Saturday, May 10, 2014

Maurice Casey - 1942-2014

SAD NEWS: Word today from Paul Middleton on Facebook via James Crossley that Professor Maurice Casey, Emeritus Professor of New Testament at Nottingham University, has passed away. Professor Casey was best known for his work on early Christology, the Son of Man, and the Aramaic background of the Gospels. His Wikipedia page (with his death not yet noted) is here.

He was an invited seminar presenter at my 1998 international conference on the origins of the worship of Jesus. A few Paleojudaica posts interacting with his work are here, here, and here. I have disagreed with him on many things, but he never held back from tackling the difficult and important questions and I always found his ideas stimulating to engage with. Requiescat in pace.

Latest Reviews of the Enoch Seminar


1. Elisa Uusimäki reviews David Andrew Teeter and Bernd U. Schipper,
eds., Wisdom and Torah.

2. Christfried Böttrich reviews Joshua G. Mathews, Melchizedek's
Alternative Priestly Order

3. Michael T. Miller reviews Peter Schäfer, The Origins of Jewish Mysticism.

4. Isaac W. Oliver reviews Carlos A. Segovia, Por una interpretación no cristiana de Pablo de Tarso: El redescubrimiento contemporáneo de un judío mesiánico.

Friday, May 09, 2014

The Talmud as the basis of Israeli law?

THE TIMES OF ISRAEL: Netanyahu reported to say legal system based on Talmud. Ultra-Orthodox member of the Likud party also says PM told him Israel would officially adopt Hebrew calendar (Marissa Newman). That should stir things up.

Klaus Beyer - 1929-2014

SAD NEWS BELATEDLY: It just came to my attention a few days ago, via Jack Sasson, that renowned Aramaist Klaus Beyer of Heidelberg University passed away on 12 April. There is a German obituary by Holger Gzella (Leiden) posted here (pdf file). Requiescat in pace.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

The GJW as a case study

PETER M. HEAD: Pseudo-Gospel of Jesus Wife as Case Study. Has some useful observations.

Background on the Gospel of Jesus' Wife is here with many links.

Interview with Shamma Friedman

THE TALMUD BLOG: An Interview with Shamma Friedman (Yitz Landes)
Today, May 6th 2014, Prof. Shamma Friedman of the Jewish Theological Seminary and Bar-Ilan University will be awarded the Israel Prize in Talmud, the most prestigious prize that the field has to offer. Over the course of my undergraduate studies at Hebrew University, I had the great fortune to work for Prof. Friedman as a research assistant. Earlier this week I visited him at his office at Machon Schechter to conduct this interview, and to continue work on his new website.
Background here and links

Suing the Third Temple into existence?

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Lawsuit Demands Bank Loans for 'Building the Third Temple.' Ethiopian immigrant sues Israel's major banks – for denying him loans that he is seeking to build the Third Holy Temple in Jerusalem (Moshe Cohen, Arutz Sheva).

Cross-file under "Can't make it up."

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Hurtado on GJW latest

LARRY HURTADO: The “Jesus’ Wife” Controversy: Scholarship, Publicity, and The Issues. Some good commentary on the current state of the question.

Background on the Gospel of Jesus' Wife is here and here and oh so many links.

Making women mind (or not) in the Talmud

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Talmudic Rabbis, All Men, Admit They Cannot Bring Women Under Their Power. In debating the principles of intentional sin, sages find that pleading ignorance is no defense, even if not all laws can be followed.
It is here that the Gemara explains the principle, “Better that they be unwitting sinners and not be intentional sinners.” It is fascinating that this admission of the limits of rabbinic power takes place in such a gender-specific context: The rabbis, all men, acknowledge that they cannot bring women completely under their power. Women’s own practices and customs have an integrity that the law must respect.
Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

The ultimate Noah review

JACK COLLINS: Noah: Hollywood Midrash. This is the best review I have seen of the Noah movie and very likely the best one that has been published. I learned a lot from it.

Background on Noah is here and links. My own review of Noah is here.

LMU Research Fellowships

POSTDOCTORAL FELLOWSHIP: Ludwig-Maxilimians-Universität München: 10 Research Fellowships.

More 2 Baruch and 4 Ezra in Syriac

LIV INGEBORG LIED: 2 Baruch and 4 Ezra: Another Syriac lectionary manuscript.  This is more of interest for specialists in the Syriac liturgy than for the text of 2 Baruch or 4 Ezra, but nevertheless it involves a couple of quotations of the Syriac text of both, which one does not find very often at all.

Related post here.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Conference on Rabbis and Other Jews

AT YALE UNIVERSITY: RABBIS AND OTHER JEWS: Rabbinic Literature and Late Antique Judaism (May 11, 2014).
This conference brings together colleagues and former students of Professor Steven Fraade, the Mark Taper Professor of the History of Judaism at Yale University, to workshop papers in anticipation of a festschrift in his honor. In keeping with Professor Fraade's research interests, the papers will focus mainly on the relationship between tannaitic literature and the rabbis' contemporaries and Second Temple predecessors.

More from Brice C. Jones on the Green Collection


More on the Private Collecting of the "Indiana Jones" of Biblical Archaeology

The 'First Century' Gospel of Mark, Josh McDowell, and Mummy Masks: What They All Have in Common

Background here and links.

Papyrus forgeries?

FURTHER TO ROGER BAGNALL'S STATEMENT, "I don’t know of a single verifiable case of somebody producing a papyrus text that purports to be an ancient text that isn’t. There’s always the first," quoted yesterday, two people have e-mailed with examples of forged papyri.

Joseph D. Reed at Brown University:
Though not a Coptic specialist or religious historian, I've been following the news about the Jesus' Wife fragment, including the notices on your blog. I'm reminded of an evident forgery of a papyrus fragment of Bion of Smyrna that I came across while researching Bion years ago. I'm attaching the ZPE article in which C. Gallazzi analyzes it as modern (though written on ancient papyrus); there's a photo of the papyrus at the bottom of the last page. Some of Gallazzi's arguments are similar to the ones raised against the two Coptic fragments, especially those concerning the John fragment by Hagen et al. I was reminded of it by Bagnall's statement that he knew of not a "single verifiable case of somebody producing a papyrus text that purports to be an ancient text that isn’t"; the Bion case is at least in some ways parallel.
The article is Claudio Gallazzi, "Un papiro falso con un frammento di Bione, cm.6.4 ×4.3," Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 34 (1979): 55-58.

Pierluigi Piovanelli at the University of Ottawa:
[With regard to Bagnall's statement] here is an excerpt from footnote 106 (devoted to illustrious forgeries) of my article in Burke's volume Ancient Gospel or Modern Forgery?, p. 183.

(... on) the Artemidorus Papyrus (attributed to the Greek forger Constantine Simonides [1820-1867?]) (... see) Luciano Canfora, The True History of the So-called Artemidorus Papyrus (Bari: Edizioni di Pagina, 2007); idem, Il viaggio di Artemidoro. Vita e avventure di un grande esploratore dell’antichità (Milan: Rizzoli, 2010); idem, La meravigliosa storia del falso Artemidoro, La memoria 855 (Palermo: Sellerio, 2011); Kai Brodersen and Jaś Elsner, eds., Images and Texts on the “Artemidorus Papyrus”: Working Papers on P.Artemid. (St. John’s College Oxford, 2008), Historia, Einzelschriften 214 (Stuttgart: Steiner, 2009); Federico Condello, “ ‘Artemidoro’ 2006-2011: l’ultima vita, in breve,” Quaderni di storia 74 (2011) 161-248 (kindly brought to my attention by Claudio Zamagni) (...).
Larry Hurtado has recently blogged on the notorious hoaxer and forger Constantine Simonides. It seems Simonides was responsible for a number of forged papyri.

So if the Gospel of Jesus' Wife and the Harvard John fragment are papyrus forgeries, they are not unprecedented. There is even precedent for the use of ancient papyrus to make a forgery.

Background here and links.

UPDATE: Joseph Reed e-mails a follow-up:
Thanks for calling attention to the Bion forgery on your blog. That papyrus has some general similarities to the new Coptic ones—size, shape, appearance of the writing (though the letter forms are different)—common signs of a cautious counterfeiter? I believe the jury is still out on the fascinating Artemidorus papyrus that P. Piovanelli brought to your attention; despite the vigorous warnings of Canfora and Janko most researchers, it seems, incline toward authenticity—but its alleged fabricator, Constantine Simonides, did apparently forge texts on authentically old papyri.

Monday, May 05, 2014

GJW: Another Goodacre roundup

MARK GOODACRE: Jesus' Wife Fragment Round-up. The latest news is that the Smithsonian documentary on the Gospel of Jesus' Wife is running later today, plus the Daily Mail has taken up the recent developments on the story.

Background here and links.

UPDATE: The New York Times has just published an article on the recent developments: Fresh Doubts Raised About Papyrus Scrap Known as ‘Gospel of Jesus’ Wife’ (Laurie Goodstein). There is new information in it, including further responses from Malcolm Choat, Roger Bagnall, and Karen King.
“This is substantive, it’s worth taking seriously, and it may point in the direction of forgery,” Karen L. King, the historian at Harvard Divinity School, said in a telephone interview, her first since the recent developments. “This is one option that should receive serious consideration, but I don’t think it’s a done deal.”


Malcolm Choat, a Coptic expert at Macquarie University in Australia who cautiously contradicted the doubters in his paper last month for the Harvard journal, said in an interview that the new evidence was “persuasive,” but “we’re not completely there yet” — until the John and Jesus wife papyruses can be studied in person or using high-resolution images to understand their relationship. Roger Bagnall, a renowned papyrologist who directs the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University, and who early on deemed the Jesus’ Wife papyrus likely to be genuine, said in an interview about the skeptics, “Most of the people taking this view wanted it to be a fake, and they haven’t asked critical questions about their own hypothesis.”

Perhaps the copying of these two John texts was done in ancient times, not the modern era. Perhaps the John and Jesus’ Wife fragments were not written by the same hand: Indeed, the testing found that the ink is similar but not the same.

The critics have asserted it would not be hard for a forger to mix a batch of carbon-based ink that could fool scientists.

But Dr. Bagnall said, “I don’t know of a single verifiable case of somebody producing a papyrus text that purports to be an ancient text that isn’t. There’s always the first.”

The spotlight now turns to the provenance and the owner of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife. Dr. King promised him she would not identify him publicly, but said she knows she is now under pressure to do so.
I don't think the people arguing it's a fake "wanted it to be a fake." I was originally suspicious because it sounded too good to be true, and subsequent evidence has continued to point considerably more in the direction of a forgery than not. In any case, ad hominem criticisms can go in both directions and are ultimately unhelpful. The evidence remains to be evaluated on its own terms after all the accusations are done. The Lycopolitan John manuscript (the Qau Codex) was buried in a tomb, so it's hard to see how the Harvard John fragment could have been copied from it. I suppose it's possible that the Lycopolitan John manuscript had been copied (exactly according to its lineation) and the Harvard John fragment was copied centuries later (uniquely for a manuscript in the Lycopolitan dialect and, again, exactly following the lineation, this time of alternate lines) from this lost intermediate manuscript. Neither this nor any other scenario I can think of sounds likely to me.

I don't know of any verified modern forgeries using papyrus, but there has been at least one modern (1960s) forgery using parchment: the notorious Hebron "Philistine" scrolls. It was a bad forgery, but it managed to fool a number of scholars. Producing a papyrus forgery is not greatly different in principle, although this one, if that is what it is, is more sophisticated in that it uses ancient materials. But we would expect the arms race between scholars and forgers to result in more sophisticated forgeries.

The most substantive point in Prof. Bagnall's reply is that the two documents may not be in the same scribal hand. That would weaken the connection between them. Some experts in Coptic paleography need to have a look at this question and give us evaluations of whether the two hands are the same.

UPDATE (6 May): For examples of papyrus forgeries, see here.

A crucified Hasmonean king?

HAARETZ: Cold case: Did archaeologists find the last Maccabean king, after all? Crucified remains and a broken jaw have confused scientists for decades. But it could well be that the last Hasmonean king has been found under a private house in Jerusalem (Ariel David).

In 1970, a rock-cut tomb was discovered by workers building a private house in Jerusalem's Givat Hamivtar neighborhood. Inside the two-chambered burial, dating back to the first century BCE, archeologists found a decorated ossuary – a limestone box containing the bones of the deceased – and an enigmatic Aramaic inscription affixed to the wall.

"I am Abba, son of Eleazar the priest," proclaimed the 2,000-year-old text. "I am Abba, the oppressed, the persecuted, born in Jerusalem and exiled to Babylon, who brought back Mattathiah son of Judah and buried him in the cave that I purchased."

Who was Abba, this unfortunate priest from Jerusalem? And who was the Mattathiah whose remains were apparently buried in the cave?

These questions have been fiercely debated by scholars for the past 40 years. Now. new research indicates that the initial interpretation of the find, that has long been dismissed, may have been right all along. This view identifies the Abba cave as the final resting place of a key figure in Jewish history: Mattathiah Antigonus II, the last king of the Hasmonean dynasty, whose reign was followed by Roman conquest, the destruction of the Second Temple and two millennia of exile.


Horrific death

The theory that Abba may have retrieved the Hasmonean king's body from Antioch, today in southern Turkey, and secretly buried it in his family tomb received a boost in 1974, when Nicu Haas, Israel's top physical anthropologist at the time, discussed his analysis of the bones found inside the ossuary on Israeli television.

Interviewed for a program titled "The Last of the Maccabees," Haas said he had identified the bones of at least two individuals, one older and one a young adult, around the age of 25, who had suffered a horrific death. Three nails where found in the ossuary with pieces of hand bones attached to two of them, suggesting the victim had been crucified.

Haas also identified clean cuts on the man's second vertebra and lower jaw, indicating he had been decapitated with a sword or other sharp object. These findings were consistent with Mattathiah's age and with the account of his execution given by ancient historians Josephus Flavius and Dio Cassius who recount that Marc Antony had the king crucified, scourged and beheaded.

With Haas' analysis, all the pieces of the puzzle seemed to fall into place. But then, there was an accident. A month after the TV program aired, Haas slipped on an icy Jerusalem street and hit his head. He spent the last 13 years of his life in a coma and never published his findings on the cave.

The bones were passed on for analysis to Patricia Smith, an anthropologist from the Hebrew University. While agreeing that the remains included the skull fragments of a young man, she concluded that the cut jaw belonged to the elderly person - and that this individual was a woman. In her report, published in 1977 in the Israel Exploration Journal, she also dismissed the idea that crucifixion had occurred because the nails had not passed through the bones.


In a paper published last year in the IEJ, Yoel Elitzur, a Hebrew University historian, sheds some light on the enigmatic priest Abba and links him to the Hasmonean dynasty.

As a scholar of Semitic languages and of the names of places in ancient Israel, Elitzur notes that in Jewish texts and manuscripts the name Abba and Baba were often used interchangeably. He identifies Abba as the head of a family mentioned by Josephus as the "the sons of Baba" and described as being supporters of the Hasmoneans long after Herod had taken power.


Some key remains, including the nails and the cut jaw and vertebra, were sent for safekeeping to Tel Aviv University anthropologist Israel Hershkovitz and remained untouched in his lab for years.

After reading Elitzur's paper, Hershkovitz re-examined the remains. He analyzed the nails using an electron microscope, determining that they did break the bones of the hand, as would occur in crucifixion. This itself is a blow to skeptics, since Romans rarely crucified women, Hershkovitz said.

He also doubts Smith's finding that the time-worn jaw belonged to a woman.

Read it all. Whoever the victim was, if Hershkovitz's conclusions are correct, this would the the second crucified body recovered from antiquity. The other is noted here, where the question of crucifixion of women is also discussed. See also here and links.

Has a stone left over from construction of the Second Temple been found?

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: A heart of stone (Nadav Shragai, Israel Hayom).
The Antiquities Authority has uncovered some 60 meters of Western Wall foundations, leading to an exciting discovery: One unique smooth stone, unlike any other in the wall • The stone may be left over from the construction of the Second Temple.


Now begins the fourth chapter, a new era. Very quietly, archaeologists have been expanding their excavations to expose the Western Wall's foundations. At first, the excavations involved only a few meters. Now, Israel Hayom reports for the first time that roughly 60 meters of the Western Wall's foundations at the southern end, beneath the Jerusalem Archaeological Park (near the Davidson Center), have been exposed.


The most important finding that has been revealed so far has to do with the revised dating of the Western Wall's construction. Shukron and his colleague, Professor Ronny Reich (his partner in the City of David excavations), went against prevailing opinion when they determined that the Western Wall had not been built by Herod, but rather by Agrippa I and Agrippa II, Herod's grandson and great-grandson. What led them to this conclusion, which goes against all convention, was the discovery of 17 ancient coins that were minted during the time of Valerius Gratus, who served as procurator of Judea during the years 17 and 18 C.E.

The coins were discovered in soil that the Western Wall's builders had used to fill in a mikveh, cisterns and cellars over which the Western Wall was built. When this soil was sifted, the coins from Valerius Gratus' time were discovered -- which meant that the mikveh had been demolished and the first layer of the stones of the Western Wall built on top of it in the year 17 at the earliest, and perhaps even later.

Since Herod had begun building the Temple in 22 B.C.E. and died in 4 B.C.E., his heirs, not he, were the ones who began constructing the lower foundations of the Western Wall about 20 years after his death. They, or their descendants, built the upper foundations, including the stairs at Robinson's Arch that led to the Temple Mount from the west, later still.


The coins that led the archaeologists to their revolutionary conclusion were found roughly two and a half years ago. Since then, one surprise has followed another and finding has followed finding. The recent discovery is fascinating at the very least: a single stone that is different in appearance from the others and raises quite a few questions. It is completely smooth, lacking the cut margins at the edges that we know well from the other stones of the Western Wall.


Eli Shukron explains it with an interesting theory. "This stone came from the Temple Mount, from the surplus stones that were used in the construction of the Temple itself. Those stones were high-quality, chiseled and smooth, like this unusual one, which was discovered among the Western Wall's foundations. This stone was intended for the Second Temple, and stones like it were used to build the Temple -- but it was left unused. The builders of the Western Wall brought it down here because it was no longer needed up above -- and this is how the other stones of the Temple looked," he says, adding, "Anyone who passes a hand gently over this stone feels a slightly wavy texture, just like the Talmud describes."

More on the question of the dating of the Temple Mount wall is here (which I had forgotten about) and more on that and that recently discovered chisel (mentioned later in the article) is here.

Taking action on the Iraqi Jewish archive?

ARUTZ SHEVA: US Lawyer Urges Court Injunction to Save Iraqi Jewish Archive. American attorney says Jewish community does not need to wait until ancient archive is returned to Iraq to take action.
Speaking at a 31 March New York conference on the legal issues posed by the question of the Iraq-Jewish archive, American attorney Nat Lewin said that the community should not wait until the archive was returned to Iraq before taking action, insisting that the community would receive a sympathetic hearing in the US.


There is a precedent for cultural property to be returned to its owners: the Russian government was forced to return the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe's library to the international Hassidic organisation Chabad in New York. It had been seized by the Bolsheviks in 1917.

Nat Lewin, who has taken on numerous Jewish cases pro bono, represented Chabad in that instance. The Iraqi-Jewish archive was less straightforward, however, since there are multiple owners. Like the Chabad library, the archive was not valuable but represented the biography of the Iraqi-Jewish community.

It's complicated. Read on. Background here and links. Background on the Schneerson Library is here and links. It appears that there have been some developments in the latter story since my last post on it.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Ariel & Fontanille, The Coins of Herod

The Coins of Herod
A Modern Analysis and Die Classification

Donald T. Ariel & Jean-Philippe Fontanille

Herod, ruler of Judea at a pivotal time (40–4 BCE) in the region’s history, was Rome’s most famous client king. In this volume, Herod’s coinage benefits from a comprehensive reappraisal. The coins and dies have been thoroughly examined, resulting in innovative iconographic and technological interpretations. Study of the coins’ presence in hoards, their archaeological contexts and geographical distribution, together with other typological, epigraphic and numismatic observations, have aided in establishing that all of the types were minted in Jerusalem. A new relative chronology of Herod’s dated and undated coins is the most important by-product of this study. Finally, an attempt is made to peg this seriation to known events within the king’s reign.

GJW: more media attention

LIVESCIENCE: 'Gospel of Jesus's Wife' Looks More and More Like a Fake (Owen Jarus). The recent developments concerning the Gospel of Jesus' Wife continue to propagate in the mainstream media. This article quotes (and in one case uses a graphic) from a number of blogs, including PaleoJudaica. There are also a couple of pieces of new information. First, two Coptologist papyrologists who have been involved in the analysis of the GJW are at least declining to disagree yet with Christian Askeland's arguments for its inauthenticity:
Live Science contacted two Egyptologists who have examined the Gospel of Jesus's Wife firsthand to get their opinions. Malcolm Choat, of Macquarie University, who published an analysis of the writing of the Gospel of Jesus's Wife recently in Harvard Theological Review, says that he needs time to investigate Askeland's findings before he can comment. Similarly, Roger Bagnall, the director of the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University (the Gospel of Jesus's Wife was examined there at one point) said that he needs time to analyze Askeland's findings and those of other scholars before he can comment.
Second, Professor King and Harvard are not commenting so far:
King has remained silent on the new evidence. Calls made by Live Science to Harvard Divinity School's media relations office were not returned. Calls made directly to King's phone were also not returned. The reasons for the silence are unclear; there are unconfirmed reports that divisions have emerged within the Harvard Divinity faculty over the authenticity of the papyrus.
Background here and links.