Saturday, September 24, 2011

Review of Amitay, "From Alexander to Jesus"

Ory Amitay, From Alexander to Jesus. Hellenistic culture and society, 52. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010. Pp. xii, 246. ISBN 9780520266360. $49.95.

Reviewed by David W. Madsen, Seattle University (


Great historical figures invariably attract both mythographers and biographers—none more than the two subjects of this study. Here Ory Amitay, employing meme theory, explores the mythological links between them: “…the thesis of this book is that the Jesus memeplex replicated a great many memes adopted and developed first by Alexander the living person, and after his death by the mythical memeplex which he had created” (5) In order to validate the claim, Amitay devotes the bulk of his book to an exploration of the memes and memeplex between Alexander and Herakles, the object of Alexander’s worship, emulation, and rivalry. In the process of matching and surpassing him, Alexander broke the barrier between history and myth and provided a justification for his own claim to divinity; this self- divinization then set the stage for acceptance, in a monotheistic milieu no less, of the incarnate god Jesus. Unlike Herakles, whom some have suggested as a model for Christian ‘mythography,’ Amitay believes that the flesh and blood Alexander is the better, indeed, “unique forerunner of Christ.”

The reviewer is not convinced.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Dura-Europos Exhibition Opens

ISAW: Dura-Europos Exhibition Opens. Today!

Background here.

Mykytiuk on biblical persons in NWS inscriptions

LAWRENCE MYKYTIUK has e-mailed to let me know that an article of his from 2010 is available for free online:
Corrections and Updates to "Identifying Biblical Persons in Northwest Semitic Inscriptions of 1200-539 B.C.E."

Lawrence J. Mykytiuk, Purdue University

This article updates the cutoff point for the inscriptions treated in the book mentioned in the title, which was mid-2002, to July 31, 2008. It evaluates 32 proposed identifications (IDs) of biblical persons in ancient Near Eastern inscriptions of 1200-539 B.C.E. All 32 IDs or non-IDs are listed and indexed at the end.


This article does two things. First, it corrects things in the book, Identifying Biblical Persons in Northwest Semitic Inscriptions of 1200-539 B.C.E. (2004), abbreviated IBP below:
• Regarding potential forgeries, the article applies the principles for treatment of unprovenanced inscriptions set forth in Christopher A. Rollston, “Non-Provenanced Epigraphs II: The Status of Non-Provenanced Epigraphs within the Broader Corpus of Northwest Semitic,” Maarav 11 (2004): 71–76.
• It disqualifies proposed IDs in eight (8) inscriptions that are forgeries or probable forgeries, notably including the two bullae frequently attributed to the biblical Baruch.
Second, it evaluates 32 proposed identifications (IDs) of biblical persons in inscriptions of 1200-539 B.C.E. Doing this updates the book, IBP, from its original coverage through mid-2002, to July 31, 2008. In order to evaluate these proposed IDs, it uses the protocols set forth in the book, IBP, pp. 9-89. Resulting IDs and non-IDs appear in six categories of strength or weakness, from unmistakable to disqualified.
• Constructively, it makes eleven strong, reasonable, or possible IDs of biblical persons in provenanced Northwest Semitic inscriptions and two reasonable IDs in inscriptions written in other languages (one in Egyptian hieroglyphics and one in Babylonian Akkadian).
• It gives page-by-page corrections to the book, IBP, if they affect IDs. These corrections end with a summary of the results of the book as corrected by this article on pp. 125-126. A summary and an index only of the results in the article appear on pp. 126-132.


Hebrew Bible, Old Testament, biblical historicity, historical reliability of the Old Testament, identifying biblical persons, palaeography, Semitic paleography, Semitic inscriptions, Hebrew inscriptions, Northwest Semitic epigraphy, epigraphic Hebrew, epigraphic Aramaic, Melqart stele, Ahab, Ahikam, Ahiqam, Ahaziah, Azzur, Balaam, Bala‘am, Baruch, Berekyahu, Bar-hadad, Ben-hadad, Beor, Be‘or, David, Esarhaddon, Gedaliah, Pashhur, Gemariah, Gemaryahu, Goliath, Hadadezer, Hanan, Hazael, Igdaliah, Immer, Joash, Jehoash, Jehucal, Jucal, Yehukal, Yukal, Jerahmeel, Josiah, Mikneiah, Miqneiah, Nebo-sarsekim, Rab-saris, Neriah, Shaphan, Shelemiah, Zechariah

Published in:

Maarav 16.1 (2009): 49–132.

Date of this Version
You can download the article as a PDF file from the linked web page. The article is long, detailed, and very technical, but you can read a summary of his conclusions on pp. 126-30.

Professor Mykytiuk and I had a discussion of this subject at PaleoJudaica back in 2004 (here and here; note also related later posts here and here). He now agrees with my initial instinct that the Baruch bullae should be treated as forgeries.

Alex Joffe on Mel Gibson's Maccabee movie

ALEX JOFFE: MEL AND THE MACCABEE (Jewish Ideas Daily). Excerpt:
But in some respects, few people are better equipped than Gibson to tackle the character of Judah Maccabee and the Jewish revolt against the Syrian Greeks, which took place from 167 to 160 B.C.E. In his 1979 breakthrough movie Mad Max, Gibson fought his way across the post-apocalyptic Australian outback. In the Lethal Weapon series, Martin Riggs, the Los Angeles detective played by Gibson was chronically on the edge of a breakdown. In the more recent Edge of Darkness, Gibson's homicide cop pursued his daughter's killer. Gibson's most iconic characters have been damaged loners who are roused by adversity to lead against-the-odds battles against injustice.

Gibson also has a long cinematic history with freedom fighters. In the 1995 Braveheart, of which he was director and star, he played the doomed 13th-century Scots leader William Wallace, driven by an outrage committed against his beloved into warring against the English. In The Patriot in 2000, he portrayed a South Carolina farmer drawn into the Revolutionary War after his son was brutally killed by the British. When it comes to reluctant heroes who "just snapped," no one does it better than Gibson.

Moreover, the biblical epic as a cinematic form in America is in grave need of a reboot.
Background here.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Columbus, the size of the earth, and 4 Ezra

COLUMBUS, THE SIZE OF THE EARTH, AND 4 EZRA: Over at Starts With A Bang!, Ethan Siegel has a nice post up on Who Discovered The Earth is Round? (HT James McGrath and Tom Verenna). It was, of course, the Alexandrian scholar Eratosthenes of Cyrene in the third century BCE. So, contrary to the old textbooks, Columbus knew perfectly well that the earth was a sphere. Indeed, the success of his project to sail to the Indies depended on his being able to circumnavigate it. These days, this is well known. But Ethan's last paragraph raises another point that is generally unknown (his emphasis):
If there's anything Columbus should be known for, as respects the size and shape of the Earth, it was using unrealistically low numbers for the circumference of the Earth! His estimates, that he used to convince others that one could sail from Europe directly to India (were the Americas non-existant), were absurdly small! Had the Americas not existed, he and his crew surely would have starved before reaching Asia!
Spot on. Now, as Theodore Sturgeon used to say, Ask the next question. Where did Columbus get his wildly inaccurate estimate of the circumference of the earth? (Or, at least, of the size of the ocean between Europe and the Indies.) The answer is from 4 Ezra 6:42-52:
[42] "On the third day thou didst command the waters to be gathered together in the seventh part of the earth; six parts thou didst dry up and keep so that some of them might be planted and cultivated and be of service before thee.
[43] For thy word went forth, and at once the work was done.
[44] For immediately fruit came forth in endless abundance and of varied appeal to the taste; and flowers of inimitable color; and odors of inexpressible fragrance. These were made on the third day.
[45] "On the fourth day thou didst command the brightness of the sun, the light of the moon, and the arrangement of the stars to come into being;
[46] and thou didst command them to serve man, who was about to be formed.
[47] "On the fifth day thou didst command the seventh part, where the water had been gathered together, to bring forth living creatures, birds, and fishes; and so it was done.
[48] The dumb and lifeless water produced living creatures, as it was commanded, that therefore the nations might declare thy wondrous works.
[49] "Then thou didst keep in existence two living creatures; the name of one thou didst call Behemoth and the name of the other Leviathan.
[50] And thou didst separate one from the other, for the seventh part where the water had been gathered together could not hold them both.
[51] And thou didst give Behemoth one of the parts which had been dried up on the third day, to live in it, where there are a thousand mountains;
[52] but to Leviathan thou didst give the seventh part, the watery part; and thou hast kept them to be eaten by whom thou wilt, and when thou wilt. (RSV)
My emphasis. The key point is the repeated assertion that the waters, that is the oceans, make up only one-seventh of the earth. Therefore, one might infer that the Atlantic ocean could not have been all that big and that it would not be a difficult project to sail across it to the Indies. Columbus, in fact, made this very argument to Ferdinand and Isabella using this text, and apparently they were convinced, since they gave him their support.*

The moral? Everyone should read the Old Testament pseudepigrapha, but don't use them to make your travel plans.

*For more details, see Alastair Hamilton, The Apocryphal Apocalypse: The Reception of the Second Book of Esdras (4 Ezra) from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment (Oxford: Clarendon, 1999), 27-29.

Cross-file under "Pseudepigrapha Watch."

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

NYU Dura-Europos exhibition opens Friday

Earliest Known Images of Christ on Display at NYU
Exhibition highlights religious coexistence and multiculturalism

By Laura Gilbert 9/20 7:20pm (New York Observer)

This Friday, the earliest known images of Christ, from the year 240, go on view in New York for the first time, and they aren’t where you might expect them to be. They are part of a remarkable exhibition at the relatively obscure N.Y.U. Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, a jewel-box of a museum on East 84th Street whose mission, according to exhibitions director Dr. Jennifer Chi, is “to break down preconceived notions of antiquity.”

“Edge of Empires: Pagans, Jews, and Christians at Roman Dura-Europos” does so with a vengeance, in presenting 77 objects from an excavation in Syria that fundamentally altered the understanding of art, culture and religion in the ancient world.


Art and artifacts of stunning historical importance were uncovered. The paintings of Christ are part of a series of New Testament scenes that exhibition co-curator Dr. Peter De Staebler said are “the earliest dated Christian art in existence.” ...
These images of Christ are not to be confused with any images that might happen to be on any fake metal codices.

Personally, I wouldn't say that I wouldn't expect to see such images (the real ones, that is) at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World. But PaleoJudaica has been following the career of the Institute since its founding was announced back in 2006, so it is not "obscure"—not even "relatively"—to regular readers here.

Background on the exhibition and on Dura Europos is here and links.

More on DSS exhibit in NYC

Dead Sea Scrolls: Life and Faith in Biblical Times Exhibition to Make World Premiere at Discovery Times Square in October
Exhibition Premieres Largest Collection of Holy Land Artifacts featuring 10 Dead Sea Scrolls on Display, Over 500 Biblical Era Artifacts Along With an Authentic Three-Ton Stone from Jerusalem's Western Wall

NEW YORK, Sept. 19, 2011 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/ -- ( ) -- Beginning October 28, the world premiere engagement of Dead Sea Scrolls: Life and Faith in Biblical Times will be held at Discovery Times Square (226 West 44th Street). This new exhibition features the most comprehensive collection of ancient artifacts from Israel ever organized, including one of the largest collections of the priceless 2000-year-old Dead Sea Scrolls displayed in North America and an authentic three-ton stone from the Western Wall in Jerusalem. This exhibition is created by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) from the collections of the Israel National Treasures and produced by Discovery Times Square and The Franklin Institute.

There are lots of new details, including information on the scrolls to be displayed:
The 20-scroll exhibit (10 scrolls displayed at a time, with 4 scrolls making their world debut) will include pieces from the biblical books of Genesis, Psalms, Exodus, Isaiah, and others.
Background here.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Byzantine-era site at Beer Sheva bus terminal

A BYZANTINE-ERA SITE is being excavated at the Beer Sheva bus terminal (Arutz Sheva):
“We've found a few large rooms at floor level preservation, with a lot of fallen walls, and a few floors,” [archaeology student Tamar] Gresser said in an exclusive interview with Arutz Sheva. “The interesting part are underground rooms which were dug into the natural earth, underneath the houses. The rooms are easy to detect because they are filled with very soft dirt, very different from the rock-hard natural earth. Most of these rooms will have a wall or two to strengthen the sides or the opening.”

So far, the archaeologists have found broken jars and numerous coins – so many, in fact, that in one of the rooms, “we found 52 coins in one day," Gresser said. "We think they may have been in a cloth or leather bag that decayed over the years, resulting in them being found scattered. That was exciting!”

Mandaean message on a bottle

MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE: Well, okay, on a bottle. James McGrath has made an interesting Mandaean (Mandean) discovery in that same British Museum database: Mandaean Artifacts in the British Museum.

A new fragment of Jeremiah in Coptic

ALIN SUCIU: A British Museum Fragment Purchased from Christie’s: New Evidence of the Book of Jeremiah in Coptic, discovered via the new searchable database of the British Museum.
However, examination of the photographs led me to the conclusion that the manuscript contains a portion from the Book of Jeremiah in Sahidic. More precisely, the Coptic text corresponds to Jer. 21:14-22:20 (LXX). The document is of particular importance as it supplies us with a passage from Jeremiah which was unknown in Sahidic.
Bit by bit, a letter at a time, whatever it takes. Until we're done.

More on the new Oxyrhynchus gospel fragment

NEWS ABOUT THAT NEW FRAGMENT OF AN UNKNOWN GOSPEL from the Oxyrhynchus papyri: Tony Burke relays a report by Brent Landau on a lecture by Dirk Obbink: New Unknown Gospel from Oxyrhynchus. The report has some other interesting information as well.

Background here and links.

Monday, September 19, 2011

On the Hekhalot literature

Ancient Kabbalah- Entering Heavenly Palaces

Part of: Kabbalistic Offshoots and Mystical Bends

Author: michal Schwartz — Published: Sep 16, 2011 at 1:11 pm 0 comments
BC Culture Premium

“Thus it is possible that in some Jewish texts, already beginning with antiquity, magic and mysticism can be regarded as two faces of the same coin. This is obvious in the Hekhalot literature.” (Moshe Idel)

Full of fantastic descriptions, Hekhalot (heavenly palaces) and Merkavah (Chariot) are ancient Hebrew mystical texts dating from around the second to the fifth century CE.

This is a companion piece to an earlier essay on Metatron etc. Very broadly it gives the novice reader some idea of what the Hekhalot literature is about, but there are errors and I want to go through the whole thing and nuance and revise. Some of the material in the texts may indeed go back to the second to fifth century CE, or even earlier, but the bulk of what we have now was composed roughly from late antiquity through the Genonic period (call it from the fifth to the tenth century) and edited by the European Haside Ashkenaz in the Middle Ages. Palmistry and reading the lines of the forehead are known from physiognomic texts related to the Hekhalot literature, but otherwise appears in only one early Hekhalot manuscript from the Cairo Geniza. And the Hekhalot texts do not teach how to call down evil angels. The good ones are quite dangerous enough.

And so on. Rather than continuing, let me just refer you to my article "The Hekhalot Literature and Shamanism," which introduces the texts, their contents, and their purposes as I understand them. As I have mentioned before, I am currently finishing my English translation of the Hekhalot literature, so such matters are much on my mind right now.

New DSS exhibition coming to Manhattan

A NEW DEAD SEA SCROLLS EXHIBITION is coming to Discovery Times Square in Manhattan on 28 October.

Review of Miles, "Carthage Must Be Destroyed"

A rival to ancient Rome that paid the ultimate price
September 18, 2011

By Richard Miles

Viking. 544 pp. $35.

Reviewed by John Timpane

You know a story is great when it grips you even when you know how it turns out.

I picked up Carthage Must Be Destroyed because I'd always wanted to know more about the famed ancient city, sited in what is now Tunisia. This center of power rivaled Rome for centuries. That rivalry culminated in the three Punic Wars, fought between 264 B.C. and 146 B.C., ending with the utter and horrific destruction of both Carthage and its culture.

Earlier reviews here and here and links.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Review: Fields, "The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Full History"

Weston Fields. The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Full History. Leiden: Brill Academic Pub, 2009. 608 pp. $99.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-90-04-17581-5.

Reviewed by Jaqueline Du Toit (University of the Free State, South Africa)
Published on H-Judaic (September, 2011)
Commissioned by Jason Kalman
In short, The Dead Sea Scrolls. A Full History is therefore, as the cover claims, an attempt at “a more complete account of the discovery of the scrolls and their history over the past 60 years since the first scrolls were discovered in a cave near the Dead Sea.” The project, of which this is only the first volume, was anticipated in 2006 by Fields’s The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Short History, also published by Brill. The current first of a projected two volumes of the “full history” (henceforth referred to as volume 1) sets out to record the history of the Dead Sea Scrolls from the moment of discovery in the late 1940s until the present day. Much necessary ink is spilt on the relationships between the primary actors in the drama of the scrolls’ discovery, purchase, reconstruction, decipherment, and the often less than successful attempts at publication of the first decade. As is to be expected, of the thirteen chapters, the predominant number (chapters 4 to 13) are devoted primarily to the discovery and management of what became known as the Cave 4 cache of fragments and the establishment of the international coterie of scholars that would become known as the “Cave Four Team”--a term Fields prefers to “International Team” or “International Committee” (pp. 191-192) for its emphasis on the nature of their work.

Job in Early Judaism at U. Tennessee, Knoxville

JOB IN EARLY JUDAISM at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Department of Religious Studies:
The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Department of Religious Studies, invites applications for a tenure-track assistant professor in Early Judaism to begin August 2012. PhD in a relevant field and teaching experience are preferred, but ABDs in the final stages of completing their dissertations will be considered. Preferred applicants will have a background in Religious Studies, teaching competence in Hebrew Bible, and knowledge of biblical Hebrew and other languages relevant to their research, and will complement existing UTK faculty in Religious Studies, Judaic Studies, and/or The Marco Institute for Medieval and Renaissance Studies. Possible periods of specialization include but are not limited to: Second-Temple Judaism, Rabbinic Judaism, Medieval Judaism. The Knoxville campus of the University of Tennessee is seeking candidates who have the ability to contribute in meaningful ways to the diversity and intercultural goals of the university.
Posted on the Hugoye list by Prof. Tina Shepardson. Follow the link for full details.