Saturday, December 13, 2003

JESUS AND THE ARCHAEOLOGY OF THE GALILEE: This Washington Post article is a nice summary of the current state of the question regarding the archaeology of the Galilee in the time of Jesus. (Granted, there was a lot of background chatter - some of it mine - while I was reading it, but I didn't spot anything that looked wrong.) This is a very difficult and controversial subject and the article does a good job of nuancing the issues. Well done, Mr. Broadway.

Digging Back Toward Jesus
Biblical Archaeology Uncovering Evidence About Places and People's Lives in Gospel Times

By Bill Broadway
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 13, 2003; Page B09

Many Christians were upset when Israeli antiquities experts recently declared a 1st-century inscription bearing Jesus's name a fake, seemingly depriving them of the earliest archaeological proof of Jesus's existence.

Those who take such a view misunderstand the point of biblical archaeology, said Craig A. Evans, professor of New Testament at Acadia Divinity College in Nova Scotia and an expert on ossuaries, the small burial boxes like the one discovered last fall in which was carved in Aramaic: "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus."

"Archaeology isn't so much about proving the Bible," said Evans, an evangelical Christian who said he thinks the James inscription ultimately could be proved authentic. The importance of archaeology is that it "clarifies and contextualizes the story of the Bible."

What many people don't realize, Evans and other scholars said, is that archaeologists in recent years have been searching for -- and finding -- contextual clues to the world inhabited by Jesus and his followers.

"We don't even have much direct archaeological evidence that [Jesus] walked this earth," says Hershel Shanks, editor of Washington-based Biblical Archaeological Review and host of "An Archaeological Search for Jesus," a new five-part video/DVD series featuring more than 20 leading archaeologists and biblical scholars. "What we have is lots and lots of evidence about the world he lived in."

Some of the most notable discoveries have been in the northern part of Israel known as the Galilee, an agriculturally rich area where Jesus grew up and spent most of his three-year ministry.

That evidence shows, among other things, that Jesus was born, lived and died a Jew -- a perspective at odds with beliefs that Jesus rejected Judaism to form a new religion or taught a pagan-influenced humanist philosophy, Shanks and other scholars said. It also indicates that Jesus was a cultured sophisticate, not the peasant naif portrayed in many Sunday school texts.

Foremost have been excavations at Sepphoris, a magnificent 1st-century city four miles from Nazareth; at Capernaum, a fishing village on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee where Jesus's ministry was based; and at what may have been Bethsaida, home of three apostles and the third most-mentioned town in the Gospels.

There's lots more, so do read it all.

Unsettled': So Was It Odd of God?

Published: December 14, 2003

Melvin Konner is neither a conventional scholar of Judaism nor a historian -- two reasons, perhaps, why his sweeping study of the Jews feels so fresh and alive. And if he isn't quite an expert, he's hardly a novice. A practicing Orthodox Jew until 17, when he lost his faith and a measure of his interest, he began working his way back to Judaism (if not belief) in the 1980's, after his first child was born. Soon he was studying, traveling to Israel and creating a course at Emory, where he is a professor of anthropology, to synthesize his findings. ''Unsettled: An Anthropology of the Jews'' is, he tells us, the result of a personal as well as a scholarly journey.

''Unsettled'' follows a roughly historical outline, from the earliest prebiblical days through the destruction of the First and Second Temples, the subsequent scattering of the Jews, the Holocaust, the establishment of the state of Israel and the Jewish encounter with America. It covers the golden ages in Spain and Poland and is equally zealous in tracking down Jewish communities in China, India and Afghanistan.


But while Konner is attuned to the way external events helped shape the very essence of the religion, his historical accounts are shot through with a contemporary consciousness, so that the public readings of the Torah in the marketplace by Ezra the Scribe after the exiles from Babylonia returned are not so different from today's Torah service. Perhaps this is what Konner means by ''an anthropology,'' since he is not studying a fixed point in the past but a people who, for all the cultures they have lived in and generated, maintain a far-flung cohesion -- with the past and with one another. Konner finds this true even when comparing mountain Jews of Ethiopia sitting in darkness on the Sabbath and Ashkenazic Jews with an elaborate Talmudic culture unknown to their Ethiopian cousins.


Sounds interesting.

Asked what he has to say in response to the accusations he does not recognize the Jewish people's link to the land, Arafat said, "They are entirely untrue. My religion, Islam, obliges me to respect Judaism and Jewish history, whose prophets are revered in the holy Koran as God's messengers. While we insist that East Jerusalem be the capital of a Palestinian state, and that the Haram al-Sharif, on which are situated the two mosques, Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock, come under Palestinian sovereignty, we accept Jewish sovereignty over the Wailing Wall and over the Jewish quarter of the Old City. We accept this only because we recognize and respect the Jewish religion and the Jewish historical attachment to Palestine."

I don't know about you, but I'm not satisfied with this. Maybe it's progress, but I want to hear Mr. Arafat say forthrightly that there was a Jewish temple in antiquity (two of them, in fact) on the Temple Mount (the Haram al-Sharif) and that claims to the contrary are completely false.
BLOGGER WAS DOWN this morning, then this afternoon my computer developed a problem with Internet access. Actually it developed a number of problems, but I was able to resolve all but this one myself. (Well, most of the others. Some of them.) Then things got quite exciting when my neighbor, who knows about such things, narrowed the glitch down to either a faulty cable or a faulty internal modem. Fortunately it turned out to be the cable, so I'm back.

Friday, December 12, 2003

SALMON SCHOCKEN, founder of Schocken Press (which specializes in Judaica and which appears not to have a website), is the subject of a book that is reviewed in the Forward. Excerpt:

Man of the Book: Reading a Life of Salman Schocken

The Patron: A Life of Salman Schocken (1877-1959)
By Anthony David
Metropolitan Books (Henry Holt and Company), 352 pages, $30.


You may have never heard of the publisher Salman Schocken, an intellectual's businessman as well as a businessman's intellectual; even some leading New York editors of the past 30 years know little about him. But if you've ever read "In Mr. Lublin's Shop" by S.Y. Agnon � a writer whom Schocken essentially discovered, supported and promoted for the Nobel Prize in Literature � you've encountered a portrait of him. And if you ever bought a paperback edition of the works of Franz Kafka or Gershom Scholem in the United States in the 1950s or 1960s, you were directly affected by Schocken's taste � at least, by a small dimension of it.

Schocken Books, the last of the publishing companies devoted to what is now called Judaica, was the comparatively reduced American outpost of Schocken's publishing enterprise, which began magisterially with a rich and risk-taking array of German books in Weimar Berlin and continued with an extensive Hebrew publishing program in pre-World War II Palestine, where Schocken also owned the daily newspaper Ha'aretz and served as the head of administration for the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. His English-language publishing venture was founded last, in 1947, when Schocken was 70. Based in New York City (where it was supported primarily by Schocken's luck in real-estate investment), its most important holdings were the copyrights to the complete works of Kafka. In the large map of New York publishing, though, Schocken Books has been considered a comparatively minor house, a niche or specialty publisher, and Schocken himself has rarely inspired curiosity outside a small circle of other Jewish �migr�s.

This is likely to change with the appearance of Anthony David's monumental new biography, "The Patron: A Life of Salman Schocken 1877-1959." David's absorbing chronicle covers not only Schocken's extensive mercantile, publishing, bibliophilic, philanthropic and scholarly achievements; his cultural and intellectual ideals; his several exiles (from Germany to Palestine and then from Israel to the United States) and restless travels; his amazing literary instincts and steely business acumen, and his 50-year marriage in which he fathered five children, all of whom led reasonably good lives, but also his numerous extramarital affairs and his decision, at age 73, to leave his loveless union with his wife, Lilly, saying, "Now, I am a free man."


UPDATE: Here's another review of the same book in the Jerusalem Post. And here's the website for Schocken Books.
THE JOURNAL OF GRECO-ROMAN CHRISTIANITY AND JUDAISM has been brought back on the McMaster Divinity College website (heads up, Mark Goodacre). The journal disappeared from the old site some time ago and its domain name was taken over by people who sell Viagra and suchlike. (No, I'm not going to link to it.) At the moment only volume one from 2000 is up (and it has lots of interesting articles, so do take a look), but I hope this means that we'll be seeing new articles again soon.
THE MEGIDDO EXPEDITION is looking for volunteers to dig in the 2004 season (again via Bible and Interpretation News).
THE WAQF has begun a new excavation on the Temple Mount, which they say is to replace a sewer line (WorldNetDaily via Bible and Intepretation News). This despite recent assurances from the Israeli Security Minister that no more construction would be undertaken there.
ART HISTORIAN Elizabeth Lev saw a rough cut of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ in a showing in Rome this week (was this the Vatican showing requested by the Pope?) and she liked it.

UPDATE: It appears to be the same showing.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

LEVITICUS AND THE GAY MARRIAGE DEBATE: David Klinghoffer, writing for Beliefnet, thinks that conservatives shouldn't be shy about citing Leviticus 18:22 to oppose the legalization of gay marriage. I don't think I've ever fisked a whole article before, but it seems to be in order here. I don't agree with his political position, but that's neither here nor there. If he were taking a position I agreed with, I would still have the same objections. What bothers me is his arguing for a political goal on the basis of assumptions many citizens of the polity don't share, his na�ve understanding of history, and his inconsistent and erroneous exegesis even from within his own set of assumptions.

Bring Back the A-Word
Why conservatives shouldn't be shy about citing the 'abomination' Bible verse when objecting to gay marriage.
By David Klinghoffer

Just as homosexuality was once the love that dare not speak its name, there is a Bible verse that opponents of gay marriage rarely speak. It is Leviticus 18:22, which reads: �You shall not lie with a man as one lies with a woman, it is an abomination.� These ancient words, the Bible�s most direct statement on homosexuality, need to be rehabilitated. Why? Because American security and prosperity are linked with the sexual norms we sanction.

If you keep track of Leviticus on Google News (as, believe it or not, some of us do - sorry, the links are mostly dead now), you'll find that the verse is cited fairly frequently in media discussions about gay issues. Of course recently it's been coming up mainly in connection with major warpo Fred Phelps. One can perhaps sympathize with conservatives who don't want to be associated with him. But abusus non tollit usus, so let's see what Klinghoffer does with the verse.

A rabbinic interpretive tradition (one which goes back at least to the fourth century C.E. and is found in the midrashic book Sifra) understands another verse in Leviticus 18 to mean that the locals in Canaan actually conducted same-sex marriages, among other forbidden sexual practices the Canaanite peoples had sanctioned. It was for this that God ejected them from the holy land: �Do not become contaminated through any of these [acts]; for through all of these the nations that I expel before you became contaminated. The land became contaminated and I recalled its iniquity upon it; and the land disgorged it inhabitants� (vv. 24-25). The Canaanites suffered national defeat, invasion, humiliation. Finally, they disappeared from history. (Did you ever meet a �Canaanite�?)

The word "Canaanite" is a very slippery one: "Canaan" is a geographical term in the second millennium B.C.E., the name of an Egyptian province corresponding roughly to Palestine and part of southern Syria. But the political units of the time were the individual city-states, ruled by a king, and if you had asked one of these people if he was a "Canaanite" he probably would have said, "No, I'm a man of Hazor (Byblos, Jerusalem, etc.)."

"Canaanite" is one name in the Bible (there are others: Amorite, Jebusite, Hittite, etc.; see, e.g., Exodus 3:8) which refers to a number of groups who are best described as speakers of Northwest Semitic dialects close to (and probably mutually comprehensible with) Hebrew, with whom the Israelites had a disagreement about who should own the land. Whether the Israelites actually invaded from outside the land or grew up within it is a question still hotly debated by historians. In any case, for some centuries the Israelites were more the winners than the losers of the argument. We have less information about these speakers of Northwest Semitic than we would like, but we know that they were polytheists (like the rest of the peoples of the ancient Near East except at least some Israelites); that some of them practiced human sacrifice (as did some Israelites); and that they had the sort of myths, legends, and customs that we would expect people in that part of the world at that time to have. (This doesn't include same-sex marriage, by the way: Klinghoffer has to slip in a fourth-century C.E. midrash to connect that with them.) There's nothing about their morality or religion (the little we know of either) that marks them as unusual in comparison to contemporary ancient peoples. The Assyrians were also idolators and were far more cruel and barbaric.

It's not unreasonable to assume that at least some of the genetic material of the present-day Palestinians goes back to the "Canaanites." There's been lots of genetic mixing with other groups (e.g., Crusaders), but that's true for Jews as well (e.g., proselytes and converts). If one accepts some connection between the modern Palestinians and the "Canaanites," the argument over the land continues today and they are not a spent force.

Our only basis for the view that the ancient "Canaanites" were utterly despicable and depraved is some elements in the biblical narrative, which assert with not a great deal of moral consistency that they were so evil that God ordered the Israelites to slaughter them, men, women, and children (e.g., Deuteronomy 20:16-18; Joshua 6:17-21). This custom of imposing the herem or "ban" ("devotion" to destruction) on enemies was also practiced by the neighboring Moabites. The main issue, in both cases, came down to the view of one side that their God had given them the land currently occupied by the other side.

I've gone on at length about this to put in context my point that Klinghoffer is indulging in comic-book theology. His Canaanites are cardboard pop-up baddies, bereft of moral complexity and depth. He is accepting a simplistic and completely uncritical reading of the highly ideological biblical stories, spiced up by much later rabbinic legend, and advancing it as though it were serious history, upon which he then wants to build an in-itself-dubious post-hoc, propter-hoc theology. This argument is not worth taking seriously on any level.

The Bible doesn't frown on gay sex uniquely. In the first five books of the Bible (the Torah), homosexual intercourse isn�t the only act called an �abomination.� The book of Deuteronomy applies the terms to certain unethical business practices, which in Leviticus are denounced as a �perversion� (see Deut. 25:16, Lev. 19:35).

But same-sex intimacy is unique (along with incest and sex with animals) in being pointed to as among the failings of a non-Jewish people, the Canaanites, that brought about that group�s final moral dissolution. I don�t know of another category of sin that, in the biblical context, is both a) explicitly made applicable to gentiles and b) is spoken of in such emphatic terms as leading to societal breakdown, whether the society in question is Jewish or not.

Basic moral principles apply not only to Jews, in other words, but to all people, even those that don't follow Jewish dietary laws. If any country defies them, it will suffer a fate akin to the Canaanites'. The men and women of Canaan were not held responsible for not observing the Jewish Sabbath--to pick another example of a practice asked only of Jews; but they were held responsible for rejecting the fundamental moral tenet that marriage is between a man and a woman.

By this reasoning we also have to postulate a fundamental moral tenet that a man and woman aren't allowed to have sexual intercourse during her "menstrual uncleanness" (Leviticus 18:19 - three verses before Klinghoffer's major proof text and in the same paragraph and the same context). Then in verses 24-29 (RSV, cited in part by Klinghoffer above) we're told:

24: "Do not defile yourselves by any of these things [in vv. 6-23], for by all these the nations I am casting out before you defiled themselves;
25: and the land became defiled, so that I punished its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants.
26: But you shall keep my statutes and my ordinances and do none of these abominations, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you
27: (for all of these abominations the men of the land did, who were before you, so that the land became defiled);
28: lest the land vomit you out, when you defile it, as it vomited out the nation that was before you.
29: For whoever shall do any of these abominations, the persons that do them shall be cut off from among their people.

My emphasis. The text makes no distinction among the defiling sins in vv. 6-23. By Klinghoffer's logic, the "abomination" of sex during menstrual uncleanness is every bit as much of a threat to society as homosexual marriage. If he were consistent, he would have to assert this.

Back to Klinghoffer:

The message is clear: If the Bible possesses any real authority as a communication of God�s thoughts about man, then a country�s safety and stability are related to the kinds of sexual relationships it endorses.

I don't grant the truth of this statement: there are theological understandings of biblical authority that don't require this conclusion at all. But more importantly, I refuse to debate this political issue on these terms. Americans and Britons (I'm both) live in pluralistic societies that don't take a scripture, any scripture, as their legal or constitutional basis.

This doesn't mean we have to stone gays or carry out any of the other penalties for misbehavior outlined in the Hebrew Bible. These are meant to be applied only in a Jewish commonwealth, and then only under very special conditions. (There needs to be a Temple in Jerusalem with a high-court, or Sanhedrin, sitting in judgment there on capital trials. Look for these when the Messiah comes, ushering in a new world full of the knowledge of God where the need for harsh justice will thus be exceedingly rare.)

I notice that Klinghoffer didn't cite Leviticus 20:13 as his proof text ("If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death, their blood is upon them." RSV). He's being quite inconsistent here: if biblical rules against homosexuality are so critically important for the survival of our society now, how can he say that the biblical penalty prescribed for the offending act is only meant for the messianic future? Why not say that the rule has only a future application too, when the penalty can be applied? And he doesn't explain where he gets all the stuff about the Temple in Jerusalem and the Sanhedrin, neither of which figure in Leviticus at all. He certainly gives the appearance of backpedaling so as not to come across as utterly barbaric; and a consistent position along these lines would be utterly barbaric.

There is no turning back the clock to biblical times. But conservatives have gotten into the habit of explaining our doubts about homosexual marriage in highly pragmatic, rationalistic terms having nothing to do with religion. Conservative pundits say you have to keep your arguments secular to reach the ideological middle.

To them, citing Leviticus would seem the grossest violation of good manners. But the advance of sanctioned gay marriage, creeping like ivy across the face of the American legal system, shows the futility of this strategy.

Let us consider telling the truth about what underlies the case against homosexual matrimony. After all, many Americans look to the Bible for their values. We live in a culture imbued, from the Pilgrims onward, with Old Testament values. That's who we are.

Any Bible-believer must agree that it�s God�s will, not man�s intellect, which decides profound moral questions. If conservatives started talking biblically about homosexual marriage, we would stand to energize those of our fellow citizens who share our traditional values.

After all, we are talking about laws of nature as God made it. An ancient rabbinic teaching says that in creating the world, He first looked in the Torah, Scripture�s first five books and their explanatory traditions. In other words, the Bible is not a set of arbitrarily imposed rules. It�s a blueprint of how the world works.

Mr. Klinghoffer, you are refreshingly candid about your presuppositions and agenda and I give you credit for that. Okay, you believe the Torah is a blueprint of how the world works, that it consists of "laws of nature," and that it rather than your intellect must decide profound moral questions. Fine. Follow it as you understand it and as you see fit. It is your right to conduct your personal life that way, which right I would support with all my strength. But a great many people in our society don't believe what you believe and the laws of our society aren't built on your presuppositions. If you want to convince the rest of us to do what you want, you're going to have to argue on the basis of something other than biblical authority. If you can't do that, we're going to ignore you and get on with the business of running a pluralistic society.

We Americans don�t live in a society governed by Mosaic law. However, neither did the Canaanites. When the Bible speaks of their moral failings in very specific ethical areas, and the consequent downfall of their civilization, there is a lesson not just for a Jewish society but for everyone. The way God sets things up, a society that institutionalizes same-sex unions will ultimately suffer tragic consequences--�disgorgement� from its place in the world. What, in very concrete terms, would that mean? Let�s hope we don�t have to find out.

I've read this paragraph over and over to try to understand it fairly and it still makes me very uncomfortable. He seems to be saying that, not the whole Mosaic law, but specific parts of it that he has seized on (using poor and inconsistent exegesis even on his own terms - see above) are so important to God that if we don't follow them we can expect the downfall of our civilization: God will "disgorge" us. The implication is that Americans must make - or refrain from making - their laws on the basis of Klinghoffer's version of biblical morality and his beliefs about biblical authority or else they're doomed. The argument isn't internally consistent in the first place and it doesn't work for anyone who doesn't share his religious presuppositions. It amounts to wanting the state to make political decisions on the basis of a narrow interpretation of a particular scripture, which strikes me as a very bad idea.

Mr. Klinghoffer, if you want to convince anyone who doesn't share your starting assumptions, you need to try again.

UPDATE (12 December): Welcome, readers of Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish. For more information about this blog, have a look at the "About" link to the right. If you are interested in ancient biblical and related history, please do visit again.

UPDATE: Reader Carla Sulzbach points to this 1999 article in Midstream by Thomas Herz, "Judaism and Homosexuality: Myth and Emeth," which also takes issue with views like Klinghoffer's.

UPDATE (14 December): Historian Gary Leupp reflects on the cross-cultural history of human sexuality and marriage in his Counterpunch essay "On Marriage in 'Recorded History.' An Open Letter to Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney."

UPDATE (15 December): Judith Weiss and her readers comment. Duncan Frissel comments:

One might wonder if Davila would make the same argument against Marxists or Republicans who base their political arguments on premises most people don't share or indeed anyone else.

Yes I would. Probably not here, unless they were discussing ancient Judaism. Otherwise I tend to pursue my (numerous) political arguments elsewhere.

Aren't all arguments made from presuppositions everyone in the polity doesn't share or else there would be no argument.

To the degree that one makes arguments based entirely on an ideology (fundamentalist religion, Marxism, etc., take your pick), to that degree people who don't share that ideology won't be convinced. I don't see what's so difficult about this point. And it's perfectly fair game to say to someone, I don't share the presuppositions behind that argument. Either convince me of them or convince me of your point with another argument.

As for the application of parts of Mosaic law and not others (no on sodomy, yes on eating unclean animals) this is long established Christian Theology.

My argument was more subtle than that. I said that Mr. Klinghoffer is inconsistent in his exegesis on the basis of his own presuppositions (which incidentally don't involve Christian theology).

And unless one spends a lot of time attacking almost everyone for making stupid arguments based on personal assumptions,

Why should we accept other people's stupid arguments based on personal assumptions and not challenge them? As for me, if people want to make historically inaccurate or exegetically (or otherwise) nonsensical claims about things having to do with ancient Judaism or the ancient biblical world, I'm likely to challenge them. Read my archives. No doubt I've missed some, but I do have a few other things to do, like my job for instance.

to concentrate on religious believers suggests unwarranted discrimination. There is a thread of belief on the Left (which I don't know if Davila shares) holding that religious beliefs have little or no place in politics or governance. But they should actually be treated like any other beliefs.

Sorry, but that first bit is just loopy. I love the phrase "unwarranted discrimination," as though I were a government agency or an insurance company. All "beliefs" of any kind, when advanced as arguments, are open to challenges regarding their consistency with the evidence and their internal consistency. I most certainly do not just concentrate on religious believers, as anyone who reads me regularly or bothers to look through my archives knows (and in any case, it's my blog and I'll cover what I want). (Don't assume I have no religious beliefs. This blog is not about them or about many other things, and I try most of the time to keep on topic.)

What I do in PaleoJudaica is to give my expert opinion (as a philologist and historian of religion) on what's being said in the media and on the Internet about ancient Judaism and related matters, as I have time and as things strike me as interesting. I dish out a good bit of criticism, a good bit of praise, and a good bit of critical interaction. I also frequently note things with no comment. Occasionally I toss in something irrelevant because I feel like it. I make mistakes sometimes and when I find out about them I correct them. If Duncan doesn't like what I cover in this blog and how I cover it, I will cheerfully refund his subscription fee.

UPDATE (19 December): Lloyd Letta and Joseph the "Amateur Philosopher (scroll down) comment.
PHILOLOGOS writes on the Lachish Letters:

Language of Lachish

Sandra Metzger writes to ask:

"Would you possibly know of an ancient battle that sounds like 'Lekesh' but is spelled differently? I read about it 20 years ago in a book on archaeology and the Bible, which was later stolen in Liverpool, England, when in transport back to America. A hole in my memory prevents me from remembering the spelling to look it up."

Liverpool must have had some very intellectual thieves. In any case, I am glad to be able to restore to Ms. Metzger the name of her lost battle, which was the battle of Lachish, pronounced "Lah-KHEESH.'"

What does this battle have to do with a language column? Quite a lot, actually, because in archaeological excavations conducted in the 1920s and 1930s at Lachish, a hilltop 10 miles west of Hebron near where the mountains of Judea meet the coastal plain, a number of fascinating and dramatic Hebrew ostraca � inscriptions written on shards of broken pottery � from the exact period in which the battle was fought were discovered. Many of these consisted of letters or fragments of them written by a Judean army officer named Hosha'yahu to his commander Ya'ush, who was stationed with his troops in Lachish while awaiting an attack from the forces of the Babylonian king Sennacherib in 701 BCE. They teach us some new Hebrew expressions from biblical times, cause us to rethink some old ones and occasion some reflections about what is and isn't known regarding the language of the Bible.


All this makes one reflect that, as large and varied a book as the Bible is, its Hebrew represents only a part of the Hebrew spoken in biblical times, about which we need to avoid overly hard-and-fast assumptions. Readers of this column may remember, for instance, how, several months ago, in a discussion of an alleged eighth-century BCE inscription supposedly found on the Temple Mount, I argued that a Hebrew expression occurring in it, and used differently from the way it is used in biblical texts, might be authentic nonetheless. This contention was scoffed at by a number of biblical scholars and the inscription, indeed, has meanwhile been declared counterfeit by the Israel Anitiquities Department; but the example of the Lachish letters shows clearly, I think, that in principle I was right. There are several linguistic usages in these letters that, had suspicion been cast on the ostraca they were written on, could have been taken by the same scholars as proof that these ostraca were fake too.


This is a good point and needs to be kept in mind. In the case of the "Joash Inscription" (which is the one to which Philologos is referring), the problem was that it drew heavily on the biblical passages relating to the Temple but also mixed in anachronistic usages that were unlikely to be ancient. Epigraphers agreed that the evidence was overwhelmingly in favor of it being a forgery. See the essays of Hurowitz and Ahituv on the Bible and Interpretation website. (These require Hebrew fonts that I don't have, but you can still follow the argument in general without them.)

UPDATE: The earlier Philologos columns that discuss the "Joash Inscription" are here and here. This seems to be a case of using the right arguments to reach the wrong conclusion, which happens to us all sometimes.
THE INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATION OF QUMRAN STUDIES wins the prize for fastest turnaround of a conference paper proposal, with an acceptance arriving from Florentino Garc�a Mart�nez in under half an hour. The paper is for the July meeting in Groningen (overlapping with the International SBL meeting) and is titled "The Odes of Isaiah: A Newly Discovered Syriac Pseudepigraphon - A Thought Experiment." For now I think I'll hold onto the abstract. I will say that this is part of yet another chapter of the book I'm working on. I look forward very much to seeing the usual suspects in Groningen this summer.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003


A Rabbi Reads the Psalms

2nd Edition

Jonathon Magonet

This second enlarged edition of Jonathon Magonet's 1994 introduction to the Jewish reading of the Psalms will be welcomed. It has become a staple of university reading lists and helped many take their first steps in understanding the poetry of the Hebrew Bible and offers an insight into the different kinds of spiritual understanding to be found in Jewish Tradition. Two new studies of Psalms 51 and 118 are included in this edition.

2nd Ed 0 334 02953 8 216x135mm�� 200pp �14.99 February�2004

A Rabbi Reads the Bible

2nd Edition

Jonathan Magonet

Since it's first appearance in 1991, Jonathan Magonet's introduction to the Jewish reading of Scripture has proved immensely popular. The informal style and wit open a wide range of scholarly issues to the general and specialist reader, and encourage a journey of discovery into unfamiliar tradition and modern Jewish approaches to the text of the Bible. Two new chapters add to the value of this stimulating book.

2nd Ed 0 334 02952 X 180pp 216x135mm �14.99 February 2004

No Amazon entries available yet for these editions.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

THE MINIMALIST-MAXIMALIST DISCUSSION CONTINUES on Bible and Interpretation News. In this short installment, Robert D. Miller II tells us "How Post-Modernism (and W. F. Albright) Can Save Us from Malarkey." If you know more about White and Burke than I do (i.e., anything), you will probably get more out of it than I did. But I commend Professor Miller for talking about postmodern history without once using the word "hegemony."
NOW THAT'S A FAST TURNAROUND! This morning I sent off a paper proposal for the Apocrypha section of the July 2004 International Society of Biblical Literature meeting in Groningen. I got an acknowledgement, sent at 6:58 am EST, telling me I should receive an answer by February 1st. Fair enough. But then I got a message from Matthew Collins, sent at 8:11 am EST, accepting the paper. Is that efficient service or what?

For those of you interested, here's the abstract of the paper. It's a summary of another chapter in the book I'm working on and deals with my usual hobby-horses of late.

Did Christians Write Old Testament Pseudepigrapha that Appear to be Jewish?

In recent years I and others have argued that the proper starting point for the study of Old Testament pseudepigrapha transmitted only by Christians is the earliest surviving manuscripts. We cannot assume that, if such works lack obviously Christian features (or contain only a few), they were written by Jews. It remains possible that they were written by Christians who, for whatever reason, omitted such elements.

This paper presents some lateral but positive evidence that Christians in fact did this. Christians wrote documents in the same genres as the Jewish pseudepigrapha (apocalypses, liturgies, oracles, rewritten scripture). They also attributed anonymous Old Testament pseudepigrapha without explicitly Christian features to named Christian authors, such as Tertullian, so ancient Christians themselves saw nothing implausible in the idea of a Christian writing such a work.

Moreover, in some cases texts (including hymns, sermons, and sections of biblical commentaries) on Old Testament themes by known Christian authors (e.g., John Chrysostom and Ephrem Syrus) contain either no explicitly Christian features or else very few and of a such nature that, had the works been transmitted anonymously as Old Testament pseudepigrapha, some modern scholars would excise these features as secondary and take the works to be Jewish pseudepigrapha. Sometimes these documents even include material (e.g., positive references to the Law or circumcision) which we would normally expect of Jewish authors.

Although these observations do not prove that Christians wrote pseudepigrapha that appear to be Jewish, they show that this possibility is entirely consonant with surviving evidence, and they reinforce the principle that for Old Testament pseudepigrapha transmitted by Christians the burden of proof is on anyone who asserts that the works are Jewish compositions. This is an important methodological filter for preventing extraneous sources from contaminating our understanding of ancient Judaism.

By the way, for some reason access to Blogger has been up and down all day. Sorry if any of you have had trouble accessing this site. The problem is outside my control.
A SHORT BOOK REVIEW by Peter F. Neumeyer in the Boston Globe:

Gerald McDermott, having begun by making films of mythologies, consulted with the great Jungian scholar Joseph Campbell. From there he went to writing and painting prize-winning books, often traditional tales or trickster mythologies. This time McDermott says his story "Creation" (written and illustrated by Gerald McDermott; Dutton; n.p.; ages 7 and up; $16.99) is based "on Genesis 1:1 through 2:3 of the Hebrew Bible, with an eye toward its antecedents in the ancient Near East" as well as on 13th- and 14th-century French and Spanish accounts.

McDermott's stunning, exalted illustrations are on handmade mulberry-bark paper whose organic textures inspired the swirls and shadings of his gesso-and-fabric color paintings. He writes that he intends the book to be "an outer expression of the inner reality that connects every human soul." In that, it succeeds. It is an eloquent object of beauty, for any age, and necessary for our times.

You can read additional reviews by following the Amazon link that I've added to this review.

Corley, Jeremy
Ben Sira's Teaching on Friendship
Reviewed by Alice M. Sinnott

Satlow, Michael
Jewish Marriage in Antiquity
Reviewed by Charlotte Fonrobert

Schwab, George M.
The Song of Songs' Cautionary Message Concerning Human Love
Reviewed by Richard G. Smith

Bauckham, Richard
Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels
Reviewed by Sharyn Dowd

Scott, Douglas
Edited by S. R. Llewelyn
New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity: A Review of the Greek Inscriptions and Papyri Published 1986-87
Reviewed by John S. Kloppenborg

Monday, December 08, 2003

A MONTH AGO I wrote that the Zeitschrift f�r die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft was not available online. I was wrong. With a paid institutional or personal subscription you can access the full text of it (follow the link above). The current issue is 115.4 and it contains the following articles in PDF format:

An Ironic Circle: Wellhausen and the Rise of Redaction Criticism
Seiten 487�500
[pdf (60 kb)]

Jakob segnet seinen Sohn. Genesis 49,1�28 im Kontext von Josefs- und V�tergeschichte
Seiten 501�523
[pdf (98 kb)]

L�Impur et le Saint dans le Premier Testament � partir du livre du L�vitique Partie I: L�Impur et le Pur
Seiten 524�537
[pdf (62 kb)]

Deut 17,8�13. Procedure for Cases of Pollution?
Seiten 538�556
[pdf (112 kb)]

De la b�te � l�ange: le Psaume 23, miroir de l�aventure spirituelle
Seiten 557�577
[pdf (101 kb)]

Syllable-Word Patterns in Esther
Seiten 578�585
[pdf (43 kb)]

Zu Funktion und Authentizit�tsanspruch der oratio recta. Hebr�ische und griechische Geschichtsschreibung im Vergleich
Seiten 586�607
[pdf (94 kb)]


Zur Lage der Pentateuchforschung
Seiten 608�616
[pdf (53 kb)]

Infertile Quartet of Flora / Symposium
Seiten 617�624
[pdf (63 kb)]

The full text of the journal is available back through 2001, with tables of contents listed back through 1997.
MORE ON THE PROTOCOLS EXHIBITION in the new Library of Alexandria. This morning I received the following e-mail from Sherif. E. Elaish, Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Public Relations Department:

Public Statement by Ismail Serageldin
Alexandria, 4 December-The following statement is attributable to the Director of the Library of Alexandria, Dr. Ismail Serageldin:
"Recent press reports concerning the presence of the first Arabic translation of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion in an exhibition in the Bibliotheca Alexandrina deserve a prompt and clear reply. Preliminary investigation determined that the book was briefly displayed in a showcase devoted to rotating samples of curiosities and unusual items in our collection. The book was never displayed alongside the Jewish Torah nor has it ever been stated that it is a holy book or the basis for a Jewish constitution. The book is a well-known 19th century fabrication to foment anti-Jewish feelings.
"The book was promptly withdrawn from public display, but its very inclusion showed bad judgment and insensitivity, and an internal administrative hearing is underway to determine whether further action is to be taken.
"The Bibliotheca Alexandrina is profoundly committed to its role as a center of learning and a place promoting tolerance, dialogue and understanding between peoples, cultures and civilizations. We are honored to work with distinguished international partners in promoting these universal ideals".

I have sent the following reply:

Dear Dr. Serageldin,

Thank you very much for this information. I commend you for your prompt and proper action regarding this unfortunate situation.

Would you please comment on the interview with Dr. Yousef Ziedan (who is named as the director of the manuscript museum at the Library of Alexandria) in Al Usbu', translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute and available online at According to this interview Dr. Ziedan said:

"When my eyes fell upon the rare copy of this dangerous book, I decided immediately to place it next to the Torah. Although it is not a monotheistic holy book, it has become one of the sacred [tenets] of the Jews, next to their first constitution, their religious law, [and] their way of life. In other words, it is not merely an ideological or theoretical book.

"Perhaps this book of the 'Protocols of the Elders of Zion' is more important to the Zionist Jews of the world than the Torah, because they conduct Zionist life according to it� It is only natural to place the book in the framework of an exhibit of Torah [scrolls]."

He is also quoted as having made sarcastic, bizarre, and inaccurate statements about the Holocaust in this interview. Are the quotations in the interview correct and, if so, what is your position as Director of the Library on his comments? If the quotations misrepresent what he said, what is the source of the error?

I am putting your statement below [it's above in this post] on my weblog, PaleoJudaica and, if you have no objection, I would like also to post there your reply to my queries above.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Also, it appears that I misread the introduction to the MEMRI translation in my earlier posts here and here. Dr. Yousef Ziedan is director of the manuscripts museum at the new Library of Alexandria, not the director of the whole library. I apologize for the error.
BIBLICAL STUDIES IN ISRAEL is a year abroad program aimed at Christian undergraduates. It is organized by a Christian group called the Jerusalem Cornerstone Foundation in cooperation with the Rothberg International School of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and is directed by Dr. Randall Buth, a specialist in Aramaic whom I've mentioned now and again on this blog. The program's website says:

Biblical Studies in Israel is a year abroad program for Christian undergraduate students majoring in biblical studies or related fields. The BSI program is directed by Dr. Randall Buth in cooperation with the Rothberg International School of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. BSI is ideal for students who want to develop strong language skills along with introductions to the cultural and geographical backgrounds of the Bible. BSI immerses students into the language and ancient thought process, thereby, expanding their comprehension of the biblical world and its textual witnesses.

Sunday, December 07, 2003

THE PROTOCOLS MANUSCRIPT has been removed from the exhibition in the new Library of Alexandria:

Egypt Library Removes Anti-Semitic Tract (The Guardian

Saturday December 6, 2003 10:01 PM


Associated Press Writer

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) - The Alexandria Library has withdrawn the first Arabic translation of the ``Protocols of the Elders of Zion'' from an exhibit after U.N. cultural officials questioned the display of the 19th century anti-Semitic tract.

In a statement faxed to The Associated Press on Saturday, library director Ismail Serageldin denied allegations that the book was displayed next to the Jewish holy book, the Torah.


Youssef Ziedan, who as director of the library manuscript center made the decision to display the book, noted the exhibition including the book was only open to researchers doing postgraduate studies.

``My professional view is that it is a silly book,'' he said. ``Its only significance is that it is the first Arabic edition of the book that has influenced the Arab mentality to a great extent.''


Given his Al-Usbu' interview, this sounds like furious backpedaling to me, but it will probably be let go.

I don't, incidentally, have any trouble with the idea of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion being included in a Judaica exhibition, as long as it is clearly labeled as a notorious forgery and its real origins are explained. In that sense it is a work of historical importance (for the history of anti-Semitism) and education about its true nature would be useful.

Score another one for MEMRI.
MORE ON THE COPTIC GOSPEL OF JUDAS: Stephen Carlson of Hypotyposeis comments on my latest post on the subject and adds some new information, mostly, quite properly, urging caution.