Saturday, April 11, 2015

Reviewlet of Smith, Into the World of the New Testament

EUANGELION: Book Notice: Into the World of the New Testament.
Daniel Lynwood Smith
Into the World of the New Testament: Greco-Roman and Jewish Texts and Contexts
London: Bloomsbury, 2015.
Available at

By Ben Sutton, Ridley College, Melbourne, Australia.

Dan Smith has provided a companion to reading the New Testament. As such he has intentionally diverged from traditional textbooks that provide extensive discussions of authorship, date, genre, and literary conventions. Instead, his aim is to provide examples of Ancient texts that parallel the books of the New Testament. In this way the student will learn by comparison instead of by synthesizing scholarly discussions. Smith is quick to point out that this volume does not replace the more extensive discussions of authorship, etc. Rather, as an introductory level book it invites the student into the world in which the New Testament was written, not contemporary discussions.



YONA SABAR: Hebrew word of the week: Bne-Horin.

Frey et al. (eds.), Jesus, Paulus und die Texte von Qumran

Jesus, Paulus und die Texte von Qumran
Hrsg. v. Jörg Frey u. Enno Edzard Popkes unter Mitarb. v. Sophie Tätweiler
[Jesus, Paul, and the Qumran Texts.]

Published in German.

In this volume the relevance of the Qumran discoveries for the interpretation of Jesus and the Jesus tradition and of the Pauline epistles is discussed in detailed studies and thematic overviews. The focus is on Jesus' position toward the Sabbath and his eschatology, Paul's use of the scriptures and his method of interpretation and the relevance of the Hodayot and of 4QInstruction for the interpretation of New Testament texts. An extensive study utilizes the Qumran insights on the Aramaic language in the late Second Temple period for a new Aramaic reconstruction of the Lord's Prayer.

Friday, April 10, 2015

More on the James Ossuary and the Talpiot Tomb

JOEL BADEN AND CANDIDA MOSS: Jesus’ tomb story: Does the evidence add up? (CNN Wire). Once again, Baden and Moss have an excellent summary of the current state of play of a story that has made it big in the media, along with a thorough and sensible analysis of its claims. For them this is the bottom line:
It is a compelling story. But it is also a fragile one. This small group of scholars, scientists and filmmakers has presented us with a intricate puzzle, in which all the pieces have been perfectly aligned. But pick up any single piece to examine it more carefully, and it crumbles to dust.
Read it all. Background here and links.

Congrats to Seth Sanders

CONGRATULATIONS TO SETH SANDERS who is a 2015 recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim fellowship.
Mr. Seth L. Sanders, Associate Professor and Director of the Poetry Center, Trinity College: Why We Can’t Read the Torah: The Form of the Pentateuch and the History of Ancient Hebrew Literature.
HT Jack Sasson's Agade list.

CFP: British Association of Jewish Studies Annual Meeting

CALL FOR PAPERS BAJS Conference 2015 Atheism, Scepticism, and Challenges to Monotheism, 5-7 July 2015, The University of Manchester.
We welcome contributions from all periods and regions, whether narrowly focused or broadly contextual, synthetic or analytical. The intention of this interdisciplinary conference is to encourage contributions on any issues relating to the engagement of Jews with atheistic and sceptical worldviews for the purpose of understanding Jewish culture and history. The conference will provide a forum for the exploration of these questions both from within Jewish Studies but also from contributors who have not previously been involved in BAJS. The expectation is that the conference will result in an edited collection of essays on this theme.
Follow the link for further particulars.

Dig week 6

KIMBERLY WINSTON: Digging under Mount Moriah with TV’s ‘Dig’ (RNS).
“It’s all about the End of Days, the Second Coming, Armageddon, the Rapture,” Debbie (Lauren Ambrose) says in what is the clearest explanation by any character of what is going on in “Dig” to date. “In order to bring about the Second Coming, the Temple in Jerusalem needs to be rebuilt.”
No excavation or building on the Temple Mount, please. Fortunately, this is the agenda of "the apparent bad guys" in the series, so they probably won't succeed.

Background here and links.

Review of Los Angeles DSS exhibition

THE DAILY TROJAN: Science Center celebrates history of Dead Sea Scrolls (Sara Gryzwacz).
Students who have tired eyes from reading countless textbooks and e-textbooks this semester can take a break at the California Science Center to visit “Dead Sea Scrolls: The Exhibition.” It is an exciting and interactive presentation of artifacts that includes what many believe to be the most important discovery of ancient manuscripts.

A thorough review, with advice on how best to navigate the exhibition.

Background on the exhibition is here and here and links.

Monster lecture

QUAD-CITY TIMES: St. Ambrose presents lecture on monsters. St. Ambrose University, that is.
The lecture, “T-Rex vs. Leviathan: Biology and Theology of Monsters,” will feature Assistant Professor of Biology Neil Aschliman and Associate Professor of Theology Micah Kiel.


Kiel’s book, “The ‘Whole Truth’: Rethinking Retribution in the Book of Tobit” explores Tobit through the lens of ancient Jewish creation theology, the earliest forms of which depict God’s destruction of a primordial sea monster.
If you are in the vincity of Davenport, Iowa, next Thursday, this sounds worth attending.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Mark Goodacre on the James Ossuary and the Talpiot Tomb

REGARDING THE RECENT STORY ON THE JAMES OSSUARY AND THE TALPIOT TOMB, Professor Mark Goodacre of Duke University is quoted in an Aleteia article (New York Times Runs Easter Story Suggesting Resurrection Didn't Happen) with some notable observations:
"It's interesting how this story keeps coming back, especially at Easter time," said Mark Goodacre, professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at Duke University, in an email to Aleteia. "I don't think there is any merit in the identification of the Talpiot Tomb with Jesus and his family. All along, Jacobovici has not taken seriously contradictory evidence, like the presence of 'Judah son of Jesus' in the tomb."

Contradictory, he said, because there is no ancient evidence of Jesus having a son, let alone a son called Judah.

"He has also overplayed the idea that Mary Magdalene is found in the tomb, and that she was married to Jesus," Goodacre added.

In addition, he pointed out, Oded Golan, at his forgery trial (he was first convicted by ["but"? - JRD] later cleared), produced a photograph from 1976 which showed the James ossuary in his parents' apartment. "That means that it could not have come out of the Talpiot tomb, which was excavated in 1980," Goodacre said.
Other specialists etc. are quoted as well. None of them find the proposed connection convincing.

Background here.

Palmyrene Aramaic

AWOL: The Wisconsin Palmyrene Aramaic Inscription Project (WPAIP). Cross-file under Aramaic Watch.

PaleoJudaica has been following the study of ancient Palmyra and Palmyrene Aramaic for many years. For posts on Palmyra (whose fate is currently precarious), see here and follow the links back. Some past posts dealing with Palmyrene Aramaic are here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.


H-JUDAIC has calls for papers for a couple of interesting sessions at the Annual Association for Jewish Studies Conference in Boston in December:
CFP: AJS Panel: Commemorating the 100th Yahrzeit of Solomon Schechter

CFP: AJS Panel, roundtable on Mishnah Bikkurim

Review of Houston, Inside Roman Libraries

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Houston, Inside Roman Libraries (Brian Leport in Book Notes).
George W. Houston, Inside Roman Libraries: Book Collections and Their Management in Antiquity (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014). (
The value of this book for the study of Judaism and Early Christianity is that it provides a socio-cultural context with which to compare the book culture of the Jews and Christians to that of the broader Mediterranean. Certain elements, such as the lifespan of a papyrus roll, are directly relevant. ...
As the review observes, this book raises many questions that are relevant to the study of Second Temple Jewish literature.

A gap of tradition between the Talmud and the Geonim?

GENIZA FRAGMENT OF THE MONTH: Did the Jewish academies of Sura and Pumbedita hold original commentaries to the Talmud? T-S F9.41 (Zvi Stampfer, Cambridge Library Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit).
From this we can conclude that there were significant cases in which the central Jewish Academies of the Geonic period had received no authoritative tradition from the Talmudic period on the passages in the Talmud. This suggests that there was a disconnection and interruption between the time of the Talmud’s editing and the Geonic academies. This interruption probably occurred during the 6th century as Rav Sherira (Rabbi Hayya’s father) informs us in his epistle:
And there were years of persecution and troubles at the end of the Persian (i.e. Sasanian) monarchy and they were unable to establish public lectures and convene the academy… until a number of years had elapsed (Brody 1998: 8)
Via the Talmud Blog on Facebook.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Avioz, Josephus' Interpretation of the Books of Samuel

Josephus' Interpretation of the Books of Samuel
By: Michael Avioz

Published: 12-03-2015
Format: Hardback
Edition: 1st
Extent: 272
ISBN: 9780567608802
Imprint: Bloomsbury T&T Clark
Series: The Library of Second Temple Studies
Dimensions: 234 x 156 mm
RRP: £70.00
Online price: £63.00
Save £7.00 (10%)

About Josephus' Interpretation of the Books of Samuel

Since the seventies, no study has examined the methodologies of Josephus' rewriting of an entire biblical book as part of his Judean Antiquities. This book attempts to fill this vacuum by exploring Josephus' adaptation of the books of Samuel, penetrating the exegetical strategies he employs to modify the biblical stories for his intended audience. Through meticulous comparison of the biblical narrative and Josephus' Antiquities, broader issues – such as Josephus' attitude towards monarchy and women – gradually come to light, challenging long-held assumptions. This definitive exploration of Josephus' rewriting of Samuel illuminates the encounter between the ancient texts and its relevance to scholarly discourse today.
Follow the link for TOC and ordering information.

Qumran messianism

Possible messianic elements in the Scrolls abound, and are extensively discussed in the large literature on these texts. Those elements are also very diverse, with no obvious single vision, and debate continues about the exact interpretation of key passages. Even so, messiahs and messiah-related language feature frequently. Also, these are supported by many Biblical texts that would become very familiar to later generations of Jews and Christians, including the standard passages from Isaiah and Daniel.
A good summary of the state of the question. Earlier posts in Jenkins's messiah series are noted here.

The James Ossuary and the Talpiot Tomb?

THE INDEPENDENT: The lost tomb of Jesus? Scientist claims he has 'virtually unequivocal evidence' that could help explain the whereabouts of Christ's remains (Adam Withnall).
A geologist in Jerusalem claims to have found “virtually unequivocal evidence” that could reopen the controversy over the final resting place of Jesus Christ.

Dr Aryeh Shimron says he has carried out new tests that suggest it is more likely the Talpiot Tomb, a burial site found in East Jerusalem in 1980, was a family grave for Jesus of Nazareth, his wife Mary Magdalene and his son Judah.


The geochemical tests, carried out under Dr Shimron’s supervision largely by the Israel Antiquities Authority, worked on the basis that the ossuaries in the Talpiot Tomb were all once covered by the same clay with a very distinctive mineral make-up.

That is all very interesting, but the final sentence of the article grasps the main issue:
While the results are likely to rekindle the debate surrounding the possible remains of Jesus, they are still far from accepted in scientific circles. The collector who owns the James ossuary told the Times Dr Shimron’s work determines nothing “conclusively”, while other Jerusalem archaeologists say they await its publication in a peer-reviewed journal.
Scholarship is advanced by peer-review publications, not excited announcements in the media or even in blog posts.

The main issue regarding the James Ossuary is whether the inscription (or the full inscription) is ancient and, if so, as ancient as the first century. Scholars remain divided on that question. Background here and here and many, many links. I have not been paying much attention to the Talpiot Tomb discussion lately, but you can find considerable background on it here, here, and here, again with many, many links.

Archaeologists defy ISIS

THAT'S THE SPIRIT! Archaeologists defy Isis militants by finding new antiquities in Iraq (Kath Paddison,
The team [excavating Tell Khaiber], directed by Professor Stuart Campbell, Dr Jane Moon and Dr Robert Killick from Manchester, described their Iraqi colleagues as resourceful, innovative and resilient, even when times were bad.

"Everyone is quite rightly expressing outrage at the destruction in and around Mosul. The sad fact is, there is very little one can do to prevent deliberate vandalism by well-armed fanatics.

"But if the militants think they can 'erase history' we are helping to make sure that can't happen: it is the information that is important and not the objects. Our project is actually doing something positive for the Iraqis, and that is appreciated," Dr Moon said.
More power to them.

Background on ISIS's assault on the past is here, here, here, here and links

Magnes Press sale

FOR YOU, SPECIAL DEAL: Magnes Press: Passover book sale!

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Mason moves to Groningen

University of Groningen appoints Steve Mason to new Chair in Ancient Mediterranean Religions and Cultures

Professor Steve Mason will be appointed Distinguished Professor of Ancient Mediterranean Religions and Cultures at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies of the University of Groningen from August 1, 2015. Mason is a leading scholar in the history and literature of the eastern Mediterranean under Roman rule, especially Roman Judaea, the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, and Christian-Jewish-Roman relations.

Initiators of the Chair are the Dean of the Faculty, Prof. Kocku von Stuckrad, and Prof. Mladen Popović, Chair of the Department of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic Origins and Director of the Qumran Institute, which Mason will join. The new Chair will undertake and facilitate education and research in currents of ancient Mediterranean religion and culture that remain important for modern European and Middle Eastern identities. The establishment of the Chair supports the university’s strategic investment in the humanities, given their importance alongside science for modern life. It reflects the view of both the RUG and Mason that a critical understanding of our shared past, recent and ancient, throws light on our modern identities, including the sources and potential resolution of conflict.

Steve Mason studied Judaism and Early Christianity at McMaster University (Hamilton, Canada). After his Ph.D. (University of St. Michael's College, 1986, by way of the universities of Jerusalem and Tübingen) he worked at The Pennsylvania State University, as Head of Classics and Ancient Mediterranean Studies, and at Toronto’s York University, most recently as Canada Research Chair in Greco-Roman Cultural Interaction. Since 2011 he has held the Kirby Laing Chair in New Testament at the University of Aberdeen. Mason was the first Dirk Smilde Fellow at the Qumran Institute in Groningen, from January through May 2014. His career has been one of building bridges around the ancient Mediterranean: between disciplines and between ancient and modern times.

Plans are taking shape for an international Master’s programme for an international Master’s programme that Steve Mason will develop together with Mladen Popović. Mason will also continue editing the series Flavius Josephus: Translation and Commentary (Brill), the first detailed commentary to all the works of Josephus. His history of the Jewish-Roman War (66–74 CE) will appear with Cambridge University Press in the coming months.

For more information, see
Sent in by Mladen Popovic. I am delighted for Steve and for Groningen, although he will be missed in Scotland.

Video on the Cairo Geniza

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: JTS Cairo Genizah Manuscripts.

Background on the Cairo Geniza is here and here and oh so many links. The latter link is specifically about the collection at the Jewish Theological Seminary.

UPDATE: Bad link now fixed. Sorry about that.

April 7th in PaleoJudaic history

CLEVELAND JEWISH NEWS: This Day, April 7, In Jewish History by Mitchell A. Levin. Includes a couple of items of interest to PaleoJudaica. First:
451: Attila the Hun sacked Metz in what is now Germany as he pillaged his across Europe. Based on the Thirteenth Tribe, there are those who contend that a large proportion of Europe’s Jews were descended from the Khazars a warrior people connected to Attila.
For more on the claim that European Jews are descended from the Khazars, as well as some objections, see here and links.
Second, an unfortunate legal development:
529: The Roman Emperor Justinian issued the first draft of the Corpus Juris Civilis. Justinian codified the ant-Jewish imperial view of the world that began under Constantine. The code made “anyone who was not connected to the Christian church a non-citizen.” More specifically, the principle of "Servitude of the Jews" (Servitus Judaeorum) was established by the new laws, and determined the status of Jews throughout the Empire for hundreds of years. The Jews were disadvantaged in a number of ways. Jews could not testify against Christians and were disqualified from holding a public office. Jewish civil and religious rights were restricted: ‘they shall enjoy no honors’. The use of the Hebrew language in worship was forbidden. Shema Yisrael sometimes considered the most important prayer in Judaism ("Hear, O Israel, YHWH our God, YHWH is one") was banned, as a denial of the Trinity. A Jew who converted to Christianity was entitled to inherit his or her father's estate, to the exclusion of the still-Jewish brothers and sisters. The Emperor became an arbiter in internal Jewish affairs. Similar laws applied to the Samaritans.”

Drones vs. looters again

TECHNOLOGY WATCH: Tomb raiders tracked by DRONES: Jordan site uses quadcopters to work out when looters steal priceless antiquities
(Sam Mcneil, AP, at the Daily Mail). The story is about Jordan, but the technology could be used anywhere where looting is a problem. More on drone techology being used against looters is here.

Humour in the Rabbinic Literature

GALUS AUSTRALIS: Counting Teeth: Humour in the Rabbinic Literature (Simon Holloway).
Part One: Is it Okay to Laugh?

Q: Why did Queen Esther merit to rule over one hundred and twenty-seven provinces of the Persian empire?

A: Because she was descended from Sarah, who lived to the age of 127!

Okay, so it’s not a particularly funny joke, I’ll grant you. It appears in the midrash to Esther (Ester Rabbah 1:8), and is said by Rabbi Akiva to a room full of sleeping students in an effort to get their attention. According to Rabbi Chanokh Zundel, in his 19th century commentary on Midrash Rabbah (Etz Yosef, ibid), it was Rabbi Akiva’s way to speak “words of jest” (מילי דבדיחותא) in order to keep his classroom focused.

The tradition of telling jokes in order to better deliver one’s message is not only of great antiquity but possesses a fine rabbinic pedigree as well. The Talmud is replete with instances of lexical levity, and most of them are funnier than Rabbi Akiva’s Esther joke. I would like to provide something of a catalogue (though it is far from exhaustive) of jokes within the Talmud, and to cap it off I would like to share with you a few of my favourite examples from the world of mediaeval rabbinic humour.

The catalogue of jokes is coming in the next installment. Lol.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Destruction wreaked on Hatra

ISIS CONTINUES ITS ASSAULT ON THE PAST: Islamic State destroys Iraq's ancient city of Hatra. A video released overnight shows IS militants smashing sledgehammers into its walls and shooting at priceless statues at the UNESCO World Heritage site (AP).

In late antiquity the Aramaic-speaking city of Hartra was one of the last bastions of indigenous Mesopotamian religion and culture.

Background here and links.

Syriac manuscripts saved in Iraq

A SMALL VICTORY: In Iraq, a historic Christian library saved from militants (AP). The manuscripts of the Mar Matti Monastery, at least one of which is as much as 1100 years old, have been saved from ISIS. Cross-file under Syriac Watch.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Anxious messiahs

Some timely thoughts for Holy Week!

In Jesus Christ Superstar, a mocking Pilate complains that “You Jews produce messiahs by the sackful!” Most popular histories take it for granted that Jewish thought was dominated by the eager expectation of a messiah, who would be an individual man, and the main debate concerned the nature of that role. Would he be a mighty conqueror, a new David? In his weakness and apparent worldly failure, Jesus, we are told, represented a truly odd candidate for messiahship.

In fact, the story is much more complex than this account would suggest. Yes, candidates for messiahship were much in evidence during and after Jesus’s time, culminating in the nationalist leader Simon Bar-Kokhba in the 130s AD. But we should stress how new this focus was historically. As in so much else, the two or three centuries before Jesus’s time witnessed rapid and radical development in the concept of the messiah, an idea far more nuanced than our modern stereotype would suggest.

And also: Making the Messiah.
The figure of the Messiah has been critical to both Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism. Christians, by definition, are followers of the Messiah. In tracing the origin of this idea, though, we must draw a distinction between eschatological hopes of a glorious coming age, and the individual figure of the messiah, the Davidic king. In the familiar form of a specific human who would usher in the Last Times, the concept is only really defined during the second century BC. In the decades before Jesus’s birth, the idea was still a work in progress.


Easter 2015

Happy Easter to all those celebrating!

Biblical and related passages concerning Easter are collected here.