Saturday, May 24, 2014

DSS Seminar at YU

LAWRENCE H. SCHIFFMAN: The Yeshiva University Dead Sea Scrolls Seminar June 8, 2014.

Vermes, The True Herod

The True Herod (Bloomsbury)

About The True Herod

Who was Herod the Great? How did he come to govern one of the most politically tumultuous regions in the world? Was he the heartless baby-killer of Matthew's Gospel, or does this popular tale do Herod a great disservice?

Geza Vermes (1924-2013), whose work on the Historical Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls made him one of the most recognisable names in Biblical and Jewish studies, provides an exciting new portrait of Herod. The True Herod examines Herod's controversial legacy as a political leader, a potentate, a man of culture, and an all-round smooth operator. Vermes opens up the fascinating character of Herod, from his sizable and fragile ego to his devastation at the execution of his beloved wife, an execution that Herod ordered himself. Vermes then moves on to consider Herod's greatest legacy and testament: his extensive building works, which includes the Temple in Jerusalem. Vermes's lively prose, combined with extensive colour images, make this new picture of Herod an enticing and informative guide to one of Ancient History's most misunderstood figures.
Background on Professor Vermes is here and links.

Philologos on Genesis and the Enuma Elish

PHILOLOGOS: Legends of the Fall. Did Genesis Originate in Babylon? Genesis is such a complicated compedium of traditions that it is difficult to talk about it "originating" in any particular place. As Philologos concludes, any connection between the "abyss" (tehom) of Genesis 1 and Tiamat in the Babylonian creation story (the Enuma Elish) is pretty thin, but not entirely to be dismissed. Much more interesting is this parallel:
Consider, for example, the verse in Chapter 74 of Psalms in which the Psalmist says to God, “Thou didst divide the sea by thy strength, thou didst break the heads of the sea monsters [taninim] in the waters.” Although nowhere in the Bible is there any actual recounting of such an episode, it is clear that a tradition about God having subdued the forces of the depths at the time of Creation existed in Hebrew circles, too.
Hints of this story also appear in places like Exodus 15, Psalm 89:5-11, and Isaiah 51:9-11 and a full-length version is found in the Ugaritic Baal Cycle (where Yamm, "Sea," plays the role of Tiamat).

This is an old Philologos column, but I haven't noted it before and it gives a nice summary of the Enuma Elish.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Smith on Biblical and ANE studies in America

NORTHWEST SEMITIC EPIGRAPHY DAY: The State of Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Studies in America (Mark S. Smith, ASOR Blog). Excerpt:
This change corresponds to a further shift in our programs, universities, and society. Within our programs, questions have been raised about how to pursue the learning needed for research. Why study a fairly obscure language such as Ugaritic when you can study wonderful areas such as anthropology or literary criticism? The underlying question is not the value of all these areas; we should all be interested in as vast a series of fields as possible. The issue becomes why one at the expense of the other and how they are valuable for what sorts of questions or problems.

In the university, the field of Bible and ANE is of little interest to other fields. Unlike many others, little in ours has attracted the interest of other academics. For various historical reasons, we generate little by way of theory for other fields, although I think that we conduct various sorts of inquiry valuable to others (for example, the analysis of textual processes for literary criticism). Bible and ANE studies have also tended to its own tasks, with little concern for relating our value to other fields. We need to do better.
Okay, the topic is broader than NWS epigraphy, but Professor Smith himself is a NWS epigrapher and, as he notes, the field is central to the topic of this important essay. The picture is not dissimilar in the U.K. There is not the same exploitative use of adjunct labor (although there are a lot of temporary full-time teaching fellows). But we have to deal with the corrosive effects of the government-implemented periodic research evaluations (currently the "Research Excellence Framework" or REF), which both drive and constrain University research in increasingly unhelpful ways.

Related posts here and here.

Golan gets Joash inscription back

NORTHWEST SEMITIC EPIGRAPHY DAY: Jehoash Tablet Returned to Oded Golan (Todd Bolen, Bible Places Blog). More fallout from the Israel forgery trial, on which background here and oh so many links. Some background on the Jehoash (Joash) inscription, which I and many (most?) others do not regard as genuine, is here and links.

Tyson on the Ammonites

After Sodom: The Sons of Ammon in the Iron Age
(Bible and Interpretation website)

The biblical texts that mention the Ammonites were compiled or written in the seventh century or later, during periods of intense challenges to Judean sociopolitical and religious identity from imperial power. It is not surprising that the texts highlight similarities and differences between Judah and the people of the Transjordan. The similarities and differences helped to define Judean identity.

See Also: The Ammonites (Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2014).

By Craig W. Tyson
Assistant Professor of Religious Studies
D’Youville College, Buffalo, NY
May 2014

Millard on the Jerusalem inscription

NORTHWEST SEMITIC EPIGRAPHY DAY: Precursor to Paleo-Hebrew Script Discovered in Jerusalem. Alan Millard examines the Proto-Canaanite script of the earliest alphabetic text ever found in Jerusalem (Robin Ngo, Bible History Daily). Excerpt:
Alan Millard believes that we will likely never know with certainty what the earliest alphabetic text from Jerusalem says. What we can conclude is that the storage jar was inscribed in a place where ordinary workmen made pots, not in the lofty study of a royal scribe. Along with other early inscriptions, including the Gezer Calendar and the Qeiyafa Ostracon, Millard contends that this inscription from Jerusalem may signal widespread—if elementary—literacy during the time of David and Solomon.
Background on that 10th century BCE Hebrew(ish) Jerusalem inscription is here and links.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Postdoc on ancient Greco-Roman translation

AT THE UNIVERSITY OF OSLO: Post-Doctoral Research Fellowship - Translating in Antiquity, Translating Antiquity.

Petra and archaeoastronomy

NABATAEAN NEWS: Petra, built for the sun gods? (Daisy Carrington, CNN). Excerpt:
"I don't think we really understand what significance some of these structures truly had," says Megan Perry, an associate professor at East Carolina University's department of anthropology.

Recently, a team of archaeoastronomers sought to gain some insight into the function of these ancient structures by measuring their celestial alignments. Their findings, which were published in the Nexus Network Journal, suggests that the Nabateans purposefully built Petra's most sacred structures to align or light-up during celestial phenomena, including the summer and winter solstices and the equinoxes.


Perry has spent a lot of time studying the layout of monuments in Petra for clues as to whether the city was laid out organically, or -- as Belmonte suggest -- if it was planned.

"The tombs seem to be based on natural topography. Nothing in terms of their layout suggests a tie to any kind of solar orientation. If there was one, they'd all be facing the same way, but they surround the city and face in an infinite number of directions," she notes.

It does make sense that all the effort of carving those buildings out of stone might have had a larger purpose behind it, but one can't be dogmatic when the specialists disagree. In any case, it's good to see Petra covered in something other than a travel piece.

I see I have already noted this story here, but the CNN article has some additional information. See the latter link also for past posts on Petra.

Deductive exegesis in the Talmud — plus four New Year's days

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: On the Impossibility of Over-Interpreting the Bible. Why Talmud study is not reading, in the usual sense of the word, but rather deciphering the true meaning of the text. Excerpt:
This is not reading in the usual sense of the word. Rather, it is using the Bible text almost as a kind of mnemonic, assigning a different category of promise to each phrase in the verse. One of the things I often wonder in reading the Talmud is exactly what the rabbis meant when they said that theirs is the true meaning of the text. Did they think that the references to burnt-offerings and Temple donations and charity could actually be deduced from the apparently unrelated words of the Bible? Or did they believe that God had dictated the text in such a way as to make room for all the necessary legal interpretations? Either way, it’s clear that the rabbis read the Bible not simply as a sacred history, but as a comprehensive guide to law and life. Since every word was divine, and God does nothing without a reason, it was impossible to over-interpret the Bible; everything that one found there had to have been put there.
Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Samoa Synagogue defaced

ARUTZ SHEVA: Swastikas, PLO Flag at Ancient Synagogue. Samoa synagogue, near Hevron, defaced by Jew-haters. Local leader expects authorities to act severely (Iddo Ben Porat).
About 200 people who visited the ancient Judean synagogue at Samoa, near Hevron, on Sunday, found spray-painted swastikas on the walls of the structure and PLO flags flying above them.

The late antique Samoa (Eshtemoa) Synagogue has also been mentioned in this post.

Lost book found: R. Elazar of Worms on Proverbs

ARUTZ SHEVA: NY Rabbi Unearths Lost Commentary of Ancient Scholar. Rabbi Allen Schwartz deciphers lost text of Rabbi Elazar of Worms' handwritten insights on Book of Proverbs from Crusader times. (Ari Yashar). R. Elazar (Eleazar/Eliezer) of Worms (c. 1176 – 1238) was a prolific writer who compiled and developed many Jewish mystical and magical traditions in his works.

The NT and Romania

JAMES MCGRATH: What Living In Romania Taught Me About The New Testament. The honor-shame value system in action. This is a revived old post on Exploring Our Matrix, but I haven't seen it before and I imagine many of my readers haven't either.

Crossley on Casey

JAMES CROSSLEY: Maurice Casey (Part 1 of 2): An Academic Life and Maurice Casey (Part 2 of 2): Influence. The most thorough and comprehensive blog obituary published thus far and will clearly hold its own or better when the official obituaries start coming out.

Background here and here.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Herodian Masada frescoes restored

HAARETZ: Frescoes from Herod’s time at Masada restored and returned to national park. Italian conservators return the artworks that were sitting in a warehouse for 20 years (Shirly Seidler).
For 20 years, the frescoes that decorated the “Commandant’s Residence” (Beit Hamefaked) on top of Masada were stored away in a warehouse at the national park. This week, after a month’s work, a team headed by Italian expert renovator Prof. Maurizio Tagliapietra of the University of Verona and including employees of the Israel Parks and Nature Authority completed the restoration of another room on the top of the historic mountain.


“The frescoes are from the period of Herod,” said Tagliapietra. They are of geometric figures, with no human beings, and show no perspective, he said. The frescoes prove the room was the living quarters of commanders who were close to Herod and responsible for his personal security, as indicated by their proximity to the Northern Palace.


Archaeology of Aelia Capitolina

HAARETZ: The construction work that triggered the Bar Kokhba Revolt.
What can coins minted by the rebels and Jerusalem’s Roman rulers tell us about the chain of events that eventually led to today’s Lag Ba’omer bonfires?
(Nir Hasson). Excerpt:
During the revolt the Roman government was involved in a huge construction project in Palestine – the rebuilding of Jerusalem as a Roman city, Aelia Capitolina.

There are two basic historiographic approaches to the link between the founding of Aelia Capitolina on the ruins of Jerusalem and the Bar Kokhba revolt.

According to the second-century Roman historian Lucius Cassius Dio, the construction of the city, with a temple to the god Jupiter in the center, was itself the spark that ignited the rebellion: The Jewish extremists could not tolerate the fact that a pagan Roman city was being built on the ruins of Jerusalem.

But the fourth-century historian Eusebius, who served as the bishop of Caesarea before turning his hand to writing history, argued that Aelia Capitolina was a result of the revolt — part of the Roman Empire’s punishment for its outbreak — not the cause.

“There was a chicken-and-egg debate here,” says Israeli archaeologist Shlomit Wexler-Bedolah, “What came first and what led to what – the revolt to the construction of the city, or the construction of the city to the revolt.”

Since the days of Cassius Dio and Eusebius, rivers of ink have been spilled on the debate. In recent years Wexler-Bedolah and the late. Alexander Onn conducted several excavations in the area of the Western Wall. The excavations, done on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and financed by the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, helped to provide a precise date for the construction of Aelia Capitolina.

Wexler-Bedolah’s conclusion is that the construction work on the new city began at least several years before the outbreak of the revolt. In other words, it is quite possible that the excuse for the rebellion was the sight of the laborers rebuilding Jerusalem as a pagan city.
Also, the building of the temple to Jupiter on the Temple Mount likely contributed to the ill feelings, and it is not clear whether the new name for the city was decided on before or after the revolt.

Deadline for return of Iraqi Jewish Archive extended

PROGRESS: Schumer Announces Iraqi Jewish Archive Permitted to Stay in the US Until Permanent Location in America is Determined
Washington, DC - May 15, 2015 [Sic] - U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today announced that the State Department, along with the Ambassador of the Republic of Iraq to the U.S., will extend the period in which the Iraqi Jewish Archives may remain in the United States. The United States had initially agreed to return the items in 2014.


“I applaud the decision to permit the Iraqi Jewish Archive to remain in the U.S. until a permanent location is found. However, we will not rest until the collection is made accessible to the Iraqi Jewish community indefinitely,” said Schumer. “These sacred and treasured artifacts were taken from the Iraqi Jewish community during a time of state-condoned discrimination, and this community should have access to the precious possessions they were forced to leave behind.”

"I must convey the heartfelt sentiment of WOJI - to the US and Iraqi governments for reaching an agreement under which the Iraqi Jewish Archive will remain in the United States for the foreseeable future. It is WOJI's fervent conviction that we, the Iraqi Jewish community, are the rightful heirs of the Iraqi Jewish Archive, our precious patrimony,” said Maurice Shohet, Chairman of the World Organization of Jews from Iraq (WOJI).


In December, the Iraqi delegation, in cooperation with the Iraqi Jewish community, buried 49 Torah scroll fragments, which were part of the collection. The burial under Jewish ritual custom took place at New Montefiore Cemetery.

Schumer has been advocating on behalf of the Iraqi Jewish community and has urged the State Department not to return the collection to Iraq. In February, the Senate unanimously passed a resolution, which Schumer co-sponsored, that urges the State Department to renegotiate the return of the archive.

Schumer today announced that the State Department, the Ambassador of the Republic of Iraq to the United States and the National Archives and Record Administration will extend the period in which the collection may remain in the United States.
The rest of the press release deals with background that will be familiar to regular PaleoJudaica readers. The story is also covered by The Algemeiner: Iraqi Jewish Archive’s U.S. Exhibition Extended. It appears that the extension of the deadline is indefinite; or at least neither article mentions a new deadline.

Background here and links going all the way back to the discovery of the archive in 2003.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Almond, The Devil

The Devil: A New Biography
Philip C. Almond (author)

I. B. Taurus Hardback | In Stock | £20.00

It is often said that the devil has all the best tunes. He also has as many names as he has guises. Lucifer, Mephistopheles, Beelzebub (in Christian thought), Ha-Satan or the Adversary (in Jewish scripture) and Iblis or Shaitan (in Islamic tradition) has throughout the ages and across civilizations been a compelling and charismatic presence. For two thousand years the supposed reign of God has been challenged by the fiery malice of his opponent, as contending forces of good and evil have between them weighed human souls in the balance. In this rich and multi-textured biography, Philip C Almond explores the figure of the devil from the first centuries of the Christian era through the rise of classical demonology and witchcraft persecutions to the modern post-Enlightenment 'decline' of Hell. The author shows that the Prince of Darkness, in all his incarnations, remains an irresistible subject in history, religion, art, literature and culture.

Zohar Dictionary

DANIEL C. MATT: Zohar Dictionary.
Daniel Matt : This is a partial Zohar dictionary, composed over the past 17 years while working on The Zohar: Pritzker Edition. It takes a little getting used to, since it follows the order of the English alphabet, although the entries represent the transliteration of Aramaic (and Hebrew) words and roots. It will be useful for those working (and playing) with the original Aramaic text. It appears in three parts (A-N, O-S, T-Z). My reconstructed Aramaic text of the Zohar (based on numerous Zohar manuscripts) is available on the website of Stanford University Press
HT Judy Barrett. Background on Daniel Matt's groundbreaking edition and translation of the Zohar is here, with links going back a decade.

Hmmm ... perhaps I should publish my private Hebrew glossary of the Hekhalot literature someday in a similar format.

Lag B'Omer belatedly

LAG B'OMER — The Counting of the Omer — took place over the weekend (sunset to sunset, 17th-18th). Best wishes to all who observed it.

I was down with the flu for the past several days, hence the blogging silence. I'm very behind on everything, especially exam marking, but I will deal with the blogging backlog as time permits.