Saturday, July 02, 2016

Review of Bausi et al. (eds), Comparative Oriental Manuscript Studies: An Introduction

OTTC: Review of "Comparative Oriental Manuscript Studies: An Introduction" (Drew Longacre).
Alessandro Bausi (General editor), Pier Giorgio Borbone, Françoise Briquel-Chatonnet, Paola Buzi, Jost Gippert, Caroline Macé, Marilena Maniaci, Zisis Melissakis, Laura E. Parodi, Witold Witakowski, eds. Comparative Oriental Manuscript Studies: An Introduction. Hamburg: Tredition, 2015.
Comparative Oriental Manuscript Studies: An Introduction is not intended simply as a proceedings volume, subject lexicon, or encyclopedia, but rather as a book to be read cover-to-cover. Coming in at around 700 pages of content-rich and dense material, that is asking a lot of any one scholar. It took me nearly a year of close, occasional reading and a lot of persistance to reach the end, but it was also extremely rewarding. Though the word "Introduction" occurs in the title, readers beware, this is not an introduction for beginners, but rather an advanced introduction for experts to broaden their cultural and theoretical horizons. While not exhaustive in its coverage of every aspect of every tradition, it devotes sections to the topics with most comparative relevance for each tradition, which is a highly effective strategy for an interdisciplinary introduction. The multiple Oriental traditions examined are particularly important for biblical scholars, since the Bible and related literature were translated into most of these languages in antiquity, and these traditions often provide important (or in some cases even the only) textual evidence for the works we study on a daily basis.
The manuscript traditions covered are:
Arabic, Armenian, Avestan, Caucasian Albanian, Christo-Palestinian Aramaic, Coptic, Ethiopic, Georgian, Greek, Hebrew, Slavonic, and Syriac.

The Bible is way old

This bit of the human drama will forever remain outside of my capacity to comprehend. The distance of it all. I cannot get inside of it. I remain a foreigner to this ancient landscape, and outsider looking in.
The world of the Bible, and that of the ancients in general, is indeed very foreign to us. As Pete observes about a more recent period, most of us would die almost immediately if we were transported back to it. I have observed many times that the casual barbarity and degradation of the ancient world is far outside the experience of most of us and probably outside our ability even to imagine realistically.

UPDATE (2 July): Dead links now fixed. Apologies.

Review of Collins, Scriptures and Sectarianism

Book Review: John J. Collins, Scriptures and Sectarianism: Essays on the Dead Sea Scrolls (Part 1)

Book Review: John J. Collins, Scriptures and Sectarianism: Essays on the Dead Sea Scrolls (Part 2)
Conclusion. It is always welcome for a published to collect essays published in a wide range of difficult to obtain journals and festschrifts. There are some repetitions in the book; several times Collins introduces Jubilees or warns against anachronistic talk of canon in the Second Temple period. Collins repeats his description of the raison d’être for the yahad on several occasions, citing the same texts each time. Given the narrow, overlapping themes of many of these essays, perhaps this is unavoidable. Nevertheless, this volume of important essays is a welcome contribution to the continued study of the Dead Sea Scrolls and their relevance for New Testament studies.

Sex, the Talmud, and Zoroastrianism

BIBLIOGRAPHIA IRANICA: Sexual Desire in Jewish, Christian and Zoroastrian Ethics. Notice of a new article: Kiel, Yishai. 2016. Dynamics of Sexual Desire: Babylonian Rabbinic Culture at the Crossroads of Christian and Zoroastrian Ethics. Journal for the Study of Judaism 47. 1–47.

Skype meets the Semitic Languages

TECHNOLOGY WATCH: Skype now has support for Arabic and Hebrew languages (Android Community). And there's this too:
Skype has also promised that they will be releasing more languages that have right-to-left script as well. This may include support for Syriac, Samaritan, Mandaic, as well as languages from some African nations like Mende Kikakui, N’Ko, and Adlam. These may not be major languages, but having an app that supports these languages,is pretty important.
Cross-file under Syriac Watch, Samaritan Watch, and Mandean (Mandaean) Watch.

Friday, July 01, 2016

Gilgamesh retold in Hebrew

CHILDREN'S LITERATURE: The demigod Gilgamesh comes to life for young readers. Cuneiform expert Shirley Graetz put her academic skills to work in a Hebrew-language chapter book for kids (Jessica Steinberg, Times of Israel).
In writer Shirley Graetz’s mind, the Akkadian figure who stars in the ancient poem “Epic of Gilgamesh” sounded a lot like her eldest son. Big, strong, and not always able to delicately avoid things in his path.

“I got to thinking about Gilgamesh,” said Graetz, who at the time was finishing up her PhD on cuneiform, an ancient form of writing from the Mesopotamian region. “He was half human, half god and he was a tyrant. Until he found his match, and then he calmed down and went on adventures.”

Ever practical, the academic turned popular fiction writer also considered the fact that neither Disney nor Pixar had ever touched the story of the Mesopotamian figure.


With the Hebrew-language “Young Gilgamesh and the Enchanted Garden” now in print — Graetz self-published the young reader novel for 8- to 11-year-olds — the chapter book is the first in what will probably be a series of six books about the young king and his many adventures.

It introduces the character and the details of his world, from the foods he eats (beer and beef stews) and clothes he wears to his family, friends and kingdom.

“I thought it would be great for kids to get to know this character, and maybe they’d be more open to read the real epic,” said Graetz. “I wanted to make it as parallel as possible to the real epic, with the atmosphere and the fact that Gilgamesh is kind of a loner because he’s different.”

In the Dead Sea Scrolls Gilgamesh appears as a character in the Aramaic Book of the Giants, and he is also mentioned in an ancient Syriac text.

Gilgamesh is also alive and well in modern popular culture. Performances of the Gilgamesh story in English have been noted here, here, and here. And — in Syriac! — here. His influence on a television episode is noted here. There is a Gilgamesh Restaurant (see also here, here and here). And then there's this. There was talk of a Gilgamesh movie, but I don't think anything has come of it. Although, perhaps unfortunately, there is this. Of the many literary works, especially notable is Robert Silverberg's novel, Gilgamesh the King.

There are, of course, endless translations of the Epic Gilgamesh into English and at least one, by Saul Tchemichovsky, into Hebrew. I am aware of at least a few English versions of the story for children (see here, here, and here), but Graetz’s is the first Hebrew version I've heard of.

If you have kids, then for heaven's sake go and buy this book for them.

And now that I've put all this effort into this post, I notice this Wikipedia article: Gilgamesh in popular culture. But it doesn't include links to all those priceless PaleoJudaica posts.

Kim, Jerusalem in the Achaemenid Period

BIBLIOGRAPHIA IRANICA: Jerusalem in the Achaemenid Period. Notice of a new book: Kim, Jieun. 2016. Jerusalem in the Achaemenid period. Peter Lang AG, Internationaler Verlag der Wissenschaften. Follow the link for details.

1 Enoch 99-105

READING ACTS: The Epistle of Enoch – 1 Enoch 99-105. Past posts in the series, plus on related matters, are noted here and links.

A version of the story of the birth of Noah (1 Enoch 106-107) is also found in Aramaic in the Genesis Apocryphon from Qumran.

Ethnicity/Race/Religion Conference at Exeter

Ethnicity/Race/Religion: Identities, Ideologies, and Intersections in Biblical Texts and Interpretation
9-11th August 2016,
Centre for Biblical Studies, University of Exeter, UK

How do ethnicity and race feature in constructions of identity in biblical texts? How have ideologies of race shaped biblical interpretation past and present? And how has the Bible and its interpretation contributed to racial ideologies and racist practices? These are the key issues to be explored in this international conference. Religion and ethnicity or race – the terms are contested and unavoidably loaded – are facets of identity that intersect and overlap in complex and varied ways. They are neither identical nor entirely separable, but clearly bound up in some of the most intractable and prominent conflicts in the contemporary world. One of the aims of the conference is to explore and to problematize the extent to which the dominant models of biblical scholarship remain ‘Western’ in their assumptions, and to consider what breaking out of these might entail.
Follow the link for further particulars. Booking is open.

HT Paul Middleton from the British New Testament Society list.

Dead Sea Scrolls Electronic Library Non-Biblical Texts

Dead Sea Scrolls Electronic Library Non-Biblical Texts

Editor: Emanuel Tov. Technical advisor: Ariel Tov
The Dead Sea Scrolls represents perhaps the most significant historical manuscript discovery in recent history. Brill’s Electronic Library offers a unique opportunity to study state of the art photographs of these ancient scripts, and understand their meaning using the translations of text and interpretations for missing fragments, all accessible using Brill’s simple navigation system. For the first time, the texts and images of all the Dead Sea Scrolls are available online.

Brill is offering the complete collection in two online products that can be bought separately: Dead Sea Scrolls Electronic Library Biblical Texts (ed. Donald W. Parry and Andrew C. Skinner, 2015) and, from June 2016, Dead Sea Scrolls Electronic Library Non-Biblical Texts (ed. Emanuel Tov, 2016). Used side by side, these databases will offer the user access to all the Dead Sea Scrolls texts.

This reference work is an indispensable tool for all biblical scholars and graduate students, theologians, Bible translators, those interested in the history and development of the Bible, the Second Temple period and the origins of Christianity, and seminary and research libraries.
The electronic Biblical Texts database was noted here and its online launch was noted here.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

TOC: JQR 106.2

H-JUDAIC: TOC: Jewish Quarterly Review Vol. 106.2. Ancient Judaism gets some attention, notably in the Review Forum section. This section is flagged in some detail by the Bibliographia Iranica Blog: Irano-Talmudica.

Borchardt on Canon

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Embracing Change in the Search for Canon (Francis Borchardt). Earlier contributions to the AJR discussion are noted here and links.

HTR won't retract GJW article

THE GOSPEL OF JESUS' WIFE — THE AFTERMATH CONTINUES: Harvard Theological Review Refuses to Pull Fake 'Jesus Had a Wife' Papyrus Story (BRANDON SHOWALTER, Christian Post).
A Harvard journal is refusing to retract a 2014 article it published about an infamous scrap of papyrus suggesting Jesus had a wife even though the professor who authored it now admits the fragment is a forgery.

Harvard Divinity School professor Karen King told the Boston Globe last week that "it appears now that all the material [Ernest (should be "Walter" - JRD) Fritz, owner of the fragment, ] gave to me concerning the provenance of the papyrus ... were fabrications."

This is a tricky one. When scientific journals discover that they've published an article based on faked data, they do retract the article. But I can understand the reasoning of HTR as well:
The Harvard Theological Review, where King's original article was published, issued a statement defending it's refusal to retract the essay about the fake Coptic papyrus, saying:
Acceptance of an essay for publication means that it has successfully passed through the review process. It does not mean that the journal agrees with the claims of the paper. In the same issue (HTR 107:2, April 2014) in which HTR published Professor Karen King's article and the articles on the testing that were represented or misrepresented in some circles as establishing the authenticity of the fragment, it also published a substantial article by Professor Leo Depuydt arguing that it was a crude forgery. Given that HTR has never endorsed a position on the issue, it has no need to issue a response.
That sounds pretty much right. My only reservation involves the section "Modern Period" on p. 31 of Professor King's article, which gives the information the owner passed on to her about the modern provenance of the papyrus, information that she now acknowledges to be false. That seems worthy of a brief note of correction in a future issue of HTR.

The Apocalypse of Weeks

READING ACTS: The Apocalypse of Weeks – 1 Enoch 93:1-10; 91:11-17. Past posts in the series, plus on related matters, are noted here and links.

Not mentioned in the linked-to post, but the Apocalypse of Weeks is a rare case where redaction criticism has been vindicated by a manuscript discovery. Scholars had concluded that the order of the verses in the Apocalypse of Weeks had been confused in the surviving Ethiopic manuscripts and had reordered them accordingly. Hence the odd order in the title above. When the original Aramaic text was discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls (4QEnochg), it had the order of verses reconstructed by the scholars. So there!

(I know the sequence of the verses around the Apocalypse is somewhat different in the Aramaic than either in the Ethiopic or the pre-Qumran scholarly reconstructions, but the reconstruction of the Apocalypse itself was correct.)

Carthago refrigeranda est

NEO-PUNIC WATCH: Carthage archaeologists dig up smart cooling system for chariot racers. The ancients were madly obsessed by chariot racing 2000 years ago but in the heat of North Africa, the horses would have fainted. (Philippe Bohstrom, Haaretz).
On the north coast of Africa lie the ruins of a city that came within a hairbreadth of defeating the might of Rome. Now archaeologists digging at the famous Circus of Carthage have revealed a startlingly advanced system to cool down horses and chariots during races.

The ancients were obsessed with chariot racing. More than a half-century on, the chariot race in the 1959 Hollywood blockbuster "Ben-Hur" is still one of the most memorable scenes in cinemascope history. But even horses can faint, certainly in the burning heat of North Africa.

Key to the discovery of the clever cooling system at the Circus of Carthage, the biggest sporting arena outside Rome, was the detection of water resistant mortar.

“This kind of mortar is called hydraulic mortar. It's a type of waterproof lime mortar mixed with crushed and pulverized ceramics that the Romans used in hydraulic engineering,” says Frerich Schön of Tübingen University, the water technology specialist who first spotted the material, to Haaretz.

Most stories about Carthage involve the Punic Wars, so it's nice to have something on the archaeology of its Neo-Punic period. There's lots more on Ben-Hur (the novel, the O2 production, and the movies) and its chariot race here and links.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

1 Enoch 91-92

READING ACTS: Introduction to the Epistle of Enoch – 1 Enoch 91-92. Past posts in the series, plus on related matters, are noted here and links.

Israeli archaeologists at Palmyra?

PALMYRA WATCH: Israeli archeologists at work in Palmyra under heavy Russian guard: sources (DEBKAfile).
Syrian opposition sources in the city of Homs said Tuesday that a delegation of Israeli archeologists is conducting excavations in the Syrian city of Palmyra under heavy Russian guard. The archeologists are said to be searching for ancient Hebrew inscriptions on the antiquities.

Interesting, if true. I would like to see some verification, though.

For background on Palmyra, its history, the ancient Aramaic dialect spoken there (Palmyrene), and the city's tragic recent fate in the hands of ISIS, followed by its retaking by the Syrian army with the help of the Russians, start here and follow the many links back.

UPDATE: Reader Yoel points me to the long original article by Ethar Abdul Haq in Zaman Al Wasl: Israeli excavations in Palmyra seek Jewish antiquities: sources. It seems to have been poorly translated from Arabic and it is garbled in a number of places. And, again, the main claims are from anonymous and unverified sources. The claim that Israeli archaeologists are looking for Jewish artifacts in Palmyra to prove that it was a Jewish city is absurd. Palmyra was a cosmopolitan city in which people of many ethnic backgrounds, including Jews, lived.

OT/HB post at LST

JOB ADVERTISEMENT (note that there is a confessional requirement):
Role Description

• Responsible to the Academic Dean.
• Levels 4, 5, 6 and 7 lecturing, tutoring and pastoral care of students, setting and marking assessments and examinations, research supervision for the Master and Doctoral programmes, and publishing peer reviewed research.

• The post holder must possess a PhD in Old Testament, be able to teach Hebrew at introductory and advanced levels, and preferably have supervised a doctoral student to completion.
• The successful candidate will have a proven track record and an ongoing, viable programme of research.
• Lecturing experience and/or a qualification in lecturing at Higher Education level are desirable.
• The person appointed will be a practising Christian, with ongoing active service in a local church, who is in full sympathy with the doctrinal basis of the School.

• Lecturing includes both day time lectures, and occasional evening classes and conferences.

• The conduct of tutorials and seminars.
• Tutorial responsibilities, either as personal or group tutor.
• Pastoral care of students.

Marking and Exams
• The marking and second marking of assignments within the agreed time scale.
• Setting and marking exam scripts, exam invigilation and attendance at examiners’ meetings.

Career Development
• Further study and personal development: study day, conferences, continuing education and training.
• Sabbatical leave is not automatic but arranged with the Academic Dean after the submission of a satisfactory proposal for its use.

• Chapel: full participation in the chapels and prayer groups, including leading
and speaking on occasions.
• Student applications: preliminary or formal interviews of prospective students.
• Committees: attendance and active participation at the Academic Board, Programme Boards of Study, and other School committees as required.
• Attendance at School events such as Graduation Day and the Laing Lecture.
• Any other reasonable duties as required by the Academic Dean.

Terms and Conditions
• Salary: £34,597
• Hours: This is a full-time post, i.e. 35 hours per week minimum
• Holidays: 27 days per year
• Pension: Eligible to join the LST Pension Scheme
• Probationary Period: One academic year
• Notice Period: One academic term minimum
• Start: The job is expected to begin 1 September 2016.

• Further information can be obtained from the Academic Dean:
• Applicants should send the following to the Academic Dean as pdf documents attached to an email:
(a) Covering letter of application,
(b) Curriculum vitae and
(c) List of four referees, one of whom is to be the applicant’s senior pastor.
• Applications close Friday, 5.00 pm, 29 July 2016.
June 2016
Sent in by Professor Graham Twelftree.

New DSS readings

TECHNOLOGY WATCH: Was Noah's Arch Shaped Like a Pyramid? Digitized Dead Sea Scrolls Reveal New Secrets. Previously hidden sections of text on the ancient parchments are answering some long-standing questions – and raising others (Nir Hasson, Haaretz).
The roof of Noah’s Ark was pointed, the ptil Judah gave Tamar in the book of Genesis was his belt, and residents of Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, believed money could buy amnesty for sins. The above conclusions come from a new reading of the Dead Sea Scrolls – a reading made possible by a project to scan the scrolls with sophisticated technology that has revealed letters and words that were previously illegible.

For four and a half years, a laboratory established by the Israel Antiquities Authority as part of the Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library project has been scanning all the scrolls in the authority’s possession with a custom-made camera. Each fragment – and there are tens of thousands of fragments – is photographed 28 times at high resolution using different wavelengths of light.

In some cases, the camera has revealed letters and words that had been erased, or were illegible because that portion of the parchment was burnt. And some of these discoveries have sparked interest because they offer new interpretations of well-known Biblical texts.

This new reading is especially interesting to me:
[Dr. Alexey] Yuditsky and Dr. Esther Haber also decoded another fragment that deals with Judgment Day. It describes a mythic hero named Melchizedek rescuing “captives” from a mythic villain named Belial.
And if you want to know more:
All the new words and their interpretations can be found on the academy’s website, Maagarim.
That's the Academy of the Hebrew Language. The website is here. It looks like you need to know Hebrew pretty well to nagivate it. Read the whole article before it disappears behind the subscription wall.

As we like to say at PaleoJudaica: Bit by bit, a letter at a time, whatever it takes. Until we're done.

UPDATE: Dr Yuditsky has pointed me to the following English-language essay by Chanan Ariel at for more information on the project: Semantic Observations on the Dead Sea Scrolls preliminary abbreviated version (translation).

Ancient garbage collection?

ARCHAEOLOGY: Ancient Romans, Jews Invented Trash Collection, Archaeology of Jerusalem Hints. Archaeologists digging up 2000-year-old landfill think combination of Roman efficiency and Jewish obsession with cleanliness created a unique system to take out the trash (Ariel David, Haaretz).
Israeli archaeologists have stumbled upon the mother of all garbage dumps: a massive landfill from early Roman times that may have been the result of the most sophisticated trash collection system in antiquity.

Layer upon layer of waste that was efficiently collected, piled up and buried some 2,000 years ago has been dug up on the slopes of the Kidron valley, just outside the Roman-era walls of Jerusalem.

Coins and fragments of pottery show the landfill was in use for about seven decades, from the beginning of the first century CE until the period of the Great Jewish Revolt against the Romans, which ended with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE, says Yuval Gadot, a Tel Aviv University archaeologist who led the dig.

The landfill, which was excavated in 2013-2014 in conjunction with the Israel Antiquities Authority, rose to a towering 70 meters in height, from the bottom of the valley to the walls of the city. It was quite unusual in its size, Gadot says.


It isn't that the people of ancient Jerusalem organized to collectively and obediently throw their dross over the city walls. “It looks like there was a mechanism in place that cleared the streets, cleared the houses, using donkeys to collect and throw away the garbage,” Gadot speculates.

The system may have developed out of a combination of Roman administrative knowhow and a growing observance among Jews of religious purity norms, researchers theorize.

This is a very interesting interpretation of the site, but it is not accepted by all specialists. Read the whole article before it goes behind the subscription wall.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

"John the Jew" (Camaldoli): final comments

REGARDING THE SIXTH NANGERONI MEETING OF THE ENOCH SEMINAR ("JOHN THE JEW") AT CAMALDOLI LAST WEEK, I promised earlier that I would post some additional thoughts. There was a final session on Friday in which conference delegates were given the opportunity to speak briefly about what they had learned from the conference. The following is roughly what I said, based on memory and some notes I scrawled at the time.

I was pleasantly surprised, but surprised, to be invited to this particular Enoch Seminar, since I have never worked on the Gospel of John and my work on Christology and Jewish messianism was from quite a while ago. But I was happy to come to be involved in the conversation, not least to see what new things I would learn about Second Temple Judaism.

And I did learn quite a bit, including gaining a better understanding of, or at least thinking of some new questions about, one or two passages in the Gospel of John, and also some new details and minor questions about Second Temple Judaism. But there were two broader areas about which I now have some significant new thoughts and questions.

First, I am thinking now about worship and ritual cult of the Temple of the God of Israel in Jerusalem as something even more foundational in Second Temple Judaism than I had realized — more foundational than the ideologies, mythologies, and theologies that Second Temple-era Jews advanced to explain and interpret Temple worship.

The Mosaic Torah (notably the Priestly source or "P") presents the Temple cult as something revealed in the time of Moses, originally applying to the Tabernacle, with Aaron as the founder of the priesthood that was staffed only by his descendants. The rest of the Tribe of Levi is given the chiefly janitorial role as "Levites." Again, all this was supposed to have been revealed and institutionalized in the time of Moses.

But even in the Hebrew Bible the picture is more complex than this. The Book of Ezekiel gives us a prospective Temple cult in chapters 40-48, one that was never implemented but which is not entirely compatible with the Priestly cult in the P source of the Mosaic Torah. And according to Ezekiel 44, the priestly tribe of Levi was demoted to the role of "Levites" for their unfaithfulness during the monarchical period, with the Zadokite (i.e., Aaronid) priests retaining the priesthood because they were faithful. That is not the story in P.

Then when we come to the Second Temple-era apocalyptic books collected in 1 Enoch, the patriarch Enoch is the great receiver of divine revelations and Moses' role is quite downplayed. The Book of the Watchers opens with a reference to Mount Sinai (1 Enoch 1:4), but one describing a theophany of God coming from there in the style of the archaic biblical hymns (cf. Deuteronomy 33:2, Judges 5:5). No hint of a foreshadowing of a revelation of Torah to Moses appears. In the review of sacred history in the Animal Apocalypse, Moses ascends to Mount Sinai and comes back, but no specific reason is given for the trip (1 Enoch 89:28-35). The revelation of the Torah is not directly mentioned. And later the Animal Apocalypse, while accepting the Jerusalem Temple as legitimate, denounces the priesthood currently running it and the ritual cult being practiced in it (1 Enoch 89:73).

On a somewhat similar note, the work known as Aramaic Levi presents a version of the sacrificial cult, one whose compatibility with the rules of P has been debated, but this sacrificial system is presented as lore revealed to Levi by his father Isaac, long before the time of Moses. Perhaps it presents an Enochic perspective on the origins of Temple worship, or conceivably even a third perspective different from both the Mosaic and Enochic ones. The Book of Jubilees, which is closely related to Aramaic Levi, tries to reconcile the Mosaic and Enochic versions of the story behind the Temple cult and priesthood, but it seems pretty clear that there were originally competing versions of the story and it is possible that some of these gave substantially different accounts.

So, were Temple worship, priesthood, and ritual cult (probably along with circumcision, Sabbath observance, and celebration of the major annual festivals) more primary than either the Mosaic or the Enochic (etc?) accounts of the origins of these forms of worship of the God of Israel? This seems to me to be a question worth exploring. (And to be clear — no, I am not volunteering to organize an Enoch Seminar on the subject. But I am interested in the question.)

Second, a question about the Gospel of John. The characters in John's narrative are early first-century Jews who observe the Mosaic ethical and ritual law. They do so as a matter of course and the matter is generally not commented on, except when the details of how to observe some aspect of this law, notably the Sabbath, are debated. But did John expect his readers to practice the ritual law? I used to assume yes, but this has become less clear to me. What did his readers know and not know? He does not need to explain what the festivals were, but he does need to explain that Jews and Samaritans do not use dishes in common. Was John a Jew seeking to convince Torah-observant Diaspora Jews to follow his particular form of messianic Judaism or was he more like Paul, trying to convert Gentile readers to his new Jesus religion without necessarily making them Torah observant as well? Or both? Not that this question has not occurred to Johannine specialists, but perhaps specialists in Second Temple Judaism could help contribute more to the discussion than they have up to the present.

Those were my comments in the final session of the conference. Let me now add one other thought, which I hinted at in my response to Catrin Williams's excellent paper, but which is worth underlining. Septuagint research in the last generation or two has learned to read the Septuagint not just as a translation of the books of the Hebrew Bible, but also as a Second Temple-era Jewish text in its own right, one that makes interpretive decisions that amount to exegesis of the Hebrew Bible. But such interpretive exegesis goes back even further, to the scribal practices of the copyists of the books of the Hebrew Bible in the Second Temple period. We know this from looking at the textual variants in the biblical manuscripts among the Dead Sea Scrolls. Some work on the scribal exegesis of the Hebrew text in the Qumran manuscripts has certainly been done, but the subject is far from exhausted and there are still doctoral dissertations to write on it. My student David Larsen dealt with such matters in his 2013 PhD thesis, “Royal Psalms in the Dead Sea Scrolls.”

Those are my thoughts about the conference. None of them have anything directly to do with the Christology of John or messianism in Second Temple Judaism, but some of them may be of interest nevertheless.

I want to take this opportunity also to thank the organizers. Gabriele Boccaccini is the founder of and mastermind behind the Enoch Seminar and his contribution was, as always, vast. He also very kindly looked after me in Florence on the first night of this trip. Benjamin Reynolds and Deborah Forger organized this particular meeting of the Enoch Seminar and did so with scholarly creativity, flawless efficiency, and constant good humor. I am grateful to them all for an excellent conference.

Earlier posts on the "John the Jew" Enoch Seminar are collected here. For some past posts on other Enoch Seminars, see the links collected here. I have not posted any photos of Camaldoli this time around, but it still looks like the pictures in this post.

UPDATE: James McGrath has another post on the "John the Jew" conference here, with URLs (meant to be links?) for a podcast interview with Crispin Fletcher-Louis and for an online version of Crispin's Camaldoli paper. James promises more posts on the conference in due course.

The Talmud on safe spaces and animal damages

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: The Shock of Recognition. As the ‘Daf Yomi’ cycle returns to a familiar anecdote about a camel causing a fire, it reveals the Talmud’s complex web of interlaced elements as more than a compendium of laws.
Here one of the Talmud’s perennial concerns—the difference between public and private domains, which plays such a central role in Shabbat law—intersects with the main subject of Bava Kamma, which is damage caused by negligence. At issue is what in American law is called “the standard of care”: How much precaution do you have to take to ensure that your lamp doesn’t cause a fire? Lighting a lamp inside your own home is presumptively safe, because it’s very unlikely that a camel carrying flax will walk through your living room and catch fire. But lighting a lamp that is hung from the front door, or displayed in an open window, is presumptively reckless, because it’s reasonable to expect that a flax-laden camel would be walking down the street. It’s only on Hanukkah that the mitzvah of displaying a menorah in the window overrides this principle.
Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

More on the GJW story

OVERVIEW: Jesus' Wife? The final debunking (CHARLOTTE ALLEN, The Weekly Standard). This article tells the whole story of the Gospel of Jesus' Wife fragment from the beginning to the publication of Ariel Sabar's article in the Atlantic, with lots of background and sidelines, some of which may be new to some readers.

Background here with oh so many links.

Pan portal at Hippos-Sussita?

ARCHAEOLOGY: Gateway to Ancient Greek God's Compound Uncovered? (Kacey Deamer, LiveScience).
Archaeologists in northern Israel may have unearthed a sanctuary of the Greek god Pan in the ancient city of Hippos.

Excavations by the Zinman Institute of Archaeology at the University of Haifa have uncovered a monumental Roman gate, which may have led to a compound dedicated to the worship of Pan, the god of flocks and shepherds, who is depicted as half man and half goat in Greek mythology.

The new archaeological find may help researchers better understand previous discoveries in the ancient city. Last year, the archaeologists discovered a bronze mask of Pan, which is unusually large compared to other such bronze masks of the Greek God that date from the same period. The researchers had said that efforts to date the item or explain the function of the mask would be difficult.

So 2016 seems to be shaping up as the year of the temple gateway. For the Pan mask found at the same site last year, see here. And background on the archaeology of the site of Hippos-Sussita is there and links, plus here.

Jesus vs. Captain Kirk

COUNTERFACTUAL STAR TREK HISTORY: When Captain Kirk slugged it out with Jesus Christ. A new history of the Star Trek franchise reveals the plot of a rejected early script by series creator Gene Roddenberry that doesn’t shy away from theological questions (Times of Israel).
The script about Jesus may have been rejected, but it didn’t entirely disappear.

“Gene had written a script for the first Star Trek movie. Certain elements showed up in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, but most did not,” explained Michael Jan Friedman, an author of Star Trek novels who worked on later versions of the Roddenberry script. “So there was this mysterious script floating around that people talked about as if it were the Dead Sea Scrolls.”

Monday, June 27, 2016

Matt's Zohar translation project is concluding

ZOHAR WATCH: A mysterious medieval text, decrypted (Ezra Glinter, Boston Globe).
Like many such works, the Zohar is intentionally obscure. Its language is full of neologisms, linguistic borrowings, occasional grammatical mistakes, and inspired wordplay on rabbinic and biblical passages. Its ideas are often paradoxical and contradictory, referring to esoteric concepts that are never fully spelled out. But with its cryptic Aramaic, lyrical poetry, and radical ideas about God, the Zohar captivated the imagination of both Jewish and Christian thinkers.

The Zohar has also attracted translators and commentators who have attempted to make it accessible, despite — or perhaps because of — its difficulty. These efforts include early translations into scholarly languages like Hebrew and Latin, as well as more recent efforts into English, French, and Spanish. But what is likely the most successful Zohar translation in history is only now nearing completion. The Pritzker Zohar, a 12-volume project from Stanford University Press, saw its 10th volume published in May, with the 11th due in September, and the last installment early next year. Translated primarily by Daniel Matt, a scholar of Jewish mysticism in Berkeley, Calif., with contributions by Joel Hecker and Nathan Wolski, the Pritzker edition will make the Zohar the most accessible it has ever been.

Describing the body of texts that make up Zoharic literature is almost as difficult as studying them. Written in the style of the Midrash, or rabbinic commentary on the Bible, the Zohar relates the teachings of Rabbi Shim’on and his companions as they wander through Galilee. But the Zohar also strikes out in bold new directions, describing not only the conversations of Rabbi Shim’on’s mystical fellowship but also their adventures and exploits. On their travels, they encounter strange characters who turn out to be more than what they seem — a beggar or a donkey driver who is actually a hidden sage, a child who displays surprising wisdom. At times, some argue, it comes to resemble a kind of medieval novel.
Back in December of 2015, I posted on an announcement that seemed to imply that the ninth volume was the last in Professor Matt's translation series, but it seems that there were three more coming, and the twelfth and last is due to be published in 2017. Meanwhile, this current article by Glinter gives a good overview of Zoharic studies, with some background on how the new translation got its start.
Matt would know. Now 65 years old, he speaks with a precision that seems to reflect his meticulous process of translation. For nearly two decades, he’s been working on the Zohar and has been studying the text for much longer than that. In the 1970s, he wrote his Brandeis doctoral thesis on “The Book of Mirrors,” a 14th-century Kabbalistic text that contained one of the first translations of the Zohar into Hebrew. In 1983, while teaching Jewish mysticism at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, he published a selection of Zohar translations. Then, in 1995, he was approached by Chicago philanthropist Margot Pritzker, who had been studying the Zohar with her rabbi and was interested in sponsoring a full, scholarly translation. Matt demurred at first — the project would take decades of full-time work, he warned her — but he eventually agreed to take it on, starting in 1997 and publishing the first volume in 2004.

Translating the Zohar turned out to be a more laborious process than he had anticipated. Although he planned to translate from a standard printed edition, he found that every version engaged in its own subtle editing of the text. So, with the help of a research assistant, he went back to early manuscripts, searching for a Zohar unencumbered by the interpolations and “corrections” of copyists and printers. It’s a process that has drawn both praise and criticism. While scholars in the field are quick to praise Matt’s erudition and skill as a translator, some point out that the Zohar he has produced is, in a sense, hypothetical. Ironically, in trying to uncover a more “authentic” Zohar, he has produced a version that never existed before.
That's a criticism that can be made of any critically reconstructed text, including, for example, the critical text of the New Testament that everyone uses. Be that as it may, the article is worth reading in full. I have commented on some of the challenges of deciphering ancient literature, including ancient esoteric literature, here.

For many, many past post on the Zohar and the Matt translation, see the post above (and links) on the ninth volume, as well as here, here, here, here, here, here, and links.

A new Greek Psalm fragment

ETC: Psalm 9.22-26 in a Newly Published 4th-Century Papyrus (Peter Gurry).

Congratulations to AWOL

AWOL: A milestone (of sorts). Five thousand posts on AWOL as of this week. Follow the link for the top ten.

Walters, Aphrahat and the Construction of Christian Identity in Fourth-Century Persia

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Dissertation Spotlight | James Walters.
Walters, James Edward. Aphrahat and the Construction of Christian Identity in Fourth-Century Persia. Ph.D. Dissertation, Princeton Theological Seminary, 2016.

My dissertation began—as many dissertations do, I imagine—with a simple question: What in the world is going on in this text? The text in question came from the Demonstrations, a fourth-century Syriac corpus attributed to an author known as Aphrahat, the Persian Sage. More specifically, the text to which my question referred was Demonstration 17, in which Aphrahat makes the argument that Jesus is both Messiah and Son of God by using only proof texts from the Hebrew Bible because this argument was directed “against the Jews.” I had only just learned Syriac, so I dove in head first, working out Syriac grammar and puzzling rhetorical arguments with equal amounts of confusion on both. As I continued reading the rest of the Demonstrations, along with all the secondary literature I could get my hands on, that question of “what is going on here?” just kept nagging me.

A past post on another publication that seems to come to somewhat different conclusions is here.

Maternal ‘Arakhin and the fall of Jerusalem

THE GEMARA.COM: Memorializing the Temple through the Maternal Practice of ‘Arakhin (Dr. Rabbi Jane Kanarek).
In the wake of the destruction of Jerusalem, rabbinic literature’s presentation of mothers donating their children’s weight in gold to the Temple – following the rabbinic interpretation of ‘Arakhin – comes to exemplify both piety and tragedy.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

CFP: 2017 Septuagint Symposium

We are organizing a centennial symposium — Soisalon-Soininen Symposium on the Septuagint — in celebration of the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the birth of our esteemed teacher Professor Ilmari Soisalon-Soininen on 4th June, 2017. Professor Ilmari Soisalon-Soininen did pioneering research on the Septuagint syntax, applying what we call the translation technical method, and was the founding father of Septuagint studies in Finland. The symposium is organised by the courtesy of the Centre of Excellence in ‘Changes in Sacred Texts and Traditions’ (CSTT) funded by the Academy of Finland. The symposium will take place 1st-3rd June 2017 at the University of Helsinki. The actual symposium will be followed by a small anniversary party on Sunday 4th June at noon.
Follow the link for the Call For Papers.

Coins of the Jewish War

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: David Hendin - Coins of the Jewish War.

Cargill on ancient Jewish sects

BIBLE ODYSSEY: Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes (Robert R. Cargill).

CFP: Distant Worlds Journal

NEW JOURNAL: CALL FOR PAPERS: Second Edition of the Distant Worlds Journal (DWJ). Dealing with Antiquity: Case Studies and Methodological Considerations in the Ethical Engagement of Ancient Materials.