Saturday, April 04, 2015

Update on the Babylonian Talmud forum etc.

THE TALMUD BLOG has posted a number of updates to its Babylonian Talmud Forum (noted here):

What is Bavli: Approaching the Bavli’s Contexts (Pt. 2/3)

What is Bavli: A Response (Pt. 3/3)

And also at the Talmud Blog: E. Bar-Asher Siegal – A Response to M. Morgenstern, with reference to Morgenstern's review of Siegal's Introduction to the Grammar of Jewish Babylonian Aramaic, which was noted here. (Also see related post here).

Ogren, Time and Eternity in Jewish Mysticism

Time and Eternity in Jewish Mysticism
That Which is Before and That Which is After

Edited by Brian Ogren, Rice University.

Time and eternity are concepts that have occupied an important place within Jewish mystical thought. This present volume gives pride of place to these concepts, and is one of the first works to bring together diverse voices on the subject. It offers a multivalent picture of the topic of time and eternity, not only by including contributions from an array of academics who are leaders in their fields, but by proposing six diverse approaches to time and eternity in Jewish mysticism: the theoretical approach to temporality, philosophical definitions, the idea of time and pre-existence, the idea of historical time, the idea of experiential time, and finally, the idea of eternity beyond time. This multivocal treatment of Jewish mysticism and time as based on variant academic approaches is novel, and it should lay the groundwork for further discussion and exploration.
Follow the link for TOC etc.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Passover 2015 and the blood moon tetrad

HAPPY PASSOVER TO ALL THOSE CELEBRATING. The festival begins tonight at sundown. See last year's Passover post for the relevant biblical texts.

This is the third of four "blood moons" coinciding with a major Jewish holiday in the space of two years: one tomorrow (Saturday), and one last year on Passover and then one on the immediately following Sukkot, as well as one coming on this year's Sukkot. For reasons explained in the last post, this doesn't really add up to a much of a cosmic synchronicity.

Also, a small coincidence, but again not adding up to a cosmic synchronicity (because this happens pretty often) today is Good Friday. Best wishes to all those observing it. You can read the Gospel accounts of the Passion of Jesus in Matthew 26-27; Mark 14-15; Luke 22-23; and John 18-19. Note also Paul's account of the Last Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26.

Dig week 5

KIMBERLY WINSTON: ‘Dig’ turns up a possible messiah complex (RNS).
(RNS) This week’s episode of “Dig,” the USA Network’s action-thriller fueled by biblical conspiracy and ancient archaeology, dives into Jewish law and prophesy in a way that clearly signals where the rest of the story is going.

In line with previous episodes, “Dig” continues to spin out its convoluted tale against a background of religious items and imagery — the current episode features a mikvah, a shofar, a priestly breastplate and more. Major spoiler alert here — read on only if you are up-to-date with the series.

No obvious allusions to Old Testament Pseudepigrapha this week, but I have had it confirmed by someone close to the show that the writers were familiar with Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: More Noncanonical Scriptures (on which see last week's post, link below).

Background here and links.

The archaeology of Herod the Great

DAVID LASKIN EXPLORES Herod the Great’s Israel (NYT).
Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem may be more transcendent and his mesa-top retreat at Masada more spectacular, but Herodium (about 10 miles south of Jerusalem on the occupied West Bank) was where I channeled the spirit of the man. I was also channeling the spirit of a monster. From 37 to 4 B.C., Herod the Great (not to be confused with a slew of lesser heirs and successors who shared his name) ruled Judea with a bloody, iron fist. Though the account by the Gospel writer Matthew of an “exceeding wroth” Herod slaughtering the innocents of Bethlehem is probably apocryphal, the king did murder a wife, mother-in-law and three sons, along with untold numbers of enemies and rivals.

Yet he was one of the world’s great builders — an instinctive architectural genius who planned, sited, sourced and landscaped magnificent structures of classical antiquity. Epic was his preferred scale. No project was too ambitious or daring, whether it was throwing up a city from scratch or replacing Judaism’s holiest site from the ground up. Judea rejoiced when Herod died, but I found myself breathless with admiration after a week spent tracking his footsteps.
A long travelogue that covers the major sites associated with Herod.

UPDATE: Related: Jesus, Herod and the Irgun — All in One Jerusalem Room. 2,700 Years of History Unearthed in Old City Prison (Ben Sales, The Forward).
(JTA) — When Amit Re’em embarked on a 1999 excavation of an abandoned Ottoman prison in the Old City of Jerusalem, he didn’t expect anything revolutionary.

The dig was primarily aimed at inspecting the site before it was transformed into an event space for the nearby Tower of David Museum, and Re’em, then just 28, hoped at most to uncover some remains of a Herodian palace, or maybe part of a wall from the second century.

He did find those things — along with much more.

In one 160-by-30-foot space, Re’em unearthed an archaeological timeline of Jerusalem dating back 2,700 years. Layers from nearly every era of the city’s history lay on top of each other, from the time of the First Temple through the Roman, Crusader and Ottoman periods, and up to Israel’s independence in 1948.

Background on that story is here. Also, background on Herodium and Herod's possible tomb there, as well as on the recent Herod exhibtion in the Israel Museum, is here and here with many links. And some past posts on Herod the Great himself are here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Philology challenge for April

ADAM MCCOLLUM: Reading challenge, April 2015
Here, then, is the challenge for the month: not a contest, but an individual exhortation to purposefully spend a given amount of time and effort moving — or more picturesquely, plowing, sailing, crunching, &c. — through a text or texts, with understanding. You pick the language, the genre, the text(s), the length. The unique thing is to read carefully more than you might normally do for this month. It might be an opportunity to work especially hard on a language you’re now closely involved with, or it might be an opportunity to return to a language you’ve not read in a while. Simply to be not too vague, here are some language suggestions in no particular order (I assume that if you know the language well enough to do this, you know some texts to read, but in any case, the Bible is usually a good place to start due to the accessibility of texts and the ease of comparison with other versions) ...
As it happens I have already been doing this with Qur'anic Arabic this semester (as preparation for a couple of projects involving later forms of Arabic), so I am giving myself credit for the challenge.

Biblical studies and memory

Memory and the Knowledge of Things Past

By Daniel Pioske
Georgia Southern University
March 2015
Not surprisingly, I find the concept of memory to be of historical value. In terms of the history of ancient Israel and Judah this significance can be located, at least to a certain degree, in the interpretive possibilities memory permits when assessing the past(s) represented in the Hebrew Bible. For in contrast to the now stale debates of the 1990s and early 2000s between those who held to the historical or fictitious character of biblical storytelling, a connection between the past portrayed in the Hebrew Bible with a form of memory (whether cultural, collective, or social) allows the historian to move beyond these rather rigid distinctions. This is possible because studies of memory have illustrated how a remembered past is always constructed through the prism of present concerns, but in way that does not necessarily sever such memories from a time previous to their recollection.

More on The Dovekeepers


VIDEO: Cote de Pablo & Diego Boneta Chat Upcoming CBS Mini-Series THE DOVEKEEPERS (The Broadway World). The video doesn't play in my region, but you may have better luck.

Roma Downey and Rachel Brosnahan on "The Dovekeepers" (CBS News). Brief sound-bite interviews.

Downey and Burnett present epic tv stories for Passover,Easter season, and more (The Examiner). Besides The Dovekeepers, they have a number of Bible-related projects going which I have not been following.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

The Seventh Sentinel and the pseudepigrapha

Fantasy Novel "The Seventh Sentinel" Wins New Apple Book Award for Excellence in Independent Publishing

Dayton, OH, April 01, 2015 --( "The Seventh Sentinel" by Yolanda Ramos receives Medalist Honors in the Fantasy category of the 2014 New Apple Book Awards for Excellence in Independent Publishing.

Book Synopsis
Moments before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., the seven Archangels remove powerful, ancient artifacts from the Jewish temple. These are given into the safekeeping of seven men. Throughout the ages, these men and their descendants become known as the Seven Sentinels. In medieval times, the Seven Sentinels formed various military Orders as a cover for their activities. Today, of the Seven Sentinels, two are dead and two have turned rogue, which means only three remain to carry out their roles. A war rages between Heaven and Earth. It is up to the newly empowered Seventh Sentinel to stop the rogues and Fallen Ones, from using these artifacts to gain control of the souls of mankind. Can the Seventh Sentinel endure?

The story of angels removing artifacts from the Temple before its destruction is very ancient, appearing first (as far as I can tell) in the Old Testament pseudepigraphon 2 Baruch (c. 100 CE). Chapter 6 (Charles translation):
6 1 And it came to pass on the morrow that, lo! the army of the Chaldees surrounded the city, and at the time of the evening, I, Baruch, left the people, and I went forth and stood by the oak. 2 And I was grieving over Zion, and lamenting over the captivity which had come upon the people. 3 And lo! suddenly a strong spirit raised me, and bore me aloft over the wall of Jerusalem. 4 And I beheld, and lo! four angels standing at the four corners of the city, each of them holding a torch of fire in his hands. 5 And another angel began to descend from heaven. and said unto them: 'Hold your lamps, and do not light them till I tell you. 6 For I am first sent to speak a word to the earth, and to place in it what the Lord the Most High has commanded me.' 7 And I saw him descend into the Holy of Holies, and take from there the veil, and holy ark, and the mercy-seat, and the two tables, and the holy raiment of the priests, and the altar of incense, and the forty-eight precious stones, wherewith the priest was adorned and all the holy vessels of the tabernacle. 8 And he spoke to the earth with a loud voice:
'Earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the mighty God,
And receive what I commit to you,
And guard them until the last times,
So that, when you are ordered, you may restore them,
So that strangers may not get possession of them.
9 For the time comes when Jerusalem also will be delivered for a time,
Until it is said, that it is again restored for ever.'
10 And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up.
In this novel the angels hand the artifacts over to human guardians, which is more reminiscent of the story in The Treatise of the Vessels. (The latter, however, does not have angels involved in the hiding of the treasures.) I suspect the author of The Seventh Sentinel was at least familiar with the story as found in 2 Baruch.

If you keep an eye out for it, you find the influence of the Old Testament pseudepigrapha all over the place.

Passover etymologies

MOSTLY SPECULATIVE: The enigmatic origins of the words of the Passover seder. The origin of the words we use during the Seder can teach a lot about the origin of the holiday. But some, including the word for 'matza', remain oddly obscure. (Elon Gilad, Haaretz. But the possibilities discussed are interesting. For example:
Let’s move on to to some of the dishes served in the Passover seder. Khazeret or hazeret is a bitter herb that Seder celebrants put on the Passover plate to represent the bitterness of the slavery in Egypt.

The word appears in the Mishnah (Pesachim 10), but is rather enigmatic. It seems to have come from the Hebrew root kh-z-r, but this root usually denotes “returning,” yet in the Mishnah, it is clearly a word related to a foodstuff.

Some other words that share the root have no obvious connection to "return" either, such as the Hebrew word for pig – khazir.

So we don’t know why khazeret is got its name, but what is it? The Talmud states that it is lettuce, and that is how it was understood by later generations too.

But Jews living in Eastern Europe had difficulty getting lettuce to eat, at Passover or any other time, and used horseradish instead. The horseradish tradition spread from Eastern Europe to other Jewish communities around the world, even those that can obtain lettuce. In fact, the practice became so commonplace that the modern Hebrew word for horseradish is khazeret.

Rehearsal sacrifice of the paschal lamb

(PROSPECTIVE) TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Temple Mount activists slaughter lamb in public 'rehearsal' of Passover sacrifice. Hundreds attend ceremony held by group advocating for the re-building of Jewish temple in the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, in show of strength marking rising influence of their cause. (Nir Hasson, Haaretz)
Several hundred people on Monday attended a “rehearsal” for the Passover sacrifice, held in a schoolyard in the Kiryat Moshe neighborhood of Jerusalem. The lamb was slaughtered by kohanim (members of the priestly class) who performed the various stages of the sacrifice through the roasting of the lamb and eating it.

It was a show of strength by Temple Mount activists – and this year they had additional reasons to celebrate, including the recovery of senior activist Yehuda Glick from an assassination attempt and the possibility that the next cabinet will include three ministers (Habayit Hayehudi’s Uri Ariel, and Likud’s Miri Regev and Tzipi Hotoveli) who enthusiastically support changing the Temple Mount’s status quo to allow Jewish prayer.


The organizers stressed that this was not the sacrifice of the paschal lamb, but a rehearsal for the real thing. “So that we’ll know what to do, so that we can feel this ancient experience,” said Arnon Segal, a Temple Mount activists and the event’s emcee. The real Passover sacrifice must be on Passover eve, toward evening, on the Temple Mount.

Arutz Sheva has video of the event here.

I don't have any interest in getting involved in this political discussion, apart from reiterating that there should be no building or excavation on the Temple Mount before its archaeological record has been fully documented using non-invasive scanning technologies and/or minimally invasive and nondestructive technologies such as nanotechnology. But what these people want is to undertake the sacrifice on the Temple Mount, but not necessarily in the (rebuilt) Temple.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Support of children etc. in the Talmud

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Would a Jackal Take Better Care of Its Young? For most Jews in Talmudic times, marriage was the biggest financial transaction of their lives.
Is a Jewish father legally obligated to provide food and shelter for his children? This question might seem like a no-brainer: Nothing is more natural or expected than for a parent to care for his or her child. But is this social and ethical obligation also a legal obligation? The answer, which Daf Yomi readers learned this week in Ketubot 49a, is more complicated than you might expect. ...
Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

More anxious Gnosticism

PHILIP JENKINS has concluded his series of blog posts on ancient Gnosticism over at The Anxious Bench:

Gnostics and Other Christians
We should rather say that Gnosticism emerges from these Jewish-Christian borderlands. It did not exist as a free-standing pre-Christian movement rooted in pagan or Hellenistic ideas.
The Gnostics and the Interwar Crisis
That 70-130 period, then, marks not only a crisis within Judaism itself, but among movements that had grown up within the Jewish framework. We might usefully describe this era, in fact, as an interwar period, one that lived with the after-effects of one disaster while grimly awaiting the near-inevitable second phase. Anti-Judaism became more common, as did critical attitudes towards Jewish claims to exclusivism. Thinkers were struggling to build a Jewish-derived world-view without the necessity to accept the exclusive God of the Hebrew Bible, with his burdensome Law. Gnosticism is much more than anti-Judaism, but without that element, it is impossible to sustain.
From Qumran to the Gnostics
I have been describing the emergence of some key ideas of sectarian Judaism that continue into Christianity, and to some extent in Rabbinic Judaism. My argument is that the era in which those ideas appear, roughly the last two centuries BC, is one of the most creative and influential in Western religious thought.

Many of these continuities are obvious from Gnosticism. When we read the account of early Gnostic thinkers, as reported in the Christian writer Irenaeus c. 175 AD, we see so many themes that would have been instantly familiar to sectarian Jewish predecessors.

I am nervous about raising some of these arguments, as they have such a long and disreputable history in scholarship, with excessive claims about Jesus and John the Baptist being Essenes, and over-reaching Essene-Gnostic linkages. ...
Earlier posts in the series are noted here, along with some of my own commentary.

Pseudepigrapha in the news

OLD TESTAMENT PSEUDEPIGRAPHA WATCH: Ancient writings shed light on Aseneth, Moses (Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan, The Herald Sun).
The Jewish Federation of Durham-Chapel Hill gathers interfaith clergy for an annual conference with a speaker bringing a new perspective of religious knowledge. Ancient texts shared by a University of Minnesota professor were new stories to learn for some longtime clergy at the event held recently at Beth El Synagogue.

Patricia Ahearne-Kroll was the guest speaker and shared excerpts from Jewish writings recorded by Christian scribes in Egypt during the period of the Second Temple, between the fourth century B.C. and first century. The writings include figures already known to Jews and Christians, including Joseph of the “coat of many colors” story and Moses. Ahearne-Kroll is an assistant professor in the department of Classical and Near Eastern Studies at the University of Minnesota. She received her doctorate in Biblical studies from the University of Chicago Divinity School.

The ancient texts that Professor Ahearne-Kroll discussed were Joseph and Aseneth and the fragmentary work of Artapanus.

William W. Hallo, 1928-2015

SAD NEWS: In Memoriam: William W. Hallo, expert on ancient Near East (YaleNews).
William W. Hallo, the William M. Laffan Professor Emeritus of Assyriology and Babylonian Literature, died on March 27 at the age of 87.

Hallo spent his career studying, teaching, and writing about Assyriology, archaeology, biblical studies, Semitic studies, and Babylonian literature. During his 40 years at Yale, he also served as curator of Babylonian Collection at the Yale Library and as master of Morse College 1982–1987.

Professor Hallo's work made many contributions to Assyriology, Sumerology, and the study of ancient Judaism. May his memory be for a blessing.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Reviews of The Dovekeepers

THE DOVEKEEPERS MINISERIES is now playing. Early reviews seem less than wildly enthusiastic. Here are a couple:

Neil Genzlinger, NYT: Review: ‘The Dovekeepers,’ a CBS Mini-Series Starring Cote de Pablo.
The whole enterprise is bathed in a gloss that doesn’t fit the story. The landscape is hot and dusty, but the actors rarely are — even the slaves and soldiers seem immune to sweat and grime, and the women always look as if they just came out of a desert spa. “The Dovekeepers” is aimed at people who might want to see history from something other than a male, generals-and-kings viewpoint but at the same time don’t want it too messy or too real.
(The Bend Bulletin republishes this one with the title A bodice-ripping look at ancient history, which seems to sum the matter up pretty well.)

Brian Lowry, Variety Magazine: TV Review: ‘The Dovekeepers’.
The broadcast networks should be applauded (and even encouraged) for bringing the miniseries back from the brink of extinction and again embracing epic storytelling. But watching “The Dovekeepers” fail to take off merely underscores the difference between anteing up for togas and to lens in Malta and actually producing something with genuine heft.
Background here and links.

Jesus' cross

EASTER STORIES HAVE STARTED AND THE MEDIA ARE ASKING: Was the cross of Jesus made of olive wood or pine?
One of the perplexing realities for archaeologists is a lack of residual wood from the massive record of Roman crucifixion. Despite the fact the Romans killed tens of thousands of people through crucifixion — and as many as 500 a day during the siege of Jerusalem from 66-70 CE — the only piece of evidence connected to this terrible punishment was discovered in 1968, when archaeologists found the heel bone of a crucified man with the nail still intact.

In the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, Israel Hershkovitz, who teaches anatomy and archaeology at Tel Aviv University, said that the heel bone of the crucified man was found in a Jewish burial tomb in a northern suburb of Jerusalem, near Golgotha — the hill where the Romans crucified people.

The man, whose ossuary, or burial box, identified him as Yehohanan, was in his mid 20s when he died on the cross. His good teeth and lack of heavy musculature meant that he most likely came from a wealthy family, for most crucifixion victims were far too humble to wind up in tombs –save for Jesus, who was put in one by the wealthy Joseph of Arimathea. Others buried in the same tomb as Yehohanan had connections to the Temple, so it’s possible that he was killed by the Romans for some political transgression.

Yehohanan was cut down from the cross with a 4.5-inch nail still in his right heel bone, and with part of a board still attached to the head of the nail. Hershkovitz believes that the relative shortness of the length of the nail reveals much about Roman crucifixion methods. “The nail was too short (to go through) two heel bones, so sure enough each foot was hammered separately to the cross.”

Hershkovitz is convinced that crosses were not made from olive trees because the people depended on the olive tree for food and wouldn’t be slashing them down to make crosses.

More importantly, for the purpose at hand, they wouldn’t be suitable because of the structure of the tree itself.
From the CNN wire (via Fox News) article "What’s ‘true’ about Jesus’ cross? Duke professor weighs in." The Duke professor is Mark Goodacre, who makes a brief appearance at the end with commentary on the "True Cross" phenomenon.

Regarding the quoted passage, it seems the ancient remains of two crucified men have been found in Jerusalem, not just one. See here and links for posts on both, as well as related matters regarding ancient crucifixion.

Masada date palm update

METHUSELAH: Extinct Tree Resurrected from Ancient Seeds is now a Dad (April Holloway, Ancient Origins). Excerpt:
The first leaves were plagued with white spots, which the researchers put down to insufficient nutrients and it was thought that the plant would never survive. But as time progressed, the leaves began to look healthier. In 2011, the plant produced its first flowers and now he has become a father.

“He is over three meters [ten feet] tall, he’s got a few offshoots, he has flowers, and his pollen is good,” [botanical researcher Elaine ] Solowey told National Geographic. “We pollinated a female with his pollen, a wild [modern] female, and yeah, he can make dates.”

Solowey now hopes she will be able to plant an ancient date grove. To do that, she would need to grow a female plant from an ancient seed as a mate for Methuselah, and it’s looking promising – Solowey has managed to sprout a small handful of other date palms from ancient seeds recovered at archaeological sites around the Dead Sea, and at least two of them are female.

Solowey hopes to one day have a whole grove of Judean date palms like this grove of date palms of another species pictured in Spain

“We would know what kind of dates they ate in those days and what they were like,” Solowey said. “That would be very exciting.”
Background here and links.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Hashkes, Rabbinic Discourse as a System of Knowledge

Rabbinic Discourse as a System of Knowledge
"The Study of Torah is Equal to them All"

By Hannah E. Hashkes

In Rabbinic Discourse as a System of Knowledge Hannah Hashkes employs contemporary philosophy in describing rabbinic reasoning as a rational response to experience. Hashkes combines insights from the philosophy of Quine and Davidson with the semiotics of Peirce to construe knowledge as systematic reasoning occurring within a community of inquiry. Her reading of the works of Emmanuel Levinas and Jean-Luc Marion allows her to create a philosophical bridge between a discourse of God and a discourse of reason. This synthesis of pragmatism, hermeneutics and theology provides Hashkes with a sophisticated tool to understand Rabbinic Judaism. It also makes this study both unique and pathbreaking in contemporary Jewish philosophy and Rabbinic thought.