Saturday, November 16, 2013

God's body?

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS: Does God have a body? (Shlomo Brody, Jerusalem Post Magazine). Excerpt:
While these figures all denied any corporeality to God, the most trenchant critic of anthropomorphism was Maimonides. He asserted that believers in divine corporeality were both idiots and heretics, since their conception of God was entirely false – as it denied the omnipotence and unity of the Creator. All biblical and rabbinic passages that imply otherwise must therefore be understood as metaphors or visions in the prophet’s minds. Such imagery, he asserted, were pedagogically necessary to introduce complex concepts in familiar terms or because some concepts elude linguistic expression, thereby necessitating pictorial images to convey a sense of the teaching.

Maimonides also deemed the early mystical work Shiur Koma, a midrashic work from the Heichalot literature that graphically depicts God’s exact measurements, as heretical and stemming from non-Jewish hands. Following in his father’s footsteps, Maimonides’s son Abraham maintained that believing in a corporeal God was equivalent to worshiping demons or idols, and further sniped that it was no surprise that Christians were generally supportive of those Ashkenazi scholars who vociferously opposed Maimonidean teachings.
More on the Hekhalot literature here, here, here, here, with links, and of course here. The Shiʻur Qomah has also come up in one post from some years ago here.

Shanks, Christianity & Rabbinic Judaism rev. ed.

Hershel Shanks (ed.), Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism: A Parallel History of their Origins and Early Development (BAS).

This newly revised parallel history of Judaism and Christianity presents the first six centuries in the development of both religions in one understandable volume. This unprecedented book takes readers from the middle of the first century—when a distinction between Judaism and Christianity first became apparent—to theArab conquest. This book begins where its companion volume, Ancient Israel, ends.

The first edition appeared more than two decadesago and has since become a standard text book and reference work for undergraduate, graduate and Bible study courses across the country. The book’s editor and contributing authors have now written a completely updated and revised edition that incorporates the most important finds andi nsights from the past two decades of archaeological, historical and biblical research.

More than 65 images enhance the text, many illustrating the most dramatic and importantf inds discovered in the Holy Land and elsewhere in recent decades. It also includes, for the first time, informative maps detailing the many sites and regions where the shared histories of these two world religions unfolded.
Follow the link for order information and some chapter listings.

Friday, November 15, 2013

DSS coming to Utah

AT THE LEONARDO: Dead Sea Scrolls: Life and Faith in Ancient Times. This Salt Lake City exhibition opens 22 November.

Background here.

DSS "edutainment"

ONE MAN SHOW: "Jerusalem Jones and the Mystery of the Dead Sea Scrolls."
[Ken Hanson] marches out a host of characters to join Jerusalem Jones in the adventure saga that tells the story of how the scrolls were "discovered out of the blue in the middle of the desert in 1947." With a lot of costume changes, he becomes a shepherd boy who throws a stone into a cave and stumbles into these mysterious documents; a shopkeeper in Bethlehem; a Greek Orthodox archbishop; and two prominent Israeli archaeologists.

Hanson even does a "brief Elvis impersonation" in "Jerusalem Jones."
Of course he does.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

More on that oldest Jewish prayer book

THE JEWISH VOICE: World’s Oldest Siddur Slated For Future D.C. Bible Museum (Sean Savage/
Currently part of Hobby Lobby President Steven Green’s “Green Collection,” the largest private collection of biblical texts and artifacts in the world, the siddur and the rest of the collection will be donated to the as yet unnamed international Bible museum in Washington, D.C., slated to open in 2017.

Jerry Pattengale—assistant provost at Indiana Wesleyan University and director of the Green Scholars Initiative, the research arm of the Green Collection—spoke to about the discovery of the ancient siddur, Jewish-Christian relations, and the upcoming Bible museum.
An interview follows. And here's some more information on the siddur:
“When we realized what we were looking at, we decided it would be best to carbon date it. We removed two small sections from the book non-invasively and sent them to two separate labs. They did not know what they were testing; it was a double blind test. Both results came back with a date of 840 CE. Our scholars had originally dated it to 850 CE. The whole process was very exciting.”

What contents of the siddur would modern Jews find familiar, and what would they find different?

“It has services for the Sabbath and the 100 blessings, which you would find in most modern prayer books. That alone makes it relevant to most Jewish communities and something they would recognize right away. There is also the liturgy in there for Passover and the ‘Song of Songs’ poem for Sukkot.”

“I think something a lot of people would be interested in is the poem on the end of times or the apocalyptic text. This is a story that was very popular at the time, but we don’t see often anymore. Finally, there is a really unique section at the end that we are calling the ‘Salvation for Zion.’”
This sounds promising. As always, I would like to see the results of the paleographic analysis, tests, etc., published in a peer-review journal. The rest of the article has more information on the Green Collection and the siddur itself.

Background here and links.

Mesopotamian Chronicles

AWOL: Mesopotamian Chronicles. Lots of useful online resources.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Qumran Institute Symposuim

THIRD QUMRAN INSTITUTE SYMPOSIUM AT GRONINGEN UNIVERSITY: Qumran Institute Symposium: Jewish Cultural Encounters in the Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern World. It takes place on 8-11 December 2013. Follow the link for a program and registration information.

Iraqi Jewish Archive statement

JNS.ORG: Iraqi Jewish Archive should be protected and accessible, 42 groups say.
Posted on November 12, 2013 by
( Forty-two groups, led by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, on Tuesday released a statement calling on the U.S. government to assure that the Iraqi Jewish Archive, which America plans to return to Iraq, would be protected and continually accessible to Iraqi Jewish communities around the world.

Background here and links.

James Ossuary inscription "vandalized" by authorities?

MATTHEW KALMAN: Scientific vandalism:How the IAA and Israeli Police wrecked the James ossuary (James Ossuary Trial Jerusalem Blog).
The Israel Police Forensics Laboratory applied red silicon to the inscription to create a mold that might show it was a modern addition. The procedure proved nothing, but it left reddish stains in the grooves of the letters and ripped out the ancient patina that covers archaeological items and helps determine their authenticity.
Evidently the Trial's Judge was not pleased.

Background here and links.

More on Talmudic Temple lore

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: The Importance of Cubits and Shewbread and Everything That Makes Your Eyes Glaze Over. In their faith, Talmudic rabbis kept contradictory thoughts, believing in both the reality of miracles and their unreliability.
The rabbis take for granted that the sanctuary in the Jerusalem Temple followed the pattern of the Tabernacle, which was built by Moses according to the specifications God delivered at Sinai. Then there are details from the book of Kings, which describes how Solomon built the First Temple. But that building was destroyed by the Babylonians in the sixth century BCE, and it’s not clear how closely the Second Temple followed its blueprint. The Temple that emerges in the rabbis’ imagination, then, is a palimpsest, full of contradictory details that have to be reconciled.
Also, where did the Ark of the Covenant end up?

More on the Ark of the Covenant here (and I suppose here) and links. More on legends about the lost Temple treasures here and links.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

More on the Iraqi Jewish Archive

JEWISH PRESS EDITORIAL: Sending Jewish Assets To Iraq.
No definitive analysis has surfaced as to what international law has to say about Iraq’s right to insist on the return of the items. To be sure, countries have broad powers when it comes to controlling the assets of their citizens. Certainly the State Department believes Iraq is within its rights. Yet we believe the issue is best framed in terms of whether this country, under its own laws, can be complicit in what would amount to outright theft by an American government.

It would be scandalous for the U.S. to transfer the Iraqi Jewish community’s stolen historical record to anyone other than the heirs of that community.
Background here and links.

James Ossuary going on display

BACK IN ODED GOLAN'S HANDS: Public will be able to see limestone box that may have been casket for Jesus’ brother. Ancient burial box is inscribed 'James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus' (Matthew Kalman, New York Daily News).
The stone burial box bearing the inscription "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus" has been hidden from public view at the Israel Antiquities Authority since 2003.

But now it has been released to be displayed around the world, following a 10-year legal battle in which Israeli authorities failed to show that collector Oded Golan faked the ancient Aramaic lettering on the box.
Some recent posts on the James Ossuary are here, here, and here and follow the links. Background on the Israel forgery trial is here with many links.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Jerome Murphy O'Connor, 1935-2013

SAD NEWS: Charlotte Hempel reports on Facebook via Émile Puech that Father Jerome Murphy-O'Connor passed away last night. Requiescat in pace.

Mazal tov!

HAARETZ: Word of the day / Mazal tov: Stars above! Good luck with that. And if you don't have any, you can always move, says the Talmud. (Shoshana Kordova). Excerpts:
Mazal tov translates as “congratulations,” but mazal actually means “luck” or “fate.” Tov means good. Yes, this means that when you heaped good wishes on a friend who just announced she was getting married, on a literal level you were actually telling her “good luck with that.”


Despite the association with idol worship, one of the biggest Jewish no-nos, the idea of mazal has not been expunged from Judaism. Zodiac signs have been found in the mosaics of ancient synagogues in the Galilee. And the Talmud tells an exegetical story that has God saying “I created 12 mazalot in the sky,” as well as hundreds of thousands of stars, “and I created all of them for you” (Brachot 32b).

Jewish sources also refer to mazal as fate or as an entity that affects something else’s fate. The homiletic collection Bereshit Rabba states that “There is no blade of grass that doesn’t have a mazal in the heavens that strikes it and tells it: ‘Grow!’” (10). And the Jewish mystical work the Zohar states that “everything depends on mazal, even a Torah scroll in the synagogue.”
More on zodiac mosaics in ancient synagogues here. There is also a roughly Geonic Hebrew tractate on astrology called Baraita di-Mazzalot, The External Tractate of the Constellations.

Robert Cargill profiled

University of Iowa professor digs further into the Bible
After chasing David and Goliath, Robert Cargill stars in a History Channel documentary, which debuts this week

(Josh O’Leary, Iowa City Press-Citizen)

IOWA CITY, IA. — IArchaeologist and religious scholar Robert Cargill was teaching last decade at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., when he received an unusual request.

A woman who was auditing one of Cargill’s history and religion classes approached him and said her good friend wanted to take the course, as well, but was worried she’d be a distraction. The woman asked Cargill if he’d be willing to privately tutor the friend — actress Nicole Kidman.

That introduction nine years ago, in a way, would prove to be a bridge between Cargill’s work in the academic world to television, where his dynamic personality has made him a go-to expert for several documentary makers.

Today Cargill is an assistant professor of classics and religious studies at the University of Iowa and has appeared as a biblical authority in nearly 15 documentaries and TV programs. His latest project, a six-part documentary called “Bible Secrets Revealed,” in which he served as a consulting producer, will begin airing Wednesday on the History channel.


The soon-to-air documentary series, produced by Prometheus Entertainment of Los Angeles, covers an array of topics — what was lost in the various translations of the Bible, examining who Jesus really was, and sex in the Scriptures. Cargill, who in addition to being one of the dozens of biblical scholars interviewed, reviewed and helped inform scripts as a consulting producer.

He said the series’ academic approach will inevitably lead to criticism from those who adhere to fundamentalist views of the Bible, but he’s no stranger to receiving emails from viewers calling him a heretic or telling him he will burn in hell.

“At the end of the day, you have the reality and the facts, and then you have what you were taught, either by your parents or by the Bible or whatever. When they’re not congruent, what do you do?” Cargill said. “Do you deny reality and stick to what you believe or what somebody taught you? Or do you embrace the reality and the facts, and do you rethink what you were taught growing up? That’s one of the centerpieces of the documentary.

“We’re trying to give facts, we’re trying to give a diversity of opinion, and then we want the viewer to make the decision for themselves based on the evidence.”

I knew about the documentary, but not about Nicole Kidman.

Johnson, Bookrolls and Scribes in Oxyrhynchus

LARRY HURTADO: The Bookroll vs. the Codex. A reviewlet of William A. Johnson: Bookrolls and Scribes in Oxyrhynchus (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004).

Much more on the Oxyrhynchus papyri here and links.

Second Yeshiva Univ. DSS Seminar

PROF. LAWRENCE H. SCHIFFMAN: Second Yeshiva University Dead Sea Scrolls Seminar. Coming on 20 November.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Gospel of Judas manuscript is going to Egypt

AHRAMONLINE: The gospel according to Judas: The only known copy of the Gospel of Judas, which casts an unorthodox light on events leading up to the Crucifixion, is returning to Egypt (Nevine El-Aref).
The gospel of Jesus's favourite disciple, Judas, was on show yesterday in Washington's National Geographic Museum before its return to Egypt where it was found 30 years ago. The fragile codex -- made up of 13 papyrus leaves -- has been restored with a two-million-dollar fund from the National Geographic Society (NGS) and the Waitt Institute for Historical Discovery. Its most recent owners, the Basel-based Maecenas Foundation for Ancient Art (MFAA), will now hand the codex over to the Coptic Museum in Old Cairo.

It is far from clear that this gospel presents Judas as Jesus' favorite disciple.

Be that as it may, I hope the manuscript will be safe. Things Coptic, not to speak of the Copts themselves, don't seem very safe in Egypt at present.

Some background on the Coptic Gospel of Judas is here and links.