Saturday, February 21, 2015

Death Metal, Greek Philosophy, and Gnosticism

GNOSTICISM SHOWS UP IN THE MOST UNLIKELY PLACES: Pneuma Hagion's R. Discusses Death Metal, Greek Philosophy, and Gnosticism (Kim Kelly, Noisey (Vice)). Excerpt:
Tell me about the idea of Pneuma Hagion. As Lovecraftian as the project's title sounds, I read that it's actually Greek for "holy spirit." Clearly there's a perversion going on here. Your lyrics aren't posted, so could you give me some insight into what message and ideas you're trying to convey?
The perversion idea is pretty spot on: this is a Gnostic band, and one of the most well-known strategies of Gnostic exegesis is the inversion of canonical scripture. Specifically, Pneuma Hagion represents several things to me, but I use it primarily as a symbol of the "divine spark" celebrated in Gnostic mysticism. I tend to subscribe to the pseudo-dualism of flesh versus spirit which is so common to biblical demiurgical traditions (pseudo-dualist because this dualism is actually played out against a monistic backdrop).

The Greek connection deepens with a song like "Caverns"— I immediately thought of Plato's Allegory of the Cave.
And here is where you truly are spot on; this observation is incredibly accurate. "Caverns" absolutely draws on the Allegory of the Cave, and I definitely see Pneuma Hagion as a vehicle of Light and Wisdom. To expand (briefly) on the general themes at work in Pneuma Hagion, I can summarize it this way: the true Self of any person is their divine Spirit, which is at once of the same substance as, yet separated from, God. I speak here of something similar to Tillich's "God Above God"; this is NOT the god of scripture or of any mainstream religion, past or present: this is a God removed from, yet intimately connected with, our sensible world. So in effect, the idea is to remember our origins, to see the truth, and to escape this cave. I take a very, very negative view of this universe and of life in general, which is typically Gnostic, but this is attenuated somewhat by my belief in many Neoplatonic ideas.
More on modern reflections of Gnosticism here and links.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Antiquities collection donated to Israel Museum

ON ITS 50TH ANNIVERSARY: NY antiquities collection donated to Israel Museum. Gift from Robert and Renee Belfer, which includes more than 300 ancient Greco-Roman and Near-Eastern glass vessels, comes as institution celebrates its 50th anniversary this year (AP).

More on the 50th anniversary of the Israel Museum here. And for another impressive collection of ancient glass, now on display at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, see here.

Helsinki workshop on text, ritual, and magic

ANNOUNCEMENT: Workshop on Text, Ritual and Magic (Helsinki, April 14-15). Follow the link for a schedule of papers. This is another one I wish I could make it to.

Levin, The Death of Carthage

Author Robin E. Levin takes inspiration from Titus Livius' account of the Second Punic War to pen her new historical fiction novel, "The Death of Carthage: Second Edition" (published by Trafford Publishing).

Set during the third and second centuries B.C., "The Death of Carthage" follows the events of the Second Punic War from three perspectives, with the novel itself organized into three books - one for each voice.


Thursday, February 19, 2015

Interview with Moulie Vidas

THE BOOK OF DOCTRINE AND OPINIONS BLOG (ALAN BRILL): Interview with Prof Moulie Vidas. In addition to the interview, there is lots of good background on Professor Vidas and his work, notably his recent book, Tradition and the Formation of the Talmud. Previous PaleoJudaica posts on Moulie Vidas and his work are here, here, here, and here.

More on virginity in the Talmud

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Virginity Is a Commodity (and Can Be Divined by Sitting a Bride on a Wine Barrel). Talmudic rabbis are less interested in mystical speculation than in concrete questions, like the state of women’s hymens.
How many times did God create human beings? As with many seemingly simple matters, the Torah turns out to be maddeningly ambiguous on this question. In Genesis 5:1-2, we read, “In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God he made him; male and female he created them, and blessed them, and called their name Adam.” This description echoes the earlier phrase from Genesis 1:27, which says, “And God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” But does this describe one act of creation or two? “In his own image” seems to imply one creation, since God surely can’t have two images; but “male and female he created them” suggests that he created each gender separately. And this is not to mention the story of Adam and Eve, which has God creating the first woman from the rib of the first man.

Wisely, Mr. Kirsch (and evidently the sages in this passage) do not get sidetracked by the question of Lilith.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

The DSS and the NT

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: The Dead Sea Scrolls and the New Testament. Megan Sauter summarizes a March/April 2015 Biblical Archaeology Review article by James VanderKam. The article itself is behind the subscription wall.

Tomb of Ezra now a mosque?

Iraq: Video Shows Tomb of Ezra The Scribe Turned into a Mosque. Squeezed by ISIS and Iranian-backed Shia militias, Iraq's ancient Jewish heritage is slowly being destroyed and Islamized. (Lyn Julius, Arutz Sheva).
A recent Facebook video from the shrine of Ezra the Scribe, some 400 kilometres south of Baghdad, has confirmed what many have suspected for some years: this tomb, that Jews have revered since Biblical times, has now been transformed into a mosque.


But the video does show that Hebrew inscriptions still survive, namely psalms inscribed on marble or wooden plaques. These are typical of Jewish holy places in Iraq. They are shaped like lamps - the menorot of the Temple - and bear the ineffable four-letter name of God.

Peer through a window into the sarcophagus and you will see an inscription in Hebrew identifying it as the final resting place of Ezra the Scribe.

As the article notes, this seems to contradict some earlier reports that raised concern that the site had been damaged or destroyed. I haven't seen the video in question and would not have the specific knowledge necessary to evaluate its veracity. And there seems to be some confusion between this site and a synagogue in Basra.

Background here. Background on the (traditional) Tomb of Ezekiel (mentioned in the article) is here with many links.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

On to Tractate Ketubot

LAST WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Virgin Brides, Premarital Sex, and Jewish Patriarchal Ownership of Female Bodies. The ‘Daf Yomi’ cycle heads into thorny gender issues around marriage, gynecology, and Sabbath sex.
In most Jewish weddings today, the ketubah or wedding contract is treated as a piece of artwork to display rather than a legal document to live by. In fact, I’d guess that most Jewish couples who sign a ketubah under their rabbi’s supervision don’t have any idea what the Hebrew text actually says—it’s simply part of the tradition. But under Talmudic law, the ketubah is not just a flourish; it is just what its name implies, a “written” contract that lays out the precise monetary and practical obligations that the bride and groom incur by getting married. Those obligations are the subject matter of Tractate Ketubot, which Daf Yomi readers began this week.

An earlier PaleoJudaica post on Jewish marriage contracts from antiquity to modern times is here.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

"Gaza wine" seeds excavated

DISCOVERY: Byzantine-era seeds of ‘Gaza wine’ found in Negev. Handful of 1,500-year-old charred grape seeds could help scientists unlock secret of one of the finest ancient wines (Times of Israel).
A handful of 1,500-year-old charred grape seeds that were once used to make one of the world’s finest ancient wines was discovered in southern Israel recently, the Israel Antiquities Authority said this week.

They were found in the Negev city of Halutza, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, during joint excavations by the University of Haifa and the IAA. The dig was conducted at an ancient garbage dump in the city, some 20 kilometers southwest of Beersheba.

There is hope that DNA analysis can resurrect this variety of grape vine and perhaps lead to the wine being recreated. For some parallel efforts to recreate ancient wines and beers, see here and links.

Stolen Talmud tractate recovered

NO LONGER MISSING: Stolen 19th Century Talmud Found. The book was stolen from the National Library years ago. Judaica auction house owner arrested (Orly Harari, Gil Ronen, Arutz Sheva). As this post's header indicates, the stolen item was a tractate of the Talmud, not the whole thing. The latter would have been an awfully large item to sneak off with. In any case, I'm glad it has been recovered.

Codex Vaticanus online

TIME TO PARTY! Codex Vaticanus Is Now On-Line (Michael Bird). More on the Oxford/Vatican manuscript digitization project is here and links.

Artscroll Talmud/Mishnah sale

FOR YOU, SPECIAL DEAL: Save Big with Artscroll’s Talmud and Mishnah Sale (Yeshiva World). Big as in 30% off. More on the ArtScroll/Schottenstein Talmud here and links.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

More on the DSS coming to L.A.

JEWISH BUSINESS NEWS: Dead Sea Scrolls: The Exhibition to Hit Los Angeles in March. Excerpt:
Opening March 10, 2015 at the California Science Center, the exhibition explores the science and significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls, manuscripts composed, copied and hidden in caves 2000 years ago. Over half of the scrolls on display have never before been seen in the US, and some have never been exhibited since their discovery. The Los Angeles presentation is made possible with generous support from presenting sponsors The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation, Jewish Life Television and the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles.

Of special interest will be sections from ten of the Dead Sea Scrolls, including parts of the oldest discovered copies of the Hebrew Bible, also known as the Old Testament. The fragmentary scrolls in the exhibition contain passages from Genesis, Isaiah, Psalms, and even, an ancient marriage contract dated to the 1st century CE. Visitors will experience the Dead Sea Scrolls within the rich historical and cultural context of ancient Israel. Through multimedia exhibits, guests will explore the science and technology used to date, assemble and preserve these ancient manuscripts for future generations.
And a perspective from my home town San Diego: SDSU-Curated Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibit Coming to L.A. (Debbie L. Skylar, Times of San Diego).

Background here with many links. The exhibition has traveled through many cities already.

Banned Aramaic

ARAMAIC WATCH: Lecturer bans use of Jewish phrase. Exam proctors instructed not to write ‘Besiyata Dishmaya’ on board, igniting anger among students (Times of Israel).
A lecturer at Israel’s largest public college stirred controversy Wednesday after instructing proctors not to write a common religious phrase on a class board during an exam.

The instructions were made public after a student photographed and uploaded to the Internet an envelope apparently containing exams for a politics course at Sapir College near Sderot, on which “Please do not write BS”D on the board” was handwritten.

BS”D, an acronym for the Aramaic phrase meaning “with the help of heaven,” is traditionally written by practicing Jews at the top of every written document.

According to students present in the class, though, it appears the orders were not followed.


Monday, February 16, 2015

DSS anniversary

SIXTY YEARS AGO: This Day in Jewish History / Four Dead Sea Scrolls come home to Israel. PM Sharett announces that an Apocalyptic Noah text and the oldest version of Isaiah among the Dead Sea scrolls bought from Syrian Church (David B. Green, Haaretz).
On February 13, 1955, Israel’s prime minister, Moshe Sharett, held a press conference to announce that the country had acquired four more of the fabled Dead Sea Scrolls, an acquisition of sterling importance to scholars of ancient Judaism and early Christianity and a real coup for the fledgling state’s national pride.

The four scrolls were the the Great Isaiah Scroll, the Community Rule, the Pesher to Habakkuk, and the Genesis Apocryphon.

UPDATE: I have corrected the opening of this post. My how time flies.

Tomb of Ezra being destroyed?

BAD NEWS: Iraqi Terrorists Destroy Synagogue, Take Over Ezra's Tomb. Systemic destruction of Jewish holy sites in Iraq continues; embargo imposed on local media. (Tova Dvorin, Arutz Sheva). The report comes from media in Arabic. More links are found in this Israel Today article.

There is speculation that ISIS is involved, based on their past actions, but this is not confirmed.

As with the various other tombs of prophets in Iraq, the Tomb of Ezra is the traditional tomb of the biblical figure (who is a scribe in Ezra-Nehemiah, but becomes a prophet in works like 4 Ezra); the actual location of Ezra's burial site is unknown. Nevertheless, any harm done to it is tragic damage to a Jewish cultural icon in Iraq. More on the traditional Tomb of Ezra is here.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Hugoye 18.1

HUGOYE: JOURNAL OF SYRIAC STUDIES has published a new issue: Volume 18.1 (Winter 2015). Follow the link for the TOC and for links to the articles, etc., all online for free. This issue is in memoriam Luise Abramowski.