Saturday, December 11, 2010

Landau responds to McKnight

BRENT LANDAU responds to Scot McKnight's review of Landau's new book, The Revelation of the Magi. He concludes:
In conclusion, McKnight has rightly pressed me on exactly the points of my interpretation that I expected to be most controversial. I hope the above remarks have served to clarify my analysis of the RevMagi’s date of composition and theological outlook, and I would welcome further exchanges with him in the future.
Follow the second link for additional reviews of the book.

Irish Times obit for Ehud Netzer

Archaeologist and expert on life of King Herod

Ehud Netzer: EHUD NETZER, emeritus professor of archaeology at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, who has died aged 76, was one of the world’s foremost authorities on the life and times of King Herod, who ruled Judea under the Romans in the 1st century BC.

More Netzer obituaries here.

Friday, December 10, 2010

New papyri on the Arab Conquest in 7th century CE

A PAPYRI "DISCOVERY" at the Austrian National Library:
New Information about the Sasanian Dynasty, among the discovered historical letters dating from the Arab conquest of Egypt

PostDateIcon Friday, 10 December 2010 08:06 | PDF Print E-mail

LONDON, (CAIS) -- Among the Papyri Collection at the Austrian National Library (Die Ă–sterreichische Nationalbibliothek), a previously unknown archive has recently discovered a series of letters which could shed light on the history of the Arab conquest of the Middle-East in the 7th Century CE.


The Austrian National Library states that the Papyrus Letter Collection Archive is the source that could shed light on one of the most important events in the history of mankind, although it has not yet been scientifically confirmed.

So far over 250 letters written in Greek and Coptic on Papyrus have been identified. The letters were written in Egypt around 643/4 CE, immediately after the Arab conquest of Egypt which is documented in a unique way that tells the history of the transition of power to the Arabs.

A special feature of the letters is that how the Arabs were able to invade such a massive territory as Egypt with such a small army of 4,000 soldiers. According to the letters Amr, the commander of Arab forces was ordered to avoid killing the civilians in Egypt, contrary to the invasion of Iran two years earlier which was taken place in a most brutal fashion.

Among the discovered Papyri there are also a number of documents written in Sasanian-Pahlavi, date to the period that Egypt was under the Sasanian rule (619-629). These documents are about the imperial Sasanian forces stationed in Egypt and their life-style during their stay, which are yet to be studied.

In addition to the historical importance of the archive, the Pahlavi documents are likely to be linguistically important, since most of the surviving Sassanian Pahlavi literature is extant only in later manuscripts. See the "Middle Persian Literature i. Pahlavi Literature" article in the online Encyclopaedia Iranica.

New book on Hannibal

PUNIC WATCH – New book on Hannibal:
Office Hours: Robert Garland
Professor Tackles Hannibal and his Legacy in New Book

By Nate Lynch (Colgate Maroon-News)

Published: Thursday, December 2, 2010

Updated: Thursday, December 2, 2010 13:12

Roy D. and Margaret B. Wooster Professor of the Classics Robert Garland recently published Hannibal, part of the "Ancients in Action" series, in April of this year. The book tries to explain the somewhat enigmatic historical character of Hannibal, the Carthaginian general who famously led a massive expedition of infantry, cavalry and elephants over the Alps in an attack on Rome during the Second Punic War. The book was published by the Bristol Classical Press and is available at the Colgate University Bookstore.

The goal of the "Ancients in Action" series is to provide short incisive books introducing major figures of the ancient world to the modern general reader, including the essentials of each subject's life, works and significance for later western civilization.

Garland began work on Hannibal about three years ago with this goal in mind, but also to examine the events surrounding Hannibal from the general's own perspective and convey his personal admiration for his achievements and perseverance.


Thursday, December 09, 2010

New book: Aramaica Qumranica

Aramaica Qumranica
Proceedings of the Conference on the Aramaic Texts from Qumran in Aix-en-Provence 30 June - 2July 2008

Edited by Katell Berthelot and Daniel Stökl Ben Ezra (STDJ 94; Leiden: Brill, 2010)

The Aramaic Dead Sea Scrolls represent roughly 13% of the Qumran library and correspond to a wide range of genres and topics. This book consists of the proceedings of a conference on the Aramaic scrolls from Qumran which took place in Aix-en-Provence in 2008. It includes both the papers themselves and a transcription of the discussions. The 22 papers tackle linguistic, exegetical and historical questions, focusing in particular on: the relation of the Aramaic texts to what we know as the Hebrew Bible; their literary genres; the question of their sectarian or non-sectarian provenance; the character of the corpus, and specifically its relevance to the development of apocalypticism and messianism in the Jewish tradition.

More reviews of Landau, Revelation of the Magi

MORE REVIEWS of Brent Landau, The Revelation of the Magi: by Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed and by Therese J. Borchard at Catholic San Francisco. McKnight is skeptical of the comparatively early date that Landau assigns to the work.

Given the season, I expect that this book will get a lot more attention in the coming weeks.

For earlier reviews, go here.

UPDATE (11 December): Landau responds to McKnight.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Israeli rabbis tell Jews not to sell homes to Arabs

Israeli rabbis tell Jews not to sell homes to Arabs

Tue Dec 7, 2010 9:37am EST

By Maayan Lubell

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Dozens of Israeli rabbis, some of them civil servants, issued an appeal on Tuesday telling locals not to sell or rent property to non-Jews, drawing condemnation from lawmakers and human rights activists.

The open letter underscored Jewish-Arab tensions that have deepened along with Israel's deadlocked Palestinian conflict, as well as more recent demographic fears triggered by an influx of illegal African migrants.

"The Land of Israel is intended for the people of Israel," Yosef Shainin, chief rabbi of the southern port city of Ashdod and one of the 41 signatories, told Israel's Army Radio when asked about the letter.

Obtained by Reuters ahead of its planned publication in synagogues and religious journals, the letter quotes warnings by ancient sages that living with non-Jews can lead to "sacrilege." Other concerns for property values are also raised.

I can't find the full text of this letter anywhere online. Presumably it will become available when it is actually published. (If the writers don't have sense enough now to cancel publication.) In a CNN article another line from the letter is quoted as: "In answer to many questions, we reply that it is prohibited by the Torah to sell a house or field in Israel to a gentile."

Since no specific passages from ancient texts are cited, it is difficult to comment in any specific way about their use. In general, it is true that some biblical passages and passages in the early rabbinic texts warn Israelites/Jews not to associate with their pagan polytheist neighbors because of the danger of adopting their idolatrous ways. Polytheistic and idolatrous rites permeated pagan societies, since there was no distinction between religion and other elements of society in those times. Nevertheless, polytheists who adopted Israelite ways, including monotheistic devotion to the Israelite God, were welcome. Conversion wasn't particularly encouraged at any period (and is a massively complicated topic that I won't go into here), but it was accepted if outsiders wanted to join up (see, e.g., the Book of Ruth).

The point here is that such biblical and rabbinic passages were aimed at very specific social circumstances a long time ago. It is disingenuous and unhelpful to try to apply them today to, apparently, Muslims – that is, fellow monotheists – in a pluralistic society where societal structures allow and indeed assume that people will practice different religious faiths peaceably in the same society.

The writers of this letter have the right to express their views, but I wish they would keep the ancient texts out it.

UPDATE: Reader Michael Pitkowsky points me to the full Hebrew text of the letter here. He also comments at the Menachem Mendel blog.

Pretend To Be A Time Traveler Day 2010

PRETEND TO BE A TIME TRAVELER DAY is today. Try to stay out of trouble.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Book review: Colleen Shantz, Paul in Ecstasy

BOOK REVIEW, in the Journal of Theological Studies:
Paul in Ecstasy: The Neurobiology of the Apostles’s Life and Thought. By Colleen Shantz.

Paul in Ecstasy: The Neurobiology of the Apostles’s Life and Thought. By Colleen Shantz. Pp. viii + 267. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. isbn 978 0 521 86610 1. £45/$80.

1. Quinton Deeley

+ Author Affiliations

Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London

1. Christopher Rowland

+ Author Affiliations

University of Oxford

The first thing that needs to be said about this remarkable book is that it is an exciting and brave book. The second of those epithets might be a prelude to a polite rejection of its findings because they are tendentious, or stray beyond the bounds of what is currently acceptable in the discipline. That is not the case. There is no doubt that this is an unusual thesis, but its peculiarity is the reason for its bravery. It is explicitly interdisciplinary, and, what is more, retraces a course which has been eschewed by much modern historical scholarship—the application of neuroscience to the religious experience of the leading New Testament writer, Paul of Tarsus. There is a double jeopardy here: interdisciplinarity, of course, but also the exploration of the experience which is referred to in (and behind) the text as a significant factor in the writer’s experience and one that has major ramifications for understanding his thought. The interdisciplinary nature of this book has prompted the need for a comprehensive review in which the different facets of this book can be adequately assessed. We have been engaged in an ongoing conversation on the nature of visionary experience over the last three years, together with Professor Stephen Pattison of the University of Birmingham and this joint review has arisen out of that collaboration.

Colleen Shantz’s study explores a neglected field, and suspicion of mysticism and religious experience, rooted in theological fear of the dynamic unpredictability of the mystical and the experiential in Christianity, has coloured the way these issues have been treated within biblical studies. The book, which started life as a doctoral dissertation under the supervision of Leif Vaage, represents something of a milestone in the spasmodic, but necessary, exploration of the nature of early Christian experience and in ...
Full text available only with personal or institution subscription.

It's exciting to see this sort of work being done, which takes mystical experience seriously as an input to foundational religious traditions.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Happy 6th blogiversary to Ralph the Sacred River


New book: Halakha in Light of Epigraphy

NEW BOOK: Halakha in Light of Epigraphy.

Robert Eisenman in Malaysia – plus defense of original DSS team

PROFESSOR ROBERT EISENMAN has been lecturing in Malaysia and is profiled in the Malaysia Star. I learned something: I didn't know that he had been an anti-Beat beatnik. Be that as it may, I'm going to stick with "controversial" to describe his views. And I do have to comment on this, which hits a sore spot:
“We said (the [Dead Sea] scrolls) should be open to anybody,” said Prof Eisenman. “It should be free for anyone – religious, non-religious, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, whoever – to look at the scrolls for themselves. And the Israelis didn’t want that. They wanted their scholars to see the documents and write the principal work so that their version would be the official interpretation.”
I make no assumption that Professor Eisenman is being quoted correctly, but I'll respond to the charge as stated. The above quote is flirting with conspiracy theorizing and the last two sentences are simply wrong. The original team were Christians (Protestants and Catholics), plus one agnostic (Allegro), which hardly seems like the ideal makeup for Israeli mouthpieces. Indeed the Jordanian government had the ultimate remit for assembling the team and they made it a condition that no Jewish scholar be included.

Regarding the later expansion of the team when the Israelis were in charge, I was one of the doctoral students to whom original team members reassigned Scrolls material to publish in the 1980s. I knew the other students and we had a wide range of political, religious, and theological views (and no one ever showed the slightest interest in asking us about any of these views). The expansion of the team to 40 or more included Protestants, Catholics, and Jews.

The original team of eight was simply too small for the size of the job, which was an understandable mistake given that no one had ever tried to coordinate a manuscript publication project of that size and complexity before. That said, a team that had been much larger would have strained the space and resources available in the Rockefeller Museum, where the team spent ten years sorting the tens of thousands of fragments into manuscripts. It is also understandable, and very human, that they were reluctant to give up the material after they had spent so many years of their lives on this basic task of reconstruction, for which they still get little credit. Nevertheless, this project was far better coordinated, executed, and completed than the publication of, say, the Oxyrhynchus papyri or the Cairo Geniza archive, neither of which are anywhere near being fully published after more than a century.

Our resources for this sort of project are almost inconceivably better than those available to the original team of Scrolls researchers and they should be judged in the context of the time in which they were working. I'm sure they could have done better, had they been granted our perspective and hindsight with a flashforward, but could we have done better than they did if we didn't know what we know now?

I have offered these and other points in defense of the original team here, here, here, and here.

Regarding the rest of the quote above, of course the material should be available to anyone to study. Happily, it now is. I'm not aware of any Muslim or Buddhist specialists in the Scrolls, but we would all be glad to hear their insights if they turn up.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

USA Today on The Revelation of the Magi

THE REVELATION OF THE MAGI in its new translation by Brent Landau is profiled by USA Today:
Were the Three Wise Men from China?

By Michelle Healy, USA TODAY

The story of the Three Wise Men is one of the most familiar and beloved parts of the Christmas story. But for all of their popularity, the mysterious travelers from the East — known as the Magi — appear in only one short passage in the New Testament, following a star to the site of Jesus' birth and bringing gifts of gold, francincense and myrrh. Many religious scholars aren't even sure they really existed.

Now, a first-ever English translation and detailed analysis of a little-known eighth-century text uncovers a far more substantial version of the wise men story.


Landau's book, Revelation of the Magi: The Lost Tale of the Wise Men's Journey to Bethlehem (HarperOne) describes the Magi as an ancient mystical sect descended from Seth, the pious and virtuous third son of Adam and Eve. From Seth they inherited a prophecy of "a star of indescribable brightness" someday appearing and "heralding the birth of God in human form." This same star had initially hovered over the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden.

It's a pretty good article, but I would be happier with it if it had said more explicitly that The Revelation of the Magi is a manuscript of a second- or third-century CE text that gives a legendary account of Matthew's (probably already legendary) magi. It tells us nothing about any actual magi in the first century, although potentially it could tell us quite a lot about an interesting Christian author (and community?) in the second or third century.

Background here. More on Matthew's magi and the historical magi here.

Incidentally, the More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project is publishing a quotation fragment from a text called The Apocryphon of Seth which deals with some related Seth legends.

'Study' denying Jews' right to Kotel resurfaces

'Study' denying Jews' right to Kotel resurfaces

By KHALED ABU TOAMEH (Jerusalem Post)
12/04/2010 17:57

Document which sparked strong condemnations from Israel and the US returns on official website of the PA’s news agency Wafa.
Talkbacks (26)

Only days after it was removed from the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Information website, a “study” denying Jews’ rights to the Western Wall has resurfaced, this time on the official website of the PA’s news agency, Wafa.

By publishing the document on Wafa’s website, the official mouthpiece of the PLO and the PA, the authority has sent a message that its has officially endorsed its findings.

It's back and it's still bogus. I hope the Obama Administration and others renew their protests. Background here.

Symposium on Syria's Ugaritic Alphabet

IN PARIS: Symposium on Syria's Ugaritic Alphabet. This to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the decipherment of Ugaritic.