Saturday, December 06, 2003

HERE'S A BOOK REVIEW IN HA'ARETZ (via Bible and Interpretation News):

Love and marriage in Talmudic times
By Hananel Mack

"Zahar unekeva bera'am [Male and Female He Created Them]" by Adiel Schremer, Shazar Center, 395 pages [In Hebrew (seems not to be listed in Amazon - JRD)]

For a number of years, the social aspects of history have attained a respected position in research on the medieval and modern periods. Historians of the ancient period, on the other hand, have yet to fully appreciate the value of the social component in the understanding of history, although the picture is gradually changing even in the historiography of ancient times.

I think this generalization is too pessimistic. Certainly there has been a great deal of interest in social scientific study of the Bible for decades, and not a little of such interest for Second Temple Judaism.

Adiel Schremer's book, which deals with Jewish marriage in the late Second Temple, Mishnaic and Talmudic periods, reflects this innovative trend and makes a major contribution to current research on ancient Jewish society, in which marriage occupied a pivotal position.

Although our knowledge of the institution of marriage is not derived from the Bible, the foundations of Jewish marital relations are based on biblical law and on the reality depicted in some of the books in the Bible. As in other fundamental issues, the classical rabbinical authorities (hazal in Hebrew) regarded the Bible, its laws and heroes and heroines, as the formal and ideational source of both Jewish law (halakha) regarding marriage and some of the less binding Jewish traditions on that subject.

Nonetheless, it is obvious that the marital arrangements practiced in the classic rabbinical age have only a limited connection with the Bible or with the reality depicted there. Family life is one of the most important and most sensitive issues in Jewish law and Jewish tradition, and marital relations were part of the extensive and detailed network of Jewish laws regarding the family. Any attempt to establish a direct link between the Bible and the laws promulgated by the classic rabbinical authorities and the way of life they prescribed in the area of marital relations would be in vain - just as vain, in fact, as the attempt to learn directly from the Bible the Jewish laws on the Sabbath and the festivals, kosher dietary rules, economic activity, prayer and other fundamental issues in Jewish law.

And, in fact, the Bible is absent from this book. Scan the book and you will quickly discover that the books of the Bible do not appear in the table of contents or in the bibliography. Similarly, you will find few references to the Bible in the text itself. In contrast, there are extensive discussions of many classical rabbinical works, as well as passages from the Apocrypha, the Qumran writings and early Christian literature.

The book is divided into 12 chapters (including an introduction discussing the research methodology used) and these chapters are devoted to various aspects of the subject. In most of the chapters, the author is careful to provide separate discussions of the reality and Jewish laws in the Holy Land and Babylon respectively. Such a discussion naturally requires a cautious handling of the sources that depict the two major centers of the Jewish world in the ancient period and which reflect the teachings of the rabbinical authorities in those two communities.

[... much more]

Another recent book on the same topic is by Michael L. Satlow: Jewish Marriage in Antiquity.
Susannah is an opera that is loosely based on the story of Susannah in the addition to the book of Daniel in the Apocrypha. The opera was written in 1955 and was performed in Knoxville Tennessee last month.
BOOK NOTE from Harold Bloom in the Guardian:

AD Nuttall's Dead from the Waist Down (Yale University Press) is a superbly witty, lively and illuminating study of three related figures, Isaac Casaubon, Mark Pattison and Mr Casaubon in George Eliot's Middlemarch. Pattison served as Eliot's model for her unfortunate Casaubon, Dorothea Brooke's first husband. Pattison also wrote the best book on Isaac Casaubon, whose scholarship exposed the Hermetic Corpus as emanating from the second century of Alexandria in the Common Era, rather than from ancient Egypt. One can say that Nuttall charmingly reveals the spiritual impotence of many literary scholars today.

For the texts in question, see the Gnostic Society Library's Corpus Hermeticum web page. For brief background articles, see Wikipedia on Hermetica and Hermeticism. The best print translation is the one by Copenhaver listed in the former.
MORE ON THE PROTOCOLS EXHIBIT at the new Library of Alexandria:

UNESCO Plans to Denounce Anti-Jewish Text (The Guardian)

Friday December 5, 2003 11:16 PM


Associated Press Writer

ROME (AP) - The U.N. culture agency plans to denounce the so-called ``Protocols of the Elders of Zion'' amid reports that the text, long dismissed as a forgery to discredit Jews, was on display at a prominent Egyptian library.

UNESCO has asked Egypt's Alexandria Library about allegations that the book was displayed along with the Torah, or Jewish holy book, and that the library director allegedly made anti-Semitic comments.


UNESCO's director-general, Koichiro Matsuura planned to denounce the book this weekend at a seminar in Venice pegged to the 100th anniversary of the forgery. The seminar was organized in part by the Simon Wiesenthal Center of Los Angeles.


Good for them. And if the story is true, the director of the library should be fired.

Friday, December 05, 2003

MORE ON THE COPTIC GOSPEL OF JUDAS: A reader refers me to the website of Michael van Rijn, which seems to be devoted to nefarious goings-on in the art world. He has published a book on the international art business called Hot Air, Cold Cash. The reader reports, "Michael van Rijn's website is weird in many ways but I've found it a good source of otherwise unavailable information." This link brings up all references in it to the Gospel of Judas and the dark deeds that surround it according to van Rijn. The list is in reverse chronological order. I can't vouch for any of it, but there you have it.
BIBLICA has a new issue online (84.4). Mark Goodacre notes the New Testament articles. There's also one pertaining to early Judaism:

Antje LABAHN - Ehud BEN ZVI, �Observations on Women in the Genealogies of 1 Chronicles 1�9� , Vol. 84(2003) 457-478.

Abstract: These observations address the construction of women and their roles in the genealogies of 1 Chronicles 1�9. References to women in these chapters construed them as fulfilling a variety of roles in society, and characterized and identified them in various ways. To be sure, the genealogies reflected and reinforced the main construction of family and family roles in a traditional ancient near eastern society. But, numerous references in these genealogies indicated to the early (and predominantly male) readers of the book that ideologically construed gender expectations may and have been transgressed in the past and with good results. By implication, these references suggested to the readers that gender (and ethnic) boundaries can and even should be transgressed on occasion, with divine blessing, and resulting in divine blessing.
I HAD NOTICED LOOKSMART'S FIND ARTICLES and have kept meaning to mention it, but now Mark Goodacre has blogged on it and pointed to its Harvard Theological Review page and its Biblical Theology Bulletin page. I hadn't noticed the latter, which has a recent issue out. Two book reviews of interest:

Beatrice Bruteau (ed.), Jesus Through Jewish Eyes: Rabbis and Scholars Engage an Ancient Brother in a New Conversation
Reviewed by John F. Craghan

Roland Murphy, The Pontifical Biblical Commission, Jews, and the Bible
Reviewed by Amy-Jill Levine

The latter is actually a review of the PBC's book alongside Murphy's earlier review in Biblical Theology Bulletin. (Yesterday I found a summary of the PBC's book online, but now I can't find it again and I have other things to do.)
THE CHALDEAN CHURCH (whose liturgy is in Aramaic) has elected a new patriarch.
CECIL B. DEMILLE'S THE TEN COMMANDMENTS premiered eighty years ago this week. More here.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

MORE ON MEL GIBSON'S CANCELING of the showing of his The Passion of Christ at the Vatican:

ROME, Italy (CNN) -- Mel Gibson has pulled "The Passion of Christ," depicting Jesus on screen, from a Vatican-sponsored film festival -- because his movie is not ready.

The unreleased, but controversial, movie about the final hours of the life of Jesus was scheduled to be shown Tuesday to a select group of Roman Catholic officials as part of the "Christ and the Cinema" festival.

But Gibson had "second thoughts" about some of the scenes and is re-editing the film, the movie's producer Nick Hill wrote in a letter to the organizer, Andrea Piersanti.

The former actor, who has written and is co-producing the film, said he would be happy to schedule a preview in the Vatican once the movie is finished, the letter added.

WILLEM-JAN DE WIT has placed the text of his (Dutch equivalent of a) Master's thesis at Utrecht University online:

Expectations and the Expected One: 4Q521 and the Light It Sheds on the New Testament

I don't have time to read it right now, but there you have it.

Via Mark Goodacre's New Testament Gateway blog.

MORE ON THE OTTAWA EXHIBITION from the Globe and Mail. Excerpt:

TORONTO � There's a tiny ivory pomegranate from Solomon's Temple, an engraved slab of stone that alludes to the biblical House of David, and three fragments from the Dead Sea Scrolls, arguably the most important archeological discovery of the 20th century. All of these are among a stunning collection of more than 100 artifacts that go on display Friday at the Canadian Museum of Civilization near Ottawa.

The exhibition, developed by the Israel Museum in Jerusalem in collaboration with Montreal's Museum of Archaeologiy and History, where it was shown earlier this year, covers a period of roughly 1,900 years, from the 12th century before the birth of Jesus to the seventh century AD. It's a span that includes seminal events of ancient Western civilization -- the destruction of the First Temple and the exile of the Jews to Babylonia, their subsequent return and the construction of the Second Temple, and the schisms in Judaism that ultimately gave rise to Christianity.

The Ottawa exhibition even contains scroll fragments that have not yet been displayed In Israel, including the so-called Isaiah B portion.
"THE PROTOCOLS OF ZION are more important than the Torah." So Dr. Yousef Ziedan, director of the new Library of Alexandria, on why he decided to add a copy of an Arabic translation of the former to a display including the latter. Excerpt of his comments from the MEMRI translation of the Al-Usbu' interview:

"When my eyes fell upon the rare copy of this dangerous book, I decided immediately to place it next to the Torah. Although it is not a monotheistic holy book, it has become one of the sacred [tenets] of the Jews, next to their first constitution, their religious law, [and] their way of life. In other words, it is not merely an ideological or theoretical book.

"Perhaps this book of the 'Protocols of the Elders of Zion' is more important to the Zionist Jews of the world than the Torah, because they conduct Zionist life according to it� It is only natural to place the book in the framework of an exhibit of Torah [scrolls]."

Keep reading; it just gets weirder.

Thanks to Ellen Birnbaum for the reference.

UPDATE: David Nishimura has more at his blog Cronaca.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

CHRIS KNIGHTS e-mails in reply to my latest comments on the History of the Rechabites:

Thank you, Jim, for reponding so quickly to my communication. It would perhaps be helpful for readers of this Blog if I charted the substantial areas of agreement that exist between you and me:

1. We agree that The Sory of Zosimus�is the best title for rhe whole text, with The History�of the Rechabites being reserved for chapters 8-10 alone (using Charlesworth's chapter divisions)
2. We agree that HistRech is a separate�text, that has been inserted into StorZos at some stage after the creation of a form of StorZos.
3. We agree that HistRech is currently only extant within StorZos
4. �We agree that HistRech is a Greek composition
5. We agree that StorZos is - in its current and final form - a Christian work
6. We agree that the only certain date we have for HistRech is the date of the oldest ms of StorZos
7. We agree that HistRech is pseudepigraphical
8. We agree that HistRech is short and that, therefore, coming to any conclusions about it is very difficult.

In all of these, there is perhaps more�common ground between�the two of us than between either of us and Charlesworth and Martin.

Where we disgaree is over whether HistRech is a Jewish or a Christian composition, and whether we have enough evidence to tell. In considering this issue, I will freely admit that I was swayed by the views of McNeil, Martin and Charlesworth - and will observe that, when I first started researching HistRech in 1986, Charlesworth's�standing as an OT Pseudepigrapha scholar was very high indeed. Perhaps I instinctively felt that, as a mere doctoral student, there were limits to how far I could disgree with C! It's interesting that it's taken 10+ years for a better classification of what is Jewish and what is Christian in the parabiblical literature to emerge!

What we have to take into account with HistRech are:

1. Its clear use of the Septuagint, and its Greek language, and when the LXX stopped being used by Jews in antiquity
2. Its clear affinities with some rabbinic traditions about the Rechabites, and whether these affinities are coincidental or not.
3. Its lack of what�I would term 'high profile' Christian signature features, as McNeil so clearly observed
4. The extent to which the nudity command and NT quotes in it are (or are not) integral to the text - on literary-critical grounds, not theological ones. If they are integral and not inserted by a redactor then, clearly, it is most unlikely that�HistRech is Jewish.

It may be that we should see HistRech as a�Christian composition, composed by someone familiar with Jewish rabbinic traditions. I certainly have no vested interest in HistRech being Jewish, beyond having to rethink what�I said in my contribution to Roots in the Future, the Festschrift for Alec Graham, the previous Bishop of Newcastle, in 1997, where I talked about 'The Christian Use�of Jewish Writings: Ancient Example and Modern Practice'. I have also been at pains to observe in all my articles on the text that my conclusions were only preliminary, and open to development and revision. Of course, the editors of JSJ and JSP�might be concerned - although the editors of the Ante-Nicene Fathers will be rejoicing in heaven.

But I'm still not convinced that we are unwarranted in claiming that is likely to be Jewish- but your skepticism is well-taken, Jim!

Like you, I wonder if Ronit is�out there somewhere reading this ... or perhaps even Charlesworth, or Martin, or McNeil?

Best wishes,

Chris Knights

Thanks Chris. I'm busy right now, but if I can think of anything else useful to say, I'll try to post it tomorrow.
A COPTIC GOSPEL OF JUDAS is evidently circulating on the antiquities market and Stephen C. Carlson of Hypotyposeis gives some information on it. (Scroll up for another posting on it as well as an additional mention of our own Jonathan Pennington.) There's also an entry on the Gospel of Judas in Peter Kirby's Early Christian Writings website.

The concept of a Gospel in which Judas is the (or a) hero is pretty interesting and reminds me of the Judas of the Last Temptation of Christ: perhaps yet another "Gnostic" theme in it. I wonder if Nikos Kazantzakis knew about the Irenaeus passage.
THE "GENEVA ACCORDS" WERE SIGNED ON MONDAY. Of course the trouble is that actual treaties are generally signed by the governments involved. I'm not at all happy with the idea of giving the Palestinians sovereignty over the Temple Mount until their leaders repudiate their denial that the Jewish temple ever stood there.
MEL GIBSON has refused a request from the Vatican for an advance screening of his The Passion of Christ, according to Business Day. (Warning: this link has repeatedly made my Internet Explorer crash, but works fine on Netscape. Open at your own risk.) Excerpt:

VATICAN CITY - Movie director Mel Gibson has turned down a request from the Vatican to have an advance look of his movie about the last hours of Jesus of Nazareth, the film's producer said yesterday.

The Pontifical Council for Culture asked for the showing in the context of a congress here on the theme "Christ and the Cinema," which has brought together experts from Roman Catholic universities around the world.

Producer Nick Hill said the film was not ready for showing because Gibson was in the cutting room "softening" the most violent images of the crucifixion of Jesus.

Yesterday there was a report in the Daily Mirror that a special screening next week had been arranged for the Pope. It sounds as though the refused Vatican screening is something different, but I can't tell for sure from the available information.
ARTIFACTS EXCAVATED FROM BETHSAIDA will go on display at the Yellowstone Art Museum, according to the Billings Gazette. Excerpts:

Beginning Friday, 137 ancient artifacts unearthed at the Bethsaida site by [Elizabeth] McNamer [adjunct professor of philosophy and religion at Rocky Mountain College] and others will be on display at the Yellowstone Art Museum. The exhibit titled "Bethsaida: Life Revealed in the Layers" will remain in Billings through March 14.


Visitors to the exhibit will see such items as pottery, coins and fishing implements that date back to the first century A.D.

"We found a fisherman's house that was quite large," McNamer said. "Fishermen were middle-class businessmen."

Members of the archeological team found wine bottles imported from the island of Rhodes in a fisherman's house and golden jewelry, McNamer said. A gold earring will be on display at the museum.

Interestingly, continued excavation of the site unearthed a city that existed in the time of Israel's King David, McNamer said. Bethsaida most likely served as the capital of the kingdom of Geshur.

"We have unearthed the city gate that David would have walked through - it's the largest city gate ever unearthed in Israel," she said.

The exhibit will include a full-scale replica of a stele, a marker with the image of a moon god, to whom people paid homage when they entered the ancient city. According to McNamer, the city was destroyed by the Assyrians in 732 BCE (before the common era).

The city was not rebuilt until a couple of centuries before Jesus' time, McNamer said. In the year 30 A.D., Philip, the son of Herod the Great, dedicated a temple built at Bethsaida in honor of Livia Julia, Julius Caesar's wife.

An incense shovel from the temple and incense bowls were both discovered, McNamer said, and they will be part of the exhibit.

Bethsaida was destroyed in the year 70 A.D. by the Romans. Sixty years later, a great earthquake changed the topography of the land "and because of that, the city was never rebuilt," McNamer said.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

THE JOURNAL TC has a new article:

Michael Graves, The Origins of Ketiv-Qere Readings

Abstract: Attempts to explain the origins of the Ketiv-Qere readings have centered around two basic models. According to one model, both the Ketiv and the Qere represent variant readings which can be traced back to an ancient collation of manuscripts. According to the other model, readers introduced the Qere into the written text (the Ketiv) with the intention of correcting what they perceived to be an error. Views that combine features of these two models also exist. The author suggests that the two traditional models have not supplied an adequate framework for evaluating the origins of the Ketiv-Qere readings and that a better approach can be established by focusing on the central questions which cut across both traditional positions.

The Hebrew in the article requires SBL fonts to be readable (for instructions, go here).

"SHOULD CHEESEBURGERS BE KOSHER?" asks Jack M. Sasson in the December issue of Bible Review. He answers no, but he still thinks that those biblical passages about seething a kid in its mother's milk may have been misunderstood. The, uh, meat of his argument is as follows:

Since bissel can mean �cook,� and hlv can refer to �fat,� and the Israelites were apparently permitted to eat fat as long as it did not come from a sacrificial offering, I propose translating our prohibition: �You may not cook a kid in its mother�s fat.� If so, we would be dealing not with an arcane or enigmatic dietary injunction, but with a wise counsel, an aphorism, instructing a farming community not to squander the bounties that God has given Israel. For, to cook an animal in its mother�s fat would require the slaughter of both the mother and the young. The imprudent killing of the producer and the produced on the same occasion would lead to a serious reduction in stock, with potentially disastrous results.

The same kind of prudent advice is found in Deuteronomy 22:6-7: �Should you chance upon a bird�s nest before you on the road, on any tree or on the ground, as hatchlings or as eggs, with the mother sitting by the hatchlings or on the eggs, do not take the mother along with the young. Shoo away the mother and take the young, so that you may prosper and live long.� As in our prohibition, banning the killing of the mother bird allows the mother to produce more eggs to chance upon later.


Within a couple of centuries after the Hellenistic period, the interdiction against cooking a kid in milk itself developed from a quaint, narrowly interpreted practice to one with a sweeping application against mixing milk and meat. In passages of the Talmud, the injunction inspired a major segment of Jewish traditional practice of kashruth, or kosher laws. In turn, as it has been persuasively argued, this attachment to a remarkable interpretation of dietary rules and regulations became a bulwark for Jewish survival. Adopting them, observant Jews found it necessary to avoid intimacy with populations that obeyed no religious rules concerning the eating of meat, preserving their distinctiveness as a community in faith and practice.

I have sought to explain the original meaning of a law that remains enigmatic to scholarship. Yet this explanation should prove irrelevant to how traditional Jews today display their attachment to their faith. Traditional Judaism owes its rules of practical life to biblical laws as interpreted by the Jewish sages. This means that lasagna and cheeseburgers must still not be served at their tables.
THE POPE HAS REQUESTED a private screening of Mel Gibson's The Passion of Christ, according to the Daily Mirror.
THE CANADIAN MUSEUM OF CIVILIZATION in Ottawa is opening a new exhibit, Ancient Treasures and the Dead Sea Scrolls, on Thursday. Excerpt from the Toronto Star article:

The exhibition includes portions of three of the first Dead Sea scrolls ever found � the Isaiah B Scroll (one of the oldest biblical manuscripts known), the Community Rule and the War Scroll. The Isaiah B Scroll has never been displayed, even in Israel, before being brought to Canada.

A somewhat different version of this exhibition was on view in Montreal at the Museum of Archeology and History over the summer.

But the Ottawa museum is putting more emphasis on some of the artefacts accompanying the scrolls � seven of which were not part of the Montreal exhibit and will be making their Canadian debut in Ottawa.

One of the most startling of these artefacts: a replica of a foot bone, discovered in Jerusalem in 1968 just after the Six Day War, which provides the only known physical link to the practice of crucifixion.

"It's the cast of a heel bone," says [curator Adolfo] Roitman, an energetic 46-year-old visionary who moved to Israel from Argentina as a young anthropology scholar.

"This heel, dating back almost two thousand years, was discovered in an ossuary, which is a box for bones," he explains.

The heel bone had a nail through it, and a piece of wood was still attached to the nail. According to Roitman, the discovery of this remnant had major implications for the reconstruction of history.

"The practice of crucifixion was a reality for many years in the eastern Mediterranean," Roitman explains. "It was a widespread practice of the Romans, and thousands of victims were crucified.

"But for centuries, we had to rely on literary descriptions and images rendered by artists using their imaginations. Until this discovery, we had no physical indication of just how it was done, in the case of Jesus and

There's more on this heel bone in the article by Joe Zias cited here.

Fitzmeyer, Joseph A.
Reviewed by Tobias Nicklas

Fountain, A. Kay
Literary and Empirical Readings of the Books of Esther
Reviewed by Slivniak Dmitri

Eve, Eric
The Jewish Context of Jesus' Miracles
Reviewed by Douglas Geyer

Malina, Bruce J., Gerd Thiessen and Wolfgang Stegemann, eds.
The Social Setting of Jesus and the Gospels
Reviewed by Robert Derrenbacker

Christian M.M. Brady, The Rabbinic Targum of Lamentations
Studies in the Aramaic Interpretation of Scripture, 3 Vindicating God

M. Patrick Graham, Gary N. Knoppers, Steven L. Mackenzie, The Chronicler as Theologian (JSOT/Continuum)

Monday, December 01, 2003


Thank you for bringing my researches on StorZos/HistRech to a wider audience at the recent SBL meeting. It's also pleasing to hear that there is someone else in the world who shares my love for what my wife has for years called 'The Ripping Yarn'... although I did suspect that you had an interest in the text, as one of your students, Alan Turnbull, did contact me a year or so back in connection with an essay he was writing. Your survey of the secondary literature suggests to me that no-one else has produced anything on the text of late. I'm not in an academic context, so keeping up with research, either my own or others', is virtually impossible. There was, I seem to remember, a research student at the Hebrew University called Ronit Nikolsky a few years back, whose own research had some overlap with mine, but where she has got to I don't know.

Thank you also for praising my work, and for agreeing with it in many respects.

Can I respond - briefly - to your main contention? I actually agree with you (and have thought for a while) that my attempt to claim a Jewish origin for AbBles rests on a very shaky foundation. Rereading that article now shows to me that it is little more than special pleading. But - as I noted at the end of 'An Initial Commentary' - my real interest is in the Rechabites, and I guess that I should have stayed with just StorZos 8-10.

Despite your observations, and noting all that you say about some early Christian texts containing little that is explicitly Christian and about early Christian writers being aware of some early Jewish traditions, I would still claim that HistRech is more likely to be Jewish rather than Christian in origin. I dispute your apparent claim that just because StorZos is a Christian monastic text, we must read all of it as such and only as such - that would be close to saying that any attempt to perceive the text's sources is unwarranted (which, clearly, you wouldn't subscribe to).

Of course, like all our theories of the tex's sources and redactions, it is all entirely subjective (in the same sense as JEPD and Q are subjective), but it seems to me that what we have in HistRech echoes too much that we find in the rabbinic references about the Rechabites (not just the late ones) - and nothing else - for it to be other than Jewish in origin. Couple this with the lack of explicit Christian motifs in the chapters and the argument is complete.

I came to the Story of Zosimus and HistRech after studying the Biblical material about the Rechabites, then the Qumran material that is not about them (pace Matthew Black - see my piece in JSP 10) and then the Rabbinic references to them - so I was reading (and still read) HistRech against a Rabbinic background.

You sugest that these similarities are coincidental, and seem to me to rather dismiss them. But who knows? Of course, you have done more work on the whole business of whether ancient texts are Jewish or Christian - and I will read your paper on that subject in due course, and look forward to reading the monograph when it appears. I've only worked on the one text, in the way that I've described, and not recently even on that one. Certainly, for me, reading HistRech against the background of all the Rabbinic references to the Rechabites makes me believe that it is Jewish in origin.

I had hoped - but never had opportunity - to look at the early Christian references to the Rechabites, as you obviously have - although I did do some work recently on how the Independent Order of Rechabites, a nineteenth century temperance organisation, used the biblical material, which appeared in The Expository Times a year or so back.

Many thanks for your reply, Chris. I corresponded with Ronit Nikolsky last spring but she was not ready at that point to share her research. At the SBL conference Tal Ilan told me that Ronit had finished her dissertation, so I'm looking forward to hearing more about it soon. Are you there Ronit?

Regarding the History of the Rechabites, I don't say that "just because StorZos is a Christian monastic text, we must read all of it as such and only as such." I say that that is the place to start and that any attempt to move backwards from there must be established on the basis of compelling positive evidence, whether external, based on the nature of the contents, or linguistic. I have discussed at length the criteria I use at earlier conference papers on "Jewish Pseudepigrapha and Christian Apocrypha: (How) Can We Tell Them Apart?" and "(How) Can We Tell if a Greek Pseudepigraphon Has Been Translated from Hebrew or Aramaic?" Both papers are very early drafts of chapters of a book I am writing this year on the Christian transmission of Jewish pseudepigrapha.

Your key arguments are (1) a number of parallels to rabbinic texts on the Rechabites and (2) the lack of explicit Christian motifs in the History of the Rechabites. As for the second, you yourself have noted that the Greek of 9.10 echoes Mark 9.5 par., so the text as we have it does have an obviously Christian feature that has to be removed to make the text Jewish. I see no good reason for doing so.

As for the first argument, I've explained at length in my paper why I don't find the parallels to the rabbinic texts compelling and I won't repeat myself here. Let me make the more general point that Aggadic parallels (i.e., parallel stories) are generally unconvincing as proof of Jewish origin because they traveled readily from Jews to Christians. Halakhic parallels (about Jewish law or ritual or purity, etc.) are much more useful because Christians were considerably less likely to borrow them, since many (but by no means all) Christians were ideologically opposed to the concept of halakhah.

It would be a fair question to ask me what would convince me that the History of the Rechabites was a Jewish work. In other words, is my position falsifiable? Is there some way I could be proved wrong that a text of this size and with this sort of origin is likely to be Jewish? I'll be frank and say that it would be difficult. One of the limitations I give in my paper on Jewish Pseudepigrapha and Christian Apocrypha is that a text needs to be of substantial length, so that we have an adequate sample of the author's viewpoint. So the nature of our evidence already makes analysis of the History of the Rechabites very difficult. Still, I would say my approach is falsifiable in that I can imagine a text of this length which had been incorporated into a monastic Christian work and transmitted in Christian manuscripts and which was still verifiably Jewish. If the History of the Rechabites contained a number of references to clearly Jewish halakhic or ritual purity issues, that would be a strong argument in favor of its Jewish origin. And if the text were written in a Greek that had a high density of the Semitisms noted by Martin as characteristic of translation Greek � or, better yet, Semitisms not explainable by LXX influence � and a couple of linguistic features or transliterated words which were clearly Hebrew rather than Aramaic, that would clinch it. I would then agree that it was very likely that it was a Jewish composition and would include in the corpus of Jewish texts.

I can even envision a situation that would convince me that the actual History of the Rechabites that we have before us was Jewish. It seems to have had an independent existence before it was incorporated into the Story of Zosimus. Suppose we found a fourth century Greek manuscript in a Syrian synagogue that had been destroyed by an earthquake and never rebuilt. And suppose that this manuscript contained a long (say, 15 chapter) and clearly Jewish account of the Rechabites � one with lots of references to halakhah, ritual purity, national/ethnic issues, etc. � which included our History of the Rechabites and gave every indication of being the original context of those three chapters. I would in that case agree that it was overwhelmingly likely that the History of the Rechabites was a Jewish composition which later had been excerpted and incorporated into the monastic Story of Zosimus.

Now you may well say that neither scenario I've given above is very likely, and you would be right. My reply is that this is not because my methodology is wrong; it's because the problem itself is nearly intractable and needs to be taken seriously as such. And I should add that although these convincing cases are extreme, the arguments that you have made in favor of the History of the Rechabites being Jewish look very weak in comparison.

Perhaps I should reinforce the additional general point that I'm not saying that we can be sure that the History of the Rechabites is not a Jewish text but that, given its transmission we cannot be even reasonably sure that it is and, unless we are, we have no business using it as such. I have a larger agenda here in that I think that the field of early Jewish studies (i.e., concerning the Judaism of the first few centuries C.E.) has been contaminated for a long time by our using a number of works to reconstruct ancient Judaism when there is excellent reason to doubt that these works are Jewish and to fear that at least some of them were composed by Christians. These include the Life of Adam and Eve, parts of the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, the Story of Zosimus, the Testament of Abraham, 3 Baruch, the Martyrdom of Isaiah, the Testament of Job, Joseph and Aseneth, and the Lives of the Prophets. This is an incomplete list off the top of my head. Perhaps some of them are Jewish; probably at least some of them are Christian. I think it is important for the field to adopt, at this point, a minimalist position and ask which texts we can be highly confident are Jewish and use those for our reconstruction of Judaism. My book aims to tackle the problem of how to do that. It may well be that as our methods and technologies improve and we find more and earlier manuscripts etc., that we'll be able to move some of the above works into the pretty certain category. But for now they are quite uncertain and we are better off leaving them out. Another way to put this is that our picture of ancient Judaism, is by the nature of our imperfect evidence, bound to be distorted. I think we are better off distorting it by omitting some texts from consideration which potentially might be relevant than by including some texts some of which are almost certainly not relevant. I would rather work with what we are confident are Jewish texts than risk contaminating the sample with texts that may well be of Christian or other origin.

I could probably go on at length, but I have to go to a party and then to hear a lecture, so I should stop here. (Well, strictly speaking I don't have to go to them, but I intend to.) I hope some of these extemporaneous comments are helpful, or at least stimulating. I've been thinking about these matters for a long time and I would be glad to hear anything you, Chris, or anyone else has to say in reply.
VETUS TESTAMENTUM has a new issue out (53.4) with the following articles of interest:

J. A. Emerton

Matthew Kraus

Simon J. Sherwin

John G. F. Wilks

G. C. I. Wong

John W. Olley

There are also a couple of other articles that deal with the earlier period, plus lots of book notes. Requires paid personal or institutional subscription to access.

Leonard Greenspoon and Sidnie White Crawford, The Book of Esther in Modern Research

Todd Klutz, Magic in the Biblical World: From the Rod of Aaron to the Ring of Solomon

Thomas L. Thompson, Jerusalem in Ancient History and Tradition

Ian Young, Biblical Hebrew: Studies in Chronology and Typology

I have some automatic alerts that tell me about new books, but if you have a new book out in the area of ancient Judaism and you would like me to note it, please e-mail me with the information, preferably including a link to a descriptive web page.
THE ISRAELI GOVERNMENT is mounting a �2 million campaign (about $3.4 million) to promote tourism in Israel according to the London Times. Excerpts:

Among the country�s selling points are the old city and Western Wall in Jerusalem, the international opera festival at Caesarea, the site of Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, and scuba diving at the Red Sea resort of Eilat.


The value of tourism to Israel has fallen from �2.3 billion in 2000, with 3 million visitors, to �1 billion last year. But the Israel Tourist Board has found that the figures are reviving this year, with large numbers of Christian groups visiting religious sites alongside Jewish travellers.

Visitor numbers began to increase after the Iraq war, with 54 per cent more people coming to the country in July than in the previous summer.

A spokesman for the Israel Tourist Board said: �Even though the media magnify the problems in Israel, the reality is Israel is a safe place to visit. Security is stringent and tourists are not targeted, while El Al is probably the safest airline flying at present.�
EVANGELIST BILLY GRAHAM has seen Mel Gibson's The Passion of Christ in a private screening and he liked it.

Sunday, November 30, 2003

SENIOR QUMRAN SCHOLAR GEZA VERMES WRITES ON SEX. Can't say I ever expected to pen that sentence. And yes, this Guardian article does have to do with ancient Judaism too, at least a little. Via Mark Goodacre's New Testament Gateway blog. (I can't get Mark's permalinks to work for some reason, but it's the 5:15 pm entry for 30 November.)

UPDATE: His permalinks are working again and the link is here.

Wise Men and Their Tales: Portraits of Biblical, Talmudic, and Hasidic masters
by Elie Wiesel, Published by Schocken Books, 336 pages, Purchase
Summary in a sentence: The author of more than forty books, Wiesel tells the stories of men and women who have -- according to the press release -- been "sent by God to help us find the godliness of our own lives."
Opening lines: A man, a woman. Abraham and Sarah. Who has not heard of them? Everyone loves them. They radiate goodness, nobility, human warmth. Who doesn't claim kinship with them? Humankind is what it is because they shaped our destiny. He is the father of our people, she the mother. Everything leads us back to them.
The Jewsweek verdict: The book reveals little new information and, we're sorry to say, it seems Weisel just phone this one in. Although it must've been a long call.

The God of Old: Inside the lost world of the Bible
by James L. Kugel, Published by Free Press, 260 pages, Purchase
Summary in a sentence: In his new book, Harvard professor Kugel enters the spiritual world of the ancient Israelites in order to see God through their eyes, God as he was actually encountered in biblical times.
Opening lines: My field is the study of ancient texts. I have spent the better part of my life working on them, mostly texts from the Hebrew Bible, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and other writings of the ancient Near East, but also Hebrew texts from the middle ages.
The Jewsweek verdict: A bit esoteric for our tastes, but the professor certainly knows his material.

There are seven more reviews in the article.
BOOKS ABOUT BOOKS. Excerpt from a set of brief reviews by Susan Larson in the Times Picayune:

For readers with a true passion for the sight and smell of leather bindings, and the rarities of the book world, the writings of Nicholas Basbanes are those of a kindred spirit. In 'The Splendor of Letters: The Permanence of Books in an Impermanent World' (HarperCollins, $29.95), Basbanes concludes his great trilogy of works on book culture, begun with "A Gentle Madness" in 1995 and followed by "Patience and Fortitude" in 2001. In this volume, Basbanes focuses on a number of issues related to book survival in the future. Whether it's library discards or the destruction of books in times of war, Basbanes brings a sense of urgency and intensity to every issue. Along the way we meet some heroes of book history -- Sir Henry Rawlinson (1810-1895), who suspended himself by a rope in order to make copies of Darius the Great's inscriptions at the Great Rock of Behistum outside Tehran, is particularly memorable. Basbanes also recounts the efforts leading to the recovery of the Dead Sea scrolls, the Diamond Cutter Sutra, the most recent translation of Daodejing, the traveling libraries that circulated among Jewish households during the Holocaust, the heroic record of the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto, created in secret by Emmanuel Ringelblum.
NEWSWEEK has three articles on women and the Bible in its current issue. "The Bible's Lost Stories" is a long piece that deals mainly with the resurgent interest in Mary Magdalene but also talks about other women in the Bible and about women biblical scholars. Excerpts (but read it all):

The year�s surprise �it� girl is the star of a mega best seller, a hot topic on campuses and rumored to be the �special friend� of a famous and powerful man. Yet she�s still very much a woman of mystery. For close to 2,000 years, Christians have known her as Mary Magdalene, but she was probably named Miriam, and came from the fishing village of Magdala. Most people today grew up believing she was a harlot saved by Jesus. But the Bible never says that. Scholars working with ancient texts now believe she was one of Christ�s most devoted followers, perhaps even his trusted confidante and financial backer.


Today, there are female Biblical scholars at dozens of institutions, and at least two universities�Harvard and the Claremont Graduate University in California�offer degree programs on women in religion. These scholars have produced a new dictionary called �Women in Scripture,� a woman�s study Bible, and feminist commentaries to various books of the New Testament and early Christian literature. �There are increasing numbers of resources concerning Biblical women that are making their way into libraries, classrooms and bookstores,� says Amy-Jill Levine, professor of New Testament studies at Vanderbilt University Divinity School. �They�re no longer just cleaned up or romanticized stories, but rigorously historical, imaginative, cross-cultural collections.� These insights are also filtering out into popular culture with a slew of literary interpretations of women�s Bible stories in the wake of Anita Diamant�s 1997 best seller, �The Red Tent,� including many about Mary Magdalene.


Perhaps the most striking protofeminist text in Scripture is the Book of Judith, wholly devoted to a heroine who saves Israel. �She�s like Wonder Woman, only Jewish,� says Vanderbilt�s Levine. Judith�s moment comes as Israel is being threatened by a neighboring power. The male Jewish leadership prepares to surrender, but Judith, a beautiful and pious widow, has another plan. Dressed in her alluring best, she enters the enemy�s camp. The general, Holofernes, becomes infatuated and plans to seduce her. But when she is alone in his chambers, Judith decapitates Holofernes and takes his head home in her food bag. The enemy flees. All of Israel, including Jerusalem and its temple, are saved, and Judith, whom scholars see as a personification of Israel, returns to her previous life.


Tamar has to deceive the most powerful man in her life in order to get what she deserves. Her Biblical sisters have had to wait thousands of years for their day in the sun, but their voices, too, are finally being heard. No one is trying to claim that the women of the Bible were anywhere near as powerful as the men in their world. But neither were they weak and passive. Perhaps they were just misunderstood. And ignored. Take the story every Sunday-school kid has heard about how Jesus fed a multitude of 5,000 with just five loaves of bread and two fish. What the Bible really says is that there were �five thousand, not counting women and children.� In other words, assuming there was a wife and at least two children for every man, Jesus actually fed 20,000 people. Why didn�t the man who recorded this tale capitalize on the opportunity to make Jesus� miracle seem even more impressive? It seems that women and children were simply too unimportant. �The amazing thing is that there are any women at all in the ancient texts,� says Deirdre Good, professor of New Testament studies at General Theological Seminary. As the scholarly debate continues, one thing worshipers might keep in mind is how often these marginalized characters prevail and are entrusted to deliver the Word of God. From Eve to Miriam to Mary, they were all players�and are , in our unfolding spiritual drama.

"God's Woman Trouble" deals with feminist biblical scholarship. Excerpt:

One important goal set by feminist scholars such as Prof. Carol Meyers of Duke University is to uncover the roles and status of women in ancient Israel. Already, some have found�surprise!�that then, as now, women exerted considerable, sometimes controlling, power within the household, despite an officially patriarchal culture. Others, however, are in quest of a grander holy grail: proof that sometime before the institution of kingship, there was an ideal era when Israelite men and women lived as public equals. But without a lot more archeological evidence, the real world behind much of the Hebrew Bible will never be recovered. �We just don�t have the information about some historical periods,� acknowledges Susannah Heschel, associate professor of Jewish Studies at Dartmouth, �so there is a temptation to resort to fantasy.�

That temptation especially bedevils those who employ �historical imagination� to fill the Bible�s gaps. For instance, the Book of Exodus calls Moses� sister Miriam a �prophet,� leading some feminist scholars to imagine that �the party of Moses��presumably males�suppressed stories of her prophetic acts so that none survived in the written scrolls. But the desire to plug the holes in the Bible is itself gender inclusive. In the first century B.C., male Jewish writers went farther: they created prophecies for Miriam because, like nature, they abhorred vacuums in their sacred texts. �Misrepresenting what the Bible says has a very distinguished history, going back to the third or fourth century B.C.E.,� notes Harvard professor James L. Kugel, an expert in the history of Biblical interpretation. �So perhaps we ought not to get too self-conscious about modern feminist distortions.�

Finally, there is "Decoding �The Da Vinci Code�", a brief FAQ on the nonsense in this preposterous novel.

To uphold the tradition of philology, I will pick a nit:

Still, I would like to see the refutation published in a peer-review journal in more detail than has been presented so far.

Um, am I missing something or isn't the normal order for something to be *published* in a peer-reviewed journal before being *refuted* in a peer-reviewed journal?

Touch�. Can we have both maybe? Or else forget about the whole thing?