Saturday, November 06, 2010

A bibliography of Karaite studies

A BIBLIOGRAPHY OF KARAITE STUDIES is being published by Brill next month. (Via Abu 'l-Rayhan Al-Biruni on FB.)

Hekhalot literature conference at Princeton

A CONFERENCE ON THE HEKHALOT LITERATURE is taking place at Princeton University this month. For information, go to Andrei Orlov's blog (in Russian) and download the pdf file, which is in English. Very unfortunately, I'm not able to attend.

Friday, November 05, 2010

The people who lived at Qumran

THE PEOPLE WHO LIVED AT QUMRAN are the subject of an article in the Jerusalem Post:
Who are the people living in Qumran?

11/04/2010 11:50

The question of which Jews lived Dead Sea Qumran settlement 2,000 years ago is still the subject of controversy.

Biblical scholars have now had 60 years to research the scrolls hidden in caves close to the Dead Sea Qumran settlement. The question of which Jews lived there 2,000 years ago is still the subject of controversy.

Ever since early 1947, when three Ta’amireh Beduin discovered large clay jars containing ancient scrolls in a cave close to the ruins of an abandoned settlement at Khirbet Qumran, the 150-year-old field of scientific biblical research sought to re-examine all the accumulated knowledge in light of these new findings. In 1952, Beduin discovered another cave with a number of additional texts, and in 1956 they found cave 11.


TODAY we know that Qumran settlers were members of the Essene movement, as described by Josephus, Philo Alexandroni and Pliny the Elder and proposed independently by Prof. Eliezer Sukenik in 1948; it was worked out in detail by Andre Dupont-Sommer in 1951 and later by many other scholars. Today, however, we understand that while the Qumran group lived according to the Essene principles, administered a rigorous entrance test for admission, shared one purse and imposed communal ownership, enforced restrictions on marriage, divorce and celibacy and insisted on the rules of cleanliness, it was a separate body, established by their leader, Zadok.

That is indeed roughly the mainstream view, but this hardly represents the controversy mentioned in the first paragraph. There's no mention of Norman Golb's theory that the Dead Sea Scrolls come from literary archives in Jerusalem, now made notorious by the recent court case involving his son, Raphael, but still there to be considered on its own merits as a theory. Nor is there mention of the view of the recent excavators of Qumran that the site was a pottery workshop. The stuff about the Teacher of Righteousness is widely accepted but is still pretty much speculation.

My own position is that the Qumran sectarians probable were "Essenes," but that this idea has to be handled very carefully and is not as helpful as it might seem. To say, for example, that a church sometime in the last several hundred years was "Presbyterian" really tells us very little until we know a lot more about when and where. Presbyterianism has changed quite a lot over the centuries and Essenism may well have too.

As for the site itself, I take no position on whether the sectarians/Essenes lived there, but I do think that much of the library was brought in from outside for safekeeping during the war.

The article focuses on the work of Gabriele Boccaccini and Ben-Zion Wacholder. It's clear at least that Boccaccini was not interviewed, or the author would have worked out that he is a man.

UPDATE (7 November): It seems Professor Boccaccini got off easy. Jack Sasson on the Agade list points out that Professor Shemaryahu Talmon is mentioned in the article as "the late." Don't worry, he's fine.

UNESCO on "Rachel's Tomb" and Machpelah

UNESCO'S RULING that "Rachel's Tomb" near Bethleham and the "Tomb of the Patriarchs" (or Machpelah) are "an integral part of the occupied Palestinian Territories and that any unilateral action by the Israeli authorities is to be considered a violation of international law, the UNESCO Conventions and the United Nations and Security Council resolutions" and which refers to "Rachel's Tomb" as a "mosque" has caused predictable uproar:
Israel cuts UNESCO ties over designation of holy sites

By TOVAH LAZAROFF (Jerusalem Post)
11/04/2010 00:52

Netanyahu to ask UN chief to rebuff PA’s unilateral statehood bid on NY trip; Arab League Sec.-Gen. says he wants the UN to lead peace process.
Talkbacks (2)

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is expected to meet United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon next week in New York and is likely to urge him not to support a Palestinian bid for unilateral statehood, government officials told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday night.

The meeting comes as tension continues to mount between Israel and the UN, whose bodies often single out Israel and accuse it of breaking international law.

Knesset blasts UNESCO resolutions
The old/new unilateral threat

On Wednesday, the Foreign Ministry suspended cooperation with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said that relations with UNESCO would not be restored until it retracted its statement last week that two ancient biblical sites – the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb – were an integral part of the “occupied” Palestinian territories.

Ayalon said that the Palestinian Authority was behind the statement, which he added, was issued by the automatic Arab majority on the UNESCO board.

It is another attempt by the PA to delegitimize Israel, he said.

There is now a report that Israel has backed away from cutting of relations with UNESCO entirely.
World Jewish Congress Condemns UNESCO Vote on Rachel's Tomb and Cave of Patriarchs

NEW YORK, Nov. 2, 2010 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- On behalf of the World Jewish Congress, WJC President Ronald S. Lauder wrote a letter to Director General Irina Bokova of UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, expressing deep dismay at the recent passage of the resolution that designated Rachel's Tomb and the Cave of the Patriarchs as Palestinian, with Rachel's Tomb named a mosque. In the letter, Lauder said "For UNESCO to try and remove these two ancient Jewish sites from Israel is an outrage. For thousands of years, Biblical tradition has upheld that the Tomb of Rachel was acquired and built by Jacob the Patriarch of Israel, and has been among the most sacred sites of Judaism since. The Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron has for an even longer period of time been part of the heart and soul of Israel. One has only to reference the Biblical portion read just this past week in synagogues world wide that describes the purchase by Abraham the Patriarch of the Cave of the Patriarchs and the surrounding area of Hebron...To deem these historic sites that have been an integral part of the Jewish heritage for thousands of years is a denial of factual history."

Whew! Where to start on this one?

First, the patriarchal narratives in Genesis are legends and there is no particular reason to think that Abraham, the patriarchs, or Rachel were real historical individuals rather than personified memories of tribal groups or simply fictional characters in the legends. Its always possible that they were actual individuals, but by normal historical standards that certainly isn't the way to bet.

That said, both sites have been around for a very long time in Jewish tradition. Evidence of a pre-Islamic Jewish connection to Rachel's tomb is collected by Michael Freund in the Jerusalem Post:
In the book of Genesis (35:19-20), the Bible says: “And Rachel died, and was buried on the way to Ephrata, which is Bethlehem. And Jacob set a pillar upon her grave: That is the pillar of Rachel’s grave unto this day.”

Jewish sources such as the Talmud mention Rachel’s Tomb. The midrash Bereshit Rabba (82:10), which scholars say was written in the fifth century, famously notes that Jacob buried Rachel on the road to Ephrata because he foresaw that Israel’s exiles would later pass the site, and he wanted her to pray for them.

This alone should be proof enough of the ancient Jewish connection to Rachel’s Tomb.

But it is also worth noting that centuries before Islam was founded, Jewish and Christian pilgrims visited Rachel’s burial place and made note of it in their writings.

In 333 CE, a Christian known only as the Bordeaux Pilgrim recorded having seen Rachel’s Tomb on the outskirts of Bethlehem. In his Itinerary of the Bordeaux Pilgrim, he wrote: “On the right of the road to Bethlehem is the tomb in which was laid Jacob’s wife Rachel.” Jerome, the early Church father and saint who moved to Bethlehem from Rome in 386, also mentions the tomb, as did the fourth century historian and bishop Eusebius. In his Onomasticon, an alphabetical listing of biblical place names along with their descriptions, Eusebius wrote under the entry for “Ephrata”: “On the way Rachel was buried, five miles from Jerusalem... The tomb is shown still today.
The construction around the the "Tomb of the Patriarchs" is Herodian, so apparently the Jewish connection goes back at least a couple of thousand years. For both sites we have no way of knowing how long before this the connection to the biblical characters existed.

Todd Bolen has pictures of Rachel's Tomb in a 2009 post at his Bible Places blog. In this post he expresses surprising skepticism about an ancient Jewish connection:
Looking for a bright spot in all of this? How about this: the tomb has nothing to do with Rachel anyway. According to 1 Samuel 10:2, her tomb was in the tribal territory of Benjamin, which begins five miles north along the Hinnom Valley of Jerusalem. So all this expense and rancor is over Jews who want to pray at what likely was originally the tomb of a Muslim holy man!
I don't know what he does with the pre-Islamic evidence about the site. There is further discussion in the comments and he refers to a paper he has written to which I don't have access. I don't see any way that the site itself could have been "originally" Muslim, although I don't know the history of the structures erected on the site. I agree, of course, that it is not the site of the tomb of the actual Rachel, if there was such a person. I hope that Todd will comment further on the current situation. So far his blog just has one brief notice about it.

Todd also has pictures of Machpelah at his Bible Places website.

Both sites have also traditionally been revered by Muslims for the same reasons they are revered by Jews. I hear in various places that Rachel's tomb has only been called a mosque since 1996, but I have not researched the question myself.

As for UNESCO, the ruling isn't phrased all that clearly, but it seems to be aimed at recent plans by Israel to include the two sites as part of its national heritage plan. I have been following that story for most of 2010 (see here and follow the links back). But if that's the issue, UNESCO should just come out and say it and make its political case. As it is, its recent ruling gives the impression of denying that the sites have an ancient Jewish connection, which is on the face of it ridiculous. These are two of the holiest geographical sites in Jewish tradition and by taking this tack UNESCO is only making itself look silly and making Jews very angry.

I've been pulling this post together in spare minutes over the last few days, so if it seems rambling, that's why.

UPDATE (9 November): More here, including details on how the site came to be called a mosque in 1996.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

More on the Steinsaltz Talmud

MORE ON THE STEINSALTZ TALMUD, with lots of interesting background on the translation:
The Longest Translation

Forty-five years after he began his revolutionary reworking of the Talmud, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz takes time to celebrate its completion — through learning.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Steve Lipman
Staff Writer (The Jewish Week)

When Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz began his monumental project of translating the Talmud into contemporary Hebrew, piercing the dense layers of wisdom and commentary contained in the ancient text, Levi Eshkol of the now-defunct Mapai party was Israel’s prime minister, the young country’s population stood at a mere 2.5 million, and when a Beatles concert there was canceled, it was assumed the country’s leaders thought the Fab Four would corrupt its youth.

It was 1965. And for the next 45 years, working at first out of a cramped office in Jerusalem, Rabbi Steinsaltz, an Israeli scholar and author, would churn out tractate after tractate, translating by his own estimate “millions” of words from Aramaic into modern Hebrew and then English.

Along the way he did nothing less than free the Talmud from the province of a small number of scholars and make it available to a new generation of learners.

This article mentions the Soncino translation in passing, but not the Neusner translation.

Background here.

Belated Halloween Golem stuff

BELATED HALLOWEEN GOLEM STUFF: 3 awesome depictions of the golem in art.

More golem posts here.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Atiqot now online

ATIQOT, the IAA archaeology journal, is now online:
Atiqot: A Journal (Archaeology) from Israel Now Available Online (Free Access)

November 2, 2010 20:35

From an Israel Antiquities Authority Announcement:

Atiqot, the leading journal of the Israel Antiquities Authority [IAA], is now available online. Articles published in 'Atiqot are the result of the numerous salvage excavations conducted each year on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, which are frequently surprising in their importance, filling in gaps that could not be understood by the localized studies of the renowned tells. The journal thus represents the most encompassing research on the region and its connections with the neighboring countries.

The online edition of 'Atiqot is published for the convenience of researchers and archaeology lovers worldwide, enabling easy access to the extensive and important data it contains. Articles are published in English or in Hebrew; those in Hebrew are followed by an abstract in English. The articles are available free of charge; registration is required.


Judean kingdom mired in bureaucracy too

THE ANCIENT KINGDOM OF JUDAH, it seems, was awash with government bureaucrats, just like us. Figures.

Attack on the Assyrian Parishoners in Baghdad

CHALDO-ASSYRIAN WATCH: The latest barbaric Islamist attack on Iraq's Aramaic-speaking Christians: Attack on the Assyrian Parishioners in Baghdad.

UPDATE (4 November): Al Qaeda ally in Iraq says all Christians 'legitimate targets'; Iraq church horror speeds Christian exodus.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Sad News: Alan D. Crown

SAD NEWS: ALAN D. CROWN – This from the Agade list:
From Shani Tzoref ( came this sad news:

From the University of Sydney came the sad news that Prof. Alan Crown suffered a stroke two weeks ago and has now passed away.

Funeral services will be held tomorrow morning Wednesday at 10:00am, at Sydney's Chevra Kadisha

The short bio below does not convey the unflagging energy and passion that Prof. Crown brought to his many academic and community projects, or the endearing quirkiness and sense of humor with which he engaged colleagues and inspired students.

Renowned scholar of Samaritan Studies and broad areas of Jewish studies. Emeritus Professor in Semitic Studies. Chairman and Joint Master of Mandelbaum House, the Jewish College at the University of Sydney and Trustee of Mandlelbaum trust. Editor of Mandelbaum Publishing (monographs on Judaica). Chief examiner in Classical Hebrew for the State school system. Senior Associate Fellow of the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies. Member of Advisory committee, World Union of Jewish Studies.
Professor Crown is especially known for his prolific work on the Samaritans. I can't find an online biography or bibliography, but many of his books are listed here. May his memory be for a blessing.

Neusner on The Costs of Jewish Studies Endowments

JACOB NEUSNER writes in the Huffington Post blog about The Costs of Jewish Studies Endowments. Excerpt:
When believing and practicing Jews decide who will teach what to whom, they take for granted that some things are more important than others. They affirm the cogency of the subject and know how things fit together. The Judaic system governs the things that are learned. To teachers and students, the classical texts convey truth. What follows? The Talmud is more important than a cookbook. The Jewish sponsors of Jewish learning derive the scale of values from the received canon and tradition.

Universities, by contrast, have no stake in according to Scripture or Midrash and Talmud a superior position in the curriculum. Learning in every topic and discipline defines its own priorities, and reason is not governed by revelation. So the curriculum is a mishmash of this and that -- discrete details of a main point that does not register. Anything that is Jewish is as worthy of study as anything else that is Jewish. At my own college, the history of the bagel and the status of women in Jewish law have served equally well as topics of graduation essays.

The Alexandria Letter

THE ALEXANDRIA LETTER by George R. Honig is reviewed in Blogcritics. A letter from ancient Alexandria probably would have been in Greek, not Aramaic.

Mark D. Roberts on early Christology

MARK D. ROBERTS has been putting up some thoughtful posts on early Christology at his Beliefnet blog. I list them below with some comments:

Echoes of Wisdom and the Divinity of Jesus: Part 1

Echoes of Wisdom and the Divinity of Jesus (Part 2)

Echoes of Wisdom and the Divinity of Jesus: Part 3

I was disappointed not to hear more about Philo of Alexandria's Logos theology (cf., e.g., here) or the Enochian wisdom tradition (notably in the Similitudes, 1 Enoch 42). Maybe a fourth essay is warranted.

Jesus as the Son of God

This piece takes the evidence in directions that I don't think are entirely warranted, notably here:
If Jesus had openly proclaimed himself as Son of God, his contemporaries would not have thought of this as a claim to divinity. They might have understood only that Jesus was touting his own righteousness. More likely, they would have heard a claim to be the promised Messiah, the human being who would lead Israel to throw the Romans out of God's land once and for all.
There is plenty of evidence that the phrase "son of God" could mean an angel or a divine being (cf. Job 1, Deuteronomy 32:8). And the assertion earlier in the essay that the Israelite kings were not divinized is debatable. Note that Solomon was enthroned on the throne of YHWH as king according to 1 Chronicles 29:23 and that the king is arguably addressed as God or a god in royal rites in Isaiah 9:5 (Evv 9:6) and Psalm 45:7 (evv. 45:6).

Jesus and the Perplexing Son of Man

The Son of Man in the Judaism of Jesus

The treatment of the Son of Man is good, apart from the discussion of "the one like a son of man" in Daniel 7:13:
While still dreaming, Daniel approached one of the divine attendants, asking for the interpretation of the dream. He learned that the four beasts represent four kingdoms that shall dominate the earth. But when the Ancient One finally executes judgment upon the all four beasts, the saints will be exonerated. In fact,
The kingship and dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the holy ones of the Most High; their kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey them (Dan 7:27).
Therefore, the "one like a son of man" represents the faithful people of God who endure oppression and ultimately share in God's rule over the earth.
The problem here is that the vision in chapter 7 comes in three parts: the allegorical vision of the four beasts in vv. 1-8 a second vision of the heavenly throne room consisting of God and his angels (who are evidently watching the first vision) in vv. 9-16; and the angel's interpretation of the allegorical vision in vv. 17-27. The difficulty with Dr. Roberts's interpretation is that the one like a son of man comes in the second part of the vision. He is a figure in the heavenly throne room, which is "real," that is, not part of the allegory. The kingdom of God will be given to the Jewish people ("the people of the holy ones of the Most High" in v. 27), but the one like a son of man is not an allegorical representation of them. He is a heavenly figure in his own right, perhaps the angel Michael or Gabriel (who appear elsewhere in Daniel) or - my best guess - the glorified patriarch Enoch.

Daniel 7 is arguably based on Enoch's ascent vision in the Book of the Watchers (1 Enoch 14), along with Ezekiel chapter 1. In Enoch's vision he ascends on the clouds and is brought before the throne of God, and it seems likely to me that Daniel had him in mind here. Confirming this, the Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71) explicitly says in chapter 71 that Enoch is the Danielic Son of Man.

(I am currently teaching a course on the book of Daniel and these matters are near and dear to my heart. For more details on the reading of Daniel 7 given in the paragraph before the preceding one, see the magisterial Hermeneia commentary on Daniel by John Collins.)

With the caveats above, Dr. Roberts's summary of the state of the question regarding early Christology is good and worth a read. Incidentally, with him, I don't have any problem with the idea that Jesus spoke of the Son of Man with Daniel's exalted "one like a son of man" in mind, perhaps even referring to himself. But many historical Jesus scholars, perhaps most, think that this is a post-Jesus stratum of the tradition.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Cario Geniza book excerted on Google Books

SACRED TREASURE: The Cairo Geniza, by Rabbi Mark Glickman (noted here), is excerpted extensively on Google Books. (HT Dorothy Lobel King.)

More on the completion of the Steinsaltz Talmud

Steinsaltz completes Talmud translation, but not without controversy

By Sue Fishkoff · October 31, 2010

SAN FRANCISCO (JTA) -- On Nov. 7, noted Talmud scholar and teacher Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz will formally conclude his Hebrew translation of the Babylonian Talmud, a monumental task that has occupied him for the past 45 years.

While he marks the day in a hadran, or completion ritual, in Jerusalem, hundreds of Jewish communities around the world will celebrate a Global Day of Jewish Learning, coming together in synagogues, Jewish community centers and schools to study Jewish text and build community.

But as scholars and Jewish leaders herald his remarkable accomplishment, Steinsaltz himself has become a figure of controversy, criticized in some Orthodox circles for what many consider his unorthodox behavior.

Five years ago he found himself outside the Orthodox consensus for accepting the post of nasi, or president, of a modern-day Sanhedrin, a re-creation of the ancient Jewish legal body that set ritual observance for the Jewish people. Steinsaltz’s decision a year later to hold Rosh Hashanah services in which the shofar was sounded on Shabbat Rosh Hashanah -- a practice banned centuries ago by the Jewish sages -- caused further controversy.

For some it was his life’s work -- the translation of the Talmud -- that was problematic.


Steinsaltz’s Hebrew Talmud is not the only modern translation.

Soon after he launched his project, a team of Orthodox scholars began work on their own English translation. Published by ArtScroll, the Schottenstein Babylonian Talmud is used now by students around the world, and is available in English, Hebrew and French.

ArtScroll also published English and Hebrew versions of the Jerusalem Talmud -- a version of the Talmud written in Palestine about two centuries before the Babylonian version but not regarded by subsequent scholars as the authoritative word on Jewish law.

"There is some indication that this was done in response” to Steinsaltz, Blau said of the ArtScroll translations.

"It was done by committee, and was authorized by certain parts of the Orthodox community,” Blau said. “Some elements in the Orthodox community wanted a translation that met their requirements.”

In the late 1980s, Steinsaltz began publishing his own English editions of the Talmud, working from his Hebrew translation. He completed 22 volumes -- about half the tractates. The books are out of print, but he hopes to embark on another attempt to translate the entire Talmud into English and several other languages.

Steinsaltz’s English Talmud is not as widely praised as his Hebrew translation; the ArtScroll English version is more widely used.

Background here. More on the Artscroll Talmud here and here.

UPDATE (3 November): Jacob Neusner e-mails:
The JTA story that you printed on the Steinsaltz Talmud says there are two English language translations of the BAVLI, Steinsaltz and Artscroll. There are four, Soncino and mine,

In mine I translated 32 tractates and the other five were done by others (fully credited to them ad loc). Soncino was done in the 1930s and finished in 1948, I think. All she had to do was check out the LC catalogue.
The reference for the Neusner translation is: The Talmud of Babylonia. An American Translation. Chico, then Atlanta: 1984-1995: Scholars Press for Brown Judaic Studies.

I think the author of the article was focusing on very recent Talmud translations just now being finished, but she indeed should have mentioned the earlier, already completed English translations.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Iraqi Jewish archive update

Iraqi Jewish documents remain in limbo

Damaged during the U.S. invasion and shipped from Baghdad to Washington for preservation, a collection of antique Torahs and other material faces an uncertain future. Back to Iraq? Or to Israel?

By Alice Fordham, Los Angeles Times

October 31, 2010


Saad Eskander, the director of Iraq's National Library and Archive, says the collection belongs in Iraq. He said he was negotiating with the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, but if those talks failed, he would probably work with international organizations to take the case to U.S. courts.

"Jews are Iraq's oldest community. They are a significant part of the history of establishing Iraq," said Eskander, who helped rebuild the National Library after it was reduced to rubble by fighting and looting.

Jewish groups in America and Israel, however, have raised concerns about the safety of the collection if it were returned to Iraq.

"We fear the documents might be lost forever to Iraqi Jews," said Eric Fusfield of the B'nai B'rith international Jewish organization, which wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton this year calling for an immediate bar on the return of the documents.

"The Iraqi government should be commended for trying to preserve the Jewish legacy … but these are Jewish communal properties first and foremost."

State Department officials in Baghdad declined to comment beyond saying that negotiations were ongoing and that they hoped for resolution soon.


Shmuel Moreh, a professor of Arabic literature at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, left Iraq in 1951, along with hundreds of thousands of Jews who were victimized in the wake of the creation of Israel. He believes that all Jewish documents from Iraq are vital, and would like to see them in Israel.

"We need the documents to learn about history," he said. "We couldn't take any documents from Iraq when we left."

Although he felt that the Iraqi government had every right to claim the documents as their own and said he would be happy to work with good copies of the documents, he expressed doubt that Iraq had the skills to read the rare Judeo-Arabic scripts or the facilities to conserve the archive.

The collection, now kept in cold storage, would be subject to Iraq's flickering electricity supplies and to the still-considerable risk of bombs, thieves and institutional disarray.

A trip to the Babylonian section of a museum in Berlin, filled with archaeological treasures taken in the 19th century from what is now Iraq, had made Moreh believe the documents would be safer elsewhere.

He was accompanied by a group of Iraqi academics who admired the magnificent winged bull sculptures of the early Assyrian civilization displayed in the museum. Had they remained in Iraq, they would probably have been pocked with bullets or stolen, he said.

Moreh said: "Even these educated people said, 'What luck that the Germans took all this and kept it in such a way. They saved my civilization.'"
As always, I think the decision should be made on the basis of what is best for the ancient artifacts, not on any nationalist considerations.

Background here, where I make the same point at greater length, and here.