Saturday, November 09, 2013

Friday, November 08, 2013

Review of Cohn, The Memory of the Temple and the Making of the Rabbis

NEW REVIEW SERIES IN TABLET MAGAZINE: Rabbi Wolpe’s Picks: Unraveling a Mishnah Mystery: Introducing Rabbi David Wolpe’s new series on Jewish scholarship.
Rabbi David Wolpe is the rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and the author, most recently, of Why Faith Matters. In a new Scroll series, Wolpe will examine a work of Jewish scholarship, either contemporary or classic, which has relevance for modern Jewish life.


The Memory of the Temple and the Making of the Rabbis, published in October 2012, contains within its title author Naftali S. Cohn’s thesis. Cohn writes that the rabbis created the Temple’s memory in a way that would serve their own authority. They forged links with the ancient court and rabbinic tradition not because it was exactly as the Temple had been, but because it was as they needed the Temple to be in order to claim continuity with the past and, therefore, sway over the present.

Sounds about right to me.

UPDATE: Bad link now fixed! Sorry about that.

Congratulations to Matti Friedman

AWARD FOR THE ALEPPO CODEX: TOI’s Matti Friedman wins prestigious literary award. ‘The Aleppo Codex,’ a true-life detective story about how the ancient Biblical manuscript was smuggled out of Syria, garners $100,000 Rohr Prize.

Friedman does good work and I cite him frequently — for example, here and here.

Background on the book is here and links.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Talmudic Temple lore

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Reconstructing the Life of the Temple and Its All-Too-Human Denizens. In the Talmud’s descriptions of self-glorifying and self-enriching Temple priests, lessons for today’s public officials.
Imagine that 400 years from now, the United States has been destroyed and Washington, D.C., lies in ruins. Few documents survive to explain how America was once governed; all that posterity has to rely on is hearsay and oral tradition, passed down over the generations. People know, for instance, that there was once a vice president named Al Gore, but they don’t know when he lived or exactly why his name has been recorded, when other holders of the same office are forgotten. Some speculate that it is because Gore was the best of all vice presidents; others say that perhaps all vice presidents were named Gore, in honor of the first of their line.

This was roughly the situation of the rabbis when they tried to reconstruct the life of the Temple. ...
Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Scripture and Canon Symposium at St Andrews

TOMORROW: Day-Symposium on Authority, Revelation, Scripture, and Canon in
Ancient Israel and Early Judaism
here at the Divinity School of the University of St Andrews. Click on the link to download the program as a pdf file.

Cyrus Cylinder in L.A.

THE CYRUS CYLINDER is now on display at the Getty Villa in Los Angeles.

Much background on the Cyrus Cylinder is here and links.

Iraqi Jewish Archive exhibition

THE TIMES OF ISRAEL: Rescued from Saddam, Iraqi Jewish archive finally on display. Some of the thousands of Jewish items recovered by US troops from a flooded Baghdad basement have been painstakingly restored for public display. But should they return to Iraq next year? (Ben Zehavi). Excerpts:
This week, a full decade after their discovery, two dozen items from the Iraqi Jewish Archive are on public display for the first time at the National Archives in an exhibition called, “Discovery and Recovery: Preserving Iraqi Jewish Heritage.”

Highlights of the exhibit include:
  • A Hebrew Bible with Commentaries from 1568
  • A Babylonian Talmud from 1793
  • A Torah scroll fragment from Genesis
  • A Zohar (book of mysticism) from 1815
  • A Passover Haggadah from 1902 handwritten and decorated by an Iraqi Jewish youth
  • An official 1918 letter to the chief rabbi regarding the allotment of sheep for Rosh Hashanah
  • Materials from Baghdad Jewish schools, including exam grades and a letter to the College Entrance Exam Board in Princeton regarding SAT scores; and
  • A lunar calendar in Hebrew and Arabic from 1972-73, one of the last examples of Hebrew items produced in Baghdad


Harold Rhode, an expert on Islamic affairs at the US Defense Department who led the discovery team in 2003, said he is “horrified” to think that the material will be returned to Baghdad.

“[These items] were stolen by the government of Iraq from the Jewish community,” he told The Jewish Week. Returning it, he said, “would be comparable to the US returning to the German government Jewish property that had been looted by the Nazis.”

There's also a video and a link to a petition to keep the archive from returning to Iraq. Lots of background here and links.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

BAS on critical texts of the Hebrew Bible

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: Errors in the Masoretes’ “Original” Hebrew Manuscripts of the Bible? Why critical editions of the Bible—like Biblia Hebraica Quinta—are essential.

Not to mention critical editions of the biblical Qumran manuscripts, the Septuagint, and the other ancient versions. And even when we take all this evidence into account, the original text (insofar as we can speak of such a thing) often eludes us.

Biblical Studies Carnivals

RECENT BIBLICAL STUDIES CARNIVALS are piling up and it's time I listed them:

Chad Chambers at Cataclysmic: Biblical Studies Carnival: September 2013

Jim West at Zwinglius Revidivus: The October Carnival: The Minimalist Edition

Brian W. Davidson at LXXI: Biblioblog Carnival—October 2013

And Jim West has a call for an upcoming carnival: Call For Submissions: The Theological/ Biblical Studies Combo Carnival

Monday, November 04, 2013

Rollston on an old Hebrew forgery

SPEAKING OF FORGERIES: Chapters in the History of Modern Forgery: Professors Leopold Messerschmidt and Charles Torrey on a Hebrew Inscription (Rollston Epigraphy).

The Shapira forgeries raise their moldering heads again

THE TIME OF ISRAEL: In the footsteps of a master forger: In 1883, respected antiques dealer Moses Wilhelm Shapira claimed to possess ancient scrolls of Deuteronomy. The text differed slightly from the accepted version: It had an 11th Commandment (Aviva and Shmuel Bar-Am).
Six months after the most important archaeological discovery of its time was declared a fake, the man who offered it to the world ended his life with a bullet to the head. His tragic suicide left unsolved one of most fascinating puzzles of the era. Had it really been bogus? Or could Moses Wilhelm Shapira have brought to light the world’s oldest copy of Deuteronomy, only to have it rejected by a battery of experts?

Follow the fortunes of this intriguing figure by taking an imaginary jaunt through the streets of Jerusalem (or a real trip, if you live in Israel). The route begins just inside Jaffa Gate at Christ Church, which was to become Shapira’s home-away-from-home.

The jaunt is entertaning, with lots of interesting background material, but this article is another example of the tired old meme about the enterprising outsider who is denounced by the rigid and unimaginative academic establishment but who maybe, just maybe, is vindicated after all.

In the first place, no one would have been happier than Clermont-Ganneau to have Deuteronomy scrolls from the biblical period. I really can't imagine him rejecting a genuine epigraphic find of such importance, even if he was mad at Shapira about the Moabite forgeries.

But let's say I'm wrong and Clermont-Ganneau let his resentment get the better of him and made a mistake. The Shapira scrolls are lost, but we do have descriptions and some drawings (online, e.g., here, here, here, and here) and we've had well over a century to revisit the case. Scholars are not shy about finding mistakes in the work of previous scholars, and the evidence has been reevaluated any number of times. It would be quite a coup to vindicate the Shapira scrolls and show that they were real artifacts from antiquity, and modern epigraphers would have no reason to reject a persuasive case and every reason to welcome it. But epigraphers remain unpersuaded, which indicates that no such case has yet been made. Maybe someday one will be, but I'm not holding my breath.

Background and links to a couple of reevaluations and rejections by epigraphers here (bottom of post).

Sunday, November 03, 2013