Saturday, December 12, 2015

Review of Jördens (ed.), Ägyptische Magie und ihre Umwelt

Andrea Jördens (ed.), Ägyptische Magie und ihre Umwelt. Philippika, 80. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2015. Pp. 379. ISBN 9783447103169. €48.00.

Reviewed by Árpád M. Nagy, Budapest Museum of Fine Arts, Collection of Classical Antiquities (

Table of Contents

It has become a commonplace that research on ancient magic is one of the success stories of contemporary classical studies. The key to this success was a turn that started around thirty years ago: magika that was traditionally deemed as „Wissenschaft des nicht Wissenswerten” has been transformed into a scholarly field that is jointly investigated by researchers from a number of disciplines (Egyptology, classical archaeology and philology, the ancient Near East and Jewish Studies), which had traditionally worked completely separately. An old-school professor would ask his student to decide between classical archaeology and Egyptology. Contemporary research on ancient magic offers a third solution: to study both. It is in this context that the title of the book is to be understood: although its principal subject is Ägyptische Magie, its horizon is the Umwelt, the ancient Mediterranean — which also explains why the book is reviewed by a researcher of Graeco-Roman magic.


CFP: 2016 meeting of the IOSOT etc.

The next triennial congress of the International Organization for the Study of the Old Testament (IOSOT) will take place in Stellenbosch, South Africa from 4-9 September 2016. The IOSOT is the leading organization for Hebrew Bible / Old Testament studies, and the 2016 meeting will be the first on the African continent, and only the second outside of Europe.
As usual, this meeting with be concurrent and coordinated with The International Organization for Septuagint and Cognate Studies (IOSCS), The International Organization for Qumran Studies (IOQS), The International Organization for Targumic Studies (IOTS), and The International Organization for Masoretic Studies (IOMS).

Collar responds to Williams and Hurtado

LARRY HURTADO: Collar Responds to Reviews of Her Book.
(In previous postings, the recent book by Dr. Anna Collar, Religious Networks in the Roman Empire: The Spread of New Ideas (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), was the focus of comments by Dr. Margaret Williams here, and by me here. Earlier this week, Dr. Collar emailed to indicate that she had read the postings, and she offered some comments in response. I invited her to prepare a posting of her own in which she responds to the criticisms in the previous postings about her book. Her posting appears below. LWH)

I noted the two reviews here and here.

Plischke, Die Seleukiden und Iran

BIBLIOGRAPHIA IRANICA: The Seleucids and Iran. Notice of new book: Plischke, Sonja. 2014. Die Seleukiden und Iran: die seleukidische Herrschaftspolitik in den östlichen Satrapien. (Classica et Orientalia 9). Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag.

Pompeii database

AWOL: Pompeii Bibliography and Mapping Project. Past PaleoJudaica posts on Pompeii are collected here.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Yoda or a sage?

QUIZ: As the Force Awakens: Who Said It? Yoda or a Jewish Sage (JTA).
In honor of the imminent release of 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens,' try deciphering which of the following quotes were said by Yoda in a 'Star Wars' film and which were said by Jewish sages of centuries past.

When was Jesus born?

'TIS THE SEASON: The Year Jesus Was Born (Philip Jenkins, The Anxious Bench).
Scholars differ on the exact birthdate of Jesus of Nazareth, though a fair consensus holds that it was not in the year 1. Many favor a date in or around 4BC, and for the sake of argument, let us take that as accurate. If so, the birth occurred during or near a truly dreadful time in the history of what was already a troubled and turbulent land. Although these events are familiar to scholars, they are not at all well known by non-specialists. This is unfortunate, because memories of this crisis certainly shaped memories and perceptions for decades afterwards, and conditioned attitudes during Jesus’s lifetime. If we don’t understand those conflicts, we are missing the prehistory of the earliest Jesus Movement.

Lots of interesting historical background to 4 BCE follows. But was Jesus actually born in that year? Who knows? The sources do not commend themselves as offering reliable information for that kind of question. I have discussed the question here.

Digitized Hebrew Manuscripts at the Library of Congress

AWOL: Digitized Hebrew Manuscripts at the Library of Congress. Includes Kabbalist materials and manuscripts in Judeo-Arabic, Judeo-Persian, etc.

For many other manuscript digitization projects, go here and just keep following the links.

More on the breakup and auction of the Valmadonna Library

THE FORWARD: World's Largest Collection of Judaica Broken Up and Sold — Against Owner's Wishes (Britta Lokting). Excerpt:
The collection was assembled by Jack Lunzer, an industrial diamond merchant from Britain, who previously sought to sell it, but with stipulations that the library only be sold as a whole and kept available for scholars. Lunzer also stipulated that the buyer must himself agree not to break up the collection through subsequent sales.

But Lunzer is now 91 and suffers from dementia. And over several years the library’s trustees, who now control the collection, were unable to obtain the price they sought for it while maintaining Lunzer’s stipulations. They are consequently moving to sell off some of the rarest and highest-priced books individually.

Scholars had earlier taken reassurance from Lunzer’s original conditions, which guaranteed them and those who rely on their research continued access to the collection. It’s been available to scholars since it has been at Sotheby’s. Now, some are deeply saddened.

“It would be a terrible loss to the Hebrew book lore to have the rest of the printed book collection dispersed,” said Brad Sabin Hill, the curator at the I. Edward Kiev Judaica Collection at George Washington University. “I would consider that to be unfortunate.”

The Library’s trustees defend their decision to sell some individual books and manuscripts and override Lunzer’s stipulations as an effort to make the rest of the Library more affordable to sell as a whole. Though there has been great interest over the years, the collection as a whole proved too expensive and expansive for both private buyers and institutions. Margaret Rothem, Lunzer’s oldest daughter, said that Lunzer had been informed of the trustees’ decision, though he was now unable to meaningfully participate in it.

David Redden, the chairman of Sotheby’s book and manuscripts department, said all the money made from the auction will go to the trust. But he didn’t know how the trustees would spend or allocate the funds once the library was sold off, or whether the trust owned other collections toward which the funds might go. Efforts to reach members of the trust’s board were unsuccessful.
Background here and links.

Another (early!) Lachish ostracon

NORTHWEST SEMITIC EPIGRAPHY: At biblical site, researchers discover ABCs of how alphabet came to be. Oldest precursor to letter S found in nine-letter Canaanite text unearthed at Lachish, in central Israel; discovery ‘another piece in the puzzle’ of alphabet’s development, researcher says (Ilan Ben Zion, Times of Israel).
A potsherd slightly larger than a business card found in the ruins of a Late Bronze Age temple at the biblical site of Lachish in southern Israel has yielded a few tantalizing letters from a 12th century BCE alphabet — what one researcher called a “once in a generation” find.

The inscription, three lines containing nine early Semitic letters, was discovered during excavations at the site in 2014 and is believed to date from around 1130 BCE. It’s the first Canaanite inscription found in a Late Bronze Age context in over 30 years, the authors of the paper said. The letters were etched into a clay jar before firing, and are exceptionally clear.

The first line reads pkl, the second spr — the Semitic root for scribe — but the third has two letters of uncertain meaning (one is fragmentary). The text includes the earliest dateable examples of the letters kaf — the precursor to the Latin letter K — samekh — S — and resh — R. Samekh had never before been found in early Canaanite inscriptions.

Details of the intriguing nine-letter inscription were published in the November/December issue of the Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research.

More on the current Lachish excavation and on the other Lachish ostraca is here and links.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The watchers and giants in anime

REMNANT OF GIANTS: Julius Thompson’s Grigori Anime (Deane Galbraith). With a video trailer.

Mroczek on canon

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Imagining Scriptures Before the Canon (Eva Mroczek). The second instalment of the AJR Forum on the biblical Canon. The first, by Timothy Lim, was noted here.

Mystery potsherd

THE TEMPLE MOUNT SIFTING PROJECT: A Potsherd from the Temple Mount with an Incision that Resembles the Temple Menorah. The project is calling for help in identifying the design incised on this potsherd and determining its purpose:

I am not an art historian, but it looks to me as though it could be either a stylized menorah or a stylized palm tree. (If you look at the post above and its comments, you'll see I am not the first to make either suggestion.) The bent line at the bottom right could be the base of the menorah, so that seems more likely. For an example of each, see the photo of the Magdala Stone below. The menorah is on the front of the stone and the palm tree is on the top upper right. Both are known iconographically from the late Second Temple period on into late antiquity.

Image courtesy of

Click on both images for larger versions.

HT Joseph Lauer.

Again, timely. I wonder how long they have been saving this object up for Hanukkah.

UPDATE: Archaeologist and co-director of the Sifting Project, Zachi Dvira, thinks its a menorah and that it was produced in late antiquity.


YONA SABAR: Hebrew word(s) of the week: Hashmona’im/makabbim, Hasmoneans/Maccabees. Timely.

Hanukkah: It's complicated.

HUFFPOST RELIGION: The Real History Of Hanukkah Is More Complicated Than You Thought (Daniel Marans and Nick Baumann). The headline does not apply to regular readers of PaleoJudaica, but this is a good capsule history of the Maccabean revolt and its context.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Hurtado previews Blumell & Wayment, Christian Oxyrhynchus

LARRY HURTADO: “Christian Oxyrhynchus”: New Book. An earlier post noting the book is here. Peter Gurry flagged the blurb, but did not have a copy. Larry Hurtado has a copy but has not yet read it. We're making progress.
Assuming (and hoping) that the work embodies the exacting care that the project deserved, we have in this volume a singularly valuable go-to resource for anyone wanting to consult primary-text data about Christians and Christianity in Oxyrhynchus ca. 100-400 CE.

Finkelstein admitted to Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities

CONGRATULATIONS TO ISRAEL FINKELSTEIN: Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities admits nine new members – including three women (JUDY SIEGEL-ITZKOVICH, Jerusalem Post).
Prof. Israel Finkelstein teaches in the archaeologic and ancient Near Eastern civilizations department at TAU, specializing in archaeology of the Levant in the Bronze and Iron Ages and the incorporation of the exact and life sciences into archaeological research and biblical history. Finkelstein is a laureate of the Dan David Prize and received other awards and conducted archaeological surveys and excavations in the Negev, Sinai and highlands. Since 1994, he has been the co-director of the Megiddo Expedition.
And, of course, congratulations also to the other eight new inductees.

The Magdala Stone as a snapshot of the Temple

ICONOGRAPHY: A Carved Stone Block Upends Assumptions About Ancient Judaism (ISABEL KERSHNER, NYT).
BEIT SHEMESH, Israel — The carved stone block is about the size of an occasional table. It has held its secrets for two millenniums. Whoever engraved its enigmatic symbols was apparently depicting the ancient Jewish temples.

But what makes the stone such a rare find in biblical archaeology, according to scholars, is that when it was carved, the Second Temple still stood in Jerusalem for the carver to see. The stone is a kind of ancient snapshot.


I approached the stone, and I could not believe what I was seeing,” said Rina Talgam, a Hebrew University of Jerusalem professor specializing in ancient art of the Middle East. Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologists had asked her to visit the site to view Magdala’s mosaics and frescoes, but when she first saw the stone, “they said I stood there for three hours.”

Ms. Talgam concluded that she was looking at a three-dimensional depiction of the Temple of Herod, including its most sacred inner sanctum, known as the Holy of Holies.

She has since spent years deciphering and interpreting the symbols that adorn the stone and researching the possible implications of the discovery.


One side of the stone has what experts say is an unusual feature for the time: a carving of a seven-branch menorah. A candelabra of that kind is described in the Bible and is believed to have stood in the Temple, and it emerged as a Jewish symbol of hope for redemption centuries later, according to David Mevorah, senior curator for Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine archaeology at the Israel Museum.

The reading of the Magdala Stone as a depiction of the Temple is not a new development (see here), but it is covered in more detail in this article, which doubtless was inspired by the current Hanukkah celebration. There's lots more on the Magdala Stone and the site of Magdala here and links.

Also: "millenniums?" Are proper Latin endings a thing of the past even for New York Times writers?

Cross file under "Temple Mount Watch (sort of)."

Paleography app from UCLA

THERE'S AN APP FOR THAT: New app helps students learn to read ancient Japanese writing form (Cynthia Lee, UCLA Newsroom). Although this is in itself an interesting story, it is not directly relevant to PaleoJudaica. But this aside in it is:
If successful, the app could serve as a model for similar tools to teach scripts used in a wide range of ancient and medieval manuscript traditions.

“For example, students might use apps of this kind to learn to read stone inscriptions from ancient Greece and Rome; or Greek papyrus fragments of the kind that have long been excavated in Oxyrhynchus, Egypt; or the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek of the Dead Sea Scrolls; or bronze inscriptions and bamboo texts from ancient China,” said Humanities Dean David Schaberg, a scholar of classical Chinese poetry and thought. “In every case, reading the handwritten versions of the language takes specialized skills that are not necessary for reading modern printed versions of the same texts.”
Cross-file under "Technology Watch."

The crucified man

OSTEOLOGY: This One Bone Is The Only Skeletal Evidence For Crucifixion In The Ancient World (Kristina Killgrove, Forbes).
The bioarchaeology of crucifixion is therefore a bit of a conundrum: it makes sense that finding evidence may be difficult because of the ravages of time on bones and wooden crosses, but the sheer volume of people killed in this way over centuries should have given us more direct evidence of the practice.

A lot of rather random chance is involved in the creation of the archaeological record – from weather conditions to cultural customs to rodent activity. Even though there are problems involved in the preservation of evidence of crucifixion, the case of Yehohanan ben Hagkol shows that skeletal evidence might some day give us more information about the practice.
This article is about the well-known skeletal remains of one Yehohanan ben Hagkol. But I am surprised that it doesn't mention a second skeleton found in Jerusalem in 1970 which also may be the remains of a crucified person. It is possible that Dr. Killgrove does not accept that this body was crucified, but it would have been helpful for her to discuss it and explain why. You can read about that case here, and follow the links for more on the crucified body discussed in today's Forbes article. See also here. And for past posts on the gruesome physiology of crucifixion, see here, here, here, here, and here, and links.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Pretend to be a Time Traveler Day 2015

IT'S THAT DAY AGAIN: Pretend to be a Time Traveler Day.

The Facebook page is here. Follow this link for past posts on the day and related links.

Don't do anything I wouldn't do.

Jews and Hebrew, Angels and Aramaic

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: What Language Do the Angels Speak? Must prayers be uttered in Hebrew? Plus: Were ancient Israelite spies the size of grasshoppers?
One of the heartening things about reading Daf Yomi, for me, has been realizing that this kind of alienation is not new to American Judaism; on the contrary, it has been the norm since ancient times. The average Jew even in the Second Temple period did not speak Hebrew at all, but Aramaic, or sometimes Greek. This fact is reflected in the Talmud itself: The laws of the Mishna are in Hebrew, but the commentaries in the Gemara are in Aramaic, a related but distinct language. In this week’s Daf Yomi reading, in chapter 7 of Tractate Sota, there was a brief reference to the targum, the synagogue official who used to translate the Torah reading sentence by sentence from Hebrew into Aramaic. “The translator is not permitted to begin the translation until the verse concludes from the mouth of the reader,” says Rabbi Zeira; clearly, the rabbis were concerned that neither reading nor translation get drowned out or garbled. I wonder why American synagogues never employ a similar method—perhaps because it would make the Torah reading too long?

If the Jewish people don’t speak Hebrew, the Talmud suggests that the angels in Heaven speak nothing but. “A person should never request in the Aramaic language that his needs be met,” according to Rabbi Yochanan, because “the ministering angels are not familiar with the Aramaic language.” This surprising statement reveals both the rabbis’ implicit belief in angels—a belief that has vanished without a trace from most contemporary Judaism—and their willingness to accept a pretty serious limitation on the angels’ understanding. (Some later commentators, feeling that an illiterate angel is a contradiction in terms, interpreted this passage as saying that the angels know Aramaic, they just don’t respect it.)
I suspect it is an exaggeration to say that "[t]he average Jew even in the Second Temple period did not speak Hebrew at all, but Aramaic, or sometimes Greek." The average Jew would likely have at least had some familiarity with the Hebrew Bible and there is some evidence that Hebrew remained a spoken language in this period. But our information is frustratingly limited. See the posts collected here.

Past post on the angels' knowledge of Aramaic are here, here, and here.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Michael Rostovtzeff

THOSE WERE THE DAYS: WILLIAM THEISS: Rostovtzeff at Yale (Yale Daily News). A brief and entertaining account of the career of one of the excavators of Dura-Europos. Excerpt:
The city they found, Dura-Europos, told Rostovtzeff what he already knew about the ancient world: It was a place of unbelievable cosmopolitanism and radical diversity. A Jewish synagogue, one of the earliest known, displayed Abraham and Isaac, as well as Moses fleeing Egypt. A Christian church contained the earliest painting of Jesus we have. The walls were inscribed with more ancient languages than many have ever heard of. Rostovtzeff, now well over 60, disturbed his colleagues by staring at the blinding white walls for hours, reading one item after another and placing each into his cosmic historical framework. In New Haven, the students and faculty of the Classics Department summoned their common expertise and published study after study, year after year, exposing for the first time material that had been hidden from the world since the third century A.D. (What is not in a museum is now gone again: Last year, ISIS raided the ancient city and demolished whatever they saw.)
The context of the essay is the recent controversy over Yale's use of endowment funds of the Classics Department, on which see Classics dept decries admin “raid” on funds (VICTOR WANG, Yale Daily News).

There are many, many past PaleoJudaica posts on Dura-Europos. Start here and follow the links. The posts here and here seems particularly relevant to the article above.

MOOC: Rome and the Menorah

TIMELY: Rome and the Menorah. New Online Course Led by Yeshiva University Faculty Brings Arch of Titus to the Global Classroom (YU News).
As Jews around the world celebrate the holiday of Hanukkah, a new massive open online course (MOOC) being offered through YU Global, Yeshiva University’s online initiative, and Coursera, an educational technology company, will provide interested members of the public with a once in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore the cultural impact of the Arch of Titus, a central artifact in both Jewish and Western history that depicts the golden menorah used in the Jerusalem Temple, among other Temple relics.

Titled “The Arch of Titus: Rome and the Menorah,” the free online course, led by Dr. Steven Fine, the Dean Pinkhos Churgin Professor of Jewish History at YU and director of its Center for Israel Studies, combines aspects of archaeology, art history and Judaic studies.

Lots more on the Arch of Titus here and links.

Robinson, The Manichaean Codices

WHAT'S NEW IN PAPYROLOGY: James Robinson, The Manichaean Codices.
The Manichaean Codices of Medinet Madi By James M. Robinson James Clarke & Co., LTD. Expertly researched and meticulously presented, this is the story of the 4th century Manichaean Codices of Medinet Madi, their discovery, acquisition and conservation.

Cross-file under "New Book" and "Manichaean (Manichean) Watch." Recent books by Robinson on other manuscript caches have been noted here and here.

Monday, December 07, 2015

More on the Acra

ARCHAEOLOGY: Overlooking the Mount. Where was the Akra, and how could it overlook the Temple Mount, which was higher than all the surrounding areas? (STEPHEN GABRIEL ROSENBERG, Jerusalem Post).
But just recently the archaeologists went deeper, and uncovered something else.

They have exposed the massive foundations of a large tower, the foundations of its adjoining stone walls and the remains of a fine neighboring glacis, a sloping protective rampart that was built to ward off, avoid and discourage enemy attacks. The archaeologists claim that the tower foundations are so massive that the tower could have risen to a great height, and that it was probably built to overlook the Temple site, located to the north and not far away. The original supporting ground on the site had been built up to give even greater height to the tower, which thus made it possible for the Syrian Greeks on the tower, if it was them, to keep their rebellious Jewish subjects on the Mount under constant surveillance, and at the same time under the likely threat of retaliation.

The archaeologists claim they have found the Akra, or at least its foundations.
So that is the archaeologists' explanation of how ruins at this elevation could overlook the Temple Mount. Again, this issue is outside my expertise and I am simply following the discussion. I have no opinion on the matter myself. Background on the excavation and its possible connection to the Acra (Akra) is here, here, and here.

Elad challenged by State on City of David National Park

POLITICS: State to appeal against Elad control of Jerusalem archaeology center (DANIEL K. EISENBUD, Jerusalem Post).
The Elad Foundation, also known as the Ir David Foundation, operates the City of David National Park, which draws more than 500,000 tourists annually.

Less than two months after the Jerusalem District Court approved an agreement to transfer management of the capital’s Davidson Center Archaeological Park to the right-wing Elad Foundation, the state attorney on Thursday requested permission to appeal the decision.

Emek Shaveh, a left-wing consortium of European-funded archaeologists representing Arab residents of Jerusalem’s Silwan neighborhood, which has unsuccessfully attempted to block the move, praised the development as a “step in the right direction.”

“The state’s decision to appeal to the High Court is a step… to safeguard the heritage of Jerusalem, and maintain the status quo in the area around the Temple Mount/ al-Aksa compound,” said spokesman and archeologist Yonathan Mizrachi.

It just goes on and on. Background here.

Hanukkah series

VIDEO: Walk In The Footsteps of The Maccabees with Arutz Sheva. Special eight-part series with Israeli historian Dr. Hagai Ben Artzi lets you follow the Maccabees' path from revolution to independence.

Part One: Feature: The ancient synagogue where the Hanukkah story began. Part One of Arutz Sheva's special Hanukkah series - In The Footsteps of The Maccabees - takes you to Modiin, where it all started. A somewhat romanticized account of the revolt which treats the dialogue in 1 Maccabees etc. as a transcript. But a good travelogue nonetheless. Some past posts on Modi'in and the archaeology associated with it are here and here.

No connection between Jerusalem and early Islam?

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Egyptian Muslim scholar: No connection between Temple Mt., Islam. Arab world outraged at latest research of renowned scholar of Arabic and Islamic studies Youssef Ziedan.
Renowned Egyptian scholar Youssef Ziedan, a specialist in Arabic and Islamic studies, has given a series of interviews to Egyptian television stations of late, the purpose of which appears to be to anger his Muslim colleagues.

His main point has been to say that there is actually no connection between Jerusalem and ancient Islam. When Islam was founded during the 7th century, he says, Jerusalem was a holy city to the Jews, while the Mosque of Omar was not even built until 74 years after Muhammed's death. The reason it was built, Ziedan says, is because the builder wished to detract from the centrality of Mecca in Islam.

There has been an important connection between Jerusalem and Islam for many centuries, at least from shortly after the time of Muhammad and perhaps going back to his famous vision, Al-Miraj. It's hard to say about the vision, since the references in the Qur'an (traditionally Surah 17.1, 62 and 53.13-18) are cryptic, but the earliest interpretations unanimously place part of the vision in Jerusalem. That is, Muhammad experienced being in Jerusalem in the vision, although he did not ever travel there in non-visionary reality. There is no reason to deny that Jerusalem and the Temple Mount have been important to Islam from very early on. The problem is when some Muslims claim (e.g., here and often) that there was no ancient, pre-Islamic, Jewish connection to the city and the site. That, of course, is nonsense.

Mr. Ziedan's novel, Azazeel has been in the news off and on for some years. See here and follow the links.

Athas on the Hezekiah Bulla

GEORGE ATHAS: A Seal of King Hezekiah.
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem has announced the discovery of an ancient ‘bulla’ (a clay seal with a personal stamp impressed upon on it) bearing the name of Hezekiah, King of Judah. This is not the first seal bearing Hezekiah’s name to come to light. Nonetheless, it is an exciting find, especially since it was found in situ.
Background here and links.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Hanukkah 2015

HAPPY HANUKKAH (CHANUKKAH, CHANUKAH) to all those celebrating! The eight-day festival begins tonight at sundown.

A couple of recent posts on Hanukkah are here and here. Past Hanukkha posts with additional historical background are here and links.

A divinized first-century healer

SARAH VEALE: ANCIENT MIRACLE WORKERS: THE EMPEROR VESPASIAN. Jesus wasn't the only one in the first century with a miraculous-healing gig.

The day the moon stood still?

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS: Mark W. Chavalas: Were sun and moon stopped in their tracks? (
The sun and moon have been in the news lately. The Rev. John Hagee has claimed that recent blood moons (a popular phrase for a total lunar eclipse) have biblical significance of cataclysmic proportions concerning modern-day Israel. Notwithstanding Hagee’s so-called expertise in astronomy (and Bible, for that matter), a discussion of what the Bible actually says of the movement of heavenly bodies is in order.

According to Joshua 10, the Israelite leader, Joshua, made a “mad dash” to get to Gibeon to protect that town against a coalition of Amorite kings. Like any good military leader in antiquity, Joshua inquired of God about his chances in battle; God guaranteed victory, which was all Joshua needed know.

Dr. Chavales then summarizes the case that the passage refers not to the sun and moon miraculously standing still in the sky, but to a propitious arrangement of the sun and moon in the sky which gave an omen that the Israelites would win the battle. I haven't seen his source by one John Walton, but a similar case was also made by John S. Holladay, Jr., in his 1968 article "The Day(s) the Moon Stood Still" in the Journal of Biblical Literature 87, pp. 166-78, which underlines the point that the place of the moon is also important in the story, so it can't just be about the sun standing still. Holladay argues that Mesopotamian omen literature explains what the poem was originally about, and that the writer of the book of Joshua was quoting an already ancient poem (from the Book of Jashar) which he misunderstood in his prose account of the battle. I too find this argument basically persuasive.

For my part, I have no problem with the idea that ancient Israelites would seek an omen for such matters (cf., e.g., 1 Samuel 10:17-24). Be that as it may, one problem with the theory is that the rubric assigning the poetic quotation to the Book of Jashar is probably secondary. It is missing in the Septuagint. So the quotation was probably originally unattributed and a later scribe either knew or was misinformed or inferred that it came from the Book of Jashar, which is quoted elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible. Still, the poetic passage does seem to be a quotation of an earlier work which was the only source the prose author had and which he understood imperfectly.

I have written about the Book of Jashar (which perhaps was originally called "The Book of the Song") in my article "Quotations from Lost Books in the Hebrew Bible" in Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: More Noncanonical Scriptures, volume 1 (ed. Bauckham, Davila, and Panayotov; Eerdmans, 2013), pp. 673-98, which you should definitely buy. A summary handout is here. Other past posts relevant to the latter article are collected here.

Past posts on the recent Blood Moon Tetrad, and some of the nonsense written about it, are here and links.

Cross-file under "Lost Books."

JAOS 135(3) (2015)

BIBLIOGRAPHIA IRANICA: Journal of the American Oriental Society. This posts flags reviews of interest for ancient Zoroastrianism in the current issue of JAOS. These are, more or less, also of potential interest for ancient Judaism. But click through to the TOC for more material of interest for the latter.

Interview with Christine Shepardson

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Christine Shepardson.
AJR interviews Dr. Christine Shepardson about her book Controlling Contested Places: Late Antique Antioch and the Spatial Politics of Religious Controversy.
Late-antique Judaism gets a brief mention in connection with John Chrysostom.