Monday, January 23, 2017

von Wahlde, Gnosticism, Docetism, and the Judaisms of the First Century

Gnosticism, Docetism, and the Judaisms of the First Century
The Search for the Wider Context of the Johannine Literature and Why It Matters

Urban C. von Wahlde

Published: 26-02-2015
Format: Hardback
Edition: 1st
Extent: 256
ISBN: 9780567656582
Imprint: Bloomsbury T&T Clark
Series: The Library of New Testament Studies
Volume: 517
Dimensions: 234 x 156 mm
RRP: £85.00 Online price: £76.50 Saving: Save £8.50 (10%)

About Gnosticism, Docetism, and the Judaisms of the First Century
In this book von Wahlde provides an exploration of three distinct cultural and religious backgrounds against which scholars have frequently proposed that the Gospel and Letters of John are to be read and understood.

von Wahlde examines each of these three possibilities in turn, and shows how they may be regarded as plausible or implausible depending upon the evidence available. von Wahlde shows that there are features within the Gospel and/or Letters of John that do in fact suggest that they were influenced either by Gnosticism, Docetism or one of the variant forms of Judaism. However, in each case, while some of the evidence suggests a particular background, von Wahlde shows that it is equally evident that not all of the evidence can be seen to suggest the same background. Through an examination of the origins and purpose of the gospel, and drawing on the conclusions of his well-regarded commentary on the Johannine literature, von Wahlde presents a new way of understanding the Gospel in its wider contexts.
This was published in 2015 but it only just came to my attention.

Balaam's star again

CANDIDA MOSS: Is the New Star Really a Sign of a Messiah for Israel? Humans across the world will get to see a star born in 2022, and one rabbi says it’s a sign from the Bible of a new military leader for Israel (The Daily Beast). Excerpt:
With respect to the arrival of this new star in 2022, there is no doubt that it is a significant moment for astronomers and physicists. As far as Berger’s prediction’s go, other scholars are unconvinced. Joel Baden, a professor of Hebrew Bible at Yale Divinity School, told me that this interpretation of the prophecy from Numbers is problematic because, grammatically speaking, the star doesn’t “rise”—it literally “treads,” as one would when crushing grapes. Furthermore, while Berger is in good company, it’s unclear why he thinks that the star in this verse is a literal star while the scepter is a symbol for a ruler. The two images are parallel to one another, Baden told The Daily Beast, so why not read them in the same way?
Balaam's prophecy doesn't really have any obvious connection to the forecasted 2022 event. It doesn't say "The collapsing mutual orbit of a binary star pair will cause a red nova and then the Messiah will come." I might be impressed if it did, but it doesn't. In comparison, "A star will come out of Jacob" is pretty ambiguous.

Background here.

Review of Hallam, Basics of Classical Syriac

BOOK REVIEW: Book Notice: Basics of Classical Syriac (Euangelion Blog).
Steven C. Hallam
Basics of Classical Syriac: Complete Grammar, Workbook, and Lexicon
Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016.
Available at

By Jill Firth

Steven C. Hallam has taught Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic and Syriac at a graduate level. He has written a clear and practical text welcoming new students into the Syriac language. Syriac is a dialect of ancient Aramaic, and is similar in basic structure to Aramaic as well as having many similarities to Hebrew. The book is written for those who have not studied Hebrew or Aramaic. Hallam encourages the reader to take Syriac on its own terms. However, students who are familiar with Hebrew or Aramaic will find the grammar easy to access.

I noted the book here when it was published last year.

Rubbish archaeology

THE TRUTH IS IN THERE: The truth is in the garbage: New research examines ancient Roman trash (Traci Watson, USA Today).
When workers began digging out the Roman cities torched by Mount Vesuvius, the exquisite wall paintings, sumptuous villas and golden jewelry they found quickly grabbed the spotlight. But archaeologists are now looking to a less glamorous feature of these cities: the garbage.

Over the last few years, a team of researchers has taken a systematic look at street trash, buckets and even storage containers from Pompeii and other ruins to understand the relationship between ordinary Romans and their stuff. The extraordinary preservation of objects by volcanic debris allows for extraordinary insights into humdrum possessions, the researchers say.

There's nothing specific about ancient Judaism in this article, but the basic principle — that ancient people's trash preserves important information for historians — is widely applicable. A couple of premier examples for our purposes are the Cairo Geniza and the Oxyrhynchus papyri (on which more here and here and many links). But there are endless more mundane examples like the Pompeii project. This analysis of day-to-day trash contributes much our knowledge of details that we would otherwise never have known.

Interview with Anneli Aejmelaeus

1. What is your research about, in general terms?
My special area of research is the Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, translated by Jews during the 3rd–1st centuries BCE in Alexandria. I am preparing the first critical edition of the Septuagint text of the First Book of Samuel (= First Kingdoms) for the series of the Academy of Sciences in Göttingen. ...
That sounds like an important project.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Who is carrying the Temple menorah on the Arch of Titus?

The Arch of Titus, constructed circa 81 CE under the emperor Domitian, commemorates the victory of the general, then emperor Titus in the Jewish War of 66–74 CE. Located on Rome’s Via Sacra, the Arch has been a “place of memory” for Romans, Christians and Jews since antiquity. This essay explores the history of a Jewish counter-memory of a bas relief within the arch that depicts the triumphal procession of the Jerusalem Temple treasures into Rome in 󰀷󰀱 CE. At least since the early modern period, Jews—as well as British Protestants—came to believe that the menorah bearers of this relief represent Jews, and not Roman triumphadors. This essay addresses the history of this widespread belief, particularly during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and continuing in contemporary Israel.
This is an offprint from a 2016 Brill publication, but I can find no further details. For past posts on Professor Fine's recent book, The Menorah see here and follow the links. They (plus here and here) also lead to many past PaleoJudaica posts on ancient menorahs in general. And the bottommost photo in this post shows the menorah panel in the Arch of Titus.

Chester Beatty Library manuscripts digitized.

AWOL: Chester Beatty Papyri at The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM).
The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM) is pleased to announce that a six-person team, in a four-week expedition during July–August 2013, digitized all the Greek biblical papyri at the Chester Beatty Library. The CBL has granted permission to CSNTM to post the images.
These include Septuagint manuscripts, manuscripts of Old Testament Pseudepigrapha in Greek (1 Enoch, Jannes and Jambres), and New Testament manuscripts and lectionary fragments in Greek, Armenian, and Latin.

Past PaleoJudaica posts on the Chester Beatty Library are here and links. I am very much looking forward to seeing the Library for myself at the annual meeting of the British New Testament Conference, which takes place at St Patrick's College in Maynooth, Ireland, in September of 2017.

Cross-file under Technology Watch and Digitization.

For many other manuscript digitization projects, start here and follow the links.


YONA SABAR: Hebrew Word of the Week: ‘almah "young woman, maiden, marriageable girl; missy." With the obligatory foray into Isaiah 7:14.

That catches us up with relevant Hebrew Word of the Week columns for now.

Cook, Crucifixion in the Mediterranean World

John Granger Cook, Crucifixion in the Mediterranean World. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 327. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2015. Pp. xxiv, 522. ISBN 9783161537646. €69.00 (pb).

Reviewed by James H. Dee, Austin, TX (

Table of Contents

[The reviewer apologizes for the lateness of this review.]

This massive study aims to fill a longstanding gap in an area where both Classics and New Testament Studies operate. Professor Cook was invited by the late Martin Hengel, author of a 1977 monograph on the subject, to revise it for him—but Cook soon concluded that he should write his own book, which far surpasses Hengel's 99-page work.

The seven-page Table of Contents gives ample evidence of the scope of the investigation: a 50-page Introduction on terminology; Chapter One has 100 pages on crucifixion in Latin texts, Chapter Two offers 50 more on the evidence for Roman practices; Chapter Three devotes another 100 pages to Greek texts; Chapter Four occupies nearly 50 on Hebrew and Aramaic texts; Chapter Five is a 40-page discussion on the legal aspect of crucifixion as punishment; finally, Chapter Six takes a mere 30 pages to deal with the most famous (and, for many, the most significant) of all crucifixions, that of Jesus of Nazareth—a brevity which seems almost anticlimactic, especially from an author whose training and career have been exclusively on the religious studies side of the field (Ph.D., Emory; faculty appointment at LaGrange University). That background might make classicists wary and raise concerns about what might be theologically-driven interpretations. If so, their concerns are unwarranted. The monograph finds its place in an esteemed New Testament Monograph Series. Acknowledgements indicate wide consultation with experts in the field, including Harvard’s Kathleen Coleman, who has herself promised a book on Roman public execution.1

The book, among other things, collects references to crucifixion in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic texts. Gruesome.

Tourism up at Cartagena

PUNIC WATCH: Tourist numbers at main Cartagena sites up by 16 per cent in 2016. The most popular sites were the Roman Theatre of Cartagena and the Punic Wall (Murica Today).
As the Town Hall of Cartagena strives to increase tourist activity in the city and throughout the municipality, the Puerto de Culturas consortium of tourist attractions reports that it enjoyed a successful year in 2016.

Speaking on Tuesday, Deputy Mayoress Ana Belén Castejón confirmed that during last year the various museums and other establishments belonging to Puerto de Culturas, including the Roman Theatre, welcomed a total of 431,850 visitors, an increase of 16.7% over the year before and the highest figure yet recorded.

Cartagena in Spain does a good job of maximizing the tourism potential of its ancient Punic history and archaeology.

Past posts on Cartagena, and notably on its annual Romans and Carthaginians Festival in September, are collected here.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Visotzky, "How the Rabbis Adapted Roman Culture to Create Judaism as We Know It"

How the Rabbis Adapted Roman Culture to Create Judaism as We Know It

In antiquity, as today, synagogue architecture followed local custom. This was true for the adoption of the Greco-Roman public building, the basilica, as the standard form for ancient synagogues. Roman buildings, churches, and synagogues might be indistinguishable from one another but for the dedicatory inscriptions and art that archeologists find within them. One may safely assume that the same architects, artisans, and contractors built all of these buildings with but minor modifications depending upon which community was paying their bills.

See Also: Aphrodite and the Rabbis: How the Jews Adapted Roman Culture to Create Judaism as We Know It (St. Martin’s Press, 2016).

By Burton L. Visotzky
Appleman Professor of Midrash and Interreligious Studies
Jewish Theological Seminary
January, 2017
There's more on Professor Visotzky's new book here.

More destruction at Palmyra

PALMYRA WATCH: IS carrying out new demolitions at Palmyra — antiquities chie. fMaamoun Abdulkarim says jihadist group damaged amphitheater, destroyed 16-columned structure in ancient city (AFP). Here we go again.

Background on Palmyra, its history, the ancient Aramaic dialect spoken there (Palmyrene), and the city's tragic recent fate, now a second time, in the hands of ISIS is here with many, many links.

Inaugural Apocrypha

OLD TESTAMENT APOCRYPHA WATCH: Trump Inauguration’s Bible Reading Is Not in Your Bible. Why it's good for Protestants to hear from the Apocrypha (David deSilva, Christianity Today).
When Cardinal Timothy Dolan moved to the podium to pray at President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration, his prayer may have struck you as oddly familiar.

The passage he prayed from is very similar to Solomon’s prayer for wisdom in 1 Kings 3. But, it’s not the version Protestant Christians know, because it’s not in the Bible that we read.

It comes, instead, from the Wisdom of Solomon, a book included in the Catholic and Orthodox churches’ Old Testament, but not included in Protestant churches’ Old Testament.

No reading from 1 Enoch this time. Maybe someday.

The Old Testament Apocrypha are (at least almost entirely) ancient Jewish texts, but they are not part of the Jewish biblical canon (or the Protestant one), although they are included in the Catholic and Orthodox canons. Professor deSilva focuses in this article on why they are important for Christians, which is appropriate for Christianity Today's audience. But the OT Apocrypha are also important for the history of Judaism. In fact, it happens that just yesterday I wrote up a lecture for my new course on Ancient Jewish Literature (DI4731) on what the Old Testament Apocrypha contribute to our knowledge of Second Temple Judaism. It's actually quite a bit.

Petra meets Google Cardboard?

AWOL: A virtual trek through Petra with Google Cardboard. I didn't know there was a thing called Google Cardboard. The twenty-first century is not proving easy to keep up with.

The Google Streetview tour of Petra was noted here in 2015. Cross-file under Nabatean (Nabataean) Watch. Some past PaleoJudaica posts on on the Nabateans and the ancient city of Petra are collected here and follow the many links.

Coptic epitaphs excavated in the Sudan

COPTIC WATCH: Massive Burial Ground Unearthed at Medieval Monastery in Sudan (Owen Jarus, Live Science).
Four cemeteries, from which at least 123 individuals have been excavated so far, have been unearthed near the remains of a medieval Christian monastery in Sudan. A few of the burials contained individuals buried in unusual ways.

The cemeteries and remains, which have been excavated over the past two years, are located at a monastery called al-Ghazali near the Nile River. The people who were buried there lived about 1,000 years ago, during a time when a series of Christian kingdoms flourished in the area, according to Robert Stark, a doctoral student at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, who presented the findings this month in Toronto at the joint annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America and the Society for Classical Studies.

The discoveries include well-preserved burial shrouds that in a few instances still cover the skulls of the deceased, Stark said. The archaeologists also found tombstones with engravings of prayers that were written in Greek or Coptic (an Egyptian language that uses the Greek alphabet). In one cemetery, some people were buried in mysterious ways: For example, two individuals were found with post-mortem cut marks incised in their bones.

There are more photos at Live Science: In Photos: 1,000-Year-Old Cemeteries Unearthed in Sudan. Unfortunately, neither article has a photo of any of the inscriptions, but the first one does have some more information on the tombstones and their epitaphs.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Siloam Inscription to stay in Istanbul

EPIGRAPHY AND POLITICS: Despite detente, ancient Hebrew text ‘proving’ Jewish ties to Jerusalem set to stay in Istanbul. Netanyahu has hailed Siloam Inscription as evidence ‘etched in stone’ of Jews’ historic connection to holy city, but Israeli officials are not seeking its return (Ilan Ben Zion, Times of Israel).
Despite Netanyahu’s argument asserting the unparalleled significance of the inscription, Israel has made no overtures to secure its return or that of the other two ancient inscriptions held at the Istanbul museum.

Israeli diplomats in Turkey and Jerusalem said there were no communications with the Turkish government on that point, and a Netanyahu spokesman said there were no current efforts to pursue the repatriation of the inscriptions.

A Foreign Ministry spokesperson said that while Israel has repeatedly expressed interest in the repatriation of the Siloam inscription, the issue is not currently on the agenda.
Well, despite the messy political situation in Turkey, they're probably safe for now where they are. PaleoJudaica followed the unsuccessful effort to have the Siloam Inscription returned to Israel on loan in 2007 in posts here, here, here, here, and here. The other two inscriptions from Israel now in the Istanbul Museum are the Gezer Calendar (on which more here, here, and here) and the Temple Warning Inscription (on which more here - and here for a fragmentary copy in Israel).

Looting arrests at Horbat Mishkena

BUSTED: Caught red-handed: 11 grave robbers arrested at northern ruins. Authorities arrest 11 grave robbers in the process of robbing ruins of ancient Jewish town mentioned in the Talmud (Arutz Sheva).
A team of antiquities raiders was apprehended at Horbat Mishkena, an archaeological site of a Roman-era Jewish town near the Golani Junction in the Lower Galilee.

The team of thieves, which was comprised of eleven Arabs, was apprehended by a squad from the of Robbery Prevention Unit of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), acting in conjunction with the police and border guard volunteers.

The suspects were caught while digging illegally in the ancient shelter system and causing a great deal of damage to the site.

With video of the arrest. There were looting arrests near the same site just a little over a month ago.

De Gruyter open-access books 2016

AWOL: Classical and Ancient Near Eastern Studies - De Gruyter Open - Published in 2016. Some of them are of at least background interest for the study of ancient Judaism.

Lim on the Dead Sea Scrolls At Seventy

ANNIVERSARY: The Dead Sea Scrolls At Seventy (Professor Timothy Lim, Centre for the Study of Christian Origins Blog). An excellent brief summary of the scholarly state of the question on the Dead Sea Scrolls and the site of Khirbet Qumran in 2017.

Latest on the Aramean nation in Israel

MODERN ARAMAIC WATCH: Resurrecting a languishing language and culture (Brooke Conrad, The Hillsdale Collegian).
On Wednesday, the Israeli Knesset passed a bill allowing Aramaic Christians to register for free as their own ethnicity in Israel.

Previously, Aramaic Christians had to pay a cumbersome $400 to register in the Israeli state. But now, according to Shadi Khalloul, the founder of the Israeli Christian Aramaic Association, this bill not only makes it much easier for Aramaic Christians to register, but also will help the state of Israel to recognize the Aramaic Christian community as separate from their Arabic Muslim neighbors.

Khalloul belongs to a group of about 10,000 Maronite Christians who live in Israel. The Maronite Church dates back to A.D. 350 and was set apart largely because its members continued to speak Aramaic, which many believe to be the language of Jesus.

The official recognition of an Aramean nation by Israel in 2014 was noted here and here. Follow the links in the second post for more details about the constituent groups of this Aramean nation. For more on the Maronites specifically, see here and links.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Valmadonna Library acquired by Israel National Library

VALMADONNA LIBRARY UPDATE: National Library makes ‘historic’ acquisition of rare Hebrew texts. Valmadonna Trust Library’s manuscripts span the globe and a millenium, including a 1491 Bible; will be on display at institution’s new Jerusalem home (Ilan Ben Zion, Times of Israel).
Israel’s National Library on Wednesday announced the acquisition of thousands of Hebrew manuscripts and books from one of the most significant collections in the world.

The 8,000 or so texts from the Valmadonna Trust Library collection were purchased in collaboration with collectors David and Jemima Jeselsohn in a private sale through Sotheby’s for an undisclosed sum.

The Valmadonna’s 13,000-book assemblage of Hebrew texts from Amsterdam to Shanghai and a host of historic Jewish communities in between, spanning a millennium, was assembled by the late Jack V. Lunzer, a Jewish British industrialist. Lunzer died in December, at the age of 92.

This is good news. The acquisition will keep the library from being broken up any further to be sold piecemeal. Well done to the INL and to the Jeselsohns.

Background on the story is here and here and links. Past posts involving the Valmadonna Targum of Ruth are here and here, with more on the manuscript here. The Jeselsohns are also the owners of the Gabriel Revelation inscription (Vision of Gabriel).

The Journal for Late Antique Religion and Culture (update)

AWOL: Open Access Journal: The Journal for Late Antique Religion and Culture . There's not much directly about ancient Judaism in this journal, but there are articles on matters of background interest in late antique religion such as the Greek Magical Papyri, Syriac studies, Gnosticism, and Neoplatonism. Noted here in 2015, but there have been several new issues out since then.

Forness on Syriac homilies

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Dissertation Spotlight | Philip Michael Forness.
Philip Michael Forness, “Preaching and Religious Debate: Jacob of Serugh and the Promotion of His Christology in the Roman Near East,” Ph.D. diss., Princeton Theological Seminary, 2016.
My dissertation, “Preaching and Religious Debate,” investigates homilies as a source for understanding social history. The sermons of John Chrysostom and Augustine of Hippo contain a wealth of information about the places and contexts in which they preached. But this sets them apart from most extant homilies. Indeed, the homilies falsely attributed to Chrysostom and Augustine far outnumber their authentic works. These works were often written in non-classical languages and feature in the literature of a wide variety of eastern Christian communities. Scholars have little hope of finding the context of any one of these pseudonymous homilies.

I seek to answer questions about the homiletical literature in general by focusing on these texts within Syriac literature. Syriac homilies from late antiquity provoke an exploration of the possibility of using sermons without a defined context as historical texts. Around seven hundred homilies authored in Syriac survive from the fourth through sixth centuries. Yet most have resisted efforts to identify their dates, locations, and liturgical settings. By attending to these texts, we are forced to confront the difficulty of interpreting the seemingly de-contextualized remains of most sermons from late antiquity.
Cross-file under Syriac Watch

Jesus exhibition at the Israel Museum

CONTEMPORARY ART: A Second Coming for Jesus — at the Israel Museum (Aviya Kushner, The Forward).
‘It turns out that all Israeli art is about Jesus,” an American tourist said to me as he moved away from a painting in The Israel Museum’s paradigm-shifting new exhibit titled “Behold the Man: Jesus in Israeli Art.” In Hebrew, the title is a bit different: Zeh Ha’Ish, or “This Is the Man.” Throughout the exhibit, language makes a difference; the wall text often diverges in subtle but important ways in Hebrew and English.

The world’s museums are full of portrayals of Jesus, but scenes of the Madonna and child, the crucifixion and the Last Supper are generally not thought of as Jewish subjects, or as the stuff of Jewish art. The Jesus narrative was used to invoke hatred of Jews for centuries; some Jews interpret the Hebrew name for Jesus, yeshu, as an acronym for y’mach sh’mo u’zichro, or let his name and memory be obliterated.

But in this groundbreaking and utterly fascinating exhibit, Jesus is certainly not obliterated; instead, Jesus is used to symbolize the suffering and powerlessness of Jews in the Holocaust; Palestinians in both intifadas; Mizrachi Jewish refugees housed in ma’abarot, or temporary camps, in 1950s Israel, after being expelled from Arab countries; the disabled in Israeli society; Israeli soldiers sent to die in war; and in one of the most haunting pieces, the personal suffering of a major Israeli artist who lost his wife in childbirth, and their daughter three years later, and who painted himself as Jesus and then locked the painting in a cabinet. The painting was found a year after the artist’s death.



YONA SABAR: Hebrew Word of the Week: atHalah "inception, initiation; restart (computer)."

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Solomon's mines at Timna

ARCHAEOLOGY: Preserved fortification, donkey stables dating to King Solomon discovered at TAU's Timna Valley excavations (Tel Aviv University/PhysOrg).
Some believe that the fabled mines of King Solomon were located among copper smelting camps in Israel's Timna Valley. The arid conditions at Timna have seen the astonishing preservation of 3,000-year-old organic materials, which have provided Tel Aviv University archaeologists with a unique window into the culture and practices of a sophisticated ancient society.

An advanced military fortification—a well-defined gatehouse complex—unearthed recently at Timna, including donkey stables, points to the community's highly-organized defense system and significant dependence on long-distance trade. The research was recently published in The Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.

The fortification dates to the reigns of Kings David and Solomon in the 10th century BCE.


In the remarkably intact two-room fortification, located in one of the largest smelting camps in the Timna Valley, the researchers also found evidence of a complex long-distance trade system that probably included the northern Edomite plateau, the Mediterranean coastal plain and Judea. The complex featured pens for draught animals and other livestock. According to precise pollen, seed, and fauna analyses, they were fed with hay and grape pomace—high-quality sustenance that must have been delivered from the Mediterranean region hundreds of miles away.

"The gatehouse fortification was apparently a prominent landmark," says Dr. Ben-Yosef. "It had a cultic or symbolic function in addition to its defensive and administrative roles. The gatehouse was built of sturdy stone to defend against invasion. We found animal bones and dung piles so intact, we could analyze the food the animals were fed with precision. The food suggests special treatment and care, in accordance with the key role of the donkeys in the copper production and in trade in a logistically challenging region."

I'm keeping a special eye on the Timna excavation, because of the abundant organic remains that have been found there. The arid climate seems ideal for their preservation and the discoveries have included textiles from the 10th century BCE. If there is any place where Solomonic-era scrolls or papyri might have survived, it is Timna. Let's hope that we get lucky and some turn up.

Warlord and Scribe

ASSIMILATED TO THE BLOGOSPHERE: Warlord and Scribe: Northwest Semitics in Context. A new blog by Nathaniel E. Greene, who is a Ph.D. candidate in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The opening post is Sinai 115 and Historical Canaanite Phonology.
Welcome, dear reader, to the first entry of Warlord and Scribe: Northwest Semitics in Context. I’ll have a post up soon about the name of the blog and, for those of you who stick around for that, I hope you enjoy it. Keep an eye out, too, for my forthcoming article on the Qubur al-Walaydah bowl in BASOR 377.

The Sinai 115 inscription has been in the news lately regarding a theory being promoted by Douglas Petrovich. See here and links. Mr. Greene agrees with the skepticism already expressed by other philologists about Prof. Petrovich's theory, and he adds additional arguments against it.

Cross-file under Philology.

Yom Tov

YONA SABAR: Hebrew Word of the Week: Yom Tov “(Jewish) Holiday (on which work is forbidden).” This column is from back in September of 2016, but I missed it then, so here it is. It looks as though I have missed a few (perhaps I need to refine my Google searches), so I will catch up in the coming days.

Bockmuehl, Ancient Apocryphal Gospels

READING ACTS: In Today’s Mail: Markus Bockmuehl, Ancient Apocryphal Gospels.
Thanks to WJKP for sending along a review copy of this new textbook by Markus Bockmuehl. This is the latest in the Resources for the Use of Scripture in the Church series, which is itself a subset of the Interpretation commentary series.

I look forward to Phil Long's review in due course. Meanwhile, the publisher's blurb reads as follows:
In this reader-friendly guide, Markus Bockmuehl offers a sympathetic account of the ancient apocryphal Gospel writings, showing their place within the reception history and formation of what was to become the canonical fourfold Gospel. Bockmuehl begins by helping readers understand the early history behind these noncanonical Gospels before going on to examine dozens of specific apocryphal texts. He explores the complex oral and intertextual relationships between the noncanonical and canonical Gospels, maintaining that it is legitimate and instructive to read the apocryphal writings as an engagement with the person of Jesus that both presupposes and supplements the canonical narrative outline. Appropriate for pastors and nonspecialists, this work offers a fuller understanding of these writings and their significance for biblical interpretation in the church.
Cross-file under New Book and New Testament Apocrypha.

Strategic move for Metatron

ARCHANGEL METATRON WATCH: Metatron, Inc. Announces Strategic Move into the Areas of Mobile Encryption, and Virtual Reality for its Mobile Development Business.
The Company will embark on re-branding Metatron mobile development business in the specific areas of mobile encryption and security, and applications for the growing market in virtual reality. Under this new goal, the Company will keep its focus on a couple of dynamic concepts within the mobile market, and will look to reduce or shelve other projects to the back burner so as to keep our core focus on these market segments to better execute our projects to market.

The archangelic company has been busy since its founding in 2009. It has slain a giant, engaged in due diligence, gotten pumped and crashed horribly, and still managed to recover and make a foray into the cannabis sector.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Pocket Change Blog

NUMISMATICS: Pocket Change: The Blog of the American Numismatic Society. I just discovered this blog. Its most recent post deals with, inter alia, a theme of ancient Jewish coinage from the time of the Bar Kokhba Revolt: THE SECRET CHORD: HARPS AND LYRES ON ANCIENT AND MODERN COINS.

Gematria galore

APOCALYPSE WATCH: Biblical Numerology Reveals Stunning Connection Between Paris Conference, Gog and Magog (Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz, Breaking Israel News).
The Paris conference on Sunday, in which representatives from 70 nations met to sign an anti-Israel agreement, brought together many factors, all pointing at a final showdown that pits the 70 sons of Jacob against the 70 nations under Gog in a pre-Messianic war.

As the 70 nations gathered in Paris, many people were aware that the concept of 70 nations has its source in the 70 grandsons of Noah listed in the Bible.

Many of the usual suspects for the Apocalypse are here: Gog and Magog, Rosh, the Messiah, etc. And all of them are justified with gematria, the process of adding up the numerical value of names spelled in Hebrew and then associating them with other Hebrew words and names that have the same numerical value. For more on the ancient Jewish tradition of the seventy nations, see here.

Breaking Israel News seems to represent a Jewish movement that occupies a parallel theological space to Hal Lindsey's Late Great Planet Earth Christian movement in the [edit: 1970s and] 1980s. Both expect the imminent apocalyptic end of this age and the coming of the Messiah and both justify these expectations by exegesis of scripture in light of current events. And both have similarities to the Qumran sectarian movement which gave us the Teacher of Righteousness and pesher exegesis as preserved in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

I hope I don't have to repeat that my interest here is sociological and historical, not theological, and my citation of this and related stories is not an endorsement of their content.

Did an eclipse save Joshua's army?

MORE ASTRONOMICAL PHENOMENA: Eclipse ‘stopped the sun’ for biblical Joshua, Israeli scientists say. Researchers claim to pinpoint the exact date — October 30, 1207 BCE — and explanation for an astounding event in the Battle in Gibeon (Times of Israel).
According to the biblical story, Joshua got help from the sun to earn the Israelites one of their most epic victories. Now, a team of Israeli scientists say they’ve figured out how: The battle coincided with a solar eclipse.

Using NASA data, three scientists from Beersheba’s Ben Gurion University, in a newly published paper, dated the eclipse and the battle to October 30, 1207 BCE.

Nope, not buying it. It doesn't make a great deal of sense. The point of the poetic quotation is that whatever happened with the sun and moon led to the Israelites winning the battle at Gibeon. I don't see how a lunar eclipse that made everything dark would have been much use to anyone at any battle.

The prose text following the poetic quote in Joshua 10:12-13 says that the sun stayed in the sky for a full day until the Israelites won, which at least makes some sense. Nevertheless it too is probably wrong, a guess at the meaning of a piece of poetry that was already archaic when the book of Joshua was written. The actual meaning of the poetic passage probably involved a propitious arrangement of the sun and moon in the sky that gave the Israelites an omen of success for the battle. More on that interpretation here and here.

Balaam's star in 2022?

APOCALYPSE WATCH: New Star to Appear in Night Sky, Heralding Balaam’s Prophecy of Messiah (Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz, Breaking Israel News).
Five years from now, the light from the ancient collision of two stars will reveal a brand-new star in the night sky. According to Jewish esoteric sources, this is precisely the celestial phenomenon which will accompany the arrival of the Messiah.

The new star, expected to appear in 2022 in a blaze of light called a nova, will be the brightest heavenly body visible in the nighttime sky for six months. It will be the first time in recorded history that a celestial event of this kind will be witnessed by the naked eye.

Beyond its scientific uniqueness, the appearance of the new star could have much bigger implications for the earth-bound, one prominent rabbi told Breaking Israel News, pointing to a Biblical prophecy of Balaam which hails the appearance of a new star as the precursor to Messiah.

The passage in question is, of course, Numbers 24:17. Maimonides and the Zohar are also invoked. As always, my interest here is sociological and historical, not theological, and my citation of this and related stories is not an endorsement of their content.

The astronomical prediction, however, is real. If it turns out to be correct, any alien civilizations that were in the vicinity of this star-pair 1800 years ago really did have an apocalypse: the gamma-ray blast from the stellar collision would have been an extinction level event. I hope they had enough warning to get away. For similar scenarios in science fiction, see Arthur C. Clark's classic story "The Star" and Stephen Baxter's more recent "Traces."

For more on the messianic connotations of Numbers 24:17, see here.

Epic Aramaic

MODERN ARAMAIC WATCH: In England, An Effort To Preserve Ancient, Epic Assyrian Poetry (Alice Fordham, WXPR).
[Nineb] Lamassu became an academic researcher and now travels among the Assyrian diaspora recording the epics as told by men he calls bards — including the storyteller he loved listening to in the refugee camp, whose name is Khananya Zayya. Years later, Lamassu tracked him down living in New Zealand.

"It almost felt I was back in the refugee camp, right in that tent on that cold winter night with him. He had not changed" — aside from a little artificial help keeping his mustache black, he says.

Lamassu tells me there's a bard living close by in Southall, London, so of course I travel to meet him.
With an audio report. And here's a summary of the article and audio file from a reprint by the Unrepresented Peoples and Nations Organization: Assyria: A Cambridge Researcher’s Efforts to Preserve Assyrian Poetry.
Cambridge University researcher Nineb Lamassu was recently interviewed by a British journalist about his efforts to preserve epic Assyrian poems. Because of the current situation in the Middle East and particularly in Iraq, Assyrian traditions and culture are slowly disappearing and being destroyed by ISIS. Lamassu met with several members of the Assyrian diaspora to record their voices and will make these recordings available on a Cambridge University online database.