Saturday, October 13, 2012

More Christian Apocrypha article

TONY BURKE has published an article in the Bulletin for the Study of Religion on his More Christian Apocrypha Project: More Christian Apocrypha. The article is behind a paywall, but here's the abstract:
Scholars interested in the Christian Apocrypha (CA) typically appeal to CA collections when in need of primary sources. But many of these collections limit themselves to material believed to have been written within the first to fourth centuries CE. As a result a large amount of non-canonical Christian texts important for the study of ancient and medieval Christianity have been neglected. The More Christian Apocrypha Project will address this neglect by providing a collection of new editions (some for the first time) of these texts for English readers. The project is inspired by the More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project headed by Richard Bauckham and Jim Davila from the University of Edinburgh. Like the MOTP, the MCAP is envisioned as a supplement to an earlier collection of texts—in this case J. K. Elliott’s The Apocryphal New Testament (Oxford 1991), the most recent English-language CA collection (but now almost two decades old). The texts to be included are either absent in Elliott or require significant revision. Many of the texts have scarcely been examined in over a century and are in dire need of new examination. One of the goals of the project is to spotlight the abilities and achievements of English (i.e., British and North American) scholars of the CA, so that English readers have access to material that has achieved some exposure in French, German, and Italian collections.
Oh, and have I mentioned that the first volume of the texts translated for the More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project is in press and should be published in the next few months? And now—for you, special deal—you can pre-order at Amazon at a discount price!

UPDATE (14 October): Richard Bauckham has just pointed out to me that the abstract above incorrectly connects us with the University Edinburgh. That should be the University of St. Andrews. I should have noticed that. Comes of blogging on a Saturday afternoon, I guess.

Friday, October 12, 2012


AWOL: The New English Translation of the Septuagint Online. The second printing with corrections!

Phoenician identity crisis

PHOENICIAN WATCH: A Question of Middle East Politics: 'Phoenician, Lebanese, or Arab?' (Duke Today).
Speaking on "Phoenician, Lebanese or Arab: Crafting a Christian Identity in the Middle East" at the John Hope Franklin Center, North Carolina State history professor Akram Khater focused on his native Lebanon and how the many shades of religious, ethnic and civic identity there affected the country's history and its 1975 civil war and today continue to shape the current uprisings in the region.

The Phoenician merchant identity, the primary focus of Khater's lecture, arose in Beirut in the late 19th century following archaeological discoveries of ancient Phoenician artifacts. Phoenicia was a Mediterranean civilization of maritime traders that flourished from 1500 BC to 300 BC. Lebanese Christian scholars soon began to correlate the archaeological findings with their own ancestries and claimed to be the "heirs to the Phoenician nation."
As ever, ancient history is highly relevant to present-day Middle Eastern politics.

Circumcision controversy in NYC

THE CONTROVERSY over metzizah b’peh has resurfaced recently with a ruling in New York City which requires parents to sign a consent form before the procedure, which is mentioned in the Talmud, can be done. That ruling is now being challenged in court:
Jewish groups sue New York City over circumcision rule


Thursday, October 11, 2012 2:23:24 MDT PM

NEW YORK - Orthodox Jewish groups sued New York City on Thursday to try to block a new rule requiring parental consent for a circumcision ritual in which the circumciser uses his mouth to draw blood from the baby’s penis.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, says the regulation is unconstitutional and violates religious freedom by targeting a Jewish ritual.


Under the rule, parents must sign a consent form that says the health department advises that “direct oral suction should not be performed” because of the risk of contracting herpes.

The controversy has been around for a while. Earlier posts on it are here, here, here, and here. Efforts to ban or regulate circumcision tend to generate strong reactions, as Germany also recently has learned.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

More problems with the Gospel of Jesus' Wife

IT JUST KEEPS COMING: Jesus' Wife Fragment: Further Evidence of Modern Forgery (Mark Goodacre).

Background on the GJW is here and follow the links.

UPDATE: James McGrath: Jesus’ Wife: Internet Plagiarist?

Ephrem in context

EPHREM THE SYRIAN: A very brief introduction in the context of Syriac and modern Syria. Follow the first link too.

Orthodox women and Talmud

The female talmudists

By SAM SOKOL (Jerusalem Post)
10/07/2012 11:16

A small but growing number of women’s schools in Israel are providing talmudic education to their students.

Only several decades ago it would have been unthinkable for women to learn Talmud within Orthodox circles. The prevailing notion, which still holds sway over considerable portions of the haredi community, is that women have no place within the halls of Torah study and that their place is in the home. However, over the last few decades, and especially since the gains made by the feminist movement in bringing women into the workplace and academia on equal standing with men, Jewish women, both observant and not, have begun to study Torah on their own terms.

Related issues are noted in the posts here, here, here, and here.

Josephus and Jeremiah

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: Titus Flavius Josephus and the Prophet Jeremiah: Avishai Margalit contrasts the legacies of a historian and a prophet. You can read a summary of the BAR article at the link, but the full article is behind a paywall.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

New fragments of Codex Tchacos

ALIN SUCIU has identified some additional fragments from Codex Tchacos—the codex that contains the Coptic Gospel of Judas—in a collection at Lafayette College: Newly Found Fragments of Codex Tchacos. The fragments from the text that followed the Gospel of Judas in the manuscript; its title is Allogenes and it is also known from the Nag Hammadi Library of Coptic Gnostic texts.

Bit by bit, a letter at a time, whatever it takes. Until we're done.

Background on the Codex Tchacos and the Gospel of Judas is here and here.

Afghan "geniza" update

SAMUEL THORPE, a specialist in medieval Persian, reflect on the importance of the recently recovered Jewish manuscript hoard in Afghanistan: The Afghan Geniza.
In this light, the significance of this new find in Afghanistan is not only historical. For scholars of Persian—Jewish and non-Jewish alike—the documents help fill in the missing links in the development of the language from ancient times to the present.
I hope some of the manuscripts are published soon.

Via the Talmud Blog on Facebook. Background here and links.

Is Christopher Rollston being "disciplined" for a HuffPo essay?

THIS CONTROVERSY has been roiling in the biblioblogosphere for a couple of weeks. I have been following it and now seems like a good time to comment. The short version of the story is that there is rumor that Dr. Christopher Rollston, a fine Northwest Semitic epigrapher to whom I have linked often on this blog, is being "disciplined" by Emmanuel Christian Seminary, the institution where he works and where he is tenured, for a recently published essay at the Huffington Post: The Marginalization of Women: A Biblical Value We Don't Like to Talk About. The essay is completely uncontroversial: it simply points out that the cultural framework of the entire Bible in relationship to women is consistently (although not entirely unexceptionally) patriarchal and that this framework goes very much against the values of the twenty-first century.

There have been endless online posts etc. on the controversy (about Rollston being disciplined, not about patriarchy in the Bible; the latter, as I said, is uncontroversial). The following are some of the most informative ones:

Thom Stark: The Affair of Dr. Blowers and the Blog of the Three Young Men: A Response to Christopher Rollston’s Cultured Despisers

Thomas Verenna: On Academic Integrity and the Future of Biblical Studies in Confessional Institutions (Bible and Interpretation)

Paul Blowers: Academic Integrity within a Confessional Institution: An “Insider’s” Response to Thomas Verenna (Bible and Interpretation)

(The comments following the two Bible and Interpretation essays are also informative.)

There is good commentary and thorough linkage in the following:

Mark Goodacre: In Support of Christopher Rollston and Academic Integrity

James McGrath: In Support of Christopher Rollston

To return to the story, the rumor is well enough based to be very disquieting. A professor at Emmauel named Paul Blowers reportedly stated publicly on Facebook (in what he evidently thought was a private post) to someone (Thom Stark says "a former student") that he had drawn the attention of the institutional hierarchy to the essay and criticisms of it and that "We are looking at disciplinary action in the next few days." The post has since been deleted, but in the subsequent lengthy interchanges he admitted the post went up and has taken responsibility for it and apologized for posting it.

The real issues, which I have not yet seen either Professor Blowers or Emmanuel Christian Seminary address, are that, first, an academic at this institution has apparently violated fundamental confidentiality principles by disclosing an ongoing disciplinary case against a colleague to someone not involved in the case and, indeed, apparently someone not at the institution at all. That the improper disclosure went public through a misunderstanding of how Facebook works only exacerbates the breach of confidentiality and illustrates why rules of confidentiality exist in the first place. This is arguably an internal matter for the institution, but given that the issue has gone public, it can hardly be kept quiet now. (If Professor Blowers or Emmanuel College have commented substantively on this and I have missed it, I would be grateful for the link.  Apologizing for accidentally making the breach of confidentiality even more public is not addressing it substantively.)

The second issue is even more disturbing. Is the institution really contemplating disciplining Dr. Rollston for publishing a popular essay that simply presents some uncontroversial points about how women are viewed in the Bible and how this clashes with the values of our society? I frequently bring up many of the points that Chris raised when I teach my own classes at the University of St. Andrews. So do pretty much all other biblical scholars in other academic institutions. Is this a matter for discipline at Emmanuel? Is Christopher Rollston to be reprimanded, punished, or even fired for it?

Now there is much that we don't know here and we should not jump to conclusions. There have obviously been some mistakes made, and there is the danger of these reflecting badly on Emmanuel Christian Seminary. I hope this does not happen. The simplest way to settle matters is for the Seminary to make a public statement to the effect that there is a misunderstanding that Dr. Rollston is being disciplined for a recent essay that he published, but in fact this is not the case; that the institution fully respects his right to express his scholarly views in his areas of expertise in public venues; and that he is not being investigated or censured, nor is his position at the institution in any way compromised or in danger.

Problem solved.

I look forward to a statement from Emmanuel and I hope they produce it sooner rather than later. This controversy is not going to go away or get any better until the air is cleared.

UPDATE (15 October): Today Libby A. Nelson takes up the story at Inside Higher Ed, confirming that a disciplinary procedure is in progress and placing it a larger context: Tenure vs. Donors. Excerpt:
The article led to a very public disagreement with another member of Emmanuel’s faculty and a letter of rebuke from the seminary’s president, Michael Sweeney, who issued a less-than-veiled threat to Rollston: stop taking liberal positions that alienate donors and prospective students, or find another place to work.

Rollston has tenure, but Emmanuel professors can be dismissed for cause if they exhibit “behavior demonstrating that [they are] no longer in sympathy with the purposes and goals of the school,” according to the seminary’s faculty handbook. In an undated letter to Rollston, forwarded to Inside Higher Ed by a person who does not work at Emmanuel, Sweeney writes that the professor’s teaching style and the effect he has on his students “have demonstrably exacerbated our current financial problems. That, along with your recent blog, puts you at odds with the purpose and goals of the school... If you feel that you are unwilling or unable to change any of this, and, frankly, I am not even sure it is possible for you to do so at this stage, I strongly suggest you increase your efforts at finding a position in a university where people are not studying for the ministry."
The article has additional details and it quotes from and links to this PaleoJudaica post.

Ms. Nelson reports that she has communicated with President Sweeny by e-mail, so it appears that the letter is genuine:
Sweeney declined to comment because “at this stage no decisions have been made and we are handling things through our protocols,” he wrote in an e-mail to Inside Higher Ed. Both Sweeney and Rollston’s lawyer, Stephen Rush, to whom Rollston referred all questions, said that the professor is still employed and tenured at Emmanuel, although disciplinary proceedings are ongoing.
It appears that Emmanuel Christian Seminary finds itself in a difficult position. Naturally, they want a good relationship with trustees, affiliated institutions, and donors. But at the same time, dismissing someone from a tenured academic post is no small matter. The larger academic world is watching, and whatever decision they make could have an effect on their wider academic reputation and their future efforts to recruit high-quality academic staff.

UPDATE (17 October): In this post and the update on 15 October I mistakenly associated Inside Higher Ed with The Chronicle of Higher Education. Apologies for the error.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Magness to lecture at U of Iowa

LECTURE: Dr. Jodi Magness to Give E.P. Adler Lecture at the University of Iowa as part of National Archaeology Day (XKV8R).

Syriac Christianity Postdoc

Position Summary: The Department of History invites applications for a postdoctoral research associate position in the history of the medieval Middle East. The successful candidate will conduct research under the direction of Prof. Peter Brown as part of a project entitled "Topography and Hagiography in the World of Syriac Christianity." The candidate will assist in the preparation of a digital database of monasteries, centers of learning, production of manuscripts, activities of holy persons and cults in the Syriac world from ancient into early modern times, with a particular focus on the Syriac communities of the Church of the East.
This is a one-year post, with the possibility of a one-year renewal. The application deadline is 7 November. Follow the link for further particulars.

Columbus post

BELATEDLY FOR COLUMBUS DAY—this 2011 post seems worth revisiting: Columbus, the size of the earth, and 4 Ezra.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Samson, Joshua, and the sun

INTERESTING ARTICLE by Elchanan Reiner in Haaretz, arguing for the conflation of the Samson and Joshua traditions around sites in the Galilee which pick up their associations with the sun:
Samson follows the sun to Galilee
Local archaeologists have unearthed some seemingly out-of-place depictions of the sun god Helios in the mosaic floors of ancient synagogues. Can this be attributed to a link between the pagan god, the biblical hero Samson, and Joshua, who led the Israelites into the Promised Land?
The thesis really needs to be argued in a professional journal, but as it stands in this article it is worth a read. A couple of excerpts:
It appears that the figure of Samson should be viewed as part of the local culture of Galilee, whether as a whole or in part. So what led the inhabitants of the villages of the lower Galilee, at the foot of the Arbel and a bit north of there, in Huqoq − and perhaps in other places waiting to be discovered − to put a portrait of Samson in their synagogue, the community’s central building, despite the ostensible inappropriateness of the biblical story. To get to the bottom of this, we must try to interpret the place of Samson and similar figures in the Jewish culture of Galilee in the first centuries of the Common Era and try to understand the thinking of those who placed him in such a key position.


In this way, too, the grave of Joshua, the conqueror and settler of the land, was identified as overlooking the Arbel Valley. Joshua is the primary hero of the myth, of the constitutive story with which we are dealing. Hundreds of years later, Petahya of Regensburg, a 12th-century pilgrim, cites the early Galilean tradition thus: "And a very high volcano ... and far from it Nitai Ha’arbeli in the Arbel ... and in the middle of the mountain Joshua Bin Nun is buried."

Joshua’s burial is mentioned twice in the Bible, at the end of the Book of Joshua and again at the beginning of the Book of Judges. It’s the same description, word for word, with one exception. The name of the place where he is buried in Judges is Timnath-heres, whereas in Joshua the consonants are reversed: Timnath-serah, and with good reason. Whoever reversed the letters knew very well what he was doing and why he did so. However, the first part of the place name, Timnath, is the same in both formulations. The identification of Joshua’s grave in the Galilee, in the Arbel Valley, means the identification of Timnath in that same place, in the very area of the two early synagogues that located the figure of another biblical hero in its midst, the figure of Samson.

And thus the mythical-geographical space in which Samson acted was created. And thus Timnath, Joshua’s Galilean Timnath-heres, becomes the same Timnath where Samson carried out one of his most famous acts of heroism: "Then went Samson down, and his father and his mother, to Timnath, and came to the vineyards of Timnath: and, behold, a young lion roared against him. And the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him, and he rent him as he would have rent a kid, and he had nothing in his hand: but he told not his father or his mother what he had done" ‏(Judges 14:5-6‏). Here the figure of Joshua in Timnath comes close to the figure of Samson. They almost became one. Heres is a synonym of the more common Hebrew word shemesh and means "sun," as in Job 9:7: "Which commandeth the sun, and it riseth not." Thus Timnath-heres is Timnath-sun.
More on the Samson depiction in the Huqoq synagogue etc. here and links. And more on the Helios symbolism in ancient synagogues here. Note that the Talmudic-era magical treatise Sepher HaRazim includes a Hebrew transliteration of a pagan Greek invocation of Helios as part of a rite of the Fourth Firmament to give the practitioner a vision of the sun at night. There is no mention of Samson or Joshua, though. Here's the passage, in what is still a draft of my translation of Sepher HaRazim to go into volume two of the texts for the More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project. The italicized section is the transliterated Greek:
As you finish speaking you will hear the sound of thunder from the far north and you will see something like lightning going out and the earth shall glisten in front of you. And after you see this, prostrate yourself and fall on your face to the earth and pray this prayer:

"Hallowed east-rising Helios, good sailor, faithful guardian, trusty leader, who long ago established the mighty orb, holy director, very powerful, Lord, bright guide, absolute ruler, star-organizer, I, so-and-so son of so-and-so place my supplication before (Jer 38:26) you that you appear to me without dread and you be revealed to me without awe and that you not hide from me any matter (Jer 38:14) and that you tell me in truth all that I seek."

Stand on your feet and you shall see it in the north wind going eastward (cf. 1 En 72:5). Afterward turn your hands behind you and bow your head downward and ask everything that you wish.
Another recent archaeological discovery that has been connected to Samson (but I'm skeptical) is noted here.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

New book: Lewis, Introduction to "Gnosticism"

FORTHCOMING IN NOVEMBER: Nicola Denzey Lewis Introduction to "Gnosticism": Ancient Voices, Christian Worlds (OUP)
Discovered in Egypt in 1945, the fascinating and challenging Nag Hammadi writings forever changed our understanding of early Christianity. State-of-the-art and the only volume of its kind, Introduction to "Gnosticism": Ancient Voices, Christian Worlds guides students through the most significant of the Nag Hammadi texts. Employing an exceptionally lucid and accessible writing style, Nicola Denzey Lewis groups the texts by theme and genre, places them in the broader context of the ancient world, and reveals their most inscrutable mysteries.

Ideal for use in courses in Early Christianity/Origins of Christianity, Christianity to 1500, Gnostic Gospels, Gnosticism, Early Christian Writings, Orthodoxy and Heresy, and New Testament Studies, Introduction to "Gnosticism" is enhanced by numerous pedagogical features, including images of the manuscripts, study and discussion questions, annotated bibliographies, tables, diagrams, and a glossary.