Saturday, January 16, 2016

Psychedelic Hebrew

DARSHAN: WATCH: The most psychedelic Hebrew lesson you’ll ever see. Beautiful artwork and animation, accompanied by deep Hebrew lyrics (The Jewish Standard). With Kabbalistic themes and imagery.

Cuneiform cookies

NEWS YOU CAN USE: HOW TO MAKE CUNEIFORM TABLET COOKIES (Tom Stanley, Penn Museum). Next recipe: edible Ezekiel scrolls.

The Second Apocalypse of John

RICK BRANNAN: NT Apocrypha: The Second Apocalypse of John. Via Fred Clark at the Slacktivist, who includes the obligatory sequels joke.

What Did Herod’s Temple Look Like?

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: What Did Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem Look Like? Michael Avi-Yonah’s iconic Temple model turns 50 (Jennifer Drummond). The basis of this BHD post is the article “A Temple’s Golden Anniversary” by Peter J. Schertz and Steven Fine in the current issue of Biblical Archaeology Review. It is behind a subscription wall, but the post gives some information about its contents. The article was also discussed by Leen Ritmeyer in a post noted here.

Cross-file under Temple Mount Watch.

Apocrypha 26 (2015)

NEW TESTAMENT APOCRYPHA WATCH Apocrypha 26/2015. Forthcoming in March. Follow the link for the TOC. Most of the article are on NT Apocrypha, but the Apostolic Fathers and the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha are represented as well.

Friday, January 15, 2016

The makers of Codex Sinaiticus

THE BRITISH MUSEUM BLOG: The makers of Codex Sinaiticus. Cillian O’Hogan, Research Fellow, University of Waterloo, formerly Curator of Classical and Byzantine Studies, British Library. This post contains some good information about the artisans and scribes responsible for the production of this manuscript. Background to the post is here and links, reminding us that Sinaiticus preserves about half of the Old Testament as well as the complete New Testament and some other odds and ends.

Jobes, Discovering the Septuagint

Discovering the Septuagint: A Guided Reader Hardcover – January 27, 2016
by Karen Jobes (Author)

Quick access to Septuagint vocabulary and syntax for students of the Greek New Testament
Interest in the Septuagint today continues to grow stronger. Despite that interest, students have lacked a guidebook to the text similar to the readers and handbooks that exist for the Greek New Testament. Discovering the Septuagint: A Guided Reader fills that need. Created by an expert on the Septuagint, this groundbreaking resource draws on Jobes's experience as an educator in order to help upper—level college, seminary, and graduate students cultivate skill in reading the Greek Old Testament.

This reader presents, in Septuagint canonical order, ten Greek texts from the Rahlfs—Hanhart Septuaginta critical edition. It explains the syntax, grammar, and vocabulary of more than 700 verses from select Old Testament texts representing a variety of genres, including the Psalms, the Prophets, and more.

The texts selected for this volume were chosen to fit into a typical semester. Each text (1) is an example of distinctive Septuagint syntax or word usage; (2) exemplifies the amplification of certain theological themes or motifs by the Septuagint translators within their Jewish Hellenistic culture; and/or (3) is used significantly by New Testament writers.

Hayes wins Sarna Memorial Award

CONGRATULATIONS TO CHRISTINE HAYES, winner of this year's Scholarship Award (the Nahum M. Sarna Memorial Award) in the National Jewish Book Award competition of the Jewish Book Council. And congratulations also to the three finalists.
Nahum M. Sarna Memorial Award


What's Divine About Divine Law? Early Perspectives
Christine Hayes
Princeton University Press


Rabbis, Sorcerers, Kings, and Priests: The Culture of the Talmud in Ancient Iran
Jason Sion Mokhtarian
University of California Press

Revelation and Authority: Sinai in Jewish Scripture and Tradition
Benjamin S. Sommer
Yale University Press

Skies of Parchment, Seas of Ink: Jewish Illuminated Manuscripts
Marc Michael Epstein, ed.
Princeton University Press
HT AJR. More on Hayes's book here. More on Mokhtarian's book here.

Alan Rickman 1946-2016

ARCHANGEL METATRON WATCH: The Iconic Career Of Alan Rickman (Laurel Raymond, Think Progress). Perhaps most widely known as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter movies, he is also well remembered for his remarkable performance "as the anatomically incomplete, tequila-spitting Metatron, Voice of God, in Dogma." A past post on that film is here. Requiescat in pace.

Review of Spiró, Captivity

BLOGCRITICS: Book Review: ‘Captivity’ by György Spiró (Jon Sobel).
Captivity, a sprawling epic about Jews, Greeks and Romans in the first century A.D., is the first novel by the noted Hungarian writer György Spiró to be published in English. Intensively researched, it follows the travels and peripatetic career of a myopic, bookish Jew who bears the Roman name Gaius Theodorus but is known to his Jewish compatriots as Uri. Despite humble origins, Uri travels as a young man to great cities of the ancient world and lives through adventures thrilling and horrible that throw light on what life was like in great cities and in the countryside two thousand years ago.

Other reviews are noted here and link.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Recent articles in JSIJ

Collective Punishment and the Redaction of the Sugya of Akhan's Sin in the Babylonian Talmud (In Hebrew)

This article analyzes the redactional considerations underlying the sugya about Akhan’s sin in B. San. 43b–44b. At first sight, the structure of the sugya seems problematic, since it does not follow the order of the biblical narrative. This is especially remarkable when this passage is compared to the parallel sugya in the Palestinian Talmud, where the biblical narrative sequence is preserved. An analysis of the Babylonian sugya reveals that the Babylonian editors chose to add homiletic material of both Palestinian and Babylonian origin, which interrupted the original narrative sequence. The central theme of this additional material is collective punishment, which already lies at the center of the biblical story. Thus, the desire to expand discussion of this theme was of great importance to the Babylonian editors, who gave it priority over the original sequence of the biblical narrative.

Dror Erlich, The Retributive Theory of Punishment in Ancient Rabbinic Discussions of Hell (In Hebrew)

Classical rabbinic texts espoused the notion that sinners are punished in hell. The concept of hell was discussed in ancient rabbinic literature from several perspectives, some technical (e.g., when hell was created, its size and structure) and others theological and ethical (e.g., who deserves to be punished there and why, does hell entail eternal damnation or only temporary suffering). This paper focuses on one such theological-ethical issue, namely, the justification for punishment in hell. The paper examines the relevant rabbinic sources from a philosophical perspective and aims to show that their discussions of hell are based on the principles of classical retributive theory of punishment, as opposed to the utilitarian theory of punishment.

Itay Marienberg-Milikowsky, “Exile Yourself to a Place of Torah”? Independence, Marginality and the Study of Torah in Rabbinic Depictions of R. Elazar ben Arakh (In Hebrew)

Most of the rabbinic sources dealing with R. Elazar Ben Arakh seem charged, although some appear neutral, and we may accordingly inquire as to whether they reflect more complex traces of meaning. This article concludes that contrary to accepted opinion, R. Elazar ben Arakh was not perceived as a representative of rabbinic creativity until a relatively late stage. The description of R. Elazar b. Arakh by his teacher, Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai, as a “welling spring” (ma‘ayan ha-mitgabber), does not reflect R. Elazar’s intellectual creativity, but rather his ability, and perhaps also his inclination, to disseminate his teachings in circles extending beyond those of the Rabbis. Based on a fresh reading of most of the rabbinic traditions dealing with R. Elazar ben Arakh, this article seeks to distinguish between the description of R. Elazar ben Arakh as “welling spring” and the history of creativity in Torah study throughout the ages.

Penniman, Lacte Christiano Educatus

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Dissertation Spotlight: John Penniman. Penniman, John David. Lacte Christiano Educatus: The Symbolic Power of Nourishment in Early Christianity. PhD Dissertation, Fordham University, 2015.
My dissertation argues that, for ancient Jews and Christians, nourishment symbolized a transformative process, a transfer of essential qualities and characteristics that could mold the one being fed into the likeness of the one doing the feeding.

Lundhaug and Jenott, The Monastic Origins of the Nag Hammadi Codices

PAULA J. TUTTY: The Nag Hammadi Codices were made by monks.
The question of who owned and produced the Nag Hammadi Codices is of major importance in helping us to understand their historical significance. In order to understand what they may have meant to those who read them, it is important to know who actually read them. Together with post-doctoral fellow in the NEWCONT-project Lance Jenott, [Professor Hugo] Lundhaug has just published a book dealing with this question, entitled The Monastic Origins of the Nag Hammadi Codices. Lundhaug and Jenott answer the question in their new book by thoroughly exploring the issues surrounding the discovery of the codices, their material aspects, and their status as fourth- and fifth-century books of Christian literature.
I haven't seen the book, but the arguments summarized here make a lot of sense to me. Second-century "Gnosticism" (i.e., expressions of the demiurgic myth) look to me to be internal developments within a faction of Christian theology rather than Jewish-Platonic mythology. (Background here and links.) I would not be surprised to see fourth-century Christian monks reading the texts with considerable interest. In any case, whatever the ultimate origins of the texts, we have the manuscripts that we have. It is important to try to understand the social context in which they were copied and read.

Zerubbabel's crown?

FROM This Day, January 13, In Jewish History by Mitchell A. Levin (Cleveland Jewish News). The first item:
519 BCE: Darius had “a crown made for Zerubbabel out of gold sent by Jews in Babylon.”
Evidently a reference to Zechariah 6:9-14:
9 And the word of the Lord came to me: 10 “Take from the exiles Heldai, Tobi′jah, and Jedai′ah, who have arrived from Babylon; and go the same day to the house of Josi′ah, the son of Zephani′ah. 11 Take from them silver and gold, and make a crown,[c] and set it upon the head of Joshua, the son of Jehoz′adak, the high priest; 12 and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, “Behold, the man whose name is the Branch: for he shall grow up in his place, and he shall build the temple of the Lord. 13 It is he who shall build the temple of the Lord, and shall bear royal honor, and shall sit and rule upon his throne. And there shall be a priest by his throne, and peaceful understanding shall be between them both.”’ 14 And the crown[d] shall be in the temple of the Lord as a reminder to Heldai,[e] Tobi′jah, Jedai′ah, and Josi′ah[f] the son of Zephani′ah. (RSV)
The Hebrew text as it stands says that Joshua (the high priest, not the much earlier successor to Moses) is the one who is crowned, but the text seems to be in disarray. The two references to "crown" actually say "crowns" in Hebrew. The most likely explanation in my opinion is that the passage originally referred to the crowning of both Zerubbabel (as Davidic king) and Joshua (as Aaronid high priest). But something went wrong with Zerubbabel's career and he disappeared early on. As a result, his name was deleted from the passage. So, yes, it probably originally involved a crown for Zerubbabel.

This crown came from gold brought by Babylonian exiles, although there is no reference to the involvement of Darius.

The passage is not dated. I don't know where the dating to 13 January (i.e., 3 Shevat) comes from. Perhaps there was a rabbinic passage that filled out such details?

Abegg on the DSS Concordance

VIDEO: The Dead Sea Scrolls Concordance with Martin Abegg (TWU Dead Sea Scrolls Institute). An informative meditation on an important recent publication and its implications for scholarship.

HT the IOQS page on Facebook.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

More on that Temple Mount sewage tunnel

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Muslims Carrying Out Unauthorized Excavations on Temple Mount Claim They Are Repairing Water Leakage (The Algemeiner).

The first link ("claimed") is now dead. Joseph Lauer (whose e-mail drew my attention to this article) notes the following:
It is from the Facebook page and the URLs for the likely relevant pictures (followed by the offered caption translations) are: [“Renovations and repairs in the yard of the Dome of the Rock”] [many paragraphs, ending with “the work to repair the leak water channel will continue for 3 days” and a link to a 2:06-minute YouTube video at, which is also at]
I do not know whether the claim about repairing water leakage is true or not. The past record of the Waqf's unauthorized digging on the Temple Mount does not encourage one to accept any such claim without verification. But even if it is true, it is irrelevant. Excavation at an archaeologically rich site like the Temple Mount is always to be undertaken under the supervision of archaeologists and only with any necessary salvage archaeology being done as needed. You don't just go and dig a big hole to fix a leak in a canal. Archaeological supervision and salvage under such circumstances is standard practice pretty much everywhere else and failure to follow that practice is simply uncivilized.

Background here.

The NT knew the OTA and OTP

WELL YES: The New Testament Writers Had the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha in their Heads (Dr. Michael S. Heiser).

I don't necessarily endorse every parallel advanced at the link given in the post, but the overall concept is sound. A couple of relevant posts are here and here.

HT James McGrath on Facebook. Cross-file under Old Testament Apocrypha Watch and Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Watch.

Images 7-8 (2015)

THE BRILL JOURNAL IMAGES has published two volumes in 2015: Images 7 and Images 8.
IMAGES invites scholarly articles on Jewish art and visual culture, ranging in time from Greco-Roman antiquity to the present day. Articles may concentrate on any geographical area in which Jewish participation had an impact, and any discipline, including architecture, painting, sculpture, treasury arts, book arts, graphics, textiles, photography and film, and other areas of the visual environment. In addition, IMAGES welcomes articles on historiography and theory, as well as textual studies that reflect on the themes of the journal.
Follow the links for the TOCs. Both volumes have reviews relevant to ancient Judaism.

Barclay interview

VIDEO: John Barclay Interviewed by Eerdmans (Mark Goodacre, NT Blog).

Professor Barclay's recent book, Paul and the Gift was noted here.

Dirk Smilde awards

CONGRATULATIONS TO BOTH: The Text Strikes Back: Presentation Dirk Smilde Fellowship.
On February 5th, the president of the University of Groningen, Sibrand Poppema, will present the Dirk Smilde Fellowship to Dr Benjamin G. Wright, Professor of the History of Christianity at Lehigh University, Pennsylvania. Dr Bärry Hartog will receive the Dirk Smilde Scholarship. If you would like to attend the ceremony please register in time, seating is limited!
Follow the link for more on the awards and this year's recipients.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Dura-Europos update

MICHAEL PEPPARD: Saving Syria: ISIS seeks to control the country’s future by destroying its Christian past. (America Magazine). Excerpt:
At first glance, the looting of small artifacts might seem to run counter to ISIS’s tendency toward destruction. This seeming contradiction invites us to reflect on their cynical and shortsighted strategy for dealing with the cultural patrimony of Syria. On the one hand, ISIS has been intentionally destroying monumental forms of cultural property that are not seen to fit within their very constricted notion of Syrian culture. They are trying to control the future narrative of Syrian culture by eliminating the diversity of its past.

Dura-Europos had been a perfect signal of such diversity, with religious structures dedicated to gods that were Greek, Roman, Sumerian, Parthian, Palmyrene and Judean in origin. The Roman era of the city also showed extensive linguistic diversity. Although the Greek language retained its cultural dominance and Latin became an administrative language, the remains exhibited Hebrew, various forms of Aramaic (including Palmyrene, Syriac and Hatrian, from eastern Mesopotamia), northern Arabic and Iranian (including Parthian and Middle Persian). In terms of religion, language and culture, Dura-Europos was thus exactly the kind of tolerant crossroads that is unwelcome under ISIS’s ideologically strict regime. If large monuments had remained, they almost certainly would have been destroyed.

On the other hand, ISIS has not been destroying the small artifacts discovered amid Dura’s innumerable looting pits. Rather, they seem to be organizing the monetization of portable cultural property—pottery, statuettes, reliefs, coins. In other words, an image of a Greek god on a monument needs to be destroyed with a hammer and broadcast around the world by video. But if an image of a god is found on a small statuette, ISIS regards it not as an idol but as currency. And quite a currency it has become: Western intelligence experts have estimated that antiquities are the second-largest source of revenue (after oil) for the regime.

Such inconsistency with regard to cultural property shows that ISIS is likely not concerned about the long-term benefits of Syria’s rich and diverse heritage. Yes, portable objects can bring short-term financial support, but sending them all abroad means most are never coming back. And though broadcasting the destruction of monuments and buildings may bring a short-term boost in recruitment to their ideology, it undermines one of the best sources of long-term revenue for Syria, which is tourism to its many famous sites.
HT AJR. Background on the assault of ISIS on the past and its caretakers is here with many links. And background on Dura-Europos, including its sad fate under ISIS, is here, again with many links.

David Bowie as Pilate

MARK GOODACRE: David Bowie as Pilate in Last Temptation of Christ. Good clip. Requiescat in pace.

Inscribing Talmudic divorce

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Talmudic Semiotics: I Write Your Name. In this week’s ‘Daf Yomi’ study, a premodern post-modern analysis of what exactly constitutes writing, in the physical act of making indelible marks on surfaces. Plus: Need to deliver a ‘get’ to your wife but out of paper? Talmud says: Write it on a slave!.
As we saw last week, the subject of Gittin is not just divorce, but specifically the get—the legal document by which a divorce is effected. According to the Bible, a husband can divorce his wife (but not vice versa) by writing “a scroll of severance” and giving it to her. In this week’s Daf Yomi reading, the rabbis raise a series of questions about how this scroll is to be written, and in the process they end up questioning the very nature of writing itself. What does it mean to write? Does it require the use of certain materials, or is the “idea” of a text independent of its physical makeup? If so, what kind of being does a text have? These are the very questions that continue to perplex literary theorists today.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

JeruZalem opening soon

CINEMA: Award-winning horror film JeruZalem opens in cinemas January 20. From emerging Israeli directors, brothers Yoav and Doron Paz comes an acclaimed award-winning film JeruZalem, winner of the Audience Award and Best Editing at the recent 32nd Jerusalem International Film Festival (INQUIRER POP).
“JeruZalem” follows two American girls on vacation who meet an attractive student studying anthropology during their trip to Jerusalem. A trip planned to be their best vacation ever, the girls, Sarah (Danielle Jadelyn) and Rachel (Yael Grobglas, Israel’s budding scream queen) do the rounds of the tour with newfound friend Kevin in tow and partying hard in Jerusalem’s ancient sites. The trio unexpectedly find themselves in the midst of a religious conflict followed by a series of horrifying biblical apocalypse.

Inspired by a line from the Talmud that states “There are three gates to hell: one in the desert, one in the ocean and one in Jerusalem,” the movie unleashes a chain of demonic events that brought about terror as the three try to escape between ancient walls of the holy city.

There is a trailer at the link. The film is shot from the POV perspective of one of the characters. I noted the film-festival premier here, where there's more on the Talmudic background. The trailer also claims that the business about the three gates of hell is found in the book of Jeremiah. It isn't. No specific passage is given, so I don't know what they are thinking.

CFP: BAJS 2016

CALL FOR PAPERS: BAJS Conference 2016: The Texture of Jewish Tradition: Investigations in Textuality. At the University of Birmingham on 10-12 July 2016. The deadline for paper proposals is 15 February. Follow the link for further particulars.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Temple Mount sewage tunnel blocked with concrete

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Awaqf Casting Concrete into Ancient Sewage Tunnel (Temple Mount Sifting Project Blog). This is not good. Ancient sewage tunnels and garbage dumps are often treasure troves of archaeological material culture.

HT Joseph Lauer. More on the damage done to the Temple Mount by the Waqf is here and here and links.

UPDATE (13 January): More here.

TC 20 (2015)

ETC BLOG: TC Journal Vol. 20 Packed with Articles and Reviews (Tommy Wasserman). Almost everything in this volume involves the New Testament or early Christianity, but TC also often has text-critical articles on the Hebrew Bible and the Septuagint.

SOTS website

THE SOCIETY FOR OLD TESTAMENT STUDY (SOTS) has a new website. The Society's winter meeting took place on 4-6 January at Durham University.

Flesher on the theology of the afterlife of Pentateuchal Targums

ACADEMIA.EDU: The Theology of the Afterlife in the Palestinian Targums to the Pentateuch: A Framework for Analysis. Paul V. M. Flesher, 1999. In: Approaches to Ancient Judaism: New Series, vol. 16, J. Neusner, ed. (Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press), pp. 1-47.

Apion in the news

ELI KAVON: Apion: Intellectual and Anti-Semite (Past Imperfect Blog, Jerusalem Post).
The model for today’s Jew-hating intellectuals is Apion. A scholar of epic Greek poet Homer and the head of the greatest library of the ancient world in Alexandria, Apion’s attacks on Jews presage charges of ritual murder leveled against Jews in medieval Christendom and can fairly be compared to the Nazi propaganda of Der Sturmer and Julius Streicher. While none of his writings are extant, we know of Apion’s anti-Semitism from the great ancient Jewish historian Josephus. In Against Apion, written by Josephus decades after Apion died in 48 CE, the Jewish historian—unfairly labeled as the epitome of a traitor—defends Judaism against the attacks of Apion and his collaborator in his writings Chaeremon. ...
Whether and the degree to which Josephus was a "traitor" is a complicated problem that does not have an easy answer. But be that as it may, his works are one of our main sources for Judaism of the first century and he is our only source for the lost work of Apion.

Some related past posts are here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Dillon and Timotin (eds.), Platonic Theories of Prayer

Platonic Theories of Prayer

Edited by John Dillon, Trinity College Dublin, & Andrei Timotin, Romanian Academy - ISEES.
is a collection of ten essays on the topic of prayer in the later Platonic tradition. The volume originates from a panel on the topic held at the 2013 ISNS meeting in Cardiff, but is supplemented by a number of invited papers. Together they offer a comprehensive view of the various roles and levels of prayer characteristic of this period. The concept of prayer is shown to include not just formal petitionary or encomiastic prayer, but also theurgical practices and various states of meditation and ecstasy practised by such major figures as Plotinus, Porphyry, Iamblichus, Proclus, Damascius or Dionysius the Areopagite.
Some related posts are here, here, here, and here.

Shokri-Foumeshi, Mani’s Living Gospel and the Ewangelyōnīg Hymns

BIBLIOGRAPHIA IRANICA: Mani’s Living Gospel and the Ewangelyōnīg Hymns. Notice of new book: Shokri-Foumeshi, Mohammad. 2015. Mani’s Living Gospel and the Ewangelyōnīg Hymns. Edition, Reconstruction and Commentary with a Codicological and Textological Approach Based on Manichaean Turfan Fragments in the Berlin Collection. (Religions and Denominations 155). Qom: The University of Religions and Denominations.

Cross-file under Manichean (Manichean) Watch.

Palidromes, part 2

SARAH E. BOND: Power of the Palindrome: Writing, Reading, and Wordplay (Part II). Dura-Europos and the Sator Square figure in this post. Part one was noted here nearly a year ago.

Review of Gundry, Peter: False Disciple and Apostate ...

LARRY HURTADO: The Apostle Peter: Damned Apostate?
In his most recent book, seasoned and respected New Testament scholar, Robert H. Gundry, presents the bold thesis that the Gospel of Matthew presents the Apostle Peter as an apostate who is irredeemably damned: Peter: False Disciple and Apostate according to Saint Matthew (Eerdmans, 2015; publisher’s online description here).

Hurtado is not persuaded.

Angst of a Greek teacher

PHILOLOGY: Beginning Greek, Again and Again (JAMES ROMM, NYT).
WHEN I moved my Beginning Greek course, last year, from the spring to fall semester, I did not reckon with the impact on my psyche of diminishing daylight. As the days grew shorter, my thoughts about the course grew darker. When the semester concluded, just before the winter solstice, those thoughts had also reached a nadir, giving way to the fear that I had failed, once again, in my 30-year quest to turn bright and eager undergraduates into readers, and lovers, of ancient Greek.

My experience of teaching introductory Biblical Hebrew and Biblical Aramaic has been very different from this and generally very positive. Perhaps I am just fortunate in having such good students.