Saturday, January 10, 2015

Suciu's Coptic Resources

ALIN SUCIU: Coptic Resources. (Via AWOL). A useful-looking page, which is different from his Coptic Bible Resources, already noted here.

Herman on Hanukkah and Zoroastrianism

ARASH ZEINI: Religious transformation between East and West. An article by Geoffrey Herman which proposes to connect the development of Hanukkah with Zoroastrian ritual in Babylonia.

Friday, January 09, 2015

New books from Magnes Press

Language and Tradition XXXIII

By Yona Sabar
Edited by: Aharon Maman
Magnes Press
In Hebrew. Except for the Aramaic part.

And this book, also from Magnes, looks interesting, although the page is not forthcoming with many details
Korot Volume 22 - The Israel journal of the history of medicine and science

Edited by: Samuel S. Kottek
The articles are in Hebrew and English.

Korpel and de Moor, Adam, Eve, and the Devil

BIBLE AND INTERPRETATION: Adam, Eve, and the Devil!

See Also: Adam, Eve, and the Devil: A New Beginning (Sheffield Phoenix Press Ltd, 2014).

By Marjo C.A. Korpel
Protestant Theological University,
Amsterdam / Groningen

Johannes C. de Moor
Protestant Theological University,
Amsterdam / Groningen
December 2014.
Canaanite mythological traditions, especially those from the city of Ugarit, throw new light on passages about Adam and Eve in the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament and parabiblical literature. Several elements that cannot be traced back to the canonical Hebrew Bible appear to be present in Canaanite texts that are at least twelve hundred years older. This allows for the hypothesis that there has existed an unbroken chain of popular religious tradition that was deliberately repressed in rabbinic Judaism, but occasionaly cropped up in extra-canonical works. Further exploration of these hitherto elusive links might be rewarding.
Past posts on the Devil/Satan (etc.) are here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Moss on the Via Dolorosa

CANDIDA MOSS: Oops! Jesus’ Last Steps Are in the Wrong Place. The discovery of the site where he was sentenced to die confirms that pilgrims are off course in Jerusalem (The Daily Beast).
The unveiling of this site marks a fine confluence of archeology and biblical text; it is a wonderful opportunity for people to visit an important Christian site. The only problem is that for hundreds of years tourists have already been visiting the site of the trial of Jesus, in a completely different part of Jerusalem. The Via Dolorosa or “Way of Sorrows,” the road that Jesus is believed to have travelled as he carried his cross from his trial to his crucifixion, is currently at the top of must-see lists of religious attractions for visitors to the city. Each year more than a million Christian pilgrims visit Jerusalem hoping to retrace the steps of the Savior.
Bibliobloggers are cited. Background here.

Margaret Barker and the Latter Day Saints

JOHN TURNER AT THE ANXIOUS BENCH: Why Mormons Love Margaret Barker. Interesting analysis.

Martin Guerre and the Talmud

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: The Return of Martin Guerre: Abandoned, Adulterous, Raped, and Widowed Wives. Talmudic sages say that sinful acts—especially those committed by women—are not the rabbis’ fault.
The main subjects of Tractate Yevamot are marriage and death. Initially, the rabbis were concerned with a man’s responsibilities toward his dead brother’s widow, who is his sister-in-law or yevama. Much of the tractate so far has dealt with whether and how such a man should marry his yevama, or else release her from her obligation by performing the ceremony of chalitza. This week, however, as Daf Yomi readers began chapter 10 of Yevamot, the subjects of death and marriage were brought together in a different way. Now the rabbis shift their attention from the brother-in-law to the widow herself. What happens, they ask, if a widow remarries, only to discover later that her first husband is in fact still alive?

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Judaism's Holiest Site

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: National Geographic Runs Correction on Judaism's Holiest Site (CAMERA). Guess what the correct answer is.

De Gruyter Prize

SOCIETY OF BIBLICAL LITERATURE: De Gruyter Prize for Biblical Studies and Reception History. I'm not sure how I missed noting this one earlier, but it is an important prize for recent PhDs. Follow the link for details. The actual submission is not due until 1 March, but note that to be eligible you must send an indication of intention to submit by 10 January.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

"Greek" amulet bleg

MYSTERY: Ancient Amulet Discovered with Curious Palindrome Inscription (Owen Jarus, LiveScience).
An ancient, two-sided amulet uncovered in Cyprus contains a 59-letter inscription that reads the same backward as it does forward.

Archaeologists discovered the amulet, which is roughly 1,500 years old, at the ancient city of Nea Paphos in southwest Cyprus.

One side of the amulet has several images ...

On the other side of the amulet is an inscription, written in Greek, that reads the same backward as it does forward, making it a palindrome. ...
Ancients amulets are not uncommon and the reported content of the inscription, including it being a palindrome, is the sort of thing you find in the Greek Magical Papyri. The mystery, which the media seems to have missed entirely, is that the inscription is not in the Greek language. Rather, it is in some other language but written in Greek letters. Such things are known. For example, this post discusses an ancient amulet written in the Hebrew language, but in Greek letters. But this one isn't written in Hebrew or any other language I recognize. Can someone out there tell us what it is? Here is the Greek text:







The article says:
This translates to "Iahweh(a god)is the bearer of the secret name, the lion of Re secure in his shrine."
UPDATE: Thanks to Stephen Goranson, who has e-mailed to draw my attention to the following article:
By: Śliwa, Joachim. Studies in Ancient Art & Civilization , 2013, Vol. 17, p293-301, 9p; DOI: 10.12797/SAAC.17.2013.17.24
The author indicates that the palindrome is in Egyptian and is also found elsewhere. Because of the content, I suspected an Egyptian connection, but I couldn't get it to work as Coptic. But it seems it is some form of Egyptian.

Orthodox Christmas

HAPPY ORTHODOX CHRISTMAS to all those celebrating! It is being observed today in Coptic, Syriac, Ethiopic, Church Slavonic, etc., liturgies.

Pearce and Wunsch (eds.), Documents of Judean Exiles and West Semites in Babylonia in the Collection of David Sofer

CORNELL CHRONICLE: New archive from Jewish Babylonian exile released.
In a major contribution to Biblical and Mesopotamian studies, the first extra-biblical archive from the exiled Judean community in Babylonia in the sixth and fifth centuries B.C. has been published as part of a series edited by Cornell professor David I. Owen.

“Documents of Judean Exiles and West Semites in Babylonia in the Collection of David Sofer” (CDL Press, 2014) by Laurie E. Pearce of the University of California, Berkeley, and Cornelia Wunsch of the University of London provides complete editions, translations, copies and photographs of 103 cuneiform texts from the David Sofer Collection and an extensive commentary on hundreds of new Judean personal names with Yahwistic elements.

“These names add substantially to our understanding of Judean religious beliefs during this formative period in the development of exilic Judaism,” says David I. Owen, editor-in-chief of the series “Cornell University Studies in Assyriology and Sumerology.” Owen is director of the Jonathan and Jeannette Rosen Ancient Near Eastern Studies Seminar and the Bernard and Jane Schapiro Professor of Ancient Near Eastern and Judaic Studies Emeritus in Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences.

This is an exciting development. It is very unusual to have substantial new literary sources for Babylonian (or any other kind of) Judaism of the Second Temple period.

UPDATE: Originally the title of this post gave the series editor as the volume editor. This has now been corrected. Apologies for the error.

Transgendered halakhic challenge

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Transgender woman denied entry to Western Wall. After being denied entry to the women's section of the Western Wall, Kay Long approached the men's section only to be yelled at and told to enter the section that had already rejected her (Dr. Ruchama Weiss, Life in the twenty-first century is complicated. I wonder what the Talmudic sages would have made of this story.

Interview with Peter Schäfer

PETER SCHÄFER is interviewed by Moshe Gilad in Haaretz: Berlin Jewish Museum's new director: Only education can stop new phenomena of anti-Semitism. The new director of the Jewish Museum Berlin, Peter Schäfer, gets a chance to shake up what's already a major tourist attraction.
His appointment two months ago garnered lots of interest, both due to the institution’s status as a leading site in the German capital, and because of Schäfer’s presence itself. Throughout its 18-year history, the museum was run by its founder, Michael Blumenthal, a German-American economics professor and a U.S. secretary of the Treasury in the Carter administration.

Schäfer, who isn’t Jewish and was born in 1943 in the Ruhr region, is an outstanding choice for many reasons. After completing a degree in religious studies at the University of Bonn, he spent three years studying Judaism and Semitic languages in Jerusalem. Later he earned a doctorate in philosophy and Judaism at Freiburg and Frankfurt.

Until 1998 he worked as a Jewish-studies professor in Germany before taking a prestigious job at Princeton and living in the United States for 15 years. His English-language work “Judeophobia,” which has been published in Hebrew, addresses the way Jews and Judaism were seen by the Greeks and Romans. It identifies the sources of anti-Semitism in the ancient world.

Later in his academic career, Schäfer became the only scholar to win both Germany’s prestigious Leibniz Prize and the Mellon Award, considered the highest honor in the United States for humanities scholars.
The article includes lots of personal background on Schäfer and lots on his plans for the museum. Not mentioned among his accomplishments is his foundational and groundbreaking work on early Jewish mysticism (Hekhalot literature), magic, and other Jewish literature. His appointment to the Berlin Museum was noted here. Some other past posts on his work are noted there and are also here, here, here, here, here, and here. Read the whole article quickly, before it goes behind the subscription wall.

Shipwreck from 400 BCE to be rebuilt

REPLICA: Post Holy Land: The Ma‘agan Michael ship will sail again. The wreck of the Ma‘agan Michael ship was discovered in 1985, and excavated over three seasons in 1988 and 1989 by the Leon Recanati Institute for Maritime Studies of the University of Haifa. (Dr. Deborah Cvikel, Jerusalem Post)
The wreck of the Ma‘agan Michael ship was discovered in 1985, and excavated over three seasons in 1988 and 1989 by the Leon Recanati Institute for Maritime Studies of the University of Haifa. A large part of the wooden hull of the ship, 11.15 m long, 3.11 m wide and 1.5 m deep, survived. Because of the significance of the archaeological find, the remains were completely excavated, retrieved from the seabed, conserved, and are now on display in the Hecht Museum at the University of Haifa. The timbers of the ship and the other finds have been studied in detail, contributing significantly to our knowledge of how ancient ships were built, and life on board. The ship was 14.4 m long and had a single square sail. She was loaded with a cargo of building stones, and some of the crew's possessions and the carpenter's tools were found in the wreck. She was probably on her maiden voyage.

The late Dr. Elisha Linder, the founder of the Ma‘agan Michael ship project, had a burning desire to build a sailing replica of the ancient ship. His dream is now becoming a reality thanks to generous donations by supporters headed by Sara and Avi Arenson. The keel-laying ceremony took place in July 2014, and launching is planned for 2016.
I'm surprised that I haven't heard about this shipwreck before this, but I can find nothing in the archives. For another project that built and sailed an ancient ship replica, see my many past posts on the Good Ship Phoenicia here and links.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

McGrath on Jesus as hero

Rankled by Wrangling over Rank-Raglan Rankings: Jesus and the Mythic Hero Archetype

The scale was not designed to determine historicity. Its folklorist users show little or no interest in the attempt to do what historians do, namely peeling back layers of myth in search of underlying history, if there is any. The Rank-Raglan scale does not seem, contrary to Carrier’s claim, to consistently fit figures who were definitely not historical better than ones who certainly were. And so Carrier’s attempt to use the scale to slant his calculations of probability in the direction of the non-historicity of Jesus are at best unpersuasive, and at worst deliberately misleading.

By James F. McGrath
Clarence L. Goodwin Chair in New Testament Language and Literature
Butler University
December 2014
A very sensible discussion about the use and abuse of the Rank-Raglan scale as applied to Jesus. Many years ago when I used to teach Ancient Mythology, I used this scale on heroes from Gilgamesh to Jason the Argonaut and found it to be a useful heuristic device for comparison and as a discussion starter. But James is quite right that historical figures can sometimes be cast (by themselves or their later followers) in the role of the hero and doing well on the scale has no bearing on an ancient figure's historicity.

I'm not sure what James means by "earliest" vs. "subsequent" sources, but for what it's worth, I would give the Jesus of the four Gospels quite a high score on the scale: full points for 4, 5, 6, 7, 10 (Egypt-Nazareth to Jerusalem), 11 (over Satan in temptation narrative), 15, 16, 18 (mysterious: darkness over land, torn Temple curtain, resurrected saints, etc.), 19, 20, 21, 22; a half point each for 1 (mother virgin of royal line, but not royal herself), 2 (likewise Joseph from royal line but not a king), 8 (reared in Egypt, then Galilee, but by his mother and arguably his "foster" father), 9 (very little about his childhood), 14 (uneventful interlude, but not "reign"), and 17 (driven from Jerusalem, but not throne). That comes out to about 16/22. The elements that do not apply at all are 3 (Joseph is not a near relative of Mary) and 12-13 (Jesus doesn't get married or become king). But I can see how some of these could be up for debate.

UPDATE: Professor McGrath comments here.

Klawans on ancient Jewish theology and law

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: Ancient Jewish Theology and Law. Jonathan Klawans on the divergence of the Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes (Robin Ngo).
According to scholar Jonathan Klawans, ancient Jews—including the Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes—cared as much about matters of Jewish theology as about laws and practices.
This column summarizes an article in BAR whose full text is behind the subscription wall.

Syriac church to be built in Turkey

SYRIAC WATCH: Syriac Christians to build Turkey’s first new church (Daily Sabah).
The government will permit one of Turkey's Christian communities to build a church, the first such house of worship to be built completely from scratch in the Republican Era. According to Vatan newspaper's Emre Eser, the church will be built in the Yeşilköy district of Istanbul with funds provided by the Mardin Syriac community.


One of the oldest Christian denominations, Syriac Christians use a language related to the ancient Aramaic of Jesus Christ in their liturgy.

The Syriac community in Turkey seems to be making some progress. Background here and here and many links.

The site of Jesus' baptism? Maybe.

FOR EPIPHANY: Jordan welcomes throngs of tourists at site where believers say Jesus was baptized (Dale Hanson Bourke, Religion News Service).
AMMAN, Jordan — For most Americans, Epiphany (Jan. 6) passes with little celebration.

Traditionally, the 12th day of Christmas is marked by Eastern Orthodox, Catholics and some mainline Protestants as the day the three kings visited the baby Jesus. For Eastern Rite Christians, Epiphany (also called Theophany) emphasizes the revelation of Jesus as the son of God through his baptism and the beginning of his public ministry. Thousands of believers make pilgrimage on that day to the Jordan River where John baptized Jesus.

And that’s where the controversy begins.

While Israel has long claimed that Jesus was baptized on the Israeli side of the river, increasingly scholars are lining up to support archaeological research showing the baptism site is actually in Jordan. When Pope Francis visited the Holy Land last spring, he made a point of holding Mass at the Jordanian baptism site, lending additional credibility to the claim.

Earlier posts on the possible sites for Jesus' baptism are here, here, here, here, and here.

Supreme Court decision on Battir (Betar)

THE MEDIA LINE: Israeli Supreme Court Freezes Barrier Through Battir (Linda Gradstein).
Palestinians and environmentalists claim victory

Israel’s Supreme Court has frozen plans to build the separation barrier that Israel has been building in and around the West Bank, through the village of Battir, a 4000-year Palestinian village next to Jerusalem.

The residents of Battir, along with several Israeli environmental NGO’s, appealed to the court three years ago not to allow the barrier to go through Battir, a Palestinian village of 6500 next to Jerusalem that has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, because of its agricultural terraces that have been used for thousands of years. The petitioners argued that building the barrier in Battir would destroy the terraces, which continue to be used today.


The court did not close off the future possibility that the Israeli government will ask to build the barrier through Battir. However, the ruling said that if that happens, the state would have to put in a new request, and the environmental groups would then be able to issue new objections, meaning that any new attempt to route the barrier through Battir could drag on for several years.

Betar was also the site of Bar Kokhba's last stand in 135 CE. Background to this case is here and links.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Maleness and its disqualification in the Talmud

LAST WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Does a Penis Make the Man? Hermaphrodites, Eunuchs, and Jews With Genital Deformities. Jewish law loves to separate people into airtight categories. Real-life sex and gender are more complicated. What then?
And in this week’s reading, the Talmud turned to gender boundaries, asking what exactly makes a man a man. Today, we might answer this question in a variety of ways, from the genetic—a male is someone who possesses a Y chromosome—to the cultural and social—a man is someone who is educated to perform that role. For the rabbis, the answer is more straightforward: A man is someone who possesses a penis. But this is not as clear a matter as one might assume. What if you are born with a penis, but it gets cut off or punctured? What if your sexual organs are invisible and indeterminate, as in the case of what the Talmud calls a tumtum? Or what about those rare individuals who are hermaphrodites, having both a penis and a vagina? These rare cases are of interest to the rabbis not because they would have come up regularly, but because they complicate the tendency of Jewish law to separate people and things into airtight categories.
Some readers may find that this Talmudic discussion moves into the realm of Too Much Information.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

From Ottoman prison to the trial of Jesus? Well maybe.

EXCAVATION: Archaeologists find possible site of Jesus’s trial in Jerusalem (Ruth Eglash, Washington Post).
JERUSALEM — It started 15 years ago with plans to expand the Tower of David Museum. But the story took a strange turn when archaeologists started peeling away layers under the floor in an old abandoned building adjacent to the museum in Jerusalem’s Old City.

They knew it had been used as a prison when the Ottoman Turks and then the British ruled these parts. But, as they carefully dug down, they eventually uncovered something extraordinary: the suspected remains of the palace where one of the more famous scenes of the New Testament may have taken place — the trial of Jesus.

Now, after years of excavation and a further delay caused by wars and a lack of funds, the archaeologists’ precious find is being shown to the public through tours organized by the museum.

The real story seems to be that archaeologists have found the remains of a big building (or maybe just the remains of its sewage system?) which arguably was a palace in the Herodian period. It requires additional inferences to get anywhere near the trial of Jesus, but naturally that is the narrative seized on by the media.

As usual, the actual story is important and interesting, both archaeologically and historically, but some hype needs to be peeled back to get to it. But at least they didn't save this one for Easter.

Anxious Sethians

PHILIP JENKINS has a two-part review at The Anxious Bench of a recent book by Dylan Burns:

Seth and the Alien God
The origins of Gnosticism are normally discussed in terms of debates within Christianity. However, one richly informative conflict occurred beyond the familiar realm of church history.

One of the great minds of Late Antiquity was the Egyptian-born philosopher Plotinus, the leading figure of Neoplatonism, and a younger contemporary of Origen. Around the year 263, in Rome, Plotinus engaged in a furious debate with some Gnostic thinkers. Although the two sides shared many assumptions and terminology, Plotinus condemned his enemies for what he saw as their gross misunderstanding of Platonic philosophy. Among other complaints, he warned that their radical elitism would lead them into misconduct and immorality. Effectively, he expelled these Gnostics from the mainstream philosophical world of the time, after a long period in which Platonists and Gnostics had coexisted and debated together.

That story is quite well known, but recent work has shed major light on just who these Gnostics were. I am referring to Dylan M. Burns’s excellent recent book Apocalypse of the Alien God: Platonism and the Exile of Sethian Gnosticism (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014). This ambitious and wide-ranging work identifies Plotinus’s Gnostic foes as Sethians.

I have more on Plotinus and those apocalypses here.

Sons of Light and Sons of Seth
I discussed Dylan M. Burns’s book Apocalypse of the Alien God, an account of the influential early Gnostic sect called Sethians. Burns’s arguments resonated because of work I have been doing recently on the origins of Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism, and the influence of the sectarian Judaism we know from Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls.


Sunday, January 04, 2015

Gibson on the Western Wall's fallen stones

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Archaeologist: Western Wall stones result of earthquake, not Roman demolition. Prof. Shimon Gibson says the huge stones near the Western Wall may have been caused by major earthquake in 363 B.E. (Nir Hasson, Haaretz).
The Old City in Jerusalem is full of archaeological attractions from all periods of its life. But one of its most emotional – certainly for Jewish visitors – is the pile of huge stones lying next to the southern section of the Western Wall, in the Jerusalem Archaeological Garden and Davidson Center, next to the Western Wall plaza.

Information signs, tour guides, books and archaeologists explain that these stones fell to the street during the destruction of the Holy Temple, with the end of the Great Revolt in 70 C.E., and that they are the most palpable testimony to the destruction.

However, professor of archaeology Shimon Gibson suggests these walls stayed in place nearly 300 years after the destruction, and fell not by the hands of man but in a major earthquake that wracked Jerusalem in 363 C.E. He presented this thesis for the first time at Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan, last week, and the theory has aroused disputes among senior archaeologists.