Friday, September 27, 2013

Oldest Jewish prayer book?

Green Scholars Discover World’s Oldest Jewish Prayer Book

840 C.E. Discovery from The Green Collection is Important Link between Time of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Medieval Judaism

OKLAHOMA CITY, Sept. 26, 2013—The Green Collection, one of the world’s largest collections of rare biblical texts and artifacts, announced today that it has identified what is likely the oldest Jewish prayer book ever found, dated by both scholars and Carbon-14 tests to circa 840 C.E. The artifact may well be the earliest connection today’s practicing Jews have to the roots of their modern-day rabbinic liturgy.

The complete parchment codex is in its original binding, containing Hebrew script so archaic that it incorporates Babylonian vowel pointing (akin to Old or Middle English for the English language). That vowel pointing has led researchers to place the prayer book in the times of the Geonim (Babylonian, Talmudic leaders during the Middle Ages).

“This find is historical evidence supporting the very fulcrum of Jewish religious life,” said Dr. Jerry Pattengale, executive director of the Green Scholars Initiative, the research arm of The Green Collection. “This Hebrew prayer book helps fill the gap between the Dead Sea Scrolls and other discoveries of Jewish texts from the ninth and 10th centuries.”

The announcement by The Green Collection comes just months after scholars in Italy identified the oldest-known Torah scroll from the 12th and 13th centuries; this Jewish prayer book dates some 300-400 years earlier.

Research on the prayer book—perhaps the Christian equivalent of a complete, early edition of the Book of Common Prayer—will be released in late 2014 or early 2015 by the Green Scholars Initiative in its upcoming Brill Series on Early Jewish Texts and Manuscripts edited by Pattengale and Dr. Emanuel Tov. The series will feature in-depth examination of some of the world’s oldest and most rare biblical texts, including portions from the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Nehemiah, Jeremiah, Jonah, Ezekiel, Micah, Daniel and the Psalms.

Dr. Stephen Pfann, a senior scholar with the Green Scholars Initiative and president of The University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem, along with his students participating in the research project, made the initial discovery among other items from The Green Collection.

“The public will have the opportunity to witness the prayer book, along with the findings from The Green Scholars Initiative’s initial round of research, at a new museum, expected to open in Washington in early spring 2017,” said Steve Green, president of the national arts and crafts retailer Hobby Lobby. Green oversees support for the collection on behalf of his family.

“The research conducted by Green scholars the world over will bring to light the contents of valuable early Jewish texts—from Dead Sea Scrolls and Cairo Genizah leaves to rare manuscripts still being identified,” said Pattengale.

About The Green Collection:

Called “a sampler of Jewish, Roman Catholic and Protestant treasures” that span from ancient times to the digital age (USA Today), The Green Collection is comprised of over 40,000 ancient texts and artifacts that have spanned the ages and together weave a story of history’s most tenacious book. Whether called ancient literature, a work of art or the living Word of God, no other book has persevered the ages, endured such turmoil, is as hated and beloved as the Bible.

One of the world’s largest private collections of biblical texts and artifacts, the collection is named after the Green family, owners of national arts-and-crafts retailer Hobby Lobby. The collection will be permanently located in a yet-to-be-named national Bible museum in Washington, D.C., that will illustrate how the Bible as we know it came to be, the impact the Scriptures have had on the world and the story told in history’s No. 1 best-seller.
This press release does not have a photo, but an article on the discovery in Christianity Today (sent to me by reader Ted Olsen, CT Managing Editor, News & Online Journalism) does.

This sounds like it could be an exciting discovery. As always, I would like to know more about the provenance of the artifact.

Much more on the Green Collection is here and follow the links. Also, for more on that oldest Torah scroll see here and links.

Abegg interview

LXXI: Interview with Martin G. Abegg on Electronic Dead Sea Scrolls

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Shemeni Atzeret and Simchat Torah

HAPPY SHEMENI ATZERET AND SIMCHAT TORAH (Simhat Torah) to all those celebrating! The former began on the sunset of the 25th. In Israel, Simchat Torah was on the same day, but elsewhere it began on the evening of the 26th. More here.

A Jewish holiday for Cyrus?

COUNTERFACTUAL HISTORY: What if Cyrus had not freed the Jews? (Roger Price, Jewish Journal).
Yet if it is true that but for Cyrus there would be no Judaism and no Jews today, why is not more attention paid to him? The man was extolled in the Hebrew Bible by the well regarded prophet Deutero-Isaiah and the esteemed priest Ezra, and more recently by Israeli founder and Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion on the 2500 anniversary of the Cyrus Cylinder, but Cyrus is hardly remembered, much less honored , today in the Jewish community.

Part of the answer may be that the ancient sages did not want to attribute such momentous consequences to a mere mortal, preferring to see the return from exile and the rebuilding of the Temple as evidence of God’s intervention and grace. But then, how do you justify the inclusion of the Purim story in the canon and the celebration of that holiday? Jews of all stripes seem to love the fictional story set in Shushan in modern day Iran and the holiday that celebrates it, even though God is never mentioned. And who can resist? You get to wear costumes, eat some triangular cookies, drink a lot of wine and cheer as the pretty Jewish girl and her uncle save the Jews who were threatened with extinction. But, again, why is a true story of Jewish emancipation, set in a similar geographic locale, given no recognition? Sure, Cyrus was an emperor, not a paragon of modern democratic values, but the failure to designate a time to honor Cyrus is a serious omission in the Jewish calendar.
Lots more on Cyrus the Great and the Cyrus Cylinder here and links. Also, more on counterfactual history here and links.

The Talmud on the benefits of exile

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: In the Talmud, Jews in Exile Are Considered Defenseless Before Their Enemies. Daf Yomi: The one protection God granted the Jews was to scatter them, so that no single enemy could destroy them all at once.

Then the Amoraim perform a remarkable and moving feat of interpretation. If God loves Israel, they reason, then even when he punishes Israel he must manifest that love. The Exile cannot be all bad; it must have redeeming features, which prove that God had the welfare of his people in mind, even as he condemned them to dispersion. Indeed, Rabbi Oshaya says, the dispersion itself is a blessing in disguise. By scattering the Jews around the world, God made sure that their enemies could not exterminate them at one blow. Oshaya once argued this very point with a Roman: If the Romans had not managed to annihilate the Jews after so many years, it was not because they were well-disposed to the Jews, but “because you do not know how to do it.”
Plus advice on how to deal with a glutton.

Reed address at York symposium

TOMORROW: Keynote Address for 2013 York Christian Apocrypha Symposium: Annette Yoshiko Reed.

Background here and links.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

More Syriac Manichaeana

IN THE BRITISH LIBRARY: Some Syriac Manichean Treasures in the British Library.

HT Emmanouela Grypeou on Facebook. Recent related post here.

Anxious Enochiana

PHILIP JENKINS has been publishing many interesting posts recently over at The Anxious Bench. Here are a few about Enoch:

1 Enoch in particular was enormously influential in its time. Generations of New Testament scholars have been intrigued by the book’s use of the “Son of Man” terminology, recalling Jesus’s own use of that phrase. For centuries, the book’s most intriguing section was the so-called Book of the Watchers, which described how the Sons of God descended to Earth to breed with human women, producing a range of bizarre and frightening monsters. 1 Enoch also gave scriptural foundation for the fascination with angels and archangels like Michael and Gabriel.

Even so, and despite the condemnation of such ecclesiastical giants as Origen and Augustine, we can trace the influence of the Enochic books for centuries afterwards. That survival is a powerful commentary on the durability of texts, especially when they were read so widely across the very broad canvas of a transcontinental Christian world.

ENOCH ABIDES. Here he suggests that Grendel's name in Beowulf was inspired by the names of the watchers and giants in 1 Enoch. Maybe, but no giants are named in 1 Enoch, and they are the closest analogues with Grendel, although this may have been a fine distinction to our medieval clerical readers. Some version of the Book of Giants may also have been circulating in clerical circles (see the Book of Ogias the Giant, mentioned in the Gelasian Decree, noted here). But as far as I can recall, none of the giants named in the Book of Giants had an "-el" name.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Meyers, Rediscovering Eve

Carol Meyers, Rediscovering Eve: Ancient Israelite Women in Context (2012)

This groundbreaking study looks beyond biblical texts, which have had a powerful influence over our views of women's roles and worth, in order to reconstruct the typical everyday lives of women in ancient Israel. Carol Meyers argues that biblical sources alone do not give a true picture of ancient Israelite women because urban elite males wrote the vast majority of the scriptural texts. Also, the stories of women in the Bible concern exceptional individuals rather than ordinary Israelite women. Drawing on archaeological discoveries and ethnographic information as well as biblical texts, Meyers depicts Israelite women not as submissive chattel in an oppressive patriarchy, but rather as strong and significant actors within their families and in their communities. In so doing, she challenges the very notion of patriarchy as an appropriate designation for Israelite society.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Jon Ma on Hanukkah

REVISIONIST HISTORY: Re-Examining Hanukkah: John Ma deconstructs the Maccabean History (Marginalia).

For more on the Heliodorus inscription, see here and links.

Orlov, Heavenly Priesthood in the Apocalypse of Abraham

Andrei A. Orlov, Heavenly Priesthood in the Apocalypse of Abraham (CUP, September 2013.

The Apocalypse of Abraham is a vital source for understanding both Jewish apocalypticism and mysticism. Written anonymously soon after the destruction of the Second Jerusalem Temple, the text envisions heaven as the true place of worship and depicts Abraham as an initiate of celestial priesthood. Andrei A. Orlov focuses on the central rite of the Abraham story - the scapegoat ritual that receives a striking eschatological reinterpretation in the text. He demonstrates that the development of the sacerdotal traditions in the Apocalypse of Abraham, along with a cluster of Jewish mystical motifs, represents an important transition from Jewish apocalypticism to the symbols of early Jewish mysticism. In this way, Orlov offers unique insight into the complex world of the Jewish sacerdotal debates in the early centuries of the Common Era. The book will be of interest to scholars of early Judaism and Christianity, Old Testament studies, and Jewish mysticism and magic.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

New early Manichaean fragments

SOME (SORT OF) NEW MANICHAEAN (MANICHEAN) FRAGMENTS IN SYRIAC have been recovered by Cambridge University: The Allberry fragments: Manichaean texts rediscovered.
The Allberry fragments contain portions of a Manichaean text, written in Syriac and in a form of Aramaic script often referred to as Manichaean script. Only a small number of such tiny fragments seem to be preserved worldwide. In fact Mani (c. 216-277 AD), the founder of the Manichaean world-religion, wrote his oeuvre in Syriac, but the huge Manichaean literature which in the 20th century has been found in Central Asia and Egypt, and which is of great interest for the history of religions, theology, and many philologies, is not in Syriac. Many scholarly efforts are invested in reconstructing the original Syriac terminology of Mani and the first Manichaeans.

These fragments pre-date, by a couple of centuries, the only other material written in this script, which are on incantation bowls from Mesopotamia, though there are a few other fragments of Proto-Manichaean in existence. These particular fragments appear to have come from the Manichaean communities in Egypt and represent the most western location for the spread of this Syriac font which originated in Mesopotamia.
Even though the fragments are small, this is an exciting discovery.

HT Adam McCollum on Facebook.