Saturday, August 04, 2007

BIBLICAL STUDIES CARNIVAL XX is out on Dr. Claude Mariottini's blog. Also, this month's blogger of the month is April DeConick.
A BOOK REVIEW ON MAGIC IN LATE ANTIQUE SYRIA-PALESTINE has just come out in Bryn Mawr Classical Review:

Silke Trzcionka, Magic and the Supernatural in Fourth-Century Syria. London and New York: Routledge, 2007. Pp. 227. ISBN 0-415-39242-X. £17.99.

Reviewed by Thomas J. Kraus, Hilpoltstein (

Word count: 1895 words

This volume is a revised version of the Ph.D. thesis Silke Trzcionka (hereafter T.), an Australian Research Council Senior Research Associate at the Centre for Early Christian Studies at Australian Catholic University, prepared under the auspices of Wendy Mayer and Paul Tuffin and submitted to the University of Adelaide in 2004. According to the title T. primarily focuses on late antique Syria and the practices and beliefs present there to summon supernatural powers for help in specific situations of life. In addition, the back cover unveils that T. will specify on Palestine, too, and, together with the first page of the book, it promises that she is going to deal with "a myriad of magical activities" (for instance, curses, spells, and amulets; accusations; methods of healing, protecting, and exorcism). With a strict geographical, chronological, and thematic framing and by applying methodological theses from sociology and anthropology, T. engages in painting a realistic picture of region, time, and people. By doing so a "belief system emerges that intricately intertwines the supernatural and tangible worlds, and in which magic pervades and defines social reality." The book is aimed at "students and specialists of late antiquity, ancient magic, ancient religion and early Christianity" (see the summary on the back cover).

(Via Jack Sasson's Agade list.)
'A Holy King'
August 02, 2007 - Robert Leiter, Literary Editor (Jewish Exponent)

If we Jews are truly the People of the Book, then there is no more exact and resonant exhibit now on display than Chosen: Philadelphia's Great Hebraica, which runs through the end of the month at the Rosenbach Museum and Library off Rittenhouse Square. The telling nature of the show is made even more concrete by a close perusal of the catalogue, which has just been released by the museum; the book allows you not only to dwell over the artifacts on display -- albeit via fine, clear reproductions of them -- but you can take all the time necessary to absorb their effect and the corresponding information that's been compiled about them.


The catalogue, like the show, follows the history of the Jewish book, from its inception in scrolls in ancient Israel to handwritten manuscripts in the Middle Ages, then to printed works once Johannes Gutenberg devised his revolutionary press -- and on to the flourishing of Hebrew book-making in the early modern period. Both catalogue and exhibit conclude with a section on the somewhat specialized endeavor -- the creation of Megillot.

The latter, along with the numerous examples of illuminated manuscripts, do capture the eye immediately with their deeply faceted hues, despite the fact that many pieces bear significant evidence of age. But the truly captivating items are the miniatures, like the Torah with a dress and crown, dating from 18th-century Europe; and the Torahs housed in special decorated containers, like the one enclosed in a tik, which looks old but is listed as a 20th-century product of Iraq.


Friday, August 03, 2007


I said it was a slow news day.
THE NAHAL MISHMAR HOARD OF COPPER OBJECTS is the subject of an article in the New Jersey Jewish Standard, inspired by the writer's visit to the Metropolitan Museum, where three of the objects are on display. This is outside PaleoJudaica's usual time frame, but what the heck, it's a slow news day.
The story of the treasure from the cave in Nahal Mishmar starts in the early ’60s. Israel’s Departments of Antiquities decided to implement a thorough survey of all the caves in every deep valley and ravine in the Judean desert. The survey’s purpose was to reveal and save any scrolls or parchments in this area. The Dead Sea Scrolls, which were discovered a few years earlier, encouraged the local Bedouins to search and dig in every cave for more of these precious and priceless scrolls.

The survey was divided into four major ravines and the top Israeli archaeologists were each appointed to one of the ravines. Archeologist Pesach Bar-Adon was to screen and explore every cave in Nahal Mishmar that is located half way between Ein Gedi and Masada.

In one of the caves, above a sheer drop of 600 feet, accessible only by ropes and ladders, Bar-Adon’s team revealed what is now known as "The treasure of Nahal Mishmar."

Hidden in a natural crevice, covered by a large rock, and wrapped in a straw mat was an extraordinary and unique collection of 442 copper, stone, and ivory artifacts.

The craftsmanship was perfect, the shapes vivid, and the metal pure and clean. The surprise was even bigger when the find was dated as being from 3500 BCE, of the Chalcolithic era. This wonder has been hidden for 5,500 years, waiting for an Israeli team to discover it.

But the mystery had only begun. The artifacts were not working tools and they did not resemble any type of weapon. They were apparently ritual artifacts used for some ancient method of worship. One of the common themes was the antlered head of the local mountain goat, the ibex — still to be seen until this day roaming this part of the desert.

The scholars were bewildered and had many, many questions: Who created these artifacts? Where did they come from? Who hid them in this remote cave and why? And what happened to these people who never made it back to reclaim their precious treasure?
Predictably, since no one know what they are, they are taken to be religious paraphernalia for a temple cult. I kind of like the theory, mentioned in passing in an archaeology class by one of my professors (I won't say who) many years ago, that the objects were used to smoke dope. But I don't think he was serious.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Jewish history returns to tiny historical village

By Rachel Levy Aug 2, 2007, 10:06 GMT (Monsters and Critics)

Amsterdam - The foundation that runs the tiny historical Dutch village of Bourtange announced it received an extraordinary 17th-century Dutch translation of Antiquities of the Jews by 1st century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (37-100 AD).

The work, which like the Bible begins with God's creation of the world, covers Jewish history up to the time the Romans conquered ancient Judea and expelled the inhabitants from their homeland, marking the beginning of the Jewish diaspora.

'We think there are only two other copies of this Dutch translation,' explains Margriet van Klinken of the Bourtange Foundation.

'The book is dated 1636 and written in old, pre-modern Dutch. We do not know yet who translated the text from the Greek original.'

'It is a beautiful book,' Van Klinken continues, 'it has a beautiful yellow leather cover. The pages are made of very thick, white paper and the text is written in Gothic print, with black ink.'

Interestingly, the book not only contains text but many engravings.

'Black-and-white pictures of various scenes described in the text surrounding the engravings. Some are quite big, comprising more than half the page,' Van Klinken says enthusiastically.

How the item came to Bourtange was just as interesting.

IN THE MAIL - This came in at the beginning of the week:
J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Despite this, it's not a Zionist plot.

But this Jewish connection has been suggested:
Harry Potter's Fabulous Jewish Monsters

By: Rabbi Natan Slifkin (Jewish Press NY)
Wednesday, August 1, 2007

The fabulous world of Harry Potter, so prominent in the news right now, may seem very far removed from Judaism. After all, magic, the central feature of the series, is prohibited by the Torah. But some of the most striking inhabitants of Harry’s world are very much part of Torah. Many of the strange beasts that Harry encounters, including mermaids, giants, centaurs and dragons, were described in the Talmud and Midrash long before J.K. Rowling ever took up her pen.

Harry’s headmaster, Professor Dumbledore, owns a magical phoenix, an immortal bird that is continually reborn in fire. The phoenix is also described in several instances in the Talmud and Midrash, having received its gift of immortality as a result of not eating from the Etz Ha-Da’at (Tree of Knowledge) in the Garden of Eden. Hogwarts, the school where Harry is a pupil, houses a lake inhabited by mermen and mermaids. Mermaids are also mentioned in the Midrash, and Rashi likewise discusses people who are half man, half fish.

The Hogwarts grounds are home to a forest inhabited by centaurs, men with the legs of horses. According to the Midrash, the descendants of Enosh turned into centaurs.

In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry’s teacher Hagrid makes a bonfire in his "Care of Magical Creatures" class. Out of the bonfire emerge salamanders, which continue to survive in the fire and whose blood has extraordinary powers. The Gemara likewise attests that salamanders are generated from fire, and Rabbi Akiva expresses amazement at their ability to survive only in that environment. Hagrid himself is a half-giant, standing ten feet in height, while the giant Grawp measures twenty. The Gemara puts Moshe Rabbeinu and the Levites in between, at ten cubits (fifteen feet) in height, and describes Og of Bashan as being many hundreds of feet tall.

The writer has a book on the subject of monsters in the rabbinic literature, but it sounds heavily apologetic.

For more on Og the giant, see here, here, and here.

On another note, my son and I saw the Harry Potter 5 movie over the weekend. It was okay, but my chief feeling as we left the cinema was relief that now I don't have to read the book.

UPDATE (25 August): More here.

UPDATE (31 August): More here.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

THE WAYS THAT NEVER PARTED is now available in paperback:
For Immediate Release Contact: Bob Todd (612) 330-3234 Rethinking the “Parting of the Ways” Between Judaism and Christianity MINNEAPOLIS (July 31, 2007)—For the last two decades historians have sought the decisive point in Roman antiquity at which the “parting of the ways” between early Judaism and Christianity was complete. The essays gathered in the newly released The Ways That Never Parted: Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages challenge the assumption that any “parting” took place, arguing for ongoing relationships between Jews and Christians, in different and complex ways, for the first few centuries of the common era. “A major paradigm shift in our understanding of the complex interactions between Jewish and Christian tradition. This outstanding collection, with its lucid and incisive introduction, offers students and scholars an exciting range of new approaches to the history of western culture.” —Elaine Pagels, Harrington Professor of Religion, Princeton University “The dramatic purge of the landscape of ancient religion that left Judaism and Christianity as lone survivors standing in the west did not come naturally, or easily, or quickly. The Ways That Never Parted opens important new lines of sight into a noisy, prolonged, and surprising history.” —James J. O’Donnell, Professor of Classics, Georgetown University Contributors include Adam H. Becker, Ra’anan S. Boustan (Abusch) Daniel Boyarin, Averil Cameron, David Frankfurter, Paula Fredriksen, John G. Gager, E. Leigh Gibson, Martin Goodman, Andrew S. Jacobs, Naomi Koltun-Fromm, Robert A. Kraft, Simon R.F. Price, Annette Yoshiko Reed, Alison Salveson [Salvesen], Peter Schäfer, Daniel Stökl Ben Ezra, and Amram Tropp. Adam H. Becker is Assistant Professor of Classics and Religious Studies at New York University and the author of The Fear of God and the Beginning of Wisdom: The School of Nisibis and the Development of Scholastic Culture in Late Antique Mesopotamia (2006). Annette Yoshiko Reed is Assistant Professor in Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of Fallen Angels and the History of Judaism and Christianity: The Reception of Enochic Literature (forthcoming), and coeditor of Heavenly Realms and Earthly Realities in Late Antique Religions (2004). The Ways That Never Parted Edited by Adam H. Becker and Annette Yoshiko Reed Foreword by Martin Goodman, Simon Price, and Peter Schäfer Format: 6” x 6”, Paperback, 424 pages ISBN-13: 978-0-8006-6209-7 Price: $29.00/ CAN $35.00 Publisher: Fortress Press Rights: Canada and USA To order The Ways That Never Parted please call Fortress Press at 1-800-328-4648 or visit the Web site at To request review copies (for media) please call 1-800-426-0115 ext. 234 or e-mail To request exam copies for classroom use (professors) go to
John Day (ed.), Society for Old Testament Study Book List 2007 (London: Sage, 2007)
Lots of goodies inside.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

THE CONFUSION OF TONGUES at the Tower Babel may not have been a punishment after all:
Is the Tower of Babel wobbling?

by John Dart (Christian Century)

The unfinished Tower of Babel has stood for centuries in art, literature and biblical commentaries as an outrageous, heaven-reaching challenge to the God of Genesis, who responded by scrambling the common language of the citizens and dispersing them around the world. The brief account has nearly always been lumped together with the punishment stories involving Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, and the great flood—stories about how Yahweh deals with arrogant, sinful humanity.


But a recently published study aims to tear down this view of Babel. It contends that the Genesis story was told merely to account for the origin of different languages from a city in old Mesopotamia, which was, from the biblical perspective, the patriarchal cradle of the civilized world.

Upon analysis, "there is no support in the story for viewing God's actions as punishment, judgment or curse upon the human race, nor as a catastrophe which doomed humanity to confusion and chaos," writes Old Testament professor Theodore Hiebert of McCormick Theological Seminary in the spring issue of the Journal of Biblical Literature. "The world's cultural diversity is represented as God's design for the world, not the result of [God's] punishment of it."

The problem is that the Jordan River, the Dead Sea's principal tributary, is a trickle once it reaches the sea because Israel, Jordan and Syria siphon off 95 percent of the water for drinking and for irrigation. Over the past century, the water's surface has dropped 80 feet; in the last two decades, the sea has shrunk by a third.

Sinkholes have caved into the former seabed, and its water has become saltier, strangling even the unique one-celled microbes that long ago adapted to this poisonous environment.
I've noted this problem before here.
THE HERODIAN QUARTER in Jerusalem gets a touristy review in Ynetnews:
Jerusalem: 2000 year-old ashes

We take you on a tour through the Herodian Quarter, a lavish archeological complex in the Jewish Quarter where the rich Jews resided during the Second Temple period

Ron Peled
Published: 07.30.07, 16:23 / Israel Travel

The renovation of the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem that started in 1967 lasted over 15 years. During the construction of the Kotel Yeshiva over the Western Wall's plaza, an impressive building complex was discovered including the homes of affluent Jews, and ashes from the city's destruction in 70 AD.

The complex, better known as the Herodian Quarter – the Wohl Archaeology Museum, is the largest roofed archeological site in Israel (about 2,700 square meters). Actually it is a Jewish neighborhood overlooking the Temple from the final days of the Second Temple period. A bridge connected the Mount with the neighborhood in which the Temple's priests resided.

Findings reveal the lavish lifestyle of the neighborhood's residents including dozens of ritual baths, art works such as mosaics, frescos and stuccos.

THE NEPHILIM figure in a soon to be released computer game:
In Adam Syndrome, Professor Adam Reed has just lost his wife after a mysterious set of circumstances. In his quest to find the answers to her death, Reed finds himself following the trail of John Dee, a 16th century occultist and advisor to Queen Elizabeth I. This trail will take him all over the world, visiting "ancient lost cities, futuristic laboratories, underwater complexes, gloomy cemeteries", among the fifteen distinct locations. Throughout the game, Reed will learn of his role in a conspiracy dating back to the time of the Great Flood and biblical giants known as the Nephilim, and he will encounter members of an elusive society who want to unveil a secret buried thousands of years ago.

Monday, July 30, 2007

CALL FOR PAPERS ON ECONOMIC FEATURES OF EARLY CHRISTIANITY - This got buried in my inbox during my holiday, but here it is:
The Biblical Studies Seminar of the School of Divinity at the University of St Andrews invites paper proposals on economic features of early Christianity, as reflected in extant data from the first three centuries ce. Of particular interest are proposals with a theological component that consider the topic in relation to:

a) New Testament texts; or

b) the use of the New Testament or the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible in Christian writings of the first three centuries ce.

The accepted papers are expected to be included in the Biblical Studies Seminar programme from February through May 2008. The Seminar will incur the presenters’ costs for B&B and for travel within Britain. Some of the papers may be published in a volume of collected essays.

Please send proposals of 500 words, by 15 September, to Dr Bruce Longenecker (, indicating full contact details and availability between February and May 2008. Proposals are invited from scholars at PhD level through to senior professors. Proposals from PhD students need to be accompanied by a letter of approval and recommendation from their PhD supervisor.
ISRAEL BOYCOTT UPDATE: The SPME petition against the boycott has passed its goal of 10,000 academic signatures.
By • Edward S. Beck, President, SPME Dan Tarman
Published in: Exclusive to Scholars for Peace in the Middle East Faculty Forum July 30, 2007

CAVES IN THE GALILEE were used in antiquity by Jewish rebels:
Discovering ancient Galilee's hidden shelters
By Eli Ashkenazi (Haaretz)

A pleasant coolness greeted Yinon Shivtiel when he crawled into the cave at Mt. Berenice, as did a poisonous snake. Shivtiel, a doctoral candidate in Land of Israel Studies at Bar-Ilan University, who teaches at Safed College, is used to being surprised on his crawling expeditions into caves in the Galilee. He took the snake's presence in stride, preferring to save his excitement for the man-made "loft" dug out of the cave.

For several years now Shivtiel has been researching the "cliff dwellings and refuge caves throughout the Galilee," which, unlike the caves in the Judean foothills that are associated with the Bar-Kochba Revolt, have not been studied in depth. Shivtiel is attempting to understand the circumstances of their excavation and to date them, collecting what he calls the slips of the pen of the Jewish historian and leader Yosef Ben-Mattitiyahu (Josephus). "For example, in referring to Akbara [in the Safed region - E.A.] he writes,'rock-dwellers.' There is no such thing, unless you go to the hanging caves on the cliffs... When I read his theories I believe one must see as the model the Galilee caves, which were 'invented' not by the Bar-Kochba rebels, but before them."

According to Shivtiel, there were 11 Jewish communities in the Galilee during the Roman era (from 37 B.C.E. to 324 A.D.) that used the nearby high cliffs as hiding places. "What they had in common were caves on the tops of high cliffs. They used ropes to descend into the natural caves in the cliffs, which they enlarged and made fit for habitation in time of need, in contrast to the underground caves used as hiding places inside Jewish communities located in the Galilee," Shivtiel said.

He is also studying caves at Mt. Bernice on the border of Tiberias.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH - Two excavations at the Western Wall Plaza are surveyed in the Jerusalem Post:
Revealing Jerusalem

There is a huge hole at each end of the Western Wall Plaza, one of which is expanding by the day. Both are significant archeological excavations now in progress under the auspices of the Israel Antiquities Authority, but they differ in their scope and implications for the area.

The Mughrabi Gate excavation site and that where the police station once stood are both considered "rescue digs" - that is, important construction was about to take place in the area, but first the government wanted to check what was "going on underneath." As is typical in the Old City, excavators were not disappointed with what they found.

At the western end of the plaza where the now-gutted police station once occupied an old Turkish building, Shlomit Wexler and Alexander On are the archeologists in charge of the excavation. On the day I visit, the site is a beehive of activity.

THE CONTROVERSY continues to rage over the work of Nadia Abu El-Haj and her possible tenure at Barnard College (now apparently approved by Barnard and passed to Columbia University for approval). Barnard alumna Paula R. Stern has a protest piece in the Israel Insider:
Barnard's Shame, Columbia's Dirty Deal
By Paula R. Stern July 27, 2007

When a college of international renown hires a professor of questionable ethics and scholarly practice, it is to be hoped that the college will realize its error before reaching the stage where it would offer that professor tenure. This was the case many Barnard graduates hoped to find themselves in a few months ago when protests were made over the offer to grant Nadia Abu El Haj tenure.

I've been following this story for a while and even ended up being selectively quoted on it. See here and follow the many links back.

UPDATE (30 September): I have reviewed the book here.