Saturday, March 09, 2013

Klawans promoted

CONGRATULATIONS TO JONATHAN KLAWANS: Full Professorships Awarded to 17 Faculty (BU Today).
Jonathan Klawans, CAS professor of religion
A leading scholar on ancient Judaism, Klawans has taught courses on subjects ranging from the Hebrew Bible to the Dead Sea Scrolls to ancient Jewish history. His most recent book is Josephus and the Theologies of Ancient Judaism.

Schiffman on sabbath law


Friday, March 08, 2013

Leviticus: video game, Talmud, and tattoos

CAN'T MAKE IT UP: Leviticus, the Video Game.
Titled Leviticus!, the game, as its title suggests, is both irreverent and deeply faithful to the source text—all that business about doves and cows and purity is right there in the book. But whereas Leviticus is too thick with rules to make for a very compelling read, it’s perfect when played.

This insight came to the game’s creator, Sarah Lefton, in shul. It was Yom Kippur, and she was davening but feeling not only hungry but burned out. Leafing through the machzor, she stumbled across a reading from Leviticus 16, detailing the high priest’s obligations on Judaism’s holiest day. Lefton—the executive director of G-dcast, a nonprofit that produces animated shorts of biblical texts designed as educational tools—read on, fascinated. It didn’t take long for the epiphany to hit her.

“The whole book is a series of rules,” she said. “It’s all about how the priest should do this but shouldn’t do that, and if he did something a certain way, something will happen, and if he didn’t, it won’t. It’s just a bunch of rules with rewards and punishment, and that’s what games are.”

The book of Leviticus (in the context of a rather weird Talmudic discussion) also comes up in an article about how Drew Barrymore is having her tattoos removed in order to convert to Judaism for her new husband: The Tattoo: Stil Taboo?
The Talmud (Sanhedrin 103b) records a bizarre dispute about a tattoo that King Jehoiakim of Judah had on his male organ. Interpreting the “abominations … found upon him” (II Chron. 36:8) as a tattoo, one rabbi averred that it consisted of the name of a pagan deity, while another rabbi disagreed, stating that in fact it was the name of God that had been inked there.

Another Talmudic passage (Makkot 21a) indicates that the dispute about Jeoiakim’s tattoo may hinge upon the interpretation of Leviticus 19:38 (“You shall not … make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the Lord”). According to the first rabbi (echoed many centuries later by Maimonides), the Jewish aversion to tattoos is part of its age-old polemic against idolatry, contravening God’s declaration that “I am the Lord,” especially when paying explicit homage to a foreign god. In the view of the second sage, however, the biblical ban on tattoos is non-rational, rooted in divine fiat. As such, the most egregious type of tattoo, the most audacious rebellion against Jewish tradition, is specifically one that contains God’s name.
And while we're on the subject of tattoos, note this recent post on an unfortunate Aramaic one, as well as this post, which collects references to tattoos in ancient languages, many of which did not turn out well.

2.8 petabytes

I REMEMBER WHEN A GIGABYTE WAS A LOT: Good Lord! Vatican Needs 2.8PB Of Hard Disk Space To Digitize 40 Million Pages Of Ancient Manuscripts.

More on this and other manuscript digitization projects here and links.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Aramaic-tattoo pirates beware

STEVE CARUSO: Aramaic Tattoo Troubles: An Email I Wrote. It will be interesting to hear whether he got his ten bucks.

UPDATE (8 March): Much more on tattoos here.

Cyrus cylinder latest

THE CYRUS CYLINDER AGAIN: A King's Manifesto (WSJ). With some thoughts on Thomas Jefferson. Looks like a pretty balanced treatment.

Background here and links.

Locusts latest

GOOD NEWS AND BAD NEWS. The good news: Israel Escapes Locust Plague — For Now. The bad news: Rabbi warns locust-eaters: insects may not be kosher.

New Chaldean patriarch enthroned

CHALDO-ASSYRIAN WATCH: Iraqi Chaldeans enthrone new patriarch (AFP). The former patriarch also retired at age 85. With the Egyptian Copts also recently enthroning a new Pope, this is adding up to quite a turnover in these circles.

Cross-file under "Aramaic Watch."

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Forthcoming: Hekhalot Literature in Context

REBECCA LESSES: Hekhalot Literature in Context" to be published by Mohr Siebeck.
The papers from the "Hekhalot Literature in Context" conference, which was held at Princeton a couple of years ago, are going to be published this spring by Mohr Siebeck. I have a paper in this volume, "Women and Gender in the Hekhalot Literature."

Hekhalot Literature in Context: Between Byzantium and Babylonia

Edited by Ra'anan Boustan, Martha Himmelfarb and Peter Schäfer
Follow the links for details.

Ancient compliance with rabbinic rulings

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN by Adam Kirsh in Tablet Magazine: Leave the Jewish People Alone: Rabbis left enforcement of their Talmudic decrees to communal standards and voluntary commitment.
However, Rava bar Rav Chanan points out in a rare moment of empirical candor, “We see that people do these things, and we do not say anything to stop them.” Why is it that the rabbis, who have so many decrees to enforce, allow these particular ones to be ignored? Here the rabbis are following a surprising principle: “Leave the Jewish people alone, and do not rebuke them. It is better that they be unwitting in their halakhic violations and that they not be intentional sinners, for if they are told about these prohibitions they may not listen anyway.”

This struck me as a pretty amazing statement. The Talmud, which is nothing but tens of thousands of rules for the Jewish people to follow, now tells us to “leave the Jewish people alone”! ...

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

BNTC 2013

THE 33RD ANNUAL MEETING OF THE BRITISH NEW TESTAMENT SOCIETY is in St. Andrews on 29-31 August 2013. Registration for the 2013 British New Testament Conference is now open and you can book online here.

The conference coincides with the celebrations of the 600th anniversary of the founding of the University of St. Andrews and indeed commences on the day after the 600th anniversary of Pope Benedict XIII's issuing of the Papal Bull confirming the privileges of the University (28 August 1413).

ASOR fundraiser

THE ASOR BLOG: March Fellowship Madness 2013.
It's that time of year again! March Fellowship Madness is a month-long drive to raise as many fellowship dollars as possible, so we can get more students in the field! Last year, 80 donors joined in the madness and gave over $9,000. That meant that ASOR was able to award nine additional travel scholarships! That's nine additional scholars who were able to conduct field research and expand our knowledge of the ancient Near East. How many more students can we send to the field this year?
Follow the link for details. And here's a testimonial from fellowship recipient Caroline Carter: The Platt Fellowship Changed My Life. Many years ago, when I was a doctoral student, I got an ASOR travel fellowship to do archaeology for a summer in Israel and it was a very good experience.

The New Yorker on the Cairo Geniza

THE CAIRO GENIZA is profiled in some detail by Emily Greenhouse in The New Yorker: Treasures in the Wall.
Oxford and Cambridge are longtime rivals, but in February, the two universities launched their first-ever joint fundraising campaign in order to save the Lewis-Gibson Genizah Collection—named for the intrepid twins who led Schechter to it and, not incidentally, endowed Westminster College, which owns the collection but can longer afford to keep it—from division and dispersal. (The New York-born, Oxford-educated financier Leonard Polonsky has already promised £500,000 of the £1.2 million needed.) This uncommon partnership is a testament to the value of the collection, which is the largest assembled from Ben Ezra. (The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, which Schechter would go on to lead as President, holds the second largest.) Ben Outhwaite, the head of genizah research at Cambridge, explained to me how crucial the Cairo Genizah collection is for scholars. “It is not hyperbole,” he wrote, “to talk about it as having rewritten what we knew of the Jews, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean in the Middle Ages.”
Background here.

Cyrus Cylinder latest

THE CYRUS CYLINDER goes on exhibit in the U.S.A. on Saturday: Cyrus Cylinder Makes First Appearance in D.C.

Background here and links.

Locust plague

TURNABOUT IS FAIR PLAY: Israel on alert as locusts cross in from Egypt. Shortly before Passover, naturally.

UPDATE: Of course the locusts are already in Egypt ...

Boston-DSS student opportunities

STUDENT VOLUNTEERS ARE WANTED for the upcoming Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition in Boston:
Museum of Science staff to outline scrolls openings
Brandeis students eligible for interpreter and internship positions

By Charles A. RadinMarch 4, 2013

Opportunities for students to work on the upcoming "Dead Sea Scrolls: Life in Ancient Times" exhibition at the Museum of Science in Boston will be outlined in an information session with representatives of the museum on Wednesday, March 6.

The meeting will be held in Alumni Lounge, Usdan Student Center, from noon to 1:30 p.m., and is open only to Brandeis affiliates.

The university is partnering with the museum on the exhibition, which will run from May 19 to Oct. 14. Brandeis students -- including undergraduates, graduate students and participants in the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Brandeis (BOLLI) -- are eligible for volunteer interpreter and internship positions. At this week’s meeting, museum representatives will discuss these positions, applications and selections processes, and the time commitment and training required.


Monday, March 04, 2013

The Economist on the fake metal codices

FAKE METAL CODICES WATCH: A new blog in The Economist called "Erasmus," run by someone who goes by the initials "B.C.," has put up an oddly naïve post to belabor the obvious: Test those mysterious codices: Mistrust, but verify. It links to some of my posts and I seem to be among the "militant" and "vociferous sceptics" alluded to.

Tom Verenna has done a good job of replying to the article in the comments, but I will add a few things.
And given their supreme confidence, the militant sceptics should surely have no problem with further scientific analysis. From their point of view, it must be a pre-ordained certainty that peer-reviewed laboratory tests in Jordan, or anywhere else, will simply confirm their rightness and give them fresh opportunities to wag their fingers at anybody who took the codices seriously.
What a childish little rant. No wonder this B.C. doesn't want to put his or her name to this blog. There have been rumors for the last two years that tests on the codices were imminent or that the publication of such tests was imminent. For the same period I have been calling for such tests to be published, if they exist. The bottom line is that such evidence as we have points strongly to the codices being fakes. If someone wants us to reconsider this conclusion, they should present us with new evidence that calls for consideration. It is being open to new evidence, or the possibility thereof, that constitutes having an open mind. Being forever unwilling to make a judgment call—in the vague hope that someday someone will come up with something that actually supports the claims—is being gullible, not open minded.
That makes it slightly puzzling that a couple of the most vociferous sceptics declared that they would have refused, if asked, to sign the letter to the Jordanian authorities asking for more information. From their perspective, perhaps, backing such a request would have implied taking the codices too seriously.
If B.C. is really puzzled by my comments, cited by Jim West and published originally here, perhaps he or she needs to brush up on basic reading comprehension skills. What I said was:
Regarding the letter that was submitted to and published by the London Times, I was not at the SOTS meeting and was not asked to sign the letter, but I would not have done so if asked, at least in the form in which it was published. ... If I am wrong, it would be helpful to hear what they [the Jordanian authorities] do think and what they are currently doing about the codices, and to that extent I can support the central point of the letter. ... The second issue is the final sentence of the first paragraph of the letter: "There are many indications that these finds are not modern forgeries, but [that] possibility cannot as yet be definitively excluded."* I know of no such "many indications that these finds are not modern forgeries."
Let me try to make it even simpler: I said I would not have signed the letter in the form in which it was published because it incorrectly stated that there were many indications that the codices are not modern forgeries, but I supported the central point of the letter—that the Jordanian authorities should speak up if they knew something.

I will just add that all of my many posts on this subject have been in my own name. I stand behind what I write rather than hiding behind anonymity. I'm looking at you, B.C.

Background most recently here and just keep following those links back over the last two years.