Saturday, November 27, 2004

INSCRIPTIONS FROM THE LAND OF ISRAEL is a new online project just getting underway. The description opens:
The Inscriptions from the Land of Israel project seeks to collect and make accessible over the Web all of the previously published inscriptions (and their English translations) from the Land of Israel from the Persian period through the Islamic conquest (ca. 500 BCE - 640 CE). There are about 15,000 of these inscriptions, written primarily in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek and Latin, by Jews, Christians, and pagans. They range from imperial declarations on monumental architecture to notices of donations in synagogues to humble names scratched on ossuaries, and include everything in between.

Friday, November 26, 2004

MARK GOODACRE has a round-up of SBL bloggers with links to lots of us. He also mentions the plane that was struck by lightning. I assume this was the plane I was on, during the approach to Memphis (I think - all those flights tend to blur together in the memory). I certainly hope it didn't happen twice. I'm not sure the lightning actually hit us, but if not, it was too damn close for comfort. It was a loud, bright blast that made the plane shake and caused a good bit of alarm for a minute or two. But all's well that ends well.

If you haven't looked back over my SBL postings, you may want to. I've added updates and photographs to some of them, starting with Monday's post on the Enoch manuscript. (But no pictures of the manuscript. Sorry.)
THE NEUSNER PHENOMENON is explored by David Klinghoffer in what appears to be a review of Neusner's latest introduction to the Mishnah in the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles (even though very little space is give to reviewing the book). Excerpt:
Perhaps the only other Judaic scholar with a semifamiliar name outside academia, NYU�s Lawrence Schiffman, explains that this partly stems from the fact that Neusner seriously shook up the field early on, defining the major questions that other professors would have to deal with for the rest of their careers.

�I had to invent what the field would look like,� Neusner says.

Schiffman doesn�t deny the credit-taking. In American university religion departments before Neusner, Schiffman says, �The missing element was Talmud, the real core of Judaism. You went right from the Bible to the Middle Ages.�

Neusner upset Israeli academics, among others, by arguing that the teachings given in the name of individual rabbis in the Talmud couldn�t, as a rule, be attributed to those individual rabbis. Schiffman, best known for his work on the Dead Sea Scrolls, also speculates that �there are some who disdain him because he�s not a philologist,� an expert on the technical aspects of the definition and history of words.

Maybe so, although hating Neusner because he�s not a philologist calls to mind Lenny Bruce�s explanation of why the Jews killed Jesus: �We killed him because he didn�t want to become a doctor.�

Ever-subtle Klinghoffer.

UPDATE: Carl Kinbar e-mails:
I was wonderfully seduced into the study of early Judaism by Neusner and his infectious love for that literature. Now I am writing my dissertation on redactional characteristics of the Tosefta.

Though I recognize Neusner's flaws as a scholar (including his weakness in philology), his contributions have been immense. Klinghoffer's article not only fails to review the book, it also fails to convey Neusner's achievements.

Making God's Word Work: A Guide to the Mishnah is a reprise of Neusner's work in The Philosophical Mishnah. The "official" description on the Continuum website is a serviceable booknote.
Temple Mt. wall now said stable (Jerusalem Post)

The eastern wall of the Temple Mount is no longer in danger of collapse, following repair work carried out by Jordanian engineers inside the compound, Israel's Antiquities Authority said Tuesday. But not all Israeli experts are convinced.

"What you can see looking at the wall leaves me with serious questions about the stability of the wall," said Hebrew University archeologist and Temple Mount expert Dr. Eilat Mazar, noting that repair work at the southern and eastern walls is far from finished.

ON MONDAY AFTERNOON I chaired the session of the Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism Group (S22-59) which held a panel review of Rachel Elior's book The Three Templess: On the Emergence of Jewish Mysticism. Her thesis is that the roots of early Jewish (Merkavah) mysticism are in secessionist priestly groups in the second temple period who had a sectarian view (compared to the mainstream temple cult after the Maccabean revolt) of holy time (calendar), holy place (temple), temple, and holy service (the temple cult). The reason why the Dead Sea Scrolls and the major pseudepigrapha are "external," noncanonical works is this secessionist viewpoint, although the Dead Sea Scrolls also preserve presecessionist priestly literature (e.g., the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice).

I think I've got that right. It is a very densely argued book and I have to say I understand it considerably better now that I've heard Elior explain it and reply to comments on it. The panelists were Rachel Elior, Jonathan Klawans, Ra'anan (Abusch) Boustan, April DeConick, and Alan Segal (with Elior getting both the first and the last word). The discussion was very wide ranging and it's hard to know where to start a summary. One theme that was discussed a lot was the calendar. The Qumran sectarians and others preserve material on the 364-day solar calendar, but it's hard to know how it was actually used. It's a very tidy system, since it divides the year into exactly 52 weeks with each festival happening on the same day of the week every year. The only problem is that it's a day and a quarter off the actual solar cycle, which means that it would depart rapidly from it and the seasonal festivals would soon become disconnected from their seasons. One possibility is that the users introduced some sort of intercalation: adding a day at certain points to correct the departure. The only problem is that, unless a week's worth of days was added at a time, the neat system would be disrupted and the festivals would no longer happen on the same day each year. Another possibility is that the departure was explained theologically as the result of human sin (cf., perhaps, 1 Enoch 80). Another unresolved question is which calendar the ancient temple used. There seemed to be quite a bit of sympathy for the idea that the second temple originally used the solar calendar. Elior said that there's evidence that Antiochus changed the calendrical system, presumably to the lunar calendar now used in Judaism, but I'm not sure what that evidence is.

The book was perhaps not as clear as it might have been about which texts Elior considered secessionist and which were presecessionist, and a good bit of the discussion, especially with Klawans, went into clearing this up. She thinks, for example - as I mentioned above, that the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice is a presecessionist priestly work rather than a Qumran sectarian work, and I think it's likely she's right. Boustan also argued that we are better off looking to the postrabbinic culture of Byzantine Palestine (and I would add, Amoraic Babylonia) for the origins of the Hekhalot literature. I agree with Elior that lots of ideas in the Hekhalot texts go back to the second temple period (and I've argued this in print elsewhere), but I think Boustan's point is valid too. The actual life situation of the material is in late antiquity or later.

April DeConick had a very interesting presentation in which she said that the fate of mystical traditions in ancient Judaism had a parallel in early Christianity. It started out with a belief in ongoing prophetic revelation but, as with rabbinic Judaism, it could not survive based on this tradition. Valentinus, in fact, knew a great deal about Jewish mystical and even priestly traditions and applied them to the elect. Also, Jesus is given many of the titles and functions of Enoch. So early Christianity provides a fascinating parallel to Elior's thesis. DeConick also raised the question of how the figure of Melchizedek fitted into the secesionist literature.

There were many issues that were raised but which we didn't get to (Alan Segal produced a long list of such questions, e.g., where the Sadducean tradition and the other Jewish temples at Leontopolis, Elephantine, etc., fitted in), but these are some of the things that we did discuss.

UPDATE: Blogger has been very uncooperative today, making it difficult to post. This usually happens when there's an embarrassing typo or misspelling in a post, as there was in this one. I've also taken the opportunity to add a few more thoughts on the session. But between Blogger and the fact that I'm busy with other things, I don't know how much more patience I'll have to chronicle the rest of the SBL sessions. I also attended the Early Jewish Christian Relations Section/New Testament Textual Criticism Section/Papyrology and Early Christian Backgrounds Group (S22-110) on Monday and the Pseudepigrapha Section (S23-14) on Tuesday, and they were both good sessions, but at least for now I'll just refer you to the online SBL abstracts for more information on them. But do note Robert Kraft's paper from S22-110, "From Jewish Scribes to Christian Scriptoria?: Issues of Continuity and Discontinuity in their Greek Literary Worlds," the full text of which is available on his web page.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

THE FROM THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS TO THE BIBLE IN AMERICA EXHIBITION is coming to the vicinity of Charlotte, North Carolina, in January.
A PLAGUE OF LOCUSTS in Eilat. Tasty though.
YESTERDAY'S NOVA PROGRAM, "ANCIENT REFUGE IN THE HOLY LAND," is now available in transcript on the Nova website.
FORGERY CRISIS SESSION (S21-134): This session took place on Sunday evening (just after the Enoch fragment presentation, so I made due with an energy bar for dinner). Hershel Shanks chaired. The planning was pretty poor: the session was scheduled for 7:00-8:30 pm, yet four 30-minute papers were scheduled into the slot in the program book. Then Shanks also brought David Noel Freedman to give an unscheduled presentation. Shanks asked everyone, evidently with little warning, to keep their comments down to 20 minutes, which was not entirely successful.

The first speaker was Professor Eric Meyers of Duke University. His main agenda was to present the text of a resolution recently passed by ASOR, the gist of which was that ASOR would support the publication of unprovenanced Iraqi artifacts (may have been limited to cuneiform tablets; I can't remember for sure) given the following conditions: (1) the State Board of Antiquities of Iraq consents; (2) any such artifacts taken outside Iraq will be repatriated by foreign institutions when requested by the Iraqis; and (3) any future ASOR publication of this material must mention that the material is unprovenanced. Although this case is very specific, Meyers held up the basic principles as applicable to unprovenanced and chance finds in general.

The second speaker was Professor Jim Harrell of the University of Toledo, known for being one of the few geologists to challenge the conclusions of the IAA panel regarding the James Ossuary and the Joash Inscription. He presented some recommendations for the technical analysis of such finds. Again, the gist of these was: (1) organize a panel of unpaid experts who are open-minded about the authenticity of the artifact and give them all the evidence; (2) the analytical work should be planned and conducted jointly by these experts, all of whom should be present during the testing; (3) the panel should engage in reciprocal dialogue until they reach a consensus; and (4) the panel should issue a final report that fairly represents the views of all panel members and that, ideally, should be published. He also proposed that "analytical protocols" be set up to industrial testing standards, although he has not persuaded any professional body to do this yet.

The third speaker was Dr. Uzi Dahari, the Deputy Director of the Israel Antiquities Authority and the chair of the committee that found the James Ossuary and the Joash Inscription to be forgeries. His presentation consisted mostly of a detailed account of the analysis of the patinas of the two inscriptions and the reasons for concluding it was fake in both cases. In addition, he referred to the reports that the police raid of Oded Golan's house (where the two inscriptions were found) led to the discovery of a laboratory where many forgeries were in the process of being made. (You can find the basic information about the patina testing and Oded's laboratory in the transcript of this BBC Horizon program.) He then took Biblical Archaeology Review to task very strongly for publishing these inscriptions for a journalistic scoop. He added that the IAA committee had very much wanted to find the inscriptions to be genuine, but "science is science," and that we should wait for the conclusion of the trial to get the full story.

The fourth speaker was Professor Bezalel Porten of the Hebrew University. He gave a very technical presentation on the onomastic, dating, linguistic, etc. features of a collection of 284 Aramaic Idumean ostraca. The presentation was interesting in itself, but the title was "Why the Unprovenanced Idumean Ostraca Should Be Published," and it wasn't clear to me when the question was answered. Perhaps it was when he said that some of the information was to be found nowhere else but in these documents. That's a fair point, but given the seminar topic, it would have been better to fill it out more and spend less time on the philological details. As it was, the paper would have been better suited to an epigraphy seminar.

Meanwhile, Noel Freedman had finally arrived and was sitting in the front row waiting for his turn. At about 8:45, Shanks got up and asked Porten to finish up. Porten answered that no one else had been asked to stop early (some of them did stop at least a little early of their own accord) and he wasn't going to either. He then continued with his paper. There was increasing murmuring and watch looking at in the audience, and more and more people got up and left. Professor Porten was still reading his paper when I left five or ten minutes later, since I had three receptions to go to, so I didn't get to hear Freedman at all.

This was a very interesting session but the organization of it was very poor: too much was crammed unscheduled or impossibly scheduled into an already tight conference program and both the presenters and the audience were ill served by the scheduling problems.
MEL GIBSON'S THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST is to be released as a video game this summer. (Via Andrew Sullivan). I was going to say that I could hardly wait to see what the game companies do with the Second Coming, but then I kept reading and saw that the first in the Left Behind Games series is coming out this summer too.

UPDATE: Duh. It's a satire site, as Evy Nelson kindly pointed out to me. My mistake. Trouble is, it's weird enough to be true.
SAN ANTONIO is my father's home town, where he was born and raised.

The Tower of the Americas was built in the Hemisfair Park. during the 1968 World's Fair. I had breakfast in it when I was a kid in 1969, while we were visiting my grandparents. This shot was taken last week from the window of my hotel room.

Remember the Alamo. Friday was a nice sunny day, so I was able to walk around a bit and to do the Alamo tour.

Some of the other photos need some touching up, so I'll leave them for later. I'll try to post something more substantive presently. Meanwhile, Mark Goodacre has been blogging the conference like a fiend. Start with this post and then just keep moving forward.

UPDATE: On Friday evening the Philadelphia Seminar on Christian Origins met.

Here are some of the usual suspects.

For the last eight years, Jeffrey Gibson has been organizing a face to face meeting at the SBL conference of such members of biblical e-mail lists as wish to be present. We meet on Saturday at the Gramcord booth in the book display area. Here is the lot who showed up this year:

You can see me on the far left, back row, Mark Goodacre on the far right, back row, and Stephen Carlson in the front row, second from the right. Jeffrey is front row, just left of center. I don't know what the blur in front of him is. The Spirit of Bible-E-lists maybe?
HAPPY THANKSGIVING to all my American readers. And I hope all the AAR/SBL attenders had uneventful trips home. Or at least no more eventful than mine. I'm a little blurry this morning but I'm here in my office.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

I'M HOME. My flight from Memphis to Amsterdam was delayed for a few hours because they had to fix a faulty transponder before we took off. I'm all in favor of a working transponder on any passenger jet I'm riding, so I didn't mind, but the delay did make me miss my connection to Edinburgh and I got home late this evening and am too tired to blog. No television blogging was available at the hotel and I don't have a laptop, so on-site conference blogging was limited to short snatches on the SBL communal computers. (Baylor also provided some free computing, which I used for e-mail.) But I have lots of photos and notes, so look for more from me about the conference soon.

Monday, November 22, 2004

NEWS ON THE NEW 1 ENOCH FRAGMENT: Yesterday evening after the Qumran session, Esther and Hanan Eshel gave an impromptu presentation on the new 1 Enoch fragment, whose story broke on PaleoJudaica some time ago. They are calling it XQpapEnoch, since they are confident it comes from a Qumran cave, but they don't know which one, and (unusually for a Qumran scroll and uniquely for a Qumran Enoch manuscript) it's written on papyrus rather than leather. It contains the damaged Aramaic text of 1 Enoch 8:4-9:3, a passage that tells how the archangels looked down from heaven on the corruption of the earth before the Flood, and it allows us to correct one of Milik's reconstructions since the word in question survives on this papyrus. The correct reading or something very close to it was conjectured by Loren Stuckenbruck (of Durham University) some time ago, before this fragment was discovered. (Well done, Loren.)

The fragment belongs to the Kando family. (Kando was an antiquities dealer who brokered the original Dead Sea Scrolls acquistions.) The Enoch papyrus is one of 12 unpublished fragments owned by them. The Eshels have seen infra-red photos of 6 of these. Five are biblical fragments from three already known manuscripts: 4QIsac, 4QGenf, and 8QGen. The other six look like "black corn flakes" and are now on tour in the USA in the From the Dead Sea Scrolls to the Forbidden Book exhibition. The Eshels haven't seen the fragment in person yet but the are confident enough of its authenticity to publish it now. They passed around a photo of the text during the lecture and Moshe Bernstein promptly challenged one of their readings. Scholarship in action.

There are also rumors that another fragment of the same manuscript exists.

Many thanks to Esti and Hanan for sharing this information with us. And thanks again to the Society of Biblical Literature for providing the free Internet access that's allowing me to post this. I'm in a hurry so as not to monopolize the facilities, so apologies for any typos. More has been happening, of course, but this is the most interesting conference news so far.

UPDATE (25 November): Here's a photo of Esther Eshel making the presentation: