Saturday, April 30, 2016

Granerod, Dimensions of Yahwism in the Persian Period

BIBLIOGRAPHIA IRANICA: Dimensions of Yahwism in the Persian Period. Notice of a new book: Granerod, Gard. 2016. Dimensions of Yahwism in the Persian Period: Studies in the Religion and Society of the Judaean Community at Elephantine. Walter De Gruyter.

Tropper, Rewriting Ancient Jewish History

Rewriting Ancient Jewish History: The History of the Jews in Roman Times and the New Historical Method (Routledge Studies in Ancient History)
by Amram Tropper (Author)

Half a century ago, the primary contours of the history of the Jews in Roman times were not subject to much debate. This standard account collapsed, however, when a handful of insights undermined the traditional historical method, the method long enlisted by historians for eliciting facts from sources. In response to these insights, a new historical method gradually emerged. Rewriting Ancient Jewish History critiques the traditional historical method and makes a case for the new one, illustrating how to write anew ancient Jewish history.

At the heart of the traditional historical method lie three fundamental presumptions. The traditional historical method regularly presumes that multiple versions of a text or tradition are equally authentic; it presumes that many ancient Jewish sources are the products of largely immanent forces of cloistered Jewish communities; and, barring any local grounds for suspicion, it presumes that most ancient Jewish texts faithfully reflect their sources and reliably recount events. Rewriting Ancient Jewish History unfurls the failings of this approach; it promotes the new historical method which circumvents the flawed traditional presumptions while plotting anew the limits of rational argumentation in historical inquiry. This crucial reappraisal is a must-read for students of Jewish and Roman history alike, and a fascinating case-study in how historians should approach their ancient sources.

Athas on the Bible and literacy in ancient Judah

WITH MEAGRE POWERS: No, those ancient Hebrew ‘sticky notes’ do not necessarily prove the Bible was written early (George Athas). In response to an article by Gordon Govier in Christianity Today on the recently published study on literacy in ancient Judah. One correction:
On the contrary, one of the documents in this collection includes a man protesting that he could read something for himself, which implies that literacy wasn’t widespread.
I believe this is Lachish Letter 3 (on which more here), not on of the Arad ostraca. But aside from that, this is a very good discussion of the issues. Note especially the following paragraph:
The study itself states that the kind of literacy levels that the Arad documents demonstrate only occurs again in c. 200 BC. The implication seems to be that it’s unlikely the biblical documents were written in the intervening period (600–200 BC) when literacy levels were lower. But there are so many problems with this inference. First, the claim relates only to the region of Judah. It says nothing about literacy levels outside of Judah. Second, the claim uses blank evidence (little apparent writing in 600–200 BC) as a warrant for reaching a positive inference (it’s unlikely the biblical documents could have been written in this period). But logically this is unwarranted. To state it another way, a lack of evidence is not necessarily evidence of lack. It could be that we just haven’t found all the other document caches like the one from Arad that date to this period. We just don’t know! Third, you don’t need most of the elite, let alone most of the population, to be reading and writing to create conditions conducive to the writing of texts like the ones in the Bible. You just need one competent literate person who can ‘put pen to paper’. And that person could write for themselves, or even for a whole group of people. One person can pen the imagination of hundreds! And fourth, since there evidently were biblical texts that were written in Judah between 600 and 200 BC (e.g. Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, Ezra, Nehemiah), the very low literacy levels actually count for nothing.
Cross-file under Epigraphy. Background to the story is here and links.

More on Samaritan Passover 2016

ANOTHER PHOTO ESSAY: Samaritan Passover marked by slaughter of the lambs. The Samaritan sect celebrates the holiday of Passover in close adherence to biblical traditions such as sacrificing animals and donning long white robes (Haaretz).

More on Samaritan Passover is here and links.

Jewish catacombs in Rome

OPENING TOMORROW: They're not secret anymore! The ancient Jewish catacombs in Rome that have been off limits for decades will finally open to the public (JOHN HUTCHINSON, Daily Mail).
The Jewish catacombs in Rome are set to open to the general public for the first time this weekend, offering visitors a chance to explore the ancient underground tunnels and artwork.

In a bid to highlight the diversity of Italy's cultural attractions, the ancient Jewish burial site at Vigna Randanini, will no longer be off-limits.

The well-known Christian catacombs of Rome, of which there are 40, attract thousands of visitors every year, whereas up until now only private parties have been permitted to explore the second century Jewish burial site.

Not a new story, but this article has lots of good photos. Background here.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Glenn Alexander Magee (ed.), The Cambridge Handbook on Western Mysticism and Esotericism

THE FORBIDDEN GOSPELS BLOG: Finally, the Cambridge Handbook on Western Mysticism and Esotericism is published (April D. DeConick). It includes numerous chapters on ancient Western mysticism and esotericism. Cross-file under New Book.

Marx-Wolf, Spiritual Taxonomies and Ritual Authority

Spiritual Taxonomies and Ritual Authority
Platonists, Priests, and Gnostics in the Third Century C.E.

Heidi Marx-Wolf

224 pages | 6 x 9
Cloth Jan 2016 | ISBN 978-0-8122-4789-3 | $55.00s | £36.00 | Add to cart
Ebook Jan 2016 | ISBN 978-0-8122-9244-2 | $55.00s | £36.00 | About | Add to cart
A volume in the Divinations: Rereading Late Ancient Religion series

"Spiritual Taxonomies and Ritual Authority is an original and thoughtful work, and one that will be of considerable interest to a range of scholars. Tracing the interactions among figures who have traditionally been perceived as operating within separate spheres—pagan Neoplatonists, Christian Platonists, Egyptian ritual experts, and gnostics—Heidi Marx-Wolf makes a persuasive and stimulating argument for how these thinkers used their expertise to establish their social authority."—James Rives, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

The people of the late ancient Mediterranean world thought about and encountered gods, angels, demons, heroes, and other spirits on a regular basis. These figures were diverse, ambiguous, and unclassified and were not ascribed any clear or stable moral valence. Whether or not they were helpful or harmful under specific circumstances determined if and what virtues were attributed to them. That all changed in the third century C.E., when a handful of Platonist philosophers—Plotinus, Origen, Porphyry, and Iamblichus—began to produce competing systematic discourses that ordered the realm of spirits in moral and ontological terms.

In Spiritual Taxonomies and Ritual Authority, Heidi Marx-Wolf recounts how these Platonist philosophers organized the spirit world into hierarchies, or "spiritual taxonomies," positioning themselves as the high priests of the highest gods in the process. By establishing themselves as experts on sacred, ritual, and doctrinal matters, they were able to fortify their authority, prestige, and reputation. The Platonists were not alone in this enterprise, and it brought them into competition with rivals to their new authority: priests of traditional polytheistic religions and gnostics. Members of these rival groups were also involved in identifying and ordering the realm of spirits and in providing the ritual means for dealing with that realm. Using her lens of spiritual taxonomy to look at these various groups in tandem, Marx-Wolf demonstrates that Platonist philosophers, Christian and non-Christian priests, and gnostics were more interconnected socially, educationally, and intellectually than previously recognized.

Zucker on the matriarchs of Genesis

The Matriarchs of Genesis: Seven Women, Five Views

Women’s voices in the Bible are limited, but they are not absent. Where they do appear they come in three forms. The most common is through the omniscient voice of the narrator, or where someone describes something about women, or women’s actions. “Sarah shall bear you a son” (Gen 17:19). “Then Rebekah and her maids rose up, mounted the camels, and followed the man” (Gen 24:61). Secondly, women speak, sharing basic factual information. “Rebekah said to her son Jacob, ‘I heard your father say . . .’” (Gen 27:6). Thirdly, and most infrequently, women describe their feelings. Sarah explains, “God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me” (Gen 21:6). When suffering through her pregnancy, Rebekah cries out, “If this is so, why do I exist?” (Gen 25:22). Later she will say to Isaac, “I abhor my life . . . if Jacob takes a wife from the daughters of the Hittites . . . what will my life be worth?” (Gen 27:46). Rachel plaintively says to Jacob “Let me have children; otherwise I am a dead woman” (Gen 30:1). Yet even with these examples, there remains the ultimately unanswerable question, are these women’s voices speaking, or are these examples of men representing women’s voices?

See Also: The Matriarchs of Genesis: Seven Women, Five Views (Wipf and Stock, 2015).

By David J. Zucker, PhD
March 2016

Hurtado videos on scrolls and codices

LARRY HURTADO: Codex & Bookroll: New Videos.
I announce two newly-produced, short videos in which I explain the basics of the ancient bookroll and the codex, and the curious early Christian preference for the latter bookform ...

Goliath's skull

REMNANT OF GIANTS: The Discovery of the Skull of Goliath: Scenes from Don Verdean. Important discovery.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Report: Palmyra can be restored

PALMYRA WATCH: Despite Islamic State plundering, ancient Palmyra can be restored (Riham Alkousaa and Rasha Faek, The Washington Times).
AMMAN, Jordan — Images of Islamic State militants dynamiting irreplaceable Roman ruins in Syria’s ancient city of Palmyra sparked anguish and outrage among scholars and archaeologists around the world.

But optimism is cautiously rising about the ability to restore the damaged sites despite the destruction of several World Heritage monuments in the complex, say some of the first outside specialists to reach Palmyra after Islamic State forces were wrested from the city.

“We still don’t know about the underground damage and the looting because of the mines planted by the Islamic State, but we can say that 80 percent of the archaeological architecture is undamaged,” Maamoun Abdulkarim, head of Syria’s Directorate-General of Antiquities and Museums, said in an interview.


Despite the devastation, specialists say it could have been much worse.

“The photos of the archaeological site shows that we’ve been lucky,” said Amr al-Azm, an opposition-affiliated archaeologist and professor at Shawnee State University in Ohio. Mr. al-Azm also founded the The Day After Heritage Protection Initiative, a Syrian nongovernmental organization.

He pointed to the landmark Arch of Triumph — which was restored once before in the 1930s — as one monument that can be rebuilt using many of the original stones.

Mr. Abdulkarim, head of the state antiquities office, said he also believes damage to the castle and even the wrecked Temple of Bel can be restored without resorting to extensive rebuilding using modern materials that might destroy the character of the ancient ruins.

“We need to assess the status of the stones, how much could be restored and how much could be rebuilt,” he said. “We are not going to build a new temple. We will restore it.”

But the danger of an ISIS counterattack remains real.

Background on Palmyra is here with many, many links.

Review of Bayley, Freestone, Jackson (eds.), Glass of the Roman World

Justine Bayley, Ian Freestone, Caroline Jackson (ed.), Glass of the Roman World. Oxford; Philadelphia: Oxbow Books, 2015. Pp. xxvi, 204. ISBN 9781782977742. $70.00.

Reviewed by Thomas J. Derrick, University of Leicester (


The volume reviewed is a Festschrift offered to Prof. Jennifer Price, an esteemed and respected scholar who has worked on glass from many regions of the Roman world and beyond (both temporally and geographically). In concordance with Prof. Price’s own wide-ranging publication history (listed xi-xxvi), the 18 contributions are on diverse and engaging topics. They are arranged in to three sections: 1. Technology and Production, 2. Vessels and their Forms, 3. Other Uses of Glass. Some papers present new material which adds to existing corpora, and others take more general approaches. The contributions are discussed in turn below, largely in the order they appear in the volume.

This was published before the recent discovery of the ancient glass kilns in the Valley of Akko near Mount Carmel, but the book does deal with ancient glass from the Land of Israel and it should provide useful background to the discovery. Another ancient glass exhibition was noted in yesterday's post here.

Teenage antiquities vandals out themselves

BUSTED: Teens vandalize ancient citadel for holiday ‘paint party.’ Israel Antiquities Authority gives high school students 48 hours to come forward before pressing charges.
Israeli high school students vandalized an ancient citadel in the coastal city of Ashdod during the Passover holiday this week.

The Israel Antiquities Authority on Wednesday said the 1,300-year-old citadel dating to the early Islamic period was defaced by colored paint leftover from a “paint party” thrown by a local high school. The damage is reversible, however, the IAA indicated.

Pictures of the party were uploaded to social media, allowing IAA investigators to identify the students responsible.

I suppose we should file this one under stupid teenage high spirits rather than anything worse. Presumably they would not have posted photos on social media if they had realized that they had committed a crime. Still, they deserve to have their little hands smacked and to have the fear put into them. News Israel Today has a follow-up report (HT Joseph Lauer):
On the evening of 27 April, the 0404 reported that the father of one of the pupils who participated in the «party of colors» in the fortress Ashdod Yam, contacted the antiquities authority.

The man apologized for the incident. He said that his daughter and her friends were not aware that their actions cause damage to this historic structure. He expressed hope that this incident caused a great resonance, will serve as an example to other Teens.

Yes. Now hand them some brushes and set them to work cleaning up. The IAA seems to have handled this well.

John Ma on the Maccabees

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: John Ma on the Maccabees.
The Ancient Jew Review interviewed Dr. John Ma of Columbia University about inscriptions and civic identity in ancient Judaea, specifically in relation to the accounts of the Maccabees. Dr. Ma is the author of the recent book Statues and Cities: Honorific Portraits and Civic Identity in the Hellenistic World (Oxford Studies in Ancient Culture and Representation).

Mellon postdoc at Penn

POSTDOCTORAL FELLOWSHIPS: Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Humanities (Penn Humanities Forum).
The Penn Humanities Forum awards five (5) one-year Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowships each academic year to junior scholars in the humanities who are no more than eight years out of their doctorate and who are not yet tenured (may not be tenured during the fellowship year). Scholars are required to spend the year (September–May) in residence at Penn.

This year's topic is "Afterlives." Note that this fellowship is for the 2017-18 academic year. Follow the link for further particulars.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

New Jerusalem in Colorado?

OF COURSE HE DOES: Colorado man intends to build replica of Jerusalem. According to the report, the entrepreneur plans to include Jesus’ crucifixion site, Herod’s Temple and Palace, the Antonia Fortress, and the High Priest’s Palace (DANIEL K. EISENBUD, Jerusalem Post). Mind you, we're talking about a full-scale replica.
It remains unclear how he will garner the money necessary for the ambitious project.
I dare say.

Cross-file under Can't Make It Up.

Research Projects Coordinator with the Museum of the Bible

JOB: Museum of the Bible Job Posting (ETC, Christian Askeland).
Research Projects Coordinator

Beginning 01 August 2016, the research projects coordinator of the Scholars Initiative, located in Oklahoma City, OK, will coordinate with the executive and associate director to plan, implement and support collaborative work on innovative research projects, which advance the museum’s commitment to “invite all people to engage with the Bible through … scholarly pursuits.” In particular, the programming of the Scholar’s Initiative fosters research projects in which scholars include outstanding students in rigorous research projects relating to the languages and material culture of the New Testament and Hebrew scriptures.

The Scholars Initiative has previously organized collaborative research projects on Greek papyri from the Roman era, Dead Sea Scroll fragments and Medieval Latin manuscripts. Most recently, projects exploring the nature of the Old Greek tradition of the Psalter and the Greek minuscule tradition of the Pauline Corpus have been developed, with programs on Syriac patristic texts and the Lollard movement currently in active development. Where appropriate, participating scholars will publish their findings within a Brill series dedicated to the artifacts and research interests of the Museum of the Bible.

Follow the link for further particulars. "Review of candidates will begin immediately and continue until the position is filled."

Samaritan Passover a century ago

PHOTO ESSAY: The Samaritans on Passover 100 years ago. The Samaritans still sacrifice the Pascal Lamb (Lenny Ben DAvid, Arutz Sheva). There are lots of interesting photos of Samaritans c. 1899-1900 in the article, but you have to follow the American Colony link for photos of them celebrating Passover.

More on Samaritan Passover is here and links.

An Egyptian archaeologist on the Exodus

APPARENTLY IN HONOR OF PASSOVER: Senior Egyptian archaeologist: Israeli claim that Pharaoh was Egyptian is a lie. According to Director General of Luxor's Antiquities, Mustafa Waziri, king Pharaoh belonged to the foreign Hyksos dynasty that invaded Egypt in the 15th century BCE and ruled northern Egypt (MAAYAN GROISMAN, Jerusalem Post).
In an unprecedented declaration that challenges the story told in the Passover Haggadah, a senior Egyptian archaeologist said that ancient king Pharaoh was not Egyptian, as claimed in the ancient Jewish text.

In an interview with the Egyptian daily newspaper al-Youm al-Sabih, the director-general of Luxor's Antiquities, Mustafa Waziri, surprisingly argued that king Pharaoh belonged to the foreign Hyksos dynasty that invaded Egypt in the 15th century BCE and ruled northern Egypt.
The idea that the Hyksos dynasty is the historical reality behind the legend of the Israelite sojourn in Egypt is not new — a version of it goes back at least to the first-century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus and perhaps to the Hellenistic Egyptian writer Manetho. In itself the idea is not implausible, although the evidence for it isn't particularly strong. (More here.) And if it is correct, the legend is only a vague memory of the historical reality, and the point is that the Hyksos themselves were the primogenitors of the Israelites. The Theban Pharaoh who expelled the Hyksos, Ahmose I, was himself a native Egyptian.
"King Pharaoh who ruled Egypt during the epoch of our prophet Moses was not one of the kings who reigned in ancient Egypt as we tend to believe. He belonged to the Beduin Jabarin dynasty, which is called Hyksos," Waziri said.
I don't know what the "Beduin Jabarin" are, but this seems garbled. See above.
"This foreign dynasty ruled only in a part of Egypt.
Sort of. It's complicated.
One of its last kings was a dictator named Pharaoh, to whom Moses was sent by Allah to demand that he allow the sons of Israel to leave Egypt," Waziri explained.
We seem to have moved now to the Exodus story as told in the Qur'an.
The Egyptian archaeologist added: "the prevailing thesis according to which the kings of ancient Egypt were named Pharaohs is a false thesis promoted by the Jews to stick false accusations on ancient Egyptians."

"Due to his oppressive rule, the Jews have succeeded in transforming his name to a formal title of all Egyptians kings, which enables them to damage us by saying that we have raped women and slaughtered children. However, the Pharaoh title was never used to describe Egyptians, but was always attached to boorish people," Waziri said.
This is just goofy. The term "Pharaoh" orignally meant something like "big house," referring to the royal palace, and it developed into a title for the king of Egypt. No individual was named Pharaoh.
To prove his thesis, Waziri presented his conclusions from a study he conducted about the subject. He said that reviewing the Koran, he has not seen that the word "Pharaoh" is used to describe Egypt or Egyptians.

According to Waziri, the Koranic evidence that "Pharaoh" is a private name and not a royal title, as Israel alleges, is the phrase "Oh, Pharaoh", that refers to Pharaoh as a private individual.
The philological evidence from ancient Egyptian outweighs whatever the director-general's reading of the Qur'an is. I hope he is a better archaeologist than philologist. This is embarrassing to all of Egyptian archaeology.

More ancient glass on display

EXHIBITION: Dale Chihuly Chandelier Ushers in the Summer of Glass at the Crocker (
World-renowned glass sculptor Dale Chihuly’s “Golden Teal Chandelier” has been installed in the entryway of the Crocker Art Museum’s Teel Family Pavilion, setting the tone for the museum’s Summer of Glass, featuring three exhibitions highlighting glass from the ancient to the present.

It is the third one that is of interest to us:
Finally, “The Luster of Ages: Ancient Glass from the Marcy Friedman Collection,” which runs July 17 through Oct. 16, explores the beauty of ageless glass from the 6th century BCE to the period of Roman rule in the eastern Mediterranean. The collection’s 50 pieces, which include brightly colored miniature amphorae and lustrous perfume bottles, reflect the forms and influences of Greek, Roman and Phoenician cultures in the Holy Land.
Some past posts, most pretty recent, on discoveries of ancient glass and museum collections of ancient glass are collected here.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Talmud on mitzvot and theodicy

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Crime and Punishment and Punishment and Punishment. The Talmudic system of laws assumes the adherent is eager to learn how to follow God’s commandment, not why to follow it—and that he has faith in an otherworldly justice not necessarily reflected in this life.
But in the Talmud, punishment is an elusive subject. Most of the time, the rabbis redefine the death penalty in terms of karet, the “cutting off” of the sinner from the world to come, thus turning a this-worldly punishment into a supernatural one. Often, when the Bible specifies a punishment that the rabbis seem to regard as excessive or barbarous, they will find a way to interpret the law so that it cannot be carried out. (One famous example concerns the biblical prescription for stoning a rebellious son.) We do hear about courts imposing fines and monetary settlements in civil cases. But in general, the question of punishment simply fails to arise in the Talmud: The same rabbis who spent many pages figuring out exactly what a law means have no interest in figuring out what to do with Jews who defy it.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Egyptian scarab discovered by birdwatcher

ARCHAEOLOGY: Birdwatcher discovers ancient Egyptian scarab seal in northern Israel.
(Israel Hayom/Exclusive to A rare scarab seal belonging to a senior Egyptian official of the 13th Pharaonic Dynasty (18th-17th centuries BCE) has been found at the Tel Dor excavation site in northern Israel.

The seal was discovered by Alexander Ternopolsky, an amateur birdwatcher, who handed it over to the archaeologists at the site.

A slightly younger Egyptian amulet bearing the name of Thutmose III was discovered recently by the Temple Mount Sifting Project.

Still more on the Bible and literacy in ancient Judah

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS (REALLY): From Tablet to Scroll: How Was the Bible Written? Many scholars believe the Jewish holy text was completed by the end of the fifth century B.C.E., but almost no manuscripts from the period survive (Philippe Bohstrom, Haaretz).
So how was the Jewish holy text first put in writing? What material was used and how did the text itself survive through the centuries to reach us?

The material upon which books were copied at the time, mainly papyrus and leather parchment, is perishable and particularly sensitive to the humid climate in the Jerusalem area. That any fragments of biblical manuscripts from antiquity have survived is quite remarkable when you think of what happened to the writings of other civilizations.
There follows a good survey of the Phoenician, Egyptian, and Mesopotamian writing systems. (A more or less related post is here.)
All these methods would have been available to the early Israelite scribes of the Bible.

“The majority of writing would have been done on papyrus, leather and wax-coated wooden tablets. The recovery of numerous clay bullae, which once sealed the papyri, attests to their existence,” says Allan Millard, professor of Hebrew and ancient Semitic languages at Liverpool University.

Millard is convinced that writing was widespread across the kingdoms of Israel and Judah in the eighth and seventh centuries B.C.E. He argues that the number of sites, the quantity of ephemeral texts and the multitude of seals and impressions bearing owners’ names should dispel any notion that writing was rare. If scribes were employed for legal and administrative duties such as making lists, setting out legal deals and writing letters, he believes it is reasonable to expect some to have spent time writing other texts, as in Mesopotamia and Egypt.
Compositions among Hebrew ostraca and graffiti prove they could do so. One ostracon found in the desert outpost of Arad bears part of a literary text and another from the fort at Hovrat Uza is of prophetic nature. There are lines of a prophetic verse painted on wall plaster at Kuntillet Ajrud in the Sinai from the early eighth century B.C.E.

Millard contends that some parts of the Bible could date as far back as the 13th century B.C.E.

While many scholars take a much more conservative approach, most believe that by the time of the Neo-Assyrian and Babylonian period (the eighth to sixth centuries B.C.E.), large parts of the Hebrew Bible had already been written down.
This article is clearly inspired by the recent computer-aided study of Iron Age II Hebrew epigraphic texts, on which more here and links. More on the texts from Kuntillet Ajrud is here, here and here.

Speaking of Jewish-temple denial ...

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: EXCLUSIVE – Islamic Scholar Claims Jews ‘Fabricated’ Ties to Temple Mount (AARON KLEIN AND ALI WAKED).
TEL AVIV – Ignoring the historical record and mainstream archeological evidence, an Islamic scholar tied to Hamas and speaking during a Breitbart Jerusalem exclusive interview, completely denied Jewish ties to the Temple Mount, considered the holiest site in Judaism.

“The issue of Solomon’s Temple, or what the Jews call the Temple Mount, is nothing but a bundle of historically unfounded claims,” declared Khaled Elkhaldi, a professor at Gaza’s Islamic University.

“It’s a dream, a legend that the Jews made up to claim exclusive ownership of the land, which religion and history refute time after time,” added Elkhaldi, who serves on Hamas’s Shura Council (Majlis al-Shura), the terrorist group’s main consultative body.

“The historical and religious truth is that the Jews conquered Palestine as part of their religious perspective and so-called prophecy in the Torah around which the theory of the ‘Promised Land’ was built,” Elkhaldi claimed.

“The fabricated temple was invented to serve this narrative,” he stated, without a trace of irony.

Elkhaldi claimed, wrongly, that mainstream Jewish opinion is divided on the historic whereabouts of the Temple.

“Some say that it is in Nablus and not in Jerusalem, some say it’s in Beitin just north of Jerusalem, and others talk about other places. It only proves that all these claims are bogus.”

And so on. We've heard it all before, haven't we? For background, see here (immediately preceding post). Similar claims that the Jewish temple was actually in Nablus have been noted here, here, and here. I have not seen anyone try to place it in Beitin (Bethel) before this. For the Temple Mount Sifting Project, see here and many, many links. The illicit Waqf excavation on the Temple Mount in 2007 was noted here, here, and here (cf. here). And there's more on that UNESCO resolution here and links.

Priestly blessing at Western Wall

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Worshipers and police crowd Western Wall for priestly blessing. Tens of thousands pack Jerusalem holy site for ceremony; security forces boosted amid holiday tensions (RAOUL WOOTLIFF AND TIMES OF ISRAEL STAFF).
Tens of thousands of people thronged to the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City under heavy police guard for a twice-annual mass blessing ceremony Monday morning.

Police said tens of thousands of people packed the Western Wall plaza, as security forces were bolstered amid sky-high tensions over a fresh outbreak of violence connected to increased Jewish visits to the nearby Temple Mount holy site for the Passover holiday.

The blessing ceremony, which sees male descendants of the Kohanim priestly caste gather to bestow benediction, involves the raising of hands in a form similar to the “Vulcan salute” which Leonard Nimoy borrowed from Judaism for his “Star Trek” role as Mr. Spock. Those conducting the blessing also cover their heads with prayer shawls.

There's video at the link. For Nimoy's "Spock salute" see here and links.

I was surprised to see this in the article:
The Western Wall is the closest spot to the Temple Mount where Jews can pray. Though allowed to visit the Mount, where Jews believe the two ancient Jewish temples stood, Jews are not allowed to pray and increased Jewish visits often spark tensions.
My bold emphasis. Who slipped that in? This is not just a matter of a religious belief. For the record, no one who has any understanding of the ancient history and archaeology of the site has any doubt that two ancient Jewish temples stood on the Temple Mount. This (non-)issue came up recently with regard to an unfortunate article in the New York Times which was eventually corrected. See here and links for the story. And I have documented a great deal of propaganda from the Palestinian and Arab worlds which denies that the temples ever existed. For recent examples, see here and links. I assume that the sentence quoted above is just worded poorly, but it is disappointing to see the Times of Israel appear to flirt with Jewish-temple denial.

The priestly blessing comes from Numbers 6:24-26. Incidentally, the oldest surviving copies (c. 600 BCE) of any biblical passage are the silver amulets from Ketef Hinnom which contain the text of this blessing.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Ilan on Jewish customs in Judith

BIBLE ODYSSEY: Jewish Customs in Judith (Tal Ilan).
The book of Judith was composed sometime after the Hebrew Bible was completed. It came into being, however, considerably earlier than the books that canonized rabbinic law (the Mishnah and the Talmud). Thus, Jewish customs recorded in Judith were influenced by the Hebrew Bible and reflect an earlier Judaism than that practiced today. The Jewish customs in Judith relate to fasting, widowhood, kosher food, immersion, conversion, and slavery.


Syriac Summer School in Amsterdam

SYRIAC WATCH: On, Wido Van Peursen has posted the details of two study-abroad summer school courses on Syriac at VU Amsterdam.

The Bible in Syriac Tradition (16-23 July 2016)

Syriac Christianity in Context (23-30 July 2016)

More on ancient literacy in Judah

EPIGRAPHY AND LITERARY CRITICISM: Trying To Discover When The Good Book Was Written Is A Bad Idea (Ian Young, HuffPo). Perhaps not so much bad as just asking the wrong question. But Professor Young raises a very good point:
In fact, the whole discussion misses the really interesting breakthroughs scholars have made about the composition of the Bible since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Scholars have become aware that Old Testament books were not ever just written in one go. "When was the Bible written?" is the wrong question. Ancient books were fluid entities that were written and rewritten, each manuscript a different rendition of the community tradition that lay behind it.

We are used, in the modern world, to a book, once it is written, staying written. Also, modern books usually have an identifiable author or authors. The Bible is, on the contrary, community literature, reflecting community traditions that appear in different ways in different renditions of the same book or passage. Even within the Bible that we know, we find multiple versions of the same stories and traditions. Outside the Bible, the Dead Sea Scrolls and other ancient texts, like the earliest translations into Greek, show us yet further variant versions, all of which were likely considered to be valid representations of the tradition about great Biblical themes like God's relationship with the peoples of the earth.

So, for many of the familiar texts of the Bible, the answer to the question about whether they were written in 600 B.C., or earlier than that, or at a later date, may simply be "yes".
Background here and links.

When did sacrifice on Passover cease?

HISTORY AND POLITICS: Why Jews Stopped Sacrificing Lambs and Baby Goats for Passover. And why some have started trying to perform it on the Temple Mount again (Elon Gilad, Haaretz).
This ancient ritual [of sacrifice of Passover lambs in the Temple] abruptly came to an end in 70 C.E., when the Romans put down the Jews’ Great Revolt and destroyed the Temple. At this point, what remained of the Jewish population in Judea had to decide how Passover would be celebrated.

The task of adapting Judaism to its new Temple-less reality fell to Rabban Gamaliel II, head of the Jewish Assembly – the Sanhedrin. With regard to the Passover sacrifice, Gamaliel decreed that the sacrifice should continue in family homes, with each family sacrificing its own goat or sheep.

However, other rabbis believed that the Passover sacrifice, like all the other sacrifices, could only be conducted by the priests in the Temple and that, like the other sacrifices, should not be conducted until the Messiah comes and the Temple is rebuilt.

Some Jews followed Gamaliel and continued to sacrifice goats and sheep in their homes on Passover; others didn’t and saw the practice as apostasy.

Within about two generations, the practice ceased when the anti-sacrifice camp assumed control and threatened to excommunicate those who practiced it. So, sometime in the second century C.E., Jews stopped the practice of sacrificing baby goats and sheep on Passover. Until recently, that is.
The traditions about how exactly the Passover lamb ceased to be sacrificed were written down long after the event and should perhaps be taken with a grain of salt. But the sacrifice did indeed end sometime after the destruction of the Temple. As for the recent attempt to revive the practice, see here

Ancient Jewish kingdoms in Babylonia

HISTORY: A Jewish kingdom in ancient Babylon. Least known is the kingdom of Mar Zutra, that rose to brief prominence in the period after the redaction and editing of the Talmud. (ELI KAVON, Jerusalem Post). Excerpt:
In considerable territory of eastern and southern Arabia, before the rise of Islam, the elite of the Kingdom of Himyar converted to Judaism. This kingdom was powerful, twice succeeding in repelling domination by Ethiopia, and preventing the anti-Jewish Byzantines from passing through its territory to India to conduct trade. This Jewish kingdom came to an end with a final war with Ethiopia that resulted in its destruction.

A more well-known example of a Jewish Diaspora kingdom is the Khazars. Located in Eastern Europe, this kingdom’s leaders converted to Judaism and adopted the hallmarks of Jewish civilization.

The kingdom flourished from 650 CE to 1016 CE, but was eventually overrun by enemies and scattered. The Khazars were known as brave warriors and ignited the imagination of medieval Hebrew poet Judah Halevi, whose philosophical work, The Kuzari, uses the adoption of Judaism by the Khazar king as a launching point to delve into an analysis and understanding of Judaism, revelation and prophecy.

Least known, however, is the kingdom of Mar Zutra, that rose to brief prominence in the period after the redaction and editing of the Talmud.
And all this, of course, has almost nothing to do with the cuneiform tablet used to illustrate the article. The tablet is from the recently published collection of cuneiform texts written by Judean exiles in Babylonia (on which, more here and follow the links back), but it was written many centuries earlier than the kingdoms discussed in the article and the writers did not have their own kingdom. They were in the thrall of the Neo-Babylonian kingdom that exiled them there.

As for the article, which deals with three Jewish kingdoms from late antiquity: more on the Himyar kingdom is here, here, and here; and more on the Khazars is here and links. I can't find any past posts on the "least known" kingdom of Mar Zutra. And as for the political conclusions of the article, I leave it to you to do with them what you will.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Italian Talmud volume a bestseller

TALMUD WATCH: Italian translation of Talmud becomes instant bestseller. First volume of Italian translation of the Talmud sells out in three days. (Arutz Sheva/AFP).

Background here.

A Gibeon bulla

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: How Ancient Taxes Were Collected Under King Manasseh. Bulla inscribed in paleo-Hebrew provides evidence of Judah’s tax system. This was first posted back in 2012, but I seem to have missed it then. Cross-file under Epigraphy.

More on the Temple Mount Sifting Project is here with many links. The discovery of this bulla was noted here, also back in 2012.

New Philo book

PHILONICA ET NEOTESTAMENTICA: A New German translation of Philo’s Quod omnis probus liber sit (Torrey Seland). A notice of:
Reinhard von Bendemann (Hg.), Philo von Alexandria – Über die Freiheit des Rechtschaffenen. Kleine Bibliothek der antiken jüdischen und christlichen Literatur –Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. 1. Auflage 2016. 89 Seiten kartoniert ISBN 978-3-525-53465-6. 10,00 €

Black & Cerone, The Pericope of the Adulteress

LARRY HURTADO: The Adulteress Narrative: New Book.
A new book is now the “go-to” resource on the text-critical question about the account of the adulteress brought to Jesus (in traditional texts, John 7:53–8:11): The Pericope of the Adulteress in Contemporary Research, eds. David Alan Black and Jacob N. Cerone (London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016). The publisher’s online catalogue entry is here.

And Tommy Wasserman also has a post on the book here at ETC.

More on Snapshots

LIV INGEBORG LIED: Snapshots of Evolving Traditions – A Sneak Peek!

Background here.