Saturday, April 16, 2016

Did Jesus see his death coming?

JAMES MCGRATH: Philippians 2 and the Historical Jesus (Exploring Our Matrix).
One may be skeptical of whether Jesus spoke about his death in advance. Or one may be skeptical of the capacity of religious experiences to turn a failed messiah into one vindicated by God. Neither seems inherently more preferable or more critical than the other.
That sounds about right. For some of my own thoughts concerning the historical Jesus, see here and here and links. As for this question, I would say that Jesus may well have seen his death coming while he was still alive and given his disciples some perspective on it. But if not, he could just as well have done so (within the ancient social construction of reality) after his death as their shamanic mentor spirit.

Jesus and intel

THE ASOR BLOG: Jesus as a Security Risk: Intelligence and Repression in the Roman Empire (Rose Mary Sheldon).
Intelligence personnel tend to have a view of events that differs from historians, even other people in government, and certainly from the general public. They are often accused of being realpolitikers or just plain cynical. Although crude jokes are made about the lack of morality in the intel game (the world’s second oldest profession — with far fewer morals than the first, etc.), the fact is that these are men and women serving their country. Their goal is to keep their own country safe, or in a colonial situation, to keep control of their country’s possessions. Insurgencies are their worst nightmare. They have to provide intelligence to decision-makers in a timely manner in what may turn out to be life and death situations. Like historians they never have as much evidence as they would like, but unlike historians they don’t get to ruminate on issues for a long time with 20-20 hindsight.

I would like to discuss some of the assumptions about messianism in first-century Judaism and about the historical Jesus, but nevertheless an interesting perspective.

Requires free registration to read the essay in full.

Kessel and Pinggéra, A Bibliography of Syriac Ascetic and Mystical Literature

SYRIAC WATCH: Gregory Kessel's and Karl Pinggéra's book, A Bibliography of Syriac Ascetic and Mystical Literature (Peeters, 2011) is now available for free as a PDF scan on For you, special deal!

Giants built Stonehenge?

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS: Did Satanic Giants Build Stonehenge? (Brian Tashman, Right Wing Watch). The Nephilim built Stonehenge? That's a new one, at least to me. It seems that the watchers myth is alive and well.

This one is really for Remnant of Giants. Over to Deane.

The historicity of the Exodus story

PASSOVER IS COMING: Were Hebrews Ever Slaves in Ancient Egypt? Yes. Ancient Egypt had intimate relations with Canaan, and most of the Semitic peoples migrating there would have been Canaanite. But not all. (Philippe Bohstrom, Haaretz). At best the main headline is misleading and at worst it is simply wrong. I don't hold the author responsible for that: he has a quite nuanced discussion of the evidence. But this is a not unusual example of a headline asserting something rather different than the article it heads, with the full knowledge that a lot more people will see the headline than click on it, let alone read the full article carefully.

This sums up the situation pretty well, although that indirect evidence is pretty indirect:
There is no direct evidence that people worshipping Yahweh sojourned in ancient Egypt, let alone during the time the Exodus is believed to have happened. There is indirect evidence that at least some did. What's for sure is that thousands of years ago, Egypt was crawling with Semitic-speaking peoples.
From there we move on to the usual suspects: Amorites (speakers of early Northwest Semitic dialects) in Egypt, the Hyksos, Josephus and Manetho, Akhenaten, some questionable exegesis of Egyptian texts such as the Admonitions of Ipuwer, the argument from silence (the ancient Egyptians suppressed unflattering stories), and so on. None of it adds up to an Israelite sojourn in Egypt or an Exodus with ten plagues, or anything like. That said, it is not implausible that some vague memory of the Hyksos is behind the Exodus story, but if so, it is very vague. The conclusion is pretty reasonable:
At the end of the day it the story of the Exodus is all matter of faith. This article does not aspire to prove the historicity of the Passover Haggadah, or that the Land of Israel was promised to slaves coming out of Egypt. It just proves that there were historical figures and events that could have inspired the Exodus account. So as we lift our cups and recite the “The coming out of Egypt,” let us think about the story that has captured the imagination for millennia and remember that sometimes, truth is stranger then fiction; and think back on Aper-el, a Hebrew slave who did not disappear in the mud along with the Yahweh-worshiping nomads who settled in Egypt.
If you want to read the whole article, do it now before it goes behind the subscription wall. Also, a free registration with Haaretz will allow you to read a limited number of premium articles each month.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Review of Panayotakis et al. (eds.), Holy Men and Charlatans in the Ancient Novel

Stelios Panayotakis, Gareth Schmeling, Michael Paschalis (ed.), Holy Men and Charlatans in the Ancient Novel. Ancient Narrative. Supplementum, 19. Eelde; Groningen: Barkhuis; Groningen University Library, 2015. Pp. xii, 211. ISBN 9789491431906. €85.00.

Reviewed by Donald Lateiner, Ohio Wesleyan University (


[Authors and titles are listed at the end.]1

Is there an objective difference between the two categories of the title, or was the mordant Morton Smith right when, in Jesus the Magician (rev. New York 1981), he asked why some, many, or most of Jesus’ contemporaries considered this eastern miracle worker (thaumaturge) a magician, or a charlatan, rather than ‘son of god’?


There were giants in Jericho in those days?

OR AT LEAST BIG GUYS: The (tall) Goliath Family of First-Century Jericho (Deane Galbraith, Remnant of Giants).

MOOC on the Talmud

ONLINE COURSE: The Talmud: A Methodological Introduction Northwestern University.
About this Course

The Talmud is one of the richest and most complicated works of literature the world has ever known. Since being composed around 1500 years ago it has inspired not only religious reverence but significant intellectual engagement. In this course learners will be introduced to the unique characteristics of this text and the challenges that inhere in studying it while studying a chapter of the Talmud. Students of the course can expect to develop an appreciation for how the Talmud works and why it continues to inspire religious and intellectual devotion. They will be challenged to employ critical reading skills and to analyze legal and historical concepts.

Subtitles available in English
8 weeks of study, 1-2 hours/week
The instructor is Barry Scott Wimpfheimer.


Sex crimes law in HB

ASOR BLOG: Sex Crimes in the Laws of the Hebrew Bible [PODCAST] (Kaitlynn Anderson).
In a recent special Near Eastern Archaeology issue on crime and punishment in the Bible and the Near East, Dr. Bruce Wells authored the article, “Sex Crimes in the Laws of the Hebrew Bible.” I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Wells about what constituted as a sex crime according to the Hebrew Bible all those years ago. Although biblical texts identify a range of sexual behavior as illicit, adultery is the only sexual act addressed in the law collections as a crime. Some scholars have argued that the treatment of adultery in biblical law is better and more favorable toward women than that found in the cuneiform law collections; others have argued precisely the opposite. What is more likely is that biblical law is largely in keeping with how ancient Near Eastern societies other than Israel and Judah handled adultery and should not necessarily be evaluated as either better or worse from a modern perspective.

Coptic Studies awards

ALIN SUCIU: IACS Awards for Academic Excellence 2016: Deadline Extended.
Since earlier notices appear to have escaped the attention of many of our members, the IACS Board has decided to extend the deadline for submitting candidacies for the IACS Awards for Academic Excellence until the middle of May. Therefore, competition is still open for awards to be given at the Eleventh International Congress of Coptic Studies, to be held in Claremont, California (U.S.A.), 25–30 July 2016. Again the IACS will award two prizes, one for the best M.A. thesis and a second one for the best Ph.D. dissertation, both written in the field of Coptic studies. Winners will receive a certificate and an amount of € 2,000 (Ph.D.) or an amount of € 1,000 (M.A.).

Follow the link for further particulars. The deadline for submission is 15 May 2016. Cross-file under Coptic Watch.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

DSS: the leftover bits

EIBERT TIGCHELAAR: A Provisional List of Unprovenanced, Twenty-First Century, Dead Sea Scrolls-like Fragments. A list of those Dead Sea Scrolls-like Fragments that Surfaced since 2002, together with a short introduction ( Currently available only to specialists for discussion (I have registered), but I hope Professor Tigchelaar will make the list public when he is finished refining it.

More on the Gospel of Barnabas

NEW TESTAMENT APOCRYPHA WATCH: The Gospel of Barnabas a Late Medieval Gospel Forgery: How We Know? (Ronald V. Huggins). This looks like it is taken from a PowerPoint presentation: lots of pretty pictures to go with the interesting content.

Past posts on the Gospel of Barnabas are collected here. This long-since debunked medieval forgery remains of interest because of persistent rumors (which started here) that an ancient Aramaic copy of it has been discovered in Turkey. Like pretty much all the other outlandish claims about this apocryphon, it isn't so. The text is from a Syriac translation of the Gospel of Matthew and the manuscript itself claims to have been copied in the year 1500, but it may be more recent still.

Report: those hexagrams at Elephantine are ancient

ICONOGRAPHY OR ANCIENT GRAFFITI? Dispelling rumors, Egypt says stars at ancient temple not new, not Jewish. Engraved six-pointed shapes found at Elephantine date to late antiquity, are not Stars of David (Ilan Ben Zion, Times of Israel).
Egypt’s Antiquities Authority said in an Arabic statement last week that the stone, discovered by Swiss archaeologists in 1985, was determined to have been inscribed at some point between the 1st and 6th century CE. Further studies are needed to better pinpoint the date of the stars’ inscription, the ministry said.

The report noted that six-pointed stars didn’t appear in Coptic artifacts during that period, nor did they appear in Islamic iconography until the 8th century CE. Nasr Salama, director of Aswan antiquities with the ministry, insisted in a telephone conversation with The Times of Israel that, contrary to media reports, the designs were not Stars of David, but six-pointed stars.
This is still not very lucid. How do the archaeologists know when the symbols were inscribed? Does saying that the hexagrams were "not Stars of David" mean that they weren't Jewish symbols or (correctly) that the Jewish symbol (which did exist in late antiquity) was not at that time called a Star of David or associated with David? If they aren't Jewish symbols, what are they? Native Egyptian? But anyhow, my musings in this post don't seem too far off so far. Additional background is here.

More on the ancient Judean literacy study

CANDIDA MOSS: Does This Ancient Handwriting Prove the Bible’s Age? A new study of 100 letters written on clay pottery shows early literacy in ancient Israel—but can it really prove when the Bible was composed?. A brief, sensible, evaluation of the claims of the study.
In the end it’s sad that the results of this study have been so overstated. The ostraca provide intriguing information about life and literacy in the ancient world. There’s even a reference to Greek mercenaries in Palestine before 586 BCE. Technologically speaking, it stands at the cutting edge of the digital humanities and pioneers an exciting area of research. But the debate is far from settled, and if an argument for the dating of the Torah is what you’re looking for, you’re better off reading Rollston, Schniedewind and Sanders.
That sounds about right.

The original story was noted here. Other recent blog responses include:

Peter Gurry: Handwriting Analysis and Dating the Bible (ETC).

Deane Galbraith: Judah’s military correspondence from ca. 600 BCE: Evidence of widespread literacy but not evidence of the Bible (Remnant of Giants).

As some of the writers above have pointed out, the Arad ostraca are documentary (administrative) texts, not literary texts. It would be helpful to collect and discuss the pre-exilic epigraphic literary texts in this context. Simon Parker's book, Stories in Scripture and Inscriptions: Comparative Studies on Narratives in Northwest Semitic Inscriptions and the Hebrew Bible (OUP, 1997) is also relevant, if now a little dated. And the priestly-blessing silver amulets from Ketef Hinnom (see immediately preceding post) are arguably also from the late seventh/early six centuries BCE and are much more relevant to the question of the composition of the biblical texts, not least because they actually contain a text found in the Bible.

I wrote the above last night and was about to press "send" this morning, when I came across this very important blog post by Christopher Rollston: The Tel Aviv University PNAS Study: Some Methodological Musings. He writes on the basis of his technical expertise, but still quite accessibly. Two excerpts:
But most importantly, to reiterate, I am contending that the epigraphic evidence at hand demonstrates rather nicely that there were educated scribes in Israel and Judah by the late 9th and early 8th centuries BCE and that these scribes were capable of writing fine historical and literary texts. Thus, in sum, as for the PNAS article, I would say (with some good-natured humor and a turn of phrase), “I see your 600 and raise you 200” (i.e., to ca. 800 BCE).
And his conclusion:
So, in sum, the Tel Aviv Epigraphic Project is scintillating. The technology and talent that the authors of this PNAS article bring to the table is unmatched anywhere in the world. But the sociological conclusions about the “proliferation of literacy” in Judah is not something that can be posited on the basis of this study. The methodology is stunningly important, but I would wish to see more caution regarding the conclusions.

Review of Smoak, The Priestly Blessing in Inscription and Scripture

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Smoak, The Priestly Blessing in Inscription and Scripture (Yael Landman Wermuth).
Smoak, Jeremy D. The Priestly Blessing in Inscription and Scripture: The Early History of Numbers 6:24-26. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016.

Jeremy Smoak’s The Priestly Blessing in Inscription and Scripture: The Early History of Numbers 6:24-26 sheds new light on the origins and diverse functions of the Priestly Blessing. Whereas scholars have written extensively about the blessing’s history and uses in early Judaism and Christianity, a dearth of extrabiblical evidence has precluded an understanding of its history during the Iron Age, including its functions in ancient Israelite and Judahite religious practice; the relationship between these functions and the description of the blessing in the book of Numbers; and the blessing’s connection to blessing inscriptions from the epigraphic records of ancient Israel and Judah. The discovery of two silver Iron Age amulets at Ketef Hinnom in Jerusalem, of which the West Semitic Research Project at USC provided new photographs and translations in 2004, allows Smoak to fill this gap in his monograph.

The book was noted as forthcoming here. And follow the link there for much background on the Ketef Hinnom silver amulets.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Repairs to proceed on Church of Holy Sepulchre

ECUMENICAL AGREEMENT: Decades on, historic accord reached on renovation of Jerusalem's Holy Sepulcher Church (Peter Kenny, ECUMENICAL NEWS).
The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is one of Christianity's best known places of worship which is said to house the tomb of Jesus in Jerusalem, but it is rather run down in parts.

The church is run as a consortium consisting of Custodia Terrae Sanctae, a Franciscan order that represents the Catholic Church; the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate; and the Armenian Patriarchate, who do not always agree and Coptic, Ethiopian and Syriac Orthodox churches also have a say.

The agreement assigns each part of the building, every floor tile, door, window and corridor, to a specific church, and any alternation, addition or repair requires all three churches to agree.
The church is located in the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem.

After decades of wrangling, however, within two months, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher will begin its first major renovation since Israel was established in 1948, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports.

This issue has been quiet for some years, but past posts on it (etc.) are here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. I'm glad to see that some sort of agreement seems to have been reached. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Sepulcher) is built over a number of first-century rock-cut tombs, so it is at least possible that it really is the site of the tomb of Jesus.

Retrieval of looted sculpture associated with Herod

LOOTING THWARTED: Three Palestinians arrested smuggling statue of King Herod's lover to Israel. The 12-centimeter high statue confiscated by the PA is a sculpture of King Herod's lover valued at nearly a million dollars (MAAYAN GROISMAN, Jerusalem Post).
The 12-centimeter high statue confiscated by the PA is a sculpture of King Herod's lover valued at nearly a million dollars.

Born in 74 BCE in Idumea, south of Judea, King Herod reigned in Judea for 33 years, during which he reconstructed the Second Temple. He had ten wives, but his true love was Mariamne, the last princess of the Hasmoneans, who were Herod's biggest enemy.
Although her being his true love did not stop Herod from having her and (later) her sons executed.

The article doesn't quite come out and say that the statue of "Herod's lover" was a statue of Mariamne. Unless it was labeled with a name, I'm not sure how one could be sure who it was, but I await clarification.

Map of the spread of Syriac

SYRIAC WATCH: A map that follows the spread of Syriac as a language and in terms of Syriac Christianity. (Wikimedia Commons). From Sarah Bond via AJR.

Geniza collection to sojourn at Princeton

JTS LIBRARY RENOVATION: Princeton to temporarily house Geniza Collection of ancient Hebrew and Arabic documents.
The Jewish Theological Seminary of America's renowned Geniza Collection will be housed temporarily in the Princeton University Library while JTS, located in New York City, rebuilds its library.

Background on the current renovation of the JTS Library is here and links. And there are endless past posts on the Cairo Geniza. See here, here, here, here, here, here, and links

Honoring the late Marvin Meyer

MEMORIAL FESTSCHRIFT: April 18 reception planned for new book honoring the late Professor Marvin Meyer (Chapman University). Marv Meyer was a noted specialist in ancient Gnosticism and ancient magic. His death in 2012 was noted here (with the idea of a memorial volume already being raised) and here and links.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Fatherhood in the Talmud

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Honor Thy Mother and Father. Sure, fine, but what does that actually mean in practical everyday terms? This week’s ‘Daf Yomi’ Talmud study unpacks filial duty.
Why do Jews wear kippot? For men, the habit of covering their heads—when studying, eating, and praying, or else all the time, depending on their level of observance—is such a basic feature of Judaism that it seems like it must go back to the very beginning of the faith. Yet the fact is that covering one’s head is not mentioned at all in the Bible. The custom originates much later, in the Talmud, and even there it is not actually a law. It was in this week’s Daf Yomi reading, in Kiddushin 31a, that the origin of the kippa appeared: “Rav Huna, son of Rav Yehoshua, would not walk four cubits with an uncovered head. He said: The Divine Presence is above my head.” For Rav Huna, always keeping his head covered appears to have been an act of exceptional piety, or else the Talmud wouldn’t bother recording it. But it eventually became standard, and now Jews follow Rav Huna’s example.

The column title and my title above reflect the content of the rest of the column.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here (cf. here) and links.

Literacy in First-Temple-era Judah

EPIGRAPHY: Parts of Bible Were Written in First Temple Period, Say Archaeologists. Analysis of military records on pottery shows widespread literacy in the ancient Kingdom of Judah 2,500 years ago: Not only elites could read (, Haaretz). Excerpt:
It is hard to tell what percentage of the population in the tiny Kingdom of Judah – whose population numbered just around 100,000 – could read and write, Finkelstein said. But the fact that one of the Arad letters was penned by Eliashiv’s deputy means that literacy trickled down to the lower levels of society. It is unlikely that a member of a leading family would be given such a relatively lowly post in a remote desert fort, he said.

"We found indirect evidence of the existence of an educational infrastructure, which could have enabled the composition of biblical texts," said Piasetzky. "Literacy existed at all levels of the administrative, military and priestly systems of Judah. Reading and writing were not limited to a tiny elite."

On the other hand, Finkelstein noted: "Following the fall of Judah, there was a large gap in production of Hebrew inscriptions until the second century BCE, the next period with evidence for widespread literacy. This reduces the odds for a compilation of substantial Biblical literature in Jerusalem between ca. 586 and 200 BCE.”
It's difficult to evaluate the results of this project based only on a few popular articles that are in turn based on a press release. I would rather have the final publication, but all in good time. Overall, it sounds reasonably persuasive. It was pretty clear already from the epigraphic evidence that literacy was widespread by the late 7th and early sixth centuries BCE (i.e., roughly the reign of King Josiah). For example, an officer writing one of the Lachish letters (letter 3) was insulted that his commanding officer implied that he couldn't read.

That said, the study draws some broad conclusions based, first, on a very small sample of evidence and, second, on an argument from relative silence. So some caution is in order. I look forward to seeing the final publication with a fully detailed account of the evidence, analysis, and arguments.

More on the Maccabees Project

BU project attempts to understand the Maccabees (Cristela Guerra, Boston Globe).
Passover season may seem like an unlikely time to ponder the origins of Hanukkah.

But not for a Boston-based team of international scholars participating in a multi-disciplinary research effort called The Maccabees Project.

Inspired by new archaeological findings and ancient Jewish texts, the focus of the project is on the legacy of the Maccabees, the clan of ancient Israelites who waged war against foreign forces and built the Hasmonean dynasty. The Maccabees stand as a complex, ongoing symbol of national identity — so much so that even presidential candidate Ted Cruz evoked them at the end of last year, encouraging Jews to stand against anti-Semitism, defend religious freedom, and be “modern-day Maccabees.”

New scholarship about these key historical figures in the holiday narrative is testing “fundamental claims in the tradition,” according to Yonder Moynihan Gillihan an associate professor of Second Temple Judaism at Boston College.

The goal of this collaboration is to better understand the Maccabees’ impact on Jewish identity. What if they weren’t as triumphant as the Old Testament accounts suggest? What if some of their war stories were made up or borrowed in order to bolster a geopolitical agenda? And were they truly great ancient warriors or has their heroism been exaggerated?

A past post on Tel Kedesh (mentioned later in the article) is here.

There's more on the Maccabees Project here.

A Guggenheim for Aaron Rubin

CONGRATULATIONS: Liberal Arts' Aaron Rubin named Guggenheim Fellow (Penn State News).
Rubin has taught Biblical Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic, and Yiddish at Penn State, as well as courses on biblical literature and comparative Semitic linguistics. His research focuses on all periods of Hebrew, modern South Arabian, Ethiopic, comparative Semitic linguistics, Judeo-Italian, and Judeo-Urdu.

Rubin has published numerous articles and five monographs, including: "A Brief Introduction to the Semitic Languages" (2010), "The Mehri Language of Oman" (2010), and "The Jibbali (Shahri) Language of Oman: Grammar and Texts" (2014). He has also edited or co-edited four books, including "Epigraphy, Philology, and the Hebrew Bible" (2015); the "Encyclopedia of Hebrew Language and Linguistics" (2013); and "Studies in Classical Linguistics in Honor of Philip Baldi" (2010).

Rubin’s most recent book — the "Handbook of Jewish Languages" (2016), co-edited with Lily Kahn, lecturer at University College in London — is the first reference to be published on ancient and modern Jewish languages. The handbook includes chapters on more than two-dozen Jewish languages, some of which were previously undescribed.
Past posts on Professor Rubin's books are here, here, here, and here.

Von Däniken is still at it

FIFTIETH ANNIVERSARY OF CHARIOTS OF THE GODS: Bestselling Author Von Daniken: Jews are Half-Aliens, the Bible Proves It ( Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz, Breaking Israel News).
It has been exactly 50 years since Erich Von Daniken hypothesized in his controversial work Chariots of the Gods that the Bible proves ancient man met with aliens, adopting new technologies from extraterrestrials. Many Biblical prophecies are, according to Von Daniken, UFO sightings described in Biblical terms. His startling theory sought to challenge the way we see ourselves in the universe and in relation to God.

Though controversial and much-contested, his theory (called paleo-contact) is popular with his 62 million readers. Von Daniken based this theory on structures and artifacts that represented higher technological knowledge than was presumed to have existed at the times they were manufactured. He cites depictions in cave drawings, clay tablets, and other archaeological findings to support his theory of alien contact.

His "theory" (i.e., notions) is not controversial, nor is it "much-contested." It is completely bogus from beginning to end and no professional historian or archaeologist bothers to contest it (except maybe occasionally on a blog) because it is not a responsible theory.

Nevertheless, it is all very entertaining and his notions have caught the attention of many, a few of whom have been inspired to go on to do serious archaeology, history, and philology. As I have mentioned before, I am one of them. So peace be upon him. If he comes up in casual conversation, be patient and use it as a teaching moment.

Some past posts that discuss von Däniken and his goofy ideas are here, here, and here, and he is also mentioned here, here, here, and here.

Monday, April 11, 2016

More on Tigay,The Lost Book of Moses

THE SHAPIRA SCROLLS: The Mysteries of Moses. Questions about an ancient set of scrolls—older than the Dead Sea Scrolls—led author Chanan Tigay around the world. Then the answer appeared in the library across from his office (Beth Kissileff, Tablet Magazine).
When he first began to probe the mystery behind these ancient scrolls, Tigay had no idea the search would require hundreds of hours of research and take him to nine countries. After four years, he finally saw physical evidence that granted him answers he had been seeking, close to home—in the library of San Francisco State University, the very place where he teaches in the creative writing department.

San Francisco State housed a collection of manuscripts that had once belonged to Jerusalem-based 19th-century antiquities dealer Moses Wilhelm Shapira. Tigay didn’t immediately appreciate the significance of what he’d found. It wasn’t the scrolls themselves, but what he discovered ultimately suggested a conclusion to his quest to find what and where the scrolls were and how and why their owner had acquired them. This discovery gave Tigay a satisfying conclusion after his years of research—including visits to Israel, the Netherlands, Australia, Jordan, Germany, England, and France. That painstaking research is the core of Tigay’s new book, The Lost Book of Moses: The Hunt for the World’s Oldest Bible. (Read an excerpt here.)

Unfortunately, Tigay’s discovery in the library came just eight days before his book was due to the publisher; he had to quickly rewrite the ending based on what he’d found. Tigay’s goal was to “try to have the reader feel like they are in my shoes the whole way through,” he told me recently in a Skype interview from Boston. “At any given moment, the reader knows what I knew, not what I don’t know yet.” So, just as Tigay rode a “roller coaster of emotion” during his research, readers will also not know the outcome until the very end of the book.
Everybody is keeping the ending of the book very hush-hush, which I guess is understandable. But I shall be very surprised indeed — pleasantly surprised, but surprised — if he has found any good reason to think that the Shapira scrolls are genuine ancient objects. I'm guessing not, though. If he had, I think he would have decided that announcing the breakthrough would sell more copies of the book than keeping it quiet like this. But maybe that's just what I would do.

Also in Tablet, this excerpt from Tigay's book: The Antiquarian and the Murderer. In an excerpt from Chanan Tigay’s new ‘The Lost Book of Moses,’ a historical detective tracks down what could be the original Book of Deuteronomy. Excerpt:
All he knew were the tantalizing tidbits he’d gathered a few days earlier at Sheikh Arakat’s home in the village of Abu Dis. Shapira—who would tell this story several times, with slight variations, in letters and newspapers and in conversation—had been chatting with the sheikh and several Bedouin guests when the subject turned to ancient inscriptions, and one of the guests told a story. About a dozen years before, he said, a few tribesmen on the run from Ottoman authorities had taken refuge inside a cave hewn high in an embankment overlooking Wadi Mujib, that gorge in Jordan where I’d hiked in neck-high water. Hiding in that cave just east of Dhiban, the ancient Moabite city that had yielded King Mesha’s victory stone, the men chanced upon several bundles of very old rugs. Hoping to find a stash of long-hidden gold rolled within the carpets’ linen folds, they peeled away several layers of material. To their disappointment, what they discovered was not gold. All they found was a bunch of old blackened leather strips, smelling of asphalt and covered in some sort of scrawl they could barely see, let alone read. When the Arabs departed the cave, the man told Shapira, they tossed aside the worthless strips. One of them, though, thinking better of so hasty a decision, snatched them up off the ground. A good career move, as it turned out: the man had since gone from privation to comfort, and now commanded a large flock of sheep that allowed him to keep his family clothed and fed.

Shapira was unsure what to make of the story. It was undeniably alluring. Ancient leather scrolls, covered in weird writing, ferreted away in cliffside caves, wrapped in linen and discovered by Bedouin on the lam. But he had already been burned by the Bedouin and the stories they had told him, and anyway, all this was hearsay more than a decade old.
This story is eerily like the story of the discovery of the first Dead Sea Scrolls, which you can read, for example, at the link given here. That said, one could ask where else one would be likely to find ancient scrolls preserved and who else in the region would be more likely to find them. Ancient manuscript treasures are sometimes discovered, or at least reported to have been discovered, in caves (e.g., here and here). But fakes or dubious cases are also sometimes reported to have been found in caves (e.g., here, here, and here). Such stories go back to Aladdin's cave and beyond, so they prove nothing in themselves.

I look forward to the formal announcement, in due course, of what Mr. Tigay's big discovery is. And if he wishes to make a case for reconsidering the genuineness of the scrolls, I look forward to seeing his evidence. Background on his book and on the Shapira scrolls in general is here.

Review of Eastman, The Ancient Martyrdom Accounts of Peter and Paul

David L. Eastman, The Ancient Martyrdom Accounts of Peter and Paul. Writings from the Greco-Roman World 39. Atlanta: SBL Press, 2015. Pp. xxv, 469. ISBN 9781628370904. $59.95.

Reviewed by Adam Carter McCollum, Institut für Byzantinistik und Neogräzistik, Universität Wie (


This volume collects several more or less related texts on the post-biblical tales about Peter and Paul. Like other volumes in the series, the texts appear in both the original or an early translation, and in English translation. Short introductions and a modicum of notes accompany the texts. The goal is, it seems, to shed more light on texts beyond the commonly studied Acts of Peter and Acts of Paul (both of which are also included in this volume) and to bring those texts into the discussion of the martyrdom traditions of these two major Christian figures (see especially p. xxii). That goal the author has achieved. These texts include some Greek and Latin texts, but Eastman especially singles out Syriac texts as having been unduly ignored. Consequently, Syriac has a relatively large place in the book. This inclusion is another sign of the happy trend to make the border between the Greco-Latin textual sphere and that of other languages (Syriac, Armenian, Georgian, etc.) less impassable and the territory on both sides better known. Eastman goes so far as to speak of earlier considerations of these (and presumably other similar) texts as having “been hampered by a kind of myopia”, considerations that consider “voices that are not in Latin or Greek” as “variant voices” (p. xxiv). He is not wrong, and even if his textual catalog and presentation might have been even more comprehensive, the fact that he puts Syriac texts as equals beside Greek and Latin texts marks a welcome corrective.

The book was noted here when it came out. Cross-file under New Testament Apocrypha Watch.

Lied and Lundhaug (eds.), Snapshots of Evolving Traditions

FORTHCOMING BOOK FROM DE GRUYTER: Snapshots of Evolving Traditions: Jewish and Christian Manuscript Culture, Textual Fluidity, and New Philology Hardcover – 15 Jan 2017 by Liv Ingeborg Lied (Editor), Hugo Lundhaug (Editor). The Amazon page does not yet have a description, but the De Gruyter page does:
Eschewing the search for the hypothetical original, this volume of essays places manuscripts and manuscript culture center stage and provides new readings of texts from various Christian and Jewish traditions in their manuscript contexts. With emphasis on method, the book takes materiality and manuscript practices into consideration, arguing for the significance of realizing the inherent fluidity of textual transmission in a manuscript culture.
I mentioned the book a couple of years ago here. I'm glad to hear that a publication date has now been announced. My article, "Translating the Hekhalot Literature: Insights from New Philology," is included in the volume.

Ancient glass kilns found in Israel

ARCHAEOLOGY: International archaeologists hail discovery as breakthrough in understanding ancient glass industry (i24News).
The remains of the oldest kilns in Israel, thought to be over 1,600 years old, were recently discovered where commercial quantities of raw glass were produced, indicating that the Land of Israel was one of the foremost centers for glass production in the ancient world, the Israel Antiquities Authority reported Monday.

The kilns, which were discovered during an excavation carried out as part of the Jezreel Valley Railway Project, consisted of two built compartments. They included a firebox where kindling was burnt to create a very high temperature, and a melting chamber – in which the raw materials for the glass (clean beach sand and salt) were inserted and melted together at a temperature of 1,200 C degrees.

Some past posts involving ancient glass are here, here, here, and here.

Craft Second-Temple-era beer

TECHNOLOGY WATCH: Wheat Feat Jerusalem Brewery Produces Second Temple-era Beer. The small Herzl Brewery has created a brew that’s as close as possible to an ancient strain of wheat, making it dry, syrupy and a very acquired taste (Nir Hasson, Haaretz).
In Jerusalem’s Talpiot industrial zone, amid the carpentry shops and tire repair garages, a small boutique brewery produces a beer called Herzl. One of the owners, Itai Gutman, 31, occasionally adds his own innovations to the standard beer recipes. For example, he recently managed to brew a beer from a heritage grain – a wild plant that’s as possible to the 2,000-year-old wheat from which modern wheat developed. Presumably, therefore, this brew comes closest to the ancient beer that was consumed after man learned how to ferment grain.


We can assume that Gutman’s beer is similar to the ancient beer consumed thousands of years ago. It’s 3 percent alcohol – a bit lower than modern-day wheat beer – and is rather dark and thick. And the taste? Well, it's a stretch to say it tastes good, but it’s definitely interesting.

“It’s unlike anything I have ever tasted,” nods Gutman. “From my viewpoint, as a person who has tried to hone his sense of taste, it was a surprise. It has a very dry taste, but it also has a strong aroma and suggestion of red fruit – almost like a syrup.”

For background on ancient Near Eastern and ancient Israelite beer and efforts to resurrect them, see here and follow the links.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Brock on 50 years of Syriac studies

BIBLIOGRAPHIA IRANICA: A half century of Syriac studies. New article: Brock, Sebastian. 2016. A half century of Syriac studies. Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies 40(1). 38–48. Cross-file under Syriac Watch.

Shanks on the Eshba'al inscription

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: First Person: Banning Ba’al (Hershel Shanks).
Was the proper name Eshbaal—man of Ba’al—banned in Judah after King David’s time? A recent analysis suggests that it was.

Ba’al, meaning lord or master, was a common divine appellative in Canaan and neighboring areas during Biblical periods, most frequently referring to the storm god.

It does look like it, yes.

There's more on the Eshba'al (Ishba'al) inscription from Khirbet Qeiyafa here, here, here, and here. Cross-file under Epigraphy.

Grabbe, Boccaccini, and Zurawski (eds.), The Seleucid and Hasmonean Periods and the Apocalyptic Worldview

The Seleucid and Hasmonean Periods and the Apocalyptic Worldview

Editor(s): Lester L. Grabbe, Gabriele Boccaccini, Jason M. Zurawski

Published: 02-25-2016
Format: Hardback
Edition: 1st
Extent: 272
ISBN: 9780567666147
Imprint: Bloomsbury T&T Clark
Series: The Library of Second Temple Studies
Volume: 88
Dimensions: 6 1/8" x 9 1/4"
List price: $128.00

About The Seleucid and Hasmonean Periods and the Apocalyptic Worldview

This tightly focused collection of essays, from an invited seminar of international specialists, centres on the question of the apocalyptic worldview around the time of the Maccabean revolt. What was the nature of apocalyptic at this time? Did the Maccabees themselves have a distinct apocalyptic worldview? These questions lead to other, more specific queries: who of the various groups held such a view? Certain of the essays analyse the characteristics of the apocalypses and related literature in this period, and whether the apocalyptic worldview itself gave rise to historical events or, at least, influenced them.

The collection begins with two introductory essays. Both the main and short papers have individual responses, and two considered responses by well-known experts address the entire collection. The volume finishes with a concluding chapter by the lead editor that gives a perspective on the main themes and conclusions arising from the papers and discussion.
Again, follow the link for TOC and ordering information.

Jewish languages

MY JEWISH LEARNING: Jewish Languages: From Aramaic to Yiddish. A very brief sketch, some of which deals with areas outside my expertise. But looks accurate in areas with which I am familiar.

Merkava Technologies

VIRTUAL REALITY: MERKAVA TECHNOLOGIES is a new VR company in Australia. It's a promising name. We'll see what they come up with.