Saturday, August 16, 2014

Review of Law, When God Spoke Greek

Timothy Michael Law, When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2013. Pp. ix, 216. ISBN 9780199781720. $24.95 (pb).

Reviewed by Christian Schäfer​, Septuaginta-Unternehmen der Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen​ (


Durch konsequenteres Einhalten des eigenen (die Innovation dieses Buches ausmachenden) Anspruchs, Fachsprache zu vermeiden und Fachinhalte in ihrer Komplexität und ihrem Umfang auf ein zielgruppenorientiertes Maß zu begrenzen, hätte „When God Spoke Greek“ – ebenso wie durch Vermeidung inhaltlicher Wiederholungen13 – sicherlich noch einmal deutlich an Stringenz und Lesefreundlichkeit gewonnen. Trotzdem ist Law dafür zu danken, dass er sich hier der nicht zu unterschätzenden Aufgabe der didaktischen Reduktion einer derart hochkomplexen Materie auf ein allgemeinverständliches Niveau erstmalig angenommen hat, um so auf populäre Weise die historische Relevanz eines der – an seiner Wirkungsgeschichte gemessen – bedeutendsten Werke der Antike14 evident zu machen.
More on the book here, here, and here.

Brody, Mishna and Tosefta Studies

Mishna and Tosefta Studies

By Robert Brody

Publisher: The Hebrew University Magnes Press
Talmud, Jewish Studies
Publish date: August 2014
Language: English

Danacode: 45-132011
ISBN: 9789654937672
Cover: paperback
Pages: 190
Weight: 400 gr.

This book breaks new ground in several areas of Talmudic philology, especially with regard to the central work of classical rabbinic literature, the Mishnah, and its companion volume the Tosefta. The first section, devoted to the textual criticism of the Mishnah, exposes a number of widespread fallacies with regard to the so-called "Palestinian" and "Babylonian" manuscripts of this work. The second section, the largest and most innovative of the book, seeks to place the textual criticism of the Tosefta on a firm foundation on the basis of a detailed analysis which upends the scholarly consensus in this area. The third section contributes to the ongoing debate concerning the relationship between Mishnah and Tosefta, emphasizing the multifaceted nature of this relationship which varies substantially from one passage to another. Finally, the afterword makes an impassioned plea for editors of classical rabbinic texts to abandon the antiquated notions of legitimate editorial practice which still prevail in the field in favor of approaches which have long been accepted in other disciplines.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Replacing the Head of the IAA

DIRECTOR-GENERAL OF THE ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY: Appointment of Israel's new antiquities chief embroiled in politics. Archeologists decry culture minister's handling of replacement of chief who recently died. (Nir Hasson, Haaretz). Excerpt:
The short list of candidates reportedly includes MK Yisrael Hasson (Kadima), former minister Effie Eitam, head of the National Heritage Program in the Prime Minister’s Office Reuven Pinsky, Deputy IAA director general Dr. Uzi Dahari and Jerusalem District Archaeologist Dr. Yuval Baruch.

Eitam, who heads an oil company set to drill in the Golan, denied his candidacy. Hasson said he was asked to contend and did not object.

After [Shuka] Dorfman’s death it transpired there was no legal procedure for appointing a successor. Culture Minister Limor Livnat, whose ministry is in charge of the authority, last week issued new regulations stipulating she is the one to decide on the new antiquities director-general.

The Israel Antiquities council, however, wants to have more influence in the process and is demanding that the committee appointed to select the new director-general consist of at least one archaeologist and three council members. The council also insists that the new director has an advanced academic degree, preferably in archaeology or Land of Israel studies.
So politics are involved. Imagine that. But how is it that there is no legal procedure for finding the replacement? This isn't the first time it's happened.

Background here.

Late fourth-century BCE tomb in Greece

THE BBC: Greek tomb at Amphipolis is 'important discovery'.
Archaeologists unearthing a burial site at Amphipolis in northern Greece have made an "extremely important find", says Greek PM Antonis Samaras.

Experts believe the tomb belonged to an important figure dating back to the last quarter of the Fourth Century BC.

A large mound complex has been unearthed at the Kasta hill site in the past two years.

Lead archaeologist Katerina Peristeri said it certainly dated from after the death of Alexander the Great.

This story has been around for a while, but seems to have a new lease on life due to the recent attention from the Greek Prime Minister. This article seems to hint that the tomb might be that of one of Alexander's generals, the Diadochoi or of his wife, Roxana or his son Alexander IV (who was born after his father's death). But Dorothy Lobel King is not ready to exclude it being the (never used) tomb of Alexander himself. David Meadows also has comments.

Middle East: Aramaic speakers and Yazidis

PERSECUTION OF RELIGIOUS MINORITIES: Is the Islamic State Exterminating the Language of Jesus? We may be watching the deliberate destruction of Aramaic, unfolding in real time. (Ross Perlin, Foreign Policy).
Beyond the urgent humanitarian crisis lies a cultural and linguistic emergency of historic proportions. The extinction of a language in its homeland is rarely a natural process, but almost always reflects the pressures, persecutions, and discriminations endured by its speakers. Linguist Ken Hale famously compared the destruction of a language to "dropping a bomb on the Louvre" -- whole patterns of thought, ways of being, and entire systems of knowledge are among what is lost. If the last Aramaic speaker finally passes away two generations from now, the language will not have died of natural causes.
Background on the situation in Iraq is here and here and links. Background on Maaloula (Ma'aloula, Malula) is here and links. Background on Ariel Sabar's My Father's Paradise is here and links. And more on Geoffrey Khan's Aramaic database is here. Cross-file under "Aramaic Watch."

Then there are the Yazidis. They are not Aramaic speakers, but their religion has interesting and yet-to-be-clarified parallels with ancient Gnosticism. From the Times of Israel: Eight Questions About the Yazidis. Members of the Kurdish religious sect are under siege in Iraq. Who are they? What do they believe? And what is to be done? (Liel Leibovitz). Background here and links.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Conference on yētser hara within Judaism


The Origins of the Origins of Evil: Contesting Interpretations of the ‘Evil Inclination’ (yētser hara) within Judaism and its Impact on Early Christian Thought

2-4 September 2014
Fitzwilliam College, University of Cambridge
Organisers - Dr James Aitken (Cambridge), Dr Hector M. Patmore (Cardiff), and Dr Ishay Rosen-Zvi (Tel Aviv)
All welcome.
Student bursaries still available to cover accommodation and food.
More details at: or contact James Aitken,
Sent in by Dr Patmore. Evil is clearly a growth area in the field these days. See here and links, as well as here and here.

Coptic Bibliographies

AWOL: Coptic Bibliographies (from Macquarie University).

Oxford Palaeography Summer School

WORKSHOP REPORT: Greek Palaeography in Oxford (Peter Gurry, ETC Blog).
Last week was the fifth Summer School of Greek Palaeography hosted by Lincoln College in Oxford. This year’s program was run by Georgi Parpulov and a small cadre of other instructors.
The program ran for five days and concluded with a review exam on Saturday morning. The students were organized into groups of nine with each group led by a seasoned palaeographer. The majority of time was devoted to deciphering various Greek hands starting with Codex Bezae and quickly jumping to manuscripts from the 8th–15th century (so almost all minuscules). My own group spent time with about 30 manuscripts and I assume most of the other groups were the same. The focus was decidedly on matters of palaeography and codicology, so there was very little translation.


JLA Conference 2014

CONFERENCE REPORT: A Positively Diverse JLA Conference (Sara Ronis, The Talmud Blog).
Three weeks ago, I set out for Antwerp, Belgium for the Jewish Law Association international conference. The Jewish Law Association brings together academics, lawyers, dayyanim and ethicists from Israel, Europe and North and South America to have conversations about Jewish law in a variety of historical time periods, locations, and contexts.

The theme for this year’s four-day conference was Judaism, Law and Literature, and consciously drew from a wide range of sources and approaches. ...

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Tigchelaar (ed.), Old Testament Pseudepigrapha and the Scriptures

Old Testament Pseudepigrapha and the Scriptures

Bibliotheca Ephemeridum Theologicarum Lovaniensium, 270 [Peeters]

Editors: Tigchelaar E.

Year: 2014
ISBN: 978-90-429-3128-2
Pages: XXVI-526 p.
Price: 95 EURO

Old Testament Pseudepigrapha and the Scriptures contains the papers of the Colloquium Biblicum Lovaniense 2012, which focused on a series of contemporary questions in Pseudepigrapha research. The papers discuss the relationship of Old Testament Pseudepigrapha to scriptures, both in a technical sense (how did authors rewrite or interpret Scripture) and in a literary sense (how and why did authors expand or extend earlier scriptures). Many papers cover the phenomenon of pseudepigraphy, giving explanations ranging from pious forgery through various kinds of literary devices to authorial self-effacement. Some contributions discuss the historically fluid boundaries between canonical and pseudepigraphic texts, and the production and use of Old Testament pseudepigrapha in early Christianity.

The volume contains papers on texts like Jubilees, the Genesis Apocryphon, other Dead Sea Scrolls texts, the Sibylline Oracles, Baruch, the Testament of Abraham, 4 Ezra, Jannes and Jambres, the Latin Vision of Ezra, the Life of Adam and Eve, the Story of Melchizedek, and the Story of Zosimus, as well as detailed studies on aspects of other texts like, e.g., 2 Baruch and the Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum.
I attended the 2012 Colloquium Biblicum Lovaniense and posted on it here. My paper, "Seven Theses Concerning the Use of Scripture in 4 Ezra and The Latin Vision of Ezra," is published in this volume.

Cross-file under "New Book."

Sanctity and sacred trash in the Talmud

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: How Can We Respect Both the Sanctity of Jewish Things and the Practical Needs of the Jews? In this week’s ‘Daf Yomi,’ Talmudic rabbis debate the value of recycling, upselling, renovation, and sacred trash.
Very early in the Daf Yomi cycle, way back in Tractate Berakhot, I remember reading about the principle that in sacred things, we elevate and do not lower. In a debate over the right way to light candles on Hanukkah, Beit Shammai argued that we should start with eight candles on the first night and then reduce the number each night; Beit Hillel, by contrast, said that we should start with one candle and build up to eight. As usual, Hillel’s interpretation prevailed, because of the principle that we should always try to increase our sanctity, rather than lessen it.

As Kirsch notes, this principle led in a roundabout way to the preservation of the Cairo Geniza. The writer of the sub-heading makes a quiet nod in this direction with the phrase "sacred trash."

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Delēta est Carthago

PUNIC WATCH: In Carthage (Josephine Quinn, London Review of Books Blog).
Earlier this month a double celebration took place at Carthage, once the greatest city in the Mediterranean, destroyed by the Romans at the end of the Punic Wars and now a seaside suburb of Tunis. The anniversary of Hannibal’s defeat of the Roman army at Cannae in southern Italy on 2 August 216 BCE could be commemorated on the same day (2/8) as the beginning of the 2828th year since the foundation of the city by the Tyrian princess Dido in 814 BCE. Scholarly talks on Carthage and its heroes were followed by a carnival, including a parade from the acropolis to the amphitheatre with Carthaginian and Roman soldiers.

The Tunisian embrace of Dido, Hannibal and their city might seem surprising. ...

I'm sorry to have missed that party.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Adiabene meets Stalingrad?

A QUESTIONABLE ANALOGY: Once the capital of a proud Jewish queen, Erbil could emerge as Obama’s Stalingrad With guns blazing, more Americans could resort to the binary ‘with us or against us’ test by which Israel is surely with the U.S. and Hamas is definitely with its enemies. (Chemi Shalev, Haaretz)
Bar-hoppers on Monobaz Street and Israel Radio workers in the adjacent Heleni Hamalka Road near the Russian Compound in central Jerusalem might be surprised to learn that they are indirectly linked to the new American military campaign in Iraq. Heleni the Queen, as she is known in Hebrew, along with her husband Monobaz I and two sons, Izates and Monobaz II, ruled the ancient kingdom of Adiabene in Assyria and converted to Judaism in 30 AD: They financed parts of the Second Temple, built palaces in the City of David, helped fend off Roman onslaughts on Judea and are buried in the Kings Tombs near today’s American Colony Hotel.

And their center of government was in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, the city that is now under threat by Islamic State forces, which could emerge – in a wild exaggeration of course – as Barack Obama’s Stalingrad.

This was the upshot, at least, of the U.S. president’s Saturday morning address on the White House lawn, moments before he took off for his peculiarly-timed summer vacation. On Sinjar Mountain, Obama made clear that he is now committed to the much more complicated task of extricating them to safety as well. And only 24 hours after U.S. Navy F-18A Hornets dropped their first laser guided bombs on ISIS positions near Erbil “to protect Americans,” as the Pentagon said, Obama promised not to withdraw the American consulate from the city. By inference, and to all intents and purposes, Obama is pledging that Erbil, taken from Jewish Adiabene by the Roman Emperor Caracalla in 196 AD when its name was Arbella, won’t fall again.

Without in any way discounting the difficulties of the current situation, I just don't get the analogy with Stalingrad. Erbil is in Kurdish territory and is defended by the Kurds, apparently now with the help of the Americans (and indirectly, the British), against an attack by ISIS. Stalingrad was on Soviet territory and was successfully defended by the Soviets, again (considerably more indirectly) with the help of the Americans and the British, against an attack by the Nazis. It was a major turning point in the failure of Hitler's Operation Barbarossa. I certainly hope Erbil does not deteriorate into a Stalingrad scenario, but it is ISIS, not America, who is playing the role of the Nazis in the analogy, and that isn't a particularly good omen for ISIS.

Be all that as it may (and I wish Erbil well whatever happens), the central interest for PaleoJudaica is in ancient Erbil (Adiabene). I have posted on Adiabene before, but only in association with Queen Helene of Adiabene and only with reference to architecture connected with her in Jerusalem. See here, here, here, here, here, and here. Note especially the last and most recent link, which discusses the somewhat complicated problem of her tomb in Jerusalem.

Was Herod ripped off?

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Is Jerusalem’s Western Wall falling down? Some of the holy site’s stones are rapidly eroding, putting the wall at risk, Israeli researchers say (Andrew Tobin, Times of Israel)
Parts of the Western Wall are eroding 100 times faster than others, potentially undermining the stability of the ancient Jewish holy site, according to a new study, indicating it might be in danger of collapse hundreds of years in the future.

It seems that some of the stones in the Western Wall are sub-standard.

The stones that are eroding more quickly are made of fine-grained limestone that crumbles more readily after exposure to water, the study finds.

“Rainwater gets into the stones and causes dissolution. It’s similar to what happens to a sugar cube when it’s dunked in coffee,” said Dr. Simon Emmanuel, an earth scientist specializing in the interaction of water and rock, who conducted the study along with earth sciences doctoral student Yael Levenson at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “The stones that are made of finer crystals fall apart much more easily.”


The researchers say the average erosion rates they calculated would not endanger the wall for at least several hundred years, although it is possible that catastrophic erosion could happen at any time.

“It looks like Herod might have been the victim of shoddy contractors,” joked Emmanuel. “He was an ambitious builder, and there was intense demand for limestone at the time. Some corners may have been cut.”

The lowest bid isn't always the best one.

Tu B'av

MAKING A COMEBACK? Tu B'av: The Jewish Valentine's Day that came from prehistory. Dying for the Golden Calf? Celebrating tribal intermarriage? Or, simply, marking the summer equinox? Whatever its origin, latter-day Zionists liked this holiday. (Elon Gilad, Haaretz).
On the 15th of the summer month of Av, under a full moon, young Jewish men and women dressed in white would go out and dance in the vineyards of ancient Judea.

That is practically all we know about this most ancient of holidays.

We know it because of a single passage in the Mishnah, quoting Simeon ben Gamliel: “No days were as good for Israel as the 15th of Av and the Day of Atonement, on which the sons of Jerusalem would go out in borrowed white clothes...and the girls of Jerusalem would go out and dance in the vineyards” (Ta’anit 10).

The question is why. There are a few clues.

There's something about marriage

What was this dancing about? The sages of the Talmud were evidently somewhat puzzled by this, since the Talmud gives us six different answers.

Most of the explanations don't sound very romantic.

The Jerusalem Post has coverage as well: Tu Be’av: Boy meets girl... in ancient Israel (Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg)

Monday, August 11, 2014

Review of Geiger, Hellenism in the East

Joseph Geiger, Hellenism in the East: Studies on Greek Intellectuals in Palestine. Historia Einzelschriften 229. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2014. Pp. 177. ISBN 9783515106177. €49.00.

Reviewed by Bruno Rochette, Université de Liège (

Depuis l’époque hellénistique jusqu’à la période byzantine, la Palestine fut une terre fertile en intellectuels grecs, poètes, prosateurs et philosophes – depuis le philosophe cynique Ménippe, le poète Méléagre et le penseur épicurien Philodème, tous les trois de Gadara, jusqu’à Marinos de Naplouse, le dernier scholarque de l’école néoplatonicienne d’Athènes, et Procope de Césarée, l’historien du temps de Justinien. Il faut reconnaître que ces auteurs n’ont pas reçu l’attention qu’ils méritaient. Le même constat vaut pour les intellectuels issus d’Ascalon, à l’exception du philosophe Antiochos, qui fut le maître de Varron et de Cicéron, et du mathématicien Eutocios, auteur de commentaires sur certains écrits d’Archimède et sur les Sections coniques d’Apollonios de Pergé. Si l’on met à part l’École de Gaza aux Ve et VIe s.,1 personne n’a jamais tenté de replacer ces intellectuels grecs de Palestine dans leur environnement, ni d’analyser leur contribution à la vie culturelle grecque des habitants de cette région. De surcroît, si le milieu intellectuel de certains grands centres, comme Antioche, Alexandrie ou Athènes à l’époque romaine, a fait l’objet d’une grande attention, il en va tout autrement pour des villes secondaires. Or, une telle approche pourrait éclairer sous un autre angle notre image de l’hellénisme, que nous percevons principalement à travers la situation dans les grands centres. Une question découle de ce constat : la civilisation dans une région bien définie avec certaines caractéristiques propres avait-elle un caractère distinctif ou bien cette section du monde grec était-elle une partie de ce dernier sans aucun signe particulier qui puisse la distinguer de l’ensemble ?

L’ouvrage tente d’apporter des éléments de réponse à cette problématique. Il est divisé en trois parties, dont certaines comportent des recherches déjà publiées.2 La première est une prosopographie des intellectuels grecs en Palestine. La deuxième est consacrée aux intellectuels grecs originaires d’Ascalon. La troisième étudie la diffusion de la littérature latine en Palestine.


John Allegro website

John Marco Allegro is a website about and in defense of Mr. Allegro and his controversial work on the Dead Sea Scrolls.

HT Eibert Tigchelaar at the Facebook IOQS page. More on Allegro is noted here and here. The link to the Bible and Interpretation essay by his daughter, Judith Anne Brown, has rotted, but you can read it at the new link here. And her book on her father is available here.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Tarbiz 82.2

THE HEBREW JOURNAL TARBIZ has a new issue out (82.2). TOC in English translation:
The articles in this volume:

Alexander Rofé - Redressing the Calamity in the Transmission of the Bible

Yonatan Feintuch - The Textual Development of the Aggadah of Rav Ada b. Abba (b BB 22a) in Light of the Evidence of an Early Genizah Fragment

Avi Shmidman - Quina Poems for the 10th of Tevet and the 17th of Tamuz

Avraham Fraenkel - Kingdoms and their Harsh Decrees in Medieval Italian Jewish Poetry

Tzahi Weiss - ‘Most of the Errant Err in Malkhut’: The Worship of the Shekhinah in Early Kabbalah

Tsippi Kauffman - Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Przysucha

English and Hebrew Abstracts