Saturday, August 30, 2014

Acikyildiz, The Yezidis

The Yezidis: The History of a Community, Culture and Religion
Birgul Acikyildiz (author)

Paperback | In Stock | £14.99


The minority communities of northern Iraq are under increasingly severe threat from Islamic State jihadists. Among these minorities, the Yezidis have one of the most remarkable legacies of any tradition in the Middle East. Yet not just their religious and material culture but now their entire existence is in peril as entire populations seek refuge from their violent oppressors.

But who are the Yezidis (or ‘Yazidis’ as in much of the Western media)? The community has been misunderstood and oppressed for centuries. Predominantly ethnic Kurds, and the target of persecution over many centuries, until now they have succeeded in keeping their ancient religion alive despite the claim that they are ‘devil worshippers.’

This is the essential guide to a threatened tradition. It reveals an intricate system of belief influenced by Zoroastrianism and Sufism and regional paganism like Mithraism. It explores the origins of the Yezidis, their art and architecture and the often misunderstood (and now progressively life-threatening) connections between Yezidism and the Satan/Sheitan of Christian and Muslim tradition. Extensively illustrated, with maps, photographs and illustrations, this pioneering book is a testimonial to one of the region’s most extraordinary and ancient peoples.
Background here and links.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Arash Zeini's blog

ARASH ZEINI has a predominantly bibliographic blog for Iranian Studies. Some of his posts also pertain to ancient Judaism. Two of the latter (for now) are: Zoroastrian exegetical parables and To convert a Persian.

Review of As Above, So Below

ARAMAIC WATCH: ‘As Above, So Below’ Review: Deserves a Swift Burial (Dan Callahan, The Wrap). Excerpt:
Director John Erick Dowdle and cinematographer Léo Hinstin keep their handheld camera style shaky, rattling and rolling throughout, even though most of the movie is supposed to be footage shot by hapless documentary filmmaker Benji (Edwin Hodge), who is following dishy Scarlett (Perdita Weeks) around as she goes on a dizzy quest to find the mythical philosopher's stone, an alchemical substance that turns metal into gold and also gives its owner immortality.

“I am fluent in four spoken languages and two dead ones,” chirps the enthusiastic Scarlett, who speaks in plummy British tones that mask her heartbreak over her alchemist father's suicide. She doesn't speak Aramaic, however, though she assures Benji that she “knows a guy who does”: George, played by Ben Feldman, just as neurotic here as he is playing paranoid copy writer Ginsberg on “Mad Men.”

Though Scarlett once got them both stuck in a Turkish prison for a week, George is quietly smitten with her, so much so that he thinks nothing of breaking into a museum for her so that she can take down an ancient tablet, rub the back with ammonia cleanser, and light it on fire to see if it might reveal where the stone might be hidden. The tablet back tells her that the stone could be down somewhere in the Paris catacombs, a tunnel network underneath the city that houses the bones of six million bodies.
She just wants him for his Aramaic.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

52nd PSCO (2014-15)

Dear friends and colleagues,

I am delighted to announce that our 52nd PSCO — co-chaired by me, Matthew Chalmers, and Natalie Dohrmann — will explore "Formative Figures and Paths Not Taken: The Study of Ancient Judaism and Christianity between History and Historiography." In concert with the 2014-2015 Katz Center theme-year on "New Perspectives on the Origins, Context, and Diffusion of the Academic Study of Judaism," we will focus on key figures in the study of ancient Judaism and Christianity in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries, situating them both in terms of their own modern contexts and in terms of their contribution to scholarship on antiquity. We are hoping to revisit formative contributions to scholarship but also to recover forgotten insights and interesting paths not taken — especially in relation to the interactions of Jewish studies and Jewish scholars with the dominantly Christian contexts of early research. In the process, we hope to bring historians of antiquity into conversation with historians of modernity so as to help situate our own scholarly endeavors as part of ongoing contextualized reflections and continually remade memories of ancient Jewish and Christian pasts.

Our opening session will be on Thursday October 2 (7pm-9pm) and will feature John G. Gager of Princeton University speaking on Jacob Taubes, Michael Wyschogrod, and radical Jewish approaches to Paul and “early Christianity." More details, suggested readings, etc., will be sent out closer to the date. We’re still working on pinning down the schedule for the rest of the year. Confirmed sessions to mark in your calendar = David Ruderman will speak on William Wotton (1666–1727) and the Christian recovery of the Mishnah in early modern Europe on Thursday December 11, and Bernard Levinson will speak on Julius Wellhausen (1844-1918) on Thursday March 19th. Unless otherwise noted, all sessions will be held in the Second Floor Lounge of Cohen Hall at the University of Pennsylvania and will run from 7:00pm-9:00pm, preceded by an informal dinner. More details soon!

Many of the talks at the Katz Center this year may also be of interest; for the fall schedule, please see

All the best, Annette
In case you didn't know, PSCO stands for "Philadelphia Seminar on Christian Origins. Their website is here and their Facebook page is here.

Star of Bethlehem colloquium

CHRISTMAS COMES EARLY: Colloquium: The Star of Bethlehem, Groningen. The Star of Bethlehem: Historical and Astronomical Perspectives – A Multi-Disciplinary Colloquium, University of Groningen, October 23rd-24th, 2014. Follow the link for details.

Canaanite wine cellar excavated

IN BRONZE-AGE ISRAEL: World's Oldest Wine Cellar Fueled Palatial Parties (Megan Gannon, LiveScience). "Wild nights in Tel Kabri."

I don't usually cover Bronze-Age archaeology, but this seemed important.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

More Dovekeepers casting

TVLINE: Finding Carter's Kathryn Prescott Takes Aim at CBS' Dovekeepers Miniseries (Andy Swift).
The star of MTV’s Finding Carter has joined CBS’ upcoming miniseries The Dovekeepers, TVLine has learned, playing a teenaged tomboy named Aziza. Blessed with expert archery skills, Aziza disguises herself in her brother’s armor to join the male warriors of Masada — even managing to fool her lover Amram (played by 90210‘s Diego Boneta).

Obviously a rigorously accurate historical treatment of the story. Background on both the miniseries (due out in 2015) and the novel is here and links.

Phoenician shipwreck

PHOENICIAN WATCH: Phoenician shipwreck found off the coast of Malta could be the Mediterranean's oldest. But the exact location of the 2,700-year-old underwater ruin is being kept secret until research is finished.
By Emily Sharpe. Web only [The Art Newspaper]
Published online: 27 August 2014

Cargo from what may be the oldest shipwreck in the Mediterranean has been discovered off the coast the Maltese island of Gozo, reports the Times of Malta. Around 20 lava grinding stones and 50 amphorae of various types and sizes from the 50ft-long Phoenician wreck were found by a team of researchers from Malta, France and the US. Experts date the artefacts to around 700BC, when Malta was among several areas in the Mediterranean colonised by the Phoenicians.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Jew and Judean Forum

MARGINALIA: Jew and Judean: A Forum on Politics and Historiography in the Translation of Ancient Texts. Have scholars erased the Jews from Antiquity? As promised.

This is an important discussion. I don't have time to read all the entries right now, but I may have comments once I do.

"Catharsis-vendors," cosmetics, and festivals in the Talmud

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: In the Days Between the Major Holidays, Little Clues to Jewish Ritual and Life. Talmudic rabbis debate professional eulogizers, trying to strike a balance between the holy and the mundane.
Tractate Moed Katan, which Daf Yomi readers continued to explore this week, is not one of the more glamorous parts of the Talmud. Where other tractates we have read in Seder Moed dealt with major holidays like Yom Kippur or Pesach, Moed Katan focuses on the middle days of the festivals, which are inherently less dramatic and important than the first and last days. The result, however, is that this tractate offers an unusually close look at the day-to-day life and work of Talmudic-era Jewish society. As the rabbis examine different occupations and activities, to decide whether or not they can be pursued on the intermediate days, they indirectly offer a kind of sociological overview, covering everything from burial rites to bed-making to beautification.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

More on Bar-Asher Siegel, Introduction to the Grammar of Jewish Babylonian Aramaic

SETH SANDERS: Is There a Text in the Class? The Babylonian Talmud’s Intertwined Textual and Linguistic Histories. With reference to the review by Aaron Koller at the Talmud Blog, noted here.

More Christian Apocrypha updates

AT APOCRYPHYCITY Tony Burke has been posting some summaries of texts translated in his and Brent Landau's forthcoming volume of More Christian Apocrypha. There are five entries so far:
More Christian Apocrypha Updates 5: On the Priesthood of Jesus
More Christian Apocrypha Updates 4: The Infancy Gospel of Thomas (Syriac)
More Christian Apocrypha Updates 3: The Hospitality of Dysmas
More Christian Apocrypha Updates 2: Revelation of the Magi
More Christian Apocrypha Updates 1: Legend of Aphroditianus
Go and have a look.

Monday, August 25, 2014


PHILOLOGOS: The Details Are in the Devil European Writer Defends Jews By Attacking Them. Excerpt:
Beelzebub comes, via the Latin Bible, from Hebrew ba’al z’vuv, literally “Lord [or Ba’al] of the Fly.” (Most people know this phrase better as “Lord of the Flies” from the title of William Golding’s best-selling 1954 novel, but in the Bible, z’vuv, “fly,” is in the singular.) Ba’al was the ancient Canaanite sky god and the senior figure in the Canaanite pantheon, and Ba’al Z’vuv is mentioned in the first chapter of Kings II as the name of a Philistine deity who was worshipped by some Israelites, too. Kings disapprovingly narrates (in the King James translation) what happened when the Israelite king Ahaziah fell ill: “He sent messengers and said unto them, ‘Go, inquire of Baal-Zebub, the god of [the Philistine city of] Ekron, whether I shall recover of this disease.”

Although some scholars have argued that flies were indeed associated with this god, the name ba’al z’vuv is far more likely to be a jeering pun on the Canaanite ba’al z’vul, “Lord of the Heavens.” This seems clear from the Greek New Testament, where the name occurs several times as Beelzeboul. (This is also an interesting indication of the lateness of the final editing of some parts of the Hebrew Bible, since ba’al z’vul rather than ba’al z’vuv was obviously still common usage in late Second Temple times.) As a chief rival of the God of the Israelites, Ba’al is the object of similar thrusts elsewhere in the Bible as well. Whereas, for example, Saul’s son Jonathan, so we read in the book of Chronicles, named his own son Meriv-Ba’al, “Warrior of Ba’al,” the book of Samuel refers to him as Mephiboshet, probably from pid, “misfortune,” plus boshet, “shame.”
The phrase zbl bʻl seems to mean "Prince Baal" in Ugaritic. Outside of the Synoptic Gospels there is no other surviving ancient Jewish use of the term Beelzeboul as the name of a demon, but the Symmachus Greek translation of the passage in 2 Kings 1 does preserve the more ancient form of the name, ba’al z’vul, so it was still known as the name of a Canaanite god in the time of Jesus. The jump from that to the name of a chief demon would not have been great in the worldview of Second Temple era Jews.

The essay also mentions the use of Beelzeboul as a demonic name in the Testament of Solomon, but this is clearly dependent on the Synoptic Gospels.

A sofer

SCRIBE WATCH: We've recently had female scribes and even a robo-scribe, but it's been quite a while since we've had a specific profile of any male scribes, so for the sake of gender and bioorganism parity here's one now: The methods used to maintain Judaism's most sacred texts trace back to the time of Moses (Kevin Hardy, Times Free Press).
Yochanan Salazar is constantly afraid.

Salazar is a sofer, a Jewish scribe fluent in the faith's most important text, the Torah. He's trained both in writing new Torah scrolls and repairing ancient Hebrew texts.

This week, he started repair work on Torah scrolls at B'nai Zion Congregation, a Jewish synagogue on McBrien Road. Over the next two years, he'll repair several of the congregation's scrolls, some of which were penned more than a century ago.

The work is meticulous. But it's also humbling, he says, as he carefully crouches over the text, his nose just inches away from the very word of God. He dusts each page with tissues, wipes a cleaner over them and uses a quill to fill in faded letters.

"The truth is it's scary," Salazar said. "It constantly creates a sense of awe. It's an amazing feeling every time I do it."


Sunday, August 24, 2014

New: JSTOR Hebrew Journals

AWOL: A New Collection at JSTOR: JSTOR Hebrew Journals. Lots of them!

BMCR reviews

Johannes de Vries, Martin Karrer (ed.), Textual History and the Reception of Scripture in Early Christianity / Textgeschichte und Schriftrezeption im frühen Christentum. Society of Biblical Literature. Septuagint and cognate studies, 60​. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2013. Pp. xi, 434. ISBN 9781589839045. €54.95 (pb).

Reviewed by Geert Lernout, University of Antwerp (


This book represents the preliminary findings of an ambitious research project on the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Jewish Tanakh. As Johannes de Vries and Martin Karrer explain in their introduction, the Wuppertal Research Project (in cooperation with the universities of Koblenz and Saarbücken) began as the translation and annotation of the Septuagint, but soon textual, theological and historical issues came into focus as well. In the stage of the project which this book reports on, scholars look closely at the 449 relatively certain quotations of 357 different verses from the Septuagint (or LXX) in 389 verses of the New Testament.

Although the international project only began operation at the end of the previous century, 2006 it started to publish reports in the form of conference proceedings: the present bi-lingual volume is the fourth in that series. On the basis of the detailed study of the quotations from the Septuagint in early Christianity (New Testament writers and a selection of Christian authors from the second century), important conclusions emerge that will be of interest to everybody concerned with the textual history of a book that, in the case of the New Testament, has survived in almost ten times more manuscripts than any other classical text.

On the basis of the detailed work of the members of this research group, the editors are now able to claim (fully aware of the pitfalls), that “the New Testament turns out to be the best source for analyzing the text of Israel’s scriptures.” ...
That's quite a big claim.
Jason König, Katerina Oikonomopoulou, Greg Woolf (ed.), Ancient Libraries. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013. Pp. xx, 479. ISBN 9781107012561. $120.00.

Reviewed by David J. Wasserstein, Vanderbilt University (


It is easy to forget that the Library of Alexandria was not the only library in the ancient world. Its reputation, carefully cultivated by the ancients and burnished through generations of scholarship, has obscured the existence of other collections, some larger and more or less official, like that of Alexandria itself, some smaller and more personal, like that in the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum. It is therefore good to have this new collection, the product of a conference held as long ago as 2008. Its 22 contributions cover a huge range. Although Rome with her empire takes the lion’s share of the attention, ancient Assyria and Egypt (and Alexandria), Athens and Pergamum and Herculaneum, are all represented too.

What were the role and function of libraries in the ancient world, both the classical world and its neighbors? How did they operate, arrange their holdings and know and make known to others what they held? Who enjoyed access to them, and for what purposes? Who funded them and why?

Nothing on the Dead Sea Scrolls? More on the Library of Alexandria is here and links. More on the Library of Herculaneum is here and links. Random other ancient libraries are mentioned here, here, here, here, here, and links. The conference that produced this book was held here at the University of St Andrews in 2008.