Saturday, September 10, 2011

Jewish reactions to Gibson's Maccabee film

JEWISH REACTIONS to Mel Gibson's involvement in a movie about Judah the Maccabee have not been enthusiastic. Jennifer Lipman has a roundup at the Jewish Chronicle ("Mel Gibson to film story of Jewish hero Judah Maccabee"):
Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre Museum of Tolerance, said Mr Gibson should not be cast in the film or involved in it in any way.

"He has shown nothing but antagonism and disrespect to Jews," said Rabbi Hier. "There were the antisemitic remarks he made, his portrayal of Jews in The Passion of Christ.

"He's had a long history of antagonism with Jews. Casting him as a director or perhaps as the star of Judah Maccabee is like casting Madoff to be the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, or a white supremacist as trying to portray Martin Luther King Jr.

"It's simply an insult to Jews."

The Anti-Defamation League also expressed regret that "someone better" could not be found to film the story.

"As a hero of the Jewish people and a universal hero in the struggle for religious liberty, Judah Maccabee deserves better," said national director Abraham Foxman. "It would be a travesty to have the story of the Maccabees told by one who has no respect and sensitivity for other people's religious views.

"Not only has Mel Gibson shown outward antagonism toward Jews and Judaism in his public statements and actions, but his previous attempt to bring biblical history to life on the screen was marred by antisemitism," he added.

"While we do not argue with Mel Gibson's right to make this film, we still strongly believe that Warner Bros. should reconsider Gibson's involvement in this project."
In the Independent, Rob Sharp covers some of the same ground more briefly and also gives a British reaction ("First he ranted against Judaism, now he's making a film about it"):
British Jewish groups have reacted with anger to the news. "It is astonishing, frankly, that he should choose to take this story on," said Dave Rich, a spokesman for the Jewish charity Community Security Trust, which seeks to protect Britain's Jewish community from "bigotry, anti-Semitism and terrorism". "You have to question what his motivation is. On the surface of it, it's as inappropriate as it gets for him to make a film about of the great heroes of Jewish history."
Background here.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Senior post in Judaism at Barnard College

JOB AT BARNARD COLLEGE—Jared Callaway has details: Senior Position in Judaism at Barnard. This is to fill the late Alan Segal's now vacant chair. He will be a hard act to follow.

Haredi conference on "Torah archaeology"

'Torah archaeology' sheds light on ancient Talmudic dispute

First Haredi conference on "Torah archaeology" held in Jerusalem.

By Yair Ettinger (Haaretz)

Tags: Orthodox Jews Israel archeology Jewish law

In the heart of ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem two weeks ago, an unwritten taboo was shattered in broad daylight: The first Haredi conference on "Torah archaeology" - having been boldly advertised in the Haredi daily Hamodia, and approved by several leading rabbis - drew a packed audience.

The opening speaker, Chabad Rabbi Shaul Shimon Deutsch, brought several ancient coins to the conference, held in the Beit Bracha hall near Jerusalem's Mea She'arim neighborhood. Deutsch, who flew in from Brooklyn for the event, runs a museum that displays artifacts he acquired on the private market from the time of the Mishna. Also among the artifacts, he displayed an intact scale that he said had been recovered several weeks earlier from a sunken ship in the Mediterranean Sea.

The scale, he said, settled once and for all a dispute that has raged among Torah scholars for centuries: How much did the litra, a Talmudic measure, actually weigh? The answer: 354 grams, just as the 11th-century commentator Rashi claimed, and contrary to the opinion of other great medieval commentators such as the Rambam.

This, as all the speakers agreed, is the purpose of Haredi archaeology: using ancient artifacts to shed light on religious texts - as long as they don't undermine the traditional reading of the texts, of course. Thus, when Deutsch showed the scale to Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, leader of the Lithuanian (non-Hasidic ) Haredim, Elyashiv "said it was really a wonder of wonders," Deutsch related.


The Monastery of Mar Musa al-Habashi

ARAMAIC WATCH: SANA profiles a Syriac monastery founded in the eleventh century:
Deir Mar Musa al-Habashi, Religious Tourist Destination

Sep 08, 2011

DAMASCUS COUNTRYSIDE, (SANA) – There, in a rugged valley within al-Qalamoun Mountains, stood the Monastery of Mar Musa al-Habashi as a witness on the Syriac civilization and a tourism destination for those who seek peace, contemplation, calmness and beauty.

According to local inhabitant Abdo Khenshat, the Monastery was named after St. Moses the Abyssinian, the son of a king of Ethiopia who left his country looking for the kingdom of God. He traveled to Egypt and then to the Holy Land in Palestine before he became a monk and lived in Qara, to the north of al-Nabk region in Damascus Countryside, and then as a hermit not far from there in the valley of what is today the monastery. He was martyred by Byzantine soldiers.

The Arabic inscriptions on the Monastery walls indicated that the church was built in the Islamic year 450 (1058 AD). In the fifteenth century the monastery was partly rebuilt and enlarged, he added.

This is late for PaleoJudaica coverage, but two points are of interest. First, there is Syriac inscribed on the walls, and I like to keep track of such things:
Great icons and images covered the church walls such as the image of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the four evangelists are painted above the four columns looking upwards to copy a heavenly page with Syriac letters, ten virgins carrying lamps, in addition to images of Jesus Christ, Virgin Mary and John the Baptist.
Then there's this:
The monastery includes a huge library rich of Arabic, Syriac and religious books, manuscripts and rare heritage books.
Tell us more.

More SANA coverage of Syrian archaeological and antiquities sites is noted here with links.

Mel Gibson meets Judah the Maccabee

Mel Gibson and Warner Bros. developing Jewish hero epic

September 8, 2011 | 4:48 pm (LA Times)

Mel Gibson, the Oscar winner who has defended himself against accusations of anti-Semitism, is developing a film for Warner Bros. about the life of Judah Maccabee, the warrior whose ancient victory is celebrated by Hanukkah.
There was a rumor back in 2004 that this might be his next project, but nothing came of it at the time.

It gets better:
Gibson's Icon Productions has closed the producing deal with Warner Bros., and Joe Eszterhas will write the screenplay. Gibson's camp said the filmmaker will decide if he's directing after the script is done and that he has not ruled out the possibility that he could act in the film.

Maccabee ("Maccabee?"—Ed.), his four brothers and his father led the Jewish revolt against the Greek-Syrian armies. The role of his father, the priest Mattathias, might be a logical one for the 55-year-old Gibson if he does opt to appear in the film.

He's also about the right age for Antiochus Epiphanes. Just a thought.

This should be entertaining. Watch this space.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Recent news from AWOL


JSTOR News: Free Access to Early Journal Content and Serving “Unaffiliated” Users

JSTOR Hebrew Journals Pilot Project

The Hebrew Journals Pilot Project is the result of an extensive collaboration with the University of Haifa Library and the National Library of Israel to digitize, test and make available the complete back runs of four core journals published in Hebrew. This Pilot represents an effort to preserve and expose these critical materials to a broader audience. The University of Haifa has collaborated with the National Library of Israel and other organizations in a set of projects to preserve and widely disseminate scholarship in Hebrew, of which the Hebrew Journals Pilot Project is one.


Open Access Journal: RAMBI

"Rome Wasn't Digitized in a Day": Building a Cyberinfrastructure for Digital Classicists

12th Annual City of David Archaeology Conference

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS (no, really this time):
What’s new with ancient Jerusalem?

09/07/2011 15:52

The Annual City of David Archaeology Conference will reveal the newest research and discoveries on ancient Jerusalem and the City of David.

The 12th Annual City of David Archaeology Conference, the largest of its kind in Israel, is set to take place this Thursday at the City of David. This open-air conference is dedicated entirely to current research about Jerusalem and the City of David and will bring together world renowned experts and 1,400 fans of Jerusalem and its antiquities.

The conference takes place in Hebrew but many Anglos are expected to attend.
In honor of the event, the excavation sites at the City of David will be open, and conference-goers will be given the rare opportunity to take a peek at the rigorous field work.

Also, Arutz Sheva has a longer and more detailed article: City of David Conference Slated to Overturn Popular Theories.

Review of "Footnote"

FOOTNOTE is reviewed in TIFF reviews:
Directed by Joseph Cedar

TIFF Sep 06 2011
Footnote - Directed by Joseph Cedar
By Manori Ravindran

For most people, no matter how extravagantly we screw up, our families usually have our backs. And if that's not the case, even a well meaning, "I told you so" can be comforting. In Joseph Cedar's Footnote, a father and son, both Talmudic scholars at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, are bitter rivals, and a relationship held sacred in most cultures reaches a frenzied, yet intensely entertaining, breaking point.

Earlier reviews noted here.

Enoch, Leviathan, Behemoth, and hurricane politics

PSEUDEPIGRAPHA WATCH: The book of 1 Enoch is cited in the St. Louis Jewish Light in connection with recent hurricane politics. You don't see that every day.
Editorial: Kookie Monster

Posted: Wednesday, September 7, 2011 11:54 am

In the Book of Enoch, a second century BCE Jewish Apocrypha, the Behemoth (who is also referenced in the Book of Job) is the land monster and Leviathan the sea monster (there's also Ziz, the sky monster, but we'll save him for another day).

Last week on the East Coast, Behemoth and Leviathan squared off, as the latter tried to rip the shreds out of the former with his proxy, Hurricane Irene. Behemoth stood his ground, despite taking on some fairly significant damage.

But another couple forces of nature, both Jews, faced off in the aftermath of the fierce land-water battle, albeit somewhat indirectly. In Leviathan's corner stood United States Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), defiant in the face of disaster relief, suggesting that additional assistance for storm-ravaged places and people be contingent on removing dollars from elsewhere in the budget.

Standing up for those on land was Paul Krugman, noted leftist, Nobel-winning Princeton professor and New York Times columnist. Krugman flung back on Cantor like a whirling earthen dervish, calling Cantor out as both hypocritical and callously indifferent to the plight of the suffering. Hypocritical because Cantor supported an Iraq war of almost a trillion dollars without raising revenue to pay for it, and because he voted against a similar pay-as-you-go bill in 2004 when his Virginia was hit by an earlier tropical storm.

The reference to Leviathan and Behemoth is found in 1 Enoch 60:7-8. It is in the part of the book known as the Similitudes or Parables of Enoch, which dates to the first century BCE or the first century CE. Behemoth and Leviathan are also mentioned at greater length in Job 40-41.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

How many languages?

TARGUMAN: How many languages does it take to get to the center?

How many you got?

Postgrad conference on lost texts at JTA

The Graduate School Student Organization at the Jewish Theological Seminary in NYC will be organizing and hosting a graduate student conference for this spring. Below is the call for papers. We encourage any interested graduate students to apply. For more information, questions, or concerns please email Maria Junttila Carson at

Lost Texts: A Graduate Student Conference
April 29th, 2012 - New York, NY
The Graduate School of the Jewish Theological Seminary

Much of Jewish history can be viewed as a struggle between competing textual traditions, often motivated by the reintroduction and reappropriation of lost texts. The redacted texts of the biblical and rabbinic canons; the revelations of the Genizah and the Dead Sea Scrolls; the invention and revision of Jewish literary traditions by the scholars, writers, artists and thinkers of Jewish modernity - each of these discoveries of lost texts has served to complicate and expand the borders of Jewish life in the past and in the present.

We invite papers from graduate students that explore lost texts - broadly defined - as central objects of inquiry in Jewish studies as well as submissions that reflect on how Jewish Studies itself is a site where forgotten or marginalized traditions become present through the mediation of academic discourse. Papers from a wide variety of methodological approaches and time periods will be considered.
Follow the link for details (again, from the H-Judaic list).

Lost texts are one of my areas of interest, although the conference seems to be mostly focused on texts that were lost and then recovered and reappropriated, whereas I think of lost texts as books that remain entirely or mostly lost today. See my Lost Books posts here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Review of Magness, "Stone and Dung, Oil and Spit"

Jodi Magness. Stone and Dung, Oil and Spit: Jewish Daily Life in the Time of Jesus. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2011. Illustrations. xv + 335 pp. $25.00 (paper), ISBN 978-0-8028-6558-8.

Reviewed by Joshua Schwartz (Bar-Ilan University)
Published on H-Judaic (September, 2011)
Commissioned by Jason Kalman

A Life Worth Living Is More Than Spit

The origins of this book are in Qumran. Jodi Magness, one of the foremost scholars today of the archaeology and history of the Land of Israel and especially of Qumran, had hoped to write a book on the archaeology of purity, correlating the literary and archaeological evidence for the purity practices of the major Jewish groups and sects of the late Second Temple period. As she wrote her drafts, it expanded beyond purity to deal with aspects of Jewish daily life in late Second Temple period Palestine. The book she wrote seeks to identify and correlate evidence of Jewish “footprints” in the archaeological record and literary sources. The footprints relate to a broad spectrum of activities, from dining practices to toilet habits to Sabbath observance to burial customs.

The work contains twelve chapters. The first is an introductory chapter that sets the stage for uncovering the footprints. The first step is to discuss what distinguished Jews from other peoples of the Roman Empire. Much of this related to religion and the observance of laws, but some distinctions reflected socioeconomic realities, i.e., material culture. This chapter discusses sectarianism in general, purity and holiness, ruling classes, urban and rural elites, agrarian society, and the settlement at Qumran. The following chapters deal with purification of the body and hands, creeping and swarming things, household vessels, dining customs, Sabbath observance and fasting, coins, clothing and tzitzit (fringes), oil and spit, toilet and toilet habits, and tombs and burial customs. The final chapter is a short epilogue dealing with the immediate post-70 CE period.


More on upcoming NYU Dura-Europos exhibition

Diversity of Cultures in Ancient City of Dura-Europos Explored in Special Exhibition at NYU’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World

(IEWY News)

Edge of Empires: Pagans, Jews, and Christians at Roman Dura-Europos”

Exhibition Dates: Sept. 23, 2011 – Jan. 8, 2012

The ancient city of Dura-Europos, which stood at the crossroads of the Hellenistic, Persian, and Roman worlds for some five centuries, is the subject of the upcoming exhibition at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World (ISAW) entitled Edge of Empires: Pagans, Jews, and Christians at Roman Dura-Europos. The exhibition, on view from September 23, 2011, through January 8, 2012, tells the story of life in the city, located in present-day Syria, from the mid-second to mid-third century CE, when it thrived as a Roman military garrison.

Background to this exhibition is here, and follow the background link to that post for previous exhibitions and much more on Dura Europos.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

More on those caves in Israel

MORE ON THOSE CAVES IN ISRAEL: Extraordinary pictures of the 2,000 year old underground labyrinth where Jewish rebels hid from Roman soldiers (Daily Mail).

This is from last week; not sure how I missed it.

Background here.

Indiana Jones Not Accurate?

WELL NO, NOT ENTIRELY: "Indiana Jones Not Accurate", Say Archaeological Society (The Spoof).

So far this year I've joined a secret cabal and acquired a new fedora, so that's not doing too badly.

(Via Dorothy the PhDiva.)

New course materials in the PaleoJudeo-Blogosphere


First, Rebecca Lesses is teaching her course on Jewish Folk Religion: Magic and Ritual Power at Ithaca College. She has posted the course syllabus at Mystical Politics (follow the link) and also some online resources for the study of Jewish magic.

Second, Simon Holloway is teaching "A Comprehensive Introduction to the Rabbinic Literature" at North Shore Temple Emanuel and has posted a useful-looking handout on Tractates of the Mishna at Davar Akher.

Both courses look very interesting and I wish I could sit in on them.

By the way, did I mention that I'm on research leave this whole academic year? Just saying.

UPDATE (7 September): I had Simon Holloway's teaching location wrong. Now corrected.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Cairo's Ben Ezra Synagogue in

CAIRO'S BEN EZRA SYNAGOGUE is treated in a travel piece by Idris Tawfiq in Contains the obligatory anti-Israel, anti-Zionist disclaimer, but looks to be factually accurate.

More on the Ben Ezra Synagogue here, here, and here. And much more on the Cairo Geniza and its texts here and links.

RBL review: Brakke, "The Gnostics"

RBL REVIEW by James McGrath: David Brakke, The Gnostics: Myth, Ritual, and Diversity in Early Christianity (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010 pp. xii + 164. $29.95).

By the way, I share David Brakke's skepticism about the existence of ancient Jewish Gnosticism. The key problem is not so much that we lack actual Jewish Gnostic texts, but rather that the internal thought world of the surviving ancient Christian Gnostic texts makes sense as emerging out of Christianity, but is oblivious to obvious Jewish concerns. Where, for example, are the midrashic reflections on the implications of the Gnostic myth of a corrupt demiurge and an intrinsically evil material world for Jewish halachic practices? Contrast the letters of Paul, which are in the early stages of founding a new movement deriving from Judaism and which are very much concerned with such Jewish issues.

This does not mean that there wasn't some original form of Jewish demiurgic Gnosticism, but if there was, the positive evidence for it has been purged from our surviving sources. Unless and until that changes, I remain unconvinced.

BMCR reviews

Philip A. Harland, Dynamics of Identity in the World of the Early Christians: Associations, Judeans, and Cultural Minorities. New York: T & T Clark, 2009. Pp. xii, 239. ISBN 9780567111463. $29.95 (pb).

Reviewed by Guy Stroumsa, University of Oxford (


This book includes eight studies (two of them new), presented together within a general framework, developed in a long introduction. The eight chapters of the book deal with various aspects of group identity of Jews and Christians in the Roman world (more precisely, in the Eastern Mediterranean). The fist chapter deals with associations and group identity among Jews and Christians (Harland speaks of Judeans rather than of Jews; the present reviewer, perhaps because he belongs to an older generation, admits to being unable to appreciate the real advantage obtained in transforming our traditional vocabulary). Chapter 2 studies local cultural life and Christian identity. Chapter 3 analyses the word “brothers” in associations and congregations, while Chapter 5 discusses “Mothers” and “Fathers. Chapter 3 studies the concept of “brothers.” In a second part, Harland deals in turn with other diasporas, and with the problem of acculturation of immigrants (Chapter 5) and with interaction and integration among Jews (Chapter 6). The last two chapters study group interactions and rivalries, through the study of Sardis and Smyrna (Chapter 7) and the anti-associations and their banquets (Chapter 8).

Philip Harland has a blog called Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean.
Gregor Weber (ed.), Alexandreia und das ptolemäische Ägypten: Kulturbegegnungen in hellenistischer Zeit. Berlin: Verlag Antike, 2010. Pp. 232. ISBN 9783938032374. € 49.90.

Reviewed by M. Weiskopf (

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

Weber has edited an excellent, well-written collection of essays investigating the Ptolemaic era, a collection (whose origins lie in 2007/2008) indicative of the advances made in the field since the 1980s when the imprecise term "multicultural" was first used to placate the “politically correct.” Weber’s introduction (pp. 9-29) makes clear that one is investigating cultural interactions, Kulturbegegnungen: a plural. The cultures and interactions are never static, nor is there a single Leitkultur. Weber proposes the investigation of five Problembereiche that cut across disciplines: a. the concept of monarchy, in which the desire for dynastic unity led to the adaptation of the Egyptian concept of sibling marriage; b. the elite of the land, Egyptian and Greco-Macedonian maintaining their respective positions, but prosopographical details preclude assigning ethnics based on one’s name; c. religion, in which the Ptolemies were active patrons, but a clear division between divine worlds seems to have persisted; d. the situation in the chora, illuminated for the most part by papyrus-preserved “personal” histories; e. dislike of the Ptolemaic rule: the priesthood saw the Ptolemies as the bulwark against a Sintflut of chaos and anarchy; it remains difficult to assign specific reasons for others’ dissatisfaction. Weber ends with advice (p. 24): “Generalisierende Aussage in grosser Stil ueber die griechische Elite oder die Aegypter verbieten sich daher.”


Livia Capponi, Roman Egypt. Classical World Series. London: Bristol Classical Press, 2010. Pp. 89. ISBN 9781853997266. $23.00.

Reviewed by Nikolaos Lazaridis, California State University, Sacramento (

Livia Capponi, an enthusiastic and experienced papyrologist who is currently a lecturer in Ancient History at Newcastle University, has written a modest but well-documented introduction to Roman Egypt, a long historical period that begins with Augustus’ arrival at Alexandria on 1 October, 30 BC and ends with the Arab conquest of Egypt sealed by a treaty signed by the general ‘Amr ibn al-‘As and the patriarch Cyrus on 8 November 641. This introduction is intended for “students and teachers of Classical Civilization at late school and early university level”, according to the series’ mission statement on the back cover, even for “those with no previous knowledge of the classical languages and those who, before reading, did not even know what a papyrus was”, according to the author’s preface.