Saturday, February 08, 2020

Sebag Montefiore on Jerusalem

INTERVIEW: Why is Jerusalem important? A Q&A with historian and author Simon Sebag Montefiore This ancient city is the center of the the world's major religions (All About History, Live Science).
Simon Sebag Montefiore is a historian and best-selling author. He has written several books on a wide range of topics, such as Stalin, the Romanovs and the speeches that changed the world. His worldwide best-seller, "Jerusalem: The Biography" (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2014), covers the full history of this fascinating city.

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Fuller, A Discourse Analysis of Habakkuk

A Discourse Analysis of Habakkuk

Studia Semitica Neerlandica, Volume: 72

Author: David J. Fuller

Habakkuk is unique amongst the prophetic corpus for its interchange between YHWH and the prophet. Many open research questions exist regarding the identities of the antagonists throughout and the relationships amongst the different sections of the book. In A Discourse Analysis of Habakkuk, David J. Fuller develops a model for discourse analysis of Biblical Hebrew within the framework of Systemic Functional Linguistics. The analytical procedure is carried out on each pericope of the book separately, and then the respective results are compared in order to determine how the successive speeches function as responses to each other, and to better understand changes in the perspectives of the various speakers throughout.

Prices from (excl. VAT): €127.00 / $153.00

Availability: Published
ISBN: 978-90-04-40889-0
Publication Date: 21 Oct 2019

Availability: Published
ISBN: 978-90-04-40888-3
Publication Date: 01 Nov 2019

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The site of Qumran

ATLAS OBSCURA: Qumran National Park. The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the ruins of this ancient monastic community (Erez Speiser). As usual Atlas Obscura provides some nice photos. There is room for discussion about the exact relationship between the Essenes and the site of Qumran/the Dead Sea Scrolls.

For past PaleoJudaica posts on the archaeology of Qumran and the connection with the Essenes, see here and links (cf. here).

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Friday, February 07, 2020

Daniel 7

READING ACTS: Daniel 7:4-8 – The Four Beasts. Phil Long continues his blog series on the Book of Daniel.

Regarding the first beast, its identification with Babylon/Nebuchadnezzar is underlined by the end of the sentence, which alludes to Nebuchadnezzar's recovery from beast-madness and return to sanity in chapter 4.

More generally, Daniel's vision of the four beasts is full of exegesis of earlier scriptures, notably the vision in Hosea 13:7-8 and the Merkavah vision in Ezekiel 1. Hosea's vision structures Daniel's, giving us the lion, the leopard, the bear, and the wild beast, in that order. Then details from the four "living creatures" of Ezekiel 1 fill out the picture of each beast. (The word translated "living creature" [חיה, ḥāyāh] is a Hebrew word that means "animal" or "beast" and is cognate to the Aramaic word [חיוה, ḥăwēyṯ] used in Daniel 4-8.) For example, Ezekiel 1 uses the terms lion and eagle and has various wings, four faces, and eyes on its four beasts. I call this "exegesis by bricolage": treating an earlier vision like a heap of bricks and reusing them to construct a new vision. This sort of exegesis is found in other visions in ancient Jewish literature.

And mixed in with all of that is an interpretation of the vision in Daniel chapter 2.

Incidentally, the ten toes in Daniel chapter 2 are missing in the Old Greek. They are probably a secondary addition in the Masoretic Text inspired by the ten horns in chapter 7.

My comments above are not meant to exclude the possibility that Daniel 7 is based on some sort of actual vision experienced by its author. Ancient visionaries were steeped in their scriptures and their visions naturally were full of scriptural themes and images.

For more on visionary scriptural exegesis, see my article “Seven Theses Concerning the Use of Scripture in 4 Ezra and the Latin Vision of Ezra,” in Old Testament Pseudepigrapha and the Scriptures (ed. E. Tigchelaar; Bibliotheca Ephemeridum Theologicarum Lovaniensium 270; Leuven: Peeters, 2014), 305-326.

I have noted earlier posts in Phil's series on Daniel, sometimes with my own commentary, here and links.

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Septuagint, Targum and Beyond (ed. Shepherd, Joosten and van der Meer

Septuagint, Targum and Beyond

Comparing Aramaic and Greek Versions from Jewish Antiquity

Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism, Volume: 193

Editors: David James Shepherd, Jan Joosten and Michaël van der Meer

In Septuagint, Targum and Beyond leading experts in the fields of biblical textual criticism and reception history explore the relationship between the two major Jewish translation traditions of the Hebrew Bible. In comparing these Greek and Aramaic versions from Jewish antiquity the essays collected here not only tackle the questions of mutual influence and common exegetical traditions, but also move beyond questions of direct dependence, applying insights from modern translation studies and comparing corpora beyond the Old Greek and Targum, including, for instance, Greek and Aramaic translations found at Qumran, the Samareitikon, and later Greek versions.

Prices from (excl. VAT): €116.00 / $140.00

Availability: Published
ISBN: 978-90-04-41672-7
Publication Date: 11 Nov 2019

Availability: Published
ISBN: 978-90-04-41671-0
Publication Date: 11 Dec 2019

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Kirk Douglas studied the Bible and the Mishnah

MAY HIS MEMORY BE FOR A BLESSING: Studying the Bible With Kirk Douglas. He was known to the world as Spartacus. I knew him as Issur Danielovich (Rabbi David Wolpe, NYT).
The world knows Kirk Douglas as Spartacus, and as one of the greatest movie stars of the greatest generation. I know him as my hevruta — the Aramaic word for study partner.

For almost 25 years I met with Kirk Douglas, born Issur Danielovich, once a week to study Torah. After we read through the Bible and hit up all the greats — “That’s a role I was born to play,” he said of King David — we moved on to other books: the Mishna for rabbinical wisdom; “The Prophet” by Khalil Gibran; Walt Whitman’s poetry; and modern theology from Abraham Joshua Heschel and Martin Buber. In time, we just met to talk.


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Schiffman on Masada and its scrolls

PROF. LAWRENCE H. SCHIFFMAN: MASADA AND ITS SCROLLS. This link leads to a reprint of Professor Schiffman's excellent article in the Jerusalem Report.

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Thursday, February 06, 2020

More ancient date palms have sprouted

TU B'SHEVAT IS THIS WEEKEND: After 2,000 Years, These Seeds Have Finally Sprouted. Six date seeds as old as the Dead Sea Scrolls are now flourishing as trees on a kibbutz (Sarah Zhang, The Atlantic).
Adam, Jonah, Uriel, Boaz, Judith, and Hannah are date-palm trees, and although they were all planted in recent years, the seeds from which they germinated all came from ancient archaeological sites. These seeds, according to radiocarbon dating, were about 2,000 years old. They had waited two millennia to sprout.

The seeds of Judean date palms turn out to have remarkable longevity. A team led by Sarah Sallon, which planted these six trees, first tried in 2005 to germinate a 2,000-year-old seed from the ancient fortress of Masada. To the surprise and delight of Sallon and her colleagues, it sprouted, and they named that first date-palm tree Methuselah, who in the Bible lived to the age of 969.
Past PaleoJudaica posts on Methuselah the date palm are here and links. The first post also discusses the work of Dr Sallon which led to the new crop of ancient palm trees.

The Atlantic article, with many other media treatments, is based on an article published recently in the journal Science Advances (6.6, 2020): Origins and insights into the historic Judean date palm based on genetic analysis of germinated ancient seeds and morphometric studies (Sarah Sallon,, Emira Cherif, Nathalie Chabrillange, Elaine Solowey, Muriel Gros-Balthazard4,, Sarah Ivorra, Jean-Frédéric Terral, Markus Egli and Frédérique Aberlenc).
Germination of 2000-year-old seeds of Phoenix dactylifera from Judean desert archaeological sites provides a unique opportunity to study the Judean date palm, described in antiquity for the quality, size, and medicinal properties of its fruit, but lost for centuries. Microsatellite genotyping of germinated seeds indicates that exchanges of genetic material occurred between the Middle East (eastern) and North Africa (western) date palm gene pools, with older seeds exhibiting a more eastern nuclear genome on a gradient from east to west of genetic contributions. Ancient seeds were significantly longer and wider than modern varieties, supporting historical records of the large size of the Judean date. These findings, in accord with the region’s location between east and west date palm gene pools, suggest that sophisticated agricultural practices may have contributed to the Judean date’s historical reputation. Given its exceptional storage potentialities, the date palm is a remarkable model for seed longevity research.

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Are Biblical Hebrew and Modern Hebrew the same language?

PHILOLOGOS: Are Biblical Hebrew and Modern Hebrew the Same Language, or Two Different Ones? What separates language from language, and language from dialect (Mosaic Magazine). This sort of question is a good example of what Scott Adams calls "word thinking" — the idea that defining a word settles a debate. I don't find such things very helpful myself.

In this case, it depends on how you define the word "language." I distinguish "language" from "dialect" such that two dialects of the same language are mutually comprehensible, but two languages are not. But there are a lot of shades between "comprehensible" and "incomprehensible," not least when you look at the question diachronically.

Shakespeare isn't always easy to follow for native speakers of English in 2020. Chaucer is very difficult. But I would still class Chaucer as English. I would say that the difficulty of Biblical Hebrew for Modern Hebrew speakers fluctuates between the difficulty of Shakespeare and the difficulty of Chaucer for Modern English speakers. On that analogy, I would call Biblical Hebrew and Modern Hebrew the same language.

Anyway, read the essay, decide how you want to define "language," and you have your answer.

This Mosaic essay is your one free article this month, unless you register (for free). Then you get two more. In any case, choose wisely.

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Aramaic Incantation Bowls in Museum Collections, vol 1 (Ford & Morgenstern)

Aramaic Incantation Bowls in Museum Collections

Volume One: The Frau Professor Hilprecht Collection of Babylonian Antiquities, Jena

Magical and Religious Literature of Late Antiquity, Volume: 8

Authors: James Nathan Ford and Matthew Morgenstern

The Frau Professor Hilprecht Collection of Babylonian Antiquities at Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena houses one of the major European collections of incantation bowls. Forty bowls bear texts written in the Jewish, Manichaean Syriac or Mandaic scripts, and most of the rest (some twenty-five objects) in the Pahlavi script or in various pseudoscripts. The present volume comprises new editions of the Aramaic (and Hebrew) bowl texts based on high-resolution photographs taken by the authors, together with brief descriptions and photographs of the remaining material. New readings are often supported with close-up photographs. The volume is intended to serve as a basis for further study of magic in late Antiquity and of the Late Eastern Aramaic dialects in which the texts were composed.

Prices from (excl. VAT): €176.00 / $212.00

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ISBN: 978-90-04-41183-8
Publication Date: 04 Nov 2019

Availability: Published
ISBN: 978-90-04-37700-4
Publication Date: 11 Dec 2019

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Wednesday, February 05, 2020

Daniel 6

AT READING ACTS, Phil Long has two more installments in his blog series on the Book of Daniel.

Daniel 6:1 – Who is Darius the Mede?

Daniel 6 and 1-2 Maccabees

There is another version of the story of Daniel in the lions' den in the Apocryphal addition to Daniel known as Bel and the Dragon (vv. 23-42). In that version, God seizes the prophet Habakkuk by the hair and transports him to Babylon so that he can give Daniel his dinner.

UPDATE: Please don't ever do this.

UPDATE: For notice of previous posts in Phil's series on Daniel, see here and links.

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Review of Shoemaker, The Apocalypse of Empire

BRYN MAYR CLASSICAL REVIEW: Stephen J. Shoemaker, The Apocalypse of Empire: Imperial Eschatology in Late Antiquity and Early Islam. Divinations: rereading late ancient religion. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018. Pp. 260. ISBN 9780812250404. $59.95. Reviewed by Joseph Lipp, Monmouth University (
The book treats two main topics. The first topic is the eschatological context of early Islam. Here Shoemaker focuses on notions of eschatology and empire and demonstrates that in late antiquity, imperial conquest and eschatology often went hand in hand. Moreover, eschatological expectations were high among Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, and Muslims alike. Second, on its way to contextualizing early Islam, the book looks at the broad history of apocalypticism in the religions of the ancient world, including Judaism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, and, briefly, paganism. Shoemaker argues against a widespread modern claim that apocalypse as a genre and worldview was naturally anti-imperial.
I noted the publication of the book here.

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Tuesday, February 04, 2020

Did Solomon's Temple have competition?

ARCHAEOLOGY: Iron Age Temple Complex Discovered Near Jerusalem Calls Into Question Biblical Depiction of Centralized Cult. Tel Moẓa site proves there were other sanctioned temples besides the official temple in Jerusalem, TAU and IAA researchers say (Tel Aviv University press release).
In 2012, a monumental Iron Age temple complex dating to the late 10th and early ninth centuries BCE was discovered at Tel Moẓa near Jerusalem by archaeologists of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). The site, identified as the biblical city of Moẓa, within the boundary of the tribe of Benjamin (Joshua 18:26), served as an administrative center for the storage and redistribution of grain.

In the spring of 2019, the first academic excavation of the site set out to fully unearth and study two cult buildings discovered one on top of the other at Tel Moẓa: The monumental temple complex built in the late 10th to early ninth centuries BCE, and a structure beneath it that has only partially been uncovered, tentatively dated to the 10th century BCE.


"Could a monumental temple really exist in the heart of Judah, outside Jerusalem? Did Jerusalem know about it?" writes PhD student Kisilevitz. "If so, could this other temple possibly have been part of the Judahite administrative system? The Bible details the religious reforms of King Hezekiah and King Josiah, who consolidated worship practices to Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem, and eliminated cultic activity beyond its boundaries.

"However, our analysis of the archaeological finds and biblical texts clearly demonstrates that the temple at Moẓa conformed to ancient Near Eastern religious conventions and traditions and biblical depictions of cult places throughout the land. It has become clear that temples such as the one at Moẓa not only could but also must have existed throughout most of the Iron II period as part of the official, royally sanctioned religious construct."

"Despite the biblical narratives describing Hezekiah's and Josiah's reforms, there were sanctioned temples in Judah in addition to the official temple in Jerusalem," Prof. Lipschits adds. "Our discoveries thus far have fundamentally changed the way we understand the religious practices of Judahites."

The rich assemblage of cultic artifacts and architectural remains at the site — including human-shape figurines, horse figurines, a cult stand decorated with a pair of lions or sphinxes, a stone built altar, a stone-built offering table and a pit filled with ash and animal bones — provides an important opportunity to study the formation of cult and religion in the region at the time and provide a framework for the formation of the Kingdom of Judah.

The discoveries at Tel Moza (Tel Motza, Tel Moẓa, Tel Moẓah) were first published by Shua Kisilevitz and Prof. Oded Lipschits in Biblical Archaeology Review last month.

I noted mention of the excavation of the temple at Tel Moza several years ago here. For more on ancient horse figurines, see here and here.

The temple at Tel Motza has received some attention in the media. The most informative is the article by Amanda Borschel-Dan in the Times of Israel, which draws on an interview with Shua Kisilevitz (HT Joseph Lauer):

Revealed: In First Temple era, another massive temple was in use near Jerusalem. Large 10th century BCE worship complex being excavated at Motza in ancient Judah; 4 miles from Temple Mount, site was ‘sanctioned’ by Jerusalem administration, say archaeologists.

Some other media coverage:

TAU Dig Outside Jerusalem Unearths a Rival to King Solomon’s Temple (David Israel, The Jewish Press)

Biblical Israelites maintained cult practice in temples outside Jerusalem. Research conducted by Tel Aviv University and Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologists shed new light on these cult practices thanks to new excavations at the site of a temple uncovered in 2012 (Rossella Tercatin, Jerusalem Post)

Ancient Place of Worship Found Near Jerusalem Challenges Assumptions About First Temple. At least the same size as Solomon’s Temple and resembling that structure’s description in the Bible, Motza temple was used for worship of both Yahweh and idols (Nir Hasson, Haaretz premium)

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Saul was a tall guy - good or bad?

Heroic Bodies in Ancient Israel: The Case of Saul’s Height

As it turns out, the vast majority of these kings have no body as far as the text is concerned. Solomon has no body of significance. The great rulers of the northern kingdom, such as Jeroboam, Omri, and Ahab, are not attractive or tall or ugly or physically strong—or physically anything. The righteous reformer Hezekiah possesses no beauty that would attract us to him and has no particular appearance at all (though he does get sick at one point; 2 Kgs 20:1–11). Josiah is a complete ghost. These figures loom large in the tradition—why is it, then, that only Saul and David receive physical descriptions, and indeed, by biblical standards, elaborate descriptions at that?

See Also: Heroic Bodies in Ancient Israel (Oxford University Press 2019).

By Brian R. Doak
Associate Professor of Biblical Studies
George Fox University
January 2020

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Monday, February 03, 2020

Daniel 5

READING ACTS has two new installments in Phil Long's series on the Book of Daniel.

Daniel 5 – The Feast of Belshazzar
Apart from this chapter's reference to Belshazzar, all memory of him was lost until the modern decipherment of Akkadian cuneiform. Daniel 5 gets some details wrong: Belshazzar was the son of Nabonidus, not Nebuchadnezzar, and he was never actually the king. He acted as regent while his father was away in Teima. But he was a nominally ruling figure at the time of the fall of Babylon to Cyrus the Persian's army. That is a remarkable case of the preservation of an otherwise forgotten Babylonian figure in the Book of Daniel.

The story of the party at the time of the fall of Babylon is also found in the Greek Fantasy Babylon tradition. Herodotus (1.191) says that Cyrus had his men divert the Euphrates and enter the city by that route. The Babylonians were celebrating a holiday in the middle of the city and didn't even notice the entering army until it was too late.

That story doesn't appear in the cuneiform literature. Cyrus, in his propaganda piece, the Cyrus Cylinder, says that he entered Babylon without battle and his army was welcomed by the Babylonians. That is the earliest account we have. It is also an eyewitness account, but by a witness who was far from unbiased. It doesn't mention the river diversion or the party, but it isn't necessarily incompatible with them.

The Nabonidus Chronicle also says that Babylon was captured without a battle. And the very fragmentary text seems to say that various sacred celebrations continued uninterrupted during the year of the conquest.

Also, Berossus, the Babylonian priest, does not include the story in his Hellenistic Greek account of Babylonian history. He just says that Cyrus took the city and gave orders that its outer walls be dismantled to make it less secure. In fact he seems to refute the story indirectly when he says that Nebuchanezzar had built walls to prevent the river from being diverted.

I would class the account of the royal party in Daniel as another legendary element that Daniel shares with Greek Fantasy Babylon. But that may involve some memory of religious festivals that were going on around the same time as the capture of Babylon.

Daniel 5:5-12 – What was the Meaning of the Handwriting on the Wall?
The account of the Writing on the Wall is puzzling in a number of ways. Why is Mina repeated? The three words are names of weights. We would expect them in order of weight. Mina Peres and Tekel would be the correct descending order, and that, in fact, is the the text (Mina once) and order given in the Old Greek (prologue to the chapter - vv. 24-25 are missing in the OG). The nouns are interpreted as participles.

Because of these oddities, scholars have suggested that the original story involved an oracle about the descending value of the Babylonian rulers: Nebuchadnezzar, Nabonidus, and then the regent Belshazzar.

In that case, the Masoretic Text of Daniel 5 reinterprets the oracle, giving it a dual meaning: Babylon has been weighed and found wanting, and it is given to the Medes and the Persians. For the latter part to work, the word Peres has been moved to the end to correspond to the capture of the city by the Persians.

I should also note that the Aramaic of chapters 4-6 in the Masoretic Text (and the Dead Sea Scrolls) is rather different from the Greek version of those chapters in the Old Greek. I don't have time to go into all the differences. But one notable one is that most or all of the cross references to events in the rest of the book are missing in the OG. It is unlikely that some scribe would have gone through those chapters and deliberately deleted them. So this may mean that chapters 4-6 originally circulated as an independent unit. The OG preserves an earlier draft of them that had not yet been fully assimilated into the rest of the book.

I have noted, and sometimes commented on, previous posts in Phil Long's Daniel series here and links.

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The Phoenicia is arriving in Florida

PHOENICIAN WATCH: Replica Phoenician Ship Makes Landfall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida after Unprecedented 6,000-Mile Atlantic Voyage. Tuesday, February 4, 2020 at 12:00pm (Time is approximate due to sea and weather conditions) (Coral Ridge Yacht Club).
The journey across the Atlantic from Tenerife to the Dominican Republic took 39 days, a distance of some 3,700 miles. From the Dominican Republic to Florida, the journey of 1,000 miles will take 12 days. Once completed, the total voyage from Carthage, Tunisia to Florida will have covered over 6,000 miles, taking five months to complete.
The Good Ship Phoenicia launched this expedition from the port of Carthage on 28 September 2019. That sounds like a voyage of a little over four months to me. Am I missing something? In any case, that was good progress.

We now know that ancient Phoenician ships were capable of crossing the Atlantic and reaching the Americas. We pretty much knew that before, but now we've seen it done.

Whether the ancient Phoenicians actually undertook any such voyages is another matter. We have no good evidence that they did.

Past posts on this most recent expedition of the Phoenicia are here, here, and here. Follow the links from there for many posts on the ship's 2008-2010 voyage around Africa. For posts that evaluate the evidence presented for ancient Phoenician travel to the Americas, see the links at the first link in this paragraph.

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Review of Berthelot and Price (eds.), In the Crucible of Empire

BRYN MAYR CLASSICAL REVIEW: Katell Berthelot, Jonathan Price (ed.), In the Crucible of Empire: The Impact of Roman Citizenship upon Greeks, Jews and Christians. Interdisciplinary studies in ancient culture and religion, 21. Leuven; Paris: Peeters, 2019. Pp. vi, 337. ISBN 9789042936683. €76,00 (pb). Reviewed by Amit Gvaryahu, Martin Buber Society of Fellows, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem (
Together with its bibliography, In the Crucible of Empire is an important introduction to scholarship on both the institution and the reception of Roman citizenship in the high empire and into late antiquity. The collation of studies on the empire and its administration with studies on the Jewish and Christian groups which flourished under it is both innovative and laudable. Another innovation, only slightly less significant, is the bringing together of papers by Anglophone and Francophone scholars in one volume.

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Sunday, February 02, 2020

Biblical Studies Carnival 168

ZWINGLIUS REDIVIVUS: 2020: The Carnival. Jim West's characteristically modest title for his carnival this month. But it is pretty thorough.

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Healing and Exorcism in Second Temple Judaism and Early Christianity (ed. Tellbe & Wasserman, with Nyman)

NEW BOOK FROM MOHR SIEBECK: Healing and Exorcism in Second Temple Judaism and Early Christianity. Ed. by Mikael Tellbe and Tommy Wasserman with the assistance of Ludvig Nyman. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 2. Reihe 511. 79,00 € including VAT. sewn paper ISBN 978-3-16-158936-2.
Published in English.
This volume, originating from a conference on »Healing and Exorcism in Second Temple Judaism and Early Christianity« hosted by Örebro School of Theology (Sweden) in 2018, deals with the ideological and theological meaning of healing and exorcism in a historical, literary, and socio-cultural perspective. While the first part of the book focuses on Jewish and early Christian texts and themes, the second centres on the transmission, reception and interpretation of the biblical texts in early Christian writings and artefacts.

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