Thursday, July 24, 2014

Review of Jones, Between Pagan and Christian

BOOK REVIEW: Between Pagan and Christian, by Christopher P. Jones, by Candida Moss in the Times Higher. Excerpt:
This is important subject matter and a worthwhile read, and Jones is peerless in his discussions of the 4th century and beyond. For those interested in details as well as broad strokes, he is just the man to show us exactly how fuzzy the notion of paganism was in the ancient world. Engaging anecdotes - for instance about the conversion of various ancient figures - punctuate a book replete with linguistic definitions.

But when he refers to the world before Constantine, Jones’ erudition and constructivist interests seem to slip. Not only are the facts of the 1st century idealistically borrowed from traditional ecclesial histories and the Acts of the Apostles, his interests in historical constructivism evaporate. ...

Iraqi Christians expelled from Mosul

ARAMAIC WATCH: Purged by ISIS, Iraq's Christians appeal to world for help (Fox).
Iraqi Christians are begging for help from the civilized world after Mosul, the northern city where they have lived and worshiped for 2,000 years, was purged of non-Muslims by ISIS, the jihadist terror group that claims to have established its own nation in the region.

Assyrian Christians, including Chaldean and Syriac Catholics, Syriac Orthodox and followers of the Assyrian Church of the East have roots in present day Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran that stretch back to the time of Jesus Christ. While they have long been a minority and have faced persecution in the past, they had never been driven completely from their homes as has happened in Mosul under ISIS. When the terror group ordered all to convert to Islam, pay a religious tax or face execution, many chose another option: flight.


Mosul is home to some of the most ancient Christian communities, but the number of Christians has dwindled since 2003. On Sunday, militants seized the 1,800-year old Mar Behnam Monastery, about 15 miles south of Mosul. The resident clergymen left to the nearby city of Qaraqoush, according to local residents.

The BBC has a story about the monastery: Isis militants 'seize Iraq monastery and expel monks'.

Background on Mosul and on related issues in the Middle East is here and links.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Talmud on the Book of Esther

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Is the Book of Esther—a Story Told In Human Terms, Not Miracles—a Holy Book? Talmudic rabbis, like us, can only study the course of history for the elusive signs of God’s intentions.
This week, Daf Yomi readers began a new tractate, Megilla, which deals with the holiday of Purim—the day on which we read the Megilla or Scroll of Esther. And in Megillat 7a, we learned a surprising fact about that scroll: “Rav Yehuda said that Shmuel said: The book of Esther does not render the hands ritually impure.” All the other books of the Bible transmit tumah, ritual impurity, to those who touch them: As the Koren Talmud explains, the sages instituted this rule in order to discourage people from handling the biblical books too casually. Why doesn’t the Book of Esther follow this pattern? “Is this to say,” the Gemara asks, “that Shmuel maintains that the book of Esther was not stated with the inspiration of the Divine Spirit?”

The rabbis went to quite a lot of effort to find God in the various lucky breaks in the book. The Book of Esther continues to get attention today, especially in international political contexts. See here and links. And yes, that link happens to be the post immediately after the one linked to in the post I just put up, and that's how I noticed it. Coincidence? Do you really think so?

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Canine Aramaic?

NEWS YOU CAN USE: Talking to a dog in Aramaic (Adam McCollum).

As good as pirate Aramaic.

SBL program book

THE SOCIETY OF BIBLICAL LITERATURE has posted a searchable Preliminary Program Book for its upcoming annual meeting in San Diego on 22-25 November. I'm in the following session:
Mysticism, Esotericism, and Gnosticism in Antiquity
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
500 (Level 5 (Cobalt)) - Hilton Bayfront (HB)

Theme: Early Judaism
Featuring reviews of James Davila, Hekhalot Literature in Translation: Major Texts of Merkavah Mysticism (Brill, 2013)

M. David Litwa, University of Virginia, Presiding
Ra'anan Boustan, University of California-Los Angeles
Review of James Davila, Hekhalot Literature in Translation (20 min)
Rebecca Lesses, Ithaca College
Review of James Davila, Hekhalot Literature in Translation (20 min)
James Davila, University of St. Andrews, Respondent (25 min)
Discussion (10 min)
Ryan E. Stokes, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Reconsidering the Assumption of Moses (25 min)
Tom Hull, Monash University-Victoria Australia
Honest to God: Truth, theodicy and the heavenly law court in 3 Enoch (25 min)
INCHOL YANG, Claremont Lincoln University
The Influence of Ezek. 40-48 on 1Enoch 14:8-25 (25 min)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

More on the third Huqoq mosaic

ELEPHANTS: Mystery Mosaic Discovered in Ancient Galilee Synagogue (Menachem Wecker, The Forward). Excerpt:
Although Zodiac signs are portrayed at the 6th-century Beit Alpha synagogue (Israel), [excavator Jodi] Magness stresses that the third Huqoq mosaic is the first non-biblical narrative in a synagogue, even though non-biblical imagery exists. “Helios and the zodiac cycle is not a story or narrative,” she says. “The other stories depicted in ancient synagogues (including at Dura Europos) are all taken from the Hebrew Bible.”

Given the dearth of elephants in the Hebrew bible, identifying the figures in the mosaic is difficult. Magness is quoted in the UNC release saying that battle elephants are associated with Alexander the Great and subsequent Greek armies. The depiction, she writes, could refer to the legend that Alexander met the Jewish high priest. Asked if the elephants (and lit oil lamps in the second register) could suggest the Hanukkah story and the Maccabean revolt, Magness said she and her colleagues had speculated about a Maccabean interpretation last year, but the newly uncovered mosaics defy that identification.
Background here and links.

No jail yet for Golb

RAPHAEL GOLB: Appeal of Conviction Delays Jail in Internet Forgery Case (AP).

Background on the Golb Dead-Sea-Scrolls internet-impersonation case is here and links.

Hobby Lobby museum

TO HOUSE THE GREEN COLLECTION: Bible museum planned for US capital (AFP).

Monday, July 21, 2014

Zoharic Aramaic website

The Aramaic Language of the Zohar: Resources for studying Kabbalah in the original language.
This site will provide resources for people interested in reading the Zohar, the text at the heart of the Jewish mystical tradition, in its original language, or who are interested in the Aramaic language more generally. It is part of a larger project by Judy Barrett and Justin Jaron Lewis, who are working on a beginner’s textbook and a practical dictionary of the Aramaic of the Zohar.
A few years ago I noted a course on Zoharic Aramaic, taught by Justin Jaron Lewis at the University of Manitoba. And recently Judy Barrett alerted us to Daniel Matt's online Zohar Dictionary. Background on Matt's Aramaic edition and English translation of the Zohar is also at that link.

Ronald Youngblood, 1931-2014

SAD NEWS: RONALD YOUNGBLOOD, WORKED ON TRANSLATION OF BIBLE (Christine Huard, San Diego U-T). Professor Ronald Youngblood died earlier this month at the age of 82 in San Diego, my home town. He is best known for his work on the New International Version of the Bible. I first met Ron in 1982, shortly after he had moved to Bethel Seminary West. I was a Master's student at UCLA looking to an academic career in Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Studies and he graciously met with me a number of times to offer advice. He was a good guy. Requiescat in pace.

(Via the Agade List.)

Panel on Jewish and Talmudic medicine

H-JUDAIC: „Jewish Medicine“: One-day panel at Xth EAJS-Congress, Paris, 24.7.2014.

Evil lectures

BIBLICAL STUDIES ONLINE: Evil in Second Temple Judaism and Early Christianity.
Videos are available of some of the speakers at the Evil in Second Temple Judaism and Early Christianity conference, St Mary’s College, Twickenham, May 23-24, 2014.
Background here.

For what it's worth, let me encourage anyone who posts a lecture or podcast online to also post a transcript. Perhaps I'm a dinosaur, but I rarely sit through lengthy video or audio presentations. I haven't the time and I don't see the point of listening to something that I could read much more quickly, and I doubt that I'm alone in feeling this way. But I do read online papers and transcribed podcasts. So if you are presenting from a written text, posting the written form as well could enlarge your audience.

The Septuagint Sessions

REMINDER: Timothy Michael is doing a series of podcasts on the Septuagint. He is currently up to number eight. The RSS feed is here.

Noted earlier here.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Studia Philonica Annual

WEBSITE: Philo of Alexandria - Studia Philonica Annual. It's been many years since I linked to the website of this important journal, so here it is again.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Shanks on the GJW and the Jehoash inscription

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

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

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

More on the new Huqoq mosaics

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

Tenure at YU

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

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

Restoration of Deir Al-Surian painting

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

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


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

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

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

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

Dovekeepers miniseries

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

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