Saturday, November 01, 2014

The Ketef Hinnom amulets

THE BIBLE PLACES BLOG: Artifacts of the Month: Ketef Hinnom Silver Amulets (Mike Caba).

And they are very cool artifacts, although I don't think they have any relevance for the dating of the Pentateuch. All they tell us is that the particular liturgical pronouncement inscribed on them is as old as 600 BCE, which is no particular surprise. Background here and links.

Review of Anton, Enchantress

THE JEWISH CHRONICLE: Heaven sent: Judaism’s magical mystery tour of the Talmud’s sorcery, spells (Toby Tabachnick).
The magic conjured up by J.K. Rowling in her “Harry Potter” series and the magic revealed in Maggie Anton’s new book, “Enchantress,” are two very different kinds of magic, according to the author best known for her popular “Rashi’s Daughters” trilogy.

“I didn’t make up the spells, like in ‘Harry Potter,’” Anton explained.

Rather, she said, the spells that appear in “Enchantress,” her fictional account of the life of Rav Hisda’s daughter — a character described in the Talmud, were all derived from actual incantations inscribed on Jewish archaeological artifacts dating from fourth-century Babylon.

Yes, but more like seventh-century Babylon. Background here and links.

Studia Philonica Annual XXVI

TORREY SELAND: The Studia Philonica Annual XXVI 2014. It's about to be published. Follow the link for TOC and additional information.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Visiting Fellowships in Oxford: Israel in Egypt / Egypt in Israel

TIMOTHY MICHAEL LAW: Visiting Fellowships in Oxford: Israel in Egypt / Egypt in Israel: An investigation of the land of Egypt as concept and reality for Jews in Antiquity and the early medieval period.
For Jews in ancient and medieval Palestine and the Diaspora, the land of Egypt was a real place and also an abstract notion shaped by scriptural texts. The nation-defining episode of the Exodus of the Israelites, the unequivocal injunction in the Torah not to return to Egypt (Deut 17:16) and the negative attitude of biblical writers in general towards Egypt, existed in tension with the fact of Jewish residence there. Jewish settlements in Egypt ranged from the time of Jeremiah, to the Jewish military garrison in Elephantine during the Persian period, to major settlements and above all the huge urban community in Alexandria under the Ptolemies and Romans. Though all these disappear in the second century following the revolt of 115–17 CE and the extermination of the Jews of Egypt under Trajan, the presence of Jews is attested again in the fifth century by patristic writers, and then through Byzantine and Islamic rule into the medieval period, principally by the documents preserved in the Cairo Geniza.

The ‘Israel in Egypt’ project addresses a number of questions about identity and belonging among Egyptian Jews over the course of one and a half millennia.
Follow the link for further particulars and application information.

Lindbeck, Elijah and the Rabbis

TALES RETOLD: Elijah's women (Caren Schnur Neile, Florida Jewish Journal).
The Talmud is the written record of the spoken conversations and questions, teachings and stories of the Sages. It documents a Jewish oral tradition that continues in one form or another to the present day.

One of the most prominent characters in Rabbinic literature is Elijah, who appears in many guises, serving as herald, mediator, adviser and teacher. According to Dr. Kristen Lindbeck at Florida Atlantic University, Elijah's duties include protecting travelers, helping those in financial distress, and devising useful stratagems.

In her book "Elijah and the Rabbis: Story and Theology," Dr. Lindbeck recounts oral Elijah tales from the Babylonian Talmud, with a few exceptions. "The Seven Good Years" first appeared in a tenth-century midrash from Israel. Like all oral narrative, every retelling is different. The following is my own, closely based on that of Dr. Lindbeck. Pay close attention to the role of the farmer's wife ...
This book was noted earlier here.

Taylor Swift and the DSS

CULTURAL ICON WATCH: Don't go breaking my heart - Taylor Swift opens up. The Dead Sea Scrolls come up in the most unexpected places:
Taylor Swift, however, is very much a big deal. Her every utterance and action is world news or at least trending on Twitter. Her lyrics are dissected by culture vultures as though they are the Dead Sea Scrolls of post-teen angst. ...


THE JOURNAL BIBLICA, a longstanding staple of biblical studies, is online for free (for reading but not downloading) and archived back to 1979. I haven't mentioned it in years. Thanks to AWOL for the reminder.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Punic shipwreck

PUNIC WATCH: Archaeologists Recover Artifacts from 2,200-Year-Old Roman Shipwreck (
Italian archaeologists and divers from a Florida-based group called Global Underwater Explorers (GUE) have recovered a wide range of artifacts from an ancient shipwreck in the Mediterranean Sea, off the Aeolian Island of Panarea near Italy.

The ship, dubbed Panarea III, is believed to have sailed around 218-210 BC, during the Second Punic War between Rome and Carthage.

On board were lots of interesting artifacts, including a vessel bearing a Greek inscription, which the excavators think was used as a sacrificial altar. Also the Daily Mail has an AP article on the discovery here with more photographs and a video.

More on the Punic Wars here and links. Note also that the discover of a somewhat older Phoenician shipwreck was announced last summer.

New director of the IAA

POLITICS: Israel Antiquities Authority taps politician with ties to rightist NGO
Kadima’s Israel Hasson has links to Elad, which administers the City of David archaeological site in Jerusalem's Silwan neighborhood.
(Nir Hasson, Haaretz).
The Israel Antiquities Authority has tapped the Kadima party’s Israel Hasson to be its next director — a politician controversial for his ties to the Elad NGO that encourages Jews to move to the Silwan neighborhood in Arab East Jerusalem.

Hasson has been approved by the authority’s board on the recommendation of Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat. The appointment, which archaeologists have criticized due to Hasson’s lack of experience in the field, still needs the approval of the Civil Service Commission and the cabinet.

The director’s post is a powerful one when it comes to archeological digs around the country, not to mention the preservation and research of Israel’s archaeological heritage.

Hasson has served both as a deputy director of the Shin Bet security service and as a Knesset member for Kadima. He would succeed Shuka Dorfman, who died in July. A number of leading archaeologists vied for the post but were rejected.

Background on the search for a new IAA director is here. And there's lots more on Elad here, here, and links.

DSS replica plus Gabriel Revelation in Hong Kong

EXHIBITION: Hong Kong to get a glimpse of largest of the historic Dead Sea Scrolls (Elizabeth Cheung, South China Morning Post).
A copy of the largest of the Dead Sea Scrolls, some of the oldest and most significant texts ever discovered, will go on display in Hong Kong next week, alongside the Gabriel Revelation Stone, often called the “stone scroll”.

The Great Scroll of Isaiah, which is 734cm long, is the largest and most complete of the seven Dead Sea Scrolls which were discovered in caves near the West Bank, next to the Dead Sea, in 1947.

The scroll, written in Hebrew, contains the entire 66 chapters of the Book of Isaiah.

Dating from between 120BC and 100BC, the scroll is considered to be one of the oldest of those discovered. “The Great Isaiah Scroll conveys the importance of the prophet Isaiah in Jewish belief and is 1,000 years older than the oldest manuscripts in the Hebrew Bible,” said Dr Adolfo Roitman, an Israeli expert on the scrolls.

While the original scroll is kept in Israel, a copy will be displayed in Hong Kong.

More on the Isaiah Scroll and its replicas is here and links. And there's lots more on the Gabriel Revelation (formerly, the Vision of Gabriel) here and links.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The schools of Hillel and Shammai

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: How To Solve Disputes Between Schools of Jewish Thought? In Private, or Not at All. At what point does a disagreement between groups of Jews become a point of religious principle, which cannot be compromised?. Excerpt:
Clearly, what concerns the rabbis when it comes to factionalism is the possibility of Jews disagreeing about the Law in public. No wonder even the greatest sages hesitated to get involved in disputes between the two schools. “They asked Rabbi Yehoshua: What is the law with regard to the rival wife of a daughter? He said to them: It is a matter of dispute between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel.” But this evasive answer wasn’t enough to satisfy the questioners, who pressed him: “And in accordance with whose statement is the law? He said to them: Why are you inserting my head between two great mountains?” Getting caught between Hillel and Shammai was like being caught in a war between mountains—or, as we might say, between rock and a hard place. No wonder it took a divine voice to settle the argument between them.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Review of Berkowitz, Defining Jewish Difference

MARGINALIA: Not Like the Egyptians – By Jonathan Boyarin. Jonathan Boyarin on Beth A. Berkowitz’s Defining Jewish Difference: From Antiquity to the Present.
How much difference can one sentence make? Defining Jewish Difference traces several vital moments in the reception history of a single verse that is all about the making of differences. In Beth Berkowitz’s English rendering, verse 3 of chapter 18 in the book of Leviticus reads: “Like the practice of the land of Egypt where you have dwelled, you should not practice, and like the practices of the land of Canaan to which I am bringing you, you should not practice, and in their laws you should not go.” No doubt the verse has been read countless times over the centuries, in ritual and other contexts, without readers or listeners bothering to query just what it might mean. Which practices are intended? All? Only those that conflict with practices somehow already established as distinctively Israelite? Are Egyptian practices different from Canaanite, or is the repetition intended only for rhetorical emphasis? Are only Egyptian and Canaanite practices foresworn, since these might well be seen as the most dangerously proximate Others of the Biblical Israelites, or do they stand as representative of all non-Israelite (and later, of all non-Jewish) peoples? What is the difference between practices and laws, and what is the difference between practicing and going?

UPDATE: The link to the review is no longer working. I have contacted the Marginalia Review of Books to find out what happened. I will report back when I know more.

UPDATE: The piece is now back up with a new URL and a corrected author attribution (also corrected above).

Syriac conference in Oxford

SYRIAC WATCH: Oxford Syriac Conference Jan 2015: Call for Papers (Peter Head, ETC).
Translation, transmission, and influence

This conference explores the intellectual cultures of Syriac-language literary and scholarly communities of the late antique (c. 3rd-9th century) Near and Middle East. It will also provide an opportunity for postgraduate and emerging scholars in the fields of biblical studies, theology and religion, late antique and Byzantine studies, near eastern studies, and rabbinics to present their work on Syriac literature within the University of Oxford’s vibrant late antique studies community.
Follow the link for further particulars.

Another SBL events for bloggers (now updated)

ALIN SUCIU: SBL Coptic Sushi Night.

I've never tried Coptic sushi. I wonder if it's good.

UPDATE: Another one: SBL ETC Blog Dinner.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Cambridge Teachers of Rabbinics

HISTORY OF SCHOLARSHIP: Cambridge Teachers of Rabbinics, posted at the Faculty of Divinity website.

Christianity and Judaism in ancient Iran

ARASH ZEINI notes two recent articles relating to late-antique Iran:

The rise of Christianity in Iran;

Iranian Jewry in late antiquity.

Both can be read online. Follow the links

Henoch XXXVI 2014/1

IN THE MAIL: Henoch XXXVI 2014/1, edited by my St. Andrews colleague William Tooman. Included are the papers on the Temple Scroll presented in a section that I chaired at the 2013 meeting of the International Society of Biblical Literature here in St. Andrews.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Yale manuscript digitization project

TECHNOLOGY WATCH: Experts in New Haven working with ancient texts see modern connections (New Haven Register). Excerpt:
[Tasha] Dobbin-Bennett is a papyrologist, her work a key part of the process of digitizing the collection of 7,000 papyrus and parchment documents held at the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library. She is one of a five-member team, led by Paula Zyats, assistant chief curator for Sterling Memorial Library.


Yale’s collection of 7,000 catalogued papyrus and parchment documents, acquired in 1931, is second only to the University of Michigan’s and ranges from the mundane to the earliest known copy of the Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians and gnostic texts, including part of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Working on well-known texts is easier in some ways but presents its own difficulties, because finding differences is a significant part of the task.

Translations into ancient Egyptian of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey — the Beinecke has 36 fragments of the Greek writer’s poetry — show how far the works, originally spread by oral tradition, traveled. “The Homer pieces are amazing for that,” says Dobbin-Bennett. “We get little snapshots of (how) Homer must have been performed … thousands and thousands of miles away from Greece.

Just to clarify, since the phrasing is a little confusing, the Dead Sea Scrolls are not Gnostic.

More on Yale's antiquities collections here. And more on many other manuscript digitization projects is here and links.

Chinese Hebraist game-show contestant

MORE CHINESE INTEREST IN JUDAISM: Hebrew U student represents Israel to millions on popular Chinese game show. During Lechao Tang’s screen-time, the show rose to China’s second most-viewed program (Eitan Arom, Jerusalem Post). Excerpt:
Tang represented Hebrew University in a popular Chinese game show earlier this month that pitted students from schools across the world against one another. His unlucky opponent hailed from the University of Cambridge, with other contestants representing Yale and Harvard.

But whereas Harvard and Yale are well-known abroad, Tang said that in China, the typical response when he says he studies in Israel is: “Where’s Israel?” “We are easternmost Asia and Israel is westernmost Asia,” he said. “I’m lucky to be the person to connect them.”


For Tang, merely appearing on television as a student from Israel was “a really honorable and special opportunity.” A master’s student in bible studies, Tang seeks to bridge the gap between the Chinese and Jewish cultures, which he says share many values and philosophies.

He runs a blog in Chinese about ancient Israel. He teaches Hebrew via Web videos for the Chinese online education startup One Man University, which are sometimes the first introduction to Hebrew for newcomers from China.
Related stories noted here and links.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Review of Denzy Lewis, Cosmology and Fate

Nicola Denzey Lewis
Cosmology and Fate in Gnosticism and Graeco-Roman Antiquity: Under Pitiless Skies

In Brill, Nicola Denzey LEWIS, Sarah Parkhouse, Uncategorized on October 16, 2014 at 10:00 am

2014.10.16 | Nicola Denzey Lewis. Cosmology and Fate in Gnosticism and Graeco-Roman Antiquity: Under Pitiless Skies. (Nag Hammadi and Manichaean Studies 81). Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2013.

Reviewed by Sarah Parkhouse, Durham University.

Many thanks to Brill for providing a review copy.

Nicola Denzey Lewis’ Cosmology and Fate in Gnosticism and Graeco-Roman Antiquity reveals that in Gnostic and Graeco-Roman texts, the skies are not pitiless. The aims of the book are three-fold: firstly, a survey of how second-century authors understood astrological fate (heimarmene) as controlled by cosmic beings; secondly, the suggestion that these authors (almost) consistently offered their readers an escape from heimarmene; and, thirdly, further deconstruction of the orthodoxy-heresy dichotomy. The book demonstrates Denzey Lewis’ impressive knowledge of all things second century, explicitly shown by her ability to discuss fate in New Testament, Middle Platonic, Stoic, Gnostic, Manichean, Hermetic, pagan and proto-orthodox texts, despite stating that ‘language of “enslavement to Fate” in antiquity was rare’ (p.28).