THE FOLLOWING PDFS ARE PROVIDED AS A SERVICE TO THE COMMUNITY BY THE INTERNATIONAL CATACOMB SOCIETY. ALL THE ITEMS ARE AUTHORED BY JESSICA DELLO RUSSO, ICS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR & DOCTORAL CANDIDATE AT THE VATICAN'S PONTIFICIO ISTITUTO DI ARCHEOLOGIA CRISTIANA.
Saturday, February 27, 2016
The chairman of the Knesset’s Justice Committee has drawn up a bill designed to increase the influence of Jewish religious law (halacha) in the rulings of judges.
In recent months MK Nissan Slomiansky (Habayit Hayehudi) has been promoting this legislation, which would set up an institute to “translate” ancient Jewish legal literature into contemporary legal language. This material would be available to judges when making their decisions, and also to lawyers.
Slomiansky is aware of concerns raised by the proposed bill. “The law doesn’t stipulate that everyone will have to go to the mikveh (ritual bath) or cover their head,” he said. “There is no intention of educating anyone to become religious and lay teffilin (phylacteries). There is an answer for everyone here. From a social standpoint old Hebrew law is more advanced than current enlightened systems. Social demands in Hebrew law are stricter.”
The media is abuzz this week with the revelation that Justice Antonin Scalia died while on a hunting expedition with several prominent members of a 300-year-old Bohemian secret society, the Order of St. Hubertus. The owner of the hunting lodge where he passed away is a prominent member of this order, as was Scalia’s traveling companion.I will leave the criticisms of this society and its pursuits to the author of the article and any readers who find them interesting. What I find interesting is the historical and philological background of the St. Hubert legend behind the society, some key elements of which I have bold-highlighted in the excerpt below.
Origins of the Hubert LegendAll this sounds speculative, but nonetheless entirely plausible. The Book of Giants underwent a somewhat parallel process, starting with a Second Temple-era Jewish Aramaic text, which Mani adopted as scripture in a Syriac version. This version was transmitted over a wide geographical area and freely adapted versions of it survive in fragments of medieval translations in Iranian and Turkic. Another version of the story was retold in Hebrew. The story was also known in Arabic-speaking circles and even in China. Manichaeism ultimately fizzled out as a religion, but it first spread far and wide for many centuries.
St. Hubert is the Germanic patron saint of hunters and fishers. He is perhaps most famous as the Jägermeister (“Master Hunter”)—the basis for the stag-crucifix emblem of frat-party legend. The legend of Hubert describes him as an impious eighth-century aristocrat who flouted religious duty by hunting on Good Friday. In pursuit of a magnificent stag, he is interrupted and admonished by the stern voice of Christ in the presence of the majestic deer, and witnesses a radiant vision of the crucifixion in the animal’s enormous horns.
In repentance for his sins, he renounces his worldly ambitions, is ordained, and subsequently lives a pious life of solitude in the forest where he then has his faith repeatedly tested.
Virtually the same legend is attributed to an earlier Roman saint, Eustace (née Placidus), set in the second century. In that version, the protagonist is a pagan general in Emperor Trajan’s army on the Asian frontier of the Roman Empire, likewise converted by Christ in the form of a fleeing deer.
But in an intriguing example of the migration of religious myth, the single biography of Hubert/Eustace is now believed by many scholars to be a Christianized synthesis of two famous Buddhist legends.
The first act of the story is based on an eighth-or-ninth century Syriac translation of the first-century Nigrodhamiga-Jātaka, the legend of King Brahmadatta of Benares and the Banyan Deer. Here the Hubert/Eustace character is the great King Brahmadatta. The Bodhisattva (future Buddha) is the majestic King of the Deer. The animal Bodhisattva’s horns radiate silver light and the deer’s eloquent speech compels this erstwhile hunter king to become a champion of the dharma of the Buddha.
The second act of both hagiographies is a Christianization of the Visvantara-Jātaka, with Hubert/Eustace now cast in the role of the Bodhisattva himself. (Visvantara is famously the penultimate incarnation of the historical Buddha.)
Some have raised the possibility that the Buddhist-Christian parallels are coincidental, insisting instead that the narrative is derived exclusively from the Book of Job. However, the strongest proof of the Indian origins of these texts is not merely the fact that they share a common plot. It is the telltale use of a South Asian place name: Hydapses (Jhelum in Panjab). It has been persuasively argued that the anachronistic setting of the Eustace legend far beyond the Syrian borders of Roman Asia links the narrative conclusively to the Buddhist originals.
Furthermore, there was a straightforward historical process for the synthesis of Christian and Buddhist canonical texts within classical Manichaean monasteries of the Silk Road.
Mani was a third-century ascetic Persian prophet who was born of a Christian family but regarded Gautama Buddha as a previous incarnation of Jesus Christ. Mani’s followers redacted Buddhist narratives under the rubric of Western theology. Saint Augustine was the most famous ex-Manichee, and Manichaeism for Western Christianity is regarded (since Augustine’s time) as a contemptible heresy. Nonetheless, Manichaeism was the most successful Gnostic Church in history, and enjoyed a degree of state support in Central Asia at precisely the right moment to act as a permeable “membrane” between Buddhist and Christian monastic cultures.
Cross-file under "Manichaean (Manichean) Watch." Run that search term through the PaleoJudaica search engine for endless relevant posts. Some recent past posts are here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. For past posts on the Book of Giants, see here and here and links etc.
OrganisationFollow the link for further particulars.
Within the framework of Cooperation Flanders, a joint initiative of FWO (the Research Foundation - Flanders) and NWO (The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research), the Faculties of Theology and Religious Studies of the University of Groningen and KU Leuven host the research project Models of Textual Communities and Digital Palaeography of the Dead Sea Scrolls. At each faculty a 4-years (1.0 fte) fully funded PhD position is provided.
The Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies of the University of Groningen (The Netherlands) provides a PhD position for the subproject Literary Heterogeneity and Religious Diversity in the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies of the KU Leuven (Belgium) provides a PhD position for the subproject Diachronicity in the Dead Sea Scrolls Collections.
Both PhD projects will be supervised jointly by the Groningen and Leuven project leaders. Applicants can express interest in either or both positions.
Friday, February 26, 2016
UPDATE: To clarify, as the SBL website has done, the deadline is 11:59 pm Eastern Standard Time on 1 March.
So this is a call, not just to interpret “representations of violence” in our familiar canon of 2 Maccabees and Josephus, Luke-Acts and Perpetua, Tertullian and the Book of Judges, but to move out into the historical world in which representations inspired pogroms and people were actually burned or dismembered out of some mob’s religious conviction.Earlier essays in the series are noted here.
Also, this recent post at the ASOR Blog is tangentially relevant to the discussion: Sacred Violence: When Ancient Egyptian Punishment was Dressed in Ritual Trappings [PODCAST].
After arriving in Israel, the five women plan to continue their Jewish studies at Jerusalem’s Midreshet Nishmat – The Jeanie Schottenstein Center For Advanced Torah Study For Women, with the support of Shavei Israel, which will also cover their living expenses and support them as they prepare to undergo formal conversion by Israel’s Chief Rabbinate. After completing the conversion process, they will receive Israeli citizenship.More on the Jewish presence in Kaifeng, which goes back to the early Middle Ages and perhaps earlier, is here and links. Some comparably early evidence from the Taklamakan desert is noted as well.
The last time Shavei Israel managed to bring Chinese Jews back from Kaifeng on Ailyah came in October 2009, when seven young men returned home.
The Kaifeng Jewish community is thought to have been founded by Iraqi or Persian Jewish merchants who went east in the 8th or 9th century CE.
Back in 1163 CE the community built a large and beautiful synagogue that was renovated over the years. The community may have numbered as many as 5,000 people during its peak in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 CE), but intermarriage and assimilation, together with the death of the community's last rabbi, led to the end of the community in the early 19th century CE.
Now, the community claims 500 to 1,000 members who are increasingly returning to their Jewish roots despite the pressure to assimilate.
Hebrew word of the week: Shoshannah (Lily or Rose)
Hebrew word of the week: Miriam
Regular readers will notice that I don't link to every word covered in Professor Sabar's column. Many of them, such as the two above, are from ancient Hebrew, and I try always to link to these. But some, such as February 17th's Hahpatsah, "objectification," are modern coinages. I link to these only when his discussion brings out something of interest for ancient Judaism.
Thursday, March 3, 2016 - 5:30pm - 6:30pmFollow the link for the abstract. As often with these things, I wish I could make it to this one. If you are in Philadelphia, don't miss it.
Annenberg School for Communication, Room 111, 3620 Walnut Street
Prof. Richard Kalmin (Jewish Theological Seminary) will talk on his recently published book, Migrating Tales: The Talmud's Narratives and their Historical Context.
I noted a review of the book here.
Thursday, February 25, 2016
Biblical Pseudepigrapha in Slavonic TraditionsMany more posts on Church Slavonic and Slavonic Old Testament pseudepigrapha are here and links. And a recently-published related book edited by Alexander Kulik is here.
Alexander Kulik and Sergey Minov
- The first collection of Slavonic pseudepigrapha translated into a western European language
- The commentaries provide a wide intercultural perspective based on the study of parallel material in ancient and medieval Jewish and Christian literature.
- The texts are accompanied by an extensive introduction providing a general methodological survey of the field
Early Slavonic writings have preserved a unique corpus of compositions that develop biblical themes. These extracanonical, parabiblical narratives are known as pseudepigrapha, and they preserve many ancient traditions neglected by the canonical scriptures. They feature tales of paradise and hell, angels and Satan, the antediluvian fathers and biblical patriarchs, kings, and prophets. These writings address diverse questions ranging from artistically presented questions of theology and morals to esoteric subjects such as cosmology, demonology, messianic expectations, and eschatology.
Although these Slavonic texts themselves date from a relatively late period, they are translations or reworkings of far earlier texts and traditions, many of them arguably going back to late biblical or early postbiblical times. The material in these works can contribute significantly to a better understanding of the roots of postbiblical mysticism, rabbinic Judaism and early Christianity, ancient and medieval dualistic movements, as well as the beginnings of the Slavonic literary tradition.
The volume provides a collection of the minor biblical pseudepigrapha preserved solely in Slavonic; at the same time, it is also the first collection of Slavonic pseudepigrapha translated into a western European language. It includes the original texts, their translations, and commentaries focusing on the history of motifs and based on the study of parallel material in ancient and medieval Jewish and Christian literature.
The aim of the volume is to to bridge the gap between the textual study of this corpus and its contextualization in early Jewish, early Christian, rabbinic, Byzantine, and other traditions, as well as to introduce these texts into the interdisciplinary discussion of the intercultural transmission of ideas and motifs.
Textiles found at Timna Valley archaeological dig provide a colorful picture of a complex societyThis is a very exciting discovery in itself, but it also has an implication that is not taken up in the press release. An environment that preserved 3000-year-old seeds, leather, and fabric is also an environment that could preserve 3000-year-old scrolls and papyri. Such conditions are very rare: you have them in Egypt, the Dead Sea valley, and in very few other places. For example, we know there was a large scribal output on parchment (leather) in ancient Babylonia, but it is (so far) entirely lost due to the humid climate. Luckily, we do have many cuneiform tablets from Mesopotamia, since clay tablets survived readily in that environment, especially if they were fired, but much Aramaic literature on parchment was lost forever.
The ancient copper mines in Timna are located deep in Israel's Arava Valley and are believed by some to be the site of King Solomon's mines. The arid conditions of the mines have seen the remarkable preservation of 3,000-year-old organic materials, including seeds, leather and fabric, and other extremely rare artifacts that provide a unique window into the culture and practices of this period.
A Timna excavation team from Tel Aviv University led by Dr. Erez Ben-Yosef has uncovered an extensive fabric collection of diverse color, design and origin. This is the first discovery of textiles dating from the era of David and Solomon, and sheds new light on the historical fashions of the Holy Land. The textiles also offer insight into the complex society of the early Edomites, the semi-nomadic people believed to have operated the mines at Timna.
The tiny pieces of fabric, some only 5 x 5 centimeters in size, vary in color, weaving technique and ornamentation. "Some of these fabrics resemble textiles only known from the Roman era," said Dr. Orit Shamir, a senior researcher at the Israel Antiquities Authority, who led the study of the fabrics themselves.
"No textiles have ever been found at excavation sites like Jerusalem, Megiddo and Hazor, so this provides a unique window into an entire aspect of life from which we've never had physical evidence before," Dr. Ben-Yosef said. "We found fragments of textiles that originated from bags, clothing, tents, ropes and cords.
"The wide variety of fabrics also provides new and important information about the Edomites, who, according to the Bible, warred with the Kingdom of Israel. We found simply woven, elaborately decorated fabrics worn by the upper echelon of their stratified society. Luxury grade fabric adorned the highly skilled, highly respected craftsmen managing the copper furnaces. They were responsible for smelting the copper, which was a very complicated process."
It is now established that Timna is an environment in which scrolls could have survived from even as far back as the tenth century BCE, so if we are really lucky, maybe we can recover some of that elusive Iron Age II Edomite literature from there.
A decision Scalia wrote for a unanimous Supreme Court in April 1999 concerned the meaning of the word “gratuity” in a federal law that prescribes criminal punishment for bribery of non-judicial federal officials. The case concerned then-Secretary of Agriculture Michael Espy, but it is an important decision that could today affect, by analogy, the criminal convictions of former governor of Virginia Bob McDonnell and New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
The Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Sun-Diamond Growers of California that a trade association that had given Espy tickets to the U.S. Open tennis tournament and treated him to meals and free luggage did not violate the federal prohibition against “gratuities” if the prosecution did not charge or prove that the gifts were “linked” to any official act performed by Espy.
The Supreme Court’s ruling was not remarkable or unexpected. Espy had been acquitted by a jury in a publicized trial, and the Sun-Diamond prosecution was an independent counsel’s last-ditch effort to justify charging as criminal any gift given to a federal public official by a lobbyist. No Supreme Court justice dissented from Scalia’s opinion. But the opinion revealed an interesting side of the justice. It began as follows (the text is at page 400 of volume 526 of the United States Reports):
“Talmudic sages believed that judges who accepted bribes would be punished by eventually losing all knowledge of the divine law.”
What fate awaited a judge who took bribes was not remotely relevant to the legal issue the Supreme Court decided in Scalia’s written opinion. But the controversy debated before him made Scalia think of a rabbinic dictum that he chose as a starting point for his legal analysis. Even more remarkable is that the teaching of the “Talmudic sages” that Scalia invoked is not a well-known Jewish proverb. It is known only to well-versed students of Rashi’s commentary on Torah.
An Unsettling Divide in Linguistic Dating and Historical LinguisticsThis is the latest instalment of a discussion that has been going on for some time in The Bible and Interpretation and to which I appear not to have linked before. So follow the links above to catch up. More to the point, the discussion is going on in the peer-review scholarly literature and it is there, if anywhere, that progress will be made. It is good to have these popular online pieces occasionally, but meanwhile, everyone keep publishing in the scholarly venues.
See Also: Linguistic Dating of Biblical Texts
Unhistorical Hebrew Linguistics: A Cautionary Tale
A Very Tall “Cautionary Tale”: A Response to Ron Hendel
By Martin Ehrensvärd
Faculty of Theology
University of Copenhagen
Radboud University Nijmegen & University of Sydney
Department of Hebrew, Biblical and Jewish Studies
University of Sydney
Backed by the Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby craft store chain, the museum is set to open late next year in Washington, three blocks from the Capitol. At eight floors and 430,000 square feet, it’s a massive building to be packed with antiquities that are drawing increased attention from scholars.Background on the Green Collection and the Museum of the Bible is here and many links.
Museum President Cary Summers, who shook hands and held meetings in a VIP room away from the exhibit floor, said the collection was acquired by Hobby Lobby and donated to the museum.
Museum officials offered a mini-preview of some of the items during the pope’s visit to Philadelphia in September, but they chose a full preview at the National Religious Broadcasters’ Nashville conference mostly for its timing, Summers said. In fact, the museum is the event’s platinum sponsor.
Wednesday, February 24, 2016
Spencer Allen, The Splintered Divine: A Study of Ištar, Baal, and Yahweh Divine Names and Divine Multiplicity in the Ancient Near East. Studies in Ancient Near Eastern Records 5. Berlin; Boston; Munich: De Gruyter, 2015. Pp. xxi, 457. ISBN 9781614512936. $154.00.
Reviewed by Gina Konstantopoulos, Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, New York University (firstname.lastname@example.org)
A revision of the author's doctoral dissertation, Spencer Allen's The Splintered Divine: A Study of Ištar, Baal, and Yahweh Divine Names and Divine Multiplicity in the Ancient Near East, is an ambitious undertaking in both its conceptual breath and the many sources with which the author engages on the way to his conclusions. Allen investigates the phenomenon by which a divine figure may be named with different, often geographically associated titles, when invoked in hymns, treaties, and other, often dedicatory, texts. Allen's work aims from the outset to be comparative, and he thus focuses his attentions on three divine figures that manifest this multiplicity: Ishtar, Baal, and Yahweh. Any one of these figures is complex enough that it could easily serve as the sole basis of a dedicated study, instead of occupying a single chapter within this work. The author first concerns himself with the question of divine multiplicity itself, a survey of the field as it were, and then proceeds to devote a chapter to broader comparative insights and exploration, before proceeding with his case studies and overall conclusions. The work closes with a long listing of the various god lists, excerpted from treaties and other, mostly political, texts, that serve as one of the major bases for Allen's analysis and his own attempts to create a grand unifying god list for the respective periods under review.
The common conception of contemporary dance productions is that they are created in the studio. Long hours spent generating and revising movement phrases, perfecting each and every transition; nuance and gesture are a must for most dance artists. It is through these often-arduous sessions that the final product, what will go on stage, comes into focus. And while they certainly employed this tactic when developing the duet Astarte, choreographers and performers Moran Yizhaky Abergel and Kim Taitelbaum took many of the big leaps in their creative process over the breakfast table. The result of this omelet-driven process will premier this week at the Kelim Choreography Center in Bat Yam.Sounds like an interesting production. Of course, the Deuteronomistic Historian is turning over in his grave (see 1 Kings 11:5, 33; 2 Kings 23:13). Just saying.
“The piece deals with lost gods, like Astarte, the god of feminine power and of a falling people,” says Abergel. “There is something very ancient about it, very Middle Eastern. We allowed ourselves to jump between dance styles throughout the work, to draw on a lot of different vocabularies and experiences as well as to touch on a lot of different concepts. The piece is timeless in a sense that it wants to go back in time and return to the present.”
Astarte, or Ashtoreth, was worshiped in Syria and Canaan in the first millennium BC. She represented power, femininity, fertility and sexuality.
“In this work, we go back to the mental place that is Canaan, which exists in every person that lives in the region that was once that land,” explains Taitelbaum. This notion, of Canaan-ism, affects the choreographers in their daily life as well as in the studio. “The local dance community is segregated from its neighbors. We are cut off from what’s around us and are constantly looking at Europe for influence. That alone creates a certain aesthetic here.”
“There is a very special energy and beauty of being here in this country. This piece is very much a reaction to everything that we have seen and how we think the dance medium should be. Dance has to affect a change in the cultural world.”
Tavern more than 2,100 years old featured same taboon oven used in Middle East today, and evidence of a Romanization process similar to what happened in ancient Israel (Philippe Bohstrom, Haaretz).
An ancient tavern believed to be more then 2,100 years old has been found in the town of Lattes, southern France, making it the oldest Roman restaurant found in the Mediterranean. They also found evidence that while Romanization changed the locals' dining habits, it didn't do much for the cuisine.The article is interesting in itself for the history of dining out in the ancient Roman world, but it also introduces an ancient Jewish angle as an aside:
Evidently some things never change, though. The excavators in the town of Lattes found indoor gristmills and ovens for baking pita, each about one meter across. This oven, called a tabouna or taboon, is still used throughout the Middle East and Israel.
Emulating the Romans on Passover
The Celtic town of Lattara provide clues about Roman society - and also insights about how people in the provinces became Romanized.
“We do have interesting evidence of new changes in dining at Lattara, which seem to reflect more influence of Roman dining practices,” says Luley.
One is the existence of triclinium – a couch big enough to accommodate three, on which Romans typically dined while reclining. In addition, the presence of the terra sigillata clayware in the late first century BCE suggests new practices, namely a new "fussy" emphasis on very small plates, cups, and goblets. Those would be ideal for diners who are reclining and drinking with one hand while taking food from small plates with the other hand, explain the archaeologists.
A similar assimilation of Roman customs occurred in Judaea during Roman rule. “The finds are interesting mainly for the a glimpse into the interaction process between the local Celtic population and the Romans,” says Guy Stiebel of Tel Aviv University. "The study of the material culture allows us to illustrate the process of cultural changes. One very important test case is food consumption, that is, not only what you eat and drink, but where and how you do it. In a somewhat similar manner to what we see in the French site, Judaism adopted Greco-Roman customs and incorporated it in religious traditions such as Pesach. Reclining together, eating and drinking followed the symposia,” Stiebel says to Haaretz.
[Professor Jonathan] Klawans notes that there are those who can cite no less than 14 parallels between the account described in Mark and the modern-day Passover seder. These include the bread and wine, the hymn or blessings that were recited, and the reclining diners. Jews at their seders discuss the symbolism of the Passover meal; Jesus at his Last Supper discussed the symbolism of the wine (“This is the blood of my covenant”) and the bread (“Take, eat; this is my body”).
Nonetheless, scholars Klawans, [Rabbi Raymond] Apple, and [Professor Michael J.] Cook all do not believe that Jesus’s Last Supper was the Passover seder, for several reasons.
For starters, the parallels that can be drawn seem to be those that are too general, rather than decisive. It would not be uncanny for Jesus to eat a meal with his disciples in Jerusalem. During that meal, they would have reclined, broken bread, drank wine, and possibly even sang a hymn.
“Such behavior may have been characteristic of the Passover meal, but it is equally characteristic of practically any Jewish meal [at the time],” says Klawans.
Some key Passover elements are missing from the Last Supper: the Passover lamb, references to matzah (unleavened bread), the bitter herbs, charoset, the four cups of wine, the recitation of the four questions, and the narrative retelling of the Passover story.
Background here and links.
Tuesday, February 23, 2016
Computer scientists and Dead Sea Scrolls scholars are building a digital work environment for one of the most important discoveries of the 20th century. This will enable the virtual joining of the “puzzle pieces” of thousands of ancient scroll fragments found in Judean Desert caves.Bit by bit, a letter at a time, whatever it takes. Until we're done.
The project is a German-Israeli research collaboration of the Göttingen Academy of Sciences and Humanities, the Israel Antiquities Authority, Haifa University and Tel Aviv University The $1,765,000 project is being funded by the Deutsch-Israelische-Projektförderung (DIP), and administrated by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG).
The dynamic research environment for studying the Dead Sea Scrolls will be achieved by linking the robust databases and resources of the project: the Qumran-Lexicon-project of the Göttingen Academy of Sciences and Humanities and the Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library of the IAA. The main outcomes of the project will be an enhanced, hands-on virtual workspace that will allow scholars around the world to work together simultaneously, as well as a new platform for collaborative production and publication of Dead Sea Scrolls editions.
More on the Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library is here and links. A couple of past posts that seem to relate to the Göttingen Qumran-Lexicon-project are here and here.
UPDATE: The full English version of the IAA press release is posted here and (probably more durably) here. HT Joseph Lauer.
One of the challenging things about the reading the Talmud is the way it combines the most painstaking rationality with the most florid superstition. Both of these qualities were on display in last week’s Daf Yomi reading, which encompassed chapters 6 and 7 of Tractate Gittin. Most of the text was occupied with technical questions about how a husband or wife can appoint an agent to deliver or receive a bill of divorce. But then the rabbis shift to telling tall tales about Ashmedai the king of the demons and his duel of wits with King Solomon. “There were three hundred types of demons in Shichin,” says Rabbi Yochanan, even as he acknowledges that “I do not know what a demon itself is.” If he had never seen a demon, why was Yochanan so sure they existed? How could the same mind be so exacting and so credulous at the same time?I'm not going to hold Adam Kirsch responsible for the headline, but calling the inventiveness of Dune or LOTR "schlocky" is uncultivated.
A recent post with background to the demonology of b. Gittin is here. Meanwhile, here is some more of that mythology for you. To my surprise, I find that there are no previous PaleoJudaica references to Ashmedai or the Shamir worm.
This leads the Gemara to relate, starting in Gittin 68a, a long story about King Solomon’s encounter with Ashmedai, the king of the demons. Interestingly, though Ashmedai is a malevolent figure, he is also pious in his own way: “Every day he ascends to heaven and studies in the heavenly study hall and he descends to the earth and studies in the earthly study hall.” The idea that the king of demons is also a talmid hacham is fascinating. In a strange way it manages to domesticate the supernatural, bringing even demons under the wing of Jewish law.
We have read earlier in the Talmud about the shamir, the magical worm that has the power to bore through the hardest substance. The shamir was Jewish mythology’s answer to a dilemma regarding the building of the First Temple. According to the Bible, the stones of the Temple were so sacred that they could not be cut with iron, since iron is associated with weapons and thus with violence. But then how were the stones cut? The answer is that the shamir hewed them into shape. And how did Solomon get his hands on the shamir? We learn from the Gemara that he did so by kidnapping Ashmedai: Solomon tricked the demon into drinking wine, and when he got drunk the king subdued him with a magic chain that bore the name of God.
Read on for the rest of the story. Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.
Christianity and Judaism in the Language of Islam: A Conference on the Bible in Arabic and Cognate FieldsFollow the link for the conference program.
Preliminary Program (29 March – 1 April, 2016)
Christianity and Judaism in the Language of Islam: A Conference on the Bible in Arabic and Cognate Fields
The conference is hosted by the Department of Linguistics and Philology at Uppsala University and organized in cooperation with the DFG-funded Biblia Arabica project located at Tel Aviv University and at Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich. The aim of the conference is to foster an interest in Arabic Bible texts and cognate fields. Both senior scholars and PhD students will present their topics during the conference. The primary object of study is the processes of translation, reception, and transmission of Arabic Bible texts among Jews and Christians and the use of these texts by Muslim intellectuals. Papers on non-biblical texts composed in Arabic by Jews and Christians, on translation techniques, as well as on the relations between Muslims and non-Muslims in the Near East and in Byzantium will also be presented.
The conference is sponsored by Riksbankens Jubileumsfond, Vetenskapsrådet och Marcus Wallenbergs stiftelse för internationellt vetenskapligt samarbete
Monday, February 22, 2016
A new map of an ancient wall that extended 93 miles (150 kilometers) in Jordan has left archaeologists with a series of mysteries, including questions over when the wall was built, who built it and what its purpose was.
So far, the only dating information the scientists have comes from pottery found in the towers and other sites along the wall, Kennedy said. Based on the pottery found to date, the wall was likely built sometime between the Nabataean period (312 B.C.–A.D. 106) and the Umayyad period (A.D. 661–750), Kennedy said.
Though one of the kingdoms or empires that ruled Jordan in that long stretch of time could have built the wall, the structure might not have been constructed by a large state. "It is possible that local communities, seeing what neighbors have done and persuaded of its usefulness, simply copied the practice," Kennedy and Banks wrote.
The purpose of the wall is also a mystery. Its low height and narrowness indicate that it wasn't constructed for defensive reasons, said Kennedy and Banks. Traces of ancient agriculture are more visible to the west of the wall than to the east, suggesting the structure marked a boundary between ancient farmers and nomadic pastoralists, the researchers said. Or it may have marked a different type of boundary.
It has nothing to do with the ordinary focus of this blog site, but news today of the death of Umberto Eco makes me want to post briefly about how much I enjoyed his novel, Foucault’s Pendulum. It’s by turns funny, thrilling, demanding intellectually, and always creative in characters and plot. I know he achieved fame for The Name of the Rose, but Foucault’s Pendulum struck me as enchanting in its own way.This is also outside PaleoJudaica's usual focus, except tangentially in terms of the ongoing battle with conspiracy theories. Personally, I found The Name of the Rose unreadable and I never made it through it, but I quite enjoyed Foucault’s Pendulum. The latter was a very entertaining, but dark take on where conspiracy theories lead. I am sorry to hear about Umberto Eco. Requiescat in pace.
UPDATE: An old post that involves Foucault's Pendulum is here.
Aviya Kushner’s book The Grammar of God: A Journey Into the Words and Worlds of the Bible is profoundly personal. Kushner grew up in a Hebrew-speaking, scholarly household in which the Bible—read in the original Hebrew—was often the center of conversation and debate.The interview follows. One excerpt:
She didn’t read the Bible in translation until her second year at the Iowa Writers Workshop, when she took a yearlong class with Marilynne Robinson that required reading the Old Testament in English.
Kushner was surprised at the differences between the Hebrew original she knew almost by heart and the nearly unfamiliar English translation she encountered.
From this experience grew an obsession. Kushner embarked on a ten-year project of reading and collecting different versions of the Hebrew Bible in English and traveling the world retracing the steps of the great biblical translators, searching for their motivations. It was a dangerous undertaking, considered heretical by some.
When Robinson read Kushner’s MFA thesis, which had grown out of notes taken in the Old Testament class, she told her: “this will be a book.” And so it is.
The Grammar of God is part memoir, part treatise. Kushner’s careful attention to historical, linguistic, and personal detail paints a story of universal importance, one realized through the sum of countless small, significant parts.
Q: How do the technical and the personal coexist in The Grammar of God? How did you strike a balance between the two—and how did you manage to make grammar a personal issue?Recent essays by Aviya Kushner were noted here and here.
I’m so glad you asked this question. I wanted to show English readers why ancient Hebrew grammar matters, and this meant I had to include some of the nitty-gritty; incredibly detailed passages about sentence structure, word structure, or grammatical structures like the cohortative mode—which exists in Hebrew but not in English.
But at the same time, I thought it was essential to show how ancient Hebrew is alive, how it’s talked about and argued about and laughed about, and how it is as deeply personal for me and for my family as the English is for so many others.
It wasn’t easy to balance the grammatical and the personal, but I felt both were essential, so I wove grammar and memoir together, sentence by sentence.
This was the background for our visit to the holy shrine of Lailish located to the east of Mount Sinjar safely behind Kurdish Peshmerga lines in northwestern Kurdistan.To be continued in part 3, The Secrets of the Yazidi Faith.
Part 1 was noted here, with links to many past posts on the Yazidis.
It was with intense interest that a San Diego businesswoman read about the recent arrest of a former guard at the Wisconsin governor’s mansion for stealing a painting from the residence he oversaw.Follow the link for a photo of the painting. I vaguely remember it at the exhibition, which I reviewed back in 2007. The scroll in the painting is one of the pesharim, I think the Pesher to Habakkuk.
The crime had gone undetected for nearly five years until a state archivist was doing an inventory of the mansion’s artwork. She discovered an oil painting by the late painter Aaron Bohrod was missing. He was artist in residence at the University of Wisconsin and a war correspondent for Life magazine, and has paintings in the White House and Pentagon collections as well as in the Harry S. Truman museum in Independence, Mo.
Bohrod was the San Diego woman’s father. Georgi Bohrod Gordon owns a downtown San Diego communications firm, GBG & Associates, and her daughter, Bohrod’s grandaughter, Rebeka Neubarth, lives in Escondido. One of his paintings, pictured on the cover of Time magazine, was on display here during the San Diego Natural History Museum’s “Dead Sea Scrolls” exhibit.
Sunday, February 21, 2016
The American Academy of Religion’s Traditions of Eastern Late Antiquity program unit, and the Society of Biblical Literature Aramaic program unit and Religious World in Late Antiquity Section, are co-sponsoring a session on the Aramaic and Mandaic magical bowls.We like Aramaic incantation bowls, on which much more here and links.
Religious Studies professors at my institution (Rhodes College) were recently offered tickets to an advanced screening of Risen (Sony 2016). My colleague and I wrote the following two reviews afterward. Warning: there are many spoilers!It sounds like an interesting film. One with the usual flaws of the Jesus movies and a fundamentally implausible premise, but perhaps with some new ideas.
An earlier review was noted here.
Yesterday, I received the PDF of my contribution to a multi-author volume examining features of N.T. Wright’s massive book on Paul’s theology. My own piece is a critical study of Wright’s claim that the earthly ministry of Jesus was seen from the first as YHWH’s “return to Zion,” and that this conviction was the “key” to all of the rest of how Jesus came to feature so centrally in earliest devotional practice and beliefs in the young Jesus-movement.The question is outside my expertise, but it is fascinating to observe this dialogue between two highly respected New Testament colleagues.