Saturday, August 08, 2015

"Fakes, Forgeries, and Fictions" Symposium at York University

TONY BURKE: 2015 YORK CHRISTIAN APOCRYPHA SYMPOSIUM UPDATES. I noted the symposium already back in May, but Tony's latest posts has some updates in the lineup of speakers and he also announces a new symposium website.

Taylor (ed.), Jesus and Brian

NEW BOOK FROM BLOOMSBURY T&T CLARK: Jesus and Brian: Exploring the Historical Jesus and His Times Via Monty Python's Life of Brian by Joan E. Taylor.
Monty Python's Life of Brian film is known for its brilliant satirical humour. Less well known is that the film contains references to what was, at the time of its release, cutting edge biblical scholarship and Life of Jesus research. This research, founded on the acceptance of the Historical Jesus as a Jew who needs to be understood within the context of his time, is implicitly referenced through the setting of the Brian character within a tumultuous social and political background.

This collection is a compilation of essays from foremost scholars of the historical Jesus and the first century Judaea, and includes contributions from George Brooke, Richard Burridge, Paula Fredriksen, Steve Mason, Adele Reinhartz, Bart Ehrman, Amy-Jill Levine, James Crossley, Philip Davies, Joan Taylor, Bill Telford, Helen Bond, Guy Steibel, David Tollerton, David Shepherd and Katie Turner. The collection opens up the Life of Brian to renewed investigation and, in so doing, uses the film to reflect on the historical Jesus and his times, revitalising the discussion of history and Life of Jesus research. The volume also features a Preface from Terry Jones, who not only directed the film, but also played Brian's mum.

- See more at:
The conference was noted here.

Biblical Studies Carnival


Review of Upson-Saia et al. (eds.), Dressing Judeans and Christians in Antiquity

Kristi Upson-Saia, Carly Daniel-Hughes, Alicia J. Batten (ed.), Dressing Judeans and Christians in Antiquity. Farnham: Ashgate, 2014. Pp. xvi, 293. ISBN 9781472422767. $129.95.

Reviewed by Karel C. Innemée, Leiden University (


The book as a whole presents an interesting and kaleidoscopic view on a number of aspects of the language of the human body and its adornments in ancient Judean and Christian culture. In some contributions the aspect of dress is remotely present or almost absent, but each shows that understanding the grammar and vocabulary of the language of the human body is an undeniable but sometimes still underestimated part of human culture.
The publication of the book was noted here.

Royalty on ancient heresy

Heresy in Earliest Christianity

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul faces disagreements on a wide range of issues such as factions over leadership according to who baptized whom, women’s leadership in prophecy and prayer, eating meat purchased from temples, the most important spiritual gifts, and the existence and meaning of the resurrection. The divisions in the community are most likely social, between wealthier and better educated members (the “strong”) and those with less education and social status (“the weak). Paul responds in this letter with appeals to unity (homonoia or concordia), often acknowledging differences in belief on these topics. But in Galatians, faced with the schism with Peter and others over circumcision and eating with Gentile believers, he demonizes difference, “a different gospel” (1:6) as part of the sinful sphere of the flesh (5:17–21). Then, in a later response to continuing divisions in Corinth, Paul goes on full heresiological attack against his rivals there, the so-called “super-apostles” (2 Cor 11:5). Whereas he had earlier sought homonoia or unity with these opponents (which meant in many ways that they should agree with him, 1 Cor 4:14–21, 15:1–8), here he attacks them as satanic, seducing the Corinthians just as the serpent led Eve astray (2 Cor 11:2–3, 13–15). While not using the word heresy, Paul demonizes his apostolic with two dominant tropes of Christian heresiology, satanic influence and sexual impurity, while building on ideologies of tradition, apostolic witness, and apocalyptic dualism.

See also: Robert M. Royalty, Jr. The Origin of Heresy: A History of Discourse in Second Temple Judaism and Early Christianity (Routledge, 2013; pb. 2015).

By Robert M. Royalty, Jr.
Wabash College
July 2015
I noted the book when it came out a few years ago. And Larry Hurtado has commented recently on the book here.

Friday, August 07, 2015

Shanks, paleographers, and the James Ossuary

JAMES MCGRATH: Hershel Shanks: The World’s Best Paleographers Will Declare the James Ossuary Authentic. More specifically, the full inscription on the James Ossuary. Everyone already agrees that the ossuary itself is a genuine ancient artifact. This should be interesting.

There are numerous past posts on the James Ossuary. Start here and just follow those links.

Annotated Syriac bibliography

SYRIAC WATCH: annotated bibliography of Syriac resources online. Scott Johnson has some additional information on the site in a Hugoye post here.

Another, unrelated, online Syriac bibliography was noted here.

Sacred Writings at the Penn Museum

COMING SOON: Sacred Writings: Extraordinary Texts of the Biblical World.
In honor of the first visit by Pope Francis and the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, the Penn Museum offers a special focus on the ancient Near East, Egypt, and the Bible Lands—with a limited-time-only display of rare artifacts from the collections of the University of Pennsylvania, on view August 15 through November 7, 2015.

A centerpiece exhibition, Sacred Writings: Extraordinary Texts of the Biblical World, highlights the many ways the Bible—and stories akin to those in the Bible—have been represented over time and across continents.

The exhibition includes a third-century Greek fragment of the Gospel of Matthew and the so-called Eridu Genesis, the tablet containing the Sumerian Flood story (pictured).

The Museum also has a large collection of Aramaic Incantation Bowls. See here for a 1910 article about them in the Museum Journal by James Montgomery. I think it would be cool if they got some of these out too, but maybe that's just me.

Interview with a Karaite

THE KARAITES ARE ALIVE AND WELL: Chatting with the Karaites (Sue Fishkoff,
You don’t hear much about the Karaites. That despite the fact that the only Karaite synagogue in America is right here in the Bay Area, B’nai Israel in Daly City. So when I got a call last week asking if I’d like to sit down with Rabbi Moshe ben Yosef Firrouz, the chief rabbi of the world Karaite community, I said sure.

I’ve long been fascinated by the Karaites, a community of Jews who follow the Torah but eschew the rabbinic writings, most notably the Talmud. Once spread throughout Iraq and Syro-Palestine, they co-existed with rabbinic Judaism until the time of Sa’adia HaGaon, the 10th-century sage who excoriated them as apostates and demanded they be excluded from mainstream Jewry. And so they have been ever since, much to their chagrin.

This article has a good overview of how the Karaites differ from Rabbinic Judaism and where they stand socially and legally today in Israel.

You can find lots of background on the Karaites in past posts here, here, and links

More on those cave wall paintings

NEWSER: Archaeologists Find Rare Writing, Then It Disappears. INSCRIPTIONS ON PLASTER IN RITUAL BATH HAVE NOW BEEN SEALED (Arden Dier). This report has some details that I have not seen before. Also, some statements that have already been circulated require some comment.
"The wall paintings are so sensitive that their exposure to the air causes damage to them," the IAA says, per Ynetnews. Crews quickly removed and sealed the plaster so the graffiti, along with a few carvings, can be preserved. Archaeologists say the Aramaic inscriptions are particularly special as few such writings have been found, though the script is hardly legible now. They guess at a few words, including what translates to "served" and the name "Cohen." Still, the inscriptions back up the argument that Aramaic was commonly used at the time and perhaps even the language of Jesus. The plaster also holds drawings of a boat, palm trees and other plants, and what might be a menorah—portrayals of which were then considered taboo.
My comments:

1. This is the first time I have seen references to specific words that are possibly in the Aramaic inscriptions: "served" and the name (name? title?) "Cohen" (the Hebrew word that means "priest"). I don't know where Ms. Dier got this information or how reliable it is. It seems as though it may be a bit garbled.

2. We already knew that "Aramaic was commonly used at the time" and that Jesus spoke Aramaic. That doesn't need any backing up. The point is that it is very exciting to have new Aramaic inscriptions from this period.

3. The contention that the portrayal of a menorah was " considered taboo" in this period is an overstatement. I might go with (as per earlier reports) "exceptional." For some portrayals of menorahs in the Second Temple period, see here, here, here, and here. They do seem to be more common in the Byzantine period.

4. Given that the ink started fading as soon as the cave was opened, I hope someone had the presence of mind to whip out their iPhone and take photos immediately. This article links to an Haaretz video that shows some of the drawings and inscriptions.

Background here. Cross-file under Aramaic Watch.

UPDATE (10 August): Joseph Lauer points me to this Haaretz article, which seems to be the source of Ms. Dier's information (see #1 above): Mysterious Ancient Mikveh With Aramaic Graffiti Found While Building a School in Jerusalem (Nir Hasson and Ruth Schuster) [Dead link now fixed. Sorry!].
Cohen woz 'ere?

Finding a decently-preserved concentration of inscriptions and symbols from the Second Temple period is rare, the IAA notes, while admitting in the same breath – see the pictures – that the writing is not legible any more.

Some of the inscriptions might indicate names. Or they might not. One word might be the name "Cohen," suggests Prof. Hagai Misgav of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Another word looks like it might be "avad" (as in "served" - e.g., served the Lord, not "worked").

"The symbols we see are familiar to us from coins, sarcophagi and graves, but a concentration like this is certainly unusual," Re'em said. "It is possible that writing on mikveh walls was common, but was not usually preserved."

At this point the archaeologists have no theory as to who wrote and carved the words and images, or if there was a message the artist wanted to convey.

While the symbols that can be discerned are common elements in the visual arts of the Second Temple period, says the IAA – it adds that the drawing that might possibly be construed as a menorah is exceptional because back then, it was taboo to portray this sacred object located in the Temple.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Harvard fellowship on "Jews and the Classical World"

Henry Starr Fellowship: Jews and the Classical World

The Center for Jewish Studies and the Department of Classics Harvard University invite applications for the 2016-2017 Harry Starr Fellowship in Judaica on the theme “Jews and the Classical World”. Applications are welcome from candidates across the disciplines treating topics related to the intellectual, cultural, social, and political interactions of Jews and non-Jews in the ancient Mediterranean. Projects may engage with any relevant aspect of the classical, Hellenistic, Roman, and late antique worlds as well as the intellectual history of our modern academic disciplines.

The Starr Fellowship covers travel expenses and a stipend for a group of scholars from around the world to gather at Harvard to engage in full-time research in a designated subject area in Judaica. Junior faculty are especially encouraged to apply, the Ph.D. degree is required and Fellows must be in residence. The stipend is $40,000 for the spring semester or $50,000 for the full year.
Follow the link for application information. The deadline is 1 December 2015.

Incantation bowls in the National Syrian Museum?

ARAMAIC WATCH: How to stop Daesh from eradicating history? Iraq gets a digital library to preserve artifacts ( This article tells the important story of a project to digitize books and documents in the Baghdad National Library, which is good news, but is outside the scope of PaleoJudaica. That story is also covered by The Independent and the AP (follow the links in the piece linked to above).

But what caught my eye in the article was the photograph, the caption of which reads "A book, one of the 700 Iraqi antiquities, in the care of Syria authorities is on display at the National Syrian Museum in Damascus on April 23, 2008. (AFP/File)." The photo does indeed show an Arabic book, but in the foreground there is also a partial view of two bowls. The one on the right is unquestionably an Aramaic incantation bowl. I can make out some of the letters, but no connected sense. I suspect the bowl on the left is another of the same, but I can't see enough to be certain. So that tells us that the National Syrian Museum in Damascus has one and probably more Iraqi Aramaic incantation bowls in its collection. That is hardly a surprise, but it's an interesting little tidbit.


YONA SABAR: Hebrew word of the week: Yod, yud.

Professorship in Archaeology of Israel at Harvard

JOB: Harvard University, Professor of the Archaeology of Israel

Discussion published by Sarah Imhoff on Wednesday, August 5, 2015 0 Replies

Harvard University, Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations
Senior Professorship of the Archaeology of Israel

Harvard University - Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations

Senior Professorship of the Archaeology of Israel

The NELC Department at Harvard invites applications for a senior Professorship of the Archaeology of Israel. The research and teaching of the successful candidate will focus on the peoples and lands of ancient Israel and its environs, their archaeological remains, culture, and history. The successful candidate will have proven scholarly excellence in archaeological methods and technology, and teaching excellence in the archaeology of Israel and the Levant in the periods between the third millennium BCE and the Roman era. Offering undergraduate surveys as well as doctoral seminars, the successful candidate will actively participate in the ongoing revitalization of NELC, and collaborate with colleagues in other disciplines and departments such as Anthropology, Classical Archaeology, History of Art and Architecture, Religion, and the Harvard Divinity School. The successful candidate will work closely with the director and collections of the Harvard Semitic Museum. Candidates are strongly encouraged to apply by September 30, 2015; applications will be reviewed until the position is filled.

Candidates are required to have a doctorate. Familiarity with the Hebrew Bible in the original is desirable. Candidates should be at the rank of associate professor or full professor, or a comparable rank, at the time of application.
Follow the link for application information.

Is Aramaic doomed?

MODERN ARAMAIC WATCH: The end of Aramaic. Descended from the tongue spoken by Jesus, an ancient language faces extinction as ISIS advances in Iraq and Syria (Tali Folkins, United Church Observer).
Now, as the war in Syria drags on and the Islamic State’s occupation of much of northern Iraq marks the end of its first year, worries are mounting about another slow death: that of modern-day Aramaic, a tongue that’s the closest living relative to the language of Jesus.

Although Jesus was a Jew, the language he spoke wasn’t Hebrew. By the time of Christ, Hebrew was spoken only by Jewish priests and perhaps nobles, says Amir Harrak, a professor of Semitic languages at the University of Toronto. As the spoken language of ancient Israel, Hebrew had almost entirely given way to Aramaic. A relative of both Hebrew and Arabic, Aramaic had become the common language of much of the ancient Middle East by around 500 BC; its origins go back at least another 500 years.
There is some debate over how widely Hebrew was spoken in the Palestine of Jesus' day, on which see more here and links.
That Aramaic is still spoken today — probably by somewhere between 400,000 and 500,000 people — sometimes surprises his students, Harrak says with a laugh. “I’m not exaggerating: you have important towns, essentially Christian, and people have spoken that dialect since the first millennium BC.”

At least, until recently. Sectarian strife that broke out after the 2003 American-led invasion of Iraq spurred another wave of emigration, and the arrival of the Islamic State in the country’s north seems likely to mean the end of Iraq’s Aramaic-speaking community. Confronted with threats to convert to Islam, an estimated 200,000 Iraqi Christians living in the plain of Nineveh fled eastward to Kurdish-held territory after the Islamic State swept into the area last summer. From there, they have been moving on to more distant places in the Middle East and around the world, including Canada.

To Harrak, whose own background is Iraqi Christian, this diaspora does not bode well for their language.

“It’s the end of Aramaic, basically,” he says. The descendants of these refugees, he believes, will eventually assimilate to the language and culture of their host countries. “We know that the Germans in the U.S., the descendants of Germans are very much attached to the language, the culture, but by the third generation they are Americans. That’s the danger. And it will happen here. There’s no question about it.”
The situations is indeed very grim, but we should not give up hope yet. As a more recent article by Pieta Woolley in the UC Observer points out, there are at least Five languages that have returned from the brink, Hebrew and Sanskrit among them. For some time I have been following the story of the persecution of Aramaic-speaking Christians in the Middle East as well as recent efforts internationally to keep Aramaic going as a spoken language. See here, here, here and follow the many links.

I will let Professor Harrak have the last word:
“You know, we talk about genocide,” Harrak says. “But linguists, they have another term — ‘linguicide.’ So we have genocide, linguicide and also culturcide. Because three millennia of culture is going.”

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Interview with Ken Penner

CENTER FOR ANCIENT CHRISTIAN STUDIES BLOG: BRIAN W. DAVIDSON INTERVIEWS KEN PENNER ON THE HEBREW OF THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS. This with reference to Penner's new book, The Verbal System of the Dead Sea Scrolls, noted here.

Roman mansion in Jerusalem

EXCAVATION: UNCC archaeology team in Jerusalem unearths 1st-century mansion (REID CREAGER, Charlotte Observer)
  • UNC Charlotte team unearths lavish, lower-level rooms from the time of Jesus
  • Remains of early Roman mansion ‘extraordinarily well preserved,’ says dig director Shimon Gibson
  • This summer’s find: a complete vaulted room
Shimon Gibson marvels at a depth of irony that’s borderline mythological: While digging up Jerusalem’s past, he’s also digging up his own.

The UNC Charlotte adjunct professor of archaeology has been co-directing an annual dig on Jerusalem’s Mount Zion that returns him to the historic, mysterious region he first explored as an 8-year-old. The UNCC team is using maps Gibson made in 1975 – at age 17 – as it uncovers unprecedented findings that provide important clues about life in first-century Jerusalem.

UNCC student Brijesh Kishan calculates elevations at the site of the Mount Zion dig. UNCC student Brijesh Kishan calculates elevations at the site of the Mount Zion dig. Rachel Ward UNCC “This dig is the only academic archaeological expedition currently working in Jerusalem,” said Gibson, 57, an English native. “UNCC did some probes in the early 2000s, but it was in 2006 and 2007 that we really started excavating.”

This summer his crew has continued to investigate a finished bathroom it discovered in 2013, on the lower levels of what it believes to be an early Roman mansion. The team also found another complete vaulted room, again easing decades of concerns by archaeologists that remains from first-century Jerusalem were poorly preserved.


HT Joseph Lauer.

British Library's Hebrew manuscripts going online

DIGITIZATION: World's oldest Hebrew Bibles, prayer books to go online (AP/Israel HaYom).
Project is part of National Library of Israel's million-dollar global initiative, together with British Library in London, to digitize tens of thousands of rare Hebrew manuscripts currently dispersed between hundreds of collections worldwide.
HT for this story, Gerald Rosenberg. For posts on many other manuscript digitization projects in recent years, see here and here and follow the links.

A report of more Jewish-Temple denial from the PA

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: PA Minister: Israel Steals Muslim Artifacts on Temple Mount. In absurd reversal of fact, religious affairs minister claims Israel trying to 'Judaize' Mount in 'carcinogenic plan' via 'desecration' (Dalit Halevy, Arutz Sheva).
The Palestinian Authority (PA) Minister of Holy Sites and Religious Affairs Sheikh Yusuf Idis has claimed that the Israeli government is spreading "lies" about the history of Jerusalem, the 3,000-year-old capital of the Jewish people.

According to the sheikh, the fact that the Al-Aqsa Mosque was built on the ruins of the First and Second Temple on the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism, and that Jews are forbidden from praying at the site by the Jordanian Waqf, is all just propaganda.

Idis said Israel is trying to give Al-Aqsa Mosque a "Jewish Talmudic" nature via daily "break-ins" by "settlers" to the Temple Mount, thereby causing a "desecration" to the site he says is holy to Muslims. He said Jewish visits to the site are meant to make the public think Jews have a connection to the site.

I believe the sheikh's name is "Idris," not "Idis." Similar complaints about the "Judaization" of Jerusalem have been around for a while. The accusations reported in this article sound like a classic case of projection.

UPDATE AND CORRECTION (6 August): The proper form of the sheikh's name seems to be "Ida'is," as correctly given in today's Arutz Sheva article: PA Incites Religious War Over Temple Mount.

Ancient ritual bath with inscriptions in Jerusalem

DISCOVERY: Ancient Mikveh With Rare Inscriptions Found in Jerusalem. Second Temple period ritual bath found during construction of kindergarten, with highly 'significant' wall paintings of Temple artifact (Arutz Sheva).
But the most unusual aspect of the mikveh was its walls, which were treated with ancient plaster and bore numerous wall paintings and inscriptions, written in mud, soot and incising.

As was customary at the end of the Second Temple period when the Romans occupied the Jewish state of Israel, the writing was in Aramaic and written in cursive Hebrew script. The symbols drawn on the wall include a boat, palm trees and various plant species, and what looks to be a menorah.

"There is no doubt that this is a very significant discovery," said Royee Greenwald and Alexander Wiegmann, excavation directors on behalf of IAA. "Such a concentration of inscriptions and symbols from the Second Temple period at one archaeological site, and in such a state of preservation, is rare and unique and most intriguing."

The inscriptions remain largely a mystery at this point, with some apparently indicating names. The drawing that might be a menorah is exceptional because in Second Temple days, Jews largely abstained from portraying the sacred object which was located in the Holy Temple.
UPDATE: The Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs has posted the full IAA press release: Mystery in Jerusalem: Rare ancient message.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

The Talmud on female beauty

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: The Talmud’s Guide to Jewish Feminine Beauty. The ancient text takes up the problem of ‘new circumstances’ in maintaining vows, and in so doing stumbles on what makes women attractive.
In a recent Daf Yomi column, we saw that the rabbis had a physical ideal for Torah scholars: They were supposed to be frail, emaciated by study. A Torah scholar with a ruddy glow was an anomaly that attracted attention and even insults, as when someone called Rabbi Yehuda a “pig-breeder” because he looked too well-fed. (Yehuda rebutted the charge by explaining that his health secret was not big meals, but regular bowel movements.) In this week’s Daf Yomi reading, in chapter 9 of Tractate Nedarim, we learned that there was a corresponding physical ideal for Jewish women. “Rabbi Yishmael wept and said: The daughters of Israel are beautiful, but poverty makes them ugly,” a flattering statement that earned him a reputation as a defender of women. But what did it mean for Rabbi Yishmael to call a woman beautiful?

It sounds as though her cooking ability was noticed as well.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Bird responds to Kok

MICHAEL BIRD: Michael Kok’s Questions on Early High Christology Club (Euangelion Blog).

Background here and links.

Discoveries at Horvat Kur

EXCAVATION: Wofford professor, students participate in archaeological find in Israel (Jenny Arnold,
The excavations at the synagogue, which dates to the Byzantine period, at Horvat Kur in Israel are part of the Kinneret Regional Project. The project is an international research consortium sponsored by the University of Bern, Switzerland; University of Helsinki, Finland; Leiden University, The Netherlands; and Wofford.

Wofford religion professor Byron McCane and students Mason Cantey, Will Moseley and Phifer Nicholson participated in the dig, along with Wofford graduate James Ballard, who is now a student at Yale Divinity School.

On July 21, the researchers uncovered a partially preserved, colorful mosaic floor, showing the upper part of a menorah, along with inscriptions of the names of a man, El’azar; his father, Yudan; and grandfather, Susu or possibly Ooso.

“It’s the kind of thing that doesn’t happen every day,” said McCane of the find. “This is the third time in my career that we’ve found writing of some kind. A little shiver runs up your spine to see writing start to come out of the dirt. The inscriptions are acknowledgement of a gift that was made to finance the mosaic. This is typical in the ancient world, honoring prominent citizens who were generous in their community.”
Past posts on the archaeological work at Horvat Kur are here, here, and here.

If ISIS takes the Sinai

LET'S HOPE IT DOESN'T COME TO THIS: ISIS Threat to Archaeological Sites in the Sinai: Would They Rip Up the Burning Bush? If ISIS gains the foothold it wants in the Sinai, unique sites from the Moses shrines of Mt. Sinai to the mosquito shelters of the south could be in danger (Marty Friedlander, Haaretz).
As Islamic State has spread in parts of Iraq and Syria, it has been destroying irreplaceable pre-Islamic artifacts going back thousands of years. Based on this track record, if ISIS gains a substantial foothold in the Sinai Peninsula,  unique sites in this remote desert that mark the last remains of great ancient civilizations could be in danger. ISIS might find them offensive, but like the ancient cities of Nineveh and Nimrud, which are finally lost forever - their destruction would be mourned by the rest of the world.

Not least among these is St. Catherine's Monastery:
Lying at the foot of Jebel Musa is the Monastery of St. Catherine. Considered the world’s oldest continuously operating Christian monastery, Santa Katarina, as it is known locally, is unique.

Unlike practically every other church in the Holy Land, the Persians did not sack and destroy it when they attacked the Byzantine Empire in 614. Consequently, it boasts the world’s oldest and richest collections of both manuscripts and icons. The former include the 4th century Syriac Sinaiticus (a translation into Aramaic of the four gospels) and an authorized copy of the original Achtiname of Muhammed, in which the prophet personally granted protection to the monks at St. Catherine’s. Over 1,000 priceless documents are housed in its library.

And almost as an afterthought, a remote corner of the monastery features the supposedly original (and still blossoming) Burning Bush, where Moses encountered God in their first one-on-one meeting.
More on the assault of ISIS on the past in the Middle East is here, here, and here, with many links. More on St. Catherine's Monastery is here, here, here, and links. The monastery has not had an easy time in the last couple of years.

Aramaic children's camp

MODERN ARAMAIC WATCH: Israeli Christian Children Connect to Aramean Roots (Israel Today).
The Israeli Christian Aramaic Summer Camp began last Thursday under the auspices of the Israeli Aramaic Christian Association (ICAA) in the Galilee town of Kfar Baram.


As noted in the press release, the camp will be held in and with a focus on Kfar Baram, which is of great symbolic importance to the Israeli Christian community.

Kfar Baram was originally a Jewish village dating back at least till the time of Queen Esther. Remains of a large ancient synagogue are clearly visible. At some point between the 7th and 13th centuries AD, Jews abandoned the village for unknown reasons. Several centuries later, Kfar Baram had become a fully Christian village.

More on the Maronite revival of Aramaic is here and here and links. Another Aramaic children's education project, Keys Grace Academy in Michigan, was recently noted here. Today there's another article on this school in the Detroit News: Chaldean charter first of its kind in nation (Kim Kozlowski).
Although the school will welcome all children in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, it is expected that most will be Chaldean. Upon graduation, the students are expected to be proficient in at least three languages: English, Aramaic and either Spanish or French. Each student will be provided two uniforms, shoes, computers, breakfast and lunch, and free transportation.
UPDATE: Dead link now fixed! Sorry about that.

Monday, August 03, 2015

Hurtado responds to Kok

LARRY HURTADO: “Early High Christology”: Taking up a Dialogue. This in response to a recent Bible and Interpretation essay posted by Michael Kok and noted here.

Review of the Indy Exhibition

A RAMBLING REVIEW: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Jews (Menachem Wecker, The Forward).
Museums don’t typically take public, unequivocal stands on the question of the literal truth of the bible. But a National Geographic announcement of its exhibit “ Indiana Jones and the Adventure of Archaeology ” (on display through Jan. 3, 2016) refers to both the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail as “famous, fictional relics.”

But theological seminary scholars are hardly the only experts to believe the ark existed. Baruch Halpern , a University of Georgia Jewish studies professor, has said that the ark seems to have been “ a real article ,” and in an interview, Hershel Shanks, editor of Biblical Archaeology Review, says, “There was certainly an ark in Solomon’s Temple. What was in it is another question.

I agree that there probably was an Ark in the First Temple. It was probably taken as loot for the gold by the Babylonians when that Temple was destroyed in 586 BCE. That said, certainly a lot of fiction has been produced about it. And I do agree with the exhibition that the Holy Grail is a fictional relic. The review moves from the Zohar to the Ark prop from the movie, which is on display in the exhibition. And a number of scholars are interviewed. More on the exhibition is here. And there are many, many past posts on the Ark of the Covenant here and links.

Moss on Alexander the Great

ASSESSMENT: Alexander the Great: Good for the Jews? (Candida Moss, The Daily Beast). With reference to the Huqoq mosaic that may show a scene of the legendary meeting of Alexander with Jewish leaders. Excerpt:
This happy scene, apocryphal though it may be, obscures a much more complicated and oppressive legacy. Alexander the Great’s conquest of the Persian Empire in 333 BCE may have ousted another occupying power, but life in Israel was relatively peaceful under the Persians. They enjoyed relative political autonomy and were encouraged to construct and develop their religious institutions.

The inauguration of the Hellenistic age brought Greek culture, language, art, architecture, theatre, athletics, education, religion, and politics to the region, and Alexander was and continues to be a beloved figure among many Jews. But he also brought increased foreign control and, later, more tyrannical administrations were able to capitalize on his particular brand of cultural colonialism.
Background here.

Shlomo Moussaieff z'l'

A HARSH ASSESSMENT: The Antiquities Thief Who Became One of Britain's Richest Men. Shlomo Moussaieff, who died in July at 92, lived a life that could have been lifted straight from the pages of 'One Thousand and One Nights.' (Ofer Aderet, Haaretz). Excerpt:
He acquired his fondness for antiquities and commerce as a boy, while stealing coins from the Sanhedrin Caves in Jerusalem. He sold them, he said, to famous archaeologists, professionals and amateurs, including Eleazar Sukenik (Yigael Yadin’s father) and Moshe Dayan. On one occasion, he was caught and sent to an institution for young offenders. It wasn’t his only tangle with the law. In the 1950s, he was arrested on suspicion of stealing coins and seals from the Hebrew University. In the 1990s, he was prosecuted by the Iraqi government for holding an engraving that was stolen from the ruins of Nineveh.

“They hated me, calling me an antiquities thief. But what do all the museums in the world contain? Artifacts they find themselves?” he told Channel 2 in an interview. “I told them, ‘Blessed is the Arab farmer who brings our history out of the ground.’ So they’re angry at me? Let them be angry.”
A couple of past PaleoJudaica posts in which he speaks for himself are here and here. And Robert Deutsch has posted a more positive assessment of his life on Facebook here.

Remember, with a free registration you can read a limited number of Haaretz premium articles each month.

Archaeology of late-Second-Temple-era Jerusalem

INDIRECTLY, YES: Excavations reveal destruction of Second Temple (Yuval Avivi, Al-Monitor). This article discusses a number of archaeological discoveries pertinent to the end of the Second Temple Period. Excerpt:
Avi Solomon, archaeologist for the Western Wall tunnels on the Temple Mount, told Al-Monitor that the sword “is archaeological evidence of descriptions of the final days of the battle over Jerusalem, right after it was put to the torch and the Upper City fell. Jewish fighters entered the fetid drainage tunnels, filled with the feces and sewage of Jerusalem, in an attempt to flee for their lives. Some of them took valuables, including gold coins and jewelry. Roman legionnaires chased after them. They lifted the stone manhole covers, slaughtered the fighters, and seized their valuables.”

According to [archaeologist Eli] Shukrun, “Nothing can be compared to finding that sword and finding other pottery shards in that drainage canal. You are experiencing history, touching history. The last of the rebels descend into the sewers, which reaches to the Kidron Valley [on the eastern side of Jerusalem's Old City] and the Pool of Siloam, so they could escape into the Judean Desert. What were they feeling? They had no food. They had no water. It was pitch dark. While our finds show that they had clay lamps, their use must have been minimal because of a shortage of oil. It was the month of Av [in the summer]. It was very hot. The situation was very harsh. And what do they hear right above them? The sounds of destruction and the footsteps of Roman soldiers marching along the street right above them. What do they smell? The smoke coming from the burning of the temple. It is a terrifying situation. The more you dig, the more you find, the better you understand what you just touched.”

The sword was just one of the finds discovered in the past few years during excavations at the foot of the Temple Mount ongoing since 2006. They are part of the Antiquities Authority’s efforts in the area. When Israel marked the Fast of the Ninth of Av on July 26, commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Temples, thousands upon thousands of the Jewish faithful made their way to the Western Wall and the sacred sites on the Temple Mount, which was destroyed a second time in A.D. 70. They visited sites that confirm a Jewish presence in Jerusalem at the time, as the city stood on the cusp of inevitable destruction.
More on the discovery of that sword is here. There have also been numerous reports of the discovery of ancient mikvaot (ritual baths) in Jerusalem over the years, for example, here and here.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

TC 20 (2015)

TC: A JOURNAL OF BIBLICAL TEXTUAL CRITICISM: Articles and Reviews in the TC Journal 20 (2015) (Tommy Wasserman, ETC Blog).

Hayes, What's Divine about Divine Law?

What's Divine about Divine Law?
Early Perspectives

Christine Hayes

Hardcover | 2015 | $39.50 | £27.95 | ISBN: 9780691165196

In the thousand years before the rise of Islam, two radically diverse conceptions of what it means to say that a law is divine confronted one another with a force that reverberates to the present. What’s Divine about Divine Law? untangles the classical and biblical roots of the Western idea of divine law and shows how early adherents to biblical tradition—Hellenistic Jewish writers such as Philo, the community at Qumran, Paul, and the talmudic rabbis—struggled to make sense of this conflicting legacy.

Christine Hayes shows that for the ancient Greeks, divine law was divine by virtue of its inherent qualities of intrinsic rationality, truth, universality, and immutability, while for the biblical authors, divine law was divine because it was grounded in revelation with no presumption of rationality, conformity to truth, universality, or immutability. Hayes describes the collision of these opposing conceptions in the Hellenistic period, and details competing attempts to resolve the resulting cognitive dissonance. She shows how Second Temple and Hellenistic Jewish writers, from the author of 1 Enoch to Philo of Alexandria, were engaged in a common project of bridging the gulf between classical and biblical notions of divine law, while Paul, in his letters to the early Christian church, sought to widen it. Hayes then delves into the literature of classical rabbinic Judaism to reveal how the talmudic rabbis took a third and scandalous path, insisting on a construction of divine law intentionally at odds with the Greco-Roman and Pauline conceptions that would come to dominate the Christianized West.

A stunning achievement in intellectual history, What’s Divine about Divine Law? sheds critical light on an ancient debate that would shape foundational Western thought, and that continues to inform contemporary views about the nature and purpose of law and the nature and authority of Scripture.
HT The Talmud Blog on Facebook. Follow the link for further details, ordering information, and to read the introduction and TOC.

Kahana, Sifre on Numbers vol. 4

Sifre on Numbers: An Annotated Edition

Volume 4

By Menahem Izhak Kahana

Publisher: The Hebrew University Magnes Press
Jewish Studies
Publish date: July 2015
Language: Hebrew
Danacode: 45-131133
ISBN: 978-965-493-790-0
Cover: Hardcover
Pages: 296
Weight: 2100 gr.

Sifre is a Tannaitic midrash on the book of Numbers, and is rightfully considered to be one of the fundamental assets of our ancient literature. Its previous edition was published about hundred years ago by R. Hayyim Shaul Horovitz. Since then, additional manuscripts have been discovered of Sifre, its first commentators, and medieval collections and midrashim that cite it. This was accompanied by the significant development of the methodological conceptions of the study of the Rabbinic literature, and of the ways to publish critical editions of this literature. All these factors justify the publication of a new scientific edition of this midrash.

The text of the new edition, that is based on MS. Vatican 32, includes many versions that differ from the earlier version, and that occasionally shed new light on the exegeses and halakhot of the Sifre. It is accompanied by the scholarly apparatus that lists and explains all of the edition's changes from the version of MS. Vatican. The number of direct and indirect textual witnesses presented in the "Textual Variants" section of the new edition is twice, and at times even triple, the number of textual witnesses that were available to Horowitz. In the detailed commentary on the expositions in Sifre, I made considerable use of all the Sifre commentators who preceded me, and who made a decisive contribution to the literal explanation of the midrash's exegeses and the clarification of their meaning. Thanks, however, to the diverse textual witnesses available to me and the great progress made in recent generations in the study of the language and teachings of the Tannaim, I believe that I have succeeded in recreating the original version of many expositions, in giving them a new and straightforward explanation, and in advancing the research of their redaction.

The edition is intended, first and foremost, for the scholars, in Israel and throughout the world, who are engaged in the research of all aspects of the Rabbinic literature. Additionally, the new edition will likely aid the community of Torah scholars who teach and study in yeshivot, and the educated public at large.

The first half of the work, comprising the portions of Naso and Beha'alotekha, was published by Magnes Press in 2011.

MacDonald, Priestly Rule

MacDonald, Nathan
Priestly Rule

Polemic and Biblical Interpretation in Ezekiel 44

Series: Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 476

Aims and Scope

Whilst prophetic oracles in late prophetic books evidence tensions about the Jerusalem temple and its priesthood, MacDonald demonstrates that the relationships between prophetic oracles have been incorrectly appraised. Employing an interpretative method attentive to issues of redaction and inner-biblical interpretation, MacDonald show that Ezekiel 44 is a polemical response to Isaiah 56, and not the reverse as is typically assumed. This has significant consequences for the dating of Ezekiel 44 and for its relationship to other biblical texts, especially Pentateuchal texts from Leviticus and Numbers. Since Ezekiel 44 has been a crucial chapter in understanding the historical development of the priesthood, MacDonald's arguments affect our understanding of the origins of the distinction between Levites and priests, and the claims that a Zadokite priestly sept dominated the Second Temple hierarchy.

Penner, The Verbal System of the Dead Sea Scrolls

The Verbal System of the Dead Sea Scrolls
Tense, Aspect, and Modality in Qumran Hebrew Texts

Ken M. Penner, St. Francis Xavier University

In Verbs in the Dead Sea Scrolls: Tense, Aspect, or Mood? Ken M. Penner determines whether Qumran Hebrew finite verbs are primarily temporal, aspectual, or modal.

Standard grammars claim Hebrew was aspect-prominent in the Bible, and tense-prominent in the Mishnah. But the semantic value of the verb forms in the intervening period in which the Dead Sea Scrolls were written has remained controversial.

Penner answers the question of Qumran Hebrew verb form semantics using an empirical method: a database calculating the correlation between each form and each function, establishing that the ancient author’s selection of verb form is determined not by aspect, but by tense or modality. Penner then applies these findings to controversial interpretations of three Qumran texts.