Saturday, July 20, 2013

Boustan et al., Hekhalot Literature in Context

Hekhalot Literature in Context
Between Byzantium and Babylonia
Ed. by Ra'anan Boustan, Martha Himmelfarb and Peter Schäfer

Over the past 30 years, scholars of early Jewish mysticism have, with increasing confidence, located the initial formation of Hekhalot literature in Byzantine Palestine and Sasanian or early Islamic Babylonia (ca. 500–900 C.E.), rather than at the time of the Mishnah, Tosefta, early Midrashim, or Palestinian Talmud (ca. 100–400 C.E.). This advance has primarily been achieved through major gains in our understanding of the dynamic and highly flexible processes of composition, redaction, and transmission that produced the Hekhalot texts as we know them today. These gains have been coupled with greater appreciation of the complex relationships between Hekhalot writings and the variegated Jewish literary culture of late antiquity, both within and beyond the boundaries of the rabbinic movement. Yet important questions remain regarding the specific cultural contexts and institutional settings out of which the various strands of Hekhalot literature emerged as well as the multiple trajectories of use and appropriation they subsequently travelled. In the present volume, an international team of experts explores—from a variety of disciplinary perspectives (e.g. linguistics, ritual and gender studies, intellectual history)—the literary formation, cultural meanings, religious functions, and textual transmission of Hekhalot literature.
This looks terrific. Follow the link for ToC and order information.

Noted earlier as forthcoming here.

The Synod of Diamper

PHILIP JENKINS: DIAMPER: UPROOTING THE ANCIENT CHURCH. In Kerala in 1599: a bonfire of the vanities of Syriac Christian apocrypha worthy of Savonarola himself.

Philip also has another post on the biblical canon of these Indian Christians in 1599: CORRECTIONS AND ERRORS.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Palace of David at Khirbet Qeiyafa?

BIBLE PLACES BLOG: Claim: Palace of David Discovered in the Foothills of Judah. This story is outside my area of expertise and tangential to the interests of PaleoJudaica, so I have not commented on it so far. But Todd Bolen sums up the current state of the discussion well.

Earlier posts on the numerous stories coming from Khirbet Qeiyafa can be found here and here, with many links.

The Yavneh Yam inscription

A HEBREW OSTRACON: Ancient email: Letter on pottery fragment dates back 2,600 years: It could have been an email to the boss about an unfair manager, but this letter on a pottery fragment from Metzad Hashavyahu dates back to the time of King Josiah. (Mike Rogoff, Haaretz). Excerpt:
The voices of history are typically those of rulers, generals and court historians. The little guy is seldom heard. This ostracon, as an inscribed potsherd is called, was discovered in 1960, in the excavation of a 7th-century BCE Judean fort on the southern Mediterranean shore between Jaffa and Ashdod; and the plaint in this makeshift ceramic notepad could as well have been a desperate email.

The location seems to have been at the port town of Yavneh-Yam, during the reign of the biblical king Josiah. Scholars are divided, however, as to who controlled the garrison: the king in Jerusalem or the pharaoh reasserting Egyptian power along the coastal plain.
Actually, I think formal complaints against an employer of this type usually still come in hard copy. But be that as it may, this is a nice profile of one of the most interesting Iron Age Hebrew ostraca ever to be uncovered, one that may allude to a biblical law.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Deir al-Surian library renovated

New building for ancient desert library
Coptic monastery of Deir al-Surian in Egyptian desert was established in the sixth century

By Martin Bailey. Conservation, Issue 248, July-August 2013 (The Art Newspaper)
Published online: 17 July 2013

One of the world’s earliest libraries—well over a millennium old—finally has its first dedicated building. The Coptic monastery of Deir al-Surian (the monastery of the Syrians), in the Egyptian desert, was established in the sixth century and some of its manuscripts were collected by its abbot during a trip to Baghdad in AD927.

The new building opened in May, in a two-storey structure nestling within the monastery’s tenth-century walls. It includes a reading room, a small display area, conservation facilities and a basement store, all of which are secure and maintain proper environmental conditions.

Although some of the collection was acquired by the Vatican Library in the 18th century and more went to the British Museum’s library in the 19th century, 1,000 bound manuscripts and 1,500 manuscript fragments remain at Deir al-Surian. These texts are in Coptic, Syriac, Ethiopic and Arabic. They include the earliest dated Christian literary manuscript (AD411), the earliest dated Biblical manuscript (AD459) and the earliest dated Gospel manuscript (AD510). Some of these texts were discovered in 1998 in rubble underneath a wooden floor.

Specialists are also cataloging the contents of the library.

This is very good news. I have been following the story of the Deir al-Surian monastery library since 2006, when efforts to renovate it began. Despite all the upheavals in Egypt, the new building is done and in use. Background here and follow the links back to 2006.

Boston DSS exhibit

REVIEW: Dead Sea Scrolls put in context at Boston Museum of Science exhibit (Sarah Earle, Concord Monitor).

Background here and links.

The Story of the Talmud, part 1

BBC RADIO 4: The Story of the Talmud (Episode 1 of 2).
In the first of two programmes, Rabbi Naftali Brawer delves into one of the greatest books ever written holding the key to unlocking Jewish thinking and history. Traveling to Jerusalem, he gains rare access to one of the world's leading ultra-orthodox yeshivas - the Mir. Here he finds young men who will study these ancient Hebrew and Aramaic texts, full time, for anything up to 30 or 40 years. They explain how arguing and debate are the ways to understand the ancient wisdom of the rabbis that have contributed to the Talmud though the ages and still telling you everything you need to know to be a Jew today. The Talmud is not about the arrival but the journey and it's less about about finding answers than discovering what the questions are.

Tracing the history of the Talmud, Rabbi Naftali heads to the Galilee to the archaeological site of Beit She'arim, the remains of an ancient city, where shortly after the destruction of the 2nd Temple, the first words of this book were written down. He discovers that the Talmud was an audacious project defying one of the key Jewish laws which forbade writing down the Oral Laws of Moses. Its creation was deemed necessary in order to preserve Jewish culture and practice which, at this time, was facing extinction.

Rabbi Naftali meets some of the greatest Jewish minds and scholars in the world today: Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, described by Time Magazine as a 'one in a millennium scholar', who has published his own edition of the Talmud; Gila Fine - one of the growing number of female orthodox academics working with the Talmud.

The programme ends with a moving story from leading Talmudic scholar and holocaust survivor, David Weiss Halivni, who explains how the Talmud sustained him in the concentration camps.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Temple Institute and (possible) Temple beams

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Tisha B'Av has generated a number of Jewish Temple-related items.

First, JTA has an article on the Temple Insitute: Holy work or troublemaking? Laying the groundwork for a Third Temple in Jerusalem. Excerpt:
“Our goal is to fulfill the commandment of ‘They shall make a Temple for me and I will dwell among them,’ ” [Rabbi Chaim] Richman says, quoting Exodus. “The basis of a Torah life is action.”

Following the Second Temple’s destruction in 70 C.E., most rabbis adopted the position that Jewish law prohibits reconstructing the Holy Temple prior to the age of messianic redemption, or that the law is too ambiguous and that the messiah must come first.

The Temple Institute takes a different position.

“There are no Jewish legal barriers” to rebuilding the temple, Richman says, only political ones.

The institute isn’t shy about advocating what many see as a radical goal: replacing the mosque at the Dome of the Rock with a new Jewish Holy Temple. A painting in the institute’s exhibition depicts this scenario, with the city’s light rail line taking residents to the Temple Mount. The Temple Institute is dedicated to laying the groundwork for this vision.

The organization has formulated a program for where the temple will stand and what its vessels will look like, aided by 20 men who study Temple law full-time. The products of this research — 40 ritual objects — are on display in Plexiglas cases at the institute’s headquarters in the Old City.
Related: Tisha B'Av Temple Video Gains 35,000 Views (Arutz Sheva).

My understanding is that the Temple Institute advocates the rebuilding of the Temple when the Messiah comes, which is not made clear in the JTA article. For more on the Institute and my own views regarding its goals, see here and links. Related more recent thoughts are here.

Also, at the Israel's History: A Picture a Day blog: A Tisha B'Av Special: Are These the Beams of the Temple? Is this the Gift from King Hiram of Sidon to King Solomon? New, 85-year-old photos of some of the beams from the IAA. (HT Dorothy Lobel King. Background here.)

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Degrees of impurity in the Talmud's construction of reality

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Appreciating the Talmud’s Sublime Devotion to Torah for Its Own Sake: Daf Yomi: For the rabbis, trivial—even outdated or immaterial—problems can provide the best thought experiments.
The detail and precision of the arguments are even more impressive when you remember that the whole subject was doubly abstract. Not only was tumah an invisible, incorporeal status, a pure concept; it was a concept that applied only in the Temple, where it affected the status of the priests and the sacrifices. But by the time the Talmud was edited, around 500 C.E., the Temple had been gone for 400 years—as much time as separates us today from Shakespeare. For the Amoraim, there were no sacrifices to perform, and in Babylonia, where they lived, there was no requirement to tithe crops at all.

Yet the rabbis devoted as much intellectual force to getting tumah right as if it were still a matter of life and death, and they write about the sacrifices as if they might be called on to perform one tomorrow. The law, for them, existed in a virtual realm, immune from time and change. This devotion to Torah for its own sake is, for me, one of the most foreign things about the Talmud—and one of the most sublime.
Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Oldest lunar calendar?

THE ENOCHIANS WOULD DISAPPROVE: World’s ‘oldest lunar calendar’ discovered in Scotland.

Then again, basing anything on the sun in Scotland is an iffy proposition.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Schiffman interview

What Are the Dead Sea Scrolls?
Professor Lawrence Schiffman discusses the Qumran Scrolls

Tisha B'Av 2013

TISHA B'AV (THE NINTH OF AV) begins this evening at sundown. An easy fast to all observing it.

Saving Neo-Aramaic

ARAMAIC WATCH: The last of the Aramaic speakers: In a race against time, a team of elite scholars work together to record the final remnants of a rich linguistic history ( Miriam Shaviv, Times of Israel). A wide-ranging article on attempts to preserve the Neo-Aramaic dialects while there are still speakers alive. Hard to excerpt (read it all) but here's a taste:
For most people, that there are any native speakers of Aramaic left at all will come as a surprise. In fact there are half-a-million, and Khan is one of a tiny band of researchers trying to document their speech. But it is a race against time. The most fluent speakers are all beyond retirement age, and the language is expected to die within a generation.

“The final voices are with us for another 10 years, but will be silent very soon,” says [Cantabrigian linguist Geoffrey] Khan.
Background here. Tangentially related post here.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Review of Collins, The Dead Sea Scrolls – A Biography

BOOK REVIEW by Rabbi John Rosove at “The Dead Sea Scrolls – A Biography” – Book Review and Recommendation.
he author has studied the more than 900 scrolls (some of them little more than fragments) for more than three decades. He tells the fascinating story of the discovery of the scrolls in 1947 by a Bedouin shepherd looking for his lost goat, reviews all the theories about the small community at Qumran near the Dead Sea whose nearby caves kept the scrolls preserved for 2000 years, and describes the bitter battles swirling among Christian and western scholars since the scrolls were first discovered.
More on Professor Collins and his new book here and links.