Saturday, January 25, 2020

Beruria in the Talmud

TALMUD WATCH: The Sense of a Woman. Fighting her way into the male-dominated world of the Talmud, Beruria challenged the orthodoxy with her wit and learnedness (Richard Hidary, Tablet Magazine).
While a learned woman named Beruria likely did exist in second-century Eretz Yisrael, most of the narratives about her appear only later in the Babylonian Talmud and midrash, which lends doubt to their biographical value. Nevertheless, the literary persona of Beruria captured by these vignettes certainly reveals a great deal about the Talmudic storytellers and their anxieties about their own cultural and gender boundaries.

Many today look to Beruria as a proto-feminist who proved herself equal to her rabbinic colleagues in knowledge of Torah tradition and biblical interpretation. However, the debate continues among scholars as to whether the ancient rabbis themselves viewed her as an exceptional ideal or as a threat to their hegemony.

It was likely a paradoxical combination of both. ...

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Review of van der Toorn, Becoming Diaspora Jews

THE BIBLICAL REVIEW BLOG: Review: “Becoming Diaspora Jews: Behind the Story of Elephantine” by Karel van der Toorn (William Brown).
Karel van der Toorn. 2019. Becoming Diaspora Jews: Behind the Story of Elephantine. Yale: Yale University Press.
In conclusion, van der Toorn’s Becoming Diaspora Jews: Behind the Story of Elephantine is an excellent and needed historical re-construction of the Jewish Elephantine community. More importantly, he draws into the conversation Papyrus Amherst 63, providing innovative and important insights to the Jews at Elephantine prior to their being in Egypt. Frankly, Becoming Diaspora Jews is a must-read for students and scholars of Jewish studies (broadly construed) and Egyptian history.
Cross-file under New Book and Aramaic Watch.

I have noted Professor van der Toorn's recent edition of Papyrus Amherst 63 here and links. For many other PaleoJudaica posts on Elephantine Island in Egypt and on the Elephantine Aramaic papyri, start here and follow the links.

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Friday, January 24, 2020

Daniel and the king's food

READING ACTS: Daniel 1:8-16 – What was Wrong with the King’s Food? (Phil Long).

Phil mentions several possibilities. Here is another.

Later in the book, Daniel's ritual preparations for invoking angelic revelations include dietary restrictions. See 9:3 and 10:3. Chapter one emphasizes that Daniel only ate vegetables and drank water. Verse 17 specifies that his abilities included understanding visions and dreams. Is his diet meant to be a relevant factor? Maybe.

As a side note: 10:3 says that Daniel went for "three whole weeks" without eating delicacies or meat or drinking wine.

Wait, what?

That implies he normally ate and drank those things. I thought he only ate vegetables and drank water. Did Daniel's king's-food-free diet go the way of all diets?

I have collected and commented on the previous posts in Phil's new series on the Book of Daniel here.

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A gift for President Putin

NUMISMATIC DIPLOMACY: Putin Receives 2,000-Year-Old Coin Uncovered in Jerusalem (TPS / Tazpit News Agency via the Jewish Press).
Putin is in Israel together with 45 global leaders and royals to attend the Fifth World Holocaust Forum at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau.


The coin is an original, inscribed with the ancient Hebrew words “Liberty of Zion.” On the other side of the coin are the words “year two” and refer to the second year of the Great Revolt during the years 66–73 CE.
Another "year two" coin from the Great Revolt (or possibly even the same one) was in the news a few years ago.

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Niehoff and Levinson (eds.), Self, Self-Fashioning and Individuality in Late Antiquity

NEW BOOK FROM MOHR SIEBECK: Self, Self-Fashioning and Individuality in Late Antiquity. New Perspectives. Ed. by Maren R. Niehoff and Joshua Levinson. Culture, Religion, and Politics in the Greco-Roman World 4. 174,00 € including VAT. cloth ISBN 978-3-16-158990-4.
Published in English.
This collection of articles places the frequently discussed question of the introvert Self into a new interdisciplinary context: rather than tracing a linear development from social forms of life with an outward orientation to individual introspection, it argues for significant overlaps between interior and exterior dimensions, between the Self and society. A team of internationally renowned experts from different fields examines Pagan, Jewish and Christian voices on an equal basis and explores the complexity of their messages. Philosophical texts are analyzed next to letters, legal sources, Bible interpretation and material evidence. Not only is the experience of individuals examined, but also instructions from authoritative figures in a position to shape constructions of the Self. The book is divided into three parts; namely, »Constructing the Self«, a field usually treated by philosophers, »Self-Fashioning«, generally associated with literature, and »Self and Individual in Society«, commonly the domain of historians. This volume shows the complexity of each category and their overlaps by engaging unexpected sources in each section and interrogating internal as well as external dimensions.

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Thursday, January 23, 2020

Reading Acts takes up Daniel

AT THE READING ACTS BLOG, Phil Long has begun a series on the Book of Daniel. It happens that I just taught my honours (i.e., upper division) undergraduate course on the Book of Daniel last semester. The book is thus fresh in my mind. I look forward to noting Phil's posts and commenting when I have time. Thus far:

When was the Book of Daniel Written?
The key evidence for the date of the book is that it contains very detailed predictions about the future (from the perspective of the sixth-century BCE character Daniel) which are uncannily correct up to a certain point in the Maccabean revolt. Then they go wildly wrong. Case in point: Daniel 10-11 review Seleucid and Ptolemaic history in detail up to the desecration of the Temple by Antiochus Epiphanes. But then 11:40-45 has him undertaking a campaign in Egypt and Palestine and dying there. There was no such campaign. And our other sources - which granted are inconsistent in details - agree that he died in Persia.

It certainly looks as though an author during the Maccabean revolt wrote up predictions after the fact (vaticinia ex eventu), but then ventured some actual predictions about the future. The latter turned out wrong, as they usually do.

This feature of correct predictions after the fact, then wrong actual predictions, is typical of historical apocalypses, including the Animal Apocalypse (1 Enoch 85-90), 4 Ezra, and The Seventh Vision of Daniel. In all three, as in the Book of Daniel, the wrong actual prediction include the coming of the final judgement, which has not happened yet!

The stories in Daniel 2-6 may have their origins in Aramaic folk traditions of the Persian Period, but the book as we have it in our Bibles (the Masoretic Text) was put together during the Maccabean Revolt, and chapters 7-12 were written then.

Main Themes of Daniel

Daniel and the End of the Ages

Daniel 1:1-7 – Why was Daniel Taken to Babylon?
Daniel 1 serves as an introduction to chapters 2-6, for which it may have been written. It sets out the themes that will be important in the stories (e.g., introduces the main characters, the training of the four friends in wisdom, Daniel's mantic talents, and the temptation to assimilation) and to some degree in the visions in 7-12.

The meaning Phil gives for the name Belteshazzar is a bit confused. The name could mean "Guard the life of the king!" or "Guard his life!" depending on how you reverse-transcribe it into Akkadian. The divine name "Bel" is not involved. Phil's translation mixes in "Bel" from the similar-looking name of King "Belshazzar" of chapter 5, which means "Bel, guard the king!"

I would be cautious about the meanings of the Babylonian names assigned to the the three friends. These, especially the first two, are more or less garbled. They certainly don't look like transcriptions of Babylonian names made in the sixth century.

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Algorithms are coming for Hebrew paleography!

NORTHWEST SEMITIC EPIGRAPHY: Algorithmic handwriting analysis of the Samaria inscriptions illuminates bureaucratic apparatus in biblical Israel (Shira Faigenbaum-Golovin, Arie Shaus, Barak Sober, Eli Turkel, Eli Piasetzky, Israel Finkelstein, Plos One).

Past excavations in Samaria, capital of biblical Israel, yielded a corpus of Hebrew ink on clay inscriptions (ostraca) that documents wine and oil shipments to the palace from surrounding localities. Many questions regarding these early 8th century BCE texts, in particular the location of their composition, have been debated. Authorship in countryside villages or estates would attest to widespread literacy in a relatively early phase of ancient Israel's history. Here we report an algorithmic investigation of 31 of the inscriptions. Our study establishes that they were most likely written by two scribes who recorded the shipments in Samaria. We achieved our results through a method comprised of image processing and newly developed statistical learning techniques. These outcomes contrast with our previous results, which indicated widespread literacy in the kingdom of Judah a century and half to two centuries later, ca. 600 BCE.
This story has received some attention in the media, but I think it is all based on the Plos One article and the following Tel Aviv University press release. It gives additional commentary by the authors: Study Reveals Two Writers Penned Landmark Inscriptions in Eighth-Century BCE Samaria. Discovery illuminates bureaucratic apparatus of ancient kingdom of Israel, say TAU researchers. A key point:
"If only two scribes wrote the examined Samaria texts contemporaneously and both were located in Samaria rather than in the countryside, this would indicate a palace bureaucracy at the peak of the kingdom of Israel's prosperity," Prof. Finkelstein explains.

"Our results, accompanied by other pieces of evidence, seem also to indicate a limited dispersion of literacy in Israel in the early eighth century BCE," Prof. Piasetzky says.
I noted the previous research mentioned in the abstract above here.

In the past, the media published some overblown claims about algorithms applied to ancient languages. But the algorithms keep getting better. Recent studies like this one look cautious and credible. Background here, here, here, here, and links.

We may have reached the point when algorithms can outdo humans at Hebrew paleography.

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7th-grader finds late-antique tombstone in Caesarea

FUNERARY EPITAPH: 1,500-year-old Greek inscription uncovered by 13-year-old in Caesarea. "I immediately recognized that it was something ancient," the seventh-grader from Caesarea said (Rossella Tercatin, Jerusalem Post).
The white slab protruding from the ground uncovered by the boy turned out to be part of a burial inscription, Peter Gendelman, an IAA researcher in Caesarea, said in the press release. The inscription indicates the name of the deceased and the location of the grave within the cemetery, he said.

“The grave of.... and of Anastasius, or Anastasia…,” the inscription read, the IAA said.
The IAA has given the discoverer, Stav Meir, some well-deserved recognition for his sharp eye and good citizenship.

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The Demon Epilepsy Tablet

CANDIDA MOSS: The Mysterious Case of the Demon Epilepsy Tablet (The Daily Beast).
The earliest image of the ancient demon believed to cause epilepsy has been discovered in the archives of a museum in Berlin. The 2,670-year-old tablet, which was originally part of the library of a family of exorcists, shows the demon with curvy horns, a long tail, a serpent’s tongue, and what might be a reptilian eye. Not that different, in other words, than some Christian depictions of the Devil.

This text is early, but Professor Moss broadens the discussion to include the history of the religious and medical understanding of epilepsy from antiquity (with mention of ancient Judaism and Jesus) to the present.

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Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Coins of the Nabataeans

NUMISMATICS: CoinWeek Ancient Coin Series: Coins of the Nabataeans (Mike Markowitz).

This article gives a detailed survey of Nabatean coins, with good photos. It also amounts to a brief history of the Nabatean kingdom, whose spoke language was pre-Islamic Arabic, but whose written language was Aramaic.

Kings Obodas II and Aretas IV come up in a past PaleoJudaica post here. Obodas I (I think) comes up in this post.

Cross-file under Nabatean Watch (Nabataean Watch). For many past posts on the Nabateans and their language, see here, here, here, and here, and follow the links. For still more, search the PaleoJudaica archive.

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Reviewlet of Orlov, The Glory of the Invisible God

FORBIDDEN GOSPELS BLOG: Book Note: The Glory of the Invisible God by Andrei Orlov (April DeConick). I noted the publication of the book here.

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Tuesday, January 21, 2020

On Berenice, Titus, and "replacement theory"

TABLET MAGAZINE: Berenice, the Jewish Queen of Rome, and the Origins of Replacement Theory. How fear that a single Jew could transform Western society into a Jewish empire led to a broader anti-Semitism (Fredric Brandfon).

Past PaleoJudaica posts involving Julia Berenice, sister of Herod Agrippa II and lover of the Emperor Titus, are here and here.

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2020 archaeology scholarships available from BAS

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: Dig Scholarships Available in 2020 (Michele Barasso).
The Biblical Archaeology Society, publisher of BAR, offers dig scholarships of $2,000 each to people who wish to participate in a dig and demonstrate financial need. ...
Cross-file under News You Can Use.

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Monday, January 20, 2020

Aramaic DSS conference

The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) provided both new texts and fresh contexts to explore the formation, transmission, and reception of ancient Judaism’s literary heritage. Ongoing studies on these materials revealed that the scribal cultures represented among the Qumran collection both drew upon and contributed to developing authoritative traditions. They navigated and reinvigorated ancestral discourses, encountered and integrated traditions of their larger cultural contexts, and updated and extended a broad set of scriptures for new generations and ever-changing communities. The conference program includes an international group of scholars who will use the Aramaic DSS as a launching point to discover what these writings reveal about the scope of sources at play in the pre-canonical period, gain new insights into the scribal strategies used to adapt and develop them, and rethink the evidence for reception of Aramaic traditions in other literatures or movements.

The event is funded by the Canada Research Chair in Religious Identities of Ancient Judaism at Trinity Western University.
The conference takes place on 23-24 March 2020. The lineup of speakers is impressive. Cross-file under Aramaic Watch.

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Electrum 2019

ELECTRUM: JOURNAL OF ANCIENT HISTORY, an open-access, peer-reviewed, online journal, has a new issue with many articles of interest to ancient Judaism: ELECTRUM, 2019, VOLUME 26, JERUSALEM AND JUDAEA. STUDIES ON HISTORY, ARCHEOLOGY, AND NUMISMATICS. Follow the link for the TOC and the full text of the articles and reviews.

HT Todd Bolen at the Bible Places Blog.

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Sunday, January 19, 2020

When were Herod's death and Jesus' birth?

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: Herod’s Death, Jesus’ Birth and a Lunar Eclipse. Letters to the Editor debate dates of Herod’s death and Jesus’ birth.
Both Luke and Matthew mention Jesus’ birth as occurring during Herod’s reign (Luke 1:5; Matthew 2:1). Josephus relates Herod’s death to a lunar eclipse. This is generally regarded as a reference to a lunar eclipse in 4 B.C. Therefore it is often said that Jesus was born in 4 B.C.

But physics professor John A. Cramer, in a letter to BAR, has pointed out that there was another lunar eclipse visible in Judea—in fact, two—in 1 B.C., which would place Herod’s death—and Jesus’ birth—at the turn of the era. Below, read letters published in the Q&C section of BAR debating the dates of Herod’s death, Jesus’ birth and to which lunar eclipse Josephus was referring.
The astronomical matters are outside my expertise. But I found this interchange very interesting.

Very belatedly for Christmas.

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