Saturday, May 02, 2009

RACHEL ELIOR responds to the criticisms of her theory about the Dead Sea Scrolls recently published by Geza Vermes. This note was first circulated by Joseph I. Lauer and and I am happy to reproduce it here at Professor Elior's request.
I read with interest Dr. Geza Vermes's Standpoint magazine article "The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls" in which he discusses the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and his recollections about the work he and others have done with regard to them.
Dr. Vermes also devoted a few sentences to some of the arguments I have made challenging "the Essene origin of the sectarian Dead Sea Scrolls" as described in an Haaretz newspaper article of March 13, 2009. He sums up my arguments as claiming "that the scrolls were written by Jerusalem Sadducee priests and not by Essenes; and that the Essenes never existed, but were invented by Flavius Josephus."
(If I may correct Dr. Vermes's summary, I argue that the content of the scrolls attests to profound priestly interest and distinct priestly language while the sources about the Essenes do not refer to priestly identity or priestly context. I think that Philo invented the Essenes as an ideal society and Josephus was much influenced by him, and the fact that no Jewish source written in Hebrew or Aramaic before or after the Common Era knows anything about a group called Essenes or mentions any group known as celibates denouncing private property and family life raises severe questions about their historical existence in the Land of Israel.)
Dr. Vermes's comments are based on the now-familiar recitation of the fact that Philo of Alexandria, Pliny the Elder, and Josephus refer to the Essenes and describe practices ascribed to them, and Pliny the Elder's assertion "that the Essenes lived on the western shore of the Dead Sea somewhere between Jericho in the north and Ein Gedi and Masada in the south (corresponding to the area where Qumran lies)." Dr. Vermes concludes that "The two unique characteristics (common ownership and male celibacy) and the geographical location remain the solid grounds on which the theory of the Essene identity of the Dead Sea sect continues to stand."
Since the appearance of the Haaretz article, numerous articles have appeared about my arguments in newspapers, magazines, and on the Internet, including responses that I have made to comments and criticisms, including to those now raised by Dr. Vermes. As part of these responses I ask if it is reasonable to believe that the sages, who addressed all aspects of Jewish life, would not have mentioned in any way thousands of people who lived under common ownership and male celibacy.
Dr. Vermes correctly notes that "a proper assessment of Professor Elior's ideas will have to wait until she backs them with scholarly argument in a forthcoming book".
However, as my Hebrew language book on the subject, "Zikaron uneshia : sodan shel megilot midbar yehudah (Memory and Oblivion: The Mystery of the Dead Sea Scrolls), has been published in March 2009, I hope that comments and criticisms will be based on an examination of its detailed arguments, and I would also refer interested persons to my previous remarks.
For the moment, though, I would just ask a few questions.
In how many of the 900-1000 scrolls are the Essenes mentioned?
The answer is in no scroll, none whatsoever.
Even with respect to Dr. Stephen Goranson's suggestion that "Osei-haTorah" refers to the Essenes, we may ask how many times is "Osei-haTorah" mentioned in the Scrolls? (This is in addition to noting that the suggestion is one that no Hebrew speaker will accept because a word like Osei [=doers] is too general and not specific enough to denote a particular group, and the Torah is never introduced in biblical Hebrew with the idiom "osei" (doers) but with verbs concerned with its observance or study or following or with nouns concerning its divine origin, as any Biblical Hebrew concordance will demonstrate.)
As against the absence of the Essenes from the Hebrew language and from the Dead Sea Scrolls we may ask in how many of the Scrolls are the kohanim bnei Zadok or kohanim bnei Aharon or the Levitical priestly tribe mentioned?
The answer is in quite a few!
In the "Concordance of Proper Nouns in the Non-Biblical Texts from Qumran" in DJD 39 (M.G. Abegg, Jr.; 2002), Aaron and Aaron's sons (bnei Aharon haKohanim=the priests the sons of Aaron) are mentioned more than 100 times; Levi and the Levite are mentioned about 90 times; Zadok and bnei Zadok haKohanim are mentioned 22 times. Among the texts that discuss directly the Zadokite priests, the sons of Aaron, their Levitical origin and their priestly service are The Rule of the Community, The Rule of the Congregation, the Damascus Document, and the Florilegium. The 24 priestly courses are mentioned in the Scroll of Priestly Courses; priestly blessings are mentioned in number of scrolls, among them the Scroll of Blessings and the War Scroll. Levitical priestly heritage is mentioned in Jubilees and in the Testaments of the Twelve Tribes. The priestly solar calendar associated with Temple sacrifices is mentioned in the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice and in MMT and in column 27 of the Psalm Scroll from Qumran and in 4Q252, the story of the flood and in a number of other places.
So where exactly is the testimony about the Essenes? In what way is the rich biblical context attested to in the scrolls connected to the Essenes?
And what is the significance of the vast testimony on priestly issues that people overlook?
Finally, where exactly in the well-known descriptions of the Essenes do we find the priestly calendar, priestly courses, priestly blessings and liturgy or temple issues -- all of which are amply found in the Scrolls and none is found in the descriptions of the Essenes.
Rachel Elior
UPDATE (3 May): Stephen Goranson responds here.

UPDATE (4 May): Geza Vermes responds here.

UPDATE: John Hobbins comments.

Friday, May 01, 2009

A MIDRASH on Canaanites and same-sex marriage? So says David Klinghoffer at Beliefnet:
Canaanites for Same-Sex Marriage
Thursday April 30, 2009
Categories: Culture War
An ancient Biblical tradition, a midrash, relates that the Canaanites wrote marriage contracts between man and man and woman and woman, and that this was one reason the land "vomited" them up in favor of the Israelites who took their place. The historicity of this isn't the point. It's the moral that matters, having to do with the social impact of being libertarian about marriage combinations

I have no wish to get into the modern controversy here, but I am interested in the midrash. As usual with such pieces, no reference is given. Is there such a midrashic text and does someone have the reference?

UPDATE: A number of replies. From Dorothy King:
I'm guessing the Midrash linked to Leviticus ... and think this is the one they mean: Sifra Acharei Mot, parashah 9:8
From Jeff Wasserstein:
I'm aware of the midrash about writing ketubot for men, and googling it (since it's been years since I saw it inside) suggest it comes from here: Hullin 92b; Yalkut Shimoni, Zekhariah, no. 578;

Vayikra Rabbah 18:13. Article from which I drew these sources is:
From Simon Montagu:
The reference is to the Sifra 8:8, on Leviticus 18:2

ומה היו עושים? האיש נושא לאיש והאשה לאשה, האיש נושא אשה ובתה, והאשה ניסת לשנים. לכך אמר ובחוקותיהם לא תלכו
The Hebrew can be translated as, "And what did they used to do? A man married a man and a woman a woman, a man married a woman and her daughter, and a woman married two men. Therefore it says, By their rules you shall not walk."

From Michael Pitkowsky:
This midrash is found in a number of places: Sifra, Aharei Mot, 9:6-8 (speaks of marriage but no ketubbah); Genesis Rabbah 26:5; Hullin 92a-b. None of them mention the Canaanites by name. You may find the attached article interesting, especially pages 129 ff.
The article is BETH A. BERKOWITZ, "The Limits of ‘‘Their Laws’’: Ancient Rabbinic Controversies about Jewishness (and Non-Jewishness)," Jewish Quarterly Review 99 (2009): 121-57.

Many thanks to those who replied.

UPDATE (4 May): Dorothy King has reflections here.
THE PERSEPOLIS CUNEIFORM ARCHIVE is being digitized. Here's the press release:
Iran's Ancient Story Preserved Digitally

Newswise — The Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago is using modern technology to digitally record thousands of tablets that, as they are being pieced together, tell an unusually detailed story of the Persian Empire.

These ancient tablets from the palaces of Persepolis include pieces of language and art from the center of the Persian Empire, all made when it extended from India and Central Asia to Egypt and the Mediterranean. Most have texts in impressed cuneiform characters, many them have inked texts in Aramaic writing and almost all of the tablets have seal impressions.

They are now being recorded and distributed with digital processes that will allow scholars and viewers across the world to examine them as if they had picked them up and rotated under a light.

With a substantial grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, a team of researchers began work in 2007. Now, with a second Mellon grant, the team will continue this work through 2010. By that time researchers hope to have about 10,000 tablets and fragments recorded.

Background on the compensation-for-terrorism controversy is here. Background on the Aramaic material is here.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

ARAMAIC WATCH: An Aramaic music video - with penguins.

Rudi Stettner (or - not clear) comments:
One factor working in favour of Aramaic survival is a body of popular music in that language, including singer Evin Aghassi. I saw a video once when he went on tour in Syria where the crowds went wild as Aghassi inched through the streets of Damascus. As a show of their love and admiration for the famous singer, they picked up his Mercedes with him in it and walked through the streets. It was a unique and priceless display of the fan’s devotion.

The second video that I am including in this posting is a song by Evin Aghassi in Assyrian. It is set to a video from the movie Happy Feet. I show it to friends and tell them that it is a video from my son’s wedding. What is interesting about the video is its fusion of American influences with local culture. It drives home the point that a culture is in a process of evolution. Saving a language does not mean putting it in a sealed container. It means a certain measure of adaptation to new conditions.
GEZA VERMES discusses "The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls" in Standpoint. One of the few living people who has been involved with the Scrolls pretty much since they were discovered, he surveys their discovery, their history of publication, and where the field stands now.

UPDATE: Rachel Elior replies here.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

THE HEKHALOT RABBATI, the longest Merkavah mystical text, is now available online here in the hitherto unpublished translation by Morton Smith, revised by Gershom Scholem. I haven't had a chance to read the whole thing yet, but the bits I've seen in the past paraphrased pretty freely. Rebecca Lesses alerted me to the site some months ago, but I was very busy at the time and never got around to looking at it. Michael Miller of Ayin's Razor reminded me of it today.

I'm working on a translation of the Hekhalot/Merkavah corpus myself and I've posted part of my own translation of the Hekhalot Rabbati in the handout that goes with my November 2008 SBL paper here.

Monday, April 27, 2009

THE PRIME MINISTER OF THE REPUBLIC OF TURKEY is intervening in the land dispute around the Syriac Mor Gabriel Monastery:
Erdogan steps into monastery dispute


ANKARA - Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has intervened in a land dispute over an ancient Syriac monastery in the southeastern city of Mardin, instructing his ministers to resolve the problem through a peaceful settlement.

"Our prime minister is closely following the matter," Justice and Development Party, or AKP, Mardin deputy Cüneyt Yüksel told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review. "We do not want the problem to cause an international crisis." ... The next trial in the case will be held May 6. "The government and the state are not taking sides in the case," Yüksel said, adding that the matter would be settled in a peaceful way.

"Our work to solve the problem continues. We are trying to persuade the villagers to withdraw their complaint," he said.

"The monastery has a history of 1,600 years," he said. "We will settle the conflict and resolve our Syriac citizens’ problem." The Finance Ministry, Forestry Ministry and the Mardin Governorship have already taken action to try and settle the dispute.

Background here.

The first, on Temple Music: Meaning and Influence, organized by Margaret Barker, to be held on Saturday 30 May 2009 at the Temple Church in London.

THe second, on the Septuagint at Heythrop College:

A One Day Conference
Heythrop College, University of London

All papers will take place in the Walker, 2nd Floor, Main Building

Wednesday 24th of June 2009

9:30-10:10: Registration and Tea/Coffee (Walker Room)

The morning papers will be chaired by Dr Ann Jeffers, Heythrop College.

10:10: Introduction

10:10-10:50: Sarah Pearce, University of Southampton.
"Philo's 'Family Values'".

10:50-11:30: Charlotte Hempel, University of Birmingham. The Qumran Yahad in Recent Scholarship.

11:30-12:20: Tessa Rajak, University of Reading.
'Ancestral Laws: What Josephus Made of the Greek

12:20-1:00: Deborah Rooke, King’s College, London
‘Susanna in Handel's Oratorio’.

Lunch – provided (Walker Room)

The afternoon papers will be chaired by Dr Bridget Gilfillan Upton

1:50-2:30: Jim Aitken, CJCR, Cambridge
'The Septuagint and "Alexandrian" scholarship'.

2:30-3:10: Gillian Greenberg, University College London
'Literary Initiative in the Peshitta'.

3:10-3:50: Sean Ryan, Heythrop College.
‘Dislocated Locusts: Re-visions of Joel & Amos in
Revelation 9’

3:50-4:30: Jonathan Norton, Heythrop College. ‘Psuche, Pneuma, and Paul's Rhetorical Surprise’.

4:30 Tea and departure
I can't reproduce the registration form here, but the contact info is:
Ms Mariann Jakab
Heythrop College
University of London
Kensington Square
London W8 5HQ
020 7795 4201
Third, a reminder of the Dead Sea Scrolls Conference at Kings College London, for which the registration deadline is 1 May.

All three via Deborah Rooke on the SOTS list.
VERY BUSY writing our School Strategic Plan. Blogging may be light for the next few days.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

THE HEBREW INSCRIPTION FRAGMENT recently discovered in the vicinity of Jerusalem is covered by Science Daily:
Fragment Of Hebrew Inscription From Period Of Kings Of Judah Found

ScienceDaily (Apr. 25, 2009) — A fragment of a limestone plaque bearing several letters of ancient Hebrew script was discovered while sifting soil that was excavated in the vicinity of the Gihon Spring, within the precincts of the “Walls around Jerusalem National Park”.

One of the fragmentary words could be a "-kiah" name, e.g., Hezekiah. This could be a piece of a long-sought ancient Judean royal lapidary inscription. This article doesn't have anything new in it, but it does include a photo, to which I have not yet linked.

Background here.