Friday, March 15, 2013

Aramaic Peter Rabbit

ARAMAIC WATCH (UPDATE): The Tale of Peter Rabbit - In Galilean Aramaic (Steve Caruso).

Background here. Related item here.

Female angels?

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS: Why didn’t the female angels have sex with man? Deane Galbraith says that "the answer is simple: there are no female angels. In early Jewish literature, all angels are male." This is probably correct in terms of the specific question, but it is technically incorrect. There were female angels: the four Hayyot ("living creatures" or "beasts") of Ezekiel chapter 1 are grammatically female. But their gender identity, of course, looks kind of complicated, plus it seems unlikely that mortal men would find them attractive in that way.

Josephus on Jesus

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS: Did Josephus Call Jesus the Messiah? (Ed Cook).

That Assyrian Dalek

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS: If Sennacherib had at least one Dalek and he couldn't take Jerusalem, does that mean that God sent the Doctor to help king Hezekiah? (James McGrath—of course).

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Satlow (ed.), The Gift in Antiquity

The Gift in Antiquity

Michael Satlow

ISBN: 978-1-4443-5024-1
272 pages
March 2013, Wiley-Blackwell
Follow the link for the TOC.

(Via the Talmud Blog on Facebook.)

The Bible and soap

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS: Why Does the Bible Have No Recipe for Soap?

Two thoughts come to mind. First, I don't know much about the history of soap, but I kind of doubt that it was in widespread use in ancient Israel or in the ancient world in general. Even in the nineteenth century, Mark Twain had trouble finding it in Europe. (Things are better there now.)

Second, there are lots of things the Bible doesn't include but which must have been well known in ancient Israelite society. For example, the book of Leviticus tells us about sacrificial rites, but includes nothing about the prayers, songs, and music that must have accompanied them and which are alluded to elsewhere (e.g., 1 Chronicles 25).

UPDATE (15 March): I have received a number of responses to this one. For the early history of soap, see here (with the usual caveats about Wikipedia). Also, Gerald Rosenberg points to Jeremiah 2:22, which may refer to a couple of early types of detergent. I suppose the reference to a "fuller" in Mark 9:3 could be relevant as well, since the job involved cleaning wool. But I can't find any evidence for hygienic hand soap as early as the biblical period.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Shape-shifting Jesus

T-INFINITY? Shape-Shifting Jesus Described in Ancient Egyptian Text (Owen Jarus, LiveScience).
A newly deciphered Egyptian text, dating back almost 1,200 years, tells part of the crucifixion story of Jesus with apocryphal plot twists, some of which have never been seen before.

Written in the Coptic language, the ancient text tells of Pontius Pilate, the judge who authorized Jesus' crucifixion, having dinner with Jesus before his crucifixion and offering to sacrifice his own son in the place of Jesus. It also explains why Judas used a kiss, specifically, to betray Jesus — because Jesus had the ability to change shape, according to the text — and it puts the day of the arrest of Jesus on Tuesday evening rather than Thursday evening, something that contravenes the Easter timeline.

The discovery of the text doesn't mean these events happened, but rather that some people living at the time appear to have believed in them, said Roelof van den Broek, of Utrecht University in the Netherlands, who published the translation in the book "Pseudo-Cyril of Jerusalem on the Life and the Passion of Christ"(Brill, 2013).

An interesting little text, presented with a refreshing lack of hype. Shape-shifting Jesus is even more fun than flying Jesus. For more shape-shifting miracles, see the Legend of the Ten Martyrs in the Hekhalot Rabbati.

(HT Steve Caruso.)

Monday's child is ...

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET MAGAZINE: Written in the Stars (Or Not): To overcome fated lives, the Talmud’s rabbis argued, perform virtuous acts according to Torah.
Most often, when Jews use the phrase mazel tov, they simply mean “congratulations”—it’s the kind of thing you say when you hear about someone getting married or having a baby. Literally, however, mazel tov means “good fortune,” as in “may you have good fortune.” Still more literally, I learned in this week’s Daf Yomi reading, mazal means a constellation, and wishing someone a good mazal means hoping that the stars will be in their favor. In other words, mazel tov is a relic of astrology, the belief that the orientation of the stars can affect human destiny. As such, it seems to pose a significant challenge to the basic Jewish idea that God and God alone rules the universe. Should Jews believe in mazal?

This issue came up as part of a long digression in the final chapter of Tractate Shabbat. ...
According to the system of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, I am either "completely for the best or completely for the worst." I blog, you decide.

Hamas, Obama, and the Temple Mount

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Hamas: ‘Declaration Of War’ If Obama Visits Temple Mount.


Cyrus Cylinder latest


Cyrus Cylinder: How a Persian monarch inspired Jefferson (BBC)

The Cyrus Cylinder: Its Significance for Today (Payvand Iran News).

Both are factually accurate overall. The second plays up Cyrus's virtues more than I would. It should also have made clear that the letter attributed to Cyrus by Josephus (in Antiquities Book 11—see chapter two of this online translation for the passage in context) is a much later expansion of the letter referred to briefly in Ezra 6 // 1 Esdras 6.

Background here and links.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The brutal world of antiquity

NASTY, BRUTISH, AND SHORT: Even governors in Pharaonic Egypt died in their 20s.
afrol News, 9 March - Researchers have analysed more than 200 mummies from ancient Egypt, finding that even high dignitaries were poorly nourished and had infectious diseases. The typical governor in Pharaonic Egypt died before he was 30 years old.

Anthropologists and archaeologists from the Spanish universities of Granada and JaƩn have analysed more than 200 mummies and skeletons from the Necropolis Qubbet el-Hawa in the Egyptian region of Aswan. They were surprised to see how early in life these men in leading positions had died and what they had died of.

"The ancient Egyptians did not live in such good conditions and were not surrounded by such opulence as was thought up to now," the Spanish researchers write. Rather, they "suffered from hunger and malnutrition, a whole range of infectious diseases and an extremely high infant mortality rate," the analyses had shown.

And, to add insult to injury, they also had heart disease: Mummies With Heart Disease Show That Clogged Arteries Aren't Just Modern Ailment.
People have long debated whether clogged arteries and heart disease resulted from the fat and sugar-laden modern diet or an inevitable vagary of aging. There's no doubt that westernized diets have worsened diabetes, obesity and chronic disease, but whether a more primitive diet could completely eliminate those scourges was debatable.

I suspect the ancient lifestyle created plenty of opportunities for arterial inflammation through chronic infections and the like, so I wouldn't be too complacent about our modern diet. (But I am not a doctor and that is not medical advice.)

If you are sometimes tempted to feel nostalgic about life in antiquity, these article will help cure that. Relate thoughts here and here.

Locusts update

BIBLICAL PLAGUES AREN'T WHAT THEY USED TO BE: Locusts Invade Israel but More of a Tourist Site than a Plague.

Background here and here.

St. Matthew's skull in Scotland?

DO THEY NOW? Rosslyn Chapel was built to protect the skull of St Matthew, researchers claim.

Needless to say (I trust), if there is anything to this idea at all, it is vanishingly unlikelty that the skull in question had anything to do with the actual apostle Matthew. But Rosslyn Chapel is really cool and I encourage you to visit it if you happen to be in Scotland. Preferably in warmer weather than on my trip several years ago, noted here.

Obama's Israel itinerary

PRIORITIES: Obama's Israel Checklist: Dead Sea Scrolls, Birthplace Of Jesus, Missile Defense System.

Interview with Jon D. Levenson

MARGINALIA: Jon D. Levenson Talks to Charles Halton about Abrahamic Religions.
Which Abrahamic tradition? Jon Levenson’s Inheriting Abraham

Abrahamic religions. We’ve all heard the phrase and many of us use it. It implies a touchpoint between three of the world’s “great” religions — a common ancestor that supposedly binds together 3.5 billion Jews, Christians, and Muslims the world over. Except that, as Jon D. Levenson explains in Inheriting Abraham: The Legacy of the Patriarch in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, these traditions view the patriarch in very different ways.
Good stuff.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Collins on DSS controversies

JOHN J. COLLINS: The eternal disputes of the Dead Sea Scrolls
In the beginning, there was a fierce fight over ownership. More than five decades later, controversies endure.
(LA Times).

As noted in the article, Professor Collins has a new book out: The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Biography, on which see here and here.

For more on the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the early negotiations about them, see here. For more on John Allegro, see here and here. For more on the Raphael Golb case, see here and links and also here and links.

Cyrus Cylinder hype

CNN: Ancient blueprint for Mideast peace tours U.S. Five-city tour began Saturday in Washington.

A headline often does not reflect the article accurately, but unfortunately this one does.
WASHINGTON (CNN) —An ancient Persian symbol of freedom, tolerance and coexistence has joined documents like the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the Emancipation Proclamation in Washington.


"The Cyrus Cylinder sets up a model to run a multifaith, multifaceted, diverse society, leaving a model of the Middle East as a unit and what it could ideally be," said Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, in a recent TED Talk.

Both headline and article are over the top. The "blueprint for Mideast peace" or "model to run a multifaith, multifaceted, diverse society" consists of the following:

1. Become a Middle Eastern dictator.

2. Conquer the countries around you and set up an empire.

3. Refrain from inflicting atrocities on those you subjugate if they surrender promptly and then pay whatever tribute you demand.

4. Then do a few nice things for them.

5. Make much of point 4 in your propaganda.

This actually was being an enlightened ruler in antiquity, but I don't think of it as a political model for today's world.

Background here with many links. Additional commentary on the Cyrus Cylinder and human rights etc. can be found by following the links at this post.