Saturday, January 30, 2016

Langlois on the material features of the DSS

NEW ARTICLE BY MICHAEL LANGLOIS: “Les manuscrits de la mer Morte à l’aune de la philologie matérielle”, RHPR 95/1, 2015, p. 3-31.

The article is in French. The French and English abstracts are as follows:
Résumé : Cet essai propose une méthodologie d’étude des manuscrits de la mer Morte qui tienne compte de leurs caractéristiques matérielles. Le contexte archéologique, le support d’écriture, l’agencement, la paléographie, l’orthographe, les divisions, les annotations, et la rédaction de ces rouleaux doivent faire l’objet de la plus grande attention, chacun de ces aspects étant à même d’influencer la compréhension que l’on a des œuvres littéraires ainsi véhiculées.

Abstract : This paper offers a methodology for the study of the Dead Sea Scrolls that takes into account their material features. Archaeological context, writing medium, layout, palaeography, orthography, divisions, annotations, and the redaction of these manuscripts must be diligently studied, for each of these aspects may influence our understanding of the literary works under consideration.

Karaite chief rabbi re-elected

THE KARAITES ARE ALIVE AND WELL: Karaite Jews unanimously re-elect chief rabbi. Movement has approximately 40,000 followers, who follow only Torah laws and reject oral traditions like the Mishnah and Talmud (Melanie Lidman, Times of Israel).
The Religious Council of Karaite Jews unanimously reelected their chief rabbi, Rabbi Moshe Piroz, for another four-year term. Piroz has been serving as chief rabbi since 2011.

The Karaites are a small sect of Judaism who follow only the written Torah and reject the later additions of Oral Law, including the Mishnah and the Talmud. “Karaite” comes from the Hebrew verb “to read” because they consider themselves literal interpreters of the Books of Moses.

A small and ancient sect. Some past posts on the Karaites are collected here.

Lod Mosaic coming to Florida

The mosaic continues its transcontinental tour at the Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum FIU, the Smithsonian Museum affiliate in Miami. Presented in association with the IAA, the mosaic has attracted crowds at the Louvre in Paris, the Metropolitan Museum in New York and the Hermitage Museum in Russia.

The exhibition in Miami (opens February 10, closes May 15) has been generously underwritten by the museum’s patrons Patricia and Phillip Frost and provides a rare opportunity to to see one of the world’s finest, largest and most well-preserved ancient mosaics up close.

The IAA is shipping to Miami an additional never-before-seen portion of the mosaic from the excavation that has not traveled outside of Israel. The Miami version of this world tour will be the first time this additional panel has been exhibited.
Background here with many links.

Orlov, The Atoning Dyad

The Atoning Dyad: The Two Goats of Yom Kippur in the Apocalypse of Abraham

Andrei A. Orlov, Marquette University
The study explores the eschatological reinterpretation of the Yom Kippur ritual found in the Apocalypse of Abraham where the protagonist of the story, the patriarch Abraham, takes on the role of a celestial goat for YHWH, while the text’s antagonist, the fallen angel Azazel, is envisioned as the demonic scapegoat. The study treats the application of the two goats typology to human and otherworldly figures in its full historical and interpretive complexity through a broad variety of Jewish and Christian sources, from the patriarchical narratives of the Hebrew Bible to early Christian materials in which Yom Kippur traditions were applied to Jesus’ story.

Eerdmans Commentary on the Aramaic DSS

VIDEO: Eerdmans Commentary on the Aramaic Dead Sea Scrolls with Andrew Perrin. Glad to see this series is making progress. I published the first volume back in 2000.

Cross-file under Aramaic Watch. Andrew Perrin's work has been noted previously here, here, here, here, and here.

Friday, January 29, 2016

More Aramaic from Sharjah (UAE)

ARAMAIC WATCH: Sultan unveils new archaeological treasure (WAM, The Gulf Today).
HARJAH: His Highness Dr Sheikh Sultan Bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, has revealed a new archaeological discovery of major historical significance to the region in the Mleiha Archaeological Centre.

The Ruler of Sharjah unveiled the discovery of inscriptions engraved on a tomb that dates back to the third century BC, in the presence of Sheikh Sultan Bin Mohammed Bin Sultan Al Qasimi, Crown Prince and Deputy Ruler of Sharjah.

The historical treasure was discovered by a Belgium expedition from the Royal Museums of Art and History in Brussels, in collaboration with the team of the Directorate of Antiquities at the Sharjah Department of Culture and Information.

The recovered treasure features inscriptions engraved on a huge grave consisting of an underground burial chamber measuring 5.2 square metres.

The inscription, written in Aramaic and the southern Arabic language, carries the name of Amad bin Jar bin Ali Kahin, the King of the ancient Kingdom of Oman, and his descendants.

The inscriptions also include the date when the tomb was built.

It says the tomb dates back to 90 or 96 AG, a system of numbering years in use by the Seleucid Empire, equivalent to the year 221/222, or 216/215 BC, making it the oldest historical discovery that refers to Oman and also proves that the ancient Kingdome of Oman existed in the late third century BC.

There was a time in antiquity when Aramaic was an important written language in Arabia. An exhibition of related material in Sharjah was noted here. And follow the link there for past posts on Aramaic in ancient Arabia.

Review of Meier, A Marginal Jew, vol. 5

THE BUSYBODY: A Marginal Jew, Volume 5: Probing the Authenticity of the Parables. Reviewed by Loren Rossen, who begins "By now it’s clear that John Meier is the George Martin of biblical studies."

I didn't realize Meir was still at it, but this volume sounds as though it will challenge and perhaps overturn much of the received wisdom on the parables. Cross-file under New Book.

Ancient Babylonian astronomical secrets

WELL, SOME OF THOSE SECRETS ANYWAY: Ancient Babylonians Knew Secrets of the Solar System 1,500 Years Before Europe. Cuneiform tablets show Babylonians were calculating position of Jupiter using geometrical methods previously thought to have been invented only in 14th-century Oxford (Ruth Schuster, Haaretz).
The ancient Babylonians were known to have been advanced in arithmetic. Now analysis of clay cuneiform tablets found in Babylonia and Uruk shows they could predict the position of celestial bodies using advanced geometric techniques thought to have been invented in 14th-century Europe.

Specifically, the tablets show the ancient Babylonians were evidently intrigued by the position of the planet Jupiter, writes Mathieu Ossendrijver of Humboldt University, Berlin, in his paper "Ancient Babylonian astronomers calculated Jupiter's position from the area under a time-velocity graph".


The clay tablets, which are practically intact, seem to date between 350 and 50 BCE. There are issues about provenance – Ossendrijver notes that they were "excavated unscientifically" and discuss general methodology, not mentioning specific astronomical phenomena that could be datable. The writings describe two intervals after Jupiter appears along the horizon, projecting the planet’s position at 60 and 120 days.

How interesting. The ancient Jewish Enochic literature (1 Enoch) draws quite a lot on Babylonian astronomical research, although their presentation of it is a bit outdated. These tablets were written around the time the Enochic literature was being composed. The Palestinian Jewish writers of the Enochic literature conceivably could have had some access to similar things, depending on how much they had contact with Jews in Babylonia and how carefully those Jews kept up with Babylonian astronomy.

Incidentally, while were talking about the positions of the planets, don't miss the current big lineup of the planets. Enoch would disapprove. For a similar, but less comprehensive lineup of planets, see the fourth photograph here.

Hurtado on Christian codices

LARRY HURTADO: Christians and the Codex: Encore!. In contrast to Jewish use of scrolls in the same time period.

IT post involving Hebrew and Aramaic

The Faculty of Theology of the Georg-August-Universität Göttingen invites applications for the position of an

IT Professional
(pay grade 10 TV-L)

with 70% of the regular working time (currently 39,8 hours per week) commencing April 1st, 2016. The position is limited to 3 years with the possibility of prolongation for another 2 years.

In context of the German-Israeli research project „Scripta Qumranica Electronica“, funded by the German Research Foundation (GRF/DFG), new types of digital editions will be developed and proofed as practicable on selected Hebrew texts. To this end, the already existing database of the Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Qumran-Wörterbuch) of the Göttingen Academy of Sciences and Humanities will be expanded and new frontends to be used by the editors of the texts and later users will be developed.

Specifics follow on the technical skills required. The application deadline is 22 February.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

More on the Tzippori inscriptions

IAA PRESS RELEASE: 1,700-year-old funerary inscriptions exposed in Zippori. Three 1,700 year old funerary inscriptions written in Aramaic and Greek were recently revealed in the ancient cemetery in Moshav Zippori in the north. The two Aramaic inscriptions mention individuals referred to as "rabbis" who were buried in the western cemetery of Zippori; their names have not yet been deciphered. The English press release contains some details not found in the Arutz Sheva article noted yesterday. Excerpt:
Aramaic was the everyday language used by the Jews in the period of the Mishnah and Talmud, but some of them also spoke and read Greek, and thus there are also funerary inscriptions in that language. The two Aramaic inscriptions mention individuals referred to as "rabbis" who were buried in the western cemetery of Zippori; their names have not yet been deciphered.

According to Dr. Motti Aviam of the Kinneret Institute for Galilean Archaeology, the importance of the epitaphs lies in the fact that these reflect the everyday life of the Jews of Zippori and their cultural world. Researchers are uncertain as to the meaning of the term "rabbi" at the time when Rabbi Yehuda Ha-Nasi resided in Zippori together with the Tannaim and after him by the Amoraim - the large groups of sages that studied in the city’s houses of learning.

One of the surprises in the newly discovered inscriptions is that one of the deceased was called "the Tiberian". This is already the second instance of someone from Tiberias being buried in the cemetery at Zippori. It is quite possible that Jews from various parts of Galilee were brought to Zippori to be buried in the wake of the important activity carried out there by Rabbi Yehuda Ha-Nasi. Another possibility is that the man moved to Zippori and died there, but wanted to be remembered as someone who originally came from Tiberias.

In the second Aramaic epitaph the word le-olam (forever) appears for the first time in inscriptions found at Zippori. The term le-olam is known from funerary inscriptions in Bet She‘arim and elsewhere and means that the deceased’s burial place will remain his forever and that no one will take it from him. Both inscriptions end with the Hebrew blessing shalom.

The Greek inscription mentions the name Jose, which was very common amongst Jews living in Israel and abroad.

There is also a good photo of the Jose inscription.

Sarah Rollens on canon

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Canons, Communities, and Christian Origins: A Response to the AJR Canon Forum (Sarah Rollens). Earlier contributions to the AJR discussion are noted here and links.


REMNANT OF GIANTS: The Nephilim are on TV: Shadowhunters. "Now that Nephilim are on TV every week, the mission of Remnant of Giants is complete. Let the reader understand." We'll see.

Cross-file under Television.

Angels and demons, watchers and giants

BELIEFNET: The Important Differences between Angels and Demons (Lesli White).

I am bemused when I read articles like this one and find that the author fails to mention or show any awareness of the myth of the watchers and the giants, which is the only account of the origin of demons in Second Temple Judaism (or earlier). See here and here for specifics.

One could answer that the author is writing from a Christian tradition in which the Enochic literature is not part of the authoritative biblical canon.* This is true enough, but even if we stick to the the Protestant biblical canon, there is unsettling evidence that the Enochic literature was not ignored by it. In Jude 14-15 the author (traditionally the brother of Jesus!) says the following:
14 It was of these also that Enoch in the seventh generation from Adam prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord came with his holy myriads, 15 to execute judgment on all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness which they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” (RSV)
This is a direct quotation from the Enochic Book of the Watchers (1 Enoch 1:9):
9 And behold! He cometh with ten thousands of His holy ones
To execute judgement upon all,
And to destroy all the ungodly:
And to convict all flesh
Of all the works of their ungodliness which they have ungodly committed,
And of all the hard things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him. (Charles translation)
So for one New Testament author, the Book of the Watchers — which tells the myth of the watchers, giants, and demons — was "prophecy." I would think its view about the origins of demons was at least worth a mention. But maybe that's just me.

*It is part of the biblical canon, though, in Ethiopic Christianity.

AJS Dissertation Completion Fellowship

H-JUDAIC: Fellowship: AJS Dissertation Completion Fellowship.
The Association for Jewish Studies invites applications for its first annual Dissertation Completion Fellowship competition. Funded for five years, this fellowship program will award seven finishing-year fellowships annually ($20,000 each) to PhD students entering the final year of their programs and completing a dissertation in the field of Jewish Studies. The 2016 competition will support fellowships during the 2016-2017 academic year. This program is generously supported through a grant from Legacy Heritage Fund. Application deadline is March 2, 2016.

Follow the link for further particulars.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Vatican and those Temple treasures

LAWRENCE SCHIFFMAN: ARE THE TEMPLE’S VESSELS HIDDEN IN THE VATICAN? As regular readers know, and as Professor Schiffman agrees, this is very unlikely. But he links to an article on the subject in which he and Steven Fine are interviewed, and which is worth reading.

For some past posts on the fate of the Temple treasures, see here and links.

Ancient burial inscriptions in Tzippori

EPIGRAPHY: 'Rabbi' burial inscription uncovered in Tzippori. New discovery uncovers three burial inscriptions from 1,700-years-ago, revealing the importance of the city (Ido Ben Porat, Arutz Sheva).
Three 1,700-year-old stone burial inscriptions were found recently during an excavation in the Galilean town of Tzippori.

The discovery came after a local resident reported some information regarding stone findings to the Archaeological institute of the Galilee which is part of Kinneret College. The college together with the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) conducted a dig and uncovered the inscriptions, which are written in Aramaic and Greek.

Two of the burial inscriptions, which appear in Aramaic, list the names of Jews who are buried in the western burial grounds outside the city.

One of the listed people came from Tiberias.

Past posts on ancient Tzippori/Zippori/Sepphoris are collected here and links.

UPDATE (28 January): More here.

Hebrew words in English

ETYMOLOGY? That English You’re Speaking? It’s Hebrew. (Well, Some of It.) The derivations of the words cinnamon, ruthless, scapegoat, and amen (MaNishtana, Tablet Magazine).
Given that backdrop, it’s entirely ironic that so many words Hebrew words spoken in Israel are backwards-engineered English ones, an irony currently being rectified by the Academy of Hebrew Language (which, with equal irony, is named the Academiya). But what makes this use of English loan words in modern Hebrew so thoroughly and hilariously meta is that English is literally littered with loan words and concepts borrowed from Hebrew. Here are a few:
Well, sort of. The point the article makes is correct, but the examples are oddly and poorly chosen. As the author notes, "amenable" is from a Latin root. Also, "ruthless" comes from a Germanic root and "scapegoat" is a very free translation of Azazel, not a transliterated Hebrew word. But there are some other actual Hebrew words absorbed or adapted into English, including hallelujah, edenic, sabbath, philistine, babel, behemoth, cabal, manna, and satanic, as well as countless Hebrew personal names and place names in English.

Edward Robinson

GEOGRAPHY: Today in History: The ‘father of biblical geography.’ Edward Robinson identified almost 200 biblical sites (Jerusalem Post).
153 years ago today, January 27, 1863, Edward Robinson, “the father of biblical geography” died.


Byron, Herodotus, and Sennacherib

HISTORY: Of mice and men: How archaeology confirms a Bible story (Mark Woods, Christian Today). The headline exaggerates a little, since the most important part of the biblical story (the destruction of Sennacherib's army) is not mentioned in the Sennacherib prism. That said, it confirms indirectly that Sennacherib did not capture Jerusalem, and it does sound as though something remarkable happened during the siege. I have commented further on the biblical story here (cf. here). The passage from Herodotus' History is 2.141:
After him there came to the throne the priest of Hephaistos, whose name was Sethos. This man, they said, neglected and held in no regard the warrior class of the Egyptians, considering that he would have no need of them; and besides other slights which he put upon them, he also took from them the yokes of corn-land which had been given to them as a special gift in the reigns of the former kings, twelve yokes to each man. After this, Sanacharib king of the Arabians and of the Assyrians marched a great host against Egypt. Then the warriors of the Egyptians refused to come to the rescue, and the priest, being driven into a strait, entered into the sanctuary of the temple and bewailed to the image of the god the danger which was impending over him; and as he was thus lamenting, sleep came upon him, and it seemed to him in his vision that the god came and stood by him and encouraged him, saying that he should suffer no evil if he went forth to meet the army of the Arabians; for he himself would send him helpers. Trusting in these things seen in sleep, he took with him, they said, those of the Egyptians who were willing to follow him, and encamped in Pelusion, for by this way the invasion came: and not one of the warrior class followed him, but shop-keepers and artisans and men of the market. Then after they came, there swarmed by night upon their enemies mice of the fields, and ate up their quivers and their bows, and moreover the handles of their shields, so that on the next day they fled, and being without defence of arms great numbers fell. And at the present time this king stands in the temple of Hephaistos in stone, holding upon his hand a mouse, and by letters inscribed he says these words: "Let him who looks upon me learn to fear the gods." (Macaulay translation)

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Recovering more Elephantine papyri

TECHNOLOGY WATCH: X-RAYS REVEAL THE SECRETS OF EGYPTIAN SCROLLS (MEGAN GANNON, Newsweek). This article is mostly about trying to recover text from hitherto unreadable Elephantine papyri in the Archaeological Center in Berlin. I didn't know that there were so many of these. The carbonized Heculaneum scrolls also get a mention, as does the Ein Gedi carbonized Leviticus scroll. Worth reading in full, but here's an excerpt:
The hundreds of documents that have turned up at Elephantine include 10 different languages and range four continuous millennia, from Egypt’s Old Kingdom around 2500 B.C. to the Middle Ages. “I’m not aware of any other place in the world where you have 4,000 years covered by textural resources from one single place,” [Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection curator Verena] Lepper says. And yet most of the texts from the island haven’t been studied or published—and many haven’t even been unfurled because they're so delicate.


Still, the scrolls archaeologists find aren’t always in great shape. Some from Elephantine are still intricately folded with layers that might be brittle or stuck together—scholars of the past would pry them open anyway, at risk of destroying the fragile documents. But thanks to advanced imaging technology—and a $1.6 million grant from the European Research Council—Lepper will be able to read papyrus scrolls from the island that have never been unrolled. Over the next five years, she’ll be working with physicists and mathematicians to extract hidden words, letter by letter, with high-energy beams.
Bit by bit, a letter at a time, whatever it takes. Until we're done.

Tikkun Olam in the Talmud

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Is ‘Tikkun Olam’ for the Betterment of the World, or Just for the Betterment of Divorce? In this week’s ‘Daf Yomi’ Talmud study, Jews may not realize the origins of a central idea of modern social justice.
One of the secrets to the continuity of Judaism is that the same words can evolve to mean totally different things. The Talmud is full of this kind of semantic shifting: The rabbis regularly interpret the Torah in ways that, presumably, its original authors could never have anticipated. But a particularly striking example came in last week’s Daf Yomi reading, in chapter 4 of Tractate Gittin. In Gittin 32a, the mishna uses the phrase mi’pnei tikkun olam: “for the sake of the betterment of the world.” Today, tikkun olam is one of the most popular American Jewish mottos. We have interpreted “the betterment of the world” to mean the improvement of society in the name of social justice. In this way, liberal or left politics (of the kind espoused by the magazine Tikkun) are read into the Jewish tradition, as though working for social progress was an inherently Jewish activity.

I don’t mean to disparage this idea—there are certainly good foundations for it in many Jewish sources, starting with the Prophets—but there is no doubt that this is not what our ancestors meant when they used the words tikkun olam. ...
Some past posts on divorce in ancient Judaism are here, here, here, here, here, and here. More on the institution of prosbul is here and here.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Judaism's holiest site, yet again

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: The Times Misplaces Judaism’s Holiest Site (Simon Plosker, HonestReporting). Once more, the Temple Mount, not the Western Wall, is Judaism's holy site. As of this writing, the error has not been corrected in the caption on The Times's website. Journalists have been getting this wrong a lot lately. Other recent examples of the same error are here and here.

UPDATE (28 January): The caption has now been corrected. Good.

Pulsa de-Nura in the cinema

THE PULSA DE-NURA RITE FEATURES IN A NEW FILM: ‘RABIN, THE LAST DAY’ MAKES OLIVER STONE’S ‘JFK’ LOOK STONE-COLD SOBER. Amos Gitai’s polemical new documentary—opening in U.S. theaters Friday—on the 1995 assassination that rocked Israel sacrifices facts in favor of sensation (J. Hoberman, Tablet Magazine).
... To compound the disorientation, Gitai introduces a flashback dramatization of the reading of the Pulsa Dinura (“lashes of fire” in Aramaic), a Haredi rabbinical curse amounting to a ritual fatwa, directed against Rabin.

The organizer of this ritual, apparently modeled on the Russian-born extreme rightwing nationalist Avigdor Eskin, explains that the death curse had only been employed once before, against Leon Trotsky (although it has also been applied, if not by Eskin, against archeologists, politicians, and gay activists). There is a further suggestion that the halakhic precept of din rodef (approximately, the right of self-defense) was also used as a justification for assassinating Rabin.
Hoberman is not impressed by the presentation:
... I trust Gitai’s use of the Shamgar Commission transcripts, which he evidently got released specifically for this movie, although I wish they had been more precisely presented, and I’d like to know Gitai’s source for the secret meetings between the “hallucinating rabbis with all sorts of bizarre spells,” as he’s called them, and the various nationalist fanatics. These dramatized scenes are a fantastic spectacle of orthodoxy run amok, but in the absence of footnotes and the presence of some ultra-crazed performances, we might be watching a protocol discussion by the Elders of Zion.
I haven't seen the movie and make no judgment about it. My interest is in tracking how the rite has been used and interpreted. More on the pulsa de-nura ritual is here and links. And a few posts dealing with the use of the rite against politicians are here, here and here.

What is happening to antiquities looted by ISIS?

JUDITH H. DOBRZYNSKI: Antiquities and ISIS: Something Doesn’t Add Up (Real Clear Arts Blog).
What I discovered, for one thing, is that actual examples of ISIS-looted antiquities on the market are slim to none. True, it may be that objects looted now are being kept in warehouses, for later sale–but that doesn’t finance ISIS now. Also true. the goods may not be coming into the U.S. market. The antiquities dealers I spoke with said they had not seen anything on these shores from looted areas since ISIS began its jihad.

But, you say, of course they wouldn’t say so. That’s partly true–it’s not in their interest to admit it. But it’s not in their interest to see the trade shut down entirely either–and that is what may well happen if stolen goods are discovered here. What most experts say, and what today’s Times article also says, is that people are peddling fakes said to be from the ISIS-damaged sites–probably to gullible collectors who think they are getting a bargain. Is ISIS producing these fake goods? Hard to say.

It may also be true that the loot may all be going into other Middle Eastern countries, or Russia, as many have speculated. In which case, it’s a problem our museums, our dealers, our collectors, our prosecutors can’t do much about. Our investigators may be able to help there, though, and I say go to it.

Here too there’s a problem, though. Many sources, many articles seem to me to be exaggerating the stakes in trade. The Times piece says, in part:
Despite a near-universal outcry over the Islamic State’s actions, few countries have shown interest in imposing new restrictions to curb the booming trade in antiquities, estimated to be worth billions of dollars a year.
Boldface mine. Other articles, and sources, have also thrown around the b-word. But I cannot fathom where that number comes from. Contemporary art may sell billions a year (lately), but antiquities? No.
This is interesting, but as the author herself mentions, all those archaeological sites in the Middle East which are now riddled with holes show that there has been catastrophically extensive looting. But of course that does not mean that we know where the looted artifacts are now and where they are being sold, if they currently are being sold rather than stockpiled for future sale.

Much more on ISIS and its destruction and looting of antiquities is here and links

Monday, January 25, 2016

Ephraim Avigdor Speiser

A RENOWNED BIBLICAL SCHOLAR: This Day in Jewish History 1902: A Man Who Spoke Hittite and Changed the View of Israelite History Is Born. His digs in Mesopotamia and command of dead languages and 5,000-year old legal documents led Ephraim Speiser to new insights into our past (David B. Green, Haaretz).
January 24, 1902, is the birthdate of Ephraim Speiser, a historian and archaeologist whose excavations in Mesopotamia and philological research did much to advance understanding of ancient Near Eastern cultures, including that of the Israelites.

He died in 1965. His Anchor Bible commentary on Genesis was published near the end of his life. It is still useful, but it is very dated and everyone now agrees that he got carried away with the parallels between the patriarchal narratives and the Hurrian texts from Nuzi.

Review of Athanassiadi, Mutations of Hellenism in Late Antiquity

Polymnia Athanassiadi, Mutations of Hellenism in Late Antiquity. Variorum collected studies series, CS 1052. Farnham; Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2015. Pp. xviii, 374. ISBN 9781472443663. $170.00 (hb).

Reviewed by Guy G. Stroumsa, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the University of Oxford (

Table of Contents

This hefty, welcome volume of opera minora includes twenty-one of the author’s essays in French and English (none of her Greek writings are included). A leading scholar of Platonic philosophy in late antiquity, Athanassiadi has sought to understand in depth, probably more than anyone else in the last generation, the interface of Hellenic philosophy with other trends in the intellectual and religious history of the Eastern Mediterranean. From the publication of her Oxford doctoral thesis on the Emperor Julian to a book on the growth of ‘pagan’ intolerance in late antiquity, through the masterly edition and translation of an important philosophical text and her co-editing of a highly influential collection of articles, her career at the University of Athens has always retained a major international element.1 Athanassiadi often invigorates discussions on both sides of the Atlantic and of the Channel; she constantly reminds colleagues who are now more and more inclined to reflect on the Christian dimensions of Late Antique religious thought about the continued, powerful presence of Hellenic, or non-Christian, thinkers, throughout late antiquity.

Ancient Judaism receives some attention as well.

Lambert, How Repentance Became Biblical

How Repentance Became Biblical

Judaism, Christianity, and the Interpretation of Scripture

David A. Lambert
  • Spells out the early history of repentance as a concept
  • Identifies a broad-based scholarly tendency to read repentance into the Bible.
  • Shows how that tendency relates to the broader history of interiority and the self.
  • Redescribes a range of key religious practices and central texts in the Bible.
  • Integrates a critical study of biblical texts with a study of post-biblical literature.
Follow the link for more information.

JeruZalem citations

PROGRESS ON THE MYSTERY? JeruZalem Movie Review (Karin Crighton,
Sarah's brother has been dead for a year but she can't move on. So Rachel (Danielle Jadelyn) plans a trip to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, a whirlwind adventure to help get Sarah (Yael Grobglas) out of her rut. On the plane they meet Kevin (Yon Tumarkin), who convinces them to go to Jerusalem first to be there for Yom Kippur. Unfortunately, on this most holy night of the year, a gate has opened under the city. A gate to hell.

Using a verse from Jeremiah 19 in the Talmud, "R. Jeremiah ben Elazar said again, 'Hell has three gates: One in the desert, one in the sea, and one in Jerusalem' as it is written [Numbers xvi. 33]" (found here), The Paz Brothers create a tale of Judgement Day arriving with a vengeance. No atonement is enough and dark spirits arise to walk the streets of Jerusalem and prey on those living in and visiting the city – including Rachel and Sarah.

SPOILERS follow in the review, so don't click on the link and read further if that matters to you.

The mystery in question is which passage in the Book of Jeremiah is supposed to be the inspiration for the three gates to hell in JeruZalem. This review specifies that the mystery passage is "a verse from Jeremiah 19 in the Talmud," which is not very helpful inasmuch as the Book of Jeremiah is in the Bible, not the Talmud. The Talmudic passage linked to is in Eruvin 19a and reads as follows:
R. Jeremiah ben Elazar said again. "Hell has three gates: One in the desert, one in the sea, and one in Jerusalem." "In the desert," as it is written [Numbers xvi. 33]: "And they went down, they, and all they that appertained to them, alive into the pit (Sheol-Gehenna)." "In the sea," as it is written [Jonah ii. 3]: "Out of the depth of the grave have I cried, and thou hast heard my voice." "And one in Jerusalem," as it is written [Isaiah xxxi. 9]: "Who hath a fire in Zion, and a furnace in Jerusalem." And the disciples of R. Ishmael taught, that by a fire in Zion is meant Gehenna, and by the furnace in Jerusalem is meant the gate of Gehenna.
Here we have quotations from Numbers, Jonah and Isaiah, but not from Jeremiah. Moreover, the logion is by a Rabbi Jeremiah and it appears on p. 19a of Tractate Eruvin. Have the Jeremiah and the 19 been transmogrified into chapter 19 of the Book of Jeremiah? It's tempting to conclude that. The problem, though, is that Jeremiah 19 deals at length with the Tophet (the site for ritual human sacrifice) in the valley of Hinnom near Jerusalem. The term "gehenna" is the Hebrew phrase "valley of Hinnom," known as a term for hell in the New Testament and (as "Gehinnom") in the Rabbinic literature, including in the cited passage above. So it looks like Jeremiah 19 may well be an inspiration for the movie, but the specific verse and its specific exegesis still remain a mystery.

Background here and here.

New JSJ articles

THE JOURNAL FOR THE STUDY OF JUDAISM (BRILL ONLINE) has advance-published two new articles:
Research Article
The Euphrates as Temporal Marker in 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch
Author: Shayna Sheinfeld
Available online: 07 January 2016

Research Article
Reading Aid: 2 Maccabees and the History of Jason of Cyrene Reconsidered
Author: Francis Borchardt
Available online: 07 January 2016
These require either a paid personal or institutional subscription or individual payment to access.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Tu B'Shevat 2016

TU B'SHEVAT, the New Year for Trees, begins tonight at sundown. Some other past posts of interest are here and here. And two recent posts relating to Tu B'Shevat are here and here. And here's a recipe for the holiday: Almonds (and Marzipan) for Tu B’Shvat (Carol Goodman Kaufman, The Forward).

The Jewish People in the First Century, vol. 1 (1974)

The Jewish People in the First Century, Volume 1 Historical Geography, Political History, Social, Cultural and Religious Life and Institutions

Safrai, S., Sternm M., Flusser, D., van Unnik, W.C.

Produced by a full committee of the world’s most distinguished scholars of early Christianity, rabbinic studies, and ancient history, this volume explores the intricate relationships between Christians and Jews in the Roman Era. Each chapter highlights a specific componenet of their common social constructs and explores how both groups shaped one another while living in Rome’s shadow. Broadly, this volume explores the political, historical, and cultural elements that structured first-century life in Israel and defined how Jews and Christians understood themselves as God’s people. Published in 1974, this book and subsequent volumes in the Compendia Rerum Iudaicarum ad Novum Testamentum series remain highly influential in first-century studies.

In the Logos edition, this volume is enhanced by amazing functionality. Important terms link to dictionaries, encyclopedias, and a wealth of other resources in your digital library. Perform powerful searches to find exactly what you’re looking for. Take the discussion with you using tablet and mobile apps. With Logos Bible Software, the most efficient and comprehensive research tools are in one place, so you get the most out of your study.

Veale on Tacitus on the Judeans

... I am happy to announce that I will be presenting a paper at this year’s Religion & History Graduate Student Conference which is held by the Department of Classics & Religion at the University of Calgary. The conference takes place on April 14th and 15th.

My paper focuses on Tacitus’ Histories, specifically book five, and the anti-Judean content in his discussion of the ritual of Sukkot.
The abstract follows.

Fredriksen on Judaism and Hellenism

PAULA FREDRIKSEN: Judaism and Hellenism (Bible Odyssey video).

Rees, From Gabriel to Lucifer

From Gabriel to Lucifer: A Cultural History of Angels
Valery Rees

For sceptics, angels may be no more than metaphors: poetic devices to convey, at least for those with a religious sensibility, an active divine interest in creation. But for others, angels are absolutely real creatures: manifestations of cosmic power with the capacity either to enlighten or annihilate those whose awestruck paths they cross. Valery Rees offers the first comprehensive history of these beautiful, enigmatic and sometimes dangerous beings, whose existence and actions have been charted across the eons of time and civilization.Whether exploring the fevered visions of Ezekiel and biblical cherubim; Persian genii; Arab djinn; Islamic archangels; the austere and haunting icons of Andrei Rublev; or Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire and the more benign idea of the watchful guardian angel, the author shows that the ubiquity of these celestial messengers reveals something profound, if not about God or the devil, then about ourselves: our perennial preoccupation with the transcendent.
I noted a review of the book when it came out back in 2012.