Saturday, April 23, 2016

St. Andrews Divine Sonship Symposium

ST. ANDREWS SYMPOSIUM FOR BIBLICAL AND EARLY CHRISTIAN STUDIES: Schedule and Final Call for Registration. The final date to register is 1 May 2016. Looks like a terrific lineup of papers.

An incantation bowl in the British Museum

ARAMAIC WATCH: The British Museum collection online: incantation bowl 91713.
Pottery incantation bowl: a wheel-made hemispherical bowl with a simple rim. The base has been pared, and oblique strokes and scratches are visible. The bowl is inscribed in a spiral from the centre outwards. The Aramaic text based upon Aram Refrain A. No client is named in this incantation. The bowl has been repaired.

© Trustees of the British Museum. Used with permission. Click on the image for a larger version.

Follow the link for a transcription and translation. It's always nice to find another Babylonian Aramaic incantation bowl. This one is H/T Krista N. Dalton (via AJR). For the many past PaleoJudaica posts on such objects, start here and follow the links.

The Feminist Commentary on the Babylonian Talmud

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: The Feminist Commentary on the Babylonian Talmud at SBL 2015 (Alyssa Gray).
The skillful and learned textual work presented in the session teaches a lesson that bears repeating: discerning all that the Mishnah and Bavli have to say about women and gender requires digging deep into manuscripts, and the careful wielding of the scalpels of source-, redaction-, and form-criticism. Not philological-historical method or critical theory, but philological-historical method plus critical theory.

(Bad) news about the Palmyra Museum

PALMYRA WATCH: GRIM NEW DETAILS OF IS DESTRUCTION IN SYRIA'S PALMYRA MUSEUM (ZEINA KARAM, AP). But a small piece of good news is that the Lion of Allat statue appears to be reconstructable.

Background on Palmyra is here, here, and here, with many links.

Hannibal biography as Latin textbook

Bret Mulligan, Cornelius Nepos, Life of Hannibal: Latin Text, Notes, Maps, Illustrations and Vocabulary. Dickinson College commentaries. Cambridge: Open Book Publishers, 2015. Pp. xii, 156. ISBN 9781783741328. £17.95 (pb)​. ISBN 9781783741359. (epub).

Reviewed by Rex Stem, University of California, Davis (

Preview and pdf

This title is a textbook for intermediate Latin students. It came to BMCR as a printed title from Open Book Publishers, but it was originally written and designed to be used on the web through Dickinson College Commentaries. Since the printed book reproduces the pages on the web, this review treats both formats.

Mulligan explains in his preface that Nepos’ common vocabulary and straightforward style, as well as overall historical interest, make his Hannibal a good choice for the intermediate Latin student (and I agree). The commentary, accordingly, offers lucid comments about Nepos’ syntax and fills in the historical background, while the design of the online format renders the study of Nepos’ vocabulary easy and effective. Largely absent, however, is an assessment of the structuring and content of Nepos’ biography. Instead, Mulligan devotes half of his introduction to providing an overview of the Punic Wars, and reading Nepos’ Hannibal as a history of the Punic Wars makes for an awkward fit. In sum, this commentary is a strong resource for learning Latin but a weak one for assessing the figure of Hannibal within the biography of Nepos.

Cross-file under Punic Watch.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Passover 2016

HAPPY PASSOVER TO ALL THOSE CELEBRATING! The festival begins this evening at sundown. See this post for the relevant biblical texts.

The Ophel golden menorah medallion

REMINDER FOR PASSOVER: The Menorah Treasure Discovered in the Heart of Jerusalem (Ariella Mendlowitz, Breaking Israel News).
General Sir Charles Warren initiated the first excavations in the Ophel area in 1867, but it wasn’t until 1968 under Benjamin Mazar that remains from the First Temple period (from 957 to 586 BCE), such as water cisterns, tombs and parts of Robinson’s arch, were unearthed. Carrying on her father’s legacy, Dr. Eilat Mazar first tackled the site in 1986 and returned three years ago to continue.

Dr. Mazar’s persistence was well rewarded. Just five days into the summer dig [in 2013], the team of Hebrew University archaeologists was astonished to uncover a trove of archaeological goodies: 36 gold coins, as well as several pieces gold and silver jewelry. But the prize find was the now-famous Menorah Treasure, a 10-centimeter golden medallion with three sacred Jewish motifs etched into it: a menorah, a shofar (ram’s horn), and a Torah scroll.

The gold cache was discovered in a Byzantine structure which archaeologists say was constructed in the sixth century CE. Dr. Mazar believes the trove was carefully hidden by a group of Jews during the Persian conquest of Jerusalem in 614 CE. The collection itself is only the third of its kind ever discovered in Jerusalem.

According to the Hebrew University report, the medallion was “hanging from a gold chain” and is “most likely an ornament for a Torah scroll.” If indeed it is meant to adorn a Torah scroll, “it is the earliest Torah scroll ornament found in archaeological excavations to date.


The original menorah itself was first constructed by the Israelites, at God’s instruction, for use in the Tabernacle services as they sojourned in the desert.

I noted the discovery of the medallion and gold hoard here back when it was announced in 2013.

Machinist on Moses

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: Who Was Moses? Was He More than an Exodus Hero? The full Bible Review essay by Peter Machinist (April 2000) is available at the link. This BHD post was first published in 2012, but I missed it then. Timely for Passover.

Samaritan Passover 2016

PHOTO ESSAY: In Pictures: Samaritans perform sacrificial Passover ritual. "The ceremony has not changed and it will not change," says 67-year-old participant (TOVAH LAZAROFF, Jerusalem Post).
He was one of several hundred Samaritan men of all ages, dressed in white, who participated Wednesday night in the Passover ritual of slaughtering and sacrificing sheep to symbolize the ancient people of Israel’s journey from slavery to freedom.

On Friday night, Jews around the world will symbolically mark the animal sacrifices once conducted by priests during Passover when the Temple stood in Jerusalem less than 2,000 years.

Many Jews do this by placing a roasted chicken wing on their Seder plate or the roasted leg of a lamb, the actual animal that was slaughtered at the time.

But the Samaritans, a small sect of some 800 people that claim direct descent from of the tribes of Ephraim and Menashe, still engage in the ritual slaughter of sheep according to the instructions set out in the Book of Exodus.
The Samaritans celebrate Passover, but on a slightly different schedule from Jewish Passover. This year Samaritan Passover appears to have begun on Wednesday 20 April. Past posts on Samaritan Passover are here and links.

The Golem, Passover, and the X-Files

GOLEM WATCH: Passover and the Legend of Golem (Geek Dad).
The Golem has popped up in a multitude of places in pop culture, from TV to books to games. Some of the treatments have been more respectful while some show a basic familiarity with the legend but distinct disinterest in getting the facts about Jewish life right. Season 4 of X-Files, I’m looking at you. Episode 15 of the fourth season, “Kaddish,” opens with a man reciting kaddish. This entire scene is completely off (if you want details let me know in the comments), but the truly egregious part of the episode is the very premise, the creation of the Golem. It’s the X-Files, so we’re going to run with “Sure, random Jews totally know how to make a Golem.”
The truth is out there.

There are many past PaleoJudaica posts on the Golem legend. Start here and just follow those links.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Chaldeans in El Cajon, Ca.

MODERN ARAMAIC WATCH: Closed in this box of El Cajon: East County Middle Easterns (Siobhan Braun, San Diego Reader).
Downtown El Cajon is classically American. Main Street is a wide, two-lane road with a rundown western vibe. A quaint bakery, a dress shop, and a café vie for attention. An old hand-painted typewriter-repair sign remains etched on one building. During the summer months, Main Street hosts weekly antique car shows.

On those days, downtown El Cajon looks like a midcentury time-warp. But perhaps what aids the most in making Main Street authentically American is the multicultural vibe. Most notably, the steady stream of Middle-Eastern owned restaurants and grocery stores. Many business signs are written in Arabic — not surprising, as El Cajon is home to the largest population of Iraq War refugees in the world. It hosts the second-highest population in the United States of Chaldeans — Aramaic-speaking Christians from Iraq.

Roughly 50,000 Chaldeans live in El Cajon. With an influx of refugees fleeing their homelands due to religious and political persecution, those numbers are growing.
The article continues with an interview of Ben Kalasho, "founder and president of the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce."

Regular readers may recall that San Diego is my home town. I grew up near Lemon Grove, which is some distance from El Cajon, but I was there fairly often over the years. El Cajon was known for its hot and humid climate — probably not dissimilar to that of Iraq. So that may be why it has attracted so many Iraqi Chaldeans (Chaldaeans).

Incidentally, the Mandaeans (Mandeans) also have an Aramaic-speaking community in San Diego. The Mandaean American Association is likewise based in El Cajon.

Yam Suf

YONA SABAR: Hebrew word of the week: Red Sea/Yam Suf. Timely.

More fallout from that UNESCO resolution

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: UNESCO Director Distances Herself From Temple Mount Decision. Irena Bokova distances herself from UNESCO statement disregarding Temple Mount religious significance for Jews. 'This decision was made by UNESCO management, not me' (Yoav Karny, Haaretz). That is perhaps a prudent move. Excerpt:
Bokova said in her letter that the decision to thus define the Temple Mount was a political decision and that Bokova herself was opposed to it.

“This decision was made by the economic council and the management council of UNESCO which are both management bodies, and was not made by me,” she wrote.

The letter continues, “I published a statement immediately after the council meeting ended where I said, ‘Jerusalem is a Holy Land of the three monotheistic religions, a place of dialogue for all Jewish, Christian and Muslim people, nothing should be undertaken to alter its integrity and authenticity. It is a mosaic of cultures and peoples, whose history has shaped the history of all humanity. Only respect and dialogue can build the trust we need to move forward – this is the strength of UNESCO, for the benefit of all.'”
Related: The Day the UN Downgraded Judaism’s Holiest Site to a Stable. In new resolution, UNESCO ignores Jewish links to Temple Mount and backs Islamic tradition that Western Wall was 'hitching post' for Mohammed’s steed (Ariel David, Haaretz).
If you thought the Western Wall was the main visible remnant of the ancient Jewish Temple and the closest spot where Jews could pray at their holiest site, the United Nations has news for you.

According to a resolution passed last week by UNESCO, the UN’s cultural heritage agency, the Western Wall is first and foremost the revered hitching post for a mythological horse and a holy landmark of Islam.


The name Buraq refers to a mythological winged horse, which, according to hadith literature, carried the Muslim prophet Mohammed on his Night Journey from Mecca to Jerusalem, and then on to Heaven.

While Buraq’s story dates back to the eighth century, almost at the dawn of Islam, the precise identification of the Western Wall as the spot where Mohammed tethered his mighty steed while he prayed on the Temple Mount is a much more recent tradition, dating to the late Ottoman period.

This resolution apparently does include the name "Western Wall Plaza," but only in quotation marks. I see no problem with acknowledging the Islamic tradition associating Muhummud's night-ascent vision (the Miraj) with the Western Wall, whatever the date of that tradition may be. But the historical connection of the site with the ancient Jewish Temples needs to be acknowledged fully and completely at the same time.

Background on the latest UNESCO statement and its predecessor is here and links. More on the title "Al-Buraq Wall" is here (end of post) and here and links. And for a tangentially related story, see here, here, and here.

Kudos for Carol Newsom

EMORY NEWS: Four Emory faculty named to American Academy of Arts and Sciences (Elaine Justice).
Four Emory University faculty members are among the world's most accomplished scholars, scientists, writers, artists and other leaders who have been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.


Carol Newsom, Charles Howard Candler Professor of Old Testament at Emory's Candler School of Theology, also serves as a senior fellow at Emory's Center for the Study of Law and Religion. She came to Candler in 1980, only the second woman to hold a tenure-track position. Her research focuses on the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Wisdom tradition, the book of Daniel, apocalyptic literature, and theology and the environment.

Newsom has written and edited 13 books and scores of articles, book chapters, translations, encyclopedia articles and reviews. She is co-editor of the acclaimed "Women's Bible Commentary," now in its third edition, which explores the implications of and challenges long-held assumptions about the Bible's portrayal of women and other marginalized groups.

Newsom holds honorary degrees from the University of Copenhagen, Birmingham-Southern College, and Virginia Theological Seminary in recognition of her scholarship in Old Testament theology and her innovative work in transcribing, translating and providing commentary on the Dead Sea Scrolls.

She has received several prestigious research fellowships, including grants from the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Henry Luce Foundation, and has won several awards for excellence in teaching and mentoring, including the university's Emory Williams Distinguished Teaching Award.

Newsom is past president of the Society of Biblical Literature and an honorary member of the Society for Old Testament Study. She served as director of Emory's Graduate Division of Religion from 2012 to 2014.
Congratulations to Professor Newsom, as well as to the other three members-elect.

Calls to raze the Temple Mount

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Participants in paschal lamb ceremony voice hope to one day raze Temple Mount. The ceremony reenacted ancient Temple rites prescribed by the Torah, when kohanim – members of the priestly caste – ritually slaughtered a paschal lamb. (JEREMY SHARON, Jerusalem Post).
At a “Passover sacrifice” ceremony held Monday at the Beit Orot Yeshiva on the Mount of Olives attended by some 400 people, several public figures expressed the hope that the Dome of the Rock shrine and al-Aksa Mosque would soon be removed from the Temple Mount.

Far-right Jerusalem city council member Arieh King said he hopes that the Temple Mount would soon be free of what he termed “the abomination” currently at the site, while Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, head of the Temple Institute and a former Knesset candidate for the banned Kach Party, said the event was preparation for when the Temple Mount would be “flattened and cleaned,” and the Temple rebuilt.

The ceremony reenacted ancient Temple rites prescribed by the Torah, when kohanim – members of the priestly caste – ritually slaughtered a paschal lamb.

Two comments, neither of which is new. First, leave the destruction of ancient monuments to the likes of ISIS. Second, no construction or excavation on the Temple Mount. None. At all. Leave even archaeological exploration of it until we can apply non-invasive and non-destructive technologies to do the job.

Related posts are here, here, here, here, and here,.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

New study on Ashkenazic genetics and Yiddish

THE GEOGRAPHIC POPULATION STRUCTURE: Yiddish may be a TURKISH dialect: DNA study suggests it was invented by Jews as they traded on the Silk Road (SARAH GRIFFITHS, Daily Mail).
  • Yiddish was thought to have originally been an old German dialect
  • A new genetic study, however, has pinpointed origin of Yiddish speakers
  • Suggests it was invented by Iranian and Ashkenazic Jews on the Silk Road

It may have been spoken for 1,000 years, but the origins of Yiddish – the language of Ashkenazic Jews – has been a bone of contention between linguists for years.

Now researchers say the DNA of Yiddish speakers may have originated from four ancient villages in north-eastern Turkey.

And they believe the Yiddish language was invented by Iranian and Ashkenazic Jews as they traded on the Silk Road, challenging the popular idea it is an old German dialect.

Scientists at the Universities of Sheffield and Tel Aviv used a tool dubbed the Geographic Population Structure (GPS) to convert DNA data into ancestral coordinates.

This enabled them to identify the ancient villages - Iskenaz, Eskenaz, Ashanaz, and Ashkuz – close to the crossroads of the Silk Roads, which were a historically important international trade route between China and the Mediterranean.

They believe the villages names derive from the word 'Ashkenaz' and may have existed as long as 1,500 years ago.


The genetic claims of this study are quite significant and seem to imply some variation of the Khazar theory of Ashkenazic Jewish origins, although this theory has up to now not found support in genetic studies. This area — along with the linguistic origin of Yiddish — is far outside my expertise, so I will say no more. But I will be very interested in seeing the responses to the published paper, which you can read here. The abstract is as follows [UPDATE: bad link now fixed. Sorry!]:
The Yiddish language is over one thousand years old and incorporates German, Slavic, and Hebrew elements. The prevalent view claims Yiddish has a German origin, whereas the opposing view posits a Slavic origin with strong Iranian and weak Turkic substrata. One of the major difficulties in deciding between these hypotheses is the unknown geographical origin of Yiddish speaking Ashkenazic Jews (AJs). An analysis of 393 Ashkenazic, Iranian, and mountain Jews and over 600 non-Jewish genomes demonstrated that Greeks, Romans, Iranians, and Turks exhibit the highest genetic similarity with AJs. The Geographic Population Structure (GPS) analysis localized most AJs along major primeval trade routes in northeastern Turkey adjacent to primeval villages with names that may be derived from “Ashkenaz.” Iranian and mountain Jews were localized along trade routes on the Turkey’s eastern border. Loss of maternal haplogroups was evident in non-Yiddish speaking AJs. Our results suggest that AJs originated from a Slavo-Iranian confederation, which the Jews call “Ashkenazic” (i.e., “Scythian”), though these Jews probably spoke Persian and/or Ossete. This is compatible with linguistic evidence suggesting that Yiddish is a Slavic language created by Irano-Turko-Slavic Jewish merchants along the Silk Roads as a cryptic trade language, spoken only by its originators to gain an advantage in trade. Later, in the 9th century, Yiddish underwent relexification by adopting a new vocabulary that consists of a minority of German and Hebrew and a majority of newly coined Germanoid and Hebroid elements that replaced most of the original Eastern Slavic and Sorbian vocabularies, while keeping the original grammars intact.
Background on the Khazar theory and on Jewish genetics in general is here, here, here, here, here, and links.

More on the Western Wall compromise

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Should ancient stones topple Netanyahu’s Western Wall deal? Excavating the effects of a planned egalitarian prayer pavilion on the archaeological site intended to house it, The Times of Israel sifts through remnants of ancient civilizations — and modern power struggles (AMANDA BORSCHEL-DAN, Times of Israel). A very thorough article that sets out the background and interviews many of the people involved in the discussion. Some of the comments from archaeologist Gabriel Barkay:
Archeologist Barkay leans on the rickety temporary prayer platform grafted onto the archeology site. It rests on the ancient stones in the park much like how temporary bleachers are set up along a street ahead of a parade. It is, he says, a “barbarically built foreign entity in this place… In an area designated to demonstrated and explore ancient glory, we have modern ugliness.”

He deplores the plan that will create a platform double its size, which will lead up to the Western Wall and hide more archeological remnants. The compromise, said Barkay, is “politically, an escape. The problem is over there,” he said pointing to the other side of the Mughrabi Bridge.

“I’m not against worship; on the contrary,” says Barkay, who is a member of a Conservative synagogue in Jerusalem. “I am somebody who regards the worship at the Wall as important. Everybody has to be allowed to express their views and way of worship in his or her style.”

But this is an archeological park, says Barkay, and solving political problems in the State of Israel shouldn’t be at the expense of archeology.

“The ancient people are not represented by any party; archeologists are not influential. There must be a way politically to form a solution of a separate place that will pacify American Jewry and maybe avoid clashes. This [the park] is the easy solution. It is more complicated to force everyone to pray together.”

“The whole thing is a disgrace,” says Barkay.
Background here and links.

Palmyra arch now in London

PALMYRA WATCH: Syria’s Palmyra arch, destroyed by IS, recreated in London. Egyptian marble replica of 2,000-year-old relic made using 3D imaging technology (Agencies). But so far there's no sign of Baal coming through.

Background here and links

Egyptian amulet sifted

THE TEMPLE MOUNT SIFTING PROJECT: Rare Egyptian Amulet Bearing Name of Ancient Pharaoh Found in Earth Discarded from Temple Mount.
JERUSALEM, April 19, 2016 — A rare amulet, more than 3,200 years old, bearing the name of the Egyptian ruler Thutmose III, Pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty who reigned from 1479 – 1425 BCE, was discovered at the Temple Mount Sifting Project located in Jerusalem’s Tzurim Valley National Park within earth discarded from the Temple Mount, and was only recently deciphered by archeologists. The project is conducted under the auspices of Bar-Ilan University, with the support of the City of David Foundation, the Israel Archaeology Foundation, and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

This story is receiving a lot of media attention, and rightly so. And the relevance of the discovery for the upcoming Festival of Passover is not lost on the press release. There are a great many past PaleoJudaica posts on the Temple Mount Sifting Project. Start here and just keep following the links.

Syriac Seminar at Baylor

SYRIAC WATCH: Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion Hosts Syriac Seminar.
WACO, Texas (April 18, 2016) – Baylor ISR will host a one-day seminar on the Syriac Christian Churches that will bring together leading scholars of Syriac history, literature, theology and culture.

"The Syriac Christian Churches: Rediscovering the Church’s Eastern Roots" will help Western Christians understand an often-overlooked part of their common heritage. The seminar will take place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday, April 20, in the Cox Lecture Hall of Armstrong Browning Library.

Professor Philip Jenkins, regular contributor to The Anxious Bench and often cited by PaleoJudaica, is involved.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The case for vellum

TECHNOLOGY WATCH: James Gray: The case for vellum. As MPs prepare to debate whether to abolish vellum, Conservative MP James Gray writes about why the arguments against it are getting his goat (Politics Home). In this case the technology in question is a traditional one that, MP Gray argues, should remain in use to record Acts of Parliament. Excerpt:
Second, vellum is a great deal more durable than paper. It cannot be torn or crushed, it is somewhat resilient to fire. It needs very little special maintenance as the vellum scrolls in the parliamentary archive attest to. It lasts for up to 5,000 years, by comparison with a few hundreds of years by the best archival paper. Who could be confident that paper documents, even less those stored electronically, would be as long-lived as the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Lindisfarne Gospels, or Domesday Book? If Magna Carta had been written on paper it would have been lost around 1465, some time before the birth of King Henry Vlll. The oldest complete bound book in Europe, the St John’s Gospels put in the coffin of St Cuthbert in the year 687, can still be read as clearly today as when it was written. That is because it was written on vellum. The use of vellum guarantees that no matter what may happen in the future – wars, riots, floods, fires – our acts of parliament will be preserved for all time.
I can see his point. Sometimes older technologies are more robust than newer ones. Just the other day I was arguing in a university committee that we should not start preserving doctoral theses only in electronic format. All it takes is one big solar flare or one EMP attack and all those electronic records are gone. (But I was proposing that we keep printed copies or at least microfilm copies. Vellum did not come up.)

Background to the vellum story is here and here.

The Talmud on women shaving

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Men: Thank God We’re Not Women! In this week’s ‘Daf Yomi,’ Talmudic rabbis have a hard time explaining gender differences in commandments and blessings, including whether women can shave their beards.
Can women grow beards, and if they can, are they allowed to shave them under Jewish law? That was just one of the questions that arose in last week’s Daf Yomi reading, as the rabbis pondered the implications of gender in halakhah. One of the fundamental principles of Judaism is that men are subject to more commandments than women are. There are many mitzvot that women are not obligated to perform, such a wearing tefillin and tzitzit, sleeping in the sukkah, and studying Torah. One might think that being excused from these obligations is a positive thing for Jewish women, making their lives that much easier. But in Judaism, the opportunity to do a mitzvah is a blessing, not a burden. Indeed, as Pirkei Avot puts it, “the reward for a commandment is another commandment”; since following God’s orders is the best thing a human being can accomplish, a mitzvah is its own reward. This means that, spiritually, a Jewish man is better off than a Jewish woman, since he can do more mitzvot than she can. That is why, in the traditional morning prayer, men thank God “shelo asani ishah,” “for not making me a woman.”

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Flesher on literacy in ancient Judah

THE BIBLE AND INTERPRETATION: The Handwriting on the Sherds (Paul V.M. Flesher). He's not convinced either that the epigraphic material has any great bearing on the dating of the literature of the Hebrew Bible.

Background here and links.

"UNESCO urges 'respect and dialogue'"

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: After angering Israel, UNESCO urges ‘respect and dialogue.’ UN cultural chief says Jerusalem sacred to three monotheistic religions after body adopts resolution ignoring Jewish ties to Temple Mount (AFP and Times of Israel).

Background on the UNESCO resolutions that caused the anger is here and links.

Paid internship in Coptic studies

ALIN SUCIU: Internship – Digital Edition and Translation of the Coptic Old Testament.
The Digital Edition and Translation of the Coptic Old Testament at the Academy of Sciences and Humanities in Göttingen is dedicated to digitally describe, edit and analyse the transmission of the Coptic Old Testament with a focus on the Sahidic tradition. The long-term project has an opening for a (paid) internship, to be filled at the earliest possible date. This internship will give the successful applicant the opportunity to expand his or her knowledge about the Biblical tradition in Coptic and to receive further hands-on training in editorial methods, manuscript studies and digital humanities, as applied to the Coptic Bible and Coptic literature.

Follow the link for further particulars. The deadline for applications is 15 May 2016. Cross-file under Coptic Watch.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Boccaccini and Segovia (eds.), Paul the Jew

Paul the Jew: Rereading the Apostle as a Figure of Second Temple Judaism
Author: Gabriele Boccaccini (Editor) Carlos A. Segovia (Editor)

The decades-long effort to understand the apostle Paul within his Jewish context is now firmly established in scholarship on early Judaism, as well as on Paul. The latest fruit of sustained analysis appears in the essays gathered here, from leading international scholars who take account of the latest investigations into the scope and variety present in Second Temple Judaism. Contributors address broad historical and theological questions—Paul's thought and practice in relationship with early Jewish apocalypticism, messianism, attitudes toward life under the Roman Empire, appeal to Scripture, the Law, inclusion of Gentiles, the nature of salvation, and the rise of Gentile-Christian supersessionism—as well as questions about interpretation itself, including the extent and direction of a "paradigm shift" in Pauline studies and the evaluation of the Pauline legacy. Paul the Jew goes as far as any effort has gone to restore the apostle to his own historical, cultural, and theological context, and with persuasive results.

ISBN: 9781451479805
Price: $79.00
ISBN: 9781506410401
Release date: May 1, 2016
Pages: 386
Width: 6
Height: 9
Follow the link for TOC and ordering information.

What did the Philippians know about the Pharisees?

JAMES MCGRATH: Philippians and Pharisees (Exploring Our Matrix).

Pokemon, Saddam, and Syriac?

SYRIAC WATCH? Saddam Hussein tried to ban Pokemon (The Week: scroll down, third headline).
Spies loyal to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein were deeply suspicious of the Japanese children's TV hit Pokemon, according to documents captured by US troops in 2004. An analysis of the papers shows that the General Security Directorate, the feared domestic security force, thought the name in Syriac was too similar to the phrase: "I am a Jew". The note reads: "Beware my brothers in Islam and protect the sons of the Muslim nation." As a result, Hussein apparently wanted to ban the show.
This story has been showing up in various places. I set it aside until I could fact-check it and, surprisingly, it seems to be more true than not. In about 2000-2001 there were wild rumors in the Arabic-speaking world that the game Pokemon had pro-Jewish and anti-Islamic references in the names of the game and the characters and that these were either in Japanese or Syriac. For details, see this Los Angeles Times article from April of 2001: Arabs See Jewish Conspiracy in Pokemon.

At around the same time, Saddam's henchmen were fretting that the name Pokemon meant "I am a Jew" in Hebrew. For details see the 2003 document A View of Operation Iraqi Freedom from Saddam's Senior Leaders produced by the US Joint Center for Operational Analysis (JCOA), p. 5 and n. 22. A captured Iraqi document really does provide this information.

For some reason, some of the media (e.g., the Mirror too) have just picked up versions of the latter story about Saddam's regime which involve elements of the rumors circulated in Saudi Arabia and Jordan. I don't know whether Saddam's henchmen brought in Japanese and Syriac as well in sources I haven't found or – not particularly unlikely – the media has become a bit confused in this game of telephone and is conflating elements of the story that were originally independent.

Anyway, for the record, "Pokemon" and "Pikachu" do not sound like "I am a Jew" in Hebrew or Syriac. I don't know about Japanese.

Cross-file under Can't Make It Up.

Joan Taylor and "Brian" in Aukland

ON THE CONFERENCE ON THE SAME TOPIC: Lecture explores Monty Python’s Life of Brian and Jesus (
Monty Python's film Life of Brian is known for its brilliant satirical humour. Less well known is that the film contains references to what was, at the time of its release, cutting edge biblical scholarship and life of Jesus research.

Professor Joan Taylor of King’s College London will present a public lecture on how the film can be used to explore the historical Jesus, at the University of Auckland on Wednesday, 27 April.

Titled "Jesus and Brian: Exploring the Historical Jesus and His Times via Monty Python’s Life of Brian" the lecture will focus on the conference, ‘Jesus and Brian’, held at King’s College London in June 2014. The conference was a chance to discuss the historical Jesus as a Jew who needed to be understood within the context of his time. The film is used as a means of focusing on key themes, and Professor Taylor will particularly consider the Brian character.

More on the Jesus and Brian Conference and the book that resulted from it is here and links.

More UNESCO resolutions

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: UNESCO says no Jewish history on Temple Mount; Hebron and Bethlehem 'Integral part of Palestine' (NOGA TARNOPOLSKY/THE MEDIA LINE, Jerusalem Post).
UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Association, announced a number of resolutions just before the weekend started.

One, submitted by the Russian Federation, called for defining UNESCO’s role in safeguarding and preserving Palmyra and other Syrian World Heritage sites. Another was about “Enhancing UNESCO’s contributions to promote a culture of mutual respect and tolerance.”

A third was simply entitled “Occupied Palestine” and addressed the Jerusalem Old City hotspot that Jews refer to as the Temple Mount and Muslims call Haram Al-Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary. Except that the Jewish link to the site, considered the holiest place for Jews, went unmentioned.

In the context of Jerusalem’s Old City, the document refers to Israel solely as “the occupying power” and refers to the site itself, the world famous esplanade flanked by the Western Wall - considered by many experts to be the last existing retaining wall of the mount that once held the ancient Jewish temples - only by its Islamic moniker.

The decision refers to the plaza fronting the Western Wall only in quotation marks, except when using one of its Arabic names, Al-Buraq, a reference to the Prophet Mohammed’s ascent to heaven.

The Israeli government responded with fury.

“This is yet another absurd UN decision,” an incandescent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement released late on Saturday. “UNESCO ignores the unique historic connection of Judaism to the Temple Mount, where the two temples stood for a thousand years and to which every Jew in the world has prayed for thousands of years. The UN is rewriting a basic part of human history and has again proven that there is no low to which it will not stoop.”

I have not been able to find the text of the draft resolution(s) online. The earlier resolution mentioned in the article was noted here and links.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Schiffman on the United Monarchy

This lecture was presented at the Center for Jewish History’s event entitled “In the Valley of David and Goliath: Digging Up Evidence on the United Monarchy,” sponsored by Yeshiva University Museum, American Friends of the Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem, Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at NYU.

New Greek fragment of Ezekiel

ETC: P.Vindob. G 31289 A Newly Published Fourth/Fifth Century fragment of Ezekiel.

Review of Taylor, Antiochus the Great

BOOK REVIEW: Antiochus the Great, by Michael Taylor (A.A. Nofi, Strategy Page). Barnesley, S.York.: Pen & Sword / Philadelphia: Casemate, 2013. Pp. xviii, 190. Illus., maps, appends., notes, biblio., index. $39.95. ISBN: 1848844638.
Taylor writes well, often adding interesting detail. He takes note of the limitations of our sources, goes into some detail on special topics (such as war elephants) and often gives alternative interpretations of events. This is an excellent work for anyone interested in ancient history; informative, lively, and quite readable.

From Plato to Moses?

From Plato to Moses: Genesis-Kings as a Platonic Epic

Article from Biblical Interpretation Beyond Historicity (Routledge, 2016).

By Philippe Wajdenbaum
University of Brussels
April 2016
Well that's something different. I find the idea that Classical Greek literature influenced the Hebrew Bible philologically very difficult. I would expect to see considerable Greek-language influence on the Hebrew. But in any case, this sounds like an interesting new volume.

Review of Kratz, Historical and Biblical Israel

RELIGION AND LITERATURE OF ANCIENT PALESTINE: Review of R. Kratz, Historical and Biblical Israel: The History, Tradition, and Archives of Israel and Judah (2015) (Ryan Thomas).
Despite these disagreements over literary history, Kratz can only be offered fulsome praise for his daring attempt to construct a synthetic reconstruction of the origin of the Hebrew Bible and to make it available to a broader readership. His writing is compressed and yet clear and accessible, and the glossary at the end of the book will assist those less familiar with the technical terminology of academic biblical studies. Finally, although the book is strictly historical in its interpretation of the development of the biblical tradition, the author ends with an eloquent postlude directed at those who may have concerns that the conclusions reached in the book undermine religious faith.