Saturday, April 01, 2017

Ashton Kutcher told the Senate a Talmud story (really)

TALMUD WATCH: Actor Ashton Kutcher Recounts Talmudic Tale During Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing on Human Trafficking (Shiryn Ghermezian, The Algemeiner).
Actor Ashton Kutcher recounted a Talmudic tale on Wednesday after testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during an informal hearing on human trafficking.

“[B]eing here today, I was reminded of a story a friend of mine told me about a rabbi named Hillel, who was asked to explain the Torah while standing on one leg. And he said, ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself. Everything else is just commentary,’” Kutcher, a longtime student of Kabbalah, told Committee Chairman Senator Bob Corker.

That's a pretty fair summary of the story. If you want the exactly correct details, read further in the article.

Remembering Louis Feldman

THE LEHRHAUS: Remembering Professor Louis Feldman, z"l (Ari Lamm).
“It was just me and this other guy in class,” explained a family friend, winking. “You know what I’m talking about.”

I did. Professor Feldman never had many students in his classes. At the time I heard this story I was taking Professor Feldman with four other students. An unheard of number as far as these things went.

“So one day the other guy calls in sick,” he continued, “and it’s just me and Louis Feldman in class. Everything was going great, but then about an hour in I had to go to the bathroom, so I told him I was so sorry I’d be right back. He told me: no problem, he would wait for me. So I went to the bathroom, came back, and we finished the lesson. Later that week the other guy and I are in class and out of nowhere Professor Feldman hands out an exam. Obviously we weren’t prepared. We asked him if this had been on the syllabus. He told us it hadn’t but he had mentioned in class several times that it was coming up. I told him I never remembered him saying anything about it. So Louis Feldman turns to me, looks me dead in the eye, smiles, and says: ‘Well, you wouldn’t. You were in the bathroom at the time.’”

HT AJR. Background here. Professor Feldman lived to be ninety years old. As I have remarked before, that's what philology does for you. Z'L'.


READING ACTS: Core Beliefs of Second Temple Judaism: Election. As I think I have mentioned before, I have reservations about regarding the Testament of Abraham as a Second Temple Jewish text. It makes as much (or better, as little) sense as a late-antique Christian text.

March 2017 Biblical Studies Carnival

BIBLICAL STUDIES CARNIVAL: MAD AS A MARCH HARE 2017 at Jonathan Rivett Robinson's ξἐνος Blog. In five parts.

Wiesehöfer and Müller (eds.), Parthika

BIBLIOGRAPHIA IRANICA: . Notice of a new book: Wiesehöfer, Josef & Sabine Müller (eds.). 2017. Parthika. Greek and Roman authors’ views of the Arsacid Empire (Classica et Orientalia 15). Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag. Includes a chapter on Josephus.

Friday, March 31, 2017

No, Jesus was not the warrior-king of Edessa

NUMISMATICS (ETC.) FAIL: Historical analysis of coin said to bear true image of Christ: 'Wildly irresponsible' and 'crackers.' The thesis is described as being as wacky as claims that aliens built the pyramids (Martha Henriques, International Business Times).

This is in reference to the Daily Mail's article by Dave Burke yesterday: Is this the first true portrait of JESUS? Historian claims coin from 1st Century AD is the only lifelike image of Christ, which told us that "British biblical historian Ralph Ellis argues Christ and King Manu, ruler of Edessa, are actually the same man" and that "[h]e says a 24mm-wide coin from the first century AD shows the only lifelike image ever made of Jesus." The Mail sometimes has pretty good coverage of stories about ancient history, but they tend to believe anyone who comes along claiming to be a "biblical historian" or the like, without cross-checking the story with actual specialists.

This is an especially odd case, because back in November the Mail published a breathless article (on which more here and here and links) which claimed that "the earliest portrait of Jesus Christ" was on a completely different (supposedly) ancient object. How many earliest portraits of Jesus are we allowed?

While the Mail is publishing these things without even cross-checking their own files, it is heartening to see that some journalists are still doing investigative journalism. Ms. Henriques took the prudent (and one would think obvious) course of consulting a couple of prominent British specialists in biblical studies (Professor Francesca Stavrakopoulou and Dr. Simon Gathercole) concerning Mr. Ellis's notions about Jesus. Good for her. You can read the results in the IBT article above.

Mr. Ellis's book was originally published in 2013, but it seems to be being published again somehow now. A number of bloggers posted detailed reviews cataloguing its errors back in 2013. You can find them with Google if you're interested. I ignored it at the time, but this time it seemed useful to highlight the evaluations by Professor Stavrakopoulou and Dr. Gathercole.

Galor, Finding Jerusalem

AWOL BLOG: New from Luminos: Finding Jerusalem: Archaeology between Science and Ideology By Katharina Galor.

Byun, The Influence of Post-Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic on the Translator of Septuagint Isaiah

The Influence of Post-Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic on the Translator of Septuagint Isaiah

By: Seulgi L. Byun

Published: 01-12-2017
Format: Hardback
Edition: 1st
Extent: 240
ISBN: 9780567672384
Imprint: Bloomsbury T&T Clark
Series: The Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies, Hebrew Bible and Its Versions
Dimensions: 6 1/8" x 9 1/4"
List price: $122.00
Online price: $109.80
Save $12.20 (10%)

About The Influence of Post-Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic on the Translator of Septuagint Isaiah

For many years, scholars have noted that post-biblical Hebrew and Aramaic may have influenced some of the renderings in the ancient Greek versions of the Hebrew Bible, but examination of this has usually been done only in passing with little or no discussion and scant evidence. Seulgi L. Byun examines the ancient Greek version of Isaiah, commonly referred to as LXX (Septuagint) Isaiah, and examines a number of possible cases in depth in order to determine the degree to which semantic change within Hebrew, as well as the spread of Aramaic already in the Second Temple period, may have influenced the translator.

The book begins with an overview of key issues (semantic change; the development (or non-development) of the Hebrew language; previous scholarship; issues in the study of LXX Isaiah; and methodological considerations). This is followed by four larger sections representing various categories of examples where post-biblical Hebrew or Aramaic may have influenced renderings in the text, each offering specific examples. The first section contains examples where post-biblical Hebrew may have influenced LXX Isaiah; the second section offers examples of Aramaic influence; the third section addresses examples where the influence is not clear (possibly both post-biblical Hebrew and Aramaic); and the fourth section discusses the possibility of word manipulation - cases where the translator of LXX Isaiah 'manipulated' the Hebrew with a post-biblical Hebrew or Aramaic meaning/word in mind.

Individual piety in P

DR. RABBI DAVID FRANKEL: “Mitzvah Piety” and the Need for Individual Atonement (
Abstract: “Mitzvah piety” of the individual outside of the cult comes to the fore most distinctly in the Priestly texts. Each mitzvah became an end in itself as a divine command that was meant to be obeyed by each individual and, the unique meaning or purpose of the particular mitzvah took on less significance. This development required a heightened emphasis on personal atonement and the role of the individual in attaining it through a sin offering, so that the dangers of contact with this new realm of holiness—any violation of which was a death penalty offense—could readily be averted.

The Shema

READING ACTS: Core Beliefs of Second Temple Judaism: Shema.
The Shema was fundamental to daily practice of Jewish. The word refers to Deut. 6:4-5 (which begins “Hear O Israel,” shema is Hebrew for “Hear.”) The passage directs Jews to keep the commandments upon their heart and to teach them to their children. These commands are the Ten Commandments which immediately precede this command, but essentially the whole law is to be kept in mind and taught to the next generation.
Past posts in Phil Long's series on the Second Temple Period are noted here and links.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Review of Himmelfarb, Jewish Messiahs in a Christian Empire

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Book Note | Jewish Messiahs in a Christian Empire: A History of the Book of Zerubbabel (Jae H. Han).
Martha Himmelfarb. Jewish Messiahs in a Christian Empire: A History of the Book of Zerubbabel. Harvard University Press, 2017.

In her new book Jewish Messiahs in a Christian Empire: A History of the Book of Zerubbabel, Professor Martha Himmelfarb (Department of Religion, Princeton University) reshapes scholarly understandings of late antique Jewish “Messianism” prior to the rise of Islam. Through her careful analysis of the early seventh-century “text” Sefer Zerubbabel and other contemporaneous sources, Himmelfarb draws out evidence for a body of popular traditions about messianic figures circulating among “ordinary Jews” in the late antique Byzantine milieu. Surprisingly, these traditions suggest that Jews were both deeply attracted to and repulsed by Christian descriptions of a suffering and dying Messiah, his mother Mary, and the figure of an “Anti-Christ.” This slim book rewards close reading, and while what follows attempts to capture the contents of her book, to use Himmelfarb’s own words, “it certainly does not adequately convey its texture.” (p. 17)

I noted the publication of the book last month here.

Cline on the looting of antiquities

YOU CAN'T ALWAYS GET WHAT YOU WANT: Do You Get to Keep What You Find? (Eric Cline, The ASOR Blog).
There is one question that I am asked all the time, which has a short answer but is long on associated implications. The question is simply “Do you get to keep what you find?” The answer is very short: “No.” Whether you’re working in your own country or in a country other than your own, that nation’s antiquities department will have a set of rules. The best discoveries might go to a national or regional museum, as has been true throughout the history of archaeology, but most of the material will be put into bags and boxes and stored at the local university, museum, or some other place where graduate students and other scholars can come in and study the material during the months (or even years) after the excavation. A six- or seven-week field season can yield enough material for two years or more of study and published findings.
Most of the essay is devoted to the issue of the looting of artifacts rather than whether volunteers at archaeological digs can keep some of them. Excerpt with interspersed commentary:
The appearance of one-of-a-kind looted objects can cause a dilemma for archaeologists committed to limiting the trade in illegal antiquities. Such seems to have been the case in 2011, when the Sulaymaniyah Museum in the Kurdistan region of Iraq was advised by an Assyriologist in Britain to buy a group of clay tablets inscribed with cuneiform that he had been shown by an antiquities dealer. In this case, among the tablets was one that turned out to contain a previously unknown section from the Epic of Gilgamesh. It fills in a large gap within the fifth tablet in the poem where Gilgamesh and his sidekick Enkidu are heading for the Cedar Forest to get timber; this is usually thought to be the same general region where the famous Cedars of Lebanon mentioned in the Bible were located. The new lines describe the noises that they hear upon entering the forest, including birds, insects, and monkeys
More on the new Gilgamesh fragment is here.
Lost for three thousand years, this tablet filled in an important piece of one of the classics of world literature. The dilemma for archaeologists, of course, is that we don’t want to encourage looting, but also cannot allow such a tablet with valuable information to go into the art collecting market and disappear from public view without making some effort to save it and allow scholars to study it. Discussions on the issue have been prompted by the history of the Dead Sea Scrolls, many of which were purchased from the Bedouin who had illegally found them in the caves around Qumran; it is frequently asked what would happen if such scrolls appeared on the antiquities market today?
New scroll fragments are appearing on the antiquities market and at least some of them appear to be forgeries.
In fact, there is something similar that has happened with more than a hundred—or perhaps as many as two hundred—clay tablets that apparently come from an archive that documents the daily life of Jews who were moved to Mesopotamia during the Babylonian Exile in the sixth century BCE and remained there into the fifth century BCE. The tablets appeared on the antiquities market at some point, reportedly after the 1970s, though exactly when is debated. At least half were eventually purchased by a private collector and then published by a pair of scholars, after which they were displayed in an exhibit at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem in early February 2015, from which came a second publication by a different set of scholars.
For more on the Babylonian-Jewish cuneiform tablets, start here and follow the links.
Even though it is not clear from which site they came, the tablets give its ancient name as “al-yahudu,” which, roughly translated, means “Judah-town.” They are among the first textual evidence from Mesopotamia confirming that the Babylonian Exile reported in the Bible and elsewhere did take place and what happened to those who were exiled. The tablets are extremely important, but they have no known context and were obviously looted—perhaps from southern Iraq, according to some reports. Should they have been published? Should they have been put on display? In this case, the importance of the texts, like the Dead Sea Scrolls to which they have the best parallel in terms of circumstances of discovery, persuaded at least some scholars that they should be published and displayed, despite the fact that they were apparently looted and acquired illegally. Not all scholars agree; in fact, the Archaeological Institute of America’s policy is to refuse to publish articles that describe objects that cannot be clearly demonstrated not to have been looted; same goes for the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR).
More here and links on the issue of when, if ever, scholars should make use of unprovenanced artifacts (especially inscriptions, each of which is potentially unique).

The Copper Scroll, The Treatise of the Vessels, and Jim Barfield

THOSE TEMPLE TREASURES AGAIN: Secret of Dead Sea Copper Scroll Unlocked, Revealing Location of Lost Temple Treasures (Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz, Breaking Israel News). I read this article and then I actually listened to the whole video at the end of it. The things I do for my readers!

I have dealt with Mr. Barfield's notions about the Copper Scroll here and here. I stand by my comment in the latter post, in response to an earlier article:
The article also reports many claims about prominent named Israeli individuals. Notice, however, that it makes no claim that those individuals have verified the stories. At least one of them, Yuval Peleg, is no longer living. It gives us no reason to think that the author of the article has interviewed any of the living people to confirm the claims.

The story of Mr. Barfield's supposed discoveries sounds wildly fanciful to me. The author of the article has not interviewed any specialists in ancient Judaism or the archaeology of ancient Israel for evaluations of the claims. As usual with these things, I will believe exactly as much of it as is verified by Mr Barfield producing some actual ancient artifacts, such as vessels of silver and gold; gems; and, ideally, the high priest's ephod and breastplate, and, of course, the Ark of the Covenant. And once the produced objects are authenticated by real archaeologists and other specialists, preferably in peer-review publications.
But I do have something to add. I will not try to address all the problems with Mr. Barfield's notions, but one stands out. In the early part of his video (start at 1:45) Mr. Barfield refers to a book called Emekh HaMelekh, published by a Rabbi Naphtali Hertz (Bachrah) in 1648. The relevant section is actually a copy of a text called The Treatise of the Vessels which contains legends about the hiding of the Temple treasures from the Babylonians when the First Temple was destroyed in 587/586 BCE. I published the first full English translation of this document a few years ago.

Mr. Barfield claims that this text tells the story of the writing of the Copper Scroll.

The Treatise of the Vessels does indeed tell about the writing of a list of the hidden treasures on a tablet. One version of the story does say that tablet was made of bronze. But there's a problem.

The legendary treasures recorded on this fictional tablet were the treasures of the First Temple, which was destroyed by the Babylonians in 587/586 BCE. The treasures of the Copper Scroll were probably real, and were possibly treasures of the Temple, but of Herod's Temple that was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. Everyone agrees, and the evidence is quite clear, that the Copper Scroll was produced in the late first or early second century CE. It has nothing to do with the First Temple or its treasures. It cannot be the bronze tablet mentioned in the The Treatise of the Vessels, which is probably just a legend anyway.

Mr. Barfield starts with this fundamental misunderstanding of the Copper Scroll and then goes on to present a detailed edifice of inferences that the Temple treasures are hidden in a sealed cave at the site of Qumran. The connection of the Copper Scroll to The Treatise of the Vessels is embedded in this edifice and he refers to it from time to time in the rest of the video.

It's not clear to me whether he could make his case without reference to The Treatise. It does seem important to parts of it. More to the point, this weak start at the beginning of his presentation makes it difficult to take any of the rest very seriously. But if Mr. Barfield wants to convince me or any other specialist that any of his notions are correct, he can do so by producing some of these Temple treasures, recovered in a scientific excavation and published in peer review venues.

I published my introduction and translation of The Treatise of the Vessels in Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: More Noncanonical Scriptures, vol. 1 (ed. Bauckham, Davila, and Panayotov; Eerdmans, 2013), pp. 393-409. For past posts on it start here (cf. here) and follow the many links. For the many past posts on the Copper Scroll, start with the same two links.

Love spells in the Cairo Geniza

GENIZA FRAGMENT OF THE MONTH: T-S K12.89: ‘Like Esther in front of Ahasuerus.’ Again, this is an old FOTM post from July 2010. The subject matter is the influence of biblical stories and texts on Jewish love spells found in the Cairo Geniza.

UNESCO resolution on Israel toned down

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: UNESCO Resolution against Israel softened: "A significant achievement" (Rachel Avraham, Jerusalem Online).
The Temple Mount issue, which caused great uproar previously, will not be mentioned but the resolution will condemn Israeli activity in East Jerusalem and Gaza. Israeli sources noted that the wording was softened and called it a “significant achievement for the Foreign Ministry and Israeli diplomacy in one of the most difficult and hostile arenas for Israel.”
Background here and links. Cross-file under Politics.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Waqf workers arrested for assault on archaeologists

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Israel Arrests Temple Mount Officials After Assault on Archaeologists. Waqf officials say Israeli archaeologists tried to remove stones from the complex, violating status quo (Nir Hasson, Haaretz).
Israeli Police arrested four workers of the Waqf, the Islamic trust responsible for managing Muslim sites in Jerusalem's Old City, on suspicion that they were involved in an attack Monday on Antiquities Authority staff on Temple Mount.

Waqf officials allege that the incident happened after Israeli archaeologists tried to remove stones from the Temple Mount complex, which the Palestinians say violates the status quo. Six other Waqf employees were arrested earlier on Monday, four of whom remain in custody.

An Antiquities Authority official told Haaretz on Tuesday that the archaeologists were touring Temple Mount to examine areas under threat of collapse. The official said the incident began after one of the archaeologists picked up a stone that had fallen in order to examine it. He added that there was no intent to remove anything from the complex.

Another attack on archaeologists by Waqf members was reported back in July and led to formal charges. Background here and here.

Jarick (ed.), SOTS at 100

SOTS at 100: Centennial Essays of the Society for Old Testament Study

Editor(s): John Jarick

Published: 01-12-2017
Format: Hardback
Edition: 1st
Extent: 224
ISBN: 9780567673640
Imprint: Bloomsbury T&T Clark
Series: The Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies
Volume: 650
Dimensions: 6 1/8" x 9 1/4"
List price: $114.00
Online price: $102.60
Save $11.40 (10%)

About SOTS at 100: Centennial Essays of the Society for Old Testament Study
This volume presents an important insight into the history of scholarship on the Old Testament over the last 100 years. Presented in collaboration with the Society for Old Testament Study, which celebrates its centenary in 2017, the volume examines the shifting patterns in scholarship on the Old Testament over the last century, from the types of subject studied to the demographic make-up of the scholars working on the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible themselves. The volume has been written by several longstanding members and officers of the society. As such the volume presents a remarkable history of scholarship of Old Testament studies.

Krause, Synagogues in the Works of Flavius Josephus

Synagogues in the Works of Flavius Josephus
Rhetoric, Spatiality, and First-Century Jewish Institutions

Andrew R. Krause, Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster
In Synagogues in the Works of Flavius Josephus, Andrew Krause analyses the place of the synagogue within the cultural and spatial rhetoric of Flavius Josephus. Engaging with both rhetorical critical methods and critical spatial theories, Krause argues that in his later writings Josephus portrays the Jewish institutions as an important aspect of the post-Temple, pan-diasporic Judaism that he creates. Specifically, Josephus consistently treats the synagogue as a supra-local rallying point for the Jews throughout the world, in which the Jewish customs and Law may be practiced and disseminated following the loss of the Temple and the Land. Conversely, in his earliest extant work, Bellum judaicum, Josephus portrays synagogues as local temples in order to condemn the Jewish insurgents who violated them.

Phoenicians in America?

PHOENICIAN WATCH: Theory: Ancient Phoenicians were the first to discover the Americas ( When I see headlines like this one, my heart sinks. I figure I'm going to have to endure some more nonsense. But in this case the headline was just clickbait and the article itself is pretty good. It sums up the claims and the evidence that has been advanced in their favor, then reports correctly that the evidence has been found wanting. It concludes:
Most of the modern-day scholars deny the idea that Phoenicians, Canaanites, or Carthaginians discovered the Americas first.

Ronald H. Fritze, an American historian, says that although it was technically possible for those people to reach the Americas, it probably never happened:

“No archaeological evidence has yet been discovered to prove the contentions of Irwin, Gordon, Bailey, Fell and others. Since even the fleeting Norse presence in Vinland left definite archaeological remains at L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, it seems logical that the allegedly more extensive Phoenician and Carthaginian presence would have left similar evidence. The absence of such remains is strong circumstantial evidence that the Phoenicians and Carthaginians never reached the Americas.”

Until some concrete evidence appears, this theory will remain only a fantasy.
I would say all modern scholars reject this idea. I know of no remaining exceptions.

I have covered these issues in greater detail here and links. Cross-file under New World Forgery Watch.

Greenberg on Be'eri and the Israel Prize

David Be’eri’s Useful Idiots

Every archaeological discovery made in the City of David in the past twenty years can be measured in the dispossession and humiliation it has caused to the Palestinians of Silwan, in its contribution to the settlers’ aim of claiming the Temple Mount, and in its acquiescence in the contempt for scientific archaeology shown by David Be’eri and El’ad.

See Also: Jerusalem’s “What Me Worry” Archaeology

A Future for the Archaeology of Jerusalem

By Raphael Greenberg
Dept. of Archaeology and ANE
Tel Aviv University
March 2017
Background here and here. Cross-file under Politics.

The attribution in the original title to this post was incorrect. Apologies for the error.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Students excavate Second Temple site used by Bar Kokhba rebels

ARCHAEOLOGY: Students unearth a 2000-year-old Jewish settlement (Ynet News).
Boyer High School in Jerusalem will fund most of its youth delegation’s visit to Poland by working at archaeological digs. This week, the school’s students are helping unearth a site discovered in recent months: A rare and impressive array of ritual baths and underground systems used by rebels during the Bar Kokhba Revolt.

Some 240 eleventh-grade students from Jerusalem’s Boyer High School have discovered an original and rewarding way of reducing their travel costs to Poland: Working for an entire week on archeological excavations at Ramat Beit Shemesh, far from their computers and air-conditioned classrooms.

The students are involved in unearthing exciting archeological finds at the site. In recent months, the remains of a Jewish settlement dating to the Second Temple period have been found to include an extensive complex of ritual baths and underground hiding refuges.

The excavations are being carried out with funding provided by the Ministry of Construction and Housing prior to the building of a new residential neighborhood in Ramat Beit Shemesh, in cooperation with the Israel Antiquities Authority and with the participation of pre-army course cadets.

The settlement, whose ancient name is unknown, has so far yielded eight ritual baths, cisterns, and hiding refuges, along with rock-hewn industrial installations. The houses themselves have not survived and their stones were taken to construct buildings in later periods.


Underneath the dwellings and rock-hewn installations, another surprising discovery was unearthed, dating to the time of the Bar Kokhba Revolt (second century CE)—a winding labyrinth of hiding refuges connected to sophisticated and elaborate complexes. In some of the underground complexes, the rebels breached a cistern to provide those in hiding with access to water. One of the caves also yielded intact ceramic jars and cooking pots that were probably used by the rebels. The finds show that the settlement continued to exist even after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE.


The Talmud on happiness and national mourning

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Why Jews Are Forbidden to Be Happy. Talmudic rabbis debate just how much of life should be forsaken as part of the Jewish responsibility to mourn for the past.
Should a Jew ever be completely happy? The question is likely to provoke an indignant “of course.” Why shouldn’t a Jew have as much right to happiness as anyone else? Yet the more you know about the Jewish past, the harder it is to avoid the inheritance of sorrow that is an essential part of Jewishness. We are, after all, a people whose holidays revolve around the threat of annihilation. On Purim, we read about the near genocide of the Persian Jews by Haman; on Passover, we will celebrate the Israelites’ hairsbreadth escape from the Egyptian army at the Red Sea.

And sometimes, of course, there was no escape. ...
Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Was Herod great, terrible, or both?

Herod the Great, or Herod the Terrible?

By Paul N. Anderson
George Fox University
Newberg, Oregon
March 2017

The fourth episode of CNN’s “Finding Jesus” second season focuses on King Herod, who ruled in Judea from 37-4 BC. In the Gospel of Matthew, Herod is portrayed as a ruthless, self-absorbed king, who slaughtered all the baby boys in Bethlehem—two years old and younger—because he was threatened by the quest of the Magi. If the wise men coming from the East were seeking the newborn “king of the Jews,” might this imply eventual competition for Herod’s throne? Matthew portrays the wise men being led by a dream to return without informing Herod of their findings; hence his being threatened, and thus his ruthless response.

But what would Josephus say?
So, while the Matthean presentation of Herod is that of a ruthless regent rather than a righteous royal, I’m not sure that Josephus would have disagreed. Perhaps Herod the Great and Herod the Terrible are not as disparate appellatives as one might imagine. And, on that score, Josephus and Matthew might have agreed.
That sounds about right to me. There are many past PaleoJudaica posts on Herod the Great and the excavations at Herodium. Start here (where I also comment on Matthew's account in the context of what we know about Herod from elsewhere) and follow the links.

Review of Reif and Egger-Wenzel (eds.), Ancient Jewish Prayers and Emotions

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Entreaty and Emotion, Theory and Texts: Studies in Second Temple Jewish Prayers (Andrew Krause).
Stefan C. Reif and Renate Egger-Wenzel (eds.), Ancient Jewish Prayers and Emotions: The Emotions Associated with Jewish Prayer in and around the Second Temple Period. Deuterocanonical and Cognate Literature Series 26. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2015.

The study of emotions in literature has seen an understandable boon in recent years. Embodiment in texts stands as an important corrective to the positivistic tendency of exegetes and some historians to assume tacitly that meaning is entirely propositional, whereas the phenomenological study of emotions allows us to delve the depths of the cognitive processes behind the text in new and penetrating ways. Ancient Jewish Prayers and Emotions is the conference proceedings from the meeting of the International Society for the Study of Deuterocanonical and Cognate Literature at the University of Haifa 2–5 February, 2014. As with most collections in this series, the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha hold pride of place, but the Qumran Scrolls receive a considerable amount of consideration. This state of affairs can be instructive, as it places the Scrolls in conversation with other texts in some temporal and cultural proximity, even if the exact relations remain unclear.

I noted the book recently here. Earlier essays in AJR's current series on the Dead Sea Scrolls (in honor of the 70th anniversary of their discovery) are noted here and links.

Neutal on ancient masculinity

CSCO BLOG: Ancient Masculinity by Dr. Karin Neutal. "In this newest video, Dr. Karin Neutal (University of Oslo) discusses ancient masculinity and circumcision."

Monday, March 27, 2017

Where are the Hazor archives?

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: Where Are the Royal Archives at Tel Hazor? Searching for cuneiform tablets at Tel Hazor (Marek Dospěl). Where indeed? Yigael Yadin thought he knew, and he was getting set to go find them when he died unexpectedly back in 1984. Then, excavations began again at Hazor in 1990. Amnon Ben-Tor and (the late) Sharon Zuckerman have been looking since then and have not found the archives, so the answer is not obvious. I noted that they were looking back in 2005 and (when another cuneiform tablet was found there) in 2007. I mentioned the search again in passing in 2010 and again in the same year (cf. here) when the excavation found a couple of new cuneiform fragments.

The BAR article by Shlomit Bechar is behind a subscription wall, but the BHD essay is reasonably informative. If she knows where the archives are, I wish her and the excavation team all good and speedy success in finally finding them. The recovery of the Hazor archives would revolutionize our knowledge of the land of Israel in the second millennium BCE.

Louis Feldman 1926-2017

SAD NEWS FROM H-JUDAIC: Passing of Professor Louis Feldman.
H-Judaic is deeply saddened to learn [from Dr Edward Reichman and Menachem Butler] of the passing of Professor Louis Feldman (1926-2017), the Abraham Wouk Family Professor of Classics and Literature at Yeshiva University, where Prof. Feldman taught for some 60 years. Prof. Feldman was recognized around the world as the "Dean" of Josephus scholars and contributed greatly to our understanding of Jewish life during the Hellenistic era. He published numerous books (see below) and hundreds of articles --243 are listed in RAMBI. He was a "scholar's scholar" -- a model of dedication to craft coupled with modesty and wide-ranging learning. The Encyclopedia Judaica article on Prof. Feldman reads as follows: ...
May his memory be for a blessing.

A Geniza papyrus codex containing piyyutim

GENIZA FRAGMENT OF THE MONTH: T-S 6H9–21, the papyrus codex rebound (Rebecca J. W. Jefferson).
In the course of research into ancient book-binding practices and their relevance to the conservation of the sewn structures preserved in the Jacques Mosseri Genizah Collection, I rediscovered some very interesting negatives in the archives of the Library’s Imaging Services Department. The negatives—long thought lost—show the Taylor-Schechter Collection’s unique papyrus codex, T-S 6H9–21, as it was when it was first discovered, and I hope that they will prove of great interest to codicologists and historians of the early medieval book.

The late Professor Ezra Fleischer identified the fragments as a collection of liturgical poems by the Palestinian payṭan, Joseph b. Nissan of Neve Qiryatayim (a contemporary of Eleazar b. Kallir c. sixth century CE). At some point during the eighth or ninth century CE, a scribe copied Nissan’s poems out on to the papyrus leaves and the leaves were bound into a codex.

This is another old post, from July 2009. The codex would have been one of the earliest texts in the Cairo Geniza and it is a copy of late-antique liturgical poems.

On composite citations in antiquity

CSCO BLOG: Composite Citations in Antiquity (Dr. Sean Adams and Dr. Seth Ehorn).
Over 20 percent of Paul’s quotations are composite. More than 17 percent of the citations in the Synoptic Gospels are composite. Despite these relatively high percentages, there has been surprisingly little research focused on composite citations in the New Testament. Until now. The fundamental premise of our two volumes, Composite Citations in Antiquity, is that the New Testament authors were embedded within their Graeco-Roman literary environment. Therefore, we set out to study examples of composite citations across a range of texts. The first volume, Graeco-Roman, Jewish, and Early Christian Uses, was released in 2016 and the second, New Testament Uses, is expected for release in early 2018 (but look for it at the 2017 SBL in Boston).

I noted the publication of volume 1 here.

PhD theses from Macquarie University

AWOL: Open Access Dissertations from Macquarie University Department of Ancient History. The topics of these recent PhD thesis are wide ranging and some of them are relevant to ancient Judaism.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Petersen and van Kooten (eds.), Religio-Philosophical Discourses in the Mediterranean World

Religio-Philosophical Discourses in the Mediterranean World
From Plato, through Jesus, to Late Antiquity

Edited by Anders Klostergaard Petersen, Aarhus University and George van Kooten, University of Groningen
This first volume of the new Brill series “Ancient Philosophy & Religion” is a collection of articles by scholars of Classics, Ancient Philosophy, and Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity. The articles are based on papers presented at two colloquia on the interface between Ancient Philosophy and Religion at the universities of Aarhus and Cambridge. They focus extensively on Platonic philosophy and piety and sketch an emerging religio-philosophical discourse in ancient Judaism (both in the Sibylline Oracles and 4 Maccabees). Furthermore, this volume studies Seneca’s religio-philosophical understanding of 'consolation', compares early depictions of Jesus with those of ancient philosophers, and, finally, reconsiders responses of pagan philosophers to Christianity from the second century to Late Antiquity.

Was the Tabernacle upholstered with beaded hides?

DR. RABBI NORMAN SOLOMON: What was the Tachash Covering the Tabernacle? Animal, Vegetable or Mineral? Assyriology and archaeology provide an answer to an ancient question ( Conclusion:
Beaded hides are, from many points of view, the ideal material with which to cover a Tabernacle; they are aesthetically pleasing, fit for royalty, strong, and resist sun, rain, dust and probably arrows too.

It has taken a couple of thousand years to unravel the mystery, but the answer appears to be that no badgers, seals, dolphins or unicorns were necessary to construct the mishkan. Rather like many of the elements in mishkan account, it was a standard luxury product of the ANE.

4 Maccabees and self-control

READING ACTS: Fourth Maccabees and a Rational Faith.
The “temperate mind” restrains the impulses of the body, what Paul calls “self-control” in Galatians 5:23. That Paul and 4 Maccabees both have a high view of the Law and the virtue of self-control is not necessarily and indication Paul knew the book or vice versa. Likely as not both the author of 4 Maccabees and Paul are drawing on implications of the wisdom literature drawn through the intellectual grid of a first century worldview which includes elements of Stoicism and other Greek philosophical streams.
Past posts in Phil Long's series on the Second Temple Period are noted here and links.

Oriental Institute Open Access Publications

AWOL: The Oriental Institute Open Access Publications. So many links!

Review of Glinert, The Story of Hebrew

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Story of Hebrew’ is a scholarly, engaging history of the language (Jonathan Kirsch, The Jewish Journal).
One of the curiosities in “The Story of Hebrew” by Lewis Glinert (Princeton University Press) is that the author manages to write a history of the Hebrew language without using a single Hebrew letter in the text, although Hebrew appears in the illustrations, including a page from Franz Kafka’s Hebrew notebook. Indeed, Glinert announces at the outset of his richly detailed and wholly fascinating book that it is “not much a book about what Hebrew words mean as about what the Hebrew language has meant to the people who have possessed it.”