Saturday, February 11, 2012

More on the early Mark manuscript

DR. DANIEL B. WALLACE has posted more information on the (reportedly) first-century manuscript of the Gospel of Mark at the Dallas Theological Seminary website: Dr. Wallace: Earliest Manuscript of the New Testament Discovered?. The relevant section of the post is:
On 1 February 2012, I debated Bart Ehrman at UNC Chapel Hill on whether we have the wording of the original New Testament today. This was our third such debate, and it was before a crowd of more than 1000 people. I mentioned that seven New Testament papyri had recently been discovered—six of them probably from the second century and one of them probably from the first. These fragments will be published in about a year.

These fragments now increase our holdings as follows: we have as many as eighteen New Testament manuscripts from the second century and one from the first. Altogether, more than 43% of all New Testament verses are found in these manuscripts. But the most interesting thing is the first-century fragment.

It was dated by one of the world’s leading paleographers. He said he was ‘certain’ that it was from the first century. If this is true, it would be the oldest fragment of the New Testament known to exist. Up until now, no one has discovered any first-century manuscripts of the New Testament. The oldest manuscript of the New Testament has been P52, a small fragment from John’s Gospel, dated to the first half of the second century. It was discovered in 1934.

Not only this, but the first-century fragment is from Mark’s Gospel. Before the discovery of this fragment, the oldest manuscript that had Mark in it was P45, from the early third century (c. AD 200–250). This new fragment would predate that by 100 to 150 years.
Very interesting, although as others have already pointed out, paleographic analysis generally can't pinpoint a date more precisely than about a fifty-year range at best. That means that if we start with the generally accepted date of composition for Mark of 70 CE, we would be hard-pressed to distinguish a late first century script from one from the early second century, especially if the sample is small. Which, of course, would be impressive enough.

But I maintain an open mind about the precision of the dating until the manuscript is published and numerous Greek paleographers have been able to evaluate it. Meanwhile, I am still baffled as to why "one of the world’s leading paleographers" would be happy to have his "certain" paleographic judgment made public, but would be unwilling to attach his name to it. Come on, who is he? I double dare him to come forward.

(Via John Byron's The Biblical World blog.)

Background here and links.

UPDATE (13 February): Peter Williams has a post on this new information at ETC: First century Mark fragment and extensive papyrus And a number of textual critics weigh in with comments.

Visiting PT post in Second Temple & Rabbinic Judaism

JOB at Brown University:
From: "Jacobson, David"
List Editor: "Mendelsohn, Adam D"
Editor's Subject: JOB: part-time visiting position in the area of Jews and Judaism in the Second Temple and Rabbinic periods, Brown University
Author's Subject: Employment notice--please post
Date Written: Thu, 9 Feb 2012 16:25:57 -0500
Date Posted: Fri, 09 Feb 2012 22:04:34 -0500

The Program in Judaic Studies and the Department of Religious Studies at Brown University in Providence, RI seek to fill a part-time visiting position during the academic year 2012-2013 in the area of Jews and Judaism in the Second Temple and Rabbinic periods. The successful applicant will teach one course each semester and will serve both undergraduate and graduate students. S/he will also be invited to participate fully in the intellectual communities of both units. Questions for further information and CVs of applicants should be sent to < >.
(From the H-Judaic list.)

Friday, February 10, 2012

Rabbi Boteach's book and the Historical Jesus

BOOK REVIEW in The Forward:
It's 'Kosher' To Accept Real Jesus?
Boteach Book Seeks To Strip Away Distortions of Christ

By Adam Gregerman
Published February 09, 2012, issue of February 17, 2012.

Kosher Jesus
By Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
Gefen Publishing House, 263 pages, $26

Despite Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s best efforts in “Kosher Jesus,” some Jewish teachers and their messages are not worth reclaiming. Whether because of their fanciful interpretations of the Bible or their odd religious agendas, they are best ignored. I have in mind not Jesus but Hyam Maccoby, the late, idiosyncratic religion scholar. Boteach says that his writings were, “more than any other works of scholarship,” his most trustworthy guide to early Christianity and essential to his efforts to construct a portrait of Jesus the Jew.

Maccoby, in works from the 1980s and ’90s, claimed that Paul — a conniving gentile pretending to be a Jew — distorted Jesus’ starkly political message. Boteach seems not to know that this strange, conspiratorial reading has been almost universally rejected by scholars since it appeared. Indeed, Boteach, relying on Maccoby’s speculations, goes further. He presents this questionable historical reconstruction to buttress a religious argument that modern Jews and Christians should embrace Jesus as a model of devotion to both God and the people of Israel.

A “kosher” Jesus, Boteach argues, is the “authentic” Jesus: a Torah-observant Jew and an active opponent of Rome. Sadly, he notes, New Testament authors falsely presented him as an antagonist of his own people and of the Torah. Also falsely, they saw him as divine. Once these distortions are removed, Jews need not shun him, and he even can serve as a bridge between Jews and Christians.

Boteach’s work depends on retrieving the historical Jesus from the character portrayed in Christian tradition. One commonplace is that such reconstructions usually end up resembling the people doing the reconstruction. Liberal Christians find a liberal Jesus; conservative Christians find a conservative Jesus. While Jews historically ignored or lampooned Jesus, modern Jewish scholars sympathetic to him (such as Abraham Geiger and Martin Buber) also fit this model, praising or criticizing qualities with which they agreed or disagreed. Boteach sees a Jesus in his own image, but his reconstruction is nevertheless distinctive.

I've not seen the book, but if the review is accurate, it has a lot of problems.

The last paragraph quoted above highlights a central weakness of Historical Jesus studies, as I have noted before. And, of course, the sources themselves seem to present rather different pictures of Jesus, which does not help matters. Back in 1988 John Dominic Crossan wrote a very perceptive article* that took up this problem and asked "What did Jesus say and do that led, if not necessarily at least immediately, to such diverse understandings?" Some such attempt to jump out of the system and produce a meta-reconstruction of the Historical Jesus with this as guiding principle has always seemed to me to be a promising way forward, but I haven't kept up with Historical Jesus studies enough to know if anyone has run with it. What I have seen over the last couple of decades shows no sign of such an approach.

*"Divine Immediacy and Human Immediacy: Towards a New First Principle in Historical Jesus Research," The Historical Jesus and the Rejected Gospels, Semeia 44: 121-140, quotation from p. 125.

UPDATE: Bad link now fixed. Sorry about that.

More commentary on early Mark manuscript

MORE BLOG COMMENTARY on that supposed first-century manuscript of Mark:

Larry Hurtado: Newly-Identified Early New Testament Fragments? Larry notes that the fragment seems to be part of the Green Collection (and therefore connected to that supposed second-century manuscript of Romans).

John Byron: Earliest Copy of Mark Found? John is cautiously optimistic.

Follow the links in both posts for more Biblioblogospheric reactions. PaleoJudaica background is here.

Adin Steinsaltz receives Israel Presidential Prize

Israel: Rav Steinsaltz Tapped for Presidential Prize

(Thursday, February 9th, 2012) (The Yeshiva World)

HaRav Adin Even Yisrael Steinsaltz has been selected as the first recipient of the Presidential Prize the selection committee announced today, Thursday, 16 Shevat 5772. The committee is made up of President Shimon Peres, former president Yitzchak Navon and former president of the High Court of Justice Meir Shamgar.

Rav Steinsaltz was a recipient of the Israel Prize in 1988 for his outstanding contribution to the field of education. The rav was hailed by Time Magazine as a “once-in-a-millennium scholar”.

Arutz Sheva also notes the story and lists the five other recipients of this year's Prize: State of Israel Honors Kissinger, Steinsaltz, Mehta.

Background on the Steinsaltz Talmud translation (into Modern Hebrew) is here with many links.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

SBL Call for Papers?

APPARENTLY the Society of Biblical Literature opened its call for papers yesterday for the 2012 annual meeting in Chicago. I have been expecting to receive e-mail notification when it happened, but nothing has arrived. But in any case, you can find information on the SBL website here.

A computer algorithm for Greek paleography

AN ARMY OF (STUDENT) PALEOGRAPHERS is teaching a computer algorithm how to transcribe the Oxyrhynchus papyri:
Excavators find treasure in Egyptian trash heap
University experts are trying to match Greek letters to symbols found on ancient fragments of papyri.

By Jill Jensen (
2012 / 02 / 09

University of Minnesota students can be a part of discovering history by helping researchers decipher Greek characters on 2,000-year-old fragments of ancient papyri discovered in Egypt.

Their participation could also help develop an algorithm to faster assess data in different disciplines — the sole responsibility of the University in the project.

The team is collaborating with the University of Oxford in the Ancient Lives project to translate papyri preserved in Egypt since about the third century B.C.

The damaged fragments are available online for the public to identify and match Greek letters in order to translate works. About 120,000 people participate internationally.

“You don’t need to know Greek,” said Marco Perale, papyrology and Greek language expert.

Only 30 percent of ancient Egyptian works have surfaced, Perale said. Other literature is alluded to in books or poems but wasn’t copied down by scribes and monks.

Lost works, like a book of poetry by Greek poet Sappho, have been deciphered since the excavation of the papyri from a trash heap in Oxyrhynchus, Egypt.

The project has the potential to unveil those treasures as well as develop an algorithm to speed up computers when deciphering data in any discipline.

Background on the Ancient Lives Project is here.

Cross-file under "Technology Watch" and "The Singularity is Near."

More on new DSS in NYC exhibit

MORE ON THE NEW SCROLLS at the Discovery Times Square exhibition:
Dead Sea Scrolls get new life

Written By John R. Quain

Published February 08, 2012 (

The most extensive public display of 2,000-year-old Biblical documents just got a refresh.

At the Discovery Times Square exhibit “The Dead Sea Scrolls: Life and Faith in Biblical Times," a new set of 10 documents have been installed to replace the previous set on display. The new collection includes a section from the book of Isaiah and two scrolls never before seen by the public, “Greek Minor Prophets” and “Job Targum.”


Among the newly installed scrolls is a section from the book of Isaiah, which will resonate with many Christians. Also included in the copy of Psalms are passages that will be instantly recognized by Jewish visitors as these words from thousands of years ago are still part of services today.

Background here and links.

Talmud Blog Book Club latest

THE TALMUD BLOG: Definite Article – The Book Club II. Responses to Zvi Septimus’ article “Trigger Words and Simultexts: The Experience of Reading the Bavli."

Background here.

New book: Henze (ed.), A Companion to Biblical Interpretation in Early Judaism

A Companion to Biblical Interpretation in Early Judaism, ed. Matthias Henze (Eerdmans 2012)

A Companion to Biblical Interpretation in Early Judaism presents eighteen commissioned articles on biblical exegesis in early Judaism, covering the period after the Hebrew Bible was written and before the beginning of rabbinic Judaism. The essays, all written by experts in the field, are arranged in seven categories: Hebrew Bible, Rewritten Bible, Qumran Literature, Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments, Wisdom Literature, Hellenistic Judaism, and Biblical Interpretation in Antiquity. Together these essays provide a systematic and comprehensive introduction to the diverse modes of scriptural interpretation practiced by a variegated and dynamic spectrum of Jewish groups in the Hellenistic and early Roman eras.
(HT James Tucker on FB.)

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

SBL call for papers: Christian Apocrypha

TONY BURKE: Christian Apocrypha at 2012 SBL. Once again, the Society of Biblical Literature has put off the opening of their 2012 call for papers until tomorrow. Meanwhile, in many places in the blogosphere and on discussion lists, SBL groups are making the announcements independently.

Hurtado on The Annotated Jewish New Testament

LARRY HURTADO has posted a reviewlet of The Jewish Annotated New Testament, eds. Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler (Oxford University Press, 2011). He reports that he will have more to say in a panel discussion later this year.

I noted the book a couple of months ago here.

Review of Koosed, Gleaning Ruth

Jennifer L. Koosed. Gleaning Ruth: A Biblical Heroine and Her Afterlives. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2011. xiv + 173 pp. $39.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-57003-983-6.

Reviewed by
Talia Sutskover (Tel Aviv University)
Published on H-Judaic (February, 2012)
Commissioned by Jason Kalman

The Book of Ruth: New Insights

Gleaning Ruth, by Jennifer L. Koosed, examines the characters of the book of Ruth and their relationships, and offers a pleasurable reading and learning experience. In part, it is pleasurable to read because in some of the chapters the author draws on her personal experience where it is relevant to her subject. For instance, in the second chapter, titled “Agricultural Interlude No. 1,” the author gives the reader a glimpse into her childhood summers in the branches of a cherry tree in Ohio. This writing technique does indeed have an effect on the reader, because through contemporary personal experience, we are gently taken into the ancient world of gleaning, the making of bread, and altogether, of surviving. The reader acquires a better understanding of the world of Ruth, and is better prepared for the fresh perspective presented in the book.

Koosed’s Gleaning Ruth is a also pleasurable learning experience, because aside from the author’s new findings, the discussion of each of the topics contains a thorough scholarship survey. Careful attention is given not only to the author’s own conclusions but to those of other interpreters, as well. I find that Koosed often offers a new and even brave perspective on various topics. For instance, when commenting on Agn├Ęs Varda's documentary The Gleaners and I (2001), she writes, “Even though Varda does not mention Ruth in her documentary, the biblical heroine might easily be considered a shadow presence, following behind and beside the contemporary gleaners Varda documents” (p. 6). Linking a modern documentary with the book of Ruth, even though there is no explicit reference in the documentary, and constructing an interpretation based on this link is, in my view, a courageous and creative act of interpretation.

Follow the first link for the full review. Sounds lightweight but still interesting.

Templeton Foundation grant and conference

THE TEMPLETON FOUNDATION is offering support for projects on the philosophical theology of early Jewish texts. Announcement on the H-JUDAIC list:
From: "Mendelsohn, Adam D"
List Editor: "Mendelsohn, Adam D"
Editor's Subject: CFP: "Philosophical Investigation of the Hebrew Scriptures, Talmud, and Midrash," Jerusalem, July 2012
Author's Subject: CFP: "Philosophical Investigation of the Hebrew Scriptures, Talmud, and Midrash," Jerusalem, July 2012
Date Written: Tue, 7 Feb 2012 11:01:00 -0500
Date Posted: Wed, 07 Feb 2012 11:01:00 -0500

In Fall 2010, the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, with the generous support of the John Templeton Foundation, launched an initiative aimed at developing a Jewish “philosophical theology” that will seek to advance the study of the ideas of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Talmud and Midrash in the academic setting. This initiative is part of a broader “Analytic Theology” project of the Templeton Foundation, which will also support Christian centers for philosophical theology at the University of Notre Dame and the University of Innsbruck, Austria. The Jewish component of the project envisions the development of a uniquely Jewish discipline that will use philosophical tools and methods for examining classical Jewish sources. The project is open to Jewish and non-Jewish scholars interested in the philosophical elucidation of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Talmud and Midrash.

In the context of this project, the department of Philosophy, Political Theory and Religion (PPR) at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem invites submissions for an interdisciplinary conference on “Philosophical Investigation of the Hebrew Scriptures, Talmud and Midrash,” to be held in Jerusalem on July 22-26, 2012.

For more information, follow the link above.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Workshop on Ancient Religion, Modern Technology

WORKSHOP at Brown University on 13-14 February: Ancient Religion, Modern Technology.
This workshop will explore the intersection of ancient religion and the digital humanities. Can digital tools not only allow us to do our work faster and more thoroughly but also enable entirely new kinds of research? How might different digital data (e.g., textual, geographic, and material culture) be used together most productively? One session is devoted to “nuts and bolts” issues of funding, starting, and maintaining a digital project.

There will be a "pre-workshop" session on Monday, February 13, 10 AM - 12 PM. This session will introduce some general tools and concepts of use to digital humanists.

The workshop is free and open to the public. All sessions will take place in the Petteruti Lounge, located in the Stephen Robert '62 Campus Center at Brown University.
Follow the link for the tentative program, etc.

(HT James McGrath, who flags a paper on Digital Analysis of Mandaic Manuscripts.)

New DSS in NYC

THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS EXHIBITION at Discovery Times Square is being refreshed: NYC's Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit has 10 new scrolls (AP). Lots of interesting variety in the new collection.

Background here and links.

Tu B'Shevat

TU B'SHEVAT, the New Year for Trees, begins tonight at sundown.

BNTC 2012 call for papers

THE BRITISH NEW TESTAMENT SOCIETY has issued a call for papers for its 2012 meeting on 6-8 September at Kings College London. As ever, Darrell Hannah and I are chairing the NT & Second Temple Judaism Seminar.

UPDATE: I haven't forgotten my promise last week to link to the Society of Biblical Literature call for papers, but they keep putting it off. It's currently scheduled for tomorrow. We'll see.

More on the Torah scroll fraudster

DOROTHY LOBEL KING has been on this story too, and she too saw problems when it was coming out some years ago: Rabbi admits Torah tales were a fraud.

Background here.

Monday, February 06, 2012

A first-century copy of the Gospel of Mark?

DANIEL B. WALLACE, of Dallas Theological Seminary, has announced (in a debate with Bart Ehrman, reported on Professor Wallace's blog, Parchment & Pen) that numerous very early manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark New Testament, including one (of the Gospel of Mark) from the first century, are soon to be published: Ehrman vs Wallace: Round Three. The relevant passage of the post:
He [Professor Ehrman] answered the second question by saying that we really don’t have any early manuscripts. But this again is a huge overstatement. We have as many as eighteen second-century manuscripts (six of which were recently discovered and not yet catalogued) and a first-century manuscript of Mark’s Gospel! Altogether, more than 43% of the 8000 or so verses in the NT are found in these papyri. Bart had explicitly said that our earliest copy of Mark was from c. 200 CE, but this is now incorrect. It’s from the firstcentury. I mentioned these new manuscript finds and told the audience that a book will be published by E. J. Brill in about a year that gives all the data. (In the Q & A, Bart questioned the validity of the first-century Mark fragment. I noted that a world-class paleographer, a man who had no religious affiliation and thus was not biased toward an early date, was my source. Bart said that even so, we don’t have thousands of manuscripts from the first century! That kind of skepticism is incomprehensible to me.)
Well, I look forward to the book, but in the meantime I am cordially skeptical of the claim about the supposed first-century date of one manuscript—and I'm sure Professor Wallace will understand that kind of skepticism. As pointed out by a commenter at Exploring Our Matrix (noted below), claims have been made in the past that first-century fragments of New Testament texts, including Mark, were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, but specialists have not found the case convincing.

At this point all we have is an extraordinary assertion, presented with no evidence and on the authority of a "world-class specialist" who, very oddly, is not named. (Wouldn't he want his name to be associated with any announcement of such an important find?) As always with such things, I remain skeptical until I see compelling evidence, but I would be delighted to be convinced.

Note the recent similar report that a first mid-second-century copy of Romans has been found in a private collection. As far as I can find out, no further substantiation has been offered for this one.

If you know any more about either of these manuscripts and are willing to share (either confidentially or for blog publication), please do drop me a note.

(HT James McGrath at Exploring Our Matrix.)

UPDATE: Reader Roberto Labanti has e-mailed to correct a couple of errors (peripheral to my argument) which I have now corrected. Sorry about that.

UPDATE (7 February): I sense that my skepticism is shared by some textual critics.

UPDATE: I see that Mark Goodacre is skeptical as well. Plus, he brings Doctor Who into the discussion.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Phoenician bling

Another in PaleoJudaica's series on ancient bling:
A golden exhibit for Spain

February 4, 2012 • Lead, Sevilla • 4 Comments (The Olive Press)

IT has been kept locked away for years, with the public only having seen it five times since it was first discovered.

But now an ancient hoard of gold jewellery has gone on permanent display at the Archaeological Museum in Sevilla.

The so-called Carambolo Treasure is made up of 21 elaborately worked 24-carat gold pieces that together weigh almost three kilos.

Nice bracelet.

More bling here and links. Also, just possibly, here (with more links here).

Another review of the NYC DSS exhibit

A SUPERCILIOUS REVIEW by Jenna Weissman Joselit in The Forward, which emphasizes the elements of tourist tackiness in the exhibition: Thou Shalt Suspend Disbelief: Dead Sea Scrolls Come to Times Square Tourist Land. Excerpt:
Columnist, historian, curator and occasional ethnographer, I came to West 44th wearing a number of hats, all of which put me at some remove from the proceedings at hand. But what about everyone else? Why were they there, and what did they take with them as they emerged from the gloom into the bright light of Broadway? I suspect that what drew most visitors to the display and sustained their spirits as they waited patiently on line was the opportunity to be in the presence of texts that had, arguably, been in the presence of Jesus or his followers.

Much like a reliquary, “Dead Sea Scrolls” dissolved the temporal boundaries between past and present, enabling those in attendance to connect the early history of Christianity and its context with their own contemporary display of faith. For them, visiting the exhibition was an exercise in affirmation.
The queue to see the Ten Commandments scroll does sound like it was unpleasant.

More reviews here and links.