Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The sage and the snowstorm

SPECIFICALLY, HILLEL THE ELDER: Talmudic Rabbis Were Totally Badass in Blizzards (Sigal Samuel, The Forward). Unfortunately, but all too typically, the specific Talmudic reference is not given.

UPDATE: Reader Yehoshua Rabinowitz e-mails that the story appears in the Babylonian Talmud, Yoma, 35 B.

Hurtado on the "first-century" Mark manuscript

LARRY HURTADO: Early Manuscripts of Biblical Writings? What’s at Stake?

Background here and links.

More Talmudic marriage law

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Juliet’s Dilemma: Seduced Unmarried Minors Engaging in ‘Licentious Sexual Intercourse.’ Talmudic rabbis ask what agency young women have in determining their fate in sex, marriage, and divorce.
When it comes to marriage, American law is straightforwardly binary: You can be married or you can be unmarried. A wedding moves you from one group to the other, and a divorce moves you in the opposite direction, but there is no status in between. As we have seen over the last several months of reading Tractate Yevamot, however, Talmudic law is not so simple. Marriage itself is a two-stage process: A couple is first betrothed, and then, once they have sexual relations or undergo a marriage ceremony, they become fully married. Then there is levirate betrothal: If a man’s brother dies childless, he is bound to his widowed sister-in-law unless and until they either get married or perform the ceremony of chalitza.

Actually, I think that American (and British) marriage law is a little more nuanced than that. For example, from what I understand (and I am not a lawyer) most American States, England, and Scotland now regard cohabitation beyond a certain length of time as legally equivalent to marriage in terms of at least most rights and responsibilities. But, yes, Talmudic marriage law is still more nuanced.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Helios on the synagogue floor

MOSAICS: Pagan deities in ancient synagogues. What is the sun god doing on the floor of ancient synagogues? Doesn't that violate the second commandment? (Mike Rogoff, Haaretz).
“Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, nor any manner of likeness…” proclaimed the Voice out of the fire and smoke at Mount Sinai. Yet ancient craftsmen, working in the biblical Land of Israel almost two millennia after Moses, were apparently undeterred by the Divine injunction. Their synagogue mosaic floors, unearthed by modern archaeologists, boast human images and – yes – even pagan deities. Such as the Sun God.

The two best-preserved of the synagogue mosaics are the exquisite figures in Hammat Tiberias (4th century C.E.), overlooking the Sea of Galilee, and the child-like but charming art of Beit Alfa (6th century C.E., shown above), at the foot of Mt. Gilboa.

More on representations of Helios and the Zodiac in ancient synagogue mosaics here and here.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Review of Gardner, Beduhn, and Dilley, Mani at the Court of the Persian Kings

PHILIP JENKINS has an inform review, in two parts, of a new book on Mani over at The Anxious Bench:

Mani and the Persian Kings
I have been reading an excellent new scholarly book on the Manichaean religion: Iain Gardner, Jason BeDuhn and Paul Dilley, Mani at the Court of the Persian Kings: Studies on the Chester Beatty Kephalaia Codex (Brill 2015). This post is not intended as a serious academic review, but rather as a series of thoughts and impressions that this fine book provokes. I will divide my comments into two separate posts.

It is astonishing that scholars of religion refer so little to the Manichaean faith, which in its day – roughly from the third century AD through the fourteenth century – was a fully fledged world religion, which interacted with Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Zoroastrianism and Judaism. At various times, its adherents could be found across the whole of Eurasia, from France to China. It also created a substantial body of scriptures and commentaries, most of which are now lost.

Mani the Prophet
So what kind of literature was the Kephalaia, into what genre did it fall? As Paul Dilley shows, the dialogues with their question-and-answer formats could equally well be read in very different ways – “as a modified example of Greco-Roman erotapokrisis, Iranian frashna or Buddhist sutra.” For our purposes, the technical terms don’t matter, but think of the implications – that this movement was writing in ways intelligible to civilized people from the Ganges to the Tiber. Hardly less open to universal translation was the movement’s use of Wisdom, a concept deeply rooted in Judaism and early Christianity. In the same vein, Jason BeDuhn offers a mind-stretching comparison between the Kephalaia materials found in Egypt and the comparable texts from Turfan, in Western China.
The book was noted here last month. And for lots more on Mani and Manichaeism (Manicheism), see here and here and links.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Ancient selfies?

ASOR BLOG: Graffiti—the ‘Selfies’ of the Ancient Near East? Dr. Karen B. Stern, known to PaleoJudaica readers for averring that Aramaic is "the little black dress of Semitic languages," is back with more on her work on ancient graffiti.
But ancient and medieval people were also deeply concerned with their self-documentation, self-representation and self-promotion. They, too, registered their presence at tourist destinations, participation in life events, and positions amidst friends and peers. In place of iPhones and Facebook, they took styluses, nails, and paint to copy words and images to stone and plaster to broadcast their sentiments and images to the world. Their ‘selfies’ were graffiti.
Earlier posts dealing with Dr. Stern's work are here, here (the source of the quote above), and here.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

New issue of Aries

HETERODOXOLOGY: Esotericism in Antiquity: An Aries special issue.
Now, fresh off those unobtanium-coated Brill printers is a new special issue of Aries (15.1) focusing on esotericism in antiquity, and edited by Dylan Burns. With no less than eight articles – including a few shorter ones – it is another good step in the direction of putting ancient esotericism back on the map of those esotericism researchers who have been living mostly in modern times (well, at least not much earlier than the 15th century). Articles cover some of the usual suspects, including Hermetism, Gnosticism, Neoplatonism, pseudepigrapha and Hekhalot mysticism, but several of the articles also come with a quite deliberate theoretical edge. This special issue in the leading esotericism journal, then, is a sign that perhaps we can stop worrying that the field is neglecting antiquities. At least there are very healthy signs for the dialogue between specialists to continue.
The TOC of this issue looks promising. More on the work of Dylan Burns is here and here.

Call for journal papers on Manichaeism

Topical Issue on Manichaeism


John C. Reeves,
Blumenthal Professor of Judaic Studies
Department of Religious Studies
The University of North Carolina at Charlotte


We invite submissions which explore any aspect of the Manichaean religion and its various cultural settings, including but not limited to the history of the study of Manichaeism, assessment of recent advances in research on Manichaeism, biographical or hagiographical studies of Mani or other personalities associated with his movement, essays which focus on one (or more) of the religion’s regional expressions, expositions of its key vocabulary, concepts, motifs, themes, and texts, and comparative studies which examine such items alongside analogous materials from other West, Central, South, or East Asian religious traditions.
Follow the link for information on submitting an article. Some pasts posts involving Manichaeism are here and here and links.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Baden and Moss on "first-century" Mark

CNN: Was oldest gospel really found in a mummy mask? (Joel Baden and Candida Moss).
Essentially, this papyrus is the scholarly equivalent of "my girlfriend who lives in Canada."
As we've come to expect from these two, this is a thoughtful and clear evaluation of the current situation. And yes, with a bit of good snark.

Background here (where I made some parallel comments before I had seen this piece) and links.

Anxious Adam

In the mid-first century AD, St. Paul wrote some hugely influential words about Adam, the Fall, and original sin. As I have argued, these ideas seem at variance with earlier Biblical traditions and Jewish thought, in which Adam’s story made little impact. Around Paul’s time, though, that saga was attracting increasing interest. Paul, oddly, was riding a fashionable wave.

Professor Jenkins continues his segue from Satan to the Fall and Adam. By the way, I am very skeptical about there ever having been Jewish originals of either The Life of Adam and Eve or The Apocalypse of Adam. I think they were both probably Christian compositions.

Khirbet Summeily and those tenth-century bullae

ASOR BLOG: Iron Age Bullae from Officialdom’s Periphery: Khirbet Summeily in Broader Context. James W. Hardin, Christopher A. Rollston, and Jeffrey A. Blakely provide lots of interesting background on the site where those tenth-century BCE anepigraphic (i.e. without writing) bullae were excavated and why they are important. Excerpt:
We believe that the remains discovered at Summeily demonstrate a level of politico-economic activity that has not been suspected for the late Iron Age I and early Iron Age IIA. This is especially the case if one integrates data from nearby Hesi. Taken together, we contend these reflect greater political complexity and integration across the transitional Iron I/IIA landscape than has been appreciated. Many scholars have tended to dismiss trends toward political complexity (that is, state formation) occurring prior to the arrival of the Assyrians in the region in the later eighth century BCE. However, based on our work in the Hesi region, we believe these processes began much earlier.
Background here.

Marcus Borg 1942-2015

SAD NEWS: RIP: Marcus Borg, theologian and historical Jesus expert, dies at 72.
[Episcopal News Service] Marcus J. Borg, a New Testament scholar, theologian and author who was associated for years with the search for the historical Jesus and who sought to put the New Testament in what he believed was its proper context, died Jan. 21.

Requiescat in pace.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

More on that "first-century" Mark fragment

P. J. WILLIAMS: Questions about "First Century Mark." (ETC Blog). Good questions, all. It is difficult to imagine how exactly either paleography or C-14 dating could establish that a manuscript was written "during the first century - before the year 90." Neither is that precise, and normally such things are dated something like 100 CE plus or minus 50 years, or maybe 50 CE plus or minus 50 years. And even this level of precision is often not possible. I also wonder how soaking the manuscript with soapy water might corrupt the C-14 dating, but I don't know whether it does or not.

The bottom line is that we have reports of a very early manuscript fragment of the Gospel of Mark, but we are expected for now to take everything about it on faith. We don't know how extensive it is. We don't know if it has interesting textual variants. We don't have a photograph. We have not been presented with scientific data regarding any C-14 dating or paleographical arguments about the date of its script. Now it is certainly possible that this really is a roughly first-century manuscript of Mark. The consensus is that Mark was written around 70 CE, so there is no reason in principle why a fragment of a manuscript copied within twenty or thirty years of the composition of the book couldn't have survived. That would be very lucky indeed, but sometimes we are lucky. But until we have a full publication of the manuscript with all the information listed above, it's just unverified talk. Once we do, if specialists in the relevant areas come to a consensus that it really is a first-century manuscript, no one will be happier than I. But meanwhile I am ... you guessed it ... skeptical.

Just as I was about to press publish, I saw this blog post by Roberta Mazza, which raises additional concerns. Background to the story is here and links.

Progress in reading the Herculaneum scrolls

TECHNOLOGY WATCH: Words emerge from ancient scrolls charred during eruption of Vesuvius. Powerful x-ray technique reveals letters and words on two fire-damaged scrolls from Herculaneum and provides clues to the author of one (Ian Sample, The Guardian). For some time I have been following efforts to recover the text of the carbonized scrolls from Herculaneum. The latest media reports seem to indicate that there has been a little progress.
Scientists at the National Research Council in Naples found they could read some of the scrolls without opening them by peering inside with x-rays. The procedure they developed, called x-ray phase contrast tomography (XPCT), could pick out the black ink against the charred papyrus sheet because of a tiny but distinct difference in the way the two materials refracted the x-rays.

Using XPCT, Vito Mocella and others revealed letters from the Greek alphabet and several distinctive words on two fire-damaged scrolls, one rolled, the other unrolled. The scrolls had been handed to Napoleon Bonaparte as a gift in 1802 and now belong to the Institute of France.

X-ray images taken of the unrolled scroll identified two words written in a hidden layer of the payrus. On one line, the researchers spotted Greek capital letters spelling out a word meaning “would fall”. On the next line, they found another Greek word meaning “would say”.

The rolled-up scroll was badly damaged and flattened from the blast of the eruption, making it tougher to read out the words on the papyrus. But Mocella said they could make out several letters from incomplete words. Some letters might have spelt out Greek words meaning “to deny” or “for”, with other letters resembling the word for “the”.

The images produced by the x-ray machine gave the scientists rare clues to the author of the scrolls. On close inspection, they found that the handwriting style of the rolled-up scroll was similar to that of another Herculaneum papyrus written by the Epicurean philosopher Philodemus, who may have written the text in the first century BC.
As I have said before, non-destructive and non-invasive scanning technologies are the way of the future. Bit by bit, a letter at a time, whatever it takes. Until we're done.

Some past posts on the Herculaneum scrolls and efforts to recover their texts are here, here, and links.