Saturday, October 18, 2008

THE INTERNATIONAL CRITICAL COMMENTARY SERIES – or at least the older volumes, which are still very useful – is now available online.
ARAMAIC WATCH: a reminder - Symposium on Jacob of Sarug and His Times: Studies in Sixth Century Syriac Christianity later this month.
BOOTHS, TABERNACLES, Tents and Huts: Naming the Sukkah. Philologos explains at The Forward:
A taberna in ancient Rome was a cottage, shop, inn or pub. (From the last of these meanings comes our English “tavern.”) Its diminutive form of tabernaculum (of which tabernaculorum is the genitive plural) meant a hut or, more often, a tent. Used more specifically, it referred to a tent erected in the Campus Martius or “Field of Mars,” the military drill grounds of ancient Rome, in which a priestly augur secluded himself prior to the convening of the comitia, the popular assembly of the Roman Republic. And because tabernaculum thus had a sacral connotation, it was also used by the Latin Bible to translate the Hebrew term ohel mo’ed, or “tent of convocation,” which served the Israelites as a portable religious shrine during their years of wandering in the desert.

How, then, did “tabernacle” also come to mean a monumental structure like that of the Mormons, which would occupy almost an entire football field? The answer is that in the late 18th and 19th centuries, “tabernacle” was adopted by various English dissenting sects, particularly the Congregationalists, to denote their churches, which were indeed small, simple buildings. And since the Mormons were America’s version of England’s dissenters, the one Christian church in the United States ever to have been persecuted by the political and religious establishment, it was natural for them to call the huge prayer hall they constructed in Salt Lake City in 1864 a “tabernacle,” too. This subsequently influenced the use of the word in American English, in which a tabernacle can now be big and ornate.

As for habetabitis (you shall live in) umbraculis, the Latin word umbraculum is also a diminutive, formed from umbra, shade or a shady place. (Think of an umbrella, which was originally designed to protect its holder against sun rather than rain.) In classical Latin an umbraculum is a parasol, but in the fourth-century C.E. Latin of Jerome’s Bible it means a tent or temporary shelter. Tyndale’s choice of “booth” and of the Hebrew sukkah was an excellent one, because a booth in his day was just that: a shelter against the sun roofed with green tree branches, a meaning that the word kept well into the 19th century.

Friday, October 17, 2008

SIMON SCHAMA is reportedly planning to write a history of the Jews:
Schama plans history of the Jews

16.10.08 Catherine Neilan (

Popular television historian Simon Schama is planning to write a history of Judaism and Israel as his next project after The American Future: A History.

Although the book has yet to be written, it is understood that the BBC is already interested, and a six to eight-part series is under discussion.

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: The priestly blessing at the Western Wall:
Thousands attend priestly blessing

Thousands of Jews participated in the priestly blessing, or Birkat Cohanim, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem on Thursday.

Birkat Ha'Cohanim at the Western Wall in Jerusalem

The Cohanim, believed to be descendants of priests who served God in the first and second Jewish Temple before they were destroyed, perform a blessing ceremony of the Jewish people once a year during the festival of Sukkot.

There's video.

As the article notes, this blessing is also the earliest biblical text to be attested in an ancient inscription (the Ketef Hinnom silver amulets).
SOLOMON, SOCRATES AND ARISTOTLE. Sounds like a scene from Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, or maybe Doctor Who, but it's actually a picture from Pompeii, which is treated by Theodore Feder in BAR. Abstract:
When the city of Pompeii was covered by volcanic ash on an August night in 79 A.D., it was a tragedy of tremendous scale for its inhabitants. For modern scholars, however, the devastating destruction that occurred literally overnight in the Roman town and its neighboring cities preserved a treasure trove of information about first-century Roman life. Scholar Theodore Feder examines a fresco, excavated from a villa called the "House of the Physician," that depicts the Judgment of Solomon. The subject is a popular one in Christian art: Two women, both claiming to be the mother of the same child, bring their case to King Solomon. The king orders that the infant be cut in half, and the true mother is revealed when she relinquishes her claim on the child in order to save its life. Feder posits that the presence of two archetypal figures in the fresco represent the famous Greek philosophers Socrates and Aristotle. The presence of the two ancient philosophers, he argues, reveals the great respect that Greek philosophy could have accorded to Hebrew wisdom in the ancient world.
Also, there's this poignant epigraphic tidbit from the article, which is news to me:
... A two-word inscription, Sodoma Gomora, also survives from a house front in Pompeii and may have been written by a Jew or, less likely, by an early Christian, either before the eruption of Vesuvius or by a digger soon afterwards. It is perhaps more affecting to imagine its having been hastily written in the midst of the eruption by someone who analogized the town’s impending fate with that of the two doomed Biblical cities.
UPDATE (14 November 2011): Dorothy Lobel King is skeptical about the characters in that fresco.
JACOB NEUSNER'S The Theology of the Oral Torah contines to be reviewed by Kevin Edgecomb at Biblicalia. The latest instalments cover chapters four and five and chapter six.
NEW PUBLICATIONS from the Journal of Hebrew Scriptures. Ehud Ben Zvi e-mails:
Dear all,

I am glad to announce that the Journal of Hebrew Scriptures ( has recently published the following article:

Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 8: Article 20 (2008)

F. W. Dobbs-Allsopp, Psalm 133: A (Close) Reading


A close reading of Psalm 133, with special attention paid both to the words out of which the poem is literally made and to what happens in between and beyond those words, as well as what emerges because of them.

Those who wish to access this article directly may go to

In addition, the following reviews have been recently published:

Metso, Sariana, The Serek Texts (Companion to the Qumran Scrolls, 9; Library of Second Temple Texts, 62; London/New York: T & T Clark, 2007). Reviewed by Jean Duhaime)

Boda, Mark J., Daniel K. Falk, and Rodney A. Werline, eds. Seeking the Favor of God. Volume 1: The Origins of Penitential Prayer in Second Temple Judaism (SBL Early Judaism and its Literature, 21; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2006). (Reviewed by Andrea K. Di Giovanni)

Kugel, James L., Prayers that Cite Scripture (Harvard University Center for Jewish Studies; Cambridge/London: Harvard University Press, 2006). (Reviewed by Andrea K. Di Giovanni)

Ben Zvi, Ehud, History, Literature and Theology in the Book of Chronicles (Bible World; London: Equinox, 2006). (Reviewed by Steven L. McKenzie)

Jacob, Benno, The First Book of the Bible: Genesis, Augmented Edition (Abridged, Edited and Translated by Ernest I. Jacob and Walter Jacob; Jersey City: KTAV Publishing House, 2007). (Reviewed by John Van Seters)

del Barco, Francisco Javier del Barco, Catálogo de manuscritos hebreos de la Comunidad de Madrid (3 vols., Literatura hispano-hebrea 5, 7 and 8; Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigationes Científicas, Instituto de Filología, 2003-06). (Reviewed by Colette Sirat)

To access the reviews directly please go to
I haven't keep track of this online journal very well, but I probably should.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Jerusalem concert to feature fantasies of the Temple's lost music
By Tamar Rotem (Haaretz)
Tags: Levites, Israel news

At the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, every day had a song of its own, played before morning prayers, says singer and instrumentalist Ilan Green, formerly a member of the group "Nekamat Hatraktor." Green will lead a performance of the Levites' lost musical traditions on Thursday night at Beit Avihai in Jerusalem.


Green says he does not consider himself religious, but he is very interested in the Jewish scriptures. He says that he discovered early on that this was barely charted territory.

In combing the Bible, Mishna and other texts, he discovered that aside from the familiar violin, trumpet and lyre, at least 30 musical instruments are mentioned whose sound and appearance are lost to history. Building on the few scraps of information he could find, and adding a heavy dose of guesswork, he reconstructed 16 of them from wood and metal.

Green says the mystery surrounding the instruments gave him a certain artistic license.

I dare say.

This is not an area I know much about, but I note this recent book on the general topic: Joachim Braun, Music in Ancient Israel/Palestine: Archaeological, Written, and Comparative Sources (Eerdmans, 2002).
HARSH WORDS for the James Ossuary inscription in a book review in Time Magazine:
Exposing the Jesus' Brother Fraud
By Tim McGirk / Jerusalem Thursday, Oct. 16, 2008


The extraordinary story of how Israeli detectives built a case against Golan and his alleged cohorts is the subject of Unholy Business: A True Tale of Faith, Greed and Forgery in the Holy Land by Nina Burleigh, a former TIME staffer who now writes for People. In fast, noir-ish prose — imagine Sam Spade in the Holy Land — Burleigh tracks her story through the twilight world of Arab grave robbers and smugglers to the glimmering salon of a billionaire collector in Mayfair whose mission, writes Burleigh, is "proving the Bible true." Past accounts of the James Ossuary are fiercely partisan, written by debunkers or true believers. But Burleigh keeps her balance, and her humor, as she sifts — far more diligently than many archeologists — through the evidence. She also has unprecedented access to all the major players in the James Ossuary debate: dogged police detectives, sharp-witted antiquarians, Bible-besotted collectors and suspected forgers of near-genius.


Believers and scientists alike were shocked by the accusations that not only was the James Ossuary a fake but so were two other rare objects of Biblical significance — an inscribed pomegranate and the gold-flecked Jehoash Tablet which both supposedly came from Solomon's Temple, destroyed by the Babylonians in the 6th century B.C. Those two relics are linked to Golan's workshop, say police. As Burleigh describes it, the debate over the authenticity of these sacred items pitted scientists against believers. She writes: "The faithful — those who believe in a higher, supernatural power that leaves a material record of itself for man to literally hold and behold — must also confront and grapple with the painful presence of doubt."

Meanwhile, Golan's trial, with its parade of more than 75 scientists and Biblical scholars, is likely to drag on for another year. But Golan maintained, in an interview with TIME, that he is innocent of all charges and that since the trial began experts have come forth, he says, to prove that both the inscriptions on the James ossuary and the Jehoash table are genuine. Even after the judge finally decides whether Golan was an innocent collector or a master forger, it's likely that the debate between skeptics and believers over the James ossuary — and its supposed proof of Christ's historical existence — will rage on long afterwards.
It was kind of a shock to hear that the Ivory Pomegranate inscription was a fake, but it was pretty obvious early on the the Joash/Jehoash inscription was.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Department of Theology and Religion seeks to appoint a Professor or Reader in Ancient Judaism or New Testament, from September 2009. Candidates should be able to teach undergraduates and supervise research projects in both fields, though the preponderance of their own research may fall more in one field than the other. The postholder will be expected to teach, to supervise doctoral research, and to publish research at the highest international level.

The academic field here labelled ‘Ancient Judaism’ is taken to cover the post-exilic period up to and including rabbinic Judaism of the Talmudic era. The postholder will be joining a number of colleagues whose research covers aspects of this field, including Prof. Robert Hayward, Dr. Stuart Weeks, Prof. John Barclay and Prof. Francis Watson. The latter two also teach and research in New Testament, along with Dr. Stephen Barton and Dr. William Telford.
Via the BNTS list.
THE REPAIRS NEEDED on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre are noted in the London Times:
Warring monks threaten destruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Sheera Frankel in Jerusalem

A long-running row over the rights to a rooftop section of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre could bring the entire structure tumbling down, destroying Christendom’s holiest site.

While renovations are needed across the church, the small Deir al-Sultan monastery on its roof has reached an “emergency state”, according to engineers who completed an evaluation this month.

The Times has learnt that in 2004 the two chapels and twenty-six tiny rooms that comprise the monastery were pronounced in dire need of reinforcement. They have since deteriorated to the point where engineers now fear that they will crash through the roof and into the church, venerated by millions of Christians as the site of the Crucifixion and burial of Jesus.


The church has been vigilantly managed by six competing and often fractious Christian denominations — Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Coptic, Syrian Orthodox and Ethiopian — since an agreement reached under Ottoman law in 1757.

Rival denominations often battle for access or space and the congregation at the annual Easter service sometimes resembles the terraces of a boisterous football match. The keys to the main entrance of the church have been held by a Muslim family since the 12th century because the Christians do not trust one another.

The dispute over the Deir al-Sultan monastery is a more recent phenomenon dating back to Easter 1970. When the Coptic monks, who had controlled the area, went to pray in the main church and left the rooftop unattended, Ethiopian monks seized the opportunity to change the locks at the entrances before the Copts returned.


Background here.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

JACOB NEUSNER'S BOOK, The Theology of the Oral Torah, is being reviewed in instalments by Kevin P. Edgecomb at the Biblicalia blog. The first two posts are here and here.
ENDOWED LECTURESHIP AT BARD - Jacob Neusner e-mails:
This is the announcement of the first lecture in a newly endowed lecture
ship at Bard.

The Jacob Neusner Lecture in Comparative Studies of Religion
Jonathan Z. Smith
University of Chicago
will give a talk
"Why Compare Religion"
Tuesday, October 28th
7:00 p.m. in RKC 103
Relgious Studies: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Department of Religious Studies invites applications for a tenure-track appointment in Rabbinic Judaism, effective July 1, 2009, at the rank of assistant professor. The successful candidate will be named the E.J. and Sara Evans Fellow of Jewish History and Culture. Preference will be given to candidates who already have a PhD in hand. Candidates must be prepared to teach large introductory undergraduate courses in the field of Rabbinics, broadly defined, along with upper level courses and graduate seminars requiring close reading of rabbinic texts and exploration of relevant thematic topics. Thorough knowledge of Hebrew and Aramaic will be assumed, along with a familiarity with all the major issues of literary, textual, and socio-historical analysis. Scholars with secondary (teaching and research) competence in a range of related fields and subfields are invited to apply. Successful candidates will also be expected to direct doctoral students in the department, to collaborate with faculty in the Department of Religion at Duke University, and to contribute to the interdisciplinary work of the Carolina Center for Jewish Studies. Both teaching and research of the candidates need to be related to the problems and issues in the study of religion broadly conceived. Interested candidates should provide a letter of application, a current curriculum vitae, and three letters of reference. All materials except letters of reference should be submitted online at Please click on "open positions" under EPA Faculty Positions heading. Under the department drop-down menu, select Religious Studies and click on the appropriate position. Click the "apply now" button and create a new applicant profile. Please have hard copies of letters of reference sent to Chair of Rabbinic Judaism Search Committee, Department of Religious Studies, CB# 3225, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27599-3225. Completed applications (including letters of reference) must be received by December 1, 2008, but screening of applicants will begin as soon as applications are filed. Preliminary interviews will be held at the annual meeting of the Association for Jewish Studies. The University of North Carolina is an equal opportunity employer. Women and minorities are strongly encouraged to apply.
From the Chronicle of Higher Education, via the Agade list.
ALSO IN THE SBL FORUM: William L. Lyons, "Rahab through the Ages: A Study of Christian Interpretation of Rahab."
HERESY HUNTING in the New Millennium." Tony Burke defends the Christian Apocrypha in this month's SBL Forum. Excerpt:
A cottage industry of books has emerged in the past few years responding to apparent "attacks" on the Christian faith by such perceived enemies as the Jesus Seminar, Bart Ehrman, Dan Brown's novel The Da Vinci Code, and the discoverers of the so-called Jesus Tomb.[1] Targeted also in these books are the texts of the Christian Apocrypha (CA). The books are transparently apologetic with the aim of disparaging the CA and the Gnostics who (they say) wrote them so that their readers will cease being troubled by thei texts' claims. The problem with such books, at least from the perspective of those who value the CA, is that they often misrepresent the texts, their authors, and the scholars who study them. Proper research and sober argument take a back seat to the apologists' goal of buttressing the faith.

In many ways these books read much like the works of apologetic writers from antiquity, such as Irenaeus and Hippolytus. They too were concerned about the impact of non-canonical texts and heretical ideas on their readers and sought to reinforce the faith by denigrating and ridiculing their enemies. Then and now accuracy was sacrificed to the needs of apologetics. Yet, perhaps there is something that scholars of the CA can learn from the modern apologists, something not only about ourselves but also about those who were attacked by the heresy hunters of the past.
UPDATE (18 October): A critique and reply here. And more critique here at the Religious Researcher blog.

Monday, October 13, 2008

SIDNIE WHITE CRAWFORD is lecturing on the Dead Sea Scrolls:

University of Nebraska professor Sidnie White Crawford will talk about "Women in the Dead Sea Scrolls and at Qumran" at 4 and 7 p.m. Thursday as part of the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences' eight-part lecture series accompanying The Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition. The lecture will be held in the museum's WRAL Digital Theater.

According to Crawford, some of the Dead Sea Scrolls, in particular the Damascus Document, contain evidence of women participating in the Essene movement in late Second Temple Judaism. Crawford, professor of Hebrew Bible and head of the department of classics and religious studies, is a member of the international publication team for the Dead Sea Scrolls, responsible for editing 14 manuscripts from the Qumran collection.

Individual tickets for the lectures are $25 for the general public and $20 for Friends of the Museum. Last tickets to the exhibition are sold at 5 p.m. on lecture nights. For more information, visit The museum exhibition runs through Dec. 28.
METATRON WATCH: The Archangel Metatron meets performance art:
Ten is considered the number of divine perfection and is reflected in the 10 Days of Awe between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. On each of those days, Briller performed and videotaped an action related to one of these 10 sefirot in several locations in each of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.


Channeling the kabbalistic angel-character Metatron, considered God's closest messenger, each of Briller's daily actions were directly connected to one of the sefirot. Though the project is fluid and the order could change along the way, his plan is to work top-down from the highest rung to the lowest.

Some of his actions include walking around and playing a Tibetan bowl, the golden sound-healing musical instrument, which he relates to keter (crown), or God's absoluteness; popping popcorn on a kerosene cooker as part of gevura (judgment/strength/determination); taking 10 eggs in each city and juggling with them in various spots until they all break, which relates to tiferet (balance); for netzah, which is both contemplation and persistence, Briller dances in some spots, or stands blindfolded in others; for hod (sincerity), he echoes the original action and affixes ceramic ears around each city; and for malchut (lower crown), which relates to both healing and realizing the divine plan, he returns to Kikar Rabin (which was previously called Kikar Malchei Israel) with a water purifier normally used for camping. There he will purify the water in the large fountain-pool that stands in front of Tel Aviv City Hall, the only action that might not be undertaken in Jerusalem.

"These are heavy subjects," says Briller, "and I don't want to feel that this is the only way to negotiate them. Though I'm not laughing at any of it, I want there to be a sense of humor."
That sounds like it would be necessary.
SUKKOT (the Festival of Booths or Tabernacles) begins tonight at sundown. Best wishes to all celebrating.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

THE FINANCIAL CRISIS: What Would the Talmud Do? asks David Van Biema in Time Magazine.
Would the current financial crisis have been avoided if traders followed Jewish traditions embodied in the Bible and the Talmud? Two scholars from the Conservative and Orthodox branches of the Judaism are suggesting just that. They also conclude that the tradition prescribes significant regulation to begin to redress the debacle.

THE ORTHODOX STUDY BIBLE is profiled in the Vicksburg Post
... But most Bibles published today include an Old Testament based on a translation made many years after the Crucifixion, not the version Jesus and the apostles used, said the Rev. Dr. John Morris, historian and pastor of Vicksburg’s St. George Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church.

“The early Christian church used the Greek version of the Scriptures,” Morris said in an interview in his study at St. George. “This Greek version was called the Septuagint, for the Greek word for ‘70,’ the number of scholars Ptolemy hired about 200 or 300 B.C. to translate the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek.”

As members of St. George complete preparations for their annual Lebanese dinner, Morris reflected on his role in this year’s publication of the first-ever complete Orthodox Study Bible, which includes a Septuagint-based Old Testament with Deuterocanonical or Apocryphyal books, a New King James translation of the New Testament, and many study notes, articles, maps and reference material. Published in February after years in development, the study Bible is both a spiritual and historical reference work, Morris said, designed for the layman to read and use.
Like the NETS, this includes a translation of the Septuagint. But it seems more of a devotional project than the strictly scholarly NETS.

Background to both translations here.