Saturday, October 26, 2013

Finishing Tractate Pesach

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: On the Origin of Passover’s Four Questions and the Renewal of Miracles. The Talmud is not a literary text, yet its role in maintaining the continuity of Jewish history is undeniable. Excerpt:
The last pages of Pesachim, I find, are suffused with a kind of celebratory, homecoming feeling, as the rabbis finally bring the discussion around to the Passover Seder—something that, after 1,500 years, is still familiar to every practicing Jew. In fact, it is thanks to the Haggadah that most Jews know at least a little bit of the Mishnah, though they may not recognize it as such. Not until I started reading Daf Yomi did I realize that the Haggadah passages that begin “Rabban Gamliel used to say,” or similar phrases, are actually quotations from the Mishnah, following the standard pattern for attributing opinions to a sage.
Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Friday, October 25, 2013

More on Syriac Joseph and Aseneth

IS SYRIAC JOSEPH AND ASENETH A LOST GOSPEL? Mark Goodacre posts a note by Richard Bauckham on the possibility that Simcha Jacobovici and Barrie Wilson's announced "Lost Gospel" is none other than this: The Bride of God or the Lost Gospel of Joseph and Asyath, Richard Bauckham. Bauckham seems sympathetic to the possibility that Joseph and Aseneth (originally written in Greek) was intended as a Christian allegory and I would not rule this out either. But calling it a lost gospel, if that's what Jacobovici and Wilson are going to do, creates some genre confusion.

Bauckham has more to say in the comments section, where Goodacre also notes that the bibliography in his Joseph and Aseneth website has been updated.

Related recent post here.

Zenon archive update

WHAT'S NEW IN PAPYROLOGY: Trismegistos update on the Zenon archive, a third-century B.C.E. collection of documentary texts written by Zenon son of Agreophon, many of them in Palestine.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Curse Tablet excavated in Jerusalem

LIVESCIENCE: Ancient Magician's Curse Tablet Discovered in Jerusalem (Owen Jarus):
A lead curse tablet, dating back around 1,700 years and likely written by a magician, has been discovered in a collapsed Roman mansion in Jerusalem, archaeologists report.

The mansion, which is being excavated by the Israel Antiquities Authority in the Givati Parking Lot, is located in what is known as the "City of David," an area that holds at least 6,000 years of human occupation. The mansion itself covers at least 2,000 square meters (about half an acre) and contains two large open courtyards adjacent to each other. It was in use between the late third century and A.D. 363, when it was destroyed in a series of earthquakes on May 18 or 19.

The text is written in Greek and, in it a woman named Kyrilla invokes the names of six gods to cast a curse on a man named Iennys, apparently over a legal case.

Another nice example of a real ancient inscribed lead tablet. Note that it has coherent text on it that can be translated reasonably readily. The wide-ranging cultural background is fascinating, but not untypical for magical traditions from late antiquity:
To obtain her goal Kyrilla combined elements from four religions, Robert Walter Daniel, of the Institut für Altertumskunde at the University of Cologne, told LiveScience in an email. Of six gods invoked, four of them are Greek (Hermes, Persephone, Pluto and Hecate), one is Babylonian (Ereschigal) and one, Abrasax, is Gnostic, a religion connected to early Christianity. Additionally, the text contains magic words such as "Iaoth" that have a Hebrew/Judaism origin.
(HT reader Gerald Rosenberg. Cross-file under not a fake metal codex.)

A Coptic Genesis fragment

ALIN SUCIU: A Fragment from Genesis in Sahidic Sold at Christie’s. "As I already said, manuscripts in private hands are sometimes as good as lost."

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: More Noncanonical Scriptures, Vol. 1

Richard Bauckham, James R. Davila, Alexander Panayotov (eds.), Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: More Noncanonical Scriptures, Volume 1 (Eerdmans, 2013)

TOC and background information here.

UPDATE: Liv Ingeborg Lied has information on the upcoming SBL review session in Baltimore here.

Archaeology and the Bible again

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS: Has Archaeology Gone Overboard in Throwing Out the Bible? (Steven Collins, ASOR Blog).

A related recent post is here.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Israel Forgery Trial appeal latest

THE AFTERMATH OF THE ISRAEL FORGERY TRIAL JUST GOES ON AND ON: Supreme Court says Israel cannot hold Jehoash Tablet but challenges antiquities trade (Matthew Kalman, Bible and Interpretation).

The ruling says that Golan can have the Jehoash Tablet back, but the really important element of the ruling is that the Israeli Supreme Court seems to be laying the groundwork for a sustained campaign against the antiquities trade:
In an 8,000-word ruling handed down on September 29, a panel of three Supreme Court Justices rejected Golan’s appeal against his conviction and sentence on three minor charges and used the opportunity to declare war on the antiquities market. Branding the trade in antiquities “damaging” and motivated by “avarice,” the ruling authored by Supreme Court Justice Daphne Barak-Erez depicts “a world of collectors exchanging treasures teeming with trembling hands and heart - often within the law, and sometimes without,” and notes with approval that “in most countries of the world there is a general ban on the trade in antiquities, because of their recognition as a national resource.” She further observed, that this "conception also serves as the basis for the antiquities law” in Israel.

The ruling places the Supreme Court on a potential collision course with the Israel Museum and other major archaeological collections in the country, which all display items purchased from the market. Israel Museum curators and experts have described a complex and well-oiled procedure of verification and testing carried out in the museum laboratories to determine the significance and authenticity of items offered by dealers. Many of the Israel Museum’s most notable archaeological exhibits, including the Dead Sea Scrolls, royal seal impressions and coins were purchased on behalf of the museum from the antiquities market and not discovered in authorized archaeological excavations.

Barak-Erez excoriates the “loopholes” in the existing Antiquities Law, using the bully pulpit of Israel’s highest court, citing material not in evidence during the original trial, to propose a dramatic tightening of Israel’s antiquities trade. Her ruling should not be dismissed as the star-struck enthusiasm of an amateur touched by the magic of a rare antique treasure. Appointed to the Supreme Court in 2012 at the extraordinarily young age of 47, Barak-Erez is widely regarded as a legal genius, the leading Israeli juror of her generation and a future president of the court. If she has marked the antiquities trade as the target of a personal legal crusade, she has the authority and the stature to inspire extensive legal reform.
The issues are summarized pretty clearly near the end of the essay:
But Professor Aren Maeir of Bar-Ilan University, Director of the Tell es-Safi/Gath Archaeological Project, says the benefits of a general ban far outweigh the risks. “Illicit digs destroy archaeological sites,” he says, adding that the existence even of the regulated market fuels the robbery that is stripping antiquities from their context and greatly reducing their scientific value.

“One of the main reasons you have to deal with many of the inscriptions that are found on the antiquities market with suspicion is because we’ve been excavating non-stop for the last 150 years. In controlled excavations, very few inscriptions have been found. All these astounding inscriptions always appear on the market. That’s what rings the warning bells,” says Maeir. “Also we know that when something is found in excavations, very soon after, all kind of things like it start appearing.”

But Golan says the Israeli market is not the problem – it’s simply not large enough to make a difference. The demand for Middle Eastern antiquities comes from abroad. Banning the trade in Israel will merely ensure the immediate exodus of any important items. Nor will an Israeli public awareness campaign about “picking” treasures resonate with Palestinians in the West Bank, where the vast majority of antiquities are found. Golan says the best way forward is for the authorities to work alongside the collectors in a joint effort to preserve the natural heritage and ensure the most important discoveries remain in Israel.
This is a very complicated situation that Kalman lays out quite lucidly, so read it all.

On suspicion concerning the multitude of Iron Age Hebrew inscriptions, see here. I have very mixed feelings about the situation. I agree that unprovenanced artifacts create serious problems for archaeology and epigraphy and am on record saying that unprovenanced inscriptions should be regarded as fakes unless there is significant positive evidence for their authenticity. At the same time, adopting a zero tolerance stance toward the antiquities trade is likely only to create a thriving black market into which genuine antiquities disappear and never come to the attention of specialists.

For background on the Israel Forgery Trial, go here and follow the many years worth of links.

Hugoye conference

Hugoye Symposium III: Colophons in the Syriac Tradition
Call for Papers

May 16-17, 2014

Hosted by
Beth Mardutho Research Library, Piscataway, N.J.
Rutgers University Libraries
Rutgers Department of African, Middle Eastern, and South Asian Languages and Literature
Rutgers Center for Middle Eastern Studies
Follow the link for details.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Free books on ancient Judaism!

AWOL: Open Access Books by Lawrence H. Schiffman.

Giants galore!

A MONSTER POST ON GIANTS: Giants in the Bible and Its Reception. A collection of many (all?) of the posts in the Renamnt of Giants blog.

As a bonus, there's a quote from Steven R. Donaldson's concluding Thomas Covenant novel, The Last Dark. It happens that most of the same passage is also quoted by Loren Rossen in his review of the latter at The Busybody. Well, it's a good quote.

Cuneiform inscriptions and Aramaic angels and giants

JONATHAN BEN-DOV has a very interesting article (unfortunately, requires subscription or registration) in Haaretz on the possible influence of Mesopotamian iconography in cuneiform inscriptions on ancient Jewish mythology about angels and giants: Turning to the angels to save Jewish mythology. Ancient Mesopotamian texts and images, although understandable to contemporary scholars, were entirely incomprehensible to readers in the Levant in Greek and Roman times. The creative imagination of those readers produced new mythologies in Aramaic, incorporating the ancient relics in a convoluted way. Excerpt:
A rare interpretation of such inscriptions was preserved in the Jewish literature of the Hellenistic period , opening a gateway to an entire world of mythology, sights and images.

A relevant passage is found in the Book of Jubilees, a Jewish text from the mid-second century B.C.E. whose Hebrew source was found in fragmented form at Qumran, but which circulated in various translations in the ancient world:

“... and he called his name Kainan. And the son grew, and his father taught him writing, and he went to seek for himself a place where he might seize for himself a city. And he found a writing which former ‏(generations‏) had carved on the rock, and he read what was thereon, and he transcribed it and sinned owing to it; for it contained the teaching of the Watchers in accordance with which they used to observe the omens of the sun and moon and stars in all the signs of heaven. ‏(English translation by R.H. Charles, 1913‏)

The ancient, engraved images looked to the later observer like a vestige from the world of the Watchers ‏(Aramaic: ‘irim‏), primordial angels who, according to popular mythology, descended to earth in hoary antiquity and bequeathed civilization to mankind. If you will, these are aliens, in a way resembling those recounted by Erich von Däniken in his pseudo-scientific book, “Chariots of the Gods.” In fact, Däniken’s idea − that extraterrestrial powers descended to earth and instructed mankind how to build the pyramids and other notable projects − mirrors various ancient mythologies like the one discussed in the present article.

Babylonian mythology already told of ancient sages who were half-man and half-fish who emerged from the sea and bequeathed civilization to mankind. This old myth was revived in new garb in Lebanon, Syria and the Land of Israel in the Hellenistic period. In its Jewish form, the myth bore a new aspect: the Watchers conveyed forbidden knowledge, brought to human beings in an original sin. The bearers of the knowledge in the present version were not ancient fish who emerged from the sea but the mysterious angels who descended from heaven.

A manual of divination

In the Apocryphal Book of Jubilees, we read a description of a stone inscription in an unclear language, which the writer understood as a manual of divination according to the sun, the moon and the stars. There is an amazing similarity between the fantastic description in the Book of Jubilees and actual stone inscriptions created by Babylonian kings, which have been preserved to this day in Jordan, Arabia and mainly Lebanon. The kings Nebuchanezzar and Nabonidus engraved their images on rock, and topped them with symbols of the sun, moon and stars − the protective deities of the neo-Babylonian dynasty. The scenes were accompanied by a long cuneiform text praising the king’s enterprises.

We, therefore, encounter a rare instance of coordination between a fantastic literary description and a material find that has survived to this day. In the absence of a chain of transmission, the explanation of the mysterious pictures etched in the rock was left to imagination. While the older traditions about the origin of knowledge persisted, they now found a new iconographic garb.

The Jewish writer of the Book of Jubilees considered the inscriptions vestiges from the time before the Flood, because he had no way of knowing that the inscriptions preceded him by about four centuries at most. The sun and moon appearing above the inscriptions are, as he understands them, the subjects of the scientific wisdom carved on the rock.

Accordingly, the giant figure engraved in the rock ‏(originally either Nebuchadnezzar or Nabonidus‏) is no more than the “Watcher,” the primordial angel who descended from heaven and bequeathed wisdom to human beings.
For more on the Watchers, the giants, the Book of Giants, and their Mesopotamian connections see this recent post and links. More on Erich von Däniken is here and links.

(HT Joseph I. Lauer.)

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Fragments of ANE archive discovered

AN E-MAIL ARCHIVE, THAT IS: The Oriental Institute: Fragments for a History of an Institution | Old ANE Archive.

Zoroastrianism exhibition

IN THE BRITISH LIBRARY: New exhibition opens on Zoroastrianism. The Babylonian Talmud is (rightly) mentioned. On that, see related posts here and links.

Jenkins on The Cave of Treasures

THE ANXIOUS BENCH: THE CAVE OF TREASURES. A nice overview of this fascinating text.

Jenkins links to the old translation by E. A. Wallis Budge. A new translation by Alexander Toepel is coming out in Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: More Noncanonical Scriptures, vol. 1, a copy of which I expect to hold in my hands in a matter of days.

UPDATE (18 October): I don't know why this pre-post decided to manifest itself early, even with its future posting date intact. Chalk it up to time travel.