Saturday, January 01, 2011

Selling the Talmud as a business guide in China

TALMUD WATCH (er, reception history?):
Selling the Talmud as a Business Guide
In China, notions of Jewish business acumen lead to a publishing boom—and stereotyping.

P Deliss / Godong-Corbis (Newsweek)

Jewish visitors to China often receive a snap greeting when they reveal their religion: “Very smart, very clever, and very good at business,” the Chinese person says. Last year’s Google Zeitgeist China rankings listed “why are Jews excellent?” in fourth place in the “why” questions category, just behind “why should I enter the party” and above “why should I get married?” (Google didn’t publish a "why" category in Mandarin this year.) And the apparent affection for Jewishness has led to a surprising trend in publishing over the last few years: books purporting to reveal the business secrets of the Talmud that capitalize on the widespread impression among Chinese that attributes of Judaism lead to success in the financial arts.

Titles such as Crack the Talmud: 101 Jewish Business Rules, The Illustrated Jewish Wisdom Book, and Know All of the Money-Making Stories of the Talmud share the shelves with stories of Warren Buffet and Bill Gates. There’s even a Talmud hotel in Taiwan inspired by “the Talmud’s concept of success” that features a copy of the book Talmud Business Success Bible in every room. With the increasing interest in business education in China, and a rise in sales of self-help literature, the production of business guides to the Talmud has exploded. The guides are like the Chinese equivalents of books such as Sun Tzu and the Art of Business.


Non-Chinese experts on Judaism are quick to point out that the Talmud is not a business manual. While the Talmud mentions contract law, zoning, and problems involved with charging interest, it’s not a get-rich-quick guide, says Rabbi Eliezer Diamond, associate professor of Talmud and rabbinics at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. “I’ve heard a couple of [Chinese] people say that Jews are smart because of the Talmud. But they don’t seem to know what it is. I think they see it as some sort of secret intelligence book,” added Rabbi Nussin Rodin, a Beijing-based emissary of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. “I once got a letter from someone in China saying, I’m very interested in making money so I’d like to know what you teach at your courses about how to make money,” says Diamond. “Of course, there aren’t too many people in the Jewish Theological Seminary pulling in the big bucks.”

Indeed. The whole thing seems kind of creepy.

UPDATE (27 January): More here, putting this story into a larger and less creepy context.

Hair of the dog from ancient Ugarit

HAIR OF THE DOG from ancient Ugarit. Appropriate for the season.

Happy New Year!


Some end-of-the-year things:

The Biblical Studies Carnival LVIII by Joseph Kelly at כל־האדם. Another very thorough effort.

The December 2010 Biblioblog Top 50.

The completely objective December 2010 Biblioblog Top 50 by NT Wrong.

The Top Stories of 2010 (also here) by Todd Bolen at the Bible Places Blog.

Friday, December 31, 2010

BAR Jan-Feb 2011

BIBLICAL ARCHAEOLOGY REVIEW has a new issue out (Jan-Feb '11). Some articles can be read only with a paid personal or institutional subscription, but several are available in full for free:

The late Ehud Netzer, In Search of Herod’s Tomb

2011 Digs Seeking Volunteers

Andrew McGowan, How December 25 Became Christmas

Who Wrote the Bible? (I haven't watched this episode, but my past experience with Simcha Jacobovici's The Naked Archaeologist has not been encouraging.)

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Septuagint in the Cairo Geniza

Bible discovery reveals links with Jewish scholars

Experts at Cambridge University have made a major discovery about the history of the Bible.

Researchers have been studying ancient biblical manuscripts in the University Library, and have found that a version of the Bible written in Greek was used by Jewish people for centuries longer than originally thought.

The documents, known as the Cairo Genizah manuscripts, were discovered in an old synagogue in Egypt and were brought to Cambridge at the end of the 19th century.

They have now been brought together digitally and posted online, enabling scholars worldwide to analyse them for the first time.

Prof Nicholas de Lange, professor of Hebrew and Jewish Studies at Cambridge University, has been leading a three-year study into the ancient fragments.

He said: “The translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek is said to be one of the most lasting achievements of the Jewish civilization – without it, Christianity might not have spread as quickly and as successfully as it did.

“It was thought that the Jews, for some reason, gave up using Greek translations and chose to use the original Hebrew for public reading in synagogue and for private study, until modern times when pressure to use the vernacular led to its introduction in many synagogues.”

Prof de Lange’s research has discovered that some of the manuscripts contain passages from the Bible in Greek, written in Hebrew letters. The fragments date from 1,000 years after the original translation into Greek - showing that use of the Greek text was still alive in Greek-speaking synagogues in the Byzantine Empire, the Greek-speaking eastern part of the Roman Empire.

Prof de Lange said the research offered a rare glimpse of Byzantine Jewish life and culture, and also illustrated the cross-fertilisation between Jewish and Christian biblical scholars in the Middle Ages.

He said: “This is a very exciting discovery for me because it confirms a hunch I had when studying Genizah fragments 30 years ago.”
UPDATE (3 January): More here.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

New book: Hendel (ed.), Reading Genesis: Ten Methods

NEW BOOK: Reading Genesis: Ten Methods (CUP), edited by Ronald Hendel. From the back of the book:
Reading Genesis: Ten Methods is a marvelous introduction to recent approaches to the study of biblical texts, accessible yet profound. Distinguished contributors survey methods both old and new, all focused on the book of Genesis. These are classic discussions and offer not only a report on the present state of biblical studies but also fine examples of the biblical scholar's art.
John Barton, University of Oxford
Facebook page here. Previewed at Google Books here.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Tony Burke: Why I Study the Christian Apocrypha

TONY BURKE: Why I Study the Christian Apocrypha.

I have posted a comment in the comments section.

Note also Tony's More Christian Apocrypha website.

The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Calendar-in-a-Year

PSEUDEPIGRAPHA WATCH: Joseph Kelly has published an Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Calendar-in-a-Year at the כל–האדם blog. If you follow it you will read all of the two Charlesworth Old Testament Pseudepigrapha volumes in 2011. This is ambitious, but now's the time to get it done. You'll be wanting it out of the way when the first More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project volume comes out, I hope not too long after that.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Vendyl Jones has passed away

VENDYL JONES has died today:
Noahide Archaeologist Vendyl Jones Passes Away

by Hillel Fendel (Arutz Sheva)

Vendyl Jones – Noahide archaeologist who discovered an immense stock of incense used in the Second Temple as well as the aromatic anointing oil – has passed away at the age of 80. He was most famous for his search for the Ark of the Covenant.

Diagnosed with cancer of the throat seven months ago, in pain and unable to swallow, Jones was tended by his wife Anita during this period. Money for medical bills was scarce, as most of the money he made during his career went towards furthering his archaeological and religious pursuits in Israel.


His life goals began to take root when he learned, in 1964, that the Copper Scroll had been found in a cave at Qumran, Israel, and that it listed – in coded form – the hiding places of sacred articles such as the Ark of the Covenant. In April 1967, he moved his family to Israel, continuing his studies in the Department of Judaica at Hebrew University and becoming involved in archaeology. He aided the Israeli army during the Six Day War, when his color-blindness helped him detect camouflaged enemy tanks.

He worked on many digs at Qumran and other Judean Desert sites, though he did not receive government support or funding. His most famous find was that of the Ketoret – 900 pounds of reddish powder with a uniquely strong fragrance that he said was the Ketoret, the 11-ingredient incense used in the Holy Temple. Though critics disputed his findings, they were supported by tests conducted at Weizmann Institute and Bar-Ilan University.

Dr. Jones was often said to be the inspiration behind the "Indiana Jones" films starring Harrison Ford, though he himself has denied it, as have the film-makers. Among his children are converts to Judaism living in Samaria and elsewhere in Israel. His funeral will take place in Grandview, Texas.
You can also read the Wikipedia entry on him here. According to it, another view is that the "incense" was actually dirt.

Mr. Jones was mentioned in PaleoJudaica here, here, and here, all three posts referring to his dotty plans to find the Ark of the Covenant. (Incidentally, the Copper Scroll does not give a location for the Ark of the Covenant, more's the pity.)

It may be that Mr. Jones was involved in some legitimate archaeology along the way, but most of what he did seems to have revolved around finding the Ark and other goofy ideas. Well, if nothing else, he provided some amusement. May he rest in peace.

(HT Gerald Rosenberg.)

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Geza Vermes on Herod the Great

GEZA VERMES has a long biographical article on Herod the Great in Standpoint Magazine:
Herod the Terrible or Herod the Great?

January/February 2011

The Christian world has inherited a wholly negative image of king Herod (74/72-4 BCE), during whose reign Jesus was born (Matthew 2:1, Luke, 1:5). Matthew's legendary account, Nativity plays and Christian imagination have turned Herod into the Ivan the Terrible of antiquity. When the three wise kings, or rather oriental magicians (magoi in the Greek Gospel), arrived at the royal palace in Jerusalem and asked about the recently born king of the Jews, Herod pretended to be helpful and directed them to Bethlehem, the traditional birthplace of the Messiah, on condition that they promised to let him know the whereabouts of the babe. He, too, wished to greet him, he lied, when in fact he planned to murder the potential rival. So when the magi failed to return, he let loose his soldiers on the infants of Bethlehem.

The extensive secular chronicles provide a more nuanced biography, one that is almost as detailed as those of Roman emperors. Our chief informant is the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (37-c.100CE), who devoted most of Book I of his Jewish War and Books XIV to XVII of Jewish Antiquities to the life and times of Herod. Josephus uses as his main source the universal history of Nicolaus of Damascus, the well-informed teacher, adviser and ambassador of Herod. The fact that Josephus often criticises the king suggests that beside the court historian's pro-Herod chronicle, he had also at his disposal another account sympathetic to the Hasmoneans, the Jewish priest-kings, who from 152 BCE ruled the Holy Land, first independently and after 63 BCE under the aegis of Rome, until Herod took their throne in 37 BCE.

It concludes:
In short, both Jewish and Christian traditions treat him as Herod the Terrible. The historian, however, is fully aware, despite Herod's grave shortcomings, of his unparalleled political and cultural accomplishments. In particular, his long friendship with Augustus was highly beneficial to the inhabitants of Judea and the Jewish religion. Moreover, while Herod enjoyed the enviable status of a "client king, friend of the Roman people", none of his descendants, if the short reign of Agrippa I (41-44 CE) is discarded, was sufficiently esteemed by Augustus and his successors to receive the title "king of the Jews". All in all, in view of these unquestionable achievements Herod deserves to be known as the one and only Herod the Great.
Read it all.

Herod the Great has come up fairly often at PaleoJudaica. Some interesting past posts are here, here, and here.