Saturday, October 15, 2016

UNESCO resolution fallout

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Israel suspends cooperation with U.N. cultural agency over Jerusalem resolution (Ruth Eglash, Washington Post).
JERUSALEM — Israel announced Friday that it would suspend cooperation with the top U.N. cultural agency, charging that the international body ignored Jewish ties to its holiest site.

Israeli officials had reacted angrily to a UNESCO draft resolution approved Thursday that criticizes Israel’s actions in and around Jerusalem’s holiest site and fails to explicitly refer to the Jewish connection to the place.

Israel’s Education Minister Naftali Bennett said the UNESCO decision “denies history and encourages terror.”

As I said before, UNESCO is not doing its reputation any good with this one. And I have no praise for the Washington Post for the following (my emphasis):
While acknowledging that the “Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls” are important for “the three monotheistic religions” — Judaism, Islam and Christianity — the resolution stops short of mentioning the significance of the site, where two Jewish temples are believed to have once stood, as holy to Jews.
The phrase "are believed to have" makes the existence sound like religious belief or a matter of faith. Something more robust is called for. The writer could have said, for example, "where archaeologists agree two Jewish temples once stood." More on that here and links.

It is telling that the Director-General of UNESCO felt she had to part ways with this resolution: Head of UNESCO highly critical of Temple Mount and Western Wall resolution (Big News
PARIS, France - UNESCO’s Director-General Irina Bokova has broken ranks with the international body she heads, criticising this week's 24-6 vote to designate the Temple Mount and its Western Wall as a purely Muslim religious site.

"As I have stated on many occasions, and most recently during the 40th session of the World Heritage Committee, Jerusalem is the sacred city of the three monotheistic religions - Judaism, Christianity and Islam," she said Friday. "It is in recognition of this exceptional diversity, and this cultural and religious coexistence, that it was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list."

"The heritage of Jerusalem is indivisible, and each of its communities has a right to the explicit recognition of their history and relationship with the city. To deny, conceal or erase any of the Jewish, Christian or Muslim traditions undermines the integrity of the site, and runs counter to the reasons that justified its inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage list."

Good for her.

Background here and links.

Review of Lin, The Erotic Life of Manuscripts

Yii-Jan Lin, The Erotic Life of Manuscripts: New Testament Textual Criticism and the Biological Sciences. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016. Pp. xi, 203. ISBN 9780190279806. $74.00.

Reviewed by Hugh Houghton, Institute for Textual Scholarship and Electronic Editing, University of Birmingham (


Those who fail to find textual criticism a “sexy” subject may be surprised by the title of this volume and the image of a woman, naked but for a crumpled bedsheet, which graces its dustjacket. Lin’s contention is that, from the early eighteenth century onwards, editors of the New Testament have been inspired by parallel developments in the natural sciences. What is more, she suggests that their adoption of biological vocabulary to describe the classification of manuscripts into “families” and “tribes”, or to assess their “contamination”, has resulted in a pseudo-scientific approach which has in turn shaped the discipline. Such a claim is particularly significant at the present time, when large datasets of textual differences are being analysed using phylogenetic software developed for evolutionary biology and the characteristics of a text may be described as its DNA. The conceit that manuscripts have an “erotic life” is intended to prompt consideration of the implications of metaphors in text-critical terminology, including scribal attempts to “reproduce” an exemplar and the description of textual “relationships”. Insofar as this book avoids overinterpreting the evidence or advocating a specific agenda, it contributes innovative and thought-provoking reflections on the history and practice of textual scholarship.



YONA SABAR: Hebrew Word of the Week: mo‘ed “appointed time, holiday.” Again, timely, for this time of year.

Beirut Museum galleries reopen

PHOENICIAN WATCH: National Museum of Beirut opens basement for first time since civil war. Gallery of ancient funerary art restored with Italian support (Hannah McGivern, The Art Newspaper).
The National Museum of Beirut, which stood on the deadly Green Line during the Lebanese civil war, has reopened fully to the public after more than 40 years. On 7 October, the Lebanese prime minister Tammam Salam and the Italian foreign minister Paolo Gentiloni inaugurated the restored basement galleries dedicated to Lebanon’s ancient funerary art. The project was funded more than €1m by the Italian government and supported by Italian conservators.


The new underground displays range from prehistory to the Ottoman Empire and include 31 Phoenician anthropoid sarcophagi carved in marble (sixth-century BC to fourth-century BC), the world’s largest such collection, and the second-century Roman tomb of Tyre, whose frescoed surfaces were restored by Italian conservators in 2010-11. Three Medieval mummies are also on view after analysis and restoration at the Eurac research centre in Bolzano, Italy.

I hope everything continues to stay safe.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Josephus and the Hasmoneans

A History of the Hasmonean State: Josephus and Beyond

Josephus cautiously avoided messianism in his history of the Has- monean period. He appears to have been reluctant to document any Hasmonean history that involved the violent messianism of the type that had contributed to the outbreak of the First Jewish War. Instead, he stresses that the Hasmonean family’s rule had gone well until they had established a monarchy and allowed sectarian factions to influence politics. Josephus wrote his books partly to support the aristocracy, namely the rule of the Pharisees and their leaders. For Josephus, these groups represented caution and Roman aristocratic values. They were opposed to the religious zeal of the Zealots and related Jewish groups that had caused the rebellion against Rome. For Josephus, the priests and the aristocrats were the only legitimate Jewish leaders.

Chapter from: A History of the Hasmonean State: Josephus and Beyond (Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016).

See Also: Queen Salome: Jerusalem's Forgotten Warrior Monarch

The Historical-Critical Historical/Theological Enterprise: Why Are We Asking These Questions?

By Kenneth Atkinson
Department of History
University of Northern Iowa
Cedar Falls, IA
October 2016

New UNESCO resolution passes

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: UNESCO passes resolution denying Jewish ties to Jerusalem holy sites (i24news).
Only six countries vote against contentious resolution claiming Temple Mount is sacred only to Muslims

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on Thursday passed a contentious anti-Israel resolution denying Jewish connections to the Temple Mount and Western Wall in Jerusalem.

24 UNESCO member states voted in favor of the resolution, 26 abstained, and only six countries voted against.

The proposal, put forth by the Palestinians, along with Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar and Sudan, condemns Israel on several issues related to Jerusalem and its holy sites.

The article summarizes the objectionable details of language of the resolution. The media is already covering a lot of early responses, and a lot of criticism of UNESCO is coming in. I don't think they did their reputation any good with this one.

Background here.


THE ANXIOUS BENCH: L is for Lazarus (Philip Jenkins). Did John's Lazarus come from a parable or was he made into one by Luke?

Review of MacDonald, Hannibal

PUNIC WATCH: Hannibal's Heel. Why Carthage failed and Rome succeeded (J. E. Lendon, Weekly Standard).
It is a symptom of the deplorable state of intellectual life today that readers of this magazine can guess the lineaments of the story told in Hannibal the instant they read early in its pages that classical Carthage, the city on whose behalf the great captain of the title fought against Rome, was “diverse" and "multicultural."

To whatever degree bigoted contemporary observers regarded Carthage as brutal in its politics and religion, oppressive to its subjects, aggressive to its neighbors, and sly in its relations with foreign powers, a city boasting those two glittering qualities nearly divinized by our educators must have been, instead, kind and scrupulous in its dealings foreign and domestic, and victimized in its innocence by less politically correct nations. The countless newborn babies and small children the Carthaginians sacrificed to their gods—the remains of more than 20,000 have been found in Carthage alone— fade into no more than a single facet of the glorious cultural mosaic that was Carthage. And none of this needs to be proved, or even argued, by the author, who is also free to commit no few errors of fact: for a diverse and multicultural people are the good guys by definition, and a writer who sings their virtues is liberated from the dull grind of historical accuracy by the purity of her ideals.

Ouch. Earlier reviews of the book (Eve MacDonald, Hannibal: A Hellenistic Life) were noted here and here.

Younger, A Political History of the Arameans

ARAMAIC WATCH: New Book: A Political History of the Arameans (A. D. Riddle, The Bible Places Blog).
At the end of last week, after a lengthy delay, we were happy finally to get our grubby mitts on Lawson Younger’s newest book, A Political History of the Arameans: From Their Origins to the End of Their Polities (Atlanta: SBL, 2016).


Thursday, October 13, 2016

Texan Mandean update

MANDEAN (MANDAEAN) WATCH: Mandaean Mexican Restaurant in San Antonio (James McGrath). To the attention of all Aramaists (and anyone else) attending the Society of Biblical Literature meetings next month. Sounds remote, but I may try to make it there.

Background here. Thanks, James, for the update.

The ending of Mark

ETC BLOG: Mark 16 on a Roll (Peter Gurry). It makes sense to me that the first parts of a scroll to wear out would be the beginning and the end. As the post acknowledges, it is an open question whether that tells us anything about whether the original ending of the Gospel of Mark was lost.

Another UNESCO resolution

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: UNESCO Poised to Pass Resolution Casting Doubt on Jewish Ties to Temple Mount. Israel attempts to convince as many states as possible to oppose the resolution, but only few are swayed; Foreign Ministry issues brochure proving historic affiliation between the Jews and Jerusalem (Barak Ravid, Haaretz).
The 58 members of UNESCO are expected to vote Thursday on an anti-Israeli resolution that disregards Judaism’s historic connection to the Temple Mount and casts doubt on the link between Judaism and the Western Wall. The resolution is expected to pass by a large majority.

Israel has made efforts to block the resolution or at least soften it, but succeeded only in swaying the positions of a few member states.

The resolution proposal, which condemns Israel on several issues regarding Jerusalem and its holy sites, was advanced by the Palestinians alongside Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar and Sudan. The draft resolution, a copy of which was obtained by Haaretz, asserts that Jerusalem is holy to the three monotheistic religions: Judaism, Islam and Christianity. However, it includes a special section dealing with the Temple Mount, which says the site is sacred only to Muslims and fails to mention that it is sacred to the Jews as well. In fact, it mentions neither the Hebrew term for the site – Har HaBayit – nor its English equivalent, the Temple Mount. The site is referred to only by its Muslim names – Al-Aqsa Mosque and Haram al-Sharif.

Also, the resolution calls the Western Wall plaza by the Arab-Muslim name al-Buraq plaza. Only afterward does the Hebrew-Jewish name “Hakotel Hama’aravi” appear in quotation marks.

You can read the full draft text of the resolution at the link. Much of it concerns matters on which I have limited or no information, so I will not comment on the substance. The wording does seem significantly slanted away from any recognition of a Jewish connection to the site of the Temple Mount, although this is almost entirely a matter of omission rather than assertion.

More on the previous UNESCO resolution on the subject is here and links.

Frankincense discovery

TECHNOLOGY WATCH: Lifting the veil on Queen of Sheba's perfume (Popular Archaeology).
It is one of the oldest fragrances in the world. Nicolas Baldovini's team at the Institut de chimie de Nice (CNRS/UNS) has just discovered the components that give frankincense its distinctive odor: two molecules found for the first time in nature, named “olibanic acids” by the scientists. Their research results* have just been published online, on the website of the journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition.

It is mentioned more than twenty times in the Bible, where it is one of the gifts offered by the Three Wise Men. Frankincense (also called olibanum1), one of the world's oldest fragrances, is a gum resin that exudes from the bark of Boswellia trees, which grow in countries bordering the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. It has been used for more than 6,000 years by every civilization, from Mesopotamia to the present. Regularly burned during religious ceremonies, it contributes to the very particular smell of churches. Despite its long history and the large amount of research dedicated to it, the exact nature of the molecules that give frankincense its distinctive fragrance surprisingly remained unknown.

Until now. Some past posts involving frankincense are here, here, here, here, and here.

New issue of RÉJ

H-JUDAIC: TOC: Revue des études juives 175, 1-2 (janvier-juin 2015). Includes an interesting looking article on historical Jesus research.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Ancient coinage inflation

NUMISMATICS: A high-tech peek into antiquity. Advanced nano-techniques shed new light on the Roman Empire (Kurt Pfitzer, Resolve Magazine 16.2, Lehigh University).
Using the most advanced techniques for analyzing the surfaces of materials, a team of researchers has shed light on the coin-making practices of the Roman Empire and the manner in which Roman coins have corroded over the past 2,000 years.

The study by Lehigh chemical engineers and materials scientists demonstrated that low-energy ions, x-rays and laser lights can be used to analyze archaeological objects without damaging them. And it yielded clues about the environment to which the coins, and the people who handled them, were exposed.

The first part of the article has technical details, but then it goes on to discuss how the technology demonstrates the devaluation of the denarius as the Roman empire declined. Then there is this:
Several years later, Notis teamed with Aaron Shugar, a former postdoctoral researcher at Lehigh, and two other scientists in a study of 700 shekel and half-shekel coins that were minted in the ancient Roman city of Tyre (located in modern-day Lebanon) and recovered half a century ago in Israel.

The researchers used a handheld X-ray fluorescence (XRF) unit, irradiating the coin with an X-ray and measuring the rays reflected back to determine the coins’ overall composition. They confirmed the XRF results with electron probe bulk microanalysis.

The Tyrian shekels, Notis said, circulated during the time of Jesus, when the temple in Jerusalem was the central meeting place for Jews living in the Roman Empire. “Every year, Jews were required to pay a tax to the temple,” he said. “The temple accepted only coins minted in the town of Tyre, which was known for the purity of its silver.

“We wondered what had happened to the silver content of the coinage. Two main hoards of coins from Tyre have been found. One was near Haifa in the village of Isfiya, the other was near Qumran, adjacent to the site where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered.” Several jars of Roman coins in mint condition, similar to the coins investigated in the Lehigh studies, were also found with the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The XRF analysis, said Notis, revealed the overall silver content of each Tyrian coin in two minutes. “We analyzed 700 coins in 24 hours using a handheld XRF unit. We plotted the bulk silver content versus the year of the date of the coin on a graph.

“We found much the same results that Pense had found—coins were made of 90-plus percent bulk silver until 44 B.C.E. when the Roman civil wars began. All of a sudden, the silver content dropped dramatically until Augustus Caesar took over.”

Notis and Shugar also used XRF to examine coins minted by the Philistines between 500 and 400 B.C.E.

“We were able to spot fakes immediately,” said Notis, “because they had a silver content of only 46 percent, compared to the 95 percent silver content of the authentic coins.”
Cross-file under Technology Watch and Phoenician Watch. Note the little extra story at the end of the quote about using the technology to authenticate Philistine coins. A couple of recent PaleoJudaica posts on the denarius are here and here. Shekel and half-shekel (etc.) coins have come up as well. Some posts are here, here, here, here, here, here and links.

Ownership disputes and oaths in the Talmud

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: I Swear. A simple dispute over ownership leads the Talmudic sages into a debate, in this week’s ‘Daf Yomi,’ about the value of a spiritual oath versus secular claims of honesty.
The first three tractates of Seder Nezikin were once a single long tractate, whose title was also Nezikin, that is, “damages.” At some point, however, this was divided into three sections, each of which is referred to as a Bava, or “gate.” Last week, Daf Yomi readers finished Bava Kamma, “the first gate,” and began Bava Metzia, “the middle gate.” (Still to come is Bava Batra, “the last gate.”) The subject continues to be the laws of damages, but in this new tractate, the emphasis has shifted. Bava Kamma dealt primarily with various kinds of injuries—inflicted deliberately or accidentally, by people or animals, taking the form of bodily harm or theft.

In the first pages of Bava Metzia, by contrast, the focus is on disputes over ownership. What happens when two litigants lay claim to the same item—in the mishna’s example, a garment? “If two people come to court holding a garment, and this one says: I found it, and that one says: I found it,” how is the court to decide between their claims? Because the item was found, not purchased or loaned or given, none of the usual kinds of evidence used in property disputes is available here. It’s not possible for either party to produce a receipt or a witness proving that he is the true owner. The court has nothing to go on but the fact that both parties are physically holding on to the garment.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Romans 4 continued

READING ACTS: Abraham’s Faith and Works in Romans 4. Phil Long interacts with a number of ancient Jewish texts here, including Ben Sira, the Mishnah, 1 Maccabees, and Philo. I have reservations about the use of the Testament of Abraham as a Jewish text. I'm not sure what it is, but reading it simply as Jewish (or Christian) leaves problems unsolved. See my book, The Provenance of the Pseudepigrapha, pp. 199-206 for details.

See this post as well: By Faith not Circumcision – Romans 4:9-12, which deals with an important theme in ancient Judaism (and thereafter).

Some of Phil Long's past posts on Paul's Letter to the Romans are noted, with comments, here and links.

Columbus and 2 Esdras again

COLUMBUS DAY: Top 10 facts about Columbus. OCTOBER 12 is celebrated in some places as Columbus Day, in celebration of Christopher Columbus’s sighting land on October 12, 1492 to discover the Americas. (WILLIAM HARTSTON, The Express). I can't speak for the accuracy of all these claimed facts, but number 4 is correct:
4. ...his calculations were based on the Second Book of Esdras in the Apocrypha which suggested the Earth was six parts land to one part water.
Details here. Other past PaleoJudaica posts on Columbus are here and here and links.

More Neusner obituaries


Jacob Neusner, Benedict XVI’s ‘favourite rabbi’, dies aged 84 (Catholic Herald).
Rabbi Jacob Neusner, the Jewish scholar who influenced the writings of Pope Benedict, has died.

Neusner died at his home in Rhinebeck, New York, on Saturday, according to Bard College, where he had taught since 1994. He had suffered from Parkinson’s disease. He was 84.

Pope Benedict quotes Neusner in the first volume of his Jesus of Nazareth trilogy. On the release of Neusner’s 1993 essay A Rabbi Talks With Jesus, the then Cardinal Ratzinger called it “by far the most important book for the Jewish-Christian dialogue in the last decade.”

The two corresponded for many years, before finally meeting when Benedict came to the US in 2008. “It was a moving moment,” Neusner recalled. “The Holy Father greeted me, saying, ‘After 15 years of letters at last we meet’.” They tried speaking in English, then switched to Italian.

How a Jewish Kid from the Suburbs Transformed Jewish Studies in America (Aaron W. Hughes, History News Network). "Aaron W. Hughes holds the Philip S. Bernstein Chair of Jewish Studies at the University of Rochester. He is the author of the newly published Jacob Neusner: An American Jewish Iconoclast (NYU Press, 2016)." Except from the obituary:
Neusner sought to create a systematic and non-partisan study of Judaism that took place within the context of the discipline of Religious Studies. Today we may well take this for granted. One can now go to college and take a course on Jewish texts taught by someone with a PhD in religion and with a specialization in Judaism, as opposed to being taught by the local rabbi. However, this required real intellectual battles. Neusner was the instigator of many of these conflicts, and he was in the thick of many others. In this way, he created an intellectual space for the academic study of Judaism in the secular setting of higher learning.
Neusner, Famed Scholar, Remembered at Bard For Life of Jewish Learning (Ira Stoll, New York Sun)
Jacob Neusner wrote, in his report to his Harvard classmates for his 30th college reunion, “When I came to Harvard in 1950, I was so enthralled with this new world...that I just did not want to go home. I stayed at the college the entire year and did not take any of the vacations. I had the odd fear that if I left that enchanted place, it might not be there when I got back.”

That was read Monday at the memorial service for Neusner, who died Saturday at the age of 84. The service was at Bard College, where he taught for a generation of students. It was a spectacular autumn day, with leaves in blazing color on the campus, which overlooks the Hudson River.


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Yom Kippur 2016

YOM KIPPUR, the Day of Atonement, begins this evening at sundown. An easy fast to all those observing it.

Biblical etc. background on Yom Kippur is here and links. Some posts on Yom Kippur since last year's post are here, here, here, here, and here.

High priest's bell?

WELL, MAYBE: Sound of the Kohen Gadol’s Golden Bell Rings Again in Jerusalem. Jews again hear the little bells on the hem of the High Priest's garment as he enters the Holy Temple of Jerusalem... (Hana Levi Julian, The Jewish Press).
As we enter the final hours of the day before Yom Kippur, archaelogist Eli Shukrun posted news on Facebook of a unique, tiny power-packed find in Jerusalem five years ago to remind the Jewish People of our ancient heritage and the future still to come.

A golden bell that belonged on the garment of the Kohen Gadol who served in the Holy Temple of Jerusalem was discovered in an excavation near the Western Wall.

Shukrun, who notes the find is of tremendous significance to the Jewish world, returned to the area to demonstrate once more with an expert audiologist, as she put it, the “only archaeological discovery that was ever in the Holy of Holies.”

With video and audio.

I am not an archaeologist, so judge what follows accordingly. I would say that it is possible that this bell came from the high priest's vestment, but I don't think that is the only possible understanding. I have given another suggestion here, with which I have never seen any archaeologist engage. Other past posts on the bell are here, here, and here.

News on Scotland and the Bar Kokhba Revolt

ARCHAEOLOGY: EXCLUSIVE: Hunt for ancient 'whistling bullets' in Israel could link Roman ruler to raid on Scottish fort (Libby Plummer and Abigail Beall and Richard Gray, Daily Mail)

• Collection of bullets were found at Burnswark Hill, in Dumfries, Scotland
• The bullets had tiny holes in, which made them whistle as they flew
• A sling bullet or stone could reach speeds of up to 100 mph (160 km/h)
• Researchers hope to find evidence of previous campaigns in Israel by Quintus Lollius Urbicus who was tasked with conquering Scotland
Archaeologists have trekked to Israel in the hope of finding evidence linking an ancient Roman ruler to a military siege in Scotland.

Earlier this year, a collection of whistling bullets used 1,800 years ago by the Romans to incite fear into their enemies were found on a hill in Scotland.

The bullets had tiny holes in them that allowed them to travel through the air towards their targets while making a terrifying shrieking sound.

We knew most of this already, including fact that Quintus Lollius Urbicus was in charge of the Roman defeat of the Bar Kokhba Revolt. Background here. But this is exciting news:
Now, his team is investigating a site in Israel in the hopes of linking an ancient ruler to the Roman assault on the Scottish fort.

‘Quintus Lollius Urbicus was given the job of conquering Scotland between 139 and 142 AD as part of a major imperial campaign by the Emperor Antoninus Pius, who reigned from 138 to 161 AD', Dr [John] Reid told MailOnline.

Archaeologists have trekked to Israel in the hope of finding evidence linking an ancient Roman ruler to a military siege in Scotland. The ancient ruins of Beitar (also known as Betar) are located 1 kilometre (0.62 miles) away from the modern city of Betar Illit

Dr Reid explained that the mission probably had the sole purpose of giving the emperor - a non-military man - a much-needed boost at the start of his reign.

'We're investigating Beitar in Israel where Urbicus had been stationed just prior to taking up his task in Scotland,' Dr Reid told MailOnline.

'He had been sent to Israel (ancient Judea) to brutally suppress a major Jewish uprising.

'We hope to find evidence of his previous campaigns to see if we can link him to the attack at Burnswalk Hill by looking at any similarities between the two siege scenarios.'

Dr Reid described the attack on Burnswalk Hill as 'well resourced and well funded'.

The next step is to pull together all the information into an in-depth study.

The researchers hope that this will eventually lead to further excavation at the Burnswalk Hill site.

Neusner obituaries


Jacob Neusner, Judaic Scholar Who Forged Interfaith Bonds, Dies at 84 (WILLIAM GRIMES, New York Times)
Jacob Neusner, a religious historian of enormous breadth and productivity and one of the world’s foremost scholars of Jewish rabbinical texts, died on Saturday at his home in Rhinebeck, N.Y. He was 84.

A spokesman for Bard College, where he taught for 20 years, confirmed his death, saying he had been treated for Parkinson’s disease for many years.

Professor Neusner (pronounced NOOSE-ner) gave new meaning to the adjective “prolific.” “A Life of Yohanan ben Zakkai,” his 1962 study of one of the most important Jewish sages, marked the beginning of an astonishingly productive scholarly career. Over the next half-century, he published more than 900 books devoted to history, source analysis, comparative religion and legal theory.

He also edited and translated, with others, nearly the entirety of the Jewish rabbinical texts. His editions of the Jerusalem Talmud and the Babylonian Talmud run to more than 50 volumes. In “Jacob Neusner: An American Jewish Iconoclast,” the Judaic scholar Aaron W. Hughes called him “perhaps the most important American-born Jewish thinker this country has produced.”

Remembering Jacob Neusner, My Rebbe.. In the 1950s, Jewish intellect Jacob Neusner studied Torah at Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem. It was a year that changed his entire outlook. He died on Saturday in New York at the age of 84 (Carey Robinson Wolchok, Tablet).
Of the six questions the Talmud (Shabbat 31a) tells us we will all be asked by the heavenly court to account for our lives, half are dedicated to one topic—Torah—making it clear what God expects from us during our lives: study Torah, learn it deeply, and apply it to our lives. This past Shabbat morning, when Jacob Neusner was called upstairs to give his answers, it is safe to assume there was quite a tumult in heaven when he showed up accompanied by the more than 1,000 books on Judaism he published during his lifetime. I consider myself blessed to have had the great merit of studying with him at the University of South Florida in 1991 and our relationship blossomed from there. I helped facilitate a meeting between Professor Neusner and Pope Benedict XVI, and identify a fitting biographer to tell the story of his life.

Jacob Neusner: In Memoriam by Shaul Magid (Shaul Magid, Tikkun).
Most of Neusner’s life was spent in the academy although he was also an ordained rabbi and took that vocation very seriously. But for Tikkun readers not interested in the study of rabbinics, or of a detached version of academic learning that deadens the mind, Neusner should be remembered as an exemplar of an engaged scholar, a social activist in causes he believed in, even as those causes may have often been antithetical to Tikkun’s progressive agenda.
FORKED LIGHTNING (Shai Secunda, The Talmud Blog).
While often measured in dizzying numbers and factoids, the singular, lasting accomplishment of Neusner’s legendary career was his success in building a proper home for Jewish studies and its rabbinic core in an otherwise indifferent American academy. More than anything, he achieved this not through quiet, measured prose but by pecking at a typewriter sharper than any saber, tirelessly writing Jewish texts and religion into the western canon.
Background here.

New Dead Sea Scrolls fragments?

THEY STILL KEEP COMING — BUT ARE THEY GENUINE? 25 New 'Dead Sea Scrolls' Revealed (Owen Jarus, Live Science).
More than 25 previously unpublished "Dead Sea Scroll" fragments, dating back 2,000 years and holding text from the Hebrew Bible, have been brought to light, their contents detailed in two new books.

The various scroll fragments record parts of the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Samuel, Ruth, Kings, Micah, Nehemiah, Jeremiah, Joel, Joshua, Judges, Proverbs, Numbers, Psalms, Ezekiel and Jonah. The Qumran caves ― where the Dead Sea Scrolls were first discovered ― had yet to yield any fragments from the Book of Nehemiah; if this newly revealed fragment is authenticated it would be the first.

Scholars have expressed concerns that some of the fragments are forgeries. ...
And further to that, see this Live Science article, also by Owen Jarus: Are These New Dead Sea Scrolls the Real Thing?
The Dead Sea Scrolls are about 2,000 years old and hold text from the Hebrew Bible. Hundreds of fragments of the scrolls were first found between 1947 and 1956 in caves in Qumran in the Judean Desert.

More recently, additional scroll fragments have come to light. Since 2002, around 70 Dead Sea Scrolls fragments have appeared on the antiquities market, said Eibert Tigchelaar, a professor at the University of Leuven in Belgium, in an interview with Live Science.

Tigchelaar believes that some of the scroll fragments that have recently appeared are actually modern-day forgeries, while others are not from Qumran, but rather other caves in the Judean Desert, possibly ones that haven't been discovered by archaeologists.

"I think what we have here is a mix of material that is authentic and of material that are forgeries," Tigchelaar told Live Science.

He has some good arguments for his position. Artifacts without a provenance can be very difficult to authenticate. Background here. The Nehemiah scroll fragment mentioned in the first article was noted here and here. The new Brill volume publishing some of these new scroll fragments was noted here. The initiative to search for more Judean Desert scrolls (so far only in the Cave of Skulls) was noted here, here, here, and here.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Jacob Neusner, 1932-2016

SAD NEWS: Jacob Neusner, renowned Jewish scholar, dies at 84. Professor-rabbi wrote almost 1,000 books, courting controversy throughout his six-decade career (DAVID SEDLEY, Times of Israel).
Professor Jacob Neusner, renowned Jewish scholar and author, passed away on Saturday morning at age 84 after a long illness.

Neusner, an ordained Conservative rabbi and scholar, was one of the most prolific writers in history, author of almost 1,000 books and countless articles, op-eds and other writings. He had a deep influence on the study of traditional Jewish texts and courted controversy in almost everything he did.

The story is also covered by JTA here. Professor Neusner was a massively influential and also quite controversial figure. I noted a review of the recent biography mentioned in the article here. May his memory be for a blessing.

HT Jim West, who shared the sad news with me this weekend.

De Haro Sanchez (ed.), Écrire la magie dans l'antiquité

Magali De Haro Sanchez (ed.), Écrire la magie dans l'antiquité. Actes du colloque international (Liège, 13-15 octobre 2011). Papyrologica Leodiensia, 5​. Liège​: Presses Universitaires de Liège​, 2015. Pp. 360; xv p. of plates. ISBN 9782875620651. €42.00 (pb).

Reviewed by David Frankfurter, Boston University (

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[Authors and titles are listed below.]

Thankfully, in recent decades, scholarship on early Christianity, Judaism, and other ancient religions has begun to confront texts and textuality as material phenomena, not simply ways of transmitting records, literature, or ideas. Biblical fragments are being discussed in terms of their utility as amulets; the codex is discussed as a living object in Christian or Manichaean material worlds; inscriptions and even graffiti are discussed as iconic, apotropaic, or otherwise forceful media in landscapes brimming with potent things.1 In this way, studies of ancient textuality are coming to embrace the issue of “magic” as a function of materiality itself, even of the act of writing,2 rather than simply an umbrella term for proscribed rituals, magical papyri, and legendary miracle-workers. It is to this larger issue of textuality and magic that this conference volume offers some important, thoughtful, and authoritative contributions, even though many of the papers revolve around objects and procedures classically designated “magic,” like the PGM (Papyri graecae magicae, the scholarly corpus of Greco-Egyptian ritual manuals first edited by Karl Preisendanz in 1928). The title, “Writing Magic,” comprises three dimensions: “magic” that is written (i.e., specific magical texts); genres or expressions of “magic” in written form; and—most theoretically compelling—the notion of writing versus speaking “magic” in a world that (in many classicists’ perspectives) privileged the power of the spoken word. The volume includes English abstracts of each paper as well as a concordance to discussions of PGM and other published magical texts and some excellent photos of artifacts discussed in individual papers.


Postdoc at Florida State University

Job Title: Postdoctoral Scholar in Religion
Job ID: 40904
Location: Tallahassee, FL

Department of Religion

The Religion Department at Florida State University seeks candidates for a two-year post-doctoral research and teaching fellowship in the track of Religions of Western Antiquity which focuses on ancient Judaism and early Christianity. The research specialization of the position is open. Candidates whose research focuses on the Hebrew Bible, or Christianity and/or Judaism in late antiquity are especially welcome.

The appointed fellow will be expected to teach two courses each semester. Applicants must expect to have their doctorate in hand by August 10, 2017, and must have earned their doctorate no earlier than August 1, 2011. For full consideration a cover letter, curriculum vitae, writing sample, transcripts, and teaching dossier must be submitted (in one pdf file) by December 15, 2016.

Three confidential letters of reference must also be submitted by that date to Candidates must be able to show valid U.S. work authorization at the time of hire.

Promise of excellence in teaching and research in the context of a comprehensive program (8.A. through Ph.D.) is required.

Anticipated Salary Range

Criminal Background Check
Effective August 1, 2015, all new hires require a pre-employment criminal history background check.

Pay Plan
Other Personal Services (OPS) positions are temporary and at-will appointments.

How To Apply
If qualified and interested in a specific job opening as advertised, apply to
Florida State University at https:/ you are a current FSU
employee, apply via myFSU > Self Service.

Applicants are required to complete the online application with all applicable
information. Applications must include all work history up to ten years. and
education details even if attaching a resume.

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OPS employees are covered under the Affordable Care Act. OPS employees
that meet certain criteria will be offered affordable health care coverage. For
more information, please visit the following website regarding the Affordable
Care Act,

Tobacco Free Campus
Effective January 1, 2014, tobacco use, including simulated tobacco use, is
prohibited on property, interior and exterior, owned or managed by Florida
State University. This policy applies to all Florida State University students,
employees, consultants, contractors, visitors, and external individuals.

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FSU's Equal Opportunity Statement can be viewed at:
Sent in by Matthew Goff.

More on the Schottenstein National Campus for the Archeology of Israel

STILL UNDER CONSTRUCTION: Antiquities Authority building National Campus for the Archeology of Israel. An archeological hub for visitors from both Israel and abroad, the campus will also house an educational center for students (Sharon Udasin, Jerusalem Post).
Visitors to Jerusalem will soon be able to walk through a history of the city’s archeological heritage at a new building in the capital’s Museum Hill quarter.

The Jay and Jeanie Schottenstein National Campus for the Archeology of Israel, expected to open to the public in about a year, is under construction in the Givat Ram neighborhood between the Israel Museum and the Bible Lands Museum.

The NIS 400 million, 36,000- sq.-m. building will house archeology laboratories, hundreds of thousands of artifacts and the National Library for the Archeology of Israel, according to a statement from the Antiquities Authority.

Regular readers will recall that this project has been in the works for some time. Background here. But it seems to be moving toward completion:
An initial portion of the building was unveiled at a press conference at the construction site on Sunday.

During the Succot holiday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the building’s numerous donors are scheduled to attend a ceremony inaugurating the public wing.

P-s-e-u-d-e-p-i-g-r-a-p-h-a revisited

THERE'S THAT WORD AGAIN: Watiyangla Kichu is Nagaland Spelling Bee Champion 2016 (The Morung Express).
Watiyangla Kichu, a Class 12 student from Model Hr. Secondary School, Kohima [India] won the coveted title of the 5th Nagaland Spelling Bee Championship 2016 on Saturday, at the Capital Convention Centre here. “The preparation was intense. But I won not because of my ability but because of God’s grace. Luck and God’s grace was on my side,” commented Watiyangla after the announcement of the winner.


The final round consisted of ten rounds where Watiyangla and Vetho Ringa, who won the second position, had to spell out words such as Pseudepigrapha, Tracasseries, Pappardelle, Bezique, Dachshund etc. From the ten rounds, Watiyangla spelled five words correctly while Ringa could only spell two words. The winning words for Watiyangla were Flugelhorn, Gauche, Braille, Ubiquitous.

My emphasis. This is a word that spelling competitors should know. Cross-file under Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Watch.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

The Gemara Card

TALMUD WATCH: Livingston Native Dave Sachs Builds ‘The Gemara Card’ Learning Innovation (Tzvi Silver, Jewish Link of New Jersey Israel).
The Gemara Card itself is a three-page, laminated fold-out sheet of paper. The first three pages are a glossary of over 720 terms, built of off Sach’s original handwritten reference sheet from his time in Yeshivat Hamivtar. The back page contains a list of rashei teivot, over 412 abbreviations, as well as a guide to Gemara grammar, loosely based on Rabbi Frank’s well-known grammar wheel and including 52 conjugated verb combinations. There is a list of 107 of the Talmudic sages, organized by chronological order and geographic location, and, at the very end, there is a small conversion table between the metric and imperial systems of measurements and the ancient units mentioned in the Gemara, as well as a small reference table for the archaic curved script typically used for Rashi’s commentary in the Vilna Talmud. All in all, it features nearly every piece of quick reference material needed during routine Gemara study.
This sounds very useful and is very reasonably priced at $4.95. Cross-file under Aramaic Watch.

BAR articles on Lachish

AWOL: Open Access to BAR Articles on Lachish Archaeology. "BAR" stands for Biblical Archaeology Review, as most readers will already know. This collection of articles is relevant as background to the recent story noted here.

Review of Houghton, The Latin New Testament

H. A. G. Houghton, The Latin New Testament: A Guide to its Early History, Texts, and Manuscripts. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2016. Pp. xix, 366. ISBN 9780198744733. $39.95.

Reviewed by Andrew Dunning, The British Library (

Author’s Addenda
The Vulgate Bible is perhaps the most widely read work of Latin literature. Even today, its phrases can be found in popular culture, in pets named ‘Magnificat’ and businesses named ‘Quo vadis’. Yet understanding of the origins and nature of this book tends to be low. It is not uncommon to see the Vulgate treated as if it were a homogeneous text, with the assumption that everyone in the past read it as it is now found in the standard critical edition. Scholars have refined this common understanding of the text’s origins, but their findings have only barely emerged from a circle of specialists. At the same time, the new online availability of biblical manuscripts every month is prompting questions among non-specialists about how to interpret these artefacts. The appearance of this book could hardly be more timely.


Kaden, Matthew, Paul, and the Anthropology of Law


Matthew, Paul, and the Anthropology of Law

[Matthäus, Paulus und die Anthropologie des Gesetzes.]
2016. XIV, 238 pages.
Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 2. Reihe 424

79,00 €
sewn paper
ISBN 978-3-16-154076-9

Published in English.
Drawing from Michel Foucault’s understanding of power, David A. Kaden explores how relations of power are instrumental in forming law as an object of discourse in the Gospel of Matthew and in the Letters of Paul. This is a comparative project in that the author examines the role that power relations play in generating discussions of law in the first century context, and in several ethnographies from the field of the anthropology of law from Indonesia, Mexico, the Philippines, and colonial-era Hawaii. Discussions of law proliferate in situations where the relations of power within social groups come into contact with social forces outside the group. David A. Kaden’s interdisciplinary approach reframes how law is studied in Christian Origins scholarship, especially Pauline and Matthean scholarship, by focusing on what makes discourses on law possible. For this he relies heavily on cross-cultural, ethnographic materials from legal anthropology.

Syriac-Assyrian to be taught in Kurdistan

MODERN ARAMAIC WATCH: Assyria: Syriac-Assyrian Introduced in Schools in Western Kurdistan (UNREPRESENTED NATIONS AND PEOPLES ORGANIZATION).
According to the Rojava Education Commission, the old Ba’athist curriculum has now been replaced, just in time for the 2016/2017 school year. The new curriculum will now be taught in Kurdish, Arabic and Syriac-Assyrian to cater to the different ethnicities present in the region. This change encompasses the majority of schools in the region, aside from a few that are still under Assad’s control. Whilst in the recent past many children in the region have not been able to attend school due to the on-going humanitarian crisis ravaging the area, many are now able to go back and therefore profit from this curriculum change, that grants legitimacy to their ethnic group and culture.