Friday, April 06, 2012

Passover and Good Friday

PASSOVER begins this evening at sundown, and today is also Good Friday. Best wishes to all those observing them.

Also relevant: Piyyut and Modern Hebrew Poetry – The Passover Connection (Ophir Münz-Manor, The Talmud Blog).

Tangentially relevant: Jews reclaim Jesus as one of their own (Richard Allen Greene, CNN Belief Blog). For detailed evaluations of the recent books by Boteach and Boyarin, see here and follow the links.

ASOR blog on the antiquities market

ASOR BLOG: Buyer Beware: Shopping for Artifacts in the Holy Land (Morag M. Kersel). Excerpt:
Those in positions of political power acted on behalf of the dealing and collecting communities to ensure that the traditional enterprise of dealing in antiquities would be allowed to continue. While supporting a trade, the Antiquities Law of 1978 was passed with the intention of putting a stop to the illegal excavation of artifacts – by allowing a legally available supply of artifacts there should be no new looting. But various legal loopholes in the law and the ongoing battle to monitor the thousands of archaeological sites and monuments results in the ongoing destruction of the archaeological landscape in order to supply the burgeoning market demand.

Sabaean cemetery desecrated in Kirkuk

ALTHOUGH IRAQI KURDISTAN is a relatively safe area, Kirkuk continues to have many problems: Sabean graves desecrated in Iraq's Kirkuk (AFP).

The Sabean Mandeans (Sabaean Mandaeans) have had a hard lot in Iraq ever since the war. Background here and links.

Jesus Discovery/Talpiot tombs latest

I CONFESS that I have not been paying much attention to the Talpiot (Talpiyot) Tombs controversy lately, but fortunately James McGrath has. See Talpiot Tomb, Jesus Mythicism, and Related Round-Up and Into and Out of Tombs Round-Up at Exploring Our Matrix.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

ASOR Blog on looting and contextless artifacts

ASOR BLOG: April Theme: Fakes, Looting, and Artifacts Lacking Context.
ASOR and the guest editors hope to provide a venue for individuals to discuss and debate this important topic, which is certainly timely with the recent announcement of a verdict in the forgery trial in Israel. The judge in that case rightly observed that debate about the authenticity of unprovenanced artifacts and their importance (or lack of importance) should be discussed in an academic setting. The ASOR Blog seeks to provide such a venue for an open and civil discussion.
No posts on the topic have gone up yet. Now's your chance!

Dr. Elka Klein Memorial Travel Grant

Dr. Elka Klein Memorial Travel Grant
Dr. Elka Klein (1965-2005) was passionate about her profession as a historian and a teacher. Her untimely death in the spring of 2005 was a great loss to all who knew her, whether personally or professionally. In her memory, her friends and professional colleagues in the fields of History and Jewish Studies have created a fitting memorial to honor her dedication to and her achievements in her academic life.

A cash grant of $1500 will be awarded in Dr. Klein's memory to a doctoral candidate preparing to spend a semester or more of the 2012-13 academic year abroad conducting historical research towards his/her dissertation.

The grant recipient will be selected by a panel of scholars based on the relevance and potential contribution of the proposed work to the fields and concerns important to Dr. Klein, such as Sephardic culture, medieval history, gender studies, and Jewish studies.
The application deadline is 20 April. Follow the links for full details.

More on Karaite Passover

BRENDA GAZZAR writes in about
My family’s Karaite-style Passover

by Brenda Gazzar, Contributing Writer

Never mind the gefilte fish and brisket, the mass-produced, cardboard-like matzah and the kosher-for-Passover wine. Instead, Passover seder at my parents’ Karaite Jewish home includes a mouth-watering menu of barbecued lamb chops, crisp homemade matzah, sweet raisin juice and chewy almond cookies that stick to the roof of my mouth.

The yellowing, paper haggadah we use relies on biblical Hebrew verses that recount the Israelite Exodus from Egypt chanted in exotic, Oriental melodies. Ironically, the thin booklet was brought from my parents’ native Cairo during the community’s own exodus from Gamal Abdel Nasser’s pan-Arabist regime, more than four decades ago. Because my sister and I were raised in a Reform temple in the far-flung desert town of Barstow, we eagerly chanted the Four Questions and searched tirelessly for the afikomen. It was only much later that we came to know that those rabbinic, or mainstream, Jewish traditions had been conspicuously absent from my parents’ Passover seder in Cairo.

Background on the Karaites here and links. More on Karaite Passover here.

Google Art Project and Israel Museum

THE ISRAEL MUSEUM is going online with the Google Art Project: Google Art Project allows viewers worldwide to explore ancient exhibits at Israel Museum.

Google is already putting images of the Dead Sea Scrolls online. Background here and here and links.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Review of Grafton & Weinberg, "I Have Always Loved the Holy Tongue"

Anthony Grafton, Joanna Weinberg. "I have always loved the Holy Tongue": Isaac Casaubon, the Jews, and a Forgotten Chapter in Renaissance Scholarship. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2011. x + 380 pp. $35.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-674-04840-9.

Reviewed by Deborah Goodwin (Gustavus Adolphus College)
Published on H-Judaic (April, 2012)
Commissioned by Jason Kalman

Isaac Casaubon’s Christian Hebraism: From Margin to Center

This volume derives from the authors’ jointly presented Jackson Lectures, sponsored by Harvard University’s Department of Classics in 2008. The book bears felicitous traces of its origins in the spoken word. Joanna Weinberg and Anthony Grafton sustain a series of complex arguments, bolstered by meticulous detail and generous illustrations, with exceptional clarity and wit. Isaac Casaubon (1559-1614) was renowned as a classicist or philologist, and sometime controversialist for the cause of Reformed Protestantism. Grafton and Weinberg’s goal is to demonstrate that Casaubon was a “serious student of Jews and Judaism” (p. 4), a role heretofore unacknowledged. The authors achieve something larger: the reframing of convenient but limiting categories (“classicist,” “Hebraist”) to capture the unity of Casaubon’s scholarly and religious life. His great nineteenth-century biographer, Mark Pattison, focused on Casaubon’s achievements as a humanist and classical scholar, while deriding his study of patristics (and ignoring his study of Hebrew altogether). Weinberg and Grafton by contrast undertake to “study a classical scholar historically ... [a study that] by its nature [is] not easy to link with larger contexts, social, cultural, and religious, in which he lived and worked” (p. 9). They bring us the whole man in a series of involving, chapter-long “case studies” (p. 20; the term doesn’t do justice to the richness of argumentation and evidence presented in each chapter)

Earlier reviews are noted here.

Book review: Boyarin, The Jewish Gospels

DANIEL BOYARIN'S NEW BOOK is reviewed by Alan Brill at his blog, The Book of Doctrines and Opinions: Daniel Boyarin- new book The Jewish Gospel. (The book title actually reads "Gospels," plural.) Excerpt:
This is not at all like the ill-informed gibberish of Boteach who lacked any research skilled. Yet, I don’t know how this will play out among ordinary non-academic Jews. Boyarin does not accept Kosher Jesus and thinks that Rabbinic Judaism in its definition rejected it. This rejection of a “second power” by rabbinic Jews, begins a “heresiological” process in Christianity and Judaism. Polemics created the nascent borders, yet it was intellectual “smugglers who transported discourses [. . .] in both directions across the abstract frontier of the two groups.” In non-technical terms, Boyarin assumes that these positions were slowly rejected in the first centuries though self-definitions and polemics. They were no longer kosher by the end of the process.

In contrast, the academic field won’t accept all of Boyarin’s conclusions; however, they will embrace the book because he pushes the limit on questioning our essentialism and fixed boundaries of the first century.
The book by Boteach is noted here and links. More on Boyarin's book and his other work here and links.

Earliest Christian Graffito?

LARRY HURTADO: The Earliest Christian Graffito?
Perhaps because Bagnall doesn’t have a TV production company behind him, we haven’t seen this item in the daily news. But, while we wait to see what scholars make of the Talpiot tombs, and whether in fact we have a fragment of a 1st-century copy of the Gospel of Mark, here we have a published artifact that has strong claims for anyone interested in the origins of Christianity.

New book: Zawanowska, Karaite commentary on Genesis

The Arabic Translation and Commentary of Yefet ben ʿEli the Karaite on the Abraham Narratives (Genesis 11:10–25:18)
Edition and Introduction. Karaite Texts and Studies Volume 4

Marzena Zawanowska

This volume contains a critical edition of the Arabic translation and commentary on the Abraham narratives in the Book of Genesis (chs. 11-25) by the most prominent and prolific commentator of the Karaite “Golden Age,” Yefet ben ʻEli ha-Levi (10-11 C.E.). Yefet’s interpretation of the Abraham cycle establishes him as a highly original commentator and provides new insights into the history of exegesis of the book of Genesis. The edition is preceded by a comprehensive study of Yefet’s hermeneutic approach in comparison to that of other medieval commentators. Among the subjects discussed are Yefet’s view on the authorship of the Torah, his translation technique, literary aspects of his exegesis, and polemical overtones discernible in his commentary on Genesis. The study also includes a comprehensive survey of earlier commentaries on this book by other Karaite writers both prior to and contemporary with Yefet.
More on the Karaites here and links.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Sad News: Helmer Ringgren

THIS JUST IN from Viv Rowett, SOTS membership secretary:
I have had news from Prof. Bertil Albrektson of the death of the Society´s oldest Honorary Member, Professor Helmer Ringgren, Uppsala (elected 1973).

"He died on Monday, 26th March, at 94 years of age. The chief mourners are his three daughters and their families.

His last years were made difficult by serious eye trouble, which prevented him from reading, and he also suffered from leg problems, making him fairly immobile; he was not often seen outside his home.

He got his doctorate at Uppsala in 1947 and was a pupil of Geo Widengren, professor of Comparative Religion, and of the famous semitist H. S. Nyberg. He had held chairs both in Comparative Religion (Åbo, Finland, 1962-64), and in Old Testament Exegetics (Evanston, 1960-62; Uppsala 1964-83).

The funeral service will be held at Helga Trefaldighets kyrka (Holy Trinity church) in Uppsala 11th April at 3 p.m."
The Wikipedia article on Professor Ringgren (not yet updated with death date at this moment) is here. Requiescat in pace.

Review of The Golem

REVIEW: Ego Po's 'The Golem' updates ancient tales (Howard Shapiro, Philadelphia Inquirer). Excerpt:
The cast, which created the show as an ensemble work for Ego Po's season of Jewish-themed theater, tells the classic tale of a golem who tried to protect Prague's Jews from attacks during Passover, when priests spread libels about Christian blood in the Jews' matzohs.

That tale is told, though, in a revealing new context. Eight Jews, on a deportation train to what will be a death camp in 1941, tell one another the story as they barrel through Prague. They progress to other golem tales and, as they take parts in each, you realize they are searching for their own golem, though it - like others - will not really be able to stem the tide against them.

It's a great idea for a piece of theater. The troupe, directed by Brenna Geffers, performs The Golem with marionette puppets (by Martina Plag) and to original music by Andrew Nelson, which cast members play. The Eastern European Jewish music is highly derivative, which is precisely why it works here.
The reviewer thinks the performance was a little too intense and was still a little rough around the edges, although both could improve with practice.

Background to this production and to the Golem legend in general here and links.

Gorgias Syriac Bible Project

Announcing the Surath Kthob Series: The Syriac Bible with English Translation.

Gorgias Press is pleased to announce the launch of a new series called Surath Kthob that will make available the Syriac Bible in English translation. This series will provide, for the first time, a bilingual English-Syriac edition of the whole Syriac Bible. The English translation is close to the Syriac, but is idiomatic. The Syriac text is fully vocalized and pointed with Rukkokho and Qushoyo points. This is the first time a fully vocalized and pointed edition of the Syriac Bible is published in the serto script. This tremendous undertaking is being carried out by an international team of specialists. It is expected that this project will consist of 30 volumes, with the first 4-6 volumes published in the next 12 months. The Book of Isaiah is in press and will be followed early in the summer by the Gospel of Matthew.

Gorgias is running a limited-time special subscription rate for the first 100 individual subscribers at half price. The first 100 individual subscribers will be able to lock the price of all future volumes at $75 a volume. As this is a very costly project, it is expected that the list price will be $150/volume.
Both the vocalized texts and the English translations will be very useful. Follow the link above to the Hugoye post, where there are various links about the project and the discount deal.

Free stuff from ASOR

FOR YOU, SPECIAL DEAL: ASOR Journals’ Current Content Now Available for Free on JSTOR! Limited-time offer.

More on the Talmud in Arabic

THE TALMUD BLOG: The Babylonian Talmud, Now in Arabic (Yitz Landes). "Stay tuned for a full review of the edition in the coming months."

I will look forward to it.

Background here.

Biblical Studies Carnival

THE MARCH (OR IS IT APRIL?) BIBLICAL STUDIES CARNIVAL has been posted by Jim West at Zwinglius Redivivus.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Fun facts about the Lod Mosaic

IN CASE YOU WERE WONDERING: The Lod mosaic master wore size 43 shoes (Nir Hasson, Haaretz).
Whoever laid this mosaic worked neither quickly nor cheaply. Nagar believes the mosaic master was world-famous, and from the zoological repertoire, came from North Africa. Commissioned for this job, he would have arrived with a small entourage of assistants.

After his patron - probably a wealthy merchant - picked the designs from a catalogue, the master would begin planning. The space was leveled and then overlaid with stones and pieces of limestone for strength, followed by two layers of plaster. The master would then sketch the design with pigment powder and his assistants, artists in their own right, would begin the Sisyphean work of laying the tiny stones.

The floor is made of some two million such tesserae, measuring about 0.8 cm each. All were naturally colored and interspersed with pieces of glass especially made for the mosaic, and some were gilded. "That means the hall was not used by crowds - you don't use stones like that where a lot of people were walking," Nagar says.

Nagar says the work took about three and a half years, and at least three people worked on it, each with a distinctive style.

Something else distinctive about the artists has emerged: One wore a size 43 shoe, another was shorter and wore a 36, and women and children also worked on it. Nagar and his staff discovered this when the original plaster backing, revealed during the mosaic's removal, was found to contain footprints.

The antiquities authority and Padua University in Italy are now studying the footprints with laser scans and examining the plaster's make-up to learn more about the artists, such as their height and weight.
For those, like me, who are not immediately familiar with Israeli shoe sizes, Joseph Lauer helpfully posted the following on his e-mail list:
The 43 is about a 9.5-10 size men's shoe (and a 12.5-13 women's shoe) in the USA.
The 36 is about a 5.5-6 size women's shoe in the USA (and not even on the charts for men's shoes).
Much as I like giants, I am relieved to hear that the Lod Mosaic master was not one of them.

Background on the Lod Mosaic is here and here and links.

Zenobia on the Queen of Sheba

JUDITH WEINGARTEN discusses the Queen of Sheba traditions over at Zenobia: Empress of the East: Questions On the Queen of Sheba's Gold.

PaleoJudaica has been following the (supposed) archaeology of the Queen, as well as other aspects of the Queen of Sheba tradition, for a long time. See here, with many links. Incidentally, and further to Judith's comments, the Queen of Sheba got more out of her expensive visit to Solomon than just wisdom. At least according to the legends in the Kebra Negast she also came away with a baby who became the heir to her throne.

The translation of the Syriac version of The Questions of the Queen of Sheba by Sebastian Brock is being republished in volume one of the texts collected for the More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project, along with a new translation of the Armenian version by Vahan S. Hovhanessian. The volume should be out in the autumn of this year.

The Day of Slavonic Alphabet

THE DAY OF SLAVONIC ALPHABET is to be celebrated by and for Bulgarian Jews in Tel Aviv on 24 May.

Background here and here.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Another major discovery

JAMES MCGRATH: Fragment of the Original Copy of the Gospel of Mark Discovered!.

Another massively important discovery. What a day!

Important discovery at Khirbet Qeiyafa

LUKE CHANDLER: Rare anti-gravitational forces confirmed at Khirbet Qeiyafa.

Khirbet Qeiyafa. Always on the cutting edge of scientific research.

(Via Joseph I. Lauer.)

Review of The Temple Mount Code

THE TEMPLE MOUNT CODE by Charles Brokaw receives a highly positive review by Francis Moul at the Lincoln JournalStar: Review: Try 'Temple Mount,' which is Indiana Jones -- with class. Excerpt:
Brokaw writes a "wow" thriller -- but with a deep understanding of his subject. He, too, is a scholar and academic, a meticulous researcher and highly knowledgeable of the Holy Land. He is an accomplished linguist and brings a lifetime of study to his works.

It doesn't hurt that he also is a gifted writer who makes lively books.
My experience with such books is that they rarely live up to this sort of praise. Still, I havent seen this one, so I can't say whether any of this is true. But if Brokaw is such a gifted writer, why did he come up with a title that is such a cheap and transparent attempt to ride on the coattails of The Da Vinci Code? Of course it may be his publisher's fault, in which case I hope he is looking for a new publisher.

The book was noted earlier here.

Church Slavonic dispute in Bulgaria

CHURCH SLAVONIC is mixed up in a political controversy developing in the Russian Orthodox Church in Bulgaria:
Row over Russian churches in Bulgaria

Fri, Mar 16 2012 14:43 CET
byThe Sofia Echo staff

The Russian Orthodox Church in Bulgaria is wracked by controversy ahead of a scheduled April 2012 visit by Russian Patriarch Kirill, with some Bulgarian parishioners demanding the recall of the abbot in Sofia for allegedly sowing discord between Bulgarians and Russians.

Further, the abbot in Sofia is requesting autonomy for the Russian church in Bulgaria, which if granted would give it direct control over property including the landmark St Nikolay the Wonder-Worker church in central Sofia as well as, among others, the memorial church on the slopes of Shipka Peak.

Controversy began some weeks ago when the new abbot of the Russian church in Sofia, Filip, announced changes including his intention to have liturgies conducted in Church Slavonic instead of vernacular Bulgarian.

A significant proportion of those who attend the church in Sofia are Bulgarians and conducting services in ancient Slavonic would make the language inaccessible to them.