Saturday, May 02, 2015

More looting arrests in Israel

Police arrest alleged antiquities thieves for stealing 2,000-year-old coins. The arrests were part of a joint effort staged by the Border Police and the Israel Antiquities Authority. (Jerusalem Post).
Authorities said that the men had stolen ancient coins from the Roman and Byzantine periods that are believed to be over 2,000 years old.

The police said that the suspects were caught in the act of digging for more artifacts in the Tel Ma’aravim site.
There have been an awful lot of these arrests lately. I hope it is doing some good.

Day on the Serpent in Eden

The Serpent in the Garden of Eden and its Background

The serpent in the Garden of Eden is popularly equated with the Devil. However, modern scholars agree that this was a later identification and not the original meaning, but there is no consensus as to what the original background of the serpent was. This brief article critiques a number of the proposals that have been made and suggests a possible background for the serpent. More generally it also discusses other questions of interpretation that have arisen in connection with the serpent in Genesis 3, in particular the suggestion that the serpent should be viewed more positively than has been customary and questions associated with the so-called Protoevangelium in Genesis 3:15.

Adapted and expanded from: John Day, From Creation to Babel: Studies in Genesis 1-11 (LHBOTS 592; London/New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2013), 35-37.

By John Day
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament Studies
Lady Margaret Hall
Oxford University
April 2015

Judeo-Persian manuscripts

ADAM MCCOLLUM: Some Judeo-Persian manuscripts at the BnF.

The Judeo-Persian (etc.) manuscripts found in a cave in Afghanistan were a big story some years ago.

A letter by Schechter on the Cairo Geniza

GENIZA FRAGMENT OF THE MONTH (OCTOBER 2014): Add.6463(e)3416: Breathing the 'dust of centuries' (Melonie Schmierer-Lee).
This letter was written three weeks after Solomon Schechter arrived in Egypt. He writes to Francis Jenkinson, the University Librarian, describing his work in the Genizah chamber and his dealings with the local men who were assisting him. His main purpose, however, is to notify Jenkinson that he plans to send the first batch of manuscripts on ahead, and, as he intends to offer the manuscripts to the Library, would the Library look after them until Schechter’s return. The letter was preserved among Jenkinson’s papers, and eventually deposited in the University Library itself.

Friday, May 01, 2015

N=1 classes at Harvard

SYRIAC WATCH: Center of Attention. Students pursue one-person classes (Lara C. Tang, Harvard Crimson).
Peaking out between the enormous enrollments of the CS50s and Ec10s of the Q guide sits NEC91r, a supervised research tutorial in the Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations department. Its sole student in the fall of 2013, Christian G. Sidak ’17 was the only undergraduate to study Syriac-Aramaic at the time.

Sidak decided to attend Harvard with every intention of pursuing Aramaic. However, upon his arrival in Cambridge, he learned that the professor who taught Aramaic A, the beginner Aramaic course, was absent on sabbatical.

Unfazed, Sidak approached the director of undergraduate studies for NELC and petitioned for a class in Syriac-Armaic. According to Sidak, the petition process presented no challenges, as the department easily found a professor who was willing to teach a one-person seminar in the ancient language.

In my time at UCLA I was the only undergraduate taking the Biblical Studies degree and I took a number of courses on my own with Stanislav Segert, including Biblical Aramaic. If memory serves, he told me to go and read Rosenthal's grammar and all the Aramaic texts in the Bible and then come tell him when I was done so he could give me a final exam.

Likewise, when I was a doctoral student at Harvard in the 1980s, I was the only registered student in a Sumerian reading class with Piotr Steinkeller, although there were also auditors in that case. Ec10, by the way, is an introductory Economics class at Harvard that is famous for its gigantic enrollments. For a while I dated one of the several secretaries who worked full time just for that one class.

A couple of times over the years I have taught a Hebrew seminar here with just one student, but my Aramaic class has, for some reason, always been well attended. And our Hebrew enrollments are considerably stronger now than back then.

DSS party

ON ISRAEL INDEPENDENCE DAY: Moving and Shaking: Dead Sea Scrolls, Yom HaAtzmaut and The Women’s Guild (Ryan Torok/Tess Cutler, Jewish Journal).
Blue tablecloths decorated tables, Israeli music played, and Hebrew-speaking security personnel were on guard as the local Israeli consulate held an upbeat Yom HaAtzmaut celebration at the California Science Center on April 23.

The crowd of 500 mixed and mingled, enjoying food and cocktails, while dignitaries posed for photos and many people ventured upstairs to the museum’s second floor to tour the museum’s current Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition.

The event drew a slew of influential and diverse personalities, including politicians, astronauts and clergy. They included Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles David Siegel and Israeli-American Council (IAC) Board Chairman Shawn Evenhaim.

Background on the California Science Center's exhibition of the Dead Sea Scrolls in Los Angeles is here and links.

Dig Episode 9

KIMBERLY WINSTON: TV’s ‘Dig’ goes to the gates of hell — and hopefully, back. We'll see. For more on the the tradition of the 36 righteous or "lamed vovniks," see here and links.

More on Emek Shaveh vs. Elad

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Archeological activists: Elad must cede control of Temple Mount tunnel. Excavation of the tunnel, which extends from the Silwan parking lot opposite the Dung Gate to the Western Wall, commenced in 2009 by the IAA. (Jerusalem Post).
During a Thursday morning press tour of a contested tunnel being excavated under the Temple Mount, Yonathan Mizrachi stopped to explain why his archeological NGO submitted a petition to the High Court requesting that a right-wing NGO cease managerial oversight of the project.

“We don’t think any private organization should operate an archeological site, but especially one with a political agenda in a place that is important to everybody who cherishes the history of Jerusalem – including Jews, Muslims, Christians, and non-religious people,” said Mizrachi, executive director of Emek Shaveh, a left-wing, European- funded consortium of archeologists.


Asked to respond to Emek Shaveh’s petition, Ze’ev Orenstein, the organization’s director of international affairs, issued a strongly worded statement defending Elad’s current role and its right to manage the tunnel.

“Both Israel’s government and Supreme Court confirmed the Elad Foundation’s operation of the City of David National Park,” the statement said. “Furthermore, no other national park has grown as rapidly as the City of David – growing from having only a few thousand annual visitors a decade ago to over half a million visitors each year today – and benefiting people of all faiths and backgrounds.”

Background here and links. Cross-file under Politics.

New Hebrew biography of Scholem

MASTER OF MYSTICISM: Finally, this author puts the great Gershom Scholem in context. A new Hebrew biography of is the first to place the philosopher-historian’s remarkable breadth in a historical light, while offering a coherent understanding of his professional and political development. (Nitzan Lebovic, Haaretz). “From Berlin to Jerusalem and Back: Gershom Scholem Between Israel and Germany,” by Noam Zadoff (in Hebrew), Carmel Books, 119 shekels.

The biography focuses less on Scholem’s personal life – it ignores, for example, the story of his wife’s affair – but develops a coherent understanding of his professional and political development. For Zadoff, Scholem’s story leads “From Berlin to Jerusalem,” as Scholem titled his own autobiographical account of his life and of his friendship with Walter Benjamin, but also along a path that led back to Berlin (hence the title of the book). His story leads from his political commitment, during the 1920s, to Brit Shalom – the first peace organization in the Middle East, which called for a binational state in Palestine – to his commitment to the search for lost Jewish libraries after the Holocaust. The biography also explores his friendships and rivalries with well-known intellectuals, and devotes much attention to Scholem’s involvement with the Eranos Circle in Switzerland, which brought him together with a small group of thinkers who were interested in similar topics. They included C.G. Jung, Karl Kerényi, Mircea Eliade, as well as Scholem’s colleague Martin Buber, and his protégé Yosef Weiss (Zadoff edited the correspondence between Scholem and Weiss, in Hebrew).

The narrative, even beyond the biographical details, is shaped by the history and rhetoric of spiritual Zionism and the hope for the revival of an ancient and secret language; Scholem extended his understanding of kabbala to Hebrew as a whole.

Zadoff follows Scholem through his endeavors to institutionalize his philosophy of language and history of kabbala. Scholem did both as a leading scholar at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where his influence and reputation grew exponentially following his appointment, but nevertheless failed to cross the intellectual-political Rubicon and win adherents among the political elite. Being unable to cross that threshold, and watching helplessly the rise of messianic forms of Zionist nationalism, convinced Scholem that his intellectual path should turn back to Europe.
And this conclusion is intriguing:
Undoubtedly, Scholem’s powerful impact and intellectual contributions will continue to occupy us, even haunt us. This exceptionally tall man with protruding ears called himself “a metaphysical clown,” and prepared his own legacy by planting hints and secrets in his own texts, thereby promising a wealthy suggestive world to his followers “[or at least ] those of them who have a sixth bibliographical sense which is a must for the keepers of secrets.” After all, he admitted to Weiss (in a letter written March 31, 1960), [“I have] planted signs like one of the figures hiding in the well-known paintings.”
What is that about?

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Ramelli and Perkins (eds.), Early Christian and Jewish Narrative

Early Christian and Jewish Narrative
The Role of Religion in Shaping Narrative Forms
Ed. by Ilaria Ramelli and Judith Perkins

The authors of this volume elucidate the remarkable role played by religion in the shaping and reshaping of narrative forms in antiquity and late antiquity in a variety of ways. This is particularly evident in ancient Jewish and Christian narrative, which is in the focus of most of the contributions, but also in some "pagan" novels such as that of Heliodorus, which is dealt with as well in the third part of the volume, both in an illuminating comparison with Christian novels and in an inspiring rethinking of Heliodorus's relation to Neoplatonism. All of these essays, from different perspectives, illuminate the interplay between narrative and religion, and show how religious concerns and agendas shaped narrative forms in Judaism and early Christianity. A series of compelling and innovative articles, all based on fresh and often groundbreaking research by eminent specialists, is divided into three large sections: part one deals with ancient Jewish narrative, and part two with ancient Christian narrative, in particular gospels, acts, biographies, and martyrdoms, while part three offers a comparison with "pagan" narrative, and especially the religious novel of Heliodorus, both in terms of social perspectives and in terms of philosophical and religious agendas. Like the essays collected by Marília Futre Pinheiro, Judith Perkins, and Richard Pervo in 2013, which investigate the core role played by narratives in Christian and Jewish self-fashioning in the Roman Empire, the present volume fruitfully bridges the disciplinary gap between classical studies and ancient Jewish and Christian studies, offers new insights, and hopefully opens up new paths of inquiry.

Incantation Bowls and Jewish practice

ARAMAIC WATCH: Relics, writings show non-Jewish influences on Jewish practices. Rabbi Josef Davidson launches a homily with the ancient Babylonian Aramaic incantation bowls. Really.

PA TV and The Protocols

OH DEAR: Palestinian Authority TV Presents Anti-Semitic ‘Protocols’ as True. "Even in their Protocols [of the Elders of Zion] and even in their bible [it says], ‘Don't live in Gaza,'" says Fatah spokesman. (Tzvi Ben-Gedalyahu, The Jewish Press).

A dozen years ago I had a little run-in with the new Egyptian Library of Alexandria over a display of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. My PaleoJudaica posts made enough of an impact that the Library sent me the press release when they removed the exhibit. You can read about it here, here, here, here, and here.

Bons and Pouchelle (eds.), The Psalms of Solomon

The Psalms of Solomon: Language, History, Theology
Eberhard Bons (Editor), Patrick Pouchelle (Editor)

ISBN 1628370424
Status Available
Price: $34.95
Binding Paperback
Publication Date April, 2015
Pages 228

A fresh analysis of that sheds new light on the Psalms of Solomon [Sic]

Researchers whose work focuses on the Psalms of Solomon, experts on the Septuagint, and scholars of Jewish Hellenistic literature take a fresh look at debates surrounding the text. Authors engage linguistic, historical, and theological issues, including the original language of the psalms, their historical setting, and their theological intentions, with the goal of expanding our understanding of first-century BCE Jewish theology.


SHORED FRAGMENTS: The name 'Easter' and internet misinformation. My St. Andrews colleague Steven R. Holmes has researched the origins of the word "Easter." Short version: It's not from Bede's (otherwise unknown) goddess Eostre, it's the Indo-European word for April, the month when the "dawn" comes earlier.

Via James McGrath: Myths, Messiahs, and Minimalisms.

Some Armenian Philo

ADAM MCCOLLUM: The wise king: A passage from Philo’s Questions on Genesis (4.76) in Armenian. Unusually for Philo's Quaestiones in Genesim, the original Greek survives and can be compared to the Armenian.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Performance of ancient music

CONCERT IN YORK TONIGHT: Swimming Between Shores & The Flood. Draws on, among other things, late antique Aramaic, Byzantine (Greek?), and Coptic music, as well as ancient Akkadian and Sumerian music. I'm not sure exactly how the latter was reconstructed, but it sounds interesting.


TECHNOLOGY WATCH: Robot takes on ancient ritual of Torah writing in museum installation ( I noted this story back in July of 2014, when the Berlin Museum exhibition (which ran into April) was opening. But the link has rotted, so now you can read about it here.

Qumran video

ISRAEL TODAY: VIDEO: Israel's Amazing Qumran Caves. An unnarrated flyover video by Amir Aloni. Cool.

AJS paper-proposal deadline looming

H-JUDAIC: CFP: AJS 47th Annual Conference: Proposal Submission Deadline May 6, 2015.
A reminder that Wednesday, May 6, 2015 is the deadline for submitting proposals to the Association for Jewish Studies 47th Annual Conference. The conference will be held December 13-15, 2015 at the Sheraton Boston, in Boston, Massachusetts. The AJS Conference is the largest annual gathering of Jewish Studies scholars worldwide, with more than 170 sessions on the latest research in Jewish Studies, an exhibit of major publishers, professional development and digital humanities workshops, cultural events, receptions, and more.
Follow the link for the relevant links. CFPs for specific sessions of the conference have already been noted here and here.

Honorary doctorate for the other Collins at Zurich

CONGRATULATIONS TO ADELE YARBRO COLLINS: Ehrenpromotion 2015 der Theologischen Fakultät: Prof. Dr. Adela Yarbro Collins.
Die Theologische Fakultät der Universität Zürich verleiht die Würde einer Doktorin ehrenhalber an Frau Prof. Dr. Adela Yarbro Collins für ihre methodisch innovativen Arbeiten zur frühchristlichen Apokalyptik und zur Johannesapokalypse sowie ihre wegweisenden Arbeiten zum Markusevangelium und zur frühchristlichen Christologie. Sie verbindet religionsgeschichtliche Weite, philologische Solidität und methodische Innovation mit einem steten Engagement zur Förderung internationaler Kooperation und der kommenden Generation von Wissenschaftlerinnen und Wissenschaftlern weit über ihren
Well deserved.

The announcement of John Collins's honorary doctorate at the same institution was noted here.

Again, via the Agade List.

Oxford Hebrew job

POSTDOC: Kennicott Research Fellow - Classical Hebrew. University of Oxford - Faculty of Oriental Studies.
Applications are invited for a fixed-term fellowship in Classical Hebrew or closely related disciplines, from an ambitious academic at an early stage of his or her career, the appointment to commence on 1 October 2015. This is a fixed-term junior research position that may also involve some teaching for the Hebrew and Jewish Studies courses of the Faculty of Oriental Studies. For 2 years initially, the appointment may be extended for a further year subject to satisfactory progress and the availability of funding.
Follow the link for further particulars and application information. The deadline for application is 22 May.

Via the Agade List.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

BASOR on Caesarea Maritima

ASOR BLOG: BASOR Article Preview: Excavations at Caesarea Maritima and the Vardaman Papers (Olin Storvick and Marylinda Govaars). There is a charge to read the whole article.

BHD on the GJW

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: Is the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife a Fake? Coptic papyrus mentioning Jesus’ wife is a forgery, according to Coptic manuscripts experts (Ellen White).

Yep. Background here and follow the many, many links.

Marriage inequality and the Angel of Death in the Talmud

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Jewish Bride Has a Mole? Grounds for Divorce. Husband Smells Bad? Live With It. Inequality under the wedding canopy, in this week’s ‘Daf Yomi’ Talmud study. Plus: a story about cheating the Angel of Death. On the latter the essay concludes:
The discussion of ra’atan culminates, at the end of the chapter, in a beautiful story about Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, one of the greatest Talmudic sages. Most rabbis, the Gemara says, would flee anyone afflicted with the disease, even avoiding the alleys where they lived. But Yehoshua ben Levi would seek out lepers and study Torah with them, confident that Torah itself would protect him from getting sick. This extraordinary selflessness earned its reward at the end of his life, when the dying Yehoshua managed to play a trick on the Angel of Death.

When the Angel approached him, Yehoshua asked to be shown his place in paradise before he died. Once the Angel took him there, the rabbi “jumped and fell into that side,” slipping into paradise while still alive. Such was his virtue that he was allowed to stay, and “Elijah the Prophet announced before him: Make way for the son of Levi, make way for the son of Levi.” Still, there was a limit to what even Yehoshua ben Levi could achieve. On the way to paradise he seized the Angel of Death’s knife and refused to give it back, hoping in this way to abolish death forever; but “a Divine Voice emerged and said to him: ‘Give it to him, as it is necessary to kill the created beings.’ ” However inscrutable it may remain to us, the rabbis are sure that death is part of God’s plan for the universe.
You can read a couple of versions of this story in Helen Spurling's excellent translation of "Hebrew Visions of Hell and Paradise" in Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: More Noncanonical Scriptures volume 1.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links. Cross-file under Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Watch.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Koren on Tyrian Purple Pigments and Dyes

ASOR BLOG: Setting the Archaeo-Chemical Record Straight Regarding Tyrian Purple Pigments and Dyes. Professor Zvi C. Koren presents his 2014 ASOR paper for ASORtv. I haven't yet watched the presentation, but the abstract says tantalizingly:
A critical reanalysis of Pliny’s and the Talmud’s writings, combined with the archaeological record and with modern laboratory experiments on all-natural dyeings that I have performed, have provided new insights into this craft.

My findings show that there have been significant misinterpretations of the biotechnological process associated with the molluskan purple pigment and of its uses in textile dyeing and stone painting.
It will be interesting to see what impact his research has on recent efforts to resurrect the biblical tekhelet dye.

Honorary doctorate for Collins at Zurich University

CONGRATULATIONS TO JOHN J. COLLINS: Ehrenpromotion 2015 der Theologischen Fakultät: Prof. Dr. John Collins.
Die Theologische Fakultät der Universität Zürich verleiht die Würde eines Doktors ehrenhalber an Herrn Prof. Dr. John Collins für seine wegweisenden Forschungen zur jüdischen Apokalyptik und die sein Lebenswerk prägende Bemühung, die Einsichten aus den Schriftfunden vom Toten Meer für die gesamte Bibelwissenschaft fruchtbar zu machen. Sie würdigt ihn nicht zuletzt für seinen unermüdlichen Einsatz um die internationale Vernetzung der Bibelwissenschaft und seine selbstlose und stets interessierte Förderung der kommenden Generation von Wissenschaftlerinnen und Wissenschaftlern.
A well-deserved honor.

Mt. Zion excavation and cup

JERUSALEM EXCAVATION: Archaeologists Return to Dig Key Area Near Temple Mount (Popular Archaeology). The excavation of the Mt. Zion site, just outside the Temple Mount, are described in the free article, Digging into First Century Jerusalem's Rich and Famous. Notable in the article is a section on the Mt. Zion cup, an inscribed stone cup excavated there:
"Among the special finds from the 2009 season of excavations was a soft white limestone cup dating from the first century C.E. bearing an incised inscription, with ten or perhaps eleven lines of script on its sides," wrote Gibson.**

The cup (pictured left) was found in four pieces within a fill layer containing 1st century pottery fragments above a barrel-vaulted ceiling of a mikveh. It represented a well-known type of 1st century cup found in excavations throughout Jerusalem and beyond. The inscription on the cup has not yet been completely and definitively translated, but study of the cup and the historical context of its finding suggests that it might have been a ritual cleansing cup, used for the washing of hands before engaging in liturgical functions. Suggests Gibson, "the discovery of the cup in the area of the Upper City of Jerusalem, in which priestly families are known to have resided (including the Qatros family), may hint at the original priestly function that this specific vessel had some two thousand years ago."**
Most of the inscription remains undeciphered. There is more on it in the article and there is further background here and here and links

The Babylonian-Judean cuneiform tablets again

THE LACROSSE TRIBUNE: Mark Chavalas: New evidence for Jewish exiles found in clay tablets. Excerpt:
One of the towns inhabited by these exiled Jewish businessmen was call Al-Yahudu, “Judah-town,” the city where many of the tablets originated. Though the location of this town is uncertain, it was probably within proximity to Babylon, the focal center of the kingdom. The name of the town indicates the primary ethnic makeup of the inhabitants, although they interacted with the Babylonian natives in many of their ventures.

The texts were written by professional Babylonian scribes on behalf of their Jewish lower middle-class clients, who engaged in the cultivation of grains and date palms, bought and sold cattle, rented houses, loaned silver, sold slaves, and engaged in marriage alliances. Though some even prospered economically, most were settled in state-owned land in return for military service for Babylon, By a cursory study of the personal names in the tablets, it appears that at least three generations of Jews lived in Al-Yahudu and surrounding towns.

Though the tablets tell us virtually nothing about the religious nature of the exiles, it is interesting to note that none of the dated texts were issued during Jewish sacred days.

A few examples from these texts will perhaps help in our understanding. ...
The discovery is well known to PaleoJudaica readers, but Dr. Chavales proceeds to relate some interesting details about some of the Jewish clients in the tablets.

Background here and links.