Saturday, February 22, 2014

Review of Burke, Secret Scriptures Revealed

BRANDON W. HAWK: Review of Tony Burke’s Secret Scriptures Revealed. Excerpt:
As a medievalist, I greatly appreciated Burke’s sensitivity to studies of apocrypha that look beyond the first four centuries of Christian history. Like recent collaborative projects that eschew chronological boundaries (More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha and More Christian Apocrypha [co-edited by Burke]), several sections of Secret Scriptures Revealed demonstrate the benefits of including later apocrypha, transmissions, and witnesses for understanding the subject. The most poignant considerations to bring this out are in Burke’s discussions of different attitudes toward biblical canon and apocrypha across time and cultures (e.g. 14-16), and his emphasis on the importance of manuscript libraries (32-6). Burke’s claims about the significance of apocrypha nod toward the long history of Christianity, not just their role in late antiquity but also through the medieval, early modern, and modern periods, right up to the present day.
Via Apocryphicity. Just to be clear, Tony Burke is co-editor of the More Christian Apocrypha Project but not the More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project. And regarding the latter, we don't eschew chronological boundaries, but we have a later one than the Charlesworth and Sparks pseudepigrapha volumes and we try to explain clearly why we go beyond it when we do.

More on Secret Scriptures Revealed and related matters here, here, here, and links.

Two Magnes books

David Golan, Soldier Caesars (in Hebrew)

The Biographies of this volume comprise the concluding part of the Scriptores Historiae Augustae.
Their main subjects are the events of the Roman Empire during the years 235-284.
These were the days of the so called Illyrian Caesars on the throne of Rome. The Empire was compelled in those days to face too often and too dangerous incursions of barbarians, as well as tireless efforts of various provincials trying to free themselves from Roman mastery.
Rome was forced to recruit more and more barbarians to fill up the ranks of her soldiery and even officer staff. Rome even experienced a strong shortage of silver and gold metals to coin her Denarii and Aurei. These deficiencies revealed Rome's weakness abroad and caused disquiet and instability within the borders of the Empire.
However in spite of inflation, overtaxing and blackmailing bureaucracy the people of Israel in their country managed to continue their recovery due to the failed uprising in the century passed.

The author-editor of these biographies remains anonymous. Although on may presume he had been a fifth century Roman of the senatorial circles. The author-editor did not pretend to be a professional biography writer. Nevertheless it is clear that he had been a man of letters who made great efforts to provide a vivid and reliable account of those stormy days, the last generations of pagan Rome.

Daniel Abrams, Kabbalistic Manuscripts and Textual Theory Methodologies of Textual Scholarship and Editorial Practice in the Study of Jewish Mysticism (2nd edition)

Kabbalistic Manuscripts and Textual Theory uncovers the unstated assumptions and expectations of scribes and scholars who fashioned editions from manuscripts of Jewish mystical literature. This study offers a theory of kabbalistic textuality in which the material book – the printed page no less than handwritten manuscripts – serves as the site for textual dialogue between Jewish mystics of different periods and locations. The refashioning of the text through the process of reading and commenting that takes place on the page – in the margins and between the lines – blurs the boundaries between the traditionally defined roles of author, reader, commentator and editor. This study shows that kabbalists and academic editors reinvented the text in their own image, as part of a fluid textual process that was nothing short of transformative.

Kabbalistic Manuscripts and Textual Theory was first published in 2010 and is reissued in this revised edition with a new chapter:

Textual Fixity and Textual Fluidity

Kabbalistic Textuality and the Hypertexualism of Kabbalah Scholarship

1. Hypertextualism and the Study of Jewish Mysticism

2. Recent Debates on Textual Methodology in Kabbalah Research

3. Kabbalists as Literary Critics: An Undocumented History

4. Re-Editing as a Religious Imperative: A Psychological Appreciation of the Theurgic Justification of Editorial Practice

5. The Cultural Agendas and Assumptions of the Methodologies Kabbalah Scholarship

6. Epilogue: Kabbalah as Textual Process

"This book is certainly monumental, offering in its seven hundred pages a wealth of documentation and distilled argument that manages to be both comprehensive in its materials and transparent in its critical insights. It is rare indeed that a work of such formidable scholarship can actually be a pleasure to read and convincing in its elucidation of what are often extremely complex documentary circumstances and editorial traditions."
– From the foreword by David Greetham

Friday, February 21, 2014

Wikipedia on Alexandrinus

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS: How Bad is Wikipedia? Codex Alexandrinus as a test case (Peter Head at ETC).
That is ten problems in the first half of the entry. And there are many more in the second half. I can see why many people advise students to avoid wikipedia. Wikipedia is quite bad. Facts are wrong, correct facts are placed in the wrong context, incorrect conclusions are drawn. Some of these errors would seem to have been deliberately inserted (either that or very stupid people are getting things badly wrong and adding them in). The best and most recent scholarship is cited the least. Evidence is not routinely provided. And the overall style is dreadful.
That's bad. But maybe the entry was edited by bots.

The machines still need us. For now.

Second Temple-era village excavated

BIBLE PLACES BLOG: Hellenistic Village Discovered Near Burma Road.

Martin Lautenschlaeger Award for Theological Promise

LARRY HURTADO: Martin Lautenschlaeger Award Deadline. If you are a scholar aged 35 or under and you have published a book (with some connection to "God and Spirituality") in the last three years, you should read this.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

More on Rollston at GW

CHRISTOPHER ROLLSTON: Classics scholar, fired from last college for criticizing Bible, will help plan new major at GW. "GW" being George Washington University.
As a member of GW’s faculty, Rollston will lead planning for the classics departments’ third major, in addition to Arabic and Classics, which includes studying one or two ancient languages.

GW added a major and minor in Arabic in 2012. Prior to that, students had been able to declare a minor in Hebrew and Arabic.

The classics department had been looking to add a Near Eastern studies major, Eric Cline, chair of the classics department, said. But Cline said he urged GW to hire Rollston, an acquaintance of about 20 years, to help speed up the process.

“We weren't even able to consider doing it without the addition of someone like Dr. Rollston,” Cline added.

The new major will bring GW in line with departments at John’s Hopkins and Princeton universities.

Rollston will provide the department with the necessary expertise in near eastern languages and religions to round out course offering for the new major in the subject, Cline said.

“In addition to his languages, his breadth of knowledge stretches from the religions of the ancient Near East to early Christianity and its interactions with Greece and Rome. He not only can teach Akkadian and Ugaritic, if anyone ever wants to takes those languages, but he can also teach New Testament Greek and Biblical Hebrew,” Cline said.
It speaks well for the Classics Department that George Washington is expanding its Near Eastern Studies into a major in this time of economic retrenchment, and it also speaks well for Chris that he was chosen to spearhead the effort. I am very pleased but not at all surprised.

Background here and links.

Kairite Archives

NEW JOURNAL: Kairite Archives.
KARAITE ARCHIVES is a peer-reviewed print journal which appears annually and which focuses on the literature, languages, history and culture of the Karaites in Eastern Europe. It is designed as a forum for specialists in Karaite studies to promote research and exchange ideas. The journal was established on the initiative of a group of European and Israeli scholars. Although formally connected with the Department of Asian Studies at Adam Mickiewicz University in PoznaƄ, scholars from other academic institutions are also involved in its editing.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

While we're on the subject of the war in Syria

The destruction of the idols: Syria’s patrimony at risk from extremists

The country’s wealth of archaeological treasures is under threat both from iconoclastic Islamic fundamentalists and looters operating amid the lawlessness of war

Patrick Cockburn
(The Independent) Damascus

Tuesday 11 February 2014

Islamic fundamentalists in Syria have started to destroy archaeological treasures such as Byzantine mosaics and Greek and Roman statues because their portrayal of human beings is contrary to their religious beliefs. The systematic destruction of antiquities may be the worst disaster to ancient monuments since the Taliban in Afghanistan dynamited the giant statues of Buddha at Bamiyan in 2001 for similar ideological reasons.

In mid-January the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis), an al-Qa’ida-type movement controlling much of north-east Syria, blew up and destroyed a sixth-century Byzantine mosaic near the city of Raqqa on the Euphrates. The official head of antiquities for Raqqa province, who has fled to Damascus and does not want his name published, told The Independent: “It happened between 12 and 15 days ago. A Turkish businessman had come to Raqqa to try to buy the mosaic. This alerted them [Isis] to its existence and they came and blew it up. It is completely lost.”

Other sites destroyed by Islamic fundamentalists include the reliefs carved at the Shash Hamdan, a Roman cemetery in Aleppo province. Also in the Aleppo countryside, statues carved out of the sides of a valley at al-Qatora have been deliberately targeted by gunfire and smashed into fragments.

And along with the ideological destruction comes the looting. Reportedly the sites of Ebla, Mari, and Dura Europos (et al.) are being devastated. The looting has been going on for some time. Here's an article from last May which just came to the attention of Judith Weingarten on Facebook: Lebanon seizes artifacts smuggled from Syria (Lebanon Daily Star). "They said the artifacts were looted from cemeteries in Palmyra and churches in Homs." This news is from last spring, but it's the first either of us have heard about it.

All this in addition to the appalling suffering and loss of life the war has brought.

Background, with more on Palmyra and Dura Europos, is here and here and links. Related posts are here and here. A more recent post on Palmyra is here. And a couple of more recent posts on Dura Europos are here and here.

Belated recognition for Maaloula

IN DAMASCUS: Photo exhibition showcasing town of Maaloula and Aramaic music concert at Opera House (Syria TV).
Culture Minister Dr. Lubana Mashouh, who attended the exhibition, told SANA that this exhibition’s importance lies in the fact that it showcases a part of Syria’s cultural and Christian heritage, as the town of Maaloula is a symbol of coexistence of Syria.

She said that this exhibition also underlines Syria’s values of love and fraternity, representing a response to those who hate life and adopt the language of murder and animosity.

For his part, photographer Shammas said that this exhibition represents Syria’s suffering, particularly Maaloula, due to terrorism, and that he worked for two years to document the town with his photographs which depict various locations such as St. Serkis Convent and St. Thecla Convent as well as the people of Maaloula and their traditions.
Better late than never, I suppose. But it would have been nice if Maaloula had received this kind of attention before militant Islamists had devastated the town and desecrated the grave of St. Thecla in the civil war. Better still, if it had received some protection from the Syrian Government before that happened. Or at least the Government could have refrained from closing Maaloula's Aramaic Institute because idiots had noticed that the Aramaic script looks like Hebrew.

Cross file under "Aramaic Watch" and "Ma'aloula, Malula." Follow the links in my comments above for much background on Maaloula.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Deir al-Surian Library in the news

THE MONASTERY AT DEIR AL-SURIAN is profiled in an article by Teresa Levonian Cole in Spear's Magazine, reprinted by AINA: Egypt's Mysterious Monastery Hides Ancient Secrets. I don't see anything in it that hasn't been covered in previous posts, but it's a nice overview of the Monastery, the recent renovation of its library, and the precious Coptic, Arabic, Ethiopic, and Syriac manuscripts that have been preserved in it for many centuries. Excerpt (but worth reading in full):
The sprawling suburbs of Cairo have encroached upon much of the surrounding wilderness. But follow the Desert Highway for a 90-minute drive north-west from the capital and you will reach a timeless oasis that lies behind Deir al-Surian's 40-foot blush-coloured walls.

Above these 10th-century defences peep the domes of churches, whose treasures -- including magnificent frescoes dating from the 7th century -- most visitors have come to see. Also visible are palm fronds, spires and, in the north-west corner, a squat tower complete with drawbridge, which is where this story begins.

The tower, built around AD 850, contained the monastery's original library. It might have remained a library like any other, had it not been for a decision by the new vizier to tax the monasteries in Egypt. To plead exemption for Deir al-Surian, Abbot Mushe of Nisibis made his way to the Abbasid capital of Baghdad in 927, and, while awaiting the Caliph's decision (it was favourable), embarked on a five-year spree that would yield a cache of 250 manuscripts from Syria and Mesopotamia.

This would form the core of his monastery's collection which, over the years, increased to number Syriac, Coptic, Ethiopic and Christian-Arab texts, dating from the 5th to the 18th centuries. They would include biblical, Patristic and liturgical writings, as well as early translations of philosophy, medicine and science, many of whose original Greek texts have been lost.

Of these treasures, the most ancient are the writings in Syriac (a dialect of Aramaic, the language of Christ), which include the earliest dated Old and New Testament manuscripts ever found in any language: part of the Book of Isaiah, dated AD 459/60, and a Gospel of AD 510.
Lord Curzon visited the library in the early nineteenth century and came away with some manuscripts. The British Museum purchased many of the rest, but quite a few are still there. I hope they stay safe.

Past posts on the Monastery of Deir al-Surian and its library are here, here, here, here, and here. And two posts deal with that single page recently recovered from a Syriac manuscript dated to 411 C.E. (here and here).

UPDATE (20 February): Tony Burke comments.

DSS purchase in 1955

ANNIVERSARY: On This Day: Israel reveals it has all the Dead Sea Scrolls after secretly buying them from Arabs (Julian Gavaghan, Yahoo News). Cool contemporary newsreel.

The article is a little confused toward the end: the Dead Sea Scrolls are the (roughly) 972 scrolls found in the eleven caves near Qumran and are widely believed to be a library left by a single sectarian Jewish group that was probably related in some way to the Essenes. The "letters hidden by those fleeing Roman forces" are from the period of the Bar Kokhba revolt, a couple of generations later, found in other caves in the area.

Reconstructing a Phoenician

The American Univerisity of Beirut Archaeological Museum opened a special exhibition recently, showcasing a reconstruction of a Phoenician man, whose 2500-year-old skeleton was discovered in Tunis, in 1994.
So actually he was a Carthaginian. But close enough.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Albeck, Introduction to Jewish Law in Talmudic Times, on sale now

FOR YOU, SPECIAL DEAL: Introduction to Jewish Law in Talmudic Times, by Shalom Albeck (Bar-Ilan University Press) is available at 30% off until 20 February.

The 10 coolest dead languages?

BUZZFEED: The 10 Coolest Dead Languages. Via Christopher Rollston on Facebook.

Now Jessica Misener has produced a nice list and there is nothing wrong with the dead languages in it. I myself read (or at least have at one time been able to read) six of the ten. But as commenters on Chris's post point out, many worthy ancient languages are omitted. What about Ugaritic, Phoenician, and Sumerian, not to speak of Syriac, Hittite, Linear B, and Avestan? And those are just well deciphered ones. Etruscan, Proto-Elamite, Linear A, and Olmec are cool too, even if we don't really know what they say. There is much coolness here, and I would be hard pressed to pick a top ten myself. But points to Ms. Misener for trying.

Harkins et al. (eds.), The Watchers in Jewish and Christian Traditions

NEW BOOK: Angela Kim Harkins, Kelley Coblentz Bautch, John C. Endres (eds.), The Watchers in Jewish and Christian Traditions (Fortress, 2014).
At the origin of the Watchers tradition is the single enigmatic reference in Genesis 6 to the "sons of God" who had intercourse with human women, producing a race of giants upon the earth. That verse sparked a wealth of cosmological and theological speculation in early Judaism. Here leading scholars explore the contours of the Watchers traditions through history, tracing their development through the Enoch literature, Jubilees, and other early Jewish and Christian writings. This volume provides a lucid survey of current knowledge and interpretation of one of the most intriguing theological motifs of the Second Temple period.
As noted on Friday, Dr. Harkins is coming soon to the University of Birmingham for a two-year fellowship on the Dead Sea Scrolls.