Saturday, November 25, 2006

A press conference and a visit to a church-supported village for prisoners' children were among the highlights at the end of a 15-22 November visit to China by World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia.

we read this:
On 22 November, the WCC delegation visited the province of Shaanxi, whose long history of Christian presence dates back to 635 AD and the Tang Dynasty when Nestorianism was introduced to the area.

In Shaanxi, the delegation visited a 7th-century Nestorian tablet. Inscribed in both Chinese and Syriac, it is the oldest record of early Christian presence in the area.
There's an 1895 article on this text available from JSTOR. And here is a translation of what seems to be the same tablet. I'm not familiar with it, but this and other sources from Google indicate that it dates to 781 CE, which would make it eighth century.

UPDATE: Reader Kate Lingley (Asst. Prof., Chinese Art History, University of Hawaii at Manoa) e-mails:
As a Jewish Sinologist I was interested to see your recent blog entry on the Popular Stele of Daiqin Nestorianism, the memorial stele that commemorates the founding of the first (and by no means the last) Nestorian Christian church in China in the 630s.

I don't know if you know of the various documents in Judeo-Persian and Hebrew found at Silk Road sites in the Taklamakan desert. Here's an image of one that's in the Stein collection in London. It comes from Dandan-Uiliq aka Dandan Oilik, a Khotanese site, and while I don't know the date, Dandan-Uiliq was permanently abandoned (probably due to reduced water supply and invading Muslims) at the end of the eighth century, so it's not likely to be later than that. If I recall correctly it is supposed to be a business letter concerning the sale of inferior sheep.

The more famous document comes from the Dunhuang library. I always heard it was a page from a book of Tehillim in Hebrew, but some sources seem to imply it is a page of Selichot instead. I don't know where this page is located now, but the fact that it's not listed on the IDP page suggests that it may be part of the Pelliot collection in the Bibliotheque National de France (probably the "Pelliot divers" category, which catalog hasn't been digitized yet), since they appear to be doing their own digitization of these documents with the help of the Mellon foundation. Here's a description of the digitization project. Your French may be better than mine (it could hardly be worse) in which case you may be able to track down the document.
I'm afraid I don't have time to chase this up, but if anyone else has or finds more information on the Dunhuang Library document, please let me know.

It appears that the blogger at paleojudaica dot com address is down again. I will try to get this fixed as soon as possible, but meanwhile you can reach me at my University address, jrd4 at st-andrews dot ac dot uk.

UPDATE (26 November): Rabbi Moshe Rudner e-mails:
Just fyi, I happen to have a copy of the Hebrew page that Kate refers to and it appears pretty clearly to be Slichot (the penitence oriented prayers recited around the High Holidays). The Judeo-Persian document written in Hebrew characters is older than this page by about a century but it is, after all, a rather prosaic business document. This page of Slichot though keeps us guessing as to the character of its scribe. It appears to have been written with a now-defunct vowalization method involving dots and dashes (nekudot) above rather than below the letters and the page may have been written by someone functionally illiterate in the Hebrew language, though obviously not in the Hebrew script (a thing not uncommon among modern non-Israeli Jews as well). This can be seen for example in seeming spelling errors such as the conflating of the words "Mi El" ("who is like God") from two separate words spelled Mem Yud and then Aleph Lamed into one single word spelled Mem Yud Yud Lamed. This would seem to indicate the page as one having been written from memory or from hearing another's recitation of the prayer.

Of course (as always) other explanations are possible, such as an unwillingness to put a name of God into writing or similar explanations, but it does appear to have been a mis-write. All the same, his religious loyalty in packing his carry-on prayers into the Middle Kingdom is impressive.
Ancient treasures lure modern thieves
With Israeli, Palestinian authorities busy with other matters, Bedouins rob tombs much as forefathers did

Matthew Kalman, [San Francisco] Chronicle Foreign Service

Friday, November 24, 2006

(11-24) 04:00 PST Herodion, West Bank -- At least two nights a week, Abu Moussa, the Bedouin leader of Herodion, takes his sleeping bag, tools and a small group of men and heads into the mountains to practice the trade he learned from his father and grandfather before him -- robbing the treasures of ancient tombs.

It's a tradition that goes back centuries, and these days it is considered illegal by both Israeli and Palestinian police. But as the Palestinian economy crumbles in the face of Israeli security restrictions and crippling international sanctions against the Hamas-led government of the Palestinian Authority, ancient treasures buried in the biblical landscape have become a major source of income for many West Bank residents.

"The mountains and valleys in this area are full of caves. All the boys and men in the village search the caves to look for antiquities, and they bring whatever they find to me, because I am the mukhtar, the leader of the village, and I know about all these things," said Abu Moussa, 50, displaying a table covered with treasures, including a 3,000-year-old Canaanite earthenware jug, several oil lamps, decorated bowls, and fistfuls of ancient coins, weights and arrowheads.


Friday, November 24, 2006

A TORAH READING in ancient Ethiopic (Ge'ez) to celebrate the Ethiopian Jewish holiday of Sigd:
35,000 Ethiopian Israelis celebrate the giving of Torah
By Ayanawo Farada Sambetu (Haaretz)

Some 35,000 people celebrated the Ethiopian Jewish holiday of Sigd in Jerusalem yesterday, marking the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.

Absorption Minister Zeev Boim said he believed "the holiday of Sigd can belong to the whole people of Israel, like Mimouna," referring to the Moroccan holiday at the end of Pesach.


During the ceremony, the community's religious leaders read chapters from the Torah, particularly those concerned with the giving of the Ten Commandments and portions from the prophets and Psalms. The readings were in the ancient Ethiopian language of Gez and translated into Amharic.

UPDATE (25 November): The Jerusalem Post has more on Sigd, including a couple of photos of the recent celebration.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

OH, YES, AND HAPPY THANKSGIVING to American readers and all other celebrating it, wherever you are. It's a normal work day here, and a jet-lagged one for me because of the SBL meetings, so I didn't think to mention it earlier. But I'm off to my Thanksgiving dinner with family and friends in a few minutes.
IN THE MAIL -- my review copy of:
Shaul Shaked (ed.), Officina Magica: Essays on the Practice of Magic in Antiquity (IJS Studies in Judaica 4; Leiden: Brill, 2005)
FAKE ANCIENT ARAMAIC and other forged antiquities are being used to fund terrorism according to the Independent:
Fake Iraqi artefacts sold in UK to fund terror
By Jason Bennetto, Crime Correspondent
Published: 23 November 2006

Forged ancient works of art from Iraq are being sold in Britain to fund terrorism in the Middle East, Scotland Yard says. Police believe genuine artefacts plundered from Iraq and Afghanistan are also being traded by groups linked to al-Qaida.

The forged artefacts are being sold on internet auction sites and market stalls for up to £3,000 each.


The growing problem of fake artworks - worth an estimated £100m to £200m every year in the UK - was highlighted by the police yesterday at a private exhibition at the Albert and Victorian Museum in London.

The display contained examples of faked Middle Eastern artefacts that included a Mesopotamian cone, a Greek pendant, a clay nail with aramaic script and a Sumerian message tablet said to date from 2100BC. But police are also finding huge quantities of genuine artefacts.

APOCRYPHA WATCH: The stories of both Judith and Susannah are currently being retold onstage.
WOLF LESLAU, professor emeritus of Hebrew and Semitic linguistics at UCLA, has died at the age of 100.
Wolf Leslau, 100; UCLA professor sought out and recorded Ethiopian languages
By Jocelyn Y. Stewart, [Los Angeles] Times Staff Writer
November 23, 2006

Wolf Leslau, professor emeritus at UCLA and a leading expert on Ethiopian languages and culture, died of natural causes Nov. 18 at a nursing home in Fullerton, said his daughter, Eliane Silverman. He was 100.

Leslau learned to use a computer at 80, and the last of the nearly 50 books that he wrote was published when he was 98. He spoke 17 languages.

There's a little more information on Professor Leslau here. He had already retired by the time I came to UCLA in 1978, although I think he was still around and even teaching classes. But I don't recall ever meeting him in person.

May his memory be for a blessing.

UPDATE (20 January 2007): More here.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

CONFERENCE REFLECTIONS: As promised, here are some thoughts about the sessions in which I participated at the SBL conference.

I got lots of feedback on my paper "'Scripture as Prophetically Revealed Writings." Often I didn't know the names of the questioners and my notes are not always clear on who asked what, so I won't attach names to specific questions, but here are the questions:
  • Alongside the question of any altered state of consciously in the production of pseudepigraphic books, would it not also be rather convenient for the authors to have, for example, Jubilees or the Temple Scroll to advance their agenda? (I entirely agree with this and said that altered states of consciousness often converge with convenience.)
  • What did the ancient authors mean by a "prophecy"? How would they have defined it? (My first shot at answering this was that a prophecy was a writing by a prophet, but see the next question.)
  • Did everything a prophet wrote count as prophecy? If not, what made it a prophecy? (No, and this is a good point. A love letter or a note to the milkman would not be a prophecy just because a prophet wrote them. This raises the question of what genres count as prophecy and I need to defer this one to think about it more.)
  • What did the ancient exegetes think about the prophetic books mentioned in the Bible but which are now lost. (I don't know. It would be very interesting to trawl through the ancient Jewish and Christian literature to see if the exegetes ever commented on such lost books and, if so, what they said.)
  • It was pointed out that the evidence I had collected came from a wide geographic area over a long period of some centuries and this made it problematic to generalize about. (I agree, but this was just an initial attempt to collect all [or at least much] of the relevant evidence.)
My paper "The Hekhalot Literature and the Jewish Apocalypses" elicited the following feedback.
  • It would be worthwhile to see how well the model applies to groups that existed after the time of the ancient apocalypses but before the Merkavah mystics, particularly the Manicheans. (Indeed. I don't control the Manichean literature, but perhaps I should at least have a look at the Greek Life of Mani with this in mind.)
  • Was there an apocalyptic movement of which all the writers of the surviving ancient apocalypses considered themselves to be a part? (Perhaps there was from our [etic] perspective, but from their [emic)] perspective they often would have disagreed violently on important issues. For example, the author of the Animal Apocalypse advocates armed resistance during the persecution of Antiochus whereas the contemporary author of Daniel promotes pacifist martyrdom. It is hard to imagine that they considered themselves part of the same movement.)
  • What can we say about the social context of the writers of the ancient apocalypses along the lines of my reconstruction of the social context of the Merkavah mystics in my book Descenders to the Chariot? (I can't remember what I said here except that we have a lot less information on the former than the latter.)
  • Can the model be applied as far back as to the book of Ezekiel, which is the font of much apocalyptic and mystical thought in Judaism? (I don't think that this specific model would work very well with the book of Ezekiel, but Ezekiel is certainly a character who makes use of altered states of consciousness and had visions of the divine realm. My suspicion is that Ezekiel presents us with a much more realistic view of what a priest in the Jerusalem Temple was like and that Leviticus is a bowdlerized account by a movement that rejected the visionary elements of the Jerusalem cult.)
The session of the Pseudepigrapha Section devoted to my book generated a lot of good discussion and debate. Here are some reflections I and others shared at the time.
  • One of my main objectives in writing the book was to get people talking about the methodology for identifying the provenance of pseudepigraphic books, and I am delighted that the book is getting so much attention. Ultimately it doesn't really matter if I am right or wrong about the provenance of a particular book or even about any given point of methodology. What matters is that we are now discussing these issues on a more sophisticated level.
  • The most general criticism from the panel was that I did not go far enough and that I should have approached the problems from an even more abstract and higher-order level (e.g., dispensing with or being even more sceptical of labels like "Jewish" or "Christian"). I don't doubt that there is some truth to this and I am not surprised to hear it from this panel, which consisted mostly of OT pseudepigrapha specialists. But another important audience I am trying to reach is New Testament scholars, and the book was written for them too. I suspect some of them think (assuming they bother to read it, which I hope they do) that I've gone entirely too far as it is. Let's see how far we get with level of abstraction and label-rejection before we call for more.
  • The quest for the viewpoint of the original authors and audiences of these works is worth pursuing for two reasons, even though such questions are out of fashion. First, our job as historians of religion is to reconstruct the reception history of these documents from their inception to the present, so the original audience is one audience (of many) that we should consider. Second, we are already handed the agenda of finding the viewpoint of the original audience and author by New Testament scholars who want to know which texts they can use as first-century "Jewish background." We specialists need to guide them on this question, because it is not going to go away.
  • The methods I have advanced in the book need to be applied by specialists who control the language and culture of particular areas (Armenian, Coptic/Egyptian, Ethiopic. Syriac/Eastern Church, Slavonic, etc.). They may well be able to refine and correct my conclusions about specific texts.
  • One suggestion in the discussion was that junior scholars who wish to work with Second Temple literature and Pseudepigrapha should develop a subspecialty in at least one of the more obscure church languages and cultures that transmit OT pseudepigrapha. I also underlined the importance of team work in approaching such texts. Often a single pseudepigraphon is transmitted in more than one such language and we may need several specialists collaborating in order to understand the transmission and origin of the work. I hope that on the coat tails of the More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project I will be able to edit a collection of essay that gives an introduction and bibliography for each of these languages and cultures. I am discussing this with a publisher right now.
The ten-year retrospective panel of the Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism Section looked both at what we accomplished and where we are going. In the business meeting at the end we decided that for the next ten years (at least!) we would approach the problem of Jewish and Christian mysticism chronologically, beginning with the earliest texts and moving forward each year. In 2007 we plan to hold one session on mysticism in the ancient Near East, another on mysticism in the Hebrew Bible, and a third session consisting of reviews of books published recently by members of the group.

A few other random notes:

On Monday I also attended S20-30, Religious Experience in Early Judaism and Early Christianity, the theme of which was "the experience of possession." I was especially interested to hear Guy Williams's paper, "Spiritual Possession in Judaism and Paul's Relationship with Christ," in which he argued that Paul was possessed by the spirit of Jesus, a position that is close to mine -- in my "'Scripture' as Prophetically Revealed Writings" paper -- that Paul was channeling Jesus.

I also stopped for a while at S20-82, the review of DJD 17 (the Samuel manuscripts from Cave 4), on which I have already commented here. I was very sorry that Frank Moore Cross, the chief editor of the volume and my doctoral supervisor was unable to attend. I had been hoping to see him.

I also attended the business meeting of the Enoch Seminar on Monday evening and I can report that there will be another Enoch Seminar at Camaldoli in Italy in July of 2007 (and, yes, I plan to go). The topic will be Enochic Judaism and the book of Jubilees. There is also a tentative plan for a panel discussion at next year's SBL in San Diego which will be devoted to the proceedings volume of the 2005 Camaldoli Enoch Seminar on the Similitudes.
I'M HOME. More later.

Monday, November 20, 2006

BOOK PLUG: I've mentioned this before, but I received my contributor's copy yesterday at the EJCM panel session, so I'll note it again:
Paradise Now: Essays on Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism

/April D. DeConick, editor/

A substantial introduction to the study of early Jewish and Christian mysticism, this volume examines major aspects of the mystical tradition within early Judaism and Christianity. This tradition was centered on the belief that a person directly, immediately, and before death can experience the divine, either as a rapture experience or one solicited by a particular praxis. The essays define and analyze the nature and practices of mysticism as it emerges within early Judaism and Christianity, recognizing this emergence within a variety of communal environments. Larger questions about the relationship between hermeneutics and experience, as well as the relationship between mysticism and apocalypticism are also discussed, and a substantial bibliography of the field is provided. The book is the result of ten years of work of the Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism unit of the Society of Biblical Literature.

Paper, $49.95 - ISBN: 1-58983-257-4 - 480 pages - Hardback edition available from Brill

Symposium Series 11
Highly recommended.

I checked out the conference book display area on Saturday and didn't find anything I needed urgently, so this may be the only professional book I bring home this time. Perhaps just as well, since I've already filled much of my spare luggage space with science fiction paperbacks and the 2007 Dilbert calendar.
TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: The Southern Wall is the subject of a Ynetnews Travel column. Uma Thurman is mentioned but she is not of central importance to the site.
THE SESSION ON MY BOOK produced a good and vigorous discussion of the current state of the question on the Pseudepigrapha and I was quite happy with it. Again, I'll post some notes on it and on the tenth-anniversary EJCM section when I get a chance, perhaps not until after the conference.

I depart for Scotland tomorrow afternoon. I may or may not be able to blog tomorrow. If not, look for me again on Wednesday.

UPDATE (22 November): More here.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

MY TWO PAPERS went well yesterday. When I get a chance, I'll post some notes on the feedback I got. The Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism Group went out to dinner last night and afterwards I stopped at the Harvard reception for a while. But I did manage to get to bed pretty early because I figured (correctly) that I would wake up early anyway -- hence the obscenely early hour of these posts.

The gym in the Grand Hyatt doesn't open until 8:00 am on Sundays, which seems pathetic to me. Most hotels have twenty-four hour access (and most of them don't charge extra for use either, unlike the Hyatt). But the session on my book is this morning and I need to get my notes on the presentations into some kind of order, so I do have something to keep me occupied. The EJCM panel discussion is this afternoon as well.

UPDATE (22 November): More here.
A NEW BOOK ON MARY MAGDALENE by Betty Conrad Adam is reviewed in the Houston Chronicle (free registration required). It is devotional rather than scholarly:
What makes Adam's book different from others is its conversational tone, roundup of past research and legends, and a focus on adapting Mary Magdalene's spirituality for today's world.

"It helps us envision our spirituality in new ways," she said. "It's a message that I believe inspires a new way of thinking about ourselves and others. I talk about it in terms of the contemporary community here."

Adam and others refer to the Gospel of Mary, as the "gospel of peace" and look to Magdalene's teachings as a way to bridge barriers in today's world.
Mary Magdalene's teachings are pretty thin on the ground, but perhaps she is referring to the Greek and Coptic Gospel of Mary, which is mentioned in the article as well. Like the Gospel of Judas, this gospel is much later than the canonical ones and tells us interesting things about the second century church, but nothing new about the time of Jesus.