Saturday, June 29, 2019

More on the Beit Shemesh exhibition

ROADWORKS VS. ARCHAEOLOGY, CONTINUED: A FOCUS ON BEIT SHEMESH. Beit Shemesh, at the crossroads between Jerusalem and coast, has been inhabited since earliest times, going back to the pre-biblical Canaanite civilization from whom its idolatrous name originates (MORDECHAI BECK, Jerusalem Post).
The Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem saw a unique opportunity for creating a special exhibition dedicated to this site and to the issues it raised. According to the director, Amanda Weiss, the decision to create an exhibition happened spontaneously. “One of our guides told me about the finds that were being uncovered there,” said Weiss. “She said to me ‘You must come and see for yourself while they are digging.’ So I grabbed Leora (her deputy) and a couple of other of the curators and rushed down in my car. This was last November. It was a very memorable day. Not only was it an exciting place to visit – we saw the site in the pouring rain! We were drenched, but that was part of the experience, with all the beautiful fragrances of the flowers. In just four months we arranged this exhibition.”
For background on the exhibition and on the controversy over Highway 38 and the site of Beit Shemesh, start here and follow the links.

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Was the Sotah rite for saving marriages?

PROF HANNA LISS: The Sotah Ritual: Permitting a Jealous Husband to Remain with His Wife (
The root ק.נ.א “jealous zeal” in the chapter on the sotah (Numbers 5) highlights a key goal of the ritual and its accompanying offering, namely, to remove the husband’s jealous zeal and allow him to remain with his wife without guilt.
A couple of past posts on the Sotah rite and its postbiblical interpretation are here and here.

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Friday, June 28, 2019

Deciphering ancient stonemasons' marks at Hippos-Sussita

ANCIENT ARCHITECTURE: Israeli Archaeologists Discover How Ancient Romans Pulled Off Their Monumental Architecture. Ikea didn’t invent the DIY diagram: Ancient stonecutters wanted credit for their efforts just like any artist, signed their work — and also marked the stone blocks with building instructions (Ruth Schuster, Haaretz premium).
At Hippos-Sussita, about 20 percent of the heavy basalt stone-block flooring bears masons’ marks. “We managed to identify 20 different types,” Kowalewska shares. “It is entirely possible that the quarriers couldn’t read or write, but they did know how to make their marks.”

Also, the marks can be a tool for reconstruction of buildings, providing they are preserved on many of the stones. If the marked stone has been reused, they can tell from which structure it was taken. Besides their usefulness for archaeologists, these marks also serve as a simple reminder of all the hard work undertaken by the builders of the past.

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Tomb of the Kings to reopen?

THEOLOGICAL POLITICS: RESTING PLACES OF ADIABENIAN JEWISH QUEEN TO RE-OPEN. The tombs, discovered in Jerusalem by Louis Félicien de Saulcy in 1863, are owned by the French government since 1885 (Hagay Hacohen, Jerusalem Post).
French authorities announced on Wednesday that the site should be open to the public, while Foreign Minister Israel Katz lauded their decision.
The site is generally, although not universally, understood to be the burial ground of the dynasty of Queen Helena of Adiabene. I hope that this new announcement means that the legal issues around the site have been resolved and it will indeed be reopening. For background on Queen Helena and on the site, start here (cf. here) and follow the links.

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On Boyarin on the origin of "Judaism"

NEW BOOK: How Christians Invented 'Judaism,' According to a Top Talmud Scholar. One of the greatest living scholars of the Talmud, Daniel Boyarin ponders the place where the two traditions were born, in brotherly rivalry but with a common biblical origin (Tomer Persico, Haaretz premium).
His latest book thus joins a series of studies that call into question the popular-naive conception of Judaism. Starkly put, Boyarin asserts that until a few hundred years ago, there was no such thing as “Judaism,” in the sense of an abstract category of thought and thus of life. Indeed, the term is not found in the Torah, Prophets or Writings, the Mishna or Talmud, the works of the early medieval Geonim, of Rabbi Judah Halevi or of Maimonides. None of them knew of the existence of such a thing as “Judaism.” The term’s first appearances date from the 12th century (for example, in the “Midrash Sekhel Tov,” by Rabbi Menachem Ben Shlomo), and even then it denotes not a particular culture or a particular religion but a condition – that is, the condition of being a Jewish person.
In antiquity there was no distinction between nationhood and religion. You worshipped your national god(s). Judaism arose in that environment and retains the concept of a national identity.

I haven't read Professor Boyarin's new book (Judaism: The Genealogy of a Modern Notion, Rutgers University Press), so I can't comment on it. Dr. Persico has some criticisms. Have a look at the article and see what you think.

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More on Hebrew historical linguistics from Rezetko and Young

Do We Really Think That There Is No Historical Linguistics of Ancient Hebrew?

Ancient Hebrew like all natural languages evolved through time, and silhouettes of its history are traceable in the literary writings of the Hebrew Bible. But, historical linguistics is not text-dating, and the latter is what Hendel and Joosten’s How Old Is the Hebrew Bible? is largely about.

See Also: How Old Is the Hebrew Bible?, Can the Ages of Biblical Literature be Discerned Without Literary Analysis?, Flawed Philology

By Robert Rezetko
Research Associate
Radboud University Nijmegen & University of Sydney

By Ian Young
Associate Professor
Department of Hebrew, Biblical and Jewish Studies
University of Sydney
April 2019
As you can see from the "See Also" links, this discussion has been going on for some time. At this point, it is of interest mainly to specialists who are working on the specific problem of historical linguistics of ancient Hebrew.

I have also noted the discussion here and links.

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Monday, June 24, 2019

Weitzman on the Origin of the Jews

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Genealogical Bewilderment: Between the Scholarly and the Personal in the Quest for the Origin of the Jews (Steven Weitzman).
In two recent publications—Solomon: the Lure of Wisdom and The Origin of the Jews: a Quest for Roots in a Rootless Age—I have written works that seem to be about antiquity but are really about how we relate to antiquity from a vantage point in the present. I write as someone genuinely curious about what we can learn from ancient texts by reading them in relation to their history, and for much of my scholarly career, my goal has been to avoid casting the past as a projection of the present. In these works, however, I have tried a different approach, allowing myself into the story in the hope that doing so can lead to a deeper understanding of how we relate to antiquity. Focusing on the Origin of the Jews, I want to reflect on what I was able to learn about my subject from mixing the personal and the scholarly in this way.

For more on Steven Weitzman's work, see here and links.

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