Tuesday, December 07, 2004

HAPPY HANUKKAH to my Jewish readers. This seven-day holiday begins this evening at sundown.
THE JOURNAL HENOCH, published by the Department of Oriental Studies at the University of Turin, now has a web page. It includes an index of all 25 volumes published so far.
Launched in 1979, Henoch contains studies on Old Testament, intertestamental literature, rabbinical and Post-biblical literature, mediaeval and modern Judaism. In addition a number of review articles are currently published, on Hebrew epigraphy, biblical archaeology, history and textual criticism of the Old Testament text, mediaeval Jewish literature. Henoch also publishes the Series Quaderni di Henoch.

Monday, December 06, 2004

HERE'S SOME COPTIC GOSPEL OF JUDAS NEWS, or at least gossip. Michael van Rijn, who has been mentioned before in this connection, has a long report on the alleged inside history of the Gospel of Judas since its discovery in the 1970s. (I can't find a permalink, but the report is labeled "Update: 3-12-2004".) It includes a photo of one leaf of the manuscript with a translation of it into English, which he says was given to him by Charles Hedrick. As before, I can't vouch for any of it: I blog, you decide. If anyone is in touch with Professor Hedrick, or if he happens to see this post, I would interested in anything he has to say about the story.

UPDATE (7 December): Sorry, the link was accidentally left out. It's there now. Also, Wieland Willker has more on the Textual Criticism list. Apparently he's been in touch with Charles Hedrick, who confirms that the photo is of the Gospel of Judas and that the translation is his.
PHILO OR THE PSEUDEPIGRAPHA? Eric Sowell, the Coding Humanist writes:
I was thinking the other day that the OT Pseudepigrapha would be more significant to study as a backdrop to the NT times. I asked Hall Harris about it and he said Philo would be. Anybody else have an opinion on this?

Like Torrey Seland (second commenter), I don't see why it has to be an either-or choice. There are good reasons to study both. (Incidentally, I am not the Jim who posted the first comment.) I have a good bit to say about this in The Book, especially with regard to the Old Testament pseudepigrapha. But while you wait for that, here are some thoughts.

First, another critically important Jewish corpus for the New Testament background is, of course, the Dead Sea Scrolls. I would say that they are more important for that purpose than either Philo or the pseudepigrapha. We have them in their original Hebrew and Aramaic in a physical context datable to the first century C.E. and located in Palestine, and they cover a huge range of Jewish themes and ideas. They are a treasure-trove of cultural, historical, and linguistic information. If you have to limit your study to one corpus (but don't!), pick them.

Second, Josephus is perhaps more important than Philo (I'm not as sure about some of the pseudepigrapha) for NT background. Again, he's a first-century, Greek-speaking Jew (but he also knew Aramaic and, presumably, Hebrew) and he comes from Palestine and knew of John the Baptist and the Jesus movement and probably Jesus himself. He gives us an enormous amount of information about the people, the place, and the period, but always from his perspective as a survivor of the Great Revolt who owed his position to the Roman conquerers of Judea and who wanted to make the Jews (and himself) look as good as possible to the Romans. See Steve Mason's Josephus web page for lots of goodies on Josephus.

Third, most (perhaps not all) of the Old Testament Apocrypha (Deuterocanonical books) are relevant as NT background material too.

As for Philo, he is useful for NT background because his works are certainly Jewish, they appear to have been transmitted with reasonable accuracy, and they are almost exactly contemporary with Jesus. Philo's disadvantages are that he is a Greek-speaking, Diaspora Jew who writes with a Hellenized philosophical agenda in Alexadria, a big city. Presumably he had relatively little in common with an Aramaic-speaking, uneducated Galilean carpenter and his followers, although perhaps more with Paul and the writer of Hebrews.

The OT pseudepigrapha are a messier problem, mainly because nearly all of them were copied and transmitted by Christians, often in a translation with the original being lost. (For the issue of translation, see here). The big questions are which texts were composed by Christians but sound Jewish because they are on Old Testament subjects, which are genuinely Jewish compositions, and of the latter, which have been transmitted without substantial Christian alteration?

The most common approach among NT scholars - I dare say even today - has been to assume that any work that doesn't have obvious Christian bits, or that doesn't have obvious Christian bits that can be argued to be secondary additions, is a Jewish composition. But this doesn't work for two reasons. First, as Robert Kraft has pointed out (see especially here and here), the most reasonable approach is not to assume that a work is Jewish until proven otherwise, but to reverse the burden of proof. We should start with the earliest manuscripts of the work and their social context and then work backwards from there as the evidence requires. Sometimes this lead us to argue for a Jewish origin, and if so, well and good, but often there isn't persuasive evidence and in those cases the default working hypothesis is that the document is a (sometimes late antique) Christian composition, since our manuscripts were produced and transmitted by Christians. The point is that we know that these documents had a Christian context and that Christians liked them and must have made some sort of sense of them. Earlier contexts are by no means excluded, they just have to be argued for with positive evidence, not assumed.

For arguments that Christians may well have written OT pseudepigrapha without any Christian references see here. For an evaluation of how some of the Dead Sea Scrolls would have been received by scholars if they had been passed down to us the same way the OT pseudepigrapha were, see here and here.

The second reason is that there is rather a wide range of possible authors of Old Testament pseudepigrapha. Many people in antiquity had the means, motive, and opportunity to compose such texts (as Ross Kraemer said to me in San Antonio). They could be Jews or Christians (of varying levels of commitment to what I call "boundary maintenance" - distingishing themselves from other groups), but there were also "God-fearers" (i.e. gentiles who had a strong interest in Judaism and some commitment to Jewish praxis, but didn't convert), "sympathizers" (gentiles who were interested in Judaism but who may not have been involved at all with a Jewish community), Jewish-Christians of various flavors, Samaritans, and quite likely other groups we know nothing about. Often it is reasonable to keep some or all of these possible authorships in mind for a text without preferring any one of them, and sometimes there are hints within a text that point to one or another of these - hints that have been ignored because scholars have been so keen to claim pseudepigrapha as first-century Jewish texts in order to use them as NT background. More on all this here.

In my own research I have concluded that the following pseudepigrapha are Jewish beyond reasonable doubt and were written either within a century of the crucifixion of Jesus or earlier and may be reasonably used for background to the New Testament writings. Texts shown to be Jewish on external grounds (mostly fragmentary preservation among the Dead Sea Scrolls): the Book of the Watchers, the Astronomical Book, the Book of Dreams, the Epistle of Enoch (all in 1 Enoch), and the book of Jubilees. Texts shown to be Jewish on internal grounds: Aristeas to Philocrates, 2 Baruch, 4 Ezra, the Assumption or Testament of Moses, Psalms of Solomon, and Pseudo-Philo's Biblical Antiquities. These are certainly very important for understanding both first-century Judaism and earliest Christianity.

Texts that are Jewish beyond resonable doubt and that were composed in the early centuries C.E., but not necessarily within a century of the crucifixion, include: the Similitudes of Enoch and 3-4 Maccabees. It is dicier to use these for New Testament background, since they may be considerably later than the New Testament writings.

Some other pseudepigrapha are likely to be Jewish but cannot be shown to be so beyond reasonable doubt, such as various bits of the Sibylline Oracles. Other texts may be Jewish but then again may not be, such as the Testament of Job and Joseph and Aseneth. Still others are often used as Jewish texts but in my opinion are probably Christian compositions; for example, the Testament of Abraham.

For all of these works, apart from the Dead Sea Scrolls, the texts are reasonably well established, but they have been passed in down long and sometimes pretty dodgy manuscript traditions, in some cases including multiple layers of translation with only the most recent translation-layer surviving. It would be prudent to concentrate on general themes and repeated ideas in them rather than on individual proof-texts.

Incidentally, the reason I'm making so much of this methodology for isolating genuine Jewish documents is that I think it serves our understanding of ancient Judaism far better if we limit our reconstruction to works that can be shown beyond reasonable doubt to be Jewish. In other words, granting that in many cased we just can't tell if a pseudepigraphon is of Jewish origin, it is better to exclude doubtful cases and base our reconstruction on what we know that we know. A false positive does more harm than a false negative: if we think we are studying ancient Judaism (or NT background) with a first-century-C.E. Jewish text and in reality it's a third-century-C.E. Christian composition, we pollute our corpus with erroneous information that distorts our understanding. Better to leave it out until such a time as we can be sure what its origin actually is, even if the price is potentially leaving out genuine Jewish works if we can't be sure beyond reasonable doubt that that's what they are.

For my detailed evaluations of each of the OT pseudepigrapha listed above - as well as of Philo, Josephus, and the Old Testament Apocrypha, you will have to wait for The Book (provisional title: Christian Transmission of Jewish Pseudepigrapha: What Can We Know and How Do We Know It?). The five papers of mine that I linked to in this post are conference papers that give summaries of early drafts of some of the chapters.

Speaking of The Book, I'd better get back to it.

UPDATE (9 December): More here.
THE SAN ANTONIO VOCAL ARTS ENSEMBLE (SAVAE), known in PaleoJudaica for its ancient Aramaic music, is playing in Eugene and Portland Oregon.
THE EPIC OF GILGAMESH is out in a new translation by Stephen Mitchell.
PROFESSOR JONATHAN GOLDSTEIN of the University of Iowa has passed away at age 75. He is well known for his publications on ancient Judaism, including his Anchor Bible commentaries on 1 and 2 Maccabees. May his memory be for a blessing.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

A BIBLE TRAVELOGUE: read the children's book, see the PBS miniseries.
A JESUS COMMEMORATION COIN to celebrate the end of the first Christian millennium has been found by the Tiberias excavation, according to the Israel Ministry of Tourism:
The Ministry of Tourism in Israel also announced that a rare coin has just been discovered at the archaeological excavation of ancient Tiberias on the shores of the Sea of Galilee (the "Kinneret") in Israel. On the front of the coin, a somewhat blurred image of Jesus can be seen, while on the back, the words in Greek "Jesus the Messiah King of Kings" are engraved very clearly.

This coin is one of a series of coins that were issued in Constantinople (present day Istanbul) in celebration of the First Millennium of Jesus' birth. It is not uncommon to find this coin in one of Israel's neighboring countries, such as Turkey, but this is the first time that it has ever been discovered at an Israeli archaeological site. Prof. Yizhar Hirschfeld, Director of this excavation, explains that this coin was brought to Tiberias by Christian pilgrims. Tiberias and the other sites around Israel's Sea of Galilee were the desired destination of Christian pilgrims during the time of Muslim rule in Israel from the 7th to 11th centuries CE.
Grinnell professor studies ancient Chinese texts

By CHUCK SCHOFFNER, Associated Press Writer

GRINNELL, ---- Working among scholars from the likes of Harvard, UCLA and Yale, Grinnell College professor Scott Cook helps to interpret the earliest known versions of some of China's most important philosophical texts.

Cook is one of only a handful of Western scholars to be given access to the fragile strips of bamboo, unearthed in 1993 from a tomb that dates back to 300 B.C.

"We've seen a number of tombs that had texts buried within them, but this is the first time we've had philosophical texts," Cook said.

The mostly Confucian texts have been compared to the Dead Sea scrolls in their historical and philosophical significance, and their discovery has brought together scholars from both mainland China and Taiwan, as well as Ivy League schools in the United States and even Grinnell, a small school of 1,500 students about 60 miles from Des Moines.


As Danny Zacharias has observed over at Deinde, the Dead Sea Scrolls have become a cultural icon. Calling other manuscript discoveries "the Dead Sea Scrolls of" is one of the more serious applications one finds in the media.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

THE MACABEES AND JERUSALEM: More seasonal theories, but based on serious archaeology in this case.
How the Maccabees Reshaped Jerusalem (Jewish Journal)

by Bill Gladstone, Jewish Telegraphic Agency


�The problem is that Herod the Great built so thoroughly that many remains of the Maccabeans have almost disappeared,� said Dan Bahat, a senior lecturer at Bar-Ilan University who is spending the academic year lecturing at St. Michael�s College at the University of Toronto.

The Maccabeans, who founded the Hasmonean dynasty, likely inspired King Herod�s vision of the Temple, said Bahat, whose specialty is Jerusalem of the Second Temple period.

In recent years, the former chief archaeologist of Jerusalem has supervised the excavations of the Western Wall tunnel, the ancient subterranean passage that extends along the western perimeter of the Temple Mount.

A large water channel that was discovered in the tunnel has been accepted by many archaeologists as a Maccabean-built aqueduct and, according to Bahat, almost certainly is the most visible Maccabean relic in the Old City.

�This is the most important remain of Hasmonean Jerusalem today,� he said. �It�s an enormous ditch that was excavated from the surface in order to supply water to the fortress named Baris, which was the seat of the Maccabean family before they moved to a place in the area of today�s Jewish Quarter.�

The apocryphal Book of the Maccabees offers ample evidence that the legendary leaders of the Jewish revolt against the Greeks were great builders. As further evidence, Bahat cites the fine mosaics and frescoes excavated in various Maccabean palaces in Jericho.

MORE STAR OF BETHLEHEM THEORIES: As I said before, it's that time of year. I have no idea how valid the astronomy is and, as I said in the previous post, I'm skeptical about the history. I blog, you decide.
New Theories Suggest a Less-Than-Spectacular Star of Bethlehem

c.2004 Newhouse News Service


While scientists disagree on the particulars, "one thing is absolutely certain," said Mark Kidger, an astronomer with the Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias in Spain's Canary Islands. "Whatever the Star of Bethlehem was, it was not an extraordinarily spectacular object."


Michael R. Molnar proposes that the heavenly sign was an eclipse of the planet Jupiter that took place in the constellation Aries, among other regal portents, on April 17 of the year 6 B.C.

That morning, just before dawn, Jupiter, a planet associated with kings, emerged from behind the sun to rise in the east, appearing as a morning star. Later that day, the moon moved in front of -- or occulted -- Jupiter.

While such events can be dramatic, this one was invisible, lost in the glare of the noonday sun. Even so, the Magi would have predicted it, argues Molnar, a retired Rutgers University astronomer who lives in Warren, N.J.


Kidger, author of "The Star of Bethlehem: An Astronomer's View," disagrees.

Occultations aren't rare and so wouldn't have excited seasoned skywatchers, he said. He noted that the moon occulted various planets almost 200 times between 20 B.C. and 1 B.C.

Kidger argues that what the Magi observed was a series of astrological portents, each of which has been individually suggested as the star. Together, they led up to a not particularly brilliant, but long-lived nova -- a distant, exploding star -- recorded by the Chinese in 5 B.C.


Friday, December 03, 2004

BIBLIA HEBRAICA QUINTA: The first fascicle of the new 5th edition of Biblia Hebraica (the Megillot) can now be ordered, and a number of people have referred me to this PDF order form. It contains a sample page from Ruth and a page that describes the project (in German and English). Looks good, but it would have been helpful if the description page explained clearly how the new edition improves on BHS.
ED COOK explains the title of "Ralph the Sacred River" and comments on Dead Sea Scrolls coverage in U.S. News & World Report.
THOUGHTS ON UNICODE AND THE MACINTOSH: Over on Deinde, Danny Zacharias has some thoughts on Unicode and the Mac, precipitated by Mark Goodacre's lament that more biblical scholars are not using the Unicode fonts and my e-mail to him (update here) asking for more information on Unicode for the Mac. Like all the discussions I've seen, Danny's sends my head spinning. Examples:
First off, many computer users who know they should start using unicode fonts do not realize that it means more than just downloading a new font, it means setting up a language bar with different keyboards to use, which is part of the operating system and not the word processor. Other computer users, knowing that this type of setup needs to take place, sit content with the classical fonts and push off the unicode conversion process for later.


What I love about Mac is that no outside software is required; the language bar manages the keyboards as well as the layouts without any other software.


Okay, you need something called a "language bar" that you have to "set up," but which good-naturedly "manages" some "keyboards" and "layouts" for you, and all of this is part of your operating system. Yikes!! Darn right I'm going to stick to the SBL fonts until someone explains to me, in simple steps suitable for an idiot, where I can find the fonts (ahem, free fonts, thank you, like the SBL fonts I use now) and how I can do all this setting up and managment delegation.

Danny is thinking of producing a Unicode tutorial for the Mac. More power to him!

UPDATE: Ed Cook e-mails:
Try this. Go to Mac Help on your Help menu. Type in "changing language" in the search cartouche when the window comes up. Then click on the topic "Changing language on your computer."

Ken Penner e-mails:
Regarding your blog entries about Unicode on the Mac, apparently the level of difficulty in setting your keyboard to type Unicode Greek depends on the version of your OS (it becomes easy with 10.2).

For a free Unicode Greek keyboard (including setup instructions), see
Or http://alpha.furman.edu/~cblack01/greek_stuff.htmlv (bottom of page)
Or http://www.tlg.uci.edu/~opoudjis/Play/GkUnicode.html

Chuck Jones e-mails:
Since you like the free SBL fonts and you're interested in compliance with such standards as Unicode, you might be interested in looking at The SBL Font Foundation:

"The Society of Biblical Literature, with assistance from Tiro Typeworks and support from members of the SBL Font Foundation, is developing a new series of high-quality fonts to foster biblical scholarship.

Fonts in the series are attractive and legible on computer screens and in print, include characters and symbols found in critical editions, display complex scripts, and transfer between operating systems and applications that support Unicode/OpenType standards. Each character in a Unicode font is assigned a unique code, and this makes it possible for scholars and publishers to exchange texts between Unicode environments without converting texts or losing data."

Current members of the Foundation are:

American Bible Society, www.americanbible.org
American Schools of Oriental Research, www.asor.org
Baker Book House, www.bakerbooks.com
Brill Academic Publishers, www.brill.nl
German Bible Society, www.dbg.de
Logos Research Systems, www.logos.com
Westminster John Knox, www.wjkbooks.com

Many thanks, all. This goes on my agenda for the holiday break. I don't think I'll be able to get to it before then; I have to finish The Book (which is currently at the soul-destroying proofreading and double-checking-everything stage.)
PETER KIRBY is redesigning his Early Christian Writings website and he wants your feedback.
THE SCH�YEN COLLECTION has been mentioned before on this blog, with reference to its Qumran fragments and early biblical manuscripts.

Now it develops that this collection also includes many of the "Dead Sea Scrolls of Buddhism, also mentioned here not long ago. A Norwegian named Atle Omland has noted on the IraqCrisis list that he has a website on "Buddhist manuscripts from Afghanistan in The Sch�yen Collection."

I agree with him that this material should be repatriated as soon as it is practical to do so. My concerns are that we be very sure first of the security of the museum in Afghanistan, as well as of its topnotch conservation resources, and that top quality photographs should be taken of all of the fragments before they are moved again, to make sure no information is lost. (The photographs on the Sch�yen collection website are not top quality, although I imagine that the original prints are much better than the small digital files that have been posted. But probably infra-red or ultraviolet photos, or photos with various color filters would also be needed to bring out all the epigraphic information.)

More grist for the debate over how to handle antiquities on the market and in private hands.
BLOGGER NEEDS TO UPGRADE ITS SERVERS. Or something. It's getting harder and harder to get into the system to update blogs. And the publishing button is taking longer and longer to cycle through and often just leads to an error message. I'm told I'm not the only one having these problems.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

University of Glasgow

Department of Theology & Religious Studies


The Department of Theology & Religious Studies in the University of Glasgow is offering a two-fifths University Teacher post in Hebrew/Old Testament Studies/Judaism for one year, commencing February 1st 2005, pro-rata on Lecturer Scale A.

The appointed person will have a doctorate in one of the subjects indicated, with the ability to teach biblical Hebrew at levels one and two a requirement. In addition s/he will be asked to contribute to the department�s teaching in either or both of Judaism or Biblical Studies up to Level 2, together with associated administrative duties.

The Department is a flourishing centre for Theology and Religious Studies, rated 5 in the last RAE. It has a very active programme in Biblical Studies and Judaism, and lively research centres for Literature, Theology and the Arts, Islamic Studies, and Interfaith Studies. Further information about the department can be viewed on our web-site, http://www.religions.divinity.gla.ac.uk/.

Interested applicants should send their cv to the Head of Department, Dr Mona Siddiqui at
University of Glasgow
Department of Theology and Religious Studies
G12 8QQ

to arrive by December 30th 2004. Interviews will be held in the week beginning January 17th, 2005.

[Please address any enquiries about this position to Dr Alastair G Hunter (a.hunter@arts.gla.ac.uk)]
BLESSED ARE THE CHEESEMAKERS: The Forward has an article, "When the Hero Is Judith, and the Latkes Are Cheese," on cheese and Judaism, with special attention to Hanukkah. Excerpt:
For cheese, the hero of this particular Hanukkah story is not Judah but Judith. The Book of Judith, like The Book of the Maccabees, is to be found in the Apocrypha. According to the story recounted there, during the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar, Assyrian armies were laying siege to the small but militarily significant town of Bethulia, near Jerusalem. One of its residents, the beautiful widow Judith, was determined to save her townspeople. She managed to gain entrance to the Assyrian camp, whereupon the enemy General Holofernes espied her. Intending to seduce the beautiful widow, Holofernes invited her into his tent for a banquet. There Judith fed the general salty cheeses so that she might then ply him with goblets of wine to slake his thirst. Eventually Holofernes fell drunkenly asleep, at which point Judith seized her opportunity and lopped off his head with his own sword; the hea, she carried back to her comrades in a sack. When the Assyrian armies discovered their leader dead, his head carried aloft by Jewish fighters, they fled in panic and the town was saved.

Since that time, Judith has been a name of honor for Jewish girls � think of 20th-century Jewish artists such as Judy Holliday (n�e Judith Tuvim), Judy Chicago (n�e Cohen) and Judy Blume (n�e Sussman) � and dishes made with cheese have been a tradition at Hanukkah celebrations, to remind us of Judith's heroism.

The Judith story doesn't involve the Maccabean revolt, which is the basis for Hanukkah, but it does involve defeating an evil pagan ruler.

The article also has some recipes for cheese dishes. Enjoy.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

SEMITIC PHILOLOGIST EDWARD COOK has been assimilated to the Blogosphere. His new blog is entitled "Ralph the Sacred River." I have no idea what the title means, but the blog's remit is "Observations on language (mostly ancient), religion, and culture." Check out his posting on the Copper Scroll in relation to the recent Nova program on the Cave of the Letters

UPDATE (2 December): A couple of readers have pointed out that the title is a play on a line from Coleridge's "Kubla Khan":
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.

No one seems quite sure what the allusion means though. Maybe an example of slippage of meaning between oral and written versions of a text? Perhaps Ed will enlighten us in due course.

UPDATE (3 December): More on "Ralph" here.
THE NEW ASOR POLICY ON UNPROVENANCED CUNEIFORM TEXTS, which was discussed by Eric Meyers in the SBL session on "The Forgery Crisis", has now been published on the IraqCrisis list:
[Iraqcrisis] New ASOR Policy Re: Unprovenanced Cuneiform Texts in Iraq

UPDATE: Now online on the ASOR website here.