Friday, December 21, 2012

Rees, From Gabriel to Lucifer

BOOK REVIEW by Tom Holland in The Guardian: From Gabriel to Lucifer: A Cultural History of Angels by Valery Rees. Excerpt:
... "In our increasingly secular age, when the presence of angelic beings seems remote and unreal, angel imagery still holds an immense power of attraction." So Valery Rees opens her new book, which aims to make sense of the dimension between heaven and earth, and to explain why so many people, for so long, have populated it with entire hosts of messengers.

In pursuit of that goal, Rees flits across space and time with an aptly angelic facility. Ranging from ancient Sumeria to the novels of Philip Pullman, and from medieval scholasticism to Jungian theory, the breadth of her learning is formidable. We are given accounts of the cherubim and seraphim that read almost like the reports of a field anthropologist, detailed biographies of the archangels, and a rich seam of angelological trivia. The next time you are at a carol concert and want to impress someone, why not follow up a rendition of "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" by revealing that the 15th-century philosopher Marsilio Ficino thought there were 399,920,004 angels in all, that the Qur'an features angels with three wings, and that Pius XII claimed to have seen St Peter's Square thronged with the guardian angels of the faithful gathered below him?

Yet ultimately, the sheer extent of Rees's researches overwhelm her. ...
Maybe, but I don't this it's fair to criticize her for this:
As a result, the parameters of her investigation are constantly shifting. Sometimes angels are described as though they possess an objective reality; sometimes as though they are expressions of the subconscious; sometimes as though they are theological constructs.
The reviewer writes as though these were mutually exclusive propositions.

Cosmic Day


Winter solstice celebrated at Stonehenge

Happy Yalda: The longest and darkest night of the year!

To be fair, those two normally go together. But it's not every year that they coincide with the Apocalyse:

Can you read this? Good, we’re still alive!

The day is not over though ...

Meanwhile, there are references to write, exams to second mark, and posts to blog before The End comes or the holiday break begins, whichever it is.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Categories of Sabbath-breaking

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN by Adam Kirsch in Tablet: Why the Sabbath Is Everything. This week, the Talmud’s rabbis explore possible holy day violations to determine the nature of the sinner.

And, once again, asking the important questions:
The very first question the Gemara asks about the Mishnaic catalog of melachot ("the kinds of labor prohibited on the Sabbath"), however, is an unexpected one—though after several months of reading Daf Yomi, I find myself recognizing it as a familiar example of Talmudic reasoning. “Why,” the rabbis ask, “do I need the number?” That is, why did the Mishnah preface its list by stating that it would contain 39 items? Surely the reader could have tallied them up himself. But it is a basic principle of Talmudic interpretation that every word, every sentence, of a text is there for a reason—whether it is a biblical verse or a line of Mishnah. What purpose, then, did the Mishnah have in mind when it gave this seemingly superfluous number?
Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.


TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Signed Checks Worth a Half a Billion Dollars Found at Kotel. Jerusalem police were left bewildered after finding signed checks worth around half a billion dollars at the Western Wall on Wednesday. (Arutz Sheva). "The honest finder handed them over in accordance with the law to the police lost property office. For now the checks are waiting for whoever lost them."

Some comment bringing in the Copper Scroll and the Treatise of the Vessels must be appropriate here, but I can't think of what it would be.

Chaldo-Assyrian latest

CHALDO-ASSYRIAN (ARAMAIC/SYRIAC) WATCH: Here are a few recent stories of relevance.

Pope accepts resignation of 85-year-old Chaldean Patriarch (CNA)

New Book on Assyrians (Donef, Assyrians Post-Nineveh) (AINA).

Southeast Turkey Monastery: Mor Gabriel Must Survive (Sebastian de Courtois, Al-Monitor)
Why is Turkey forcing a small minority it has vowed to protect to leave? Who is behind the dark designs against them? Who wants to close down one of the last remaining monasteries of Turkey? If this monastery is closed down, this will have a devastating impact on Turkey's image. The dignity of Turkish citizens will be stained by bad governance and a leadership which fails to take necessary measures to protect this monastery despite all the promises it made. The promise of the founder of the Turkish Republic was broken by those who have no respect for history. The monastery has had a difficult time during its legal struggle. Mor Gabriel must be allowed to exist freely.
Like the man says.

Background and additional reflections on the Mor Gabriel Monastery case here with many links back.

Google/Israel Museum DSS Project update

MORE DEAD SEA SCROLLS ONLINE: Israel puts 5,000 images of the Dead Sea scrolls online in a partnership with Google (AFP/ArtDaily).

More on the Google/Israel Museum Digital Dead Sea Scrolls Project here and here and links.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Mishnah manuscript online

THE CAMBRIDGE DIGITAL LIBRARY includes the full scanned text of an important manuscript of the Mishnah (MS Add.470.1, a complete, 15th century, Byzantine manuscript):
The text of the Mishnah describes the first written account of the early Jewish oral tradition and the earliest significant work of Rabbinic Judaism. It dates from the period of the second century BCE at a time when persecution of the Jewish populations gave rise to the fear that the details of the oral traditions dating from the first five centuries BCE might be lost. As a written authority it is second only to the Bible text and can be used as a source of authority for making judgements. The Mishnah is divided into six orders (Shisha Sedarim) and over the next six centuries, along with further commentaries, came to form the Talmud. The major part of the text of the Mishnah is written in Hebrew and reflects the debates which took place in the first and second centuries CE by a group of Rabbinic thinkers known as the Tannaim. It teaches by drawing on examples of specific judgements along with debates by notable Rabbis, and discusses problems from all areas of human existence.

This is one of only three complete manuscripts of the Mishnah, and considered to be 'an outstanding witness of the western type of Mishnaic Hebrew'. Of the manuscript, Schiller-Szinessy (vol. ii p. 9) writes: ‘Although this copy can lay claim neither to a very great age, nor to absolute correctness, we cannot hesitate to pronounce it to be a MS. beyond all price.’ Edited by W. H. Lowe, ‘The Mishnah on which the Palestinian Talmud Rests’ (Cambridge, 1883) – although that title can be considered inaccurate given more recent research on the manuscript.
Noted by the Talmud Blog on Facebook.

More on the Cambridge Digital Library here and links.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Van Henten, Early Christian Ethics

Early Christian Ethics in Interaction with Jewish and Greco-Roman Contexts

Jan Willem van Henten, University of Amsterdam, and Joseph Verheyden, Catholic University of Leuven

Early Christian Ethics in Interaction with Jewish and Greco-Roman Contexts focuses upon the nexus of early Christian Ethics and its contexts as a dynamic process. The ongoing interaction with Jewish, Greco-Roman or early Christian traditions as well as with the social-historical context at large continuously transformed early Christian ethics. The volume proposes a dynamic model for studying culture and its various expressions in a society composed of several ethnic and religious groups. The contributions focus on specific transformations of ethics in key documents of early Christianity, or take a more comparative perspective pointing to similar developments and overlaps as well as particularities within early Christian writings, Hellenistic-Jewish writings, Dead Sea Scrolls and Jewish inscriptions.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Herod the Great in the news

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS: Mark A. Clarfield asks in the Montreal Gazette: What killed Herod the Great? Excerpt (do not read if you have a weak constitution):
The grand mausoleum is still being excavated and is not yet open to the public — unless you happen to be accompanied by the archeologist who discovered it. (Sadly, in 2010, a few months after our tour, Netzer died as a result of a fall suffered at his beloved site.) As I took in the place, I couldn’t help but wonder what illness Herod died from. In the case of most ancient personages, we haven’t got a clue. But here, once again, Josephus steps into the breach. Quoting more contemporary sources (Herod had died several decades before Josephus wrote his own account), he describes the king’s symptoms:

“He had a fever, though not a raging fever, an intolerable itching of the whole skin, continuous pains in the intestines, tumours of the feet as in dropsy, inflammation of the abdomen and gangrene of the privy parts.” He also suffered, according to Josephus, from “limb convulsions, asthma and foul breath.”

The doctors of the day were, not surprisingly, flummoxed by this combination of symptoms. They used the contemporary therapeutic armamentarium, including immersing the patient in a bath of hot oil. But Herod received no relief, and the bath burned his eyes.

The clinically curious of today can turn to the more modern Historical Clinicopathological Conference put on by the University of Maryland, which brings experts together periodically to examine the death of a famous personage, and which recently tackled Herod’s case. The combination of symptoms was a challenging one, especially the presence of gangrene of the genitalia — something one does not see every day. The scientists used a clever bit of clinical reasoning and came to a tentative conclusion: chronic kidney failure of unknown cause complicated by the rare (thank God) Fournier’s gangrene of the testicles. There are other candidates, of course, such as syphilis or other sexually transmitted diseases, but the kidney diagnosis seemed to fit the symptoms best.
Joseph I. Lauer has also circulated a long list of earlier treatments of this question in an e-mail. One by National Geographic is here. Earlier discussions of Herod's (apparent) tomb at Herodium are here and follow the many links back.

Samaritans and genetic testing

Samaritans, an ancient sect, find new hope with genetic testing

By Edmund Sanders
Los Angeles Times

MOUNT GERIZIM, West Bank — When Ben Yehuda Altif got engaged to his first cousin Mazal, there was no problem winning the blessing of their families or the Samaritan high priest, who leads their ancient Israelite sect. Marriage between cousins is common in the religious community.

But there was still an obstacle. Like many Samaritan couples today, the pair had to pass a premarital genetic screening to predict the likelihood of having healthy children. Without the green light from doctors, the marriage would be off.

"Doctors said OK, and now we have a healthy, handsome boy," said Altif, 33, reaching for his wife's cellphone to show off pictures of their son.

Samaritans, who trace their roots back about 2,700 years, are best known for clinging to strict biblical traditions that have largely disappeared, including animal sacrifice, isolation of menstruating women and, until recently, a ban on marrying outsiders.

But after facing near-extinction and being devastated by a high rate of birth defects because of inbreeding, the community is using modern science — including genetic testing, in vitro fertilization and abortion — to preserve their way of life.


Over the last decade, the community also relaxed its restrictions on intermarriage, allowing in about 25 women, mostly Jewish Israelis and arranged matches with brides from Ukraine.

Samaritan leaders are reluctant to discuss their gene-pool shrinkage, but they estimate the rate of birth defects was once 10 times higher than the nationwide average.

But since adopting genetic testing, Samaritans say, the rate of birth defects among newborns today is normal, even though most people still marry inside the community, including to relatives.

This is a positive set of developments, at least for the short term. In the long term, increasing the genetic diversity of the community will become increasingly important, genetic screening or not.

Some past posts dealing with genetic issues for the Samaritans are here, here, here, and here.