Saturday, November 20, 2021

Ecbatana excavation

ARCHAEOLOGY: Another archaeological season begins at Hegmataneh (Tehran Times).
The Hegmataneh Hill, also called Tepe Hegmataneh (thought to correspond to the ancient citadel of Ecbatana), has a circumference of 1.4 kilometers with an area of about 40 hectares.

The ruined Hegmataneh (Ecbatana) which is partly beneath the modern city of Hamedan (the capital city), is widely believed to be once a mysterious capital of Medes. According to ancient Greek writers, the city was founded in about 678 BC by Deioces, who was the first king of the Medes.

The Persian Empire continued to use Ecbatana as a summer residence after the conquest of the Medes. It is mentioned in Ezra 6:2 as having a royal archive.

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Review of Eisenberg & Khamisy (eds.), The art of siege warfare ...

BRYN MAYR CLASSICAL REVIEW: The art of siege warfare and military architecture from the classical world to the middle ages.
Michael Eisenberg, Rabei Khamisy, The art of siege warfare and military architecture from the classical world to the middle ages. Oxford; Havertown: Oxbow, 2021. Pp. 288. ISBN 9781789254068 $70.00.

Review by
Thierry Lucas, École française d’Athènes.

The following essays in the volume look to be of interest:
12. The Starting Point of the Imperial Roads in Aelia Capitolina (Shlomit Weksler-Bdolah and Danit Levi)
13. Regional Fortifications in the Chora of Hippos (Sussita) (Adam Pažout)
14. The Extraordinary Roman Military Presence in Judaea from AD 70 until the 3rd Century (Werner Eck)
17. Caesarea Maritima: Fortifications and City Expansion from the Time of Herod the Great to Late Antiquity (Peter Gendelman)

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Friday, November 19, 2021

Review of new English translation of Strack-Billerbeck

THE READING ACTS BLOG: A New English Translation of Strack and Billerbeck, Commentary on the Talmud, ed. Jacob N. Cerone, trans. Joseph Longarino. Cross-file under New Book.

Phil Long gives a balanced review of this new English translation of Strack-Billerbeck.

Conclusion: Is this new English translation of Strack and Billerbeck worth the investment? This is not a reference work for the casual reader, it is a major tool intended for the serious Bible student and scholar. For many, an English translation of Strack and Billerbeck opens up a new world of Rabbinic literature for the first time. But with great power comes great responsibility. Using Strack and Billerbeck can enhance one’s understanding of the Jewish background to Jesus, Paul, and the rest of the New Testament. But it is a tool which may lead to unintentional consequences and misreading the Rabbinic literature.
Indeed. My own view is that people who are not specialists in rabbinic literature (including nearly all New Testament scholars and also me) should stay away from Strack-Billerbeck. It collects a great deal of potentially useful information, but to use it responsibly you have to be able to filter that information to decide credibly what is an early tradition and what isn't.

Crucially, the attribution of a saying to a named rabbi doesn't date the saying. Late traditions were sometimes, perhaps often, attributed to earlier tradents. The saying has to be dated on other grounds, if that is possible at all.

I try not to use rabbinic material in my work on Second Temple Judaism. If I have to, I try to limit my use to material isolated as first-century in Neusner's stratigraphic analysis.

Sometimes a late or undateable rabbinic text has interesting parallels with an earlier text. Such cases are worth noting and discussing, but only when making clear that the rabbinic text has not in itself been demonstrated to be early.

A related post from many years ago is here. I haven't published those notes, but I have continued to refine them and use them in my classes.

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Hendin, Guide to Biblical Coins (6th ed)

THE ANCIENT NEAR EAST TODAY: A Half a Century of Studying Biblical Coins (David Hendin).
Many people are interested in ancient coins, but not too many stay with it for over half a century! After nearly 50 years of writing and revising, and on the eve of publication of my book Guide to Biblical Coins 6th Edition, I can assure readers that the process of creation and revision of a book like this is not a straightforward process. This is true even though texts on the topic have existed for nearly 200 years.


This essay summarizes the latest on ancient Jewish coins. I have noted essays on ancient numismatics and related matters by David Hendin here, here, here, and here. I mention only those whose links are still good.

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Thursday, November 18, 2021

More on the "Magic of the Shema" at the Israel Museum

EXHIBITION: Hear, O Israel: There are magic powers in the Shema. Hear, O Israel: There are magic powers in the Shema (Jessica Steinberg, Times of Israel).

A word of caution about the following:

But the arrival of a 1,500-year-old silver armband inscribed with some of the words of the Jewish text led an Israel Museum archaeology staffer to some surprising discoveries about the Shema and its protective qualities.

The discoveries and artifacts are on display in “Hear, O Israel: The Magic of the Shema,” on display in the archaeology wing of the museum until April 2022.

The silver cuff, wide, durable and covered with Greek script, was part of a bequest of artifacts that arrived at the Israel Museum several years ago.

The silver cuff is a lovely object, but it raises a couple of red flags. First, it was included in "a bequest of artifacts." I can only read that as saying it is unprovenanced. Second, the article says that the object is more typical of Christian amulets and that the presence of the Shema on it is unique. The more unusual the object, the more closely we should attend to its authenticity. Objects like this one are relatively easy to forge and the forgery can be hard to detect.

My default assumption is that an unprovenanced inscribed artifact is a forgery unless someone makes a credible positive case that it is genuine. In such cases, a close look at the material composition and construction of the object is a desideratum.

I am not asserting that this object is a forgery. But I don't see the case for its authenticity being made yet.The article makes no reference to its authentication. I have also looked at the published edition of the text by the decipherer, which you can read here at It presents a critical edition and commentary on the text, but does not address authentication per se.

The object from an individual's bequest. I'm sure the individual thought he had a genuine artifact, but collectors can sometimes be fooled about such things. If it is a forgery, it's a good one. But epigraphic forgers are getting better and better.

Perhaps there is a positive case for the object's authenticity. If so, I would be pleased if someone would send it to me so I can note it and, hopefully, link to it. As it is, we don't even know the circumstances the owner reported about its acquisition.

For now, I register my skepticism that it is a genuine ancient artifact. I am happy to be corrected if there is additional information. Indeed, I would be delighted to be wrong on this.

Oddly the decipherer is reported to say the following:

There’s no magic per se in Judaism, said [Israel Museum staffer Nancy] Benovitz, but there are elements that show up in these bowls, books, and scrolls, in which verses are alternated and repeated, or in which words are manipulated or written backwards.
The statement is not in quotation marks, which makes me wonder if the reporter is mistakenly paraphrasing something Ms. Benovitz said. You can only say that there is no magic per se in Judaism if you move the goalposts a good distance on what constitutes magic. All religious traditions, Judaism included, inevitably include an unofficial stream of magic.

I have already noted this exhibition here, with links to posts on other, related exhibitions.

In just the last several years I have noted some books and articles on (mostly ancient) Jewish magic here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. And I posted the full text of my own 2020 conference paper (now in press as an article) on the late-antique Jewish magical handbook Sefer HaRazim here.

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The Hidden Birth of Jesus in the Ascension of Isaiah

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Special Delivery: The Hidden Birth of Jesus in the Ascension of Isaiah 11 (Emily Gathergood).
I’d like to offer here a brief introduction to the prophet Isaiah’s mystical vision of the incarnation of the divine Son in chapter 11, which is attentive to this cosmological framing. I want to highlight that the narrative of Jesus’ birth is deeply embedded within, and profoundly shaped by, the book’s over-arching motif of hiddenness. Just as the Beloved One’s descent through the heavens is a hidden descent, in order to hide his true identity from his opponents, so also the Beloved One’s birth is a hidden birth.
This is the fourth in a BRANE Forum series on the Ascension of Isaiah. For the earlier essays see here and links.

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Conference on the Temple Mount

THE TEMPLE MOUNT SIFTING PROJECT BLOG: – Call for Papers – The First International Academic Conference on New Studies in Temple Mount Research. The conference takes place in Jerusalem on 18 May 2022. The deadline for paper proposals is 15 January 2022. Full details and instructions are at the link.

Cross-file under Temple Mount Watch.

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Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Justinian's plague at Ashdod's basilica of the deaconesses?

ARCHAEOLOGY: Byzantine Basilica With Graves of Female Ministers and Baffling Mass Burials Found in Israel. The 1,600-year-old church gave rare prominence to clergywomen — and the later mass graves at the site may be evidence of a pandemic that crippled the Byzantine Empire, archaeologists say (Ariel David, Haaretz).

This is a long article about a fascinating excavation. The site also has impressive mosaics that did not make it into the headline. I noted an article about an earlier stage of the same excavation in 2017.

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A Hellenistic fort and a Hasmonean victory?

ARCHAEOLOGY: Hellenistic Fort Destroyed by the Hasmoneans Uncovered in Lachish Forest (David Israel, The Jewish Press). Cross-file under Hanukkah is Coming.
According to Saar Ganor, Vladik Lifshits, and Ahinoam Montagu, excavation directors on behalf of the IAA, “the excavation site provides tangible evidence of the Chanukah stories. It appears that we have discovered a building that was part of a fortified line erected by the Hellenistic army commanders to protect the large Hellenistic city of Maresha from a Hasmonean offensive. However, the finds from the site show that the Seleucid defenses failed and the building was devastated by the Hasmonean attack.”


“Based on the finds, the building’s destruction can be attributed to the Hasmonean leader Yochanan Horkenus’s conquest of Edom around 112 BCE,” say the archaeologists.

The Hasmoneans, whose rebellion against the Hellenistic rule of the Seleucid dynasty followed the anti-Jewish decrees of King Antiochus IV. Yochanan Horkenus’s conquests, described in the Books of the Maccabees and the accounts of historian Josephus Flavius, led to the Hasmonean state’s expansion to the south.

Pro tip to writers of historical archaeology press releases and media articles: If you find a connection between an archaeological excavation and an ancient text, don't just mention the text in passing. Give the full reference. And, journalists, if the archaeologists don't give the primary text reference in the press release, you take the time to look it up yourself. Don't leave it to bloggers like me to have to do it.

Josephus' reference to the conquest of Maresha in Idumea by John Hyrcanus is in Antiquities XIII.257. 1 Maccabees refers to the early career of John in 13:53 and in chapter 16, but neither 1 Maccabees nor 2 Maccabees extend to the time of his conquest of Idumea.

For more on the archaeology and epigraphy of Maresha, see here and links.

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Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Orlov, Embodiment of Divine Knowledge in Early Judaism (Routledge)

Embodiment of Divine Knowledge in Early Judaism

By Andrei A. Orlov

Copyright Year 2022


£29.59 v ISBN 9781032105895
Published November 12, 2021 by Routledge
224 Pages

Book Description

This book explores the early Jewish understanding of divine knowledge as divine presence, which is embodied in major biblical exemplars, such as Adam, Enoch, Jacob, and Moses.

The study treats the concept of divine knowledge as the embodied divine presence in its full historical and interpretive complexity by tracing the theme through a broad variety of ancient Near Eastern and Jewish sources, including Mesopotamian traditions of cultic statues, creational narratives of the Hebrew Bible, and later Jewish mystical testimonies. Orlov demonstrates that some biblical and pseudepigraphical accounts postulate that the theophany expresses the unique, corporeal nature of the deity that cannot be fully grasped or conveyed in some other non-corporeal symbolism, medium, or language. The divine presence requires another presence in order to be transmitted. To be communicated properly and in its full measure, the divine iconic knowledge must be "written" on a new living "body" which can hold the ineffable presence of God through a newly acquired ontology.

Embodiment of Divine Knowledge in Early Judaism will provide an invaluable research to students and scholars in a wide range of areas within Jewish, Near Eastern, and Biblical Studies, as well as those studying religious elements of anthropology, philosophy, sociology, psychology, and gender studies. Through the study of Jewish mediatorial figures, this book also elucidates the roots of early Christological developments, making it attractive to Christian audiences.

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Monday, November 15, 2021

The Ascension of Isaiah in Greek

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: The Ascension of Isaiah Through the Prism of Papyrus Amherst 1 (Warren Campbell).

This is the third in a BRANE Forum series on the Ascension of Isaiah. I have linked to the earlier essays here and here.

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SBL 2021: Christian Apocrypha

THE APOCRYPHICITY BLOG: Christian Apocrypha at SBL 2021 (Tony Burke). Including both in-person and remote sessions. There is a fair bit of ancient Judism mixed in with the Christian Apocrypha.

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Sunday, November 14, 2021

Marlow et al. (eds.), Eschatology in Antiquity (Routledge)

Eschatology in Antiquity
Forms and Functions

Edited By Hilary Marlow, Karla Pollmann, Helen Van Noorden

Copyright Year 2021



ISBN 9781138208315
Published September 30, 2021 by Routledge
654 Pages 27 B/W Illustrations

Book Description

This collection of essays explores the rhetoric and practices surrounding views on life after death and the end of the world, including the fate of the individual, apocalyptic speculation and hope for cosmological renewal, in a wide range of societies from Ancient Mesopotamia to the Byzantine era.

The 42 essays by leading scholars in each field explore the rich spectrum of ways in which eschatological understanding can be expressed, and for which purposes it can be used. Readers will gain new insight into the historical contexts, details, functions and impact of eschatological ideas and imagery in ancient texts and material culture from the twenty-fifth century BCE to the ninth century CE. Traditionally, the study of “eschatology” (and related concepts) has been pursued mainly by scholars of Jewish and Christian scripture. By broadening the disciplinary scope but remaining within the clearly defined geographical milieu of the Mediterranean, this volume enables its readers to note comparisons and contrasts, as well as exchanges of thought and transmission of eschatological ideas across Antiquity. Cross-referencing, high quality illustrations and extensive indexing contribute to a rich resource on a topic of contemporary interest and relevance.

Eschatology in Antiquity is aimed at readers from a wide range of academic disciplines, as well as non-specialists including seminary students and religious leaders. The primary audience will comprise researchers in relevant fields including Biblical Studies, Classics and Ancient History, Ancient Philosophy, Ancient Near Eastern Studies, Art History, Late Antiquity, Byzantine Studies and Cultural Studies. Care has been taken to ensure that the essays are accessible to undergraduates and those without specialist knowledge of particular subject areas.

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Mathias, Paternity, Progeny, and Perpetuation (T&T CLark)

Paternity, Progeny, and Perpetuation

Creating Lives after Death in the Hebrew Bible

Steffan Mathias (Author)
Paperback $39.95 $35.95

Hardback $115.00 $103.50

Ebook (PDF) $35.95 $28.76

Product Details

Published Nov 18 2021
Format Paperback
Edition 1st
Extent 288
ISBN 9780567703323
Imprint T&T Clark
Dimensions 9 x 6 inches
Series The Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies
Publisher Bloomsbury Publishing


This book offers a fresh perspective on the importance of progeny and perpetuation of the family line in the Hebrew tradition. Steffan Matthias argues that the Hebrew bible depicts failing to protect the transmission of the family line as both a failure in the social order, a threat to the afterlife, and a failure in masculinity, leading to the eradication of the name and memory of the man and the destruction of the household. Using the work of Pierre Bourdieu, as well as anthropological and gender-critical insights, Matthias reassess pertinent texts which respond to the threat of men dying without children, such as levirate marriage (Deut 22:5-10) or the erection of monuments (Isa 56:5-8).

Themes such as death, burial and memorial, identity, covenant, name, genealogy, property, seed and sexuality, rather than being treated as separate parts of social or family life, are critically assessed in light of each other. Matthias instead illustrates how they form part of the same discourse of social reproduction, in which the integrity of the family is protected and passed down from father to son in generations of descendants. Paternity, Progeny, and Perpetuation raises profound questions regarding the subtle ways texts that respond to this threat of social annihilation – the destruction of the father and his line - reinforce social boundaries and construct men as transmitters of identity and women as submissive counterparts.

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