Saturday, June 06, 2015

Waters, A concise history of the Achaemenid Empire

BIBLIOGRAPHIA IRANICA: A concise history of the Achaemenid Empire. A new book (2014) from CUP.

PhD scholarships and postdocs at Göttingen

ALIN SUCIU: Doctoral and Postdoctoral Positions available at Göttingen University. Including positions relating to ancient libraries, Syriac, and Coptic.

A Syriac newspaper (in Turkish)

MODERN ARAMAIC WATCH (SORT OF): First Syriac newspaper seeks to explain community to society at large (Cihan).
Sabro, which means hope in Aramaic, is the first newspaper representing the Süryani, or the Arameans (the Syriac community) of Turkey, in the history of the republic. Editor-in-Chief Tuma Çelik notes that since the past is marked by unpleasant events for the Aramean community, they no longer wish to live tied to this past. They want to look forward.


What sort of goals are you trying to achieve with Sabro?

We have two basic goals. The first is to see ourselves properly represented and have our voices heard. This is important because there is so much incorrect information out there about Arameans. And this is not just a problem that implicates one side; many of the mistakes are ours. After all, how much have we shared so that others may learn who we are? Perhaps we wanted to but were never able to. And the second goal is to get to know those around us better with this newspaper because we live with so many people of other colors on these lands.


Why do you write in Turkish and not Aramaic?

I know how to speak Aramaic, but not how to read or write it. In fact, I know as little Aramaic as I do German. I write in Turkish and a friend of mine translates into Aramaic. But the main column in the paper is in Turkish. I do not write enough in Aramaic to write my own column.

If I'm reading that last paragraph correctly, it sounds as though Sabro publishes articles in both Turkish and Aramaic, which would make sense given its goals and intended audiences.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Palmyra - survivors' accounts

PALMYRA WATCH: Isis slaughter in the sacred Syrian city of Palmyra: The survivors' stories. We’ve heard about the threat to the monuments - but what about the human tragedy? In nearby Hayan, above oil and gas deposits of Syria’s desert, Robert Fisk hears from some of the few who escaped the invading Isis jihadis (The Independent). This is about the horrific human cost of the ISIS occupation rather than about the ruins, although it does include some good photographs of the ruins.

Background here, here, here, and links.

New inscription from Khirbet Qeiyafa

THE SITE THAT KEEPS ON GIVING: New Khirbet Qeiyafa Inscription Published. What Does it Say? (Luke Chandler). Briefly, it was written on a jar in the tenth or eleventh century BCE and it includes the name Ishba‘al ("Man of Baal" or "Man of the Lord"), which was also the name of one of King Saul's sons.

The full, scholarly publication by Yosef Garfinkel, Mitka R. Golub, Haggai Misgav and Saar Ganor has appeared in BASOR and can be read at Haggai Misgav's page.

We have been looking forward to the full publication for over a year and it is good to have it out. That link also connects to earlier posts on the first Khirbet Qeiyafa inscription, as well as on the portable shrines also found at the site (more here). The other two finds are from around same period as the new inscription.

Other recent Canaanite (Hebrew(ish)?) epigraphic finds from roughly the tenth century BCE include the Tel es-Safi (Gath) inscription (see here, here, here; and note also here) the Tel Zayit abecedary (here and links), and the Jerusalem inscription (here and links).

Masada opera 2015

SIXTH ANNUAL ISRAELI OPERA FESTIVAL AT MASASA: My Word: Masada’s music, magic and message. The Israeli Opera is marking its 30th anniversary and the Opera Festival at Masada is celebrating the milestone with performances of both Puccini’s ever popular Tosca and Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. (Jerusalem Post).
It is the fifth time the Israeli Opera has staged a production at what Maestro Daniel Oren calls “This magic mountain.” On our way, we pass the red and pink beauty of desert rocks, the extraordinary blue hue of the Dead Sea, plenty of goats, a herd of wild camels, and several camels waiting for tourists to have their picture taken while riding them.
No, it's the sixth time. The first was in 2010.

CORRECTION: Nope, this is the fifth time after all.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Palmyra and politics

PALMYRA WATCH: Using Violence and Persuasion, ISIS Makes Political Gains (ANNE BARNARD and TIM ARANGO, NYT).
BEIRUT, Lebanon — Days after seizing the Syrian desert city of Palmyra, Islamic State militants blew up the notorious Tadmur Prison there, long used by the Syrian government to detain and torture political prisoners.

The demolition was part of the extremist group’s strategy to position itself as the champion of Sunni Muslims who feel besieged by the Shiite-backed governments in Syria and Iraq.

The Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, has managed to advance in the face of American-led airstrikes by employing a mix of persuasion and violence. That has allowed it to present itself as the sole guardian of Sunni interests in a vast territory cutting across Iraq and Syria.

I can't find any specific news today about Palmyra's antiquities and ruins, but this article give some informative background about the overall political situation. Also, there's this piece in Foreign Policy:

Save Statues, Save Lives. Stopping the Islamic State’s destruction of the Middle East’s heritage and history must go hand in hand with defeating the extremist group (Matthew Bogdanos, Tess Davis, Atheel al-Nujaifi). It reviews ISIS's dual strategy of destroying some antiquities and harvesting others to sell to finance their operations.
As devastating as this destruction is, history warns us that worse is coming. Once you erase a people’s historical identity, the next step is to erase the people themselves. The Holocaust followed the razing of old Warsaw; Cambodia’s Killing Fields followed the destruction of churches, mosques, and pagodas. Stopping the Islamic State’s devastation of the region’s identity and ending the humanitarian crisis must go hand in hand.

For the Islamic State, death and destruction are inextricably interwoven: According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the Islamic State recently executed 20 men in the famed Roman amphitheater of Palmyra, in a propaganda stunt redolent of the depravity of Joseph Goebbels. Because terrorists don’t respect borders any more than they respect human life or heritage, this pattern should concern those far beyond the self-declared caliphate. It must be stopped.
A call to action to choke off their supply line in the antiquities market. I would like to see that happen for more than one reason. But it is easier said than done.

St. Matthew's Monastery in danger from ISIS

ANOTHER ANCIENT SITE IN PERIL: Monks won't leave ancient monastery amid ISIL threat (Sheren Khalel and Matthew Vickery, USA Today).
Situated on the side of Mount Al-Faf in North Iraq's Nineveh Plains, St. Matthew's Monastery is recognized as one of the oldest Christian monasteries in Iraq. Today, the beige stone structure looks down on the rolling hills of one of Iraq's most active front lines against the Islamic State, less than four miles away.

The horizon is spotted with pluming towers of white and black smoke from U.S.-led coalition airstrikes and heavy artillery fire. From this front line, Islamic State territory stretches back to Mosul, the group's largest Iraqi stronghold.

The proximity of the Islamic State to St. Matthew's means the monastery is constantly at risk. The extremist group is known for destroying churches, museums and other culturally and historically significant sites.


While monks at the monastery say they are confident God and the Peshmerga forces will protect the site, they have removed their most precious relics, including centuries-old Christian manuscripts. The tomb of the monastery's namesake, St. Matthew, lies empty – the bones have been moved north into the relatively safe territory of the Kurdish Regional Government.

This article was published on 27 May. I can't find any more recent updates on the Monastery's situation.

"Tomb of Nahum" in danger from ISIS

ADVANCING BARBARIANS: 2,700-year old tomb of Hebrew prophet in danger from ISIS. A family of Assyrian Christians has been guarding the tomb of Nahum the Elkoshi for generations. That tradition may be ending soon. (Sheren Khalel and Matthew Vickery, Haaretz).
The crumbling stone walls of one of Iraq’s last synagogues remain mostly standing, nestled in the center of the small town, against the backdrop of the Bayhidhra Mountains. Inside purportedly lies the tomb of "Nahum the Elkoshite" – meaning, of the town of Al Qosh – the Hebrew prophet who vividly predicted the fall of Nineveh in the 7th century BCE.

Asir Salaam Shajaa, an Assyrian Christian born and raised in Al Qosh, dusts off the green cloth that lies over the ancient tomb in the center of the run-down synagogue. He is adamant that resting under the heavy stones are really the remains of Prophet Nahum.

Like his father and his grandfather before him, Shajaa takes care of the site dutifully, fulfilling a promise made more than 60 years ago to the fleeing Jewish residents of the town.
In historical terms, it is very unlikely that this is the actual tomb of the prophet Nahum, but it an important site in Jewish tradition and its loss would be a tragedy. The current situation is precarious:
Shajaa is certain ISIS can't conquer Al Qosh, but the risk has affected pilgrimages. While barely a dozen Jewish pilgrims could be expected at the site each year, now with the threat of the Islamic State extremist group nearby that number has dwindled even further.

“There’s someone coming in July,” Shajaa says after a brief moment thinking about future pilgrims. “Mainly it is Peshmerga that have visited recently,” he adds, in reference to the Iraqi Kurdish fighters who have been staving off an ISIS advance around Al Qosh since August.

With ISIS just ten miles away from Al Qosh, any plans for the crumbling walls of Nahum’s tomb remain on hold. Shajaa, who like many other Iraqi Christians wants to leave battle-scarred Iraq, worries what the future may hold for the synagogue and the tomb, a place that his family has cared after for decades with little to no outside help.
Read the whole article for lots more details. Earlier posts involving the (traditional) Tomb of Nahum in Iraq are here, here, and here.

More on Dr. Ruth and the Talmud

RABBI DANYA RUTTENBERG: Actually, Dr. Ruth, the Talmud Does Not OK Rape (The Forward). Rabbi Ruttenberg is one of the rabbis cited by Julie Wiener in an article noted yesterday, but in this piece Rabbi Ruttenberg brings more Talmudic material into the discussion. She argues that Dr. Ruth's "Talmudic" reference is actually a Yiddish saying and that the Talmud itself presents a rather different view about consent than Dr. Ruth's.

UPDATE: In his book Carnal Israel: Reading Sex in Talmudic Culture, Daniel Boyarin discusses sexual consent in the Talmud and brings in some addition texts. See chapter 4. The Talmud even discusses the question of sexual coercion of a man by a woman, albeit in very specific circumstances. See this post on one of Adam Kirsch's Daf Yomi columns in Tablet Magazine.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Palmyra: ruins still intact

PALMYRA WATCH: No significant news on the fate of Palmyra's antiquities and ruins, except that ISIS seems not to have done them any further damage in the last few days. But a couple of essays are exploring the question of why.

Why have IS militants spared ancient Palmyra? (France 24).
According to some analysts, the IS group is not attempting to win sympathy among locals or foreigners by sparing Palmyra’s monuments. The announcement is, in fact, consistent with its brand.

“There is no change in strategy,” said Wassim Nasr, a FRANCE 24 journalist who specialises in jihadist movements. “From the beginning, the group has been clear that it is only out to destroy statues.”

The jihadists are nevertheless waging a PR battle in Palmyra, as elsewhere in Syria and Iraq.

“The IS group’s target in Palmyra was always the jail. By destroying it they position themselves as liberators of those oppressed by [President Bashar al-] Assad’s regime. And that is consistent with their strategy,” Nasr said.
Being "only out to destroy statues" does not count entirely as "sparing" ancient Palmyra. As already noted, there is at least one report that ISIS has destroyed the site's "god lion" statue, but I have not yet seen any confirmation. For the demolition of Palmyra's Baathist prison, see here.

In Syria, Islamic State group apparently spares Palmyra’s stunning ruins—for now (Zach Zorich, Science Magazine).
... However, after a preliminary examination of the latest satellite images from Palmyra, Michael Danti, the academic director of the Syrian Heritage Initiative at the American Schools of Oriental Research in Boston, reported that he saw no new damage to the stunning crossroads of Roman, Greek, and Persian cultures, whose ruins include the Roman emperor Diocletian’s camp.

The Islamic State group has released a video showing that these ruins are still intact. And in an interview released yesterday, the head of the group's military forces in Palmyra, Abu Laith al-Saoudi, stated that they would preserve the ruins—perhaps because some buildings lack religious connotations or worship—but destroy the site’s statues, which the group believes are religious idols.

Recent satellite images reveal no new damage, confirmed Einar Bjorgo, the manager of UNOSAT, a U.N. satellite imaging project. But he and Danti cautioned that a more in-depth comparison with older satellite images and eyewitness accounts are needed for confirmation. UNOSAT’s more complete analysis is expected to be released Friday

Tyre Day Symposium

PHOENICIAN WATCH: The Library of Congress celebrates Tyre (Lebanon Daily Star).
BEIRUT: The Library of Congress in Washington D.C. will delve deep into the history of south Lebanon Wednesday with a comprehensive program of talks entitled the Tyre Day Symposium.

Organized by the American Committee for Tyre, one of 13 committees around the world affiliated with Lebanese UNESCO-accredited NGO the International Association to Save Tyre, the symposium coincides with an exhibition of the library’s publications relating to the ancient Phoenician city.

Taking place today.

The Talmud on consent and female viagra?

CONTROVERSY: Did Dr. Ruth Use the Talmud to Justify Rape? (Sarah Breger, The Forward). Well, Dr. Ruth doesn't think so, but she certainly has created a stir. PaleoJudaica is always interested in the use of ancient texts in discussions of modern issues, but Dr. Ruth has complicated matters by not citing any specific reference in the Talmud in her original comments or, at least as far as I can tell, responding to requests for clarification of which passage(s) she had in mind. Julie Wiener at JTA asks: Citing the Talmud, Dr. Ruth questions sexual consent requirements. Is her reading correct? She also was unable to identify Dr. Ruth's passage(s) but she quotes a number of rabbis who cite Talmudic passages to support a different view.

Again, juxtaposed in this morning's Google searches was this: Is Viagra for Women Kosher? Rachel Rosenthal, also in The Forward, does cite a couple of specific stories in the Talmud, although, as you might imagine, their application to the question in the headline is indirect. But the headline question is not the central issue of the essay anyway.

The divine as female?

THE BBC ASKS: Why is God not female? It's complicated, and it isn't the case that God in the Western tradition has been presented only in male terms, although that imagery has certainly dominated. The article notes, among various other things, the traditions of the ancient Gnostics:
Other gnostic, or mystical, Christian groups in the early Church went further from mainstream Christianity, believing that God, unknowable in himself/herself has many emanations, both male and female. The female ones include spirits called Aletheia (Truth), and Zoe (Life), and Spiritus (Spirit), Ecclesia (Church), and Sophia (Wisdom). The universe came into being through Sophia (though gnostics regarded this as a bad move) and at the end of time she will be the bride of Christ. Gnostics were baptised - according to their Catholic opponent Irenaeus - with the words: "Into the name of the unknown Father of the universe - into Truth, the mother of all things".
And for the Gnostics, the highest explicitly male emanation was the Demiurge, Yaldabaoth, who was an abortive Frankenstein-monster of an emanation resulting when Sophia tried to do some creating of her own. And they believed that the Demiurge was the God of the Bible.

An interesting juxtaposition to this article came up alongside it in this mornings Google searches: Kabala scholar to explain God’s female side (Debra Rubin, New Jersey Jewish News)
In the mystical world of Kabala, the divine romance taking place between the female and male sides of God can be accomplished only with the help of the Jewish people.

This “radical” vision of the Shechina, or feminine side of God, said Dr. Daniel Matt, is prominently featured in the Zohar — meaning radiance or splendor — the Aramaic-language book on which Kabala’s mystical teachings are based

One of the world’s leading authorities on Kabala, Matt will come to Highland Park Conservative Temple-Congregation Anshe Emeth to speak about the Shechina and its connection to the kind and compassionate aspects of God on Sunday, June 7.


While the Shechina appears in the Talmud, Matt noted that there it simply refers to God’s presence in the world, but is not overtly feminine.

“You never find a statement that the Shechina is married to the Holy One blessed be he,” said Matt. “However, that type of statement is very prominent in the Zohar and is one of its most radical images. But, that divine romance can only happen with the help of the people of Israel. If we enact the mitzvot we stimulate the divine union. You could actually say that every mitzva serves as an aphrodisiac. In a way, the divine is not complete and full unless we lead a holy life.”

Professor Matt's important work on the Zohar has been noted often on PaleoJudaica over the years. Start here and follow the links. Note also this post in particular. And Philologos has an old essay on the Shekhinah (Shechinah), which I noted at the time, but which has now moved to here.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Symposium on the Zoroastrian and Manichaean Religious Controversy

BIBLIOGRAPHIA IRANICA: The Zoroastrian and Manichaean religious controversy. Conference on 12—13 June 2015, Collège de France.

Talmud-libel quotations at Renew America

AN AMERICAN PASTOR NAMED CHUCK BALDWIN: "A man's enemies are the men of his own house" (Renew America).
For the record, it never ceases to amaze me that the same Christians who love to use the words of the Koran as justification for a holy war against Muslims have either totally forgotten or never read the words of the Jewish Talmud. The Talmud was the law that the Pharisees held in highest regard – even above The Torah. It was the law they constantly accused Jesus of violating. Still today, the Talmud is regarded as God's highest law by Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and most of Israel's leaders. In fact, just recently Bibi announce that it was his intention to enshrine the Jewish Talmud as the "official basis for Israeli state law."
Mr. Baldwin and I are in agreement in opposing "killing in the service of God," but from there we part ways.

The Talmud did not exist until centuries after the time of the Pharisees. Jesus had conflicts with the Pharisees over the authority of their oral traditions, but this sort of disagreement was common among Second Temple-era Jews - for example, the disagreements of the Qumran sectarians with other Jews about specifics of Torah praxis were quite strident. (I have noted the story about Prime Minister Netanyahu's comments here.)

Mr. Baldwin then goes on to refer to a series of out-of-context quotations from and fake quotations attributed to the Talmud. These can be found on various internet sites.
"When the Messiah comes every Jew will have 2800 slaves."

"That the Jewish nation is the only nation selected by God, while all the remaining ones are contemptible and hateful."

"That all property of other nations belongs to the Jewish nation, which consequently is entitled to seize upon it without any scruples. An orthodox Jew is not bound to observe principles of morality towards people of other tribes. He may act contrary to morality, if profitable to himself or to Jews in general."

"Kill the Goyim [non-Jew] by any means possible."

"Everyone who sheds the blood of the impious [non-Jews] is as acceptable to God as he who offers a sacrifice to God."

"The non-Jew is consequently an animal in human form, and condemned to serve the Jew day and night."

"A Jew may violate but not marry a non-Jewish girl."
Mr. Baldwin does not even trouble to give any of the real or fake references that normally go with them. It seems a safe assumption that he has not bothered to check them for himself. David S. Maddison has collected and responded to many of these here.

A similar collection of Talmud-libel quotations came up in an Al Jazeera article back in 2004, noted here, all links now rotted. It is disappointing and disturbing to see that this anti-Semitic nonsense is still being circulated. And as I noted some months later, the concern in not just theoretical: this propaganda inspired a terrorist to commit murder in that same year. Follow the link in that post to Gil Student's website for more refutations of Talmud libel.

UPDATE: The first version of this post referred to a nineteenth-century work by one I. B. Pranaitis but, although this work serves as partial inspiration for some of the above-mentioned internet sites and is itself posted on the internet, it does not seem to be directly relevant to the Renew America article, so I have rephrased to omit the reference. I have also copied the quotations in the Renew America article for posterity. You can see the overlap with the quotations in the letter of the terrorist who murdered Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh in 2004 (link above). I am sure Mr. Baldwin condemns that act as much as I do, but I wish he would not draw on the same fallacious sources. I appreciate that one of the things he is trying to do in the article is to defend Muslims from unjust attacks, but this is not the way to go about it.

Discovery Ball again

THE DISCOVERY BALL IS BACK IN THE NEWS: Bartkresa Visualizes Israel for Discovery Ball with Christie - See more at: (AVNetwork). This article is about the projection technology used to highlight the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibiton at the California Science Center, where the Ball was held:
Christie technology and BARTKRESA Design took visitors back in time at the California Science Center Discovery Ball fundraiser, showcasing the Dead Sea Scrolls and their history in a two-story projection mapping display using eight screens and 14 Christie 3DLP projectors.

Serving an average of two million guests annually with an audience among the most diverse of any museum or science center in North America, the California Science Center, located near the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, is a vital community resource and an integral part of California’s educational infrastructure.

“The Discovery Ball was very thematic and we wanted to give people the sense they were in a different place,” said Christina Sion, vice president, Food & Event Services, California Science Center Foundation. “For the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit we premiered at the gala, it made sense to use projection and there is nobody on the planet I would ask to do this more than Bart Kresa. We have worked together before and I always admire his work. It continues to get bigger, better and more incredible.”

This year's Discovery Ball was held on 7 March. Background here.

Vows in the Talmud

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: If Victorious, I Vow To Sacrifice My Daughter—Wait, No! I Didn’t Mean That! Uh-Oh. Bridging the gap between biblical terseness and the needs of a functioning Jewish legal system.
The very existence of Kol Nidre suggests that the rabbis did not look very favorably on the practice of vowing. The Bible insists that a vow, once taken, must be kept: “When a man takes a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind his soul with a bond, he shall not profane his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth,” says Numbers 30:2. But Jewish law recognizes that such vows are often made hastily, out of momentary passions like anger, and without full understanding of their consequences. Indeed, the most famous vow in the Bible is the one Jephthah takes in the Book of Judges, when he promises to sacrifice the first creature he sees on his return home from battle. This turns out to be his daughter, whom he duly kills, since he can’t go back on his word. The tale is practically a fable about the perils of vowing and leaves no doubt that the practice, though common, was never seen by Judaism as particularly admirable.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Tractate Nedarim ("Vows") has now commenced in the Daf Yomi cycle and Ancient Jew Review has posted an introductory bibliography for the tractate: Daf Yomi: Nedarim.

Syriac Galen palimpsest

SYRIAC WATCH: Medicine’s Hidden Roots in an Ancient Manuscript (Mark Schrope, NYT).
The manuscript held by Dr. [Grigory] Kessel that day was a palimpsest: older text covered up by newer writing. It was a common practice centuries ago, a medieval form of recycling. In this case, 11th-century Syrian scribes had scraped away Galen’s medical text and had overwritten hymns on the parchment.

The hymn book itself is of interest, but for now it is the original text, all but invisible to the naked eye and known as the undertext, that has captured the imagination of scholars.

For centuries, Galen’s “Simple Drugs” was required reading for aspiring physicians, the summation of ancient knowledge about medicine, patient care and pharmaceutical plants. Galen described a root that cures “roughness of the throat” and recommended hemp as an earache remedy that “does not produce flatulence” (though it “dries out the semen”).

Much of “Simple Drugs” was eventually translated into Syriac, a form of Aramaic used by Middle Eastern Christian communities. The undertext of the manuscript in Baltimore, most likely from the ninth century A.D., is a copy of the first Syriac translation, itself painstakingly completed in the sixth century A.D. by Sergius of Reshaina, a Syriac physician and priest.
This is also a detective story in which Dr. Kessel discovered the six lost leaves of the manuscript in collections at Harvard, St. Catherine's Monastery, the National Library of France in Paris, and the Vatican Library. This Syriac translation of Galen's work is important for the history of the transmission of Greek scientific literature in Syriac-speaking Eastern Christian circles.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Kiel on the Rabbinic Curriculum and Zoroastrianism

BIBLIOGRAPHIA IRANICA: In the Margins of the Rabbinic Curriculum: Mastering ʿUqṣin in the Light of Zoroastrian Intellectual Culture. An article by Yishai Kiel in the current issue of JSJ.

SBL Program Book

NOW ONLINE: Society of Biblical Literature 2015 Annual Meeting. Searchable too. I am presenting a paper in the following session:
S21-336 Mysticism, Esotericism, and Gnosticism in Antiquity; Religious Experience in Antiquity
Joint Session With:
Mysticism, Esotericism, and Gnosticism in Antiquity, Religious Experience in Antiquity
4:00 PM to 6:30 PM
Room TBD - Hotel TBD

Theme: Revisiting Shamanism

Celia Deutsch, Barnard College, Presiding
April D. DeConick, Rice University
Shamanism and Gnostic Ritual (25 min)
James R. Davila, University of St. Andrews
Hekhalot Mysticism and Jewish Shamanism: Where Do We Stand Now? (25 min)
Jeffrey Pettis, Fordham University
Shamans in the Desert: Mark 1.12-13 Jesus and the Spirit World (25 min)
Pieter F Craffert, University of South Africa
Shamanism As A Cross-Cultural Interpretive Tool: Jesus, Paul And Early Christianity (25 min)
Dan Merkur, Respondent (20 min)
Michael Winkelman, Arizona State University, Respondent (20 min)
Discussion (10 min)
The paper abstracts are available in the Program Book and I have also posted mine here.

The Ketef Hinnom amulets and this weeks parashah

RABBI MYCHAL COPELAND: Priestly Blessing taps our faith in magic of words (
This week’s parashah brings us a bit of that magic. Aaron and his sons, the Temple priests, are instructed to bless the people of Israel with the “Priestly Blessing,” our most ancient piece of liturgy. “May God bless you and protect you! May God deal kindly and graciously with you! May God’s face lift up towards you and grant you peace!” (Numbers 6:24-26)

In the 1970s at a burial cave in Jerusalem, archaeologists found two rolled silver scrolls with these words. It is the oldest biblical text fragment, dating back to the seventh century BCE, 400 years before the Dead Sea Scrolls. The discovery proves, at the very least, that some of the Torah writings existed during the period of the First Temple in Jerusalem.

What makes this finding even more intriguing is that each scroll was rolled within an amulet — a piece of jewelry or an ornament thought to bring the wearer protection. The Priestly Blessing, in this earliest known form, was worn, or in this case buried, with a person in the hopes that the individual would be granted protection. The word “protect” in the blessing is found in other such incantations of this period, suggesting its magical power to turn away evil forces, called an apotropaic power.
More on the Ketef Hinnom silver amulets is here and links.

ISIS blows up Palmyra prison

PALMYRA WATCH: Jihadists destroy Syria’s infamous Palmyra prison (AP/Times of Israel). As far as I'm concerned, ISIS is welcome to blow up all the empty Baathist prisons they can find. That said, I very much doubt that their own detention facilities are havens of human rights.

Otherwise, I can find little news about Palmyra's antiquities and ruins. This article from the London Times says that antiquities were cleared out of the Palmyra Museum by Assad-loyalist militias before Palmyra's fall. The full article is behind a subscription wall, but the visible first two paragraphs have some information.

Background here and links.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Gager, Who Made Early Christianity?

Who Made Early Christianity?

The Jewish Lives of the Apostle Paul

John G. Gager

In this philosophical and theological study, John Gager undermines the Apostle Paul's rejection of Judaism, conversion to Christianity, and founding of Christian anti-Judaism. Through meticulous research and well-supported argument, he finds that the rise of Christianity occurred well after Paul's death and attributes the distortion of the Apostle's views to early and later Christians. Though these elites ascribed a rejection-replacement theology to Paul's legend, Gager shows that the Apostle was considered a loyal Jew by many of his Jesus-believing contemporaries and that later Jewish and Muslim thinkers held the same view. He holds that one of the earliest misinterpretations of Paul was to make him the founder of Christianity, and in recent times numerous Jewish and Christian readers of Paul have moved beyond this understanding.

Gager also finds that Judaism did not fade away after Paul's death but continued to appeal to both Christians and pagans for centuries. Jewish synagogues remained important religious and social institutions throughout the Mediterranean world. Making use of all possible literary and archaeological sources, including Muslim texts, Gager helps recover the long pre-history of a Jewish Paul, obscured by recent, negative portrayals of the Apostle, and recognizes the enduring bond between Jews and Christians that influenced all aspects of a developing Christianity.
To be released in June.

Of Kings and Prophets

TELEVISION: Of Kings and Prophets.
An epic Biblical saga of faith, ambition and betrayal as told through the eyes of a battle-weary king, a powerful and resentful prophet and a resourceful young shepherd on a collision course with destiny.
A series about the time of Saul and David, coming in the Autumn. Reza Aslan is the executive producer and my former doctoral student Ian Werrett is an advisor and translator. Follow the link for a trailer, but it can only be viewed in the United States and its territories.

McGrath Mandaean roundup

EXPLORING OUR MATRIX: Mandaeans: Mysteries and Misunderstandings. James McGrath is an expert on the Mandaeans (Mandeans) and always has interesting links and comments on them.