Saturday, May 23, 2009

Daniel R. Schwartz, 2 Maccabees. Commentaries on Early Jewish Literature. Berlin/New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2008. Pp. x, 617. ISBN 9783110191189. $158.00.

Reviewed by Frank Shaw, Cincinnati, Ohio (

Word count: 3053 words

The publication of a full-length commentary in English on 2 Maccabees is a rare occurrence (the only other one was a quarter century ago), so the appearance of Schwartz's tome is both needed and welcome. His mentor Menahem Stern had just begun work on a 2 Macc. commentary when he was murdered during the first intifada in 1989, and the task of continuing the project fell to Schwartz. Originally published in Hebrew in 2004, the book has undergone significant changes in the English version. General comments between his translation and the verse-by-verse commentary have been added; the bibliography has been improved and updated; statements only related to modern Hebrew have been dropped; various revisions and corrections have been made, some stemming from reviewers of the Hebrew edition. Important too is Schwartz's claim of an "English translation [that] is not only new but also qualitatively different from the Hebrew one." Here he means it is "freer and, consequently, more idiomatically English" (vii). Naturally the English version will be far more widely read than the Hebrew one.

Via the Agade list.
THE SYRIAC MOR GABRIEL MONASTERY in Turkey has won the first of four land dispute cases currently under litigation:
Christian monastery in Turkey wins back land
Fri May 22, 2009 11:28pm IST

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - One of the world's oldest functioning Christian monasteries has won a legal battle to have land it had owned for centuries restored to it, after a Turkish court ruled on Friday it could not be claimed by the state.

The dispute over the boundaries of Mor Gabriel, a fifth-century Syriac Orthodox monastery in eastern Turkey, had raised concerns over freedom of religion and human rights for non-Muslim minorities in Turkey, a predominantly Muslim country and European Union aspirant.

In a statement, the Syriac Universal Alliance (SUA), a leading Syriac group based in Sweden, said a Turkish court in Midyat had reversed an initial decision by the land registry court to grant villages some 110 hectares (272 acres) of monastery land.


Friday, May 22, 2009

ARAMAIC WATCH: Turnabout is fair play?
Arameans call for reversal of place names

(Today's Zaman)

The Syriac Universal Alliance (SUA), an umbrella organization for Aramean federations, appealed to Minister of Interior Be┼čir Atalay on Monday for the “reversal of the Turkification of ancient Aramaic place names” and for Arameans to be given the right to replace their Turkish surnames with their original Aramaic family names.

College degree awarded to high school student

By Judy Harrison
BDN Staff

HAMPDEN, Maine — Amaris Temoso Buchanan was awarded a college degree before earning her high school diploma.

The 17-year-old senior at Bangor Christian Schools on Sunday received an Associate of Arts degree in biblical languages from Grace Evangelical College and Seminary in Bangor. She won’t be handed her high school diploma until June 5.

“Learning languages always intimidated me,” she said at Grace’s intimate graduation ceremony at Community Church of the Open Door on Main Road North, “but once I began studying, I just fell in love with it.”

The languages the Southwest Harbor student learned have not been spoken regularly for centuries. She studied ancient Greek, Hebrew and Syriac — the languages in which the books of the Torah and the Bible were written.

The reporter is a little confused: Syriac is the post-biblical Aramaic dialect of Edessa, but parts of the Bible are written in Aramaic. In any case, very well done, Amaris!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

THE USE OF UNPROVENANCED ARTIFACTS is defended by Dorothy D. Resig in Biblical Archaeology Review:
The Valuable Contributions of “Worthless” Artifacts

by Dorothy D. Resig

A trend has developed recently in the archaeological establishment: Ignore all unprovenanced artifacts. This approach is especially popular among field archaeologists, who believe that objects without a stratified context are worthless. The Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) and the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) have even banned the publication of articles and the presentation of papers about unprovenanced objects from their journals and conferences.

Other scholars reject this view, however. As Swiss Biblical scholar and religious historian Othmar Keel said in an interview with BAR, “I don’t think we can write a history of the ancient Near East without relying on unprovenanced material.”* That prompted us to take a look at several unprovenanced artifacts—all published in BAR—that have contributed significantly to our understanding of the Biblical world.

Some thoughts.

1. There are two problems with unprovenanced artifacts. First, their authenticity is not obvious, as in the case of an excavated artifact, and so they must be authenticated by other means and this may not always be possible. Second, important information has been lost when the archaeological context of the artifact is severed from it and discarded. The first is a reason not to use unprovenanced artifacts, or at least to use them with considerable caution. The second is regrettable, but is not a reason not to use them.

2. I don't think the Amarna tablets or the Dead Sea Scrolls are good examples to use here, because subsequent excavations at the relevant sites demonstrated their provenance and confirmed their authenticity. Thus the second problem above still applies, but much less the first.

3. The bullae and, to a lesser degree the incantation bowls, are quite problematical because they are comparatively easy to forge (unlike, say, the Moabite Stone).

4. We've been warned that a Monster Forgery Machine has been polluting Hebrew and Aramaic epigraphy for decades, making the market in unprovenanced inscriptions highly unreliable, although so far the Israel forgery trial has not produced compelling evidence that this is so. Still, starting just from first principles, there is reason to worry about this possibility. But meanwhile, as a rule of thumb, I suggest that the cooler and more exciting the unprovenanced artifact, especially if it relates closely to already known and treasured texts such as the Bible, the more we should suspect it is a forgery and demand convincing authentication.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

TWO NEW INSCRIPTIONS from the pre-Exilic period have been found in Jerusalem. This Arutz Sheva article summarizes and has photos:
Ancient First Temple Artifacts Uncovered in Jerusalem

by Hana Levi Julian

( Archaeologists from Israel’s Antiquities Authority (IAA) have revealed two important artifacts recently discovered in Jerusalem, both dating from the First Temple Period (8-7 BCE).

The first, a bone seal engraved with the name “Shaul” was found in an excavation being conducted under the auspices of the IAA, in cooperation with the Nature and Parks Authority in the Walls Around Jerusalem National Park, located in the City of David.

The dig, which is underwritten by the “Ir David Foundation” (City of David) is being carried out under the direction of Professor Ronny Reich of the University of Haifa and Eli Shukron of the IAA.


The second artifact, an ancient jar handle bearing the Hebrew name “Menachem” was uncovered in the neighborhood of Ras el ‘Amud during an excavation prior to construction of a girls’ school by the Jerusalem municipality.

There's a more detailed treatment of the Shaul seal on the IAA website (temporary URL), with a downloadable photo here. (Via Lauer and Sasson.)

I'm doing better, but am going back to my nap now.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

SORRY - Have a cold and am too muzzy to blog today.

Monday, May 18, 2009

PROFESSOR MOSHE WEINFELD passed away recently, and there is now an obituary by Nili Wazana posted at the SBL site. It opens:
Moshe Weinfeld, 1925–2009

But Where Can Wisdom Be Found?

Prof. Moshe Weinfeld passed away on April 29, 2009, on Israel’s 61st Independence Day. Weinfeld’s wisdom was biblical in its breadth and depth, both “a plastered cistern, which loseth not a drop,” and a “welling spring.” Like the biblical hakham, his knowledge was all-encompassing, encyclopedic, “from the cedar in Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of the wall.” True to his name, “Moshe was a very humble man,” and his modesty accompanied his approach to every person, both in his personal and in his academic dealings. In his scholarship, he “sought to discover useful … truthful sayings,” yet he did not present them as the only, final, and definitive word, always leaving room for further discussion. ...

May his memory be for a blessing.

(Via the Agade list.)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Pope & Rabbi Square Off Over the Teachings of Jesus

May 2009By Hurd Baruch (New Oxford Review)

Hurd Baruch, a retired attorney living in Tucson, Arizona, is the author of Light on Light: Illuminations of the Gospel of Jesus Christ from the Mystical Visions of the Venerable Anne Catherine Emmerich (MaxKol Communications, 2004).

Lives there a man who actually deplores Jesus' Sermon on the Mount? Yes, there does. His name is Jacob Neusner, and he is a highly esteemed and scholarly orthodox rabbi and professor, with more than 900 books to his credit, including several that take Jesus to task for His teachings. Rabbi Neusner views the teachings of Jesus as contrary to the Torah, which he regards as the ultimate and final expression of God's will and commandments. (The Torah is God's revelation to Moses at Mt. Sinai as set forth in the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch.) Neusner considers that measuring stick fair and appropriate, given Jesus' statement that He came not to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them (Mt. 5:17-20).

The culmination of Neusner's negative analyses, A Rabbi Talks With Jesus, drew the comment from Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger that it was "by far the most important book for the Jewish-Christian dialogue to have been published in the last decade." That was in 1993 -- so why bring it up now? Because Cardinal Ratzinger is now our Holy Father, and he has written his own book, Jesus of Nazareth, in which he frames his sixty-page analysis of the Sermon on the Mount ("the new Torah brought by Jesus") partially as a rebuttal to the imagined dialogues Neusner would like to have had with Jesus and His disciples, had he been alive in their time. Referring to Neusner's dialogues from A Rabbi Talks With Jesus, Pope Benedict writes, "More than other interpretations known to me, this respectful and frank dispute between a believing Jew and Jesus, the son of Abraham, has opened my eyes to the greatness of Jesus' words and to the choice that the Gospel places before us."

UPDATE (18 May): One correction to the above: Rabbi Professor Neusner was ordained a rabbi by the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, the seminary of Conservative Judaism, in 1960 and therefore is not an Orthodox rabbi. Also, there's another review of the two books here. (Heads up, Joseph I. Lauer.)