Saturday, July 28, 2012

Tisha B'Av

TISHA B'AV (The Ninth of Av) begins this evening at sundown. An easy fast to all those observing it.

Larry Hurtado on mythicism

LARRY HURTADO: The “Did Jesus Exist” Controversy and Its Precedents. Excerpt:
So in one sense I think I’m not alone in feeling that to show the ill-informed and illogical nature of the current wave of “mythicist” proponents is a bit like having to demonstrate that the earth isn’t flat, or that the sun doesn’t revolve around the earth, or that the moon-landings weren’t done on a movie lot. It’s a bit wearying to contemplate! And now, I really must get back to that essay.
I completely agree with Larry here and it is for this reason that I scarcely ever engage with mythicism. I'm glad people like James McGrath are willing to take the time to dialogue with some of the proponents, not because they are going to change their minds, but because some people who might otherwise be taken in will gain a better understanding of the real scholarly issues.

Most of the time I prefer to blog about actual discoveries and real scholarly controversies, although I do sometimes take up "controversies" such as Jewish-Temple denial, because even though the claims have no scholarly merit, they have a political impact, and it is worthwhile for a specialist to point out their vacuousness from time to time.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Off to the Colloquium Biblicum Lovaniense

I'M OFF TO LEUVEN for the Colloquium Biblicum Lovaniense, whose topic this year is Old Testament Pseudepigrapha and the Scriptures. I will be leading two seminars on the use of scripture in ancient Ezra pseudepigrapha.

I have already circulated a draft paper on "Seven Theses Concerning the Use of Scripture in 4 Ezra and The Latin Vision of Ezra" among the conference attenders. I don't have a short version to post here, but I will give you the opening paragraphs and the seven theses below. You can read an English translation of 2 Esdras here. No English translation of the long (more original) version of the Latin Vision of Ezra has been published yet but, as you will see below, that is about to change.

I have preposted something for each of the next several days, so do keep coming back, but I shall be very busy through the weekend and I don't know how much more I will be able to add. Have a good week.

The paper:
This paper sets out to explore the use and exegesis of scripture in two non-canonical works that circulated under the name of the biblical character Ezra. The first, 4 Ezra (2 Esdras 3-14) is well known and needs little introduction here. It is a Jewish apocalypse written around the end of the first century C.E. It survives mainly in a Latin and a Syriac version, as well as translations into a number of other languages from these. Both of these versions were translated from a now lost Greek version, which in turn may (or may not) have been translated from a Hebrew original.

The second, the Latin Vision of Ezra, is a new version of a Latin text known as the Vision of Ezra, which is found in three other recensions, all shorter than this one. The shortest is comparatively well known due to its being translated in the Charlesworth Old Testament Pseudepigrapha corpus. The long text survives in a single manuscript (B) that was published in 1984 by P.-M. Bogaert. An English translation by Richard Bauckham is forthcoming. The Latin work is a translation of a lost Greek work that is, however, preserved in part in heavily revised form in the Greek Apocalypse of Ezra. Bauckham has argued compellingly that the manuscript published by Bogaert is (in translation) the earliest surviving version of the text, on which the other Latin recensions and the Greek work depend and I will assume this in what follows. The Latin Vision of Ezra was composed in the second half of the fourth century C.E., if not earlier. The text before us is obviously a Christian composition, but the possibility that is it based on a somewhat earlier Jewish work cannot be discounted. This paper works from the surviving Christian document without regard to possible earlier recensions.

Two challenges for the study of the use of scripture in 4 Ezra and the Latin Vision of Ezra are worth noting at the outset. The first is that, although both documents make pervasive use of scripture, they only rarely quote it verbatim. We are thus left to work mostly with allusions and echoes. The second challenge makes the first even more difficult. The original text of both documents is lost and we are forced to rely on translations—and in the case of the Latin Vision of Ezra a revision of part of the document that remains in the original language but is so thoroughly reworked as to amount to a completely new version of the story. In addition, the lost Greek text of 4 Ezra, of which we have only the Latin and Syriac translations and those dependent on them, may itself have been a translation of a Hebrew Vorlage, in which case our surviving sources for the text are secondary and tertiary.

So then, as a result of our poor textual resources, our access to the use of scripture in these two works is mainly limited to infrequent quotations, general references to scriptural passages, allusions, and echoes. In addition it will require extra effort to study the use of scripture in these two documents with any fineness of detail and there will be a limit to the subtlety of our analysis which would not apply if we had them in their original languages. With all these factors in mind, this paper is intended only as a preliminary synthesis that seeks to pluck the low-hanging fruit. For the Latin Vision of Ezra my starting point has been the scriptural parallels collected by Bauckham in his translation, although I have used these selectively and added to them as other parallels became apparent to me. I have used various sources for scriptural parallels in 4 Ezra, along with my own observations. In neither case can I make a claim to anything like an exhaustive collection of references or analysis of them. Instead I have gathered obvious references to scripture in both works, looked at how these were used individually, and then drawn some generalizations that I have formulated into seven theses. I have said nothing about some passages and some references simply because they did not present me with patterns of scriptural use that struck me as interesting. Further study of them may well produce a different result. Some of my observations in what follows are not new, but such are applied in a new context that I hope will prove illuminating. This paper is intended to open a conversation, not close it.

Preliminary matters having been addressed, I now turn to the seven theses.

I. In the dialogues between Ezra and Uriel (4 Ezra 3-9), Ezra normally invokes the authority of scripture as the foundation of his arguments, while Uriel's arguments sometimes do the same, but more often he use scripture for atmosphere and his arguments rest on independent reasoning or even on simple divine authority.

II. The dream and its interpretation in 4 Ezra 11-12 offer a reinterpretation of Daniel 7. The reinterpretation is implicit in the content of the vision, but it is also said explicitly that God provides the new vision as a follow-up to the old one, with an improved interpretation.

III. The first section of the Latin Vision of Ezra (vv. 1-59f) uses scripture mainly as a source for laws transgressed by the damned and as inspirations for descriptions of the features of hell.

IV. The Antichrist passage in the Latin Vision of Ezra (vv. 69-78) draws mostly on the New Testament as inspiration for its description of the Antichrist.

V. Both 4 Ezra and the Latin Vision of Ezra use scripture to present Ezra as a Moses figure.

VI. The narrative of 4 Ezra is nearly oblivious to the scriptural background for Ezra himself, and is even contradictory to it. The Latin Vision of Ezra makes some use of Ezra traditions in scripture.

VII. The Latin Vision of Ezra also uses traditions from 4 Ezra to develop the figure of Ezra.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Review of Garb, Shamanic Trance in Modern Kabbalah

Jonathan Garb. Shamanic Trance in Modern Kabbalah. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011. x + 276 pp. $45.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-226-28207-7.

Reviewed by Ronald Kiener (Trinity College)
Published on H-Judaic (July, 2012)
Commissioned by Jason Kalman

Modern Kabbalah and Religious Studies

This is a book that can be recommended not only to researchers working in the field of Jewish mysticism, but also to colleagues working in the field of religious studies in general. Through its very provocative title--and then through well-argued but dense chapters--it raises three challenges to the formerly regnant contours of Jewish mysticism studies, which to this day have been dictated by the research agenda and ideological proclivities of Gershom Scholem. At least one of these challenges has been tackled by Jonathan Garb in earlier writings: the notion that there is a useful domain within the history of Jewish mysticism which can best be characterized as “modern Kabbalah.” The very term “modern Kabbalah” suggests that the developments, personalities, and movements of Jewish mystical thought of the last four hundred years (Lurianism, Sabbateanism, Hasidism, Mitnagdism, and all that flows therefrom) can be regarded as representing a revitalizing response of Jewish religiosity to modernism. This approach explicitly contravenes the Scholemian view that Hasidism represents the “latest phase” in the history of Jewish mysticism, and that after a few generations of initial mystical creativity, Hasidism experienced a decline and degeneration, marking a kind of end to the history of the movement.

Another potentially disconcerting challenge offered by the title of the book, shamanism is a domain of religious studies typically linked to rural South America or Asia. Garb successfully argues that modern Kabbalah can be readily understood as bearing numerous shamanic traits. One might begin the book with a sense that Garb is trying to fit a round peg into a square hole, but as the book unfolds the reader is compelled to accept that the traits of shamanistic phenomena are indeed present in modern Kabbalistic practice. For that matter, “trance” can be a slippery and fluid term, but by carefully delineating the difference between trance and concentrated meditation, Garb demonstrates that the many diverse streams of modern Kabbalah view the inculcation of trance states as an acme of the mystic way. These trance experiences are comparatively described by Garb as “shamanic” insofar as they oftentimes invoke and promote the same themes of power, transformation, and healing associated with shamanic phenomena.

I offered a somewhat analogous argument for shamanism as a useful framework for understanding pre-Kabbalistic Merkavah Mysticism in my book Descenders to the Chariot: The People Behind the Hekhalot Literature (Brill, 2001).

Training program for manuscript imaging

A NEW TRAINING Program for Scholars, conservators and researchers in the Use of Reflectance Transformation imaging (RTI) for Documenting ancient texts and artifacts including the Loan of Imaging Equipment

The University of Southern California’s West Semitic Research Project ( has received grants from the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to establish a Training Program in advanced imaging technologies for the documentation of ancient texts and artifacts with an initial emphasis on Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI). The IMLS and the Mellon Foundation have also funded the purchase of imaging equipment to support the Training Program.

The objective of this project is to develop an infrastructure for training scholars in the use of RTI technology and subsequently to lend the necessary imaging equipment to participants in the training program so they can do an initial RTI documentation project either in field environments (archaeological sites, etc.) or in libraries, museums and/or other similar venues, worldwide. This initial undertaking should be understood to be a pilot project that can develop into an ongoing, broader documentary
effort and preferably may also serve as the catalyst for establishing a consortial network for image documentation of a given corpus (or corpora) of ancient texts and/or artifacts. All equipment to be lent out is both rugged and compact and is thus ideal for doing sophisticated imaging in remote locations. Twenty-four awards over three years (approximately eight per year) for traineeships will be provided based on the merit and intrinsic importance of a proposed pilot imaging project as well as the appropriateness of the subject matter for RTI imaging.

Click on the link to download the full PDF document with detailed further particulars. "Decisions will be made on the initial round of applications by October 15, 2012." For more on Bruce Zuckerman and the West Semitic Research Project see here with many links. More on Reflectance Transformation Imaging here. For other manuscript imaging and conservation projects, see here and links. And lots more on manuscript digitization projects here and links.

Via the Agade list. Cross-file under "Technology Watch."

Berlin Postdoc on medicine and magic in the Talmud

POSTDOC ANNOUNCEMENT from the Agade list:
From Mark Geller (

Sonderforschungsbereich 980 "Episteme in Bewegung Wissenstransfer von der Alten Welt bis in die Frühe Neuzeit"

Wiss. Mitarbeiterin / Wiss. Mitarbeiter (Postdoc)
befristet bis 30.06.2016
E 13 TV-L FU

Aufgabengebiet / Tasks:

-The candidate is expected to be able to select all passages from the Babylonian (and Jerusalem Talmud where necessary) which are relevant to Greek medicine and Heilkunde.
-Magical passages will also be noted, and texts will be marked according to language (Hebrew, Aramaic), with manuscript variants noted.
-Texts will then be subject to comparison with Greek medical encyclopedias, as well as with older Greek medical writings, as examples of ancient Wissenschaften.

Einstellungsvoraussetzungen / Requirements:

-Ph.D. or equivalent training in Talmud

-Erwünscht / Requested:
Ability to translate Talmudic texts into good English, as well as experience with Talmud manuscripts. Willingness to participate in collaboration within the SFB network.

Knowledge of Greek useful but not essential, with interests in ancient medicine and ancient science.

-Bewerbungen sind mit aussagekräftigen Unterlagen bis zum 06.08.2012 unter Angabe der Kennziffer SFB980/2012/A03/Postdoc1 zu richten an die
Please send your application with the reference
SFB980/2012/A03/Postdoc1 until 06 August 2012 to:

Freie Universität Berlin
Topoi-Professur für Wissensgeschichte
Prof. Markham J. Geller
Topoi Haus
Hittorfstr. 18
14195 Berlin (Dahlem)

email applications accepted: and Agnes Kloocke .

first published

State Comptroller's report on Temple Mount still secret

C'tee: Comptroller's Temple Mount Report to Stay Secret

(Arutz Sheva)

The Security Subcommittee of the Knesset State Control Committee decided, Monday, after a further hearing that the State Comptroller's report on the Temple Mount, which was submitted in 2011, will remain confidential. Among the sensitive issues involved is construction by the Waqf Islamic Authority and the destruction of Jewish artifacts.

Via Joseph I. Lauer. Background here and links.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Ecological Metatron

The Metatron: Experimental Ecology Gets Connected

Erik Stokstad

Nestled in the foothills of the Pyrenees in France, an unusual new ecological laboratory called the Metatron is set to provide insights into how animals disperse across landscapes—a sometimes mysterious process that can be crucial to conservation. Composed of dozens of large, interconnected white tents laid out across a 4-hectare field, the sensor-rich facility will enable researchers to explore how factors such as light, temperature, and rainfall influence animal movements.

Footnote on DVD

FOOTNOTE is about to be released on DVD:
FOOTNOTE (Sony) A father and his son - both Talmudic scholars - clash over their work, particularly when the latter's gains favor. Israeli film, nominated for an Oscar for best foreign-language film, is a story of politics, ambition and conflict that might be mistaken for a mainstream Hollywood drama, if it wasn't a Hebrew-language film about research into arcane aspects of the Talmud. A stylishly inventive and playful film. In Hebrew with English subtitles. (PG; thematic elements, brief nudity, language, smoking) ***1/2
Background here and links.