Saturday, June 27, 2015

Slifkin, The Torah Encyclopedia of the Animal Kingdom

NEW BOOK: New from OU Press: “The Torah Encyclopedia of the Animal Kingdom” by Rabbi Natan Slifkin. Note that this is the Orthodox Union Press, not Oxford University Press. Be that as it may, it sound interesting, especially for the lavish illustrations. But I suspect I would not be convinced by some of the identifications of biblical animals with modern ones. For example, Behemoth is a cosmological monster in the Bible and ancient Jewish tradition and is associated with the sea monster Leviathan. I very much doubt that Behemoth is to be identified with the hippopotamus.

John the Jew conference

JAMES MCGRATH: John the Jew (2016 Enoch Seminar Conference). This is the Sixth Nageroni Meeting of the Enoch Seminar, with a venue in Camaldoli, Italy. James will be there and I am planning on attending too.

Nelson, The Temple Complex at Horvat Omrit, vol. 1

The Temple Complex at Horvat Omrit
Volume 1: The Architecture

Michael C. Nelson, Queens College of the City University of New York. Volumes Edited by J.A. Overman, D.N. Schowalter, and M.C. Nelson.

Volume One of The Temple Complex at Horvat Omrit presents a detailed examination of the surviving architecture of the three Roman period temple phases at the newly excavated sanctuary at the archaeological site of Omrit in northern Israel. All three temples were built according to the Corinthian order and the author describes and illustrates the state of the remains, proposes reconstructions of each phase, and places each temple in the broader historical context.


I'M BACK IN ST. ANDREWS. More later.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Pajunen and Tervanotko (eds.), Crossing Imaginary Boundaries.

Pajunen, Mika S. & Hanna Tervanotko (eds.) (2015) Crossing Imaginary Boundaries. The Dead Sea Scrolls in the Context of Second Temple Judaism. Publications of the Finnish Exegetical Society 108. Helsinki: Finnish Exegetical Society.
For details see this post by Rick Bonnie at the Changes in Sacred Texts and Traditions Blog: NEW PUBLICATION: “CROSSING IMAGINARY BOUNDARIES: THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS IN THE CONTEXT OF SECOND TEMPLE JUDAISM.”

Review of Kosmin, The Land of the Elephant Kings

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Kosmin, The Land of the Elephant Kings. By Nathan Schumer in Book Notes. Excerpt:
... Despite this growing trend, when it comes to the role of the Seleucid Empire in the Maccabean revolt, there is still a regrettable tendency in the field of ancient Judaism to treat the Seleucids as generic advocates of Hellenism, rather than as dynasty with its own specific idioms of imperialism crafted for its territory.

Paul Kosmin’s The Land of the Elephant Kings is an invaluable corrective to this problem. In his book he attempts to understand the royal ideology of the Seleucid dynasty, examining how this vast empire was constituted and imagined by its rulers. ...
I noted the publication of the book here.

Ein Tzuba

TRAVEL: Walk through clear water at Tzuba’s ancient underground spring. At kibbutz on outskirts of Jerusalem, a short ladder now leads into a cleaned-out tunnel and an arched chamber completed in Second Temple period (AVIVA AND SHMUEL BAR-AM, Times of Israel).
Ein Tzuba, a spring near Mevasseret in the Judean Hills on the outskirts of Jerusalem, burst out of the ground through a very narrow crack in the rocky soil. Thus, not only was its flow scanty, but in summer its waters ceased to flow entirely. Nevertheless, the tribe of Judah settled in the hills about 3,500 years ago just above the little spring. It is more than likely that their settlement was the biblical Tzova, mentioned in the Talmud as well, and it grew by leaps and bounds.


Thursday, June 25, 2015

Conference on the Hebrew and Jewish Collections of the John Rylands Library

JOHN RYLANDS RESEARCH INSTITUTE CONFERENCE 2016: 'The Other Within' – The Hebrew and Jewish Collections of the John Rylands Library. Monday 27–Wednesday 29 June 2016 at The John Rylands Library, Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.

Marzouk, Egypt as a Monster in the Book of Ezekiel

Egypt as a Monster in the Book of Ezekiel

Appealing to Monster Theory and the ancient Near Eastern motif of "Chaoskampf," Safwat Marzouk argues that the paradoxical character of the category of the monster is what prompts the portrayal of Egypt as a monster in the book of Ezekiel. While on the surface the monster seems to embody utter difference, underlying its otherness there is a disturbing sameness. Though the monster may be defeated and its body dismembered, it is never completely annihilated. Egypt is portrayed as a monster in the book of Ezekiel because Egypt represents the threat of religious assimilation. Although initially the monstrosity of Egypt is constructed because of the shared elements of identity between Egypt and Israel, the prophet flips this imagery of monster in order to embody Egypt as a monstrous Other. In a combat myth, YHWH defeats the monster and dismembers its body. Despite its near annihilation, Egypt, in Ezekiel's rhetoric, is not entirely obliterated. Rather, it is kept at bay, hovering at the periphery, questioning Israel's identity.

Kiperwasser and Shapira, "Irano-Talmudica III"

FORTHCOMING ARTICLE: Irano-Talmudica III: Giant Mythological Creatures in Transition from the Avesta to the Babylonian Talmud (Reuven Kiperwasser and Dan D.Y. Shapira,

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Bond & Hurtado (eds.), Peter in Early Christianity,

LARRY HURTADO: “Peter in Early Christianity”: Forthcoming Book. The volume contains papers from the 2013 conference on Peter at the University of Edinburgh (noted, e.g., here). Due out in the autumn of this year.

Psalms and Prayers workshop


Ulrich, The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Developmental Composition of the Bible

The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Developmental Composition of the Bible

Eugene Ulrich, University of Notre Dame

Eugene Ulrich presents in The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Developmental Composition of the Bible the comprehensive and synthesized picture he has gained as editor of many biblical scrolls. His earlier volume, The Biblical Qumran Scrolls, presented the evidence — the transcriptions and textual variants of all the biblical scrolls — and this volume explores the implications and significance of that evidence.

The Bible has not changed, but modern knowledge of it certainly has changed. The ancient Scrolls have opened a window and shed light on a period in the history of the text’s formation that had languished in darkness for two thousand years. They offer a parade of surprises that greatly enhance knowledge of how the scriptural texts developed through history.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Dead Sea Scrolls Electronic Library

Dead Sea Scrolls Electronic Library
Biblical Texts

Editors: Donald W. Parry and Andrew C. Skinner. In consultation with: Emanuel Tov and Eugene Ulrich. Quality control: Ariel Tov

The Dead Sea Scrolls Electronic Library Biblical Texts presents a complete Hebrew transcription and English translation of the Biblical texts, together with high-resolution images. The contents of this online publication is identical to that of the Dead Sea Scrolls Electronic Library Biblical Texts CD-ROM, published by Brill and Brigham Young University but its interface is adapted to Brill's online platform for reference works. Note that Dead Sea Scrolls Electronic Library Biblical Texts is also available from Brigham Young University. Not in the form of a CD-ROM, but as a set of electronic books which can be read and linguistically analysed through the WordCruncher software.

Septimus, On the Boundaries of Talmudic Prayer

On the Boundaries of Talmudic Prayer

In this work, Yehuda Septimus investigates a boundary phenomenon of talmudic prayer: ritual speech with addressees other than God. These addressees included socially conventional addressees, like judges or celebrants at a religious rite as well as unconventional addressees, like angels and dead people. But whether the addressees were the types one might expect an individual to address in a non-ritual context, they were definitely not the types we would expect a rabbinic Jew to address in a prayer context. And yet talmudic passages treated ritual speech addressed to beings other than God as they treated other forms of conventional prayer. Such treatment forces us to question the way prayer was conceived by the rabbis.

Septimus argues that the rabbis conceived and practiced something similar to but broader than what is conventionally called prayer. He accomplishes this through close analyses of a number of specific ritual recitations with these atypical addressees as they appear embedded in talmudic literature.

The English term "prayer" is usually understood as communication with God or the gods. Scholars of Jewish ritual until now have accepted this characterization and applied it to Jewish tefillah . But does rabbinic prayer indeed necessarily entail second-person address to God, as many scholars of rabbinic prayer to this point have presumed? Often God is the target of communication, even when ritual speech does not address God in the second person. But what if that speech is specifically addressed to beings other than God? What does this phenomenon teach us about the beliefs, ritual tendencies, and prayer culture of the formulators of such ritual speech?

Septimus' book qualifies the assumption that rabbinic ritual communication is directed to God alone. The liturgical relationship between ritual prayer and other ritual recitations is complex; the historical relationship between classical Jewish prayer and a broader range of ritual addresses even more complex. Septimus offers a fresh look at the possible range of performances undertaken by talmudic ritual prayer. Moreover, he places that range of performances into the historical context of the rapid emergence of prayer as the centerpiece of Jewish worship in the first half of the first millennium CE.

Sanders on Aramaic scribal culture

ARAMAIC WATCH: Beyond Borrowing: Aramaic Scribal Culture and the Creativity of Second Temple Judaism (Seth Sanders,

Monday, June 22, 2015

Monitoring the DSS in transit

TECHNOLOGY WATCH: Protecting ancient artifacts with modern sensors. Fine art shipper tracks temperature and light through the cloud (DCVelocity).
Shippers of high-value goods are always eager to find new tools for tracking and monitoring their cargo during transit. One company is using just such a tool to track items that are literally irreplaceable—fine art and antiques.

Racine Berkow Associates Inc. (RBA) of Long Island City, N.Y., is a global freight forwarder specializing in museum-quality fine art handling services. Serving clients such as museums, galleries, and collectors, the company has transported monumental bronze sculptures by the English artist Henry Moore and priceless world treasures, including The Dead Sea Scrolls.

Whether these items are traveling by road, rail, ocean, or air, they risk damage from exposure to humidity, sunlight, shock, or vibration. So RBA has chosen AT&T Inc.'s CargoView application to monitor the delicate items during transit.

A little aside on conservation technology for the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Paradise in Pennsylvania

Rodef Shalom’s Biblical Botanical Garden is testament to Jacobs’ love for plants, each other (Toby Tabachnick, The Jewish Chronicle).
The late Irene Jacob, founder of Rodef Shalom’s Biblical Botanical Garden, might have been a bit skeptical had her husband been able to share with her his plans for this year’s annual exhibit, “Paradise on Fifth Avenue: Judaism, Christianity, Islam.”

“With this particular theme, she would have said, ‘Walter, you’re crazy,’” said Walter Jacob, rabbi emeritus of Rodef Shalom Congregation as he stood on the “banks” of the miniature Jordan River that runs through the garden adjacent to the Shadyside synagogue.

Jacob, 85, has been the chief steward of Rodef Shalom’s garden — one of only a handful of biblical gardens in the United States — since his wife died three years ago. It is up to Jacob to plant and tend to more than 100 varieties of shrubs, flowers, herbs, vegetables and other plants flourishing in a space reminiscent of ancient Israel.

Well yes, showcasing Paradise does sound like a challenge.
There is a compelling reason, he explained, as to why he has not planted a garden depicting the Jewish concept of paradise: no such illustrations exist in Jewish art, and no real detailed descriptions exist in Jewish writing.

“The three great religions have all talked about paradise,” said Jacob. “But what it is really like? There are three different answers.” The concept has been traditionally “difficult” for Jews, he said. “We just don’t know.”

While Christians and Muslims have a robust catalogue of art and writings describing paradise and the afterlife, the Jewish vision is less clear, leaving “it totally to the imagination,” he explained.
There is some robust imagery in the Hymn of the Garden in column 16 of 1QHodayota among the Dead Sea Scrolls. The hymn names many specific plants in Eden.

I noted the Rodef Shalom Garden almost exactly ten years ago, but it seems worth mentioning again.

Three new books


Israels König in Tradition, Redaktion und früher Rezeption
[Saul. Israel's King in Tradition, Redaction and Early Reception.]

Published in German.

In this study, Hannes Bezzel examines King Saul and the diachronic genesis of this literary character. The starting point is the "early reception history" up to the end of the 1st century C.E., and more precisely, the Saul-images of Ben Sira's laus patrum, the Qumran document 4Q252, the Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum , and of Josephus' Antiquitates Judaicae . Based on these studies, the author further pursues the phenomenon of "rewritten Bible /scripture" , first into the Books of Chronicles, then into the redaction history of the Books of Samuel. Here, his analysis finds an older Saul tradition in I Sam 9-10*; 11*; 14,47-51*. Within the scope of an enhanced Samuel-Saul-circle (I Sam 1*; 4*; 9-10*; 13-14*; 29*; 31*) the topic of the Philistines was introduced by means of the literary figure Samuel. Only in a third step was this narrative circle connected with the David tradition in the context of a "History of David's Rise."

Das Gottesbild in der Offenbarung des Johannes

Hrsg. v. Martin Stowasser

[The Image of God in the Book of Revelation.]

Published in German.

The Book of Revelation presents a manifold and very complex picture of God. The approaches used to illustrate this in the current volume of collected essays range from the history of religion to theology. The authors consider the perspective of intertextuality with the Old Testament, as well as elements received from contemporary Greco-Roman culture that shape the image of God. They also highlight the elements of political and social critique it is associated with in Revelation. The issue of monotheism is taken up when the question of a functional or essential dimension of the image of Christ and the transfer of divine epitheta to the Lamb are discussed. Finally common features and differences with the Gospel of John when speaking of God are addressed as well as the reception of God's portrait in the Book of Revelation in modern literature.

Covenant and Election in Exilic and Post-Exilic Judaism

Studies of the Sofja Kovalevskaja Research Group on Early Jewish Monotheism. Vol. V
Ed. by Nathan MacDonald

Covenant and election are two theological concepts that dominate the landscape of the Hebrew Bible. If they became the main structuring concepts of the Hebrew Bible, they were not so from the beginning. Their centrality was the result of their utilization by exilic and post-exilic scribes and tradents to focus Israel's traditions into a coherent structure as fitted the revelation of one God. The essays in this collection examine covenant and election across the biblical literature, from the priestly document through Deuteronomy to Jeremiah and the book of Chronicles. They show how the ideas were shaped and refined under the conditions of national disaster and rebuilding.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

HB/OT job at Saint Louis University

The Department of Theological Studies at Saint Louis University is inviting applicants for a tenure-track position as Assistant Professor in Hebrew Bible/Old Testament.

Our department is committed to world-class research, as well as innovative and transformative teaching. Faculty in our department work with undergraduate, masters and doctoral students, benefit from extensive library holdings in the area of biblical studies and theology, receive the support of graduate research assistants ranging from 5-20 hours a week, and enjoy a 2-2 teaching load with classes capped at 19 students. We are looking, therefore, for candidates who will not only be effective teachers in the classroom, but also show a great deal of promise in their research. I have included the job advertisement which will appear on the SBL website in the coming months.

SAINT LOUIS UNIVERSITY, a Jesuit, Catholic institution dedicated to education, research and healthcare and located in midtown St. Louis seeks applicants for a tenure-track position as Assistant Professor in Hebrew Bible/Old Testament in the Department of Theological Studies. Candidates will be evaluated on the following criteria: their ability to teach and conduct research in the HB/OT and its historical, literary, and theological contexts, their ability to teach courses at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, their record of publication, and articulation of a strong research agenda. Standard departmental teaching load is 2/2. Applicants must possess a Ph.D. or equivalent doctoral-level degree at time of application in Religion, Theology, or closely related field with focus in Hebrew Bible/Old Testament studies. For more information about our faculty and programs, please visit our Website at: Candidates, regardless of their own faith tradition, must be supportive of the Catholic and Jesuit ideals of the university. Review of applications will begin on 2 October 2015. All applications must be made online at and must include a letter of application, a curriculum vitae, one sample of scholarly work no longer than thirty pages, a sample syllabus for an Introduction to the HB/OT, and names of three referees with their contact details. Saint Louis University is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer and strongly encourages applications from women and minority candidates.
(Sent by Dr. Matthew Thiessen.)

"Artefacts of Ancient Judaism" at Cambridge


Eighth Enoch Seminar

I'M OFF TO MILAN FOR THE EIGHTH ENOCH SEMINAR, which is meeting in Gazzada. The theme this year is "Apocalypticism and Mysticism." I am presenting a plenary paper on "Roles of Angels in 1 Enoch and the Hekhalot Literature," with responses from Michael Stone and Gerbern Oegema. I am also a respondent to Annette Yoshiko Reed's paper, "Collection and the Construction of Continuity: 1 Enoch and 3 Enoch in and beyond ‘Apocalypticism' and ‘Mysticism.’"

I have attended several previous Enoch Seminars. You can find posts on the seventh (2013) here, here, and here. That last post also has links to posts on the second (2003), fifth (2009) and sixth (2011) Enoch Seminars.

The Nageroni meeting on Early Islam: The Sectarian Milieu of Late Antiquity? just finished up on Friday at the same venue and with some of the same participants.

Andrei Orlov's Enoch Seminar paper, "A Farewell to the Merkavah Tradition," is available here at

I expect to be very busy in the coming week, so blogging may be light. But I have made sure that there will still be some new things for you every day, so please keep coming back as usual.

I am not going to post the full text of my paper, but I do want to leave you with something, so here is its Conclusion, minus a few footnotes. Have a good week.
This paper has undertaken a close look at small slice of the evidence from an important ancient Jewish apocalyptic corpus and a somewhat later Jewish mystical corpus. Any generalizations about Jewish or any other kind of apocalypticism and mysticism that appear to arise from it must be tested by a fuller consideration of the evidence from these two collections of texts, not to speak of the evidence of a wider range of apocalyptic and mystical traditions. Nevertheless, some preliminary conclusions suggest themselves.

It seems likely that some of the differences between the two collections can be explained by chronological developments of Jewish tradition, notably the evolution of angelology between the Second Temple period and late antiquity. Most obviously, named angels are rare in the biblical and Enochic literature, but have become far more common in late antique Jewish texts. The understanding of the cherubim and the living creatures as separate classes of angel may also be a later development. It is not found, for example, in the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice. The multiplication of appellations is more pronounced in the Hekhalot texts than in earlier literature, but this may in part be due to the mystical perspective of the texts, since a similar tendency has already begun to appear in the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice, which refers to “angels of glory, “angels of ornamentation” and the like. But most of the interesting differences are better viewed in phenomenological and ideological terms rather than chronological ones.

In 1 Enoch the angelic revelations are mediated by a patriarch from legendary antiquity—almost always Enoch—and these angels are sent by God. These revelations were relevant to the writers of the Enochic books and their original audience in a number of ways. They provided coveted information about the physical universe, the heavenly realm, and what should be expected at the eschaton, and also important practical information on how properly to follow the divinely ordained solar calendar. They also provided background on heavenly responses to current earthly events at the time of the Maccabean revolt. But all these revelations are mediated by Enoch or, occasionally, Noah. The only possible exception is the descent of the scribal angel to aid Judah the Maccabee in battle, perhaps passing intelligence on to him as well. But similar revelations to Enoch’s followers, the readers of the Enochic books, are never envisaged. Moreover, the one time when angels shared revelations to human beings at their own initiative, the coming of the watchers, the result was disaster.

In the Hekhalot literature the angelic revelations are mediated by certain Tannaitic rabbis and give information on the divine throne room, explain the heavenly background of certain events in legendary antiquity, and give detailed instructions for theurgic rites for the control of angels consisting of adjurations, merkavah hymns, divine and angelic names, and ritual praxes. And their message is that angelic revelations are in principle available to their readers by carrying out these theurgic rites. The various texts do not give a clear or consistent account of just who is qualified to undertake them: the Hekhalot Rabbati seems to require the practitioner to be an expert in Torah or a paragon of virtue or perhaps both (HR §234), whereas at least one component of the Sar Torah seems to say that anyone who follows the rites correctly is qualified, no matter how dull (ST §§304-305). These praxes give unmediated access to the divine realm and therefore to a form of realized eschatology, but they also offer practical theurgical powers, notably supernaturally rapid learning of Torah.

What are we to make of these two perspectives? It is possible that they come down to a different assessment of the risks associated with the crossing of the boundary between the human and angelic realms. For the writers of 1 Enoch, unmediated access to angelic revelations is an unacceptable risk except for great figures like Enoch and except when the initiative rests entirely with God. Enoch himself is so exalted that he was transformed into an angel. It is true that Judah the Maccabee may also be viewed a recipient of an angelic revelation, but his status, while less than angelic, would have been closer to that of Enoch than any of the readers of the Enochic books, and the angel acted in concert with God. From this perspective those who cross the boundary bring about chaos and ruin, exemplified by the story of the watchers, except for these great figures who act under God’s direction. Their followers, the writers and readers of the Enochic books, cannot experience such unmediated access to angels until their own apocalyptic transformation at the eschaton, when they will take on natures suitable for dwelling in the angelic realm.

But for the Hekhalot literature unmediated access to angelic revelations is appropriate for more or less anyone who follows the correct procedures as taught by the great figures of the Tannaitic rabbis, and those who do so are pleasing to God. The crossing of the human-angelic boundary is perilous and can lead the practitioner to death or madness, or bring about even worse disasters, but it can be undertaken safely by the worthy practitioner who follows the rites with full care. Such practitioners can experience proleptic interactions with angels and share with them in the worship of God in the divine throne room before the eschaton. They can even enjoy an attenuated and temporary metamorphosis of their human nature into an angelic one. The texts assume an ultimately apocalyptic eschatology, but show little interest in it because their attention is focused on the realized eschatology offered in them.

By this interpretation the followers of Enoch believed they could benefit from his divinely sanctioned interactions with angels, but they dared not seek such interactions themselves because the perils were too great before their own transformation at the eschaton. The Hekhalot practitioners, however, believed that the teachings of their masters gave them both the wherewithal and the divine sanction to experience such interactions themselves here and now. To paraphrase the old eleemosynary saying, Enoch gave his followers fish, but the Hekhalot rabbis taught their followers how to fish.

There is much to commend this understanding of the texts, but I have two reservations about it. First, although the ideology of the Hekhalot literature is presented reasonably directly, the one reconstructed here for the Enochic literature is inferential and depends on our generalizing a lesson from the story of the watchers, namely, that revelations from angels are too dangerous for lesser mortals to seek without direct divine sanction. The texts may imply this lesson, but they do not teach it explicitly, and it is risky to assume that there is a transparent moral to a story as profound and entertaining as that of the watchers.

Second, even if this is an intended message of the Enochic books, it is difficult to say how much their ideology regarding the human angelic boundary represents (Jewish) apocalypticism in general, while the contrasting ideology of the Hekhalot literature represents (Jewish) mysticism in general. There are reasons to be cautious. The sharp delineation of the human-angelic boundary in 1 Enoch arises to a large degree from the story of the watchers and this story does not figure in every Second Temple Jewish apocalyptic work. Some, including the Book of Daniel, 4 Ezra, and 2 Baruch, present their human protagonist as initiating angelic interactions by means of the sorts of rituals known cross-culturally to generate such experiences. These works do not obviously imply that only such figures from legendary antiquity could use such rites and the ideology operative in the Enochic literature should not be assumed for them too. Moreover, the Book of Revelation presents us, unusually, with an apocalypse that seems to be written in the name of its actual author. It is unclear what John means when he says that he was “in the spirit on the Lord’s day,” in an isolated setting (1:10), but it could certainly be taken to mean that he was undertaking ritual praxes at a sacred time in order to initiate the vision that followed. And although John was still mediating the revelations for his followers, he was not an exalted figure of legendary antiquity and the book does not in any direct way rule out the possibility that its readers could also have similar visions.

As a form of mysticism, the Hekhalot literature allows for human initiation of contact with the divine for the purpose of experiencing the divine in a much more direct way than is possible in normal day-to-day life. But the specific combination of ritual praxis and recitation of adjurations, hymns, and names; the specific ideology of a perilous spiritual world that can be safely navigated by these means; and the specific goals of liturgical union with the angels, domination of angels for theurgic purposes, and even attenuated, temporary, angelification of the practitioner himself, call out for comparison with other forms of mysticism. But such comparisons are outside the scope of this paper.

I close, then, not by offering any definitive conclusions, but rather some synthetic observations about a small slice of our evidence for ancient and medieval apocalypticism and mysticism and some reflections on where those observations may lead us in a wider consideration of the evidence.