Saturday, March 08, 2014

Schiffman on Eruv and Sectarianism

ANOTHER BLOG SERIES BY LAWRENCE H. SCHIFFMAN: Eruv and Sectarianism in Ancient Judaism (8 posts).
The purpose of the presentation that follows is to argue that the Qumran sectarians, usually identified as the Essenes described by Josephus and other Greek-writing authors, prohibited carrying from domain to domain on the Sabbath, basing themselves on certain biblical passages, and that these ancient Jewish sectarians did not have an institution such as the eruv to mitigate the difficulties caused by this prohibition. ...

Friday, March 07, 2014

Schama, The Story of the Jews, vol. 1

BOOK REVIEW: "Surrender to our verbosity!" Or at least read Simon Schama's history of the Jews In his brilliant new book, the unconventional scholar somehow manages to be simultaneously sentimental and subversive, consensual and contrarian (Stuart Schoffman, Haaretz). A few excerpts:
“The Story of the Jews: Finding the Words 1000 BC – 1492 AD,” by Simon Schama; Ecco/HarperCollins, 496 pages, $40

Jerusalem, Vilna, Babylon, Brooklyn: historic wellsprings of Jewish life and lore. But Elephantine Island? Who ever heard of Elephantine Island, also known as Yeb, in the Nile River in Upper Egypt, the site of today’s Aswan? Who knew that an Aramaic-speaking colony of Jews, in the military service of imperial Persia, lived there in the 5th century B.C.E., the period of Ezra and Nehemiah, and built their own temple, complete with animal sacrifices?


Throughout the book, Schama draws impressively on cutting-edge academic studies. In the first chapter, his main source is “The Elephantine Papyri in English,” by Bezalel Porten, et al. (1996). The papyri, written in Aramaic and discovered in 1893 by an amateur Egyptologist, testify to Sabbath and Passover rituals as well as the prevalence of intermarriage. “The Elephantine Yahudim,” Schama pointedly writes, “were Yahwists who were not going to be held to the letter of observance laid down by Jerusalemites any more than, say, the vast majority of Jews now who believe themselves to be, in their way, observant, will accept instruction on what it means to be Jewish (or worse, who is or isn’t a Jew) from the ultra-Orthodox.”

Schama calls the Elephantine story the “first” because, unlike the biblical accounts of Moses and the Exodus, or David and Solomon – stories that the author aptly characterizes as a poetic “echo” of what actually happened – this one (which ended when Egypt overthrew Persian rule) is based on hard archaeological findings.


Schama has a special fondness for the Dead Sea Scrolls, a corpus that also lies outside the official canon. “Some of it is mesmerizingly, crazily, wordy,” he writes. He takes special note of the apocalyptic War Scroll, which describes “exactly what must be inscribed on trumpets, banners and even weapons in the battle array of the Sons of Light ... We are going to write the enemy into capitulation! Surrender to our verbosity or else!”
Plus Josephus gets "valorized."

The book is based on Schama's BBC documentary, on which more here and links. And there's lots more on the Elephantine papyri here.

The Journal of Ancient Near Eastern History

We are very pleased to announce the publication of the first issue of the Journal of Ancient Near Eastern History.
The first issue is available for free and articles can be downloaded at the following link:

Contents of JANEH Volume 1 Issue 1:
Editorial Introduction to JANEH

Daniel Fleming, Chasing Down the Mundane: the Near East with Social Historical Interest

Niek Veldhuis, Intellectual History and Assyriology

Francesca Rochberg, The History of Science and Ancient Mesopotamia

Seth Richardson, Mesopotamian Political History: The Perversities

JANEH is published twice per year online and in print. The next issue will appear in October. We are committed to best practices for the consideration, review, and publication of contributions. Manuscripts should be submitted electronically through the JANEH website ( and can be written in in English, French, or German. The style guide for the journal is also available on the website. The international Editorial Board oversees a double-blind peer review process. Under normal circumstances, authors can expect to wait no more than 10 weeks from initial submission to final decision. Moreover, for all subsequent issues of JANEH, articles that have received final approval will be published immediately online and will enter the queue for the next available print issue.

We look forward to your readership and we hope you will consider supporting JANEH by submitting your work for our consideration. Please address any questions to:

Marc Van De Mieroop and Steven Garfinkle
Editors of JANEH
(HT Michael Helfield.)

Thursday, March 06, 2014

A Canaanite sage and mystical rabbis

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Rationalism, Mysticism, Slaves, and a Sukkah Made From an Elephant The Talmud describes rabbis who were not just judges and legal analysts, but magicians as well.
This law applies only to Jews, of course; a Canaanite slave like Tavi was not obligated to follow the rules of Sukkot. Yet Tavi was learned enough in the Torah to know the rules he was not supposed to follow—Rabban Gamliel even calls him a “Torah scholar,” a talmid hakham—so he demonstratively slept under a bed in the sukkah. In doing so Tavi taught two laws by example: that a Jew cannot sleep under a bed in the sukkah, and that a Canaanite is not obligated to follow all the mitzvot binding on a Jew. There is a fascinating kind of ambiguity in this gesture of Tavi’s. He was simultaneously dramatizing that he was just like the rabbis, in his knowledge of law, and totally unlike them, because the law was not his. If you had to choose one person from the Talmud to bring back to life and interview, Tavi might not be the obvious choice, but he could be the most revealing witness to how the rabbis actually lived their Judaism.
More on Merkavah Mysticism and Hekhalot literature here and links (shameless self-promotion alert).

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Hebrew Studies

AWOL: Open Access Journal: Hebrew Studies. This one is chock full of goodies. I'm going to have to go through it carefully.

Golan's other ossuary

OH NO! Oded Golan had another ossuary (Hershel Shanks, BAR). Excerpt:
Perhaps not many of our readers will be excited to learn that there was a significant Jewish diaspora in Syria while the Temple still stood in Jerusalem. But it nicely illustrates the difference between the scholarly and the popular mind. Both are legitimate and to be respected.

The James Ossuary allows us to connect with extraordinary historical events—to touch the past, as it were. The Apamea and Palmyra ossuary allows the scholar to add one more bit of information about the spread of Judaism in the first century C.E. before the fall of Jerusalem.
HT the Bible Places Blog. For the Israel forgery trial, see here and follow the many, many links. For more on Oded Golan and the James Ossuary, go here and, again, follow the links. More on Palmyra is here and links.

Schiffman series on body and soul, purity and impurity

LAWRENCE H. SCHIFFMAN has been posting some thematic series of blog posts at his blog and I've been remiss about keeping up with them. So I'm going to start catching up today with his four posts on Body and Soul, Purity and Impurity.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Morphing Nag Hammadi traditions

MAKR GOODACRE: Another retelling of the Nag Hammadi discovery story.

The Talmud and Islam

THE JEWISH CHRONICLE: The Talmud and Islam. In an extract from his new book, The Talmud – A Biography, Harry Freedman looks at the influence of Jews and Muslims on each other. Excerpt:
Talmudic and Islamic scholars cross-fertilized in legal matters because they lived in the same mercantile society. But the two traditions didn’t just overlap when it came to the law. Story telling was an art in the folklore-rich Arabian world.

Amongst the few things that the patchwork of Jewish sects in the Arabia Peninsula had in common was a repository of folklore. The Talmud had drawn on some of it, but there was much more which it did not absorb, including literature linked to the secessionist priestly sect at Qumran, who are best known as the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Early Islam had drawn in Jewish converts who recounted these Dead Sea tales along with everyone else, based on their memories of legends they had heard as Jews.
Sounds interesting, although if early Islamic lore incorporates demonstrable material from Dead Sea Scrolls traditions, I have not heard of it.

UPDATE: A reviewlet of Freedman's book by Rabbi Harvey Belovski has also been posted at the Jewish Chronicle: The book they couldn't suppress. The story of the classic text that shaped Judaism - the Talmud.

Monday, March 03, 2014

St Andrews Symposium update


Background here and links.

Pi and the Diaspora in the Talmud

THE LAST TWO WEEKS OF DAF YOMI COLUMNS BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Math Problem for Talmudic Rabbis: Building the Right Size Sukkah. Pi, irrational numbers, and squaring the circle are all brought to bear to find justifications for tradition
For a thousand years, traditional Jewish education was focused on learning the Talmud. But as I’ve often found in reading Daf Yomi, learning the Talmud also requires mastering secular arts and sciences such as mathematics, astronomy, and medicine. In fact, a complex geometry problem came up early in this week’s reading in Tractate Sukka, raising the question: How well did the rabbis know the value of pi?
In practice, they seem to reckon it as three and a bit, which is not too far off. Cross-file under "Asking the Important Questions."

In the Talmud, Jews Losing Touch With the Everyday Words of the Holy Land In staking claims about the validity of Jewish identity, the rabbis show that the Diaspora has existed for nearly as long as Judaism.
At this point, Reish Lakish—who was born in Syria but moved to Palestine as an adult—offers a brief but pointed statement about the relationship between Babylonia and Israel. “Initially, when Torah was forgotten from the Jewish people in Eretz Israel, Ezra ascended from Babylonia and reestablished it,” he explains. When the Torah was “again forgotten, Hillel the Babylonian ascended and reestablished it.” And when the law was forgotten for a third time, in the Tannaic period, “Rabbi Chiyya and his sons ascended and reestablished it.” Reish Lakish goes on to cite the teaching of Chiyya on the question of reed mats.

This little genealogy of Diaspora relations sends a powerful message, reminding us that the question of the Diaspora has existed for nearly as long as Judaism itself. ...
Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Deed to Mor Gabriel Monastery land restored

AINA: Assyrians in Turkey Receive Deed for Lands of St. Gabriel Monastery (by Okan Konuralp, originally in Hurrieyet Daily News, but I seem to have missed it there).
The lands of the historic Mor Gabriel Monastery located in Turkey's southeastern province of Mardin have been returned to the Syriac community, completing an important step in the slow-running restoration of the group's property.

"The process regarding the 12 parcels of land of 244,000 square meters has been finalized. We are happy to receive back the deed of the land without coming to the European Court of Human Right phase," said the president of the Mor Gabriel foundation, Kuryakos Ergun.

A remaining dispute about another parcel of land is mentioned in the article as an aside, but few details are given. It took the specter of the ECHR, but the Turkish Government appears to be doing the right thing now, and I give them credit for that.

Background here with many links. Cross-file under "Syriac Watch."

Sunday, March 02, 2014

The Greek Isaiah

LAWRENCE H. SCHIFFMAN: Isaiah and the Greek Septuagint. This post is primarily about the relationship between the Greek translation and the surviving Hebrew texts of Isaiah. But, as Larry notes in passing, many of the differences are due to later interpretations (and misunderstandings) of the Greek translator. But these later interpretations and misunderstandings are also important, first, because they tell us about the translator and the translator's milieu and, second, because they were of some importance in the developing theology of early Greek-speaking Christians. For some bibliography see this post by Abram K.-J. at Words on the Word, and also note the upcoming symposium in Salmanca, Spain, on Isaiah and the Beginnings of Christian Theology, noted by T Michael Law.