Saturday, November 08, 2014

Anxious angels

PHILIP JENKINS has been publishing a series of posts on angels in ancient Judaism and early Christianity over at the Anxious Bench. Here they are, with a brief excerpt from each:

Naming Angels
Angels certainly feature in the Old Testament, as divine envoys and as mighty figures in the divine court – see for instance the overwhelming Cherubim in Ezekiel 1. But they are nothing like as central as they would become in what we sometimes call the inter-testamental period, and in the subsequent history of Judaism and Christianity. Nor are these older figures given anything like an individual identity.
Enoch’s Angels
At some point in Jewish history, texts began referring to angels with specific names like Gabriel or Michael, and that trend reflects a basic shift in concepts of the supernatural hierarchy. That shift is significant itself in terms of the history of Western religion, but it particularly matters for anyone interested in early (or medieval) Christianity.
Angels at the Dead Sea
My recent posts concerned angels, and specifically when and why they acquired names and individual identities. Angels are fully developed characters in 1 Enoch, probably from the third century BC, and that text was well known in the community that produced the Dead Sea Scrolls. That group had a special interest in angels and their doings, and their role in cosmic warfare.
Angels from the East?
But the story is neither simple nor straightforward. One basic problem is that we really don’t know as much as we should about the Persian system and the great prophet Zoroaster (Zarathustra). Based on analogies with Western religions, we tend to assume that Zarathustra had some great insight, founded a religion, which eventually became the official creed of the mighty Persian Empire. Well, yes and no.
Thrones and Dominions
Cautiously, then, let me suggest this. Whatever the holes in our knowledge, we can safely say that the Persian world view during the occupation of Judea was Dualistic and did involve a large number of spiritual beings, good and evil, some of whom were major figures at the heavenly court. If we had more surviving writings from that Persian faith, we would perhaps see more of a resemblance to the angels and cosmic warfare that we know from 1 Enoch. So yes, with all due skepticism, I believe that the practice of naming and individualizing angels is indeed a Persian borrowing,

Friday, November 07, 2014

HB and ancient Judaism job at Durham

Job Details
Senior Lecturer in Old Testament/Hebrew Bible

Reference Number 4117
Location Durham City
Faculty/Division Arts & Humanities
Department Theology and Religion
Grade 9
Position Type Full Time
Contract Type Permanent
Salary (£) 48743 - 54841
Closing Date 15 December 2014

Job Description
The Department of Theology and Religion at Durham University has a long-standing tradition of outstanding research and is widely recognized as one of the leading departments in its field. In the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise it was ranked first in the UK, while its teaching quality is shown in its consistently obtaining exceptionally high rankings in both National Student Surveys and independent league tables. Its strengths range across Biblical Studies (Old Testament / Hebrew Bible, New Testament, ancient Judaism, and Biblical languages), Christian theology (Greek and Latin patristics, the history and theology of late antiquity and the early middle ages, the Reformation, doctrinal and philosophical theology, and theological ethics), and the study of religion (the anthropology, sociology and psychology of religion). It also has centres in Catholic Studies and Death and Life Studies; and research projects in spirituality, theology and health, and Anglican studies. The Department has a welcoming and collegial atmosphere, and is beautifully sited between the Cathedral and the Castle on the World Heritage Site in the centre of the city of Durham.
The Department seeks to appoint a non-fixed-term Senior Lecturer in Old Testament / Hebrew Bible with effect from 1 September 2015. Those who currently teach in the area include Professors Walter Moberly and Stuart Weeks, while several other staff in the Department have cross-disciplinary research interests that relate to the Old Testament / Hebrew Bible. There is a fortnightly Old Testament Research Seminar, at which papers are presented by leading scholars from the UK and abroad as well as by members of staff and research postgraduates. More information about the Department is available at .
We invite applications from scholars with an established track record of excellent teaching and research in any aspect of Old Testament / Hebrew Bible studies, which may include ancient Judaism more broadly. The successful applicant will be expected to contribute to teaching at undergraduate and taught postgraduate levels, including the teaching of Hebrew, and may also be asked to contribute to teaching Aramaic or other ancient languages; to supervise postgraduate research students; to undertake outstanding research leading to publications of international significance; and to play a full part in the life of the department.
The university is an equal opportunities employer and acknowledges a range of flexible working practices.
Applications are particularly welcome from women and black and minority ethnic candidates, who are under-represented in academic posts in the University.

Job Summary and Purpose
The main features of the job will be:
a)        To conduct outstanding research leading to publications of international significance in the field of Old Testament / Hebrew Bible studies, which may include ancient Judaism more broadly.
b)        To teach at all undergraduate levels and at Masters level in the field of Old Testament / Hebrew Bible studies, including language teaching;
c)        To attract and supervise research students (MA and PhD);
d)        To submit applications for externally-funded research grants;
e)        To undertake administrative tasks in the Department of Theology and Religion, as agreed with the Head of Department.
The post-holder will be responsible to the Head of the Department of Theology and Religion.

The key responsibilities of the job will be in teaching (lecturing, seminar leading, course organisation, marking, and dissertation supervision), research (writing and publication) and administration, within the team of staff constituting the Department of Theology and Religion.
‘Research’ may extend to pursuing research which may create ‘impact’ as understood by the UK Research Excellence Framework, but this is not a requirement for the post.

Person Specification

1. Doctoral degree in a relevant area of scholarship
2. Track record, appropriate to career stage, of outstanding research publication 
3. Evidence of a planned programme of research that is compatible with and will enhance the Department's research profile, and including plans to secure external research income
4. Experience of teaching at undergraduate and postgraduate level in Old Testament / Hebrew Bible studies, including language teaching, and where possible including experience of postgraduate research supervision and examination

Skills and Competencies 
5. The ability to teach and organize courses, and mark assignments in the field of Old Testament / Hebrew Bible studies at undergraduate and postgraduate levels
6. Excellent communication skills in English, both oral and written
7. Scholarly expertise in appropriate languages, including the ability to teach ancient Hebrew and to contribute to the teaching of Aramaic
8. Ability and willingness to work as a member of a team, in research, teaching and administration
9.  Ability and willingness to secure external research income
10. Good IT skills
11. The applicant’s research has the potential to shape the disciplinary agenda and/or create public benefit or impact in terms of individual or societal wellbeing or the economy outside the academic community.
11. The ability to teach one or more further appropriate ancient languages

Additional Information
Guidance for written application 

1. It is essential that in your written application you give evidence of examples of proven experience in relation to the selection criteria.

2. Please include with your application
(a) A statement (of up to 1,000 words) of the research project(s) you aim to pursue in the next five years. Where relevant this should mention any potential impact you envisage your research having outside higher education.
(b) A short statement discussing your approach to beginners’ language teaching.
These materials may be incorporated into your letter of application or included as separate documents.

3. You should include a sample of your recent scholarly writing (c. 5,000-7,000 words) with your application.
At interview, shortlisted candidates will be asked to give a 20-minute presentation on an aspect of their current or recent research to a mixed audience of academic staff and postgraduates from across the Department of Theology and Religion.
Interviews will be held in January 2015 - date to be confirmed.
From the SOTS List.

PLO tries to censor the name "Temple Mount"

DOWN THE MEMORY HOLE: PLO Urges Journalists: Don't Use the Term 'Temple Mount.' Mahmoud Abbas's faction says journalists should only use 'Al Aqsa Mosque Compound' in blatant attempt to erase Jewish history. (Ari Soffer, Arutz Sheva).
PA chief Mahmoud Abbas's Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) has issued special instructions to members of the international media, urging them to stop using the term "Temple Mount," and to instead refer to the holy site as "the Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound" or "Haram al-Sharif/Noble Sanctuary."

In a blatant attempt to impose a discourse erasing any reference to the Jewish character of the site, the PLO "media advisory" claims that the "Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound, sometimes referred to as the Noble Sanctuary (“Haram al-Sharif” in Arabic), is the compound that contains Al Aqsa building itself, ablution fountains, open spaces for prayer, monuments and the Dome of the Rock building. This entire area enclosed by the walls which spans 144 dunums [sic] (almost 36 acres), forms the Mosque."

Be sure and follow the second link, which leads to the PLO document, which you can read for yourself. The term "Haram al-Sharif" is certainly one name for the site, but so is "the Temple Mount," and it is bizarre to claim otherwise or to demand that the latter term not be used. This odd demand, of course, contradicts the Waqf's literature on the Temple Mount from the early twentieth century, which, as the article notes, freely admitted the ancient Jewish connection to the site. Background here (where I report that a copy of the relevant Waqf pamphlet is in the St. Andrews University Main Library) and here.

Cross-file under "Jewish-Temple denial."

UPDATE: In a couple of places above I wrote "PA" when I meant "PLO." Now corrected.

Jewish Mystic Jam

THE ARTS: ‘Jewish Mystic Jam’ seeks storytelling contest entries. It doesn't sound all that mystical, but they do have a drum circle.

Tel Burna not a "cult complex" after all?

HAARETZ: Cult fiction: Pagan relics found at ancient site fail to resolve Iron Age mystery. Pagan objects were common in ancient Judahite homes and not all animal bones originate in sacrifice, not to the gods at least (Julia Fridman).
Not every ancient site sporting a war god or female figurine is a temple to Baal or Anat. Tel Burna, the "cultic complex" sensationalized in the news last month, might be that. Or it might have been somebody's house, says Itzhaq Shai, the Israeli archaeologist directing the dig: “We can’t know for sure yet.”

In any case, the focus on the cultic finds distracted from the main body of evidence, which indicates that Tel Burna was a Judahite stronghold located smack in the middle of two ancient Biblical city giants: the Philistine city of Gath and the Judahite city of Lachish.

Tel Burna, a hillside site in south-central Israel, was occupied for several thousand years, from the Bronze Age to the end of the Iron Age. It was in the kingdom of Judah, King David’s old stomping ground. There is a great deal of evidence that if anything, Tel Burna was the site of a powerful Judahite stronghold, not a cultic hub as some papers - but not the excavator - have claimed.

I expressed some skepticism about the "sanctuary" interpretation seized on by the media when the story broke. Now the excavators are doing the same, so I guess I am in good company.

The site as a whole has produced a lot of interesting finds and the "cult complex" (or rich guy's house) shouldn't overshadow them. For example, some inscribed jar handles:
Yet another sign that the town belonged to Judah are archetypal Judahite handles of large four-handled jars found there, made of local clay. The jars are thought to have held either wine or olive oil.

Some handles were decorated, including with a four-winged scarab beetle and another with a two-winged sun disk. Above these markings was the word lmlk ("[belonging] to the king," written in ancient Hebrew script), and below it one of four city names: Sochoh, Hebron, Zif and "Mmsht" (which has never been found). Similar handles have been found throughout all of ancient Judah.

Some handles also had personal seals with names of individuals. One such found at Tel Burna bears the name l’Azar Haggai. The very same name had been found on seals in the nearby site Azekah, and at Gezer, though the design of the seal found at Burna is different.

Archaeologists think the marking on the handles may have been affiliated with some sort of a Judahite administrative system.
Read it all if you can catch it before it goes behind the subscription wall.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

The Talmud on conversion for love

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Converting for Love (Like Natalie Portman’s Husband)? The Talmud Forbids It. Talmudic Rabbis regulated not just actions but reputations, and left a legacy we debate and refute to this day.
The most common reason why people convert to Judaism today, I would guess, is because they want to marry a Jewish spouse. Such conversions are a sign of the amazing acceptance that Judaism enjoys in America, compared to the stigma it labored under for most of Western history. For a Christian to marry a Jew in medieval Europe meant stigmatization, isolation, perhaps even violence, as it does in many parts of the Muslim world today. For us, it is simply a personal choice, even a laudable demonstration of spousal loyalty. It was surprising to learn in this week’s Daf Yomi reading, then, that according to the Talmud, converting out of love is actually forbidden. ...
I always think of Natalie Portman's husband as Darth Vader, but I suppose that's neither here nor there.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Report on Digital Collation Conference

TOMMY WASSERMAN: Report from the Digital Collation Conference in M√ľnster (ETC). I'm glad to hear that Collate is still around.

Conference on Ancient Jewish and Christian Apocalypses

APOCRYPHICITY: Conference Program for “Ancient Jewish and Christian Apocalypses.” Coming in mid-November in Berlin.

Apocrypha as fanfic

THE ANXIOUS BENCH: Of Scriptures and Superheroes (Philip Jenkins).
Some modern-day examples illustrate the kind of cultural curiosity that drives such a process of intertextuality and cross-referencing, although they are not ones that usually feature in Biblical or extra-Biblical scholarship. Bear with me in this thought-experiment.

Popular culture regularly produces figures or works that seize the imagination, heroes like James Bond or Batman, mythological worlds like Star Trek or Star Wars. Initially the works stand alone, but their respective worlds soon expand to include spin-offs and sequels, prequels and origin stories. Perhaps these offshoots develop the principal character and supply more information on his or her deeds, or else minor figures expand to become central to new works and series. Individual characters migrate into other genres and mythologies.

Reviewlet of Lim, The Formation of the Jewish Canon

LARRY HURTADO: “The Formation of the Jewish Canon”: Lim’s New Book. Earlier reviews etc. here, here, and links.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Jacobovici – Zias trial begins

BIBLE PLACES BLOG: Trial Begins in Jacobovici’s Lawsuit Against Zias.

Background here and links.

McGrath, mythicism, and the DSS

JAMES MCGRATH: Mythicism and the Teacher of Righteousness. I generally don't have the patience to engage with mythicism (i.e., the idea that Jesus never existed), but I'm glad James is willing to take it on.

Hong Kong exhibition opens

Scrolls exhibit shines light on ancient links.
Hong Kong was picked as the venue of the Dead Sea artefacts exhibition, which opens today, because of its cultural diversity
(Elizabeth Cheung, South China Morning Post).

The main exhibits are the Gabriel Revelation Stone and a replica of the Great Isaiah Scroll. Background here. And more on China's current interest in Judaism is here and links.

Seland on Reading Philo

TORREY SELAND gives us two previews of his forthcoming book on Philo of Alexandria:

Reading Philo

Reading Philo: Why and How?

The book is: Torrey Seland (ed.), Reading Philo: A Handbook to Philo of Alexandria (Eerdmans).

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

McGrath on mythicism and space Jesus

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS: Did Jesus Die in Outer Space? (James McGrath in Bible and Interpretation).

Okay, the subtitle is "Evaluating a Key Claim in Richard Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus," which does nuance the title a bit. Here's the opening summary:
The attempt to use later sources, interpreted in ways that are at best open to dispute, in an attempt to argue against what generations of skeptical scholars have concluded to be likely with respect to the early Christian sources, is never going to make mythicism seem more probable than the hard-earned and intensely-researched consensus of historians and scholars, namely that there was a historical Jesus of Nazareth.
Also, Old Testament pseudepigrapha are involved.

A new Coptic magical handbook

WHAT'S NEW IN PAPYROLOGY: Choat, M, and Gardiner, I. edd., A Coptic Handbook of Ritual Power. From the new series The Macquarie Papyri.

New early fragments of b. Temura

THE TALMUD BLOG: A Tantalizing Tale of Temura Fragments – Guest Post by Noah Bickart.
As a Talmudist at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, I have long been accustomed to fantastical tales about the discovery of ancient manuscripts of the Babylonian Talmud. That famous picture of Schechter in the Geniza hangs everywhere in our halls. We are taught from the beginning not only to read Raphael Nathan Rabinovitch’s Dikdukei Soferim, but to imagine him on some Sunday morning in Rome, unlocking the Vatican Apostolic Library with his own set of keys, sitting down to transcribe Vatican 109 by candlelight. We hear of our own Haim Zalman Dimitrovsky, who supervised the doctorates of so many of our own teachers (Shamma Friedman, Mayer Rabinowitz, Joel Roth, and Burton L. Visotzky among countless others), roaming the monasteries of Italy, excato knife in hand, no binding safe from the search for more Seridei Bavli. And yet, we are accustomed to thinking that the time for these kinds of monumental discoveries, of even a few leaves of a Tractate stuffed into the binding of a 16th century print, has long past, and that only European libraries and monasteries might hold more finds. You can imagine my surprise when I found myself staring at an image in a Facebook message of what looked to my own eyes as an early European manuscript of the Bavli, apparently having formed the cover of a book of Church Music published in Prague in 1604, now housed in Fales Library at New York University.

Bit by bit, a letter at a time, whatever it takes. Until we're done.

Arch of Titus video

KHAN ACADEMY: Relief from the Arch of Titus, showing The Spoils of Jerusalem being brought into Rome. Narrated by Dr. Steven Fine and Dr. Beth Harris.

HT reader Yehoshua Rabinowitz. Lots more on the Arch of Titus here (scroll down) and links.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Destruction of Jewish heritage in the Middle East

ISRAEL HAYOM: Jewish heritage sites in Arab counties face extinction Old Jewish synagogues and cemeteries in Syria, Iraq, Libya and the rest of the Arab world are being turned into mosques or completely destroyed • Several Jewish organizations are sparing no effort to preserve these historic sites (Ksenia Svetlov). This article reports some very disturbing developments. Except:
This chaos has made the fate of the Jewish sites all too predictable. While several synagogues are still standing in Baghdad, Ezekiel's Tomb has been turned into a mosque. Most of the ancient Jewish inscriptions there have been destroyed or covered with cement. Daniel's Tomb in Mosul was blown up by Islamic State, which opposes worship at tombs in general, whether they are the tombs of Jewish prophets or relatives of the Prophet Muhammad in Mecca and Medina. In other areas, Islamic State and other jihadist groups are destroying sites held sacred by Shiites, including magnificent mosques, as well as Christian churches.

The atmosphere destruction has reached Syria as well. Aleppo's historic market suffered severe damage recently, together with the Umayyad mosque in Damascus and many Jewish sites. The Jobar Synagogue in Damascus, also known as the Prophet Elijah Synagogue, was demolished in May 2014. The site is in ruins, and no one will do anything to save what remains of the beautiful building that the Jewish community constructed in the Middle Ages.

Almost 20 years ago, the manuscripts known as the Damascus Codices, books of the Hebrew Bible that were written in Tiberias in the 10th century C.E., were removed from the Hosh al-Basha Synagogue in Damascus and taken out of Syria in a daring Mossad operation. They are now in the National Library in Jerusalem, far from those who dream of the destruction of books and people alike.
I have been following reports about the (traditional) Tomb of Ezekiel for years (most recently here). Reports from several years ago about its fate were pretty positive, but if this latest report is accurate, recent developments have taken a serious turn for the worse. More on the destruction of the Jobar Synagogue and on those Hebrew manuscripts from Damascus is here and links. I had heard of the destruction of the (traditional) tomb of Jonah in Mosul, but this is the first I recall hearing about the destruction of the (traditional) Tomb of Daniel there, although I see now that it too has been included in the news reports.

More on When the Greeks Ruled Egypt

EXHIBITION REVIEW: When the Greeks Ruled Egypt (James Romm, New York Review of Books). Excerpt:
Egypt was a melting pot of languages as well as of religious traditions. Aramaic arrived in the sixth century BCE as the lingua franca of Egypt’s Persian conquerors, joining the Greek, Carian, and Hebrew tongues already spoken there by pharaoh’s foreign mercenaries. A superb set of Aramaic papyri displayed in this show provides a kind of biographic sketch of one Ananiah, a Jewish garrison soldier stationed at Elephantine (modern Aswan) who married an Egyptian slave named Tamet, acquired property, refurbished his home, and passed on his estate to his children, Pilti and Jehoishema. Though they precede the Ptolemies by a century, and have no connection either to the Greeks or their rule, these perfectly preserved documents illustrate one family’s journey through time in the polyglot, multiethnic valley of the Nile.

Ananiah lived in an Egypt that chafed under Achaemenid Persian conquerors who ruled from afar and disdained local traditions. Small wonder then that the Ptolemies, who made themselves at home in Egypt and embraced much of its culture, proved such a long-lived and successful dynasty, overthrown in the end not by revolt or rebellion but by the armies of the rising power of Rome.
Background on the exhibition is here. More on the Elephantine papyri is here and links.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Zoroastrianism article

ARASH ZEINI: Zoroastrianism in Iranian history. A 2012 article by Michael Stausberg available online.

Moxnes, A Short History of the New Testament

A Short History of the New Testament
Halvor Moxnes

£12.99 | $25.00

Few documents in world history can match the inspirational impact of the New Testament. For all its variety – gospels, letters and visions – this first-century collection of texts keeps always at its centre the enigmatic figure of Joshua/Jesus: the Jewish prophet who gathered a group around him, proclaimed the imminent end of the world, but was made captive by the authorities of Rome only to suffer a shameful criminal’s death on a cross. When his followers (including former persecutor Saul/Paul) became convinced that Jesus had defeated extinction, and had risen again to fresh life, the movement crossed over from Palestine to ignite the entire Graeco-Roman Mediterranean world. The author shows how the writings of this vibrant new faith came into being from oral transmission and then became the pillar of a great world religion. He explores their many varied usages in music, liturgy, art, language and literature. In discussing its textual origins, as well as its later reception, Moxnes shows above all how the New Testament has been employed both as a tool for liberation and as a means of power and control.