Saturday, November 19, 2016

Review of DeConick, The Gnostic New Age, MEGA, SBL 2016

I AM PRESENTING THE FOLLOWING REVIEW in the Mysticism, Esotericism, and Gnosticism in Antiquity Group at the Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in San Antonio, Texas, on 19 November 2016 (S19-334). The session is beginning as this post goes up.
April DeConick, Professor of Biblical Studies at Rice University, has published a stimulating and multifaceted book in The Gnostic New Age: How a Countercultural Spirituality Revolutionized Religion from Antiquity to Today. It is as ambitious as the title sounds and it takes us on an intriguing journey from the temples of ancient Egypt to the modern New Age bookstore. You may be entertained to hear that the week before last, when I saved a draft of this review and e-mailed it to myself, Outlook’s autocorrect changed “DeConick review draft” in the e-mail header to “Demonic review draft” without my noticing. So it seems that the establishment still has it in for the Gnostics.

April opens with a definition of Gnosticism that offers a constructive advance to the discussion and which to my mind moves beyond the critiques of the use of the term by Michael Williams and Karen King and gives us something positive to work with. Gnosticism involves direct experiential knowledge of a transcendent God achieved through ecstatic experience generated by ritual. It believes that human beings have an innate spiritual nature. It is transgressive and countercultural and it draws freely on varying medleys of earlier religious traditions.

April then proceeds with an ambitious survey of a vast range of ancient traditions that either she argues contributed to the development of Gnosticism or which are instances of individual Gnostic movements. Most interesting among the former is the proposal that the basic innovative template of Gnostic spirituality originated in Hellenistic-era Egypt when Greek, Roman, and perhaps Jewish pilgrims visited Egyptian temples and encountered the creation myth of Atum. Some of these pilgrims identified the Egyptian god with Plato’s Good and reversed the value of other traditional gods and religious practices as demonic inversions of the truth. I have not seen this suggestion before and, not being an Egyptologist, I am not sure that I am very entitled to an opinion on it. But it is a very stimulating reconstruction that seems to have some real explanatory value. April proceeds to survey the pagan Gnostic traditions in Hermeticism, and to discuss Sethian Gnostic traditions (to which she returns later) and the Samaritan movement associated with Simon Magus.

April finds both the writings of the Apostle Paul and the Gospel of John to be capable of being read as either (to adopt her not entirely satisfactory term) “Apostolic Catholic” traditions, as the Church consistently has since late antiquity, or as Gnostic works, as they were interpreted by Gnostics, especially in the Christian Gnostic heyday of the second century C.E. We have generally been taught to consider apparent use of Gnostic terminology in Paul to be an illusion arising from the appropriation of his language by later Gnostics, but April guides us in how to read it as Gnostic from the hand of Paul. She sees Paul as moving forward from his extraordinary Gnostic vision of Jesus on the Damascus Road to downgrading Jewish moral and ritual law to make his mystical religious perspective accessible to gentiles, but then finding a certain degree of backtracking necessary in order to prevent his movement from descending into amoral libertinism.

Likewise, April sees an early conflict between an Apostolic Catholic understanding of the Gospel of John, exemplified by the first epistle of John, and a Gnostic understanding of the Gospel as found in second-century commentaries on John. She then defends the Gnostic reading of John 8:44 as referring to “the father of the devil” rather than “(your) father the devil)” and argues that the Gnostic reading of the Gospel is as well based or better than the Apostolic Catholic reading. She even suggests that we take seriously the second- and third-century traditions that associate the late first-century Gnostic teacher Cerinthus in some way with the composition of the Gospel. She also proposes that Johannine Christianity arose when Simonian mythology was appropriated by members of the early Jesus movement, who applied the mythology to Jesus.

April pays close attention to the use of ritual in Gnosticism and draws connections between it and shamanic ritual, which is associated cross-culturally with ecstatic experience and revelation. She also engages with modern scientific studies of the neurology of ascetic ritual practices associated with ecstatic experience. She then gives us a detailed survey of five classical Gnostic movements. There are the Peratics, the Gnosticism of Justin’s Book of Baruch, the Naassene “serpent” Gnostics, and the Ophians. We know of the first three from the patristic writer Hippolytus and the fourth from accounts by Origen and by the pagan writer Celsus. The fifth is the Sethian Gnostics, the only group that has left us complete texts, thanks to the discovery of the Nag Hammadi Library. All of these movements involved progressive stages of spiritual and ritual advancement, mostly through astrological stages involving various “star gates.” She also gives us a detailed discussion of the Valentinian movement, to which she devotes a whole chapter of the book. Throughout she presents a persuasive synthesis of Gnostic traditions, giving a sensitive and penetrating description of the details of each system, while at the same time uncovering the overarching structure that made all of them Gnostic.

The penultimate chapter first takes on the question of how the burgeoning Christian Gnostic movements of the second century were defeated by what would in the course of time become Apostolic Catholicism. Gnosticism is transgressive by its very nature, teaching that direct experience of God is available by means of ecstatic rituals, offering exegesis of scriptures that inverted the literal reading of them and, in the demiurgic myth, inverting the view of the God of Israel by teaching that there is a higher True God above him and that human beings are by nature greater than he. To add insult to injury, Christian Gnostics often made use of the same rituals as those used by the Apostolic Catholics, while again inverting or at least reinterpreting their meanings. But much of the power of their message came from their secretiveness and emphasis on individual experience, and these aspects proved to be weak points that would be exploited by their opponents. The Apostolic Catholics were well organized and had embedded within their movement the Roman values of civic duty and morality. This gave them the greater social power, and norms are determined by those with the power to set them. The Apostolic Catholics succeeded in marginalizing the Gnostics and purging them from Christianity by the end of late antiquity.

But this was not the end of Gnosticism. In the rest of this chapter April traces some key Gnostic texts and movements in late antiquity and beyond. The Gospel of Judas is a Christian Gnostic text, but the movement represented by the Coptic Pistis Sophia and Books of Jeu is a Gnostic adaptation of worship of the sun god Re in which Jesus merely plays a supporting role. Mani created an eclectic Gnosticism that blended traditions from Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, and Zoroastrianism, and thus introduced the first world religion. And the Mandaeans, whose origin April dates quite early, originated as a group of Nazoraean Gnostic Christians who later rejected both Christianity and Judaism. Their Gnostic religion alone survives precariously to the present.

Finally, in the last chapter, April brings us to today and describes what I like to think of, in keeping with her cinematic theme, as The Revenge of Gnosticism. She describes a series of Gnostic re-awakenings between late antiquity and the present, culminating in the rise of the New Age Movement in the twentieth century and its continued thriving even now in the twenty-first. Each revival was triggered by the recovery of lost texts along with re-appropriations of Gnostic readings of traditional texts.

I consider April’s book an important contribution to both the study of ancient Gnosticism and to our understanding of contemporary religious thought. But before I discuss its importance, I should note a few criticisms and register at least one disagreement.

The semi-popular nature of the book sometimes lends itself to generalizations that could benefit from nuancing. I have some concern about the way certain ancient texts are read which implies that they are literal historical accounts rather than foundation legends or some irrecoverable mixture of real events and legends. I tend to read our sources on Simon Magus with a good deal of skepticism and a sense that the story has overtaken whatever historical events gave rise to it. Likewise, most of our sources for Pythagoras are very late and probably tell us more about Pythagoreanism in the Greco-Roman world and late antiquity than about the founder or his original movement.

Similarly, I have some concern that ritual elements have been read too readily into some narrative texts, such as the Apocryphon of John. That said, I fully accept that rituals inform some of the narrative texts, Zostrianos being a very convincing example. The ritual background of the vowel chants in some of the texts is also fully convincing. More generally, an etic reframing of local mystical and ecstatic movements as exemplifications of the same experience is defensible and may be necessary to give us a full understanding of those movements. At the same time we need to keep in mind that this perspective is a scholarly construct, and one that many of those very movements would have disputed.

Third, it is taken for granted in the book that Sethian Gnosticism originated in a Jewish environment. This seems to be widely accepted, although not without dissent, but I find it very difficult to believe. The Sethian brand of Gnosticism is particularly invested in the demiurgic myth, which teaches that the god of the Hebrew scriptures is a failed, aborted, spiritual being who created a damaged and failed material world, the one we live in. This myth has profound implications for Jewish purity regulations, ritual law, kosher laws, calendar, and the Temple cult. I cannot think of any form of ancient Judaism that would not have had to grapple with these issues extensively in conceiving of anything like Sethian Gnosticism, yet the Sethian Gnostic texts are, as far as I can see, entirely uninterested in such issues and oblivious to them. Granted, this is an argument from silence, but it is a rather powerful one. I find it by far simplest to conclude that Sethian Gnosticism originated among Christians for whom halakhic questions had already been neutralized by the detailed engagement with and dismissal of the issue by Paul and to a lesser degree John. This is a much bigger question than we can address adequately here, but it does need to be confronted at some point.

But none of these criticisms or disagreements affect the larger picture that April has painted for us or any of her central conclusions. This book is a magnum opus that both summarizes and synthesizes the work that April has done over the last twenty years. To appreciate it fully and correctly it is important to understand its aims and approach when evaluating it. It is a semi-popular book that is addressed both to scholars and to an intelligent and engaged nonspecialist audience. There are no footnotes, and arguments are often presented with only a general account of the supporting evidence and with no real indication of debate in the scholarly literature. For these technical matters the reader is directed early on to the many technical and peer-review publications that April has produced over the last two decades.

The effort to engage with a popular audience is well conceived and is likely to be quite successful. I was impressed, for example, by April’s use of ancient Gnostic artifacts to help the reader connect with the texts, personae, and arguments presented in the book. Notable examples are the use of an Ophian amulet seal, the Valentinian tombstone of Flavia Sophe, and the Judas amulet. These are illustrated with good black and white photographs, and many other photographs in the book help bring the reader visually into the world of the Gnostics.

But far more important are her illustrations of the themes and eras covered in the book through interaction with modern cinematography. Each chapter opens and closes with an account of a modern film that embodies a theme or conclusion central to that chapter. Many of my favorite movies are covered, and there are now a few more on my list of films that I missed but must see. A couple of examples will suffice.

Chapter two, “The Matrix of Ancient Spirituality,” opens with a description of the movie The Matrix, which is used to illustrate how the early Gnostics considered themselves to have woken up from the matrix of — for them dead-end — religious orientations of the ancient world: especially servant spirituality, which made humanity the debased servants of the gods; covenant spirituality, the Israelite adaptation of servant spirituality; and ecstatic spirituality, which deployed ritual power to gain access to the wholly Other gods. Like Neo, the Gnostics took the Red Pill of liberated Gnostic spirituality and they began to unplug themselves from the bondage of the Matrix of traditional ancient spirituality.

Similarly, chapter nine, “The Pi of Politics,” opens with a recap of the plot of Darren Aranofsky’s cult classic film Pi, in which another computer programmer, one Max Cohen, discovers the 216-digit number that explains the whole of reality. But this ultimate Gnostic disclosure proves too much for Max’s mortal nature to bear and he is forced to extreme measures to eliminate the knowledge of the revelation from his brain and thus precariously to preserve his own sanity. Max exemplifies the stereotype of the dangerous, deranged Gnostic as seen by ancient Apostolic Catholicism. And the Apostolic Catholics, like Max, believed it necessary to undertake extreme measures to extirpate Gnostic spirituality from Christianity in order to save the Church.

I see the contribution of The Gnostic New Age as twofold and aimed at two quite different audiences. For scholars, it is a synthesis of April’s work in the context of the scholarly discussion of Gnosticism over the last generation. It traces Gnostic origins from an arguable inception in the intersection between ancient Egyptian and Greco-Roman spiritualities; it surveys the classical Gnostic movements and places the thought of Paul and John in context in relation to them; it highlights the importance of ecstatic ritual for understanding Gnostic spirituality; it traces later Gnostic movements into late antiquity and beyond; and it offers an explanation of why Gnosticism was defeated in antiquity by the Apostolic Catholics. Specialists wishing to drill down to the detailed philological and historical details of the arguments will need to consult April’s specialist work, but this need is highlighted in the preface and the references are easy to find. In my view the chief original contribution of the book beyond this synthesis is April’s argument for a deep connection between the thought worlds of ancient Gnostic spirituality and modern popular spirituality especially as exemplified in the New Age movement. This connection is illustrated throughout the book in the filmography and explored in more detail in the final chapter.

But the book is also aimed at a popular audience, one that has an interest in the ancient primary texts and which in many ways is well informed about them, but this audience also aims to incorporate the teachings of the texts into their own personal spiritualities. We as scholars may or may not find this to be a prudent course, but no one is asking our opinion, and April very sensibly meets this audience on their own terms and leaves them better informed about the ancient traditions and better equipped to put them to whatever use they decide to put them to. For this audience, The Gnostic New Age can serve as a guidebook that provides a historical context and some general guidance on how to employ Gnostic spirituality in a responsible and constructive way.

To conclude, I want to congratulate April on the publication of a fascinating book that has much to offer to specialists in Gnosticism, specialists in cognate fields, and an increasingly engaged and sophisticated nonspecialist audience.

Piovanelli, Apocryphités

Judaïsme ancien et origines du christianisme (JAOC 7)
P. Piovanelli
Études sur les textes et les traditions scripturaires du judaïsme et du christianisme anciens

568 p., 156 x 234 mm, 2016
ISBN: 978-2-503-56883-6
Languages: French
The publication is available.
Retail price: EUR 100,00 excl. tax

Recueil de vingt-une études fondamentales sur les textes et les phénomènes scripturaires du judaïsme et du christianisme anciens.
Les vingt-une études ici réunies représentent le fruit de vingt-cinq ans de recherches consacrées aux phénomènes scripturaires du judaïsme et du christianisme anciens, qu’il s’agisse de la mise en chantier des différentes éditions du livre de Jérémie et de ses réécritures « apocryphes » (l’Histoire de la captivité babylonienne et les Paralipomènes de Jérémie), de l’évolution de la littérature « apocalyptique » judéenne et chrétienne (du 1er Hénoch à l’Apocalypse de Paul, en passant par le 4e Esdras et l’Apocalypse de Pierre), de la retranscription des traditions mémorielles au sujet de Jésus (dans l’Évangile selon Thomas et dans les dialogues de révélation de Nag Hammadi) et de leurs réécritures ultériures (dans le Livre du coq et autres évangiles tardo-antiques de la Passion), voire de leur réinvention moderne (comme dans le cas de certaines productions romanesques contemporaines ou dans celui beaucoup plus délicat de l’Évangile secret de Marc). Ces études démontrent qu’à l’instar de leurs collègues judéens, les narrateurs chrétiens n’ont eu de cesse de réactualiser les récits sur les origines du mouvement de Jésus, et que, contrairement aux idées reçues, la frontière entre canonicité et apocryphité a toujours été (et continue d’être) extrêmement poreuse et fluctuante.
Pierluigi Piovanelli, ancien élève de l'École pratique des hautes études, Section des sciences religieuses, docteur des Universités de Turin – Pise – Rome « La Sapienza » – Venise, est professeur de Judaïsme du Second Temple et Origines du christianisme à l'Université d'Ottawa.
Cross-file under Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Watch and New Testament Apocrypha Watch.

TC 21 (2016)

ETC BLOG: New Articles and Reviews in the TC Journal (Tommy Wasserman). It includes articles and reviews dealing with the New Testament and the Septuagint, etc.


YONA SABAR: Hebrew Word of the Week: shafel/shafal “lowly, humble; lowdown, mean, base.”

AAR/SBL Blogger Dinner reminder (tonight)

JAMES MCGRATH: Don’t Forget the #AARSBL16 Blogger Dinner This Evening! I need to go to other things this evening, but I hope the dinner goes well.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Samaritan Decalogue tablet sells for $850K

EPIGRAPHY UP FOR AUCTION: Stone inscription of Ten Commandments sells for $850K (Yaron Steinbuch, New York Post).
For sale: the word of God, in slightly less than mint condition.

A mystery antiquities collector got a fantastic deal Wednesday on a stone tablet that bears the earliest known inscription of the Ten Commandments — in large part because the revered religious artifact is as worn out as a ’77 Pinto.

The 115-pound “Decalogue” went for a bargain-basement price of $850,000 at an auction in Beverly Hills, even though it could be as much as 1,500 years old and is considered a “national treasure” in Israel. The artifact might have been priceless if it wasn’t treated like garbage after it was first unearthed in the Middle East in 1913.

I look forward to hearing where it will be on permanent display to the public, which was a condition of the sale.

Background here and links.

Categories of Gnostic rituals

THE GOD ABOVE GOD BLOG: The Four Categories of Gnostic Religious Rites. Miguel Conner, of Aeon Byte Gnostic Radio, summarizes some material from April DeConick's new book, The Gnostic New Age. There is also an audio interview with Professor DeConick.

As I noted yesterday, I am reviewing her book tomorrow at the Society of Biblical Literature annual meeting. I will post the text of my review tomorrow as well.

Flint obituary

IN MEMORIAM: Well-respected Dead Sea Scrolls scholar and Langley professor passes (Troy Landreville, Langley Times).
“Dr. Peter Flint was a well-loved member of the TWU community for many reasons,” said Bob Wood, PhD, Provost, TWU.

“In addition to being a teacher who genuinely cared for his students, he was recognized by his peers as a world leader in the field of Dead Sea Scrolls Studies. His passion and his top-notch contributions to the academic field of biblical studies will be missed a great deal.”
Background here.

Byzantine-era arch on display in Jerusalem

ARCHAEOLOGY: Newly Discovered Byzantine Arch Unveiled in Jerusalem. – The discovery of a 1,500-year-old Byzantine arch was revealed Wednesday at a ceremony attended by Israeli Construction Minister Yoav Gallant in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City.

The arch was discovered during recent excavation work to uncover the layout of the street between the Hurva Synagogue, considered Israel’s most important synagogue until the 1948 War of Independence, and the Cardo, Jerusalem’s main street during the Roman era.

Gallant also unveiled the second mosaic in the “Jerusalem of Mosaics” project and viewed artifacts that were recently unearthed beneath the Tiferet Yisrael Synagogue. ...
I wouldn't exactly say that the arch was "newly" discovered. There was a notice about it some ten years ago (see here). But that's just the headline. The actual article says "during recent excavation work," which is right enough.

More on the Cardo mosaics display is here and here.

Langlois on the Jerusalem papyrus

MICHAEL LANGLOIS: How a 2,700-year-old piece of papyrus super-charged the debate over UNESCO and Jerusalem (Huffington Post). Excerpt:
As for this papyrus, the various arguments claiming it is a forgery based on orthography are unconvincing. I have doubts about its authenticity, but on other grounds, especially the use of a margin of a sheet (a modus operandi of forgers from more than a century ago) and the alignment of the text. I believe that further analysis is required.

Still, the polemics surrounding the presentation of this papyrus could almost eclipse issues raised by its contents. Is it the king of Judah who asked that wine from his personal reserve be brought to Jerusalem? Or, did one of his subjects send him wine as a gift or as tax? Is it a neighbouring king who offered his Judahite counterpart some of his best bottles? What did the preceding lines say?

Whether this papyrus is authentic or not, it has not yet to reveal all of its secrets.
Background here and links. [Bad link now fixed!]


I'M IN SAN ANTONIO for the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature. I got in late last night, but have managed a decent night's sleep. I'll be visiting with family today, but will fit in some blogging first. The conference festivities start tomorrow.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

SBL 2016

I'M OFF TO SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS, for the Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature. I shall be reviewing April DeConick's fascinating new book, The Gnostic New Age, on which more here and here. I will post my review during the conference.

I have pre-posted many items and will try to keep up with blogging the latest as time permits, so please keep visiting PaleoJudaica as usual. There will be new things here every day.

Of course, in addition, I look forward to seeing many of you in San Antonio. If you're a PaleoJudaica reader and you see me, please do say hi.

And if you aren't going to SBL, have a good week anyway.

Hannibal vs. Godzilla!

PUNIC WATCH: The True History Of The Punic Wars Is Finally Revealed In ‘Godzilla: Rage Across Time’ #4 [Preview] ( Chris Sims, Comic Alliance).
And yet, they’ve never really gotten around to the real question that I think we all want answered: What would’ve happened in the Second Punic War if Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps had been stopped by Godzilla?

Fortunately, Ulises Farinas, Erik Freitas, Pablo Tunica, and Chris Mowry are here to finally settle things once and for all with Godzilla: Rage Across Time #4, in which the Carthaginian forces run across the King of All Monsters. Check out a preview below!
Yeah, that question has been bothering me for a long time.

Some past PaleoJudaica posts on Hannibal and the Punic Wars are here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, with links.

McGill post: Religions in the Greco-Roman World

JOB AT MCGILL UNIVERSITY: Religions in the Greco-Roman World.
Position 3: Religions in the Greco-Roman World

The Department of History and Classical Studies and the School of Religious Studies invite applications for a tenure-track position at the rank of assistant professor in “Religions in the Greco-Roman World.” The successful applicant is expected to hold a relevant Ph.D. at time of appointment, to show promise of excellence in teaching and to have an innovative research portfolio. The successful applicant can expect to teach and develop courses in Ancient History, Biblical Studies, and Classics. The ability to teach ancient Greek and Koine Greek is essential. A specialization in any of the literatures, religions and philosophies in the Greco-Roman World, such as Stoicism, Cynicism, Mystery Religions, Judaism, Christianity, Gnosticism is desirable.

The review of applications will begin on December 15, 2016 and will continue until the position is filled.

Applicants should submit the following: a letter of introduction, curriculum vitae, one page teaching statement, and at least three reference letters. All materials, including referees’ letters of recommendation, must be submitted electronically to the Academic Jobs Online website

Inquiries may be directed to Professor Gerbern Oegema, School of Religious Studies, McGill University via e-mail:

McGill University is committed to equity in employment and diversity. It welcomes applications from: women, Aboriginal persons, persons with disabilities, ethnic minorities, persons of minority sexual orientation or gender identity, visible minorities, and others who may contribute to further diversification. All qualified candidates will be considered; however, in accordance with Canadian immigration requirements, Canadians and permanent residents will be given priority.
To access this particular job description, you need to click on the first link above, then click on "School of Religious Studies (formerly the Faculty of Religious Studies) 3 positions" and scroll down to the third listing.

Late Antique Judaism job at UCI

H-JUDAIC: JOB: University of California - Irvine, Late Antique Jewish History. Follow the link for further particulars. The application deadline is 16 December 2016.

Ben Zvi and Levin (eds.), Centres and Peripheries in the Early Second Temple Period

Centres and Peripheries in the Early Second Temple Period
Ed. by Ehud Ben Zvi and Christoph Levin

[Zentrum und Peripherie in der frühen Zeit des Zweiten Tempels.]
2016. XIV, 469 pages.
Forschungen zum Alten Testament 108
134,00 €
ISBN 978-3-16-154293-0

Published in English.
“Centre and periphery” frameworks have been particularly helpful for research on systems whose dynamics are strongly influenced by a substantially unequal distribution of qualities. But what can these frameworks, in all their present diversity and in their various “re-conceptualizations,” contribute to the study of the early Second Temple period? The essays in this volume address this question through the prism of, for instance, the location of Jerusalem, diasporic communities, Torah, roles of temples and royal courts, Jerusalem/Gerizim, the Zion tradition, the universal kingdom of YHWH, the literary history of some texts, socio-linguistic choices, and gender.
Follow the link for TOC, ordering information, etc.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Samaritan Decalogue tablet to be auctioned today

EPIGRAPHY: Earliest known stone version of Ten Commandments up for auction (Georgia McCafferty, CNN).
(CNN)The earliest known stone inscription of the Ten Commandments is being auctioned in Beverly Hills on November 16, with an opening bid of $250,000 -- and a stipulation that any owner must put the tablet on public display.

Described as a "national treasure" of Israel, the stone was first uncovered in 1913 during excavations for a railroad station near Yavneh in Israel and is the only intact tablet version of the Commandments thought to exist.

"The tablet's significance is testament to the deep roots and enduring power of the Commandments that still form the basis of three of the world's great religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam," says David Michaels, director of ancient coins for Heritage Auctions, who will be conducting the sale.

"Its surface is worn, battered and encrusted in places, but running a gloved finger over it does produce, in some people, a particular thrill of touching a piece of Bible history."

Buried for centuries
The two-foot-square (0.18 square meter), 115-pound (52 kg) marble slab is inscribed in an early Hebrew script called Samaritan and most likely adorned a Samaritan synagogue or home in the ancient town of Jabneel, Palestine, which is now Yavneh in modern Israel, according to Michaels.

Background and comments are here and here.

More on the Edessan Syriac mosaics

SYRIAC WATCH: 1,800-Year-Old Mosaic Portraits of the Dead Unearthed in Turkey. Archaeologists excavating an ancient necropolis at the site of the historic the historic Urfa castle in the southeastern city of Şanlıurfa found mosaic portraits of two men and two women (Claire Voon, Hyperallergic).
A series of curious mosaics have emerged during archaeological excavations of rock tombs in Turkey, representing individual portraits of the long-deceased. Archaeologists working on the historic Castle of Urfa in the southeastern city of Şanlıurfa unearthed the floor tiles, according to the announcement from the Şanlıurfa Metropolitan Municipality, and they estimate that the images date to the first or second centuries CE.

This article seems to be based on a press release in Turkish (linked to above) and gives some new details, including a considerably wider possible range of dating than indicated in the earlier reports.

Background here, here, and here. Related recent post here.

Punic death metal update

PUNIC WATCH: KATAKLYSM Frontman's EX DEO Project: 'The Immortal Wars' Album Details Revealed (
EX DEO, the reactivated Ancient Roman-themed arsenal fronted by KATAKLYSM singer Maurizio Iacono, will release its third album, "The Immortal Wars", on February 24, 2017 via Napalm Records. The cover artwork was created by renowned artist Eliran Kantor, who has previously worked with TESTAMENT, HATEBREED, SOULFLY and KATAKLYSM.

The CD's main concept deals with Punic Wars, a series of three wars fought between Rome and Carthage from 264 B.C. to 146 B.C. The epic legendary wars come to life and bring the showdown between two of the greatest generals that ever walked the earth, Hannibal and Scipio Africanus, both of whom rewrote the rules of war and strategies. The album also features other unexplored subjects on Ancient Rome surely to raise the epic level to the maximum.

The upcoming release of the album was announced in January of this year and was noted here, but this new article includes cover artwork, a track listing, and a video teaser for the album.

Documenting the Yazidi genocide

YAZIDI WATCH: French priest helps expose IS group’s Yazidi genocide. Father Patrick Desbois spent over a decade documenting some of the Nazis’ least known atrocities in the killing fields of Ukraine. In turning his attention to Iraq’s Yazidi minority, he hopes to thwart a genocide going on right now. (Benjamin DODMAN, France 24).
Like most people unfamiliar with the ethnic hodgepodge of northern Iraq, Father Patrick Desbois had not heard of the Yazidis before the summer of 2014 – when the Islamic State (IS) group carved a “caliphate” out of large parts of Syria and Iraq, and set about cleansing it of all “infidels”. “It is a cruel irony to first hear about a people when it faces annihilation,” Father Desbois tells FRANCE 24.

The Yazidis, thought to number some 400,000, are members of a religious sect whose beliefs borrow from several ancient Middle Eastern creeds. They live primarily in Iraq’s northern Nineveh Province, though Yazidi migrants and refugees have spread far and wide. It was a chance encounter with one of them in a barber’s shop in Brussels that set Father Desbois on their trail.

Two years on, the French priest has finished a book, published in October, about the Yazidis’ persecution at the hands of jihadist militants. Based on interviews with more than one hundred former IS group captives, the book, “La Fabrique des terroristes” (The Terror Factory), documents the killings, abductions and enslavements that have struck the Kurdish-speaking minority and chased it out of its ancestral lands.

Read on. Really, read on.

For background on the Yazidis, their Gnosticism-themed religion, and their tragic fate in the hands of ISIS, see the recent posts here, here, and here, with many links. For the record, readers of PaleoJudaica have been hearing about the Yazidis since 2003. My first substantive post on them dealt with another atrocity committed against them in 2007. Note that April DeConick was writing about them then too.

McGrath on Digital Biblical Studies at SBL

JAMES MCGRATH: Ancient Worlds in Digital Culture at #AARSBL16. Professor McGrath is on the SBL panel discussion. I noted the book and Brill series (and the ETC post) here and here.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

More on the Göttingen/IAA DSS project

THE UNIVERSITY OF HAIFA: Scripta Qumranica Electronica.
The Dead Sea Scrolls - The Next Generation

Computer scientists and Dead Sea Scrolls scholars are building a digital work environment for one of the most important discoveries of the 20th century * This will enable the virtual joining of the “puzzle pieces” of thousands of ancient scrolls fragments found in Judean Desert caves, through the collaborative German-Israeli research of the Göttingen Academy of Sciences and Humanities (Germany), the Israel Antiquities Authority, Haifa University and Tel Aviv University

HT AJR. Background here and links.

Money transactions in the Talmud

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: The Coin of the Realm. In this week’s ‘Daf Yomi’ Talmud study, the finer points of monetary transactions, and the attendant honesty ingrained in them.
Today, we are used to thinking of buying and selling as an activity exclusively connected with money: you buy things by paying money and sell them in exchange for money. For the Talmud, however, money is considered only a special case of purchase and sale; the standard transaction is imagined as a barter, a direct exchange of goods. In a barter transaction, Jewish law says that the sale is completed when the buyer “pulls” the item he is buying: that is, he literally puts his hands on it and takes it into his possession. This makes sense when you are talking about, say, an ox or a cow.

But it raises a question about monetary transactions. When, exactly, is a money transaction completed? ...
Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Another search for more DSS

EXPEDITION: Israel to search hundreds of caves to find the 'crown jewel of Israeli antiquities' — the missing Dead Sea Scrolls (AP). The three-year project launches in December. I hope they find them.

Another such expedition concluded in June without finding any scrolls. Better luck next time.

Leonard Cohen's most Jewish songs

MAY HIS MEMORY BE FOR A BLESSING: Leonard Cohen’s five most Jewish songs. Following the death of legendary Canadian artist last week, we go through his five ‘most Jewish’ songs (Jewish News). His songs were much influenced by the Bible and the Jewish liturgy.

Cuneiform cookies just get cooler and cooler

BAKING: Ah, Finally, Ancient Clay Tablets for Dessert (JENNIFER A. KINGSON, New York Times). Excerpts:
Ms. [Katy] Blanchard, whose passions are archaeology and baking, used chopsticks, a fish knife and a gingerbread recipe that came packaged with a Coliseum-shaped cookie-cutter she once bought. Not only did her cuneiform cookies beguile her colleagues at the office party, they also gained some measure of internet renown after a Penn Museum publicist posted an article about how she made them. (Sample comment from the public: “Mine will probably taste more like the Dead Sea Scrolls.”)

From there, cuneiform cookies started to become — as the newspaper The Forward put it — “a thing.” Bloggers were enthralled, including one who said she was taking a class in Hittite and opted to practice on shortbread. (“The writing took a surprisingly long time,” she observed.)


Inspired by Ms. Blanchard’s cuneiform cookies, Esther Brownsmith, a Ph.D. student in the Bible and Near East program at Brandeis University who has been studying Akkadian for years, went all out: For a New Year’s party, she baked four tablets of gingerbread, each on a 13-by-18-inch pan, and copied part of the Enuma Elish, a seven-tablet Babylonian creation myth, onto them. A stunning step-by-step description of this feat has drawn thousands of “likes” on her Tumblr blog.
The epic of Gilgamesh has also received the cookie treatment. We live in an age of wonders.

Past posts on the cuneiform cookies phenomenon are here, here, and here.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Festschrift for Jean-Daniel Dubois

I have been waiting with bated breath for some time for the volume honoring the work of Jean-Daniel Dubois, a luminary of scholarship on Gnosticism and Manichaeism, to appear. Brepols has made the book available to order (with a publication date in October of this year) and posted a table of contents, and it looks tasty indeed. ...
Cross-file under Gnosticism Watch and Manichean (Manichaean) Watch.

Romans 12:1

READING ACTS: Romans 12:1 and the Scapegoat. A living sacrifice?

Some past posts in Phil Long's series on Paul's letter to the Romans are noted here and links.

Still more on the dating of ancient ink

TECHNOLOGY WATCH: Stephen Goranson sends reference to a publication on new techniques for the non-destructive dating of ancient ink, not just a work in progress:
Sarah Goler, James T. Yardley, Angela Cacciola, Alexis Hagadorn, David Ratzan and Roger Bagnall. "Characterizing the age of ancient Egyptian manuscripts through micro-Raman spectroscopy." Journal of Raman Spectroscopy. Article first published online: 6 MAY 2016 DOI: 10.1002/jrs.4945.
And now (apparently) in paper vol. 47 issue 10, October, 2016, pages 1185–1193, ISSN 1097-4555
You can read the abstract at the link. The full article is here, but probably requires a paid subscription to access.

Background (with reference to the Gospel of Jesus' Wife) is here and links.

Pre-Israelite stars

MUCH EARLIER THAN PALEOJUDAICA'S USUAL RANGE, but too interesting not to note. Two separate discoveries of pre-Israelite objects decorated with eight-pointed stars have just been in the news:

Trove of ancient gold, silver discovered at Israeli archeological site. The trove was found in a pot made of china which was wrapped in fabric that was sill somewhat intact (ARIEL WHITMAN, Jerusalem Post).
A treasure trove of gold and silver objects dating back about 3,600 years from the Canaanite period has been found in the Tel Gezer excavation center.

The Israel Antiquities Authority announced Monday that it believes the objects found were part of a ceremonial offering that was laid in the center of the building being excavated.


The remaining two items were significant finds. One was a medallion consisting of a silver disc with an engraving of an eight-pointed star. At the edge of the disc are two horns meant for connecting with a rope. Dr. Irit Tziper recognized these symbols as representing Canaanite gods comparable to Mesopotamia's god's Ishtar and Sin of Akkadian culture. Ishtar is the god of reproduction, love and sex and Sin is the god of the moon.


(Medallion consisting of a Silver disc with an engraving of a Eight pointed star. (photo credit:CLARA AMIT/IAA))

Mysterious 6,000-year-old star mural sees first daylight in Jerusalem. The Ghassulian Star, discovered in Jordanian cave in 1930s, is briefly taken from East Jerusalem museum to be displayed at Israel Antiquities Authority headquarters across town (Ilan Ben Zion, Times of Israel).
For the first time since its discovery in the 1930s, a spectacular, mysterious mural painted on a cave wall in modern-day Jordan some 6,000 years ago — over a millennium before the formation of the first cities or invention of writing — went on display in Jerusalem with little fanfare.

But the Ghassulian Star’s recent removal from the storeroom of the Rockefeller Museum in East Jerusalem, where it has sat since the British Mandate, and its subsequent exhibition, until Sunday, at the Israel Antiquities Authority’s new facilities next to the Israel Museum on the other side of town, violated the IAA’s promise a few months ago not to remove artifacts from the museum.

The magnificent centerpiece was part of a series of cave wall paintings discovered during excavations conducted by the Pontifical Biblical Institute between 1929 and 1938 and in 1959 at Teleilat el-Ghassul, a site just east of the Jordan River, north of the Dead Sea.


(The Ghassulian Star on exhibit at the Israel Antiquities Authority's new headquarters on November 10, 2016. (Ilan Ben Zion/Times of Israel staff))

Gezer and Teleilat el-Ghassul are not far from each other geographically, but the finds are separated in time by about two-and-a-half millennia. It would be interesting to hear what specialists in the art history of the respective periods made of the similar eight-pointed star designs. My guess is that the similarity is coincidental. It is a fairly obvious design and must have been reinvented many times. But this is far outside my areas of expertise and I don't know. In any case, it is striking to see the two together.

Arson in the Kidron Valley?

THIS IS DISTURBING: Ancient Jerusalem tombs damaged in suspected arson. Iconic ‘archaeological gems’ from Second Temple era at base of Mount of Olives suffer extensive damage (Ilan Ben Zion, Times of Israel).
Fires severely damaged two ancient tombs, one of them an iconic landmark, outside Jerusalem’s Old City on Friday, in what police suspect may have been arson.

An initial investigation by firefighters points to unknown persons setting fire to Absalom’s Tomb in the Kidron Valley, opposite the Temple Mount, and the adjacent Tomb of Jehoshephat, Ynet reported.

The tombs are among a cluster of ancient graves at the base of the Mount of Olives dating to the Second Temple period.

If this is confirmed to be arson, I hope the perpetrators are brought to justice.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

New Testament Apocrypha: More Noncanonical Scriptures, vol. 1, is published

APOCRYPHICITY: AVAILABLE AT LAST! MORE NEW TESTAMENT APOCRYPHA VOL. 1 (Tony Burke). Congratulation to Professor Burke and Dr. Brent Landau on the publication of this important volume. Noted as forthcoming here and as going to press here.

More on the dating of ancient ink

In-depth Study of Raman Spectroscopy on Carbon Black Ink as a Potential Method for Non-Destructive Dating of Ancient Manuscripts

Sarah Goler

Publication Date
Wed, Apr 15, 2015

Academic Term
Fall and Spring

Academic Year
The abstract is as follows:
Sarah Goler
April 2015

In-depth Study of Raman Spectroscopy on Carbon Black Ink as a Potential Method for Non-Destructive Dating of Ancient Manuscripts (Abstract)

Micro-Raman spectroscopy is a non-destructive light scattering technique that can be used to distinguish physical and chemical properties of materials. We have performed micro-Raman spectroscopy experiments on the black ink from Egyptian manuscripts of known provenance ranging in date from 300BCE to 1000CE. All the black ink showed the typical spectrum of carbon black ink with broad D and G bands. The D band is a forbidden Raman transition that occurs when the lattice symmetry is broken. The D band at approximately 1350cm-1 is associated with disorder, vacancies crystalline edges, etc. The G band at 1585cm-1 is a Raman allowed transition that arises from the E2g in-plane vibration of sp2 bonded carbon. These features in the Raman spectrum of carbon are assigned to the crystalline and amorphous carbon content. The carbon black spectra observed showed clear changes with the age of the ink. The significance and number of peaks to fit the Raman spectrum of carbon black is not well understood. We selected to fit our data with two, three, and four peak fits to try to extract quantitative and qualitative insight from the spectra. We found that all the parameters from our two peak fits show correlations with the age of the ink that could potentially be used to non-destructively date ink of unknown date.
Stephen Goranson drew my attention to this paper, which is of interest in relation to the recent announcement about advances in dating ancient ink, with reference to the Gospel of Jesus' Wife. As far as I know, there have been no formal publications about the dating of the ink of that particular manuscript. This paper is described as a "working paper" of Columbia University's Italian Academy For Advanced Studies in America. I take that to mean it is still a work in progress, but it seems to give some idea of what is going on. Stephen also writes:
*If* the above abstract is the sort of research proposed--which I do not know--then it would be appropriate to note that the contribution by Ira Rabin in NTS 2015 has already offered reason to question the potential of such approaches to deliver reliable dating. Further--reportedly--two lectures at the September 1-5, 2015 8th International Congress on the Application of Raman Spectroscopy in Art and Archaeology in Wrocław, Poland may include explanation why such approach to dating would be unreliable.
We'll see. I am not qualified to have any opinion on the validity of the methods used etc., but I hope the discussion moves into the peer-review literature as soon as possible, so that those who have the expertise can evaluate them.

Background here and here, with many, many links.

McGrath on the GJW at SBL

JAMES MCGRATH: Case Closed on the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife – but there’s more to be said at #aarsbl16. Including a paper by Professor McGrath. 2016 is shaping up to be a very interesting year for AAR/SBL. I hope to see many of you there.

Background on the Gospel of Jesus' Wife is here with many, many links.

Postgrad fellowships at UW-Madison

H-JUDAIC: Fellowship: UW-Madison PhD Fellowship Opportunities in Hebrew Bible/Northwest Semitics and Classics. The application deadline is 5 January 2017.

DSS exhibit at UJ

THE UNIVERSITY OF JAMESTOWN: Exhibits open UJ’s International Education Week (Sharon Cox, Jamestown Sun)
The University of Jamestown has a diverse population among its students, staff and faculty, and during International Education Week Nov 11-18, the public will be able to meet and maybe even learn something new from them.


The foreign language department, International Students Organization, UJ’s Beyond Committee and the music department will have events in the Reiland Fine Arts Center and the Student Engagement Center in the Lyngstad Center next week. It’s the university’s way of including newcomers and community residents in events featuring cultural diversity and awareness.


... Stephen Reed will have an exhibit focusing on the Dead Sea Scrolls and language charts (also from Dead Sea Scrolls) showing Aramaic, Hebrew and Latin. Other languages will be available to copy (such as Ogham, Runes, Hieroglyphs and Cuneiform).

It's always good to sea the Scrolls getting some attention, especially from young people.