Saturday, July 04, 2015

Review of Zellentin, The Qur’an’s Legal Culture

MARGINALIA REVIEW OF BOOKS: The Ancient Origins of Qur’anic Laws – By Emran El-Badawi.
Are the origins of the Qur’an’s laws and rituals traceable to a single ancient community of Jewish-Christians? Although long debated, this controversial yet hugely important question receives the expert analysis of Holger Zellentin, The Qur’an’s Legal Culture: The Didascalia Apostolorum as a Point of Departure.
The review concludes:
The Qur’an’s Legal Culture is an elegant and exciting read on an otherwise dense and highly complex subject. Zellentin ties in qur’anic laws with Jewish customs and Christian texts. In doing so, he allows the reader to understand the Qur’an in textual rather than political terms, and to locate the text at the very center rather than the periphery of western civilization.

Have the Essenes been marginalized?

On Jesus, the Essenes, and the Anxiety of Influence

By Simon J. Joseph
California Lutheran University
June 2015
A brief and evidently programmatic essay. Regarding this:
Although the work of The Enoch Seminar challenges and expands the definition of the “Essenic/Enochic” movement, it seems that today, with few notable exceptions, the “Essenes” continue to be marginalized in biblical scholarship – often demoted from being a powerful socio-political force within first-century Judaism to being the isolated, misanthropic, and ultra-legalistic recluses of “the Qumran community” or the literary-ideological fantasies of Josephus, Philo, and Pliny.
I am always pleased to see the Enoch Seminar getting good press, but I would like to see Professor Joseph's characterization of current Qumran scholarship, as well as his arguments for the positive case he assumes about the Essenes, argued in greater detail. It would have been helpful also if he had named some names and specific works. But presumably he does this in some of his own published work, which he highlights in the first paragraph of the essay.

Nordic PhD trip to Rome

LIV INGEBORG LIED: NNJCI excursion to Rome. A travel seminar on "Judaism and Christianity in Rome in the first millennium" for PhD students, organized by the Nordic PhD network NNJCI in October. Looks like fun.

Review of McKenzie et al., The Nabataean Temple at Khirbet et-Tannur, Jordan, vol. 1

Judith S. McKenzie et al. , The Nabataean Temple at Khirbet et-Tannur, Jordan. Volume 1: Architecture and Religion. Volume 2: Cultic Offerings, Vessels, and Other Specialist Reports. Final Report on Nelson Glueck's 1937 Excavation. Annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research, 67-68. Boston: American Schools of Oriental Research, in collaboration with Manar al-Athar, University of Oxford, 2013. Pp. xxvii, 340; xx, 329 . ISBN 9780897570350; 9780897570367. $89.95; $89.95.

Reviewed by Laïla Nehmé, CNRS–UMR8167, Paris (

These two volumes form the long-awaited publication of the excavations undertaken at Khirbet et-Tannur, in southern Jordan, in 1937 by Nelson Glueck, then the director of the American School of Oriental Research in Jerusalem, supported by a team of archaeologists, architects, draftsmen and photographers. These excavations were never fully published because of the delay imposed by World War II and due to Glueck’s busy career, particularly, from 1947 onwards, as president of the Cincinnati Hebrew Union College.

Cross-file under Nabatean (Nabataean) Watch.

July 4th, 2015

HAPPY AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE DAY to all those celebrating!

Tangentially related: Hebrew word of the week: Artsot ha-brit (The United States) (Yona Sabar).

Friday, July 03, 2015

More destruction of Palmyra's antiquities? Plus Hatra news.

PALMYRA WATCH: Disturbing stories about a "smuggler" who was caught trying to make off with some Palmyrene statues. He was sentenced to whipping and the statues were destroyed. It is unclear whether they were ancient artifacts or replicas.

Islamic State militants hammer Roman-era statues to pieces. Images show militants publicly destroying ancient effigies in Syrian city of Palmyra as punishment for attempted smuggling (AFP).

A specific case: Effigy of Zenobia, ancient queen, among statues destroyed by IS (Times of Israel). More on Queen Zenobia here and links.

Also, Maamoun Abdelkarim, the Syrian antiquities director, appears to have confirmed a story I noted at the end of May: IS destroys iconic lion statue at Syria’s Palmyra museum. Irreplaceable Lion of al-Lat was 2,000 years old; brutal terror group also smashes other artifacts from Palmyra (AFP).

Related: UNESCO Head Warns Against 'Culture Cleansing' of Jihadists. UNESCO chief Irina Bokova calls for a campaign against ISIS "culture cleansing" (Arutz Sheva).
"I think the growing awareness that hard power will not be enough to defeat violent extremism is gaining ground. We need also soft power," Bokova said on Wednesday.

"Culture should be part of our response to violent extremism," she added.
I don't know what that means, but I hope it does some good. In any case, kudos to her for speaking out. And some related good news on Hatra: The Iraqi site of Hatra added to the List of World Heritage in Danger (UNESCO World Heritage Centre).

Background on Palmyra and ISIS's takeover of it, as well as their sustained assault on the past in the Middle East, is here and links. See also here and links. And more on Hatra is here and links.

ANE languages quiz

ASOR BLOG: Can you identify these Near Eastern languages? I got a perfect score, including the bonus question. But any other result would have been embarrassing.

More on Sacred Imaginations

ARAMAIC AND SYRIAC WATCH: Reimagining sacred music (Alison Hird, RFI).
As Christians come under attack in some parts of the Arab world, British musicians Sam Mills and Susheela Raman have pulled off an ambitious and important musical project Sacred Imaginations: new and ancient music from the near east. The performance is a reminder of how much religion owes to music and sends out a strong message of artistic unity beyond religious dogma.
This article has some new details about the program, plus this good news:
After three concerts in London, Paris and Berlin, [guitarist Sam] Mills says some of the music that's been created will now be recorded. “It's too strong for us to let go of it now."
Background here.

Tunisia's tourism under threat

PUNIC WATCH: Tunisia's growing tourist trade could suffer with terror attacks (Bart Jansen, USA Today). Most recently, the ghastly attack on tourists on a Tunisian beach. This is a good time to be reminded of the ancient treasures in Tunisia:
It is home to Carthage, a military and trade rival to ancient Rome, which ultimately salted its fields in punishment. Amid the series of Punic wars, Hannibal's army memorably rode elephants across the Alps to challenge Rome with battles up and down the

A statue underground, outside the Saint Louis Cathedral. (Photo: Sarah Lynch)
Roman ruins at Carthage include an amphitheater, remains of houses, columns and the Antonine Baths, a World Heritage Site of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Another Punic remnant is the city of Kerkouane, once a thriving metropolis known for its dyes and figurines, according to the country's tourism office. Artifacts at this other World Heritage Site include flasks, bones, jewelry and the sarcophagus of a female identified as the goddess Asarte.
Background on the situation in Tunisia is here and links.

Conference on the Psalms of Solomon

I am pleased to announced the second international meeting on the Psalms of Salomon.

the meeting will be held at the Centre Sevres, Paris, from 7th to 9th of July, 2015.

organizer: Patrick Pouchelle (

The program will be as follows:

Tuesday, July 7 3 pm to 5.30 pm

Mikael Winninge – (Umeå universitet, Sweden) “Critical Issues when Commenting on the Psalms of Solomon: Diachronic and Synchronic Reflections”

Rodney Werline – (Barton College, USA) “Applying Social Memory Theory to the Psalms of Solomon”

Angela Kim Harkins – (Marie Curie International Incoming Fellow, European Commission, University of Birmingham, UK) “The Instrumental Role of Emotion in the Reading and the Affective Reenactment of PsSol 8”

Wednesday, July 8, 10 am to noon

Eberhard Bons – (Université de Strasbourg, France) “PsSol 16:10 and its biblical and Hellenistic backgrounds”

Jan Joosten – (Oxford University, UK) “The textual basis of scriptural references in the Psalms of Solomon”

4 pm to 6 pm

Shani Tzoref – (Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Germany, Israel Antiquities Authority, Israel), “The use of Scripture in the Psalms of Solomon”

Johanna Erzberger – (Institut catholique de Paris, France) “Changing contexts: PsSal 11 in the PsSal and its parallel in Bar 4:5-5:9”

Thursday, July 9, 10am to 12.15 am

G. Anthony Keddie – (The University of Texas at Austin, USA) “Poverty and Exploitation in the Psalms of Solomon and the Literature of Their Time”

Patrick Pouchelle – (Centre Sèvres, France) “The Psalms of Solomon and the Testament of Moses: may the latter shed light on the context of the former?”

Kenneth Atkinson – (University of Northern Iowa, USA) “Understanding the History, Theology, and Community of the Psalms of Solomon in Light of the Dead Sea Scrolls”

2 pm to 3 pm


With all best wishes

Patrick Pouchelle

Centre Sevres

The Book of Tobit

OLD TESTAMENT APOCRYPHA WATCH: VALERIE SCHULTZ: Lesser-known Book of Tobit still delivers a powerful message. A Catholic Bakersfield columnist notices the Book of Tobit.
The book of Tobit is worth reading for the adventure, as well as for the incarnational foreshadowing of God moving among us and guiding us in our lives. It can also make a claim to fame in popular culture in that the book of Tobit contains the only scriptural reference to the angel Raphael by name. Raphael is now considered a patron of travelers and healers because of his holy intercession in Tobit’s saga.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Review of Schniedewind, A Social History of Hebrew

MARGINALIA REVIEW OF BOOKS: Present and Future of the Hebrew Past – By Aaron Koller.
In some cases, the search for relevance produces work that is overwrought and unfounded, but in others, new life is breathed into old texts through the application of novel methodologies and approaches. William Schniedewind’s A Social History of Hebrew: Its Origins through the Rabbinic Period is an excellent example of the latter. Drawing on sociolinguistics, in addition to historical linguistics and other tools of “old-fashioned philology,” Schniedewind sets out to write a social history of a dead language. He does not aim to describe the grammar of the language in full or to trace features of the morphology or syntax through the centuries. Instead, he wants to use language as a key to unlocking an ancient society.
I once heard Frank Moore Cross tell the apocryphal anecdote at the beginning of this review. Many years ago I presented an SBL paper that dealt with some of these questions: DIALECTOLOGY IN BIBLICAL HEBREW: A NORTH ISRAELITE DIALECT? SYNCHRONIC AND DIACHRONIC CONSIDERATIONS.

Dicken on Herod

Composite “Herod” in Luke-Acts

The name “Herod” appears for three different Herodian rulers in Luke-Acts. The essay explores unique features of the Lukan depiction of two of these Herodian rulers at Luke 1:5 and Acts 12:1-23 in relation to the description of the rulers found in other ancient sources. Drawing upon these unique features and applying a text-oriented, narrative-critical interpretive strategy to Luke-Acts, this essay will explain the recurrence of this name in Luke-Acts as the amalgamation of three historical individuals into a composite character.

See also: Herod as a Composite Character in Luke-Acts. WUNT II. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2014.

By Frank Dicken
Assistant Professor of New Testament
Lincoln Christian University
June 2015
I noted the book here when it came out.

On the Oxyrhynchus papyri

POPULAR ARCHAEOLOGY: From the Sands of Egypt. A longish survey article by Michael Gordon. It was published in 2011, but Popular Archaeology has just released it from its subscription-only archive. For many past posts on the Oxyrhynchus papyri, see here and links, and also perhaps here.

An ancient mikveh under the floor

THE PERILS OF DIY: Ancient Ritual Bath Found Under Unsuspecting Family's Floorboards (Elizabeth Goldbaum, LiveScience).
A family recently discovered a large 2,000-year-old ritual bath underneath the floorboards of their Jerusalem home during a routine living room renovation, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced today (July 1).

Two other articles about the discovery, both with lots of photos, are at the Daily Mail and Ynet News.

The Star of Bethlehem?

I RATHER DOUBT IT: ‘Star of Bethlehem’ shines again? (Stuart Winer, Times of Israel). The sub-heading says what we do know: "Jupiter and Venus line up for celestial conjunction in eye-catching heavenly display."
In Jerusalem, the two planets could clearly been seen hanging in the western sky and appeared as a double star although in reality the plants are hundreds of millions of kilometers apart.

According to Christian tradition, a bright star appeared in the sky signaling the birth of Jesus to the Three Wise Men and then leading them to his location in Bethlehem.

While there are several theories as to what might have inspired the legend, astronomers noted that in 3-2 BCE there was a similar conjunction of Jupiter and Venus to the one that shone down this week.
The current conjunction has been lining up for some time and I noted it last week, with a photo at sunset (fourth one down) as seen from northern Italy. Back in St. Andrews, I also went out late on the evening of the 30th, when the conjunction was at its closest. Luckily, the sky was clear, and I could see Venus with Jupiter just above it. It seems that at no point were the two planets overlapping such that they could be confused with a single, extraordinarily bright star.

That is not to say that it could not have happened 2000 years ago and led the Magi west. That remains a possibility, one of the several that I review in this post, where I also give my own view of the matter. Other past posts on the Star of Bethlehem are linked to there, and two more recent ones are here and here.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Van der Horst on the Greek Synagogal Prayers

THE BIBLE AND INTERPRETATION: The Bible and Ancient Philosophy in Greek Synagogal Prayers

The most fascinating aspect of these prayers, however, is that they testify to the existence of a vibrant Graeco-Jewish culture in the centuries after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. Although we cannot strictly prove that the philosophical elements were already present in the Jewish original (and were not from the hand of the Christian compiler), it is highly probable that these elements belonged to the Jewish Grundschrift. In that case we witness here a form of Jewish Hellenism, a culture that combines intense Jewish piety with openness towards Greek culture, especially its philosophical aspects.

See Also: Studies in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity (Brill Academic Publishers; Lam edition, 2014).

By Pieter W. van der Horst
Professor emeritus
Utrecht University, The Netherlands
June 2015

Ancient Near Eastern music live

ARAMAIC WATCH: Sacred Imaginations: New and Ancient Music from the Near East has just been performed in London and Paris, and is on tonight in Berlin. Peter Culshaw has a review of the London performance at The Arts Desk: Sacred Imaginations, Kings Place. Ambitious reimagining of early Christian music is a triumph. Excerpts:
The two singing revelations of the first half were the Russian five piece choir the Doros Male Vocal Ensemble, whose voices were moving in their rich spiritual power and the astonishing Abeer Nehme, who I had caught at the Fes Festival and raved about then. She also does do more popular material in her native Lebanon, but the beautiful Christian songs, sung in Aramaic, the language of Jesus, had the impression of plugging us into raw, intense early centuries of Christianity.


Susheela Raman’s singing also featured in the second half – her presence added some yang to the purity of Abeer Nehme’s yin – some dirt and a suggestion of more pagan, shamanistic elements that were incorporated into the early religion. Mary was no longer virginal. The highlights of this section were a Syriac hymn and a Gnostic text “Thunder Perfect Mind” and “Leatos”, a last rites song with the Greek singers and Raman with additional text by theosophist G R S Meade which had a filmic, end-of-days atmosphere and could and no doubt will be revved up to be even more apocalyptical in subsequent shows. Another spirited and moving number was “Sogandinium” an Aramaic hymn of the crucifixion where Raman was backed the Russian Doros singers to breathtaking effect.
More on Abeer Nehme is here, although unfortunately the link to the video has rotted. For more on Thunder, Perfect Mind, go here and follow the links. The latter has received much attention in recent years, most notably the Prada advert that used it. And a while ago I met someone who had lines of its Coptic text tattooed on his arm.

The Talmud as "Fossil"

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: The Talmud as Fossil Record of Ancient, Everday Jewish Life and Idioms. In this week’s ‘Daf Yomi’ study, why vows are hardly sacred, and why circumcision is the most glorious of rituals.
This week, the rabbis’ discussion of vowing revolved around a number of idioms that were apparently commonplace in vows. Like a fossil leaf in a stone, these pieces of everyday language are preserved in the Mishna, showing how our ancestors talked when they got mad 2,000 years ago. Today, people tend to use expressions like “I swear” or “I’ll be damned” thoughtlessly, not intending them to be actual vows or promises to God; and reading the Talmud, one gets the impression that Talmudic-era Jews were often no more serious in their vows. Why else would they resort to expressions of such obvious hyperbole? Under what circumstances, for instance, would it make sense for someone to vow “that he will not derive benefit from people who live on dry land”? As the rabbis point out, this category includes more or less everyone in the world.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

GJW meets NTS

AWOL: New Testament Studies, Volume 61 - Issue 03 - July 2015: Assessing the “Jesus' Wife” Papyrus. The new issue is also noted by Christian Askeland and Mark Goodacre. If you don't have a subscription to NTS, the shorter version is that the Gospel of Jesus' Wife is still a forgery. But it's good to have a detailed evaluation of the issues in a peer-review journal.

Background on the GJW is here and oh so many links.

The Talmud in Korea, revisited

BACK IN THE NEWS: How the Talmud Became a Best-Seller in South Korea (Ross Arbes, The New Yorker). I noted this story when it was last in the media back in 2011. This article is much longer and more comprehensive. It's difficult to excerpt and worth reading in full, but here's a taste:
When I asked Tokayer for an English translation of his book, he told me that none existed, so I bought a Korean Talmud and had it translated into English. There were many versions to choose from, but I selected a 2006 edition that was “very popular,” according to a clerk at a bookstore in Seoul. The title was simply “Talmud,” and the listed author was Marvin Tokayer. Reading it, I felt like the last player in a game of telephone. The book was organized thematically into seven chapters. It consisted mostly of parables, but there was other content as well: first-person narratives, questions posed to the reader (“If you were the king in this story, which of these characters would you pick for your successor?”), and lists of one-sentence aphorisms (“Not increasing your knowledge is the same as decreasing it”). Topics ran the gamut from business ethics to sex advice.

Most of the stories in the book had origins in the Talmud. Others came from derivative commentary that has since been absorbed into the Talmud canon. One story was a Jewish joke, first published in the nineteen-thirties, about the complicated and sometimes contradictory nature of rabbinical interpretation.

The stories and lessons that Tokayer had described to me, such as the one about adulterous sex dreams, were all there. Though sourced primarily from his first book about the Talmud, the stories were a best-of compilation from several of his books, he said, adding, “Whoever pirated that chose wisely.” Some errors had crept in: Rabbi Hillel moved to Israel at the age of forty, not twenty; Tokayer’s grandmother, not his grandfather, died in the Holocaust.

Tokayer could not believe that the book he had written nearly forty-five years earlier in Japan had achieved mainstream popularity in South Korea, that it was his book the Ambassador had been referring to on Israeli public television. But with every conversation I had and every bookstore I visited there, it became increasingly apparent that Rabbi Tokayer had unknowingly helped to create a movement thousands of miles away.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Talmud on obeying secular governments

LAST WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: ‘The Law of the Kingdom Is the Law.’ This week’s ‘Daf Yomi’ Talmud study refutes the ‘dual loyalty’ charges against Jews.
Dina de’malkhuta dina: “The law of the kingdom is the law.” This Aramaic phrase is one of the most famous quotations from the Talmud, and one of the most consequential. It seems to refute, in just three words, the accusation that has been brought against the Jews again and again in the history of the Exile—the idea that Jews are loyal only to themselves, not to the governments they live under. This was the charge that Haman used to convince Ahasuerus to massacre the Jews of Persia, and it was the charge hurled against Alfred Dreyfus when he was framed for spying. In the form of complaints about “dual loyalty” to Israel, it continues to echo even in America today. After all, didn’t the Jews bring with them into Diaspora a set of books—the Talmud itself—which prescribes laws for every area of human life, from money to ritual and from sex to agriculture? How can they be bound simultaneously by those laws and by the laws of non-Jewish governments and societies, especially ones that were often hostile and predatory?


Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

The Coptic Patriarch on the Gospel of Barnabas

WELL IT'S CERTAINLY APOCRYPHAL: 'Gospel of Barnabas' That Claims Judas Was Crucified Instead of Jesus Is a 'Fake,' Says Coptic Patriarch Tawadros (STOYAN ZAIMOV, Christian Post).
Coptic Patriarch Tawadros II has said that the disputed "Gospel of Barnabas," a document that claims that Judas Iscariot was crucified in the place of Jesus, and that Christ predicted the coming of the prophet Muhammad, is a "fake" and the work of a "forger."

Fides News Agency reported on Friday that Tawadros said that the text, written in Syriac on animal hide, is "a book full of historical and geographical errors, the work of a forger."
Regular readers of PaleoJudaica are well aware that, first, the Gospel of Barnabas is a very late, perhaps early modern, apocryphon; and second, that the Syriac manuscript in question is not of the Gospel of Barnabas; and third, that the Syriac manuscript itself may be a modern forgery. Background here and links.

Latest on Isis and antiquities sites


ISIS to Turn Biblical Prophet Jonah's Tomb into a 'Fun Park' (A7/Jewish Voice). I can't imagine what their idea of a "fun park" would be. More on the (traditional) Tomb of Jonah (etc.) is here and links.

Islamic State Transforms Cathedral into 'Mosque of Jihadis' (Raymond Ibrahim, Middle East Forum).
The Islamic State posted notices around the captured city of Mosul announcing that the Syriac Orthodox Cathedral Church of St. Ephrem, seized a year ago, is to be become the "mosque of the mujahedeen," or "jihadis."

UN: Islamic State destruction of heritage sites a war crime (AP). Actually the resolution said "may amount to war crimes."

Save Palmyra From ISIS's Rampage (Razi Rumi, Huffington Post). That sounds like a good idea in principle, but the West needs to decide first just how much blood and treasure it is willing to expend if it wants to try to stop the carnage in the region, let along protect Palmyra. Some related reflections from a few years ago are here. Recent posts on ISIS's rampage through the antiquities of the Middle East are here, here, here, and here. And follow the various links for still more.

Palmyra - An oasis of cultural history (DW). A photo essay. Much more on Palmyra here and links. Cross-file this post under Palmyra Watch.

Joe Golem: Occult Detective

GOLEM WATCH: Exclusive: Mignola and Golden Resurrect Joe Golem for Dark Horse This November (Steven Fox, Paste). A new comic book mini-series about the title character in the novel Joe Golem and the Drowning City, a character who in turn is loosely inspired by the Golem legend.

There's lots more on the Golem legend and its many modern incarnations here and links.

Ghost letters resurrect Ben Sira

NOTES FROM THE QUAD: Ghost letters hold clue about long-lost ‘Ben Sira’ chapters (Yale University).
Scholarship around Ben Sira took a major leap forward in 1896 with the discovery in a Cairo synagogue of what were later proven to be authentic Ben Sira Hebrew manuscripts. Among them was so-called Ms A, which was hand-written by scribes around 1100 CE. Just one problem: The manuscript is missing its first folio page, which contains the first two chapters of the text and five verses of the third.

Has some of the missing page finally been discovered thanks to the realization that its letters rubbed off on a surviving page? [Dr. Eric D.] Reymond is convinced the answer is “yes,” and he is excited by the new possibilities this creates for getting a better grasp of what those first chapters contained.

“This gives us a window on the Hebrew text as it was written in antiquity, and sheds light on the history of Ben Sira’s text,” Reymond says. “Because the material is secondary, made up of interpolated verses, it cannot reflect what Ben Sira wrote himself, but rather reflects the ideas of the scribes who read and copied his book in antiquity and in the middle ages.
Bit by bit, a letter at a time, whatever it takes. Until we're done.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Back from the Eighth Enoch Seminar

THE EIGHTH ENOCH SEMINAR happened last week on 21-26 June at the Villa Cagnola in Gazzada, Italy, focusing on the subject of "Apocalypticism" and "Mysticism." There were many interesting papers and lots of good discussion. I got some good feedback on my paper, which I will incorporate into the published version.

On Tuesday we took the day to travel to Turin to the Egyptian Museum. And once there, how could we not stop to view the Shroud of Turin on (as it happened) the last day, perhaps for many years, on which it would be on display? We rounded off the day with a boat trip on Lake Maggiore. Click on the images below for a larger view of all but the first one.

The Villa Cagnola.*

The view from in front of the Villa Cagnola. Those are the Alps.

The view of the garden in back. That's Lake Varese.

The same scene at sunset. The bright star is the planet Venus, approaching a rare conjunction with the planet Jupiter (just visible up and a little to the left).

At a certain point it was cool to erect faux ruins in your Italian garden. This tower was put up in the garden in the late nineteenth century to give the impression that it was all that remained of an ancient building such as a monastery.

The last session of the Seminar, which happened to be my paper. You can see me sitting in front of the screen on the right side.*

A column from one of the manuscripts of the Book of the Dead in the Egyptian Museum in Turin. That's the funerary god Anubis.

The Shroud of Turin. It looked just like in all the photos you've seen. Past posts on the Shroud of Turin are here and here and many links.

*Photos with asterisks are courtesy of Gabriele Boccaccini. The other photographs are my own.

Fourth-century mosaic excavated in Nazareth

AT THE CHURCH OF THE ANNUNCIATION: Early Christian Mosaic Floor Unearthed in Nazareth (Archaeology Magazine).

Mysterious dolphin sculpture

ARTIFACT: Mysterious 2,000-year-old marble dolphin surfaces near Gaza. Archaeologists think 16-inch-high statuette found in southern Israel may have been part of larger sculpture, wonder how it ended up in Byzantine floor (Ilan Ben Zion, Times of Israel). It kind of looks like a relic of the Lovecraftian elder gods.

Developments in Palmyra

PALMYRA WATCH: While I was away, there were some developments concerning the ruins of Palmyra, none of them good.

ISIS Terrorists Mine, Booby-Trap Ancient Palmyra, UNESCO Site (Hana Levi Julian, The Jewish Press).
It is not yet clear whether the terror organization is preparing the destroy the ancient ruins, or has planted the explosives in order to deter government forces from advancing towards the city.
IS destroys ancient Muslim mausoleums in Syria’s Palmyra Deeming venerated tombs ‘a return to paganism,’ jihadists blow them up, reportedly lay mines throughout ancient ruins (AFP/Times of Israel).

Background here and links.

The Church of the Loaves and Fishes

A STORY OF REVERSALS OF FORTUNE: A history of the Church of Loaves and Fishes: Burned down, again. Originally built in the 4th century, the ancient church was lost to time, rediscovered in the early 20th century and rebuilt – only to be badly damaged by fire last week (Elon Gilad, Haaretz). Excerpts:
On Wednesday night [i.e., a week ago Wednesday - JRD], the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes in Tabgha, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, suffered serious damage that the police suspect was caused by arson: Hebrew graffiti found on the site read “False idols will be smashed.” The church was only 33 years old, but was built on the same site of the first church built to mark the spot more than 1600 years ago.


The gospels do not say exactly where this miracle happened, beyond Luke’s account that it was in “a desert place belonging to the city called Bethsaida.” We are not sure where Bethsaida was either. But during the first three centuries of the Common Era, a tradition developed among local early Christians that the rock formation by the side of the road on the northwestern corner of the Sea of Galilee was the site of the miracle.

First church, 4th century: Founded by the convert Josepos

In the middle of the 4th century CE, a small church was erected on the site, possibly by a convert named Josepos.


Second church, 5th century: The Egyptian custom

During the second half of the 5th century, a much larger Byzantine church was built on the site of the original church. The patron of the construction project was Martyrios, the Patriarch of Jerusalem.
Background on the heinous destruction of the church is here and links.

UPDATE: Thousands of Christians hold protest rally outside burned Galilee church (Peter Kenny, Ecumenical News).
Thousands of Christians have held a protest rally in the Galilee, near the historic church in northern Israel that was seriously damaged after a suspected arson attack which included anti-Christian sentiment scrawled in Hebrew on a wall.

The Church of the Multiplication in Tabgha was set on fire early on June 17 and the suspected hate crime drew fierce condemnation from Israeli leaders from major political parties, The Times of Israel reported.

Yes, the response of the Israeli government has been exemplary. I hope they catch the perpetrators soon.

On the Deuteronomistic History

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS: Who really wrote the biblical books of Kings and the prophets? The paean to King Josiah and exalted descriptions of the ancient Israelite empires beg the thought that he and his scribes lie behind the Deuteronomistic History (Elon Gilad, Haaretz). Excerpt:
Scholars have long rejected the idea that the Deuteronomistic History was written by the characters depicted in the story. Firstly, none were written in the first person, which is how witness accounts are generally written. If anything, they are written from the perspective of an all-knowing narrator writing from a vantage point well into the future.

In addition, had these books been written by different people over hundreds of years, we would expect quite a bit of variation in language and style from part to part (note the differences between Middle English and modern!).

Yet the bulk of these books are written in a uniform manner. That indicates they were written at about the same time, if not by the same person.

Take for example the phrase “to this day.” It is rare in the rest of the Bible, appearing only 13 times outside the Deuteronomistic History. But within, the phrase abounds (multiple times in each of Deuteronomy 6; Joshua 13; Samuel 11; Kings 13). This first of all suggests single authorship. It also attests that the author was not writing about contemporary events but events in the distant past.
This is a good account of the mainstream scholarly view about the origins of the Deuteronomistic History. There is, as the article observes, plenty of variation in the views held by specific scholars, but most would hold to something not far off from this. I have some more observations on the Deuteronomistic History here.

I am back from Italy and have a big backlog of stories to post on, and it will probably take me a few days to catch up. I'm working on a brief conference report, but I need to interchange the photos on my various incompatible devices before I can post it. Perhaps this evening.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Of lead codices and lead coffins

FAKE METAL CODICES WATCH: Pondering Lead Sarcophagi and Codices … hmmmm. Over at Rogue Classicism, David Meadows has noted some intriguing parallels.

Background here and links.

Miller, The Name of God in Jewish Thought

The Name of God in Jewish Thought
A Philosophical Analysis of Mystical Traditions from Apocalyptic to Kabbalah

By Michael T Miller

Routledge – 2016 – 256 pages

Series: Routledge Jewish Studies Series

One of the most powerful traditions of the Jewish fascination with language is that of the Name. Indeed, the Jewish mystical tradition would seem a two millennia long meditation on the nature of name in relation to object, and how name mediates between subject and object. Even within the tide of the 20th century’s linguistic turn, the aspect most notable in – the almost entirely secular - Jewish philosophers is that of the personal name, here given pivotal importance in the articulation of human relationships and dialogue.

The Name of God in Jewish Thought examines the texts of Judaism pertaining to the Name of God, offering a philosophical analysis of these as a means of understanding the metaphysical role of the name generally, in terms of its relationship with identity. The book begins with the formation of rabbinic Judaism in Late Antiquity, travelling through the development of the motif into the Medieval Kabbalah, where the Name reaches its grandest and most systematic statement – and the one which has most helped to form the ideas of Jewish philosophers in the 20th and 21st Century. This investigation will highlight certain metaphysical ideas which have developed within Judaism from the Biblical sources, and which present a direct challenge to the paradigms of western philosophy. Thus a grander subtext is a criticism of the Greek metaphysics of being which the west has inherited, and which Jewish philosophers often subject to challenges of varying subtlety; it is these philosophers who often place a peculiar emphasis on the personal name, and this emphasis depends on the historical influence of the Jewish metaphysical tradition of the Name of God.

Providing a comprehensive description of historical aspects of Jewish Name-Theology, this book also offers new ways of thinking about subjectivity and ontology through its original approach to the nature of the name, combining philosophy with text-critical analysis. As such, it is an essential resource for students and scholars of Jewish Studies, Philosophy and Religion.