Saturday, April 08, 2023

The Age of Persia (Oxford History of the ANE 5)

BIBLIOGRAPHIA IRANICA: The Age of Persia. Notice of a New Book: Radner, Karen, Nadine Moeller & D. T. Potts (eds.). 2023. The Oxford History of the Ancient Near East Volume V: The Age of Persia. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Follow the link for TOC and link to publisher.

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Friday, April 07, 2023

Yannai's poetry in the Passover Haggadah

PROF. RABBI LAURA LIEBER: It Came to Pass at Midnight—From the Amidah to the Passover Haggadah (
The seventh part of the qedushta for the ancient triennial Torah reading וַיְהִי בַּחֲצִי הַלַּיְלָה, “It Came to Pass at Midnight,” was preserved in the Haggadah. This is the only poem of Yannai’s (ca. 5th/6th cent. C.E.) to be retained in the liturgy.
For more on Yannai's poetry, see here and links

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Review of Despotis & Löhr, Religious and philosophical conversion in the ancient Mediterranean traditions

BRYN MAYR CLASSICAL REVIEW: Religious and philosophical conversion in the ancient Mediterranean traditions.
Athanasios Despotis, Hermut Löhr, Religious and philosophical conversion in the ancient Mediterranean traditions. Ancient philosophy and religion, 5. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2022. Pp. xi, 477. ISBN 9789004501768

Review by
Thomas Miller, Zalkind Duncan & Bernstein LLP.

The possibility of conversion fascinates, inspires, and frightens: could the basic boundaries of our identities be less stable than we think? This volume collects sixteen papers on the topic, originally delivered at a 2018 conference at the University of Bonn. The essays are organized into five sections, which give some notion of the volume’s range: there are two pieces on “Interdisciplinary Conversion Research,” four on “Conversion in Ancient Judaism,” three on “Conversion in Philosophical Traditions,” five on “Conversion in the New Testament,” and two on “Conversion in Mystery Cults and Late Antiquity.”


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Thursday, April 06, 2023

Who founded the Christian Holy Land pilgrimage startup?

REDISCOVERY? The True History of Early Christian Pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Who were the earliest Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land, and how did they know where to go? (Ruth Schuster, Haaretz).
The bottom line is that, apparently, proper Christian pilgrimage only developed after the identification of holy sites in the early fourth century, and whether their identification is accurate is a matter of faith.

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AJR: Fraade on "Multilingualism and Translation in Ancient Judaism" (CUP)

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Multilingualism and Translation in Ancient Judaism (Steven Fraade).
It became increasingly clear to me that ancient scriptural translation had to viewed within the context of a multilingual culture and society. In other words, what work does scriptural translation perform in such a multilingual environment? In short, targum is intended, at least partly, for those with varying degrees of literacy in both Hebrew and Aramaic. Most importantly, among Jews, it never displaced (quote the opposite!) the written Holy Hebrew text that it interpretatively accompanied, as happens eventually with the status of the Septuagint in later Christianity, with some notable exceptions.
Notice of a Forthcoming Book: Steven D. Fraade, Multilingualism and Translation in Ancient Judaism. Before and After Babel (CUP, June 2023).

The first part of this essay also amounts to a brief career retrospective for Professor Fraade.

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Jewish fish sauce in a Roman-era jar?

CUNLINARY ARCHAEOLOGY: Ancient Jewish Fish Sauce? (Brent Nongbri, Variant Readings). With a side-dish of culinary textual criticism!

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Wednesday, April 05, 2023

Passover 2023

HAPPY PASSOVER (PESACH) to all those celebrating! The festival begins this evening at sundown.

Last year's Passover post is here, with many links. Subsequent Passover-related posts are here, here, here, here, here, and here.

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Could Jewish soldiers eat kosher in the Roman army?

CULINARY ARCHAEOLOGY: Jews could have kept kosher, Passover in ancient Roman army, per new paper. The Roman military may have made dispensations on Shabbat as well (Menachem Wecker, JNS).
The paper suggests that Romans were aware that Jews, Syrians and Egyptians had specific dietary restrictions, and an ostracon (potsherd) dated 96 C.E. records a military man writing to a colleague about collecting wheat to send “to the Jews.”

“This ostracon is the only one to describe the sending of wheat to Jews, instead of the bread already issued to them or that was supposed to be issued to them,” Olshanetsky wrote. The shard dates to a time that Josephus interpreted to parallel the Jewish month of Nissan, during which Passover occurs.

The underlying Jewish Quarterly Review article: Keeping Kosher: The Ability of Jewish Soldiers to Keep the Dietary Laws as a Case Study for the Integration of Minorities in the Roman Army (Haggai Olshanetsky).
The Jewish religion, especially its dietary laws, has been seen as an obstacle to Jewish military service in the armies of the Roman Empire and, thus, is used as a main argument by scholars who deny that Jews served in the Roman army in any considerable numbers. The current essay is the first to examine this claim. Its first part shows that Jews would not have been unique among ethnic army recruits in having dietary restrictions, while the second part presents the diet of the Roman soldier. The third part uses the Jewish soldier as a case study of the capability of any serviceman, no matter his faith or ethnicity, to serve in the army while keeping his customs and traditions with regard to food. Lastly, the article raises the possibility that the Roman logistical system was purposefully structured to ease the service of soldiers from different cultures and ethnicities.
Cross-file under Passover.

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Adler on the origins of Judaism and Passover

ARCHAEOLOGY AND MATERIAL CULTURE: What Matters Now to archaeologist Prof. Yonatan Adler: The origins of Judaism. Ariel University prof discusses his ‘excavation’ into the evidence for the practice of the Jewish religion – and points to when we know with certainty that Passover was observed.
I’m trying to be very precise here in what the data provides and what the data does not provide. So we know that lack of evidence is not evidence of absence or absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. What that means is the fact that we don’t have evidence for widescale Torah observance before the second century before the Common Era does not necessarily mean that Judaism began then. It could be that Jews were keeping the laws of the Torah on a wide-scale basis in earlier periods in the third century, the fourth century before the Common Era. But the evidence simply hasn’t survived.

What I do in the final chapter is look at contextual evidence from the period before our terminus ante quem. So I’m looking at the evidence surrounding this question to see what was going on with Judeans in these earlier periods. And what I find is that what’s commonly thought of as the beginning of Judaism in the Persian period, in the fifth century before the Common Era, not only do we not find evidence of wide cultural observance, we find negative evidence.

For more on Professor Adler's work, see here and links.

I take his point about the problem with citing the Passover Papyrus from Elephantine as proof of the observation of Passover in the fifth century.

But that said, the biblical evidence for its observance is not inconsequential. The Deuteronomistic History has King Josiah reviving Passover observance (reportedly neglected since the days of the Judges) according to 2 Kings 23:22-23. If Dtr was written within living memory of Josiah, as many specialists think, that implies Passover observance was happening on a wide scale in Judah, presumably as an innovation, just before the Babylonian Exile. Of course one could argue for a later date for Dtr. But in any case it shows interest in the festival from long before the first-century CE evidence that Adler cites.

Also, according to the Chronicler, King Hezekiah revived Passover observance (2 Chronicles 30). And the Chronicler much expands the story of the Josianic revival of Passover (2 Chronicles 35). Some would date Chr1 as early as the fifth century. But even if we date Chronicles as late as the fourth or third century, the author seems to be disseminating pro-Passover propaganda much earlier than Adler's evidence. Does that imply "wide-scale" observance? Maybe. I don't know.

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Tuesday, April 04, 2023

Is the Jerusalem "(proto-)Canaanite" inscription actually Old South Arabian?

SOUTH SEMITIC EPIGRAPHY? Inscription on Sherd From Solomon-era Jerusalem Found to Be Ancient Arabian Script. Scholars have been squabbling over the inscription found on the sherd since its discovery 11 years ago – though according to a new interpretation, the script is Sabaean, from the time of the Kingdom of Sheba (Ruth Schuster, Haaretz).

I have posted on the "Jerusalem inscription" here (discovery in 2013), and here, here, here, and here. I noted a couple, by no means all, of the proposed interpretations.

I don't have the expertise to evaluate the claim that the script is Sabaean. The readings are quite different from the earlier ones I've seen, and the latter are not entirely consistent. In fact, Dr. Vainstub's Sabean reading has six letters and the ealier ones have seven.

Whoever may be right, if anyone, the main takeaway for me is that we really don't know much about alphabetic scripts from the tenth century BCE.

The Kingdom of Sheba in Yemen is one possible place of origin for the Queen of Sheba. The other is Axum (Aksum) in Ethiopia. This inscription, if (big if) the new interpretation proves to be correct, would show there was contact between Solomonic-era Jerusalem and the Yemenite Sheba. But that seems likely enough anyway, since Palestine was an unavoidable route for the spice trade.

Note: Old South Arabian Sabaean should not be confused with Mandaic or Mandean (Mandaean) Sabean (Sabaean/Sabian). The latter refers to a late-antique Aramaic dialect and the people who spoke and who still use it.

UPDATE (11 April): More here.

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How many Egyptian words in Hebrew and where did they come from?

PHILOLOGOS: How Many Egyptian Words Made It into Biblical Hebrew? And does their presence illuminate the book of Exodus—or is it simply a sign that ancient Egypt was a powerful nation? (Mosaic Magazine).

Not surprisingly, the answer is "It depends."

One point not raised in the essay is that even if the Israelites spent some generations as slaves in Egypt in the late second millennium BCE, the biblical texts were not written until late in Iron Age II, more than half a millennium later. They had lived in a context of neighbors who spoke Northwest Semitic dialects cognate with, and probably mutually intelligible with, Hebrew. That's a long time to readjust the language away from any Egyptian influence from that sojourn.

Cross-file under Passover.

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Monday, April 03, 2023

IAA exhibits ancient gold jewelry forgotten in a drawer

ANCIENT APOTROPAIC FUNERARY BLING: Spectacular Gold Jewels Worn Against Evil Eye in Roman Jerusalem Go on Exhibit, Finally. Found over 50 years ago and forgotten in a box at the Israel Antiquities Authority, the gold ‘moon’ pendant was probably worn by a girl as an amulet, archaeologists say (Ruth Schuster, Haaretz).
For the first time, gorgeous gold jewels discovered in forgotten drawers at the Israel Antiquities Authority will be going on display. The items, dating to the Late Roman period about 1,800 years ago, will be exhibited at a conference of the IAA, the Israel Exploration Society and the Israel Archaeological Association, the authority announced on Monday.

The newly unearthed treasures include gold earrings, a hairpin, beads made of gold, carnelian stone and glass - and a gold pendant called a lunula that is shaped like the crescent moon and named after the Roman moon goddess Luna.


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Biblical Studies Carnival 205

TOM WRONG IS BACK, with Biblical Studies Carnival 205 for March 2023.

My thanks to Tom, Phil Long, and Todd Bolen, for their congratulations on PaleoJudaica's twentieth anniversary.

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April 1st, belatedly

ON APRIL FIRST, I was busy and just pre-posted. But Todd Bolin was blogging away, noting many day-appropriate posts.

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Sunday, April 02, 2023

Mohrmann, Deuteronomion: A Commentary ... (Brill)


A Commentary Based on the Text of Codex Alexandrinus

Series: Septuagint Commentary Series

Author: Douglas C. Mohrmann

This commentary on Deuteronomion is based on Codex Alexandrinus, the single best complete witness to the Old Greek. It features a new transcription of the manuscript with a fresh translation that treats Deuteronomion as a sacred text that would have been read, studied, and cherished in a worshipping community. Notations of important variants with the other key manuscripts, such as p848, p963, and B (Vaticanus), appear regularly. This commentary represents an interpretative adventure, intentionally giving room for varied ancient reader-responses, and accordingly it functions within several literary spaces. First, it recognizes the substantial intratextual features between the book’s narrative framing and its legal materials. Deuteronomion is also read in its hypotextual relation with the Pentateuch’s other narratives and legal materials, chiefly within Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. Sensitivity to the Greek linguistic climate, the so-called koine Greek, is another space. Finally, and most distinctively, this commentary adds to its reading the many voices who read and used Deuteronomy, in either Hebrew or Greek forms, from the late Second Temple Period.

Prices from (excl. shipping): €199.00

Copyright Year: 2023

E-Book (PDF)
Availability: Published
ISBN: 978-90-04-53661-6
Publication date: 17 Feb 2023

Availability: Published
ISBN: 978-90-04-53653-1
Publication date: 24 Feb 2023

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Miglio, The Gilgamesh Epic in Genesis 1-11 (Routledge)

The Gilgamesh Epic in Genesis 1-11
Peering into the Deep

By Adam E. Miglio

Copyright Year 2023




ISBN 9781032020129
Published February 10, 2023 by Routledge
190 Pages 3 B/W Illustrations

Book Description

This book provides a substantive, reliable, and accessible comparison of the Gilgamesh Epic and Genesis 1–11, investigating their presentation of humanistic themes such as wisdom, power, and the ‘good life.’

While the Gilgamesh Epic and Genesis 1–11 are characterized by historical and cultural features that may seem unusual or challenging to modern readers, such as the intervention of gods and goddesses and talking animals, these ancient literary masterpieces are nonetheless familiar and relatable stories through their humanistic composition. This volume explores the presentation of humanistic themes and motifs throughout both stories. Significant passages and narratives, such as stories from the Garden of Eden and the Flood, are translated into English and accompanied by comprehensive discussions that compare and contrast shared ideas in both compositions. Written in a lucid and concise fashion, this book offers new insights into the Gilgamesh Epic and Genesis 1–11 in an accessible way.

The Gilgamesh Epic in Genesis 1–11: Peering into the Deep is suitable for students and scholars of ancient Near Eastern literature, with broad appeal across religious studies, ancient history, and world literature.

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