Saturday, June 24, 2023

The Tree of Life

HISTORY OF INTERPRETATION: The tree of life has been a powerful image in Jewish tradition for thousands of years – signifying much more than immortality (Samuel L. Boyd, The Conversation).
In my research as a scholar of the Bible and ancient Judaism, I have been amazed at the potency of the symbol of the tree of life. Not only has the symbol itself transformed over time, but it has the power to transform communities along with it.
A brief survey of the Tree of Life theme in the Bible, the Ancient Near East, and the Kabbalah.

For a recent book on the Tree of Life tradition, see here and links.

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Review of Gmirkin, Plato's Timaeus and the Biblical creation accounts

BRYN MAYR CLASSICAL REVIEW: Plato’s Timaeus and the Biblical creation accounts.
Russell E. Gmirkin, Plato's Timaeus and the Biblical creation accounts: cosmic monotheism and terrestrial polytheism in the primordial history. Copenhagen international seminar. Abingdon; New York: Routledge, 2022. Pp. xv, 344. ISBN 9781032020822

Review by
Nicholas Banner, Independent scholar.

... Gmirkin’s arguments are welcome in that they remind the reader of this, and remind us of the shakiness of the edifice upon which the accepted scholarly certainties of the field are sometimes established. However, to this reviewer’s mind, Gmirkin’s take on his own Hellenistic composition hypothesis is itself rather too ‘maximalist’: much that is found in this book would be welcome as intriguing parallels suggesting the need for more research, but fails to convince as an open-and-shut case for widespread Platonic and other Greek borrowing in Genesis. ...

I noted the publication of the book here, with links to earlier posts on Gmirkin's work and some comments of my own.

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Friday, June 23, 2023

More evidence for the site of Bethsaida?

HISTORICAL GEOGRAPHY: ‘The Real Bethsaida’: Scribal Mix-up Over Site of Jesus' Miracle May Help Identify Its Location. Our story starts with Jesus healing a lame man in a pool in Jerusalem, a journey to the Sea of Galilee and a missing segue. Prof. R. Steven Notley tracks down the strange etymology of el-Araj, putative site of the real Bethsaida (Ruth Schuster, Haaretz).
So what do we have, according to Notley? Around 2,000 years ago, Jesus healed a lame man in a pool in Jerusalem called Beth-zatha or Bethesda, and then went north to the Sea of Galilee, where there was a fishing village named Bethsaida. Both locations were lost to memory thanks to the violence of Man and Nature. Meanwhile, the New Testament was written in Greek, the name Bethesda in Jerusalem was “corrected” to read Bethsaida – and at some point in the Ottoman period, the fishing village of Bethsaida was mistakenly identified as the place where Jesus healed the lame man.
I can't say I find the argument compelling, at least as presented in this article. John 5:1-2 explicitly presents the healing at the pool as taking place in Jerusalem. Granted the phrase "to the other side of the sea of Galilee: in 6:1 is a bit confusing. It could seem to imply that Jerusalem was in Galilee on one side of the sea. But it would require some poor reader comprehension to mix up the site in Jerusalem with the site of Bethsaida in Galilee.

It's true that poor reader comprehension of the Bible is not unprecedented. But the argument is weakend by the need to assume it.

I don't have ready access to the IEJ article, which may present the case more persuasively.

I do think the current weight of evidence is in favor of el Araj as the site of New Testament Bethsaida rather than the rival site of et-Tell/e-Tell. But I am not an archaeologist. I have discussed the question here. Follow the links from there for many posts on both sides of the debate.

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Esther as a Source for Achaemenian History?

THE ANCIENT NEAR EAST TODAY: The Book of Esther as a Source for Achaemenian History (Morteza Arabzadeh Sarbanani).
In a recent article, I argue that a significant part of the historical material of the Book of Esther is in line with evidence that most of the classical sources are unaware of. This independence from the Greek sources makes the Book of Esther more important as a historical source for Achaemenian history than has traditionally been assumed. What follows is a brief discussion of some verses that contain historically relevant information, much of which is not found in the Classical sources.
There is a link to the underlying article in Persica Antiqua, but it is behind the subscription wall.

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Thursday, June 22, 2023

Great Revolt coins found near Black Sea

NUMISMATICS: 1st-century coins from Jewish revolt against the Romans discovered near the Black Sea. Roman soldiers took coins minted by Jewish rebels in the Holy Land with them to a military camp in Georgia (Owen Jarus, Live Science).
Most of the coins used in the analysis were discovered between 2014 and 2022 by a Polish-Georgian team at the fort of Apsaros at Colchis, Piotr Jaworski, an archaeologist at the University of Warsaw who is a coin expert on the team, told Live Science in an email. The researchers found that a few of the coins were actually minted by Jewish rebels and that the Romans continued to use the currency. During the revolt, the Jewish rebels minted coins of their own that were inscribed with a variety of images, including pomegranates and chalices.

The legion would have brought the coins to the site around A.D. 115, when the Roman emperor Trajan (who reigned from 98 to 117) launched an initially successful invasion of the Parthian Empire — an action that pushed the Roman Empire's borders deep into the Middle East. Historical records and archaeological remains indicate that Legio X Fretensis was used in this invasion and spent time in Colchis. The site was "a good logistical base for military operations in the region," Jaworski said.

For more on the Legio X Fretensis, see here and links. It was involved in the suppression of both the Great Revolt in 66-70 CE and the Bar Kokhba Revolt in 132-135.

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

Who Is Balaam Son of Beor?

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY has re-posted a series of essays on Balaam Son of Beor by Nathan Steinmeyer. Somehow I missed them the first time around, so here they are:

Who Is Balaam Son of Beor? Part One. Examining the figure of Balaam in the Bible

Who Is Balaam Son of Beor? Part Two. Examining the figure of Balaam in later traditions

Who Is Balaam Son of Beor? Part Three. Examining the figure of Balaam in archaeology

For many PaleoJudaica posts on Balaam and on the Balaam inscription from Tel Deir 'Alla (Deir Alla), see here and links, plus here.

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

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Gods at Dura-Europos

ANCIENT RELIGIOUS PLURALISM: The gods of Dura-Europos. From the worship of local Syrian protector gods to Christianity, many different religions flourished in the cosmopolitan crossroads city of Dura-Europos. Jen Baird brings us face to face with the diverse divine through the art of this ancient site (Minerva Magazine/The Past).
In the Roman period, the time that is best known from the archaeological evidence, we know of no fewer than 19 different religious buildings, many of which had been built under Arsacid (Parthian) rule in the centuries before. Some religious structures, like the Mithraeum, Synagogue, and Christian building, focused on single deities. Others were home to a range of gods. Together, the evidence for the many gods and goddesses of Dura-Europos, preserved through inscriptions, sculptures, and paintings, give us a sense of the complex cultural and religious interconnections of the Roman era in Syria.
PaleoJudaica has posted mostly, but not exculsively, on the synagogue. See here and many links. But many gods were worshipped at Dura-Europos.

Posts on Dr. Baird's book and her work on Dura-Europos are here and links. For Yale's Dura-Europos collection, see here and links.

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

Carthage: museum renovation and dye revival (with Shikmona bonus)

PUNIC WATCH: Tunisia's Carthage Museum Gives Preview Of Expanded Renovation (AFP via Barron's).

For more on the renovation of the site of ancient Carthage, including the Carthage Museum, see here and links.

Also from Carthage: Tunisian Man Revives Ancient Phoenician Craft. He takes on an incredible journey! (NATALIE KEBBE, About Her).

No, this is not another recreation of a Phoenician ship.

Mohamed Ghassen Nouira, a history-obsessed Tunisian, revives in his garden an antiquated craft that was once considered a sign of riches in the ancient world: making purple dye from sea snail shells.

A while back, while taking a leisurely walk along the beach in Carthage, a suburb of Tunis in northern Tunisia, Nouira stumbled upon a murex shell. This discovery evoked memories of his history classes and sparked a desire to recreate the ancient dye.


I have already mentioned Mr. Nouira's hobby here. But this is good excuse to mention it again. Follow the links from there for PaleoJudaica posts involving Tyrian purple dye and the Israelite telekhet dye, both made from the murex snail.

Coincidentally, here is newly announced research on the prodution of Tyrian purple dye in ancient Israel: Ancient Tel Shikmona factory probably supplied the First Temple with dye. A new study by the University of Haifa claims to completely change the story of the biblical Shikmona (Judy Siegel-Itzkovich, Jerusalem Post). Cross-file under Phoenician Watch.

I noted the discovery of the Phoenician dye factory at Shikmona here. The new research argues that the ancient Israelites took over the site and continued the dye production.

However, after several years of in-depth research into Elgavish’s findings and even after completing their new excavation in a limited area of the mound in recent weeks, Gilboa and Shalvi now present the full historical story of the mound during this period. The historical reconstruction suggests the Kingdom of Israel took over the Phoenician production site and turned it into the largest and most significant production site known in the Mediterranean basin.

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

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

On Philo of Alexandria

HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY: The Strange Case of Philo of Alexandria. Rabbi [Richard] Baroff discusses the legacy of the first Jewish philosopher (Atlanta Jewish Times).
Students of Jewish philosophy tend to focus on the Middle Ages: Saadia Gaon, Judah HaLevi and Maimonides, among others. But the first Jewish philosopher, Philo of Alexandria, lived long before them. He was born perhaps 10 years or so after Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide and grew up during the time when Octavian became Caesar Augustus, and the Roman Republic became the Roman Empire. He was a contemporary with Hillel the Elder and with Jesus, living most of his life in the first century of the common era.


This is a nice, brief overview of the life and writings of Philo.

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

Monday, June 19, 2023

Drob, Kabbalistic Visions: C. G. Jung and Jewish Mysticism (Routledge)

2nd Edition
Kabbalistic Visions
C. G. Jung and Jewish Mysticism

By Sanford L. Drob
Copyright 2023
Paperback £23.99
Hardback £96.00
eBook £20.99
ISBN 9780367461249
302 Pages
Published April 6, 2023 by Routledge


In 1944, C. G. Jung experienced a series of visions which he later described as "the most tremendous things I have ever experienced." Central to these visions was the "mystic marriage as it appears in the Kabbalistic tradition", and Jung’s experience of himself as "Rabbi Simon ben Jochai," the presumed author of the sacred Kabbalistic text, the Zohar. Kabbalistic Visions explores Jung’s 1944 Kabbalistic visions, the impact of Jewish mysticism on Jungian psychology, Jung’s archetypal interpretation of Kabbalistic symbolism, and his claim late in life that a Hasidic rabbi, the Maggid of Mezhirech, anticipated his entire psychology. This book places Jung’s encounter with the Kabbalah in the context of the earlier visions and meditations of his Red Book, his abiding interests in Gnosticism and alchemy, and what many regard to be his Anti-Semitism and flirtation with National Socialism. Kabbalistic Visions is the first full-length study of Jung and Jewish mysticism in any language and the first book to present a comprehensive Jungian/archetypal interpretation of Kabbalistic symbolism.

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Reviews of Van De Mieroop, Before and after Babel

FIRST, BRYN MAYR CLASSICAL REVIEW: Before and after Babel: writing as resistance in ancient Near Eastern empires
Marc Van De Mieroop, Before and after Babel: writing as resistance in ancient Near Eastern empires. New York: Oxford University Press, 2022. Pp. 360. ISBN 9780197634660

Review by
Sophus Helle, Freie Universit├Ąt Berlin.

... The historical narrative of Before and After Babel is propelled by a simple claim: that the nature of writing in the ancient Near East changed radically during the “Dark Age” that separates the late second and the early first millennium BCE, yielding two epochs in the pre-Classical history of writing that are treated separately in each of the book’s two parts. The straightforwardness of this claim lends the book a clarity of structure and argument, but it is also balanced in each chapter by a wealth of details and nuance that prevent the claim from falling into oversimplicity. ...

Second, William Brown reviews the book at his Biblical Review Blog:
Review: “Before and after Babel: Writing as Resistance in Ancient Near Eastern Empires” by Marc Van De Mieroop

... Overall, Van De Mieroop synthesizes and compiles a range of topics, regions, and fields of study into a single, accessible monograph. In doing so, he has constructed a history of writing, scripts, vernaculars, and cosmopolitan languages in the ancient Near East. Undoubtedly, this volume can be a helpful starting point for a general audience and students. And, indeed, Assyriologists and biblical scholars may find small nuggets throughout his work. Even so, the monograph offer no particularly striking or ground-breaking analysis that will significantly impact Assyriology, biblical scholarship, or other adjacent fields. In fact, many will find themselves disagreeing with Van De Mieroop as they read this monograph. ...

NOTE: This book is not to be confused with the somewhat similarly-titled recent book by Steven Fraade: Multilingualism and Translation in Ancient Judaism. Before and After Babel.

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

Sunday, June 18, 2023

Williams, Early Classical Authors on Jesus (T&T Clark)

Early Classical Authors on Jesus

Margaret H. Williams (Author)

$120.00 $108.00

Ebook (PDF)
$108.00 $86.40

Ebook (Epub & Mobi)
$108.00 $86.40

Product details

Published Oct 20 2022
Format Hardback
Edition 1st
Extent 248
ISBN 9780567683151
Imprint T&T Clark
Dimensions 9 x 6 inches
Series The Reception of Jesus in the First Three Centuries
Publisher Bloomsbury Publishing


Margaret H. Williams examines how classical writers saw and portrayed Jesus, engaging with the fact that as the originator of a new (and still existing) world religion, Jesus of Nazareth, otherwise known as Christus (Christ), is an individual of indisputable historical significance.

Williams shows how from the outset Jesus was a controversial figure. Contemporary Jews in the Roman province of Judaea tended either to adore or to abhor him. When indue course his fame spread throughout the wider Roman empire, reactions to him there among both Jews and non-Jews were no less divergent. Each of the early classical writers who makes mention of him, the historian Tacitus, the biographer Suetonius, the epistolographer Pliny and the satirist Lucian, takes a different view of him and presents him in a different way. Williams considers these different depictions and questions why these writers had such differing views of Jesus. To answer this question Williams examines not only to the different literary conventions by which each of these writers was bound but also to the social, cultural and religious contexts in which they operated.

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Ramazzotti (ed,) The Historical and Cultural Memory of the Babylonian World (Brepols)

The Historical and Cultural Memory of the Babylonian World
Collecting Fragments from the 'Centre of the World'

Marco Ramazzotti (ed)

Pages: viii + 193 p.
Size: 216 x 280 mm
Illustrations: 28 b/w, 5 col., 2 tables b/w., 2 maps b/w, 1 maps color
Language(s): English
Publication Year: 2022

Buy print version
€ 75,00 EXCL. VAT
ISBN: 978-2-503-59536-8


In the study of the ancient world, Babylon can be considered as the most impressive representation, historically, archaeologically, and in literature, of urbanism in the Near East. This first example of an urban centre and its cultural heritage — both tangible and intangible — provides a focal point for discussions of historical and cultural memory in the region. The eleven contributions gathered here draw together multidisciplinary research into Babylonian culture, exploring the epistemic foundations, contacts, resilience, and cultural transmission of the city and its milieu from ancient times up until the modern day. Through this approach, this volume is able to support conversations concerning the historical and cultural memory of Babylon and promote a dialogue that cuts across, and unites, both cultures and academic disciplines.

Note in particular the chapter: "Traces of Babylon in the Old Testament — ALESSANDRO CATASTINI."

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