Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Year's Eve

AS 2015 COMES TO AN END, PaleoJudaica has tallied up 1534 posts for the year, considerably more than any previous year since it began back in 2003. It has received something on the order of half a million page views in 2015. As usual, I will save my list of top posts of the year for the blogiversary notice in March.

I have been putting more effort into the blog and I hope you've been enjoying it. Thanks for visiting. I will do my best to keep up the pace and quality in the coming year.

A New Year's message from ...

ARCHANGEL METATRON WATCH: Getting Ready for the New Year: A message from Archangel Metatron.

Another 2015 Biblical Archaeology top ten

CHRISTIANITY TODAY: Biblical Archaeology’s Top Ten Discoveries of 2015. A glimpse at the important work that took place at excavations this year (Gordon Govier). This list overlaps considerably with the list published in Haaretz earlier this week, but is not quite the same and is more oriented to epigraphic discoveries. For the Haaretz list and background to the stories, see here. As for this one, background on the Horvat Kur mosaic is here and links; on the Davidic-era seal is here; on the Eshba'al (Ishba'al) seal from Khirbet Qeiyafa is here and links; on the new Lachish ostracon is here; and on the carbonized Leviticus scroll is here and links. I did not post on the Beit Shemesh idol head or the Iron Age gate at Gath.

Interview with Louis Feldman

THE JEWISH PRESS: On The Bookshelf (Elliot Resnick).
Professor Louis Feldman received his PhD from Harvard University in 1951 and recently retired after teaching Latin and Greek at Yeshiva University for close to 60 years. A proud Orthodox Jew, Feldman is considered the world’s expert on Josephus and is the author of such works as “Jew & Gentile in the Ancient World” and “Josephus’s Interpretation of the Bible.”
The interview follows.

Tzoref, Selavan (eds.), Eshel, Exploring the Dead Sea Scrolls

Shani Tzoref, Barnea Levi Selavan (Hg.), Hanan Eshel
Exploring the Dead Sea Scrolls
Archaeology and Literature of the Qumran Caves

1. Auflage 2015
314 Seiten with 9 fig. gebunden
ISBN 978-3-525-55096-0
Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht

Journal of Ancient Judaism. Supplements - Band 018

120,00 €
Bei Abnahme der Reihe: 110,00 €

Among the most prominent hallmarks of the late Prof. Hanan Eshel (1958–2010) were his generosity, passion, and integrative approach. The eighteen essays in this volume were selected by Prof. Eshel shortly before his untimely death, to be printed as a collection aimed at contextualizing the textual finds of the Dead Sea Scrolls within their archaeological settings and within the contours of contemporary scholarship.
The Qumran texts that stand at the center of these articles are correlated with archaeological and geographic information and with a variety of textual sources including epigraphic evidence and, especially, the Hebrew Bible, Josephus, and rabbinic texts. The essays are organized according to the provenance of the discovered material, with sections devoted to the Damascus Document and the scrolls from Caves 1, 3, 4, and 11, as well as a final more general chapter.
Half of the essays have been previously published in English, while the other half have been translated from Hebrew here for the first time. The book includes essays that have been co-authored with Esther Eshel, Shlomit Kendi-Harel, Zeev Safrai, and John Strugnell.

Discoveries at Rosh HaAyin

EXCAVATION: Farmhouse From First Temple Era, Byzantine Church Found in Central Israel. Vast 2,700-year old farmstead featured 24 rooms around a courtyard - and 1,500-year old church featured credit: 'Built under Theodosius the priest' (Ruth Schuster, Haaretz)

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Was Eve made from Adam's penis-bone?

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: The Adam and Eve Story: Eve Came From Where? Somehow I missed this one when it came out last September. It seems that Professor Ziony Zevit published an article then in Biblical Archaeology Review asking “Was Eve Made from Adam’s Rib—or His Baculum?” (i.e., his penis-bone - which human males do not have). At the moment I don't have access to the BAR article, which is behind a subscription wall, but the BHD article summarizes it. The case also seems to have been argued in his 2013 book, What Really Happened in the Garden of Eden? (Yale University Press). For some reason the BAR article and the theory seem suddenly to be getting a lot of attention in the media. The Daily Mail reports in detail and notes the predictable outrage the notion is receiving from some BAR readers. And in Haaretz, Elon Gilad expresses considerable skepticism. (As noted here, he has already done some research on the general subject.)

I haven't seen the full argument, so I won't offer a view. I will say, first, that it seems to depend on the assumption that a removal of Adam's rib would have been taken as a etiological change such that all men subsequently would have been missing a rib. That's a reasonable reading, but it is open to debate. The story could have assumed that a rib was removed from Adam without it having any effect on his descendants, in which case his odd number of ribs would not have been an exegetical problem. Second, as Gilad observes at the end of his article, it is not clear how closely ancient Israelites attended to details of skeletal anatomy. Details of human anatomy only began to be studied systematically by the Alexandrian anatomists. But I concede that counting up how many ribs people have seems like an obvious thing to do.

Divine Sonship Symposium

CONFERENCE REMINDER: Son of God: Divine Sonship in Jewish and Christian Antiquity - The St Andrews Symposium for Biblical and Early Christian Studies. Noted earlier here. The symposium takes place on 6-8 June 2016 St Mary’s College, University of St Andrews. Garrick Allen has posted a flier here at The call for papers is open until 15 February and the Early Bird registration fee is available until 29 February. Follow the links for further particulars

Exhibition on John Dee's library

REMINDER: Scholar, courtier, magician: the lost library of John Dee. Coming soon: An exhibition exploring one of Tudor England's most extraordinary and enigmatic figures. 18 January - 29 July 2016. More information on this exhibition at the Royal College of Physicians, Regent's Park, London, is here. You will also find links there to other posts about John Dee and about my own research on his angelic séances in relation to ancient Jewish visionary traditions. Related post here.

Interview with James K. Aitken

Today I have the pleasure of posting an interview with my doctoral supervisor, James K. Aitken, as a part of my ongoing series of LXX Scholar Interviews. Jim is lecturer in Hebrew, Old Testament, and Second Temple Studies at the University of Cambridge (and currently taking doctoral students). We have been working together since October 2014 and I have benefited immensely from his supervision, despite the various logistical problems we’ve had in the meantime!

As you will read about below, Jim is also quite active in the Septuagint guild and has contributed several key publications in the last few years. He brings a unique set of interests and expertise to the field and is in the midst of producing work that will certainly generate significant discussion within both Septuagint and Second Temple scholarly circles.
The interview follows.

Review of Olyan (ed.), Ritual Violence in the Hebrew Bible

THE BIBLICAL REVIEW: “Ritual Violence in the Hebrew Bible” edited by Saul M. Olyan (William Brown).
Saul M. Olyan (editor). Ritual Violence in the Hebrew Bible: New Perspectives. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2015, 190 pp., $74.00 (hardcover).
I highly recommend Ritual Violence in the Hebrew Bible because it is exactly what it says it is: new perspective on the Hebrew Bible through a theme that is extremely underexplored, namely ritual violence. Students and scholars alike will find this volume valuable as it aids in moving forward scholarly studies into realms that have the potentials to shift the current ideas within scholarship. Without a doubt, this volume marks a major shift in how we read violence in the Hebrew Bible.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Reprinting Palmyra's arch

PALMYRA WATCH: Ancient arch of Palmyra which was destroyed by Isis will be recreated in Trafalgar Square and Times Square using the world's largest 3D printer (James Dunn, Daily Mail).
  • Arch is the only remaining part of Temple of Bel, razed by Isis in August
  • Institute of Digital Archaeology will recreate arch in London and New York
  • Made in Shanghai, finished in Italy then built like Lego in Trafalgar Square
  • On show for a week but Mayor Boris Johnson could consider keeping it
  • See full news coverage on ISIS at
The 2,000-year-old arch of an ancient site destroyed by Isis is to be recreated in Trafalgar Square and Times Square as a 'call to action' over the militants' destruction of antiquities.

The famous arch is all that remains of the Temple of Bel in Syria, which was reduced to rubble by Isis militants in August, who murdered its curator and packed the site with explosives. But the 15-metre arch, which many fear will soon be destroyed, is to be recreated in London and New York, using the world's largest 3D printer.


Cross-file under "Techology Watch." Background on the whole sad story of Palmyra is here with many links.

That "Jesus was a Palestinian" meme again

IT'S SAD THAT THIS NEED TO BE NEWS: Australian Church Denies Belief That Jesus Was Palestinian (JTA).
Jesus was not Palestinian, a major church denomination in Australia said after the Executive Council of Australian Jewry challenged an article in a political publication in which the birthplace of Jesus Christ was named as Palestine.


In the article, Samah Sabawi and Bassam Dally wrote: “An official delegation representing our country in Israel has added fuel to the flames of extremism abroad by applauding proven human rights violators and insulting the living descendants of Christ in his home of birth in Palestine.”

Kudos to the Church for responding appropriately. Some related posts are collected here.

A graphic novel on the Maccabees?

KICKSTARTER: Maccabaeus: The War for Judea.
A graphic novel about the Hasmonean Revolt (the backstory to the Jewish festival of Hanukkah). Think "300" with yarmulkes.
Have a look and, if such things appeal to you, you can contribute. They have a long way yet to their goal and not a lot of time remaining.

No digging allowed in the walls of Tut's tomb

MORE FROM ZAHI HAWASS: Egyptian expert disputes new theory that Queen Nefertiti is in Tutankhamun's tomb. British expert's tomb theory 'baseless', says leading Egyptologist (Magdy Samaan, The Telegraph).
Nicholas Reeves, a British Egyptologist now at the University of Arizona, believes that he has found the answer. Last month, he announced that Queen Nefertiti's tomb probably lay behind one wall of King Tutankhamun's tomb.

But Zahi Hawass, a leading archaeologist and formerly Egypt’s minister of antiquities, told the Telegraph that Mr Reeves was peddling a “baseless” theory.
We already knew that, but now Dr. Hawass has gone on record that no damage to the tomb walls will be permitted to test Dr. Reeves's theory:
Mr Hawass promised that Mr Reeves would not be allowed to test his idea. "I will not allow - neither would any archaeologist allow - making a hole in Tutankhamun's tomb,” he said. “The tomb is very vulnerable; any hole may expose the paintings to complete collapse."
He believes that the question of where Nefertiti is buried can be resolved with DNA analysis and concludes:
These tests would reveal the truth, said Mr Hawass, and there was no point in pursuing Mr Reeves’s theory and risking damage to Tutankhamun’s tomb.

"There is nobody in Egypt - whether the minister of archaeology or anyone else - who can take the responsibility for making a scratch in Tutankhamun's tomb,” said Mr Hawass.

“So that is why I think that the idea was born dead."
Cross file under "Technology Watch." Additional background here, here, here, and here.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Ram statue excavated in Caesarea

ARCHAEOLOGY: Beautiful ancient ram statue unearthed near Byzantine church. Christmas Eve discovery in Caesarea excites archaeologists; beautiful sculpture was almost perfectly preserved (Arutz Sheva).
An impressive, nearly full-preserved ancient statue of a ram was discovered by archaeologists near an ancient church in Caesarea that dates to the Byzantine period.

The discovery was made last Thursday morning in an archaeological excavation the Israel Antiquities Authority is conducting in the Caesarea Harbor National Park, at the initiative of the Caesarea Development Corporation.

Nice piece. They're not sure yet whether it is of Byzantine-era or Roman-era origin and it sounds as though so far they are guessing about its purpose.

Award for the NYT

5. Most Unholy Row: New York Times

When the Palestinian Authority accused Israel of altering the status-quo arrangements on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, the New York Times weighed in with an article questioning whether the ancient Jewish Temples were located in the contested area. The Times ignored the consensus among leading historians that the Temple Mount was indeed the location (hence the current name “Temple Mount,”) for these structures, but seemed oblivious to the damage that the inaccurate article’s timing would cause.

HT Breaking Israel News. The PaleoJudaica coverage of the story is here and links.

Biblical Archaeology 2015

HAARETZ: Biblical Archaeology in 2015: King Hezekiah's Seal and Other Exciting Discoveries. And some maybes: Archaeologists think they may have found where Jesus lived in Nazareth and was tried in Jerusalem (Ruth Schuster).
Is the bible literally true? Are at least parts of it plausible? In digs throughout the region, biblical archaeology sets out to shed light on these questions. It is a difficult task made all the harder by the pull of our deepest wishes: Even artifacts found in situ, exactly where they had been left thousands of years ago, can be of controversial origin, let alone purpose.

Background on that New-Age gold object is here; on Ben Carson's Egypt gaffe is here; on the possible discovery of the Acra is here and links; on the Hezekiah bulla is here, here, and here; on the discovery of a first-century CE house (rather than "Jesus' house") in Nazareth is here; on the possible discovery of Herod's palace in Jerusalem is here and here; and on the possible discovery of Sodom is here. I didn't post about the stories on the Philistines mentioned in this article, but instead see this year's post Psychedelic Philistines.

UPDATE (31 December): Another list is noted here.

Sunday, December 27, 2015


CANDIDA MOSS: Male Circumcision: What Would Jesus Do? On the eighth day of his life, before the Wise Men visited, Jesus was circumcised. What would he make of the debate raging today over male circumcision? (The Daily Beast). Excerpt:
It’s true that the Christmas story is more babe in a manger than bris in the synagogue, but as a Jewish male infant Jesus was circumcised and, chronologically speaking, on the eighth day—and thus before the appearance of any wise men from the east. And yet somehow with all the food, presents, and Santa-fetishizing, the circumcision of Jesus doesn’t get a look in. But as debate about the ethics of circumcising children rages on, perhaps it really should.

The only biblical evidence for Jesus’s circumcision comes from the infancy narrative found in the Gospel of Luke. On the eighth day, we are told, he was circumcised and officially given the name Jesus (although Gabriel had called it at the Anunciation).
Two thoughts.

First, it is interesting and entertaining to compare the debate about circumcision among first-century Jesus followers to the current debate about it, but they are really very different and I do not see that the first sheds any useful light on the modern discussion. The first-century issue was whether gentile followers of Jesus needed to keep the ritual law, particularly circumcision. The present debate is about hygienic matters and the right of patients to make informed decisions.

Second, we should be careful not to draw a moral equivalence between male circumcision and female "circumcision" (better, female genital mutilation). (Professor Moss mentions this position, but frames it hypothetically and refrains from endorsing it.) There is a debate on the costs and benefits of male circumcision and people of goodwill disagree about it. Female genital mutilation is a horrific and barbaric practice that inflicts serious damage on a woman's body and it cannot be justified. The two are not comparable.

Some posts about the present-day debate over male circumcision are here and links. And this debate is not about circumcision per se, but rather about a particular traditional method of circumcision (metzizah b’peh) that poses some significant health risks.

Jewish-Temple denial from an Egyptian newspaper

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Egyptian paper claims Jewish Temple was never in Jerusalem. Article seeks to deny Jewish connection to ‘Al-Quds’, says Jews’ place of worship was actually a converted Egyptian building in the Galilee (LEE GANCMAN, Times of Israel). Here we go again.
An Egyptian newspaper claimed Wednesday that the Jewish First Temple was in actual fact an Egyptian temple that the Jews took over, and that it had never been located in Jerusalem at all.

Sprawling over almost a full page of the daily newspaper “al-Youm al-Saba’a,” the article presented an elaborate theory based partly on analyses of Jewish sources, with assistance from Dr. Iman Tayyeb, an Egyptian professor of Talmud and the Old Testament at the University of Assiut.

While Tayyeb conceded that the Jewish temple may have existed in a place called “Jerusalem,” she said that the city wasn’t located in the same place as Israel’s modern capital. Citing Jewish texts, she claimed it was unclear where the ancient temple stood, but that there was ample evidence that it could not have been at the Temple Mount.

I don't think I've heard this particular goofy "theory" before, but it seems there's always a new one. You can read about it in detail at the link. It has no basis in reality. Some other recent cases of Temple denial are here, here, and links. And there's more on that early-twentieth-century guide to the Temple Mount by the Supreme Muslim Council here, here, and here.

The AJS annual meeting

REPORT: Connecting the dots. Association for Jewish Studies convention offers food for thought (Larry Yudelson, Jewish Standard/Times of Israel).
If your idea of a good time is hearing someone explain at length the connections between the treasures of King Tut’s tomb and the biblical ark of the covenant, you should have been in Boston last week for the annual convention of the Association of Jewish Studies.

I was there. And yes, I had a blast.

The meeting was held in Boston on December 13-15. This is a long report by a well-informed nonspecialist on some papers on Rabbinic and Second Temple Judaism. Excerpt:
A key difference between academic Jewish studies — a field barely 200 years old — and traditional yeshiva studies is that academics look not just at what the texts (the Torah, the Talmud, the midrashim) say but asks: How did those texts fit into the broader picture of the Jewish community of that era? How much do they represent the reality of their era, as opposed to what the authors wanted to be true? How does other historical evidence mesh with those texts? And when were those texts written anyway?

The central problem in these lines of inquiry is there isn’t all that much other evidence. Like paleontologists deducing a species of dinosaur from the shape of a fossilized jawbone, academic Jewish scholars are trying to recreate a world from bits and pieces (and sometimes, in the case of the Dead Sea Scrolls, actual scraps of parchment). If you visualize pre-modern Jewish history as a timeline, then you might put 1500 B.C.E. on the far left — that’s about when the Bible dates the Exodus — and the invention of printing around 1500 C.E. on the right. For most of this period, scholars have occasional points of evidence, but there are huge gaps. Some of the points on the timeline are the traditional Jewish texts: biblical books, Mishna, Talmud, medieval responsa. Other points are archaeological evidence: ancient inscriptions, buildings, utensils, animal bones. (The latter show, among other things, whether the inhabitants of a certain place at a certain time did or did not eat pork.) Then there is the evidence of books and texts that didn’t become part of the Jewish tradition. Some of those were written but not preserved by Jews — this includes books kept as part of Christian editions of the Bible; writers like the first-century Jewish historian Josephus, who didn’t write in Hebrew, and those texts that happened to be preserved alongside Biblical scrolls in the dry caves of Qumran at the shores of the Dead Sea. And finally, there are those books written by non-Jews that give insight into Jewish histories, whether they are Christian church fathers describing their debates with Jews or Babylonian books from the time of the Talmudic sages.

Faced with three or four dots that more or less line up, the temptation is to connect them into a pretty picture. For a professor seeking renown and career advancement, that’s pretty mandatory. The danger, though, is that someone will discover a dot that was overlooked — and that shows the pretty picture didn’t capture all the dots; a theory that overlooked the evidence. So there is a tension between the desire to innovate and the fear of sticking out your not-yet-tenured neck.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Nag Hammadi Seminar

ANDRÉ GAGNÉ: Activities of the NH Seminar for 2015-2016. At Concordia University.

Hebrew Manuscripts Digitisation Project

THE BRITISH LIBRARY: Hebrew Manuscripts Digitisation Project. The Hebrew Manuscripts Digitisation Project has been digitising items from the British Library's significant collection of Hebrew hand-written books, charters and scrolls, in order to make them available online.
Coming towards the end of this phase of our project, we have almost finalised the digitisation of 1,255 manuscripts selected for this phase, with the total of approximately 430,000 digitised images. These are mainly manuscripts catalogued and published by George Margoliouth at the end of the 19th century, but some of these have never been published. At this point, several manuscripts still await more thorough conservation treatments. In addition, four of our Torah scrolls included textile covers (mantles), made of silk brocade and linen. These are undergoing conservation treatment by a textile conservator prior to imaging.

So far, 748 digitised manuscripts have been uploaded and can be viewed on the Library’s Digitised Manuscripts site, and the remainder is expected to be fully accessible by the end of June 2016.
Background on the project, which is also associated with the Israel National Library, is here. For many other manuscript digitization projects, go here and just keep following the links.

The aftermath of 4 BCE

PHILIP JENKINS: After the Crisis (The Anxious Bench).
I have sketched the political and social meltdown that Palestine suffered in the terrible year of 4 BC. Wars and insurrections were by no means unusual anywhere in the ancient world, and Palestine was no exception. But this particular crisis was unusual in its severity, and several features make it worthy of special notice, especially for anyone interested in Christian origins.

Background here.

Lied on Syriac and Coptic fragments of 4 Ezra

LIV INGEBORG LIED: Two forgotten sources to 4 Ezra.
In the last few years, I have mentioned on two occasions manuscript witnesses to 4 Ezra that have apparently been left out of scholarly discussions focusing on this writing. In this post, I propose two possible reasons for this omission, and discuss why these manuscript sources to 4 Ezra deserve our attention. My interest here is not the decisions made by individual scholars, but rather the assessment schemes embedded in philological paradigms and the structuring effects of disciplinary borders to research practices.

Background here and links. Cross-file under "Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Watch."


AWOL: Open Access Journal: Explorator. It's good to see this weekly column of news on archaeology and antiquity by David Meadows. And let me take this opportunity also to mention David's blog on Classical Studies, Rogue Classicism. Both are well worth reading and PaleoJudaica links to both from time to time.

Friday, December 25, 2015

A Coptic Christmas story

'TIS THE SEASON: Putting Together the Puzzle of a Christmas Story: A Coptic Document in Princeton and Its Related Fragments. Alin Suciu discusses a Coptic text about the birth of Jesus.

Goodacre on the Magi

'TIS THE SEASON: NT Pod 76: This year's Christmas episode (Mark Goodacre). The subject of Mark's Christmas podcast this year is "The Magi in Matthew's Gospel."

Past PaleoJudaica posts on the Magi are here, here, here (and links), here, and here. And past posts on the Star of Bethlehem story are here, here, and links.

Forensic reconstruction of Jesus' face? No.

'TIS THE SEASON: Jesus Christ’s ‘face’ recreated utilizing Semite skulls by Richard Neave.
Is this the REAL face of Jesus? Forensic experts use ancient Semite skulls to reveal what Christ may have looked like

He may be shown as a Caucasian man with long, flowing light brown hair in many religious artworks, but Jesus would have likely had a darker complexion and short, dark, curly hair, a forensic expert claims.

Retired medical artist Richard Neave has recreated the face of ‘Jesus’ by studying Semite skulls using modern-day forensic techniques.

This is an old story that is obviously being recycled for Christmas, but I don't think I have noted it before. The actual story is this:
The team analysed skeletal remains of Semite men from the time of Jesus to come up with the average build of a Jewish man living in Galilee.
So this is an interesting project of forensic reconstruction that gives us a vaguely averaged idea of what an ancient Galilean man might have looked like (assuming the skulls were from the Galilee, which is implied but not stated). Only vaguely averaged, because any averaging of this type that would have statistical significance would need a lot more than three samples. There is no particular reason to think that their reconstruction looks very much like Jesus looked. We already knew he wasn't blond with blue eyes. Related thematic and seasonal post here.

And now after the above was composed, Professor Joan Taylor has published the following with the BBC: What did Jesus really look like? That forensic reconstruction comes up briefly, but she also discusses his likely hair and beard style and clothing style, as well as the origins of the idea of Jesus as the bearded longhair wearing a long robe.

Apocryphal Christmas revisited

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: Christmas Stories in Christian Apocrypha. The birth of Jesus in the apocryphal gospels (Tony Burke). Also noted last year, but 'Tis the Season and it has been updated, so noted again.

Christmas 2015

MERRY CHRISTMAS to all those celebrating!

Posts of Christmas past are collected here and links. A couple of recent seasonal posts are here and here. And I have some more Christmas posts coming today.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Another review of "Egypt: Faith After the Pharaohs"

THE ART NEWSPAPER: One God to rule them all: Garry Shaw on Faith After the Pharaohs at the British Museum. The exhibition beautifully captures how religion shaped the region.
In the British Museum's latest exhibition, Egypt: Faith After the Pharaohs, there is a long fragment of papyrus, one of many on display, written in Greek and called the Gospel of Thomas. What is striking about this fragment is not its beauty or penmanship, but the era in which it was written. In Oxyrhynchus, an Egyptian city, the scroll’s Christian owner had copied the text less than 300 years after the death of Jesus, a time when the ancient Egyptian gods were still widely worshipped, before the acceptance of Christianity across the Roman Empire and before the appearance of Islam. To many of his contemporaries in Egypt, this ancient copyist—a man simply trying to preserve his messiah's sayings—would have been a rebel. He could not have predicted how Egypt, and the whole world, would change over the coming centuries, or that the church would forbid Christians fr om reading the very text he was copying once the contents of the New Testament had been agreed upon.

Past posts on the Egypt: Faith After the Pharaohs Exhibition at the British Museum are collected here and links.

Books on the Persian Empire and Hebrew philology

AWOL: Two new volumes in the ANCIENT NEAR EAST MONOGRAPHS Series.
Political Memory in and after the Persian Empire
edited by Jason M. Silverman and Caroline Waerzeggers, ANEM 13, 2015

Epigraphy, Philology, and the Hebrew Bible: Methodological Perspectives on Philological and Comparative Study of the Hebrew Bible in Honor of Jo Ann Hackett
edited by Jeremy M. Hutton and Aaron D. Rubin, ANEM 12, 2015
Follow the link for downloading and ordering information. And congratulations to Professor Hackett on the Festschrift!

Sidnie White Crawford on canon

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Canon Forum: A Response. Sidnie White Crawford responds to the three essays in the recent AJR Forum on the biblical Canon, on which see here and links.

Mystery golden object identified

AN "ISIS BEAMER HARMONIZER": It Took Israeli Authorities Months to Identify This Strange, Gold Object (Danny Lewis, Sorry, no Temple treasure this time.

Talmudic and Gnostic Star Wars?

IT'S COME TO THIS: How 'Star Wars' Became America's Talmud [SPOILER ALERT!] (Jay Michaelson, The Forward).

And if that weren't enough, there's this: The religious case for ignoring Star Wars Episodes I, II and III (Bob Smietana, WaPo).
There won’t be any “Attack of the Clones” at our house this Christmas.

No “Revenge of the Sith.”

And definitely no “Phantom Menace.”

Instead, we’ll sing carols, decorate the tree, exchange presents, all while watching the original three “Star Wars” movies.

Then we’ll head out for a late afternoon showing of “The Force Awakens” on Christmas Day.

At our house the prequels are like the gnostic Gospels of “Star Wars.” They exist, but we don’t watch them. Why?

Like the gnostic Gospels, the prequels aren’t true. Or to put it another way, they aren’t the same story as the originals. Something about the essential nature of “Star Wars” was lost along the way.

Again, the first article above has SPOILERS, so don't click in the link if that matters to you.

Both articles have quite a few assumptions built in, but these are interesting to explore. For my part, I ignore the second-made trilogy because it was awful. I'll take the Gnostic gospels over them any time.

I saw The Force Awakens on Monday and, frankly, was not much impressed. But your mileage may vary.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

More on the Israel Museum's Hadrian exhibition

ANOTHER REVIEW: Busting Out All Over: Hadrian 'Conquers' Jerusalem Once Again. A new Israel Museum show, centering around 3 bronze portraits, takes on yet another controversial figure in Jewish history, addressing the paradox between his image as a 'bone-grinder' and as enlightened Roman ruler (Nir Hasson, Haaretz).
In Jewish historiography, the Roman emperor Hadrian – or, "Hadrian the bone-grinder,” as traditional religious sources called him – has a “place of honor” on the list of those considered to be the most hated and bitter enemies of the Jewish people over the generations.

Publius Aelius Hadrianus Augustus, as he was known, was emperor from 117 to 138 C.E., and is best remembered in Israel for crushing the Bar Kochba revolt against the Romans and for the ensuing holocaust, including destruction of the Jewish community in Judea and the razing of Jerusalem, upon whose ruins he built a pagan city named Aelia Capitolina.

In world historiography, however, Hadrian has a completely different image: He is considered to be one of the most enlightened and important of Roman rulers, the man responsible for the golden age of the empire. He is said to have been a gifted general and politician, a patron of the arts and a man of letters, as well as a builder who left important monuments behind in his wake.

In a new exhibition opening on Tuesday, the Israel Museum is attempting to present – and possibly resolve – this paradox.

Background here.

As the article and the one noted previously mention, this exhibition is the final one associated with the celebration of the Israel Museum's 50th anniversary, on which more here and links.

Inscribed silver amulet found in Jordan

EPIGRAPHY: Mysterious 'Jewish spell' found in ancient amulet: Scans reveal 'magical symbols' inscribed on 1,300-year-old silver scroll (SARAH GRIFFITHS, The Daily Mail).
  • Lead amulet containing a silver scroll was found in Jerash, Jordan
  • Scientists used CT scanning and computer models to reveal scroll's text
  • Revealed it contains magical letters and a mixture of language
  • It was likely written by a 'Jewish magician', around 1,300 years ago

A silver scroll discovered hidden in an ancient amulet has revealed what appears to be a magical spell that has remained a secret for 1,300 years.

The mysterious inscription is thought to have been made by a Jewish 'magician' living in the Muslim town of Jerash in Jordan in around 750AD.

Although the silver scroll is too delicate to unfurl, CT scans of the relic have revealed 17 lines of text in an unknown language, alongside what the researchers call 'magical symbols.'

The outside lead casing was cracked and corroded, but experts managed to extract the fragile rolled silver scroll from inside it.


Some details of the discovery are given:
The Jerash amulet was discovered in 2014 among the ruins of a house destroyed by an earthquake in 749AD.

Glass bottles, ceramics, jewellery and coins were also found along with the scroll inside a small metal cylinder measuring 2-inches (5cm) long.

So it is an excavated object and presumably it can be regarded as genuine.

A sidebar gives details on the inscription:

A total of 17 lines of text were revealed using CT scans. The first line is said to consist of magical spells written in a form of Greek, while the text is written in an indecipherable form of Arabic.

According to the researchers, ancient 'magicians' were known to have made up languages, and as many people couldn't read or write, they could get away with creating nonsensical messages.

The text also contains signs which clearly are not Arabic or imitate Arabic letters.

Most of these occur in line one, but a few further signs are found in the following lines.

Leading researcher Dr Rubina Raja explained: 'We've sent it out to the world's leading philologists, and all came to the conclusion they can't read it, it must be pseudo-Arabic.

'Collectively, it has not been possible to assign these signs to a known alphabet.

'Since we presume the artefact is an amulet, and since the main text seems to be in pseudo-script, it is reasonable to view the signs as "magical".'

That sounds reasonable, although I would like to compare the signs to magical signs in things like the Greek Magical Papyri and later Arabic magical documents. The headline and one of the bullet points quoted above suggest that the text is Jewish, but later the article more cautiously states "'Since it was not possible to read the 'text' we cannot identify the religious affiliation of the amulet's owner,' the researchers wrote." I would leave it there. Even if we could read the text, late antique magic was religiously eclectic and it is frequently difficult to be sure of the religious background of a specific text.

Inscribed metal amulets are well known from antiquity. The Ketef Hinnom silver amulets with a Hebrew text found also in the Bible have been come up many times in PaleoJudaica. See here and follow the links. Other Jewish amulets made of silver and other metals are noted here. Inscribed lead curse tablets are noted here and here.

The faux-Arabic writing has an analogy in magical texts from around the same period (in Iraq rather than Jordan). Some of the Babylonian incantation bowls have similar meaningless inscriptions/squiggles meant to look like Hebrew/Aramaic writing. These have been mentioned here and here.

The text of this new amulet was recovered with some of that promising non-destructive and non-invasive technology that I keep going on about. Related stories here, here, and here and links. Cross-file under "Technology Watch."

Nebuchadnezzar tablet on display

EXHIBITION: Artifact Of Nebuchadnezzar Displayed In J’slm On Tenth of Tevet (JONATHAN BENEDEK, The Jewish Voice).
A very unique and ancient artifact of the famous Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II went on display on Tuesday, in the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem. The artifact, borrowed by the Museum from the David Sofer Collection, is a barrel-shaped cuneiform cylinder with an inscription from Nebuchadnezzar.

“It expresses a completely different perspective of Nebuchadnezzar than the way Jewish people have thought of him for the past 2,000 years,” said Dr. Filip Vukosavović, chief curator of the Bible Lands Museum, to Tazpit Press Service (TPS).

On the inscription, Nebuchadnezzar refers to himself as a leader who “likes truth and justice.”

“It is of interest to recognize how Nebuchadnezzar is depicted in the inscription,” Vukosavović said to TPS.

The Tenth of Tevet marks the beginning of Nebuchadnezzar's siege of Jerusalem. More on it is here. Background on the By the Rivers of Babylon exhibition is here and links (cf. also here).

Review of three books on Herod

NOT SO MUCH, ALTHOUGH IT'S COMPLICATED: Herod the Hero? Three recent books portray Herod more positively than he is generally depicted. But Matthew 2 is still important (Alexander Stewart, Christianity Today).
In terms of wealth, power, and influence, Herod the Great rivaled King Solomon as the greatest king in the history of the Jews. Most Christians, however, know little more about Herod than what is reported in Matthew 2: his interaction with the Magi and the slaughter of Bethlehem’s infant boys. Far beyond the significance of those isolated incidents, Herod powerfully shaped the world in which Jesus and the earliest Christians lived.

The collective historical opinion—colored by Matthew’s account—has viewed Herod as a paranoid, cruel, and murderous tyrant. Several historians, however, have recently sought to rehabilitate Herod’s image. Norman Gelb’s Herod the Great: Statesman, Visionary, Tyrant (Rowman and Littlefield, 2013), Geza Vermes’s The True Herod (Bloomsbury, 2014), and Adam Kolman Marshak’s The Many Faces of Herod the Great (Eerdmans, 2015) all seek to positively reassess his reign. Gelb and Vermes provide accessible accounts of Herod’s life, while Marshak provides an academic appraisal of Herod’s rule in terms of the ancient political, cultural, and religious expectations of a good king.

It is too strong to claim that these recent books indicate a sweeping renaissance in the study of Herod’s life. Nevertheless, they represent a growing interest in the historical Herod fueled by a desire to look afresh at Herod’s life apart from Matthew’s Gospel.

The book by Vermes was noted here (and note also here) and the book by Marshak was noted here. The one by Gelb is new to me. Past posts on Herod the Great and Herodium are collected here, and see also here.

Talmud sells for $9.3m

THE VALMADONNA LIBRARY: 16th-Century Talmud Sells for $9.3 Million at Sotheby’s. Sotheby’s set a new world auction record for any piece of Judaica on Tuesday in New York, when one of the finest copies of Daniel Bomberg’s Babylonian Talmud sold for $9.3 million According to Tablet Magazine, the buyer is Leon Black, a New York businessman, founder of private equity firm Apollo Global Management.

The extraordinary volume was purchased by Stephan Loewentheil for the 19th Century Rare Book & Photograph Shop. The Bomberg Talmud led the sale of a selection of extraordinary items from The Valmadonna Trust, which totaled $14.9 million and became the most valuable auction of Judaica ever held. Together with the auctions of Important Judaica and Israeli & International Art, Sotheby’s annual December sales of Judaica and Israeli Art totaled $22.6 million.

This is sad. Background on the breakup and auction of the Valmadonna Library is here and here and links. The Tablet article mentioned above is here.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

CFP: The Synagogue in Ancient Palestine

CSTT BLOG: CALL FOR PAPERS: “THE SYNAGOGUE IN ANCIENT PALESTINE” (HELSINKI, 22-24 SEPT 2016) (Rick Bonnie). The deadline for submission of an abstract is Tuesday 15 March 2016.

Marshall tributes


The Eerdword Blog: I. Howard Marshall: In Memoriam;

Larry Hurtado: Professor I. Howard Marshall.

Background here.

Winter Solstice 2015

HAPPY WINTER SOLSTICE to all those celebrating!

From now on each day will be getting a little bit longer, which is always a particularly welcome development in Scotland.

Happy Saturnalia also (see the above link, scroll down) and happy conclusion of Yalda. The latter is a winter solstice festival celebrated yesterday on the 21st, but this year the actual solstice is unusually late on the 22nd.

More on the Kursi inscription

THE KURSI INSCRIPTION (that Aramaic text found recently on a marble tablet near the Sea of Galilee) continues to receive attention in the media and two recent articles add some information and thoughts on the content of the inscription.

From the Daily Mail: Is this where Jesus performed The Miracle of the Swine? 1,600-year-old Hebrew slab points to the site of Kursi where Christ exorcised a man possessed by demons (Sarah Griffiths).
So far, experts have identified the words 'amen' and 'marmaria' inscribed into the stone, which could either refer to marble, Mary or Rabbi.
That's a bit cryptic, but the Times of Israel explains the proposal more clearly: Ancient inscription points to Jewish past for early Christian site. Marble slab with 7 lines of Aramaic and Hebrew text found at biblical town on banks of Sea of Galilee may be from Byzantine-era synagogue. ‘There’s been nothing like this before,’ says archaeologist (Ilan Ben Zion):
More impressive, however, were seven lines of Hebrew and Aramaic text carved into a large slab of imported Greek marble. It includes the words “marmaria,” “amen,” “the holy king” and “the merciful,” researchers said.

Excavations at the site are funded by the Avery-Tsui Foundation, and headed by Cohen with the collaboration of the Israel Antiquities Authories and the Israel Parks Authority. High school student volunteers also took part in the dig.

Cohen was reluctant to reveal much about the inscription until experts had a chance to study the text more thoroughly. He did suggest, however, that “marmaria” could refer either to a type of marble, or — more intriguingly — “the rabbi of Mary.”
Apparently someone is suggesting that the word "marmaria" could mean mar "the master of" plus maria, an Aramaic transliteration of the Greek or Latin form of the name Miriam/Mary. This strikes me as possible, but very speculative, although I would have to see the word in the full context of the whole inscription to be sure. Pending more information, I am going to apply Frank Cross's epigraphic principle that the more banal reading is to be preferred and stay with the interpretation of the word as an Aramaic transliteration of the Greek word for "marble." As usual, this question can only be decided definitively, if at all, in a complete peer-reviewed publication of the inscription with good photographs.

Background here and here.

UPDATE: Richard Bauckham e-mails the following:
The form מריה is actually quite well attested for the late Second Temple period (ossuaries etc), but not at all for the rabbinic period, when the name Mariam itself becomes much less popular (presumably because of Christian usage). I suppose if it were a Jewish Christian synagogue, the use of מריה c. 500 CE would not be so surprising, but in my view it would be very surprising if this was a Jewish Christian synagogue. And "the master of Mary" seems a rather odd phrase, even if it can mean "Mary's rabbi" - for which we need evidence. I see from Jastrow it could also mean "Mary's pick-axe".

Hadrian at the Israel Museum

EXHIBITION: Three surviving bronzes of Hadrian united in stunning Israel Museum exhibit. Unique collaboration with Louvre, British Museum also sees monumental Jerusalem inscription in emperor’s honor rejoined after 2,000 years (Ilan Ben Zion, Times of Israel).
For the first time since his reign over 1,800 years ago, three bronze sculptures of the Roman emperor Hadrian — a man both revered and reviled — will go on display at the Israel Museum on Tuesday, in the final exhibit marking the institution’s 50th anniversary.

The three bronze heads — one from the Israel Museum’s collection found in northern Israel, one from the British Museum found at the bottom of the River Thames, and the third from the Louvre in Paris — differ slightly in their depiction of the emperor, and shed light on a character whose legacy is so multifaceted.


Besides Hadrian’s visages are the two halves of a monumental inscription erected in Jerusalem by soldiers of the 10th legion Fretensis in Hadrian’s honor two years before the outbreak of the Bar Kochba revolt in 132 CE — rejoined for the first time since antiquity.

The first half was discovered in the late 19th century by French archaeologist Clermont Ganneau (also known for finding the Temple Mount Warning inscription), and is housed at the Franciscan Flagellation Monastery in Jerusalem’s Old City. The second half, found last year by Israeli archaeologists, was used as the top of a Byzantine cistern during salvage excavations in East Jerusalem.

A long article, but worth reading in full.

The discovery of the fragment of that Hadrian inscription was noted last year here. Another Hadrian exhibition, this one in the British Museum, took place in 2008. Start here and follow the many links. For Hadrian's Wall, see here and here.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Was Lilith a cat?

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS: Are there cats in the Bible? Maybe, yes (Deane Galbraith, Remnant of Giants).
There’s a good case to be made that the biblical Lilith was a cat.
Past PaleoJudaica posts on Lilith are collected here and here.

How much gold was on the Temple?

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: The Gold of the Jerusalem Temple (Leen Ritmeyer).
We will never know for sure how much gold the Jerusalem Temple contained and exactly where it was displayed, internally and externally. It is generally known that Josephus occasionally exaggerates, but that a large amount of gold was displayed in the Jerusalem Temple, appears to be a reasonable suggestion if we also take other historical sources into consideration.
For more on ancient real (?) gold and other treasures possibly associated with the Temple, as well as legendary gold and treasures definitely associated with it, see here and links.

Cross-file tangentially under "Copper Scroll" and "The Treatise of the Vessels."

New Reviews of the Enoch Seminar

Martin Friis reviews Daniel Schwartz, Reading the First Century: On Reading Josephus and Studying Jewish History of the First Century

Carla Sulzbach reviews Katharina Bracht and David S. du Toit, Die Geschichte der Daniel-Auslegung in Judentum, Christentum und Islam: Studien zur Kommentierung des Danielbuches in Literatur und Kunst

Questions about the Green Collection

ANTIQUITIES ACQUISITION: Can Hobby Lobby Buy the Bible? In just the past six years, the evangelical owners of Hobby Lobby have amassed one of the world’s largest private collections of biblical antiquities. Why? (Joel Baden and Candida Moss, The Atlantic).
In november 2017, the Museum of the Bible will open in Washington, D.C., two blocks from the National Mall. Like many of the city’s other museums, it is designed to attract hordes of visitors each year, and it will be vast—eight stories tall, and covering 430,000 square feet. Despite its location and size, however, it isn’t a government institution. It’s private, backed by the family of David Green, a wealthy businessman from Oklahoma City, better known as the founder of the Hobby Lobby retail chain, and it will house artifacts from the family’s stunning collection of biblical manuscripts, Torah scrolls, Dead Sea Scrolls, and cuneiform texts. The Greens’ collection is one of the largest private collections of such artifacts in the world, comprising some 40,000 objects—many of which, remarkably, were unknown to scholars and the general public before the Greens acquired them. And the Greens made their first purchase only six years ago.

That’s a startling pace of acquisition, especially given the fraught and specialized market for biblical antiquities, and it raises difficult questions about how the Green family has acquired its artifacts, and why.

It does indeed raise difficult and disquieting questions, but I am not inclined to render a judgment until I see a good bit more information. So far, as we already knew, there is a federal investigation. After four years it has not led to charges, but who knows what will come of it? I shall keep an eye on the situation with interest, but unless and until there is clear evidence of illegality that leads to charges, it is only fair to give the Green Collection the benefit of the doubt. Watch this space.

Meanwhile, additional background on the Green Collection and the Museum of the Bible is here and links. And Roger Pearse's very different perspective on the work of the Green Collection is worth remembering now and again.

Hanukkah coin find

ARCHAEOLOGY AND NUMISMATICS: Israeli students make coin find during Hanukkah: Coin World Buzz (Colin Sallee).
Israeli students found three Hasmonean dynasty coins while on an an archaeological dig at the ruins in Adulam Park.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Howe and Brice (eds.), Brill’s companion to insurgency and terrorism in the ancient Mediterranean

BIBLIOGRAPHIA IRANICA: Insurgency and terrorism in the Ancient Mediterranean. Notice of new book: Howe, Timothy & Lee Brice (eds.). 2015. Brill’s companion to insurgency and terrorism in the ancient Mediterranean (Brill’s Companions in Classical Studies). Brill. Not surprisingly, ancient Judea is one of the subjects.


ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Daf Yomi: Gittin. Some bibliography for tractate b. Gittin, which began last Monday in the Daf Yomi reading cycle.

Reviewlet of Jacobus, Zodiac Calendars in the Dead Sea Scrolls and Their Reception

THE JEWISH CHRONICLE: Secret knowledge of Dead Sea Zodiacs (Simon Rocker).
Zodiac Calendars in the Dead Sea Scrolls and Their Reception
Helen Jacobus
Brill, $234
Concluding counterfactual-history tidbit:
Who knows, if history had turned out differently, our synagogues, as they once did, might still be displaying zodiacs.
The book was noted here and here. Related posts are here and here.

Anderson on Jewish Attitudes Toward Wealth and Poverty

MICHAEL SATLOW: Gary Anderson Lecture on Jewish Attitudes Toward Wealth and Poverty (Video). The conference in which this lecture took place was noted here.

Moshe Dayan

HAARETZ: The Israeli Defense Minister Who Stole Antiquities. In 1971, Israeli archaeologists petitioned Moshe Dayan to give up his legally questionable hobby: Uncovering ancient artifacts and claiming them as his own. (Yael Gruenpeter).
In 2012, Dr. Asaf Matskin's book "Too Close to the Edge" was published, telling the story of political corruption since the creation of Israel. Amid the scandals detailed in the book was the story called "The Antiquities of Moshe Dayan." Dayan was chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces and eventually became defense minister.

According to Matskin, some in Israeli society were rooted in the mentality that "everything is allowed" — at least everything that your name, reputation or position allowed you to get away with. That's how Dayan, who was a sworn lover of archaeology, used his position and authority to dig at any site of his choosing while illegally using equipment and manpower belonging to the IDF.

I noted the accusations against General Dayan back in 2006 and I am unaware of anyone who has tried to refute them or deny them since. The article by archaeologist Raz Kletter that presents evidence has moved to a new ULR. You can read it here. He has also discussed the issue in his 2006 book, Just Past? The Making of Israeli Archaeology (which I have not read). You can read a review of it at JSTOR here.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Bauckham on the Kursi inscription

RICHARD BAUCKHAM has e-mailed with some reflections on the recently-discovered Aramaic inscription found on a marble tablet near the Sea of Galilee. I reproduce his message with his kind permission.
The statements attributed in the press to Michal Artzi are rather inaccurate and muddled. (Of course, we need not blame her for what she is reported as saying.)

The name Kursi is first attested unequivocally in the sixth century (in Greek as Χορσια). The first explicit evidence associating it with the miracle of the pigs is from the eighth century, but it was already a site that Christian pilgrims visited in the sixth century and so that association may well be older, but we do not know how old.

There is also one rabbinic reference to a Jewish settlement called כורסאי (y. Mo'ed. Qat. 82c), which may be the same place. (I assume this is the passage intended when it is reported that the new discovery "proves the historical accuracy of one of the Talmudic passages.")

It seems odd that, having discovered an inscription from c. 500 CE (it would be interesting to know how they date it), the archaeologists should go to the New Testament in search of evidence for the Jewish settlement there. The NT story is set in the "land of the Gerasenes/Gergesenes/Gadarenes", and refers to a city, but the city is not necessarily very near to the site of the miracle. I think it was probably Hippos. But wherever it was it was a GENTILE city (they kept pigs)!

We already knew there was a Byzantine Christian settlement, attached to a large monastery, that has been excavated. The archaeologists seem to have found evidence of a separate Jewish settlement near the harbour. This is not especially surprising. There is plenty of evidence of Jewish settlements in the Golan in that period. The lake near Kursi was one of the very best parts of the lake for fishing.

There seems to me nothing in all this that gives "significant support" (or any support at all) to the location of the miracle of pigs at this site.

Artzi is also quoted as saying "Until now we had no proof that Jewish settlements, which have disappeared over the years, actually existed during that period on the shores of the Sea of ​​Galilee, except for the town of Migdal.” Actually Magdala (Migdal) was abandoned after the earthquake of 363 CE. What about Tiberias? By 500 there was a Christian presence there, but surely still a mainly Jewish population?

I'm sure you must be right about מרמריה. "Lady Mary" would have to be מרתא מריה surely? I see the more recent press reports are saying the word most likely means "marble" - perhaps because they have read your post?
Yes, most of the reports now say that the inscription is in Aramaic, and the ones at Breitbart, Christian Today, The Blaze, Haaretz, and even the University of Haifa press release (the latter two apparently updated) give "marble" as one option for the meaning of the word. Haaretz and Haifa University correctly say that it is the more probable option. You heard it first at PaleoJudaica!


Volumes 1 through 43 of the Bulletin of the International Organization for Septuagint and Cognate Studies (BIOSCS) are available in Adobe Acrobat (PDF) format. They are made available here with the kind assent of Eisenbrauns, which now publishes our Journal. IOSCS itself printed the first 33 volumes.

IOSCS is thankful that Eisenbrauns took over professional publication of the Bulletin and now the Journal, beginning with volume 34. Printed back issues of many volumes of BIOSCS are in stock and available from Eisenbrauns.

Beginning with volume 44, the Journal is known as the Journal of Septuagint and Cognate Studies (JSCS).

Star Wars and the Bible

CANONICAL AND NONCANONICAL: The Saga Continues. Devotees of Star Wars and the Bible have something in common: they have expanded the universes of each text through sheer creativity, even taking ownership of them along the way (David Zvi Kalman, Tablet Magazine). Excerpt:
Both the Bible and Star Wars comprise a set a interconnected and largely self-consistent stories. Both also feature a distinction between the central, authorized canon of material and a set of related but peripheral works (Star Wars’ “Legends,” Biblical apocrypha and, in different way, midrash). Forgetting for a moment that the Bible is more important by orders of magnitude—Star Wars gave us “May the Force be with you” while the Bible gave us fundamental aspects of modern English, and it wasn’t even written in English—the two share an important quality: both canons continue to expand. Both fans of Star Wars and followers of the Bible donate to these works their attention and money, but also their individual talents, their unique and best selves. These devotees can do more than just enjoy and learn from the seminal texts; they can add to them and, in doing so, claim some form of ownership, a time-share’s worth of a cultural edifice.
Some interesting reflections for those interested in midrash and biblical apocrypha and pseudepigrapha. I agree that "the Bible is more important by orders of magnitude," but I often find that younger people today know Star Wars far better than they know the Bible. Perhaps we should find their lack of faith disturbing, but that's how it is and I adapt my teaching accordingly.

I haven't yet seen the new Star Wars movie, but I have a ticket for Monday. I was horrified by the second trilogy and it put me off the whole thing. But I'll try to maintain an open mind for the new one.

Dead Sea Scrolls Fail

THE BAPTIST STANDARD: Noncanonical sources still influence Christian traditions (TERRY GOODRICH / BAYLOR UNIVERSITY). This is another article on Philip Jenkins's new book, The Many Faces of Christ. I was astonished to read the following howler in it (my bold-font emphasis):
“There’s this kind of myth that all these gospels went underground around the year 400 and were destroyed or lost,” Jenkins said.

But numerous have been found since the late 1770s—perhaps most notably in 1945, when farmers found a sealed jar near caves not far from the Egyptian city of Nag Hammadi. Inside were a dozen leather-bound papyrus books—termed the Dead Sea Scrolls— containing more than 50 texts, including some quotations attributed to Jesus.
No, those Coptic codices are termed the Nag Hammadi Library. The Dead Sea Scrolls are Jewish scrolls (not bound books) from centuries earlier. A few scholars have argued that the Dead Sea Scrolls included small Greek fragments of Christian texts from the New Testament, but these texts are so fragmentary that you can reconstruct them to make them into lots of things, and the vast majority of specialists have not found their arguments convincing.

Since this is attributed to Terry Goodrich, a media contact at Baylor, I did a little digging and found, just as I expected, that the original press release by her did not contain this error:
“There’s this kind of myth that all these gospels went underground around the year 400 and were destroyed or lost,” Jenkins said. But a number of texts have been found since the late 1770s — perhaps most notably in 1945, when farmers found a sealed jar near caves not far from the Egyptian city of Nag Hammadi. Inside were a dozen leather-bound papyrus books containing more than 50 texts — some of them including quotations attributed to Jesus.
How on earth, and why, did the Baptist Standard introduce the change? Has someone been reading The Da Vinci Code?

UPDATE (21 December): The Baptist Standard has now published a correction: Letter: Nag Hammadi is not near the Dead Sea (Stephen Fox).

SBL Pseudepigrapha CFP

LIV INGEBORG LIED: Pseudepigrapha Section CFP, SBL Annual Meeting 2016. That's right. It's already time to start thinking about your paper for the November 2016 Society of Biblical Literature annual meeting in San Antonio.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Review of Rüpke (ed.), Public and Private in Ancient Mediterranean Law and Religion

Clifford Ando, Jörg Rüpke (ed.), Public and Private in Ancient Mediterranean Law and Religion. Religionsgeschichtliche Versuche und Vorarbeiten vol. 65. Berlin, Munich, Boston: De Gruyter, 2015. Pp. viii, 255. ISBN 9783110371024. €99.95.

Reviewed by Anders Klostergaard Petersen, University of Aarhus (


Most contributions in this collection of essays originate from a conference held at the Max Weber Center of Erfurt. The collection arises from the cooperation between two internationally esteemed centers for the study of antiquity: the Center for the Study of Ancient Religion at the University of Chicago and the research group “Religious Individualization in Historical Perspective” under the auspices of the Max Weber Center. It is reasonable to have great expectations to a volume edited by two prolific scholars in the field, Clifford Ando and Jörg Rüpke, all the more so since the book is targeted on truly moot questions. The papers focus on the private-public binary in the context of Mediterranean antiquity in two correspondingly contested realms: law and religion.

In their introduction, the editors are keen to point out two a priori principles on which the book rests. First, they take the ideologically contingent nature pertaining to the private-public dualism, its definition and its salience, as an axiomatic point of departure. Second, they give emphasis to the fact that the concepts examined interact with equally charged notions of family, household, and the people as a political collective entity. These are lexemes with corollary phenomenological substantiation, an intrinsic part of the field under scrutiny, and, therefore, likely to exert influence on the manner in which the discussion is conducted at the third order level of analysis. To tackle these issues, the participants endeavor to create a historical comparative project meant to avoid the dangers of presentism. In the ancient context, the notions of public and private were, from the etic perspective, deeply ingrained, whereas in contemporary Western societies they have increasingly come to denote (semi-)autonomous realms.

Two of the essays deal with rabbinic evidence.

Oqimta 2 (2014)

H-JUDAIC: TOC: Volume 2 of Oqimta - A Journal for Rabbinic Studies.

Yes, I know that this is 2015, but the date given is 2014.

Most of the articles are in Hebrew, but with English summaries.

Hannibal at Trebia

PUNIC WATCH: On this day: Hannibal defeats the Romans at Trebia (The Scotsman).
218BC: Hannibal’s Cathaginian army defeated the Romans at the Battle of the Trebia during the second Punic War.
You can read about the details of the battle at Military History at Second Punic War: Battle of the Trebia (Kennedy Hickman).
The victory at Trebia was Hannibal's first great triumph in Italy and would be followed by others at Lake Trasimene (217 BC) and Cannae (216 BC). Despite these stunning victories, Hannibal was never able to completely defeat Rome, and was ultimately recalled to Carthage to aid in protecting the city from a Roman army. In the resulting battle at Zama (202 BC), he was beaten and Carthage was forced to make peace.

On the history of the study of the DSS

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: Dead Sea Scrolls History: Looking Back on the Last 75 Years. Martin Abegg, Peter Flint and Andrew Perrin reflect on the Dead Sea Scrolls’ history (Megan Sauter).
With one of its long-term codirectors continuing on at the helm (Dr. Peter Flint) and the other (Dr. Martin Abegg) passing the baton to a new faculty member (Dr. Andrew Perrin), the leadership of the Trinity Western University Dead Sea Scrolls Institute—North America’s only research center dedicated to Qumran studies—provides a snapshot of both the perspectives of different generations of Dead Sea Scroll scholars and a view of the discipline’s past, present and future. In this exclusive Bible History Daily interview, these three colleagues reflect on some major moments in recent Qumran scholarship and pressing issues that lie ahead.

And note this in particular:
MS: We’re approaching the 75th anniversary of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. At this point, can young scholars still make a career out of Dead Sea Scrolls scholarship, or should students wishing to study the scrolls be encouraged in other directions?

Abegg: Yes, scrolls scholarship remains an ideal launching point for an academic career. The broader field of Biblical studies thrives on the collective basis of vibrant focused disciplines—just look at a program book of the Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting. Yet it is hard to imagine that any of us—even the likes of Emanuel Tov or Eugene Ulrich— would be able to find a job teaching only the Dead Sea Scrolls. The scrolls, however, are ideally suited to serve any university’s Biblical, Jewish, theological and religious studies programs. Qumran scholarship requires Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic, the study of the foundational texts of Judaism and Christianity, knowledge of the early church and rabbinic Judaism, as well as familiarity with Israelite religion. Other such “niche studies” in the past (e.g., Ugaritic) cannot make the same claim. In fact—I might be so bold to say—it’s hard to imagine another research focus that would equip the early career Biblical studies scholar with such a broad preparation.
Wise words. In relation to that, see here.

Breed on canon

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Canon: Process, Not Product? (Brennan Breed). The third and final instalment of the AJR Forum on the biblical Canon. The first, by Timothy Lim, was noted here. The second, by Eva Mroczek, was noted here.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Killebrew and Faßbeck (eds.), Viewing Ancient Jewish Art and Archaeology

Viewing Ancient Jewish Art and Archaeology
VeHinnei Rachel - Essays in Honor of Rachel Hachlili

Edited by Ann E. Killebrew, Pennsylvania State University and Gabriele Faßbeck, University of Alabama
In honor of eminent archaeologist and historian of ancient Jewish art, Rachel Hachlili, friends and colleagues offer contributions in this festschrift which span the world of ancient Judaism both in Palestine and the Diaspora. Hachlili's distinctive research interests: synagogues, burial sites, and Jewish iconography receive particular attention in the volume. Archaeologists and historians present new material evidence from Galilee, Jerusalem, and Transjordan, contributing to the honoree’s fields of scholarly study. Fresh analyses of ancient Jewish art, essays on architecture, historical geography, and research history complete the volume and make it an enticing kaleidoscope of the vibrant field of scholarship that owes so much to Rachel.

Review of Gager, Who Made Early Christianity?

Kok on Gager, 'Who Made Early Christianity?: The Jewish Lives of the Apostle Paul'

John G. Gager
Reviewer: Michael Kok

John G. Gager. Who Made Early Christianity?: The Jewish Lives of the Apostle Paul. New York: Columbia University Press, 2015. 208 pp. $30.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-231-53937-1.

Reviewed by Michael Kok (The King's University)
Published on H-Judaic (December, 2015)
Commissioned by Matthew A. Kraus

The Jewish Reception of the Apostle Paul

Together with Lloyd Gaston and Stanley K. Stowers, John G. Gager developed the Sonderweg reading of the Pauline Epistles.[1] According to this model, Paul understood Christ to have opened up a “special path” to salvation for non-Jews distinct from the provision of salvation that was already available to Israel through the Sinai covenant. Despite its title, this book covers far more ground than ancient and modern Jewish interpretations of the Pauline corpus. It also explores the active participation of Diaspora Jewish populations in the civic life of Mediterranean societies and the range of Jewish and Christian social interactions in antiquity.

Past posts on the book are here and here.

Inscribed tablet found near Sea of Galilee

EPIGRAPHY: Discovery suggests Jews lived in Galilee 1,500 years ago. An ancient tablet featuring Hebrew letters has been excavated and is the best proof yet of a former Jewish town at the site (Itay Blumenthal, YNet News).
An archeological discovery near the Sea of Galilee may prove the presence of a Jewish settlement at the site 1,500 years ago.

The existence of an ancient settlement in the northeast Sea of Galilee became known to researchers by the early 1960s, when fragments of a large pier from the Byzantine period were found underwater. Researchers from Haifa University returned to the site last week following a drop in the water level and found a 1,500-year-old marble tablet bearing Hebrew letters – potential evidence for an ancient Jewish presence.

"This discovery bolsters the belief, which was until now considered folklore, that this is the settlement of Kursi, which Jesus visited and where he performed 'the Miracle of the Swine,'" said Professor Michal Artzy, who directed excavations at the site.

The compound in which the rare artifact was found has in recent years yielded evidence of a Christian city from the fifth century AD.

Two words have been identified on the tablet, which measures 150 by 70 centimeters: "amen" and "marmaria", a word that suggests a connection to the Virgin Mary.

This is a very important discovery for the history of Judaism in the Galilee in late antiquity. The potential connection with a site associated with a story about Jesus is also interesting, although let's keep in mind that the story is set several hundred years earlier than this inscription.

The last quoted sentence sounds a bit dubious to me. The word "marmaria" looks an awful lot like a word known from the Targumim (מרמירא) which is just a transliteration of the Greek word for "marble" (μάρμαρος). The specific spelling of the word in the inscription in Hebrew letters is not given, so I can't be certain, but, given that the object is a marble plaque, that interpretation sounds far more likely to me than any connection with Mary.

And on the subject of the language of the inscription, this report is careful to specify that it is written in "Hebrew letters" and not to claim that it is written in the Hebrew language. Other reports are less cautious, for example: 1,500 Year Old Hebrew Inscription Discovered on East Coast of Sea of Galilee (The Jewish Press); Israeli archaeologists find Hebrew inscriptions on ancient slab of marble near Lake Kinneret (Jerusalem Post). Caution is warranted because, from what I can see of the published photo, it looks to me as though it could well be written in Aramaic. The word "amen," of course, is used in both Hebrew and Aramaic. That word for "marble" above is found in the Aramaic Targumim (see Jastrow, 844b). And on the photo on line 1, I see what could be יקר or יקרה, which means "glory" or "honor" in Aramaic (but it also appears more rarely in Hebrew meaning "precious" or "valuable"). On line 4, I see אתרה, which means "the place" or "the synagogue" in Aramaic and סייע, which is a root in both Aramaic and Hebrew meaning "to aid or support." On line 5, I see the word יברך, which could be "he shall bless" in either Hebrew and Aramaic. I don't have any more time to puzzle out the inscription, but what I see is adding up to Aramaic more than Hebrew.

Cross-file under "Aramaic Watch?"

UPDATE: I see from the original Hebrew version of this article that the word "marmaria" is spelled מרמריה. [I'm revising an earlier comment here, since after a closer look, I see that the spelling is very similar (and there is even some variation of the spelling in the Targumim), but it is not quite the same. I still think the word in the inscription is far more likely to mean "marble" than to have anything to do with the Virgin Mary.]

Yale postdoc in Ancient Judaism/Jewish History

H-JUDAIC: JOB: Yale University Postdoc in Ancient Judaism/Jewish History.
Yale University, Program in Judaic Studies, Postdoctoral Associate in
Ancient Judaism/Jewish History, 2016-2018
Follow the link for details. The application deadline is 8 February 2016.


YONA SABAR: Hebrew word of the week: Yeshu/Jesus. 'Tis the Season.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Smelik on the Targum

AJS PERSPECTIVES: The Translation as a Bilingual Text: The Curious Case of the Targum (Willem F. Smelik).
A targum (an Aramaic translation of Scripture) is a translation that does not come alone: hardly ever is it left unattended by its parent text, the Hebrew Bible. While it may play, it is always supervised, its game subject to specific rules. A targum is not supposed to ever leave home and strike out on its own. The reasons for this peculiar and probably unique conception of translation as one part of a bilingual text are to be sought in contemporary rabbinic views on how to read and translate the Hebrew Bible.


Kister et al. (eds.), Tradition, Transmission, and Transformation

Tradition, Transmission, and Transformation from Second Temple Literature through Judaism and Christianity in Late Antiquity
Proceedings of the Thirteenth International Symposium of the Orion Center for the Study of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Associated Literature, Jointly Sponsored by the Hebrew University Center for the Study of Christianity, 22–24 February, 2011

Edited by Menahem Kister, Hillel I. Newman, Michael Segal, and Ruth A. Clements
Many types of tradition and interpretation found in later Jewish and Christian writings trace their origins to the Second Temple period, but their transmission and transformation followed different paths within the two religious communities. For example, while Christians often translated and transmitted discrete Second Temple texts, rabbinic Judaism generally preserved earlier traditions integrated into new literary frameworks. In both cases, ancient traditions were often transformed to serve new purposes but continued to bear witness to their ancient roots. Later compositions may even provide the key to clarifying obscurities in earlier texts. The contributions in this volume explore the dynamics by which earlier texts and traditions were transmitted and transformed in these later bodies of literature and their attendant cultural contexts.

Unearthing the World of Jesus

SMITHSONIAN MAGAZINE: Unearthing the World of Jesus. Surprising archaeological finds are breaking new ground in our understanding of Jesus’s time—and the revolution he launched 2,000 years ago (Ariel Sabar). This article focuses on the Galilee in the first-century. Magdala gets a lot of space, but other sites such as Bethsaida receive some attention too. Excerpt:
What archaeologists have begun to recover is Jesus’s world—the beat of everyday life in the fishing villages where he is said to have planted the seeds of a movement. The deepest insights have come from millions of “small finds” gathered over decades of painstaking excavation: pottery shards, coins, glassware, animal bones, fishing hooks, cobbled streets, courtyard houses and other simple structures.

Before such discoveries, a long line of (mostly Christian) theologians had sought to reinterpret the New Testament in a way that stripped Jesus of his Judaism. Depending on the writer, Jesus was either a man who, though nominally Jewish, wandered freely among pagans; or he was a secular gadfly inspired less by the Hebrews than by the Greek Cynics, shaggy-haired loners who roamed the countryside irritating the powers that be with biting one-liners.

Archaeology showed once and for all that the people and places closest to Jesus were deeply Jewish. To judge by the bone finds, Galileans didn’t eat pig. To judge by the limestone jugs, they stored liquids in vessels that complied with the strictest Jewish purity laws. Their coins lacked likenesses of humans or animals, in keeping with the Second Commandment against graven images.