Saturday, November 23, 2019

My review of Stone, Secret Groups in Ancient Judaism

Mysticism, Esotericism, and Gnosticism in Antiquity
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Sapphire 400B (Fourth Level) - Hilton Bayfront
Theme: Esoteric Religious Groups in Antiquity
Joint session with the AAR Traditions of Eastern Late Antiquity.

April DeConick, Rice University, Presiding

Book Review: Michael Stone, Secret Groups in Ancient Judaism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017)
Kelley Coblentz Bautch, St. Edward's University, Panelist (10 min)

James Davila, University of St. Andrews, Panelist (10 min)

Written Reflections from Michael Stone
Discussion (15 min)
In the event, neither Professor Stone nor I are able to make it to San Diego this year. Our contributions have been read in absentia. The session has just ended. As promised, I am now happy to share my review with you, my readers. Past PaleoJudaica posts on the book are here and links.
Michael Stone’s book, Secret Groups in Ancient Judaism (OUP, 2018), takes the study of religious groups in Judaism of the Second Temple era in a new and fruitful direction. Based on the anthropological study of secret societies, the book develops the insight that the foundational concept in such groups is that there is knowledge that must be kept hidden. This leads them to create organizations with a pyramidal hierarchy, each level of which controls a larger group of followers. With this understanding in mind, Stone finds that secret groups leave a social-structural “footprint” that points to their existence. This book sets out to follow the trail left by secret societies in the ancient Jewish world. Time constraints preclude a full survey of the book’s arguments and conclusions. I will limit myself to noting some points of special interest and some directions for further research.

The showpiece for an ancient Jewish secret society is the Qumran covenanters, who Stone, following the scholarly consensus, identifies more or less with the Essenes. The Therapeutae are another likely example. These are the two decisively identified such societies, but there are many other possible cases. Notably, there are hints at secret knowledge and the existence of secret organizations in the ancient Jewish apocalypses, which Stone regards as themselves probably exoteric literature.

Stone notes that the theological terminology found in the Qumran sectarian texts does not appear in antiquity or later (with the possible exception of Karaite literature) in other Jewish texts. The implication is that the Qumran covenanters were a secret group. They kept their secrets and we only have them now due to an extraordinary chance discovery. The use of cryptic scripts in some Qumran sectarian texts likewise implies that the sectarians reserved some knowledge to be revealed in graded stages. One of these texts is an address by the Maskil, the “Sage” — the apparent leader of the group, to some of his followers.

Stone tentatively reconstructs at least three or four graded ranks in the hierarchy of the Qumran community. The fundamental division was between the community and the rest of Israel. Within that community were gradations, notably between those who had full access to the pure food of the group and those who were transitioning toward such access. Above such gradations there may have been a leadership group, the council of the community, which consisted of three priests and twelve laymen. And over them all was the Maskil.

Alas, no ancient literature of the Therapeutae has come down to us! We have only the brief account of them by Philo of Alexandria. They are similar in many ways to the Essenes, but they included women in the group. They had secret books that used allegorical exegesis. They had dream revelations. And the group had a hierarchy that ranked a member according to his or her admission seniority to the group. In Stone’s judgment, both the Qumran covenanters/Essenes and the Therapeutae were secret societies.

The ancient Jewish apocalypses may also provide us with information about ancient Jewish secret societies. But Stone takes the evidence in them to be of an indirect nature. The apocalypses do claim to reveal esoteric knowledge. It is possibly that the original authors intended them as esoteric works, but they seem to have circulated fairly widely. Stone argues that they are "pseudo-esoteric" literature and that their explicit teachings were never intended to be secret.

Nevertheless, some of the revelations mentioned in the apocalypses are not part of their content. These may well be references to actual secret teachings that were found in esoteric documents (or perhaps oral traditions) which no longer survive. A prominent example is the lists of revealed things in the apocalypses, which notably refer to cosmological and cosmic secrets that contained temporal and eschatological elements. It is unclear whether or not some of these were also of a salvific nature. Another intriguing example is the reference in 4 Ezra 14 to the seventy esoteric books to which only the wise should have access. And then the story of the watchers involves angels instructing humans and their own giant offspring in culture-hero teachings and unspecified divinatory and magical techniques.

There is evidence in the apocalypses for groups with the tripartite social structure that is typical of secret societies. At the top is a single seer (Ezra in 4 Ezra, Baruch in 2 Baruch, Isaiah in the Ascension of Isaiah). Below the seer is an inner circle: the wise who receive the esoteric books from Ezra; Baruch’s core group of five followers whom he teaches in private; and Isaiah’s inner circle who witness his visionary trance. Below the inner circle are the people, followers who do not have access to the secret teachings. They receive only the exoteric books from Ezra; Baruch addresses them only in public; and they are sent away from Isaiah’s visionary séance. This hierarchical structure is also reminiscent of the structure of the Qumran community.

Stone argues that these apocalypses also function as “authentication machinery.” They give us indirect evidence of actual practices and such in Jewish secret societies. Notable is the reference in the Testament of Moses to the hiding of the teachings of Moses in a scroll jar, an obvious parallel to the scroll jars found at Qumran. And the Similitudes of Enoch, the Book of the Luminaries, and the Book of Daniel present their pseudo-esoteric teachings as sealed away and only to be unsealed to future generations.

I have learned a lot from this book. It has helped me to look at the ancient evidence in new ways. The analysis of the texts in terms of the structure and worldview of secret societies provides a valuable new filter for understanding aspects of ancient Judaism.

The book is also agenda setting. In addition to the points of special interest that I have noted above, Stone has assembled a great many leads in the ancient texts that may produce additional information on secret societies in ancient Judaism and later. He has also flagged a vast amount of both primary and secondary literature that may be relevant to the subject. His primary sources range from Mesopotamian cuneiform literature, to literary and archaeological sources for the Mystery Religions, to rabbinic and extra-rabbinic traditions.

I close by pointing to some of the leads noted in the book that may produce fruitful future research on secret groups in ancient and later Judaism.
  • Magicians and exorcists have left behind written spells and practical manuals for their crafts. To what degree did their transmission of their trade secrets amount to membership in secret societies?
  • Were the teachings of the watchers alluded to in the Enochic literature entirely imaginary, or does their mention testify to an underground magical and divinatory tradition with ancient real practitioners?
  • We might infer from first principles that the priesthood of the Jerusalem Temple had its own body of secret teachings relating to service in the Temple. Have any of these survived? The rabbinic sources claim to transmit some of this material. Likewise, Aramaic Levi claims to give regulations for sacrificial rites undertaken by its Levitical priesthood. Is it possible to reconstruct some of the teachings and social structures of the ancient Jewish priesthood?
  • I have already mentioned that some of the sectarian terminology and ideas found in the Qumran scrolls also appear in the medieval Karaite literature. Are these similarities due to chance finds of scrolls in the Qumran caves, whose ideas were adopted by the Karaites? This seems plausible. But is it also possible that some sectarian ideas survived in post-destruction secret societies and only resurfaced in our Karaite sources?
  • Considerable Hebrew and Aramaic literature survives from the rabbinic period outside the rabbinic canon. These include astrological, magical, medical, and liturgical materials. In many cases, elements of these may point in the direction of their being secret knowledge. These await clarification.
In sum, Michael Stone’s book, Secret Groups in Ancient Judaism, is an important contribution to our understanding of groups in antiquity who valued, hoarded, and transmitted esoteric knowledge.

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

Images of the goddess at Elephantine?

THE ANCIENT NEAR EAST TODAY: Judeans and Goddesses at Elephantine (Collin Cornell).
What scholarly investigations of the goddess have not examined are non-textual data from Elephantine. The same excavations that found Aramaic papyri also uncovered a number of figurines. Some of them, hewn rather roughly from wood, picture a grotesque dwarf-god. Others made by placing clay into a mold feature a naked woman lying on a bed. One of these clay objects, a plaque, shows a naked woman standing between two pillars, with a smaller child by her side.
Cross-file under Aramaic Watch and Decorative Art.

For many past PaleoJudaica posts on Elephantine Island in Egypt and on the Elephantine Aramaic papyri, start here (cf. here and here) and follow the links.

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

Friday, November 22, 2019

Symposium on the Deir el-Surian Monastery's manuscripts

COPTIC WATCH: Levantine Foundation to hold a symposium in Cairo on Deir al-Serian's manuscripts (Ahram Online).
The symposium is to highlight the successful fieldwork to date and to conserve ancient manuscripts up to 1500 years old with the support of the British council's cultural protection fund
The symposium is on 3 December this year.

For past posts on the important manuscript collection of the Deir el-Surian Monastery, see here and links. And more on the monastery and other Coptic monasteries in the Wadi El-Natroun area, see here and links. Cross file under Syriac Watch and Ethiopic Watch.

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

The Talmud on male sexual emissions

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Emission Standards. This week’s ‘Daf Yomi’ Talmud study explores the origins of sexual puritanism in the faith: why Jewish men can’t touch themselves even while urinating, how erections lead to idol worship, and how masturbation delays the arrival of the Messiah.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

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

Update on the Inscriptions in Israel/Palestine Project

MICHAEL SATLOW: Inscriptions and FAIR Archiving. Professor Satlow tells us the latest about the Inscriptions in Israel/Palestine Project and its digital archiving.

I mentioned the project a decade ago here. Incidentally, it is not to be confused with the Corpus Inscriptionum Iudaeae/Palestine (CIIP). That is a different project. More on it here and here and links.

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

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Allison, 4 Baruch

Allison, Jr., Dale C.

4 Baruch
Paraleipomena Jeremiou

Commentaries on Early Jewish Literature

89,95 € / $103.99 / £82.00*

Publication Date:
October 2019
ISBN 978-3-11-026973-4

Aims and Scope
This is the first full-scale, verse-by-verse commentary on 4 Baruch. The pseudepigraphon, written in the second century, is in large measure an attempt to address the situation following the destruction of the temple in 70 CE by recounting legends about the first destruction of the temple, the Babylonian captivity, and the return from exile. 4 Bruch is notable for its tale about Jeremiah's companion, Abimelech, who sleeps through the entire exilic period. This tale lies behind the famous Christian legend of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus and is part of the genealogy of Washington Irving's "Rip Van Winkle." Allison's commentary draws upon an exceptionally broad range of ancient sources in an attempt to clarify 4 Baruch's original setting, compositional history, and meaning.
Cross-file under Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Watch.

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

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Orlov, The Glory of the Invisible God

The Glory of the Invisible God
Two Powers in Heaven Traditions and Early Christology

By: Andrei Orlov

Published: 12-26-2019
Format: Hardback
Edition: 1st
Extent: 240
ISBN: 9780567692238
Imprint: T&T Clark
Series: Jewish and Christian Texts
Volume: 31
Dimensions: 6 1/8" x 9 1/4"
List price: $120.00
Online price: $108.00

About The Glory of the Invisible God
Andrei Orlov examines early Christological developments in the light of rabbinic references to the “two powers” in heaven, tracing the impact of this concept through both canonical and non-canonical material.

Orlov begins by looking at imagery of the “two powers” in early Jewish literature, in particular the book of Daniel, and in pseudepigraphical writings. He then traces the concept through rabbinic literature and applies this directly to understanding of Christological debates. Orlov finally carries out a close examination of the “two powers” traditions in Christian literature, in particular accounts of the Transfiguration and the Baptism of Jesus. Including a comprehensive bibliography listing texts and translations, and secondary literature, this volume is a key resource in researching the development of Christology.
The advert lists it as forthcoming in December. But the author tells me that it will be on sale at the Bloomsbury booth at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, which begins this weekend. Go and check it out for yourselves.

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

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

A statue of Moloch at the Colosseum?

PUNIC WATCH? Statue of ancient god of child sacrifice put on display in Rome (LifeSiteNews).
The presence of the idol raised particular concern among Catholics, as it was erected nine days before the Amazon Synod and the subsequent scandal over the veneration of the Pachamama idol at the Vatican.

The statue of Moloch, worshipped by both the Canaanites and the Phoenicians, is part of an exhibit dedicated to Ancient Rome’s once-great rival, the city of Carthage. The large-scale exhibition, titled Carthago: The immortal myth, runs until March 29, 2020.
I noted the exhibition here. I leave the debate about the statue to others. But I'll mention a few points of historical interest.

First, it is not clear that there was a Canaanite deity named "Moloch" ("Molech") to whom children were sacrificed. A contrary interpretation of the biblical references and the cognate Punic epigraphic evidence takes the word to be the name of a kind of sacrifice. The Canaanite root MLK has to do with royalty, so perhaps a "royal" sacrifice? But some scholars think there was such a god. John Day argued that case in a book, reviewed here.

Second, unfortunately, even if there wasn't a god named Molech, it sure looks as though the ancient Carthaginians sacrificed children. And the Bible says pretty clearly that some Israelites did too. But there is some debate about the Carthaginian evidence. For past posts on the subject of ancient child sacrifice, see here and here and links.

Third, remember, we don't even know if there really was a god named Molech. So it's not surprising that the controversial statue isn't even a real ancient idol. It's a reconstruction of a prop from a 1914 movie.
"A reconstruction of the terrible deity Moloch, linked to Phoenician and Carthaginian religions and featured in the 1914 film Cabiria (directed by Giovanni Pastore and written by Gabriele D’Annunzio) will be stationed at the entrance to the Colosseum to welcome visitors to the exhibition," stated a press release about the exhibit.
It doesn't look ancient to me. It looks like something from a Lovecraft story.

The article includes a clip from the movie which depicts child sacrifices. The setting isn't very authentic, but it certainly captures the horror of the rite.

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

Monday, November 18, 2019

120 Oxyrhynchus papyri missing from the Egypt Exploration Society

VARIANT READINGS: News: Egypt Exploration Society Missing At Least 120 Papyri (Brent Nongbri). The police are now involved. The news regarding the EES papyri just gets stranger and stranger.

Background on the earlier story about papyri from the EES allegedly being stolen and sold is here, here, here, and links.

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

Rhyder, Centralizing the Cult

NEW BOOK FROM MOHR SIEBECK: Julia Rhyder. Centralizing the Cult. The Holiness Legislation in Leviticus 17–26 [Die Zentralisation des Kults. Das Heiligkeitsgesetz in Levitikus 17–26.] 2019. XXI, 484 pages. Forschungen zum Alten Testament 134. 134,00 € including VAT. cloth ISBN 978-3-16-157685-0.
Published in English.
In this work, Julia Rhyder provides new insights into the relationship between the Holiness legislation in Leviticus 17–26 and processes of cultic centralization in the Persian period. The author departs from the classical theory that Leviticus 17–26 merely presume, with minor modifications, a concept of centralization articulated in Deuteronomy. She shows how Leviticus 17–26 use ritual legislation to make a new, and distinctive case as to why the Israelites must defer to a central sanctuary, standardized ritual processes, and a hegemonic priesthood. This discourse of centralization reflects the historical challenges that faced priests in Jerusalem during the Persian era: in particular, the need to compensate for the loss of a royal sponsor, to pool communal resources in order to meet socio-economic pressures, and to find new means of negotiating with the sanctuary at Mount Gerizim and with a growing diaspora.

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

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Silverman on local elites and the Persian empire

Judaean Elite Encounters with the Fledgling Persian Empire: The Evidence of Second Isaiah and First Zechariah

Local elites had the option to choose how to respond to changing social and political circumstances. Such choices can include resistance, but they are not limited to it. Various forms of cooperation and negotiation are also on the table. Moreover, I think that it is unhelpful to think of “resistance” as a heroic category unto itself; people resist something in particular. It is much more likely for ancient elites to resist a particular claimant for the throne than it is for them to resist kingship or empire per se—and I find it helpful to keep these types of constructs separate. Therefore, in an attempt to explore how some Judaeans reacted to the early Persian Empire, I wish to consider how the elite could have pursued cultural production in a way that was acceptable to both parties—the local traditions and the new imperial system.

See Also: Persian Royal—Judaean Elite Engagements in the Early Teispid and Achaemenid Empire: The King’s Acolytes (LHBOTS 690: London: T&T Clark, 2019).

By Jason M. Silverman
Docent in Old Testament Studies
University of Helsinki
October 2019
Cross-file under New Book.

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