Saturday, June 28, 2014

Book reviews

THE FORWARD: How We Know the Bible Was Written by Human Hands. Three Scholars Face Truth Of Biblical History (Jay Michaelson). Reviews of:
How the Bible Became Holy
By Michael Satlow
Yale University Press, 368 pages, $35

The Composition of the Pentateuch: Renewing the Documentary Hypothesis
By Joel Baden
Yale University Press, 392 pages, $65

The Formation of the Hebrew Canon
By Timothy Lim
Yale University Press, 304 pages, $45

Friday, June 27, 2014

Cargill on Peleg

ROBERT CARGILL: On the passing of Yuval Peleg ז״ל.

"He died tragically, but he died doing what he loved: archaeology. And like soldiers, cowboys, and archaeologists of legend, he died with his boots on."

Background here.

Lapin on the Digital Mishnah Project

THE TALMUD BLOG: H. Lapin on ‘The Digital Mishnah Project’.

Background here.

Review of Calderon, A Bride for a Night: Talmud Tales

MARTY LOCKSHIN: Talmud stories from an unusual point of view (CJN). Excerpt:
Years before her political life began, [MK Ruth] Calderon, who has a PhD in Talmud from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, published a Hebrew book combining creative and scholarly readings of rabbinic stories. The book has now been released in a first-rate English translation by Ilana Kurshan, under the title A Bride for a Night: Talmud Tales.

The book’s 17 chapters all have the same three-part structure: the text in English of a very short story, usually less than one page long, found in the Talmud or in another collection of rabbinic texts; a creative retelling of the story; and a short analysis of the story’s significance and meaning.

The unique part is Calderon’s creative retelling. For example, after she presents the talmudic story from Kiddushin 40a about a rich Roman woman propositioning Rabbi Zadok (first century), she retells it in the first-person voice of the woman. Another story originates in Rashi’s Talmud commentary to Avodah Zarah 18b. In it, Rabbi Meir (second century) urges one of his students to try to seduce Rabbi Meir’s own brilliant and learned wife, Beruriah, in order to teach her a lesson. Calderon retells this disturbing story in the first-person voice of the student. Readers who are used to traditional ways of studying Talmud might find these retellings jarring, but they help to bring the stories and their characters to life in a new way.
More on Ruth Calderon here, here, and here.

UPDATE: Missing link now added. Sorry about that!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Yuval Peleg, z'l'

JIM WEST: Very Sad News: The Death of Yuval Peleg. Jim includes links to articles collected by Joseph Lauer which mention the accidental, on-site death of a senior archaeologist but do not yet give a name. Jack Sasson also confirms on the Agade List that he has received the same news "from Israel."

Yuval Peleg has been mentioned from time to time on PaleoJudaica, mostly, but not exclusively, in connection with his sometimes controversial excavation work at the site of Qumran. See, for example, here, here, and here, and links.

May his memory be for a blessing.

UPDATE: Arutz Sheva: Archaeologist Killed in Samaria Cave-In. Yuval Peleg, 45, of Kfar Adumim, was a senior archaeologist in the IDF's Civil Administration (Ido Ben Porat, Gil Ronen).

Of the rains and the hellscape

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: In the Rains, Talmudic Symbols of Goodwill, Punishment, and a Deep Covenant. The Torah sages study and respond to natural phenomena in an effort to understand our place on Earth. Excerpt:
Still less empirical is Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi’s remark that “the entire world drinks from the runoff of the Garden of Eden.” But the Gemara not only accepts this idea, it uses it as the basis for a geographical calculation. Ordinarily, the rabbis argue, “from the runoff of a beit kor, a half-se’a can be watered.” The Koren Talmud helpfully explains these measurements, which boil down to the idea that a field is 60 times larger than the area watered by its runoff. By this logic, the Garden of Eden must be 60 times larger than the Earth. This equation reverses our usual sense of the Garden of Eden as a particularly choice region of the planet; rather, the planet itself is just a particular region of the much larger realm that is the Garden. The Gemara goes on to say that, just as the Garden is 60 times larger than the Earth, so Eden itself is 60 times larger than its Garden; and Gehenna, the Jewish Hell, is 60 times larger than that. Indeed, “the entire world is like a pot cover for Gehenna.” This is a disturbing cosmology, in which all of existence is just a tiny fragment of a much larger hellscape.
Jewish cosmologies of both heaven and hell are like that.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

The fall of Mosul

ARAMAIC WATCH: PHILIP JENKINS, The Fall of Mosul (AINA). More bad news in the Middle East, especially for Aramaic/Syriac-speaking Christians.

Related stories here, here, and links.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Buth on Jesus' languages again

RANDALL BUTH: More on Why Jesus was a Hebrew speaker. This essay is in response to the essay of Seth Sanders noted here. And follow the links there for further background to the discussion.

Reinhartz on Jews or Judeans

MARGINALIA: The Vanishing Jews of Antiquity – By Adele Reinhartz. How should one translate the Greek term ioudaios? Excerpt:
I am all for historical precision and sharply attuned to potential anti-Semitism. Yet as a scholar and a Jew, I am alarmed by the growing invisibility of Jews and Judaism in English translations of ancient texts and scholarship about them. The use of “Judeans” to translate all occurrences of ioudaioi achieves neither the scholarly precision nor the ethical high ground that scholars claim. On the contrary, the proliferation of Judeans inadvertently creates confusion and misunderstanding and merely sidesteps the issue without addressing the anti-Jewish or even anti-Semitic potential of texts such as the Gospel of John.
I agree with Reihertz and I made some of the same points she makes in this essay more briefly in my post Jews or Judeans? a couple of years ago.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

New UNESCO heritage sites

UNESCO, it seems, has been busy naming new heritage sites.

UNESCO names West Bank’s Battir a protected World Heritage Site. Both Palestinian villagers and Jewish settlers say stone terraces threatened by Israel’s plan to build separation wall (Renee Lewis, Aljazeera).

Battir (Betar) is the site of Bar Kokhba's last stand against the Romans. Background to this particular story is here and links.

Beit Guvrin-Maresha Caves Named World Heritage Site. UNESCO Calls Spelunker Paradise 'City Under a City' (JTA/The Forward).

The site of Beit Guvrin-Maresha featured in an earlier PaleoJudaica post here.

Monday, June 23, 2014

That John fragment and the GJW again

ALIN SUCIU: Guest Post: Stephen Emmel – The Codicology of the New Coptic (Lycopolitan) Gospel of John Fragment (and Its Relevance for Assessing the Genuineness of the Recently Published Coptic “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” Fragment).
Thus the reconstructed John manuscript is either an extraordinarily tall and narrow single-column codex, or it is a short and even more extraordinarily wide two-column codex. If its existence be accepted as a fact, it would appear to deserve to be acknowledged as the tallest (or widest) papyrus codex yet known. Among extant papyrus codices written in Coptic in particular, this hypothetical John codex would stand out as even more extraordinary.
Hey, we won the lottery again! Either that or the John fragment is a fake. And by implication, the Gospel of Jesus' Wife fragment is likely a fake too.

UPDATE (18 July): For some reason this post seems to have been trapped in draft form when I thought it was published. I just noticed this, and so it is finally posted. Apologies for the delay.

Jesus and Brian Conference report

MARK GOODACRE: Jesus and Brian Conference, Day 1.

As Mark notes in this post, the Twitter hashtag for this conference is #JesusandBrian.

Background here.

UPDATE: Jesus and Brian Conference, Day 2.

"Save the Warburg Library!"

THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS: Save the Warburg Library! (Anthony Grafton and Jeffrey Hamburger). Excerpt:
Particularly painful is the University of London’s attempt to disperse the unparalleled collections of the Warburg Institute. Named for a supremely imaginative historian of art and culture, Aby Warburg, the institute began as his library in Hamburg, which was devoted to the study of the impact of classical antiquity on European civilization. The library was rescued from Hamburg in 1933, following Hitler’s rise to power, thanks in part to the help of British benefactors. In the midst of World War II, Rab Butler, president of the British Board of Education, decided that the institute must be kept in Britain, and that the only way to do this was to make it part of the University of London, which was in those days a great force for openness and innovation in British higher education.

In the age of austerity that followed the Blitz, the University of London saw Warburg’s library as a jewel to be cherished. An ugly but efficient home for the institute was built in Bloomsbury, and for decades the university took pride in supporting its work. In the new age of austerity, by contrast, the university, which now controls the funds once earmarked for the institute, is doing its best to destroy what it once helped to save. In 2007, like a Dickensian villain, the university began self-parodically demanding enormous “economic” space charges for the Warburg’s building—charges so large that the institute cannot possibly pay them. The only way for the institute to avoid these charges would be to move into much smaller premises and close its stacks, a decision that would destroy its essential character.


The library is designed not simply to make information rapidly accessible—as a search engine might—but to shape and channel scholarly investigations. Any sustained trip into the Warburg stacks will bring the reader not only to the books he or she is looking for, but also to their unexpected “good neighbors.” Magic and science, religion and philosophy, Christianity and Judaism appear in close proximity—and challenge the reader both to trace webs of unexpected connections and to find the points of radical disjunction. Look for the history of astronomy and you will find primary and secondary sources, learned treatises and popular almanacs—texts, tables, and images that range in origin from the ancient Near East to the present—and the vast literature of astronomy’s unruly sister discipline, astrology, as well. On the shelves of the institute, the reader experiences the coincidence of opposites.
Read it all.

UPDATE (24 June): Alert reader Robert Labanti wrote to point out that the article is four years old. I don't have time to follow the story up this morning. Does anyone know what happened with the library?

UPDATE: (30 June): More here.

Bruce Zuckerman profiled

USC NEWS: Preserving cultural history — one ink stroke at a time.
Bruce Zuckerman holds on to humanity’s past through digital photography that captures a world of minute detail
For Bruce Zuckerman, a picture is worth a lot more than a thousand words. As an authority on ancient Semitic and biblical texts, he can tell you how a letter worn off the surface of parchment — or even the leg of a letter — can change the meaning of an entire passage and our understanding of history along with it.

As a doctoral student in the 1970s, nothing was more frustrating to him than a fuzzy photo of a hard to read inscription. That’s when he had a revelation: You can’t expect scholars to produce research-quality images or photographers to know what features of an ancient language to highlight during image documentation. But what if you could combine their skills?

Our whole philosophy has been to empower scholars to use technology effectively. If scholars control the technology, they do better work.

“If you have this disconnect between the person doing the documentation and the person doing the analysis, it’s a real problem,” said Zuckerman, professor of religion and linguistics at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. “You have to know what you’re looking for.”

Delicate, ancient texts

For the past 30 years, Zuckerman and his team of researchers have dedicated themselves to preserving cultural history. As director of USC’s West Semitic Research Project, he and his team have documented delicate, ancient texts and objects and distributed their images to thousands of scholars around the world
As I've mentioned before, I was Professor Zuckerman's research assistant back in 1983 when I was an MA student at UCLA and he was preparing for his first big photographic foray in the Louvre. This article notes the Project's training program for academic with "RTI kits customized for fieldwork" and it has new information about the recent use of his techniques in Southeast Asia and Korea. It concludes:
For Zuckerman, contributing to global scholarship provides more than personal satisfaction. There’s a responsibility in holding on to humanity’s past. The work of ancient scribes are monuments to civilization, Zuckerman said, capturing parts of the human story for future generations.

He sees his work with RTI technology as the 21st-century version of the same effort.

“We’ve photographed Dead Sea Scrolls even as they slowly deteriorate before our eyes,” Zuckerman said. “The Dead Sea Scrolls were themselves at the end of a long tradition. We are an extension of that tradition as we help our colleagues reclaim the common heritage that is our ancient past.”
Need I say it? Bit by bit, a letter at a time, whatever it takes. Until we're done.

Background on Bruce Zuckerman and the West Semitic Research Project is here with many links.

UPDATE (24 June): Bad link now fixed. Sorry about that.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Review of Hollander, Josephus, the Emperors, and the City of Rome

William den Hollander, Josephus, the Emperors, and the City of Rome: From Hostage to Historian. Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity 86. Leiden: Brill, 2014. Pp. xii, 410. ISBN 9789004264335. $149.00.

Reviewed by Sean A. Adams, University of Edinburgh (


This book, a version of the author’s PhD dissertation at York University, provides a renewed picture of the historical Josephus by challenging the dominant view that Josephus was closely tied to the Flavian Caesars and that his works were somehow constrained by this relationship. Moreover, den Hollander attempts to identify the types of relationships Josephus might have had with the Caesars and with the people living in Rome.