Saturday, April 20, 2013

Sherman, Babel’s Tower Translated

Babel’s Tower Translated

Genesis 11 and Ancient Jewish Interpretation
Phillip Michael Sherman, Maryville College, TN

In Babel's Tower Translated, Phillip Sherman explores the narrative of Genesis 11 and its reception and interpretation in several Second Temple and Early Rabbinic texts (e.g., Jubilees, Philo, Genesis Rabbah). The account of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) is famously ambiguous. The meaning of the narrative and the actions of both the human characters and the Israelite deity defy any easy explanation. This work explores how changing historical and hermeneutical realities altered and shifted the meaning of the text in Jewish antiquity.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Anglo-Saxon biblical apocrypha and pseudepigrapha

THE ANGLO-SAXON CHURCH, Philip Jenkins tells us, was really into their Old Testament Apocrypha and pseudepigrapha and their New Testament apocrypha: THE FIRST ENGLISH BIBLE.
Anglo-Saxon England was converted in the century or so after 597, and in the following centuries became one of the liveliest cultural centers of Western Europe. Scandinavian invasions caused massive damage in the ninth century, but Anglo-Saxon culture and literature continued to flourish until the Norman Conquest of 1066. Within a couple of generations after that cataclysm, the Anglo-Saxon language ceased to matter as a learned tongue. When we find a text associated with the Anglo-Saxon church, then, we can say confidently that it was used somewhere between 600 and 1066 or so, and is very unlikely to be much earlier or later.

A century ago, M. R. James remarked that “the Anglo-Saxon and Irish scholars seem to have been in possession of a good deal of rather rare apocryphal literature,” mainly in Latin but occasionally even in Greek. ...
For early Irish Old Testament pseudepigrapha, see this essay by my colleague Grant Macaskill: The Pseudepigrapha in the Irish Church.

UPDATE: Dead links now fixed! Sorry about that.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

No reconstructing Herod's tomb

Israeli plan to rebuild Herod’s tomb scrapped due to experts' criticism
The reconstruction of the West Bank monument, which would have set a precedent as the world's first archaeological structure to be fully restored, was championed by a local politician but slammed by archaeologists and academics as ostentatious and populist.
(Nir Hasson, Haaretz)


The Israel Nature and Parks Authority said in a statement, “Following the public hearing organized by the authority, new insights were received that will enrich and improve the proposal [to restore the tomb]. The Israel Museum exhibition will close in eight months, and after that the findings will be returned to Herodion and be integrated into the restoration.”
I'm not particularly keen on the idea of full on-site reconstructions of important ancient ruins. Let's stick to scale models that can be updated and corrected as our understanding improves. And in this case, as the article points out, we're not even entirely certain that this is Herod the Great's tomb.

Background on the Israel Museum's Herod exhibition and on the site is here and keep following the links back.

DSS in Utah

Dead Sea Scrolls coming to Leonardo in Salt Lake City

By Sean P. Means

| The Salt Lake Tribune

First Published Apr 17 2013 10:55 am • Updated 5 hours ago

A display featuring some of the Dead Sea Scrolls — the parchments that include the earliest known manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible — is coming to Salt Lake City.

Twenty scrolls, some of which date back to near the time of Christ, will be part of an exhibit that will open in mid-November at The Leonardo, downtown Salt Lake City’s art-and-technology museum, officials announced Wednesday.


Salt Lake City is one of only 10 cities to host the "Dead Sea Scrolls: Life and Faith in Ancient Times." The exhibit has been shown in New York, Philadelphia and Cincinnati, and will open May 19 at Boston’s Museum of Science.

Background here with many, many links.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

More on that man in a plastic bag

SIMON HOLLOWAY has more on that story about the man who sealed himself in a plastic bag on an El Al flight, including a survey of relevant Talmudic etc. passages and halakhic issues: Sons of Aharon (Davar Akher).

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Hurtado on revelatory experiences

LARRY HURTADO summarizes his recent lecture series: “Revelatory” Experiences and Religious Innovation.

I have some related thoughts on ancient and more recent revelatory experiences here and here.

"Channeling" the Tannaim

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Crossing the Line: By avoiding authoritative rulings in favor of nuanced debate with the ideas of the past, the Oral Law refuses to simplify.
It’s not often that the subject of the weekly Daf Yomi reading makes headlines in the blogosphere. But last week, the web—especially its Jewish corners—was buzzing over a bizarre photograph of an Orthodox Jewish man on an airplane, completely wrapped in a plastic bag. Many commenters on the photo assumed this had something to do with sexual purity or avoiding women, but in fact, as knowledgeable readers pointed out, it actually involved another taboo entirely.

The man must have been a Kohen, a member of the priestly class, and Kohanim are prohibited from coming into contact with corpses. Passing over a cemetery—even, in this case, at 30,000 feet—qualifies as such a contact. By wrapping himself in plastic, the man in question must have been guarding himself against that kind of impurity or tumah. Since most Orthodox Jews, even Kohanim, do not regularly fly in plastic, it’s clear that the man in the photo was adopting a minority position about what’s required to avoid contamination. (I’d be glad to hear from knowledgeable commenters about the law on this issue.)

As it turned out, just this question—how a Kohen can travel through a cemetery—was addressed in the Talmud last week, in Eruvin 30b. ...
Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here, here, and links.

Monday, April 15, 2013

OT Pseudepigrapha in the Biblioblogosphere


Philip Jenkins discusses the musical history of interpretation of the Sibylline Oracles: AS THE SIBYL SANG.

Lawrence Schiffman has a post on another important pseudepigraphon: Second Temple Period Rationales for the Torah’s Commandments: Book of Jubilees.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

BMCR reviews

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2013.04.13
Mireille Hadas-Lebel, Philo of Alexandria: A Thinker in the Jewish Diaspora. Studies in Philo of Alexandria, 7. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2012. Pp. 240. ISBN 9789004209480. $140.00.

Reviewed by Maren R. Niehoff, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Mt. Scopus (


This guide to Philo’s life, thought and political activity is an important addition to Philonic scholarship, which has been flourishing and reaching out to other disciplines. While A. Kamesar has recently collected introductory essays on Philo by a team of international researchers, who highlight the status quaestionis in their respective fields,1 Hadas-Lebel singlehandedly offers a comprehensive study of Philo, lucidly outlining the different aspects of his personality without striving to provide an updated picture of Philonic research. She initially describes his historical context in Alexandria and then provides an analysis of his writings and thought, concluding with an overview of his influence among early Christians. Hadas-Lebel forcefully argues for a significant connection between Philo’s Diaspora setting and his thought: he cannot be subsumed within rabbinic Judaism, but is the main exponent of a form of Judaism that took Greek culture very seriously into account, while maintaining a strong and visible Jewish identity.


Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2013.04.23
J. Albert Harrill, Paul the Apostle: His Life and Legacy in Their Roman Context. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012. Pp. xv, 207. ISBN 9780521757805. $24.99 (pb).

Reviewed by Paul B. Harvey, Jr., Pennsylvania State University (


Harrill has published extensively on the socio-economic contexts (especially slavery) of Paul’s letters;1 here he offers a biographical sketch of Paul with a very welcome discussion of how and to what extent ancient authors appropriated Paul and his teachings. Harrill urges that Paul be reckoned among the “key figures” of ancient Mediterranean history. Few scholars acquainted with the modern study of early Christianity would, I think, quarrel with Harrill’s assessment of the apostle’s historical significance and influence. Indeed, many would surely agree with Bruce Chilton’s apothegm: without Paul, no Christianity.2