Saturday, December 23, 2017

What wine did the Maccabees drink?

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS: What Were the Maccabees of Hanukkah [Sic throughout] Drinking? (NeatPour).
Today, Hannukah is celebrated by millions who light the menorah, eat some latkes, and enjoy a seasonal tipple of their libation of choice. During the uprising that inspired the holiday, the surroundings were harsher: hostile Roman Legionnaires, dangerous bacteria in the water, and not enough oil to light a lamp, let alone fry a latke. However, what did they drink? Research suggests that our holiday protagonists were sipping’ on watered down Marawi wine.

I don't know how accurate this. The consistent misspelling of "Hanukkah" does not speak for the rigor of the research. But some of the details are interesting. The part about watering down the wine sounds right.

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Review of Shyovitz, A Remembrance of His Wonders

THE TALMUD BLOG: David Shyovitz’s “A Remembrance of His Wonders.”
David Shyovitz, A Remembrance of His Wonders: Nature and the Supernatural in Medieval Ashkenaz, reviewed by Miri Fenton
His book reframes the German Pietists (Hasidei Ashkenaz), and their interests in the supernatural, werewolves, adjuration, and divination as “markers of intellectual sophistication and integration into a broader European culture that was investing unprecedented energy into investigating the scientific workings and spiritual meaning of its natural surroundings” (3). ...
This deals with an area somewhat later than PaleoJudaica's usual range, but I have an interest in the Hasidei Ashkenaz because of their reception and editing of earlier traditions, notably the Hekhalot literature.

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Farming myrrh, frankincense and ... amber

'TIS THE SEASON — FOR ENTREPRENEURS: Smells Like Heaven: Israeli Farm Recreates Magi’s Gifts to Jesus (Reuters and the Algemeiner).
The aromatic plants bestowed on the infant Jesus are being cultivated by an Israeli entrepreneur who aims to transform the gifts of the Christmas story into therapeutic balms and incense.

Manger aside, the baby Jesus may have been swaddled in pleasant and pricey fragrances, thanks to the presents that the Bible says were given to him by the Wise Men of the East.

I see no reason to think that the gold in Matthew's nativity story was meant to be understood as anything but gold. That said, amber is nice.

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When and where was the Joseph story written?

DR. SHIRLY BEN-DOV EVIAN: Was the Joseph Story Written in Egypt During the Persian Period? (
Egyptologists have long searched the details of the Joseph story for clues to when the story was written. Does the Jewish experience as a diaspora community in Egypt hold the clue to the story’s origin?

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"Operation Zeus" seizes thousands of artifacts in Turkey

APPREHENDED: Nearly 26,500 ancient artifacts seized in biggest operation in Turkey’s history (Hurriyet Daily News).
Istanbul police on Dec. 21 seized 26,456 ancient artifacts and detained 13 suspects as part of an operation considered the biggest in Turkish history in Istanbul.

Among the items recovered were a golden queen's crown with an inscription of the Hellenistic god, Helios, a bust dedicated to Alexander the Great's conquest of India and a statue of a goddess dating back to the Hittite era 3,000 years ago.

The 26,456 objects recovered also included Egyptian-origin statues and Phoenician-type teardrop vials.

Once again, the Turkish authorities demonstrate their attention to the problem of antiquities smuggling. Good for them.

There is no mention of Torah manuscripts or metal codices in this haul and I don't see any sign of either in the photograph. This group of detainees may not be the same as the one(s) who were dealing in such dubious artifacts. But it sounds worthwhile to keep an eye on the story just to see what else comes up as the seized artifacts are examined.

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Those animals in the Nativity scene

'TIS THE SEASON: An ox, an ass … a dragon? Sorry, there were no animals in the Bible’s nativity scene (Meredith Warren, The Conversation).
From nativity plays to crèche sets to Christmas cards, animals are ubiquitous in our vision of the birth of Christ – but according to the Bible, not a single animal was there. Where did all these animals come from, and why are they now so central to the story?

Only two parts of the Bible talk about Jesus’ birth: the Gospels of Luke and Matthew. Mark and John skip over Jesus’ infancy and head straight to his adult life. So how similar are the narratives of Matthew and Luke to the version familiar to anyone who has attended a Christmas church service or children’s nativity play? Christmas carols such as Away In A Manger sing about the cattle lowing – and in Little Drummer Boy they keep time. There’s even a song called Little Donkey about the beast that carries Mary to Bethlehem in our vision of the Christmas story. But do these images appear in the actual Gospels?

They don't in the canonical Four Gospels. The Protevangelium of James (cf. here) and some other apocryphal gospels are another matter. And, yes, dragons are involved too. Cats are a more recent addition.

HT AJR. Cross-file under New Testament Apocrypha Watch.

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Friday, December 22, 2017

The Protevangelium of James in the New York Times

'TIS THE SEASON: Away in a Manger... Or Under a Palm Tree? (Mustafa Akyol, New York Times).
A key Christian document that diverges from the gospels of Matthew and Luke on the Nativity is the Protevangelium of James — a “Gospel” that didn’t make it into the New Testament and thus remained “apocryphal.” Its purported author is James, the brother of Jesus, but scholars think that it was written generations later, sometime in the latter half of the second century. It is called a “protevangelium,” or “pre-Gospel,” because it highlights the life of the infant Jesus, which is not discussed much in the New Testament.

In the Protevangelium, we read that Jesus was born not in Bethlehem but somewhere in the “desert” between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Mary, according to this story, went into labor while riding between the towns. Her husband, Joseph, found a nearby “cave” for her and went out to Bethlehem to find a “Hebrew midwife.” When Joseph returned with her, Jesus was born. “My soul has been magnified this day,” the midwife said, according to James’s account, “because my eyes have seen strange things, because salvation has been brought forth to Israel.”
Cross-file under New Testament Apocrypha Watch. For more on the Protevangelium of James, see here.

As the author of the article notes, the Qur'an also has a variant account of the birth of Jesus which may have some overlap with the Protevangelium of James.

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Thursday, December 21, 2017

Hunter and Coakley (eds.), A Syriac Service-Book from Turfan

Berliner Turfantexte (BTT 39)
A Syriac Service-Book from Turfan
Museum für asiatische Kunst, Berlin MS MIK III 45

E. Hunter, J-F Coakley (eds.)
X+307 p., 17 b/w ill., 111 b/w tables, 210 x 297 mm, 2017
ISBN: 978-2-503-57471-4
Languages: English, Syriac
The publication is available.
Retail price: EUR 65,00 excl. tax

An edition and study of an 8th-9th century Syriac manuscript from Bulayïq near Turfan, the earliest extant witness of the Penqita or ḥudra.
In 1905, a substantial Syriac manuscript of 60 leaves, containing a Christian service-book, was discovered by the second German Turfan Expedition at the monastery site of Bulayïq. Since then, although the existence of this manuscript (which has received the signature of MIK III 45) has been mentioned from time to time in the scholarly literature, its text has never been published. The present volume offers ‘for the first time’ an edition of the Syriac text, English translation and critical introduction to MIK III 45. The Syriac text is of the Penqita, the book later known as the ḥudra, containing the variable parts of the daily offices and eucharist, to which have been appended some occasional services of the Church of the East, including the burial service. The 60 folios are the surviving part (about one quarter) of a manuscript datable to the eighth or ninth century and, on account of this dating, can be considered to be the earliest extant witness to the Penqita which was the project of the seventh-century patriarch Isho'yab III who drew up the outline for the ecclesiastical year that is still followed today in the Church of the East. The editors argue that MIK III 45 was probably written in Merv –it would be the only Syriac manuscript known from that Christian centre – for transport to the Christian church in distant Turfan.
Cross-file under Syriac Watch. HT Dr. Erica C D Hunter at the Hugoye List.

For past posts on the important manuscripts found at Turfan, which include fragmentary copies of Manichean (Manichaean) manuscripts of the Book of Giants, see here and links.

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Cautions about digital technology

THE ETC BLOG: The problem with digitizing our discipline (Peter Gurry). He raises some legitimate concerns. Cross-file under Technology Watch.

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Deconstructing Delilah

Re-Imagining Delilah’s Afterlives as a Femme Fatale

The biblical narrative is riddled with gaps and ambiguities around Delilah’s character – we are told nothing about her social status or ethnicity, her personality, the nature of her relationship (emotional, sexual, or otherwise) with Samson, or even her motives for betraying him. This ambiguity in turn provides readers and creators of her cultural afterlives with a ‘multi-layered system of realized and unrealized potentialities’ that they can engage with imaginatively to construct their own afterlives for this intriguing persona…

See Also: Reimagining Delilah’s Afterlives as Femme Fatale: The Lost Seduction (T&T Clark, 2017).

By Caroline Blyth
Senior Lecturer in Religious Studies
University of Auckland
December 2017

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Jerusalem Estates and coins of the Jewish revolts

NUMISMATICS MEETS REAL ESTATE MARKETING: VIDEO: Ancient Jewish Coins A Key Motif Of Jerusalem Estates Linking The Luxury Development To The Past (Yeshiva World).
Yerushalayim…Concurrent with the rapidly rising Jerusalem Estates luxurious residential complex is an extraordinary effort to conserve the historic character of the 150-year old Schneller Compound. At the same time that one of the most contemporary and modern housing developments is being built is a parallel tract of linkage to the thousands of years of history of the ancient holy city. As part of the creative development that links the project with the glorious past of Yerushalayim is a program that designates each building by an ancient coin with its original name and motif. These are antique coins from the period of the end of the second Bet Hamikdash and Bar Kochba.

Cross-file under Popular Culture.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Byzantine-era monastery uncovered in Beit-Shemesh

ARCHAEOLOGY: ARTIFACTS FROM 1,500-YEAR-OLD MONASTERY AND CHURCH UNEARTHED IN BEIT SHEMESH. Well-preserved Byzantine-era colored mosaic floors and imported marble antiquities discovered (Daniel K. Eisenbud, Jerusalem Post).
With a little help from over 1,000 teenaged volunteers, archeologists recently unearthed the well-preserved remains of a 1,500-year-old Byzantine-era monastery and church in Beit Shemesh decorated with colorful mosaic tiles and imported marble antiquities.

Three years ago I noted an article on this excavation here. At the time the excavators had tentatively identified the site as a monastery, but the evidence was not yet conclusive. Now the identification seems to be secure. At the time there was not yet any sign of a church, but that appears now to have been uncovered too.

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Ignatius and pseudo-Ignatius on Sabbath observation

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Dissertation Spotlight | Phillip Fackler.
Phillip Fackler, “Forging Christianity: Jews and Christians in Pseudo-Ignatius,” Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, 2017.
The early Christian writer, Ignatius of Antioch (d. ca. 107 ce) did not mince words about the issues that concerned him. He criticized people who denied Jesus’ divinity, warned against churches without bishops, raised suspicions about people who were too bookish in their piety, and railed against “Sabbatizers.” In his formulation, even ancient Israel’s prophets rejected the Sabbath (lit. sabbatizontes) and instead lived “according to the Lord’s day.” [1] That is, they revered Sunday and its association with Jesus rather than observing Sabbath.

Those familiar with Christian thought, especially certain readings of Paul, may understand a rejection of “Jewish” practice to be a crucial component of Christian thought, then or now. Curiously, however, the most careful ancient reader of Ignatius saw things rather differently. Sometime near the end of the fourth century, an anonymous scribe carefully read and revised the Ignatian epistles, extensively amending many of the letters and adding a few of his own in Ignatius’s name. This “Pseudo-Ignatius” amends the earlier text to support the view that Christians should observe Sabbath. What distinguishes Jews and Christians is not observing Sabbath but how they do so. ...

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UCLA and the Sinai Palimpsests Project

TECHNOLOGY WATCH: Lost ancient texts recovered and published online through international partnership. Arcadia funds project of St. Catherine’s Monastery, the UCLA Library, and Early Manuscripts Electronic Library(Kathy Brown, UCLA Library).
Previously unknown classical Greek mythological and medical works, newly discovered classical scientific texts preserved only in Syriac translation, religious writings in extinct languages, an ancient Christian poem describing Old Testament figures in Homeric style and detailed illustrations of plants, buildings and people have re-emerged for the first time in centuries through the Sinai Palimpsests Project.

It's good to see that my alma mater UCLA is involved with this important project.

For new readers: a palimpsest is a manuscript that has two layers of writing on it, an older one that has been erased, and a more recent text that was written over the erased one. Modern technology is increasingly allowing us to recover the erased lower layer of writing on these manuscripts.

For more on the palimpsests from St. Catherine's Monastery, see here and links. For other posts on palimpsest manuscripts, start here and follow the links.

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Synagogue opened in Western Wall tunnels complex

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH (SUBTERRANEAN EDITION): NEW WESTERN WALL TUNNELS SYNAGOGUE OPENED. The synagogue is deep inside the complex and is adjacent to the area above which the ancient Jewish temples on the Temple Mount stood, and the inner sanctum of the Holy of Holies in particular (Jeremy Sharon, Jerusalem Post).

This news is not playing well in some circles: Israel unveils new synagogue in Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa (Middle East Monitor).

The MEMO article appears to deny any Jewish connection to the Western Wall (the "Al-Buraq Wall"). In actuality, the Western Wall was part of the retaining wall for the Herodian Temple. In Islamic tradition, it is also where the Prophet Muhammad tied his celestial steed Al-Buraq during his visionary visit to Jerusalem and heavenly ascent (Al-Miraj). Some more background on that is here and links.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Ten-part series on the (Proto)-MT by Tov

PROF. EMANUEL TOV: The (Proto-)Masoretic Text: A Ten-Part Series ( The link is to Part 1: The Bible and the Masoretic Text. The other nine parts are as follows:

Part 2 – Judean Desert Texts Outside Qumran
Part 3 – Socio-Religious Background and Stabilization
Part 4 – The Scribes of Proto-MT and their Practices
Part 5 – Precise Transmission of Inconsistent Spelling
Part 6 – Scribal Marks
Part 7 – Key Characteristics of the (Proto-)MT
Part 8 – Other Biblical Text Traditions
Part 9 – Evaluating (Proto-)MT
Part 10 – Editions and Translations of (Proto-)MT

This is an important subject and Professor Tov is the most qualified person to write on it. It is very good to have his overview of the subject here.

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The Talmud and the letter of the Law

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: The Letter of the Law. In this week’s ‘Daf Yomi,’ how a badly educated Jew might be able to complete a sex act with an ‘impure’ woman and not be sinful while a Talmud scholar could not.
Clearly, it matters to God that sacrifices are performed in just the right way. At the same time, however, the Talmud is insistent on bringing an ethical and spiritual dimension to laws that, in the Torah, often seem more like arbitrary superstitions or taboos. The rabbis do not say that any old sacrifice is acceptable to God; the law must be followed to the letter. At the same time, however, the ritual action must be performed in the proper spirit, with the heart directed to God. Kavanah, intention, is crucial to Jewish observance; in the kabbalistic tradition, it would even be endowed with cosmic and magic powers. This is the Jewish response to the Apostle Paul, a Jew turned Christian, who convinced the world that Judaism was a religion of the letter, while Christianity cared about the spirit. Not so, the rabbis would reply: what Judaism cares about is the right letter performed in the right spirit.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

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Developing historical sites in Jerusalem

ARCHAEOLOGY AND POLITICS: Regev pushes for extensive Old City excavations in Jerusalem. Culture minister initiates $70-million plan to uncover, preserve and develop historical sites from Har Etzion to City of David; 'This is the best response to those denying our bonds to Jerusalem and the best implementation of the Trump declaration,' Regev says (Itamar Eichner, Ynetnews).
Culture Minister Miri Regev has ordered the Israel Antiquities Authority to put plans in motion to undertake far-reaching archeological restoration of many historical Jerusalem sites, in a bid to strengthen Jewish bonds to the ancient city. Should the plan be approved, however, it may arouse stringent condemnation in the Arab world.

Some specifics:
Among the sites to be developed as part of the project are the Pool of Siloam, the Spring Fortress, the terraced street climbing from the City of David to the Temple Mount, the Givati parking lot, the Tanners' Gate plaza, the Western Wall's foundations below Robinson's Arch, the Southern Wall's Triple Gate and others. Works are intended to preserve, reconstruct and develop the sites, as well as to make them more accessible to visitors.
Well, that should make things interesting.

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The disputed Temple in Haggai

The Book of Haggai and the Rebuilding of the Temple in the Early Persian Period

It is more likely that any work that might have begun on the temple came to a halt because of problems within the community. This is suggested by the fact that the books of Haggai and Zechariah both assume that the people of Yehud, not outsiders, are to blame for not rebuilding the temple. The reasons for the slow progress on the temple are never directly stated in these books, but we can surmise what at least some of the obstacles to reconstruction may have been on the basis of what we know of the economic, social, political, and religious role of temples in the ancient Near East.

See Also: Disputed Temple: A Rhetorical Analysis of the Book of Haggai (Fortress Press, 2017).

By John Robert Barker, OFM
Catholic Theological Union
December 2017

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Monday, December 18, 2017

The Maccabean Revolt in Daniel 7

'TIS THE SEASON (HANUKKAH EDITION): Daniel’s Vision of the Four Beasts: The Prehistory of Chanukah (Prof. Michael Segal,
The four beasts of Daniel 7 represent four kingdoms. The terrifying fourth beast with ten horns and iron teeth is the Greek kingdom of Syria. This beast grows a talking horn, which represents Antiochus IV, whose persecutions (167–164 B.C.E.), the biblical author believes, can only be stopped by divine intercession.

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Review of Wasserman, Jews, Gentiles, and Other Animals

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Book Note | Jews, Gentiles, and Other Animals: The Talmud After the Humanities (M Adryael Tong).
Mira Beth Wasserman. Jews, Gentiles, and Other Animals: The Talmud After the Humanities. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylania Press, 2017.
Mira Beth Wasserman’s thoroughly researched and beautifully written monograph is an ambitious foray by a Talmud scholar into the diverse, often-fractious, and notoriously difficult jungle of critical theory. Wasserman’s project has a number of moving parts, but essentially, it is a sustained reading of the entirety of the Babylonian Talmud tractate Avodah Zara (hereafter, “AZ”) as a literary whole. She argues that a close reading of the tractate reveals the Bavli’s redactors not as disinterested editors working merely to preserve texts they received, but as artists in their own right, carefully organizing the material in AZ under “an overarching plan or an undergirding logic” (p. 23). ...

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Ritmeyer on the Royal Stoa on the Temple Mount

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: The Royal Stoa of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem (Leen Ritmeyer).
During the Herodian period, a colonnaded hall, known as the Royal Stoa, graced the whole length of the Southern Wall. Constructed in the shape of a basilica with four rows of forty columns each, it formed a central nave in the east end and two side aisles. The central apse was the place of meeting for the Sanhedrin, the supreme Jewish Council. The main part of this building was used for the changing of money and purchase of sacrificial animals.

Dr. Ritmeyer interacts with the recent publication by Dr. Orit Peleg-Barkat (see here) and proposes a somewhat different reconstruction of the area.

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Duncan, Novel Hermeneutics in the Greek Pseudo-Clementine Romance

NEW BOOK FROM MOHR SIEBECK: PATRICIA A. DUNCAN, Novel Hermeneutics in the Greek Pseudo-Clementine Romance. [Roman-Hermeneutik in griechischen pseudoklementinischen Homilien.] 2017. XIV, 204 pages. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 395. 99,00 €. cloth. ISBN 978-3-16-155265-6.
Published in English.
Patricia A. Duncan examines the fourth-century Christian novel traditionally known as the Pseudo-Clementine Homilies (but here referred to as the Klementia) in order to show how the lengthy and complex narrative coheres as a rhetorical whole and works to initiate the reader into a revised, esoteric vision of the origins of Christianity. The novel is well known for its distinctive doctrine of “false pericopes” in the scriptures of the Jews, but equally important is the way it capitalizes on its narrative genre to correct false pericopes in the Gospels of the New Testament. Key to the novel's project is a construction of the apostle Peter as the chief tradent and the fully authorized interpreter of the words and deeds of the True Prophet Jesus. This Peter offers up of a law-abiding, monotheistic “Christianity” that is fully continuous with the religion of the followers of Moses.

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Sunday, December 17, 2017

Moss on Hanukkah

'TIS THE SEASON (HANUKKAH EDITION): The Mad King and the Secret History of Hanukkah. The story behind the holiday of Hanukkah is full of palace intrigue and rebellion (Candida Moss, The Daily Beast).
In their analysis of the Maccabean revolt, scholars tend to see Antiochus’ actions less as those of a persecutor and more as those of a legislator who sided with one (the reformist) of two competing factions in Jerusalem. Whether you see Antiochus as a pragmatic ruler or a crazed persecutor, these legislative actions culminated in the desecration of the Temple in Jerusalem.
A somewhat related PaleoJudaica post, with links, is here. On the fate of the Temple menorah, see here and links. And for many past posts on ancient menorahs and representations of menorahs, see here and here and links.

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The early history of Hanukkah

'TIS THE SEASON (HANUKKAH EDITION): The Original Meaning of Chanukah (Prof. Eyal Regev,
Why did Judah Maccabee establish the holiday? What were the religious and political factors ​that inspired the Maccabees to promote it throughout Judea and the diaspora?

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Inauguration of St. Catherine's Monastery

NOW REOPENED: St Catherine's Library and Mosaic of Transfiguration inaugurated after restoration. Work on restoring the library of St Catherine's Monastery began in 2014 (Nevine El-Aref, ahramonline).
Minister of Antiquities Khaled El-Enany, South Sinai Governor Major General Khaled Fouda, and St Catherine's Monastery Archbishop Dimetriose have inaugurated the first phase of the St Catherine's Library conservation project, including restoration of the Mosaic of Transfiguration.

The opening ceremony was attended by a number of ministers along with members of parliament and ambassadors of foreign countries in Egypt, as well as representatives of Pope Tawadros II and Al-Azhar Grand Imam Ahmed Al-Tayeb.

El-Enany described St Catherine's as "a source of inspiration that radiated across civilisation, both regionally and globally." He added: "St Catherine's Monastery combines Judaism, Christianity and Islam. This is what we could call the genius of Egypt and its reflection on the harmony between its components and its great people."

The article has some good photos. Background here. And follow the links from there for much more on the vast collection of precious ancient manuscripts in the monastery. And also see this: What you must know about St. Catherine Library (Angy Essam, Egypt Today).

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PSCO report on thinking with ancient animals

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: PSCO 2017-18: Thinking with Ancient Animals (Matthew Chalmers).
What, then, does thinking through animals get scholars of ancient religion? It opens a rich ancient archive, articulated with an alternative framework than those which we often use—religion, theology, scripture, or human history. It encourages us to engage more closely with possible relationships between religion and science. Technical knowledge, like that of divination or medicine or psychology functions within regimes of knowing entangled with non-human animals. And it cheerfully impedes taking our intellectual desires and projects for granted. If we are animals as well, what to do with conceptions of ancient religion that have space only for the human?

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