Saturday, September 20, 2008

Review: Judith, Lace Market Theatre

Thursday, September 18, 2008, 07:43 (

IF YOU dislike obscenity, necrophilia and heads being cut off, even non-gratuitously and in context, best give this production a miss. If cutting edge, less-than-straightforward studio theatre is for you, flock to it.

The story of Judith is from the Apocrypha. An Assyrian general is bent on the destruction of Israel but an Israelite woman succeeds in getting him drunk, seducing and then beheading him, thus saving her nation.

I don't remember any necrophilia in the book of Judith, and Holophernes passes out drunk before the seduction can happen. Evidently this is a free interpretation of the story.

My broadband is still down at home, but I've pre-posted this on Friday afternoon. If I get a chance, I'll stop by the office to post more, either Saturday or (more likely) Sunday.

Friday, September 19, 2008

A GOLEM-RELATED INSTITUTE is opening in Prague, as reported, appropriately enough, by Monsters and Critics:
Institute dedicated to legendary Golem creator opens in Prague
Europe News

Sep 18, 2008, 14:14 GMT

Prague - An academic institute dedicated to a legendary 16th- Century Jewish scholar Rabbi Judah Loew, also known as the Maharal of Prague, was opening in Prague Thursday.

The Maharal Institute plans to educate future rabbis, introducing them to Talmud, Jewish law, ethics and mysticism as well as to Loew's writings, said institute collaborator Tomas Jelinek.

For past posts on golems see here, here, here, here, here, and here.

UPDATE (22 September): More here.
RACHEL ELIOR is interviewed in Nextbook about her new book on the dybbuk:
Spirits in the Material World
Uncovering the legend of the dybbuk
By Sarah Breger

Dybbuks—disembodied spirits that inhabit the bodies of the living—have long been a part of Jewish history and myth. Like golems, these fantastical, folkloric creatures may seem foreign to contemporary Judaism, but their stories still capture our imaginations.

In the new book Dybbuks and Jewish Women in Social History, Mysticism, and Folklore, Rachel Elior examines how the legend of the dybbuk first took hold, and how it reflects the values and fears of its time. Elior argues that for women, dybbuks could be a means to escape the demands of a confining society. Once possessed by a dybbuk (or at least claiming to be), women were no longer considered responsible for their own actions, and were exempt from arranged marriages and relieved of wifely duties. Thought to be the souls of sinners, these spirits gave a certain degree of power to the powerless, freeing them from the norms of routine life and its conventional ordering.

Elior, a native Jerusalemite, has been a professor of Jewish mysticism for over thirty years, and currently teaches at Hebrew University. The recipient of the 2006 Gershom Scholem prize for the study of kabbalah and Jewish mysticism, she has written extensively about Jewish mysticism and Hasidism, and edited the 2004 book Men and Women: Gender, Judaism and Democracy.

What exactly is a dybbuk?

“Dybbuk” is the Jewish name for the spirit of a dead person that enters and possesses a living body. Significantly, the spirit is always male and the body is nearly always female. Being possessed by a foreign spirit makes a person’s body and soul behave in uncontrollable ways. In Jewish folklore—deriving from kabbalistic theories of the soul and mystical literature—the spirit of a dead sinner often finds refuge in the bodies of weak, fragile women, women who are not able to handle the expectations of society. Those who are possessed are always from the margins of society—maids, orphan girls who have been set up to wed elderly widowers, or young females whose marriages have been arranged against their will. In today’s etiology we would define this possession as acute depression or socially deviant behavior. Previously it was defined as hysteria.

It chances that I'm currently rereading Peter F. Hamilton's SF masterpiece The Night's Dawn Trilogy, in which an accidental rupture in space-time (a "reality dysfunction") allows the spirts of the damned to come back into the universe and possess the living. There are some interesting parallels to the dybbuk and I wonder if Hamilton was influenced by the myth.

More on Rachel Elior's work here and here.

UPDATE (21 September): Dead link now fixed. Apologies.
World of the Sages: Perchance to dream
By LEVI COOPER (Jerusalem Post)

A significant few pages of Talmud are devoted to the subject of dreams, their integrity and interpretation (B. Brachot 55a-57b). A perusal of these pages reveals a variety of approaches as to how dreams should be viewed.

The first approach views dreams as true harbingers of future events. In this spirit, the Talmud details the meaning of various objects and images seen in dreams: a well, river, bird, pot, reed, gourd, various animals or famous people and the list continues.

A second approach suggests that the portentous value of dreams lies solely in their interpretation. A dream that has yet to be interpreted - suggested one sage - "is like a letter that has not been read": it foreshadows neither good nor bad. How a dream is understood and even the initial response to a dream is of prime value. Great care should be taken in responding to dreams for the response definitively and at times harshly dictates the effect of the dream, as one sage opined: "All dreams follow the mouth."


A third line suggests that dreams are of mixed matter. No dream reflects the entire reality: Each dream contains an element of truth, yet that truth is intermingled with fanciful images. "Just as it is impossible to have wheat without chaff, thus it is impossible to have a dream without some senseless things." A dream, therefore, is not an accurate herald of the future: "A positive dream will not be fulfilled in its entirety nor will a negative dream be fulfilled in its entirety."


A final approach views dreams as unindicative of imminent events. Dreams merely provide a window into the subconscious and have nothing to do with the future. "A person is shown nothing but the product of his own thoughts." Thus one sage points out that imagination-defying images, scenes that are beyond the pale of reality, are not seen in dreams: "Know that a person is never shown a palm tree of gold nor an elephant entering the eye of a needle." Such impressions cannot be contemplated while awake and hence will not appear in dreams.

On the subject of dreams in Jewish antiquity, note the recent book by Frances Flannery-Dailey, Dreamers, Scribes, And Priests: Jewish Dreams In The Hellenistic And Roman Eras (JSJSup 90; Leiden: Brill, 2004). I believe Steven Fraade also had an article on dream interpretation in the Talmud, published in the 1990s, but I can't find it now. Does someone have the reference?

UPDATE (21 September): Manuscript Boy of Hagahot wrote with the article I was thinking of: Maren Niehoff, "A dream which is not interpreted is like a letter which is not read," Journal of Jewish Studies 43,1 (1992) 58-84. Apologies to Steven, I have no idea how I got his name in my head.

In any case, readers have sent in some other references:

From Manuscript Boy, a Hebrew doctoral dissertation by Haim Weiss: "The Role of Dreams in Rabbinic Literature: Cultural Aspects." (Click on the link to download a 20-page summary in a Word file.)

From Carla Sulzbach and Justin Glessner:
Philip S. Alexander - Bavli Berakhot 55a-57b: the talmudic dreambook in context
Journal of Jewish Studies 46 (1995) 230-248
From Carla Sulzbach:
Simcha Fishbane - "Every dream becomes valid only by its interpretation": dreams, dream interpretations and dream interpreters in the Babylonian Talmud.
in: Deviancy in Early Rabbinic Literature; a Collection of Socio-Anthropological Essays, [by] Simcha Fishbane. Leiden: Brill, 2007: 177-212
UPDATE: Another one, from Michael Pitkowsky:
Richard Kalmin, "Dreams and Dream Interpreters," in Sages, Stories, Authors, and Editors in Rabbinic Babylonia (1994) 61-80

Thursday, September 18, 2008

THE GOLD-GLASS TABLE FROM CAESAREA is going on display in New York on Sunday:
Two Antiques Exhibitions,, New York City, Beginning 21 September 2008

By The Israel Antiquities Authority

[ISRAEL] The Metropolitan Museum of Art will exhibit the dazzling Gold – Glass Table from Caesarea. The Gold Glass Table will be on display in the Byzantine Galleries of the Metropolitan Museum. Dating to the late 6th, early 7th century CE, this extraordinary, one of a kind panel was excavated in a Byzantine period mansion in the coastal city of Caesarea, when a large mosaic floor known as the Birds Mosaic, was exposed for conservation in 2005. The nearly intact panel is shaped like the letter sigma and made of small glass pieces using the opus sectile technique. The panel was discovered with its face down directly on the mosaic floor and was covered by ashes and debris from the ceiling and the second floor. It comprises a wide frame surrounding the central part, both made of a combination of delicate, translucent gold – glass pieces and opaque, colored mosaic glass pieces. The square gold – glass pieces were decorated with a stamped design of flower or cross. ...
Three years ago I noted the discovery of the table here. (Unfortunately, the link has rotted.)

The second antiquities exhibition mentioned in the headline is the one on the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Jewish Museum, noted here.
The Annual Seminar for the Study of the Old Testament in the New Testament will take place at St Deiniol's Library, North Wales, from Fri-Sun April 3-5th 2009. Offers of full papers (45 mins) and short papers (30mins) are welcome. Please send title and brief abstract to Steve Moyise ( The cost of the conference will be approximately £115 full board.

Prof Steve Moyise
University of Chichester
Via Louise Lawerence on the BNTS list.
The European Association of Biblical Studies (EABS) is running a quite extensive service for graduate students in Biblical Studies, including an internet forum together with special graduate paper sessions, business meeting and social events at its annual conference. It offers two annual scholarships to students to attend the annual meeting. It is not necessary to become an EABS member to join the forum, only to participate in the conference events.

The EABS is very keen to recruit new members to these various activities, and those interested need only to go to the EABS website ( and click on the 'Students' button to find their way to the forum.

The 2009 meeting of the EABS will be held jointly with the British and Dutch/Belgian Societies for Old Testament Study in Lincoln, July 26th-29th and partly because of the strong OT element wishes to bring as many NT scholars and students as possible. It is also looking for new research topics for conference sessions.
From James Crossley via Louise Lawrence on the BNTS list.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Grant Enables Jewish History To Be Digitized
Baker Foundation helps Jewish Theological Seminary Library prevent the decay of thousands of documents, some centuries old.

by Eric Herschthal
Staff Writer (The Jewish Week)
On a recent Thursday, Melissa Buschey, a conservationist at the Jewish Theological Seminary, opened up a hand-written Judeo-Arabic manuscript dating from the 1600s C.E. “Probably from somewhere in Italy,” Buschey said casually, turning the page.
Thick, clear polyester sheets encased each piece of paper, which would later be digitally photographed to be accessible online.

Buschey and her colleague Amy Armstrong had come to call the heavily-pocked text the “Swiss cheese document.” Without the careful encasement of each page and its digital photograph, the Swiss cheese document would have eventually become illegible—a scholar’s gold mine lost to impending parchment decay.

But that didn’t happen. The document was preserved because of their work and so will roughly 900 more rare manuscripts—some dating from at least the 12th century C.E. and held by the Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary. The preservation is made possible by a recent $100,000 donation given jointly by the Morris and Beverly Baker Foundation and an anonymous donor. “With the grant money these very fragile things can be re-housed,” said Armstrong, the Library’s senior conservationist, in the Library’s sanitized white conservation laboratory. (The workspace seems more like a medical office than a library.) The donation will directly pay for a two-year fellowship for Buschey, as well as two additional part-time conservationists.


The JTS Library is the largest owner of rare Hebrew manuscripts in the world, with some 11,000 in total, some dating as far back as the 10th century C.E. The library began accruing manuscripts when the institution, Conservative Judaism’s main hub, was founded in 1886, but it wasn’t until Solomon Schechter hired Alexander Marx, a German Jewish scholar and librarian, that the collection grew exponentially. Marx came to the JTS in 1903 and was its librarian until his death in 1953. “Under his leadership,” Kraemer said of Marx, “that’s when we got a real good chunk of our holdings.”
A major problem—for the JTS and any library holding rare texts—has always been how to preserve them.

Via Joseph I. Lauer's list.
Via Michael & Chagit (

Date: Tue, Sep 16, 2008 at 6:33 AM


The Use of the Bible for Group Demarcation in the Second Temple Period and Late Antiquity

In the next annual meeting of the European Association of Biblical Studies (EABS), held from July 26th to 29th, 2009 at the University of Lincoln, UK, the Early Christianity, and the Early Judaism and Rabbinics programs will jointly explore ways in which ancient Jews and Christians interpreted the Bible for constructing a group identity or when delineating the boundaries between themselves and others.

Various biblical figures, themes, narratives and interpretative motifs were used to denote self perception, to mark the other as other and to create the group identity against other contemporary tendencies. Several cultural practices took part in this process, such as methods of interpretation of the biblical text, application of the Bible to the liturgy and ritual, as well as applying the content of biblical events to the current time.

All these phenomena will be the object of our study in the next meeting of the EABS.

We would like to approach the study of such interpretative strategies as was applied to the different subgroups and subcultures in late antiquity that defined their identity by reference to the Bible, groups as Judaism and Christianity, as well as other groups and streams of thought.

Papers may discuss themes such as the importance of genealogical origin (i.e. Davidic or priestly decent) for group demarcation; the identity function of eschatological model narrated by the subgroup; the use of biblical archetypes for defining the exemplar of a group member; the relation between hermeneutical strategies (i.e. allegory, fables, or peshers) and group identity; the assigning of biblical categories to other populations (as Hellenistic or pagan), interpretative motifs prevailing among particular subgroups and so on.

Please send suggested proposals by December 31st, 2008.

Outi Lehtipuu
Postdoctoral researcher
University of Helsinki
Department of Biblical Studies
P.O. Box 33
FIN-00014 University of Helsinki

Ditmar-Koel-Strasse 6
D-20459 Hamburg
tel. +49-40-3178 8417 (private)
+49-170-4927 751 (in Germany)
+358-50-545 6455 (in Finland)
From the Agade list.
LEVI AND MATTHEW: A small correction to Angele Sionna's Early Childhood Parenting column in the Examiner.
The baby name of the day is... Levi.

We all know about the jeans, but did you know Levi is the Hebrew version of the Greek name Matthew!

That's reportedly why Matthew McConaughey named his son Levi.


Levi means "joined in harmony" according to
Not quite. Matthew is a Greek version of a Hebrew name that means "gift of God." Levi is the name of one of the twelve founding patriarch's of the tribes of Israel. It too is a Hebrew name. Its meaning is unclear, but it may indeed have something to do with "joining." The apostle Matthew in the New Testament is also known as Levi (compare Mark 2:14 with Matthew 9:9), and that is the connection between the names. If you follow the link in Ms. Sionna's column, you'll see that Matthew McConaughey got this right.

That's my niggle for the day.
TORONTO is opening a Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition in June:
Dead Sea Scrolls coming to Toronto
By SHERI SHEFA, Staff Reporter (Canadian Jewish News)
Thursday, 18 September 2008

The Dead Sea Scrolls are coming to Toronto for the first time next June for a six-month exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM).

Ya’en Vered, who arrived in Toronto earlier this month to begin a three-year shlichut for the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), is setting up an office here in the hope of establishing a presence in Canada by making the IAA more accessible and building bridges with the Diaspora using Israel’s ancient history.


Vered realizes that he has a lot of work to do to make the IAA relevant to Canadians, but he is ready for the task.

“I am going to be available for every meeting in the city that people can think of. I’m going to speak at synagogues, at associations, I’m going to speak at schools. I want to create programs for schools and associations before they visit the scrolls exhibit. We would like to prepare the schools for the exhibition by letting the children know and understand what the scrolls are, and let them come in on a school visit at a reduced price supported by us.”

He added that he also hopes to organize a fundraiser next spring and is considering a novel way to generate substantial funds.

“I’m looking for somebody that will donate a big sum, and then we’ll let them have an exhibition of the scrolls in their home for a meeting with people. That is something that has never been done in the world. That is something that is mind-boggling,” he said, adding, “I’m not sure it will happen, because we need special people to look into it.”

Vered is also looking into creating a twinning project between Canadian Jewish communities and antique sites in Israel.

“We’d like to twin a synagogue here in Toronto with an ancient synagogue in Israel.”


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

APRIL DECONICK has made it safely through Ike, but is not pleased with FEMA's response. We're glad you and your family are safe, April.
MY FATHER'S PARADISE by Yona Sabar's son Ariel, is reviewed in the Christian Science Monitor (for which he writes):
My Father’s Paradise

A journalist learns to embrace the ancient roots of his past in Iraqi Kurdistan's Jewish community.

By Chuck Leddy | September 15, 2008 edition

My Father's Paradise: A Son's Search for His Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq Algonquin 352 pp. $25.95

“Ours was a clash of civilizations, writ small,” writes Ariel Sabar of his relationship with his father. “He was ancient Kurdistan. I was 1980s L.A.”Sabar, who until recently covered the 2008 US presidential campaign for The Christian Science Monitor, is the son of an Iraqi Jew from Kurdistan, a gentle scholar forced from his homeland by politics, a man who grew up in a corner of the world so isolated that he was raised speaking the ancient Aramaic of Jesus.

If this sounds exotic or thrilling to the rest of us, it was nothing but mortifying to the youthful Sabar who was raised in Los Angeles.

“Mostly … I kept my distance,” he writes of his father. “He lived in his world, I in mine…. [A]t some point, as a teenager, I even stopped calling him Abba or Dad. He was just ‘Yona’ … the odd-looking, funny-talking man with strange grooming habits who lived with us and who may or may not have been my father, depending on who was asking.”

My Father’s Paradise is Sabar’s quest to reconcile an ancient past with his own life today – and to knit his father’s story to his own. It was when Sabar began his own career as a journalist and then became a father himself that the formidable challenges his father had faced began to earn his respect.

Earlier reviews are noted here and here.
GET READY TO PARTY! The annual Punic festival at Cartagena begins on Friday the 19th:
Cartagena Gets Ready

Written by Our Murcia Correspondent (, Spain)

Cartagena Gets Ready for Carthaginians and Romans Festival

An event that is a favourite with many Round Town News readers will soon be under way in Cartagena. This is the colourful Carthaginians and Romans festival which is billed as the biggest fiesta in the Mediterranean.

The festival celebrates, in a loose sort of way, the events of some 2,200 years ago when the Romans took the ancient city from the Carthaginians. Battles are re-enacted, ceremonies held, troops including Amazonians march through the streets, there are spectacles, speeches and even a ceremonial wedding. Hannibal headed for the Alps after gathering his troops in Cartagena, so, naturally, he figures prominently in the action. This year, say the organisers, the whole festival has been renovated and updated with imaginative initiatives taken to make things even more colourful and realistic than ever. A major highlight is the spectacles that feature the troops of the Carthaginians and the legions of the Romans. There will be new elements that make these more impressive than ever. The centre of Cartagena will be the focus of most of the activity, which will make things even easier for spectators. Almost all events are free. A key feature of the festival is the big camp which is open for the duration with each unit competing to outdo the others in splendour and hospitality. This camp is located next to the Cartagena football stadium, or Estadio Cartagonova and it is open each evening. An artisan market will operate next to the camp. The festival starts on Friday, September 19th, with opening speeches and ceremonies. ...
More on past festivals here and here.

Monday, September 15, 2008

A 10TH CENTURY NORTHWEST SEMITIC INSCRIPTION has reportedly been found on an ostracon (clay potsherd) at Khirbet Qeiyafa in the Shephelah. Todd Bolen collects information on it (which does not yet include anything on its text or contents) here and here. (Via Joseph I. Lauer's list.)

Seems to be a good year for new Iron Age West Semitic inscriptions.
A language saved

K.P.M. BASHEER (The Hindu Magazine)

Prof. Istvan Perczel’s study of ancient Syriac documents in Kerala throws interesting light on the state’s past.

A Hungarian scholar of medieval Christianity is on a mission to preserve a slice of India’s Syrian Christian past. A slice that is written from right to left in a near-dead West Asian language and lies scattered in Kerala’s church attics, seminary vaults and ancient homes.

“There is a remarkably rich heritage of Syriac in Kerala, particularly from the 15th to 19th centuries,” says Istvan Perczel, who teaches at the Central European University, Budapest. Enchanted by this heritage, he has been digitising Syriac documents, correspondence and religious writings. “Syriac thrived in Kerala even while this sacred language was fading away from its place of birth,” Prof. Perczel notes.


But, Syriac, which contributed several words to the Malayalam language, has all but vanished, mainly because most churches replaced it with Malayalam as the language of worship. Tonnes of centuries-old Syriac manuscripts are being gnawed at by termites and Time. Prof. Perczel has, over the past eight years, visited several seminaries and homes looking for manuscripts. Old seminaries that kept invaluable manuscripts in their vaults allowed him to photograph, copy and digitise. “The number of hitherto-unknown Syriac texts we uncovered is virtually uncountable,” he said. One is a 17th century poem written by Kadavil Chandy Kathanaar, a prominent clergyman who was known as “Alexander the Indian”. There have been families who specialised in Syriac learning and teaching.

Based on the study of the manuscripts, Prof. Perczel now questions the received wisdom that the Portuguese missionaries burnt most of the Syriac religious writings at the Synod of Diampur. The synod — held in 1599 at Udayamperoor, some 20 km from Kochi, at the behest of the then Portuguese archbishop of Goa, Alexis de Menesis —was a landmark in Kerala’s Christian history. The Portuguese, who thought the practices and liturgy of the native Christians heretical, burnt the texts and sought to replace them with Latin liturgy. Following the 1653 Coonan Cross Oath at Kochi, the Syrian Christians revolted against the Portuguese missionaries and temporarily seceded from the Roman Church. The fact that the researchers could find “heretical” Syriac texts, according to Prof. Perczel, shows that several such texts could have survived the synod and that the burning could even be a “myth”.


Sunday, September 14, 2008

SORRY for the blogging gap yesterday; my broadband is still down at home. I hope to have it back by next weekend.
FIRST BARACK OBAMA – and now, Sarah Palin as prophet?
Prominent evangelical "anoints" Sarah Palin as Biblical prophet

A prominent evangelical figure in the U.S. this week said Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin is a modern-day incarnation of the Biblical prophet, Deborah - primed to miraculously slay her nation's enemies on the battlefield.

Writing in his influential magazine, Charisma, editor J. Lee Grady likened the 44-year-old Alaskan governor to Deborah, the Old Testament prophet "who rallied God’s people to victory at a time when ancient Israel was being terrorized by foreign invaders."

This election seems to have an unusually prophetic lineup.
DESPERATELY SEEKING THE ALEPPO CODEX. Or at least the substantial portions that are still missing.
Help Sought to Find the Aleppo Codex

NewswireToday - /newswire/ - Washington, DC, United States, 09/13/2008 - An important historic document in pieces for decades is slowly coming together. We are looking for pieces of the Aleppo Codex: the oldest complete copy of the Hebrew Bible.

Do you (or someone you know) have a fragment (or a page) of the Aleppo Codex, the oldest complete copy of the Hebrew Bible? The precious document was considered the most authoritative text in Judaism before it was ripped apart and partially burned by Arab mobs in 1947 in protest when the United Nations passed the resolution creating the state of Israel.

Known in Hebrew as the "Crown," the Aleppo Codex was completely missing for a decade. Then, in 1957, nearly 300 pages (out of almost 500) showed up in Jerusalem. Rumors of other surviving parts continue to circulate. Occasionally a part of a page or a page fragment surfaces. In a comprehensive article in the current issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Professor Yosef Ofer of Bar-Ilan University in Israel recounts the travails of the codex. He calls for help to locate still-missing pages, as does the Biblical Archaeology Society.

The BAR article is posted in full online here.

Background here.