Saturday, January 19, 2013

Frevel & Nihan, Purity and the Forming of Religious Traditions ...

Purity and the Forming of Religious Traditions in the Ancient Mediterranean World and Ancient Judaism

Edited by Christian Frevel and Christophe Nihan

Purity is a cultural construct that had a central role in the forming and the development of religious traditions in the ancient Mediterranean. This volume analyzes concepts, practices and images associated with purity in the main cultures of Antiquity, and discusses from a comparative perspective their parallel developments and transformations. The perspective adopted is both synchronic and diachronic; the comparative approach takes into account points of contact and mutual influences, but also includes major transcultural trends. A number of renowned specialists contribute a large variety of perspectives and approaches, combining archaeology, epigraphy and social history; in addition, particular attention is given to concepts of purity in ancient Israel and early Judaism as a ‘test-case’ of sorts. Through its extensive coverage, the volume contributes decisively to the present discussion about the forming of religious traditions in the ancient Mediterranean world.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Schneerson Library update

$50,000 PER DAY:
U.S. Jewish community taking Russia to court over ancient texts

Tags: Society, Opinion & Analysis, World, Schneerson collection, historic documents
Rebecca Burns

Jan 18, 2013 12:57 Moscow Time (Voice of Russia)

The Russian Foreign Ministry has angrily dismissed a decision by a Washington court to issue what's may be the biggest library fine ever. It's fifty thousand dollars for every day Russia refuses to return a set of religious texts to an orthodox Jewish community in the United States. But Russia is refusing to pay up and even America’s Department of Justice is reportedly unhappy with the ruling. Borukh Gorin, Head of PR at the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, says he understands the American Chabad-Lubavitch community’s feelings but that they don't understand the Russian perspective.
Background here and link.

Hurtado reviews

BOOK REVIEWS AND COMMENTS FROM LARRY HURTADO: “Monotheism” in/and Ancient Roman Religion: The Continuing Discussion (chiefly on Stephen Mitchell & Peter Van Neffelen [eds.] One God: Pagan Monotheism in the Roman Period) and The “Son of God” in/and the Roman Empire: A Review Essay (on Michael Peppard, The Son of God in the Roman World: Divine Sonship in its Social and Political Context).

Nabataean (Nabatean) journal

AWOL: Open Access Journal: The Bulletin of Nabataean Studies (BNS).

Observing the Scribe at Work

CONFERENCE: CONFERENCE: Observing the Scribe at Work: Knowledge Transfer and Scribal Professionalism in Pre-Typographic Societies.

Barclay, Josephus: Against Apion

Flavius Josephus: Against Apion
Translation and Commentary

Translation and commentary by John M.G. Barclay

This volume contains a fresh English translation of Josephus’ apologetic treatise Against Apion, based on the new textual research conducted by the Münster Josephus project. It also provides the first English commentary on this treatise, with comprehensive treatment of the historical, literary, and rhetorical features of Josephus’ most engaging literary product.
Against Apion contains the most important evidence for hostility to Judeans in antiquity, as Josephus responds to both Egyptian and Hellenistic slurs on the Judean people, their origins and character. Josephus’ robust defense of his people, with his striking account of the Judean constitution (“theocracy”), also constitutes the finest example of Judean apologetics from antiquity.
The commentary will provide a richly-documented resource for the many readers of this treatise – those who study and teach early Judaism, early Christianity, and the cultural politics of antiquity. It also offers the first “postcolonial” reading of Josephus, in his attempt to present his Judean tradition under the cultural hegemony of the Greek intellectual tradition and the political power of Rome.
Still not cheap.

Via the Agade list. Hardback noted earlier here.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

English theses at the Hebrew U

CONTROVERSY: Theses in English 'erosion of Hebrew': The Academy of the Hebrew Language's president admonishes Hebrew University's decision to allow doctorate theses in English, warning against 'Hebrew's erosion' (Sharar Chai, Ynetnews)

I can sympathize with the Academy's concern for keeping the Hebrew language central to Israeli academia. At the same time, the move to allow English theses will inevitably mean that these theses are more widely read than they would be if they were written in Hebrew.

Giant washbasin sighted in Jerusalem

TEMPLE INSTITUTE:Temple Laver Moved to New Home: Temple Institute moves to new headquarters, and takes giant laver with it. (Arutz Sheva).
The Temple Institute moved a giant copper laver, or wash basin, to the new home of its exhibit of Temple articles on Monday.

A statement by the Temple Institute said the basin, which is 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) tall and 2.8 meters (9.1 foot) in diameter is kosher for use in the Third Temple and can be used to purify 12 priests at once.

The statement also said the new basin has advanced systems that make it possible to overcome certain problems in Jewish law, as was done at the time of the Second Temple

The resemblance to a UFO is entirely coincidental, but to be on the safe side, let's not show the photo to Erich von Däniken.

More on the Temple Institute here.

Cross-post as tangentially relevant to Temple Mount Watch.

Sabbath, space, and time in the Talmud

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN by Adam Kirsch in Tablet: The Pretenders: In order to understand Sabbath rules, the rabbis show, one must imagine exactly what work the Israelites did.
The problem of simultaneity has defeated the rabbis ...

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Herod exhibition

HEROD THE GREAT: Israel museum to exhibit reconstructed tomb in first major exhibition on biblical King Herod (AP). When they figure a coffin has to be yours because other people smashed it to bits, I guess that means you had an impact.

There's more on Herod here, with a link that leads back to endless earlier posts on the discovery and study of Herod's probable tomb.

Kashow, Josephus on Sacrifice and Atonement

ROBERT C. KASHOW: Josephus on Sacrifice and Atonement, with reference, that is, to the Essenes.

Reviewlet: Raphael on Josephus

MACLEANS: Review: A Jew Among Romans: The Life and Legacy of Flavius Josephus (Brian Bethune). Excerpt:
But in the multitalented and prickly [Frederic] Raphael—novelist, classicist and Oscar-winning screenwriter for Darling (1965)—the ancient survivor has found his ideal judge, a man as certain of being a Jew as he is uncertain of the meaning of that fact, much as Josephus himself was. (“There is comedy of a kind,” the 81-year-old Raphael writes, “that the only people who might now insist that I am not really a Jew—since I neither pray nor abstain from forbidden foods—are other Jews.”)

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

New website on esotericism in antiquity

NSEA Announces Website for Scholars of Esotericism in Antiquity

January 15, 2013

The Network for the Study of Esotericism in Antiquity (NSEA) is happy to announce our new website, With continually-updated online resources news, and conference announcements, is intended to be a one-stop location for scholars and students of the field.

What is esotericism in antiquity? This is a broad term that governs the use of secrecy, concealment, and revelation to talk about the really important stuff—from the true identity of the creator of the cosmos (Gnosticism) to the keys to the heavenly palaces (Hekhalot literature) to how to talk about the indescribable One (Neoplatonic mysticism), etc. So if the subject involves arcana celestial and subterrestrial, it’s ancient esotericism. Scholars in various disciplines have struggled to describe a spike in “secret revelations” in Hellenistic and Late Antique religion (Hengel) or the trend towards mythology in the “Underworld of Platonism” (Dillon)—what all this diverse material has in common is an interest in secrecy and revelation for dealing with the divine, and a common reception-history in “esotericism” in the modern era, ranging from Renaissance Platonism to the New Age.

The website is intended provide a guide to the wonderful, but dizzying, online resources available for the study of this vast and difficult body of literature. My goal (in collaboration with Sarah Veale) was to create the website I would have died to see when I was an undergraduate and just starting to get excited about this material, but totally confused about how to go about studying it, what scholarship was already out there, and, most importantly, where to find the most useful primary sources and reference materials on the web. A lot of the resources gathered here will be familiar to you—but perhaps not to your students, or colleagues in an adjoining field, or a friend. So, if someone has come your way who is starting to get into Nag Hammadi, or Iamblichus, or the apocalypses, etc. and asks you for some guidance to what’s out there, please consider making this one of the links you pass on to them. We will do our best to make it worth your while.

We encourage those interested in these fields to submit calls for papers, workshop notices, conference announcements, and other pertinent news and resources for inclusion on the website. You can submit by email or through our online submissions form. Those wishing to get involved with NSEA are invited to contact us for more information.

NSEA Website:

With best wishes to you and yours,
Dylan M. Burns, University of Copenhagen
Coordinator, Network for the Study of Esotericism in Antiquity,


NSEA is a thematic network of the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism (ESSWE), the pre-eminent European academic organization for the study of Western esotericism. NSEA aims to bring together scholars who specialize in esoteric phenomena in antiquity, regardless of discipline, in an effort to create a dialogue about shared issues and research while providing the necessary resources to facilitate further study.

Contact information:
Dylan Burns, NSEA Coordinator, University of Copenhagen,

Sarah Veale, Website Coordinator, York University,

Update on smuggled Turkish Torah scroll


Leather Torah captured after thrilling police operation

ISTANBUL (Hurrieyt Daily News)

Police carefully planned and carried out a special operation Dec. 25 to capture a 1,900-year-old Torah from alleged smugglers before it was sold in the Mediterranean province of Adana.

Police apprehended four people in Adana who were attempting to sell an incredibly old leather Torah. Four suspects were released by a local court pending trial and the leather Torah was sent to Ankara for analysis following the operation.

After receiving information regarding the entrance of an artifact to Adana through illegal means from Syria amid the nation’s civil war, police discovered through additional research that an attempt would be made to sell a 2-millennia-old leather Torah for $30 million.

A geography teacher, T.N., searched for a buyer for the 8.78 meter-long and 44 centimeters-wide leather Torah by describing it as the "only original text of the Torah in the world."
Props to the Turkish police for intercepting what appears to have been an antiquities smuggling operation. They certainly did not stint on the cloak and dagger aspect of the arrests:
Police infiltrated the hotel to catch the alleged smugglers in the act disguised in the uniforms of waiters and valets after learning the location of the sale.

When T.N. entered to the hotel, he was arrested by a police officer in a waiter’s uniform in silence.
Police efficiency and enthusiasm aside, the claims made about the scroll sound pretty silly. Also setting aside the bit about "only original text of the Torah in the world" as meaningless salesmanship twaddle, we are still left with the claim that the scroll is 1900 years old. No authentication has been offered, and it sounds as though this geography teacher was the scholarly source for their evaluation of the scroll, which is not good.
"We bought it from an antique store and brought it to a geography teacher to ask what was written on it," one of the suspects told police.

"One of my friends called me to meet and he asked me to analyze a leather scripture they had", T.N. has said in defense of himself.
The scroll pictured is longer and considerably taller than even the Temple Scroll. It is extremely well preserved, unbelievably so for such a supposed age, and the leather looks modern. I can't get a good enough look at the script to judge its age. The claim of great age sounds very implausible on all counts.

If it is a modern scroll, the case for the smuggling of antiquities may collapse, although there does remain the question of to whom the scroll actually belongs and how the arrested men happened to come into possession of it.

Via Dorothy Lobel King on Facebook. Background here.

UPDATE: Well, well, lots of antiquities-smuggling news from Turkey today. Two items sent to me by readerJerry Rosenberg:

Israeli millionaire to buy Torah copy in Turkey (Vestnik Kavkaza).
An anonymous israeli millionaire plans to buy a Torah manuscript found by Turkish police officers for hundreds of thousands or maybe millions of dollars.

The Torah copy is aged about 500 years. The police arrested the four people who brought the copy to an antique shop, suspecting them of theft. It is believed to be a manuscript of Jews fleeing Spain in 1490.
There's a photo as well, by implication (but not explicitly) the Torah scroll in question. The photo is not of the same scroll as the one above. It appears that this is a different confiscated Torah scroll.
1,500-year-old handwritten Bible kept in Ankara, ministry confirms

23 February 2012 / FATMA DİŞLİ ZIBAK, İSTANBUL (Today's Zaman)

The minister of culture and tourism on Thursday confirmed media reports suggesting that a 1,500-year-old Bible that was discovered by Turkish police during an anti-smuggling operation in 2000 is being kept in Ankara today.

According to media reports on Thursday, the Bible was seized from a gang smuggling artifacts during a police operation in southern Turkey in 2010 and reportedly preserves its originality and many traces of the period in which it originated.

The gang was reportedly convicted of smuggling various items seized during the operation, including the Bible, and all the artifacts were kept in a safe at an Ankara courthouse. The Bible, which was reportedly kept at the courthouse for years, was only recently handed over to the care of the Ankara Ethnography Museum.

Some of the above may be true, but if so, you wouldn't know it by all the hokum in the rest of the article. It repeats that the manuscript—and even a photocopy of some of its pages—may be worth millions, then veers off into the whole long-debunked story about it being a pre-Islamic copy of the very late Gospel of Barnabas. As I summed up the situation back in March of 2012:
So instead of being a pre-Islamic copy of The Gospel of Barnabas with predictions of Muhammad in the mouth of Jesus, the manuscript dates itself to 1500; it appears to contain a canonical Gospel; it is suspiciously poorly copied; and paleographic concerns indicate it may be much later than even 1500.

The weird thing is that the manuscript itself does not seem to be promoting the narrative being circulated about it. If it is a forgery, it's a forgery of a 600-year-old manuscript of a canonical book, not of an an ancient copy of an apocryphal one.
If only the Turkish media would start reading some reputable blogs, they might learn some things.

Golb impersonation case up for appeal

THE RAPHAEL GOLB CASE is coming up on appeal before the New York Supreme Court:
Dead Sea Scrolls Go to Court
A brilliant young Harvard Ph.D. faces jail for impersonating a Bible scholar—and rival of his father

By Batya Ungar-Sargon|January 14, 2013 7:00 AM|38comments

On Tuesday, Jan. 8, the New York Supreme Court convened for a hearing in the case of the People vs. Raphael Golb. The matter? That in July of 2008, Golb, a Harvard doctorate, created an email account in the name of Lawrence Schiffman, formerly professor at New York University and now vice provost for Undergraduate Education at Yeshiva University. From, Golb sent emails to the dean, the provost, and the faculty of the Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at NYU where Schiffman was formerly the chair.

In the emails, the fictional Schiffman admitted to having plagiarized the work of Norman Golb, professor at the University of Chicago’s prestigious Oriental Institute, Dead Sea Scrolls scholar—and also Raphael’s father. “It is true that I should have cited Dr. Golb’s articles when using his arguments,” the email reads, “and it is true that I misrepresented his ideas. But this is simply the politics of Dead Sea Scrolls studies. If I had given credit to this man I would have been banned from conferences around the world.” It was signed—by some accounts, implausibly—“Lawrence Schiffman, professor,” with a lower-case “p.”

Raphael Golb admits to having sent the email, but he maintains that it was an act of parody, rather than criminal impersonation. “I was exercising my right to expose, condemn, and ridicule the misconduct of other people,” he says. “It says more about Schiffman than it does about me, that people might have believed that an informal email from a gmail account admitting to plagiarism, signed with a lower-case ‘p’ in professor, could have come from an NYU department chair.” The defense argued that Golb was well within his First Amendment rights and that the prosecution was trying to make hurting feelings into a criminal act. But the defense argument failed. In September 2010, Golb was convicted before Judge Carol Berkman of 30 counts of identity fraud, harassment, forgery, and criminal impersonation of Lawrence Schiffman.

Background to the case is here and you can follow many, many links back from there. I have given my take on the case in the article "The Golb Affair." I have further commentary on the case, and on the harm I judge that Golb was intending to inflict on Schiffman and, in a lesser, pathetic way, on the field in general, here. I'm not a lawyer, or a judge in the case, but I can't say I find the parody defense convincing.

I have some comments on the work of the much maligned original team of Dead Sea Scrolls scholars here and here. (As I have mentioned already any number of times, Frank Moore Cross was my doctoral supervisor and I also worked closely with John Strugnell.) And I have thoughts on the theory of Norman Golb here and links.

UPDATE (16 January): Richard Bartholomew has commentary on the article: US Tablet Defends Convicted Dead Sea Scrolls Cyberbully. (Via Bob Cargill on Facebook.)

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Improving on Jesus' burial

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS: Why Did Early Christians Improve the Burial of Jesus?

This actually is quite an interesting question. James McGrath's speculations about it sound fairly plausible to me.

Harvard on Iranian Studies

RESOURCES FOR ANCIENT IRANIAN STUDIES: Iranian Studies at Harvard University. Including introductions to Avestan, Old Persian, Zoroastrianism, and Manichaeism (Manicheism).

Via Adam McCollum on Facebook.

By the way Professor Prods Oktor Skjærvø is contributing a translation of the Iranian Manichaean version of the Book of Giants to the second volume of the More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project.