Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The oldest nunnery in Israel?

ARCHAEOLOGY AND TRADITION: Earliest Convent in Israel Found at Grave Site of Samuel's Mother Hannah Monasteries abound in ancient Israel, but the 1,600-year-old nunnery and women's graveyard built where the miraculously impregnated Hannah, mother of Samuel, is believed to lie are unique (Miriam Feinberg Vamosh, Haaretz premium).
At the top of a silent, pathless crest in central Israel lies Horvat Hani, where archaeologists have identified the ruins of the first convent ever discovered in ancient Israel, and a burial ground exclusively for women and girls. That cemetery would remain in use for over a thousand years, plied by both Christian and Muslim women in the region.

The ruins at Horvat Hani may go back as much as 1,700 years, to the days of early Christianity in the Holy Land. The nunnery and cemetery were built on what the faithful believed to be the grave of Hannah, who the bible says became mother of Samuel by divine intervention.

The case for the site being a nunnery founded in the fifth century looks persuasive, if perhaps not conclusive. The case for the third-century church having a connection with a traditional site of the grave of Hannah sounds more speculative. But it isn't presented in detail in this article. And any connection with the actual burial site of the biblical Hannah, if there was such a person, is very speculative and would be very hard to prove.

To read this article, you need a free registration with Haaretz.

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Does the body or the soul cause sin?

FOR YOM KIPPUR: Body or Soul: Which is Responsible for Committing Sins? (Prof. Ophir Münz-Manor,
To illustrate the body and soul’s responsibility for sin, an early midrash presents the parable of the blind and lame watchmen. Curiously, this parable later shows up in Piyyut and in a Christian text. What might this teach us about the spread of rabbinic texts and ideas in late antiquity?
Incidentally, Epiphanius is quoting from the (now lost) Apocryphon of Ezekiel, so cross-file under Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Watch.

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Bucur, Scripture Re-envisioned

Scripture Re-envisioned: Christophanic Exegesis and the Making of a Christian Bible

The Bible in Ancient Christianity, Volume: 13

Author: Bogdan G. Bucur

Scripture Re-envisioned discusses the christological exegesis of biblical theophanies and argues its crucial importance for the appropriation of the Hebrew Bible as the Christian Old Testament. The Emmaus episode in Luke 24 and its history of interpretation serve as the methodological and hermeneutical prolegomenon to the early Christian exegesis of theophanies. Subsequent chapters discuss the reception history of Genesis 18; Exodus 3 and 33; Psalm 98/99 and 131/132; Isaiah 6; Habakkuk 3:2 (LXX); Daniel 3 and 7. Bucur shows that the earliest, most widespread and enduring reading of these biblical texts, namely their interpretation as "christophanies"— manifestations of the Logos-to-be-incarnate—constitutes a robust and versatile exegetical tradition, which lent itself to doctrinal reflection, apologetics, polemics, liturgical anamnesis and doxology

Publication Date: 25 October 2018
ISBN: 978-90-04-38610-5

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The Tel Dan Inscription

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY; The Tel Dan Inscription: The First Historical Evidence of King David from the Bible. Tel Dan inscription references the “House of David.” A good, quick over of the state of the question concerning this important inscription.

For some past PaleoJudaica posts on the Tel Dan Stele, see here and links (cf. here). Cross-file under Northwest Semitic Epigraphy.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Yom Kippur 2018

YOM KIPPUR, the Day of Atonement, begins this evening at sundown. An easy fast to all those observing it.

Last year's post on Yom Kippur is here. For background and previous posts, follow the link from there. Posts on Yom Kippur in the last year are here, here, and here.

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On the Mesha Stele

NORTHWEST SEMITIC EPIGRAPHY: When God Wasn't So Great: What Yahweh’s First Appearance Tells About Early Judaism. The oldest extra-biblical reference to Yahweh is in a 3,000-year-old Moabite stele, which boasts of defeating Israel, may mention King David – and paints a very different picture of God than the one we know (Ariel David, Haaretz premium).
While the events narrated in the two texts appear quite different, one of the most surprising aspects of Mesha’s inscription is how much it reads like a biblical chapter in style and language, scholars say.

Mesha explains that the Israelite king Omri succeeded in conquering Moab only because “Chemosh was angry with his land” – a trope that finds many parallels in the Bible, where the Israelites’ misfortunes are invariably attributed to the wrath of God. It is again Chemosh who decides to restore Moab to its people and speaks directly to Mesha, telling him “Go take Nebo from Israel,” just as God routinely speaks to Israelite prophets and leaders in the Bible. And in conquering Nebo, Mesha recounts how he massacred the entire population as an act of dedication (“cherem” in the original) to his gods – the exact same word and brutal practice used in the Bible to seal the fate of Israel’s bitterest enemies (for example the Amalekites in 1 Samuel 15:3).

Although there are only a handful Moabite inscriptions out there, scholars had no trouble translating the stele because the language is so similar to ancient Hebrew.
The story of the discovery of the Mesha Stele/Moabite Stone would make a fair Indiana Jones movie. This article has good coverage of that story and of the historical importance of the inscription.

By the way — cross-filed under Cosmic Synchronicity — isn't it cool that the name of the author of this article is the same as a particularly mysterious phrase in the Mesha Stele?

Again, you need a free registration with Haaretz to read this article. For past PaleoJudaica posts on the Mesha Stele, start here and follow the links.

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The Talmud on Torah calligraphy

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Finding Meaning in Calligraphy. In this week’s ‘Daf Yomi’ Talmud study, why even the crowns of Hebrew letters matter. Plus: The biblical Moses is relegated to the eighth row of a rabbi’s class, for not understanding the lesson.
The Gemara goes on to give the most detailed rules for writing a Torah scroll that the Talmud has offered so far. When writing a Torah verse for a mezuzah, we learn, each letter must be perfectly formed. “Even the absence of the thorn of a yod” disqualifies the text. In addition, each letter must be separated from the next: “Any letter that is not encircled with blank parchment on all four of its sides is unfit.” And “seven letters require three crowns”: there are seven letters of the Hebrew alphabet that must be written with ornamental strokes or “crowns” on top.
And there are some good stories in this week's readings.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

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LaCoste, Waters of the Exodus

Waters of the Exodus
Jewish Experiences with Water in Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt

Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism, Volume: 190

Author: Nathalie LaCoste

In Waters of the Exodus, Nathalie LaCoste examines the Diasporic Jewish community in Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt and their relationship to the hydric environment. By focusing on four retellings of the exodus narrative composed by Egyptian Jews—Artapanus, Ezekiel the Tragedian, Wisdom of Solomon, and Philo of Alexandria—she lays out how the hydric environment of Egypt, and specifically the Nile river, shaped the transmission of the exodus story. Mapping these observations onto the physical landscape of Egypt provides a new perspective on the formation of Jewish communities in Egypt.

Publication Date: 24 October 2018
ISBN: 978-90-04-38431-6
The e-book version is already out. This work was featured on AJR a couple of years ago when it was a doctoral dissertation.

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Monday, September 17, 2018

The three locks on the Zohar

ZOHAR WATCH: Exposing the Zohar's Secrets: First-ever English Translation Unlocks the Gates to Jewish Mysticism. The first-ever complete translation of the seminal work of Jewish mysticism grants access to English readers who were heretofore unable to grasp the brilliant stories rendered in its original Aramaic and medieval Hebrew versions (Omri Shasha, Haaretz). Excerpts:
The Zohar is the crowning peak of Jewish mysticism, and is in many senses the cornerstone of kabbala – the place from which it emanates and to which it returns. The depth of its conceptual, psychological and religious ideas, which arise from its splendid homilies and from its dynamic stories, have made the Zohar one of the pillars of Jewish culture for hundreds of years. The Zohar entered the Jewish canon alongside the Talmud and the books of the Bible (in fact, more manuscripts of the Zohar have come down to us than of the Talmud, which indicates its circulation and centrality in the pre-print age). But for the contemporary reader, hundreds of years after the coalescence of the Zohar literature, the tension between revealed and concealed has been determined; regretfully, this canonical composition is sealed with secrecy for the average reader by three “locks.”


Herein lies the great marvel of the latest edition of the Zohar, whose 15-year process of publication has now been completed by Stanford University Press under the title “The Zohar: Pritzker Edition” (referring to the family that funded the project). Its 12 volumes constitute a monumental enterprise that sets out to cope with the three hurdles mentioned above, which separate the contemporary reader from the Zohar. Over two decades of painstaking labor, Prof. Daniel Matt, who headed the project, translated the Zohar, line by line, into English. He has also provided continuous, accessible annotation of the Zohar’s symbolism and homiletics, and refers the interested reader to additional commentaries, Zohar parallels, ancient sources in the rabbinic and kabbalistic literature, and in some cases to the research literature as well. (Three of the volumes, which contain discrete Zoharic texts, were translated and annotated by Joel Hecker and Nathan Wolski.)
This is a long and very informative article on the new Zohar translation, perhaps the most informative one I have seen. But it is also quite accessible to nonspecialists.

This is also a Haaretz premium article. You can access six of these for free per month with a free registration. My experience is that the registration isn't particularly easy to use and seems to malfunction a lot. But that may be me rather than Haaretz.

If you are interested in the Zohar and the new Matt translation, this article is worth a registration and a read.

There are many, many PaleoJudaica posts on the Zohar. Start here and just follow those links. Many of those have to do with the Matt translation, whose progress PaleoJudaica has been following since 2003.

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Biblical songs and music videos

REDACTION CRITICISM: Moses Wrote Down this Song, Deuteronomy 31:22 – Which Song? (Dr. Rabbi Tzemah Yoreh,
It seems obvious that the song referred to in God’s speech in Deuteronomy 31 is Ha’azinu, though some verses in this chapter imply that it might be the Torah itself. A redaction critical look at God’s speech suggests that neither of these was the original referent.
On the one hand, I tend to be skeptical of redaction-critical reconstructions, since they generally involve a good bit of circular reasoning. Sometimes they are persuasive, but more often they just seem possible – at least to me.

On the other hand, most of the songs in the Pentateuch and the Deuteronomistic History do seem to me to have been written earlier than their prose contexts and not necessarily for the purpose given in those contexts.

I like to think of the prose context of a biblical song as the music video that goes with the song. Often the video gives the song a new frame and imposes a meaning quite different from what seems to be intended in the song itself. Likewise with the prose framings of the biblical songs.

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Retrospective from a Sifting Project staff member

THE TEMPLE MOUNT SIFTING PROJECT BLOG: Goodbye Jenn! Jennifer Green reminisces about her experiences working on the Sifting Project:
To all of our supporters and follower and lovers of archaeology,

There comes a time in every person’s career where they have to take a new opportunity even if it means leaving a place and people that they love. Unfortunately for me, that day is today and it is with deepest melancholy that I have to say farewell.

I have been blessed to have spent the last 2 ½ years with the Temple Mount Sifting Project. You may not know me, but I am the person behind most of our blog posts, newsletters, and social media, with a little grant writing, donor relations, video editing, and research added in for good measure. I also led many of the tours in English at the site in Emek Tzurim.

I cannot express in words how fantastic this project is, the importance of the research being done here, or the truly amazing people who work here. Instead, I thought I would share some of my favorite memories from the past few years as an insight into the people and the project that I love. So in no particular order: ...
For many, many PaleoJudaica posts on the Temple Mount Sifting Project, start here and follow the links.

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THE AWOL BLOG: Welcome to Perseus under PhiloLogic, 2018. Perseus Project Texts Loaded under PhiloLogic. Final season for PhiloLogic 3, Summer 2018. A search engine for Classical Greek and Latin texts. It includes material mostly from the Perseus database, but also from elsewhere. Looks useful.

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Sunday, September 16, 2018

Brown (ed.), The Interactions of Ancient Astral Science

BIBLIOGRAPHIA IRANICA: Zoroastrian and Ancient Iranian Astral Science. Notice of a new book: Brown, David. 2018. The Interactions of Ancient Astral Science. with contributions by : Jonathon Ben-Dov, Harry Falk, Geoffrey Lloyd, Raymond Mercier, Antonio Panaino, Joachim Quack, Alexandra von Lieven, and Michio Yano. Bremen: Hempen Verlag.

As the book's title indicates (and the blurb at the link explains), this book is about ancient astral science worldwide, including, for example, the West Semitic world. The TOC indicates that there is detailed treatment of relevant material from the Qumran library.

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Satlow, Judaism and the Economy

Judaism and the Economy
A Sourcebook

Edited by Michael L. Satlow
212 pages

Judaism and the Economy is an edited collection of sixty-nine Jewish texts relating to economic issues such as wealth, poverty, inequality, charity, and the charging of interest. The passages cover the period from antiquity to the present, and represent many different genres. Primarily fresh translations, from their original languages, many appear here in English for the first time. Each is prefaced by an introduction and the volume as a whole is introduced by a synthetic essay.

These texts, read together and in different combinations, provide a new lens for thinking about the economy and make the case that religion and religious values have a place in our own economic thinking. Judaism and the Economy is a useful new resource for educators, students, and clergy alike.
This book contains much of interest for the study of ancient Judaism. Announced by Professor Satlow on his blog here.

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The archaeology of the riot at Ephesus

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: Biblical Riot at Ephesus: The Archaeological Context.
According to Acts, the riot would have occurred at the end of the missionary visit of Paul at Ephesus (around 55 or 56 C.E.). How accurate is Luke’s description of Ephesus at this time? In “Archaeology Gives New Reality to Paul’s Ephesus Riot” in the July/August 2016 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, James R. Edwards, the Bruner-Welch Professor Emeritus of Theology at Whitworth University, describes how archaeological evidence fills in the historical context for Luke’s account of the riot at Ephesus.
As usual, the BAR article itself is behind the subscription wall. But this essay gives you a taste of it.

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IAA Library catalogue online

THE AWOL BLOG: Israel Antiquities Authority Library Catalog Online.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Review of Reading and Teaching Ancient Fiction, ed. Johnson, Dupertuis, and Shea

BRYN MAYR CLASSICAL REVIEW: Sara Raup Johnson, Rubén R.​ Dupertuis, Christine Shea (ed.), Reading and Teaching Ancient Fiction: Jewish, Christian, and Greco-Roman Narratives. Writings from the Greco-Roman World Supplements, 11. Atlanta, GA: SBL Press, 2018. Pp. xv, 320. ISBN 9781628371963. $55.95 (hb); $40.95 (pb). Reviewed by Laura Quick, Princeton University (
This book is the third volume of research derived from papers presented in the Ancient Fiction and Early Christian and Jewish Narrative section of the Society of Biblical Literature.1 As well as providing insights into the latest scholarly developments in ancient Mediterranean narrative including both classical authors as well as canonical and noncanonical Jewish and Christian texts, the volume also explores the use of ancient texts to encourage students to examine their assumptions about gender and sexuality, or to view familiar texts from a new perspective. As such, several of the contributions are explicitly pedagogical in orientation.


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Review of Stuckenbruck & Boccaccini (eds.), Enoch and the Synoptic Gospels

Rebecca Denova Reviews Enoch and the Synoptic Gospels (Stuckenbruck & Boccaccini)

Reviews of the Enoch Seminar 2018.09.08

Loren T. Stuckenbruck and Gabriele Boccaccini, eds. Enoch and the Synoptic Gospels: Reminiscences, Allusions, Intertextuality. Atlanta: SBL Press, 2016. ISBN: 9780884141198. Pp. 447. $82.95. Hardcover.

Rebecca Denova
University of Pittsburgh
Organized Seminars for the purpose of sharing ideas have resulted in the publication of several books as well as an official journal, Henoch. The present volume is the result of the Seventh Enoch Seminar (Camaldoli, Italy, July 2013), edited by Loren T. Stuckenbruck and Gabriele Boccaccini. The chapters focus on similarities and differences between the Enoch literature and the Synoptics: visionary experiences, birth narratives, the portrait and function of heavenly beings, parables, “son of man,” the experience of transformation, the role of wisdom and priestly functions, demonology, and the worship of the revealer (Enoch and Jesus).
I was at the Seventh Enoch Seminar and posted on it here and here. I gave a seminar in it, but I did not publish a paper in this volume. I noted the book as forthcoming here.

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The Aramaic DSS

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: The Aramaic Dead Sea Scrolls. What are they and why do they matter? (Marek Dospěl).
Since Hebrew was the language of Israelite tradition, scripture, and culture, some may be surprised to hear that many of the Dead Sea Scrolls are in Aramaic, the common language of Jesus’s time. In his article “The Lost World of the Aramaic Dead Sea Scrolls” in the September/October 2018 issue of BAR, Andrew B. Perrin of Trinity Western University in Langley, Canada, takes a close look at these Qumran Aramaic texts.
The BAR article is behind the subscription wall, but this BHD essay gives you a taste of it.

Some past PaleoJudaica posts on the Aramaic Dead Sea Scrolls are here, here, here, here, here, here (with many links to an AJR series), here (one more in that series), and here.

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Hartog, Schofield, Thomas (eds.), The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Study of the Humanities

The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Study of the Humanities
Method, Theory, Meaning: Proceedings of the Eighth Meeting of the International Organization for Qumran Studies (Munich, 4–7 August, 2013)

Studies on the Texts of the Desert of Judah Online
Studies on the Texts of the Desert of Judah, Volume: 125

Editors: Pieter B. Hartog, Alison Schofield and Samuel I. Thomas
The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Study of the Humanities explores the use of methods, theories, and approaches from the humanities in the study of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The volume contains ten essays on topics ranging from New Philology and socio-linguistics to post-colonial thinking and theories of myth.

Publication Date: 21 August 2018
ISBN: 978-90-04-37616-8

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Friday, September 14, 2018

How to spot cuneiform forgeries

THE ANCIENT NEAR EAST TODAY: How to Spot Fake Cuneiform Tablets (Sara Brumfield).
Because cuneiform tablets can be relatively easy to make but relatively difficult to detect, there is a clear incentive for forgers to continue producing large quantities. The effects of this long tradition of forgery are already deeply rooted. Fake tablets have found their way into nearly every major collection and many small, private collections around the world.
I am surprised to hear this. My impression has always been that it was quite difficult to make convincing forgeries of cuneiform tablets. Indeed, the ASOR Policy on Professional Conduct makes an exception regarding the publishing of unprovenanced cuneiform inscriptions, in part because "cuneiform texts may be authenticated more readily than other categories of epigraphic archaeological heritage" (section E5b)

It is, of course, easy to make clay tablets that vaguely resemble cuneiform tablets and which have nonsense fake cuneiform writing on them, but these would not fool a specialist. It requires years of expensive specialized training to be able to read cuneiform tablets, let alone fake them convincingly. But apparently there are enough trained people ready to forge them that this is problem in the field. This is disquieting.

In this article, Dr. Brumfield gives even nonspecialists some tools for spotting fake cuneiform tablets. So cross-file under News You Can Use.

I hope forgers will not read her article, but I fear they may.

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William Ross has good news

CONGRATULATIONS TO WILLIAM A. ROSS, WHO HAS JUST SUBMITTED HIS PH.D. THESIS: PERSONAL UPDATE. The thesis title is “Septuagint Lexicography and Language Change in Greek Judges.”

My regular readers will recognize William as the publisher of the Septuaginta &C. Blog. He has posted may interviews with Septuagint Scholars. (See here and links.) He promises another soon. He also coedited a soon-to-be published book, Septuaginta: A Reader's Edition, which looks very useful indeed. He has published an introductory essay on it here.

William also gives us the excellent news that in January he will begin a job as Assistant Professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina.

We look forward to continuing to follow his work and his blog.

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Review of Nongbri, God's Library

THE TEXTUAL MECHANIC BLOG: Review: "God's Library," by Brent Nongbri. Timothy N. Mitchell publishes the first (that I know of) review of this new book. Excerpt:
Finally, much of the skepticism and warnings of overconfidence in dating ancient manuscripts is appropriate and warranted. Nongbri does well at highlighting issues with assigning the date of a manuscript solely on palaeography. He gives several examples from the past century of scholars attributing dates to manuscripts with little or no support from securely dated writing samples or instances of the same manuscripts being assigned widely differing dates. Christian apologists, theologians of every stripe, and historians of early Christianity should heed Nongbri’s warnings and apply an extra dose of caution and transparency when drawing conclusions or basing arguments on these early Christian books.
Brent Nongbri replies here.

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The placement of Susannah in Daniel

THE ETC BLOG: Africanus–Origen Correspondence and the Form of Greek Daniel (John Meade). Some interesting speculation about the early placement of the apocryphal story of Susannah in the Book of Daniel.

Cross-file under Old Testament Apocrypha Watch and Septuagint Watch.

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Thursday, September 13, 2018

Satlow reviews Baker, Jew

MICHAEL SATLOW: Review of “Jew,” by Cynthia Baker.
There is a simple and powerful idea at the core of Baker’s argument. For some two millennia, the way in which we – whether Jewish or not – use and understand the word Jew (which Baker almost always writes in italics in order that it remain “provocative” (p. xiii)) those words in other languages that Baker identifies as its cognates (e.g., Jude, juif, guideo, Zsidó, yid, yehudi) has been and continues to be overwhelmingly shaped by Christians discourse. While prior to the first century CE the Hebrew term yehudi and Greek term ioudaios were used rarely and with an ambiguous meaning, from Paul forward Christian writers would use the term Jew – not Israel or Hebrews – as a signifier for the Other, often with evil or demonic overtones. ...
Past PaleoJudaica posts on the book are here and links.

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Halakhah in heaven?

MOSAIC MAGAZINE: What Happens in Heaven? Study. Of What? Jewish Law. “In heaven there will be no law,” an American legal giant once wrote. For Jews, it’s exactly the opposite (Chaim N. Saiman). Adapted from Halakhah: The Rabbinic Idea of Law by Chaim N. Saiman. Princeton University Press, 2018. Excerpt:
The rabbis of the Talmud also frequently describe heaven through the image of God’s throne, an emblem of His sovereignty over all created things. But, in one particular text, the Talmud presents a picture of heaven quite unlike anything in the Bible, an image that is indeed unthinkable, if not blasphemous, outside of its uniquely rabbinic context. It opens as follows (Bava Metzia 86a):
They were arguing in the Academy of Heaven.
Sit with these words for a moment. First, focus on the noun “academy.” In this talmudic passage, heaven is not a place of angels, halos, lyres, pearly gates, or fluffy clouds, or of chariots, smoke, lightning, or thunder. The essence of heaven is an academy—a yeshiva—a place of Torah study.
Remember, you can access only three free articles per month from Mosaic. This is the second one I have linked to in September.

Cross-file under New Book.

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Erich Gruen retrospective

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: A Wandering Jew: Some Reflections (Erich Gruen). Excerpt:
Where were the Jews in all this? Nowhere to be found. I had visited Israel a couple of times and lectured on classical subjects (no one would have invited me for any other reason). Ancient Jews had not previously been on my research horizon. Then came the next and biggest shift. I plunged into the history of the Jews in the Greco-Roman era. Why the sudden switch? My friends and colleagues, of course, drew what seemed the obvious conclusion: I was going back to my roots. The wandering Jew had come home. I was, after all, the child of holocaust survivors from Vienna. It seemed perfectly logical that, after a brief detour, I returned to my authentic identity and pursued the path long marked out and only temporarily postponed. A “brief detour”? Of more than a quarter century? Not likely. The shift was a logical one all right. But not for that reason.

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The Gospel of John

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: Gospel of John Commentary: Who Wrote the Gospel of John and How Historical Is It? A look at some of the questions surrounding the Bible’s most enigmatic gospel.

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