Saturday, September 20, 2014

Strassman, DMT and the Soul of Prophecy

DMT and the Soul of Prophecy
A New Science of Spiritual Revelation in the Hebrew Bible

By (author) Rick Strassman, M.D.

ISBN-13: 978-1-59477-342-6
ISBN: 1-59477-342-4
Quality Paperback — 9/18/14
Page Count: 352; 6.00 (width) x 9.00 (height)
Imprint: Park Street Press

Availability: Usually ships within 1-2 business days.
Price: $19.95
An advance electronic copy kindly sent me by the author. Looks like the publisher is just beginning to ship. Dr Strassman is the last researcher in the U.S.A. (in the 1990s) to be permitted by the U.S. Government to undertake clinical research on an hallucinogenic drug - DMT (N,N-dimethyltryptamine). He and I have been in informal dialogue for some years about his research (especially in his earlier book, DMT: The Spirit Molecule) and my research on visionary practice and experience in ancient Judaism. I haven't seen anything in advance from his new book, so it will be interesting to see what he has to say.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Sheinfeld, "Oral Performance and the Function of 4 Ezra"

SBL PAPER FROM 2012 BY SHAYNA SHEINFELD: Oral Performance and the Function of 4 Ezra, posted at the Biblical Performance Criticism website.

Lots more on 4 Ezra is here, here, here, here, and links.

Conversations with two DSS scholars

TWO INTERVIEWS with specialists in the Dead Sea Scrolls:

Eileen Schuller: Five questions for McMaster’s Dead Sea Scrolls expert (Dave Churchill, Hamilton Spectator).
McMaster professor and renowned Dead Sea Scrolls expert Eileen Marie Schuller has been named a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.

It's considered Canada's highest academic honour.

Schuller is one of only a handful of international researchers responsible for the scrolls' initial deciphering and publication. She is also author of "The Dead Sea Scrolls: What Have We Learned?" published in 2006.

Schuller belongs to the Ursuline Sisters, an order of Catholic nuns who work in education and health care. She has earned the moniker "the flying nun" among her McMaster colleagues because of all the travelling she does for her Dead Sea Scrolls work.

Her specialty within the scrolls is psalms, hymns and poetry, which she has translated extensively.

Here are five questions for Schuller.

Background on her election to the RSC is here.

Charlotte Hempel: Coffee Table Talk with Charlotte Hempel (podcast with Marginalia).
In this interview with MRB’s editor-in-chief Timothy Michael Law, Charlotte Hempel discusses how she began her career of study in the Dead Sea Scrolls, where the current challenges and prospects in the field lie, the new interdisciplinarity in Scrolls research, what we know and don’t know about the community at Qumran, her current research project on the diversity of literatures in the Second Temple period, and more.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Byzantine monastery near Beit Shemesh?

EXCAVATION: Israeli archaeologists said to have uncovered monastery in dig near Beit Shemesh. Archaeologists said that the compound is divided into an industrial area and a residential area, leading them to believe that it may have been a monastery (Jerusalem Post)
Israeli archaeologists on Thursday announced the discovery of a Byzantine-era oil and wine press near Beit Shemesh.

The Israel Antiquities Authority said that an excavation along the hills south of Beit Shemesh revealed a number of interesting findings, including blocked cisterns, a cave opening, and the tops of several walls.

Archaeologists said that the compound is divided into an industrial area and a residential area, leading them to believe that it may have been a monastery.

But there's no sign of a church there.

Israeli Arameans

MODERN ARAMAIC WATCH: Israel Officially Recognizes Nationality of ‘Aramean.’ Arameans are now recognized as a distinct nationality in Israel (Lori Lowenthal Marcus , The Jewish Press).
The subset of Middle Eastern Christians who define themselves as “Aramaic” will nw be able to register as belonging to that nationality in legal documents in Israel, Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar announced on Wednesday, Sept. 17.

The Interior Ministry received a number of requests from Israeli Christians who sought recognition as Aramaic. Those who seek to register as such must be able to prove several factors. They must be able to prove that they come from the Middle East, that they are conversant in the language and a member of one of the following Christian denominations: Maronite, Orthodox Aramaic, Syriac Catholic, Greek Orthodox or Greek Catholic.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Death and sex in Tractate Hagigah

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: If Even the Angel of Death Makes Mistakes, Where Is There True Justice? The Talmud imagines the world as organized for the benefit of Torah sages, even in matters of sex and death. Excerpt:
As Daf Yomi readers began a new tractate this week—Tractate Chagiga, which deals with the procedures for Temple worship on the three annual festivals—the rabbis once again took up the question of death and punishment. In Chagiga 4b, Rav Yosef quotes a verse from Proverbs, “But there are those who are swept away without justice,” and questions it: “Is there one who goes before his time?” Doesn’t God decide on each death individually, so that we all die exactly when we are supposed to? Apparently not, the Gemara answers—just look at the case of Miriam the “raiser of babies,” or nurse. One day, the Angel of Death told his “agent”—for apparently the business of death involves many angels and spirits—to bring him a woman named Miriam who was a braider of women’s hair. But the agent made a mistake and brought him Miriam the nurse instead, for which the Angel of Death scolded him. “If so,” the agent pleaded, “return her to life.” But the Angel of Death was casual about the mistake: “Since you have already brought her, let her be counted” toward the quota of the dead, he replied.
That's harsh. There's lots of interesting stuff about angels, the Merkavah, and Ma'aseh Bereshit (the Matter of Creation) in Tractate Chagiga (Hagigah). Cant wait.

As for the sex:
Indeed, the rabbis list a number of sins that can bring judgment, even though they may seem trivial. One of these, in Chagiga 5b, is talking “frivolously” to your spouse before sex: Even at such a moment, the rabbis rule, speech should be grave and mindful. This is surely a harsh and puritanical rule, so it is comforting, in a way, to read that even Rav himself did not always obey it. On one occasion, Rav Kahana was lying underneath Rav’s bed—why, and how he got there, the Talmud doesn’t say—and “he heard Rav chatting and laughing with his wife, and performing his needs,” that is, having sex. When Kahana upbraided him for idle talk, Rav replied, “Kahana, leave, as this is not proper conduct.” Indeed, eavesdropping on someone from under their bed seems much more objectionable than talking before sex. And in any case, Rav had an excuse for chatting: It is permitted when a man has to “appease” his wife. One hopes that Rav and his wife were not the only couple to take advantage of this loophole to enjoy a little light-hearted intimacy.
In b. Berakhot 62a, there is a version of this story in which R. Kahana replied, "It is a matter of Torah and I must learn."

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Shapira scrolls again (updated 9/17/14)

MICHAEL PRESS: “The Lying Pen of the Scribes”: A Nineteenth-Century Dead Sea Scroll (The Appendix). A long and interesting article on the Shapira affair which is worth reading in full. Dr. Press does not dispute that the Shapira scrolls were forgeries, rather he mostly attempts to psychologize the specialists at the time and up to the present who rejected the authenticity of the scrolls. This is worth trying, I suppose, but a little of it goes a long way. One excerpt:
We see the potential, realized with [nineteenth-century scholar Konstantin] Schlottmann, for even scholarly response to be entangled with religious belief. This should not be surprising: modern biblical scholarship has been overwhelmingly Protestant, both in its origins and in its practitioners. Its roots are found in the two towering movements of the Renaissance and the Reformation, with their mottos ad fontes (“to the sources”—not only classical antiquity but also biblical antiquity) and sola scriptura (“by scripture alone”). The Protestant background of biblical scholarship has been long acknowledged. But this is mostly a neutral observation, or a positive praise of its critical tools; it has rarely been acknowledged that this origin might have a negative side.

The development of historical context and perspective, from the perspective of “to the sources” and “by scripture alone,” has led to a near obsession with origins, and specifically with origins of Scripture. Discovering the original documents behind the Pentateuch, establishing the (single) original form of the biblical text, reconstructing the (single) source (Vorlage) of a biblical translation—these have been among the most important goals of modern scholarship. Perhaps this may explain how, when the Dead Sea Scrolls were first brought to the attention of scholars, before archaeological excavations at Qumran confirmed their authenticity, they were generally accepted by scholars: unlike the Shapira scroll, they did not claim to be original versions of biblical books but part of a later stage in the process of transmission. Consider the reaction of biblical scholar Harry Orlinsky to the Dead Sea Scrolls: he believed them to be of limited importance for biblical studies, because they had little bearing on the original form of the biblical text.
There is certainly validity to this criticism of modern Biblical Studies (I have made it myself in print), but it applies much less to the field in the last generation. First, the attempts in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to reconstruct original sources behind the biblical documents have come up against limitations that are very hard to overcome. There is, for example, broad agreement that the Pentateuch includes a Deuteronomic stratum and a Priestly stratum, plus some other stuff, but attempts to refine these generalizations has led to a welter of mutually incompatible theories each held by only one scholar. And second, on the positive side, reception history has become one of the most productive sub-fields in biblical studies in recent years.

As for the Shapira scrolls, they are lost now and probably destroyed, but we still do have quite a bit of information about them. This has been weighed by scholars many times and always found wanting. If someone wants to make a new case for their authenticity, that option always remains, but the current state of the question is certainly still that they are forgeries. Dr. Press would not, I think, disagree with me here. I see that I have made the same point here in greater detail, with links to more background.

UPDATE (17 September): Reader Matthew Hamilton in Sydney Australia e-mails the following:
Some content in the article “The Lying Pen of the Scribes”, was out of date as of 1 August. On that date there was the first screening in Israel of the documentary film “Shapira & I” by Yoram Sabo. The documentary includes in part a short interview of myself by Yoram where the claim of Alan David Crown that Sir Charles Nicholson purchased the Shapira Scroll is debunked. The actual purchaser of the Shapira Scroll was a Philip Brookes Mason (1842-1903), a doctor and amateur naturalist from Burton-on-Trent, and he exhibited the Scroll before the Burton-on-Trent Natural History and Archaeological Society on 8 March 1889.

The whereabouts of the Scroll after 1889 is still being investigated, but it was certainly not in the possession of Sir Charles Nicholson who was the owner of 3 and perhaps 4 other scrolls that had been owned by Shapira. These other scrolls and Crown’s hypothesis are the subject of a paper I’m currently preparing.
This is important and exciting news. If Sir Charles Nicholson did not have this Shapira scroll, then it wasn't destroyed in the fire in Sir Charles's study in 1899 and it may still survive somewhere today. If so and if it can be tracked down, it can be analyzed and its date established definitively. I look forward to seeing Matthew Hamilton's paper when it its finished.

Schuller elected to RSC

CONGRATULATIONS TO EILEEN SCHULLER: Two McMaster faculty named Royal Society Fellows.
Two McMaster professors – one Canada’s pre-eminent scholar of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the other a world leader in polymer reaction engineering - have been named Fellows of the Royal Society of Canada, the country’s highest academic honour.

Eileen Schuller is a professor in McMaster’s department of Religious Studies and also the Senator William McMaster Chair in Social Sciences.

Schuller is “one of only a handful of international researchers responsible for the Scrolls’ initial decipherment and publication,” reads the citation from the Royal Society. “She has been instrumental in educating other scholars and the general public about the Scrolls and their significance.”

And to her colleague in Chemical Engineering as well.

Apocryphicity update

APOCRYPHICITY HAS MOVED: The new address for Tony Burke's blog on the Christian Apocrypha and related matters is

Jobs in Judaic Studies

JOB: Stanford University, Jewish Studies

Sarah Imhoff
Thursday, September 11, 2014

Stanford University, Religious Studies

Full Professor in Jewish Studies

The Department of Religious Studies at Stanford University invites applications and nominations in the area of the study of Jewish religion and/or thought for the Daniel E. Koshland Chair in Jewish Religion and Culture.

We seek a senior scholar of distinction in the field of Jewish Studies, with an outstanding record of research and scholarship and a demonstrated commitment to excellence in teaching and advising students at both graduate and undergraduate levels. The successful candidate may specialize in any area or period of the study of Jewish religion and/or thought.

The appointment will be at the full professor level, but scholars at the advanced associate level are also encouraged to apply.

For full consideration, applications must be received by October 31, 2014. The term of appointment would begin September 1, 2015 or as soon as practicable thereafter.

JOB: UC Davis, Premodern Judaism

Sarah Imhoff
Thursday, September 11, 2014

University of California - Davis, Religious Studies

Assistant Professor - Premodern Judaism

Premodern JudaismDepartment of Religious Studies
University of California, Davis

The Department of Religious Studies at the University of California, Davis invites applicants for a tenure-track faculty position at the Assistant Professor level in Premodern Judaism, from the postbiblical to late medieval period effective July 1, 2015. Research specialization within this area is open, and may include areas such as Second Temple Judaism, the formation of rabbinic literature, Judaism in the later Roman or Sasanian world, the reception of the Hebrew Bible in ancient and medieval Judaism, Judaism in medieval Europe and the medieval Mediterranean. Candidates with an interest in interdisciplinary work in areas already represented in the UC Davis program will be preferred. The successful candidate will be able to teach undergraduate courses in the Hebrew Bible and its reception, the history of Judaism, and Religious Studies broadly conceived, as well as specialized courses in premodern Judaism at the advanced undergraduate and graduate level. A Ph.D. in Religious Studies or related field must be in hand by the first day of classes, September 21, 2015. Preliminary interviews will be held at the Annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion in San Diego, CA on November 22-25, 2014 and the Association for Jewish Studies in Baltimore, MD on December 14-16, 2014. The position will remain open until filled.
Follow the links for further particulars.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Two women and the Talmud

CALDERON AND ANTON: Two articles have come up which highlight the recent contribution of two women to popular awareness of Talmudic and related themes. The first is a specialist with a PhD in Talmud, and also an Israeli politician. The second is a well-informed nonspecialist and author. Both have published well-received historical fiction inspired by the Talmud.

The first: How Ruth Calderon Transforms Israeli Politics — and Talmud. Ruth Calderon Gives Voice to Characters Who Have Been Excluded (Jay Michaelson, The Forward). Excerpt:
It was a surprise when Calderon was elected to the Knesset in 2012. She was 13th on a list (Yesh Atid) that was expected to win half a dozen. Yet it won 19, and there she was, one of us.

It was an even bigger surprise when Calderon’s inaugural speech, in February 2013, included a lesson in Talmud (Ketubot 62b, if you wanted to follow along). Most freshman politicians would have given the pat, expected talk, full of vague and lofty rhetoric. But this was Calderon as Calderon, wasting no time confounding expectations of what a member of Knesset could be.


Interestingly, her first book since this ascendancy is neither a cultural manifesto nor a political memoir; it’s a small collection of tales from the Talmud, clearly Calderon’s first (literary) love. Each excerpt is followed by an expansive retelling by Calderon, filling in the gaps in midrashic style, as well as favoring points of view different from those of the primary narrative. Also following is a reflection on the story from Calderon’s perspective.

For those unfamiliar with this mode of relating to Talmud — and that is, of course, 99% of the world — this slim anthology is an excellent introduction to the literary excavation of classic texts. Not in the scholarly sense; “A Bride for One Night” does not spend much time with the layers of authorship and editing that academics have discovered within the Talmud. Rather, Calderon’s is a literary-personal-philosophical-political project, reclaiming texts that had been kept semi-secret and finding within those texts personalities, voices and themes that are fully three-dimensional, and often heterodox.

The first time one makes this discovery, the thrill can be exhilarating. Many of us encounter Judaism as a set of inexplicable rules: do’s and don’ts, sits and stands. When I was immersed in Talmud study, this superficial Judaism seemed, indeed, like the thin, often dead skin atop a thriving organism. Calderon here focuses on Aggadic material — the narratives of the talmudic rabbis — rather than on the legal, halachic material. But for me, both were revelations, the polar opposite of the bland certitudes with which I had grown up.
More on MK Calderon and her book here and links.

The second: Scholar and bestselling author Maggie Anton to visit Pepper Pike's B'nai Jeshurum Congregation Nov. 3 (Kyla Price, Excerpt:
Bestselling author Maggie Anton, winner of the 2012 National Jewish Book Award for Fiction, weaves her tale of magic, love, and faith in her latest book, Enchantress. She will be visiting Pepper Pike Nov. 3 at 7 p.m. to give a presentation about her work at B'nai Jeshurum Congregation, located at 27501 Fairmount Blvd.

A religious history scholar with expertise in Jewish women's history, Anton spent numerous years studying ancient religious texts and artifacts to discover the role of magic in the ancient world.

Anton is the award-winning author of historical fiction series "Rashi's Daughters" and "Rav Hisda's Daughter." In addition, she is a Talmud scholar with expertise in Jewish women's history. She was born Margaret Antonofsky in Los Angeles, Calif., where she still resides. Raised in a secular household, she reached adulthood with little knowledge of her Jewish religion.


Anton explained the difference between Enchantress and supernatural novels like Harry Potter, Witches of Eastwick, and the Twilight series is that the magic in those stories is clearly fictional. "I use actual, historical, spells and procedures from incantation bowls, amulets, magical instruction manuals, and the Talmud," Anton said.
More on Maggie Anton and her books is here and links.

Oldest Jewish prayer book heading to Israel

FROM THE GREEN COLLECTION: Oldest siddur headed to Israel. 1,200-year-old text, which includes Sabbath prayers and Passover Haggadah, to go on display at the Bible Lands Museum (Times of Israel).
The oldest book of Jewish liturgy, dating back to the ninth century, was en route to Israel Sunday, and will be on display at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem until late October.

The 50-page text is written on parchment in archaic Hebrew, and includes portions of the Sabbath morning prayers, liturgical hymns, and the Passover Haggadah.

The 1,200-year-old book was traced back to the Geonic period in Babylon, and is on loan from the Green Collection, a vast collection of biblical artifacts owned by the founders of Hobby Lobby.

“We are very excited about the arrival of the prayer text to the museum,” Amanda Weiss, director of the Bible Lands Museum, told Yedioth Ahronoth. “This is a real treasure for the Jewish people, proof of the communal and cultural life 1,200 years ago, and we are honored to have it displayed at the Book of Books exhibit.”

More on this oldest Jewish prayer book is here and links. Much more on the Green Collection here and links. And more on the Book of Books exhibition here.

And, relatedly, Dorothy King has some trenchant criticisms of the Green collections in a recent PhDiva post: I come to bury Green, not to praise him.

Crowdsourcing the Scriptures

CHALDEAN WATCH: 475 Families of Mar Aprem Church to Bring out Handwritten Bible (Shalet Jimmy, The New Indian Express).
KOCHI: After the Catholic Church, now it is the turn of the Chaldean Syrian Church, one of the four archbishoprics in the Assyrian Church of the East, to transcribe the Bible. The 475 families under the Mar Aprem Church, a parish of the Chaldean Syrian Church in Thrissur, are currently engrossed in transcribing the Bible.

It has been two months since they started the work. Once completed, the manuscript would be worthy of being added to the 100-odd ancient manuscripts - all written in Aramaic -stored at the Chaldean Metropolitan Palace in Thrissur. The transcription is being done as part of the Platinum Jubilee Celebrations of the Mar Aprem Church.

Members of each of the families will write the chapters assigned to them. Thus, their combined effort will bring out a handwritten Holy Bible. They are transcribing the Bible published by the Bible Society of India, which is called the ‘Sathyaveda Pusthakam’ in Malayalam.

Evidently, both male and female amateur scribes will participate:
Riju A Mannukkadan, a parishioner, said that his whole family was involved in the project. “My children would read the assigned chapters aloud. Everyone in the family, except my little daughter, contributes,” he said. The Sacred Heart Church, Kumbalangi, and the Cruz Milagres Church, Vypeen, are the catholic churches that have transcribed the Bible earlier.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

"Oriental" Jones, Philologist

REVIEW IN THE WASHINGTON POST: ‘Philology’ by James Turner explains what happened to a discipline that flourished.

The Forgotten Origins of the Modern Humanities

By James Turner

Princeton Univ. 550 pp. $35

What do such disparate fields as linguistics, archaeology, religion, anthropology, classics and English literature have in common? Each commands its own academic department; each abounds in specialties and sub-specialties, professional societies, conferences and journals. (Not to mention junior faculty straining for tenure.) If anything else unites these disciplines, it’s the tag “humanities” — and the frequent rumor that they’re in crisis.

That’s not all they share, Notre Dame professor James Turner reveals in his deft intellectual history. These disciplines, and many more, sprang from the same scholarly impulse: philology, defined broadly as a penchant for close reading of texts, for discerning patterns and relationships across languages and cultures and for illuminating the historical milieu that produces a work of art or literature.

What became of this zest? Philology literally means, after all, “love of words” or “love of learning.” How did it survive from antiquity to the mid-1800s, morph into the modern humanities, and why, according to Turner, has the practice of philology gone “underground” in our day?

"Underground" can be cool.

And yes, there really was a guy they called "Oriental" Jones and, according to this review, he was the first one to come up with the concept of Proto-Indo-European, which is quite important:
Bentley’s prophecy bore partial fruit in the work of Sir William Jones, known in his day as “Persian” Jones or “Oriental” Jones. When, in 1783, he arrived in India to take a Calcutta judgship, Jones commanded 11 ancient and modern languages, and had a smattering of “about fifteen others.” Jones hypothesized that there once existed a single, ancestral language, which scholars since have dubbed Proto-Indo-European. The daring of this concept had huge implications for philologists. Grammarians “no longer analyzed only the histories of individual languages or closely related ones, seen in isolation,” Turner explains. “They now also began to contrast grammatical and lexical change over time in quite diverse languages believed to be related over vast spans of time and space.” ...