Saturday, January 31, 2015

Interview with the archangel

ARCHANGEL METATRON WATCH: Curtis Armstrong nostalgic about past movie career (Calla Camero, Golden Gate Express).
Along with three seasons of “King of the Nerds”, Armstrong continues to act in other television roles, like Principal Foster in “New Girl” and Metatron in “Supernatural.” Since his first film “Risky Business” in 1983, Armstrong has had acting roles every year.
There's been a lot in the media about Armstrong's Metatron character in Supernatural. It would have been monotonous to follow the story consistently, but I do have posts mentioning it here, here, and here.

You too are being assimilated.

SEEN ON FACEBOOK: Nation’s Historians Warn The Past Is Expanding At Alarming Rate (The Onion).

Friday, January 30, 2015

More on saving Iraqi manuscripts

SYRIAC WATCH: Iraqi Priests Protect Historic Christian Writings From Islamic State. Dominican Father Najeeb Michaeel rescued 1,300 manuscripts from Mosul last summer, as it was being overrun by the Islamist militants (ANDREA GAGLIARDUCCI/CNA/EWTN NEWS). More on Father Michaeel's daring manuscript rescue. Excerpt:
Father Michaeel collected some 1,300 manuscripts from the 14th to the 19th centuries and put them in two large trucks in the early morning, transferring them to a secret location in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, where they have been kept safe. They include not only Christian works but manuscripts on the Quran, music and grammar.

“We passed three checkpoints without any problem, and I think the Virgin Mary [had] a hand to protect us,” Father Michaeel said Jan. 26 in an interview with National Public Radio.

The library of 50,000 modern books was left behind in Bakhdida, and the city was seized by the Islamic State on Aug. 7.

Father Michaeel has been joined in Erbil by Benedictine Father Columba Stewart, who is executive director of the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library, which is participating in the preservation of the Syriac manuscripts.
I inferred in my earlier post that the manuscripts were in Syriac and Arabic. The above implies that I was not far off.

More on those Babylonian-Judean cuneiform tablets

ON DISPLAY AT THE BIBLE LANDS MUSEUM IN JERUSALEM: Ancient tablets disclose Jewish exiles’ life in Babylonia. 2,500-year-old said to be the most important ancient Jewish archive since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. (Nir Hasson, Haaretz).
A little known collection of more than 100 clay tablets in Cuneiform script, dating back to the Babylon Exile some 2,500 years ago, was unveiled this week, allowing a glimpse into the everyday life of one of the most ancient exile communities in the world.

Prof. Wayne Horowitz, one of the archaeologists who studied the tablets, says this is the most important ancient Jewish archive since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

It's rare to see a sentence like the last one in the quote, and rarer still for it to be true, but in this case it sounds like a fair assessment. Some information on the contents of the tablets:
Until now very little had been known about the life of the Judean community that had been uprooted from Jerusalem and deported to Babylon. The collection also corresponds with the Biblical text in which the prophet Ezekiel writes “as I was among the captives by the river Chebar” (chapter 1, verse 1). The “river Chebar” or “river Chebar village” appear several times on the tablets.

The tablets reflect trade transactions, leasing houses and fields, addresses, inheritances, etc. Certificate 31, for example, is of a deal between Yirpa Ben Dohah and Ahikam Ben Refa’iyahu, in which the former trades a “trained, five-year-old bull” for “one gray jennet.” In certificate 52 a man called Ikisha sold his female slave for “three pieces of silver.” In another document, Neriayu Ben Ahikam rents a house for “10 silver shekels ... half given at the beginning of the year and the rest in the middle of the year.” The tenant undertook in the agreement to pay for damages, if any, from the foundations to the roof.

On some tablets, ancient Hebraic letters appear beside the Akkadian details. The researchers assume these were intended for cataloging and tracing. On tablet 10, for example, which deals with a bond for barley, the name Shalemiyahu appears in Hebraic. “These are the most ancient Hebraic letters from the Babylonian exile,” says Horowitz.
Read it all. Unfortunately the tablets were bought on the antiquities market rather than being scientifically excavated. Background here.

Review of Hoff, Friedman, Chazan, The Trial of the Talmud: Paris, 1240

H-JUDAIC REVIEW: Jean Connell Hoff, John Friedman, and Robert Chazan. The Trial of the Talmud: Paris, 1240. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 2012. ix + 182 pp. $19.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-88844-303-8.

Reviewed by
Piero Capelli
Published on
H-Judaic (January, 2015)
Commissioned by
Jason Kalman

Disputation and Desecration: The Talmud Trial of 1240.
This volume is an excellent and up-to-date tool (esecially convenient for classes) on the Paris Talmud trial and its aftermath and on Jewish-Christian polemics in the Middle Ages in general, for both an academic and a nonacademic readership. In particular, we still have much to learn from research on the events of 1240 and the related Hebrew account.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

A Lambdin etymology

ARAMAIC WATCH: Anatoly Lieberman a post at the OUP Blog has an interesting tidbit about Thomas Lambdin which I didn't know:
Latin antiquus

Thomas Lambdin, Professor in Harvard Department of Near Eastern Studies, once suggested that the Latin adjective antiquus “old, ancient” was a borrowing of Aramaic attiq “old.” ...

Professor Lambdin is an expert in Semitic linguistics and, naturally, receives impulses from the material he knows best. I happen to be well-acquainted with his books and even reviewed the etymologies offered in his untraditional manual of Gothic. It is true that that the etymology of antiquus entails several difficulties, but, in my opinion, suggesting that that adjective came from Aramaic is hard to justify. As usual, the closeness of forms is not a sufficient argument. We would like to know why such a basic concept had to be taken over from a foreign language, under what circumstances the borrowing took place, and whether it filled a lacuna in Latin or superseded a native synonym. In the absence of additional arguments I would stay away from such a bold hypothesis.
It is pretty bold, but Professor Lambdin generally has good reasons for his suggestions. It would have been awfully helpful to have an indication of where exactly Lambdin said this. Was it an off-the-cuff comment after a class or was it in a publication? If the latter, what is the reference, so we can and go evaluate his arguments ourselves if so inclined? In the absence of that information, I will keep an open mind.

Aramaic in ancient Arabia

ARAMAIC WATCH: A forest of crosses and names of martyrs in the desert of Saudi Arabia ( A Franco-Saudi archaeological team is responsible for the discovery. Prof Frédéric Imbert dated the graffiti to 470-475, a time when anti-Christian persecution began, culminating under the usurper Yusuf. Even the Qur'an refers to it indirectly. The findings show how far Christianity had spread at the time, until the arrival of Islam.
The area is called Bi'r Hima or Abar Hima, names "that refer to places with wells known since ancient times." According to Imbert, an epigrapher, the area is located on the route "that connected Yemen to Najran" where caravans could be resupplied in water.

Inscriptions were found with crosses, scattered over a one-square kilometre. Some inscriptions appear to be in a local version of Aramaic, a pre-Islamic form of Arabic, Nabataean-Arabic to be more precise.

The inscriptions have been dated to the reign of Shurihbil Yakkuf, who controlled southern Arabia in 470-475. The persecution of Christians appears to have started under his rule.
I have more on the slightly later history of this region here. There are past posts on Aramaic in ancient Saudi Arabia here, here, and (maybe) here and the ancient UAE here and here. And there are many more posts on Nabataean (Nabatean) and the Nabataeans in PaleoJudaica's archives.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The sage and the snowstorm

SPECIFICALLY, HILLEL THE ELDER: Talmudic Rabbis Were Totally Badass in Blizzards (Sigal Samuel, The Forward). Unfortunately, but all too typically, the specific Talmudic reference is not given.

UPDATE: Reader Yehoshua Rabinowitz e-mails that the story appears in the Babylonian Talmud, Yoma, 35 B.

Hurtado on the "first-century" Mark manuscript

LARRY HURTADO: Early Manuscripts of Biblical Writings? What’s at Stake?

Background here and links.

More Talmudic marriage law

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Juliet’s Dilemma: Seduced Unmarried Minors Engaging in ‘Licentious Sexual Intercourse.’ Talmudic rabbis ask what agency young women have in determining their fate in sex, marriage, and divorce.
When it comes to marriage, American law is straightforwardly binary: You can be married or you can be unmarried. A wedding moves you from one group to the other, and a divorce moves you in the opposite direction, but there is no status in between. As we have seen over the last several months of reading Tractate Yevamot, however, Talmudic law is not so simple. Marriage itself is a two-stage process: A couple is first betrothed, and then, once they have sexual relations or undergo a marriage ceremony, they become fully married. Then there is levirate betrothal: If a man’s brother dies childless, he is bound to his widowed sister-in-law unless and until they either get married or perform the ceremony of chalitza.

Actually, I think that American (and British) marriage law is a little more nuanced than that. For example, from what I understand (and I am not a lawyer) most American States, England, and Scotland now regard cohabitation beyond a certain length of time as legally equivalent to marriage in terms of at least most rights and responsibilities. But, yes, Talmudic marriage law is still more nuanced.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Helios on the synagogue floor

MOSAICS: Pagan deities in ancient synagogues. What is the sun god doing on the floor of ancient synagogues? Doesn't that violate the second commandment? (Mike Rogoff, Haaretz).
“Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, nor any manner of likeness…” proclaimed the Voice out of the fire and smoke at Mount Sinai. Yet ancient craftsmen, working in the biblical Land of Israel almost two millennia after Moses, were apparently undeterred by the Divine injunction. Their synagogue mosaic floors, unearthed by modern archaeologists, boast human images and – yes – even pagan deities. Such as the Sun God.

The two best-preserved of the synagogue mosaics are the exquisite figures in Hammat Tiberias (4th century C.E.), overlooking the Sea of Galilee, and the child-like but charming art of Beit Alfa (6th century C.E., shown above), at the foot of Mt. Gilboa.

More on representations of Helios and the Zodiac in ancient synagogue mosaics here and here.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Review of Gardner, Beduhn, and Dilley, Mani at the Court of the Persian Kings

PHILIP JENKINS has an inform review, in two parts, of a new book on Mani over at The Anxious Bench:

Mani and the Persian Kings
I have been reading an excellent new scholarly book on the Manichaean religion: Iain Gardner, Jason BeDuhn and Paul Dilley, Mani at the Court of the Persian Kings: Studies on the Chester Beatty Kephalaia Codex (Brill 2015). This post is not intended as a serious academic review, but rather as a series of thoughts and impressions that this fine book provokes. I will divide my comments into two separate posts.

It is astonishing that scholars of religion refer so little to the Manichaean faith, which in its day – roughly from the third century AD through the fourteenth century – was a fully fledged world religion, which interacted with Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Zoroastrianism and Judaism. At various times, its adherents could be found across the whole of Eurasia, from France to China. It also created a substantial body of scriptures and commentaries, most of which are now lost.

Mani the Prophet
So what kind of literature was the Kephalaia, into what genre did it fall? As Paul Dilley shows, the dialogues with their question-and-answer formats could equally well be read in very different ways – “as a modified example of Greco-Roman erotapokrisis, Iranian frashna or Buddhist sutra.” For our purposes, the technical terms don’t matter, but think of the implications – that this movement was writing in ways intelligible to civilized people from the Ganges to the Tiber. Hardly less open to universal translation was the movement’s use of Wisdom, a concept deeply rooted in Judaism and early Christianity. In the same vein, Jason BeDuhn offers a mind-stretching comparison between the Kephalaia materials found in Egypt and the comparable texts from Turfan, in Western China.
The book was noted here last month. And for lots more on Mani and Manichaeism (Manicheism), see here and here and links.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Ancient selfies?

ASOR BLOG: Graffiti—the ‘Selfies’ of the Ancient Near East? Dr. Karen B. Stern, known to PaleoJudaica readers for averring that Aramaic is "the little black dress of Semitic languages," is back with more on her work on ancient graffiti.
But ancient and medieval people were also deeply concerned with their self-documentation, self-representation and self-promotion. They, too, registered their presence at tourist destinations, participation in life events, and positions amidst friends and peers. In place of iPhones and Facebook, they took styluses, nails, and paint to copy words and images to stone and plaster to broadcast their sentiments and images to the world. Their ‘selfies’ were graffiti.
Earlier posts dealing with Dr. Stern's work are here, here (the source of the quote above), and here.