Saturday, January 24, 2015

New issue of Aries

HETERODOXOLOGY: Esotericism in Antiquity: An Aries special issue.
Now, fresh off those unobtanium-coated Brill printers is a new special issue of Aries (15.1) focusing on esotericism in antiquity, and edited by Dylan Burns. With no less than eight articles – including a few shorter ones – it is another good step in the direction of putting ancient esotericism back on the map of those esotericism researchers who have been living mostly in modern times (well, at least not much earlier than the 15th century). Articles cover some of the usual suspects, including Hermetism, Gnosticism, Neoplatonism, pseudepigrapha and Hekhalot mysticism, but several of the articles also come with a quite deliberate theoretical edge. This special issue in the leading esotericism journal, then, is a sign that perhaps we can stop worrying that the field is neglecting antiquities. At least there are very healthy signs for the dialogue between specialists to continue.
The TOC of this issue looks promising. More on the work of Dylan Burns is here and here.

Call for journal papers on Manichaeism

Topical Issue on Manichaeism


John C. Reeves,
Blumenthal Professor of Judaic Studies
Department of Religious Studies
The University of North Carolina at Charlotte


We invite submissions which explore any aspect of the Manichaean religion and its various cultural settings, including but not limited to the history of the study of Manichaeism, assessment of recent advances in research on Manichaeism, biographical or hagiographical studies of Mani or other personalities associated with his movement, essays which focus on one (or more) of the religion’s regional expressions, expositions of its key vocabulary, concepts, motifs, themes, and texts, and comparative studies which examine such items alongside analogous materials from other West, Central, South, or East Asian religious traditions.
Follow the link for information on submitting an article. Some pasts posts involving Manichaeism are here and here and links.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Baden and Moss on "first-century" Mark

CNN: Was oldest gospel really found in a mummy mask? (Joel Baden and Candida Moss).
Essentially, this papyrus is the scholarly equivalent of "my girlfriend who lives in Canada."
As we've come to expect from these two, this is a thoughtful and clear evaluation of the current situation. And yes, with a bit of good snark.

Background here (where I made some parallel comments before I had seen this piece) and links.

Anxious Adam

In the mid-first century AD, St. Paul wrote some hugely influential words about Adam, the Fall, and original sin. As I have argued, these ideas seem at variance with earlier Biblical traditions and Jewish thought, in which Adam’s story made little impact. Around Paul’s time, though, that saga was attracting increasing interest. Paul, oddly, was riding a fashionable wave.

Professor Jenkins continues his segue from Satan to the Fall and Adam. By the way, I am very skeptical about there ever having been Jewish originals of either The Life of Adam and Eve or The Apocalypse of Adam. I think they were both probably Christian compositions.

Khirbet Summeily and those tenth-century bullae

ASOR BLOG: Iron Age Bullae from Officialdom’s Periphery: Khirbet Summeily in Broader Context. James W. Hardin, Christopher A. Rollston, and Jeffrey A. Blakely provide lots of interesting background on the site where those tenth-century BCE anepigraphic (i.e. without writing) bullae were excavated and why they are important. Excerpt:
We believe that the remains discovered at Summeily demonstrate a level of politico-economic activity that has not been suspected for the late Iron Age I and early Iron Age IIA. This is especially the case if one integrates data from nearby Hesi. Taken together, we contend these reflect greater political complexity and integration across the transitional Iron I/IIA landscape than has been appreciated. Many scholars have tended to dismiss trends toward political complexity (that is, state formation) occurring prior to the arrival of the Assyrians in the region in the later eighth century BCE. However, based on our work in the Hesi region, we believe these processes began much earlier.
Background here.

Marcus Borg 1942-2015

SAD NEWS: RIP: Marcus Borg, theologian and historical Jesus expert, dies at 72.
[Episcopal News Service] Marcus J. Borg, a New Testament scholar, theologian and author who was associated for years with the search for the historical Jesus and who sought to put the New Testament in what he believed was its proper context, died Jan. 21.

Requiescat in pace.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

More on that "first-century" Mark fragment

P. J. WILLIAMS: Questions about "First Century Mark." (ETC Blog). Good questions, all. It is difficult to imagine how exactly either paleography or C-14 dating could establish that a manuscript was written "during the first century - before the year 90." Neither is that precise, and normally such things are dated something like 100 CE plus or minus 50 years, or maybe 50 CE plus or minus 50 years. And even this level of precision is often not possible. I also wonder how soaking the manuscript with soapy water might corrupt the C-14 dating, but I don't know whether it does or not.

The bottom line is that we have reports of a very early manuscript fragment of the Gospel of Mark, but we are expected for now to take everything about it on faith. We don't know how extensive it is. We don't know if it has interesting textual variants. We don't have a photograph. We have not been presented with scientific data regarding any C-14 dating or paleographical arguments about the date of its script. Now it is certainly possible that this really is a roughly first-century manuscript of Mark. The consensus is that Mark was written around 70 CE, so there is no reason in principle why a fragment of a manuscript copied within twenty or thirty years of the composition of the book couldn't have survived. That would be very lucky indeed, but sometimes we are lucky. But until we have a full publication of the manuscript with all the information listed above, it's just unverified talk. Once we do, if specialists in the relevant areas come to a consensus that it really is a first-century manuscript, no one will be happier than I. But meanwhile I am ... you guessed it ... skeptical.

Just as I was about to press publish, I saw this blog post by Roberta Mazza, which raises additional concerns. Background to the story is here and links.

Progress in reading the Herculaneum scrolls

TECHNOLOGY WATCH: Words emerge from ancient scrolls charred during eruption of Vesuvius. Powerful x-ray technique reveals letters and words on two fire-damaged scrolls from Herculaneum and provides clues to the author of one (Ian Sample, The Guardian). For some time I have been following efforts to recover the text of the carbonized scrolls from Herculaneum. The latest media reports seem to indicate that there has been a little progress.
Scientists at the National Research Council in Naples found they could read some of the scrolls without opening them by peering inside with x-rays. The procedure they developed, called x-ray phase contrast tomography (XPCT), could pick out the black ink against the charred papyrus sheet because of a tiny but distinct difference in the way the two materials refracted the x-rays.

Using XPCT, Vito Mocella and others revealed letters from the Greek alphabet and several distinctive words on two fire-damaged scrolls, one rolled, the other unrolled. The scrolls had been handed to Napoleon Bonaparte as a gift in 1802 and now belong to the Institute of France.

X-ray images taken of the unrolled scroll identified two words written in a hidden layer of the payrus. On one line, the researchers spotted Greek capital letters spelling out a word meaning “would fall”. On the next line, they found another Greek word meaning “would say”.

The rolled-up scroll was badly damaged and flattened from the blast of the eruption, making it tougher to read out the words on the papyrus. But Mocella said they could make out several letters from incomplete words. Some letters might have spelt out Greek words meaning “to deny” or “for”, with other letters resembling the word for “the”.

The images produced by the x-ray machine gave the scientists rare clues to the author of the scrolls. On close inspection, they found that the handwriting style of the rolled-up scroll was similar to that of another Herculaneum papyrus written by the Epicurean philosopher Philodemus, who may have written the text in the first century BC.
As I have said before, non-destructive and non-invasive scanning technologies are the way of the future. Bit by bit, a letter at a time, whatever it takes. Until we're done.

Some past posts on the Herculaneum scrolls and efforts to recover their texts are here, here, and links.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Orna Amrani

ART: Amrani's Judaica available at show (Randall P. Lieberman, South Florida Sun-Sentinel).
Israeli-born Orna Amrani, a mixed media artist from Fort Lauderdale, has gained international acclaim for her innovative, three-dimensional creations. These creations are exhibited in galleries throughout the United States and abroad.

Amrani's art — which reflects her Jewish heritage — may be seen in the traditional designs, themes and motifs that echo her love of Jerusalem and Israel. Her creations demonstrate a lifelong interest in the Dead Sea Scrolls, as well as the scrolls of the ancient Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews.

Amrani is just one of many artists who will be displaying their work at the sixth annual Boca Raton Fine Art Show, which will take place outdoors from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Jan. 24-25 in downtown Boca Raton in Sanborn Square Park (71 N. Federal Highway — at the corner of Palmetto Park Road and Federal Highway).

South Florida seems to be a happening place for matters PaleoJudaic. This article doesn't show much of Ms. Amrani's work, but you can find lots more in the galleries at her website.

The afterlife in Judaism

IT'S COMPLICATED: What is the Jewish afterlife like? From dark netherworld populated by ghosts to reincarnation to multiple souls: The Jewish concept of the afterlife has been to hell and back. (Elon Gilad, Haaretz).
There's a Jewish joke that says there's no Heaven or Hell: we all go to the same place when we die, where Moses and Rabbi Akiva give constant and everlasting classes on the Bible and the Talmud. For the righteous this is eternal bliss, while for the wicked this is eternal suffering.

But that's a joke. What do Jews actually believe happens to them after death?

There is no simple answer: at different times and in different places, Jews had different ideas. These varying thoughts were never reconciled or canonically decided. Thus, even today, Jews believe in different, often irreconcilable, theories of what life after death is like.

This or that detail could be tweaked or added (for example, there is some evidence that Philo of Alexandria believed in reincarnation), but overall this is a good summary of the history of beliefs about the afterlife in Judaism.

Read it fast before it goes behind the subscription paywall. You can also read up to 6 Haaretz articles per month with a (free) registration.

Maggie Anton's gigs

NOVELIST MAGGIE ANTON, who writes about ancient Jewish characters and themes, is lecturing in Florida this month: Author fuses interests in magic and Talmud (Marvin Glassman, South Florida Sun-Sentinel).
Author Maggie Anton has fused her interests in magic and Talmudic thought through her six books set in ancient Babylon. Anton will be discussing her latest book "Enchantress," a novel recreating the life of Rav Hinda's daughter, at ten venues from Jan. 23-Feb. 1 in South Florida.

[Stuff regular readers of PaleoJudaica already know, and which can be found in greater detail here and links.]

Anton's talks in South Florida include the following dates and locations:

Jan. 23-24 Anton featured in Scholars Weekend at Temple Beth Shmuel, 1700 Michigan Ave. in Miami Beach.

Jan. 26 at 7 p.m. at Congregation Kol Tikvah, 6750 N. University Dr. in Parkland.

Jan. 27 at 7 p.m. at Miami Beach Jewish Community Center, 4221 Pine Tree Dr. in Miami Beach.

Jan. 30-31 at Sisterhood Shabbat Weekend at B'nai Torah Congregation, 6261 SW 18 St. in Boca Raton.

For other locations with dates and times to hear Anton discuss "Enchantress," go to

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Postdoc and PhD positions for "Reconfiguring Diaspora"

Job description

You will work within the framework of a project entitled Reconfiguring Diaspora. The Transformation of the Jewish Diaspora in Late Antiquity. The project has been funded by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (N.W.O.). The project’s director is Prof. dr. Leonard V. Rutgers. You will be based at Utrecht University. There you will be part of the Department of History and Art History, Section Ancient History and Classical Civilization.

The prime objective of the research project is to reconfigure the classical notion of Diaspora by studying the massive social and cultural changes that affected Jewish communities throughout the Mediterranean during the transitional period that saw the demise of the classical world and the rise of medieval society. This project places special emphasis on the phenomenon of linguistic change as it seeks to come to a new understanding of the larger social and cultural patterns at play in named process. Questions to be addressed include: why and how were the Jewish communities of the Diaspora marginalized, how did this affect their Diasporic self-consciousness, and what factors explain why intragroup relations in Europe have developed along the lines laid down during precisely this period?

Within the project, two PhD positions and one Postdoc position are available for the following projects:

The Renaissance of Hebrew among the Jewish communities of the West (PhD)
The Renaissance of Hebrew and Aramaic among the Jewish communities of the East (PhD)
The Construction of Eretz Israel in Rabbinic Literature (postdoc)

The project has been structured in such a way that PhD and the postdoc candidates are expected to cooperate closely and intensively with one another and with the project leader. You must be willing to do some research travel and are also expected to participate in the organization of several international conferences and in the writing of occasional blogs for the project’s website.
Here are the two advertisements:

Job - Postdoc 'Reconfiguring Diaspora, the Transformation of the Jewish diaspora in Late Antiquity' (0,8 - 1,0 fte)

Job - 2 PhD researchers 'Reconfiguring Diaspora, the Transformation of the Jewish Diaspora in Late Antiquity' (1,0 fte)

Follow the links for further particulars. The adverts say to apply within twelve days, so don't dawdle.

Thanks to Prof. dr. Leonard V. Rutgers for drawing the project and positions to my attention.

Interview with Maggie Anton

MAGGIE ANTON, author of a number of novels about PaleoJudaic women, is interviewed by David Crumpler at Author of historical novels to speak at Jacksonville Jewish Center. Maggie Anton's 2 most recent books inspired by ancient Jewish magic. Excerpt, with reference to one of her earlier books, Rav Hisda's Daughter:
The daughter’s name is Hisdadukh [in the novel].

The Talmud just calls her Rav Hisda’s daughter. … One of the things I found from looking at these incantation bowls where they all name the clients was that a lot of the women, maybe a quarter or a third of the female clients, their name was something or other “dukh,” which is ancient Persian for daughter. They were named after their father, so I thought Hisdadukh was actually her name.

My daughter said, “Oh, that’s a terrible name, nobody can pronounce it, you’ve got to give her a nickname.” But I said that’s probably her name. I try to be really accurate and authentic. I did give her a nickname at my daughter’s insistence. I called her “Dada,” which is also a name I saw on an incantation bowl. Anyway, that’s what I ended up having the family call her, just to make it easier on my poor readers.
For much more on this and her other novels, go here and follow the links all the way back to 2006.

Uber, chalitza, and the Talmud

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: In Matters of Divorce, as in Uber’s ‘Surge Pricing,’ What’s Unjust Isn’t Always Illegal. This week’s ‘Daf Yomi’ probes the connection between the magical thinking of the Bible and the rational concerns of the Talmud. Excerpt:
This surprisingly contemporary point of law came up during the rabbis’ discussion of an extremely ancient ritual—a combination of the remote and the familiar that feels characteristic of the Talmud. Since the beginning of Tractate Yevamot, which deals primarily with levirate marriage, we have heard that although a man is legally obligated to marry his dead brother’s widow, there is an escape clause. If either party doesn’t want to go through with the marriage, they can perform the ceremony called chalitza, or “removal.” The form of this ceremony is spelled out in Deuteronomy: In front of a court of elders, the woman must remove the man’s shoe and spit in front of him, while saying, “So shall it be done to the man who does not build his brother’s house.”
The passage in question is Deuteronomy 25:5-10. I don't know what the rabbinic rule was, but the rule in Deuteronomy is rather more confrontative, in that the woman spits not in front of the man, but in his face. (The two Hebrew expressions are almost the same, but the only reason for reading the specific wording of the passage as "in front of him" is to try to tone down its most natural meaning.) That said, in the only place in the Hebrew Bible when the rule is actually implemented, Ruth 4:1-12, the sandal transfer is between the two men and there is no spitting involved. So it looks as though even the ancient Israelites may have thought that Deuteronomy's version was over the top.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Anxious Satan

PHILIP JENKINS AT THE ANXIOUS BENCH has been giving the Devil his due and more with a series of posts on Satan and the Fall. Links below with opening excerpts.

The Rise of Satan
The story of Satan is one of remarkable upward mobility. Let me tell that story in barebones form here, and then discuss it in more detail in subsequent posts.
The Devil’s Progress
I remarked that Satan is difficult to trace in the canonical Old Testament, but that he becomes prominent in later centuries, in the so-called Inter-Testamental period (a phrase I hate, but let that pass).
Creating Satan
In the last centuries before the Christian Era, the Devil enjoyed an impressive rise both in his professional status and his assigned areas of responsibility.

From being a minor official at the Heavenly Court, he rose to become a fully-fledged adversary of God, almost an anti-God, and like the deity he acquired his own institutional hierarchy of inferior angels. Many of those operatives also bore individual names and titles. Satan’s authority extended to the material world, and he could rely on the faithful service of significant numbers of the human population. As part of his professional advancement, his career history was retroactively written to build up his role in historic events, especially the Fall of Man.
In Search of the Fall
The two centuries or so before Jesus’s time were a wildly productive era in terms of Jewish thought. It is in this time for instance that we find the full development of such ideas as Satan and angels, the afterlife and the apocalypse. I have been pursuing one concept in particular that would have enormous consequences for Christian thought, namely the hereditary taint of original sin traceable to Adam’s Fall. It’s a tough quest, and we must follow a route that is, well, serpentine.
Lots more on the Devil/Satan (etc.) here and links.

Kotker, The Inner Sea

NEW(ISH) NOVEL: The Inner Sea: A Novel of the Year 100 by Zane Kotker.
Kotker returns this September with The Inner Sea: A Novel of the Year 100. A globalizing Rome has taken nations and tribes by force, and the loss of national and tribal identity leaves people adrift in an indifferent empire. To whom does one belong? An aging widow sends her former slave across the sea to fetch her granddaughter. A silver merchant dispatches his son on a trading journey around the Mediterranean, where Jews and Christians are pulling apart from each other. The Jews find themselves without their centralizing Temple and the Christians without their Son of God. Fatalists trust to the stars; Stoics and Epicureans to themselves. The two young people cross paths, bringing down the worlds of their parents and ultimately testing the wisdom of the man whom Rome calls Son of God-the emperor, Trajan.
Recommended on Facebook by Bob Kraft, who reports that he gave some feedback to an early draft.

TC 19

ONLINE JOURNAL: TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism vol. 19 (2014) (Tommy Wasserman, ETC). The post includes links, titles, abstracts, and books reviewed.

Art meets ANE epigraphy

EXHIBITION: A Steady, Confident Hand: Bell's Drawings on Display at Ithaca's Handwork (Cassandra Palmyra,
[Rhiannon] Bell visited the Johnson Museum at Cornell to draw Sumerian cuneiform tablets, some of them from 3350 BCE. Both pictographs and the wedge-shaped impressions that give the system its name have been imprinted on the older clay slabs. More recent (but still very old) tablets are covered only with lines and wedges.

Bell renders these artifacts as three-dimensional objects (“illusionism”) as if they were lighted from all sides, except directly beneath the tablet. The depictions are so precise and accurate that even the varying states of preservation can be detected. It is impressive to stand four feet away and have your brain fooled quite completely, and then to move in on the surface and have the deft crosshatches emerge.

The artist would seem to have seen the work documents of an archeologist or a paleo-philologist and noticed the beauty inherent in careful recordkeeping. Several drawings recreate pages from notebooks or journals where an alphabet is being presented letter by letter, the glyphs arranged in a column with explanatory text penned in neat letters next to each one. The text about Sumerian, Hebrew and Phoenician languages is written in various modern languages.

Bell is exploring the relationship between drawing and writing. Each letter in our alphabet began as a picture of an object. The sound of that letter is matched to the sound of the first syllable in the spoken name for the object. For example, the Phoenician word aleph means “ox” and the pictograph for the first letter of their alphabet looks like a horned ox head.
The photo doesn't show her work clearly, but you can see a nice example here.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Roth, The Text of Marcion’s Gospel

The Text of Marcion’s Gospel

Dieter T. Roth, Johannes Gutenberg-Universit├Ąt Mainz

In The Text of Marcion’s Gospel Dieter T. Roth offers a new, critical reconstruction of Marcion’s Gospel including various levels of certainty for readings in this Gospel text. An extensive history of research, overview of both attested and unattested verses in the various sources, and methodological considerations related, in particular, to understanding the citation customs of the sources set the stage for a comprehensive analysis of all relevant data concerning Marcion’s Gospel. On the basis of this new reconstruction significant issues in the study of early Christianity, including the relationship between Marcion’s Gospel and Luke and the place of Marcion in the history of the canon and the formation of the fourfold Gospel, can be considered anew.

Articles on the Yazidis

GORGIAS PRESS has recently released a 1961 article about the beliefs and customs of the Yezidis (Yazidis). It is by Thomas Bois, O.P., it was published in al-Machriq, and is in French: LES YEZIDIS: ESSAI HISTORIQUE ET SOCIOLOGIQUE SUR LEUR ORIGINE RELIGIEUSE.

Also, related, a recent article by Gerard Russell in the Washington Post: The Middle East is full of ancient, mysterious religious sects. The Islamic State is wiping them out.. Excerpt:
Yazidis like Mirza don’t know even the basic tenets of their faith. These groups’ holy books are carefully hidden from lay people; the priests who read them must promise never to reveal their contents. Entering these leadership ranks isn’t easy, either. Among the Mandaeans of southern Iraq, for example, a people who revere John the Baptist and believe in a colorful array of demons and planetary angels, a would-be priest must spend seven days without food or sleep.

There are at least half a dozen groups in the Middle East which follow this code of secrecy. Their adherents number more than 5 million in Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Iraq. They include Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite sect, and also the Yazidis.
Background here and links.