Saturday, July 05, 2014

Hurtado on Paul Seminar

CONFERENCE REPORT: Larry Hurtado reports on the recent Nangeroni Enoch Seminar in Rome on “Paul as a Second-Temple Jew” and summarizes his own paper. Two posts so far: Paul: The Second-Temple Jewish Apostle to the Gentiles and Paul and Gentile Circumcision.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Bible Odyssey

NOW UP AND RUNNING: Bible Odyssey.

New mosaic at Huqoq

BIBLE PLACES BLOG: New Mosaic Discovered in Huqoq Synagogue.

Background on the first Samson mosaic excavated at Huqoq, plus many other ancient mosaics in Israel (etc.), is here and links. Somehow I had missed the other Samson mosaic found there last summer, mentioned in the UNC press release that Todd Bolen quotes in the first link above.

An Atheist’s Case for Talmud

THE FORWARD: An Atheist’s Case for Talmud. Sating a New Hunger With an Ancient Book. Leah Vincent, a formerly ultra-Orthodox woman, rediscovers Talmud.

July 4th

HAPPY AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE DAY to all those celebrating!

Thursday, July 03, 2014

The Talmud, Judaism, and asceticism

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Better To Suffer or Better To Live? Eating—and Not Eating—as a Meritorious Jewish Act. Talmudic rabbis debate Jewish solidarity in the face of misfortune, a communal imperative that still holds today.. Two excerpts:
Despite all these specifications, however, the Talmud is by no means enthusiastic about fasting for its own sake. Indeed, the very strictness of the rules for declaring communal fasts is meant to control the ascetic impulse, not encourage it. Here as always, Judaism stands in sharp contrast to Christianity in its attitude toward asceticism: There is no Jewish imperative to scourge the body in order to elevate the soul. Celibacy has never been a Jewish virtue—all Jews are bound by the commandment to be fruitful and multiply—and while the holiest Christians are those who withdraw from the world, the holiest Jews, the Torah sages, were businessmen and family men. The Judaism we have come to know in the Talmud is emphatically a religion for living in the world, not for fleeing or disparaging the world.
I would nuance the part about celibacy never having been a Jewish virtue. The Essenes, according to Philo and Josephus, as well as the Egyptian Therapeutae according to Philo, seemed to feel differently. But they are perhaps the exceptions that prove the rule.
Elazar makes this point with a striking and powerful image: “A person should always consider himself as though a sacred object is immersed in his bowels.” There is something sacred literally inside of us; our bodies are not just envelopes for our souls, but a kind of holy cargo that we have to treat with decency and kindness. Accordingly, Elazar holds that if you are able to fast without causing yourself bodily harm, you are “sacred”; but if a fast would damage your body, you would be a “sinner” to undertake it.
That made me think of the Buddhist teaching in The Questions of King Milinda that ascetics should care for the body in the same way that one cares for a wound. Compare and contrast.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

About PaleoJudaica

ORIGINALLY AND FOR MANY YEARS I included an "About" page in the sidebar to introduce readers to me and to this blog. A few years ago when I had to update the Template (long story, which I'm not sure I even remember myself) the About page was automatically purged from the sidebar and later it evaporated entirely. I have always meant to put it up again, but have only just now gotten around to it. Look at the sidebar to the right where it says "Pages" in dark type. The first one, which just takes you to the front page, is "Home." The one below it, "About PaleoJudaica," will lead you to the blog's About page, newly revised, rethought, and updated. When you get a chance, go and have a look.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe's 20th yahrzeit

ANNIVERSARY: The Lubavitcher Rebbe Died 20 Years Ago Today. Who Was He? Two new biographies attempt to describe the Chabad leader, but can we ever fathom his ultimate aloneness? (Susan Handelman, Tablet Magazine)

PaleoJudaica has posted on many articles about the Lubavitcher Rebbe (start here and follow the links back to 2003) and noted his tenth yahrzeit here. My main interest has been phenomenological: here is a twenty-first century post-mortem Messiah, complete with rumors of an empty casket and resurrection appearances, as well as claims of occultation and apotheosis. This article touches on these issues, but it is mainly a personal account of the writer's interactions with the Rebbe and reflections on his life, while including in passing reviews of two new books about him. On the issue of messianism she writes:
The messianic idea indeed is one of the great gifts the Jews have given the world: an optimistic view of history; of the world, despite all its bloodshed and darkness, still moving forward toward a goal; of the human task as repair of the world in partnership with God. As Rabbi Léon Ashkenazi, a major postwar French Jewish thinker, put it: “Jewish history is dramatic, but not tragic.” But like all powerful ideas, messianism has also been twisted and distorted in dangerous ways.

The Rebbe’s entire life, I think, was a cry to God to bring the Redemption. For him, it had already been too long; there had been too much pain. As he got older and felt his own personal end coming, he further intensified that call, and a messianic controversy swirled around him. Some of his followers tried to proclaim him the Messiah, which pained him personally, and which he tried to stop time after time. A few months before his stroke, a Chabad rabbi sent him a letter referring to him as “King Messiah.” The Rebbe’s secretary witnessed him looking at the letter, throwing it down in frustration and writing on it, “Tell him that when the Messiah comes, I will give him the letter.” After his stroke, and the diminution of his physical and cognitive abilities, he was not able to control those extremists anymore.

Telushkin and Steinsaltz [the writers of the two abovementioned books] both spend considerable time discussing the controversy, explaining traditional Jewish notions of the Messiah, the Rebbe’s pronouncements, and how they were interpreted and misinterpreted. The key is the text the Rebbe himself often cited to define the Jewish Messiah, Maimonides’ authoritative Code of Jewish Law at the end of his “Laws of Kings.” Maimonides defines “possible candidates” in every generation. Someone from the lineage of the House of David, of great piety, Torah scholarship and observance, who prevails on all Israel to follow the paths of Torah and battles their oppressors can be “presumed” to be the Messiah [chezkat moshiach]. Nothing supernatural is needed. But only if such a candidate succeeds, goes on to rebuild the Temple on its ancient site, and the Exiles are gathered in, can he be confirmed as beyond all doubt the Messiah [moshiach vaddai]. Any “presumed Messiah” can fail or die and then is simply considered, in Maimonides’ words, like all the “wholehearted and worthy kings of the House of David who died”—but he is not the Messiah.

In this context, I, like Steinsaltz and Telushkin, and many others in the Chabad and non-Chabad world, considered the Rebbe as good a “candidate” as any for our generation. But he died, the Exile continues, the world still suffers. He was not the Messiah.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

The Aleppo Codex, the Ezekiel Plates, and The Treatise of the Vessels

MATTI FRIEDMAN: The Continuing Mysteries of the Aleppo Codex. Developments in the saga of the missing perfect copy of the Hebrew Bible, whose future is still unknown (Tablet Magazine).
I am not sure I expected the story of the long-forgotten Aleppo Codex, the perfect copy of the Hebrew Bible, to occupy me for very long after the publication of my book on the subject in 2012. I thought I would soon be on to other things, which is the way journalism tends to work. But, as sometimes happens, the story has taken on a life of its own: a cover-up energized by the fallout from my book; the rejuvenated activities of a small group of codex loyalists ranging in age from 36 (me) to 82 (former Mossad case officer Rafi Sutton); and a recent edict issued against me by a prominent rabbi in New York. In short, the story of the Aleppo Codex is alive today as it has not been in many decades, and I believe an update on developments over the past two years is warranted for those who find themselves fascinated by the strange and ongoing saga of one of the most important manuscripts on earth.

I kept track of reviews etc. of Friedman's book and you can find the posts starting here and follow the links. The continuation of the story remains very interesting and this in particular caught my eye and made me think of another matter:
The second mystery, that of the missing pages, was long famous among a small number of people—Bible professors, Aleppo exiles, and a few others. The official version of the story, propagated by the academics in Israel who control the manuscript, claimed the pages vanished in Aleppo around the time of the 1947 riot. But we know now that the manuscript was seen whole as late as 1952, five years later. The first description of any significant damage to the codex dates, strikingly, only to 1958—after the manuscript reached the Ben-Zvi Institute in Jerusalem.

At around the same time, my investigation found, dozens of valuable books and manuscripts vanished from the library of the same institute. When I approached former officials at the institute with evidence of the other missing books, several went on record saying the man responsible for their disappearance was the institute’s director at the time, Meir Benayahu, a scholar who throughout a long and illustrious career studied, collected, bought, and sold rare Hebrew books. He left his post amid a legal battle over control of the institute in 1970.

Benayahu, who died in 2009, came from a powerful political family with roots in Iraq; he was the son of a Sephardic chief rabbi, Yitzhak Nissim, and brother of a senior Likud cabinet minister, Moshe Nissim. (As was common in those years, Benayahu adopted a more modern and Israeli-sounding last name.) This scandal has long been known in Israel’s small and insular academic world but was never made public. Legal proceedings were avoided at the time thanks to the direct intervention of Israel’s president, Zalman Shazar. Police were never summoned, no charges were filed, and no books were returned. Benayahu’s family denies any wrongdoing and says the accusations against him are a smear campaign aimed at covering up thefts by other people; they have asked, rightly, why no one went to the police at the time. Today Benayahu’s family owns a collection of Hebrew texts that is one of the world’s largest in private hands.

Whatever precisely happened at the Ben-Zvi Institute, the long-buried affair of the institute’s vanished books—whether it is connected or not to the disappearance of the codex pages—is arguably the worst corruption scandal in the history of the Israeli academy. Among the figures who have gone on record saying Benayahu was responsible for the institute’s missing books are Zvi Zameret, the institute’s longtime administrative director and subsequently one of the top officials in Israel’s Education Ministry; Joseph Hacker, professor emeritus at Hebrew University and a former deputy director of the institute; and the late Yom-Tov Assis, the professor who headed the Ben-Zvi Institute at the time of my own investigation.

Are the missing codex pages linked to the broader disappearance of books from the Ben-Zvi Institute? The scholars of the Ben-Zvi Institute have resisted any investigation while failing to produce any evidence to dispel the suspicion.
The so-called Ezekiel Plates, a series of many stone tablets with most of the text of Ezekiel engraved on them, are also held in the Ben-Zvi Institute. I noted and discussed a Jerusalem Post article on them three years ago in my post Ezekiel plates—and a legend of the Temple treasures. The article did not seem to realize that the set had originally included two more tablets on which was inscribed the concluding verse and a half of Ezekiel and then a version of The Treatise of the Vessels, a legendary account in Hebrew of the hiding of the Ark of the Covenant and other Temple treasures just before the Babylonian destruction of the Temple. I published the first complete English translation of this work in Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: More Noncanonical Scriptures last year, and the text got some attention in the media and even led the Daily Mail to call me "a modern-day Indiana Jones."

Be that as it may, the interesting thing in this context is that the stone plates containing The Treatise of the Vessels are no longer with the Ezekiel Plates. I learned this in e-mail correspondence in February of 2008 with Michael Glatzer, the Academic Secretary of the Institute, who kindly checked the Ezekiel Plates housed there. The Jerusalem Post article linked to above gives the following background on the Ezekiel Plates:
In this case, the tiles were supposedly found over 100 years ago when visitors to the traditional tomb of Ezekiel in the small Iraqi town of Kfar al-Kafil, located about 50 miles south of Baghdad, noticed a stone tile had fallen off the inside of the burial chamber. Oddly, its back side contained an ancient lettering which had been deliberately hidden, facing the wall. Other tiles were removed and similar inscriptions were found on their back sides as well.

The entire set of Ezekiel plates were then taken to Lebanon, where decades later a Christian Arab widow, on the advice of her priest, wanted to place them in Jewish hands before she moved to France. She sold them for a mere two pounds sterling to businessman David Hacohen in 1947.

He smuggled the plates into Israel in 1953, and they were eventually acquired by Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, Israel’s second president and a noted historian, who considered them a valuable national treasure.

After Ben-Zvi’s death, the Ezekiel plates became the property of the Institute in Jerusalem set up in his honor, which had them in storage until Zwebner convinced his wife’s parents, Max and Lombi Landau, to sponsor their public display.
The Ezekiel Plates were acquired by Ben-Zvi sometime after 1953 and became the property of the Institute after his death in 1963. The article does not say where they were housed during those ten years. At some undetermined point the plates containing The Treatise of the Vessels were separated from the Ezekiel Plates and vanished. As far as I could determine the missing plates were last seen by Jean Starcky, who photographed one of them in Beirut "a good number of years" before J. T. Milik published the photo in 1959. Now Friedman reports that sometime between 1952 and 1958 a large chunk of the Aleppo Codex also vanished, and around the same time "dozens of valuable books and manuscripts" also disappeared from the Institute. The timing is striking. Is the stone version of The Treatise of the Vessels one of these manuscripts? I don't know and I certainly am not making any assumptions or accusations. The plates could have been separated and lost before they came to the Ben-Zvi Institute. But still, the possibility of a connection between the missing stone plates and the other missing manuscripts is intriguing and potentially worth following up.

Another notable point is that journalist Owen Jarus has called into question the connection of the Ezekiel Plates with the Tomb of Ezekiel in Iraq and has indicated he has evidence that they were produced about a century ago in Syria.

It seems that we have not yet exhausted the mysteries surrounding the Aleppo Codex, the Ezekiel Plates, and The Treatise of the Vessels.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Schäfer to head Jewish Museum Berlin

Change at the Head of the Jewish Museum Berlin

As of 1 September 2014, Prof. Dr. Peter Schäfer will take over as new director of the Jewish Museum Berlin. The Museum's Board of Trustees today agreed unanimously to Schäfer's appointment. At the request of Federal Government Commissioner for Federal Culture Commissioner and the Media Monika Grütters and Peter Schäfer, Prof. Dr. Michael Blumenthal, the longstanding founding director of the Jewish Museum Berlin, will serve in an advisory capacity for a transitional period.

Federal Commissioner Monika Grütters: "I'm very happy that it was possible to gain Professor Schäfer, an internationally active and acclaimed expert of Judaism, as the museum's new director. I am confident in his commitment to continue the work of Professor Blumenthal and build upon the museum's success to date while making his own mark."

Commissioner Grütters emphasized further: "The unprecedented success of the Jewish Museum Berlin is a direct result of Professor Blumenthal's passion and energy. We are greatly indebted to him for his years of commitment – all the more so in light of his biography!"

During the meeting of the Board of Trustees, W. Michael Blumenthal explained that he had been asking himself for some time when would be the right moment to pass the baton to a successor. When it became clear that Peter Schäfer, following his retirement from academic life, would be available, he knew he had his answer. "I realized immediately that we had to get this outstanding and highly distinguished academic on board. And this was reaffirmed by Culture Commissioner Grütters and our friends in politics, business and society at large," explained Blumenthal. "He will be able to give the museum key impulses like no one else I know."

HT Lawrence E. Frizzell.

More recent news about Professor Schäfer is here and links.

Warburg Library update

THE TIMES HIGHER EDUCATION: Warburg Institute: library saved from Nazis awaits its fate (Jack Grove). The fate of the library is still up in the air:
Four years after Warburg’s death, the collection of about 80,000 books, many rare Renaissance volumes, was moved to London as Nazism took hold in 1930s Germany. However, the University of London is now seeking to challenge the status of the deed of trust it signed in 1944 when accepting the collection.

That document promised to maintain and preserve the collection “in perpetuity” as “an independent unit” – a pledge that now appears onerous as the Warburg runs a reported £500,000 annual deficit.

Representatives for both the university and the Warburg Institute were due to appear in a court in London’s Rolls Building this week after efforts to negotiate a compromise over the past five years have failed.
Last week I noted an article about this in the New Yorker which turned out to be several years old. But this Times Higher article was published this month and indicates that the case has yet to be resolved. There is also a petition to Save the Warburg Institute!, brought to my attention by Timothy Michael Law on Facebook.

The DSS and the text of the Bible

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: The “Original” Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Can the scrolls help expose the original Bible language within the Masoretic Text and Septuagint?

Noah Wiener summarizes an article by Emanuel Tov in the current issue of BAR. The full text of the latter article is behind the subscription wall.