Saturday, July 02, 2005

WHAT DOES "ISCARIOT" MEAN? More good Aramaic philology from Ed Cook and a good example of why Jastrow's Dictionary must be used with caution.
HOW DO YOU SAY "BLOG" IN LATIN? Find out here.
THE AFTERLIFE OF THE TEMPLE: Here's an interview with Simon Goldhill, author of The Temple of Jerusalem (Wonders of the World; Harvard University Press, 2005):
Construction Site

A history of the Second Temple unearths an archaeology of fantasy and longing.

INTERVIEW BY Franklin Toker

Built by Herod 20 years before the Common Era, the Second Temple�a magnificent recreation of an earlier structure built by King Solomon and destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C.E.�stood in Jerusalem for less than a century. Despite its short life, the legacy of Herod's effort has lasted millennia, bolstered by the discovery of archaeological relics and by continuing discussions of its grandeur that date back to Josephus's histories, written in the first century C.E.. In The Temple of Jerusalem, Simon Goldhill, a fellow of King's College, Cambridge University, and author of Foucault's Virginity: Ancient Erotic Fiction and the History of Sexuality, examines the Temple's endurance as an object of religious and political fascination. He discusses this architectural marvel and his book, part of Harvard University Press's Wonders of the World series, with Franklin Toker.


There are also some cool pictures of artistic representations of the Temple throughout the ages.

I hope the last paragraph of the interview is wrong.

Friday, July 01, 2005

"HOW MANY CONSONANTS DID HEBREW HAVE? This is a trick question." -- Seth Sanders at Serving the Word.
HISTORY CARNIVAL XI is up at the Siris blog. Both PaleoJudaica and Ralph the Sacred River are featured.
THE PROCEEDINGS OF THE SECOND ENOCH SEMINAR have been published by Eerdmans:
Enoch and Qumran Origins: New Light on a Forgotten Connection
Gabriele Boccaccini (editor)

$40.00 Paperback

In stock (Usually ships within 3 business days)

472 pages; dimensions (in inches): 6.25 x 9.25; 2005

ISBN: 0-8028-2878-7

The rediscovery of Enochic Judaism as an ancient movement of dissent within Second Temple Judaism, a movement centered on neither temple nor torah, is a major achievement of contemporary research. After being marginalized, ancient Enoch texts have reemerged as a significant component of the Dead Sea Scrolls library unearthed at Qumran.

Enoch and Qumran Origins is the first comprehensive treatment of the complex and forgotten relations between the Qumran community and the Jewish group behind the pseudepigraphal literature of Enoch. The contributors demonstrate that the roots of the Qumran community are to be found in the tradition of the Enoch group rather than that of the Jerusalem priesthood.

Framed by Gabriele Boccaccini�s introduction and James Charlesworth�s conclusion, this book examines the hypotheses of five particularly eminent scholars, resulting in an engaging and substantive discussion among forty-seven specialists from nine countries. The exceptional array of essays from leading international scholars in Second Temple Judaism and Christian origins makes Enoch and Qumran Origins a sine qua non for serious students of this period.


William Adler
Matthias Albani
Jeff S. Anderson
Albert I. Baumgarten
Andreas Bedenbender
Stefan Beyerle
Gabriele Boccaccini
James H. Charlesworth
John J. Collins
Michael A. Daise
James R. Davila
Torleif Elgvin
Mark A. Elliott
Hanan Eshel
Peter W. Flint
Ida Fr�hlich
Florentino Garc�a Mart�nez
Claudio Gianotto
Lester L. Grabbe
Ithamar Gruenwald
Charlotte Hempel
Matthias Henze
Martha Himmelfarb
Michael A. Knibb
Klaus Koch
Helge S. Kvanvig
Armin Lange
Erik W. Larson
Timothy H. Lim
Corrado Martone
George W. E. Nickelsburg
Pierluigi Piovanelli
�mile Puech
Annette Yoshiko Reed
John C. Reeves
Henry W. Morisada Rietz
Paolo Sacchi
Lawrence H. Schiffman
Loren T. Stuckenbruck
David W. Suter
Shemaryahu Talmon
Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar
Patrick Tiller
Liliana Rosso Ubigli
James C. VanderKam
Jacques van Ruiten
Benjamin G. Wright III
Lubavitch�s Open Wound At 770
Destroyed plaque honoring rebbe points to new round in battle over messianism and control of movement.
Debra Nussbaum Cohen - Staff Writer (Jewish World)

If ever an architectural feature of a building�s exterior stood as a symbol for the life within, then the defaced plaque honoring the late Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson at Lubavitch headquarters in Crown Heigh ts is it.

Like the jagged fault line that eventually brings down the mansion in the famous Edgar Allan Poe story �Fall of the House of Usher,� the cornerstone � which has been vandalized many times over the past few months and was violently ripped out this week � has come to represent a movement bitterly split by those who believe Rabbi Schneerson is the messiah and those who do not.

The plaque was put up seven years ago by the anti-messianists and bears the inscription �of blessed memory� after the rebbe�s name, referring to him in past tense.

Apparently that was too much to bear for some messianists who began defacing it as soon as it was set in place.


For more on this movement see here and here.

This passage from the article is interesting from a history of religions perspective:
�I describe the rebbe as alive,� Rabbi Sokolovsky said in an interview. �The body of moshiach does not die, even if it appears to be so. A tzaddik [righteous person] can materialize himself in the world if he needs to. �Concealment does not mean that the rebbe has an invisible body,� he said. �It has to do with people�s readiness to see it. It�s people�s perception.�

Rabbi Sokolovsky said he has met people who have seen the rebbe in person since he died.

Messianic resurrection appearances in the twenty-first century.
NEPHILIM IN THE NEWS: Here's a review of The Fallen Ones a made-for-TV movies that was shown on the Sci-Fi Channel in May. Excerpt:
The Fallen Ones

Horror films, just like any film genre, seem to go through periods of topic convergence. Recently we've seen a resurgence of the zombie film, as well as animals-eating-people movies; a couple of years ago there was a slew of demonic possession and substantiation flicks; before that there was a slasher renaissance; and right around the millennium there were a number of supernaturally-caused apocalypse movies.

Another popular subject of late has been fallen angels, either with or without an accompanying war amongst the heavenly host. Some of these have focused, wholly or in part, on nephilim, which are the offspring of angels and human women and were, according to some of the apocrypha, giants. The Fallen Ones, another from the Sci-Fi Originals stable, follows the giant theory of nephilim, and also throws in an end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it gambit for good measure.

The reviewer, Stephanie Star Smith, seems to think this one is a better-than-usual horror movie, "a notch or six above the formulaic." Plus, there are good explosions.

Given that it doesn't pretend to be real, it gets more points in my book than this.
SOME GOOD NEWS on the Israeli/Palestinian archaeology front. The US Department of State has posted the following article:
Palestinian, Israeli Scholarly Teams Preserve Shared Heritage Sites
Local communities encouraged to participate in site protection

By David C. Walsh
Washington File Special Correspondent

Washington -- Since 2001, two teams of scholars and scientists, one based in Israel, the other in the Palestinian territories, have worked on a cooperative project to preserve historical sites that are important to the Jewish, Muslim and Christian religions.

The project, called the People to People Exchange Program, was funded by a $400,000 Department of State grant as an outgrowth of the U.S.-brokered Wye River Accords, signed by Israeli and Palestinian negotiators at the Wye River Plantation in Maryland in 1998.

The Israeli team, from the Zinman Institute of Archaelogy at the University of Haifa, focuses on the historic and religious structures in Akko, northern Israel, one of the world's oldest continuously inhabited cities. The Israeli team is led by Ann E. Killebrew of Haifa University. She is assisted by Mina Evron, head of the Zinman Institute and Wye Project co-coordinator. Participants on the Israeli team include Israeli Jews, Israeli Muslims, Israeli Christians, Germans and other Europeans, and Americans.

The Palestinian Association for Cultural Exchange (PACE) team focuses on heritage initiatives in two important biblical sites in the West Bank: Beitin (old Bethel) and el Jib (old Gibeon). Team leader Adel Yahyeh, an archaeologist and PACE�s director, said, �Both were in a fragile state, threatened by roiling political currents and largely neglected.�

Rehabilitation was achieved �in close cooperation with the people of the two villages,� he said. The Palestinian cadre also was a diverse group, with Germans, Italian-Americans, and various university grad students and interns.


More please!
THE DISCOVERY OF THE CHESTER BEATTY PAPYRI: On the Textual Criticism list, Wieland Willker has posted a contemporary account of the discovery of these New Testament and Septuagint manuscripts in Egypt in the 1930s.
ELECTRONIC GREEK PHILO: Daniel Foster and Rick Brannan have e-mailed to alert me that Logos Software is offering the Greek text of Philo in a searchable electronic text. There's a special deal for pre-publication orders. Details here. The announcement begins:
Imagine being able to ask questions of a first-century Hellenistic Jewish philosopher, a contemporary of Jesus and Paul who worked to understand Mosaic thought in light of Greek ideals. What kinds of questions would you ask to better understand the theology, interpretive strategies, and historical context of the biblical writers, who often wrestled with the same task?

The writings of Philo Judaeus, who lived in Alexandria, Egypt, between approximately 20 B.C. and A.D. 40, provide a fascinating glimpse into the world of Jesus and the Apostles. In fact, Philo�s works are a goldmine of information on Jewish exegetical methods, the worldview of the apostles, and theological matters of great importance for Christianity.

We are pleased to bring you the first electronic edition of the complete works of Philo in Greek, morphologically tagged. This resource is built upon the database compiled by the Norwegian "Philo Concordance Project," which published the first complete, printed concordance of Philo in 2000. The Logos Bible Software resource includes the complete works of Philo, in Greek, drawn from the same four text editions used to compile the concordance (Cohn & Wendland, Colson, Petit, and Paramelle). The lemmatization and morphology are also supplied by the Philo Concordance Project scholars.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

A "BIBLICAL THEME PARK" has just opened in Eilat.
MORE ON THE RUSSIAN "INVESTIGATION" of Jewish literature as incitement to religious hatred. This week's Forward has a different version of the story:
After World Pressure, Russia Abandons Investigation Denounced as 'Blood Libel'
By E.B. solomont
July 1, 2005

Following an international outcry, state prosecutors in Moscow have abandoned an investigation into claims that a centuries-old code of Jewish law contains racist and anti-Russian material.

Prosecutors had been investigating the Congress of Jewish Religious Communities and Organizations of Russia because of its role in publishing and distributing Russian translations of the Shulchan Aruch, the 16th-century code written by Rabbi Joseph Caro. The organization's leader, Rabbi Zinovy Kogan, was questioned last week as part of an investigation reportedly launched at the behest of Russian nationalists, who said the code incited ethnic hatred and racism.

"It's not only a story about the Shulchan Aruch," Kogan told the Forward. "This conflict about the book is an attack on Judaism in Russia... an attack on the right of Jews to be Jews in Russia."


My emphasis. I think there must be a mix-up here. The earlier articles said that the text in question was the Kitzar Shulhan Arukh, which is a nineteenth-century compendium of material from the Shulhan Arukh. The point remains the same, but someone is confused about which document was being accused.
ANOTHER SARNA OBITUARY, this one by his son, Jonathan, in the Forward:
Biblical Scholar Nahum Sarna, 'Understanding Genesis' Author
By Jonathan D. Sarna
July 1, 2005

When I picture my father, my abba, renowned biblical scholar and translator Nahum Sarna, I inevitably picture him studying. His favorite room, by far, was his book-lined study: There he sat, morning, noon and long past nightfall, reading, writing and teaching.


Wednesday, June 29, 2005

BLOG WATCH: Ed Cook critiques one of Maurice Casey's Aramaic retroversions over at Ralph, and at Mystical Politics Rebecca Lesses alerts us to some modern-day Jewish amulets written by a soferet -- a female Jewish scribe. Cool.
PHILIP DAVIES: "DO WE NEED BIBLICAL SCHOLARS?" An interesting essay on the Bible and Intepretation website.

Personally, I think Philip is treating the problem too much as though it applies only to biblical studies. Educating university administrators and the public is something all academics have to do, and frequently this involves clearing up common misunderstandings, whatever the field. My friends who are physicists, biologists, classicists, economists, etc. have to do this too. Granted, biblical studies has its own set of problems, but so do other fields. And in general nonspecialists (usually including me!) have only the vaguest idea of what these specialists do and why it matters, and often what nonspecialists think that they (we) know about an academic field is full of misconceptions. This is the price we pay for the necessity of narrow specializations. Indeed, specialists within a field often have little understanding of what some other specialists in the same general field are doing. I think it's to the credit of the public (and university administrators) that they understand the value of supporting what we do, even if they don't understand exactly what it is. And, of course, that makes it all the more crucial that we explain the main points to them in nontechnical language that makes sense to them.

In blogs, for instance.

UPDATE: Helenann Hartley corrects a quotation in the essay.
CORRECTIONS TO NYT SARNA OBITUARY: A post on the H-JUDAIC list by Ellen Frankel, CEO and Editor-in-Chief of the Jewish Publication Society, includes the following:
On June 25, The New York Times ran an obituary for Nahum Sarna that contained several errors. Both Jonathan Sarna and I alerted the writer, Wolfgang Saxon, that Dr. Sarna served as Chair of the JPS Committee for the Translation of Kethuvim, the Writings, not the Torah; and that the JPS book, JPS: The Americanization of Jewish Culture, was written by Jonathan, not Nahum Sarna. The Times has promised to run a correction.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

THE KITZUR SHULHAN ARUKH -- INCITEMENT TO RELIGIOUS HATRED? Here's an example of what laws against incitement to religious hatred lead to:
Russia examines Jewish religious texts


Associated Press

MOSCOW - Prosecutors have launched an investigation into whether a Russian translation of an ancient Jewish religious text incites national and religious hatred, a move condemned by many Jewish organizations as anti-Semitic.

Moscow district prosecutors summoned Rabbi Zinovy Kogan for questioning last week as part of a probe into whether the Russian translation of Kitsur Shulhan Arukh, a code of ancient Jewish religious laws, provokes religious hatred, Kogan told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Monday.

The investigation was meant to review a ruling last month by Moscow prosecutors that the text did not inspire hatred and a criminal case was not warranted, said Kogan, chairman of the Congress of Jewish Religious Organizations who published the translated text.


The Kitzur Shulhan Arukh is a nineteenth-century compendium from the centrally important sixteenth-century law code the Shulhan Arukh. I've not read it, but evidently it has highly stringent tendencies and is not everyone's cup of tea. But attempting to ban it is blatant anti-Semitism. This is the sort of mess we could end up in here in Britain if the law against inciting religious hatred is passed.

UPDATE: Ha'aretz sums the story up: "A dark reminder of the Dark Ages."

UPDATE (29 June): Apparently the investigation has been dropped. This time. But the fact that there had to be an investigation at all -- the fact that a ridiculous and openly anti-Semitic charge like this was taken that seriously -- shows why this sort of law should never be on the books.
Russian prosecutors drop investigation into ancient Jewish text

By Henry Meyer

3:38 p.m. June 28, 2005

MOSCOW � Prosecutors dropped an inquiry Tuesday into whether a Russian translation of an ancient Jewish text incites national and religious hatred � a decision that drew praise from Russia's chief rabbi and Israel's vice premier.

Rabbi Berel Lazar said he had contacted prosecutors to explain that the text was not aimed at non-Jews and to complain that officials seeking the probe had "anti-Semitic sentiments."

"I'm happy that this case has been dropped," Lazar told The Associated Press, adding that he'd been personally informed of the decision by the Moscow prosecutor's office.

The prosecutor's office declined comment. That office was responsible for the investigation into whether the Russian translation of Kitsur Shulhan Arukh, a code of ancient Jewish religious laws, provokes religious hatred.


Monday, June 27, 2005

SBL BLOGGING: Jeffery Hodges and Tim Bulkeley are in Singapore, blogging the International Society of Biblical Literature conference. Tim has discovered my principle that "a paper handout doesn't crash and have to be rebooted just as you're supposed to be starting your presentation." Remember, PowerPoint is evil!

I hope they get to see those Dead Sea Scrolls at the Vatican exhibit (see immediately preceding post).

UPDATE (28 June): Mark Cheesman is there too and is posting on Deinde (as noted by Michael Pahl).
I just came back from the museum exhibition and am able to confirm that they do have the 2 tiny DSS fragments. The info in the g-Megillot list is more or less accurate, except that the first fragment is not actually from Daniel, but the Hebrew word found in the fragment (described in g-Megillot) can only be found in Daniel 11:36. According to the exhibition catalog, "it is possible to imagine that the fragment belongs to a non-biblical book..."

Interesting. Now the question is, how is the Vatican connected with the fragments?
ARMENIAN LANGUAGE RESOURCES: Rick Brannan has the low-down over at Ricoblog. Ancient Armenian was an important translation language not only for the New Testament, but also for Philo of Alexandria (some of whose works survive only in Armenian) and for some Old Testament pseudepigrapha.

Bet you didn't know that there was an Armeniapedia.
ON INCITING RELIGIOUS HATRED: The bill to make illegal the incitement of religious hatred in Britain passed its second reading in the House of Commons last Tuesday. It now "goes to committee" for further review and then to the House of Lords. You can read the British Government's case for it here.

This is what the bill is about, according to the Goverment website FAQ:
* The Government is extending protection to prevent hatred being stirred up against people targeted because of their religious beliefs, or lack of religious beliefs, as well as people targeted because of their race.
* This is being done through the Serious and Organised Crime and Police Bill, by expanding the existing criminal offences of incitement to racial hatred contained in the Public Order Act 1986.
* The provisions make it an offence for a person to knowingly use threatening, abusive, or insulting words or behaviour with the intention or likelihood that they will stir up hatred against a group of people based on their religious beliefs.
* It is about protecting people who might be the object of someone else�s hatred because of their religion; not about protecting religion itself.

Here are a couple of passages from this FAQ that should be underlined:
In keeping with similar legislation, the proposals do not define the meaning of religion. �Religious hatred� is defined as �hatred against a group of people defined by their religious beliefs or lack of religious belief�. Explanatory notes have been published which provide a non-exhaustive list of widely practised religions and clearly explain that the protection also covers people identified with a particular branch of a religion. They also stress that the protection of the offence covers Atheists, Humanists and Agnostics. When the circumstances are unclear, the courts will decide whether a particular group of people is protected, in the wider context of the criminal behaviour being considered. If the courts ruled that a new religious movement qualified as a religion for the purposes of the new offence, that would not prevent criticism of the practices of that movement.

And this:
The proposed and existing offences both carry a high threshold in order to protect freedom of speech. Words, behaviour or material used must be threatening, abusive or insulting and must either be intended to or likely to stir up hatred. The hatred must be aimed at people who are members of that group, not ideologies. Hatred is a strong term; which goes beyond ridicule, prejudice, dislike, contempt, anger or offence. A further safeguard in the legislation is that a person who does not intend to stir up hatred is not guilty of an offence if they did not know that their words, behaviour, written material, recording or programmes were threatening, abusive or insulting. Furthermore the offences do not apply to anything that takes place in one�s own home. All prosecutions require the consent of the Attorney General, which will prevent the offences being misused through private prosecutions. We believe the wording of the offences, the public interest test applied by the CPS, and the veto of the Attorney General are sufficient to safeguard freedom of speech.

There are some points about this proposed law which I would like to make. I'm not the first to make any of them, but they are worth belaboring.

First, there is no need for it. There are already laws that protect people from religious persecution (i.e., violence against one's person or property, or threats of or incitement of others to violence). People do not need to be protected from having someone hate their religion or express that hatred in words that fall short of threat of or incitement to violence. Sticks and stones, etc.

Second, even if this law results in only a few prosecutions (and I'll believe that when I see it), it will have a chilling effect on free speech. People will censor themselves when talking about religion, which is not good. It will push actual religious hatred underground without diminishing it, and at the same time will stifle legitimate debate about religious issues. In both cases, problems that might benefit from open discussion will fester rather than having a chance to come to any resolution.

Third, ultimately the legislation assumes, indeed requires, the goodwill of the government. The term "religion" is explicitly not defined, and probably couldn't be defined for a purpose like this. That means there's never any way to be quite sure what the law is about. The Attorney General is given tremendous latitude, and therefore tremendous power, to interpret this law, since no one actually knows what it means. It may be that this power will be used wisely and justly. But it may not be, even in the short term. Once the government has the power, it can do whatever it wants with it, whatever promises it may have made. It is not unheard-of for politicians to break their promises. And in the long run, there is serious danger that mission creep and growing distance from its original context will lead to this law being misused to criminalize legitimate free speech.

There is a larger problem here that should be mentioned: the danger of "positive rights." The point of the Bill of Rights of the American Constitution is to lay out a broad range of areas in which the government does not have the right to interfere in the life of the individual. These are "negative rights" and they are the foundation of any free society. Positive rights, that is rights to particular things which the government has to enforce, are necessary in some cases (see above for examples), but are carry serious risks of abuse and need to be strictly circumscribed. The "rights" to, say, education or "access to placement services" or -- the issue in question here -- freedom from hatred being directed toward your religion by other citizens (again, short of violence or threat of/incitement to violence) increase the power of government to interfere with individuals and the last in particular increases it in an open-ended, unpredictable and uncontrollable way. The preoccupation with positive rights is a central failing of EU legislation and is one of the problems with the (now hopefully defunct) European Constitution and one of the reasons it was the size of a telephone directory.

Obviously, this legislation against inciting religious hatred could have profound implications for academics who specialize in religion and for bloggers who write about it. If the law passes, it can scarcely be doubted that there will be people who test it by trying to bring charges against others even on specious or frivolous grounds, and it is scant comfort that the Sword of Damocles will be restrained only by the thread of the Attorney General's goodwill and good sense.

This is no way to govern. We can only hope that the mounting backlash against this bill will stop it before it is made into law.

UPDATE: Greetings Daily Dish readers. While you're here, please have a look at the "Memorable PaleoJudaica Posts" link and my recent article "Assimilated to the Blogosphere: Blogging Ancient Judaism."

UPDATE (28 June): Here's a concrete example of what such laws lead to.

UPDATE (3 July): Welcome also to readers of Britblog #20.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

THE SUDOKU CRAZE leads the Jerusalem Post ("Crazy about numbers") into an excursus on numbers in Judaism, especially gematria.
The Jewish people are no newcomers to numbers, or even to doing mental gymnastics with them. We find numbers in ancient Jewish sources: Starting off in the Bible with the days of the creation, there are the dimensions of Noah's Ark, the numbers of its inhabitants, and so forth (or fifth). Indeed, a whole book of the Pentateuch is entitled "Numbers" in English, because of the census of the Jewish people in the desert. Numbers featuring in the Bible's text range from one to 100 million (Daniel 7:10).

The traditional Pessah Haggada is positively overflowing with numbers, and the climax of the Seder is the numerical riddle song, "Who Knows One?" Numbers mentioned in the Haggada text range from 1?2 to 10 9 (one billion, or one with nine zeros after it).

Numbers often feature in discussions in the Talmud, and of course there is the discipline of gematria, which uses the numerical values of the letters in the Hebrew alphabet (aleph = 1, kaf = 20, koof = 100) as a means of interpretation and commonly accords significance to concepts or phenomena which share the same numerical value. There are several weird and wonderful methods used in calculating gematrias, such as "small numbers," "filling," "great numbers" squares and factorials.

Examples follow.

The craze (Sudoku, not gematria) has hit Britain too. My wife and son are working on Sudoku puzzles here even as I write.
THOUGHTS ON ANTIQUITY is a newish blog by Chris Weimer, a student at the University of Memphis, Tennessee. The blurb for the blog is as follows:
This weblog focuses on Ancient Cultures of the world, from the Ancient Mesopotamian world to Egyptian pyramids, from Greek mysteries to Roman commissatio, from China to the Aztec, all things in antiquity.

See also his website called Neonostalgia.