used sound so prominently and deliberately in my pedagogy, and by the end of the semester I was surprised by how effective a pedagogical dimension sound had been in my classroom. I hope that these reflections are helpful to others who might wish to incorporate sound more fully into their courses.

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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

"Whoever Saves a Life Saves the World"

PHILOLOGOS: The Origins of the Precept "Whoever Saves a Life Saves the World." And what they tell us about particularism and universalism in Jewish tradition (Mosaic Magazine).
An Islamic principle? Isn’t the precept cited by Saleh, the startled reader asks, a Jewish one, one of the noblest of its kind, found in the Mishnah as well as other talmudic-period texts? How can it be claimed for the Quran, which was written in the 7th century after the entire Talmud was redacted?

And yet Saleh was not making it up. In the 32nd verse of the fifth Sura, or chapter, of the Quran is a retelling of the biblical story of Cain and Abel. ...
There follows a wending journey through medieval Mishnah manuscripts and back to the Qur'an.

This essay is from October of 2016. This was before I noticed Philologos's new home at Mosaic, so I missed it. Here it is now.

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Lombatti: The Shroud of Turin is still a forgery

THE BIBLE AND INTERPRETATION: The Shroud Is Just Another Hoax Forged During the Middle Ages (Antonio Lombatti).

Past PaleoJudaica posts on the Shroud of Turin are here with many links. Professor Lombatti has been writing on the Shroud for many years.

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Ascension of Isaiah 6-11

READING ACTS: Christian Visions and the Ascension of Isaiah. Phil Long has a second post on the Ascension of Isaiah as part of his ongoing series on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. For the preceding post on the Ascension of Isaiah, along with my comments see here. And follow the links from there for earlier posts in the series.

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YHWH and Dionysus?

THE ASOR BLOG: Were YHWH and Dionysus Once the Same God? This essay sounds wildly speculative to me, although I concede that a blog post is not an adequate venue for a full defense of it. But I'm going to wait until the case passes muster in a peer-review journal before I take much notice of it.

Meanwhile, I don't doubt that there will a response from others in the Blogosphere. I'll let you know when I hear of something and you please do likewise.

UPDATE: A reader has pointed out the article (published in JSOT) on which the essay is based: Was YHWH worshipped in the Aegean? You can read it at Academia.edu. Okay, fair enough. It has been published in a peer-review journal. It will be interesting to see what responses it receives.

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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Online database of Jewish art

DIGITAL ARCHIVE: Hebrew U Launches World’s Largest Jewish Art Index (JNi.Media).
The Bezalel Narkiss Index of Jewish Art is a collection of digitized images and information about Jewish artifacts from all over the world. The online collection includes more than 260,000 images of objects and artifacts from 700 museums, synagogues and private collections in 41 different countries, as well as architectural drawings of 1,500 synagogues and Jewish ritual buildings from antiquity to the modern day.
The site can be accessed here. There are many sub-categories in the collection. There are also many indices. Especially interesting for the purposes of PaleoJudaica is the section on Ancient Jewish Art. It has two sections, one with 3428 images and the other with 310 objects.

This will be a very useful resource for the study of Jewish art in all periods.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

On the hoarding of DNA-rich ancient bones

OSTEOLOGY: Stop hoarding ancient bones, plead archaeologists. Scientists call for wider access to rare samples rich in DNA (Ewen Callaway, Nature).
The quest to chronicle the past using DNA from ancient humans and animals has become a cut-throat ‘game of bones’, in which a handful of genetics laboratories are hoarding precious samples, three archaeologists charge in a 9 August letter to Nature.

The scientists call for more careful stewardship of DNA-rich bone specimens to ensure that they remain available to multiple research teams to study. They point to the example of a newly established centre in Israel that will act as a national clearing house to curate animal bones from archaeological sites, so that many researchers can access samples for genetic analysis.

[...]
Did you know what part of the body preserves DNA the best? This article will tell you.

Genetic analysis is becoming ever more important for the study of the ancient past. Some examples from the last couple of years are here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and links.

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The Ascension of Isaiah: unity and provenance

READING ACTS: The Martyrdom of Isaiah (Phil Long).
The first five chapters of this work are a Jewish expansion of 2 Kings, detailing the martyrdom of Isaiah. Chapters 6-11 are a Christian work which detail Isaiah’s ascension through the seven heavens. This section is akin to the apocalyptic literature of Enoch in that Isaiah’s soul is ushered through various stages of heaven. Each section is a composite of various sources. This complicates the dating of the book. The Jewish section was likely written in Hebrew and translated into Greek. Hebrews 11 appears to refer to the martyrdom of Isaiah (“some were sawn asunder”) or the same tradition that Isaiah the prophet was martyred by being sawn in half. This would imply a date prior to the late first century.

[...]
This was the state of the question until the early 1980s. But more recent scholarship on the Ascension of Isaiah (the preferred title now) doubts this division into a Jewish source and a Christian source. Rather, it seems to be a single second-century Christian composition. The work by Mauro Pesce, Enrico Norelli. et al., is in French and Italian, and so has not always received adequate attention in the English-speaking world. The work in English by Robert Hall and Jonathan Knight has also been important. Richard Bauckham has also published on this text and he surveys the major issues in his article "The Ascension of Isaiah: Genre, Unity and Date," which you can read part of here. See also Darrel Hannah's article, Isaiah's vision in the ascension of Isaiah and the early church.

For notice of past posts in Phil Long's ongoing series on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, start here and follow the links.

UPDATE: At the Vridar Blog, Neil Godfrey has summarized some of Norelli's work on the Ascension of Isaiah.

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Reform or repeal of the Fiscus Iudaicus under Nerva?

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: Roman Emperor Nerva’s Reform of the Jewish Tax. How Jews and Christians became further differentiated under Nerva (Nathan T. Elkins).
The coins of Nerva have sometimes been interpreted as evidence of the abolition or partial repeal of the Fiscus Iudaicus by him.2 But a strong case can be made that the coins instead celebrated a reform of the tax rather than its abolition. After all, ostraca from Egypt indicate that Jews there paid the tax at least through Trajan’s reign (98–117 C.E.).3 The meaning of the coin can be sharpened as referring to the charge of atheism and the harsh prosecutions that resulted in death and/or the confiscation of property of that second group of people prosecuted by the tax under Domitian: Jewish sympathizers and gentile Christians, as these appear to have been the new victims in Domitian’s reign.
This essay was first published in 2014, but I seem to have missed it at the time.

I noted a book on the Fiscus Iudaicus here some years ago.

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Monday, August 14, 2017

One letter can make a big difference

PALEOLOGRAPHY: Alphabet Soup in Dead Sea Scrolls Opens a Window to an Ancient Hebrew World. With a little help from his wife, researcher Alexey Yuditsky substituted one letter for another and got a lesson on the expulsion of man from the Garden of Eden (Nir Hasson, Haaretz).
Yuditsky says his wife proposed that if this was the story of the Garden of Eden, then one of the words he didn’t understand, dalal (thin out) should be kalal (curse). The problem was that the letter involved looked like a dalet (ד) or a resh (ר), not a qoph (ק) as kalal would seem to require.

Sure enough, things made more sense when he substituted a qoph for a dalet or a resh in a few cases. The qoph he found was part of a little-known Hebrew alphabet. Later, the researchers viewed the Israel Antiquity Authority’s new photographs of the Dead Sea Scrolls – a product of multispectral photography that can reveal letters invisible to the human eye.

Understanding the use of the qoph and examining the new photographs allowed Yuditsky to decipher 25 words from the scroll.
(This is a premium Haaretz article, so you may need a (free) registration to view it.)

The revived paleo-Hebrew script of the Second Temple and Roman periods can be difficult to understand. And surprisingly often with the fragmentary Dead Sea Scrolls, the proper reading of a single letter, or even a single blank space, can be of significant aid for deciphering the text. For another example, see my story about 4QGenesisj here.

Bit by bit, a letter (or blank space!) at a time, whatever it takes. Until we're done.

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More on the Reina stone-vessel workshop

ARCHAEOLOGY: Ancient Stone Workshop Sheds New Light on Roman-era Galilee Jews' Faith. Turns out Galilee Jews were as devout as their Judean counterparts ■ Chalk cave could be source of stone jars whose water Jesus turned into wine at nearby Kafr Kana. (Ruth Schuster, Haaretz).

Much of this article recaps earlier reports on the story, sometimes with additional details. I do not post it because of any speculative connection between this workshop and the stone vessels in the water-into-wine story. I would not get too excited about that. But the article does have a worthwhile discussion of the importance of stone vessels for ritual purity in Second Temple Judaism.
Stone is heavy, chalkstone is absorbent and it’s no walk in the park to clean. This adoption of this considerable inconvenience was apparently based on evolving thought about purity, originating with a curious omission in the Bible’s Book of Leviticus, explains Yonatan Adler of Ariel University, director of the excavations for the IAA.
Read on.

Background here.

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More 19th-century correspondence on the LXX

WILLIAM ROSS: A LETTER OF H. REDPATH. William publishes some correspondence relating to a Septuagint concordance project.

For his posts on some other LXX-related correspondence from the same period, see here.

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Numismatic evidence of Hannibal's defeat

PUNIC WATCH: Roman coins show evidence of Hannibal's defeat, scientists say (The Telegraph).
Study co-leader Dr Katrin Westner, of Goethe University in Frankfurt, Gemrany, said: "Before the war we find that the Roman coins are made of silver from the same sources as the coinage issued by Greek cities in Italy and Sicily.

"In other words the lead isotope signatures of the coins correspond to those of silver ores and metallurgical products from the Aegean region.

"But the defeat of Carthage led to huge reparation payments to Rome, as well as Rome gaining high amounts of booty and ownership of the rich Spanish silver mines.

"From 209BC we see that the majority of Roman coins show geochemical signatures typical for Iberian silver.

"This massive influx of Iberian silver significantly changed Rome's economy, allowing it to become the superpower of its day.

"We know this from the histories of Livy and Polybius and others, but our work gives contemporary scientific proof of the rise of Rome.
Cross-file under Numismatics and Technology Watch.

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Sunday, August 13, 2017

Crowdsourcing the Cairo Geniza

GENIZA WATCH: This Amazing Project Invites The Public To Help Unlock Medieval Jewish Documents (Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt, The Forward). And be sure and watch the video on the work of Professor Marina Rustow.

It happens that this summer I have been working on material from the Cairo Geniza. I have been deciphering and translating the main Judeo-Arabic manuscript of the Talmudic-era Hebrew magical treatise Sefer HaRazim ("The Book of the Mysteries"). Judeo-Arabic is Arabic written in Hebrew letters. The two alphabets match up very imperfectly, so it is quite a challenge.

This work is contributing to my English translation of Sepher HaRazim for volume two of the More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project.

A post on the Princeton Geniza Project from some years ago is here. For other and more recent posts on digitizing the Cairo Geniza, start here and follow the links. From this current article, it sounds as though they have made impressive progress.

For many other manuscript digitization projects, start here and here and follow the links.

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Mastrocinque, The Mysteries of Mithras

NEW BOOK FROM MOHR SIEBECK: ATTILIO MASTROCINQUE The Mysteries of Mithras: A Different Account. 2017. XXI, 363 pages. Orientalische Religionen in der Antike 24, 99,00 €, cloth, ISBN 978-3-16-155112-3.
Published in English.
In this work, Attilio Mastrocinque cautions against an approach to Mithraism based on the belief that this mystic cult resembles Christianity. While both Christian and pagan authors testified that Mithraic elements were indeed borrowed, according to Attilio Mastrocinque this was only done by some gnostic Christians. He counters that Roman Empire ideology and religion provide better clues on how to approach the matter, contending too that Virgil proves to be more important than the Avesta in understanding Mithraic iconography. The meaning of the central scene – the Tauroctony – thus becomes clear when the Roman triumph's central act of bull sacrifice is thought of as just that, with Mithras playing the role of victor as author of this success. The episodes depicted on many reliefs relate to a prophecy known to Firmicus Maternus and other Christian polemists, and which foretold the coming of a saviour, i.e. the first emperor, when Saturn returns and Apollo-Mithras will rule.

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Brooke and Smithuis (eds.), Jewish Education from Antiquity to the Middle Ages

NEW BOOK FROM BRILL:
Jewish Education from Antiquity to the Middle Ages
Studies in Honour of Philip S. Alexander


Edited by George J. Brooke and Renate Smithuis, The University of Manchester
In Jewish Education from Antiquity to the Middle Ages fifteen scholars offer specialist studies on Jewish education from the areas of their expertise. This tightly themed volume in honour of Philip S. Alexander has some essays that look at individual manuscripts, some that consider larger literary corpora, and some that are more thematically organised.

Jewish education has been addressed largely as a matter of the study house, the bet midrash. Here a richer range of texts and themes discloses a wide variety of activity in several spheres of Jewish life. In addition, some notable non-Jewish sources provide a wider context for the discourse than is often the case.
Congratulations to Professor Alexander on this well-deserved honor.

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Engels, Benefactors, Kings, Rulers

BIBLIOGRAPHIA IRANICA: Studies on the Seleukid Empire between East and West. Notice of a new book: Engels, David. 2017. Benefactors, Kings, Rulers. Studies on the Seleukid Empire between East and West (Studia Hellenistica 57). Leuven: Peeters. Follow the link for ordering information and a description.

For some comments on the importance of the Seleucid (Seleukid) Empire for biblical studies, see here.

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Saturday, August 12, 2017

Chabad's citrons — archaeology to the rescue?

CITRON CATASTROPHE: As Italy’s citron crop fails, an archaeologist looks to fruit’s 2,500-year history in Israel. After a disastrous frost that looks to wipe out the majority of this year’s etrog yield, Chabad Jewry braces for a crisis ahead of the Feast of Tabernacles (Amanda Borschel-Dan).
The natural disaster, alongside the closure of the small family citron farms to make way for tourism, make for a dim future for Chabad Jews reliant on this citron, which has been grown in the region for at least 2,000 years.

So perhaps they should look to a place where they have been cultivated for even longer — Israel.

A recent study of the migration of citrus fruit to the Mediterranean region by Tel Aviv University Prof. Dafna Langgut illustrates through archaeobotanical proof that the citron first appeared in Israel, and only about 500 years later in Italy.

Langgut’s discipline of archaeobotany involves the identification of botanical remains in archeological contexts. In the case of the citron (Citrus medica), she and her team discovered pollen from the fruit in a private garden in Jerusalem which dates back to the First Temple period.
It is not clear to me whether Chabad is actually considering using Israeli citrons for Sukkot. The Calabrian ones were prescribed by their late leader Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson, so there is considerable authority behind their use. But the losses of the Calabrian citron crop sound catastrophic. I suppose they may need to look to other options.

The discovery of ancient citron pollen at Ramat Rachel was noted here in 2012. For more on the Ramat Rachel excavation, see here and links. And I noted that recent study of the ancient use of citrus fruit, including citrons, here.

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Saving — and conserving — Mosul's manuscripts

SYRIAC (ETC.) WATCH: This priest preserves Iraqi culture found in historic manuscripts (Hannah Brockhaus, Catholic News Agency).
Since 1750 many antique manuscripts had been kept in the library of the Dominican monastery in Mosul. They were moved from the monastery starting in 2007, amid the backdrop of increased violence against Christians and other minorities at the hands of extremist groups. The documents include more than 25 subjects, including theology, philosophy, astronomy, medicine, history, and geography, many of which date back to the 10th, 11th, and 12th century in Aramaic, which is the language of Jesus Christ.
Regular readers may remember the story of the rescue of thousands of manuscrips from Mosul by Father Najeeb Michaeel and his colleagues. PaleoJudaica followed it here and here. This article covers those events. It also tells more about the contents of the manuscripts, which are written in "Syriac, Arabic, Turkish, Armenian, Hebrew, Persian, and more." And it brings the story to the present. The rescuers and their coleagues have not been idle.
Rome hosted an exhibit and conference on just a small sample of the many photos and manuscripts June 10-17.

This exhibition was “just a small fragment of what we have in Iraq with respect to manuscripts and archives and materials and photos, because we have as well the largest deposit of photos in Iraq,” Najeeb explained.

The more than 10,000 photos “tell the story of the past: the face, the work and much more,” he continued. “Even the archaeology. And we have many archaeological documents in cuneiform as well, very ancient.”

Since 2009 the Dominicans in Iraq have also partnered with Benedictine monks, who also help with the supply of equipment and organizing internships.

Their internship program has about 10 young university students, Najeeb said, which provides “practical information for true professionals in the field of the restoration of manuscripts, for their protection and digitization, and also the process of storing them and protecting them with sophisticated technology to be able to officially protect them in a scientific way.”
Good news.

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The Talmud in Hungarian

TALMUD WATCH: Hungary Emissary Presents Netanyahu With Translated Talmud (Lubavitch.com). Prime Minister Netanyahu visited Budapest last week.
[Hungary Rabbi Shlomo] Koves presented netanyahu with a copy of the Hungarian Talmud, which was recently published weeks after a decade of work by Hungary’s chief Chabad emissary, Rabbi Boruch Oberlander.

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Jubilees: Isaac, Jacob, the Amorites, and Esau

READING ACTS: Expansions on the Stories of Isaac and Jacob in Jubilees 24-38. Phil Long continues his series on the Book of Jubilees as part of his larger series on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. For notice of past posts, start here and follow the links.

The stories of Judah's wars with the Amorites and with his brother Esau and Esau's sons, are not found in the Bible. But, as I have noted here, they do appear elsewhere.

Cross-file under Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Watch.

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Friday, August 11, 2017

Privatizing Israeli salvage archaeology?

ARCHAEOLOGY: Israel to Begin Privatizing Large-scale Archaeological Excavations. Senior archaeologists warn the decision will lead to unprecedented destruction of archaeological findings and serious harm to archaeology as a science in Israel. Netivei Israel, the company that normally handles salvage excavations, has some big projects coming up. So they are planning to privatize the process. But the IAA and others see problems.
The Antiquities Authority and university archeological institutes were shocked to discover the conditions included in the bidding process. The contractor is required to meet strict deadlines, for example in the Motza dig, the authority estimated just the initial stage would take about a year; while the tender requires the entire dig to be completed in seven months – with almost no taking into account of the findings. In addition, the experience required for the archeologist n charge of the excavation is minimal, only 10 squares over the past 10 years. Now the archeologist will be required to dig hundreds of squares in a few months. “It’s like taking a home renovator to build the runway at Ben-Gurion Airport,” said someone involved in the matter.

Another problem is that the tenders do not require the scientific publication of the findings, which means the results might not be available to scholars in the future, say archeologists. The bids also do not specify the depths of the excavations, giving the contractors an incentive to dig as little as possible and discover as little as possible to keep to the tight schedule.
I'm sure we'll hear more about this.

You may need a (free) registration with Haaretz to access this article.

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Collins, The Invention of Judaism

THE ASOR BLOG: The Invention of Judaism. Torah and Jewish Identity from Deuteronomy to Paul. John J. Collins gives us a preview of his new book. Excerpt:
The official status of the Torah after the time of Ezra did not entail that it was closely observed. Rather, it had iconic importance, in the sense that people revered it even if they did not pay much attention to its content. This iconic importance can be seen in the Book of Ben Sira, in the early second century BCE. Ben Sira declares that all wisdom is the Torah of Moses, but he does not engage it in any detail.

Attitudes to the Torah changed, however, after the attempt by Antiochus Epiphanes to suppress it. The Maccabees, and their descendants, the Hasmoneans, were not especially pious, but they insisted on the observance of those aspects of the Law that had symbolic importance. During the century of Hasmonean rule, we see a “halakic turn” in the emergence of literature such as the Temple Scroll and Jubilees, that engages the legal aspects of the Torah in great detail. We also see the rise of sectarianism, fueled by disagreements over the details of the Law, as can be seen especially in the Dead Sea Scroll called the Halakhic Letter (4QMMT).

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Jubilees: Abraham

READING ACTS: Expansions on the Story of Abraham in Jubilees 11-23. Phil Long gives us a nice summary of the section on Abraham in Jubilees.

A couple of past PaleoJudaic posts on the same subject are here and here.

Phil Long has been blogging on the Book of Jubilees as part of his series on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. For notice of past posts, start here and follow the links. Cross-file under Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Watch.


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Goat's milk — A Talmudic remedy

TALMUD WATCH: How A Two Thousand Year Old Remedy Cured My Daughter (Ilana Kurshan, The Forward).
“Well,” he told me, “There is one proven remedy – you can give her fresh goat’s milk to drink. That works like a charm.” I looked at him like he was crazy. “Goat’s milk? Can I get that at the supermarket?”

“You can,” said the doctor, “But what you really want is the unpasteurized kind, and that you can only get from a farm. It’s best if they milk the goat for you, and then she drinks it right away, while it’s still warm.” I couldn’t really believe that my daughter’s recovery would come from squeezing the udders of a goat, and so I ran down the block to the pharmacy, where I was told the same thing. “Take her to a goat farm, and get her some fresh milk.” On the one hand, my heart was sinking – was there no other way to help my child? On the other hand, my mind was racing – now I was finally beginning to understand a Talmudic story that had long baffled me.
I post this because it is a good story that involves the Talmud. It is not medical advice. You should not look for medical advice from philologists.

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Thursday, August 10, 2017

Another Galilean stone-vessle workshop

ARCHAEOLOGY: Galilee Excavation Reveals 2,000 Year-Old Stone Vessel Workshop (JNi.Media).
A rare workshop for the production of chalkstone vessels, dated to the Roman period, is currently being excavated at Reina in Lower Galilee. The excavations are unearthing a small cave in which archaeologists have found thousands of chalkstone cores and other types of production waste, including fragments of stone mugs and bowls in various stages of production.

The ancient site was uncovered during the course of construction work at a municipal sports center conducted by the Reina local council. This is the fourth workshop of its kind ever to have been uncovered in Israel; an additional workshop is currently being excavated near Reina, located one kilometer from the current site. The two remaining known sites were uncovered decades ago far to the south, in the Jerusalem area.

[...]
About a year ago there were reports of a stone-vessel workshop excavated in a cave in the Galilee. The name of that site was Einot Amitai. (See here and here.) Perhaps that is the other site, the one being excavated near Reina? In any case, both sites are producing some exciting finds.

For more on stoneworking in the Roman world, see here.

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The NLI Kitv Collection online

DIGITIZATION: Israel’s national library launches online database of Jewish manuscripts (Jewish News/JNS.org).
The National Library of Israel (NLI) has launched a massive online database of centuries-old Jewish manuscripts from across the world.

The archive is known as the “Ktiv: The International Collection of Digitized Hebrew Manuscripts.” Ktiv is Hebrew for “written word.” The archive contains nearly 4.5 million images from 45,000 manuscripts, including prayer books, biblical texts, commentary, philosophy, literature and scientific writings in various Jewish-related languages such as Hebrew, Yiddish, Ladino and Judeo-Arabic. The Ktiv was launched at the opening of the World Congress of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem on Aug. 6.

[...]
Some examples of the contents:
According to the NLI, the digitized archive also contains the Leningrad Codex, writings from Maimonides, the Aleppo Codex, “some of the oldest extant Talmudic manuscripts, documents from the 13th century detailing struggles within the Yemenite Jewish community, [and] commercial and personal records chronicling Jewish life in Afghanistan in the 11th century.”
You can access the Ktiv Collection here. I ran a few searches on mystical and magical subjects. Not surprisingly, the searches yielded better results if I typed them in Hebrew rather than English. The listing of manuscripts looks vast and probably comprehensive, but the digitization itself is only well started.

This collection will be an increasingly important resources as it develops.

For many other manuscript digitization projects, start here and follow the links.

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More on the St. Catherine's Monastey palimpsests

TECHNOLOGY WATCH: The Invisible Poems Hidden in One of the World's Oldest Libraries. A new technique is revealing traces of lost languages that have been erased from ancient parchments (Richard Gray, The Atlantic).
For centuries they have gathered dust on the shelves of a library marooned in a rocky patch of Egyptian desert, their secrets lost in time. But now a collection of enigmatic manuscripts, carefully stored behind the walls of a 1,500-year-old monastery on the Sinai Peninsula, are giving up their treasures.

The library at Saint Catherine’s Monastery is the oldest continually operating library in the world. Among its thousands of ancient parchments are at least 160 palimpsests—manuscripts that bear faint scratches and flecks of ink beneath more recent writing. These illegible marks are the only clues to words that were scraped away by the monastery’s monks between the 8th and 12th centuries to reuse the parchments. Some were written in long-lost languages that have almost entirely vanished from the historical record.

But now these erased passages are reemerging from the past. In an unlikely collaboration between an Orthodox wing of the Christian faith and cutting-edge science, a small group of international researchers are using specialized imaging techniques that photograph the parchments with different colors of light from multiple angles. This technology allows the researchers to read the original texts for the first time since they were wiped away, revealing lost ancient poems and early religious texts and doubling the known vocabulary of languages that have not been used for more than 1,000 years.

[...]
I noted this story back in March here, but this article has much more detail. For example, Caucasian Albanian is a language whose vocabulary has been been vastly expanded. (The article is not very clear on whether it has been doubled or increased by 50%, which are not the same thing.) There are also new discoveries in Christian Palestinian Aramaic. And then there is the Syriac Galen palimpsest, on which more here, here, and here. And there is more, so read the article

For other past PaleoJudaica posts on palimpsests, start here and follow the links.

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Jubilees 1-10

READING ACTS: From Creation to Flood – Jubilees 1-10. Another post in Phil Long's series on the Book of Jubilees, which is part of his much longer series on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. For both, start here and follow the links.

Past PaleoJudaica posts on the relationship between the Watchers, the giants, and the demons (and the role of the last in the New Testament) are here, here, here, here, here, and links. Dr. Who and Sauron come up as well.

Cross-file under Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Watch.

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Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Judges, courts, and verdicts in the Talmud

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Lest Ye Be Judged. In this week’s ‘Daf Yomi,’ how Talmudic rabbis carried the life-or-death burden of sitting in judgment of others.
It is because they recognized the moral responsibility of judging that the rabbis were so hesitant to impose extreme verdicts, especially the death penalty. The law code given in the Torah is full of capital crimes: everything from adultery to idol worship to violating Shabbat to disobeying your parents can be punished by death, often by the particularly horrible method of stoning. But by the Talmudic era, it is clear that judges had lost their taste for such bloody punishments. Indeed, they introduce such high barriers to the imposition of capital sentences that, in practice, the death penalty could almost never be used.
Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

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Kugel, The Great Shift

INTERVIEW AND NEW BOOK: Divine Encounters of Biblical Times: PW Talks to James Kugel (Lenny Picker, Publishers Weekly).
In The Great Shift: Encountering God in Biblical Times (HMH, Sept.), Bible scholar and professor emeritus of Hebrew Literature at Harvard James Kugel looks at people’s encounters with God as they are depicted in the Bible, including Moses speaking to a burning bush. Closely examining the ancient texts and drawing on modern psychology, neuroscience, and more, Kugel explores why encounters with God have changed dramatically from the Biblical Era to today.

[...]
More on James Kugel, who was one of my teachers, here and links.

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Jubilees: space and time

READING ACTS: Sacred Geography and Sacred Time in Jubilees. Phil Long continues his series of posts on the Book of Jubilees as part of his larger series on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. (See here and many links.)

Past PaleoJudaica posts on ancient Jewish calendars — particularly the solar calendar, which was important for the theology of Jubilees — are here and links.

Cross-file under Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Watch.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Those 53 verified people in the Hebrew Bible again

EPIGRAPHY AND THE BIBLE: Researcher gives seal of approval to 53 biblical characters’ existence. Lawrence Mykytiuk looks for ancient personalities who have made an impression — be it on a signet ring or a monument (Rich Tenorio, Times of Israel). An interview with Dr. Mykytiuk, whose project is familiar to regular readers of PaleoJudaica. (See here and links. But this article also has some information about his new project:
Mykytiuk is continuing with his verifications — this time, involving the New Testament).

He said that after his first 50 Old Testament verifications, Shanks told him, “We can finish the New Testament, too.” (Shanks declined to comment for this story.)

Mykytiuk described this as “a challenge. I’m a Hebrew Bible guy. I would go on a New Testament study. It’s a very different ballgame, with Greek and Latin inscriptions and coins that you don’t deal with in Old Testament, Hebrew Bible studies.”

His next article will include verifications of 23 New Testament political figures. He expects to publish it in the September/October issue of Biblical Archaeology Review. Unlike his Old Testament verifications, the New Testament ones will include both men and women.
Regarding the last point, the 53 verified names from the Hebrew Bible are only of men.

The new project will have its own set of challenges. Will it be limited to mentions in inscriptions or will mentions in Philo, Josephus, and Roman writers count too? For some thematically related posts, see here and links.

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Tuesday, August 08, 2017

The neglected antiquities of Tiberias

THAT'S A BIG ANNIVERSARY: Celebrating 2,000 Years, Tiberias' History Is Buried Under Garbage. Ancient bathhouse under weeds, beer bottles covering a mosaic. Archaeological sites around the city could have been tourist attractions, but many are abandoned and neglected (Noa Shpigel, Haaretz).
A trip down a short dirt road at the southern end of Tiberias reveals an ancient Roman theater. A wooden lookout post perched above the ruins has a commanding view of the Sea of Galilee and beyond. The spot could be a tourist magnet, but the theater was never restored and isn’t open to visitors. Not to mention that the access road remains unpaved and features mainly trash containers.

Next year the Jewish-Roman city of Tiberias marks its 2,000th anniversary from its foundation by the Jewish royal Herod Antipas of the Herodian dynasty in about 20 C.E. He established it as a wholly new polis (city-state), not just another town, says Prof. Michael Eisenberg of Haifa University.

[...]
I hope it gets spruced up for next year.

Some past posts on Tiberias and its antiquities are collected here.

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On philosophy, balls, and Jewish ritual

MICHAEL SATLOW: Shared, but How?
What is a “ball”? Does a ball exist when there is nobody around to see it?
Despite what might seem like an unpromising opening, this blog post is actually a nice report on a recent conference on Jewish ritual practices at the University of Erfurt. The work of Bruno Latour comes in too, especially in relation to that ball.

HT AJR.

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Caiaphas and Luke-Acts

THE BIBLE PLACES BLOG: Luke & Acts (7): Caiaphas (Michael J. Caba). This is number seven in the series, formerly called "Historical Reliability of Luke-Acts.

For notice of past posts in the series, see here and links. For past PaleoJudaica posts on the Caiaphas ossuaries, see here and links.

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Amy-Jill Levine publishes children's book on Jesus

VANDEREBILT UNIVERSITY: Levine’s scholarship on Jesus’ parables featured in new children’s book (Ann Marie Deer Owens).
Amy Jill Levine, a Vanderbilt New Testament scholar, is the co-author of a new children’s book that imaginatively retells three of Jesus’ parables from the perspective of a first-century Jewish audience.

Who Counts? 100 Sheep, 10 Coins, and 2 Sons (Westminster John Knox, 2017) was co-written by Levine, University Professor of New Testament and Jewish Studies, and Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, best-selling children’s book author and Butler University faculty member.

The beautifully illustrated volume looks at three popular parables in Luke 15—the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Prodigal Son. The pictures set the three parables in modern time using multicultural, multiracial figures.

[...]

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Monday, August 07, 2017

Bathhouse at Bethsaida?

ARCHAEOLOGY: The Lost Home of Jesus' Apostles Has Just Been Found, Archaeologists Say. Archaeologists believe Julias, the home of Jesus' apostles Peter, Andrew and Philip, was located on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee (Noa Shpigel and Ruth Schuster, Haaretz).
Archaeologists think they may have found the lost Roman city of Julias, the home of three apostles of Jesus: Peter, Andrew and Philip (John 1:44; 12:21). A multi-layered site discovered on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, in the Bethsaida Valley Nature Reserve, is the spot, the team believes.

The key discovery is of an advanced Roman-style bathhouse. That in and of itself indicates that there had been a city there, not just a fishing village, Dr. Mordechai Aviam of Kinneret College told Haaretz.

None other than the Jewish historian Josephus Flavius – in fact the only source describing this city's existence – wrote that the Jewish monarch King Philip Herod, son of the great vassal King Herod, transformed Bethsaida, which had been a Jewish fishing village, into a real Roman polis (Ant. 18:28. Though whether it was built on Bethsaida, or by it, remains unknown.)

[...]
Yes, quite. The situation is complicated. Read on for the details.

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On Jewish-Temple denial

I'M GOING WITH YES FOR BOTH: Was there a Jewish temple in Jerusalem? Were the pyramids built in Egypt? (Jeremiah J. Johnston and Craig A. Evans, Fox News). Regular readers of PaleoJudaica will be familiar with the stories covered in this article.

For the unfortunate 2015 article on the Temple Mount in the New York Times, see here and links. For the unhelpful comments on the Temple Mount by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, also in 2015, see here. For the recent terrorist attach just outside the Temple Mount, see here. For more on Yasser Arafat's odd claim that the ancient Jewish Temple was in Nablus, see here and here.

Cross-file under Temple Mount Watch and Jewish-Temple Denial.

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Spoken Biblical Hebrew?

THAT WOULD BE COOL: Could Biblical Hebrew be making a comeback? (Rome Reports). The Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome is giving it a go. But now that we have Modern Hebrew, the appeal of spoken Biblical Hebrew is likely to be to a niche market.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Jubilees: The Law

READING ACTS: The Law in Jubilees (Phil Long).
In Jubilees, the law is established in creation, therefore “Obedience to the Law is the central message of Jubilees” (Wintermute, “Jubilees,” OTP 2:40). The writer desires to place as many Jewish customs and religious features as early in the history as possible. The earlier a practice can be rooted in history, the better. As Michael Segal, states, “one of the most distinctive features of Jubilees is the juxtaposition of laws generally known from the legal corpora of the Pentateuch with stories of the patriarchal period” (in Reworking the Bible: Apocryphal and Related Texts at Qumran, 204.

[...]
For past posts in Phil's long series on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, start here and follow the links. The last couple posts have been on the Book of Jubilees.

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Sunday, August 06, 2017

Tu B'Av 2017

THE FESTIVAL OF TU B'AV begins this evening at sundown. Best wishes to all those celebrating.

Tu B'Av (which just means the 15th day of the month of Av) is an ancient matchmaking festival. It has been revived in recent years as a kind of Jewish Valentine's Day. For more background on it, see here and links.

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The Huqoq mosaics

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: Huqoq 2017: Mosaics of Jonah and the Whale, the Tower of Babel and More. Huqoq excavations expose vibrant Greco-Roman and Biblical scenes (Nicola McCutcheon). A brief, but good overview of the many mosaic discoveries at the Huqoq excavation in Israel. Some of them have been found quite recently.

For past PaleoJudaica posts on Huqoq and its mosaics, start here and follow the links.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Nineteenth-century correspondence on the LXX

WILLIAM ROSS has been at the Cambridge University Library reading other people's mail. In two blog posts he shares some of what he's found:

SOME LETTERS OF H. B. SWETE – PART I
Although you may think reading hundred year-old mail to learn more about a failed project is bizarre, the fact is that the correspondence I’ve been sorting through is over two thousand years more recent than the Egyptian personal correspondences I typically mull through in papyri.

But I digress. The point is, I haven’t yet found anything more about this delicious hint of a Cambridge Lexicon of the Septuagint that never was. However, I have found some other fascinating items, which I’d like to share here in a few posts.
SOME LETTERS OF H. B. SWETE – PART II
I’ve been giving in to the temptation somewhat recently as I’ve been reading through most of Swete’s mail and wandering off into interesting subjects not directly relevant to what I’m actually looking for. Oh well.
There's more coming and I look forward to it. But I also hope William keeps focus on his doctoral dissertation!

Regular PaleoJudaica readers will recall Williams past interviews with Septuagint scholars posted on his Septuagint & C. Blog. For notice of these, start here and follow the links.

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