Saturday, June 04, 2016

Pomeranz, "Ordinary Jews in the Babylonian Talmud"

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Dissertation Spotlight | Jonathan Pomeranz.
Ordinary Jews in the Babylonian Talmud: Rabbinic Representations and Historical Interpretation

Jonathan Aaron Pomeranz, Yale University, 2016.

This dissertation addresses two questions. What was the nature of the relationship between rabbis and ordinary Jews in Babylonia? And what can be discovered about ordinary Jews from the evidence of the Babylonian Talmud? The dissertation argues that rabbis in Babylonia developed closer relationships with ordinary Jews over the course of the rabbinic period. The Babylonian rabbis transformed themselves from a relatively isolated elite group into a group that was much more integrated with ordinary Jews. Unlike their Palestinian counterparts, Babylonian sages seem to have achieved this integration largely on their own terms. Their closer social contacts with ordinary Jews were accompanied by a rise in their authority and the respect with which ordinary Jews treated them.


Perseus Collection Greek and Roman Materials

AWOL: Perseus Collection Greek and Roman Materials. The full Bible in Greek and Latin, the Classics, and lots of Hellenistic and Roman-era material of potential interest as background to ancient Judaism and early Christianity.

Sogdian-Syriac-English dictionary

BIBLIOGRAPHIA IRANICA: A Dictionary: Christian Sogdian, Syriac and English. Notice of a new book: Sims-Williams, Nicholas. 2016. A Dictionary: Christian Sogdian, Syriac and English, Reichert Verlag. Follow the link for details. Looks very useful. Past posts involving Sogdian are here, here, here, here, and here. And cross-file under Turfan.

Review of Neutel, A Cosmopolitan Ideal

Karin B. Neutel, A Cosmopolitan Ideal: Paul’s Declaration ‘Neither Jew Nor Greek, Neither Slave Nor Free, Nor Male and Female’ in the Context of First Century Thought. Library of New Testament Studies, 513. London; New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2015. Pp. xi, 266. ISBN 9780567656834. $112.00.

Reviewed by Timothy A. Brookins, Houston Baptist University (


Writing to the church in Galatia in the middle of the first century CE, the apostle Paul declared, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28, NRSV). This formula, which for Paul succinctly summed up the social consequences of Jesus Christ’s resurrection and, therewith, the inauguration of the eschatological age, has played a key role in modern reconstructions of Paul’s views on race, class, and gender. Karin Neutel’s A Cosmopolitan Ideal (a slightly revised version of her doctoral dissertation) undertakes a fresh examination of this formula. Recent treatments of this text, says Neutel, have decontextualized it from the first century and read it instead as speaking directly to modern concerns about inclusion (James Dunn, John Kloppenborg, John Elliot) or equality (Elizabeth Schüssler-Fiorenza, Hans Dieter Betz, John Dominic Crossan). Thus, the purpose of this book is to resituate Gal 3:28 within the wider conversations, both Jewish and non-Jewish, that were taking place in Paul’s own day, conversations, Neutel says, that pertained to the nature of the “ideal community.”


Friday, June 03, 2016

The Cave of Skulls excavation concludes

EXPEDITION WRAP-UP: In Bar Kochba rebels’ caves, salvaging what the thieves left behind. Archaeologists conclude 3-week excavation of the Judean Desert’s Cave of the Skulls, the largest undertaking of its kind in 60 years (Ilan Ben Zion, Times of Israel).
Sixty years after initial scientific surveys of the caves in the Judean Desert, the Israel Antiquities Authority on Thursday wrapped up three weeks of excavations at one of the largest caverns in the limestone cliffs of Nahal Tze’elim. It’s the biggest undertaking of its kind in the arid region south of Jerusalem since the 1960s.
The result:
After the bust, the IAA decided to go on the offensive but lying in wait to catch thieves red-handed in a landscape like the Judean Desert is a game of whack-a-mole. The excavation in the Cave of the Skulls aims not only to glean what valuable scientific information remains, but also salvage any artifacts — scrolls included — that may still be inside.

Amir Ganor, head of the IAA’s antiquities theft prevention unit and one of the leaders of the dig, hailed the excavation as “very successful,” saying the dig already turned up tiny scraps of papyrus. It wasn’t clear just yet whether they bore inscriptions, however, he noted Wednesday.

“Among the things connected to day-to-day life were pottery fragments and a few stone tools, [but] mostly the objects that characterize the Judean Desert caves — where, because of the dry conditions, organic materials are preserved — textiles, cords, fabrics, braids, leather and wood items,” he said over the bustle of activity. Also on that list were spindle whorls for weaving, awls, and scraps of leather and papyrus, and a wooden comb (“what’s more intimate than that?” Davidovich said). The vast majority of the finds were animal bones, some the remnants of the Judeans’ dinner, others brought in by hyenas or other wild animals over the centuries. A few human bones were unearthed as well.
As the article notes, archaeology is really about the cumulative collection and ever-more-sophisiticated analysis of remains from the past. Spectacular discovers are nice to have occasionally, but they are only a small part of the big picture.

Finally, there's this bit of good news:
Ganor, the IAA official, said that his organization tentatively approved funding for an additional season of excavations in Nahal Tze’elim, but that plans had yet to be drawn up.
The investment needed to explore the Judean Desert caves thoroughly would be trivial by the standards of most government projects, and the payoff could be quite significant. Such exploration would add a great deal to our cumulative knowledge, and I would not be surprised if there turned out to be a spectacular find or two still to be uncovered. Probably not another gigantic scrolls library like the Dead Sea Scrolls, but perhaps individual scrolls and even small archives like those already recovered in caves from the Bar Kokhba-era.

Background here and links.

1 Enoch and the Essene Hypothesis

READING ACTS: Enoch and the Essene Hypothesis. A reviewlet of Boccaccini's 1998 book Beyond the Essene Hypothesis.

Herod Agrippa

PROFILES IN HISTORY: King Agrippa I: The last Maccabee. Agrippa’s Jewish pride and his support of Jews both in Israel and the Diaspora did not endear him to pagans living in the Land of Israel (Eli Kavon, Jerusalem Post).
It was the last attempt to revive the glory of the Maccabees despite the realities of oppressive Roman domination of Judea. Marcus Julius Agrippa represented the great hope that direct Roman control over the Land of Israel would end and a semblance of Jewish sovereignty would be restored. Agrippa was the grandson of despised Herod the Great and his wife Mariamme, a princess from the line of the Maccabees. That Agrippa was alive was a miracle in itself: Herod murdered Mariamme and most of her family. These Maccabees posed a threat to the Idumean descendant of proselytes Herod and, in his paranoia, led to their murder. Caesar Augustus once quipped, “I would rather be Herod’s pig than his son.” But Agrippa managed to survive despite the cruelty of his tyrant grandfather.

The Herod mentioned in Acts chapter 12 appears to be Agrippa I.

As Joseph Lauer notes in his e-mail, Tiberius Julius Alexander, mentioned later in the article, was the nephew of Philo of Alexandria. Somehow I missed Eli Kavon's Jerusalem Post profile of him last year: Tiberius Julius Alexander: The Jew Who Destroyed Jerusalem.

Harry Potter and the Aramaic Spell

ARAMAIC WATCH: Here's Where All The Harry Potter Spells Come From. Most of them do come from more-or-less recognizable Latin, but one merits more discussion:
Avada Kedavara is perhaps the most famous Harry Potter spell. “According to Rowling,” Mashable writes, “its root is actually Aramaic and derives from the original ‘abracadabra,’ which means ‘let the thing to be destroyed.’” That’s spooky. It also explains something about the catch-all magic phrase “abracadabra,” which was previously a minor mystery.
The Mashable article is here. This spell has come up before (here, here, and here), but I don't think I have discussed it in any detail. Avada Kedavara does look like it's inspired by Abracadabra, which arguably means something like "I create according to the word" in mixed Aramaic-Hebrew. Past posts on Abracadabra are here and links.

The translation that Rowling gives for her spell is not entirely implausible. It looks to me like a mispronunciation of a Hebrew or Aramaic phrase meaning "it perished [or possibly "perish!"] according to the word," with the first word coming from the root אבד, "to perish." So the sense of being destroyed is there and the word for "word" can also mean "thing," but her grammar is very mixed up. Still, she seems to have made some effort to dig up something resembling Hebrew or Aramaic.

Judaism and homosexuality

HAARETZ: Judaism and Homosexuality: A Brief History. The Jewish people have had a far more complicated relationship with homosexuality than the outright ban in Leviticus implies (Elon Gilad). Excerpt:
Deuteronomy does not ban homosexuality, only sacred prostitution. So the question is, when was sex among men banned?

We cannot know with accuracy. The ban only appears in two verses, both in the same section of Leviticus (18:22 and 20:13). Most scholars believe these verses were written either during the Babylonian Exile or during the early Second Temple period, so sometime during the 6th to the 4th century BCE (2600 to 2400 years ago), but when exactly in this period, we do not know.

Nor can we know what led to this prohibition. Some speculate that it was an expansion on the ban on sacred prostitution. Others think it was an effort to limit contact between Jews and gentiles, but the fact is no-one knows.

Whatever the reason and whenever it was decreed, once it was codified in Leviticus, it became Jewish law. But does this mean that ancient Jews stopped engaging in homosexuality?

Probably not. From the end of the 4th century BCE, and later under the Romans, Jews found themselves living in cultures that practiced homosexuality between men and boys as a norm.

The question is how tolerant the rabbis were of these practices. This turns out to be a very difficult question to answer.
As the article notes, there is very little information about homosexuality in ancient Israel before Leviticus. Some think that the Deuteronomistic History implies a homosexual relationship between David and Jonathan, although the evidence is ambiguous. James Harding has recently published a book on the biblical material and its later interpretations: The Love of David and Jonathan: Ideology, Text, Reception (Routledge, 2013).

Beyond that, there are various hostile references to male cultic prostitutes, which show that such prostitution was common enough that the Deuteronomic and Deuteronomistic writers had to take enough notice to condemn it. Likewise, the Priestly writers would not have been likely to issue a law against male-on-male sex unless people were actually doing it.

Mr. Gilad does not seem to have found any additional references to homosexual practice before the Talmud. There certainly don't seem to be many. A few are collected in an essay by Preston Sprinkle which I noted last year here. And even some of these are dubious. I am not sure that Pseudo-Phocylides, 2 Enoch, or Sibylline Oracles 3 and 5 give us evidence for Second Temple Judaism. But that still leaves passages from the Damascus Document (reconstructed, but plausibly), Philo, and Josephus (but Ant. 1.200-201 is not relevant - typo?), as well as a comment in the Letter of Aristeas (whose text, however, is somewhat in doubt) and one reference in the Mishnah. All of these passage condemn male-on-male sex, which, again, does seem to indicate that it was something that happened often enough to require condemnation. Incidentally, in Laws 3.41, Philo makes what must be one of the earliest surviving references to transsexual surgery.

Also, here's an old post in which I discuss the Leviticus passage in detail.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

London's Dead Sea Scrolls

MAJOR EPIGRAPHIC DISCOVERY: UK's oldest hand-written document 'at Roman London dig.' Over 400 tablets were found at the site, 87 of which have been deciphered (BBC).
Roman tablets discovered during an excavation in London include the oldest hand-written document ever found in Britain, archaeologists have revealed.

The Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) said it had deciphered a document, from 8 January AD 57, found at the dig at Bloomberg's new headquarters.

The first ever reference to London, financial documents and evidence of schooling have also been translated.

Over 700 artefacts from the dig will go on display when the building opens.

According to MOLA, the tablets reveal the first years of the capital "in the words of the people who lived, worked, traded with and administered the new city".

Director Sophie Jackson said the findings had "far exceeded all expectations" and would allow archaeologists "to get closer to the first Roman Britons".

So far the inscribed tablets from London have no direct bearing on ancient Judaism, but they are too interesting not to mention, and there are some indirect points of comparison. Some of the tablets overlap in date with the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were written between the late third century BCE to the mid-first century CE and were deposited in the Qumran caves in 68 CE.

The London document from 57 CE is dated in the reign of the Emperor Nero. One of the Aramaic Judean Desert texts (Murabba'at ostracon 18) dates itself to "[yea]r two of Nero Caesar" (שנ]ת תרתין לנרון קשר), which would be 55-56 CE, so just before the date of the London text. The Murabba'at text has received a good deal of attention because the spelling of "Nero Caesar" in Hebrew letters has the gematria value of 666, which confirms that the Beast in the Book of Revelation (see 13:18) is meant to be understood as Nero. More on the Number of the Beast (and its variant value 616, based on a different Hebrew spelling of Nero) is here and here.

Beyond that, this discovery in London will inevitably bring to mind the very similar discoveries at the site of Vindolanda, up in Northumberland near Hadrian's Wall. The Vindolanda tablets come from the late first and early second centuries CE, between the time of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132-135 CE). I visited Vindolanda about ten years ago and I posted some photos and some reflections on their relevance to the Judean Desert texts here. It sounds as though so far the London tablets are also administrative and documentary texts rather than literary texts.

Let's hope that there will be some good news like this coming out of the Judean Desert soon.

Photos from the Cave of Skulls

EXPEDITION UPDATE: In Pictures: Cave of the Skulls, prehistoric Israeli site (Reuters and The Straits Times). Archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority are searching the Cave of the Skulls, an excavation site in the Judean Desert, for remnants of the last Dead Sea Scrolls. The scrolls are important historical and religious documents, and one of the earliest recorded Hebrew texts.

The only new discoveries noted are a tooth and a bone. But watch this space.

Background here and links.

May 2016 Biblical Studies Carnivals

BRIAN RENSHAW: Jun 1 May 2016 Biblical Studies Carnival: School's Out Edition. Jim West also has a somewhat more fulsome counter-carnival: The May Biblioblog Carnival of British Biblical Goodness. Elements of the "British" component may be a matter of opinion.

I am grateful to both Brian and Jim for their kind words about my late St. Andrews colleague, Professor John Webster, who died suddenly and unexpectedly last week. John was a premier theologian, a great colleague, and a fine man. I am very sorry he is gone. Requiescat in pace.

Anton inteview, part 2

FIFTY SHADES OF TALMUD: The Talmudic Sex exchange, part 2: ‘The Talmud gets a lot wrong, but often asks the right questions’ (Shmuel Rosner, Jewish Journal).
While we should recognize, and accept, that the Talmud is a product of its times, we also know that human nature isn’t so different now than it was in the fourth century.
Part one and some background links are noted here.

Carthago Dilecta Est

PUNIC WATCH: Sailing: Carthago Dilecta Est regatta lands in Lampedusa.
(ANSAmed) - TUNIS, JUNE 1 - The international sailing event uniting Italy and Tunisia, Carthago Dilecta Est, is back this year with some new features that highlight the symbolic value of uniting Mediterranean peoples in new links towards friendship and peace.

The 18th edition will take place on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, where the Italian and Tunisian teams will meet, said event organiser Ventotene Sailing Club.

The Latin title is a play on the ancient Roman motto during the Punic Wars: Carthago delenda est, "Carthage must be destroyed." But Carthago Dilecta Est has the much nicer meaning "Carthage is lovely."

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

National Plan to recover more DSS

IAA PRESS RELEASE: National plan initiated to excavate Judean Desert caves. The plan’s first excavation is currently underway in the Cave of the Skulls in Nahal Tse'elim, with the assistance of numerous volunteers (Reposted by the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs).
(Communicated by the IAA Spokesperson)

The Israel Antiquities Authority, in cooperation with the Heritage Project in the Ministry of Jerusalem Affairs, and together with the Minister of Culture and Sport, MK Miri Regev, is promoting a national plan for comprehensive archaeological excavations in the Judean Desert caves, and rescuing the Dead Sea Scrolls, which are among the earliest texts written in the Hebrew language.

According to Israel Hasson, director-general of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “For years now our most important heritage and cultural assets have been excavated illicitly and plundered in the Judean Desert caves for reasons of greed. The goal of the national plan that we are advancing is to excavate and find all of the scrolls that remain in the caves, once and for all, so that they will be rescued and preserved by the state”.

According to the Minister of Culture and Sport, MK Miri Regev, “The antiquities robbers are plundering the Land of Israel’s history, which is something we cannot allow. The Dead Sea scrolls are an exciting testament of paramount importance that bear witness to the existence of Israel in the Land of Israel 2,000 years ago, and they were found close to the Return to Zion and the establishment of the State of Israel in the Land of Israel. It is our duty to protect these unique treasures, which belong to the Jewish people and the entire world. I will work to increase the punishment against those that rob our country’s antiquities”.

We learn from this press release that the current expedition to explore the Cave of Skulls in Nahal Tse'elim (Se'elim) is only the first of a proposed series of such expeditions.
Israel Hasson, director-general of the Israel Antiquities Authority, added, "It is exciting to see the extraordinary work of the volunteers, who have lent a hand and participated in the excavation in complicated field conditions, out of a desire to join in an historic undertaking and discover finds that can provide priceless information about our past here. The time has come for the state to underwrite broad action so as to rescue the cultural assets of enormous historical importance while they still remain in the caves. Substantial amounts need to be allocated which will allow the Israel Antiquities Authority to embark upon a large scale operation for studying the desert, including the caves, and excavating the artifacts. After all, the Dead Sea scrolls are of religious, political and historical importance to Jews, Christians and all of humanity”.
This project is well worth the full support of the Israeli Government.

More on the current Cave of Skulls expedition is here and here, with background links.

The date(s) of composition of 1 Enoch

READING ACTS: When was 1 Enoch Written? A good summary of the state of the question by Phillip J. Long. And thanks to James McGrath, who on Facebook drew my attention to this blog.

Restroom lawsuit update

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Jerusalem city hall orders halt to illegal Waqf construction on Temple Mount. Injunction issued after authorities determine project for extra restrooms at complex does not have proper permits (Times of Israel).
The Jerusalem Municipality on Tuesday ordered a halt to illegal construction taking place outside of the fence surrounding Jerusalem’s flashpoint Temple Mount holy site.

The administrative order was issued after authorities determined the construction of additional restrooms at the complex has begun without the proper permits, a municipality statement said.

According to reports, the project was initiated by the Muslim Waqf — the Jordanian trust that administers the site — to accommodate the tens of thousands of Muslim worshipers expected to visit the compound during the upcoming Ramadan holiday.

This injunction seems to be in response to the IAA's lawsuit expressing concern that the construction could damage antiquities:
The Antonia Fortress, which is believed to date from at least 31 BCE, sits atop the Western Wall tunnels sparking fears that sewage from the restroom will seep into the structures below, the report said.

The suit also includes IAA opposition to a Waqf plan to break through one of the walls on the Temple Mount itself.
No construction of any kind on the Temple Mount please. Background to this story is here.

Egyptian exhibition on the alphabet

EPIGRAPHY: 'Sinai: The Origin of the Alphabet' exhibit on display at Egyptian Museum. A temporary exhibit on early alphabetic inscriptions in Egypt was inaugurated last night in celebration of Sinai Liberation Day (Nevine El-Aref, Al-Ahram).
Egypt’s Minister of Antiquities Khaled El-Enany and the head of a Bonn University delegation, Lodwing Morin, inaugurated a six-month-long exhibition at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo entitled ‘Sinai: The Origin of the Alphabet’ on Egypt’s early alphabetic inscriptions.

The exhibition, organised in collaboration with Bonn University, relates the history and development of the alphabet in southern Sinai.

Sabah Abdel-Razek, undersecretary of the Egyptian Museum for archaeological affairs, told Ahram Online that the exhibition displays early inscriptions that show the development of alphabetic writing in southwestern Sinai during the early second millennium BC, as well as a collection of 40 statues of deities and stelae in direct connection with Sinai.

The exhibition opened in late April. Related post here. Judging by the photograph of the inscribed stele, the exhibition also includes material from a lot later than the second millennium BCE.

Manuscripts Man

SYRIAC WATCH: A Lifetime in Asia. 40 YEARS ON THE SILK ROAD (Tim Johnson, Cascadia Weekly).
Father Dale Albert Johnson is a Skagit Valley native who has gained international recognition for his discovery, translation and interpretation of manuscripts written in the language of Jesus.

But that’s far from being his only accomplishment. Ordained as a Syriac Orthodox Priest in 1991, Father Johnson has served refugees, internally displaced people and religious minorities of the Middle East for the last 25 years. He’s also a winner of the prestigious Role Model Leadership Award awarded by North Carolina State University. (Previous winners have included Poet Maya Anjelou and former North Carolina Governor James Hunt.)


Father Johnson began his career searching for Syria/Aramaic manuscripts in the Middle East. He contributed more than 20,000 pages of previously unknown material to the Arthur Voobus manuscript collection at the University of Chicago. During these years he was chosen by Bishop Athanasius Y. Samuel to be his personal assistant. Bishop Samuel was famous for owning and naming the Dead Sea Scrolls when he was bishop of Jerusalem in 1948.

That's a lot of manuscripts! I am very surprised to find that PaleoJudaica has never before had occasion to refer to Professor Arthur Vööbus or to the Vööbus manuscript collection. Glad to have that remedied now. More on Mar Athanasius Y. Samuel and the Dead Sea Scrolls is here, here, and here.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Old Testament, Hebrew Bible, Septuagint, etc.

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS: Which Old Testament? (Philip Jenkins, The Anxious Bench). This is a good summary of the issues, although I disagree that the term "Hebrew Bible" ... "suggests that it is a Jewish possession that Christians don’t fully or rightfully own." All it suggests is that it is written in the Hebrew language, which it is — apart from a few chapters and verses in Aramaic.

Salisbury (BM) exhibition on ancient Egyptian writing

COPTIC (ETC.) WATCH: British Museum touring exhibition comes to Salisbury Museum.
DISCOVER the secrets of Ancient Egypt at Salisbury Museum.

A British Museum touring exhibition, Writing for Eternity: Decoding Ancient Egypt, opens on Saturday.


Ilona Regulski, the British Museum’s curator of Egyptian Written Culture, said: “Ancient Egypt has produced an astonishing variety of written material representing indigenous as well as foreign languages.

"No other culture has yielded such a rich variety of inscribed objects and nowhere else have they been so well preserved.”

She said the exhibition presents the ancient hieroglyphs next to Coptic, Greek, Arabic and Nubian documents.

This exhibition was running in Wales last year at this time.

What women want – according to a medieval Talmudist

GENIZA FRAGMENT OF THE MONTH (MAY 2016): What women want (most)? A feminist reading of the Talmud from the Middle Ages: T-S Ar.18(2).20 (Zvi Stampfer).
The quandary of ‘what women want’ is not a modern one, but is apparently one that has bothered men since time immemorial. An interesting attempt to address this issue was made by a medieval Jewish scholar in his commentary on tractate Qiddushin of the Babylonian Talmud. The Genizah fragment T-S Ar.18(2).20, written in a mixture of Hebrew and Judaeo-Arabic (as well as a few Aramaic quotations), contains part of this commentary.
Past posts noting Cairo Geniza Fragments of the Month in the Cambridge University Library's Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit are here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Report on CSBS/CSPS conference (1) and review of Christian Oxyrhynchus

APOCRYPHICITY: 016 CSBS/CSPS Christian Apocrypha Report, Part 1 (Tony Burke).
But first I will report on the CSPS book review panel dedicated to Christian Oxyrhynchus: Texts, Documents, and Sources (Second through Fourth Centuries) by Lincoln Blumell and Thomas A. Wayment. I was asked to offer a response/review of the book and I was pleased to do so given that so much of our early Christian Apocrypha manuscripts come from Oxyrhynchus. I have reproduced my response below. The authors were present at the session and they, in turn, responded to me. So, keep reading to see what they had to say about my comments.
Past posts on the reviewed book are here and here. Cross-file under New Testament Apocrypha Watch.

Cambridge exhibition video

VIDEO: Lines of Thought: Communicating Faith.
Some of the world’s most important religious texts are currently on display in Cambridge as part of Cambridge University Library’s 600th anniversary exhibition – Lines of Thought: Discoveries that Changed the World.

As part of its 600th celebrations, the University Library has made a series of six films – one for each of the six themes explored in Lines of Thought – with the latest film: Communicating Faith taking a close look at some iconic religious treasures across all the major faiths including Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

The oldest item in Communicating Faith is a text for prayer, the so-called Nash Papyrus. Dating from the second century before Christ, the fragments on display in Cambridge contain the Ten Commandments and until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, it was the oldest surviving manuscript of any part of the Hebrew Bible.

However, one of the oldest and perhaps the most valuable items in the Library’s collections – and perhaps one of the stars of Lines of Thought – is a recovered text called the Codex Zacynthius.

Codex Zacynthius is a parchment book where the leaves have been scraped and rewritten (a palimpsest). What they rewrote was an 11th or 12th century text from the gospels, but underneath it is a very early text of the gospel of St Luke. This very early undertext was first deciphered in the 19th century. It’s now possible, using modern imaging techniques, to get a much more precise image of what this book would have looked like when it was written in the 6th or 7th century. Work will continue on the codex when the exhibition comes to an end in September.

Past posts on the Nash Papyrus are here, here, here (this one also on the Cambridge exhibition), and links. Both layers of Codex Zacynthius are written in Greek. Past posts on palimpsests are collected here. Cross-file under Technology Watch. The Communicating Faith video is here:

Monday, May 30, 2016

Pinheiro and Montiglio (eds.), Philosophy and the Ancient Novel

Marília P.​ Futre Pinheiro, Silvia Montiglio (ed.), Philosophy and the Ancient Novel. Ancient Narrative Supplementum 20. Groningen: Barkhuis: Groningen University Library, 2015. Pp. xiii, 179. ISBN 9789491431890. €80.00.

Reviewed by Antonio Donato, Queens College, CUNY (

Preview pdf

This book contains ten articles selected from among various papers presented at the fourth International Conference on the Ancient Novel held in Lisbon in 2008. It belongs to the series Ancient Narrative Supplementa published by Barkhuis, which constitutes an on-going effort to further the scholarship on ancient novels. Philosophy and the Ancient Novel is the second book in this series devoted to the study of the role of philosophy in ancient fiction; the other, Philosophical Presences in the Ancient Novel, appeared in 2007. The two books can be regarded as somewhat complementary. The overarching goal of Philosophical Presences is to identify specific philosophical theories that appear, often in somewhat disguised forms, in some ancient novels. The main focus of Philosophy and the Ancient Novel is to determine why and how ancient novelists made use of particular philosophical theories in their works.

Connections with ancient Judaism are indirect, but present. Most obviously, one chapter is on Philostratus' Life of Apollonius of Tyana, which is often compared to the New Testament Gospels.

Jenkins on the Enoch Seminar

PHILIP JENKINS: The Enoch Seminar (The Anxious Bench).
So what does the Enoch Seminar do? It describes its topic areas as “Second Temple Judaism, Christian, Rabbinic and Islamic Origins,” and that staggeringly broad reach is deliberate. The basic theme is that the Jewish world between, say, 300 BC and 200 AD, included a great many ideas and themes, some of which fit well into standard and orthodox views of Jewish history, but others would be viewed as Christian, Jewish-Christian, Gnostic or Jewish-sectarian.
A good brief overview of the work of the Enoch Seminar, of which I have been a member since 2003. I shall be attending the 6th Nageroni Enoch Seminar next month in Camaldoli, Italy. It's topic is John the Jew: Reading the Gospel of John’s Christology as a Form of Jewish Messianism, and I shall be responding to a paper by Catrin Williams. James McGrath will also be presenting a paper. Past reports on Enoch Seminars I have attended are here and links.

Review of Collins, The Scepter and the Star (2nd ed.)

EXPLORING OUR MATRIX: The Scepter and the Star (James McGrath).
I am grateful to Eerdmans for having sent me a free review copy of the second edition of John J. Collins’ book The Scepter and the Star: Messianism in Light of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Anyone familiar with the first edition will already know that the book at the very least retains its value even without any updates. But Collins has gone through and updated references and interaction with secondary literature, as well as adding some new material, in particular an excursus on Israel Knohl’s The Messiah Before Jesus.

As I gear up for the Enoch Seminar on the Gospel of John and/as Jewish messianism in June, reading the second edition of Collins’ book seemed an appropriate way to remind myself of key relevant material. But I found that the book did much more than merely remind. Instead, its treatment seemed fresh and new, as well as thoroughly up to date. The key ancient sources are all given ample discussion, with consideration of a full range of scholarly views and disagreements. Not only the standard Dead Sea Scrolls that are always mentioned, but relatively neglected ones like the “self-exaltation hymn,” are discussed, as are 1 Enoch, 4 Ezra, the Psalms of Solomon, Josephus, and many other texts.


The Hachi Garsinan Talmud app

THERE'S AN APP FOR THAT: Digitized Talmud and mobile app to be launched. The new project includes all known textual variants of the Talmud and allows researchers, scholars and Talmud students to easily compare the different texts side by side (, Jerusalem Post).
An online, digitized repository of the entire Babylonian Talmud called Hachi Garsinan will be launched on Monday in what its developers have described as a revolution for Talmud study.

Uniquely, the project includes all known textual variants of the Babylonian Talmud and allows researchers, scholars and students to easily compare the different texts side by side, as well as highlighting the differences between each version.

The name, Hachi Garsinan, is an Aramaic term used by the medieval Talmudic scholar Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki, known as Rashi, to indicate that there existed an alternative version of the Talmudic text which made more sense contextually than the standard wording.

The complete text of the Talmud was finally compiled in 500 CE, but textual variations between written manuscripts occurred before the era of the printing press and the first printing of the entire Talmud which took place in Venice in 1523.

Five hundred CE sounds early to me. Talmudists tell me that the text of the Babylonian Talmud was set in more like the tenth century CE, although the matters to which it refers do pertain mostly to 500 and earlier.

This is not the first Talmud app: there's one for the iPhone, on which more here and here and links. But this new one seems to have a considerably more comprehensive compendium of textual variants. Cross-file under Talmud Watch.

Assyrian symposium at Library of Congress

ARAMAIC WATCH: Symposium on Assyrian Culture and History to Be Held At Library of Congress.
(AINA) -- A symposium titled Assyrian Legacy: From Ancient Civilization to Modern Cultural Revival will be held on June 10 in Washington at the U.S. Library of Congress, located at the historic Thomas Jefferson building on 101 Independence Avenue SE.

The symposium, sponsored by the Assyrian Universal Alliance, is comprised of three sessions on topics related to the history of the Assyrians. Dr. Mary-Jane Deeb, the chief of the African and Middle Eastern Division at the Library of Congress, will open the symposium.

Follow the link for the schedule. The symposium is wide ranging, dealing with ancient Assyriology (the study of Akkadian cuneiform on clay tablets) to ancient Syriac to speakers of modern Aramaic in twentieth-century Iraq and in the present day.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Beautiful Josephus

BIBLE PLACES BLOG: Most Beautiful Edition of Josephus’s Jewish War (Todd Bolen).
Carta has just released what is likely the most beautiful and most useful edition of Josephus’s The Jewish War ever printed. Here’s why I think this is the edition you (and your students) will want to read ...
Be forewarned that the translation used in the edition is the very out-of-date eighteenth-century one by Whiston. So if you get this edition — and the maps and photos etc. do sound very useful — be sure also to invest in a modern translation for actual reading.

Hurtado on Stuckenbruck on 1 Enoch

LARRY HURTADO: 1 Enoch: Reception and Usage.
For anyone interested in the writing known as 1 Enoch (and any NT student has to be in today’s world), there is a splendid review of reception and usage of the writing in ancient Jewish tradition and in early and modern (Ethiopian) Christianity: Loren T. Stuckenbruck, “The Book of Enoch: Its Reception in Second Temple Jewish and in Christian Tradition,” Early Christianity 4 (2013): 7-40.

I have recently mentioned Professor Stuckenbruck's important work on 1 Enoch. He is also translating the Aramaic fragments of the Book of Giants for volume 2 of the More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project.

New spells from Oxyrhynchus

ANCIENT MAGIC: Ancient 'Mad Libs' Papyri Contain Evil Spells of Sex and Subjugation (Owen Jarus, LiveScience).
Ancient, magical spells of love, subjugation and sex: It may sound like a "Game of Thrones" episode, but these evildoings are also found on two recently deciphered papyri from Egypt dating to around 1,700 years ago.

One spell invokes the gods to "burn the heart" of a woman until she loves the spell caster, said Franco Maltomini of the University of Udine in Italy, who translated the two spells. Another spell, targeted at a male, uses a series of magical words to "subject" him, forcing him to do whatever the caster wants.

The two spells were not targeted at a specific person. Rather, they were written in such a way that the person who cast the spell would only need to insert the name of the person being targeted — sort of like an ancient "Mad Libs." [In Photos: Two Ancient Curses Discovered in Italy]

Researchers date the two spells to the third century A.D., but the names of the ancient spell writers are unknown. The spells are written in Greek, a language widely used in Egypt at the time.

Archaeologists Bernard Grenfell and Arthur Hunt discovered the spells in Oxyrhynchus, Egypt, more than 100 years ago, among a haul of hundreds of thousands of papyri. Over the past century, scientists have gradually studied and translated the papyri. Many of them are now owned by the Egypt Exploration Society and are housed and studied at the University of Oxford in England.

Greco-Egyptian magical literature was generally of pagan origin, but it was also generally heavily influenced by Jewish and Christian religious traditions. I suspect that some of those "magical words" mentioned above would show such influence. They usually do. And the article mentions later on that "The deciphered love spell invokes several gnostic gods." Gnosticism originated (in my humble opinion) as a late-antique Christian movement, but one that, again, was familiar with many Jewish traditions. Late antique esoteric religious traditions, like their analogous New Age counterparts today, were very eclectic.

For many, many, past posts on the Oxyrhynchus papyri, start here and follow the links.


YONA SABAR: Hebrew word of the week: Salt/Melah.

Ritmeyer on the Jerusalem tunnels

LEEN RITMEYER: Underground Jerusalem. Some expert commentary on Nir Hasson's recent Haaretz article with the same title, which I noted and commented on here.