Saturday, August 27, 2016

Review of Fisher (ed.), Arabs and Empires before Islam

Greg Fisher (ed.), Arabs and Empires before Islam. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2015. Pp. xxvii, 580. ISBN 9780199654529. $225.00.

Reviewed by Hamish Cameron, Bates College (

Arabs and Empires before Islam seeks to illuminate the pre-Islamic Arabs and their relationship to the empires and kingdoms which surrounded them. The chapters, each of which has been written by an ensemble of scholars, examine a variety of mostly written evidence from multiple traditions, most originating in geographically, politically and chronologically adjacent contexts. Archaeological evidence plays a part in this volume, as do writings by pre-islamic Arab authors themselves.

This chapter in particular caught my eye:
Chapter 7 (Provincia Arabia: Nabataea, the Emergence of Arabic as a Written Language, and Graeco-Arabia) addresses the life of the Roman province of Arabia from its annexation to its loss. In the first section (Petra and Ḥegrā between the Roman annexation and the coming of Islam), Zbigniew T. Fiema and Laïla Nehmé survey the Roman annexation of the region. They explore the administration, urbanization, and economic development of the province as well as the relationships between the Roman province and peripheral Arab groups and the impact of Christianity on the region. This section is based mostly on archaeological evidence. The second section, “The Emergence of Arabic as a Written Language”, examines the textual evidence for the province. Michael C. A. MacDonald begins by discussing how cultural norms around language use and writing may have affected the development of written Arabic. He then proceeds through a close philological commentary of inscriptions in the Nabatean script that illustrate the relationship between Arabic and Aramaic in the region. The section includes a sub-section by Laïla Nehmé on ‘transitional’ Nabataeo-Arabic texts and ends with a discussion of the Greco-Arabica, a loose corpus of Arabic words transliterated into the Greek script that allows access to otherwise unknown aspects of pronunciation and meaning.
Cross-file under Nabatean (Nabataean) Watch. Some posts thematically related to the book are collected here and here.

Predatory publishers

BEWARE: Beall’s List: Potential, possible, or probable predatory scholarly open-access publishers (AWOL).
Anyone wishing to publisher with an open access publisher should choose a publisher carefully. One way to do this is to review Jeffrey Beall's list of predatory publishers ...

Scotland and the Bar Kokhba Revolt

ARCHAEOLOGY: Burnswark's bloody Roman history becomes clearer (Willie Johnston, BBC Scotland).
There's growing evidence that a landmark flat-topped hill in Dumfriesshire was the site of the first major battle of the Roman invasion of Scotland.

Archaeologists have been trying for 300 years to assess the role of Burnswark in the Roman occupation.

New excavations suggest the truth is more bloody than had been thought up to now.


Lead archaeologist Andrew Nicholson believes it was the first assault in the Roman invasion of Scotland around 140 AD.

"What this probably is, is the start of the Antonine push from Hadrian's Wall, conquering all of southern Scotland," he said.

"After the emperor Hadrian has died the new emperor Antoninus Pius needs a victory as the incoming emperor.

"Southern Scotland is beyond the wall, beyond the borders, it is barbarian and Burnswark and the rest of Annandale and everywhere south of the Forth-Clyde line is its intended target."

Now this in itself is an exciting archaeological development. But what, you ask, does it have to do with the Bar Kokhba Revolt, the Jewish revolt against Rome in 132-135 CE? This:
More evidence is the known presence of a general Lollius Urbicus brought here from the Middle East to do the emperor's dirty work.

John Reid of the Roman Heritage group the Trimontium Trust says Urbicus had "previous".

"He made his name in the Jewish war which had taken place in Israel in the previous four years where they had literally gone through the whole of Judea taking hill forts one after the other," he said.

"He was given the job of taking Scotland, we know that from Roman literary sources.

"So he was here and this is where they blood their troops."
More on Urbicus is here.

4 Ezra 5:21-6:34

READING ACTS: Ezra’s Second Vision – 4 Ezra 5:21-6:34. The earlier posts in the series on 4 Ezra have been noted here and link.

Cross-file under Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Watch.

More on that Philistine cemetery in Ashkelon

INTERVIEW: One on One with…Adam Aja, museum curator and senior staff member of Ashkelon dig (Wayne E. Rivet, The Bridgton News).
Adam Aja knows what it is like to find a needle in a haystack, sort of.

Working several summers in Israel as an Assistant Director of Field Operations at Ashkelon, the former Bridgton resident made a startling find at the end of one dig period.

Through the help of a co-worker using an excavator, Aja uncovered a Philistine cemetery, the first major burial site discovered in the area, ever. Further excavation over the next year resulted in unearthing 200 fully-articulated skeletons laid out in burial positions, as well as some weapons.

In an i24 television interview, Adam talked about the moment of discovery. The crew was approached by a surveyor, who had found some human remains. He wondered why no one had continued work there.

The story of the discovery and an interview with Aja about the Ashkelon excavation follow.
“It was a crazy two days,” he added. “We just kept finding body after body.”
Background here and links.

Friday, August 26, 2016

PhD thesis by Noah Bickart

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Dissertation Spotlight | Noah Bickart.
This project investigates the meaning and usage of a particular set of linguistically related Talmudic terms in order to show how and in what cultural context the Talmud began to take shape in the emerging scholastic centers of rabbinic learning in late Sassanian Babylonia.
Sounds interesting, but I kept wondering what the title of the dissertation is.

Bauckham Festschrift

In the Fullness of Time: Essays on Christology, Creation,and Eschatology in Honor of Richard Bauckham (ed. Daniel Gurtner, Grant Macaskill, Jonathan Pennington; Eerdmans, 2016).

Over the course of his distinguished career Richard Bauckham has made pioneering contributions to diverse areas of scholarship ranging from ethics and contemporary issues to hermeneutical problems and theology, often drawing together disciplines and fields of research all too commonly kept separate from one another. In this volume some of the most eminent figures in modern biblical and theological scholarship present essays honoring Bauckham. Addressing a variety of subjects related to Christology, creation, and eschatology, the contributors develop elements of Bauckham's biblical and theological work further, present fresh research of their own to complement his work, and raise critical questions.
My essay, "The Book of Revelation and the Hekhalot Literature," is published on pp. 215-28. You can read an earlier version of it here (with this). Congratulations to Richard Bauckham for a well-deserved honor.

Results of inscription survey

THE BIBLE PLACES BLOG: Favorite Ancient Inscription Results Todd Bolen gives the main results of the survey noted here. I did think about the Mesha Stele (Todd's favorite), but in the end I voted for the Balaam inscription from Tel Deir 'Alla. Todd quotes my reasoning in the post.

A couple of past posts involving the Balaam inscription are here and here. A recent English translation is by Edward M. Cook in Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: More Noncanonical Scriptures, volume 1 (ed. Bauckham, Davila, and Panayotov; Eerdmans, 2013), pp. 236-43.

By the way, the seal of Baruch the scribe is widely regarded to be a forgery. (See here and here and links.)

4 Ezra 3:1-5:20

READING ACTS: Ezra’s First Vision – 4 Ezra 3:1-5:20. The first post in the series on 4 Ezra (2 Esdras) was noted here.

Cross-file under Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Watch.

Early Judaism and Christianity job at McMaster University

H-JUDAIC: JOB: McMaster University, Assistant Professor, Early Judaism and Early Christianity. Follow the link for further particulars. The committee will begin reviewing applications on 15 October and plans to interview at the AAR/SBL annual meeting in November.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

On crossing the Jordan

NEWS YOU CAN USE: Seven Fascinating Facts about Crossing the Jordan River (Todd Bolen, Bible Places Blog.
I had the opportunity to read a pre-publication draft of an article that David Z. Moster has written on crossing the Jordan River in antiquity. I found it a fascinating study, and I asked him if I could share some of his excellent research with you, and he kindly agreed.

Introducing 4 Ezra (2 Esdras)

READING ACTS: A Christian Introduction to 4 Ezra. We move to a new text in Phil Long's pseudepigrapha series. In this post he deals with the larger Ezra document that includes the Jewish text 4 Ezra and the Christian texts 5 Ezra and 6 Ezra. The three are found together in the Latin translation, which as a whole is generally known as 2 Esdras.

Past PaleoJudaica posts on the ancient Ezra literature (these three books and more!) are collected here [transposed links - here and first in next sentence - now fixed.]. And subsequent past posts on 4 Ezra are here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. A post on 6 Ezra is here. Cross-file under Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Watch.


YONA SABAR: Hebrew word of the week: Nasi’/President.

An little footnote to this word. The second-century head of the failed second revolt against Rome, Shimon Bar Kokhba (Bar Kosiba) was also addressed by his followers with the title Nasi’, "prince" or (anachronistically) "president." In 1960, when archaeologist Yigael Yadin announced the discovery of the Bar Kokhba letters, he made the announcement in the residence of the President of Israel and in the hearing of the President. Yadin showed a slide of of one of the letters and said (in Hebrew), "Your Excellency, I am honored to be able to tell you that we have discovered fifteen despatches written or dictated by the last President of ancient Israel, 1800 years ago."*

*Yadin, Bar-Kokhba: The Rediscovery of the Legendary Hero of the Second Jewish Revolt Against Rome (New York: Random House, 1971), untitled opening statement.

Cue the Holy Hand Grenade jokes

A RELIC: Crusader-era grenade dug out of central Israel home. Family shows metal artifacts retrieved from sea by late father, including knife-head some 3,500 years old (Sue Surkes, Times of Israel).
The early grenade would have been filled with Greek fire, sealed and hurled at an enemy, a weapon common in Israel from the 11th to 14th centuries CE.

It was used during the Crusader, Ayyubid and Mamluk periods, according to the IAA.

The Bogomils of Bosnia

POST-ANTIQUITY GNOSTICISM: The Bogomils of Bosnia: Forgotten gnostics (AYŞE BETÜL KAYAHAN, Daily Sabah).
Bogomilism was a Gnostic dualistic sect, whose religious doctrines borrowed from the belief system of the Paulicians and the Manichaeans. Bogomilism is thought to originate from the teachings of a village priest named Bogomil who lived in Macedonia, whose name means "friend of God" or "beloved of God." The priest Bogomil would criticize the wealthy priests and nobles, calling them the servants of the devil. He would refer to the Gospel while preaching about the differences in life style between Jesus Christ and wealthy priests. Poor people living in the Byzantine-controlled Macedonia and Thracian regions followed Bogomil teachings, and later organized under the rule of Peter I of Bulgaria as a reactionary group opposing oppression from political and clerical authorities. Although the Bogomils flourished in Bulgaria, their teachings expanded to areas in the Byzantine Empire, Serbia, Bosnia, Italy and France.
For more on the Bogomils, and why PaleoJudaica is interested in them, see here and links.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

A brief history of ancient Israel

NEWS YOU CAN USE: Ancient Israel: A Brief History (Owen Jarus, LiveScience). A nice little survey of the history of Israel up to the Bar Kokhba revolt, with attention to relevant inscriptions and archaeology.

The Apocalypse of Zephaniah

READING ACTS: What is the Apocalypse of Zephaniah?
Since the book refers to both Daniel 3 and the apocryphal Susanna, implying a date no earlier than 100 B.C. The author was a Jew living in a Greek speaking Diaspora community. The book appears to have been used in the Coptic Apocalypse of Paul, found in Upper Egypt. E. A. Budge includes this in his Miscellaneous Texts in the Dialect of Upper Egypt (London 1915) but carefully distinguishes this Apocalypse of Paul from the Nag Hammadi text of the same name. There is nothing uniquely Christian in the text, despite the fact Christians preserved the text.
Regarding the provenance: this is a book written in a Christian language, transmitted in a Christian manuscript tradition, used in Christian circles, and showing no distinctively Jewish features. What is the evidence that it is a Jewish text? I'm willing to be convinced, but I'd like to see some arguments. There being "nothing uniquely Christian" is not an argument. The text is written in the name of an Old Testament character and a Christian writer might well have left out obviously Christian ideas to avoid anachronism. Start with the cultural context of the manuscripts you actually have and work backwards to other origins only as required by positive evidence.

I've dealt with these issues at length in my book The Provenance of the Pseudepigrapha: Jewish, Christian, or Other? (Brill, 2005) and more briefly in an article in the Expository Times 117 (2005), pp. 53-57: The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha as Background to the New Testament. Or, for free, in my British New Testament Conference paper back in 2002: Jewish Pseudepigrapha and Christian Apocrypha: How Can We Tell Them Apart.

Cross-file under Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Watch.

Your favorite inscription?

THE BIBLE PLACES BLOG: Reader Survey: Favorite Ancient Inscription. Todd Bolen brings us another survey. I have voted. I'll tell you which inscription I picked after he closes the survey and posts on the results.

Hurtado on early Jewish opposition to Jesus-devotion

LARRY HURTADO: Early Jewish Opposition to Jesus-Devotion?. He summarizes the evidence (from lateral readings of New Testament texts), based on his 1999 article with the same title.

Review of Bitner, Paul's Political Strategy in 1 Corinthians 1-4

Bradley J. Bitner, Paul's Political Strategy in 1 Corinthians 1-4: Constitution and Covenant. Society for New Testament Studies monograph series, 163. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015. Pp. 358. ISBN 9781107088481. $99.99.

Reviewed by Timothy Luckritz Marquis, Moravian Theological Seminary (


Amidst a number of fields pooling their resources to examine early Christianity and the interaction of law and life, Bradley Bitner’s important book shows how Paul evoked the ways laws were constitutively embodied in Corinth’s physical space in order to renovate understandings of community and authority. Bitner argues that 1 Corinthians draws on language of colonial politeiai and juxtaposes with it God’s new constitution or “covenant.” Colonial constitutions not only lay beneath a city’s conceptual understanding and functioning but also physically dominated urban centers as monumental inscriptions. The provisions of a politeia similarly grounded practices of monumental thanksgiving for patronage, practices that functioned as reconstitutions of communal bonds. Against this background, Paul’s language of testimonial in 1 Cor 1:4-9 recycles such language to portray Christ as a patron whose benefits were testified to by Paul’s preaching and are to be confirmed in the eschatological future. Further, Paul’s intricate depiction of the community as a building or “temple” and himself as a “wise architect” (1 Cor 3:5-4:5) reconfigures his audience’s understanding of status and authority, grounded again in constitutional provisions for public building. As such, Paul addresses factionalism by imaginatively constructing a new community using the language of constitution and its monumental expressions. Throughout the book, Bitner judiciously and with agility traverses among literary, epigraphical, and archaeological evidence to create a space in which to understand anew how Paul’s communities creatively inhabited their civic space.


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Review of Neusner biography

BOOK REVIEW: IS IT TIME TO TAKE THE MOST-PUBLISHED MAN IN HUMAN HISTORY SERIOUSLY? A new biography of Jacob Neusner examines his ‘complicated, colorful, and unappreciated intellectual life’ (Shaul Magid, Tablet).
... Thankfully, Aaron Hughes, the author of an extensive study of Neusner’s scholarly work on religion titled Jacob Neusner on Religion: The Example of Judaism, chose the second option in his Jacob Neusner: An American Jewish Iconoclast (NYU Press), which navigates through the often-turbulent waters of a complicated, colorful, and in many ways unappreciated, intellectual life.


There is a joke that in 200 years when scholars study Neusner they will think Neusner was a “school” and not a person. No one would imagine one individual could have produced that much work in such disparate areas, from late antique Judaism to the Holocaust, Zionism, Jewish-Christian relations, higher education, the humanities, and American politics (just to name a few). Hughes notes in his conclusion that Neusner may be “the most important American-born Jewish thinker this country has produced.” It is a huge claim, for sure, and therefore contestable, but upon reflection, it is actually quite reasonable.
Neuser isn't the most-published author in human history (see this list), but his output has been massive and, in many areas of Jewish studies, massively influential. This longish article surveys his intellectual background and influence.

More on the Galilean stone workshop

THE RECENTLY-DISCOVERED ANCIENT GALILEAN STONE WORKSHOP has been covered in two articles that include photos and more information:

Excavations in Galilee reveal 2,000 year-old stone factory. An ancient Jewish “Stone Age”? Ariel University unearths a 2,000 year-old stone vessel production center in the Galilee (Arutz Sheva).

Jewish ‘Stone Age’ factory from time of Jesus surfaces in Galilee. Near site where biblical figure is said to have turned water to wine, 2,000-year-old workshop for stone vessels comes to light (Ilan Ben Zion, Times of Israel).

Thanks to Joseph Lauer for noting these.

Background here.

On ancient magic

NEWS YOU CAN USE: A Guide to Ancient Magic. In antiquity, love or revenge was just a spell away (Erin Blakemore, SMITHSONIAN.COM).
Call it a happy accident: When a group of Serbian archaeologists recently uncovered a cache of 2,000-year-old skeletons, they unearthed a set of mysterious scrolls covered with Aramaic curses, too. As Reuters reports, the tiny scrolls were contained in what are thought to be ancient amulets and are covered with spells used in “binding magic” rituals of yore.
No, the curses were not in Aramaic, unless you count the word Abracadabra as Aramaic as well.
While the archaeologists work to decipher the scrolls (a process that could never be complete), why not take a moment to catch up on what historians already know about ancient magical rituals?
What follows is not a bad overview of ancient Hellenistic- and Roman-era magic, although it focuses on epigraphic texts and neglects more substantial manuscript discoveries, most notably the Greco-Egyptian Greek Magical Papyri.

There's more on the Serbian amulets here and links.

Ben-Hur bombs

CINEMA: ‘Ben-Hur’ Is Latest Flop for Paramount (BROOKS BARNES, NYT).
” Credit Philippe Antonello/Paramount Pictures
LOS ANGELES — During new pressure on Viacom to turn around Paramount Pictures, the studio misfired again over the weekend: “Ben-Hur,” which cost Paramount and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer about $100 million to make, not including marketing expenses, arrived to a disastrous $11.4 million in domestic ticket sales.

Ouch. And an article from late yesterday updates the chariot wreck: 'Ben-Hur' box office took an even worse turn Monday (Bryan Alexander, USA TODAY , KHOU).
On Sunday, Paramount reported already-bleak estimates that had the remake of the 1959 classic opening at No. 5 with a paltry $11.35 million.

But revised official numbers found the saga actually made $11.2 million, knocking it out of the psychologically important top-five position.
It never looked like a particularly promising film, but I was expecting it to do better than that. Another Hollywood remake fail.

Background here and links.

Review of Jobes, Discovering the Septuagint

READING ACTS: Book Review: Karen H. Jobes, Discovering the Septuagint.
Jobes, Karen H., ed. Discovering the Septuagint: A Guided Reader. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Academic, 2016. 351 pp. Hb; $20.00.
I noted the book here when it came out earlier this year. And see also here.

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Apocryphon of Ezekiel, frags. 2-5

READING ACTS: The Apocryphon of Ezekiel, Fragments 2-5. William Brown also has a post from last year on the Apocryphon of Ezekiel at the Biblical Review Blog: Pseudepigrapha Saturday: The Apocryphon of Ezekiel. An earlier post on the subject at Reading Acts is noted here, with additional information from me which not noted in either of the other blogs.

Cross-file under Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Watch.

Sabar to be at Unbelievable Past conference

LIV INGEBORG LIED: Fragments of an Unbelievable Past program update. Ariel Sabar will be there. There's more on the conference here and links.

The Ancient Susiya Synagogue

PHOTO OF THE DAY: The Ancient Susiya Synagogue (Jewish Press). Past posts involving the Susiya Synagogue are here and here.

Ancient stone workshop found in Galilee

ARCHAEOLOGY: Ancient Stone Workshop Found in Galil (Harmodia).
YERUSHALAYIM - Archaeological excavations conducted in the Galil have uncovered an ancient subterranean quarry and industrial workshop for the production of stone vessels, Arutz Sheva reported on Sunday.

Dr. Yonatan Adler of Ariel University said the finds, believed to be some 2,000 years old, were discovered at a site called Einot Amitai, near Nazareth.

“Stone vessels played an integral role in the daily religious lives of Jews during this period,” explains Adler, who specializes in ancient Jewish ritual law.

As the article goes on to observe, stone vessels were important in ancient Judaism because they were immune to ritual impurity and did not transmit it.

Talmud set to music

TALMUD WATCH: Composer sets Talmud study to music (norman lebrecht, Slipped Disc).
The marvellous Israeli composer Andre Hajdu, who died at the beginning of this month, was a devout and learned man who saw no contradiction between his religious immersion and his advanced musical ideas.

In this clip from a TV documentary, he takes a familiar passages from the Talmud and works it through with his music students.
Video at the link or here.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Litwa on self-deification

Self-deification in Biblical Texts

Since the Enlightenment, many scholars have tried to extract the “real” history from mythicized characters in Jewish and Christian literature. They have aimed to reconstruct the true (or most historically plausible) Jesus, Simon of Samaria, and so on. I too wish to distinguish history (roughly: an account of what happened) from mythic themes permeating historiographical discourse. But I do not treat these themes as somehow secondary or unimportant. To the contrary, they are all-important, because myth, if truly myth, becomes our reality and shapes our sense of who we are.

See Also: Desiring Divinity: Self-deification in Early Jewish and Christian Mythmaking (Oxford University Press, 2016).

Iesus Deus: The Early Christian Depiction of Jesus as a Mediterranean God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2014).

Becoming Divine: An Introduction to Deification in Western Culture (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2013).

By M. David Litwa
Department of Religion and Culture
Virginia Tech
Blacksburg, VA 24061
August 2016
I noted a review of Iesus Deus here.

Edelman, Fitzpatrick-McKinley, and Guillaume (eds.), Religion in the Achaemenid Persian Empire

BIBLIOGRAPHIA IRANICA: Religion in the Achaemenid Persian Empire. Notice of a new book: Edelman, Diana, Anne Fitzpatrick-McKinley & Philippe Guillaume (eds.). 2016. Religion in the Achaemenid Persian Empire (Orientalische Religionen in der Antike 17). Mohr Siebeck: Tübingen. Part 1 is devoted to "Trends in Emerging Judaisms."

Down with Gothic letters

MANIFESTO: It’s Time to Stop Using Gothic Letters in Textual Criticism (Peter Gurry, ETC Blog).

Review of Fletcher-Louis, Jesus Monotheism

LARRY HURTADO: “Jesus Monotheism”: My Review.
My review of Jesus Monotheism, by Crispin Fletcher-Louis just appeared in Review of Biblical Literature here. This book is volume 1 of a multi-volume project in which Fletcher-Louis aims to lay out a broad-ranging and programmatic analysis of the emergence of devotion to Jesus in earliest circles of what became Christianity.


A critique of "identity"

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Identity, a Way Forward (Perhaps) (Todd Berzon). "Identity" is certainly a concept relevant to the study of ancient Judaism, although the theoretical critique of the concept here does not apply itself specifically to that area of study or, really, to any specific tradition.

I noted Dr. Berzon's review of Johnson, Religion and Identity in Porphyry of Tyre (which is relevant to this new essay) here.