Monday, April 24, 2017

Yom Shoah uMeshoah in Zephaniah

PROF. EHUD BEN ZVI: Memories Evoked by Yom Shoah uMeshoah (
Reading the Book of Zephaniah and remembering a day of desolation and devastation in association with a utopian day to come.
In Israel (etc.) Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, was yesterday (27 Nisan).

The Rephaim as ancient ghosts?

REMNANT OF GIANTS IS BACK after a long spell behind a subscription wall. A new post flags some new information that may be relevant to our understanding of the biblical Rephaim: JoAnn Scurlock: Evidence from Babylon that “Rephaim” refers to the long dead?
I spotted an interesting observation about Rephaim from JoAnn Scurlock, in “Mortal and Immortal Souls, Ghosts and the (Restless) Dead in Ancient Mesopotamia”, Religion Compass 10, no. 4 (2016): 77–82 (79). She is discussing how Ancient Mesopotamians treated the dead.

Past PaleoJudaica posts pertaining to the Rephaim are here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Jack on the resurrection, history, and myth

CSCO EASTER SERIES: The Resurrection: History and Myth (PT. 3).
In this final video of our “Resurrection” series, Dr. Alison Jack discusses the important differences between history and “myth” as it relates to the resurrection.
The earlier videos in the series were noted here and here.

Zealots and Sicarii

READING ACTS: Roots of the Rebellion: Zealots and Sicarii.

A couple of thematically related PaleoJudaica posts are here and here. Past posts in Phil Long's series on the Second Temple Period are noted here and links (cf. here).

Gold-plated Torah worth millions seized in Turkey!!!!!!

HERE WE GO AGAIN: Gold-plated ancient Torah seized by Turkish security forces in anti-smuggling drive (Daily Sabah).
An ancient Torah, estimated to be worth at least $3 million, was recovered in an anti-smuggling drive in southern Turkey's Adana last week, the Interior Ministry announced Monday.

Alongside the gold-plated Torah, which is written on gazelle skin, an ancient decree was also seized in the operation, the ministry said in a statement.

Authorities, however, did not elaborate on the details of the operation or whether they were questioning any of the suspects.

The Torah's place of origin could not be initially determined and it will now be examined by experts to find out when it was actually written.
Yes, yet another supposedly priceless biblical manuscript has turned up in Turkey. It's pretty hard to fathom how the Torah could be both "gold-plated" and "written on gazelle skin." My guess is that "gold plated" is a dodgy translation of some Turkish phrase that refers to gold leaf or gold lettering. If so, the manuscript is probably something like this one. But without a photo, it's hard to tell. Count me skeptical about the gold plating and the reported valuation.

I commend the Turkish police for keeping the pressure up on smugglers, but I wish that the Turkish media would hold back on these breathless announcements. They can at least wait until these supposedly priceless manuscripts are actually examined by the abovementioned experts.
Previously in 2012, police in Adana had confiscated a 1,900-year-old Torah, which was smuggled in from Syria.
Yes, I noted this story here when it came out and there is more on it here. The accounts are very far-fetched and the manuscript has never been authenticated.
Another Torah, believed to be 600-years-old, was confiscated in Istanbul in April 2016, when a suspect tried to sell it to undercover police officers.
I don't recall this story, but I may just have decided that it wasn't interesting enough to mention.

We regularly encounter reports of supposedly ancient and priceless biblical manuscripts being apprehended in Turkey. In addition to the above two stories, see here, here, and here. In each case follow the links for the full story. None of these manuscripts has so far lived up to the extravagant claims made in the announcements.

VR apps for ancient Jerusalem

LEEN RITMYER: Virtual Jerusalem. I have already noted the Lithodomos app here and links. The BYU app is new to me.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Did Jesus use weed?

READING ACTS: Jesus and Cannabis? You will probably not be surprised to hear that the evidence for a connection is extremely weak. And by extremely weak I mean there isn't any. Likewise for Moses and cannabis. But the relationship of the Archangel Metatron to weed is another matter.


YONA SABAR: Hebrew Word of the Week: navi’ “prophet.” Another important biblical word.

Where did boy Jesus hang out with the sages?

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH? Twelve-year-old Jesus in the Temple at Passover (Leen Ritmyer).
This Temple Court was separated by the Nicanor Gate from the Court of Women, which lay to the east of the Temple. Buildings, called gates, surrounded this complex. In front of the gates was a terrace (ḥel – pronounced chel with the “ch” sounding guttural as in the Scottish “loch”) of 10 cubits wide, which was reached by a flight of steps of half a cubit high and deep. This terrace bounded the wall of the gate buildings on their southern, western and northern sides.

It is on this ḥel that we get our first glimpse of Jesus after the birth narratives in the Gospels. Scripture is silent about his youth although it is clear from the observations of nature and Biblical history later attributed to him by the Gospel writers that he absorbed every spiritual and historical lesson that was provided by his upbringing in the countryside around Nazareth.
Although there is no doubt that there was an historical Jesus, I do not insist that this particular event actually happened in his life. There is no way to know. The point of the story in Luke 2:41-52 is that even when Jesus was not yet an adult (at age 13), he showed precocious learning and wisdom that impressed even the sages of Jerusalem. But Luke or his source may well have had this spot in mind as the location of the story.

Wilke, Farewell to Shulamit

Wilke, Carsten L.

Farewell to Shulamit
Spatial and Social Diversity in the Song of Songs

Series: Jewish Thought, Philosophy, and Religion 2


Aims and Scope
The Song of Songs, a lyric cycle of love scenes without a narrative plot, has often been considered as the Bible’s most beautiful and enigmatic book. The present study questions the still dominant exegetical convention that merges all of the Song’s voices into the dialogue of a single couple, its composite heroine Shulamit being a projection screen for norms of womanhood. An alternative socio-spatial reading, starting with the Hebrew text’s strophic patterns and its references to historical realia, explores the poem’s artful alternation between courtly, urban, rural, and pastoral scenes with their distinct characters. The literary construction of social difference juxtaposes class-specific patterns of consumption, mobility, emotion, power structures, and gender relations. This new image of the cycle as a detailed poetic frieze of ancient society eventually leads to a precise hypothesis concerning its literary and religious context in the Hellenistic age, as well as its geographical origins in the multiethnic borderland east of the Jordan. In a Jewish echo of anthropological skepticism, the poem emphasizes the plurality and relativity of the human condition while praising the communicative powers of pleasure, fantasy, and multifarious Eros.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Was Jesus a real person?

A HISTORICAL JESUS? What is the historical evidence that Jesus Christ lived and died? Today some claim that Jesus is just an idea, rather than a real historical figure, but there is a good deal of written evidence for his existence 2,000 years ago (Simon Gathercole, The Guardian).
How confident can we be that Jesus Christ actually lived?
The historical evidence for Jesus of Nazareth is both long-established and widespread. Within a few decades of his supposed lifetime, he is mentioned by Jewish and Roman historians, as well as by dozens of Christian writings. Compare that with, for example, King Arthur, who supposedly lived around AD500. The major historical source for events of that time does not even mention Arthur, and he is first referred to 300 or 400 years after he is supposed to have lived. The evidence for Jesus is not limited to later folklore, as are accounts of Arthur.

This article came out for Easter and I'm just now getting to it. It has a good overview of the early historical evidence that Jesus was a real person. This is not in any way controversial. No specialist doubts the existence of Jesus. The historical evidence is ample.

A more controversial question is who the historical Jesus was. What did he do, what did he teach, and what kind of religious practitioner was he? For my thoughts on the matter, see here and links.

False messiahs

READING ACTS: Roots of the Rebellion: False Messiahs.
In addition to Jesus, there were several false messiahs appeared in the first century. Each of this examples are from humble origins (shepherds, etc.), sought to set themselves up as kings, and developed a peasant following.

Chronology, even fairly recent chronology, was difficult to get right in antiquity. I think it is more likely that Luke was a little mixed up on the date of the rebellion of Theudas than that there were two Theudases rebelling within a decade or so of each other. But anything is possible.

Crowd numbers are very difficult to verify even now, so it is no surprise that Josephus and Luke give different estimates of the size of the crowd that was following the Egyptian.

Past posts in Phil Long's series on the Second Temple Period are noted here and links.

Review of Amihai, Theory and Practice in Essene Law

READING RELIGION BLOG: Theory and Practice in Essene Law (reviewed by Matthew Goldstone).
Aryeh Amihay
London, England: Oxford University Press , November 2016. 240 pages.
$99.00. Hardcover. ISBN 9780190631017.

In his Theory and Practice in Essene Law, Aryeh Amihay challenges us to synthesize the insights of legal theory and sociology in order to observe the gap between law and its application within the Judean Desert Scrolls. Offering us a new framework for thinking about the legal texts from this Jewish community, Amihay emphasizes the universality of tensions preserved within these sources while simultaneously highlighting their particularities. By exposing the discrepancy between theory and practice, Amihay animates the authors of these works and draws us into the lived world of these ancient sectarians.

I noted the publication of the book here.

Unicorns in the Bible

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS: You Can Find Unicorns in Frappuccinos, but What About in the Bible? Scripture mentions strange visions of nameless single-horned beasts. But what did the ancient word translated as 'unicorn' really mean? (Ilan Gilad, Haaretz).
With Starbucks’s release of its new “Unicorn Frappuccino” Wednesday, the latest in a growing trend of bright multi-colored foods, we thought it an opportune moment to answer the question on everyone’s minds: are there unicorns in the Bible?

Only one creature is explicitly described in the Bible as having a single horn, and can thus be said to be a unicorn. It is nameless and is a figment of the Prophet Daniel’s imagination: “And as I was considering, behold, an he goat came from the west on the face of the whole earth, and touched not the ground: and the goat had a notable horn between his eyes” (Daniel 8:5). Later in the chapter this goat-unicorn fights a ram, beats it, and then things really get crazy.

This goat-unicorn was not a real unicorn, though. It was just something Daniel possibly hallucinated. But are there any real unicorns in the Bible?

I never thought of the beast in Daniel as a unicorn, but I suppose that could work. Incidentally, in Daniel's vision the one-horned he-goat from the west represents Alexander the Great.

In what follows the article gives good coverage of the usual suspects: the re'em (via the Septuagint, the Latin Vulgate, and the King James Bible) and the takhash, along with some Talmudic traditions about both. The latter are worth quoting:
According to [Rabbah bar bar Hana of Babylonia] this strangest of Talmudic rabbis, the re’em is a mountain-sized creature, of which only two exist in the world at any given period, a male and a female, each at an opposite side of the world. Every 70 years, the two meet, mate, and then the female kills the male. After an 11-year pregnancy, two re’emim are born, a male and a female. The mother re’em dies, and the two offspring go to opposite sides of the world, where they bide their time for their incestuous rendezvous 70 years later. The rabbi doesn’t say whether or not they have a single horn.


According to Rabbi Meir, a takhash was a unicorn that appeared during the time of Moses, who killed it, skinned it, and used its hide to build the Tabernacle, the mobile Temple of the Israelites during their travels from Egypt to the Land of Canaan. So if Rabbi Meir is correct, there was one unicorn in the Bible and Moses killed it.
Modern biblical scholars have rather different understandings of the two animals.

Also, before this I didn't know what takhash meant in Modern Hebrew.

Past posts on unicorns in the Bible are here, here (although more on unicorns in Montana), here, here (briefly mentioned), here, and here.

More on that ancient Jewish pyramid

ARCHAEOLOGY: Archaeologists to probe ancient pyramid in Judean Hills. Summer excavation at Khirbet Midras will try to determine who resettled town after ruin in Bar Kochba revolt (Ilan Ben Zion, Times of Israel).
An enigmatic and little-known pyramid southwest of Jerusalem will be excavated for the first time this summer in an effort to determine who built it and when.

Hebrew University archaeologists will start digging at the pyramid at Khirbet Midras, in the Judean Hills south of Beit Shemesh, for the first time in July. This summer’s dig is the second season of excavations at Khirbet Midras, but the first in which scientists attempt to find out more about the massive structure.

The Khirbet Midras pyramid is believed to be the largest and best preserved of a handful of pyramid-topped mortuary complexes in Israel dating back to the Second Temple and Roman eras. The structure was first documented by former Israel Antiquities Authority director Levi Yitzhak Rahmani during a survey of the site in the 1950s.

As the article notes, we know of other Jewish pyramids from antiquity:
While their great Egyptian counterparts are larger and better known, Judeans apparently began building pyramid-topped tombs during the end of the First Temple periods and through the Second Temple period. The book of 1 Maccabees describes how Simon Maccabee erected a monument near Modiin with “seven pyramids facing one another for his father and his mother and his four brothers” slain in the uprising against the Seleucid Greeks.
. Background to this article is here. More on those elusive tombs of the Maccabees is here and links.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Interview with Jutta Jokiranta

What is your research about, in general terms?
My research is about the Second Temple period and processes of creating Judean/Jewish identities, especially in light of the Dead Sea Scrolls (or Qumran texts). It’s also about imagining what texts mean during this time when they are written in scrolls, and about the impact of rituals in humans’ lives and perceptions.


CFP: The Impact of Learning Greek, Hebrew, and 'Oriental' Languages ...

SOCIETY FOR CLASSICAL STUDIES: Call for Papers: The Impact of Learning Greek, Hebrew, and 'Oriental' Languages.

13-15 December 2017
The full CFP is long, so go to the link to read it all and find information on proposing a paper. The deadline for paper proposals is 30 April, so don't dawdle. Here's an excerpt:
This year’s LECTIO conference will seize the 500th anniversary of the foundation of the Leuven Collegium Trilingue as an incentive both to examine the general context in which such polyglot institutes emerged and—more generally—to assess the overall impact of Greek and Hebrew education. Our focus is not exclusively on the 16th century, as we also welcome papers dealing with the status and functions accorded to Greek, Hebrew, and other ‘Oriental’ languages in the (later) Middle Ages and the Early Modern Period up to 1750. Special attention will be directed to the learning and teaching practices and to the general impact the study of these languages exerted on scholarship, science and society. We therefore look forward to receiving abstracts offering answers to the following questions, inter multa alia: ...

Potsherds and the Bible

What Do Old, Dirty, Broken Pieces Of Pottery Have To Do With The Bible?

Robbing tombs is illegal. Most of the “museum pieces” found in Israel are rather homely and plain. Yes, you will dig up hundreds of potsherds if you do an excavation (along with bones, metal objects, and perhaps glass, among other things). And if you find “anything good,” you will not get to take it home.

See Also: Insights from Archaeology (Reading the Bible in the Twenty-First Century: Insights) (Fortress Press, 2017).

By David A. Fiensy
Dean, Graduate School
Kentucky Christian University
April 2017
Yet archaeology can be exciting if the excitement is about the people whose lives we come to know through the remains. If you expect to see your picture in the New York Times standing with a serious and scholarly expression on your face, surrounded by smiling “locals,” while you modestly point toward your sensational discovery under the screaming headlines: “HOW I FOUND THE ARK OF THE COVENANT!”—you may want to explore another career or at least another venue for your career. That will almost never happen in Israel.
Yes, anything like this almost never happens.

This recent post begins with some thoughts related to the topic of this essay.

Social banditry

READING ACTS: Roots of the Rebellion: Social Banditry.
Social bandits portray themselves as robbing the rich and giving to the poor, “righting wrongs” and other social evils, and providing justice for the oppressed lower classes. This is something like Robin Hood, or the American “gangster” of the depression era (Pretty Boy Floyd, Jesse James, etc.) The social banditry described by Josephus took place during the reign of Herod the Great, but it continued throughout the period of the New Testament, culminating on the rebellion against Rome in A.D. 66.
Past posts in Phil Long's series on the Second Temple Period are noted here and links.

Adler on the origins of ritual immersion

DR. YONATAN ADLER: On the Origins of Tevilah (Ritual Immersion) (
When and why washing became immersion: between traditional-rabbinic and scientific-critical approaches to the origin of immersion and the mikveh.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Renovation of Caesarea Harbor

ANNOUNCEMENT: Plans to Renovate Ancient Harbor at Caesarea (Hana Levi Julian, The Jewish Press).
The Caesarea Rothschild Foundations and the Caesarea Edmond de Rothschild Corporation are investing more than NIS 100 million on a new project, Israeli officials have announced.

Archaeologists are working to renovate the ancient harbor at Caesarea, and now plan to continue the excavation in the Caesarea National Park as well.
More details are promised next week.

Some recent past posts on the archaeology of ancient Caesarea are here, here, here, and here.

Hurtado on "the form of God" in Philo and Paul

LARRY HURTADO: “The Form of God”: Philo and Paul.
An interesting passage in Philo of Alexandria, Embassy to Gaius (110-14) casts possible light on Paul’s reference to Christ as “being in the form of God/a god” (ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ ὑπάρχων; Philippians 2:6).


ISIS attack near Saint Catherine's Monastery?

ANOTHER ATTACK IN EGYPT: Egypt says its forces killed Sinai monastery shooter. Suspect behind attack near St. Catherine’s in which one policeman killed and 3 injured dies after shootout with cops (AFP).

ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack, but then again they would. It may be a while before exactly what happened becomes clear. It is possible that a terrorist attack on the Monastery was thwarted. Its security has been a matter of concern for some time. For recent work on the manuscripts at St. Catherine's, see here.

Economic unreality in a parable of Jesus

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Economic Knowledge in the Parables (Michelle Christian).
A number of parables in the Jesus tradition appear to draw on the everyday details of ancient economic life. However, I consider a case for which there are no realistic comparanda: the so-called Parable of the Entrusted Money. The story is significant, I argue, precisely for the economic unreality it portrays. What is more, the Entrusted Money gives access to the kind of economic knowledge that informed it and other parables, particularly those found in the gospels attributed to Matthew and Luke as well as in their common source Q.

Credo quia absurdum?

Digital biblical studies

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: Biblical Studies in the Digital Age. How digital archaeology has revolutionized Biblical studies (Marek Dospěl).
Writing for Biblical Archaeology Review, digital archaeologist Todd R. Hanneken of St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas, provides an expert overview of innovative technologies his team uses in studying an erased parchment manuscript (called a palimpsest) of the Book of Jubilees, an extra-Biblical Jewish religious work composed in mid-second century B.C.E.

Studies of badly preserved inscriptions and erased manuscripts, explains Hanneken, benefit most from advanced digital photography, namely from the so-called multispectral imaging and reflectance transformation imaging.
Cross-file under Technology Watch. For more on the Jubilees Palimpsest Project, see here and here. And for more on reflectance transformation imaging (RTI), see here and here.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017


YONA SABAR: Hebrew Word of the Week: shalom "peace, well-being, greetings, good health. Used with many nuances from the Bible to the present.

The coins of the first Jewish revolt

NUMISMATICS: CoinWeek Ancient Coin Series: Coinage of the Jewish War (Mike Markowitz). A chronicle of the first Jewish revolt (the Great Revolt, 66-70 CE) keyed to the coins associated with it. Some were produced by the revolutionaries during the revolt and some by the Romans after it.

Some past PaleoJudaica posts on coins of the first Jewish revolt are here, here, here, here, here, here, and follow those links!

Another Copper Scroll seeker

SO MUCH TREASURE: Scuba Diver Aaron Guetterman Sets His Eyes on Six Legendary Sunken Treasures (Digital Journal).
Scuba diver Aaron Guetterman has had a single dream ever since he was a child and that is to search for treasure. His parents used to give him treasure maps to find his Christmas and birthday presents, and he started scuba diving from a young age in the hopes of finding something amazing. He has now been all over the world, diving in some of the most remote places in the world, focusing particularly on sunken wrecks. He has now revealed that he has set his eyes on six legendary sunken treasures.

Aaron Guetterman says, "There's a little adventurer in every one of us, and a big one in me. I know treasures exist, and they're just waiting to be found. I want to be the one that finds them. I know it's not going to be easy, and maybe I will come back with nothing at all, but a fantastic adventure awaits me this year. I have planned a full year to search for six different treasures, and I'm just buzzing with excitement!"

PaleoJudaica readers will be familiar with one of the treasures in his sights:
His next stop will be Israel, where he aims to follow the clues left in the Dead Sea scrolls. He says, "The Dead Sea Scrolls contain 64 different spots in Israel that are supposed to be caches of silver and gold, and I aim to find at least one."
The Dead Sea Scroll in question is the Copper Scroll, on which much more here, here, and here and many links.

For my part, I'm not getting excited about this project just yet. There is plenty of time for that should Mr. Guetterman actually find any of these lost treasures. But in the meantime I wish him well and I hope he has a good year.

The hope for the return of the Diaspora

READING ACTS: Gathering Israel to Their Inheritance.
As N. T. Wright has said many times, Jews living in the first century knew the prophecy of Daniel 9 was nearing an end and they were fervently looking forward to the gathering of Jews living in the Diaspora to return to Zion and worship in Jerusalem once again. Even in Sirach (who was no wide-eyed apocalypticist), there is a hope for this gathering of all the tribes to the land of their inheritance. Closer to the first century, The Psalms of Solomon give evidence of this belief as well.
Past posts in Phil Long's series on the Second Temple Period are noted here and links.

The Bible and taxes

IN HONOR OF THE AMERICAL FEDERAL TAX DEADLINE (18 April this year - Paul Revere call your office), a couple of articles on biblical taxation have shown up in my searches:


This one flags a 1998 article from The Accounting Historians Journal. It's just a very literal and unsophisticated survey of traditions in the Hebrew Bible about taxation. One comment:
But Jose and Moore note that accounting must have remained a problem for the ancient Israelites, who spelled out large numbers in Hebrew rather than using numerals. As they note: “It is unfathomable how the administration of any tax system would have been possible under such conditions.”
We know from Iron Age II epigraphic discoveries that Hebrew-writing scribes used the Egyptian hieratic system to write numbers. This has been known since at least the 1960s.

From The Forward: The Secret Jewish History of Tax Day (Seth Rogovoy). This one includes some references from the Talmud and other rabbinic sources, but it could give fuller references.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Dimant on Aramaic Tobit

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Aramaic Tobit at Qumran (Devorah Dimant).
Tobit before Qumran

For a long time, the book of Tobit has been studied as a one-of-a-kind composition, with other so-called “novels,” such as Esther and the book of Judith. However, the presence of Aramaic copies of Tobit among the Qumran scrolls, together with other Aramaic texts, revealed its background and context and taught us much about the language and cultural setting of the composition. Most particularly, Tobit shows affinity to the Aramaic stories about the biblical patriarchs and to the Aramaic court-tales. Despite the fact that this corpus is the closest to Tobit in time and place, little has been done to utilize the Qumran Aramaic literature as a key to interpreting Tobit. This may be due partly to the well-anchored opinion, still maintained by numerous scholars, that Tobit was composed in the “Eastern Diaspora.” The Tobit copies found among the Dead Sea Scrolls and the numerous links Tobit displays to the Aramaic texts discovered there, suggest that the origin and setting of the book is in the land of Israel.

Here, only four topics from Tobit are examined and compared with their parallels in various Aramaic texts: endogamy (i.e., the practice of marrying only within a specific ethnic, class or social group), demonology, burial practices, and halakhic items reflected in sectarian literature.


Millard responds to Petrovich

THE ASOR BLOG: A Response to Douglas Petrovich’s “Hebrew as the Language behind the World’s First Alphabet?” (Alan Millard).
In his piece for ANE Today, Douglas Petrovich claims some of the thirty or so inscriptions engraved on stone monuments around the Egyptian turquoise mines at Serâbîṭ el-Khâdim in western Sinai mention biblical figures. The following comments refer only to what he has written there.

In 1916 the Egyptologist Alan Gardiner deduced the signs belonged to an early form of the alphabet. The letters, he said, were ‘clearly modeled on Egyptian hieroglyphs’ (not ‘consisted of a number of middle Egyptian hieroglyphs’), each used acrophonically, as Petrovich explains. It is essential to be aware that almost every one of these Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions is broken or damaged, making the identification of signs and any attempt at translation tentative at best.

The summary Petrovich gives of his work offers little that can support his assertions. He declares that he came to believe that Hebrew is the language ‘behind the proto-consonantal script ... by weighing the options systematically and allowing the context of various inscriptions to determine which option is correct’, without further explanation.

Background here, with comments and links.

An ancient Jewish pyramid at Hirbet Madras

ARCHAEOLOGY: The Jewish pyramid of Adullam. Archaeologists are beginning to study and excavate an ancient Jewish pyramid believed to be related to a burial structure near Hirbet Madras; pyramid is believed to be a vestige of Hellenistic influence in the area (Assaf Kamar, Ynet News).
According to archaeologist and Prof. Boaz Zissu of Bar-Ilan University, after the establishment of the empire of Alexander the Great, which conquered and unified the region geographically and culturally, Second Temple era Jews were influenced by the dominant Hellenistic culture.

"Ancient Egyptian culture had an influence on the Hellenistic culture that ruled the Land of Israel, and Hellenistic culture in turn influenced the Jews living in its territory. The pyramid was built on the border between Jewish communities and Edomite communities and it is assumed that the Jews took the geometry of the pyramid rather than the religious ideas," said Prof. Zissu.

In ancient Jewish sources, the monument above the burial cave is called "Nefesh," and it symbolizes the location of the cave. In Israel, there are other pyramids such as those in the Jerusalem area like the Tomb of Zechariah in the Kidron Valley.

Past posts on the site of Hirbet Madras and its ancient architecture are here, here, here, and here.

Long on messianic hopes and the Great Revolt

READING ACTS: Messianic Hopes and the Jewish Revolt.
E. P. Sanders contended Judaism in the Second Temple period was not a religion of individual salvation (278). God made a covenant with the people of Israel and it is the people who will be preserved. The eschatology of Israel is a national eschatology rather than personal. What “future hopes” are found in the first century, they are hopes which concern the people of Israel as a whole rather than individuals.

It is likely most Jews longed for freedom from Rome. ...
Past posts in Phil Long's series on the Second Temple Period are noted here and links, with a side turn toward Greco-Roman religion here and links.

The Bladon murder

HANNAH BLADON, the young British woman murdered in Jerusalem on Good Friday, was a religion and archaeology student at the University of Birmingham who was on an exchange semester at the Hebrew University: Hannah Bladon murder: Israeli leaders say attack is an act of 'terrorism' (RobbieGordon, Derby Telegraph).
Israeli leaders have condemned the murder of a 20-year-old Derby County fan in Jerusalem, claiming it was an act of "terrorism".

Hannah Bladon, from Burton, was attacked on a tram on Good Friday. She was stabbed several times in the chest and died in hospital.


Ms Bladon had been studying religion, theology and archaeology at the University of Birmingham since 2015. As part of her studies, she had begun an exchange semester at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in January.

She was returning from an archaeological dig when she was killed by a man wielding a kitchen knife on the tram, which was busy as Christians marked Good Friday and Jews celebrated Passover.

I join many others in extending my condolences to her family and friends for this terrible loss.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Bowens, An Apostle in Battle


An Apostle in Battle
Paul and Spiritual Warfare in 2 Corinthians 12:1–10

[Ein Apostel in der Schlacht. Paulus und geistige Kriegsführung im 2. Korinther 12:1–10.]
2017. XIV, 260 pages.
Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 2. Reihe 433

79,00 €
sewn paper
ISBN 978-3-16-154860-4

Published in English.
In this close reading of 2 Corinthians 12:1–10, Lisa M. Bowens provides a detailed historical-critical exegesis and comparative analysis to establish that Paul links his ascent in 2 Corinthians 12:1–10 to 2 Corinthians 10:3–6 where he foregrounds a cosmic battle around the mind and the knowledge of God. In 10:3–6, the apostle presents a trilateral framework of cosmology, epistemology, and theological anthropology, which converge in his heavenly journey. Lisa M. Bowens examines a variety of Jewish and Greco-Roman texts and calls attention to the persistence and importance of martial imagery in chapters 10–13 of Second Corinthians, including in Paul's ascent narrative. Moreover, prayers of deliverance from evil forces become more prevalent around the first century, and this work situates Paul's request in 2 Corinthians 12:8 within this genre.

Tappenden and Daniel-Hughes (eds.), Coming Back to Life


The lines between death and life were neither fixed nor finite to the peoples of the ancient Mediterranean. For most, death was a passageway into a new and uncertain existence. The dead were not so much extinguished as understood to be elsewhere, and many perceived the deceased to continue to exercise agency among the living. Even for those more skeptical of an afterlife, notions of coming back to life provided frameworks in which to conceptualize the on-going social, political, and cultural influence of the past. This collection of essays examines how notions of coming back to life shape practices and ideals throughout the ancient Mediterranean. All contributors focus on the common theme of coming back to life as a discursive and descriptive space in which antique peoples construct, maintain, and negotiate the porous boundaries between past and present, mortality and immortality, death and life.
I am surprised to see that none of the essays are specifically about Jewish traditions, unless you count The Life of Adam and Eve as Jewish. (I don't.) But there is plenty of interesting material on the Greco-Roman world and early Christianity.

Seen on Facebook.

Interview with Albert Pietersma

WILLIAM ROSS: LXX SCHOLAR INTERVIEW: DR. ALBERT PIETERSMA (Septuaginta &C. Blog). One excerpt, but read it all:
As I see it, however, in all three of these sub-disciplines, Septuagint Studies continues to suffer from what might be called a schizophrenic approach to the Septuagint. In my view, the origin of this schizophrenia is an outgrowth of the discipline’s historical origins. In brief, one might consider the following. That these historical origins lie in the study of the New Testament (NT) and more particularly in the conceptualization of the LXX as the Christian Old Testament is scarcely open to controversy. Not only did Christians transmit the LXX, but, as well, both the Cambridge and the Göttingen editions bespeak, a patently Christian context. Thus the former speaks of “The Old Testament in Greek” and the latter subtitles the Septuagint as “Vetus Testamentum Graecum.” Between these two editions, however, a great gulf is fixed. Whereas the Cambridge LXX is a diplomatic edition, that is to say, a given Christian manuscript functions as the lemma text to which all other witnesses are collated, the Göttingen LXX, on the other hand, is a critical edition, in other words, a text critically recovered and reconstructed, as closely as possible to its pristine originality both in terms of its text-form and its text-semantics. To label this critically reconstructed, Jewish, text “The Old Testament” or “Vetus Testamentum” creates a methodological contradiction between title and contents. One might well ask how this text of pre-Christian Jewry can, in one and the same breath, also be spoken of as the Old Testament of Christianity or, for that matter, the Bible of Alexandrian Judaism. The answer is that it cannot possibly be so designated. In short, while Christianity could and did lay claim to the LXX as its Old Testament at some point in its reception history, it cannot possibly lay claim to the event of its production.
Some past interviews of LXX scholars by William Ross are noted here and links.

The Greek Bible in Byzantine Judaism

AWOL BLOG: The Greek Bible in Byzantine Judaism. An interesting AHRC project that challenges that common assumption that Jews abandoned the Septuagint by late antiquity.

3 Enoch meets the Milanese art scene

INSTALLATION ART: Kiefer’s towers, a symbol of man’s tragic struggle that have become a Milan landmark (Gabi Scardi, ItalyEurope24).
They date back to 2004 and have already become a part of Milan’s collective imagination. More informally known to the city's inhabitants as “Kiefer’s Towers,” their actual name is The Seven Heavenly Palaces: a site-specific, permanent installation created by Anselm Kiefer for the inauguration of HangarBicocca, a former industrial site now reconverted to be used as a space for big events and art exhibitions.

Titanic and spectacular, suited to enhancing the theatrical quality of the site itself, the Towers have long dominated the entire Hangar space, which has loomed for years in all its bare, raw and powerful enormity: 15,000 square meters of empty space and darkness. Artists who, from time to time, exhibited alongside Kiefer’s permanent installation inevitably faced the challenge of addressing the Towers' presence.

The work takes its name from the Palaces of the Sepher Hekhalot or “Book of Palaces,” a Hebrew text of the 4th-5th century BC narrating, in symbolic terms, the journey of spiritual initiation of those who seek to approach God.

Sepher Hekhalot is also known as 3 Enoch (on which more here). I think the Archangel Metatron would be pleased.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Manchester project on typology of ancient Jewish literature (TAPJLA)

AWOL BLOG: Typology of Anonymous and Pseudepigraphic Jewish Literature in Antiquity, c. 200 BCE to c. 700 CE.

I have mentioned this important project at the University of Manchester a few times (here, here, and here), but until now I don't seem to have noted its main website.

Metatron and the attorney

ARCHANGEL METATRON WATCH: Novel involves attorney, angels (VIRGINIA LUGER, Bismark Tribune).
Title: "Dancing at Angel Abbey"

Author: Lauren M. Bloom
In this novel Metatron is in good company with some archangels and other angels from Jewish tradition.

Levin, The Chronicles of the Kings of Judah

The Chronicles of the Kings of Judah
2 Chronicles 10 - 36: A New Translation and Commentary

By: Yigal Levin

Published: 02-23-2017
Format: Hardback
Edition: 1st
Extent: 512
ISBN: 9780567671714
Imprint: Bloomsbury T&T Clark
Illustrations: 10 bw illus
Dimensions: 6 1/8" x 9 1/4"
List price: $148.00
Online price: $133.20

About The Chronicles of the Kings of Judah

The book of Chronicles, the last book of the Hebrew Bible and a central historical book of the Christian Old Testament, has in recent decades gone from being “the Cinderella of biblical studies” to being one of the most researched books of the Bible. The anonymous author, often simply called “the Chronicler” by modern scholars, looks back at the old Israelite monarchy, before the Babylonian Exile, from his vantage point in the post-exilic early Second Temple Period, and attempts to “update” the older historiographies of Samuel and Kings in order to elucidate their meaning to the people of his own time.

In The Chronicles of the Kings of Judah, Yigal Levin does the same for the modern reader. He offers a brand-new translation and commentary on 2 Chronicles chapters 10-36, tracing the “sacred history” of the monarchy from the division of Solomon's kingdom to the final exile and return. Each chapter is translated from the original Hebrew into an English that is both faithful to the original and easy for the modern reader to follow. Extensive footnotes provide full explanations of the translator's choices and of linguistic and literary issues, taking note of alternative versions offered by a wide array of ancient and modern versions and translations. The comprehensive commentary on each section provides historical background and explains the text both on a literary and a historical level, making full use of the most up-to-date research on the text, literature, history, geography and on the archaeological background of the biblical world.

The Chronicles of the Kings of Judah is to be followed by The Chronicles of David and Solomon on 1 Chronicles 10 – 2 Chronicles 9, and then by The Chronicles of All Israel on the genealogies of 1 Chronicles 1-9 and including comprehensive essays on the book of Chronicles, its time, purposes, methods and meanings.

Frey et al. (eds.), Glaube

Das Verständnis des Glaubens im frühen Christentum und in seiner jüdischen und hellenistisch-römischen Umwelt
Hrsg. v. Jörg Frey, Benjamin Schliesser u. Nadine Ueberschaer, unter Mitarbeit von Kathrin Hager

[Faith. The Comprehension of Faith in Early Christianity and its Jewish and Hellenistic-Roman Environment.]
2017. XXV, 957 pages.
Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 373

219,00 €
ISBN 978-3-16-153878-0

Published in German.
“Faith” has taken center stage in the religious language of Early Christianity and developed into the dominant description of the relationship between humans and God. No writing prior to or beside the New Testament uses the semantic field of “faith” with comparable density. At the same time, the Early Christian talk of faith is embedded into a complex network of perceptions and images, which constitute the addressees' horizon of understanding and lend communicative meaning to the word “faith”. The present volume contains studies on the understanding of faith in the writings of the New Testament as well as in foundational texts of the Old Testament, ancient and rabbinic Judaism, the Greco-Roman world, the Apostolic Fathers, and the Early Church. Reflections from the perspective of church history and systematic theology conclude it.
The essays are in German and English. Follow the link for the TOC.

Easter 2017

HAPPY EASTER TO ALL THOSE CELEBRATING. See last year's Easter post for relevant biblical texts and correct information on the origin of the word.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Lim on contemporary significance of DSS

NEWS YOU CAN USE: The contemporary significance of the dead sea scrolls (Timothy Lim, OUP Blog).
Many people have heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls, but few know what they are or the significance they have for people today. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and it gives us an opportunity to ask what are these scrolls and why they should matter to anyone.


Kalimi, Fighting Over the Bible

Fighting Over the Bible
Jewish Interpretation, Sectarianism and Polemic from Temple to Talmud and Beyond

Isaac Kalimi, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
Fighting over the Bible explores the bitter conflicts between main stream Jews and their internal and external opponents, especially between particular Jewish groups such as Pharisees, Sadducees, Qumranites, Samaritans, Rabbanites and Karaites, as well as with Christians and Muslims regarding their interpretations of Jewish Scripture. The Hebrew Bible/Old Testament is an important sacred text for all branches of the Abrahamic faiths, but it has more often divided than unified them. This volume explores and exemplifies the roots of these interpretive conflicts and controversies and traces the rich exegetical and theological approaches that grew out of them. Focusing on the Jewish sources from the late Second Temple period through the high Middle-Ages, it illustrates how the study of the Bible filled the vacuum left by the Temple’s destruction, and became the foundation of Jewish life throughout its long conflicted history.

The Roman Imperial Cult

READING ACTS: What is the Roman Imperial Cult?

Past posts in Phil Long's series on the Greco-Roman world are noted here and here. And, again, last year's Divine Sonship Symposium at the University of St. Andrews is very relevant to this post.

CSCO Easter Roundtable

LARRY HURTADO: Easter Roundtable.
A roundtable discussion on Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection led by Professor Helen Bond, with Dr. Sara Parvis and me participating is available now here. Bond commences with queries about how Jesus’ corpse was handled after his crucifixion, whether it was in fact buried or simply discarded, and whether figures such as Joseph of Arimathea may have been involved.

Cross-file under CSCO Easter Series.

Pilate and the Son of God

THE HOLY LAND PHOTOS BLOG: Another Son of God? Pilate’s Tiberieum at Caesarea Maritima. This inscription is known best because it mentions Pontius Pilate by name. But a closer look makes it even more interesting:
Thus it should be noted that at Caesarea Maritima the imperial cult founded by Herod the Great was still being practiced AND that Pilate as a good governor was also promoting the Imperial Cult—adding a structure for the worship of the ruling Roman emperor, Tiberius (14–37). All of this going on during the time of Jesus’ public ministry (ca. 26–30)!
I can't remember if this inscription came up during the St. Andrews Symposium on Divine Sonship last June, but it certainly would have been of interest. Cross-file under Easter is Coming.

Friday, April 14, 2017

What would Jesus eat?

MEREDITH WARREN: What Would Jesus Eat This Easter? A First Century Menu For The Last Supper (History Matters Blog, University of Sheffield). Cross-file under News You Can Use.

Let me also take this opportunity to congratulate Dr. Warren, whose temporary post at the University of Sheffield was recently made permanent. It's great to have her settled now on this side of the pond. For more on her work, see here and links.

Lim on Resurrection in Judaism

CSCO EASTER SERIES: Resurrection in Judaism (Video; Professor Timothy Lim).

Review of Holtz, Rabbi Akiva: Sage of the Talmud (Yale UP, 2017)

BOOK REVIEW: Rabbi Akiva Made the Jews Who They Are Today, Says Biographer (David Holzel, The Jewish Exponent).
What we think of as Judaism today — from the religion practiced by the haredi Orthodox in contemporary B’nai Brak, Israel, to the lack of religion of secular Jews — was created by the rabbis in the centuries following the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in the year 70. If there was a quintessential rabbi in the group, said [Barry] Holtz, a professor of education at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, that man was Akiva.

“He was the smartest one in the room,” he said.

Holtz has written what he calls an “imagined biography” of Akiva, who lived in the first and second centuries CE.


Four entered the orchard. While one looked and died, another looked and was stricken, a third looked and cut down the shoots, only Rabbi Akiva “went up in peace and came down in peace.”

This enigmatic story became part of the foundation of the Jewish mystical tradition. In his exploration of the “Orchard Story” or the “Pardes Story,” Holtz looks at what the four were doing, and why only Akiva seems to have returned unscathed.

“Akiva,” Holtz writes, “becomes the ultimate model of the Jewish mystic — gaining mystical knowledge and power and seeing the face of the divine.”

He became the model of the Jewish martyr as well, being executed by the Romans for violating a ban on teaching and learning Torah, a policy whose actuality Holtz called “murky.”

The book was noted as forthcoming here. For more on the Story of the Four Who Entered Paradise, see here and links.

Marx-Wolf, Spiritual Taxonomies and Ritual Authority

Heidi Marx-Wolf, Spiritual Taxonomies and Ritual Authority: Platonists, Priests, and Gnostics in the Third Century C.E. (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2106)
A review copy kindly sent to me by the publisher. I will be reviewing the book in the Mysticism, Esotericism, and Gnosticism (MEGA) Section at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in Boston in November of this year.

I noted the publication of the book last year here.

The site of Jesus' crucifixion?

THE HOLY LAND PHOTOS BLOG: Site of Crucifixion of Jesus?
Probably the most sacred place in the whole of Christendom is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (aka Church of the Resurrection) in the Old City of Jerusalem. Since the first half of the fourth century a church has encased both the places of crucifixion and burial of Jesus.

Since today is Good Friday. As generally with such things, this place enshrines a tradition about the site where Jesus was crucified. It's a comparatively old tradition, but one warranting some skepticism. Whether or not there was a genuine memory of the actual site of the event, inevitably someone would have come up with one.

For the question of the site of Jesus' burial, see here and links.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Ancient economics

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Theorizing “the Ancient Economy”: Three Paradigms (Thomas R. Blanton IV).
It would seem that the study of “the ancient economy” is in a period of ferment. Three new SBL program units have been added since 2004 that treat aspects of the ancient economy: Early Christianity and the Ancient Economy, Economics in the Biblical World, and Poverty in the Biblical World. In the field of classical studies, the 2008 publication of The Cambridge Economic History of the Greco-Roman World has effectively ushered in a post-Finleyan era in the study of Greco-Roman economies by incorporating methods developed in the field of New Institutional Economics. In what follows, we examine representative samples of three emergent methodological trends: (1) the turn toward New Institutional Economics in studies of Greece and Rome; (2) Roland Boer’s model of the economy of ancient Israel; and (3) K. C. Hanson and Douglas Oakman’s social-scientific approach in New Testament studies. These models differ significantly from each other and are drawn from what are often treated as three distinct fields: classics, Hebrew Bible, and New Testament studies. It is precisely the differences between the models that are most illuminating, however, and juxtaposing them quickly reveals the emphases—and omissions—that are specific to and that characterize each model.


Proto-Siniatic "Hebrew" again

THE ASOR BLOG: Hebrew as the Language behind the World’s First Alphabet? (Douglas Petrovich).

To be honest, I am surprised that ASOR published this essay. Dr. Petrovich's theory has never been published in a peer-review venue and it has nevertheless been refuted informally in detail by specialists in Northwest Semitics and Egyptology. The very statement that the Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions were written in "Hebrew" doesn't make any sense to specialists. There was no "Hebrew" in the early second millennium BCE. There were various dialects of Northwest Semitic, some of which would someday develop into Hebrew, Aramaic, Phoenician, Moabite, etc.

Past PaleoJudaica posts on Douglas Petrovich's claims are here, here, here, and here.

Passover priestly blessing at Western Wall

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Watch: Priestly blessing at Western Wall. Thousands attend special annual Passover 'Birkat Kohanim' service at Western Wall in Jerusalem (Arutz Sheva).
Thousands flocked to the Western Wall Plaza in the Old City of Jerusalem Thursday morning for a special holiday service of the Priestly Blessing (Birkat Hakohanim) for the Passover festival.

With video. For biblical and epigraphic background on the priestly blessing, see last year's post here and last year's post on the Sukkot priestly blessing here.

Lawrence Frizzell honored

CONGRATULATIONS TO FATHER FRIZZELL: Father Lawrence Frizzell, Luna Kaufman, Pearl Randall Lehrhoff and Hattie Segal honored at 24th Evening of Roses on May 7; Special Appearance by Scholar Amy-Jill Levine (Laurie Pine, Seton Hall University).
Father Lawrence E. Frizzell will be honored for a lifetime of work and scholarship, receiving the first ever Sister Rose Thering Fund Award in Jewish Christian Understanding on Sunday, May 7, at the 24th annual Evening of Roses fundraiser. Father Frizzell is Director and Associate Professor of the Jewish-Christian Studies Graduate Program in the Department of Religion.


Father Frizzell, D.Phil. (Oxford University), S.S.L. (Pontifical Biblical Institute, Rome), S.T.L. (University of Ottawa) is a priest of the Edmonton Archdiocese in Alberta, Canada. He came to Seton Hall University in 1974 to help found the master's program, which in 1979 became the Department of Jewish-Christian Studies. He was also Associate Director of the Institute of Judaeo-Christian Studies, founded in 1953 by Msgr. John M. Oesterreicher. Since 1993, he has served as director of this Institute, which promotes understanding of the Christian roots in the Jewish matrix of the Second Temple period and, through lectures and publications, strives to increase understanding and amity between Jewish and Christian communities.

Principles of Jewish-Christian dialogue may be applied to other communities seeking justice, peace and greater mutual understanding. For decades Father Frizzell has developed a personal interest in peace studies and, in a limited way, an appreciation of the cultures of East and South-East Asia. His doctoral dissertation was on the theology of the community that produced the Dead Sea (Qumran) Scrolls. Besides publications in biblical and Jewish studies, he wrote entries for the World Encyclopedia of Peace (Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1986, revised 1999) and the Dictionary of Christian-Jewish Relations (Cambridge University Press, 2005).

And congratulations also to the three trustees who are being honored.

A Caiaphas-family ossuary

THE HOLY LAND PHOTOS BLOG: Bone Box of Caiaphas the High Priest.
Caiaphas, the High Priest, is mentioned 9 times in the Gospels and is one of those before whom Jesus appeared before being condemned to death by Pilate (Matthew 26; John 18). A few years ago a “bone box” (ossuary) was found, along with 11 others, in a Second Temple tomb located two miles south of Jerusalem on a hill that today is called “the hill of Evil Counsel” (John 11:49–50). On it the name “Joseph “son” of Caiaphas” was inscribed!

I noted the discovery of this ossuary back in 2008 here. Also, in 2011, the IAA announced the recovery (from looters) of an ossuary that was inscribed "Miriam Daughter of Yeshua Son of Caiaphas Priest of Ma'aziah from Beth ’Imri.’" (The punctuation is uncertain.) The IAA has judged it to be genuine. More on that ossuary is here and links. Cross-file under Easter is Coming.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Seminar on Greco-Roman apocalyptic

AT CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY: Craven Seminar: 'Eschatology and Apocalypse in Graeco-Roman literature.'
Craven Seminar, 1-3 June 2017 ‘Eschatology and Apocalypse in Graeco-Roman literature’ G.21 Faculty of Classics, University of Cambridge

Unlike other ancient traditions, the literature of Greece and Rome does not develop a mythology of the End of Days. Its few philosophical texts that explicitly address the question of whether the world will end, and the place of humans in such scenarios, are, however, only one part of the story of eschatological thinking in antiquity. Images of our collective future, like images of our past, are motivated by constructions of the present, and may be spun different ways to make different points, with explicit or implied consequences for our current place in the world. Various rhetorical functions of adopting an 'apocalyptic' mode, such as consolation for death, subversion of tyrannical powers, revelation of 'scientific' truths, or satire of religious clichés, emerge through framing and form as well as content. They contribute not so much to a thesis as to a discourse.

This conference aims to explore such a discourse in Graeco-Roman literary culture, focusing on ancient texts in which a revelation of a collective destiny plays a significant role. We shall consider both 'cosmic revelations' and 'looking to the end of history' as aspects of apocalyptic eschatology in material from the Greek and Roman worlds; through highlighting such rhetoric, we aim to shed fresh light on a variety of ancient authors, from Aeschylus and Plato to Lucretius and Seneca; we will also consider Jewish pseudepigraphical texts and early Christian expositions which thrive on tensions between the working out of divine plans already made and semi-revealed to mortals, and the irruption of the heavenly into the earthly world.

Follow the link for further particulars and a provisional schedule of papers. The relevance of the topic for anyone interested in Jewish and Christian apocalypses and apocalyptic eschatology is obvious.

HT Paul Middleton on the BNTC List.

So the demons don't know Aramaic either?

PHILOLOGOS: Why the Beginning of the Haggadah Is in Aramaic. It’s because of demons (Mosaic Magazine).
What, then, is the reason for the Aramaic of the ha laḥma anya? The only one given by Jewish tradition that I know of first appears in the 13th-century Maḥzor Vitry, an all-year-’round prayer book with extensive commentary attributed to the French rabbi Simḥah ben Shmuel of Vitry, a student of Rashi. Writing about the Haggadah’s opening lines, he says:
Aramaic was ordained because were one to say in Hebrew “Let whoever is hungry come and eat,” it would be as though also inviting the evil spirits. . . . But the evil spirits do not know Aramaic.
We do not welcome strangers to our seder in Hebrew, in other words, because the world’s demonic legions, who understand Hebrew and Hebrew alone, might then decide to crash the party. What a charming but strange notion! Where does it come from?
It seems to be an inference based on the Talmud's statement that angels don't know Aramaic. Cross-file under Passover.

By the way, it is good to see Philologos active again. He was last noted by PaleoJudaica back in 2014. It seems he has moved from The Forward to Mosaic Magazine, which is news to me.

A rolling stone and a crucified skeleton

EASTER IS COMING: At the Holy Land Photos Blog, Carl Rasmussen is posting lots of Easter-related photos. Here are a couple of his recent posts:

The Best Rolling Stone Tomb in Israel — Khirbet Midras

Crucified Man from Jerusalem
It is well–known from literature that the Romans crucified rebels and criminals. In 1968, an ossuary (bone box; see below) was found, among others, in a tomb in north Jerusalem in which were the bones of a 28 year old man and those of a child.

Past posts on the crucified man skeleton and related matters are collected here (cf. here).

More on Greco-Roman Religion

READING ACTS: Characteristics of Greco-Roman Religions.

Past posts in Phil Long's series on the Second Temple Period are noted here and links. But we seem now to have moved on to the Greco-Roman world, which is still interesting for ancient Judaism.

At the Chester Beatty Library

EXHIBITION: Manuscripts shed light on early days of Christianity (, Belfast Telegraph).
Some of the oldest surviving biblical manuscripts are on display in Dublin.

The texts, which caused a global sensation in 1931 when they were bought by Sir Alfred Chester Beatty, contain both Old and New Testament books and date from 200 to 400AD.

And as Easter approaches, the library named in the collector's honour is showing St Paul's Letter To The Corinthians, which recounts how Jesus Christ died, was buried and rose again.

Jill Unkel, curator of the Western Collection at the Chester Beatty Library, said: "It's a very, very significant collection.

"It's the earliest collection of Pauline epistles on book. There are surviving fragments dated earlier but it's the earliest known collection.

And lest we neglect the Septuagint:
Among them are The Book Of Numbers, which was the oldest surviving book of the Bible until the Dead Sea Scrolls were unearthed.
I'm skeptical of this claim, but I would have to see the details.

As I have mentioned before, I am very much looking forward to visiting the Chester Beatty Library in September during BNTC 2017. Background on the Chester Beatty Library is here and links.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Qumran Aramaic: linguistic issues

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: The Aramaic Language of the Dead Sea Scrolls: Why it Matters and What Lies Ahead (Daniel Machiela).

The cache of Aramaic literature that gradually emerged from the caves near Qumran provides us with an important new window onto Judaism of the Second Temple period. Some of these scrolls furnished early, original-language witnesses to books about which we had previously known only through later translations – for example, 1 Enoch and Tobit – or the Jewish and Christian biblical canons, as in the case of Daniel. Most scrolls, however, offered tantalizing glimpses of Aramaic works that had been lost completely (e.g., the Genesis Apocryphon and Visions of Amram), or were merely echoed in later, significantly-altered writings in Greek (see the Aramaic Levi Document, a source for the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs). In the Aramaic Job copies from Cave 4 and Cave 11 we retrieved our only certain translation of a Hebrew book. Now, with the relatively recent full publication of the Aramaic texts from Qumran, primarily by Émile Puech, we can begin to study these texts as a group, and to appreciate the sum of this material as the skeletal remains of a broad Jewish literary movement.

The most studied and consequential aspect of the Aramaic scrolls to date may well be their Aramaic language. There are several good reasons for this.

An excellent distillation of linguistic issues involving the Aramaic texts from Qumran and a fine contribution to AJR's "Aramaic month." Earlier essays in AJR's current series on the Dead Sea Scrolls (in honor of the 70th anniversary of their discovery) are noted here and links.

No gods before YHWH?

MONOTHEISM: Have we been misinterpreting the Second Commandment all along? 'Thou shalt have no other gods before me' can be taken in different ways, one being, Me first, the godlets next (By Elizabeth Sloane, Haaretz).
The Second Commandment is generally interpreted as meaning that the Jewish people should worship only one god, YHWH, and that there is no other god. However, the qualification “before me” have led some scholars to debate whether that was the original meaning of the commandment ostensibly handed down to Moses on Mt. Sinai, in around 1400 BCE.

Far from forcing people to give up the worship of other deities, some scholars theorize, the commandment actually laid down a heavenly hierarchy, with YHWH at the top. YHWH was to be worshipped and sacrificed to first, before any other gods. Then they could get theirs.

That is a possible reading of the second commandment, although Deuteronomy and the Priestly writer make it pretty clear that no god but YHWH is to be worshipped at all. There are a number of questions here to which we don't have good answers. One is the meaning of the second commandment. Another is to what degree any strict monotheism was the standard of a particular group in ancient Israel rather than the mainstream standard. And even if, say, the Judean royal cult tied to the Jerusalem Temple held to strict monotheism (which does not seem implausible), that doesn't tell us what people out in the rural areas were doing. You don't have laws against something unless it happens often enough to be a problem.

And there is also the question of what was going on in the Northern Kingdom of Israel.
Certainly, the practices of worshipping a divine pantheon arose from deep antiquity: It can be traced archaeologically from the Iron Age (10th – 6th centuries B.C.E.) through to the Babylonian Exile.

Inscriptions from around Israel from the Iron Age bear the name of “Ashera”.  An 8th century tomb in Khirbet el Qom, between Hebron and Lachish, in the territory of the Biblical kingdom of Judah, has a prayer inscribed in it invoking YHWH and Ashera. The location of this site in Judah strongly suggests that the inscription is Judahic.

Also, numerous Inscriptions in Kuntillet Arjud, in the Northeast part of the Sinai Peninsula, are dedicated to “YHWH and his Ashera.” While this site was not in Judah itself, the inscriptions were written in Hebrew, making it clear the site was Judahic.
The Kuntillet Arjud inscriptions refer to "Samaria" and thus at least some of them are probably associated with the Northern Kingdom.

Good article. Read it all.

Gnosis 2.1 (2017)

THE FORBIDDEN GOSPELS BLOG: Gnosis 2.1 is published! (April DeConick). The full title is GNOSIS: Journal of Gnostic Studies. Follow the link for the TOC. Not surprisingly, there is a lot on ancient Gnosticism. But ancient Judaism is represented too.

Background here and links.

More attempts at a Temple Mount Passover sacrifices

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: 17 held for attempts to ‘sacrifice’ goats in Jerusalem. Six animals seized by authorities in Old City; police check vehicles for goats to prevent activists from carrying out Biblically commanded offering (Stuart Winer, Times of Israel).
Police said they detained at least 17 people over the course of Monday in Jerusalem over a number of suspected attempts to sacrifice kid goats for the Passover holiday.

Six goats were seized and transferred to the Agriculture Ministry’s veterinary service, police indicated.

Police believe the suspects were en route to the Temple Mount to perform the act, in an attempted reenactment of the Passover sacrifice as described in the Bible.

They aren't giving up easily this year.

Background and commentary here and here and links.

Hebrew words for Passover

NEWS YOU CAN USE: 10 Hebrew Words to Know for the Passover Holiday ( Tsivya Fox April, Breaking Israel News).

Monday, April 10, 2017

Passover 2017

HAPPY PASSOVER TO ALL THOSE CELEBRATING! The festival begins this evening at sundown. Last year's Passover post is here and it will lead to an earlier post with the relevant biblical texts. The 2015 Passover Post also has some interesting material.

PaleoJudaica has had unusually many Passover-related posts in the last year, particularly in the last week or so. See here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here!

Greco-Roman Religions and the NT

READING ACTS: Greco-Roman Religions and the New Testament.
Greco-Roman Religions might be considered “the competition” of early Christianity, but this is not a fair description of how religions functioned in the first century.

First, in the first century, religion was rarely a choice. A person owed worship to a god because of a civic or family obligation or because the god is associated with a trade. A person living in the Roman world would not even think in terms of “converting” from one god to another, since gods had various functions; motivations were purely practical. If one was going to sea, one appeased sea gods. In fact, the idea of choosing to worship a particular god was the attraction of the mystery cult. One might become a worshiper of Mithras by choice, although obligated to also worship other gods.

Some of the papers at the St. Andrews Symposium on Divine Sonship last June dealt with this topic.

Past posts in Phil Long's series on the Second Temple Period are noted here and links.

Egyptian magic

PASSOVER IS COMING, EGYPTIAN MAGIC EDITION: Dr. Flora Brooke Anthony has two essays at which tell you what you need to know about ancient Egyptian magic.

The Magicians Khamwaset and Meryra
Two ancient Egyptian stories about powerful Egyptian magicians
Including one who makes a golem.
The fables that the ancient Egyptians told of their magicians certainly influenced non-Egyptian story-tellers, who wrote their own stories about this colorful caste of people. The legendary effectiveness of Egyptian magic were appreciated by these ancient non-Egyptian storytellers, even if they did not quite understand the Egyptians’ specific beliefs about their gods, how spells work, or the role that magic (ḥeka) played in the ancient Egyptian world view.
That leads into the next essay:

Ḥeka: Understanding Egyptian Magic on Its Own Terms
The all pervading cosmic force.
It opens:
Misreading Other Cultures

The Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Kiddushin (49b), states:

עשרה קבים כשפים ירדו לעולם, תשעה נטלה מצרים [ואחד כל העולם כולו].
Ten measures of witchcraft descended to the world; nine were taken by Egypt [and one by the rest of the world].

Is that really what ancient Egypt was about?
Spoiler: the answer is no.

UPDATE: This recent post deals with Egyptian magicians as portrayed in the Bible.

An Egyptian stone finger sifted out.

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: As they bid for survival, archaeologists point to ‘Egyptian’ finger from Temple Mount. Inch-and-a-half-long stone fragment may be from Late Bronze Age Egypt, Temple Mount Sifting Project says, but research and funding needed to ascertain it (Ilan Ben Zion, Times of Israel).
In an statement timed just ahead of Passover, the Temple Mount Sifting Project said Sunday it had found a stone finger that may have belonged to a Bronze Age Egyptian statue, but conceded it wasn’t sure.
Maybe it's just me, but this sounds like a promising opening for a horror movie. But be that as it may, the article continues:
The unusual announcement may have been an attempt to keep up pressure on Israeli authorities to resolve a funding crisis that has brought its operations to a halt. The project, which has been in dire straits in recent weeks after its main donor, the City of David Foundation, pulled its funding, made the announcement of an Egyptian find ahead of the Jewish festival marking the Biblical story of the Exodus from Egypt.


In the statement released by the Temple Mount Sifting Project to the press, [project director, Gabriel] Barkay was more authoritative in his assertions about the artifact than he was in conversation on the phone.

“This is a fragment of a life-size statue, which was made in Egypt and imported to Canaan,” the statement said. “We clearly notice that this is part of a pinky finger measuring 3.5 centimeters (1.4 inches), from a man’s hand, which includes also a fingernail. The statue is made of a hard black stone originating in Egypt. The statue most likely represented a figure of a god or king. The black stone from which the statue is manufactured testifies to its Egyptian origin.”

He posited that the statue to which the finger belonged dated to the Late Bronze Age, around 3,500 years ago, based on the style, but conceded that “We cannot exclude the possibility that the statue is from a later period.”

Background on the Temple Mount Sifting Project is here and here and many, many links. Cross-file under Passover is Coming.

More sacrifice controversy at Temple Mount

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: 7 arrested to prevent Temple Mount paschal sacrifices. In a stated attempt to prevent flaring tensions at the Jerusalem flashpoint, the Israel Police arrested 7 activists who had stated their intention to sacrifice goats there Monday (Roi Yanovsky, Arutz Sheva).
The Israel Police arrested seven right-wing Jewish activists to prevent their offering caprine paschal sacrifices at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount on Monday, the eve of the Passover holiday.

The six are member of the Return to Temple Mount movement, and they have been publicly calling on the Jewish public to partake in the ritual sacrifice of goats at the Old City’s flashpoint before the festival. Every year, activists come to the gates of the Temple Mount with goats and their kids to sacrifice them, and they are usually arrested by the police.

Related story and some relevant commentary here and links. Cross-file under Passover is Coming.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

JNES 76.1 (2017)

THE JOURNAL OF NEAR EASTERN STUDIES has a new issue out: Volume 76, Number 1 | April 2017. It includes a couple of articles of particular interest:

Nanay and Her Lover: An Aramaic Sacred Marriage Text from Egypt
Tawny L. Holm
pp. 1–37

For more on Papyrus Amherst 63 see here, here, and here.

Berlin Papyrus P. 13447 and the Library of the Yehudite Colony at Elephantine
Christine Mitchell
pp. 139–147

For many past PaleoJudaica posts on Elephantine and the Elephantine Aramaic papyri, start here and follow the links.

This issue of JNES also has some other articles and reviews that may be of interest, so have a look at the TOC. A personal or institutional subscription is required for full access.

Blood or dead fish?

PASSOVER IS COMING: The Plague of Dead Fish (Dr. Rabbi David Frankel,
Moses striking the Nile to kill the fish and make the water stink eventually developed into the plague of blood: a case of mythological amplification and its reverse.
Interesting possibility, but I don't find the case compelling.

On despoiling the Egyptians

PASSOVER IS COMING: Despoiling the Egyptians: A Concerning Jewish Legacy? (Prof. Leonard Greenspoon,
How 19th century Anglo-Jewish translators defended the Israelites’ behavior against the King James translation’s perceived accusation that the Jews “borrowed” the Egyptians belongings and never returned them.
The essay also deals with early biblical translations, biblical Hebrew lexicography, and a legendary ancient and an actual modern effort by Egyptians to sue the State of Israel for the despoilment. Conclusion:
In both the rabbinic story and the modern attempt, the lawsuits went nowhere. Yet, they reflect Jewish anxiety about how the story of the despoiling of Egypt can be used against us, and offer an important lesson. For those seeking to discredit the Book, or the People of the Book, there is no concept of a statute of limitations and no desire to try and understand this account in its literary or historical setting. It merely serves as a useful pretext for anti-Jewish stereotyping. This cannot determine our translations, which must follow philology and context, but we should always remember what is at stake in any given choice.

The Sanhedrin Trail

ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY PRESS RELEASE: The Sanhedrin Trail - the First Interactive Hiking Trail of its Kind in the Country. The large project involves thousands of students and volunteers who will excavate and prepare a new trail that is among the longest in the country.
The authors of the Passover Haggadah will be at the focal point of a new interactive trail – the first of its kind in Israel. The Sanhedrin Trail is currently being constructed in Tiberias and will be 70 kilometers long! It will cross the Galilee from Bet She?arim to Tiberias and will pass between sites that are associated with members of the Sanhedrin. Work on the first section of the trail has already begun with pupils from the National Religious Education system of the Ministry of Education and volunteers participating.


The Sanhedrin Trail will cross the Lower Galilee by way of many of the sites that were inhabited during the time of the Mishnah and Talmud. The activity of the Sanhedrin – the foremost body of Jewish leadership and supreme authority during the Second Temple period – was exiled to Yavne after the destruction of Jerusalem, and from there to the Galilee following the Bar Kokhba revolt in 135 CE. From the difficult identity crisis that the people experienced in the wake of the destruction of the Temple, and led by the seventy sages and the president of the Sanhedrin, a renewed work of Jewish law, philosophy and culture was developed. The Oral Law was recorded for the first time, and the Mishnah and Talmud were written. As part of this activity, the Passover Haggadah was also written, which cites the dialogue of a meeting of the members of the Sanhedrin after the destruction of the Temple in which they discussed the appropriate ways to mark Passover outside the ruined Temple and laying out the new spiritual path of the people of Israel (“It happened that Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Yehoshua, Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah, Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Tarphon were reclining [at a seder] in B'nei Berak. They were discussing the exodus from Egypt all that night, until their students came and told them: "Our Masters! The time has come for reciting the morning Shema!").

Their bold-font emphasis. Cross-file under Passover is Coming.