Saturday, May 05, 2012

J. D. G. Dunn reviews The Jewish Annotated New Testament

ANOTHER REVIEW of Levine and Brettler, The Jewish Annotated New Testament, this one by Jimmy Dunn for Bible History Daily: How Jewish Is the New Testament? The Jewish Annotated New Testament.

(Via Mystical Politics.)

Earlier reviews etc. noted here and links.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Stick figures in antiquity?

ASKING THE OBVIOUS QUESTIONS (the kind we often forget to ask): Jason A. Staples wanted to know if people were ever drawn as stick figures (like the supposed one of Jonah in the drawing on that Talpiot/Talpiyot Tomb ossuary) in antiquity. Guess what he found? Stick Man Jonah More Unprecedented Than Previously Realized. As in, as far as he found so far, completely unprecedented.

This is one more issue to address for the proponents of the interpretation that the drawing depicts Jonah. It illustrates the importance of a principle I have already drawn on in this discussion. In making claims about what an ancient artifact or writing means, it is important to work from the known to the unknown, providing as many contemporary analogies as possible for each step of the argument.

Earlier posts on the Jesus Discovery/Talpiot Tombs discussion is here and links.

Larry Hurtado on the Septuagint

LARRY HURTADO has been blogging on the Septuagint and related matters lately: NT Studies and the Septuagint, More on the Septuagint, and TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism.

Testament of Isaac in Coptic

PSEUDEPGRAPHA WATCH: Alin Suciu: An Old Testament Pseudepigraphon in Coptic: Yet Another Manuscript from the Sahidic Version of the Testament of Isaac.

Otto Neugebauer and the higher education bubble

THIS REVIEW by Anthony Grafton (in The New York Review of Books) of Andrew Delbanco, College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be is worth reading for its coverage of the bursting higher education bubble in its American manifestation. But I'm excerpting it here for its anecdote about renowned historian of mathematics Otto Neugebauer:
Many years ago I asked Otto Neugebauer, a pioneering historian of mathematics and astronomy in the ancient world, about his education in pre–World War I Austria. Neugebauer was known both for his comprehensive histories and for his editions and interpretations of very difficult texts—mathematical and astronomical tables and horoscopes, preserved on cuneiform tablets, in Greek papyri and Latin manuscripts, and in many other sources and traditions. (Late in life, Neugebauer mastered Ethiopic and wrote penetrating work on Ethiopian astronomy and calendrics.)

I expected him to say something warm about his teachers at gymnasium, along the lines of the memoir in which another great émigré scholar, Erwin Panofsky, described the “lovable pedant” who taught him Greek in Berlin (this gentleman reproached himself in class for failing to notice a misplaced comma in a Greek text, since he himself had written an article on that very comma long before). Instead, Neugebauer told me that he had hated his secondary school. He received his diploma, he explained, only because he volunteered for the army, which led to several years of service in the artillery on the Italian front. And he did not begin to work at a high level until he went to university after the war.

It was surprising enough to learn that Neugebauer, whose brilliant, demanding lectures on ancient science had impressed even Richard Feynman, no admirer of the humanities, had ever been a less than brilliant student. But I was even more shocked when he went on to explain that he thought his experience typical of the only general principle about education that he had been able to distill from his career of many decades in German and American universities. I asked him to reveal it. He smiled and said: “No system of education known to man is capable of ruining everyone.”
Click Here

In recent years, I have often found myself thinking back to that conversation. For if the nature of education and the uses of four years of college could stir passions thirty years ago, when Neugebauer told me his story, they are now the objects of a debate, extensive and often intemperate, that rages in magazines, on the blogosphere, and in the political institutions that control public colleges and universities. Americans assert and challenge the value of both with a passion that shows how important they consider the subject and a lack of precise information that shows how little is actually known about it. Sometimes they make me nostalgic for Neugebauer’s secure understanding that the effects of education are always mysterious.
Aspects of Neugebauer's work on ancient astronomy and astrology are important for the study of ancient Judaism, especially the Enochic literature.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

News on the Afghan Jewish manuscripts

SHAUL SHAKED has given a lecture in Jerusalem on the Jewish manuscripts recently recovered in Afghanistan, and Shai Secunda, who was there, gives us a report at The Talmud Blog: The Afghani ‘Geniza’. A nice overview of the current status of the find, with a good many new details and some reflections on what may come next.

Background here and links.

Latest Biblical Studies Carnival

THE APRIL(-ish) BIBLICAL STUDIES CARNIVAL has been posted by Jonathan Robinson at ξἐνος.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Mysterious archaeological discovery

THIS MYSTERIOUS PRESS RELEASE from the Hebrew University has been circulated by Joseph I. Lauer:


Hebrew University archaeologist to reveal new findings at press conference and archaeological tour

On Tuesday, May 8, Prof. Yosef Garfinkel from the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem will announce an archaeological discovery with implications for archaeology, history and biblical studies. The announcement, including artifacts never seen by the public, will take place at a press conference on the Mt. Scopus campus. A tour of the archaeological site will follow.

—9 a.m.:
Registration, equipment setup and light breakfast
—9:30 – 11 a.m.: Press conference at Mt. Scopus campus
—12:30 p.m.: Tour of archeological site.

Senate Hall in the Sherman Administration Building, the Hebrew University’s Mt. Scopus campus.
—Directions by foot or by car here.

ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITE: Approximately 30 km. southwest of Jerusalem, in the Valley of Elah
—Directions will be provided at the press conference.

** REGISTRATION REQUIRED: In order to pass through Mt. Scopus security, reporters / photographers must fax an Entry Request Form to the Media Relations Dept. at 02-5880058. The form is available at **


Dov Smith, Foreign Press Liaison
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
02-5881641 / 054-8820860 / +972-54-8820860
Stay tuned ...

Golem responsum

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS: May a golem count towards a minyan?

It seems there is actually an early modern responsum on this issue.

Much Golem background here and links.

New book: Niehoff (ed.), Homer and the Bible

Homer and the Bible in the Eyes of Ancient Interpreters

Edited by Maren R. Niehoff, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Thus far intepretations of Homer and the Bible have largely been studied in isolation even though both texts became foundational for Western civilisation and were often commented upon in the same cultural context. The present collection of articles redresses this imbalance by bringing together scholars from different fields and offering prioneering essays, which cross traditional boundaries and interpret Biblical and Homeric interpreters in light of each other. The picture which emerges from these studies in highly complex: Greek, Jewish and Christian readers were concerned with similar literary and religious questions, often defining their own position in dialogue with others. Special attention is given to three central corpora: the Alexandrian scholia, Philo, Platonic writers of the Imperial Age, rabbinic exegesis.

4 Maccabees in Coptic

PSEUDEPIGRAPHA WATCH: Alin Suciu: Guest Post: Ivan Miroshnikov on 4 Maccabees in Coptic.

Matanyahu seal

In Archaeological Work the Israel Antiquities Authority is Conducting in the 2,000 Year Old Drainage Channel Remains were Discovered of the Closest Building to the First Temple Exposed so Far in Archaeological Excavations, and on its Floor – a Hebrew Seal Bearing the Name ‘Matanyahu’(April 2012)

The remains of a building dating to the end of the First Temple period were discovered below the base of the ancient drainage channel that is currently being exposed in IAA excavations beneath Robinson’s Arch in the Jerusalem Archaeological Garden, adjacent to the Western Wall of the Temple Mount. This building is the closest structure to the First Temple found to date in archaeological excavations.

In the excavations, underwritten by the Ir David Foundation, a personal Hebrew seal from the end of the First Temple period was discovered on the floor of the ancient building. The seal is made of a semi-precious stone and is engraved with the name of its owner: “Lematanyahu Ben Ho…” ("למתניהו בן הו..." meaning: “Belonging to Matanyahu Ben Ho…”). The rest of the inscription is erased.

From the very start of the excavations in this area the archaeologists decided that all of the soil removed from there would be meticulously sifted (including wet-sifting and thorough sorting of the material remnants left in the sieve). This scientific measure is being done in cooperation with thousands of pupils in the Tzurim Valley National Park. It was during the sieving process that the tiny seal was discovered.

People used personal seals in the First Temple period for the purpose of signing letters and they were set in a signet ring. The seals served to identify their owner, just as they identify officials today.

According to Eli Shukron, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “the name Matanyahu, like the name Netanyahu, means giving to God. These names are mentioned several times in the Bible. They are typical of the names in the Kingdom of Judah in latter part of the First Temple period – from the end of the eighth century BCE until the destruction of the Temple in 586 BCE. To find a seal from the First Temple period at the foot of the Temple Mount walls is rare and very exciting. This is a tangible greeting of sorts from a man named Matanyahu who lived here more than 2,700 years ago. We also found pottery sherds characteristic of the period on the floor in the ancient building beneath the base of the drainage channel, as well as stone collapse and evidence of a fire”.
Matanyahu means "gift of YHWH" and Netanyahu means "YHWH has given.

That drainage channel is a gift that just keeps on giving. See here, here, here, and here.

UPDATE: No pun was intended, but actually it's a pretty good one.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Review of Stone, Ancient Judaism: New Visions and Views

Michael E. Stone. Ancient Judaism: New Visions and Views. Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2011. xiv + 242 pp. $30.00 (paper), ISBN 978-0-8028-6636-3.

Reviewed by Jonathan Kaplan (Yale University)
Published on H-Judaic (April, 2012)
Commissioned by Jason Kalman

Looking Back and Looking Forward: Michael E. Stone on Method in the Study of Ancient Judaism

Michael E. Stone, professor emeritus of comparative religion and Armenian studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has produced an impressive oeuvre that ranges the breadth of scholarship on Second Temple Judaism. His studies of pseudepigraphic works, the transmission of Second Temple literature in Armenian, 4 Ezra, the literature related to Adam and Eve, and many other subjects serve as essential reference points for scholars undertaking research in these fields. In Ancient Judaism: New Visions and Views, Stone does not provide a synthetic treatment of Second Temple Judaism. In much the same way as he did in his earlier volume, Scriptures, Sects and Visions: A Profile of Judaism from Ezra to the Jewish Revolts (1980), Stone offers his appraisal of the state of the question on seven related topics. He seeks to present his understanding of the present debates in these areas as well as his unique perspective on the direction further research should take. As such, the essays in this volume leave the reader with many important questions to ponder about ancient Judaism.

An earlier review is noted here.

Job in ANE History and Aramaic at Chicago University

THAT JOB in Ancient Near Eastern History with an emphasis in Aramaic is still open. There's an advert in The Chronicle of Higher Education: Assistant Professor in Ancient Near Eastern History.
The Oriental Institute and the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations of the invite applications for a tenure-track position as Assistant Professor in Ancient Near Eastern History with a starting date in Fall of 2013.

Applicants must have the Ph.D. in hand before the appointment begins. The candidate should be a scholar of the pre-Islamic Near East who has synthetic research interests that address problems in ancient history. Demonstrated expertise in Aramaic language and texts is highly desirable.

Scholars whose research concerns the first millennium BC and the early first millennium CE, and whose expertise is with Aramaic texts from that interval (including, but not limited to, Imperial Aramaic, Palestinian Aramaic, Palmyrene, Hatran, Syriac) are encouraged to apply.
Follow the link to the advert for application details.

The deadline last year was 31 December, but now it is 1 September 2012. So go for it.

Review of The Jewish Annotated New Testament

That most Jewish of books
How does the New Testament appear to Jewish eyes? A new scholarly volume provides both close-up and wide-angle views of the Christian Bible’s 27 books, and reveals the Jewish underpinnings of nearly every part of it

By Benjamin Balint (Haaretz)
Tags: Israel culture Diaspora Jewry

The Jewish Annotated New Testament
edited by Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler
Oxford University Press, 700 pages, $35
The most detailed review of this book I have seen yet. Excerpt:
In “The Jewish Annotated New Testament,” Amy-Jill Levine, of Vanderbilt Divinity School and author of the 2006 book “The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus,” has teamed up with Marc Zvi Brettler, a professor of Bible at Brandeis University, to reclaim the New Testament as an integral part of Jewish literature. The result is a landmark volume that in its reading of the New Testament as a Jewish text reverses the usual direction of appropriation − with sometimes surprising effect.

The bulk of the book is a verse-by-verse annotation by 27 renowned Jewish scholars ‏(oddly, not a single Israeli among them‏), one for each of the New Testament’s books, demonstrating the texts’ deep indebtedness to early Jewish theological motifs, stylistic conventions and exegetical impulses.

The second part of the volume consists of 30 essays on historical and religious topics − such as messianic movements, midrash and parables in the New Testament, Jesus in Jewish thought, the Septuagint and the Dead Sea Scrolls − designed to enlarge the scope of the commentaries.

These close-up and wide-angle views combine to offer a fascinating bifocal study in literary influence.
Earlier reviews etc. here and links.

Mughrabi Bridge petition rejected by Supreme Court

Supreme Court Rejects Mughrabi Bridge Petition
The Supreme Court rejected a petition by the Temple Mount Faithful demanding permission to build a new bridge to the Temple Mount

By Gabe Kahn (Arutz Sheva)
First Publish: 4/24/2012, 6:39 PM

Supreme Court justices Eliakim Rubinstein, Uzi Fogelman and Tzvi Zylbertal on Tuesday rejected the appeal from "The Temple Mount Faithful" calling for the reconstruction of the Mughrabi Bridge.

The present Mughrabi Bridge, which connects the Western Wall Plaza to the Temple Mount, has been closed to the public since it was condemned as unsafe by civil engineers.

The group argued that courts have already said the Jerusalem Municipality could destroy the current bridge and build a new one, but that various government offices at the national level have refused to give their permission.

The Jerusalem Municipality informed the court that it has already approved building permit for a new Mughrabi Bridge, but that the government had interfered citing "special circumstances due to the present sensitivity of the Temple Mount."

However, since the petition was filed, the Jerusalem Municipality has updated its position saying that it will seek to remedy the safety issues with the present bridge and rescind the permit to build a new one.

For the seemingly unending saga of the Mugrabi (Mughrabi, Moghrabi) Gate Bridge, go here and keep following the links back. For the unpublished State Comptroller's report on the Temple Mount mentioned in the article, go here and follow the links.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Samaritan Passover

SAMARITAN PASSOVER is late this year, because it's a leap year for the Samaritans.
Re-enacting Passover Exodus at Mt. Gerazim

04/30/2012 10:30

Samaritans to perform ancient rite of animal sacrifice, which is unique among the world's monotheistic faiths.

Unperturbed by the uncertainties of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the world's smallest ethnic community will gather Friday, May 4 on Mount Gerizim for the biblical observance of Passover.

The article has a lot of interesting detail, especially about the ceremony itself. Here's a taste:
Elazar, wrapped in a prayer shawl, leads a semi-circle of heads of families in the rhythmic chanting of Hebrew verses from the Samaritan Pentateuch describing the Exodus from Pharaoh's bondage. The archaic Samaritan pronunciation of Hebrew differs considerably from Israel's standard Sephardi usage, and speakers of modern Hebrew have difficulty in following the service.

Other men and boys have readied the sheep for slaughter, binding them by the feat in an earthen altar, a shallow 2.15-meter long trench lined with stones. At a signal from the High Priest, the 28 sheep are slaughtered, one for each clan, evoking an ecstatic outburst of cheering, chanting and clapping by the entire assembly. Their white robes splattered with blood, the ritual butchers raise their bloodied knives into the air, embrace and kiss each other's forehead and on the cheeks of their children. Boiling water is poured over the sheep, the carcasses stripped of their fleece, gutted, salted and impaled on spits for baking. The two ovens, rectangular, concrete lined pits dug into the earth, are covered with shrubs and wet clay. The fleece and fat are set aside as a burnt offering. As the sacrifice slowly bakes in the fire-pits, more prayers are chanted. Then all the community retires indoors to remove their white clothing, emerging dressed in rough garments and heavy shoes, with staff in hand and bundles on their back, ready to re-enact the Exodus.
More on the Samaritan Passover here and links. And here is another recent post on the Samaritans.

More on the DSS in Philly

THE PHILADELPHIA EXHIBITION of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which starts next month, is covered in detail in the Jewish Exponent:
And So It Is Written

April 25, 2012 - Robert Leiter, Jewish Exponent Staff

Risa Levitt Kohn always gets a kick out of people telling her they've seen the Dead Sea Scrolls.

What these folks mean, the professor of Hebrew Bible and Judaism at San Diego State University said, is that they've been to Jerusalem and visited the Shrine of the Book adjacent to the Israel Museum.

But even the well-visited Shrine has only seven scrolls, she explained, whereas the collection of the Israel Antiquities Authority numbers 900 manuscripts, which together have been described as the most significant antiquities discovery of the 20th century.

A whole new series of scrolls will fill "The Dead Sea Scrolls: Life and Faith in Biblical Times," when is opens at the Franklin Institute on May 12.

The exhibit will feature the largest collection of the 2,000-year-old manuscripts ever assembled in North America, including never-before-seen scrolls, according to Levitt Kohn, who co-curated the exhibit with the Antiquities Authority's Debora Ben Ami.

Background here and links.

Priestly mikvehs in the Galilee?

Israeli researcher: Mikvehs show that Galilee cave dwellers were likely kohanim

The caves in which the purification baths were found were 'caves of refuge,' where Jews who lived in the area sought shelter under Roman rule.

By Eli Ashkenazi (Haaretz
Tags: Israel archeology Galilee

A fifth mikveh has been found in the caves on the Galilee's Cliffs of Arbel, indicating that the people who lived there under Roman rule were most likely kohanim, Jews of the priestly class, said Yinon Shivtiel, one of the researchers who found the ritual bath.


Shivtiel and Vladimir Boslov of the Hebrew University's cave research unit have already discovered 500 caves of refuge during the comprehensive survey they've been conducting under the auspices of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

To reach this particular cave, the two researchers had to scale a cliff "with our fingernails," as Shivtiel put it.

"The preparation of mikvaot in these refuge caves, sites that are difficult to access and are not meant for routine living but for times of distress, teach us the deep religious need for facilities for ritual purity," said Shivtiel. "The preparation of mikvehs in these places is not amazing just because of the physical difficulty in digging them, but because in doing so one needs to cope with all the specifics of Jewish law that a mikveh demands, primarily a source of flowing water and an immersion area that has a specific volume."

The mikveh builders at Arbel assured supplies of natural water by either building the ritual baths directly under still-dripping stalactites or by digging tunnels from the mikvehs to outside the rock wall, so that runoff from rainwater could accumulate.


Sunday, April 29, 2012

Mark Goodacre—slanderer?

MARK GOODACRE: Accused of slander for criticizing the "Jesus Discovery" claims. Mark writes, in part:
I was disappointed to see Nicole Austin, Associate Producer on The Resurrection Tomb Mystery documentary (The Jesus Discovery in Canada), characterizing this blog as engaging in slander. In a comment on Robert Cargill's blog today, she responded to Paul Regnier who had asked her a question about the scholars working on the project. She wrote:
You are repeating the same slander which has dominated the Cargill/West/Goodacre blogs and has kept the majority of true scholars away from this discussion.
Nicole, who works for Associated Producers Ltd., goes on to make other rude remarks, mentioning me by name again, but it is the accusation of slander that I find especially disappointing.
Yes, I find it disappointing too, and, frankly, astonishing. Is this really the sort of accusation Associated Producers Ltd. wants to associate itself with? Both Bob Cargill and commenter "Deane" have pointed out that Ms. Austin is herself using legal language here (and Deane notes that she is using it inaccurately: "slander" refers to spoken defamation whereas "libel" refers to written). In any case, the accusation against Mark of any kind of defamation has no merit and I challenge her to demonstrate otherwise.

I am not a lawyer and would never think of dispensing legal advice, but, speaking entirely for myself, I would be very cautious about going around making legal accusations against people in print unless I had some pretty compelling evidence to back them up.

I see from the comments on Mark's blog post that I am not the only one who is wondering where James Tabor is while this is going on. He has been very vocal in defending the Jesus Discovery project, as of course is his right, and indeed his duty if his professional opinion supports it. He has not commented so far, either on the original XKV8R blog post (after Ms. Austin's comments) or on Mark's blog post or on his own blog. I know it's the weekend, and I myself was having a life yesterday and didn't blog, but I hope we hear some clarification from him soon about Ms. Austin's accusation and his position on it.

It is a pity that someone so closely associated with the project and documentary has taken the conversation in this direction, since it makes discussion of the actual evidence all the more difficult.

Background on the Jesus Discovery/Talpiot (Talpiyot) Tombs controversy is here and follow the many links back.

UPDATE: The PhDiva makes a comeback to comment: The "Jesus Discovery" Slander etc ...