Saturday, November 15, 2003

THE NEW BENGALI TRANSLATION OF THE BIBLE has been getting some attention in the Indian newspapers. I've been scratching my head over the following paragraphs from the Hindu News:

Extensively sourced from Books of Greek and Hebrew renditions of Bible translated by Christian Missionary Carey and his successors, "Mangalvarta" contains translations of all Books accepted as an integral part of Bible by the Catholic Church from ancient times, namely Book Of Wisdom and Ben-Sira.

"Besides, Books like Tobit, Judith and Maccabees that offer stirring examples of devotion to God and duty have also been included in the translation," Fr Mignon said here yesterday.

I think what this is trying to say is that the Old Testament Apocrypha/Deuterocanonica (see below, two posts down) are included, but the writer doesn't seem to be too clear on the concept.

Anyhow, congratulations to speakers of Bengali on their first new Bible translation in 200 years.

Now what about the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha?

Friday, November 14, 2003

ELIE WIESEL'S NEW BOOK, Wise Men and Their Tales : Portraits of Biblical, Talmudic, and Hasidic Masters is reviewed by Avigail Schwartz in the Jerusalem Post. Excerpt:

Wise Men and Their Tales; Portraits of Biblical, Talmudic and Hasidic Masters is devoted mainly to turning the spare prose of the Bible into accessible, sympathetic stories. Later, briefer sections are comprised of character studies of talmudic sages and retellings of hassidic legends.

The commentary, in a rather modern fashion, exposes heroes, and creates a sympathetic case for the underdog. Our forefathers, priests, and prophets were not saints, suggests Wiesel, and the motives of characters such as Hagar, Ishmael, and Esau have been misunderstood. We can learn lessons from the former group's failures, he seems to claim, and perhaps, in the quest to understand the latter set, gain some compassion.

While he is not the first modern commentator to offer this perspective, the book is peppered with interesting new hiddushim (insights). Wiesel adds texture to these by drawing upon both his religious and secular educations.
"APOCRYPHAL WRITINGS ON JESUS, IN ARABIC" is the subject of a Zenit article. Excerpts, with my comments interspersed:

CORDOBA, Spain, NOV. 12, 2003 ( Among the texts the early Church had to decide on were apocryphal writings in Arabic.

In this interview, Juan Pedro Monferrer, professor of Arabic language and literature at the University of Cordoba, explains what apocryphal Arabic writings are and why they are not part of the canonical writings accepted by the Church.


Q: What are the Christian apocrypha?

Monferrer: The word "apocryphal" comes from the Greek "apocryphos," which means "hidden," "secret." The term identifies a vast gamut of writings of Jewish and Christian origin that, with but a few exceptions -- as is the case of the Book of Enoch in the Coptic Church -- did not become part of the canon of the sacred books of the Bible.

The book of 1 Enoch is accepted in the Ethiopic canon but not, to my knowledge, in the Coptic canon (although Coptic fragments of it do exist).

These works, composed in the manner of biblical books, are usually classified by critics as "Apocrypha of the Old Testament" and "Apocrypha of the New Testament."

The Old Testament Apocrypha are canonical in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions but not to Jews or Protestants. Old Testament Pseudepigrapha are Bible-like books that aren't accepted in any of these major canons.

Q: Do they exist also in Arabic?

Monferrer: Not just in Arabic. The languages in which these books have come to us are very varied: Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, Latin, Syriac, Georgian, Armenian, Coptic, etc. And also in Arabic, which has been the language of Christians of the Middle East since the sixth century, when Islam occupied the territories formerly belonging to Christian communities that lived under the Byzantine and Sassanid Persian empires.

I think he means the seventh century.

Q: What aspects of Jesus Christ underlie these writings?

Monferrer: The fundamental element contributed by the "apocrypha of the New Testament" is the information they give which does not appear in the New Testament.

All that area of which we know nothing, or perhaps very little from the Gospels -- for example, the birth of Jesus, the journey and sojourn of the Holy Family in Egypt; the 18 "hidden" years of Jesus, that is, from 12 to 30, prior to his public life -- is the material developed by the apocrypha, with the intention of making available to the Christian communities all that information they wanted on Jesus.

I think he should make it clearer that the Christian apocrypha, with the possible exception of the Nag Hammadi Gospel of Thomas, give us no new information on the historical Jesus. They have lots of legends about the childhood of Jesus and the "hidden" eighteen years, but no reliable historical data.
THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS TO THE FORBIDDEN BOOK EXHIBIT will move to Huntsville, Alabama at the end of the year, opening there on 5 January.
HERE'S AN UPDATE on the PSCO session a week from Friday at the SBL meetings in Atlanta. Probably most of you have seen it on one e-mail list or another, but in case anyone missed it, here it is:

[[please cross-post as appropriate: originally sent to: PSCO list, (ioudaios), (Elenchus List), LT-ANTIQ@LISTSERV.SC.EDU (Discussion List), H-JUDAIC@H-NET.MSU.EDU (H-Judaic List), (Discussion List),]]


in its 41st year
an Interdisciplinary Humanities Seminar
under the auspices of the
Department of Religious Studies
201 Logan Hall
with support from
the Penn Humanities Forum

TOPIC FOR 2003-2004: Parabiblical Prosopography (in the footsteps of Lost Apocrypha by M. R. James,)

Chair and Coordinator: 12 November 2003
Robert Kraft (University of Pennsylvania)

Secretaries and Special Assistants:
T.J.Wellman (University of Pennsylvania)
Harry Tolley (University of Pennsylvania)
Justin Dombrowski (Westminster Theological Seminary)

As previously announced, the Philadelphia Seminar on Christian Origins is scheduled to meet just prior to the SBL/AAR annual meetings in Atlanta, on Friday evening 21 November 2003, 7:00-8:30 pm, at the Atlanta Mariott Marquis Hotel, Amsterdam Room (Convention Level). So far, we have had no luck in scheduling a group dinner beforehand that would fit our time-schedule, but are open to suggestions from those who know the Atlanta scene.

The topic for the current year, and for this meeting, is "Parabiblical Prosopography," which is a fancy and brief way of indicating interest in the names associated with early Jewish and early Christian parabiblical literature (both as authors and as primary subjects), and with the traditions that developed around those names (persons or groups) over time. The inspiration for such a topic is the little volume on "Lost Apocrypha" by M. R. James (1920), which has spawned the following web sites as part of the larger PSCO project:

Building on the model from last years PSCO meeting at the SBL/AAR conference, we will have a panel of participants, each of whom has a special interest in this material and will introduce themselves very briefly as a springboard to broader discussion. A basic question to be considered is "To what extent do popular narratives/reports about parabiblical identities (supposed authors and focal figures or groups) assist us in understanding how the 'parabiblical' literature was read/understood and transmitted/preserved in the course of its history up to the modern period?" The panelists will include:

*George Nickelsburg (U Iowa, Emeritus), Enoch, Abraham, et al.
*Jim Davila (St. Andrews, SCOTLAND), "Rechabites" Traditions
*Brannon Wheeler (U Washington) Moses & others in Islamic Tradition
*Kim Haines-Eitzen (Cornell), Thekla as Subject and Scribe

I'd still like to include one or two additional panelists, especially someone with a focus on another major early Christian figure, if there are any volunteers. In the remaining PSCO schedule, the exact dates of which have not yet been decided, we hope to arrange for the following presentations -- additional suggestions and/or volunteers are also welcome:

On Solomon (especially "magic" associations), Sarah Schwarz
On Philip (also with "magic" connections), Debra Bucher
On the Watchers, Annette Yoshiko Reed
On Elijah, David Frankfurter
On Mary, Ann Matter
On the Maccabee Martyr Mother, Sigrid Peterson

For further information about PSCO, please consult the web site

Robert A. Kraft, Religious Studies, University of Pennsylvania
227 Logan Hall (Philadelphia PA 19104-6304); tel. 215 898-5827

Thursday, November 13, 2003

THE STUDIA PHILONICA ANNUAL WEBSITE is moving soon from here to here. Be sure to update your bookmark. (Heads-up, Torrey Seland.)

The Studia Philonica Annual is a scholarly Journal devoted to the furtherance of the study of Hellenistic Judaism, and in particular of the writings and thought of the great Hellenistic-Jewish writer Philo of Alexandria (circa 15 B.C.E. to circa 50 C.E.). The Journal appears annually in November.

HERE'S A READING OF THE AQEDAH (the story of the binding of Isaac in Genesis 22) and it's later interpretations in light of both its ancient Near Easter context and current events (Jerusalem Post). Excerpt:

Even in our generation, we in Israel are witnesses to hundreds of parents who are forced to change the natural order of the world and to bury their children - sacrifices of a cruel terrorist enemy.

The Talmud records just such a harrowing tale concerning a woman whose seven children were murdered by the Roman emperor because they refused to bow down to an idol. The distraught mother cried out: "My children, go and say to Abraham your father, you sacrificed before one altar, whereas I sacrificed before seven." Then the mother threw herself off a roof and died. A voice came down from heaven, crying out: "The mother of the children rejoices" (Babylonian Talmud, Gittin 57b).

For many parents who are faced with the agony of seeing their children's lives snuffed out in sanctification of God's name, the biblical model of the parent who has passed such a challenge is Abraham, in accordance with the plain meaning of God's first command.

Indeed, so powerful was this Abrahamic model that an ancient tradition had it that Abraham actually slaughtered Isaac and God brought him back to life. Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra makes reference to it in his commentary on the verse, "And Abraham returned to the lads... and Abraham dwelt in Beersheba" (Genesis 22:19), where he writes: "Isaac isn't mentioned because he was still under Abraham's jurisdiction; the one who says Abraham slaughtered him and left him and afterwards he returned to life is saying the opposite of what the text teaches."

Nevertheless, the Midrash Hagadol states that God brought Isaac to Eden for three years - until he came back to earth to marry Rebekah - and the Ashkenazi prayers for the morning before Rosh Hashana make reference to the "ashes" of Isaac on the altar which constantly evoke divine mercy.

The midrashic tradition that Isaac was actually sacrificed is explored by Shalom Spiegel in The Last Trial.
THE MEDICAL WORKS OF MAIMONIDES (RAMBAM) are being translated into English by Gerrit Bos, chair of the Martin Buber Institute for Jewish Studies at the University of Cologne. The article also notes that next year will be the 800th anniversary of the death of Maimonides (his dates are 1135-1204). Excerpt from the Jewish Week article:

Bos, chair of the Martin Buber Institute for Jewish Studies at the University of Cologne, has spent the last decade translating the bulk of Maimonides� medical writings into English. �All the rest should take another five years,� he says.


�I discovered that all his medical works had not been translated into any modern language,� he says. He decided to do it. He found a publisher, BYU Press, affiliated with the Mormon school in Utah, which specializes in ancient medicine.

Much of Maimonides� medical advice, while dated, is �important today,� Bos says. �People should eat a healthy diet. You should not neglect physical exercise.�

�People today,� Bos says, �see these things as useful.�
BLOGGER HAS BEEN DOWN for maintenance again this morning.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

"BAD WRITING": Ophelia Benson takes on pretentious, self-flattering, bad academic writing and calls it to account ( via Arts and Letters Daily). Excerpt:

There are several of the defense mechanisms at work in that one brief passage. The 'project' of theory is 'unsettling,' it brings assumptions into question. Ah - so that's it. It's not that the writing is bad, it's that the readers who think it's bad are 98-pound weaklings who turn pale and sick at unsettling projects. They are 'frightened off,' the poor cowardly things, by the 'difficulty' of theory - not the ineptitude, mind you, or the slavish imitativeness, or the endless formulaic repetition of repetition - no, the difficulty. So as a result they 'can dismiss' theory - not laugh at, not hold up to scorn and derision, or set fire to or thrust firmly into the bin or take back to the shop and loudly demand a refund - no, dismiss. And dismiss 'as an effort to cover up in an artifically difficult style the fact that it has nothing to say.' Well - yes, that's right, as a matter of fact. We couldn't have said it better ourselves. That is exactly what it looks like to an impartial outsider. And then even though theory is 'difficult' which being interpreted means 'badly written,' we mustn't assume it's all like that (fair enough, and if you show us the good stuff, we'll greet it with a hug and tickets to the Icecapades) because that keeps us 'from confronting the real questions that theory raises.' Oh does it really. Surely that would only be the case if 'theory' were the only discipline raising such questions. But you know what? It isn't. One can confront such questions just as well by reading people who do know how to write as by reading ones who don't.

Be sure to look at the links at the bottom of the page, especially the "Bad Writing Contest." There is also a place to add comments on the piece, if you are so inclined.

In my experience, most of those who apply Theory to ancient Judaism (I'm using it a fair bit myself in the book I'm writing now) tend to do a good job of stripping off the pretension and deliberate obfuscation and getting at the useful elements, of which (and Benson doesn�t clearly acknowledge this) there really are quite a few. (Of course, maybe I'm just not reading the right - or wrong - people.) Maxine Grossman's book Reading for History in the Damascus Document is an excellent recent example of cutting-edge Theory applied in clear prose.
THE JOURNAL OF THEOLOGICAL STUDIES has a new issue out (54.2). Most of the articles don't seem to pertain directly to ancient Judaism (although it's a bit hard to tell sometimes: for some reason only the titles are given; no full texts yet). But one article (one of the two with even an abstract) looks interesting:

The 'Embarrassing Syntax' of Ps. 47:10: A (Pro)Vocative Option
Keith Bodner
pp. 570-575

Ps. 47:10 (v. 9 in many English translations) has perplexed commentators and proved elusive for translators. M. D. Goulder wryly describes the syntax of v. 10a as something of an 'embarrassment', no doubt because of the theological implications which arise. This short note surveys several opinions and argues that the impasse can be resolved if 10a-beta is translated as a vocative. This proposal has the advantage of preserving the MT and poetically coheres with the larger structure and drama of the psalm.

In addition there are many relevant book reviews:

Joachim Schaper : Priester und Leviten im ach�menidischen Juda. Studien zur Kult- und Sozialgeschichte Israels in persischer Zeit.
Reviewed by H. G. M. Williamson
pp. 615-620

John Kessler : The Book of Haggai. Prophecy and Society in Early Persian Yehud.
Reviewed by Janet E. Tollington
pp. 621-624

Gabriele Boccaccini : Roots of Rabbinic Judaism. An Intellectual History, from Ezekiel to Daniel.
Reviewed by Lester L. Grabbe
pp. 629-630

Martin Hengel and Translated by Mark E. Biddle : The Septuagint as Christian Scripture. Its Prehistory and the Problem of its Canon.
Reviewed by Alison Salvesen
pp. 631-634

George W. E. Nickelsburg : 1 Enoch 1. A Commentary on the Book of 1 Enoch Chapters 1-36; 81-108.
Reviewed by Christopher Rowland
pp. 634-641

Paulson Pulikottil : Transmission of Biblical Texts in Qumran. The Case of the Large Isaiah Scroll 1QIsaa.
Reviewed by H. G. M. Williamson
pp. 641-646

Stephen J. Pfann Miscellanea. Part 1. By Philip Alexander et al : Qumran Cave 4. XXVI: Cryptic Texts.
Reviewed by Jonathan Campbell
pp. 646-647

Timothy H. Lim et al , ed. The Dead Sea Scrolls in their Historical Context.
Reviewed by Jonathan Campbell
pp. 647-649

Gershon Brin : The Concept of Time in the Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Reviewed by Daniel K. Falk
pp. 649-652

Stefan Enste : Kein Markustext in Qumran: Eine Untersuchung der These: Qumran Fragment 7Q5 = Mk 6, 52-53.
Reviewed by Peter M. Head
pp. 652-654

Ingrid Hjelm : The Samaritans and Early Judaism: A Literary Analysis.
Reviewed by S. J. K. Pearce
pp. 654-656

Anders Runesson : The Origins of the Synagogue. A Socio-Historical Study.
Reviewed by Stefan C. Reif
pp. 656-659

Lutz Doering : Schabbat. Sabbathalacha und -praxis im antiken Judentum and Urchristentum.
Reviewed by William Horbury
pp. 659-661

David T. Runia : Philo of Alexandria. On the Creation of the Cosmos according to Moses. Introduction, Translation and Commentary.
Reviewed by Jutta Leonhardt-Balzer
pp. 661-663

Eric Eve : The Jewish Context of Jesus' Miracles.
Reviewed by A. E. Harvey
pp. 664-665

Steven M. Bryan : Jesus and Israel's Traditions of Judgement and Restoration.
Reviewed by Hanna Stettler
pp. 665-669

Martin Hengel and Anna Maria Schwemer : Der messianische Anspruch Jesu und die Anf�nge der Christologie. Vier Studien.
Reviewed by Larry W. Hurtado
pp. 669-673

Paul Copan and Craig A. Evans , ed. Who Was Jesus? A Jewish-Christian Dialogue.
Reviewed by M. Bockmuehl
pp. 673-675

Maurice Casey : An Aramaic Approach to Q. Sources for the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.
Reviewed by C. M. Tuckett
pp. 681-686

Michael Lattke : Oden Salomos. Text, �bersetzung, Kommentar. Teil 2. Oden 15-28.
Reviewed by Alison Salvesen
p. 760

Isaac Kalimi : Early Jewish Exegesis and Theological Controversy. Studies in Scriptures in the Shadow of Internal and External Controversies.
Reviewed by Edward Kessler
pp. 760-762

Ed Noort and Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar : The Sacrifice of Isaac. The Aqedah (Genesis 22) and Its Interpretations.
Reviewed by Edward Kessler
pp. 763-764

Huub van de Sandt and David Flusser : The Didache. Its Jewish Sources and its Place in Early Judaism and Christianity.
Reviewed by Stuart G. Hall
pp. 773-776

Jorunn Jacobsen Buckley : The Mandaeans. Ancient Texts and Modern People.
Reviewed by R. McL. Wilson
pp. 776-777

Short Notice
James Charlesworth : Miscellaneous Texts from the Judaean Desert
Reviewed by Timothy H. Lim
pp. 874-875

Short Notice
Christopher Rowland : Christian Origins. The Setting and Character of the Most Important Messianic Sect of Judaism
Reviewed by Judith Lieu
pp. 875-876

Access to the full texts of the articles and reviews, assuming they do post them, is by paid individual or institutional subscription only.
BELATEDLY, here's a Beliefnet essay by David Klinghoffer on the eschatological elements traditionally associated with Sukkot. Excerpt:

In contemporary Judaism, Sukkot tends to be disentangled from this disturbing apocalyptic element. But recognizing Sukkot's end-of-the-world theme is essential to understanding its place among the High Holidays--this theme actually ties it to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the holidays that immediately precede it on the Jewish calendar. The three festivals form a unit, a dramatically coherent structure, as Jewish law makes clear when it emphasizes the importance of getting to work on building your sukkah just as soon as Yom Kippur is over. The yearly sequence--Rosh Hashanah, then Yom Kippur, then Sukkot--sets out, in miniature, a narrative of the history of mankind.

It is a drama in three acts. First comes the Jewish New Year, commemorating the beginning of God's creation, the conception of the world. Sandwiched in the middle there is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which stresses the struggle of every person to overcome the thoughtlessness, selfishness, indeed the evil in himself. This represents the phase of history in which we live now. While man travels down the corridor of time--proceeding from the beginning to the end, whether of his life or of the life of humankind as a whole--the main object of his struggles must be to strengthen the good, which means overcoming evil.

At the conclusion comes Sukkot, with its references to the end point of the human experience. Without Sukkot, we would have only the one-two sequence of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, suggesting that a struggle must go on forever, with no hope of an ultimate victory--a depressing prospect. But there is indeed hope. Each Sukkot is a preview of what it will be like to experience the culmination and conclusion of the historical process, lending the festival the atmosphere of joy for which it is known.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

THE CALL FOR PAPERS for the 2004 International Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in Groningen is now available. The deadline for proposals is 31 December.
THE SAN ANTONIO VOCAL ARTS ENSEMBLE is back in San Antonio after a tour, and one of their recent live performances is reviewed here. I've mentioned them a number times in the past: they attempt to recreate ancient music in Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek, and Arabic. You can hear some of it by going here and following the link.
"ASSOCIATIONS, SYNAGOGUES, AND CONGREGATIONS" is a website by Philip A. Harland, Assistant Professor of Religion at Concordia University.

This site brings to life the social world of ancient associations, Jewish synagogues, and Christian congregations using inscriptions, monuments, archeological finds, and literary texts from the Roman empire, especially Asia Minor (Turkey). It includes an interactive discussion of ancient associations and guilds, photos of ancient sites including the Sardis synagogue, links, and publications by the author.

He also has a book of the same title out with Fortress Press.

Monday, November 10, 2003

COLUMBIA ELECTRONIC ENCYCLOPEDIA has short biographies of figures in ancient Roman history (via N. S. Gill's Ancient History/Classics blog). Some figures important for ancient Judaism include:







Incidentally, I just ran across De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors, which is a much more detailed and comprehensive source for Roman emperors. See, for example, the entries for:



Julian the Apostate




Curiously, neither encyclopedia mentions the Nero Redivivus myth (scroll down to section V) in its "Nero" entry.
A NEW TORAH SCROLL has been completed for a synagogue in Greensboro. The article has lots of interesting details on how it's done.

Sunday, November 09, 2003

REBECCA LESSES has posted the abstract of her upcoming SBL paper, "Divine Weeping and God�s Right Arm: A vision of eschatological sorrow in Sefer Hekhalot (3 Enoch)" (scroll down) on her Mystical Politics blog. I plan to post my entire paper here on just before I leave for the conference. If we're lucky, maybe others (Rebecca? Mark?) will do likewise on their blogs.
HERE'S A PROFILE OF RABBI ADIN STEINSALTZ, Chabad Hasid and prominent Talmudist (Jewsweek). And here's a Beliefnet review of his translation of the Babylonian Talmud. But note that the review gets a couple of points wrong: the Talmuds were edited some centuries after the date the reviewer indicates (maybe he's thinking of the Mishnah?) and they were written mostly in Hebrew, with some Aramaic. I'm no Talmudist but I do know that much. If anyone knows of a review online by an academic specialist in Talmud, please let me know.