Saturday, November 17, 2018

Review of Marx-Wolf, Spiritual Taxonomies and Ritual Authority

BOOK REVIEW: As promised, here is my book review presented (in absentia) in the Mysticism, Esotericism, and Gnosticism (MEGA) Section last year at the Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting, November 2017.
Heidi Marx-Wolf, Associate Professor of Religion at the University of Manitoba, has presented us with a study of the work of several third-century philosophers in Spiritual Taxonomies and Ritual Authority. Platonists, Priests, and Gnostics in the Third Century C.E., published by the University of Pennsylvania Press in 2016. In it, she takes us in some unusual directions that sometimes lead to unexpected results.

The Introduction lays out the agenda of the book. In the late second and early third centuries a number of philosophers, both Christians and polytheists, began producing hierarchical taxonomies of spiritual beings much influenced by Platonism. They also presented themselves as authoritative priests who could pronounce on ritual matters and they tried to influence their social order so as to make themselves “brokers of salvation.” They did all this in competition with the more traditional religious experts in their society. These are new developments in the broad philosophical world of late antiquity and, Heidi argues, they bear closer examination. She sets out to explore these spiritual taxonomies and their social implications by focusing on a number of specific philosophers: the Christian Origen, who was a controversial figure in his own time, and the polytheists Plotinus, Porphyry, and Iamblichus.

Chapter One, “How to Free a Daemon: Third-Century Philosophers on Blood Sacrifice,” argues that proponents in the third century advocating a particular ontological status of evil demons reached conclusions that fall into an unexpected pattern. Christian and polytheistic philosophers could agree while the polytheistic philosophers disagreed among themselves.

Porphyry argued that it was evil demons who required blood sacrifices. In this he agreed with Christian writers, notably the author of Pseudo-Clementine Homily 9. Porphyry may have drawn on a work by Origen called Concerning Demons, although there is debate on whether the author is the Christian figure Origen or an otherwise unknown polytheistic philosopher with the same name. And somewhat later, the Church historian Eusebius drew on (and perhaps somewhat misrepresented) Porphyry’s work to argue that the Greek and Roman gods were actually demons. Porphyry had considerable agreement with Christians on the issue of blood sacrifice. These agreements may to some degree be explained by shared influences about issues such as pneumatology and the nature of blood by the likes of Plato and Galen.

Iamblichus, however, disagreed with Porphyry on this matter. Iamblichus believed that blood sacrifices had their place in the divine order and that they were efficacious in purifying people who were at a certain spiritual level.

Indeed, Porphyry and Iamblichus disagreed more broadly on the whole issue of the validity and usefulness of ritual. Porphyry believed that ritual was superfluous for the philosopher and that the intellect alone sufficed to reach the divine. But Iamblichus believed that ritual, in the form of theurgy, was not just for the philosopher; it could bring about universal salvation.

Chapter Two, “Everything in its Right Place: Spiritual Taxonomy in Third Century Platonism,” focuses on these taxonomies and the intellectual agenda behind them. It also probes points of moral and ontological disorder in the taxonomies in which, as Heidi says, “the spirits refuse to stay put” (p. 39).

Origen set out to refute the notion that human souls could be divided into multiple spiritual species. Rather, he believed that all “minds” were created with the same nature and their spiritual rankings came about through their own primeval decisions. The ones whose choices led them to “fall” into the material realm were subjected to “cooling” that rendered them into “souls.” Origen’s attempt to described a process for reversing this transformation led to his less-than-clear ideas about “apocatastasis,” the means by which souls, perhaps even including the devil and his demons, could be restored to their original state and reconciled with God. In Origen’s pneumatology, there is no ontological difference between human souls and demons.

Porphyry has no consistent taxonomy of spirits. He refers to souls and to daemons, between which there seems to have been some slippage. But he also refers to various kinds of gods, as well as to angels, archangels, and archons.

Iamblichus works with Porphyry’s categories, but he does formulate them into a rigorously consistent pattern. Nevertheless, some “taxonomic amorphousness” (p. 55) remains in his system. Heidi guides us through the issues by focusing on Iamblichus’s treatment of “daemons.” He may have taken properties tied to matter in Platonic cosmology, notably an inductility that tends to thwart the advancement of human souls, and transferred it to demons. This was his way of rehabilitating matter. On this reading, his system was not “decadent,” as earlier scholars such as Dodds thought. He was simply not using a fully Platonic cosmology. Rather, his theology and teachings about proper ritual praxis engaged with popular theology and praxis.

As an illustration of this perspective, Heidi takes us through his treatment of the category of “archons.” Archons add nothing to his system. He includes them simply because they were already part of the popular consciousness. We find them at about the same time in magical handbooks and the work of “Gnostics,” about which more will be said below. Philosophers, Heidi argues, made deliberate connections with the concerns of popular piety in an attempt to place themselves as religious authorities on the popular front as well as the intellectual.

Chapter Three, “The Missing Link: Third-Century Platonists and “Gnostics” on Daemons and Other Spirits,” considers the focus on spiritual taxonomies by third-century philosophers, a focus unique to them. Why did they do it? Heidi finds the missing link in the cosmologies and spiritual taxonomies in the Nag Hammadi texts and related “Gnostic” literature. The Gnostic writers, like the philosophers, set out to harmonize all human wisdom and struggled to make their systems consistent and unambiguous. The Gnostic texts are now regarded as important for the study of early Christian theology. Heidi suggests that they are also important for late-antique philosophy.

Origen’s interactions with Ophite theology may indicate that he was familiar with Sethian texts. Porphyry and Plotinus knew versions of some of the Nag Hammadi texts. Porphyry mentions them by title in his Life of Plotinus. Plotinus interacted with the Gnostics throughout his career, and this interaction seems to have deteriorated into rivalry. He criticized their theology, but his own view of matter as deficient and the basis of evil undermined his critique. And in some cases he and his school may well have been influenced by such texts.

Having acknowledged and briefly discussed the problems with the term “Gnostic,” Heidi presents us with two case studies on Sethian texts.

The case study on the Secret Revelation of John (or Apocryphon of John) focuses on an interpolation in the Codex II manuscript which describes the 365 demons of the psychic body of Adam, one for each body part. External parallels to this list indicate that in its original context it may have had a ritual or apotropaic function. Considerable moral ambiguity is involved, but these beings may have been seen to have something of a positive function.

The case study on Zostrianos focuses on its treatment of daemons and human souls. In antiquity there was some association of the figure Zostrianos with the Platonic figure of Er (in the guise of Zoroaster). This Platonic connection may have drawn Porphyry’s attention to this text, which he mentions, and may have led him to address questions of cosmic geography and spiritual taxonomy, as it does. Its ritual elements may also have induced him to write about ritual in relation to philosophical salvation. More specifically, Heidi argues that he borrowed from Zostrianos regarding the question of the fates of different sorts of souls. Mainly, there is a somewhat similar threefold division of souls for Porphyry and Zostrianos. Roughly this amounts to one group that is earthly, a second group that is making progress, and a third group that has attained full blessedness.

Chapter Four, “High Priests of the Highest God: Third Century Platonists as Ritual Experts,” looks at the ideology of priesthood advocated by our philosophers and how it fed into their competition with more traditional priests.

In his homilies on Leviticus, Origen connected the Levitical high priests with Christian priests, a status that he himself could claim. That said, his status was contested both in his native Egypt and elsewhere. For him, the high priesthood included knowledge involving systematic spiritual taxonomy. A priest also knows the hidden meaning of ritual. In addition, Origen was careful to “perform” his identity as high priest in his homilies by rehearsing the details of the rituals in Leviticus and expounding on their inner meaning. As already noted, for Origen, the priests of his day who literally undertook blood sacrifices were implicitly worshipping evil spirits.

Porphyry similarly condemned blood sacrifice and otherwise disparaged ritual actions used by contemporary ritual experts. Porphyry and Origen agreed that only the philosophical lifestyle could make one a high priest of the highest god.

Iamblichus and Porphyry disagreed about the validity of blood sacrifice, but they agreed that philosopher priests like themselves were the higher ritual practitioners. Iamblichus, considered the theurgist to hold the highest status of ritual practitioners, higher than Egyptian priests. He too was setting himself up as a high priest to replace other, more traditional priests and practitioners.

Heidi places this situation into a larger context by bringing in the (so-called) Greek Magical Papyri and the Hermetic literature. Recent research on the magical papyri sees them as mainstream ritual instructions rather than subversive and illicit as they have been traditionally regarded by scholars. They are actually innovative adaptations by traditional Egyptian priests, whose role and power had been derailed by Roman rule. Increasingly these priests had to rely on their own charismatic authority to make a living. To do this they mixed traditional Egyptian religion with Greek, Jewish, etc. material and took advantage of “stereotype appropriation” of the “magos” identity found in the traditions of the ruling power.

The Hermetica seem likewise to have been produced by disenfranchised Egyptian priests. Hermeticism combined Egyptian priestly ritual material with trendy Platonism. This connection with Platonism may have made Hermeticism of interest to our philosophers.

Based on the content of the Hermetic books according Plutarch, it seems likely that Iamblichus’s knowledge of Egyptian religion came from Hermetic sources and thus consisted of some priestly Egyptian traditions but in a highly syncretistic mixture.

Why did our philosophers take on the role of priest and assign regular priests a lower status over inferior gods and even malign spirits? Heidi argues that it was because they had competitors: the Gnostics and the newly unemployed Egyptian priests. The social situation for this competition would have been schools in major cities, especially Alexandria and Rome. Our philosophers probably sincerely believed that their all-encompassing philosophical lifestyle gave them superior spiritual knowledge and that they could protect people from the dangerous, botched teachings of the inferior ritual experts.

The Conclusion carries the inquiry of the book into the next century, arguing that charismatic authority continued to be important even in the context of institutional church authority. Heidi gives two examples, both from the late fourth century. Ambrose of Milan showed charismatic authority over good and evil spiritual forces as part of a political and institutional conflict during which he located the hidden bodies of two martyred saints. John Chrysostom wrote an infamous series of letters condemning Christians for involvement in Jewish festivals, rituals, and synagogue worship. In them he asserted charismatic authority over the ritual practices of other Christians and in the discernment of dangerous spirits.

In sum, our third century philosophers were marginal figures, but they still had political ambitions and cultivated political connections. They attempted to place themselves as advisors to the politically powerful or even just imagined themselves in such roles. Often their efforts had little impact in the real world. But their approach of combining and adopting the roles of philosopher and high priest eventually, after their time, proved to be viable and productive.

What then, are the contributions of this book? On a very focused level, by looking closely at the work of several third-century philosophers in their broader intellectual context, it demonstrates a strategic shift toward consolidating the role of philosopher with the role of priest in this century. The elucidation of this basic point brings out a number of subsidiary conclusions. The philosophical dialogue was complex and nonlinear: Christians and polytheists could agree while polytheists disagreed among themselves. Areas of agreement could be established by the common influence of earlier figures rather than current affiliations. Far from being decadent, the work of these philosophers was an innovative attempt to engage with popular philosophical and theological trends. Thus the Gnostic literature is important for understanding late-antique philosophy as well as theology. And the trendy Platonism of the Hermetic writers arguably presented a challenge that our philosophers felt obligated to address.

Out of this examination of such philosophical interactions arises the key conclusion that our third-century philosophers were not writing in a vacuum. They had competition. The Gnostic Christians and the disenfranchised traditional Egyptian priests were promulgating their own popular Platonist theologies for their own purposes. The Gnostics were certainly in dialogue with both Christians and traditional polytheist philosophers and the same may well have been true of the priests who produced the Hermetica and the Greek Magical Papyri. Jewish traditions were at work in the mix as well, although placing them remains for another discussion. At least to some degree, our philosophers felt that they had to respond to their competitors. In interacting with their ideas they were inevitably also influenced by them.

Some broader points and areas for further research also arise from the tightly-focused research in this book. First, the point that disenfranchised priests and religious experts in late antiquity were a force to be reckoned with for contemporary philosophers has the potential for broader application. Our most abundant sources come from Egypt, due to their preservation in its dry climate. But there is reason to infer that similar social processes were at work elsewhere. A closer look at the less abundant, but still suggestive, evidence from places such as Syria and Iraq would likely be rewarding.

Second, in the Conclusion, Heidi makes a case that our philosophers established a productive cultural template in their fusion of the roles of intellectual philosopher and charismatic high priest. This fusion was perhaps ahead of its time: for the most part it failed to fulfill the ambitions of those who conceived it. But in the fourth century some Christian leaders used it considerably more successfully. A closer look at this cultural transition would, again, likely be rewarding.

I can find very little to criticize in the book. Given the paucity of our information, even in the relatively abundant sources from Egypt, Heidi necessarily had to connect a lot of dots to establish patterns. Some of her suggestions are imaginative reconstructions, but she is careful to label them as such and they are generally expressed cautiously and judiciously. They are useful at the very least as stimulating thought experiments. That said, I am not quite convinced that Porphyry’s taxonomy in the surviving fragments of On the River Styx is necessarily a response in particular to Zostrianos. Although he does tell us that he did write a response to that work and On the River Styx does have some parallels to Zostrianos, Heidi offers us no direct connections. The parallels are quite general and could be a matter of both works drawing on ideas that were being discussed in the schools and implemented by different philosophers each in their own way.

I will mention two small matters. First, it is surprising to encounter a monograph published in 2016 which still uses inconvenient end notes rather than footnotes. I can think of no reason that could justify it. This was clearly outside of Heidi’s control, but I hope she will let the publisher know that readers are not pleased by it.

Second, a more comprehensive conclusion would have strengthened the volume and topped it off nicely. The Conclusion of the book has a few summary comments, but most of it consists of new material making a new point. A larger summing up what Heidi wants us to take away from Chapters One through Four would have been helpful. I have given my best understand of that here and I hope I have gotten it right.

It remains only for me to thank Heidi for a thought-provoking piece of work that shines new light on a fascinating corner of the late-antique intellectual world by placing it in the context of popular philosophy and competition for influence in an age when traditional authority was breaking down. An age rather like ours in 2017.
And still in 2018. I noted the book here (cf. here) when it was first published. And I noted earlier reviews here and here.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

The Religious Worldviews Reflected in the Dead Sea Scrolls (ed. Clements, Kister and Segal)

The Religious Worldviews Reflected in the Dead Sea Scrolls
Proceedings of the Fourteenth International Symposium of the Orion Center for the Study of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Associated Literature, 28–30 May, 2013

Studies on the Texts of the Desert of Judah, Volume: 127

Editors: Ruth A. Clements, Menahem Kister and Michael Segal

The Dead Sea Scrolls offer a window onto the rich theological landscape of Judaism in the Second Temple period. Through careful textual analysis, the authors of these twelve studies explore such topics as dualism and determinism, esoteric knowledge, eschatology and covenant, the nature of heaven and / or the divine, moral agency, and more; as well as connections between concepts expressed in the Qumran corpus and in later Jewish and Christian literature. The religious worldviews reflected in the Scrolls constitute part of the ideological environment of Second Temple Judaism; the analysis of these texts is essential for the reconstruction of that milieu. Taken together, these studies indicate the breadth and depth of theological reflection in the Second Temple period.

Publication Date: 16 October 2018
ISBN: 978-90-04-38423-1

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Kurshan on telling children Talmudic tales

TALMUD WATCH: Why We Should Teach Our Children Talmud Folk Tales — Instead Of Grimm’s Fairy Tales (Ilana Kurshan, The Forward). This essay is largely a review of a recent book by Jeffrey Rubenstein: The Land of Truth: Talmud Tales, Timeless Teachings (JPS, 2018).

I noted some essays by Professor Rubenstein here, here, and here. Posts here, here, and here are also relevant. And for more on Ilana Kurshan and her book, If All the Seas Were Ink, start here and follow the links.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Brill and fake and unprovenanced manuscripts

FACES AND VOICES: Open letter to Brill: Fake and unprovenanced manuscripts (Roberta Mazza). Updated with a reply from Brill.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Friday, November 16, 2018

SBL 2018

THE SOCIETY OF BIBLICAL LITERATURE'S 2018 ANNUAL MEETING is about to begin in Denver, Colorado. Technically it begins tomorrow, on Saturday the 17th. But related sessions begin today. Many delegates are arriving today and some are already there.

I had to skip last year's meeting and I'm not attending this year either. SBL colleagues, I will miss you all. I trust you will be able to manage (just) for another year without me.

Last year my review of Heidi Marx-Wolf's book, Spiritual Taxonomies and Ritual Authority. Platonists, Priests, and Gnostics in the Third Century C.E. (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016) was presented in absentia. Just so you have something SBL-related from me, I will post it tomorrow.

SBL friends, have a great time in Denver! I look forward to seeing you all in San Diego for the 2019 SBL Annual Meeting.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

More on those cistern etchings

PHOTO ESSAY: Photos: Biblical-Era Cistern and Carvings Discovered in Israel (Stephanie Pappas, Live Science).

Background here. Cross-file under Graffiti Art.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Yardeni's last book

FORTHCOMING BOOK FROM CARTA, by the late Ada Yardeni:

The present work is Ada's last contribution to the field of Hebrew and West-Semitic palaeography that a sad fate prevented her from completing. *** FORTHCOMING *** PRESALE *** Note: Orders will be delivered upon publication (early December 2018).
HT Todd Bolen at the Bible Places Blog.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

The Cult of Mithras in Late Antiquity

BIBLIOGRAPHIA IRANICA: The Cult of Mithras in Late Antiquity. Notice of a New Book: Walsh, David. 2018. The Cult of Mithras in Late Antiquity: Development, Decline and Demise ca. A.D. 270-430. Leiden: Brill. Follow the link for details.

A couple of other recent books on Mithras have been noted here, here, and here.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Hurtado reviews Nongbri, God's Library

LARRY HURTADO: “God’s Library” (by Brent Nongbri): A Review.
Nongbri has produced a “must read” for all those interested in early Christian manuscripts, and will likely persuade some of those who haven’t shown such interest that they should! His proposals for revisions of dating of some key manuscripts carry varying force, but deserve a careful and considerate evaluation. But it has to be said that the dates assigned to early Christian manuscripts have tended to be reached by papyrologists and palaeographers, practicing the same methods by which they date non-Christian manuscripts. So, for example, if too many Christian manuscripts have been assigned too early, then is the same the case for the many more non-Christian manuscripts dated by the same people and by the same methods? But, to repeat myself for emphasis, we can all be grateful for Nongbri’s impressively researched book, which I am sure will deservedly generate still greater interest in the study of early Christian manuscripts as artefacts.
Dr. Nongbri responds to the review here: Palaeography and Codices: A Couple Thoughts on Larry Hurtado’s Review of God’s Library.

Past PaleoJudaica posts on the book are here, here, and here.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

NT Chair at the University of St Andrews

We wish to appoint a Professor within the School of Divinity in the field of New Testament Studies. The successful candidate will be an outstanding scholar of international reputation whose core focus of research is the New Testament. He or she will be expected to have a range of interests in this field which strengthen and complement those already within the School, and to make an outstanding contribution to the advancement of the study of the New Testament through research outputs and teaching. The successful candidate will be expected to represent the University of St Andrews in the UK and international communities in prominent ways.

The successful candidate will hold a doctorate in (or directly related to) the field of New Testament Studies. He or she will be expected to be capable of teaching the subject to undergraduate and taught postgraduate students from a wide range of backgrounds, as well as attracting and supervising research postgraduate students. The primary criteria for appointment will be evidence of an internationally recognised record of outstanding research relating directly to the New Testament, and a clear programme of anticipated research activity in this field for the coming years.

Informal enquiries about this post may be directed to Dr Steve Holmes, Head of School ( or to Prof. Judith Wolfe, Deputy Head of School (

Applications are particularly welcome from women, who are under-represented in academic posts at the University.

The University is committed to equality for all, demonstrated through our working on diversity awards (ECU Athena SWAN/Race Charters; Carer Positive; LGBT Charter; and Stonewall). More details can be found at
Follow the link for further particulars and application information. The closing date is 14 December 2018.

I am not involved with this search, so I am not the person to contact with questions. Instead, see the relevant contact information above. There will also be a number of St Andrews Divinity scholars at the SBL meetings in Denver.

This is my twenty-fourth year at the University of St Andrews. It is is a great place to work. If you are interested, please do apply. I look forward to a new senior colleague in New Testament joining us soon.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

The Ptolemaic coins, part II

NUMISMATICS: CoinWeek Ancient Coin Series: The Ptolemies, Part II (Mike Markowitz). I noted and commented on Part I of this series here. See there for more biblical and historical background.

For this period Daniel 11 is more interested in the Seleucid dynasty than the Ptolemies. But a few of the Ptolemaic kings depicted on these coins do appear:

• Ptolemy IV Philopator (vv. 11-12, "the king of the south").

• Ptolemy V Epiphanes (vv. 14, 17, also "the king of the south"). Ptolemy V's wife, Cleopatra I, daughter of Antiochus III, is also mentioned (unnamed) in v. 17.

• Ptolemy VI Philometor (vv. 25-27, yet again, "the king of the south").

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

A new translation of 1-2 Samuel

THE AWOL BLOG: The Book Of Shmu'el - A New Translation. By William Whitt. Free online. Dr. Whitt's page is here.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Talmud Yerushalmi database

H-JUDAIC: Talmud Yerushalmi database. Cross-file under Talmud Watch.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

New bit of ancient astronomical computer recovered

MARINE ARCHAEOLOGY: Missing Piece of Antikythera Mechanism Found on Aegean Seabed. Bronze disk unearthed by archaeologists in same wreck where original 2,200-year-old computer had been found; also located bits of the ship that Jacques Cousteau and looters hadn't destroyed (Philippe Bohstrom, Haaretz premium).
More than 2,200 years after it sank beneath the waves, diving archaeologists have possibly found a missing piece of the Antikythera Mechanism, the fantastically complicated, advanced analog "computer" found in a shipwreck off a Greek island. Scanning shows the encrusted cogwheel to bear an image of Taurus the bull.

The Antikythera Mechanism was discovered in 1901, technically speaking. An encrusted lump was salvaged by Greek sponge divers in clunky metal diving suits from the Mediterranean seabed. Not that anybody realized what it was at the time. It would take decades and advanced x-ray technology for scientists to realize that the "rock" was a wondrously advanced sophisticated analog calculator consisting of dozens of intermeshed gears.

The Mechanism could do not only basic math: with dozens of exquisitely worked cogwheels, it could calculate the movements of the sun and moon, predict eclipses and equinoxes, and could be used to track the solar system planets, the constellations, and much more.

Past PaleoJudaica posts involving the Antikythera Mechanism are here and here. Like the Gozo shipwreck on the coast of Malta, the Antikythera shipwreck just keeps on giving. Even after more than a century.

This story isn't directly connected to ancient Judaism. But circles in Second Temple Judaism were quite interested in science, especially astronomical science. I still wonder if the Enochian astronomers would approve or disapprove of the Antikythera Mechanism.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Report on Syriac "Crossroads" Conference

SYRIAC WATCH: International conference explores Syriac Christianity. Professor Sebastian Brock speaks about St. Ephrem the Syrian’s contribution to Syriac Christianity. (Vatican News).
A two-day conference entitled “Syriac Christianity at the Crossroads of Cultures” gathered researchers from all over the world at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome last week.

That's a good photo of Professor Brock.

UPDATE: Just noticed that that "photo" is actually a video interview. Better yet.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Larsen on Gospels Before the Book

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Gospels Before the Book (Matthew Larsen). This is the title of a new book by Dr. Larsen. In this essay he adapts material from it. Excerpt:
The evidence, I argue, suggests a first- or second-century reader of the textual traditions we now call the Gospel according to Matthew and Gospel according to Mark would not have thought of them as two separate books by two different authors. Rather they would have regarded them as the same open-ended, unfinished, and living work: the gospel—textualized. Thus, the validity and utility of source-, redaction-, and textual-criticism as traditionally practiced are called into question. For example, what does it mean to talk about the “Synoptic Problem” without recourse to ideas like books, authors, and textual finality?

For a rather different view of such matters, see this recent blog post, with links, by Larry Hurtado: More on Rethinking the Textual Transmission of the Gospels.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Is the U.K. leaving UNESCO too?

DOMINOES FALLING? UK to quit Unesco? Proposals for Britain to follow Israel and US in leaving the UN body (The Week).
International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt is urging fellow Cabinet ministers to back plans to withdraw the UK’s £11.1m funding from Unesco, according to reports.

“Mordaunt’s department ranks Unesco as its worst-performing multilateral agency,” says The Times. “She believes that its work does not meet her spending criteria for international aid.”

This article also gives an update on the current state-of-play regarding the plans of Israel and the United States to withdraw from UNESCO as of 31 December 2018.

I hope this does not happen. Since Audrey Azoulay took over as UNESCO chief, she has been making a real effort to reach a better understanding with Israel and the U.S.A. But paradoxically, this new move by Secretary Mordaunt may strengthen Ms. Azoulay's hand, since it puts UNESCO under yet more pressure.

It would not surprise me if a deal emerges just before the end of the year which keeps all three countries in UNESCO. Let's hope so. But I think we'll be seeing some brinksmanship before that happens.

For background of the falling out of Israel and the United States with UNESCO, start here and follow the links.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Jesus on an ancient church wall in the Negev

DECORATIVE ART: 'Suddenly I Saw Eyes': Jesus’ Face Discovered in Ancient Israeli Desert Church. Very little early Christian art has survived the centuries in the Holy Land – but then an Israeli art historian looked at the apse of a ruined Byzantine church in Shivta, and saw Jesus’ face and short curly hair (Ruth Schuster, Haaretz premium).
Precious little early Christian art has survived in the Holy Land, though this is where the religion itself was born. But now, an extremely rare depiction of Jesus from the early Christian era has been found in the ruins of Shivta, a large Byzantine farming village in the heart of Israel’s Negev desert.

“His face is right there, looking at us,” says Dr. Emma Maayan-Fanar, the art historian who finally noticed the wall painting a century after it was uncovered.

A first painting found by others in Shivta last year turned out to show Jesus’ transfiguration: the present team was the one to realize what the painting showed, but the drawing of his face did not survive the centuries. The second one shows his baptism and his face. Maayan-Fanar and the team – Dr. Ravit Linn, Dr. Yotam Tepper and Prof. Guy Bar-Oz of the Zinman Institute of Archaeology at the University of Haifa – described the find in the world archaeological journal Antiquity: "Christ's face revealed at Shivta".

To my unpracticed eye the new wall depiction of Jesus looks like one of those "Jesus on a piece of toast" pictures that surface constantly on the internet. But I'm sure the art historians looking at the original wall can see it better than I can. I'm happy to take their word for it.

The article also reports that the earliest surviving drawing of Jesus is from a third-century church at Dura Europos. There is a photo.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

The Talmud on the Temple's measuring cups

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Vesselmania. In this week’s ‘Daf Yomi,’ Talmudic scholars grapple with the number of sacrificial measuring cups in the First Temple.
In Chapter Ten of Menachot, the rabbis ask how these precise measurements were actually made in the Temple. It stands to reason that there must have been measuring bowls or cups—but how many, and in what denominations? This is one of those prosaic questions that brings home the magnitude of what was lost with the destruction of the Temple. Precisely because measuring cups were such humble, ordinary tools, there is no record of them anywhere for the rabbis to rely on. Instead, here as with many other facets of Temple ritual, they must recreate the past using the only resources available to them: oral tradition, which is full of disagreements and contradictions, and the text of the Torah, which is often silent about matters of detail. Finding or inventing an answer out of these meager resources is what the Talmud is all about.
Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Review of Elledge, Resurrection of the Dead in Early Judaism

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Book Note | Resurrection of the Dead in Early Judaism (Karen Connor McGugan).
C. D. Elledge, Resurrection of the Dead in Early Judaism, 200 BCE—CE 200. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017.
While early Jewish evidence for resurrection is often considered primarily as a stage in the linear development of resurrection belief as it eventually emerged in Rabbinic Judaism and early Christianity, Elledge provides in-depth analysis of this evidence in its own right; later evidence is considered largely as it illuminates the early Jewish materials.
I noted the book and a related essay by the author here.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Does one letter show that John used an apocryphal gospel?

THE ETC BLOG: Apocryphal Gospels and Textual Criticism: An Interesting Case of P.Egerton 2 + P.Köln VI 255 (Peter Malik). Paleography is important. Sometimes a single letter can make a big difference.

For a similar story involving one Hebrew letter in a Dead Sea Scroll, see here.

Cross-file under New Testament Apocrypha Watch.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Monday, November 12, 2018

The Nazareth inscription, the collector, and the empty tomb?

GREEK EPIGRAPHY: The Emperor and the Empty Tomb: An Ancient Inscription, an Eccentric Scholar, and the Human Need to Touch the Past (Kyle Harper, LA Review of Books).
The Nazareth inscription is a block of marble, about two feet tall, a foot wide, and two inches deep. The first of its 22 lines of text, carved in slightly irregular Greek letters, announces an “Edict of Caesar.” The text itself bears telltale signs of translation from the original Latin, the language of Rome’s empire. In the body of the law, the emperor demanded that tombs and graves remain forever undisturbed. No one was permitted to remove a buried body. The emperor warned that anyone removing a corpse from the grave would be charged with tomb robbery, to be treated as a capital offense equal to public sacrilege. Judged only by its content, the inscription would be an interesting enough document in the history of Roman rule. But in Froehner’s private inventory, he noted that the inscription was “sent from Nazareth in 1878.” The intrigue is obvious. Nazareth is famous for only one thing. Did the inscription have something to do with the controversy over that empty tomb? Could it suggest that a Roman emperor was aware, however dimly, of unsettling claims about a crucified man rising from the dead in a remote province of his far-flung empire? If so, the inscription might stand as the oldest physical trace of the world’s largest religion — an echo of the early Christian story, bouncing off the hard surface of Rome’s power.
Or maybe not. Who knows?

In any case, this is a fascinating story about collectors in the nineteenth century and one of their more interesting finds. Also, Charles Clermont-Ganneau, the French Indiana Jones of that century, makes an appearance. Of course he does.

Worth reading in full.

For the Rylands Papyrus P52 of the Gospel of John, see here and links. It is questionable that it is as early as the early second century, although that remains a possibility. There are many, many past PaleoJudaica posts on the Gospel of Jesus' Wife. You can find them in the archives. For key posts, see here, here, and here, and links. And for many posts on the James Ossuary, again see the archives, or start here and follow the links.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Publisher's takeaways from Septuaginta

HENDRICKSEN PUBLISHERS BLOG: Five Takeaways from Septuaginta: A Reader’s Edition (Tirzah Frank). More on the recently released book, Septuaginta: A Reader’s Edition, edited by Gregory R. Lanier & William A. Ross.

Background here and links.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Zohar book panel discussion

H-JUDAIC: The Art of Mystical Narrative: A Zohar Symposium.
The Art of Mystical Narrative: A Zohar Symposium

The Jewish Theological Seminary
Tuesday, November 27, 2018
7:30–9:00 P.M.

Join us for a panel discussion, marking the publication of Dr. Eitan Fishbane’s new book The Art of Mystical Narrative: A Poetics of the Zohar (Oxford University Press, 2018), in conversation with ...
Attendance is free, but advance registration is required.

Cross-file under Zohar Watch and New Book.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Klawans, "After the Pittsburgh Tragedy"

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: After the Pittsburgh Tragedy. Like any other week (Jonathan Klawans).

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

How to Make a Mudbrick

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: How to Make a Mudbrick. Get a step by step look at the process. With lots of photos from the Tell Timai excavation. Cross-file under News You Can Use.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Festschrift for Aren M. Maeir

Tell it in Gath
Studies in the History and Archaeology of Israel
Essays in Honor of Aren M. Maeir on the Occasion of his Sixtieth Birthday

Edited by Itzhaq Shai, Jeffrey R. Chadwick, Louise Hitchcock, Amit Dagan, Chris McKinny, and Joe Uziel

Ägypten und Altes Testament 90
ISBN 978-3-96327-032-1
XVI + 1093 pages / DIN A4 / hardcover, thread stitching
book + e-book (ISBN 978-3-96327-033-8): 250,00 €, on request
Follow the link for TOC and ordering information. More on Professor Maeir here.

HT Jim West.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Ancient coins seized at Gaza border

APPREHENDED: Smuggler caught at Gaza border with coins from time of Alexander the Great. Palestinian man was attempting to take two ‘rare, highly prized’ tetradrachm coins, imprinted in Babylon and northern Greece between 323 and 325 BCE, out of territory (Times of Israel). There was another report of foiled coin-smuggling, this one at the Allenby Bridge crossing, earlier this week.

Cross-file under Numismatics.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Interview with Jacob Neusner's son

THE LOGOS ACADEMIC BLOG: A Son’s Perspective on a Scholar Father: Interview with Noam Neusner (Tavis Bohlinger).

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Greer, Hilber, and Walton (eds.), Behind the Scenes of the Old Testament

NEW BOOK FROM BAKER ACADEMIC PRESS: Behind the Scenes of the Old Testament (New Book) (A.D. Riddle, The Bible Places Blog).
Available beginning today is an impressive-looking title published by Baker Academic, Behind the Scenes of the Old Testament: Cultural, Social, and Historical Contexts, edited by Jonathan S. Greer, John W. Hilber, and John H. Walton.
Follow the link for details and the TOC.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Did the Carthaginians bring the mongoose to Spain?

PUNIC WATCH? How the mongoose got to Spain. Not all introduced species are unwelcome ("Rikkus Tikkus Tavius," The Economist). Just for fun.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

How did Esau become the ancestor of Rome?

DR. MALKA Z. SIMKOVICH: Esau the Ancestor of Rome (
In the Bible, Esau is the ancestor of the Edomites who live on Mount Seir, southwest of Judah. So how did the rabbis come to associate Esau and Edom with Rome? Two main factors are at work here: Christianity and Herod.
For more on Dr. Simkovich's work, see here and links.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Allen and Dunne (eds.), Ancient Readers and their Scriptures

Ancient Readers and their Scriptures
Engaging the Hebrew Bible in Early Judaism and Christianity

Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity, Volume: 107

Editors: Garrick Allen and John Anthony Dunne

explores the various ways that ancient Jewish and Christian writers engaged with and interpreted the Hebrew Bible in antiquity, focusing on physical mechanics of rewriting and reuse, modes of allusion and quotation, texts and text forms, text collecting, and the development of interpretative traditions. Contributions examine the use of the Hebrew Bible and its early versions in a variety of ancient corpora, including the Septuagint, Dead Sea Scrolls, New Testament, and Rabbinic works, analysing the vast array of textual permutations that define ancient engagement with Jewish scripture. This volume argues that the processes of reading and cognition, influenced by the physical and intellectual contexts of interpretation, are central aspects of ancient biblical interpretation that are underappreciated in current scholarship.

Publication Date: 8 October 2018
ISBN: 978-90-04-38337-1
This is a volume of essays from a conference that was held at the University of St. Andrews in 2014. I noted it here and here. The two editors are PhD alumni of the Divinity School of the University of St. Andrews.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.