Saturday, January 03, 2004

THE MOVIE THE ORDER is now available on video and DVD, which may account for the number of people doing searches online for "sin eaters" and being referred to PaleoJudaica. I haven't seen it myself but I've posted links and comments on the trailer, reviews, sin eaters, etc., here and here and here.

Every review I've seen has panned it.

David Suter alerts me to the following links on this site:

The Babatha papyri (Babatha was a Jewish woman who was involved with the Bar Kokhba revolt and who died in it and left behind her personal papers.)

The Zenon papyri (These are third-century B.C.E. Egyptian papyri that, inter alia, illuminate ancient Judaism. There's more on them at the Michigan Papyrus website.)

English to Greek Liddell and Scott Lexicon

English to Latin Lewis and Short Lexicon

Perseus Tools and Information ("Tools for searching and browsing the Perseus Digital Library")
"THE GREAT JERUSALEM CAPER." That is, the caper bush. Excerpts from the Jerusalem Post article:

This invincible plant is the caper bush, Capparis spinosa.

In the Talmud, Rabban Gamliel pointed to the caper as an example of what all plants will do when the Messiah comes - namely, produce new flowers and fruits daily. Capparis is the Greek word for caper; spinosa means spiny, and refers to the thorns that grow along the plant's stems.

The caper bush is native to Jerusalem, where it is found growing in crevices of ancient stone walls. At more than 50 feet above ground level, caper bushes can even be found cascading out of the cracks in the Western Wall.


There is another significant site where caper bushes grow. It is Masada National Park, near the western edges of the Dead Sea.

During Israel's great revolt against Rome in the first century, a group of zealots, determined to resist conquest, took refuge in Masada, a fortress atop an isolated mountain. For seven months, 15,000 Roman soldiers laid siege to Masada, which was defended by 967 men, women, and children. When they could no longer hold out against Rome, this band of zealots chose to die by their own hands rather than be taken captive, forced to give up their religion, and live as slaves. It is only natural that the caper bush, the world's most defiant plant, flowering luxuriously in the middle of summer, should flourish atop Masada.

Friday, January 02, 2004

MARK GOODACRE has a New Year's retrospective as well, and much of what he says is similar to my experience since starting PaleoJudaica in March. I won't be posting one myself right now. Maybe for the first anniversary, if you're good.

By the way, I've just corrected some glitches in the Links page and added a few new links, including ones to the Early Church Fathers, Graham Lester's M.A. dissertation, ABZU, and Torrey Seland's Philo blog.
STEPHEN C. CARLSON reflects on his blogging experience in Hypotyposeis.
THE 2002 SEASON OF THE KURSI EXCAVATION (of a Byzantine monastery in the Galilee) is summarized on the Bible and Interpretation website. At the bottom of the report there are links to reports on the 2000 and 2001 seasons as well.

Music man's bid to restore harmony in Middle East (the Scotsman via Archaeologica News)


A SCOTTISH musicologist is bringing a little harmony to the Middle East by recreating an instrument that has not been heard since the days of the Old Testament.

John Kenny was part of a team of scientists and musicians who resurrected the Pictish instrument known as the carnyx, a 2,000-year-old metal trumpet in the shape of a boar�s head which was used by ancient Scots in their battle against Roman invasion.

Using this experience, Kenny, a teacher at Glasgow�s Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, is now working with Israeli and Palestinian academics to recreate an ancient horn instrument described in the Old Testament.


Among the instruments that could be recreated are the hazerot, which consists of a pair of joined silver trumpets and is mentioned in the Old Testament.

Although no surviving instruments have ever been found, a representation can be found on the Arch of Titus, which portrays how they were used by defending forces when Roman Emperor Titus sacked of Jerusalem in 70AD.

The instrument was used in conjunction with the shofar - which is carved from a ram�s horn - to gather people to tribal meetings, to alert camps of danger and to signal in warfare.

Working with renowned music expert Professor Joachin Braun at the University of Jerusalem and Palestinian musician Bassam Abdul Salam, Kenny�s ambition is to create a working example of the instrument that can be used by musicians on both sides of the divide.


Thursday, January 01, 2004

THERE'S NOW A PHILO OF ALEXANDRIA BLOG, run by Torrey Seland. Excellent!
DAVID KLINGHOFFER defends Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ on the basis of Talmudic references that assume that Jewish leaders were involved in the death of Jesus. (The article is in the Los Angeles Times, which requires a lengthy and rather intrusive, but free, registration.) Excerpt:

A relevant example comes from the Talmudic division known as Sanhedrin, which deals with procedures of the Jewish high court: "On the eve of Passover they hung Jesus of Nazareth. And the herald went out before him for 40 days [saying, 'Jesus] goes forth to be stoned, because he has practiced magic, enticed and led astray Israel. Anyone who knows anything in his favor, let him come and declare concerning him.' And they found nothing in his favor."

The passage indicates that Jesus' fate was entirely in the hands of the Jewish court. The last two of the three items on Jesus' rap sheet, that he "enticed and led astray" fellow Jews, are terms from Jewish biblical law for an individual who influenced others to serve false gods, a crime punishable by being stoned, then hung on a wooden gallows. In the Mishnah, the rabbinic work on which the Talmud is based, compiled about the year 200, Rabbi Eliezer explains that anyone who was stoned to death would then be hung by his hands from two pieces of wood shaped like a capital letter T � in other words, a cross (Sanhedrin 6:4).

These texts convey religious beliefs, not necessarily historical facts. The Talmud elsewhere agrees with the Gospel of John that Jews at the time of the Crucifixion did not have the power to carry out the death penalty. Also, other Talmudic passages place Jesus 100 years before or after his actual lifetime. Some Jewish apologists argue that these must therefore deal with a different Jesus of Nazareth. But this is not how the most authoritative rabbinic interpreters, medieval sages like Nachmanides, Rashi and the Tosaphists, saw the matter.

Maimonides, writing in 12th century Egypt, made clear that the Talmud's Jesus is the one who founded Christianity. In his great summation of Jewish law and belief, the Mishneh Torah, he wrote of "Jesus of Nazareth, who imagined that he was the Messiah, but was put to death by the court." In his "Epistle to Yemen," Maimonides states that "Jesus of Nazareth � interpreted the Torah and its precepts in such a fashion as to lead to their total annulment. The sages, of blessed memory, having become aware of his plans before his reputation spread among our people, meted out fitting punishment to him."

It's unfair of Jewish critics to defame Gibson for saying what the Talmud and Maimonides say, and what many historians say.

You can read some of the relevant texts here. And I've discussed some of them here and here. I would say that we just don't know the exact circumstances of Jesus' death. The fact that he was crucified indicates Roman involvement. The Gospels certainly portray some Jewish leaders as being involved, but there is much debate on how historically accurate the Passion narratives are. The Talmud (Gemara, that is - the Amoraic commentary on the Mishnah), of course, was written many centuries after the Gospels and anything it says about the first century is very dubious. Historically speaking, what Maimonides thought is irrelevant. He lived many centuries after the writing of the Talmud and we know more about the first century than he did. But pretty much everyone seems to agree that he's right in this case: the Talmud's Yeshu was Jesus of Nazareth.

Klinghoffer's argument seems to be that some of Gibson's critics are themselves being inconsistent if they accept the authority of the Talmud and of Maimonides yet still condemn Gibson. I'll leave that debate between him and them.
A GOOD JIHAD for the New Year. Really. Professor Reuven Firestone tells us about it in "Religions Hold Mix of Justice and Mercy" (Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles).
THERE ARE ARKS AND THEN THERE ARE ARKS. Philologos tells us about it in "Sephardic Arks." (But Indy, how did Noah fit all those animals in that little box?)
HERE'S AN HISTORICAL SURVEY of celebration of the new year in various cultures around the world. It should also have mentioned that the Jewish New Year takes place in September-October (although there's evidence for another new year reckoning in ancient Israel in the spring).

Wednesday, December 31, 2003

THE RETURN OF THE MUMMY: Antiquities looters beware!


(Via Francis Deblauwe's 2003 Iraq War and Archaeology Website.)
THE OCCUPANTS OF THE TOMB where the Jerusalem Shroud was found have been subjected to DNA analysis. The Jerusalem Post reports:

The underground area contained pieces of bone dated by carbon-14 to 2,000 years ago. The team found a "non-descript black mass" of wool fabric. The fabric, proven by radioactive dating techniques to be an authentic burial shroud from two millennia ago, contained "well-groomed hair."

The microscopy techniques revealed the nature of the fabrics and weaving techniques. [Charles] Greenblatt [professor emeritus of parasitology at the Hebrew University medical school] said that though the "Shroud of Turin" - which allegedly showed the shadow of the body of Jesus after his crucifixion" - was proven a fraud, the Jerusalem remains are authentic.

But the most interesting results were of the bones from the closed niche. These bones had not been gathered up for a secondary burial in an ossuary, which had been the practice of that time. DNA testing showed the handful of individuals were genetically related. "Two were perhaps a mother and son or brother and sister, and there were three other siblings, plus two related individuals in a closed stone casket," said Greenblatt, who added that an archeologist with the Antiquities Authority lent the team some fragments for DNA analysis.

The man found in the closed niche was clearly upper class, asserted Greenblatt, and may have been a kohen. He suffered from leprosy, which can weaken the immune system and thereby lead to tuberculosis, which was the actual cause of his death. The niche was probably sealed because the family that buried him feared getting infected with leprosy.

Read the whole article.

UPDATE: There are more details in the Ha'aretz article "2,000-year-old leper found in Jerusalem." Excerpt:

"Up until now, the oldest archaeological findings of leprosy were from the Byzantine period, in the fifth century C.E.," says [archaeologist Shimon] Gibson. "This is the oldest archaeological finding of leprosy in the Middle East. Leprosy is mentioned in the Bible, but until now, we could not be sure whether these biblical references are to the disease we know as leprosy, or to something

And the headlines just get more lurid. Ireland On-Line says: "Ancient leper remains found in valley named Hell."
FURTHER TO MY POST on sermons from preachers employed by the Palestinian Authority, Seth Sanders e-mails:

"Oh beloved of Allah, who are the Jews? Regarding their belief about Allah: The Jews have said that the hand of Allah is fettered in chains; [but] it is their hand that is fettered in chains, and they are cursed for their words? According to the Jews' belief, as it is written in some of their holy books, such as the Talmud, Allah divides his time into three parts. One third of the time he weeps. Why? Because his [chosen] people are dispersed in all directions. Another third he spends playing with the whales, and the final third he spends doing nothing in particular. This is their perverted belief about Allah..."

I am not sure if Mr. Ibrahim Madhi (or is that Mahdi, "messiah"?) has seen the Talmud for himself, but the Jewish� themes� he spitefully reinterprets are indeed there. In fact the image of divine bondage is of such stunning boldness and pathos that it would be hard for an ill-disposed reader *not* to garble it this way. First of all, the line about God's hand being in chains is from the Qur'an, Sura 5.64. That Muhammad did correctly attribute this to the Jews is clear from Michael Fishbane's learned and inspiring new Biblical Myth and Rabbinic Mythmaking:

Commenting on the statement in the Pesiqta de-Rav Kahana (17.5, i 286f in the Mandelbaum ed.) that God's own fearsome and potent right hand, with which he redeemed Israel, has gone into bondage and exile and will only be redeemed when the Jewish people are, Fishbane says that this image "recurs in midrashic literature as a sign that God was involved in the sufferings of Israel, and would not forget or abandon Zion. By means of an even more dramatic link to Ps 137:5 (read as a divine oath) God is said to have put His arm behind Him in remembrance of the Levites' act of cutting off their fingertips when their hands were bound, so that they would remember Jerusalem and not rejoice in psalmody while in exile. Obviously, such passages were intended as positive expressions of divine compassion. But others were less impressed. Struck by the bold anthropomorphic detail...some were scandalized and noted such texts negatively. One such author was the Karaite Al Qirqidani...who adduces the synagogue poet R. Eleazar Kallir's reference to God's arm being bound, as well as an ' the Jews' to the same effect. The latter is undoubtedly a citation from the Koran...which states that 'The Jews say: Allah's hand is chained up.' Such a reference was not intended as a compliment."
(p. 149).

The material about the weeping and playing with Leviathan is also there, though I have not found the locus.

Seth is quite right and I should have made clear in my brief comment that Sheikh Ibrahim Madhi (the name appears spelled thusly repeatedly in the MEMRI report) is alluding to some actual Jewish themes but is twisting them for his own purposes. I too have read somewhere about God weeping, and the playful Leviathan appears first in Psalm 104:26 and I think it is picked up in rabbinic passages. I'm not sure where the idea of God's spending his time "doing nothing in particular" comes from; perhaps it's a deduction from the tradition of his right hand being tied behind his back.

Nevertheless, I still doubt that the Sheikh's comments reflect long and thoughtful study of the Talmud or Jewish literature. And, more to the point, this particular formulation isn't exactly helpful in a sermon paid for by the PA and combined with Holocaust revisionism and a call for a new caliphate centered in Jerusalem.

Seth's review of the book by Fishbane is linked to and excerpted here.

UPDATE (1 January): Rebecca Lesses has more information on these early Jewish traditions and the Karaite and Muslim polemic against them in her blog Mystical Politics.

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

ON THE MACCABEES: I just ran across an interesting discussion of them by Jonathan Edelstein (the "Head Heeb") in which he develops a post from last year on why he might not have supported them if he had lived in their time. He concludes, "I am glad the Maccabees were there when they were needed, but if I could change the past, I would prefer to make them unnecessary." Judging the ancients by our standards is always a tricky proposition, but it makes for an intriguing thought experiment. There's lots of discussion in the comments and the various links as well.
ON THE KADDISH PRAYER: Beliefnet excerpts Ari L. Goldman's Living a Year of Kaddish. Excerpt of the excerpt:

Kaddish, an Aramaic poem that praises God, is one of the oldest parts of the synagogue liturgy. It is also one of the most powerful and most enduring. Dating back to the first century, it was probably recited in the very first synagogues established after the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in the year 70 c.e. The central lines of kaddish are mentioned in the Talmud, which was written and edited in the third to the sixth centuries. The early rabbinic sources show kaddish associated with the study of sacred texts--it was said at the conclusion of Torah study-but by the Middle Ages, it became linked with mourning. At a certain point in the synagogue service, the head of the congregation would go outside where the mourners sat and say kaddish for them. Later, it was mourners who led the prayer. In his book "When a Jew Dies," Samuel C. Heilman writes that saying kaddish publicly "turns this prayer from a sterile mourner's monologue into a dialogue of praise of life." Rabbi Maurice Lamm, the author of "The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning," calls kaddish "a self-contained, miniature service that achieves the heights of holiness."

You can read a translation of the Mourner's Kaddish, with commentary, by following the link.

Monday, December 29, 2003

THE ORION CENTER FOR THE STUDY OF THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS will be holding one of its annual symposia next month:

Text, Thought, and Practice in Qumran and Early Christianity (January 11�13, 2004)

The schedule and abstracts of many of the papers are already posted on the web page.
MORE JEWISH-TEMPLE DENIAL (and other weird things) from the Palestinian Authority:

MEMRI has just published a report on sermons delivered in 2000-2003 by preachers who are paid employees of the Palestinian Authority. There's not a dull paragraph in it, but I'll limit my comments to a a couple of passages. The first was delivered on August 15, 2003, by Sheikh Ibrahim Mudeiris in the Sheikh 'Ijlin Mosque in Gaza. The sermon is on the attempt by an Australian Christian fundamentalist to burn down the Al Aqsa Mosque in 1969. The bold-font emphasis is mine.

They are planning to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The Al-Aqsa Mosque is subject to acts of destruction, planned and organized in advance. Oh Muslims, Al-Aqsa is in real danger. Tunnels have been dug underneath Al-Aqsa on the pretext of uncovering the false Temple of Solomon. Oh Muslims, Al-Aqsa is subject to planned and organized acts of destruction. It is the people of Jerusalem and Palestine who protect the existence of Al-Aqsa Mosque, and we are not exaggerating. We bless you, we bless everyone whose blood flows upon this good and pure land. If a prayer at Al-Aqsa Mosque is worth 1,000 prayers at another mosque, then know that a Shahid [who falls] on this land is considered more than one Shahid someplace else. Yes, there are traditions that a Shahid here [in Jerusalem] is worth 70 Shahids in a place other than this good land� Every wounded person on this land is comparable to hundreds of wounded [elsewhere]�

"The false Temple of Solomon." Once again, just a few months ago, a religious leader paid by the Palestinian Authority has repeated to his hearers the lie that the Temple of Solomon never existed. How can the PA expect to be taken seriously in its negotiations when it supports outrageous falsehoods like this?

Incidentally, the word shahid is explained earlier in the report.

Here's a passage from a sermon delivered on September 21, 2001, by Sheikh Ibrahim Madhi in the same mosque. Again, the bold-font emphasis is mine.

"Oh beloved of Allah, who are the Jews? Regarding their belief about Allah: The Jews have said that the hand of Allah is fettered in chains; [but] it is their hand that is fettered in chains, and they are cursed for their words� According to the Jews' belief, as it is written in some of their holy books, such as the Talmud, Allah divides his time into three parts. One third of the time he weeps. Why? Because his [chosen] people are dispersed in all directions. Another third he spends playing with the whales, and the final third he spends doing nothing in particular. This is their perverted belief about Allah�

"Oh beloved of Allah� One of the Jews' evil deeds is what has come to be called 'the Holocaust,' that is, the slaughter of the Jews by Nazism. However, revisionist [historians] have proven that this crime, carried out against some of the Jews, was planned by the Jews' leaders, and was part of their policy� These are the Jews against whom we fight, oh beloved of Allah.

"On the other hand, [what is our belief] about the Jews? Allah has described them as donkeys who must carry the books of the Torah - but they have not carried them. Our belief, which is true, about the Jews is that Allah is angry at them. They are cursed with the curse of Allah in this world and in the hereafter. Therefore, we say to them out of friendship: 'Oh Jews, come to your senses, return to the true faith; you must convert to Islam�'

"Our belief is that this war, between us and the Jews, will continue to escalate until we vanquish the Jews and enter Jerusalem as conquerors, [and] enter Jaffa as conquerors. We are not merely expecting a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital; we are heralding [the creation of] an Islamic caliphate with Jerusalem as its capital�

Somehow I have the impression that Sheikh Ibrahim Madhi hasn't done much reading of the actual Talmud. Note also the Holocaust revisionism.

The MEMRI report is long but it has lots more interesting material. If you're in a hurry, skim through it using the search term "Jews." That will give you the general idea.

By the way, I have seen criticisms of MEMRI for their selectiveness of content, and ad hominem criticisms of its staff, but everyone seems to agree that they translate their sources accurately. See, for example, Brian Whitaker's 2002 Guardian article "Selective Memri" and Yigal Carmon's response "Media organisation rebuts accusations of selective journalism," also published in the Guardian. See also the retraction and apology of a Counterpunch writer who accused MEMRI of mistranslating their sources. I really don't see how putting the above quotes into a larger context could change their import.

As I've said before, I am not advocating a particular solution to the Israel-Palestine dilemma. That would be another discussion. Rather, I am pointing out that the PA needs to deal with history honestly if it wants to be taken seriously.

UPDATE: More here.

Sunday, December 28, 2003

MORE ON THE SAMARITANS and their problems with intermarriage in the Guardian/Observer:

Israeli star saw dark side of the Good Samaritan

Conal Urquart in Jerusalem reports that women are ostracised for daring to marry outside one of the Holy Land's tiniest and most ancient communities

Sunday December 28, 2003
The Observer

The Samaritans won renown for kindness in the time of Jesus. But today they are ruthless in defence of the purity of their tribe, prepared even to shun their own daughters to preserve their lineage, a fate that has befallen one of Israel's most celebrated actresses.

The ancient sect, which was celebrated in the Christian world through the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke's gospel, now numbers only 600, divided between two communities - one near Tel Aviv in Israel and the other near Nablus in the West Bank. Women are banned from marrying outsiders; those who disobey are ostracised and rejected by the close-knit community. That is what has happened to Sophie Sedaka, who was brought up as a Samaritan but is now an outcast.

Sedaka, 28, is one of Israel's most popular soap opera stars and children's TV presenters. Despite her prominence, few in Israel know the story of how she came to be shunned by her own community. Twenty years ago, when she was only eight, her sister ran away to marry an Israeli Jew. From then on, she says, she was treated by the community as 'infected' by her sister's crime. It was the beginning of her estrangement from the Samaritans.


The Samaritans are essentially a Jewish sect, although Jews have tended to regard them as lower than the Gentiles. Their language is ancient Hebrew and their religion is akin to Judaism, although it does not contain modifications that Jews added over the past 3,000 years, such as the festivals of Purim and Hanukkah. The main difference is that the Samaritans never left the holy lands and they believe Abraham bound his son, Isaac, in preparation for his sacrifice on Mount Gezirim, not on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem.

This paragraph needs some correction and tuning. The main differences are that the Samaritans regard themselves as members of the lost ten tribes, so they are Israelites but not Jews, and they believe the site God chose for the temple (and they used to have a temple there) is Mount Gerizim near Nablus rather than the Temple Mount in Jerusalem).

Despite their similarities, even in the time of Jesus the Samaritans were shunned by the Jews and the two communities were often at war. Now the Samaritans find themselves in the middle of the modern-day war in the holy land. They remain strictly neutral and carry both Palestinian and Israeli identity cards.

Men can marry outside the community because for the last 200 years there have been more sons born to the community than daughters; the ratio currently stands at about five men for every three women.

The Samaritans allow their women to mix freely with the Palestinian community in Nablus and the Jewish community in Israel. Because of the doctrinal differences between Samaritans and Jews, Samaritans are educated in secular Israeli schools.


UPDATE: Earlier this month I blogged a somewhat different version of this article by the same author, and with the same irritating misspelling "Gezirim," from Newsday.