Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Urgent: Middle Eastern languages at Manchester

THE BRITISH ASSOCIATION FOR JEWISH STUDIES has set up a petition to protest the planned elimination of degree-level study of the Persian, Turkish, and Modern Hebrew languages from its curriculum. The text of the petition is as follows:
Protect Modern Hebrew and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Manchester

British Association for Jewish Studies

It is with dismay that we the undersigned have learned that the University of Manchester, which boasts a proud tradition of social responsibility and engagement with global challenges, has taken a decision to withdraw its provision of degree-level modern Hebrew language teaching, along with Persian and Turkish. We fully recognise the financial difficulties facing many UK universities and the low number of students who elect to take such degrees, but we expect a world class university like Manchester to take a stand to protect vulnerable subject areas of such vital concern in the world today. We call upon the University of Manchester to reconsider this decision which will seriously impoverish the UK provision of education in Middle Eastern languages and which will have a detrimental effect on the University's international standing in Jewish Studies, in particular.

University of Manchester

The British Association for Jewish Studies is aware of the decision taken by the University of Manchester to discontinue the provision of Modern Hebrew, Persian and Turkish, and to withdraw ten Middle Eastern Studies degree programmes. We write now to urge you in the strongest possible terms to reconsider this decision and reinstate this important provision of Jewish Studies and related subjects.

Academic colleagues across the UK are well aware of the financial constraints faced by universities in light of student numbers. However, the University of Manchester is currently internationally renowned for its provision in Jewish Studies, something to be proud of at a national level. We would appeal to you to reconsider the importance of preserving and protecting this small yet distinguished subject area, and retaining the associated staff.

The British Association for Jewish Studies is firmly of the opinion that universities have a responsibility to protect so-called ‘minority’ subjects and ensure their continued intellectual vitality, especially as they remain central to the wider advancement of knowledge and understanding of global challenges. We need only look at current world affairs to see the importance of academic study on the Middle East. If key language provision of education in such areas is lost, we risk reducing expertise in and engagement with the Middle East. There is a moral imperative for universities such as Manchester to continue to provide education and language training for the next generation of scholars and policy makers in such a crucial sphere of world affairs.

As a national association, we conduct an annual survey of Jewish Studies related teaching in the UK, and we are therefore well placed to advise you that your decision will have serious implications for the future development of the academic field of Jewish Studies. The fact that student numbers are small – and they are small everywhere in the UK – only makes it more likely that the closure of modern Hebrew and related degrees at one of the key providers of Jewish Studies in the UK will inevitably result in fewer experts in the field, and, as such, there will be a long term impact on the number of research-active staff in Jewish Studies at Manchester and in the UK more generally.

In addition, the closures could have a serious impact on the research activity of the Centre for Jewish Studies at Manchester, a world-leading institution. A reduced presence in teaching may be understood as a reduction of activity in Jewish Studies and related subjects, thus making it harder to attract the best scholars and funding success. At the very least, the closures would be interpreted as a reduced commitment to Jewish Studies and related subjects at Manchester, and would not reflect well on the UK’s position in Jewish Studies.

Jewish Studies at Manchester has always been highly respected both nationally and as a world-leader in the field, and is one of the principal providers of Jewish Studies in Higher Education in the UK. As you are no doubt aware, our annual conference will take place at the University of Manchester this year. We are extremely concerned about the high profile impact of your decision on Jewish Studies at a national level, and also on the reputation of the University of Manchester and the UK as world-leading providers of such subjects.

We implore you to reconsider this decision.
I have signed the petition with the following comment.
Although the subjects are specialized and no doubt attract a small number of students, their importance, both social and historical, far outweighs the limited size of the programs. It is hard to think of a worse moment in history for a major university to decide that it should be investing *less* effort in understanding the Middle East. Moreover, the University of Manchester has an excellent and well-earned reputation in Jewish Studies and it should be building on this rather than diluting it.
Please follow the link above and sign the petition too.

Charlesworth on The Lost Gospel

JAMES H. CHARLESWORTH has posted a review of Wilson's and Jacobovici's The Lost Gospel on You will recall that the book argues that the Syriac version of the Old Testament pseudepigraphon Joseph and Aseneth is a first-century document that gives a veiled account of the marriage and family life, etc., of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Charlesworth does not accept this: Has Lost Gospel Been Found Proving Jesus Married Mary of Migdal?

Professor Charlesworth is perhaps best know for his editing of the of massive and magisterial two-volume Old Testament Pseudepigrapha in the 1980s.

HT Joel L. Watts, who comments further here.

Also, Mark Goodacre has now posted Richard Bauckham's seven-part review of the book as a single PDF file here.

Background here and here.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Metatron and Mrs. Coulter

ARCHANGEL METATRON WATCH: Baddies in books: Mrs Coulter, the mother of all evil. On the surface she’s all glamour and respectability - but the villain from Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials is malice in a furlined hood (Imogen Russell Williams, The Guardian). Just a reminder that Metatron was an important character in that very successful trilogy.
When it comes to the mother of all evil, Mrs Coulter, chief antagonist of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, is a serious contender for the title. A charismatic fusion of archetypes - stepmother, fairy godmother, wicked witch - she distils pure terror into the shape of “a beautiful young lady whose dark hair falls shining delicately under the shadow of her furlined hood”. On the outside, she’s just the sort of groomed, sophisticated parent a motherless pre-teen might wish for, but Metatron, the Regent of Heaven, has her measure in The Amber Spyglass ...

Hanukkah 2014

HAPPY HANUKKAH (CHANUKKAH) to all those celebrating! The festival begins this evening at sundown.

Past Hanukkah-related posts are collected here and links and there are more recent ones here and here.

Also, Haaretz has a recent piece by Rabbi Yehoshua Looks about one of the major characters in the story: On the eve of Hanukkah, a story of a fallen high priest. The tension in defining boundaries between religious and secular life and practice remains with us millennia after Jason the high priest built a contentious gymnasium in Jerusalem. Excerpts:
From the charcoal drawings of two warships and the inscriptions inside the tomb, one speculation is that Jason was a naval commander who sailed the coast of Egypt. But in her book "Doubt: A History," Jennifer Michael Hecht tells another story from that era, of a Jewish high priest named Jason who had lost his standing as he pandered to the pull of assimilation.


According to Hecht, Antiochus retired the pro-Ptolemaic Jewish high priest, a son of High Priest Simon, replacing him with Simon's more progressive younger son Jason, who secured his selection with a bribe. Jason, who was born Joshua but, tellingly, chose to go by the Greek version of his name, already had a strong following of Jews who opposed the strict application of Jewish law. Jason, Hecht writes, quickly took steps to make the finer things of Greek culture available to Jews, and his first order of business was building a gymnasium in Jerusalem, at the foot of the Temple Mount.

The attitude to these events, as recorded in the Book of Maccabees, is clear.


Ironically, today’s Maccabiah Games, also known as the Jewish Olympics, in its naming reflects a case of modern amnesia. What the games celebrate, the Greek ideals of physical skill and prowess, are in part, what the Maccabeans were fighting against. Metaphorically, Jason the high priest, buried in the tomb in the heart of modern day Jerusalem or wherever, is probably smiling.
This is a premium article and the full text may not be up for long, so read it now while you have the chance.

Litigation over the Crowns of Damascus

MANUSCRIPTS OF THE HEBREW BIBLE: Open book: Syrian Jewish bibles might spark ownership dispute (Daniel Estrin, AP).

More on the Crowns of Damascus and related matters here and links.

Marriage, sex, virginity, and even celibacy, in the Talmud

LAST WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Virgins, ‘Partial Virgins,’ Sodomy, Bestiality, Prostitutes, Marriage, and Forbidden Sex. In the patriarchal society of the Talmud, a woman’s body is always under the supervision and scrutiny of men.
In last week’s column, I wrote about the surprising frankness with which the rabbis of the Talmud address sexual matters. In America, we are used to regarding religion and sexuality as opposites or enemies, constantly coming into conflict over issues like abortion and homosexuality. This must be, in part, a legacy of America’s Christian heritage, for since Paul, Christianity has placed a high value on chastity and asceticism. Still, while we may regard the Talmud as comparatively sex-positive, the rabbis were not advocating free love. As we saw in this week’s reading from Tractate Yevamot, they drew a tight connection between sex, love, marriage, and procreation. According to Rav Huna, in Yevamot 61b, “Any intercourse that does not increase [i.e., result in children] is nothing other than licentious sexual intercourse.”

Incidentally, Ben Azzai, one of the four rabbis who entered Paradise (the one who died there), gets a mention in this week's column. It seems he never got married.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Apocryphal Christmas

'TIS THE SEASON: Christmas Stories in Christian Apocrypha. The birth of Jesus in the apocryphal gospels (Tony Burke, Bible History Daily).

Ancient Jewish epitaph in Greek

INSCRIPTION: Ancient Jewish tombstone found repurposed in 19th century Muslim mausoleum. Samuel and his family rediscovered 1,800 years later in the cemetery of the former Jewish capital in Galilee (Ran Shapira, Haaretz).
A roughly 1,800-year old stone inscription from a Jewish tomb has been found in the wall of a 19th-century Muslim mausoleum in the Upper Galilee, where it was repurposed from being part of a door lintel to part of a wall.

The partially broken stone is written in Greek, not Hebrew or Aramaic, which is the usual language on ancient Jewish tombs. But it lists the members of a clearly Jewish family that lived in Zippori, then called Sepphoris, between the 2nd and 5th centuries CE.

According to the inscription, "Samuel son of… and his wife… and his entire family" were buried at the site.

Past posts on Zippori/Tzippori/Sepphoris are here and here and links.

Mladen Popović awarded €1.5 millon ERC grant

CONGRATULATIONS TO MLADEN POPOVIĆ: Prestigious ERC Starting Grant for Mladen Popović. Innovative research on authors of Dead Sea Scrolls wins European grant of €1.5 million
Last Monday, the European Research Council (ERC) awarded a grant of €1.5 million to Prof. Mladen Popović of the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies for his project The Hands that Wrote the Bible. Digital Paleography and Scribal Culture of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Popović can use the funding to continue developing his pioneering research on the Dead Sea Scrolls. He now intends to discover who wrote these ancient documents.
Follow the link for additional details on his project. I first heard the good news last week at the Bible as Notepad Conference, where we were exploring many related issues. HT to the OT/ NT Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha page on Facebook for the link.

Bible as Notepad Conference concluded

I'M BACK FROM OSLO, where I attended the Bible as Notepad Conference. Besides the many interesting papers, highlights included a visit to Martin Schøyen's house to view some of his vast collection of manuscripts, and having the chance to hear Malachi Beit-Arie tell stories about Israeli academic life fifty years ago and about his doctoral supervisor Gershom Scholem.

Thanks to Liv Ingeborg Lied and her associates and assistants for a very stimulating conference.

(Photo courtesy of Liv Ingeborg Lied. Click on the image to enlarge it.)

UPDATE: Professor Lied has posted her introductory presentation for the conference. Go here and follow the link. And she has a related post here.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Feldman and Goldman, Scripture and Interpretation

Feldman, Ariel / Goldman, Liora
Scripture and Interpretation
Qumran Texts that Rework the Bible

Ed. by Dimant, Devorah

Series: Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 449

Aims and Scope

The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls more than sixty years ago has revealed a wealth of literary compositions which rework the Hebrew Bible in various ways. This genre seems to have been a popular literary form in ancient Judaism literature. However, the Qumran texts of this type are particularly interesting for they offer for the first time a large sample of such compositions in their original languages, Hebrew and Aramaic. Since the rewritten Bible texts do not use the particular style and nomenclature specific to the literature produced by the Qumran community. Many of these texts are unknown from any other sources, and have been published only during the last two decades. They therefore became the object of intense scholarly study. However, most the attention has been directed to the longer specimens, such as the Hebrew Book of Jubilees and the Aramaic Genesis Apocryphon. The present volume addresses the less known and poorly studied pieces, a group of eleven small Hebrew texts that rework the Hebrew Bible. It provides fresh editions, translations and detailed commentaries for each one. The volume thus places these texts within the larger context of the Qumran library, aiming at completing the data about the rewritten Bible.

Safrai (ed), The Literature of the Sages

The Literature of the Jewish People in the Period of the Second Temple and the Talmud, Volume 3 The Literature of the Sages
First Part: Oral Tora, Halakha, Mishna, Tosefta, Talmud, External Tractates.

Edited by Shmuel Safrai

The literary creation of the ancient Jewish teachers or Sages ‒ also called rabbinic literature ‒ consists of the teachings of thousands of Sages, many of them anonymous. For a long period, their teachings existed orally, which implied a great deal of flexibility in arrangement and form. Only gradually, as parts of the amorphous oral tradition became fixed, was the literature written down, a process that began in the third century CE and continued into the Middle Ages. Thus the documents of the rabbinic literature are the result of a remarkably long and complex process of creation and editing.
The volume here re-issued was a classic when published in 1987. It made lasting contributions through its careful and succinct analysis of specific natures of various documents, and their textual and literary forms. In its time it incorporated ground-breaking developments and it remains required reading for those who missed it the first time.
In the future CRINT plans to publish a revised and updated companion volume that is to reflect recent debate and a greater range of scholarly views, reference to developments in scholarship regarding Second Temple, Qumran and New Testament as well as to ancient Mesopotamian and Persian sources and archaeology. New methodologies from the Humanities and reference to digitation of source material will also be incorporated.