Saturday, November 08, 2003

"RASHI AND RAMBAM" - is an article in the Jerusalem Post by Rabbi Berel Wein (via Bible and Interpretation News). Excerpts:

Many consider Rashi (1040-1105) the father of Ashkenazic Jewry. Living at a time when there were probably only 5,000-10,000 Ashkenazic Jews in the world, his teachings reached almost every Ashkenazic family in France and Germany. Rashi was a master teacher. In spite of the demands on his time - he was a vintner, father, husband, teacher, rabbinic judge, and the rabbi of Troyes, France - he wrote the commentary to the Bible and to the Talmud. It is no exaggeration to say that the Talmud would have remained a sealed book, understandable only to a few scholars, had it not been for Rashi's commentary. My teachers in yeshiva often compared Rashi to a mother holding the hand of her child as they crossed a busy street.


Maimonides (1135-1204) was cut from a different cloth. He lived a turbulent life, escaping from the wrath of the fanatical Almohads, waging a theological and practical battle against the Karaites, and suffering much personal tragedy in his lifetime. He was publicly critical of others' opinions and behavior and took strong stands on controversial issues. He was a physician, philosopher, and person of prodigious talents. He knew sciences and pharmacology, languages and psychology. But above all else, he was the foremost Torah scholar of his time - or any time. For this reason, it is often said of him: "From Moshe until Moshe there arose none like Moshe."

The nine hundredth anniversary of Rashi's death is in 2005 and will be commemorated in the French city of Troyes, his birthplace.

Friday, November 07, 2003

THE DA VINCI CODE,, in Hebrew translation, is reviewed by a Tel Aviv University Professor of History, Aviad Kleinberg, in Ha'aretz. Contains spoilers and a detailed refutation of historical errors in the book.

UPDATE: More refutations from Christianity Today.
ARABIC, BIBLICAL HEBREW, AND ANCIENT GREEK are being studied more in the United States in recent years. Whatever the reasons (and I don't think 9/11 can explain the Hebrew and Greek), this is good news.
NOW HOW OFTEN do you see a homily that tackles the story of Lot's daughters?
THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS TO THE FORBIDDEN BOOK EXHIBIT IN DALLAS is extending its stay for six additional weeks.

Curses can be a powerful thing and weigh heavily upon those who believe they are so afflicted. The idea of curses and blessings pervades the narratives of the Torah. Adam and Eve were cursed when they were driven out of the Garden of Eden. Cain was cursed for the murder of his brother Abel. Lemech was shunned for killing Cain, and Noah cursed Ham and Canaan for their despicable behavior toward him. Joshua cursed anyone who would dare to rebuild ancient Jericho. Elisha cursed the evil youngsters who tormented him.

However, we are taught by the rabbis of the Talmud that the power of good is 500 times greater than the power of evil, and the Torah is replete with narratives of blessings. Abraham is blessed by God and told: "Those who bless you will be blessed and those who curse you will be themselves cursed." Abraham passes on his blessings to Isaac. Jacob receives Isaac's blessing but gains Esau's enmity. The brothers of Joseph begrudge him his father's favoritism and blessing.

Blessings are often bittersweet. All of the great characters of the Bible, from Joshua through Ezra and Mordechai and Esther receive and/or bestow blessings. Blessings are a volatile matter and must be dispensed wisely. In the Torah, we are instructed to bless each other as well as the God that created us.


The use of amulets to convey blessings is a topic of great controversy in Jewish history. There were amulets prepared for every possible blessing in life and to ward off all imaginable misfortunes. The Talmud discusses the use of these amulets in a halachic sense, such as whether they may be worn in a public area on Shabbat. From many halachic sources, it seems that the use of these amulets had a placebo effect on the people who wore them.

There were great rabbinic disputes regarding amulets, but the Jewish public, especially after the rise of Lurianic Kabbala and Hassidism, adopted their use - and they remain popular among certain sections of Jewry today. The custom of inserting a prayer into the cracks of the stones of the Western Wall is an offshoot of this tradition
OH NO! Another Jesus movie: Cloning Christ - based on this book. Aaarrrggh!
CAN THE CAIRO GENIZA be a bridge between Jews and Muslims?

Princeton University professor has high hopes for a mutual academic interest. (The Princeton Packet)

For hundreds of years, the Jews of Cairo deposited documents and fragments of paper that bear the name of God in a chamber behind a wall on the second floor mezzanine of the Ben Ezra Synagogue.
The documents, both important and mundane, offer an intimate look at everyday medieval Jewish and Muslim life. Written in Hebrew script, but in the Arabic language, some of the Geniza commercial letters offer insights into the earliest trade between the Mediterranean and India.
Princeton University Professor Mark R. Cohen believes that depository, known as the Cairo Geniza, may one day bring Jewish and Muslim scholars together.
"One of my dreams is that the Geniza will be a bridge between Jewish Israeli scholars on one hand and Arab Muslim scholars on the other," said Professor Cohen, who divides his time between the Department of Near East Studies and the Program in Judaic Studies.
Professor Cohen, a specialist in medieval Jewish history, is director of the Princeton Geniza Project, which, since the late 1980s, has been making the documents of everyday life accessible to scholars online.
"It's not going to bring peace," Professor Cohen said. He hopes that one day Jewish and Muslim scholars will meet in a neutral space where the issue of a Palestinian state doesn't play a role.
"It holds interest not only for Jewish scholars, but for Muslim scholars" because it sheds light on the Arab Muslim majority of Cairo, he said.


For more on the Cairo Geniza go here.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

INFO ON THE ANNUAL CONFERENCE OF THE ASSOCIATION FOR JEWISH STUDIES is available on the AJS website (and thanks to Ellen Birnbaum for the heads-up).
A CONFERENCE ON RABBINIC LEXICOGRAPHY will be taking place at the University of Pennsylvania (again, via the H-Judaic list):

Sunday, Nov 16, 12:15pm-9pm: Rabbinic Lexicography and Marcus Jastrow
Penn's Jewish Studies Program and Van Pelt Library, along with a number of others, are co-sponsoring an international conference to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the publication of Marcus Jastrow's Talmudic dictionary. (Marcus Jastrow was a Philadelphia rabbi, and his son Morris was both a professor at Penn and the first Director of the University Library.)

Rosenwald Gallery (6th Floor)
Van Pelt-Dietrich Library
3420 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104

12:15pm-1:30pm -- Session I: Opening Remarks/Keynote Address Michael Sokoloff, Bar Ilan University, Marcus Jastrow's Dictionary in the Context of Rabbinic Lexicography

1:30pm-2pm -- Coffee and refreshments

2pm-3pm -- Session II
Neil Danzig, Jewish Theological Seminary of America, Lexicography in the Gaonic Period
Joanna Weinberg, Oxford University,
The Arukh of Nathan of Rome

3pm-3:30pm -- Coffee and refreshments

3:30pm-4:30pm -- Session III
Stephen Burnett, University of Nebraska, Christian Hebraism and Sixteenth Century Lexicography

Lewis Glinert, Dartmouth College,
Lexicography in Nineteenth Century Europe

4:30pm-5pm -- Coffee and refreshments

5pm-6pm -- Session IV
Arthur Kiron, University of Pennsylvania, A Biographical Sketch of Morris Jastrow
Lance Sussman, Congregation Knesset Israel, Marcus Jastrow and
Nineteenth Century Philadelphia Jewry

6:30pm -- Dinner at Temple Rodeph Sholom (for invited participants only)

8pm -- Evening Address
Temple Rodeph Shalom, 615 N. Broad St.
Michal Galas, University of Cracow, Marcus Jastrow's European Background and the Critical Reception of Jastrow's Dictionary

I wish I could go!
ANCIENT JUDAISM IN THE THEATER (from the H-Judaic list):

Date: Wed, 5 Nov 2003 22:31:01 -0500
From: Ariella Brown
Subject: FYI: New Play on Salome Alexandra (Donahue)

FYI: New Play on Salome Alexandra by Lauri Donahue
I think the play could be of interest as history (it's based on the works of Josephus, among other sources), literature (it's in iambic pentameter), and for courses in Jewish women's studies.

"Alexandra" is the winner of the 2003 Dorothy Silver Playwriting Award (forplays on Jewish themes) and is being published this fall by Baker's Plays. The catalog listing is at:

I'd be happy to email a short sample of the text.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003


Indications that the "Brother of Jesus" Inscription is a Forgery (Bible and Interpretation website)
By Jeffrey R. Chadwick, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Church History
Brigham Young University

I haven't had a chance to read this paper yet myself, but here it is.
THE HISTORY NET has a section on Ancient Judaism which I don't think I've noted here yet. It has pages on subject ranging from "Aramaic" to "Sadducees, Pharisees, and Essenes" and many of these pages contain multiple links to other sites.
THE GEMATRICULATOR (via Protocols), using the ancient and infallible science of gematria, declares: is
32% evil, 68% good

This site is certified 32% EVIL by the Gematriculator

This site is certified 68% GOOD by the Gematriculator

Now you know.

UPDATE: I just noticed that the graphic for good uses a cross and the graphic for evil uses what appears to be a Star of David. I don't care about the first, but the second makes me distinctly uncomfortable. Am I reading this correctly or is there some deep Kabbalistic symbolism I'm missing?

UPDATE: It's a pentagram. Duh. Very sorry: because it's gematria I guess I was thinking in terms of Jewish symbols and then I missed the number of points. I have no idea why I didn't think of a pentagram. May I plead (hopefully temporary) stupefaction? Today I've been proofreading and fact-checking my upcoming SBL paper and then transcribing a long list of articles for a book review. Both are mind-numbing tasks but I didn't realize my mind was so numbed as that. Apologies to the Gematriculator.

This is embarrassing and I'm tempted just to delete these updates, but I won't. I hope PaleoJudaica provides enough good content and commentary that my readers will allow me an occasional stupid lapse, although I'll try very hard to avoid more lapses as stupid as this one. I'll do my best, but no promises.
SHAMANISM IN JUDAISM: Gershon Winkler has published a book called Magic of the Ordinary: Recovering the Shamanic in Judaism, which is profiled briefly in the Jerusalem Post. My recent book Descenders to the Chariot: The People Behind the Hekhalot Literature compares early Jewish mysticism to shamanism. I hadn't heard of Winkler's book before, but I'll have to have a look at it.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

"JESUS, MARY AND DA VINCI" is reviewed by Slate Magazine (via Protocols). This documentary, if it even deserves to be called one, sounds pretty lame. This excerpt of the review sums it up nicely:

To Vargas' and the producers' credit, they trot out some impressive scholars to comment, including Elaine Pagels, Jack Wasserman, and Umberto Eco. While many of the interviewees express polite interest in the theoretical ramifications of this notion, they can't shed any real light on the question. Yes, the Catholic Church has had problems dealing with sex and women. And it behaved extremely badly at times, the Crusades and the Inquisition being two shameful examples. But those sad facts do not a conspiracy make. As titillating or shocking as the idea of Jesus having sex might be, we just don't know if he did. The few historical texts we can refer to, including recently recovered ones like the Gospel of Thomas, don't mention Mary's relationship to Jesus, and so they don't bring us closer to the truth.

The film no doubt aims to encourage religious discussion by bringing an incendiary theory to light. But any debate on this topic is bound to be fruitless and frustrating since hard facts simply don't exist to support it. In the end, the film only provides extra (unnecessary) publicity for Brown's best-selling novel.

Chiesa, Bruno
Filologia storica della Bibbia ebraica
Reviewed by Paul Sanders

Devens, Monica S.
A Concordance to Psalms in the Ethiopic Version
Reviewed by Stephen Ryan

Laurent, Francoise
Les biens pour rien en Qohéleth 5,9-6,6 ou La traversée d'un contraste
Reviewed by James L Crenshaw
DER ZEITSCHRIFT FUR DIE ALTTESTAMENTLICHE WISSENSCHAFT has a new issue out (115.3). Unfortunately, it is not online, but here are some articles of interest in it:

pp. 388-400
Remarks on Ben Sira's >>Instruction on Shame<<, Sirach 41,14-42,8
Reymond, E. D.

pp. 401-422
Questions about the Great Flood, as Viewed by Philo, Pseudo-Philo, Josephus, and the Rabbis
Feldman, L. H.

pp. 433-434
Prov 5,19c: (non-Roman script word)
Zalcman, L.

pp. 435-439
The Righteous Sage: Pleonasm or Oxymoron? (Kohelet 7,16-18)
Shnider, S.; Zalcman, L.
AN OLD TESTAMENT SCHOLAR named Lisa Davison will tell Protestants to pay more attention to the "First Testament" in a lecture at Eureka College tonight. Good for her. She also weighs in on the relevance (or lack thereof) of the Hebrew Bible for the current debate on homosexuality in mainline churches.

Monday, November 03, 2003

NAOMI CHANA OF BARAITA weighs in on Mel Gibson's The Passion of Christ, especially the alleged Agreda/Emmerich connections. Turns out she knows something about the works of both authors and she'll be able to tell us if Gibson is using them once the movie comes out. If he is, she's going to protest strenously and so will I. But if I remember correctly, he's denied it, so I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt for now.

Also, scroll up for "Signs That You Are A Hopeless Humanities Geek." I'm afraid it sounds all too familiar.
NEW TECHNOLOGIES: David Meadows in Explorator 6.27 notes articles on two new technologies that could become important for ancient history and archaeology. One is a virtual book system that could allow you to have the sensation of holding an ancient manuscript or scroll in your hands. The other is "X-Ray software" that could help map out an archaeological site before a spade of soil is turned. At this point the latter is just being used to see what is under modern houses around Liverpool, but who knows what the future holds?
"JESUS, MARY AND DA VINCI" is a television special inspired by The Da Vinci Code and evidently it suggests that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and that perhaps they had childred. I have already discussed this idea here and here. The only thing I can think of to add is that even if Jesus was married, I think it's very unlikely he had any childred, at least who lived to adulthood. The early Jesus movement was interested in the family of Jesus and preserved quite a few traditions about them. I can't imagine that they wouldn't have kept track of the careers of Jesus' children if he had any. For more on the family of Jesus, see my colleague Richard Bauckham's book Jude and the Relatives of Jesus in the Early Church.

UPDATE: Here's more on the show from the New York Times and the Washington Times. Granted, I haven't seen it, but it doesn't sound very credible.

Sunday, November 02, 2003

THE INDIANA JONES TRILOGY DVD is a record-breaking bestseller in the U.S.A. (via Archaeology Magazine News).
MAIA MORGENSTERN, a Romanian Jewish actress, plays the Virgin Mary in Mel Gibson's The Passion of Christ (the article is from New California Media). Here are excerpts (but it's worth reading in full):

Critics have denounced the hyper-realistic drama as a modern version of the medieval passion play, blaming Jews for the death of Jesus. But Morgenstern, 41, doesn�t view the film as anti-Semitic.

Yes, the villain is the Jewish high priest, Caiaphas, she said from her Bucharest home. But he clearly represents the regime, not the Jewish people. "Authorities throughout history have persecuted individuals with revolutionary ideas," she said.

Morgenstern feels "The Passion" opposes such oppression. "It is about letting people speak openly about what they think and believe," she said. "It denounces the madness of violence and cruelty, which if unchecked can spread like a disease."

Morgenstern�s family experienced such violence during World War II. Her grandfather disappeared after being arrested in his native Transnistria, a conflicted region near the Ukraine; her father survived Nazi and Stalinist labor camps.


Morgenstern eventually became a star of Bucharest�s National Theatre and more than 30 Eastern European films. In Maria Meszaros� "The Seventh Room," she played Edith Stein, the Jew who died as a nun in Auschwitz and was canonized in 1998. Between scenes shot just outside the camp gates, Morgenstern � who shaved her head for the role � perused Nazi records and discovered her grandfather had died in the camp.


Over the course of the production, Morgenstern emphasized, not a single scene struck her as anti-Semitic. Characters such as Mary and John are sympathetic Jews, and Gibson "allowed me to make suggestions based on my Jewish culture," she said. In the scene in which Mary learns Jesus has been arrested, it was Morgenstern�s idea to whisper the Passover question, "Why is this night different from all other nights?"

When visiting reporters asked why a Jewish actress was portraying Jesus� mother, she replied, "I played Clytemnestra in �Oresteia,� and it didn�t mean I killed my husband. And as far as I know, Mary was a Jewish lady, so I think it is very normal."

Incidentally, I know women married very young in antiquity, but is it realistic to have a 41-year-old woman play the mother of a man in his thirties? Or is this just because everyone in a Hollywood movie has to look young and beautiful?
ALL SOUL'S DAY is today. This article from the Manila Bulletin discusses the ancient background (esp. 2 Maccabees 12:39-45) and history of this Catholic holiday. (Scroll down to the Opinion/Editorial link to the All Soul's Day article and click on it. Linking to the article itself doesn't seem to work.) All Soul's Day follows All Saint's Day, yesterday, and All Hallow's Eve, on Friday; the last was also Samhain, the ancient Celtic new year.

UPDATE: The link to the article is§=3&fname=OPED/2003-11/OE03110141715f.txt. Try it. It may work for you; it's working for me sometimes, but not as a link to a blog entry here. I don't know why.
JIM WEST has just started a Biblical Studies blog that deals with both Hebrew Bible and New Testament and also with related fields such as archaeology.