Saturday, March 19, 2016

Two more books by Sanders

Comparing Judaism and Christianity: Common Judaism, Paul, and the Inner and the Outer in Ancient Religion Paperback – July 1, 2016
by E. P. Sanders (Author)

Few scholars have so shaped the contemporary debate on the relation of early Christianity to early Judaism as E. P. Sanders, and no one has produced a clearer or more distinctive vision of that relationship" as it was expressed in the figures of Jesus of Nazareth and Paul the apostle. Gathered for the first time within one cover, here Sanders presents formative essays that show the structure of his approach and the insights it produces into Paul's relationship to Judaism and the Jewish law. Sanders addresses matters of definition ("common Judaism," "covenantal nomism"), diversity (the Judaism of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Diaspora), and key exegetical and historical questions relative to Jesus, Paul, and Christian origins in relationship to early Judaism. These essays show a leading scholar at his most erudite as he carries forward and elaborates many of the insights that have become touchstones in New Testament interpretation.
I noted this one here as forthcoming on 1 March, but it seems to be running a little late.

The following was originally published in 1992. This is a paperback version.
Judaism: Practice and Belief, 63BCE-66 CE Paperback – May 1, 2016
by E. P. Sanders (Author)

In this now-classic work, E. P. Sanders argued against prevailing views regarding the Judaism of the Second Temple period, for example, that the Pharisees dominated Jewish Palestine or that the Mishnah offers a description of general practice. In contrast, Sanders carefully shows that what was important was the "common Judaism" of the people with their observances of regular practices and the beliefs that informed them. Sanders discusses early rabbinic legal material not as rules, but as debates within the context of real life. He sets Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes in relation to the Judaism of ordinary priests and people. Here then is a remarkably comprehensive presentation of Judaism as a functioning religion: the temple and its routine and festivals; questions of purity, sacrifices, tithes, and taxes; common theology and hopes for the future; and descriptions of the various parties and groups culminating in an examination of the question "who ran what?" Sanders offers a detailed, clear, and well-argued account of all aspects of Jewish religion of the time.
Both seen on Facebook. Another recent book by Sanders was noted here.

"The Canaanites who loved Pharaoh" at the Israel Museum

CANAANITE WATCH: The Canaanites who loved Pharaoh, on display at the Israel Museum. Jerusalem’s latest grand-scale exhibit reveals an unlikely, world-changing exchange of rituals and objects in ancient times (Jessica Steinberg, Times of Israel).
It was Sunday morning, day two of “Pharaoh in Canaan: The Untold Story,” the latest grand-scale exhibit at the Israel Museum, and it was busy in the galleries of the exhibit.

Groups of visitors sat on their portable folding chairs listening to museum guides in the far corners of each gallery, or walked around clutching audioguides, gleaning information about the exhibit, which explores the cross-cultural exchange that took place between Egypt and Canaan during the second millennium BCE.

There’s a lot to learn.


While there is an overwhelming sense that the Egyptians were superior to the Canaanites in their use of better materials and finer artisan work, the Canaanites appeared to appreciate it all, showing that in their rougher copies — whether in the statues, coffins or crude pottery — or in the efforts they made to import Egyptian goods to their own shores.

The exhibition is mostly of artifacts, but epigraphy is not entirely neglected:
The end of the exhibit brings another video, this one about the alphabet, the most enduring contribution of the Canaanites, as their hieroglypic drawings, called the Proto-Canaanite alphabet, became the basis of today’s alphabet.

A lasting contribution to society? Clearly. Perhaps even more than the Egyptians.

The Canaanite alphabet

PHOENICIAN WATCH: UW Religion Today: The Alphabet: The Heritage of the Canaanites (By Paul V.M. Flesher).
When Christians think about the Canaanites, it is usually to recall their supposed disappearance after the Israelites conquered their land in the 13th century B.C. The Canaanites were supposedly one of the many small peoples of the Mediterranean world who vanished without a trace during the great movements of peoples at this time.

There are two things wrong with this picture. First, the Canaanites did not disappear, but instead became one of the dominant nations of the time. Second, they amalgamated into the Roman Empire many centuries later and left a legacy that remains with us today: namely, the alphabet.

It's important to know these things.

Coinage of the Phoenicians

PHOENICIAN WATCH: CoinWeek Ancient Coin Series – Coinage of the Phoenicians.
A SEMITIC PEOPLE, the Phoenicians developed remarkable proficiency in shipbuilding, seafaring and trade, as the prophet Ezekiel (lived c. 622 – 570 BCE) observed[1]. Phoenicians invented the alphabet[2], which their Greek neighbors and trading partners adopted and transmitted to us. In turn, they acquired the idea of coinage from the Greeks, and the coins of the half-dozen Phoenician city-states give us a window into their history and beliefs.

With video. And with a number of biblical connections proposed.


THE UNIVERSITY OF LEEDS LIBRARY, SPECIAL COLLECTIONS: Translation of the liturgy into Judaeo-Provengal [Provençal] (i. e. Provengal in Hebrew characters). At the end, there is a register of the Montel family, 1587-1614. 14th century manuscript.

Because Judaeo-Provençal is a thing. Apparently.

Seen on Facebook. For some similarly exotic Judeo/Judaeo-thises and thats etc., see here, here, here, here, here, and here, and links

Friday, March 18, 2016

Was Jesus really nailed to the cross?

EASTER IS COMING: Was Jesus really nailed to the cross? (Meredith J. Warren, The Conversation). The Gospel of John (20:25) is the earliest source to assert this explicitly, although (not noted in the article) Luke 24:39-40 (40 may be secondary) imply there was something notable about the resurrected Jesus' hands and feet, presumably nail scars. But these sources were written long after the event and we don't know what actually happened.

Some past posts dealing with the macabre structural mechanics of crucifixion by nailing are here, here, here, here, here, and here.

"Ben Hur" the new movie

CINEMA: The official trailer for the new Ben Hur movie is now out:

Background on the new production is here and links.

"Ben Hur" score

ORCHESTRA AND CINEMA: Police drummer Stewart Copeland revives 1925 'Ben-Hur' with a 'big ass orchestra' (John Horn and Robert Garrova, The Frame - 89.3 KPCC).
While Stewart Copeland may be best known as the guy playing percussion behind Sting in The Police, his music talents go far beyond the eighties supergroup. For his latest project he dug the 1925 silent film “Ben-Hur" out of cold storage at Warner Bros. so he could compose music to it. Copeland performs his score live with a huge orchestra while the movie screens behind the musicians.

The multi-instrumentalist recently performed the score live with the Pacific Symphony at the Valley Performing Arts Center in Northridge in a KPCC In Person event that's part of the downSTAGE series.*

The Frame's John Horn spoke with Copeland at the event. The conversation began with Copeland explaining that the origin of this idea didn’t include the movie at all. He was hired to write the music for a "Ben-Hur" arena show with actors, horses, chariots...the works.

There is a brief video excerpt of the performance in the article (YouTube link here).

Background on the 2009 live O2 arena show (in Aramaic and Latin) is here, here, here, here, here, and here. I'm not sure I even knew that there was a 1925 silent Ben Hur movie.

Metatron Monarch Medallion

ARCHANGEL METATRON WATCH: ‘La Femme’: Sprawling exhibition captures diversity, talent of women artists (JOHN D’ADDARIO, New Orleans Advocate).
If you’re looking for a definitive statement on what it means to be a female artist in New Orleans in 2016, “La Femme” won’t be the place to find it.

But this sprawling exhibition at the New Orleans Arts Center on St. Claude Avenue in the Bywater offers so many engaging examples of art by women in and around the city that such statements are beside the point.

Curated by New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Foundation Executive Director Don Marshall, “La Femme” includes work by more than 120 artists, each of whom is represented by between one and four works in the show. You don’t have to do much math to realize there’s a lot to take in.
Among the 120 are "Muffin Bernstein’s hypnotic butterfly mandalas." It happens that one of her mandalas is the first item featured in the article's slide show, with the caption "Muffin Bernstein, "Metatron Monarch Medallion" (photo credit, John D'Addario):

This appears to be a two-dimensional projection of a Metatron's Cube (on which more here and here) made of monarch butterflies, which is something different. I lived in New Orleans for three years and learned that it has a very active and talented artistic community who put on great shows and exhibitions.

Two hidden chambers in Tut's tomb?

TECHNOLOGY WATCH: Scans of King Tut's Tomb Reveal Evidence of Hidden Chambers. Excited by the new find, Egyptologists say they may have finally found the remains of famed Queen Nefertiti; 'it could be the discovery of the century' (Brian Rohan Mar/AP). Mamdouh el-Damaty, the Egyptian antiquities minister, continues to promote the possibility that there are hidden chambers in the tomb of King Tutankhamun. At the end of November, in a story I missed, it was reported that scans made by a Japanese team seemed to indicate this ("90%") and that they were being subjected to further analysis. That said, Minister of State for Antiquities Zahi Hawass was very skeptical. It seems that the analysis has come back, and it reportedly indicates that there are two hidden chambers in the tomb and that they may contain metal and organic material.

This is potentially exciting, but I want to see the results published in a peer-review journal before I take it too seriously. As I said a few posts back on this story: "I am unqualified to evaluate the usefulness of the various technologies currently being applied to the question of hidden chambers in Tut's tomb, and I have no opinion about the question. Time and further testing will tell. I am following the reports to highlight that we're not at the point where technology allows us to have the conversation at all."

Background here and links.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Fischer on textual criticism and computers in 1970

ETC: Fischer’s Prescience in 1970 on the Use of Computers for Textual Criticism (Peter Gurry).

Still more on the two new inscribed seals from Jerusalem

EPIGRAPHY AND PHILOLOGY: Iron Age Seals from Jerusalem (RT, Religion and Literature of Ancient Palestine). A philological commentary on the two recently discovered Hebrew seals. Background here and links.

Anton, Fifty Shades of Talmud

OKAY, I GUESS SOMEONE HAD TO DO THIS: Sex in the Talmud uncovered in different ‘Shades’ (Jonathan Kirsch, Jewish Journal).
In “Fifty Shades of Talmud: What the First Rabbis Had to Say About You-Know-What” (Banot Press), Anton draws on her own deep knowledge of Jewish history and writing, as well as her sly sense of humor, to open our eyes to “texts that sound more like they belong in a locker room than in a seminary.” The irony that suffuses her book is spoken aloud: “[A]ccording to the Torah … a Jewish man is both obligated to have sex, under certain circumstances, and forbidden to have sex, under other circumstances,” she explains. “This means the talmudic rabbis had to use their prodigious intellects to determine those precise circumstances — how, when, where, with whom?”

Of course, this is hardly the first time that Anton has pushed the envelope on matters of gender in Jewish tradition. She is beloved by her many readers for the award-winning novels in the “Rashi’s Daughters” trilogy and, more recently, the “Rav Hisda’s Daughter” series, both of which extract the mostly hidden female offspring of ancient Jewish sages from obscurity and bring them fully and dramatically to life on the printed page.
And given that someone had to do it, I guess I'm glad it's Maggie Anton and not someone else. I have been following stories on her novels for the last decade, and she does seem to have made it her business to become well informed on such matters. For past posts on her novels, see here and follow the links. For more on the Hebrew words for penis and vagina (the question of which, not surprisingly, come up in this review), follow the links.

Why circumcision?

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS: Why Do Jews Circumcise Their Sons? In First Temple times, almost all the region's peoples were circumcised, which indicates that the roots of the practice lie deep in prehistory (Elon Gilad, Haaretz). The article concludes:
Looking further into the past

So it seems that Jews circumcise their sons because their ancient Semitic forebears did, but why did they start circumcising in the first place? These ancient Semitic people didn’t write, so we can’t know what they were thinking, but we can speculate.
Since circumcision was carried out on the sexual organ, and probably at puberty, we can assume they thought it would improve fecundity.

Indeed, fertility is exactly what is promised Abraham by God in return for circumcision.

But where would these ancient Semitic people get the idea that cutting their foreskin off would improve fertility?
The answer may be from their farming habits. Archaeological evidence shows that the farming of grapevines and olive trees was spreading through the region during this period. These plants require regular pruning to increase yields. Maybe some ancient Semitic sage came up with the idea that if pruning vines increases yields, why not prune penises too?

In fact, there is evidence in the Bible that the ancient Hebrews tied circumcision to pruning “And when ye shall come into the land, and shall have planted all manner of trees for food, then ye shall count the fruit thereof as uncircumcised [literally: ye shall foreskin their foreskins]: three years shall it be as uncircumcised [literally: foreskins] unto you: it shall not be eaten of” (Leviticus 19:23).

If this is all true, Jews circumcise their sons because an ancient tribe converted an agricultural innovation into a questionable method to increase male fertility, and later a small group of their descendants bestowed this practice with a national meaning, which endures to this day.
Interesting article that is rife with speculation, but within a plausible range. One detail: in linguistic terms, Arabic is a South Semitic language, different from both East Semitic (Akkadian) and West Semitic (Hebrew, Aramaic, and related). Ethiopic is also South Semitic, as is Old South Arabian. The isogloss that separates out South Semitic is the "broken plural" (or "pattern replacement") of the noun.

On the (probably fake) Maadana seal etc.

EPIGRAPHY AND POLITICS: The Trouble With the Maadana. Could an Israeli national symbol be a fake? (Daniel Estrin, The New Republic).
One July day in 1993, a senior curator at Israel’s national museum in Jerusalem approached a glass display case accompanied by a security guard. It was off-hours, and the museum was empty. On a little stand inside the vitrine was a tiny object bathed in light: a brownish, scarab-shaped stone about the size of a fingernail. If you bent down in front of it and squinted, you could make out an exquisite drawing of a twelve-stringed lyre, carved into the stone. Underneath the lyre, a two-line inscription in ancient Hebrew read: “Belonging to Maadana, daughter of the king.”

The artifact was identified as the signet of a princess from the biblical Kingdom of Judah, and it was dated to the seventh century B.C.E., when the Jewish First Temple is believed to have stood in Jerusalem. Her identity was a mystery; there is no mention of her in the Bible, and the seal does not name her royal father. Hundreds of ancient Hebrew seals have been unearthed in Israel since the nineteenth century. They are carved oval stones, sometimes as small as pebbles, which their owners would wear as amulets or stamp into small pieces of clay, leaving an imprint that would seal a document. To find an inscribed Hebrew seal or a seal impression, called a bulla, was to come face to face with an autograph of someone who lived in ancient Judah. Some of these seals and bullae even bore the names of people mentioned in the Bible—mostly marginal characters like Shevanyahu and Yaazanyahu, but also more prominent ones, like Berekhyahu, son of Neriyahu, the scribe of the prophet Jeremiah.


The seal remained on display for 13 years, until that day in 1993, when the security guard unlocked the glass case and the curator pinched the seal between her gloved fingers and dropped it into a small container the size of a ring box. She also removed the enlarged diagram of the seal propped up in the display case. The guard accompanied the curator down to the museum’s basement storage facility, where she pulled open the glass doors of a tall wooden cabinet and placed the Maadana inside.

It was done quietly. The curator made no note of it on the seal’s registry card, the little index card that logged its display history. No announcement was made. It never went back on exhibit at the museum. It was removed amid allegations that the Seal of Maadana was a fake.

The issue of the Maadana seal, which is widely accepted to be a fake, is really just the opener for a long and rambling, but interesting, article on the Israeli antiquities market, the problem of forged epigraphic antiquities, and the Israel Forgery Trial. In the mid-1980s, the Maadana seal was used as the template for a Israeli half-skekel coin that is still in circulation. Whether that makes the image on the seal "an Israeli national symbol" is, I suppose, a matter of opinion. As Joseph Lauer commented in his e-mail on the article, it's not as if it's the menorah or the Star of David.

Background on the Israel Forgery Trial is here and links. And for more on forgeries of Hebrew seals and inscriptions, see here and links.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

60th anniversary of "The Ten Commandments"

CLASSIC CINEMA: DeMille’s ‘The Ten Commandments’ still the Biblical epic master class (Jim Dixon,
Fathom Events, Turner Classic Movies and Paramount Pictures invite you to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Cecil B. DeMille’s epic film The Ten Commandments (1956) when it returns to select cinemas nationwide for a special two-day event on Sunday, March 20th and Wednesday, March 23rd.


The script, by Æneas MacKenzie, Jesse L. Lasky, Jr., Jack Gariss, and Frederic M. Frank, was based partly on The Bible, but filled in the blanks in Moses’ life by incorporating material from several books, as well as the works of the ancient historians Philo of Alexandria, Josephus and Eusebius. The results were a speculative but compelling drama about two young men, Rameses (Yul Brynner) and Moses (Heston), raised together in the royal household, at odds over the princess Nefretiri (Anne Baxter), a ward of the Pharaoh Seti who must marry his successor. The movie opens, however, with a rapid succession of scenes adapted fairly literally from the Biblical Book of Exodus, with the infant Moses (played by Charlton Heston’s newborn son Fraser) being placed in a basket to float down the Nile, in attempt to avoid an infanticide holocaust by the reigning pharaoh who fears the birth of a messianic leader from among the Hebrew slaves and being discovered, and raised, by a daughter of pharaoh.

The Bible does not enlighten us on how Moses discovered his true ancestry, but in the hands of DeMille’s writers it’s the stuff of great soap opera. Nefretiri, who’s head-over-heels for Moses, murders an old family retainer (Dame Judith Anderson) who knows the truth and is going to spill the beans when it looks like Moses is going to ascend to the throne, and then spills her guts to Moses. Exodus records that the adult Moses eventually kills an Egyptian slave master who was smiting a Hebrew, and that’s pretty much the case in the movie. He then saves the life of stonecutter Joshua (John Derek) from the whip of vengeful Master Builder Baka (Vincent Price), killing Baka in the process. In the Bible, Moses flees Egypt. In “The Commandments,” he’s banished. In both, he later encounters a burning bush through which he hears the voice of God, ordering him to return to Egypt to demand freedom for the slaves.

Charlton Heston may be the only actor who’s had to play a character who unexpectedly finds himself face-to-face with God in two separate movies: as the title character in “Ben-Hur,” being force-marched to a living death as a galley slave, Heston is given water by Jesus Christ, whose face is never seen by the audience. He plays it pretty much the same in both films: an appropriate mixture of awe and incomprehension.

The same director had released an earlier film with the same title in 1923, but in this case the remake was far better than the original. They knew how to make 'em back in those days.

Past posts on the 1956 movie are here, here, and here.

Indiana Jones hobbles back

OH JUST HANG IT UP: Spielberg, Ford to reunite for fifth ‘Indiana Jones.’ Film to be released in July 2019; 73-year-old actor set to reprise iconic role as adventure-seeking archaeologist ("Agencies"/Times of Israel).

Much as I loved the first three Indiana Jones movies, especially the first, the fourth was a travesty and I just try to forget it exists. The franchise is exhausted and so is Mr. Ford. Let it go! Hollywood seems almost entirely to have lost the ability to produce anything new and creative and instead keeps serving up increasing ill-advised warmed-over remakes and geriatric sequels. Bah!

Russian airstrikes near Palmyra

PALMYRA WATCH: Russian airstrikes near Palmyra as Syrian troops advance. Watchdog group says Islamic State positions near ancient city bombarded to help latest Assad regime offensive (AFP). So this is one place to which that Russian pullout does not extend. As far as I have been able to find, Russian airstrikes were last active in the area in early November of 2015.

Background on the whole sad story of Palmyra is here with many links.

Jerusalem syndrome in Zedekiah's Cave?

OH DEAR: US 'treasure hunter' arrested in Jerusalem cave. Tourist apparently suffering 'Jerusalem syndrome' found after illegally spending a night in Zedekiah's Cave to dig for ancient treasure (Arutz Sheva).
A US tourist has been arrested after spending a night in a cave below Jerusalem's Old City in what may have been a search for ancient buried treasure, police and media reports said Tuesday.

The tourist was found on Friday after spending the night in Zedekiah's Cave, also known as Solomon's Quarries, a 20,000-square-meter area beneath what has come to be known as the Muslim quarter of the Old City.

There is a cycle of legends around Zedekiah's Cave, and some involve treasure. This is not the first time, even in recent history, that someone has gone poking around there looking for treasure. But, people, don't do that! It's just a story.

More on "Jerusalem syndrome" is here and links. Background on Zedekiah's Cave is here, here, and here. Zedekiah is also associated with the hiding of Temple treasures in The Treatise of the Vessels but, although this text refers to "the Spring of Zedekiah" as a hiding place (IX), it does not mention Zedekiah's Cave.

Christians and Jews in pre-Islamic Arabia

EPIGRAPHY: Before Islam: When Saudi Arabia Was a Jewish Kingdom. The discovery of the oldest-known pre-Islamic Arabic writing in Saudi Arabia, from ca. 470 CE, evidently caused some consternation, given its Christian and Jewish context (Ariel David, Haaretz).

This is a long and interesting article that is hard to excerpt. In brief: some recently discovered Arabic lapidary inscriptions at Bir Hima in Saudi Arabia, written in the old Nabataean (Nabatean) script, date themselves to c. 470 CE and mention a number of names. The iconography of the inscriptions is explicitly Christian. It is possible that the named people were martyrs, killed in a persecution by the Jewish Himyarite kingdom based in Yemen, a persecution we know of from other sources. This kingdom fell to Christian invaders from Aksum in Ethiopia in 500 CE. There was a Himyarite revolt in 522 led by a man named Joseph (Yusuf) and there is reference to him in another new inscription. A Yemenite Jewish community, arguably descended from the Himyarite kingdom, were transported to Israel in 1949-1950 in Operation Magic Carpet.

Now a few excerpts:
In 2014, researchers from a French-Saudi expedition studying rock inscriptions in southern Saudi Arabia announced they had discovered what could be the oldest texts written in the Arabic alphabet. But they did so very quietly, perhaps because the context of the texts is something of an embarrassment to some.

The dozen or so engravings had been carved into the soft sandstone of the mountain passes around Bir Hima – a site about 100 kilometers north of the city of Najran, which over millennia has been plastered with thousands of inscriptions by passing travelers and officials. Conveniently, at least two of the early Arabic petroglyphs that were discovered cited dates in an ancient calendar, and expert epigraphists quickly calculated that the oldest one corresponded to the year 469 or 470 CE.

The discovery was sensational: the earliest ancient inscriptions using this pre-Islamic stage of Arabic script had been dated at least half a century later, and had all been found in Syria, which had suggested that the alphabet used to write the Koran had been developed far from the birthplace of Islam and its prophet.


According to the report, the Arabic text, scrawled on a large rectangular stone, is simply of a name,  “Thawban (son of) Malik,” followed by the date.

Underwhelming? Well, there is the matter of the large, unmistakably Christian cross that decorates the head of this inscription. The same cross systematically appears on the other similar stelae dating more or less to the same period.


According to Christian chroniclers, around 470 (the date of the Thawban inscription), the Christians of the nearby city of Najran suffered a wave of persecution by the Himyarites. The French experts suspect that Thawban and his fellow Christians may have been martyred. The choice of the early Arabic script to commemorate them would have been, in itself, a powerful symbol of defiance.

This pre-Islamic alphabet is also called Nabatean Arabic, because it evolved from the script used by the Nabateans, the once-powerful nation that built Petra and dominated the trade routes in the southern Levant and northern Arabia before being annexed by the Romans in the early 2nd century. Used at the gates of Yemen, this northern alphabet would have stood in sharp contrast to the inscriptions left by Himyarite rulers in their native Sabaean.

“The adoption of a new writing signaled a distancing from Himyar and a reconciliation with the rest of the Arabs,” the French researchers write in their report. “The inscriptions of Hima reveal a strong movement of cultural unification of the Arabs, from the Euphrates to Najran, which manifested itself by the use of the same writing.”
The Jewish and Christian background to the rise of Islam is a cutting edge area of research that is being followed up, for example, by the Enoch Seminar. Some other recent relevant posts are here, here, here, and here.

There's more on the Nabataean script (ancestral to the Qur'anic Arabic script) here. More on the Himyarite kingdom and its conflict with Axum is here. There are many past posts on the ancient kingdom of Axum and the city's more recent history. See here, here, here, here, and links. The kingdom of Sheba and the legendary Queen of Sheba are also mentioned in the article. See some of those posts just cited in the last sentence, as well as here and links for background.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Vamosh, The Scroll

A NEW NOVEL: [BLOG] The Scroll: A Masada Survivor’s Fate Told through a Real Archaeological Find (Miriam Feinberg Vamosh, Breaking Israel News).

The premise of this novel involves the fusion of two first-century Jewish texts via a Talmudic passage. It's a creative mixture that shouldn't be taken too seriously, but it sounds like a promising basis for a good story.

Daf Yomi: the next tractate

MICHAEL SATLOW: A Detached Kiddushin. The historical context within which to read the Talmudic discussions of kiddushin. (
Abstract: In antiquity, marriage by Jews and non-Jews alike was a natural process, not defined solely by a single legal moment. Through the requirement of kiddushin, the rabbis revived an ancient institution known in the bible as Erusin (אירוסין), imbuing it with a binding legal significance despite apparent public disinterest. How should we understand the rise of rabbinic kiddushin? What exactly did the rabbis have to gain in its establishment?

The end of b. Gittin

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Divorce Court. In this week’s ‘Daf Yomi,’ Talmudic sages explore the grounds for divorce and in so doing reinforce ethical leniency and humane interpretation over strict constructionism.
This week, Daf Yomi readers came to the end of Tractate Gittin, after three months of studying the laws of divorce. During that time, we’ve learned in overwhelming detail about the document, the get, that effects divorce under Jewish law: how it is to be written, signed, delivered, and witnessed. We’ve also followed the rabbis’ discussions of conditional divorces, probing the kinds of conditions that can legally be included in a divorce settlement, such as monetary payments, child-custody agreements, and limitations on the right to remarry.

But it is only in Gittin 90a, on the very last page of the tractate, that the Talmud addresses what one might have imagined should be the first question of all: What are the grounds for divorce? ...
Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links. My comments at that link are also relevant for this week's column.

Producers of "Of Kings and Prophets" defend their work

We assumed we might be met with some resistance from Biblical literalists, as there is always the chance when dealing with religious material that faith-based audiences might negatively react to our interpretation of scriptural inconsistencies.

Surprisingly though, the most vitriolic criticism has not come from faith-based viewers, but from secular media outlets and bloggers, many of whom argued that the war, violence and brutality depicted in the show would alienate religious viewers. Clearly, these reviewers are unfamiliar with the Bible.

Refreshingly, those who count themselves among the “faithful viewership” have largely embraced the show, commending it for its willingness to look at issues of faith in more than simplistic black and white terms. The world of the Old Testament, as described in the Bible, is often brutal and violent—a world where slavery and rape were the victor’s prerogative, and genocide was an accepted approach to foreign policy. The faithful know this better than anyone.
The reviews I've seen imply that the sex and violence have been ladled on, but I haven't seen any episodes myself so I don't know whether that criticism is justified. The biblical text certainly provides ample material for both.

Background here and links

Aramaic love affair

ARAMAIC WATCH: The inspiring passions of others — witnessed on a train, a riverbank (Ron Grossman, Chicago Tribune).
Not long ago, I found myself in a New York subway car, looking over the shoulder of a little old man hypnotically focused on a school notebook. Occasionally, he would add a marginal note in the same script that filled every line of every page. His concentration wasn't broken even when the train lurched to a stop, the motorman announcing there was a problem on the tracks.

Something seemed familiar about his determination to shut out the rest of the world except for whatever he was concentrating on. I couldn't recall where I'd encountered it, but I seldom miss an opportunity to parade my learning. So I said that one or two letters looked like Hebrew. Were they?

"No," he replied. After a pause, he said they were close relatives of the Hebrew alphabet. "Are they Aramaic?" I asked.

"Yes," he replied. This time there wasn't any follow-up. His curiosity wasn't aroused by my knowing the relationship of Hebrew to Aramaic, a language Jesus spoke but is now virtually extinct. So I noted that Aramaic is still used for Jewish religious documents but written in Hebrew characters. It is still spoken in a few villages in Lebanon and Syria but written in Arabic.

With that, a dam broke. "Why would someone write Aramaic in another alphabet?" he exclaimed. "It has its own, a beautiful one!" His face turned beet red, as if he was on the verge of a stroke.

I realized that I was in the presence of a great love affair.

Never mind that the old man's suit had shiny patches from too many ironings. He was like a knight in shining armor devoted to his lady fair, a long-dead language. That might seem goofy to many of us. But we may never experience a passion as intense as his.
I pity those who never do.

Monday, March 14, 2016

On the Deuteronomist

Who Invented the Deuteronomist – and Why?

Even if Moses was considered to be the author of the Pentateuch for centuries, awareness that the first five books of the Old Testament should be seen as a unified, complex literary work has always been present to some degree. With the emergence of Biblical Criticism at the beginning of the 18th century, scholars endeavoured to provide a more systematic explanation for the irregularities evident in this literary complex. Relatively early in this process, scholars drew attention to the unique place that the book of Deuteronomy occupies within the Pentateuch, particularly on account of its characteristic language, style and theology.

See Also: The Deuteronomist's History (Brill; Lam edition, 2015).

By Hans Ausloos
Professor of Old Testament
F.R.S.-FNRS / Université catholique de Louvain
March 2016
Nothing can ever be simple, especially in Pentateuchal criticism. More thoughts on its current state are here and here.

Data-mining parallel passages

Identification of Parallel Passages Across a Large Hebrew/Aramaic Corpus

Avi Shmidman1, Moshe Koppel2, Ely Porat3

1 Department of Hebrew Literature, Bar-Ilan University, Israel, and Dicta: The Israel Center for Text Analysis

2 Department of Computer Science, Bar-Ilan University, Israel, and Dicta: The Israel Center for Text Analysis

3 Department of Computer Science, Bar-Ilan University, Israel

We propose a method for efficiently finding all parallel passages in a large corpus, even if the passages are not quite identical due to rephrasing and orthographic variation. The key ideas are the representation of each word in the corpus by its two most infrequent letters, finding matched pairs of strings of four or five words that differ by at most one word and then identifying clusters of such matched pairs. Using this method, over 4600 parallel pairs of passages were identified in the Babylonian Talmud, a Hebrew-Aramaic corpus of over 1.8 million words, in just over 30 seconds. Empirical comparisons on sample data indicate that the coverage obtained by our method is essentially the same as that obtained using slow exhaustive methods.

approximate matching; fuzzy matching; text reuse
HT the Talmud Blog on Facebook. Oddly, I can find no listing of this article on the journal's website.

Ancient port hub at Corinth

UNDERWATER ARCHAEOLOGY: Archaeologists Find Monumental Piers in Partially Sunken Harbor City of Corinth. Secrets of Byzantine harbor-building found by Danish and Greek archaeologists in Corinthian port of Lechaion, a trading hub for over a thousand years (, Haaretz).
Underwater excavations of the ancient city of Corinth have uncovered monumental piers and evidence that the sunken port of Lechaion's functioned as a booming trading hub for over a thousand years.

Ancient sources speak of Corinth as a wealthy trading center with a mixed population of Greeks, Romans, and Jews. According to the Greek Scriptures, it was in the Corinth synagogue that the Apostle Paul preached, sparking some controversy among its members. Now, recent underwater excavations by a team of Danish and Greek archaeologists have uncovered the infrastructure of a major harbor, and evidence of vibrant maritime activity spanning the 6th century BCE to the 6th century CE.

“Lechaion is one of the most important harbor towns of antiquity, and what makes Lechaion so special is that it had been in virtually continuous use for more than a thousand years from around 600 BC until the late 6th/early 7th century AD," says Dr. Bjørn Lovén from Copenhagen University and co-director of the underwater excavations of Lechaion. "We hope that we will be able to understand how Lechaion and other harbors developed over this wide span of time."

The underwater excavators have been exploring the harbor for two years. The recent discoveries include two monumental piers constructed of ashlar blocks along with a smaller pier, two areas of wooden caissons, a breakwater, and an entrance canal leading into Lechaion’s three inner harbor basins.


Gold coin of Augustus

A Hiker Found an Extremely Rare Gold Coin almost 2,000 Years Old

The Hiker turned it over to the Israel Antiquities Authority and will be awarded a certificate of appreciation for good citizenship. Apparently only one such coin has been found in the world

The famous British Museum possesses an ancient gold coin that until now was apparently the only one of its kind known in the world – a coin that bears the image of Emperor Augustus and was minted by Emperor Trajan. This coin, from 107 CE, was part of a series of nostalgic coins that Emperor Trajan minted and dedicated to the Roman emperors that ruled before him.

A surprising random discovery by Laurie Rimon, a member of Kibbutz Kefar Blum, who was hiking with friends in the countryside, uncovered the “identical twin brother” of this rare coin – the second such coin of its kind now known to exist.

During a recent trip to the eastern Galilee a group of veteran hikers, including Laurie, arrived at an archaeological site. Suddenly Laurie discerned a shiny object in the grass. When she picked it up she realized it was an ancient gold coin. The group’s guide, Irit Zuk-Kovacsi contacted the Israel Antiquities Authority with the help of archaeologist and veteran tour guide Dr Motti Aviam, and within two hours an IAA representative joined the group of hikers in the field. Laurie turned the rare find over to him admitting, “It was not easy parting with the coin. After all, it is not every day one discovers such an amazing object, but I hope I will see it displayed in a museum in the near future”.

The press release is reprinted at the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs website here. Cross-file under Numismatics. Video here:

"Hill of Evil Counsel" slated for development

ARCHAEOLOGICAL CONTROVERSY: Luxury complex threatens ancient site on Jerusalem’s Hill of Evil Counsel Plan to build hotel, high-end apartments on one of last remaining unspoiled ridges surrounding Old City opposed by residents, archaeologists (Times of Israel).
Two well-known Jewish investors are planning to build a hotel and luxury housing on one of the most important sites in Christianity — the Hill of Evil Counsel — and archaeologists warn the plan could endanger centuries of Jerusalem’s history.

American financier and philanthropist Michael Steinhardt and David Sofer, a London-based Israeli businessman, recently purchased a 110-year lease to the roughly one-hectare (2.5-acre) site from the Greek Orthodox Church. Initial drawings, presented to the Jerusalem planning authorities, provide for more than 10,000 square meters (108,000 square feet) of hotel, residential apartments and undefined “public buildings,” leaving little room for green space.

The hill, situated in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Abu Tor just south of the Old City, is where Christians believe Jewish High Priest Caiaphas and his advisers decided to betray Jesus to the Romans.

Muslims associate the hilltop with Saladin’s general Abu Tor (Father of the Bull) who, according to legend, rode into battle against the Crusaders from the hill on the back of a white bull. He is believed to be buried in a shrine that still stands in the neighborhood. About a century ago, the Greek Orthodox Church cemented its claim to the hill by building a high wall that left the shrine just outside.


Archaeologist Shimon Gibson of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, who is currently co-directing a dig on Mount Zion, thinks the landscape should be preserved.

“Around the Old City, you have various places connected with the Gospels, but they’ve all been built upon. There are very few sites like this that are open, available and from which you can get a broad view of the Old City of Jerusalem,” he said.

‘I think it’s important that one can look across and see Mount Zion, where the House of Caiaphas was situated, and the room where tradition says the Last Supper took place’
“Archaeologists will say ‘Here’s a site, we’ll excavate it, we’ll extract information, and then modern construction can take place.’ But in this case, it’s a different matter,” said Gibson. “I think it’s important that one can look across and see Mount Zion, where the House of Caiaphas was situated, and the room where tradition says the Last Supper took place, and then further to the left where Herod’s Palace was, with the praetorium, where the trial of Jesus took place…”

Archaeologist Gabriel Barkay, who heads the Temple Mount Sifting Project, said, “There is no doubt that there are ancient remains here. Some of them are known to us; most of them are as yet unknown.”


Sunday, March 13, 2016

Was Jesus buried?

JAMES MCGRATH: Josephus and the Burial of the Crucified.

Biblical manuscripts at Cambridge exhibition

AT THE CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY LIBRARY: Codex Bezae on Display Now (Peter Gurry, ETC). That's great, but perhaps of greater interest still to PaleoJudaica readers, the Nash Papyrus is also on display at the same exhibition. Plus many other treasures from various earlier and later eras.

Joosten interviewed


Early Armenian inscription

ARMENIAN WATCH: Mosaic with Bible inscription found in Adana (
A 120-square-meter mosaic with a quotation from the Bible in Armenian has been recently found in Turkey's Adana province. It reads, ‘The wolf and the lamb will feed together, the lion will eat straw like the ox and dust will be the serpent's food. They will neither harm nor destroy on my holy mountain, says the Lord'

A new mosaic inscribed with quotes from the Bible has been discovered in the southern city of Adana during excavations jointly undertaken by the Culture and Tourism Ministry's Cultural Heritage Department and the Provincial Directorate of Museums. The 120-square-meter mosaic was found on private property located in the Karlık neighborhood of Adana's Sarıçam district. According to archaeologists, the Eastern Roman-era mosaic dates back to between the fifth and sixth centuries A.D.
The emphasis is in the original. The inscription is a paraphrase of Isaiah 11:6-9 and Genesis 3:14, going with the animal theme of the mosaic:
The mosaic features 16 different animal figures including a snake, lion, sheep, leopard, wolf, goat and bull. Wild and domestic animals are portrayed as sleeping and being fed together or eating each other's food.
This is a quite remarkable discovery, providing a biblical paraphrase written very shortly after the invention of the Armenian alphabet in the early fifth century (see here and here). Other past posts on the Armenian language are collected here and links, and also here and here. Cross-file under Epigraphy.


OPERA: Akhnaten LONDON English National Opera 3/4/16 (George Hall, Opera News).
ENGLISH NATIONAL OPERA has done well by Philip Glass. Back in 1985, ENO became the first U.K. company to stage one of his operas—Akhnaten, then just one year old. ENO followed up with the first European performance of The Making of the Representative for Planet 8 in 1988, Satyagraha in 2007, and the UK premiere of The Perfect American in 2013.

In return Glass has proved to be good box-office for ENO. ...


Akhnaten is a fine example of Glass’s most elevated operatic style in that it comprises more a sequence of rituals than a narrative in the traditional sense. In Tom Pye’s monumental, multi-level sets and Kevin Pollard’s gorgeously colorful and extravagantly complex costumes, each scene became sharply etched in the visual memory. Extra fascination was provided by the involvement of the ten-strong skills ensemble Gandini Juggling, whose director, Sean Gandini, choreographed its various complex routines, one of the most spectacular of which saw the audience applaud during the music itself—a rare event in any contemporary opera. (Juggling is apparently illustrated on the walls of some ancient Egyptian tombs.)

A libretto mainly sung in ancient Egyptian, ancient Hebrew and Akkadian (an extinct tongue long spoken in Mesopotamia) is clearly intended less for instant communication than for color and atmosphere, but the role of the Scribe—a character left out, incidentally, of ENO’s 1985 staging, but here taken with firmness and clarity by bass Zachary James—provided a useful narrative framework with his periodic Anglophone pronouncements.

A performance of Akhnaten (in Boston) was last noted here.