Saturday, December 22, 2018

Review of McKechnie and Cromwell (eds.), Ptolemy I and the Transformation of Egypt, 404-282 BCE

BRYN MAYR CLASSICAL REVIEW: Paul McKechnie, Jennifer Cromwell (ed.), Ptolemy I and the Transformation of Egypt, 404-282 BCE. Mnemosyne supplements. History and archaeology of classical antiquity, 415. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2018. Pp. x, 247. ISBN 9789004366961. €110,00. Reviewed by Tara Sewell-Lasater, University of Houston (
This book is a collection of essays presented at a 2011 conference at Macquarie University, where the overall theme was the transformation of Egypt during the fourth century. As Paul McKechnie notes in his introduction, the common view that the reign of the Ptolemies was a new and unique event in the history of Egypt has prevented much-needed analysis, especially of the continuity with the immediately preceding Persian period: “Alexander and his successor Ptolemy maintained vital features of the Thirtieth Dynasty settlement while simultaneously building an innovative settler society on foundations derived from their Macedonian heritage” (5). The essays collected here look at the transformation from several different angles.

Ptolemy I is a character in the Bible. For more on him, see here, here, and here and links.

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Your Septuagint New Year's present


You will not be surprised to learn that the Plan is keyed to William A. Ross and Greg Lanier, Septuaginta: A Reader’s Edition (Hendrickson 2018), on which more here and links. And you can still sign up for that drawing for a free copy at the link.

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New PhD thesis on "non-aligned" biblical DSS

THE ETC BLOG: New Dissertation on the ‘Non-Aligned’ Dead Sea Scrolls (John Meade). The dissertation is by Anthony Ferguson: "A Comparison of the Non-Aligned Texts of Qumran to the Masoretic Text," SBTS.

Fun fact: I published 4QGenk (in DJD 12, pp. 75-78). There's not much left of it, so I would be cautious about assigning it an "alignment." But it reads mostly with the Masoretic Text, a couple of times with the Septuagint against the MT, and it has one unique reading.

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Review of Hendel and Joosten, How Old Is the Hebrew Bible?

BOOK REVIEW: The Bible Under a Microscope (Jonathan Kirsch, Jewish Journal). The book is Ronald Hendel and Jan Joosten, How Old Is the Hebrew Bible? A Linguistic, Textual, and Historical Study (Yale University Press, 2018). Excerpt from the review:
“How Old Is the Hebrew Bible” bears a weighty subtitle: “A Linguistic, Textual and Historical Study.” Indeed, it is a serious monograph that confronts some of the hottest controversies in biblical scholarship. But it is also a kind of whodunit in which words serve as clues and a lens through which we can learn new and wonderful things about the ancient writings the world regards as sacred scripture.
Cross-file under New Book.

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Friday, December 21, 2018

The NYT on Alter's translation of the HB

NOW COMPLETE: After More Than Two Decades of Work, a New Hebrew Bible to Rival the King James. The pre-eminent scholar Robert Alter has finally finished his own translation (Avi Steinberg, New York Times). This is the most detailed article I have seen on the Alter translation. It includes good examples and has an extensive interview with Professor Alter. As for this:
In its day, “The Art of Biblical Narrative” was subversive. A current Berkeley colleague of Alter’s, Ronald Hendel, told me about his experience as a Harvard grad student in philology in the early 1980s. One of his instructors pulled him aside after class and whispered, “Go to the bookstore and get yourself a copy of ‘The Art of Biblical Narrative,’ but you can’t let anyone around here see that you’re reading it!” Hendel added, “And he wasn’t kidding.” One of Alter’s former undergraduate students during that period, Ilana Pardes, who is now a professor of comparative literature at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, has written of “witnessing the birth of the book, or rather the birth of a new way of thinking about the Bible.”
I was in the same PhD program with Ron at the same time. I know who that instructor was, but I shan't say here. And, yes, Alter's work was subversive.

For more on Professor Alter's now-complete translation of the Hebrew Bible, see here and here.

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Oldest Aramaic incantation found?

ARAMAIC WATCH: Ancient Aramaic Incantation Describes 'Devourer' that Brings 'Fire' to Victims (Owen Jarus, Live Science).
A 2,800-year-old incantation, written in Aramaic, describes the capture of a creature called the "devourer" said to be able to produce "fire."

Discovered in August 2017 within a small building, possibly a shrine, at the site of Zincirli (called "Sam'al" in ancient times), in Turkey, the incantation is inscribed on a stone cosmetic container. ...
Zincirli is a very interesting site that has produced some important Iron-Age Aramaic inscriptions. Another, the Katumuwa (Kuttumuwa) funerary inscription, was discovered there in 2008. Others are noted here.

Most surviving Aramaic incantations are much later. The best-known ones are the Babylonian Aramaic incantation bowls, on which more here, here, here, here, and here and many links. The Cairo Geniza has also produced many Hebrew and Aramaic incantations.

Over the years I have noted some others here, here, and here (the last is written in Greek letters). There's at least one (4Q560) among the Dead Sea Scrolls. The oldest Aramaic incantation I know of after this new one from Zincirli is the so-called Uruk Incantation (4th century B.C.E.), which has Aramaic written in Babylonian cuneiform script.

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Is Jerusalem's Tomb of the Kings a holy site?

THEOLOGICAL POLITICS: The Battle Brewing Between the French and ultra-Orthodox Over a Jerusalem Archaeological Site Ultra-Orthodox demands to pray at the Tomb of the Kings – the grandest burial compound in Jerusalem – have kindled fears among the French of an Israeli land grab under their flag in East Jerusalem (Nir Hasson, Haaretz premium).
These protests are yet another round in a long-standing historic struggle over control of one of the most beautiful archaeological sites in Jerusalem, which has been closed to the public for years. On the one side stands the government of France and on the other, Haredi and right-wing Israeli factions. Israel’s Antiquities Authority is in favor of opening the site to the public, but does share the French concerns that the site might befall the same fate of many other archaeological sites in the city, which were transformed from mere archaeology and tourism sites into holy sites and then appropriated from the public’s domain.
I won't try to excerpt any more. The situation is complicated and has a long history. But you should read this article, because you will learn a lot about what makes a "holy site" in Israel and what this means.

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Haaretz top 10 biblical archaeology stories 2018

END-OF-YEAR LIST TIME: Top Biblical Archaeology Stories of 2018. Who exactly did ancient Jews really worship, and what did Jesus really look like? Find out in the top Haaretz biblical and Christian archaeology stories of 2018 (Ruth Schuster, Haaretz).

No, that discovery doesn't tell us what Jesus looked like! The etching was made centuries after his time. Why are headline writers such nitwits? (Not a criticism of Ms. Schuster, who does very good work and who I am sure had nothing to do with the headline.)

Anyway, this article leads you to the top 10 Haaretz articles on the subject. PaleoJudaica noted most of them and often commented on them. To find the posts, run the article headlines through our search engine.

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Thursday, December 20, 2018

Beit Shemesh: expanded road or archaeological park?

I BLOG, YOU DECIDE: What’s More Important, the Biblical King Hezekiah or Expanding Route 38? A too-narrow road in central Israel bisects a First-Temple-era city that recovered from the devastation wreaked by Sennacherib, archaeologists discover, and the fight is on (Moshe Gilad and Ruth Schuste, Haaretz premium).
Intensive archaeological investigation of the site bisected by Route 38 began in March, involving dozens of archaeologists and hundreds of volunteers. The digs are categorized as a salvage excavation by the Israel Antiquities Authority, which routinely checks sites slated for development.

However, the very definition of “salvage excavation” implies that after accelerated exploration, the builders will move in. “Salvage” excavations, an archaeologist told me, are actually “eradication” excavations.

The Transportation Ministry has allocated 60 million shekels ($16 million) for the archaeological work in Beit Shemesh. The Israel Antiquities Authority is responsible for the digs, working with archaeologists from Tel Aviv University and the sponsorship of Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem.

All this is normal for sites around Israel. And all would have been well and good if at least some archaeologists hadn’t been absolutely stunned by what they found.
You know it's complicated when even the archaeologist disagree. The authors of this article seem to have worked hard to cover the full range of opinion.

Tel Beit Shemesh has also produced notable finds from earlier and later periods. See here, here, here, here, and here.

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The Star of Bethlehem is not the only messianic star

'TIS THE SEASON: Does the Christian Star of Bethlehem Have Its Roots in Judaism? (Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz, Breaking Israel News).

A nice review of the messianic "Star of Jacob" tradition within Judaism.

As I've said before, I think it's plausible that Matthew's star of Bethlehem is a messianic midrashic commentary on Numbers 24:17. That does not, of course, exclude astrological connections as well. I doubt that there was a real star or other astronomical phenomenon involved. But who knows? Some good science fiction has been written about that possibility.

Other past posts on the Star of Bethlehem are here and links.

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Presentation of Cohen volume

MICHAEL SATLOW: Presenting a Volume to Shaye Cohen.
At the Association for Jewish Studies Annual Meeting, we presented an edited volume to my mentor, Professor Shaye Cohen (Harvard University): Strength to Strength: Essays in Honor of Shaye J. D. Cohen (Brown Judaic Studies). It was a warm and wonderful event. Isaiah Gafni and I each spoke briefly and then Shaye offered his own funny and touching reflections. Below are the remarks that I gave. ...
Professor Satlow also blogged on his own contribution to the volume: Paul’s Scriptures.

Congratulations again to Professor Cohen. Background here.

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Happy 50th to the IOSCS!

SOME BELATED PARTYING IS IN ORDER: THE IOSCS IS FIFTY YEARS OLD TODAY (William A. Ross). The IOSCS is the International Organization for
Septuagint and Cognate Studies.

I saw this post yesterday, but I didn't get a chance to blog on it. I did note the anniversary as upcoming here. It sounds as though SBL attenders celebrated in advance in November.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Translation algorithms are coming for Sumerian!

TECHNOLOGY WATCH: The Key to Cracking Long-Dead Languages? Tablets from some of the world’s oldest civilisations hold rich details about life thousands of years ago, but few people today can read them. New technology is helping to unlock them. (Sophie Hardach, BBC).
[Assyriologist Émilie] Pagé-Perron is coordinating a project to machine translate 69,000 Mesopotamian administrative records from the 21st Century BC. One of the aims is to open up the past to new research.
(Bold emphasis in the original.) There's more to this article, so read it all. But I'm going to focus on this one story.

In the past I have been skeptical about such efforts, which tend to be overblown by the media. (See here, here, and here.) But this one sounds more credible.

Dr. Pagé-Perron's team is training algorithms to translate several thousand cuneiform economic texts and then they intend to let the algorithms loose on the rest. Since economic texts tend to be formulaic and to deal with a limited range of subjects, this could just about work. And once the algorithms have basic competence in economic Sumerian, there's no reason why they can't keep incrementally improving, with humans guiding them initially through progressively more challenging texts.

The algorithms are still quite limited. For example, they need humans to transliterate the cuneiform signs, a very difficult process in itself, and one not entirely disconnected from translation. But there is a big effort ongoing to digitize images of all cuneiform tablets. Once that is done, transliteration of them is a problem that could be attacked with algorithms too.

Not too far in the future, philology may go the way of factory automation.

Cross-file under The Singularity is Near.

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Kurtz, Kaiser, Christ, and Canaan

NEW BOOK FROM MOHR SIEBECK: Paul Michael Kurtz. Kaiser, Christ, and Canaan.
The Religion of Israel in Protestant Germany, 1871–1918.
2018. XIV, 370 pages. Forschungen zum Alten Testament 122. 129,00 € including VAT. cloth ISBN 978-3-16-155496-4.
Published in English.
In this work, Paul Michael Kurtz examines the historiography of ancient Israel in the German Empire through the prism of religion, as a structuring framework not only for writings on the past but also for the writers of that past themselves. The author investigates what biblical scholars, theologians, orientalists, philologists, and ancient historians considered »religion« and »history« to be, how they understood these conceptual categories, and why they studied them in the manner they did. Focusing on Julius Wellhausen and Hermann Gunkel, his inquiry scrutinizes to what extent, in an age of allegedly neutral historical science, the very enterprise of reconstructing the ancient past was shaped by liberal Protestant structures shared by dominant historians from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

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Review of Cataldo, A Social-Political History of Monotheism

BRYN MAYR CLASSICAL REVIEW: Jeremiah W. Cataldo, A Social-Political History of Monotheism: From Judah to the Byzantines. London; New York: Routledge, 2018. Pp. 242. ISBN 9781138222809. $140.00. Reviewed by Geert Lernout, University of Antwerp (

Is monotheism based on fear?

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Orsini's new paleography book

THE ETC BLOG: Pasquale Orsini’s New Book on Palaeography (Peter Malik). Notice of a new book: Orsini, Pasquale. Studies on Greek and Coptic Majuscule Scripts and Books. Series: Studies in Manuscript Cultures 15. De Gruyter, November 2018. An open-access book online!

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Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The Talmud on proper animal slaughter and heretics

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Natural Causes. In this week’s ‘Daf Yomi,’ intentionality and human agency remain at the heart of Jewish law. Plus: the difference between a pagan and a heretic.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

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Alter on translating the Bible

INTERVIEW: Robert Alter: “Modern Bible translators have done a wretched job” (Sameer Rahim, Prospect Magazine). Excerpt:
SR: Your translation is very much a literary one. The characters have motivations, for example. Do you feel that’s true to the intentions of the original authors?

RA: The ancient Hebrew writers were certainly motivated by what we would call religious purposes—they had this new monotheistic vision of the world and they wanted to convey what God wanted of humankind and the people of Israel. But for reasons that I don’t think we can understand these writers happened to be brilliant literary artists and they chose to convey their religious vision in extremely artful narrative and sometimes very brilliant poetry.

It’s a great mystery why they were this good. Ancient Israel was this little sliver of land sandwiched in between these large, powerful and sophisticated cultures—the Syrians, and then the Babylonians to the east and the Egyptians to the south. But the Biblical writers developed literary skills that totally eclipsed their neighbours. ...
That's true. The consistently high literary quality of the Hebrew Bible is remarkable.

Background on Professor Alter's now complete translation of the Hebrew Bible is here.

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Jewish Book Month

WITH PODCASTS AND REVIEWS: Yeshiva University and Jewish Book Council Collaborate (YU News).
This year, Jewish Book Month was November 2-December 2, 2018. For this year’s event, the Jewish Book Council (JBC) teamed up with Yeshiva University to highlight new books in the broad field of Jewish scholarship.
Many of the books deal with ancient Judaism. I think you will find more on all of those in the archives of PaleoJudaica.

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

Review of Berman, Inconsistency in the Torah

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Book Note | Inconsistency in the Torah (Ethan Schwartz).
Joshua A. Berman. Inconsistency in the Torah: Ancient Literary Convention and the Limits of Source Criticism. Oxford University Press. New York, 2017.
In this context, Berman’s Inconsistency in the Torah is far less countercultural and iconoclastic than he seems to imagine. To be sure, it is a significant achievement. However, I doubt that it will be remembered as the study that finally overthrew the hegemony of source criticism. Instead, I suspect that it will be regarded as one of the last studies to ascribe to source criticism any hegemony to be overthrown in the first place. It will mark the close of a monumental chapter in biblical studies, not the opening of a new one.
My own view on source criticism is that the concept is sound and it has produced some useful results for, notably, our understanding of the Pentateuch. At the same time, the application of source criticism often carries it beyond what we can realistically hope to know. Sometimes you can't unscramble the egg. For more from PaleoJudaica on source criticism, here and links, here, here, and here.

I noted the book and a related essay here and had some comments of my own, on matters not discussed in this review. And I noted a three-part interview with Dr. Berman here.

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Monday, December 17, 2018

The Babylonian Exile before the Exile?

A NEW BOOK: The Forgotten Biblical Exile That Laid the Foundation for Jewish Life in the Diaspora. Unlike the Babylonian Exile, the Jehoiachin Exile of 11 years earlier was largely ignored by Jewish history ■ The exiles established a social, economic, religious and literary infrastructure for Jewish life outside Israel (Yair Hoffman, Haaretz premium).

This is an interesting reframing of one phase of the Babylonian Exile as an exile in its own right. The article is based on a book by the author, The Good Figs: The Jehoiachin Exile and its Heritage, which has been published in Hebrew by Tel Aviv University Press.

One correction to the article. Nebuchadnezzar did not kill King Zedekiah. He killed his sons and blinded him, then sent him back to Babylon as a prisoner for the rest of his life (2 Kings 25:1-7 and Jeremiah 52:1-11).

For the unprovenaced, but apparently authentic, Judean Babylonian cuneiform archive, see here and links and here. At least I haven't yet seen anyone argue that its contents are forged, and it seems as though it would have been very difficult to forge so many Akkadian tablets convincingly.

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Kiryat Yearim and the Ark of the Covenant

WHILE WE'RE ON PLACES WHERE THE ARK OF THE COVENANT ISN'T: Israeli Excavation Reveals New Findings About the Ark of the Covenant. Excavations at Kiryat Yearim may show the handiwork of King Jeroboam and suggest that the Ark was a symbol of unity between rival kingdoms (Nir Hasson, Haaretz premium). The actual point of this article is that Professor Israel Finkelstein has concluded, on the basis of the excavation of Kiryat Yearim, that any United Kingdom of Israel and Judah was controlled by Israel (the Northern Kingdom) rather than the Judean Kingdom of the line of David:
About two weeks ago, Prof. Israel Finkelstein, an archaeologist from Tel Aviv University and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, presented his findings from the excavations at Kiryat Yearim to a meeting of the national academies of science of Israel and France. Finkelstein is known as the leader of the camp that opposes the biblical approach in archaeology. He vehemently opposes the view that the unified kingdom of David and Solomon existed and controlled extensive parts of the land of Israel.
I don't have any view on this matter, apart from noting that Professor Finkelstein is exceptionally well placed to have an informed opinion. What he thinks should be taken very seriously.

Despite leading the article, the Ark of the Covenant is just a speculative sideline to the story. Unsurprisingly, there aren't any actual "new findings" about it.
The purpose of the Ark of the Covenant story, according to this idea, was intended to give religious legitimacy to Kiryat Yearim. It was told and written in the northern kingdom of Israel, was passed on to Jerusalem through the refugees who arrived there after the destruction of the northern kingdom, and from there it found its way into the Bible. Many other “northern” traditions can be found in the Bible, such as the stories of Jacob, the Exodus and the stories of King Saul.
I was going to ignore this one, but since the Ark has been in the news again lately, here it is.

Many past PaleoJudaica posts on the Ark of the the Covenant are collected here and links (immediately preceding post).

UPDATE: Also, past posts on the excavation at Kiriat Yearim (Kiryat Ye'arim, Kiriath Jearim), inevitably also mentioning the Ark, are here and here.

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The Ark of the Covenant isn't in Ethiopia?

THAT ZANY ARK AGAIN: Sorry Indiana Jones, the Ark of the Covenant Is Not Inside This Ethiopian Church (Owen Jarus, Live Science).

I'm not sure that what Edward Ullendorf recalled seeing in 1941 necessarily disproves that the Ark of the Covenant is in that church. But at the same time there isn't anything that proves it and I remain cordially skeptical. Incidentally, the late Professor Ullendorf was one of my predecessors at the University of St Andrews.

I have mentioned Professor Tudor Parfitt in connection with another, comparably questionable Ark tradition, this one placing it in Zimbabwe. See here and here and follow all the links.

And while we're on the subject of legends about the Ark of the Covenant, I may as well give myself some publicity: The Treatise of the Vessels in the news.

And for still more posts on the Ark, see here and here and follow those links.

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Bormann (ed.), Abraham's Family

NEW BOOK FROM MOHR SIEBECK: Abraham's Family. A Network of Meaning in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Ed. by Lukas Bormann. 2018. IX, 497 pages. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 415 154,00 € including VAT. cloth ISBN 978-3-16-156302-7.
Published in English.
Abraham, whom the apostle Paul calls the »father of us all« (Rom 4:16), was a central figure in Judaism from the outset and came to be important in Christianity and Islam. The Abraham tradition is an issue of narrative and counter-narrative, memory and counter-memory. Moreover, Abraham's family is brought in as a network of meaning to express opposition, antithesis or common ground within and between different religious movements. The contributions to this volume discuss the presentation and reception of Abraham's family in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The topics cover Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Second Temple writings, New Testament, Rabbinic literature, Greek, Latin and Syriac church fathers, as well as Jewish medieval interpretation and a twelfth-century Arabic travel report of a pilgrimage to Mecca.

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Sunday, December 16, 2018

Maimonides at the NLI

EXHIBITION: Judaism's original (pre-)Renaissance man comes to Israel. Israel Museum is showcasing manuscripts and artifacts on the life of medieval Jewish scholar, philosopher and physician Maimonides, including his original signature (Inbar Tvizer and Kobi Nachshoni, Jerusalem Post).
Maimonides: A Legacy in Script opened at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem on December 11, and will run until April 27, 2019.

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Olyan and Wright (eds.), Supplementation and the Study of the Hebrew Bible

Supplementation and the Study of the Hebrew Bible
Saul M. Olyan (Editor), Jacob L. Wright (Editor)

ISBN 9781946527059
Status Available
Price: $30.95
Binding Paperback
Publication Date April 2018

Explore the role supplementation plays in the development of the Hebrew Bible

This new volume includes ten original essays that demonstrate clearly how common, varied, and significant the phenomenon of supplementation is in the Hebrew Bible. Essays examine instances of supplementation that function to aid pronunciation, fill in abbreviations, or clarify ambiguous syntax. They also consider more complex additions to and reworkings of particular lyrical, legal, prophetic, or narrative texts. Scholars also examine supplementation by the addition of an introduction, a conclusion, or an introductory and concluding framework to a particular lyrical, legal, prophetic, or narrative text.


• A contribution to the further development of a panbiblical compositional perspective
• Examples from Psalms, the pentateuchal narratives, the Deuteronomistic History, the Prophets, and legal texts

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Novick, Piyyuṭ and Midrash

NEW BOOK FROM VANDEHOECK AND RUPRECHT: Tzvi Novick, Piyyuṭ and Midrash. Form, Genre, and History. Journal of Ancient Judaism. Supplements - Volume 030ab 74,99 € * (D).
Piyyuṭ and Midrash
Novick studies the relationship between rabbinic midrash and classical (and to a lesser extent pre-classical) piyyut. The first focuses on features of piyyut that distinguish it, at least prima facie, from rabbinic midrash: its performative character, its formal constraints, and its character as prayer. The second part considers midrash and piyyut together via an analysis of a narrative form that looms large in both corpora. The “serial narrative” is a narrative that binds biblical history together by stringing together instance of the “same” event across multiple time periods. Thereby, Novick surveys basic features of serial narratives in midrash and piyyut. Subsequent chapters take up instance of specific serial narrative forms from Second Temple literature to piyyut: the kingdom series, the salvation history, and the serial confession. Together, the two parts yield a nuanced account of the continuities and discontinuities between the two great corpora produced by rabbinic and para-rabbinic circles in Roman Palestine.
HT The Talmud Blog on Facebook.

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Pregill (ed.), New perspectives on late antique Iran and Iraq

BIBLIOGRAPHIA IRANICA: New Perspectives on Late Antique Iran and Iraq. Notice of a new conference volume in an open-access journal: Pregill, Michael (ed.). 2018. New perspectives on late antique Iran and Iraq. Mizan. Journal for the Study of Muslim Societies and Civilizations 3(1). It includes this article:
Shai Secunda: “East LA: Margin and Center in Late Antiquity Studies and the New Irano-Talmudica”

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