Saturday, February 20, 2016

Divorcing demons

EPIGRAPHY: Naming Demons: The Aramaic Incantation Bowls and Gittin. What the unique corpus of magical texts inscribed on bowls can teach us about the diffusion of the rabbinic laws of divorce in late antique Babylonia. (Avigail Manekin Bamberger,
Thinking of the bowl scribes as such can help recover the incantation bowls from what may have seen as an obscure corner of Jewish society. Locating the Aramaic incantation bowls firmly within the ancient Babylonian Jewish community opens up new lines of inquiry into the study of Aramaic incantation bowls which can help illuminate late antique Jewish culture and Jewish law.
There are many past PaleoJudaica posts on the ancient Babylonian Aramaic incantation bowls. See here and here and links or, for more, run "incantation bowls" through the search engine. And for more on divorce law in tractate b. Gittin (currently being read in the Daf Yomi cycle), see here.

Review of Gregg, Shared Stories, Rival Tellings

MARGINALIA REVIEW OF BOOKS: Scripture in the Age of Non-mechanical Reproduction – By Mira Balberg. Mira Balberg on Robert Gregg’s Shared Stories, Rival Tellings.
Robert C. Gregg’s book Shared Stories, Rival Tellings is an ode to those creative encounters between stories and readers (or hearers) in specific historical moments, and a powerful demonstration of the enormous value of “retellings” of sacred stories for understanding processes of identity formation, doctrinal differentiation, and religious competition. The book focuses on five sets of central biblical/Quranic figures — Cain and Abel, Hagar and Sarah, Joseph and Potiphar’s wife, Jonah, and Mary — and their representations by Jewish, Christian, and Muslim authors and artists throughout the first millennium (more or less) of the common era. This majestic book, spanning more than 600 pages, is an invaluable resource for anyone who wishes to appreciate and help others appreciate the infinite ability of religious communities to renew and revivify themselves through imaginative re-creations of foundational stories.

Two nuns review "The Young Messiah"

AND YET ANOTHER JESUS MOVIE: Sr. Helena Burns Reviews: The Young Messiah (Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble, Pursued by Truth Blog). This is a guest post by Sr. Burns, but Sr. Noble prefaces her own reviewlet. Excerpt from the latter:
When I went to see “The Young Messiah” I was skeptical. I tried to read Anne Rice’s book this movie is based on, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, and was not impressed with some of the theology based on the Gnostic, apocryphal Infancy Gospel of St. Thomas. But the movie changed the events I had found concerning, and kept the excellent writing and character development. This movie moved me, and got me thinking for days afterward.
I tried to read the book when it came out, but I just didn't find it very engaging and I didn't get very far in it. This even though I quite enjoyed Anne Rice's vampire novels.

Excerpt from Sr. Burns's review:
“The Young Messiah” is the best Jesus movie ever. Based on Anne Rice’s historical novel, “Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt,” it combines the latest and best in filmmaking, the dramatic arts, mature biblical scholarship, theology and imagination. It is biblically and theologically sound (always a tricky task when speaking about Jesus, but even more so the Child Jesus and his “human knowledge”–what did he/didn’t he allow himself to know in his humanity?) There has been some talk that “apocryphal writings” inspired some scenes. “Apocryphal” does not mean “Gnostic.” The apocryphal Proto-Evangelium of James was used by early Christians as devotional reading. But it’s not the Word of God.
Overall, both of them liked it. But Sr. Burns warns: "DO NOT WATCH THE TRAILER. GIVES A BIT TOO MUCH AWAY!" Naturally, after that, I had to go and find the trailer. You can view it here.

I have lots of past posts on the publication of the book, for example, here. You can find others by running the search term "Anne Rice" through the search engine. I noted that the movie was coming here and here. Now that it's finally done, I'll have to see it.

Cross-file under New Testament Apocrypha Watch.

Review of Ostler, Passwords to Paradise

I'M PRETTY SURE GOD IS MULTILINGUAL: What Language Does God Speak? Christianity’s move from Aramaic and Greek into Latin gave the Roman church its imperial bearing (BARTON SWAIM, WSJ).
Does an English-speaking Christian understand the gospel in ways that, simply as a consequence of language, differ significantly from the way, say, a Chinese Christian understands that same doctrine?

In a sense the answer is obvious: Of course. But how? Nicholas Ostler, a linguist and historian of languages, sets out in “Passwords to Paradise” to document the many and subtle ways in which the world’s three “missionary faiths”—Buddhism, Islam and Christianity—have altered as a result of moving from one language to another.

The book is at its strongest when recounting large-scale and long-term changes. When Buddhism moved northward into Gandhara (roughly, present-day Pakistan and Afghanistan) in the second century B.C., it moved also into a new dialect (Gandhari) and thus opened itself to influences from Iran and even Greece. Over time, the doctrine of the dharma became less a program for adepts and more a universalized program for human deliverance. Similarly, Christianity’s move from Aramaic and Greek into Latin—the language of the Roman empire—would eventually give the Roman church its imperial bearing. “The Roman Catholic Church as it developed,” Mr. Ostler writes, “is unthinkable without the precedent of the (western) Roman Empire.”

Read on. The Aramaic-speaking Eastern church is not neglected. And cross-file under Aramaic/Syriac Watch.

MK Berko pushes back

THE ERA OF TWITTER JOURNALISM: 'They won't silence me, even through slander' (Mati Tuchfeld, Israel HaYom)
New Likud MK and terrorism expert Dr. Anat Berko underwent a baptism by fire when a Knesset colleague tweeted incorrectly that she had denied the existence of a Palestinian people • Berko: Palestinian identity created as an antithesis to Zionism.
But Berko had not said any such thing. In an interview with the Israel Hayom weekend supplement, she explained:

"What I'm saying is that the name 'Palestina' came from the Romans' attempt to wipe out the Kingdom of Judea. Arabs have no P in their language, but adopted the name. It was long before 1967, and there is evidence of it being used at the beginning of the 20th century. The British [in documents from the Mandatory period] referred to this place as 'Palestine-Eretz Israel.' My statements in the Knesset plenum were made as a side reference, and people made a big deal out of them. No one said there was no such people. But they [the Palestinians] certainly adopted the name," Berko says.

"Obviously, the nationalist definition of the Arabs in the Land of Israel who are most populous in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza as a separate people began as a response against Zionism. The experts in Meretz might think I was talking nonsense, but the Arab MKs thought otherwise and an entire discussion -- furious on their part -- began about where they came from. Some of them claim that they are the descendants of the Jebusites, and others say that they belong to the ancient Canaanite people. The word 'Palestina' was taken from the biblical Pheonician people."
The last statement, is of course, incorrect. As I have noted before, the word "Palestine" comes from the late second-millennium BCE Philistine invaders. As far as I can tell, it was first applied to this region in general by Herodotus in the late fifth century BCE. And, yes, it was used by the Romans after the failed Bar Kokhba revolt in the early second century CE.

The Phoenicians were fellow Northwest Semites who lived more or less in what is modern Lebanon and who spoke a language similar to Hebrew. They were closely related to the biblical "Canaanites," but the Phoenicians tended to get along pretty well with the Israelites, since no land disputes were involved.

But that is a small point here. The big point is that MK Berko neither said nor meant that there was no Palestinian people.
Berko wants to make it clear that the recent controversy has not deterred her.

"It did become a joke at home, but after the attacks on me I said I was strong, I'd sat with the worst murderers, and now I see what the politicians did to me as an attempt to silence me. But no one will silence me. I'll keep on even if they slander me -- in the world as well as in Israel -- because they tried to silence me there, too."
If all this started because of an inaccurate tweet by a fellow MK, that is a damning indictment of the media. A video of the incident was readily available and seems to have been consulted by the New York Times, so they and the rest of the media should have known better. And they always could have called MK Berko and asked what she meant. Shamefully sloppy journalism.

I look forward to the corrections by the New York Times, Haaretz, Newsweek, the Independent, etc.

Background and a detailed analysis of the story is here (immediately preceding post).

Friday, February 19, 2016

P is for Palestine?

PHONOLOGY AND POLITICS — WHAT THE MK ACTUALLY SAID: No ‘P’ in Arabic Means No Palestine, Israeli Lawmaker Says (ISABEL KERSHNER, New York Times)
JERUSALEM — One of the many things that divides Israelis and Palestinians is the letter P.

The consonant that prefaces prejudice and partisanship became an object of mirth on Thursday after Anat Berko, a conservative lawmaker from the governing Likud Party, said in Parliament that there could be no such place as Palestine because there is no P in Arabic.

This article came out a week ago. It does not seem to be the first one to cover the story, but it's the earliest I have been able to find that takes it in this direction. I noticed it back when it came out and I started keeping track, but I've been busy and have only had time to write it up now. Several points arise from this article and many of the others which cover the same story.

1. The supposed argument by MK Berko, as presented in the headline (and other headlines in articles published elsewhere, see below) is ludicrous and scarcely worth addressing. No P in Arabic does not mean "that there could be no such place as Palestine."

2. That said, the headline does not represent accurately or fairly what she is reported in the article to have said. The article itself quotes what she did say:
The name “Palestine” is a borrowed term , Ms. Berko said, presumably referring to the ancient Greek “Palaistine” and the Syria-Palaestina of the Roman era.

“I want to return to history. What exactly is our place here regarding Jerusalem, regarding Palestine,” she said during a parliamentary debate late Wednesday called by the center-left Zionist Union on the two-state solution. “As we have said, there isn’t even a P in Arabic so this borrowed term is also worth scrutinizing,” she added.

As opposition lawmakers heckled Ms. Berko, she retorted, “There is no ‘Pa,’ ” sputtering, “Pa, pa, pa,” for emphasis.
There is nothing incorrect in what she did say, as reported here. "Palestine" is a borrowed term that ultimately comes from the word "Philistine," one of the groups of Sea People invaders who came to the region in the late Second Millennium BCE. As the article goes on to say, there is indeed no "P" sound in Arabic. And it is entirely fair to scrutinize the use of this borrowed term. Yes, she is making a rhetorical point to underline that the term is borrowed, but so what? She did not say anything resembling the absurd assertion "that there could be no such place as Palestine because there is no P in Arabic."

Now let us be clear. The excerpted section is what the Times quotes her to have said, this is what every other article I checked quoted, and this is presumably what she said. (You can view that part of her speech here on YouTube.) If she actually said something more objectionable earlier or later in the speech, then let's hear an exact quote of what it was. But if that were the case, I'm pretty sure they all would have seized on that and quoted it. Instead, they try to base their conclusions on this brief quotation.

PaleoJudaica does not have a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As Scott Adams would say, that is at a different URL. One can agree or disagree with whatever MK Berko's overall political position about Israel and the Palestinians may be or with whatever other unreported political statements she may have made in the speech. Fine. My point is that what she is reported to have said here does not correspond to the accusation being made against her.

3. PaleoJudaica does have an interest in the historical background and development of terms like "Palestine," and those concerns are foundational to this little media tempest. So let's go ahead and scrutinize that term "Palestine." In fact I have done so, especially here, but posts here, here, and here are also relevant. I have no interest in drawing any modern political conclusions beyond those drawn in those posts (i.e., on whether and in what sense Jesus can be called a Palestinian), but I have surveyed the historical facts and their implications as I see them there.

4. I have been extra wary of the New York Times ever since they published that unfortunate article dealing (badly) with scholarly views about the Jewish temples on the Temple Mount. Regular readers will remember this incident well and more recent visitors can read the whole story here and links (cf. here). In general, my attitude is not to give the Times, or for that matter any of the mainstream media, the benefit of the doubt. A good principle is to withhold judgment on the coverage of anything controversial unless you have independent verification of what is reported. And, as we shall see, multiple articles in the media do not necessarily count as independent verification. This hermeneutic of suspicion is especially important if you see something that looks wrong based on your own knowledge or you see what look like internal inconsistencies in the coverage. Then, check very carefully before you accept what is said.

5. Other media coverage of MK Berko's comments are as follows. Note the equally inaccurate headlines.*
Israeli Lawmaker Says Palestinian Nation Doesn’t Exist, Because Arabic Doesn't Have 'P' (Jonathan Lis, Haaretz)
Israeli Lawmaker: There Can’t Be a Palestine Because Arabic Has No ‘P’ (SIOBHÁN O'GRADY, Foreign Policy Blog)
Israeli MP claims the Palestine Nation cannot exist 'because they can't pronounce the letter P' (Matt Payton, The Independent)
Israeli Legislator Argues With Straight Face That Palestine Can’t Exist Because There’s No P in Arabic (Joshua Keating, Slate Blog)

It is worthwhile to analyze the pattern of coverage here. Something someone has said about a controversial topic is picked up. It is over-interpreted in an extreme way that makes the person look bad but which does not accurately express what they did say. The provocative over-interpretation is placed in a headline and in the first paragraph or two of the article. Then the actual story and the actual quotation are reported. (As an aside: keep in mind that many readers will not go beyond the headline or the first few lines, and some of those who read the whole article will read it carelessly within the provocative frame already set.) Finally, articles are multiplied across the media which repeat the provocative over-interpretation in the headlines, echo chamber style. Consumers of the media, unless they are very observant, are left with the impression that the speaker has been discredited.

Now that this pattern has been pointed out to you, keep an eye out for it. Who knows? You may notice it again sometime.

*The above is a representative sampling. Examples could be multiplied. To be fair, some other headlines more accurately reflect what she actually said. Examples:
Likud MK sparks outrage after questioning the 'P' in 'Palestine' (Arutz Sheva)
Mind your Ps and Qs: Israeli lawmaker puzzles with Palestine comment (AFP - carried by the Daily Mail and many others)
Israeli MP ridiculed over Palestine comment (World Bulletin)
Likud MK: Palestinians can’t even say ‘P’ (The Times of Israel)

UPDATE (20 February): More here.

Review of Madden, Corpus of Byzantine Church Mosaic Pavements

Andrew M. Madden, Corpus of Byzantine Church Mosaic Pavements from Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Colloquia antiqua, 13. Leuven; Paris; Walpole, MA: Peeters, 2014. Pp. xvi, 242. ISBN 9789042930612. €78.00.

Reviewed by Laurel Taylor, University of North Carolina Asheville (

Table of Contents

In a new monograph based upon his doctoral thesis, Andrew Madden provides a comprehensive catalogue of chapel, church and monastery mosaic pavements from Roman Palestine during the early Christian period. The chronological parameters of his study begin with the spread of Christianity and the attendant church building in the region during the fourth century and end in the eighth century when, based on current archaeological evidence, construction of mosaic pavements appears to cease in Christian edifices. Though there have been more publications devoted to the mosaics of this region over the past few decades, none have focused exclusively on pavements from Christian contexts. From a large yet diffuse body of publications (monographs, catalogues and a staggering number of excavation reports), Madden has compiled a comprehensive catalogue of nearly 300 mosaic pavements found within Roman Palestine. His contribution is, therefore, a welcome addition and of great utility for those seeking comparanda for Christian mosaics in the larger Mediterranean.


Lectures on Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha in New Jersey

OLD TESTAMENT APOCRYPHA AND PSEUDEPIGRAPHA WATCH: Rabbi talks end times in Whippany (Hanover Eagle).
HANOVER TWP. - Rabbi David Nesson, now in his 27th year as spiritual leader of Morristown Jewish Center–Beit Yisrael, will lead a three-part series titled "Between Heaven and Earth: A Journey Through the Books of the Apocrypha and the Pseudepigrapha, the Stories of the Beginning and the End of Time" from noon to 1:30 p.m. on Mondays, March 7 and 14, and Tuesday, March 22, at the Morris County Library, 30 E. Hanover Ave., in Whippany.


Rabbi Nesson noted, "In our previous sessions on 'Mysticism' and on 'Books of the Bible No One Reads,' we touched upon these two collections of books. In this series, we will take a more in-depth look at some of these books, including Enoch and The Life of Adam and Eve."

The rabbi's series will also examine the lives of two women who saved the Jewish people-Judith and Esther. Their courage is chronicled in the books of Judith and Additions to the Book of Esther. Participants will also learn about one of the most enigmatic personalities in the bible, Daniel. Two books focus on Daniel's mystical powers: Suzanna and The Song of the Three Children.

Finally, Rabbi Nesson noted, "We will delve into what the Jewish community was experiencing, apocalyptically and eschatologically, just before the destruction of the Second Temple, as noted inbook of 2 Edras. We will discuss the questions raised in these books as they relate to our lives and our world."

If you happen to be in the vicinity of Whippany, New Jersey, next month, this sounds worth attending.

Mummy portraits

TECHNOLOGY WATCH: Non-Invasive Techniques Offer Clues About Mummy Portraits (Ginger Perales, NewHistorian).
esearchers investigating the ancient paintings of Egyptian mummies have uncovered clues about the methods used by the artists. Referred to as mummy portraits, (or Faiyum mummy portraits – Faiyum being the area where they’re most commonly discovered) they are a type of naturalistic portrait from the Coptic period, painted on wooden boards which were combined with mummy-wrappings and then attached to the head of the deceased. The portraits belong to one of the most highly regarded traditions of art from the classical world – panel painting.

The images examined by the researchers were found on 2,000 year old mummies and would have been painted following their death. Mummy portraits were typically reserved for Egyptian high ranking officials and would have shown them in their prime. Researchers with Northwestern University in Illinois have utilized delicate, non-invasive, forensic technology to reveal the exact colors the artists used as well as their order of application.

As I have said often, non-destructive and non-invasive technologies are the future for the study of material remains of the past. There is a recent post on the use of such technologies on mummy masks here, and follow the links there for more. And see also here and here and links

Origins of the SBL Violence Section

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: The Genealogy of an SBL Section (Shelly Matthews).
If this is understood to be the 10th anniversary of the Violence and Representations of Violence Section, as the title of this section in the SBL program book suggests, then my primary task here is to briefly narrate the pre-history of the group---the things that happened before year one. Unlike some of the messier business of the study of origins in our discipline, the point of the origin of this group is beyond dispute. It occurred when E. Leigh Gibson, whom I had not known, having seen the title of a paper I was reading at the 2001 annual meeting in the program book, emailed me to ask if we could meet to discuss our common interests.

The first essay in this series was noted here.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Recorded Scholem lecture

This rough archival audio of Gershom Scholem was recorded at the Panarion conference of Jungian thought in 1975 in Los Angeles. In his lecture, he muses on the concept of tselem in Kabbalah, the "plastic image" that describes the individual essence of each human being.
With a transcript.

HT Raziel Abulafia on Facebook

How to make vellum

NEWS YOU CAN USE: BBC on how to make vellum (Peter Williams, ETC). Further to this story.

Bogomil graveyard

WHILE WE'RE ON THE SUBJECT OF POST-ANTIQUITY GNOSTICS: ABANDONED BOGOMILS GRAVEYARD. This field of half-buried stone crosses was the burial place of a sect of heretical gnostics (Kristo Pantera, Atlas Obscura).
Located near the small Greek town of Nea Chalcedon is an ancient graveyard, that has long since been pillaged for riches, but is still home to a beautiful collection of stone crosses established by a gnostic Christian sect.
It's been quite a while since I have mentioned the Bogomils, but they are of some interest, both phenomenologically, because of their medieval Gnostic religion, and because they were involved on some level with the transmission of the Slavonic Old Testament pseudepigrapha. On the latter point, see Grant Macaskill's essay The Slavonic Pseudepigrapha: An Introduction, written for a course on the Old Testament pseudepigrapha which he and I taught back in 2007. And there are many past posts on Old Church Slavonic: see here and links.

This Lovecraftian photo essay is a good excuse to mention the Bogomils again.

Who are the Yazidis?

YAZIDI WATCH: Who Are the Yazidi "Devil Worshipers" and Why Is ISIS Trying to Slaughter and Enslave This Ancient Minority? Part One (Brian Glyn Williams, HuffPo).
As we drove through the mist-covered hills of Iraqi Kurdistan with Thamer, [Professor Adam Sulkowski] explained that his people worshipped one Creator-God, just like the surrounding Muslim Kurds and Arabs as well as Christian groups (These ancient Christians, largely known as Assyrians, have also been targeted for annihilation by Al Qaeda in Iraq and ISIS and their community has dwindled since the 2003 U.S. invasion from 1.5 million to about 200,000 today). The Yazidis' God is known as Khude and is all forgiving and merciful. God-Khude created himself and seven archangels led by Melek Tawus, the Peacock Angel. Melek Tawus was sent to earth to create life from the primordial chaos and act as an intercessor between man and God. The first human had been created without a soul, so Melek Tawus blew the breath of life into him. He then turned Adam towards the Sun, symbol of the Supreme Creator, which Yazidis, like ancient Mesopotamians, still worship.


So far we felt this story seemed innocuous enough. There is nothing in this ancient myth of creation that warrants centuries of repression by Ottoman Turkish authorities and now slaughter by ISIS.

But it is the sad fate of the Yazidis that the story of Melek Tawus has eerie parallels with the story of Shaytan, the fallen jinn (genie) of Islam who is known in English as Satan. ...
For the many past posts on the Yazidis, their Gnosticism-themed religion, and their sad fate in the Middle East in recent years, see here and links. Some substantive posts about their religion and culture are here, here, here, and here.


A NEW JESUS MOVIE: Is 'Risen' A Sequel To 'The Passion Of The Christ'? They Share Some Important Details (KATHERINE CUSUMANO, BUSTLE). The short answer to the question is no, but the new film does take off where Passion ends.
Risen stars Joseph Fiennes as a Roman centurion named Clavius, who's charged with investigating the circumstances of Jesus's death in the 40 days following his crucifixion. Pontius Pilate sends him to track down the missing, presumably stolen, body of Christ to quell talks of resurrection in the days just before the Emperor is slated to visit the region. Chronologically, it takes place just following the events of The Passion of the Christ. This makes it a plausible sequel to the Mel Gibson hit, but it's not an official follow-up to the 2004 breakout Biblical film.
Also, Risen does not appear to use ancient languages in its dialogue, which is a pity. There is a trailer at the link.

There are many, many past PaleoJudaica posts on Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. Some of them are collected here and here. For more, run the title through the blog's search engine.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

EABS CFPs and Research Groups

THE EUROPEAN ASSOCIATION FOR BIBLICAL STUDIES (EABS) has now published the full list of Research Units for its 17-20 July 2016 meeting in Leuven. This is a joint meeting with the International Organization for Qumran Studies (IOQS) and full information on the calls for papers and research units for both organizations are included on the page. Part of the program was noted earlier, but now you can see the whole thing.

I wish I could attend, but this conflicts with an Enoch Seminar to which I am already committed.

Review of Payne, A State of Mixture

MARGINALIA REVIEW OF BOOKS: When Christians Became Iranian – By Kyle Smith. Kyle Smith on Richard Payne’s A State of Mixture
Payne’s book arrives at a blossoming moment for religious studies in Iran. Until quite recently, the Jews and Christians of the Sasanian Empire were seen as — and usually studied as — discrete religious communities, groups that were siloed off from each other and the wider Sasanian society. It was assumed that they pursued a sectarian way of life legislated over by the exilarch (in the case of Jews) or the patriarch (in the case of Christians). Yet, among other recent collections, the essays edited by Geoffrey Herman in Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians: Religious Dynamics in a Sasanian Context (2014) explain how Jews and Christians in Iran — far from inhabiting parallel or independent worlds — were deeply imbedded in a conversation with each other, one that incorporated the prevailing Zoroastrian culture in which they lived. This realization is the starting point for Shai Secunda’s The Iranian Talmud: Reading the Bavli in Its Sasanian Context (2013) and Richard Kalmin’s Migrating Tales: The Talmud’s Narratives and Their Historical Context (2014), both of which clearly show that even the most important literary contribution of Sasanian Jews, the Babylonian Talmud, cannot be read in isolation, but must rather be understood within the broader Sasanian context out of which multiple religious and legal literatures, including the Talmud, emerged.


Payne’s book is a welcome intervention. It is an expertly conceived and beautifully written counterpoint to earlier studies of Christian history in the Sasanian Empire that take Christian martyrdom narratives and legal literature at face value. In his meticulous reading of East Syriac sources and the Middle Persian literatures and histories that underlie them, Payne has substantially contributed to a new body of scholarly studies that is quickly revising our understanding of the place of Christianity in the Sasanian period. Literarily marvelous Syriac sources such as the Martyrdom of Pethion and the History of Karka still have not been translated into English. But in addressing these and other texts in a broad and syncretic study of Christianity in Sasanian Persia, Payne has succeeded in showing that the new path forward for late ancient Christian studies is one that points due east.
The publication of Payne's book was noted here last year. A past post on Herman's book is here; past posts on Secunda's book are here and links; and a past post on Kalmin's book is here.

More on Rubin and Kahn (eds.), The Handbook of Jewish Languages

PENN STATE NEWS: Rubin co-edits first reference on ancient and modern Jewish languages.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A publication co-edited by Aaron Rubin, the Malvin E. and Lea P. Bank Professor of Jewish Studies, Classics and Ancient Mediterranean Studies, and Linguistics at Penn State, is the first reference to be published on ancient and modern Jewish languages.

The "Handbook of Jewish Languages" (Brill, 2016), provides descriptions of ancient and modern Jewish languages other than Hebrew, including Yiddish, Judezmo (Ladino), and Jewish varieties of Amharic, Arabic, Aramaic, Berber, English, French, Georgian, Greek, Hungarian, Iranian, Italian, Latin American Spanish, Malayalam, Occitan (Provençal), Portuguese, Russian, Swedish, Syriac, Turkic (Karaim and Krymchak) and Turkish. Chapters include historical and linguistic descriptions of each language; an overview of primary and secondary literature; and comprehensive bibliographies to aid further research. Many chapters also contain sample texts and images.

The book was noted earlier here and here.

The discoverer of the Tomb of Cyrus the Great

EXHIBITION: How a German Archaeologist Rediscovered in Iran the Tomb of Cyrus, Lost for centuries, the royal capital of the Achaemenid Empire was finally confirmed by Ernst Herzfeld (Jackson Landers, Smithsonian Magazine).
By the early 20th century, nobody was sure exactly where Cyrus had been buried and it wasn't clear where the former capital of his empire was.

Thousands of years after Alexander paid his respects, Pasargadae was visited by another foreign adventurer looking for the same tomb as Alexander.

This time it was a German rather than a Macedonian. Ernst Herzfeld arrived in 1928 to begin mapping and photographing the city. He was the world's first professor of middle east archeaology. Herzfeld determined that the tomb was that of Cyrus, who had become a historical icon and a part of Iran's national identity.

Modern archeology was still a new replacement for the haphazard looting that had passed for exploration before. Herzfeld was meticulous, scientific and careful. He soon produced maps of the site that showed how Pasargadae had been more than just an administrative capital. It was a miracle of design. Herzfeld's journals, photographs and other materials are now found in the collections of Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, where an exhibition of his drawings, notes and photographs is now on view.
Past posts on the Tomb of Cyrus are here, here, here, and here. For many past posts on Cyrus the Great himself, see here and links or run "Cyrus" through the search engine.

AJR: Violence and Representations of Violence Section at 10

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Violence and Representations of Violence Section at 10: Retrospect and Prospect (Chris Frilingos).
“AJR is happy to host the Violence and Representations of Violence SBL section’s 10 Year Retrospective. This panel met in Atlanta at the 2015 annual SBL meeting and included Chris Frilingos, Shelly Matthews, Laura Nasrallah, David Frankfurter, Shira Lander, and Elizabeth Castelli. We bring you their responses here as a running series, beginning with an introduction by Chris Frilingos.”

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Rabbi Dr, David Zvi Hoffman and the study of the Mishnah

PROF. MICHAEL CHERNICK: The Modern Study of Mishna: Rabbi Dr. David Zvi Hoffmann’s Approach (
Abstract: Rabbi Dr, David Zvi Hoffman (1843-1921), a pioneering scholar of rabbinic literature and a committed Orthodox Jew, did not shy away from applying academic methods to the study of rabbinic texts. His work on the Mishnah posits an early, uniform, undisputed, and therefore authoritative collection of the Oral Law which he called the First Mishnah. In the intervening years new critical methods and approaches have contributed even more convincing insights into the sources, growth, and history of “our” Mishnah. Nevertheless, Hoffman remains an intellectual father of contemporary rabbinic scholarship.

Targums in translation online

IOTS: Targumic Texts.
Targumim in Translation

This section is a work in progress. We are slowly adding translations of the Targumim. If you know of any translation that is not subject to copyright restrictions, or if you have done one yourself you would be willing to share, please contact the Editor.
And add to this list Christian Brady's translation of the Targum to Ruth.

Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass

OLD CHURCH SLAVONIC — STILL PLAYING: Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass (Caroline Rodgers,
On March 29, Yannick Nézet-Séguin will conduct the Glagolitic Mass by Leoš Janáček for the first time with the Orchestre Métropolitain. Very rarely played in Montréal, this impressive work will be part of the conductor’s Slavic Masterpieces concert. For the occasion, he stopped by La Scena Musicale for an interview.


The Glagolitic Mass was composed in 1926 and had its premiere on December 5, 1927 in Brno, the second city of the Czech Republic. The conductor was Jaroslav Kvapil. The text is in Old Church Slavonic, the ancestor of modern Bulgarian and Macedonian. It is written using the Glagolitic alphabet, the oldest of the Slavic alphabets, dating from the ninth century.

For past posts on Old Church Slavonic, especially in relation to the Old Testament pseudepigrapha, see here and many links

3D model of Solomon’s Temple

(VIRTUAL) TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: 3D model of Solomon’s Temple (Leen Ritmeyer). It's always nice to have more models of the Temple of Solomon.

Sokoloff's Dictionary of Jewish Babylonian Aramaic on sale

FOR YOU, SPECIAL DEAL: A Dictionary of Jewish Babylonian Aramaic of the Talmudic and Geonic Periods - now at discount of 70% off the catalog price. Valid Between: 19/02/2016 - 16/02/2016 (Bar-Ilan University Press). Sokoloff's dictionary is an important tool and it is well worth investing in, especially at this price. Cross-file under Aramaic Watch.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Review of Mowinckel, Psalm Studies (English translation)

EXEGETICAL TOOLS: Finally, Mowinckel’s groundbreaking Psalm Studies has been translated into English.
Psalm Studies, by Sigmund Mowinckel. Translated by Mark E. Biddle (SBL, 2014), 2 vols.
Reviewed by Todd Scacewater.

Another "oldest Torah scroll?"

SOLD, BUT FORTUNATELY STILL BEING STUDIED: Oldest Torah Scroll Proves Yemenite, Chabad Versions Right (JNi.Media).
A complete, 13th century (circa 1270) Ashkenazi Torah scroll, one of the oldest in the world, was discovered in the US about six months ago and sold at auction by Sotheby’s in New York on December 22, now resolved an old controversy over the correct spelling of a word in Deuteronomy 23:2, Matzav Haruach reported. The common tradition regarding the verse, “No one who has been emasculated by crushing or cutting may enter the assembly of the Lord,” holds that the Hebrew word “Daka,” for crushed testicles, is spelled with the letter Heh in the end, while the Yeminte Torahs and the Torah text approved by the “alter Rebbe,” Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of the Chabad movement, spell it with the letter Alef in the end. And so does this 750-year-old manuscript.

The age of the scroll was determined by North Carolina State University physicist Dr. Hong Wand, using carbon-14 in a particle accelerator. Dr. Yossi Peretz, head of the Hebrew language specialty at Orot Israel College, was asked to analyze and verify the ancient scroll, and last week lectured on his findings at the College’s 16th annual Colloquium at its Elkana campus.

The orthographic variant discussed above is neither here nor there, but this does appear to be an interesting and very old manuscript, one I don't recall hearing about before. This scroll is not the only candidate for "oldest Torah scroll." Indeed, I'm not sure that claim is actually being made for it, notwithstanding the click-bait headline. In 2013 a Torah scroll in the University of Bologna library was carbon- and paleographically-dated to be, potentially, the oldest surviving Torah scroll. See here and here. And back in 2009, Sotheby's had another very old Torah scroll up for auction, although there was no claim that it was the oldest.

Update on the (traditional) Tomb of Ezra

APPARENTLY STILL THERE: Jewish shrine reminds Iraqis of religious coexistence (Adnan Abu Zeed, Al-Monitor).
UZAIR, Iraq — Jews reportedly built the tomb of the Prophet Ezra in Iraq in the fifth century, and the site has undergone many changes since.

The tomb is in the town of Uzair, which is the Arabic version of the name Ezra, and the shrine has taken on many Islamic aspects. The shrine contains Hebrew scriptures and Jewish symbols, and Quranic verses and Islamic inscriptions. It was turned into an Islamic landmark following the mass exodus of the Jews of Iraq to Israel in the 1950s.

There was some concern last year that the shrine was being destroyed. It does seem to have been made into a mosque, but its Jewish elements seem, at least for the most part, not to have been removed. According to "cleric Ali al-Mhamadawi, one of the supervisors of Ezra’s tomb":
“Muslims are the ones who took care of the place and rebuilt it after it was deserted following the Jewish exodus from the city,” Mhamadawi said. “These accusations are refuted by the fact that Islam considers Ezra a holy prophet, as he was mentioned in the Quran. That is why religious rituals are held in his shrine.”

He added, “Jews can visit the shrine; they are always welcome.”

Al-Monitor asked Mhamadawi about stories in the media claiming that the Muslims overseeing the place had deliberately removed all Jewish symbols and replaced them with Islamic verses.

Mhamadawi did not answer the question. Instead, he pointed out Jewish symbols and Hebrew writing on the walls of the hall and on a hanging plate. He said, “If we wanted to erase them completely, nobody could have stopped us. But we respect other religions.”

He admitted that “some Jewish [symbols], including the Star of David, were removed in the 1980s unintentionally during maintenance operations that the Ministry of Awqaf [Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs] conducted during Saddam Hussein’s era.”

There was no trace of Ezra’s story in the shrine. Instead, Islamic books, written prayers and photos of Shiite figures filled the place. Ezra lived from about 480 to 440 B.C.
Photographs of interior of the tomb from 2008 are linked to here.

Drones and looting

TECHNOLOGY WATCH: Drones for research: DePaul University archaeologist to explain UAV use at Fifa (DePaul University press release).
CHICAGO --- The use of unmanned aerial vehicles -- drones -- to document and monitor a ravaged landscape on the Dead Sea Plain in Jordan for the past three years reveals that looting continues at the site, though at a measurably reduced pace, according to a DePaul University archaeologist.

"Drones are proving to be powerful new tools to archaeologists for documenting excavation, mapping landscapes and identifying buried features. They also can be applied to monitor site destruction and looting in the present," said Morag M. Kersel, an assistant professor of anthropology at DePaul.

Kersel, whose research focus is on trade and antiquities, will discuss how drones are an emerging tool for archeology during a presentation Feb. 14, 2016 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Kersel's presentation, "UAVs for Site Documentation and Monitoring," is part of a session that examines the protection of cultural heritage sites and artifacts.

"Three seasons of monitoring at Fifa have demonstrated that UAVs can provide quantifiable evidence for the rate of ongoing site damage, even in contexts where other remote sensing systems would provide insufficient data," said Kersel.

As I believe I have suggested before, if such drones were equipped with liquid putrescine aerosol dispensers, that could do a good bit to discourage looting of archaeological sites. But maybe that's just the way I think.

Dochhorn et al. (eds.), Das Böse, der Teufel und Dämonen

Das Böse, der Teufel und Dämonen – Evil, the Devil, and Demons
Hrsg. v./Ed. by Jan Dochhorn, Susanne Rudnig-Zelt u./and Benjamin Wold

[Evil, the Devil, and Demons. Dualistic Characteristics in the Religion of Israel, Ancient Judaism and Christianity.]
2016. XIV, 297 pages.
Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 2. Reihe 412
84,00 €
sewn paper
ISBN 978-3-16-152672-5

Published in German.
This collection of essays focuses on the question of “evil” in religious traditions that may be described as “monotheistic” or for which at least the rule of one main god over all other deities and powers is a key concern. The emphasis of this volume moves from the Hebrew scriptures to nascent Judaism and Christianity, and concludes with attention to the reception of traditions in Targumic literature and medieval legends. The articles in this volume demonstrate the wide variety of ways in which “evil” manifested itself in the literature of ancient Judaism and Christianity. Authors address continuities, innovations, and divergences within these different but related traditions, with questions about the location of evil externally, as a demon or a devil, or internally, as the human capacity for evil. Additionally, when dualism is formative for constructions of evil in Jewish and Christian literature, care is taken to develop forms in which evil is ultimately subordinated to God and the good.
Follow the link for the TOC. The essays are in German and English.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Solomonic Valentine's Day cards

ROMANTIC? For Valentine’s Day (James McGrath, Exploring Our Matrix). All of these verses were apparently compliments back in the time of the Song of Solomon, but perhaps not so much today. Other verses from the same book would go over better in the present, but many of these should be used only if the couple is well acquainted.

The Egerton Gospel

THE BRITISH LIBRARY MEDIEVAL MANUSCRIPTS BLOG: On the Hunt for Further Pieces of the Unknown Gospel from the Egerton Papyrus (Peter Toth). I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for this hunt to produce any actual new pieces of the Egerton papyrus, but the background information on the acquisition of the fragments now in British Library is quite interesting.

Cross-file under New Testament Apocrypha Watch.

Thomas on YHWH's asherah

RYAN THOMAS: A New Analysis of YHWH’s asherah (updated). The abstract of the now finished paper is as follows:
The meaning of asherah in the inscriptions from Kuntillet ‘Ajrud and Khirbet el-Qom has been a focus of persistent discussion and debate, and still today the divergence in scholarly views is wide-ranging. The present paper aims to critically assess previous scholarship by examining each of the major proposals that have been made for elucidating the term and in the process advance a new understanding that is not only less problematic than current alternatives but historically more plausible given our present knowledge of the cultural and historical context of ancient Israel-Judah. Because asherah likely refers to a female deity and yet the designation is declined with a pronominal suffix, I propose that the term is a hitherto unattested common noun denoting YHWH’s female partner and that the goddess is to be distinguished from the goddess Asherah.
A few past posts pertaining to YHWH's asherah are here, here, and here (cf. here).

Avery-Peck et al. (eds.), Earliest Christianity within the Boundaries of Judaism

Earliest Christianity within the Boundaries of Judaism
Essays in Honor of Bruce Chilton

Alan J. Avery-Peck, College of the Holy Cross, Craig A. Evans, Houston Baptist University and Jacob Neusner, Bard College
Twenty-two essays, written by top scholars in the fields of early Christianity and Judaism, focus on methodological issues, earliest Christianity in its Judaic setting, Gospel studies, and history and meaning in later Christianity. These essays honor Bruce Chilton, recognizing his seminal contribution to the study of earliest Christianity in its Judaic setting. Chilton’s scholarship has established innovative approaches to reconstructing the life of Jesus, a Jew whose religious ideology developed and therefore must be understood within the Judaism of the first centuries. Following upon Chilton’s approaches and insights, the essays collected here illustrate the centrality of the literatures of early Judaism to the critical exegesis of the New Testament and other writings of early Christianity.
Follow the link for TOC and order information.

The Gospel of Timothy?

NEW TESTAMENT APOCRYPHA WATCH: The Gospel of Timothy (Steven Clifford). Not because this is a particularly well written or entertaining one, but just to show that people are still writing them even today.