Saturday, August 25, 2018

Elman obit

AND ANOTHER TRIBUTE: Remembering Dr. Yaakov Elman, A Legendary Jewish Historian (Rabbi Ari Lamm, The Jewish Press).
In fact, one way of looking at Dr. Elman’s prodigious scholarship is as an exercise in exploring the atypical. Take for example the work for which he is best known: his pioneering studies in Irano-Talmudica, a field – which he completely revitalized – that seeks to situate the Talmud Bavli in its broader historical and intellectual context within the Sasanian Persian empire in pre-Islamic Iran. In several essays Dr. Elman noted some of the Bavli’s idiosyncratic features that distinguish it from earlier rabbinic literature. These include its theology of suffering, its beliefs about demons, its preoccupation with the way in which oral teachings are transmitted, and more.

What made the Bavli so different? For Dr. Elman the answer lay in the Bavli’s atypical context. Of the major rabbinical works of late antiquity it was the only one to develop in the Sasanian Empire, in which Zoroastrianism was the dominant religion. Over the course of about a decade and half Dr. Elman would argue for this as a signal factor in the Bavli’s unusual nature.

But there was so much more to Dr. Elman’s oeuvre than a mere fascination with the uncharacteristic. His scholarship had a purpose.
Background here and links

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Review of Verhoogt, Discarded, Discovered, Collected

BRYN MAYR CLASSICAL REVIEW: A. M. F. W. Verhoogt, Discarded, Discovered, Collected: The University of Michigan Papyrus Collection. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2017. Pp. xv, 186. ISBN 9780472053643. $39.95 (pb). Reviewed by W. Andrew Smith, Shepherds Theological Seminary ( ).
The University of Michigan papyrus collection is the largest in the US. As the collection approaches the centennial anniversary of its inception, a welcome introduction to its history, research, and influence has been provided in Discarded, Discovered, Collected by Arthur Verhoogt, professor of Papyrology and Greek at the University of Michigan. The brief volume introduces the collection in a format resembling a virtual tour, guiding the reader through individual items in the collection, with 65 color images of the manuscripts and five color charts. No knowledge of ancient languages is required, as every manuscript is presented in translation. Online resources are referenced for the non- specialist who desires to explore other pieces in the collection, and nearly every chapter ends with a short Further Reading bibliography. Verhoogt is to be commended for making this book accessible to a wide audience interested in papyri from ancient Egypt.

I noted the publication of the book here.

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Landes, Studies in the Development of Birkat Ha-Avodah

Studies in the Development of Birkat Ha-Avodah

By Yitz Landes

Publisher: The Mandel Institute of Jewish Studies
Prayers, Poetry and Piyutim
Publish date: August 2018
Language: Hebrew
Danacode: 45-131149
ISBN: 978-965-7763-82-7
Pages: 192
Weight: 500 gr.

Birkat Ha-Avoda of Tefillat Ha-Amidah has a long history spanning the Second Temple period to the early Middle Ages. This title follows the different formats of the prayer through the ages, examining a variety of sources: Writings from the Second Temple period, rabbinic texts, Christian texts, early Piyutim, medieval sources, and dozens of Siddurim and excerpts from Siddurim. The comparative study of these sources generates a detailed description of the development of Birkat Ha-Avoda, which sheds light on the history of the regular prayers and Jewish customs.

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HELL-ON-LINE is developing as a comprehensive on-line collection of over 100 visions, tours and descriptions of the infernal otherworld from the cultures of the world: principally from the Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Zoroastrian, Islamic and Jewish traditions from 2000 BCE to the present. ...
It looks pretty comprehensive.

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Friday, August 24, 2018

C-14 dating, Thera, and (not so much) the Exodus

TECHNOLOGY WATCH: New carbon-dating tool could pinpoint ancient eruption, gauge if tied to Exodus. Calibration technique aims to show exactly when Thera erupted on Santorini, some 4,000 years ago. Volcanic blast has been linked to rise and fall of civilizations, even the Plagues (Amanda Borschel-Dan, Times of Israel). This is quite a good article on exciting new developments in Carbon-14 dating technology which could offer refinements to our chronology of the ancient world. It's a pity that some editor gave it a clickbait headline about a fanciful connection to the Exodus. The core of the story is here:
One of the ongoing problems in dating the Thera eruption is that the timings derived from radiocarbon dating and archaeological evidence do not currently match up: The radiocarbon testing of contemporary organic material consistently results in a date of the late 17th century BCE. However, when archaeological evidence is also taken into account, two schools of thought are formed — a “high” or “low” chronology — which place the blast date about 100-150 years apart, from 1650-1500 BCE.

Now Pearson proposes that the calibration curve may be shifted to an annual resolution to resolve the discrepancy.

“We can use the annual precision of tree rings in combination with carbon-14 to underpin some big questions in terms of the rise and fall of civilizations,” said Pearson. “We can look at the tree rings as a timeline and connect with people that lived in the past, and I think that gives us more of a sense of who we are, but also a sense of where we’re going and perhaps ways to deal with some of the issues that we might collectively face.”
Dr. Pearson is working on refining the C-14 calibration from blocks of five or ten years down to a one-year resolution. And one of the events she is studying is the volcanic eruption at Thera. The Thera event is a real thing, for which we have an abundance of evidence. It is worthwhile to try to find out exactly when it happened. But it is controversial among biblical scholars whether the Exodus happened at all. Certainly the biblical account is a collection of late legends that may or may not preserve some memories of some much earlier event.

This article fully reflects that perspective and handles it with proper nuance. It is worth your time to read, especially for the information on the developments in C-14 technology.

Dr. Pearson is also appropriately cautious:
Asked whether she sees her study as having implications on the dating of the roots of the biblical Exodus story, Pearson questioned her qualifications to answer. In an email she wrote, “All I can say is that continued work to improve chronological frameworks is essential for the study of past civilizations!”
Some recent posts on current work on carbon dating are here (on Dr. Pearson's work), here, and here (on the work of Professor Stuart Manning, also mentioned in this article).

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Interview with James Kugel

WITH THETORAH.COM: Not a Naïve Reading: An Interview with Prof. James Kugel
Professor James Kugel was the Starr Professor of Hebrew Literature at Harvard University for 21 years before moving to Israel in 2003, where he is now Professor (Emeritus) of Bible at Bar Ilan University. He is the author of some 17 books and nearly 80 scholarly articles on various topics in Hebrew Bible.
It opens:
We’ve asked you on various occasions for a contribution to “The,” but so far you haven’t sent us anything. Why not?

Let me start off by saying how much I like your site. Truly! If only it was called “,” I wouldn’t have any problem contributing. But for me, at least, there’s a big difference between the Pentateuch and the Torah. The Pentateuch consists of the first five books of the Bible, Genesis through Deuteronomy; “Pentateuch” (at least as I mean it here) is considered a religiously neutral, descriptive term, and, consequently, the one that biblical scholars use in their research.

The Torah, by contrast, is still a mostly Jewish term, and in Judaism it has always meant something more than just those five books. It includes not only the actual words of the Pentateuch, but likewise a huge store of interpretations and expansions that have accompanied those first five books since ancient times, as well as a set of assumptions about how those books are to be read. I think there’s still a lot of unclarity about this difference, so I’ve spent quite a few years hammering away at it. I think that, in this sense, the Pentateuch and the Torah are truly two different documents.

Actually, I don’t think you disagree with this. But from your website it appears that the founders of and many of its contributors nevertheless believe that the study of these two books, the Torah and the Pentateuch, can be combined. I don’t think it can, and that’s the reason for my reluctance to contribute; to me, it seems that you’re trying to reconcile the irreconcilable.

In this long interview Professor Kugel tackles many interesting questions. You should read it, especially if you like the essays I link to on PaleoJudaica.

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Date changes for ARAM gnosticism and Mandaeism conferences

RELIGION PROF: ARAM Conferences on Gnosticism and Mandaeism #CFP | James McGrath (James McGrath). If you are planning on going to either, make sure to note the date correction.

Background here and here.

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Performing the eschatological banquet

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Performing Apocalyptic Texts: Teaching the Eschatological Banquet from the Dead Sea Scrolls (Shayna Sheinfeld).
Performing the banquet shifted their analysis from the realm of the academic into the realm of something that is socially functional, assisting with student thinking about the ancient texts as representative of real people and their actions and beliefs.
This is one of the essays in AJR's current pedagogy series.

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Thursday, August 23, 2018

The Netanyahu tablet

POLITICAL ONOMASTICS: Museum loans prime minister 2,600-year-old ‘Netanyahu tablet.’ Ancient cuneiform Babylonian artifact bearing name 'Benayahu ben Netanyahu' will be shown to visiting dignitaries (AP and Times of Israel).

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Interview with the "savior of the Iraqi Jewish Archives"

MORE ON THOSE ARCHIVES: Discover The Savior of Iraqi Jewish Archives – Beyond the Matrix [audio] (Israel News Talk Radio via the Jewish Press).
Rod Bryant and Jerry Gordon interviewed Dr. Harold Rhode while he was in Macedonia lecturing on the Iraqi Jewish archives and the importance of Jewish identity. Rhode was able with both Iraqi opposition and Washington connections to miraculously retrieve the Iraqi Jewish archives found in the flooded basement of Saddam Hussein’s intelligence headquarters in Baghdad in 2003 that were eventually and wonderfully restored by the US National Archives and Records Agency. The archives are awaiting a Trump White House decision to determine whether the Archives remain in the US or go to Israel, instead of Iraq.

Dr. Harold Rhode has been involved with the archives from the beginning. I have mentioned him in this connection here, here, here, and here.

For other past posts on the Iraqi Jewish Archives, start here and follow the many, many links

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Kindle Book deals

FOR YOU, SPECIAL DEAL: Great Deals on Second Temple Judaism, the New Testament and early Christianity Books (Phil Long, Reading Acts Blog).

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On the discovery of the Nag Hammadi Library

VARIANT READINGS: The Nag Hammadi Discovery Story. This is quite a messy topic. Brent Nongbri collects many links to relevant scholarly discussions and one to a video interview with an eyewitness.

I noted a recent essay on the topic here and added some links.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Review of Berrey, Hellenistic Science at Court

BRYN MAYR CLASSICAL REVIEW: Marquis Berrey, Hellenistic Science at Court. Science, technology and medicine in ancient cultures, 5. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2017. Pp. 274. ISBN 9783110539776. €99.95. Reviewed by Max Leventhal, Faculty of Classics, University of Cambridge (
Scholarly advances in rescuing Hellenistic culture from narratives of decline have often focused on Hellenistic literature and art, explaining form and content in terms of social and political contexts. Marquis Berrey offers in this monograph instead a reconsideration of modern ways of thinking about Hellenistic science. His central questions are: "What was the relationship between science and monarchy in the third century BCE in the Hellenistic world? And why does it matter?" (p. 1). This book thus looks not to poets such as Callimachus, Apollonius and Theocritus, but the works – both material and textual – of scientists such as Archimedes, Eratosthenes and Andreas of Carystus.

In the Introduction, Berrey presents the methodological frameworks he will adopt in the book. The first and most important is the concept of the court. ...
The Letter of Aristeas is a major source for his "thick description" of the Hellenistic royal court.

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HOLY LAND PHOTOS' BLOG: Jewish Presence In Asia Minor: Andriace (Carl Rasmussen). Paul probably stopped there on his final trip to Rome. Carl seems skeptical that the ancient building excavated there was actually a synagogue. But it clearly had some kind of Jewish connection.

Note that Carl gives a link with more photos of Andriace.

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Reportlet on the new Masada excavations

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: Masada Dig Reveals a Pleasure-Garden at King Herod’s Palace. Renewed excavation at Masada bears fruitful results (Robin Ngo). A summary of an article in the current issue of Biblical Archaeology Review. The article itself is behind the subscription wall.
To learn more about what the renewed excavation at Masada unearthed, including what the oblong shape in the ground—which had planted the seed for the project—was covering, read the full article “Masada Shall Never Fail (to Surprise) Again” by Guy Stiebel and Boaz Gross in the September/October 2018 issue of BAR.
For past PaleoJudaica posts on the history and archaeology of, and revisionist views on, Masada, see here, here, and here, and follow the links.

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The dates of the reigns of Xerxes and Artaxerxes

BIBLIOGRAPHIA IRANICA: Dating the reigns of Xerxes and Artaxerxes. Notice of a new article of obvious interest for biblical studies (the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther): Gertoux, Gérard. 2018. Dating the reigns of Xerxes and Artaxerxes. In Pascal Attinger et al, (eds.), Text and Image Proceedings of the 61e Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale, Geneva and Bern, 22–26 June 2015. 179-206. Leuven – Paris – Bristol, CT: Peeters. The article is not available online, but follow the link for a detailed abstract.

UPDATE (23 August): Reader Ian Slater has informed me that the article is available online. You can find it on here.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Rube Goldberg meets the Talmud

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: The Talmud as Rube Goldberg Machine of the Mind. In this week’s ‘Daf Yomi,’ one rabbi finds a way out of a complex problem with meal offerings other rabbis created.
This week, Daf Yomi readers began a new tractate, Menachot, which continues the Talmud’s analysis of the Temple service. Where the previous tractate focused on slaughtered offerings, however—the sacrifice of animals, ranging from bulls to birds—Menachot deals with meal offerings—the offering of flour, which is often accompanied by oil and frankincense. The tractates are clearly parallel, since many of the same questions that arose with regard to slaughtered offerings are also pertinent to meal offerings. Thus Menachot begins, like Zevachim, by considering the problem of offerings sacrificed with improper intent—that is, when one type of offering is made for the sake of a different type.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and here and links.

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Report on Hurtado

LARRY HURTADO is back to blogging while on a brief break between chemotherapy courses:

Update on Me

Gordley’s New Book on NT “Christological Hymns”

Again, I send Larry our good wishes. We will be thinking of him.

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Review of Rosenblum, The Jewish Dietary Laws in the Ancient World

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Book Note | The Jewish Dietary Laws in the Ancient World (John Mandsager).
Jordan D. Rosenblum. The Jewish Dietary Laws in the Ancient World. Cambridge University Press, 2016.
In The Jewish Dietary Laws in the Ancient World, Rosenblum is meticulous in contextually analyzing his evidence, from Hellenistic Jewish sources such as Philo of Alexandria, who overwhelms with allegorical readings of these laws, while continuing to recommend their practice, to Christians such as Clement, who “is more interested in teasing out the moral application of the laws than in the literal practice thereof” (153). Rosenblum’s thorough approach to his sources, coupled with his tight focus on questions of justification of these laws, make this book invaluable as both a reference for the varieties of interpretive approaches to Jewish eating in Antiquity and as a methodological model for comparative analysis of quite disparate materials, across Greek, Roman, Jewish, and Christian sources.
I noted an earlier review of the book here.

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Najman on philology

FULL TEXT ONLINE FOR FREE: Hindy Najman, Ethical Reading: The Transformation of the Text and the Self. The Journal of Theological Studies, Volume 68, Issue 2, 1 October 2017, Pages 507–529.
This article calls for an integration of the study of the Bible into the Humanities, taking into account the extensive knowledge we now possess of the traditions of the Hebrew Bible and deuterocanonical traditions in the light of the discoveries from the Cairo Geniza and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Instead of studying the Bible cut off from the Humanities and the critical engagement with Classics and medieval philology, the goal is to bring the study of the Bible back into the centre along with classical and modern writers. These later writers draw on the Bible but also, and reciprocally, use contemporary thinking about philology and critical theory, and current work on reading practices and the transformation of the self. There are paths that were not taken over two centuries ago when classical philology and Hebrew philology were bedfellows. Since that time biblical philology has in many ways been frozen in the search for the original text. This article advocates studying the Bible and biblical tradition in a dynamic and forward-moving context where texts are being rewritten and transformed in a variety of ways in linguistic and cultural contexts. It returns to paths that were not taken and reconnects with figures such as Peter Szondi, Friedrich Schlegel, Friedrich Nietzsche, Gershom Scholem, and Goethe. Biblicists, classicists, and scholars of literature are urged to engage and re-engage with the traditions in ways that are creative and field-changing for the composition and reception of the textual traditions. The Bible is an evolving collection of texts which is transformed not only through translation and interpretation but also through reading and the transformation of the self. We are drawn out of our own time, out of the present, and towards the past.

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Monday, August 20, 2018

Shikhin, gazelle bones, and the parchment industry

MATERIAL CULTURE: Ancient Judeans Wrote Torah Scrolls on Gazelle Hide, Archaeologists Find. Since rabbis frowned on eating hunted animals, discovery of gazelle remains in the 1,900-year-old Galilean towns hints at parchment industry, say archaeologists.
Archaeologists excavating the ancient Jewish village of Shikhin in the Galilee encountered a mystery: a strangely large proportion of the animal bones were from wild gazelles. It was far greater than the proportion of gazelle remains found at any other archaeological site in Israel, from that time of about 1,900 years ago, or earlier. Or later. What was the strange predilection the ancient Jews of Shikhin had for gazelles?

Some were surely eating of the gazelle, which is perfectly kosher when slaughtered by ritual. But the people of Shikhin also had plenty of domestic flocks: sheep, goats and cows. It seems, the archaeologists concluded, that the Jews of Shikhin had developed a robust industry of curing gazelle hide for parchment, including for Torah scrolls.

Speculative, but certainly possible. I would be very cautious about using the Mishnah, let alone the Talmud (Gemara) to infer what the customs were in Shikhin nineteen hundred years ago. The rabbinic texts were written long after this. And we don't know how much authority the rabbinic movement had in the first and early second centuries C.E. The rabbinic texts imply that the movement had a lot of authority in the Galilee then. But that may be anachronistic.

Cross-file under Osteology.

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Sanders on sources

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS: What is a source? (Seth L. Sanders).
It’s important to emphasize how arbitrary and intellectually weak our approach to these issues looks when compared to the rest of our philological method. While we have laser-precise ways of thinking about the relationship between two written texts within the same tradition, outside of it our approach seems to resemble the old story about the drunk looking for his keys under the streetlight because it’s the only place he can see. The vast majority of ancient materials come from outside this one-channel world of direct textual transmission. Indeed, the fresh, unexampled instance is one of the most essential qualities of an interesting discovery! But the very phenomena of creativity and change remain in the mist, obscure areas we have trouble theorizing.
With examples taken from the Gilgamesh tradition. And more is promised on "Hebrew 'Sources' from Josephus to Nachmanides."

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Roman-era tombs found in Hebron

FOUND DURING ROAD WORKS: Ancient Roman-era tombs discovered in West Bank village. Director of Palestinian antiquities department in Hebron says bones, pottery found among the graves carved into stone (AFP via Times of Israel).

HT the Bible Places Blog.

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Tel Beth-Shean excavation reports online

THE AWOL BLOG: Excavations at Tel Beth-Shean 1989 -1996, Volume I-III Online. Posted on by Amihay Mazar. Covers the period from the Middle Bronze Age to the Medieval Period.

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Sunday, August 19, 2018

Breaking the heifer's neck as a ritual reboot of reality

DR. YITZHAQ FEDER: Breaking the Heifer’s Neck: A Bloodless Ritual for an Unsolved Murder (
If a corpse is found in a field, and the killer is unknown, Deuteronomy 21 requires the elders of the closest city to break a heifer’s neck by a stream and declare that they did not spill “this blood.” How does this ritual of eglah arufah, “broken-necked heifer,” atone for Israel’s bloodguilt?

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Brill's Harvard Semitic Museum Publications E-Book Collection

Harvard Semitic Museum Publications E-Book Collection

This is an online collection of all published volumes from the Harvard Semitic Studies, Harvard Semitic Monographs, and Studies in the Archaeology and History of the Levant series. Including volumes from the early 20th century through the present, the collection includes over 100 volumes that have never appeared in digital format. The entire collection will be full-text searchable.

ISBN: 9789004365230
It's yours for only EUR €6,050.00 or USD $7,260.00. Alternatively, maybe your local research library will be interested.

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BAR 44.5 (2018)

BIBLICAL ARCHAEOLOGY REVIEW has a new issue out: SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2018/VOL. 44 NO. 5. The articles are behind the subscription wall, but here's a summary of what is there:
As we say goodbye to summer and welcome in the fall, check out the September/October 2018 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review. Start with an inside look at the renewed excavation at Masada, where Herod built a palace-fortress and where Jewish Zealots made their last stand against the Romans. Move on to a textual deep-dive and discover the lost world of the Aramaic Dead Sea Scrolls and their importance in elucidating the literary, societal, political, and religious contexts of ancient Judaism and nascent Christianity. Next, learn about the many techniques archaeologists use to date sites, people, objects, and historical events in the first article of a new series called Biblical Archaeology 101. Finally, read all about the first-ever excavation at the Jezreel Valley site of Tel Shimron, which appears in the Hebrew Bible, Josephus’s writings, the Mishnah, and other sources.

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What is the Septuagint?

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS: What Is the Septuagint? (Dr. Seulgi Byun; posted by Ryan Reeves, The Gospel Coalition Blog). A nice, brief account of why the Septuagint is important, aimed at a Christian audience. I could quibble with a detail or two, but in general it summarizes the main issues and gives judicious examples. I am always happy to see interest in the Septuagint being promoted.

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