Saturday, June 07, 2003

SHOULD WE PUT THE GODS BACK INTO RELIGION?

Why Gods Should Matter in Social Science (Chronicle of Higher Education via the Arts and Letters Daily)

By RODNEY STARK

If it is hard to believe that conceptions of the Gods are ignored in most recently written histories, it is harder yet to understand why Gods were long ago banished from the social-scientific study of religion. But that is precisely why I have devoted two volumes to demonstrating the crucial role of the Gods in shaping history and civilization, and to resurrecting and reformulating a sociology of Gods.

[...]

Unconscious divine essences are unable to issue commandments or make moral judgments. Thus, conceptions of the supernatural are irrelevant to the moral order unless they are beings --�things having consciousness and desires. Put another way, only beings can desire moral conformity. Even that is not sufficient. Gods can lend sanctions to the moral order only if they are concerned about, informed about, and act on behalf of humans. Moreover, to promote virtue among humans, Gods must be virtuous --�they must favor good over evil. Finally, Gods will be effective in sustaining moral precepts, the greater their scope --�that is, the greater the diversity of their powers and the range of their influence. All-powerful, all-seeing Gods ruling the entire universe are the ultimate deterrent.

Two conclusions follow from this discussion. First, the effects of religiousness on individual morality are contingent on images of Gods as conscious, morally concerned beings; religiousness based on impersonal or amoral Gods will not influence moral choices. Second, participation in religious rites and rituals will have little or no independent effect on morality.

[...]

So then, let us finally be done with the claim that religion is all about ritual. Gods are the fundamental feature of religions. That holds even for Godless religions, their lack of Gods explaining the inability of such faiths to attract substantial followings. Moreover, it was not the "wisdom of the East" that gave rise to science, nor did Zen meditation turn people's hearts against slavery. By the same token, science was not the work of Western secularists or even deists; it was entirely the work of devout believers in an active, conscious, creator God. And it was faith in the goodness of that same God and in the mission of Jesus that led other devout Christians to end slavery, first in medieval Europe and then again in the New World.

In those ways at least, Western civilization really was God-given.

Rodney Stark is a professor of sociology and comparative religion at the University of Washington. This article is adapted from For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery, to be published this month by Princeton University Press. Copyright � 2003 by Rodney Stark.


Read it all. I have to say I was with him up to the last two paragraphs - making religion about ritual to the exclusion of the gods clearly does't work - but I think he goes off topic at the end and into areas that are less defensible. Devout believers in God have been as much a hindrance to science as a help and they did quite a lot to promote and preserve slavery before it was ended.

"THE LATEST INSTALLMENT ON THE "MINIMALIST" - "MAXIMALIST" DEBATE:

Philip Davies, "Final Comments on Minimalism" (Bible and Interpretation News)

Scroll to the bottom for links to earlier essays on the subject.

All I can say is that I hope that the public personal disagreements between the debaters really will stop here. These issues are important and deserve to be discussed purely on the merits of arguments and evidence.

Friday, June 06, 2003

"DEMI MOORE, Kabbalah recruiter"

Sign me up!

Image: Demi Moore














THE CURRENT ISSUE OF THE JOURNAL OF BIBLICAL LITERATURE includes the following articles (requires paid membership and password to access):


Dating the Teacher of Righteousness and the Floruit of His Movement
MICHAEL O. WISE

The Covenant of Circumcision (Genesis 17:9-14) and the Situational Antitheses in Galatians 3:28
TROY W MARTIN

Is There Halaka (the Noun) at Qumran?
JOHN P. MEIER
HAPPY SHAVUOT!

Thursday, June 05, 2003

I'M OFF TO ABERDEEN first thing tomorrow morning for a Scottish University day-conference for postgraduates and staff in Divinity/Theology/Religious Studies. I'll try to do some blogging in the evening after I get back.
MORE ON THE BULGE IN THE TEMPLE MOUNT:

May. 29, 2003
8 trucks with construction materials permitted on Temple Mount to fix bulge (Jerusalem Post [requires registration] via Bible and Interpretation News)

By ETGAR LEFKOVITS


Eight trucks filled with construction materials were permitted to enter Jerusalem's Temple Mount early this week as part of the ongoing Jordanian repair work of the bulge on the southern wall of the Temple Mount, Jerusalem police said Thursday.

[�]

The renewed entry of heavy equipment into the historical-rich site without the presence of archaeologists was troubling to some.

"We are deeply concerned over reports of very large amounts of construction materials enter the temple mount without any archaeological supervision." said Hebrew University Professor, Dr. Eilat Mazar, a member of the Committee Against the Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount.

"Let us hope that this is not a 'Solomons StablesTwo'," Mazar said, referring to the immense mosque constructed at the site, alongside the inner area of the bulge, under Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's tenure.

[�]
HERE'S THE TRANSCRIPT OF EUGENE VOLOKH'S Chronicle of Higher Education live colloquy on academic blogging, mentioned here a couple of days ago.
WAS JESUS GAY?

Doctoral candidate: Jesus was 'gay' (WorldNetDaily via Protocols)
Posted: May 28, 2003
5:00 p.m. Eastern


� 2003 WorldNetDaily.com

A doctoral candidate in Australia was paid $51,000 in public funds to research Jesus' sexuality, declaring unequivocally that the founder of Christianity was homosexual.

According to a report in the Adelaide Advertiser, Rollan McCleary, who himself is homosexual, earned $17,000 a year for three years to work on his thesis on homosexual spirituality. The grant came from the University of Queensland.

McCleary will be awarded his doctorate tomorrow and in the future hopes to make "gay spirituality" a separate academic discipline.

[�]

According to the Advertiser, he claims Jesus' astrological chart, clues in the Scriptures to which churches had been blind and accurate biblical translations all played a part in his conclusions.

[�]

McCleary says he is an Anglican and is described by the Advertiser as a "qualified reader of astrological charts."


I would really like to believe that this story has been distorted in its filtering through two news outlets. Would the University of Queensland really grant a doctorate for something like this? But let's just take what's described as it is in this article, without any assumption that someone in academics was really arguing it. And set aside the astrological nonsense. Specialists run up against things like this all the time. It's not that I could care less whether Jesus was a homosexual or not � actual information on his personal life would be extremely interesting, whatever it was. The thing that tells me the argument is bogus is that I know very well what our sources are about Jesus. It is extremely difficult and problematical to extract any useful information about him from them, let alone data about his sexual orientation. His culture regarded homosexuality officially as a capital offense, so presumably Jewish homosexuals in first-century Palestine would have been pretty discreet. But even if popular culture was more tolerant, as it may have been, there is nothing in our sources that tells us about his love life. We simply don't know things like that, nor will we ever unless unlooked-for new information comes to light.

UPDATE: Evidently Dr. McCleary's statement about Jesus being gay was a passing comment in a thesis on something else. His "astro-theology" website is no longer up, but here is the Google cache copy.

THE JUNE ISSUE OF BIBLE REVIEW IS OUT. Most of what's in the online version deals with matters earlier or later than usually covered in PaleoJudaica. There is, however, a brief article by the Jesuit professor who provided Mel Gibson with the Aramaic for his controversial, forthcoming, big-screen movie The Passion, followed by some comments by Leonard Greenspoon on the "writing on the wall" that Saddam neglected to read (same URL, scroll down). Also articles on the Egyptian name of Moses, the Christian tradition of the "harrowing of hell," a column by Ron Hendel on where to find Noah's Flood (seems like a heck of a thing to have lost in the first place), and a review of my former colleague Bernhard Lang's new book The Hebrew God. (On the last, would somebody please correct the spelling "Diety" on the main page?)

UPDATE (10 June): I just found out in a meeting today that although Bernhard Lang has returned to Paderborn, he will have the position of Honorary Professor at St. Andrews. So delete "former" above.
NEW BOOK REVIEWS from the Review of Biblical Literature:

Runia, David T. and Gregory E. Sterling, eds.
In the Spirit of Faith: Studies in Philo and Early Christianity in Honor of David Hay

Azevedo, Joaquim, ed.
A Simplified Coptic Dictionary (Sahidic Dialect)

Carson, D. A., Peter T. O'Brien and Mark A. Seifrid, eds.
Justification and Variegated Nomism: A Fresh Appraisal of Paul and Second Temple Judaism

The last has been reviewed twice before in RBL, by John Byron and Pamela Eisenbaum (same URL). Eisenbaum's is the most probing. Allow me to add a few comments of my own. I was disappointed that some of the authors made use of Pseudepigrapha texts as evidence for Judaism without being very critical about what they were using. I have written elsewhere about the problem of telling Jewish pseudepigraph transmitted by Christians from Christian compositions meant to look biblical (and the final draft of this paper is to be a chapter of a book I'm writing on the subject). Until recent years the tendency has been to treat Pseudepigrapha as Jewish as long as they don't contain obvious Christian elements (or as long as one can delete these elements as secondary redactions without too much difficulty). But this won't do. Rather, we should follow Bob Kraft in starting with the manuscripts in hand and moving backwards to earlier contexts only as required by the evidence. By these criteria, none of the texts used by Craig Evans in his essay count as reliably Jewish. Joseph and Aseneth may be, but I doubt very much that the Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah (suitably edited), the Life of Adam and Eve, or the Lives of the Prophets are. In any case, one should make a positive case for them before using them. Likewise, Robert A. Kugler uses the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs as evidence, although he acknowledges that the form we have is Christian and we don't know that there ever was a Jewish version of the Greek twelve testaments. I should be very hesitant to use it at all for these purposes. Ditto for the Testament of Job, which he also uses (it may be a Jewish work but there isn't really any positive evidence for this). I don't mean to single out this book and these writers. This problem is common among NT specialists writing about the Jewish background of the NT. Mark Elliott in his recent The Survivors of Israel: A Reconsideration of the Theology of Pre-Christian Judaism (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2000, does the same thing, using the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs as one of his major "Jewish" texts. This is one of my hobby-horses, so expect to hear more from me about it.

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

MORE ARCHAEOLOGICAL EXCAVATIONS IN ISRAEL FOR 2003 (Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs).
NELSON GLUECK would be 103 years old today:

1900 - Birth of Nelson Glueck, American Jewish archaeologist. Director of the American School of Oriental Research in Jerusalem between 1932 and 1947, he explored and dated over one-thousand ancient sites in Palestine and the Near East.


(CNSNews.com)
THE JERUSALEM PERSPECTIVE WEBSITE is a "Christian ministry" website based in Israel. A lot of it is aimed at a popular Evangelical audience, but it archives a collection of serious articles by academics as well. It requires a paid subscription to access its full archive of articles), but you can read some articles in full for free. Some of these include:

"Where is the Aramaic Bible at Qumran? Scripture Use in the Land of Israel?" Buth, Randall (on main page)

"To Bury Caiaphas, Not to Praise Him"
Flusser, David

"That Small-fry Herod Antipas, or When a Fox Is Not a Fox"
Buth, Randall

"Centurion and the Synagogue, The"
Safrai, Shmuel

"Jesus' Jewish Parents"
Safrai, Chana

"Jewish Laws of Purity in Jesus' Day"
Wilson, Marvin R.

"Pilgrimage in the Time of Jesus"
Safrai, Shmuel

"Place of Women in First-century Synagogues, The"
Safrai, Shmuel

"Priest of the Division of Abijah, A"
Safrai, Shmuel

In addition, the
Jerusalem Perspective Pipeline is a monthly electronic newsletter with short articles, some of which are of interest. Past issues are available only to paid subscribers. The current issue includes:

Randall Buth, "Is 'Rabbouni' Aramaic or Hebrew? It Depends on Which Language You're Speaking!"

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

USER-FRIENDLY KABBALAH:

This is outside my usual range, but I feel like commenting on it.

What Is Kabbalah, Anyway? (Slate)
By Ed Finn
Posted Monday, June 2, 2003, at 1:39 PM PT

[�]

Kabbalists have been an accepted part of Jewish culture since the 12th century. Though their mystical beliefs, which focused on the individual's direct communion with God through solitary study, sometimes set them apart from their mainstream coreligionists, many Kabbalists were teachers and judges highly respected by all Jews. The emphasis on secret knowledge and mysticism have also long endeared the study of Kabbalah to occultists of other persuasions, kicking off a Kabbalist fad among gentiles in Renaissance Europe�and giving us words like "cabal." In the United States, Kabbalism made a comeback in the '60s, when it was championed by Philip Berg, an American former rabbi who began studying Kabbalah on a visit to Israel in 1962.

Under Berg's leadership, Kabbalah in America has greatly expanded, spawning centers around the country and recruiting celebrity faithful like Madonna and Monica Lewinsky. Berg's version of Kabbalah dispenses with the traditional requirements of an Orthodox lifestyle and the study of ancient texts. Where traditional Kabbalah emphasizes mysticism as a part of devoted Judaism, Berg's new movement focuses on personal improvement and spiritual happiness, targeted to "people of all faiths and no faiths." Berg's centers draw big crowds for meditation, classes, and philosophical study, and his Kabbalah portal offers Kabbalah 101, a class that takes the "once arcane wisdom of Kabbalah and offers it up as [a] user friendly, accessible, self-study program," for $19.95.

How does this new Kabbalah stack up against the old? Like traditionalists, Berg presents Kabbalah as a way to perceive the inherent order of the universe, the "unseen spiritual laws that govern our lives." The difference is that he simplifies these lessons to make them easily accessible; rather than requiring devotees to learn Hebrew, he publicizes his interpretations of ancient Kabbalist texts nationally in books and speaking engagements. Traditional scholars of the field are careful not to slam the new centers too hard, but the experts do argue that Madonna's new-age spiritualism has little in common with the traditional scholarly mysticism of Jewish Kabbalah.


I've been following this story for some time with interest and a little bemusement. I can't say I find anything particularly objectionable in it. It's true that Berg's new Kabbalah doesn't seem to have a great deal to do with the actual thirteenth-century Zohar and the like. But so what? How much did the Zohar have to do with the actual Simeon ben Yohai and the other second-century rabbis? Nothing, pretty much. It's also true that Berg is making money off it. But, again, so what? Moses de Leon and his friends were out to make a buck too, but they managed to come up with texts that have had enduring spiritual value for a lot of people. It's not for me, but if other people get something out of this new Kabbalah stuff, good for them.
NEW LINKS TO JOURNAL SITES:

I've added links to some more journals to the links section. These are available online by paid subscription (individual or institutional) only. Some of them allow nonsubscribers to access tables of contents. On the theory that being alerted to interesting articles will be of some use to you � if only to motivate you to go to the local research library and dig something important up - I will try to monitor these and post a notice of paleojudaically relevant articles in new issues as they come out. For starters, here are some items from the current issue of a few of them:

Dead Sea Discoveries

FROM LITERATURE TO SCRIPTURE: REFLECTIONS ON THE GROWTH OF A TEXT'S AUTHORITATIVENESS
Eugene Ulrich

AUTHORIZING INTERPRETATION IN POETIC COMPOSITIONS IN THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS AND LATER JEWISH AND CHRISTIAN TRADITIONS
Angela Y. Kim

INTERPRETATIVE AUTHORITY IN THE COMMUNITY RULE TRADITION
Charlotte Hempel

HEARING 4Q225: A CASE STUDY IN RECONSTRUCTING THE RELIGIOUS IMAGINATION OF THE QUMRAN COMMUNITY
Robert A. Kugler

HALAKHAH AT QUMRAN: GENRE AND AUTHORITY
Aharon Shemesh; Cana Werman

4QMMT, RABBI ISHMAEL, AND THE ORIGINS OF LEGAL MIDRASH
Azzan Yadin

RHETORIC AND HERMENEUTICS IN MIQSAT MA'ASE HA-TORAH (4QMMT): THE CASE OF THE BLESSINGS AND CURSES
Steven D. Fraade

Journal for the Study of Judaism

ACCESS TO THE SOURCE: CICERO, BEN SIRA, THE SEPTUAGINT AND THEIR AUDIENCES
Benjamin G. Wright III

EIN UNWETTER IN JERUSALEM Beobachtungen zu BJ 4:286-288
Peter H�ffken

REVERSAL, RECIDIVISM AND REWARD IN 3 MACCABEES: STRUCTURE AND PURPOSE
J. R. C. Cousland

Journal for the Study of the Old Testament

Darius in Place of Cyrus: The First Edition of Deutero-Isaiah (Isaiah 40.1-52.12) in 521 BCE
Rainer Albertz

Novum Testamentum

HOW SEPTUAGINTAL IS ISA. 5:1-7 IN MARK 12:1-9?
Craig A. Evans

Vetus Testamentum

THE DATE OF LXX
Frank Clancy

Monday, June 02, 2003

A TOMB IN IRAQ IS ASSIGNED TO THE PROPHET EZEKIEL:

"In Iraq, reverence for ancient tomb of a Jewish prophet" (Christian Science Monitor)

A Shiite Muslim worships at the tomb of Ezekiel, harking back to Iraq's shared heritage.

By Peter Ford

The bearded worshiper moved slowly round the shrine in his bare feet, uttering Muslim prayers and pausing every few steps to bend his head and kiss the golden cloth that covered the holy tomb.

The dome above him, though, bore the painted floral traces of a very un-Islamic past. And the script running around the walls also bore no relation to the flowing Arabic calligraphy that decorates most mosques in the Middle East.

It was in Hebrew. The body lying in the tomb that this devout Muslim was venerating is that of the prophet Ezekiel. And until just 50 years ago, the building sheltering it - first recorded by a 12th century Jewish pilgrim - was a synagogue.

[...]


There's more. Read it all.

UPDATE (3 June): Giorgio Francia, who is in Iraq, has said on Ioudaios-L that he will try to get us a photograph of the tomb and synagogue next week, roads permitting. I'll keep you posted.
"SCHOLAR BLOGGERS":

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article about academics who blog:

"Scholars Who Blog
The soapbox of the digital age draws a crowd of academics"

(via The Volokh Conspiracy)

By DAVID GLENN

Is this a revolution in academic discourse, or is it CB radio?

[�]

Will the practice of blogging become near-universal in academe? Or is it, as the Invisible Adjunct sometimes imagines, "a temporary trend that will run its course"? Mr. Balkin notes that blogging, like many other phenomena on the World Wide Web, is organized according to a power law. That is, the most popular nodes, like Instapundit, tend to have 10 times more readers than blogs on the next tier, who in turn have 10 times more readers than the third tier. "Is that distribution going to stay fixed?" he asks. "The answer is that we don't know how fluid this economy will be. I would be amazed if in two years' time you went to look at the list of most popular blogs, that the list will be the same -- but it will probably still be organized as a power law."

[�]


Hmmm� I guess if Instapundit is first tier, by these critieria PaleoJudaica.com is about fifth tier. Oh well. If my loyal readers want this blog to continue in the long run (and I am planning on keeping it going at least in the short run), the best things you can do are, first, keep visiting; second, link to it on your web pages if you have them; and, third, tell your friends and colleagues about it and get them to visit and to link to it. It also doesn't hurt any to send me items of interest you run across on the Internet.

There will also be a live chat session with Eugene Volokh on academic weblogging on June 4 (1 p.m. Eastern Time).

Sunday, June 01, 2003

A NUMBER OF JOURNALS only list contents or contents and abstracts online but these can still be useful, so I have linked to them in the journals section. Here are some articles listed in the most recent issues of some of them:

Revue Biblique

RB 2003 T.110-2 (pp. 167-177)

Claudine CAVALIER
Centre Paul-Albert F�vrier
UMR 6125 Textes et documents de la M�diterran�e antique et m�di�vale
MMSH, 5 Rue du Ch�teau-de-l'Horloge
BP 647
13094 Aix-en-Provence cedex 2
cavalierclau@wanadoo.fr
"Le "colophone' d�Esther"

The last verse of the Greek book of Esther in his most widespread form, traditionally called the �Colophon� of Esther, is of a particular interest. It relates the sending, by a priest and his son of a �Letter of the Phrurai�, from Palestine where it has been translated, to Egypt, under the reign of one Ptolemy. Is it a documentary text, giving reliable information on the history of the Greek book of Esther? The article tries to demonstrate that, on the contrary, it is a purely literary text, staging a symbolic history of the feast of Purim.

RB 2003 T.110-2 (pp. 178-196)

Christian GRAPPE
GDRI - Facult� de Th�ologie Protestante
Universit� Marc Bloch
F-67084 STRASBOURG
FRANCE
J�sus exorciste � la lumi�re des pratiques et des attentes de son temps.

Several Jewish documents from the time of Jesus can shed light on his practice as an exorcist. Some of them confirm that casting out demons had an eschatological purport, in the sense that they point to the emergence of the Kingdom of God. Other texts shed light on Jesus being acknowledged as the Son of David because of his exorcist activity, or they supply us with interesting parallels to this practice as it is described in the synoptic gospels.

RB 2003 T.110-2 (pp. 222-248)

Alessandro FALCETTA
Via Croce Rossa, 6
60027 OSIMO (AN)
ITALY
afalcetta@yahoo.com
The Logion of Matthew 11:5-6 par. from Qumran to Abgar

This article develops a proposal made by James Rendel Harris in his testimony studies. I consider the logion of Matthew 11:5-6 as belonging to a tradition which is attested in Jewish literature and continues with the Fathers. The texts taken into account are the Synoptics, 4QMessianic Apocalypse, 11QMelchizedek, Justin's First Apology and Dialogue with Trypho, Irenaeus' Adversus Haereses, the Slavonic addition after Flavius Josephus' Jewish War 1.369, and Abgar's letter to Jesus in The Teaching of Addai. A quick reference is made to Cicero's Laelius de Amicitia. This tradition is reconstructed by employing the source detecting criteria of testimony research. The main conclusions are two. Firstly, the logion is one stage of the life of a literary topos, the healings of the messiah, which crosses chronological and geographical barriers. Secondly, the hypothesis of the use of written testimony collections, though not enough to account for all the literary phenomena considered, is a powerful tool of research.


RB 2003 T.110-2 (pp. 249-256)

Chaim BEN-DAVID
Jordan Valley Academic College
Identifying Aia and Tharais to the east of the Dead Sea

On the edge of the surviving section of the Madaba Map, east of the Dead Sea, two villages are indicated, �Aia and Tharais. The sites are not mentioned in the Bible, have no connection with early Christianity and do not appear in any other historical sources. We suggest that they were marked on the Madaba map because they are located on the main Roman-Byzantine ascents that led up eastward from the Dead Sea to The Moabite plateau. Aia in the present-day village of Ai is at the top of the well-built known Roman road that ascends from the Zoar area to the Moabite plateau. We propose identifying Tharais with a site known as Medinat ar-Ras or it�s near vicinity. This is based on the discovery of a well-built Roman road ascending from Zoar directly eastwards to a height of 1300 meters over an aerial distance of 8 km.


Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha

Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha Vol. 13 No. 1 (April 2002)

The Testament of Abraham: Which Came First-Recension A or Recension B?
Jared W. Ludlow
Greeks, Eygptians and Jews in the Fragments of Artapanus
Erkki Koskenniemi
The Battle for Isaac: Exploring the Composition and Function of the Aqedah in the Book of Jubilees
Leroy Andrew Huizenga
Purity and Impurity i the Book of Jubilees
Liora Ravid


Journal of the American Oriental Society

LEO DEPUYDT, The Date of Death of Jesus of Nazareth


I hope to add links to more journals soon.
JEWS IN EARLY MEDIEVAL CHINA:

This is somewhat beyond my usual range, but it's too interesting to pass up.

"A blue-capped barbarian untangles a speech problem" (Christian Science Monitor)
By Edward Ordman

[...]

n 1986 I lectured in China, in Jinan and Shanghai. I came back very sympathetic to the problems of Chinese students who had tried to learn English in a country where it had not been taught for many years. That sympathy, and my very few words of spoken Chinese, led me to try to help some of the Chinese computer-science students at the University of Memphis in Tennessee. One requirement for a master's degree in computer science here is the delivery of a seminar in acceptable oral English.

[...]

And then I met XuXin. He was invited to come and speak by the university's Jewish Studies program. Professor Xu teaches English in China, and his friendship with an American Fulbright scholar teaching in China had led him to put together book published in the United States as "Legends of the Chinese Jews of Kaifeng" (with Beverly Friend, KTAV Publishing, 1995).

The book contains stories of a group of Jews who arrived in China via the Silk Road about AD 900. They explained to the first emperor of the Sung Dynasty that there was a war in their homeland; it was no longer a good place to live. Could they raise their families in China?

After some discussions I won't recount here (I recommend the book), the emperor agreed that the Jews could settle in China on two conditions: They had to adopt Chinese names, and they could not prohibit their children from intermarrying. (Someone had told him what had happened once before, in Egypt.)

The Jews thrived in Kaifeng. A cemetery there has Hebrew inscriptions dating from the 900s to the 1900s. They were first noticed by Westerners in the 1600s, when Christian missionaries reported the existence of Chinese Jews to the Vatican.

There was a great controversy in Europe at the time: How accurately had the old Bible texts been copied, over the centuries? The Jews had arrived in Kaifeng with a handwritten Torah (the first five books of the Bible), and it had been hand copied, as it wore out, for 700 years, without a chance to check it against another copy. The Vatican sent an expert to China to compare the Kaifeng Torah to Torah scrolls in Europe - and found it agreed, letter for letter!


Now that I don't believe for a minute. Scribal transmission of texts simply doesn't work that way. Of course it may well be that their text was quite close to the Masoretic Text, but at minimum there would be small differences in spelling and the odd corruption. In graduate school a Chinese roommate of mine was hoping to find Chinese translations of lost books like the Book of Giants along the Silk Road, although as far as I know, nothing ever came of it. I'd love to see a scholarly review of this book.
MORE ON THE SABAEAN MANDEANS IN IRAQ:

"Baghdad's Baptizers
Revering John the Baptist, these Iraqis sustain an ancient religion"
(USNews.com)

[...]

Source of life. With John the Baptist as the Mandeans' most important teacher, baptism is, unsurprisingly, their most important rite. (The name Sabaean Mandean means one who is baptized and has knowledge of God.) Religious leaders must wash themselves three times in water to purify the body and soul before performing any religious rites. Weddings are also conducted almost entirely submerged in water. And followers must participate in several baptisms a year, usually in running water, which reflects their belief that living water is the source of life.

When they pray, Mandeans face north, using the North Star to orient themselves. This way, they believe they are facing God and the forces of light. Many of their beliefs center on purity, both in spirit and body. Religious leaders must marry only virgins and must be free from any kind of disease. Before a leader assumes the church's top position, other leaders trace his family history back seven generations to ensure his history is pure.

For the Mandeans in Baghdad today, life is still full of uncertainty. The annual Golden Day of Baptism celebration usually draws three times the number of people as this year, but gas shortages and security fears kept many away. And there are new concerns. Many are unsure whether Iraq's new government will carve out a place for them. "We are now getting afraid because maybe Islamic fanatics will take power," says Sheik Majid. "Maybe they will make us close this temple." Even after some two millenniums, their faith is carried on a day at a time.


Nice article. Read it all.