Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Conflict over the Jewish catacombs in Rome

ARCHAEOLOGICAL COMPROMISE: Religion, Science Clash as Archaeologists Restore Ancient Jewish Catacomb in Rome. New finds in the 2,000-year-old underground cemetery include the first Hebrew inscription at the site, as well as signs that Christians and Jews may have shared the burial space (Ariel David, Haaretz premium).
Archaeologists racing to save a vulnerable and rapidly disintegrating 2,000-year old Jewish catacomb in Rome gave in to pressure from an ultra-Orthodox Jewish group and let them rebury the bones found within, not allowing their study. The decision spurred outrage among some scientists who protested in frustration as the bones were resealed in their tombs, putting the remains beyond the reach of curious researchers forever.

The Italian authorities and the archaeologists involved rebut that the compromise was necessary in order to save the site, which had begun to decay rapidly after its exposure.

This sounds disappointing, but it may have been a necessary political compromise. The archaeologists are divided on the question. I was not involved and will not presume to judge.

In any case, I take the longer perspective. This is a temporary setback. In twenty years it will be possible to do unobjectionable non-destructive molecular scans of the bones.

On that Hebrew inscription:
The preliminary work has meanwhile turned up new discoveries, such as the only Hebrew inscription found in the catacomb. Most of the writing in the cemetery is in Greek – the lingua franca of early diaspora Jews and Hellenistic-era Israel – and some is in Latin.

Actually, the new-found Hebrew text was first noticed by one of the rabbis working in the catacomb, Rossi says.

The text is fragmentary but is believed to spell out “Clodius shalom shalom” – likely the equivalent of a rest-in-peace blessing for a man named Clodius.
That is "Claudius." There is a photograph.

The article also advances a surprising hypothesis about the origin of the menorah as a Jewish symbol.

For past PaleoJudaica posts on the Jewish catacombs at the Villa Torlonia (the subject of this article) and elsewhere in Rome, start here and follow the links.

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The Talmud on all those meal offerings

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: There’s No Business Like Showbread Business. ‘Daf Yomi’: Are Jews like olives, crushed for their oil, or like the leaves on the olive branch, enduring through all seasons?
In Chapter Five of Menachot, which Daf Yomi readers finished this week, we learn the answer to this question. Or, rather, the answers, since there a number of types of meal offering, each of which requires a slightly different procedure. Simply keeping the details straight is challenging—the priests in the Temple must have had excellent memories—but the Gemara also attempts to figure out the logical justification for the differences between types of offerings.
Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

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Ancient Judaism postdoc at Yale

H-JUDAIC: Job: Postdoctoral Associate in Ancient Judaism/Jewish History, Yale University, Program in Judaic Studies. This is a two-year post, commencing on 1 July 2019. The deadline for receipt of application materials is 4 February 2019. Follow the link for further particulars and application information.

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Two arrested for bulldozing Horbat Deborah

APPREHENDED: TWO ANTIQUITY SMUGGLERS ARRESTED FOR BULLDOZING JEWISH ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITE. Two men in their 30s shattered multiple antiquities at a site in the north (URI BOLLAG, Jerusalem Post).
The two were caught after the Antiquities Authority's Anti-Robbery Unit found the week before that the archaeological site had been damaged and kept the site under round-the-clock surveillance. Known as Horbat Deborah, the site is identified with the biblical heroine Deborah, and with Dabra, a Jewish village that evidence suggested existed in the Sephoris region during the Roman period.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Hebron archaeological park

ARCHAEOLOGY: FROM BRONZE AGE TO FIRST TEMPLE: ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITE SET TO OPEN IN HEBRON. "We are happy and excited to unveil another piece of Jewish history and to make it accessible to the general public" (Jerusalem Post).
Remains from the Bronze Age to the early Roman Period and the First Temple Period have all been dug up and will be available for public viewing as of Tuesday, when the Tel Hebron, or Tel Rumeida in Arabic, archaeological site is set to open.

The site's opening follows extensive conservation work carried out by the Archeology Unit in the Israeli Civil Administration, in collaboration with Ariel University, as announced by the Defense Ministry's Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories on Monday.

Some recent PaleoJudaica posts on the archaeology of Hebron are here, here, here, and here. The last post moves into politics and where the money for the renovation of Hebron is coming from.

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A Phoenician fish-factory in Spain

PHOENICIAN AND PUNIC WATCH: ALMUÑÉCAR, SPAIN: El Majuelo Ruins. The extensive relics of an ancient Roman and Phoenician fish processing plant hide in a town park. ("Capemarsh," Atlas Obscura).
Unearthed in the 1970s, these vast and ancient vessels were once full of salted fish fillets and fish guts, which were ground down and fermented to make a popular sauce, called garam. This industrial enterprise began during the Phoenician-Punic era in the 4th century BC, and was later extensively expanded by the Romans to include administrative offices alongside the pungent production area.
With some nice photos of the archaeological site.

There were lots of Phoenicians and Carthaginians in Spain. Cf. here.

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Brave Mosul Muslims saved Syriac books from ISIS

SYRIAC WATCH: Muslims Defied ISIS to Save Two Ancient Assyrian Manuscripts in Mosul (Asia News, rpt. AINA).
Mosul -- A Muslim family hid for three years two ancient Syriac Orthodox books in Mosul during the city's occupation by the Islamic State (IS) group to prevent their destruction at the latter's hands. They did so, putting their own lives at risk. Their courage and action show that Mosul and Iraq can be rebuilt and reborn on the basis of unity and coexistence of its various groups, above all Christians and Muslims.

... They [the two books] contain the offices of the morning and evening prayers in Syriac Antiochene Orthodox rite. ...
Related story here. But the couragous monks who rescued the Mar Benham manuscripts were saving their own holy books. This Muslim family risked their lives out of pure goodwill for their Christian neighbors.

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Academic jobs!

THE LOGOS ACADEMIC BLOG: Academic Jobs in Biblical Studies and Theology: Sep 23 – Oct 13, 2018 (Tavis Bohlinger). I don't usually link to the LAB jobs posts, since I assume that those of you in the market are already aware of them. But with the Society of Biblical Literature meetings in Denver just a month away, it seems worthwhile to flag this post.

I see nothing specific on Second Temple or Ancient Judaism, but there are quite a few Hebrew Bible/Old Testament jobs advertised and one or two on Judaism more generally. And also, of course, a good many New Testament jobs.

This is a good list. I've seen sparser ones in October.

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Monday, October 15, 2018

Restored synagogue at Umm el-Kanatir dedicated

ANCIENT ARCHITECTURE: EIN KESHATOT, THE GOLAN HEIGHTS’ HIDDEN ARCHAEOLOGICAL GEM OPENS TO PUBLIC. The restored ancient basalt synagogue was dedicated Monday, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in attendance (Zachary Keyser, Jerusalem Post).
The synagogue, with its ornately carved basalt Torah ark, was built in the 1st century but extensively renovated some 500 years later. The building, which collapsed in the catastrophic earthquake of 749 CE, measured 18 meters long by 13 meters wide, and is calculated to have been 12 meters high. That impressive size made it one of the biggest of the 30 ancient synagogues discovered in the Golan Heights.
Past posts on the ancient synagogue at Umm el-Kanatir (or Ein Keshatot or Keshatot Rechavam) and its restoration are here and links.

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How did knowledge survive the Flood?

DR. NADAV SHARON: Antediluvian Knowledge (
Whose knowledge is the most ancient? In the Hellenistic period, Egyptians and Babylonians, among others, debated the antiquity of their wisdom. Second Temple Jews claimed that their own knowledge dated from before the Flood. But how did it survive the destruction of the flood?
Ancient Jewish and Christian writers had a number of answers to this question. Notice that the ancients assumed that old knowledge was better and more comprehensive than new knowledge. To moderns it is the opposite.

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Gmirkin responds to Anthonioz

A Response to Stéphanie Anthonioz, “Review of Russell E. Gmirkin, Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible”

By Russell Gmirkin
Independent Researcher
Portland, Oregon
October 2018
I noted the review of the book here. Much of the response raises points worth thinking about. But the Hebrew language of the Pentateuch doesn't look like it was written in a Greek-speaking environment (Alexandria). I would expect noticeable Greek influence on the Hebrew. There isn't any.

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A punic winepress in Spain

PUNIC WATCH: The 2,300-year-old winery concealed in a Spanish mountain. he archeologist who discovered the Phoenician site in Cádiz wants to create an information center on the history and culture of wine (JESÚS A. CAÑAS, El País).
The facilities were used to produce wine in the 3rd century BC, and artifacts found at the site suggest that it also hosted religious rituals in which wine was used to establish contact with the gods.

And yet this invaluable legacy continues to languish ever since its discovery in 1991. “Even though there is some earlier archeological evidence of winemaking in the Levante area, San Cristóbal is a complete winemaking facility covering 2,000 square meters. It is unique,” explains Diego Ruiz Mata, an archeologist and professor of prehistory.
Some past posts on other excavated ancient wineries (in Israel) are here, here, here (maybe), here, here (a wine cellar), here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Dr. Ruiz Mata also describes the wine made at the Cádiz facility and suggests that modern producers should recreate it. It sounds sweet for my taste, but some people would like it. For other efforts at vintage resurrection and recreation of ancient beers, see here and links

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Sunday, October 14, 2018

Review of Petersen and van Kooten (eds.), Religio-Philosophical Discourses in the Mediterranean World

BRYN MAYR CLASSICAL REVIEW: Anders Klostergaard Petersen, George van Kooten (ed.), Religio-Philosophical Discourses in the Mediterranean World: From Plato, through Jesus, to Late Antiquity. Ancient philosophy and religion, 1. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2017. Pp. viii, 420. ISBN 9789004341463. $177.00. Reviewed by Joseph Lipp, Monmouth University (
This volume, the first in a new series on Ancient Philosophy and Religion by Brill, aims to “examine the potential for engaging in dialogue about the intertwinement of ancient Graeco-Roman philosophy and religion (here confined to Graeco-Roman, Jewish, and Christian religion)” (2). The time period covered is Plato to Julian, and the evidence is entirely textual. The editors cite two recent trends in early Christian studies and Classics, respectively, as scholarly context: first, the growing work on Graeco-Roman philosophy in the New Testament and, second, recent studies on the religious nature of ancient philosophy. Dissatisfied that these developments were occurring independently of one another, the editors organized two colloquia to bring them together, at the universities of Aarhaus and Cambridge in 2012 and 2014. They invited New Testament scholars, classicists, and historians of ancient philosophy, and this volume is based on the colloquia.

There are lots of articles of interest for the study of ancient Judaism and related matters.

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JQS 25.3 (2018)

THE JEWISH STUDIES QUARTERLY has published a themed issue (25.3, September 2018): Talmud and Christianity: Rabbinic Judaism after Constantine, Part 1. The TOC:
Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 219

Michal Bar-Asher Siegal
Minim stories and Jewish-Christian Debates over Scripture: Babylonian Talmud Ye v a m o t 102b . . . . . . . . . . . . . 221

Holger Zellentin
Typology and the Transfiguration of Rabbi Aqiva (Pesiqta de Rav Kahana 4:7 and BT Menah ̇ot 29b) . . . . . . . . . . . . 239

Sophie Lunn-Rockliffe
Demons between the Desert Fathers and the Rabbis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 269

Helen Spurling
Interpretations of Daniel 12:1 and Perceptions of the Christian “Other” . . . . . 297
You need a paid personal or institutional subscription to access the articles.

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Primordial matter in Genesis 1:1?

PHILOLOGOS: There's a Strange Grammatical Difficulty with the Opening Verse of the Bible. It could suggest a different story about the creation of the world. The language of Genesis 1:1-2 does not fit very well with the idea of creatio ex nihilo, creation out of nothing. Rather it seems to say that God had to work with the primordial chaos (tohu vavohu, "formless and void") that was already there. That was the normal understanding of creation in ancient Near Eastern myth, and also in the philosophy of Plato. That's awkward, but there it is.

That said, the idea of creation out of nothing was read into the passage fairly early.

Past PaleoJudaica posts on the subject are here and here. Cross-file under Philology.

Remember, you can only read three free articles from Mosaic per month. Choose wisely. This is a good one.

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Saturday, October 13, 2018

Video: The Ancient Coins of Israel

THE HOLY LAND PHOTOS' BLOG: Ancient Coins — A Great 10 Minute Video (Carl Rasmussen).
The folk over at the Friends of the Israel Antiquities Authority have placed on their Facebook page an informative, entertaining 10 minute video on Ancient Coins. IMHO it is well–worth viewing. Especially interesting is how the coins were produced and some hard to get behind the scenes at museums, libraries, and the Israel Antiquities Authority.
This really is a good video, with excellent production, fine visuals, informative content, reference to coins from antiquity to the Islamic era, and an engaging presenter. Cross-file under Numismatics.

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Yeroushalmi, The Jews of Iran

BIBLIOGRAPHIA IRANICA: The Jews of Iran. Notice of a new book: Yeroushalmi, David. 2017. The Jews of Iran: chapters in their history and cultural heritage (Bibliotheca Iranica : Judeo-Iranian and Jewish Studies Series 4). Costa Mesa, California: Mazda Publishers.

Follow the link for description, TOC, and publisher link.

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Review of Drake, A Century of Miracles

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Book Note | A Century of Miracles: Christians, Pagans, Jews, and the Supernatural, 312-410 (Peter Morris).
H.A. Drake A Century of Miracles: Christians, Pagans, Jews, and the Supernatural, 312-410. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017.
Historians in the twentieth century tended to read the fourth century as a great conflict between diametrically opposed ideologies: “paganism” and “Christianity.” Drake argues that these historians—influenced by the categories and anxieties of the Cold War—exacerbated a tendency amongst scholars to narrate the fourth century as a “black and white” contest between two incommensurable ideologies that for power over the late Roman Empire (19-21). In contrast to this approach, Drake contends that it might be better to look to a center of interests, concerns, and attitudes that were shared by those with varied religious identities. This shared middle is revisited and expanded throughout the book, and is fully on display in Drake’s chapters that describe Judaism.

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The Eden story as exposition

PROF. YAIRAH AMIT: The Exposition of the Garden of Eden Story (
The Garden of Eden story includes a lengthy introductory exposition (vv. 2:4b-3:1a), whose seemingly tangential details contrast the utopia of Eden with the dystopia of the real world.
Interesting idea. Now what is the relationship of the Eden story in Genesis to the alternate account of Eden in Ezekiel 28? Another essay?

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Friday, October 12, 2018

Hasmonean-era mass-beheadings excavated

GRUESOME OSTEOLOGY: Ancient beheading site found in Jerusalem, evidence of ‘holy’ king’s bloody rule. Archaeologists now know whodunnit — the Hasmonean king Alexander Jannaeus — after uncovering a 2,000-year-old mass burial ground in the municipality’s backyard (Amanda Borschel-Dan, Times of Israel).
Evidence of a mass slaying, including cruel beheadings, committed during the bloody reign of the Hasmonean king Alexander Jannaeus (103-76 BCE) was recently uncovered in a courtyard next to the Jerusalem municipality during excavations of an ancient water cistern.

“We removed from the pit more than 20 neck vertebrae which were cut by a sword,” said Dr. Yossi Nagar, an anthropologist at the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). “We discovered in the pit, bodies and body parts of infants and adult individuals, women and men, who were probably victims of a brutal slaughter.”

Embryonic bones discovered in the excavation indicate that among victims were even pregnant women.

I'm going to register a little skepticism. The Roman era had no shortage of butchery. There were many episodes in which men, women, and children were slaughtered. It's safe to infer that we don't know about all of them. I have recently been reading Plutarch's Lives. Murders of political opponents, with their families and supporters, are a common occurrence in them.

Something horrible happened here. But I hesitate to identify it confidently with a specific event that happens to show up in our surviving records.

I'm sure the archaeologists have considered this carefully. At the same time, our media culture provides lots of incentive to tie archaeological discoveries to already-known events.

I am not an archaeologist and I may be completely wrong here. But I will be more confident about the conclusions once they are published in a peer-review venue, reviewed by other archaeologists, and generally accepted as correct. If they are.

Also, a small correction to the article: the Pesher Nahum does apparently allude to the mass crucifixion by Alexander Jannaeus. But the details about it come from Josephus (J.W. 1.97-98).

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CFP: IOQS 2019

THE INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATION OF QUMRAN STUDIES: 10th Meeting of the IOQS (Aberdeen, 4‒8 August, 2019): Call for Papers. The subject for the 2019 meeting is "The Dead Sea Scrolls in the Context of Hellenistic Judea." This meeting is in association with the 2019 IOSOT annual meeting.

Follow the link for details. However, when I try to link to the post itself, the result is a 404 error, which implies the post is gone. So I have just linked to the main page of the blog, where the post still appears. I assume the information is still valid.

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Ilana Sasson memorial lecture

SAD NEWS: Remembering Ilana Sasson. Memorial lecture will focus on ‘materiality’ of Cairo Geniza (Lois Goldrich, Jewish Standard/Times of Israel). I am very sorry to learn of the death of Dr. Sasson last year. I had never met her, but I was aware of her work on the Karaites and Judeo-Arabic. I posted on her and her work here and here.
Dr. [Marina] Rustow — a 2015 MacArthur Fellow whose work focuses on the study of Judeo-Arabic documents found in the Cairo geniza and the history of Jews in the Fatimid caliphate — will deliver the Ilana Sasson Memorial Lecture on October 21 at the Teaneck synagogue where Ilana was an active member. Her topic is “The Cairo Geniza in the Digital Age.” (See box for more information.)
May her memory be for a blessing.

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Samaritans view recovered Torah column

SAMARITAN WATCH: Samaritans view part of ancient Torah scroll stolen from them in 1995. Parchment found during a routine customs check of a backpacker seeking to exit Israel to Jordan through the Allenby Crossing (JTA via Times of Israel).
More than 20 years after the theft of ancient Torah scrolls from a Samaritan synagogue in Nablus, the Israel Antiquities Authority retrieved one page from the missing objects and invited its owners to view it.


Uri Mendes, the deputy head of the Civil Administration body that governs the West Bank, showed the retrieved parchment last week to leaders of the Samaritan community, whose Torah is said by adherents to reflect what the ancient Israelites practiced before the Babylonian exile.

I noted a detailed article on recovery of the column (rather than "page") of the scroll here. Note the correction in the update.

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Thursday, October 11, 2018

Notes on the Jerusalem inscription

A FEW NOTES on the recently-announced first-century CE inscription discovered near Jerusalem, the one that refers to Jerusalem with a plene spelling.

At the ETC Blog: 2,000-Year-Old Hebrew Inscription Contains Rare Spelling of Jerusalem. John Meade comments on a number of points, notably:
I’m more interested in the apparent Greek name, Dodalos, aren’t you? And what is the actual function of br “son” in this inscription? Anyways, I’ll let others speak to these matters.
At the Bible and Interpretation website, David M. Jacobson obliges: Comment on the Announcement of a New Herodian Inscription Found in Jerusalem. He proposes to read the Greek name with a different spelling. I think he's right. Paleographically, the letter in question looks more like a yod than a vav. And yod gives a more accurate pronunciation of the Greek name.

I have been pondering the spelling of the name Jerusalem in Hebrew letters. I haven't seen a full historical account anywhere, so here goes. The following is technical. But some readers will be interested. Others may want to skip the next several paragraphs.

The word "Jerusalem" is today pronounced Yerushaláyim in Hebrew. The vowel of the final syllable -áyim is an original diphthong, -*ay. By the time of the Masoretic vocalization, this diphthong had collapsed to -áyi in an accented syllable, as here, but to long "e" -ȇ in an unaccented syllable.

The normal spelling of the original -*ay diphthong in biblical Hebrew is with the yod (whether or not with the accented or unaccented Masoretic pronunciation). This is also the normal spelling in the surviving Iron Age inscriptions.

That means that the normal biblical spelling of Jerusalem in Hebrew, without the yod, is an anomaly. We would expect the longer spelling, based on how the diphthong is spelled in other words. The short spelling of Jerusalem also appears in the Khirbet Beit Lehi/Lei inscription, which I mentioned earlier.

The transmission of names tends to be conservative, so it looks like the biblical and Iron Age spelling of Jerusalem is doubly archaic. It goes back to the earliest spelling of the name, tenth century BCE or earlier, which would not have included any internal vowel letters. Hence, no yod.

So we would have expected the longer spelling in the Bible, but we get a more archaic, short spelling most of the time.

When we do start getting the longer spelling, it most likely signals that the Masoretic pronunciation Yerushaláyim was starting up at that time. This is an interesting point for the historical development of the pronunciation of Hebrew.

This new inscription is one piece of evidence that the pronunciation change was underway by the first century CE. The original press release did not specify this point, but others have noted it since (e.g., in the ETC Blog post quoted above).

The original press release also underlines that this is the earliest example of the full spelling on a stone inscription, which, as far as I know, is correct. It does not mention that the full spelling also appears a number of times in the Dead Sea Scrolls at around the same time. But that point does come up in later coverage, such as here.

There is nothing groundbreaking in this inscription. But it gives us a few bits of new information and it is good to have it.

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On Origen's Second Column

THE OTTC BLOG: Hebrew Transcription in Origen's Secunda. Drew Longacre draws our attention to Benjamin P. Kantor's 2017 doctoral dissertation, which deals with the Second Column of Origen's Hexapla. The full text of the thesis is available on

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More free DSD articles

FOR YOU, SPECIAL DEAL: Free articles from Dead Sea Discoveries.
To celebrate the 25th Volume of Dead Sea Discoveries, 25 articles from the past 25 Volumes will be available for free downloading during 2018.
The following 5 articles are now freely accessible until 15 October:

On the Origin of the Ink of the Thanksgiving Scroll (1QHodayota),
Ira Rabin, Oliver Hahn, Timo Wolff, Admir Masic and Gisela Weinberg
(Volume 16, Number 1)

Pairing Research Questions and Theories of Genre: A Case Study of the Hodayot,
Carol A. Newsom (Volume 17, Number 3)

Between Text and Archaeology 1,
Philip R. Davies (Volume 18, Number 3)

Commentary Culture in the Land of Israel from an Alexandrian Perspective,
Maren R. Niehoff (Volume 19, Number 3)

Torah for “The Age of Wickedness”: The Authority of the Damascus and Serekh Texts in Light of Biblical and Rewritten Traditions*,
Molly M. Zahn (Volume 20, Number 3)
Follow the link above for the links to the individual articles. They are only there for four more days!

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THE ETC BLOG: Call for Papers for 2019 IOSOT Meeting at University of Aberdeen (John Meade). The IOSOT is the International Organization for the Study of the Old Testament.

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