Friday, October 05, 2012

Review of Vermes, Christian Beginnings

GEZA VERMES'S LATEST BOOK is reviewed by Eric Ormsby in Standpoint magazine, along with one by Peter Brown of less direct relevance to PaleoJudaica:
Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD
By Peter Brown
Princeton University Press, 806pp, £27.95

Christian Beginnings: From Nazareth to Nicaea AD 30-325
By Geza Vermes
Allen Lane, 288pp, £25/ebook £14.99
Excerpt on Vermes, Christian Beginnings:
Vermes states that his book, his twelfth on the subject (beginning with Jesus the Jew of 1973), is "an attempt to sketch the historical continuity between Jesus portrayed in his Galilean charismatic setting and the first ecumenical council held at Nicaea in AD 325, which solemnly proclaimed his divinity as a dogma of Christianity." It is thus an account of the slow but steady transformation of "Jesus the Jew" to "the Christ deified at the Council of Nicaea"; that is, from an "itinerant spiritual healer, exorcist and preacher", a type well known and well documented in the Palestine of his day, to a divine figure, the second person of the Trinity, and in the Greek formulation of the Council — amid uproarious controversy — as homoousios or "of one substance with the Father."

Review of Orlov, Dark Mirrors

Andrei A. Orlov. Dark Mirrors: Azazel and Satanael in Early Jewish Demonology. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2011. xv + 201 pp. $75.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-4384-3951-8.

Reviewed by Archie Wright (Regent University)
Published on H-Judaic (October, 2012)
Commissioned by Jason Kalman

Reflecting on Opposites

Andrei A. Orlov is a specialist in Jewish apocalypticism and mysticism, Second Temple Judaism, and Old Testament pseudepigrapha. Within the fascinating field of Second Temple Jewish apocalyptic literature, Orlov is considered among the leading experts in the field of Slavonic texts related to Jewish mysticism and Enochic traditions. This volume, Dark Mirrors: Azazel and Satanael in Early Jewish Demonology, demonstrates his expertise. The book furthers the ongoing discussion in Second Temple Period (2TP) demonology; in particular, it is focused on two of the leading figures, the so-called demonic beings Azazel and Satanael. Orlov explores the mediating role of these paradigmatic celestial rebels in the development of Jewish demonological traditions from Second Temple apocalypticism to later Jewish mysticism. Throughout his discussion, he makes use of lesser-known Jewish pseudepigraphical materials in Slavonic.

I am not entirely persuaded that Satanael is a figure in "early Jewish Demonology," since he does not appear in any demonstrably early Jewish text. (Azazel and Satan, of course, do.) The Slavonic book of 2 Enoch did exist in a Byzantine Greek form, as is demonstrated by the recently discovered Coptic fragments of it, but an earlier date and Jewish provenance are still debatable. I do think that at least parts of it are probably early and Jewish, but the edited form of even the short recension may still contain substantial Christian (or other?) Byzantine-era material. But that is an aside. This sounds like an interesting and important book that I am going to need to read.

Free Talmudic books

FOR YOU, SPECIAL DEAL:  Seven Free Talmudic Books in Honor of Sukkot - Friday October 5 to Sunday October 7 (Tzvee Zahavy).

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Allegro video

BLAST FROM THE PAST: “Jesus was a mushroom” – Interview with John Allegro.

More on John Allegro and his theories here.

Papyrology and the GJW

PETER HEAD raises some papyrological concerns at ETC about the Gospel of Jesus' Wife fragment: More questions on Jesus' Wife Fragment. He does not find the papyrological arguments in favor of its authenticity persuasive.

Background on the GJW is here and links.

Hermetic and Kabbalistic influences on Joseph Smith?

VARIOUS ESOTERICA, ancient, medieval, and modern, are invoked in this Haaretz article by Tomer Persico as influences on Joseph Smith: How kabbala shaped Mormon faith. In his effort to establish 'Zion on American soil,' the founder of Mormonism was deeply influenced by the seminal Jewish mystical work, not to mention the polygamy practiced by the Patriarchs.

The most interesting section for PaleoJudaica is here:
Where did Smith derive his inspiration? He was undoubtedly an exceptional person, with a vivid imagination and enormous creativity. But every creative spirit needs raw material. Smith found his in the esoteric literature of his era, which led him to the kabbala.

As a curious teenager, Joseph Smith was able to read a fair share of Western esoteric literature at his neighbor's homes or in different public libraries.

The esoteric literature of the period included the legacy of the Renaissance, Hermetism, the kabbala, Neoplatonism, alchemy, astrology and Magianism.

Hermitism was an esoteric practice based on ancient texts that were apparently written by a god/king/prophet/ master sorcerer named Hermes Trismegistus. This Hermes was, apparently, a contemporary of Moses and revealed to humanity the secrets of the universe at the exact same time that Moses gave the Torah to the Israelites. The historical source for the more ancient parts of the hermetic corpus is found in the early centuries of the Common Era, in Greco-Egyptian Alexandria, and therefore contains a mixture of Greek and Egyptian myths.

In contrast to many Western tracts, the Hermetica emphasized the greatness of man and the ability for the complete synthesis of spirit and matter. Based on this doctrine, the soul is a refined type of matter, and therefore this materialist and sordid life is not a thing unto itself; there is even the possibility of achieving divinity without separating from life.

"You are the light and the life, as God the Father from which man was born," states Hermes, echoing similarities with Mormon theology.

Kabbala for Christians

With respect to the kabbala mentioned here, this wasn't the same Kabbala diligently pored over by the students of the Vilna Gaon or the Lubavitch Rebbe Shneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad Hasidism, during this time period, but rather the kabbala translated into the vernacular for a Christian readership. In the eyes of the Christians who were interested in it, the kabbala was thought to be the secret Torah that Moses gave to Joshua, and from him to the elders of Israel, and from them to the prophets. But unlike traditional rabbinic Judaism, the Christians believed that the kabbala was also given to the Israelite priests. The inclusion of the ancient Israelite priests was likely due to every story about the Temple in Jerusalem being seen by Christians as having some esoteric and mystical value (this was also true for the Freemasons, another movement that flowered around the same time). The Christian kabbala included different translations of the Hebrew texts into vernacular with additional commentary that presented it as a universal bible that in practice was philosophically Perennialist (meaning, that it stands at the base of all human knowledge).

Smith’s interest in the Hermetica and the kabbala alone are enough to shed light on the sentence found at the beginning of the Mormon cannon [sic], in the Book of Nephi, the first volume of the Book of Mormon. After the first verse in which the narrator presents himself, the second verse states: “I will make a record in the language of my father, which consists of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians.” The Jews were a muse to Joseph Smith. The use of “the language of the Egyptians” ties the Book of Mormon to the Hermetica.
I don't recall any direct echoes of Hermetica or Kabbalah in the Book of Mormon, but it's been quite a while since I read it.  Indirect theological influence sounds plausible enough, although Latter Day Saints would probably reply that Smith's interests in such esoterica as a young man simply helped prepare him for his later revelatory role.  John Dee, the English Renaissance scholar whose Enochian angelic revelations were transmitted in strikingly similar ways to Mormon revelations, was also immersed in ancient and medieval esoterica.

“Our model is actually the Talmud”

RAP GENIUS: "“Our model is actually the Talmud,” said Horowitz. He believes Rap Genius could expand to make any important text that’s too dense or confusing into something comprehensible, the way the Talmud did for the Torah."

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

GJW in the CHE

KAREN KING is interviewed by Tom Bartlett in the Chronicle of Higher Education: The Lessons of Jesus’ Wife. Excerpts:
King told the magazine that, while there was a chance that ink testing might prove that the fragment was a forgery, she thought it was more likely to be “cherry on the cake.”

Now she, like everyone else, is waiting for the results of that test, which should be available late this month. The test could prove that the ink has modern elements, which would mean that it is a forgery. If it comes back negative for such elements, the debate will go on. If it is positive, not having waited for that test will look like a mistake.

But how do you roll out a potential blockbuster discovery like this? King said she’s been asking colleagues how they would have handled it differently, and they’ve reassured her that they would have done what she did. And while she’s been dinged by some for jumping the gun, others would have attacked her for keeping it to herself. “The longer I held back, the more criticism there would have been,” she said.
Agreed, except she should have resisted the temptation to cooperate with a television documentary before all tests were completed, mighty though that temptation must have been.
One thing she would change? The title of the fragment. Calling it “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” seemed natural. And for scholars like King, one of the authors of a book about The Gospel of Judas, alternative accounts of the Jesus story are not shocking. She misjudged just how inflammatory that title would turn out to be. She’s been asking around for ideas on a new, less exciting name.
I agree here too, but I think it's too late now to change the name.

Background here and links.

Aramaic-speaking pirates and a woman ruler at ed-Dur?

Was ed-Dur ruled by a woman?

Rym Ghazal (The National)
Oct 2, 2012

Images on a coin can tell the story of place and time.

But for some of the coins found at ed-Dur, it is a name that is causing the greatest debate.

“It is a real mystery,” says Dr Ernie Haerinck. “The coins minted locally have a name added to them in Aramaic. It is ‘Abi’el’, the daughter of so and so.

“Perhaps ed-Dur was a kingdom run by a woman?”

The name was added to “imitations of imitations” of common coins, attributed to the first century AD.


“One of the biggest problems we have is that a lot of the pre-Islamic rituals and histories have not been noted down anywhere, and the fact that we have less and less specialists around who can read Aramaic and its different ancient dialects,” says Dr Haerinck.

Besides locally minted coins, which offer proof of autonomy and political and economic independence, there are many unexplained discoveries at ed-Dur, one that led Dr Haerinck to say: “Maybe there were pirates here?

“For the vastness of what has been found here could be explained through one theory and texts by Romans about this area, that just maybe some ed-Dur pirates brought back lots of plunder and treasures from across the world.”
The site of ed-Dur where the coins were excavated is in the UAE. There are plenty of specialists in different Aramaic dialects; they need to look around a little more. But, granted, pirate Aramaic might prove to be a challenge.

Ahmadinejad and Haman

Peres likens Ahmadinejad to ‘modern-day Haman’
President stresses preference for non-military means to remove Iranian threat

By Asher Zeiger October 2, 2012, 10:32 pm 0 (The Times of Israel)

President Shimon Peres described Iran’s president as “a modern-day Haman,” during a meeting with Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef on Tuesday.

Despite comparing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the ancient Persian official who sought to eradicate all the Jews in the empire in the fifth century BCE, Peres said that “we would be happy to be rid of him through non-military means.”

Cyrus the Great was also invoked:
Peres said that the speech was proof of the Iranian leader’s “profound historical ignorance” and that Ahmadinejad needs to be taught a history lesson about the ancient Persian king Koresh, who “more than 2,500 years ago allowed the Jews … to return to Israel and rebuild their home.”
See the Book of Esther for Haman, who was gotten rid of through military means (chapter 7), and Ezra 1:1-4 and Isaiah 45:1-4 for Cyrus/Koresh.

The use of the Book of Esther (e.g., here), Haman (e.g., here), and Cyrus (e.g., here with many links) for political purposes is not new.

Church vandalism in Jerusalem

VANDALISM AT THE CHURCH OF THE DORMITION: Vandals strike 1 of Jerusalem’s most famous churches; Jewish extremists suspected (AP). The church is built on the traditional site of the death (dormition—"falling asleep") of the Virgin Mary.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

High-Tech Magic

HIGH-TECH MAGIC (in the sense of Clarke's third law) is illustrated at the HMML Digitial Collections and Imaging blog with a 1960s image of a cuneiform tablet.  (HT Adam McCollum on Facebook.)

For those interested, Clarke's three laws, all of them relevant to various discussions on PaleoJudaica, are:
1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.

3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

GJW: Goodacre sums up

THE CURRENT STATE OF PLAY regarding the Gospel of Jesus' Wife is aptly summarized by Mark Goodacre: The Gospel of Jesus' Wife Latest. He concludes:
As I see it, there are two options here. Either the author of the Jesus fragment got hold of Codex II before it went into the jar in Nag Hammadi in the late fourth century to be buried for 1500 years, or s/he got hold of it after it came out of the jar in 1945. While we cannot rule out the possibility that s/he got hold of Codex II before it went into the jar, it is much more likely that the author got hold of it in the modern period with its multiple reproductions, in print and internet, of that one witness.
And therefore the GJW is a modern fake.

I'm sure the discussion will continue in the blogosphere and perhaps sporadically in the media, but most or all of this will probably amount to wheel spinning until we get some new information, most probably the results on the test(s) of the composition of the ink used to write the text. I myself am not an expert on materials science of ancient manuscripts and I do not know how definitive the results of such tests would be in principle. Is it possible to fake the composition of ancient ink? Can ancient ink recovered, say, in an excavated ancient inkwell be rehydrated and used undetectably to create a modern forgery? I don't know. If the ink turns out to be modern, that should settle the discussion in favor of the GJW being a modern fake, which seems to be the most widely held view at present. If the ink appears to be ancient, the questions above will have to be asked and the probabilities weighed.

As I've said from the beginning, I am very skeptical about its authenticity. But we'll see where new information leads us when we get it.

Background here and links.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Qumran month

ASOR BLOG: Qumran Month Comes to a Close.

I linked to some, but not all of the Qumran posts during September. But this final post links to all of them.

Carnival at Sansblogue

BIBLICAL STUDIES CARNIVAL: September: Spring comes to Biblical Blogaria.

Ancient Judaism lecture

AT HARVARD: Professor Speaks on Greco-Roman Influence on Ancient Rabbis.
Discussing the relationship between Greco-Roman folklore and ancient rabbinic texts, [Galit] Hasan-Rokem talked about the interdependence of the cultures, emphasizing the influence of a specific figure from Greco-Roman folklore: the sirens.

The sirens and other Greco-Roman tropes, Hasan-Rokem said, influenced the rabbinic view of women as alluring and punishable. She noted that the oral transmission of information in rabbinic culture facilitated the incorporation of new voices and ideas.

Mapping Israel

HAARETZ: Mapping Israel one foot at a time. The Israel Antiquities Authority seeks to precisely map every historical and archaeological site west of the Jordan. The project, which began in 1964, is due to end - if at all - in a few decades. The results are now being published online.

Happy Sukkot

SUKKOT, the festival of Booths or Tabernacles, began last night at sundown. Best wishes to all those celebrating