Wednesday, October 18, 2017

More on the UNESCO withdrawal

MORE ON THE U.S. AND ISRAELI DECISION TO WITHDRAW FROM UNESCO: Scolding UNESCO, GOP lawmakers introduce resolution on Jewish ties to Jerusalem. After Trump administration announces it will withdraw from UN cultural body over anti-Israel votes, Sen. Cruz and Rep. Gaetz accuse agency of 'trying to rewrite history' (ERIC CORTELLESSA, Times of Israel).
On Friday, Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, and Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Republican from Florida, followed up on the move by authoring a resolution that “recognizes and affirms the historical connection of the Jewish people to the ancient and sacred city of Jerusalem.”

It goes on to cite archaeologically excavated sites, like the City of David, that contain vast quantities of antiquities from the ancient Jewish and Christian presence in the city.
This Opinion piece is also of interest:

Alan Dershowitz: Trump was right to walk away from UNESCO -- for now (Wathington Examiner).
Background here and here and many links.

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Sefer Yetsira

KABBALAH WATCH? ‘Sefer Yesira,’ the Story of a Text in Search of Commentary. An ancient, tiny book cataloging the components of the cosmos: was it magic, Kabbalah, a philosophical treatise, or something else? (Tzvi Langermann, Tablet Magazine).
The minuscule composition known as Sefer Yesira (SY), so tiny some thought it to be meant as an amulet, is a challenging text, begging for commentary. Though the Hebrew text is very short (about 1,000 words), it has played an important role in Jewish thought, and in more recent times, in the academic study of Jewish thought. The “book” itself contains very little prose; it consists mostly of catalogs of the components of the cosmos, in groups of two (pairs of opposites), three, and seven, and their sums—10, 12, 22, and 32. The cataloged components are those making up the physical universe, the human body, and time. The 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet are very significant as well and are matched to the other components of the universe. The original intent of the author or authors is not known.

A book of this sort cannot be understood without commentary, and SY has been interpreted in very different ways. Some claim that it was originally meant to be a work of mystical magic, but this reading is clearly prejudiced by the kabbalistic appropriation of the text, a process which began in the 12th century, and, even more so, by a fierce turf defense by academic specialists in the Kabbalah.

I do not know if at it is at all possible to assert anything about the original authorial intent behind the text. One can, however, speak with a great deal of certainty about the way the first interpreters of SY read the book. We possess extensive commentaries, in Judaeo-Arabic and in Hebrew, written by individuals throughout the Jewish diaspora in the early medieval period. Some are famous, others are familiar mainly to specialists. Each of the following glossed Sefer Yesira, reading it as a book of science: ...
Sefer Yetsira is indeed a mysterious text, more so even than is indicated in this article. There is no agreement on its original date of composition or what the original text looked like. Some years ago I comment briefly on it and gave some bibliography here. It is foundational to the mystical traditions of Kabbalah and the Zohar, whether or not it is itself a mystical text.

Variant English spellings include Sepher Yetsirah, Sefer Yetzira, and Sefer Yesira.

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Birds in the Flood Story

DR. GUY DARSHAN: The Motif of Releasing Birds in ANE Flood Stories (TheTorah.com).
The ancient Near East had many versions of the flood story, such as Atrahasis, Ziusudra, Utnapishtim, etc., most of which predate the Torah’s account of Noah’s flood. But what is the earliest extant version of the releasing birds motif?
The answer may surprise you.

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Festschrift for Michael Stone

FORTHCOMING (IN NOVEMBER) BOOK FROM BRILL:
The Embroidered Bible: Studies in Biblical Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha in Honour of Michael E. Stone

Edited by Lorenzo DiTommaso, Concordia University Montréal Matthias Henze, Rice University and William Adler, North Carolina State University
This Festschrift contains forty-one original essays and six tribute papers in honour of Michael E. Stone, Gail Levin de Nur Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies and Professor Emeritus of Armenian Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The volume’s main theme is Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, envisioned in its broadest sense: apocryphal texts, traditions, and themes from the Second-Temple period to the High Middle Ages, in Judaism, Christianity and, to a lesser extent, Islam. Most essays present new or understudied texts based on fresh manuscript evidence; the others are thematic in approach. The volume’s scope and focus reflect those of Professor Stone’s scholarship, without a special emphasis on Armenian studies.
Congratulations to Professor Stone!

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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Jerusalem's lost theater found

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: 'JERUSALEM’S LOST THEATER’ AND 8 ANCIENT STONE COURSES DISCOVERED UNDER WESTERN WALL (Daniel K. Eisenbud, Jerusalem Post).
A rare 200-seat theater from the Roman period and eight large ancient stone courses have been unearthed under the Western Wall’s Wilson’s Arch by the Israel Antiquities Authority.

[...]

“This is a relatively small structure compared to known Roman theaters, such as at Caesarea, Beit She’an and Beit Guvrin,” said [excavator Tehillah] Lieberman. “This fact – in addition to its location under a roofed space, in this case under Wilson’s Arch – leads us to suggest that this is a theater-like structure of the type known in the Roman world as an odeon.”

“In most cases,” he continued, “such structures were used for acoustic performances. Alternatively, the structure might have been what is known as a bouleuterion, the building where the city council met – in this case, the council of the Roman colony of Aelia Capitolina.”

Interestingly, the archeologists believe the theater was never used.

[...]
Also, over at the Bible Places Blog, Todd Bolen has some commentary on the find.

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The rebellious elder in the Talmud

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Rebellious Elders. Daf Yomi: Why heresy is rare in Talmudic law, where judicial dissent and tiered courts institutionalized freedom of thought.
In Chapter Eight of Tractate Sanhedrin, we saw how the rabbis dealt with the case of a “stubborn and rebellious son,” ben sorer u’moreh. Such a wayward youth is condemned to stoning by Torah law, yet the rabbis interpreted the law so strictly as to render its application virtually impossible. This week, in Chapter 10, the rabbis dealt with the complementary case of a “rebellious elder,” zaken mamre; but in this case, it was interesting to see, they make no such effort at extenuation. It seems as if the rabbis are harsher on rebellion when it comes from an elderly and respected member of the community than when it comes from a gluttonous and drunken youth. But why should this be so? After all, the punishment for the elder is strangling, which is considered a lesser sanction than stoning; this might suggest that his crime is less severe.

[...]
Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

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Review of Burns, The Christian Schism in Jewish History and Jewish Memory

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Book Note | The Christian Schism in Jewish History and Jewish Memory (Joshua Blachorsky).
Joshua Ezra Burns. The Christian Schism in Jewish History and Jewish Memory. Cambridge University Press, 2016.
Excerpt:
Joshua Burns, in The Christian Schism in Jewish History and Jewish Memory, has offered a fresh new foray into this conversation, which he describes as a “Jewish history of the Christian schism” (p. 12). Burns continues the trend of eschewing the traditional parting model and envisioning a split only after the beginning of the 4th century. But he does so with a novel lens, focusing on the rabbinic evidence. In Burns’s interpretation, Tannaitic texts, c. 200 CE, view Jewish Christians as those who practice incorrectly but are wholly Jewish, indicating that the rabbis did not see any decisive split as having yet occurred. However, due to social and religious changes over the next few centuries in Roman Palestine, whereby a wholly gentile Christianity won the day, Amoraim knew only of this later group. Thus later, Amoraic texts speak of gentile Christians, and do so as total others. Burns, accordingly, locates the rabbinic perception of what he calls a “schism” in this later, Amoraic period.

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The Te’omim Cave

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: The Te’omim Cave: Rebel Hideout and Cult Site. Jerusalem hills cave reveals layers of history (Robin Ngo).
During the Bar-Kokhba Revolt (132–136 C.E.), Jewish rebels sought refuge from the Roman army in secret hideouts throughout Judea. One such hideout was the Te’omim Cave, a massive cave complex in the Jerusalem hills west of the city. There, within the innermost chambers of the cave, archaeologists discovered three hoards of Roman, Judean and revolt coins, weapons and pottery evidently hidden by the rebels.

[...]
As usual, this column is a summary of a BAR article that is behind the subscription wall. But the column is interesting in itself.

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Monday, October 16, 2017

Reynolds on Jewish apocalyptic and the NT

THE BIBLE AND INTERPRETATION: Jewish Apocalyptic Tradition in the New Testament.
It has been noted on numerous occasions by scholars that the term “apocalyptic” may be used to refer to three distinct aspects. The first is the apocalyptic genre, i.e., apocalypses, which I will discuss more fully below. The second is apocalyptic worldview, i.e., apocalypticism. This term is used to describe the viewpoint evident in apocalypses and that was held by those who wrote apocalypses. Finally, apocalyptic eschatology refers to the eschatology present in some apocalypses, which is often concerned with the end of the world. Apocalyptic eschatology usually presents history as a series of stages with the present stage preceding the final, climactic stage. This final stage of history often includes the judgment of the wicked and the vindication of the righteous. The wicked may be judged by a messiah figure who will then gather the vindicated righteous to God.

See Also: Reynolds, Benjamin E. and Loren Stuckenbruck, eds. The Jewish Apocalyptic Tradition and the Shaping of New Testament Thought (Fortress, 2017).

By Benjamin E. Reynolds
Associate Professor of New Testament
Tyndale University College
Toronto, Canada
October 2017

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Hershel Shanks is retiring as BAR editor

BIBLICAL ARCHAEOLOGY REVIEW: First Person: My Final “First Person” (Hershel Shanks).
In the next issue of BAR, I will have a new title: Editor Emeritus. Yes, after 42 years I will be retiring. I will still be around—putting in my two cents. But I will not have the responsibility for making sure it is all there and putting it all together.

That will be the job of the new editor, Robert (Bob) Cargill. He is young, and he is smart. In some ways, under his editorship BAR will be the same magazine; in other ways, it may be new and different. I am confident you will continue to be enthralled with the magazine, and I think you will like Bob.

[...]
Bob Cargill has been mentioned often at PaleoJudaica. He will do a great job as the new editor of BAR. I look forward to following the publication under his leadership. And all best wishes to Hershel, who has devoted himself faithfully to making BAR an informative and stimulating popular source for biblical scholarship for more than a biblical generation.

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Rohr Institute course on Great Debates

ADULT EDUCATION: Rohr Jewish Learning Institute Launches Great Debates: 6-Part Course on Dead Sea Scrolls (Hana Levi Julian, The Jewish Press).
Seventy years after the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute is poised to launch a course that examines the historical debates about Jewish philosophy and practice that were brought to light by those texts.

Some 20,000 participants who are part of what a JLI spokesperson called “the largest Jewish education network in the world” will be studying the six-part course in 400 different locations around the globe, beginning at the end of October. The course was created under the guidance and direction of Professor Lawrence H. Schiffman, the Judge Abraham Lieberman Professor of Hebrew and Judaic studies at New York University and a leading expert on the Dead Sea Scrolls. Schiffman, born in 1948, has been working on the Scrolls for nearly 50 years.

[...]
The website for the course is here. The headline is a little confusing. The Dead Sea Scrolls are covered only in the first of the six units. The second unit will be on the fall of Masada. There are more modern topics as well. See the details at the link.

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Septuagint Studies Supervision (2)

WILLIAM ROSS: SUPERVISORS & PROGRAMS FOR SEPTUAGINT STUDIES – PART II. Part two in a three-part series. Part one was noted here.

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Sunday, October 15, 2017

Langlois on those 9 dubious DSS fragments

MICHAEL LANGLOIS: Nine Dubious “Dead Sea Scrolls” Fragments from the Twenty-First Century. Professor Langlois gives some background to the recent Dead Sea Discoveries article on the same topic, which I noted here.

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Jenkins on historical amnesia

THE ASOR BLOG: Revolutionary Biblical Discoveries and the Need for Historical Amnesia (Philip Jenkins).
The Gospel of Judas, the Gospel of Mary, the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife… every few years, the media report new finds of ancient texts that supposedly throw revolutionary new light on the Biblical world, and (commonly) on Christian origins. In reality, such finds rarely tell us much that is new or unexplored, and are mainly of use to hardcore specialists. In most cases, the claims that are made are actually quite familiar, and have been made on many previous occasions. Any kind of historic perspective shows that even what initially look like the most radical ideas in this field have a long prehistory. Successive claim about new and explosive discoveries rely on a process of recurrent public amnesia.

[...]
This essay summarizes material that Professor Jenkins covered in more detail in posts at The Anxious Bench blog. I have noted them here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

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Frey and Jost (eds.), Gottesdienst und Engel im antiken Judentum und frühen Christentum

NEW BOOK FROM MOHR SIEBECK: Gottesdienst und Engel im antiken Judentum und frühen Christentum. Hrsg. v. Jörg Frey u. Michael R. Jost. [Liturgy and Angels in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity.] 2017. VIII, 447 pages. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 2. Reihe 446.
99,00 €
sewn paper
ISBN 978-3-16-154195-7

Published in German.
Some Second Temple Judaism and New Testament texts describe or presuppose heavenly and earthly communities interconnected in prayer and liturgy. The motif has been discussed especially in view of the Dead Sea discoveries. But it is also of interest to general discussion on the character of liturgy, as well as the ecumenical debate with Orthodox churches in whose form of worship angels play a particularly significant role. In the field of systematic theology, the issue was Roman Catholic theologian and historian Erik Peterson's central focus and subject of debate with Karl Barth. This volume presents the multidisciplinary contributions of a symposium held in Zürich on the interrelation of earthly worship and the heavenly host.

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Documentary on the Ritman Library

BOINGBOING: New documentary is a magic portal into a weird and wonderful library (FERDINANDO BUSCEMA).
The Hermetic Philosophy

There is an underground current of thought beneath Western culture, running quietly like a vein of quicksilver: The Hermetic Philosophy. This ancient and multifaceted phenomenon is often found rising up from the shadows during times of intense cultural transition and upheaval.

[...]

The Ritman Library

For those of us enthralled by such ideas – and the wondrous, precious tomes expressing them – the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica (BPH) is a must-see. Also known as The Ritman Library, it is aptly located in Amsterdam, a city historically known for freedom of religion, freedom of expression and freedom of printing.

[...]
The early Hermetic literature was mainly Greco-Egyptian popular Platonism, but it also had some interaction with ancient Jewish traditions. Most of the holdings of the Ritman Library seem to be of the Hermeticism of a later period.

A while ago I noted another story about the Ritman Library here.

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Saturday, October 14, 2017

Herodotus and the Persian Empire

BIBLIOGRAPHIA IRANICA: Herodotus and the Persian Empire. This is the subject of a new issue of the journal Phoenix. One of the articles, by Karel van der Toorn, is on the Judean community at Elephantine.

For many past PaleoJudaica posts on Elephantine and the Elephantine Aramaic papyri, start here and follow the links.

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On the Golb impersonation case

ANALYSIS: Raphael Golb Is Facing Jail Time — For Parodying a Dead Sea Scrolls Scholar (Arthur S. Hayes, The Forward). One law professor's view on the merits of the case and where it should go from here. So far the appeals courts have not agreed, at least fully, but we'll see what happens.

Again, I have been following this case for years because of its connection with the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Background here and many links.

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A new leader for UNESCO

POLITICS: UNESCO selects France's Azoulay as new chief (John Irish).
PARIS (Reuters) - The United Nations’ cultural agency selected former French culture minister Audrey Azoulay as its new chief on Friday, handing her the keys to revive UNESCO’s fortunes after the United States pulled out.

[...]
This is a somewhat surprising result. She was not the front runner in the first rounds of voting. It's possible that the announced withdrawal of the U.S.A. and Israel from UNESCO influenced matters. In any case, congratulations to Ms. Azoulay. She has lots of work ahead of her.

Background on the appointment of a new UNESCO leader, and on criticisms of UNESCO resolutions involving Israel and the Temple Mount, is here and many links.

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"The Concept of Our Great Power" translated

ALIN SUCIU: Guest Post: Anthony Alcock – The Concept of Our Great Power: Annotated Translation. The Concept of Our Great Power is a Coptic text from the (sort of) Gnostic library from Nag Hammadi.

Cross-file under Coptic Watch.

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Friday, October 13, 2017

Talmudic medical discourse

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: “Curiosity Cures the Reb:’” Studying Talmudic Medical Discourses in Context.
Dr. Lennart Lehmhaus shares a rabbinic case study in order to reflect upon the history of science and rabbinic texts: "A careful study of the discursive strategies and the embeddedness of such medical knowledge within their broader contexts of theology or religious law (Halakhah), allows one to highlight the differences in form and content in the variants of this narrative."

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On names and Greek breathings

THE ETC BLOG has a couple of posts about biblical names in Greek and whether they have a rough or a smooth breathing:

Why give Abraham a rough breathing? (Dirk Jongkind)

Isaiah: rough or smooth? (Peter Williams)

The takeaway is that in the Greek manuscript tradition the name Abraham sometimes has a rough breathing and the name Isaiah always (in the manuscripts consulted) does. That means that in the mind of the scribe, both were pronounced with an initial aspiration or "h" sound. A smooth breathing would be silent.

I would not expect this result from the Hebrew forms of the names, but the Greek scribes probably didn't know Hebrew. Who knows where they got the idea? And who knows how the names were actually pronounced in Greek when the Septuagint and the New Testament were written? But, as Dirk Jongkind observes, modern editions have to include a breathing for any Greek word that begins with a vowel. The manuscripts can at least offer some guidelines on which to use.

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The Firmament

OREN FASS M.D.: My Encounter with the Firmament (TheTorah.com).
The Torah describes God’s fashioning the firmament (רקיע) on the second day of creation. This piece of the universe, however, doesn’t actually exist—a problem obfuscated in my yeshiva education.
For more on ancient Hebrew cosmology, see here. Also somewhat related is this post, which deals with one mystical understanding of the firmament. Encounters with that one are perilous.

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U.S. and Israel give notice to withdraw from UNESCO

POLITICS: ISRAEL, US TO QUIT UNESCO CITING 'ANTI-ISRAEL BIAS'. President Donald Trump has in general been critical of the United Nations and complained about the cost and value to the United States (MICHAEL WILNER, HERB KEINON, TOVAH LAZAROFF, Jerusalem Post).
Hours after the US’s dramatic decision to withdraw from UNESCO, citing anti-Israel bias, Israel stated that it also planned to leave the education, scientific and cultural body.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday night directed the Foreign Ministry to “prepare Israel’s withdrawal from the organization in parallel with the US.”

[...]
This is one of President Trump's favorite strategies: walk away from the negotiating table. He has used it again and again throughout his career. It motivates the other party to rethink and offer the best deal possible. This move comes at a particularly sensitive time, with a new UNESCO leader about to be appointed.

The withdrawal does not take effect until the end of 2018, so there is plenty of time for things to change. But the next move is UNESCO's.

Background on concerns about bias against Israel in various recent UNESCO resolutions is here and many links.

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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Conference on the Arch of Titus

H-JUDAIC: CONF: The Arch of Titus – from Jerusalem to Rome, and Back, Sun. Oct. 29th, New York City.
The Arch of Titus – from Jerusalem to Rome, and Back

A Conference Organized by
The Yeshiva University Center for Israel Studies
and Yeshiva University Museum

co-sponsored by the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies

Sunday Oct 29th 9:00am - 5:00pm
Yeahiva University Museum at the Center for Jewish History, 15 W 16th St, New York, NY 10011
Follow the link for registration information and the conference schedule. I noted that the conference was upcoming here. Follow the links there and here for much more on the Arch of Titus.

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On the gender of God

PROF. MARC ZVI BRETTLER: The Gender of God (TheTorah.com).
What is the gender of the God of creation? Of YHWH in general?
In the Hebrew Bible, that is.

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Dancing Judith

PERFORMANCE ART: Judith Revisited. Artifact takes on timeless story of biblical heroine in concert of dance and music (Margaret Regan, Tucson Weekly).
The Caravaggio painting—and the story it tells—has led to a new evening-length dance by Ashley Bowman, co-artistic director of Tucson's Artifact Dance Project. The narrative dance Judith, performed by a dozen dancers and an equal number of musicians, makes its debut Thursday night at Stevie Eller.

"The dance was inspired by the Caravaggio painting," Bowden says. "I saw it many years ago."
Cross-file under Old Testament Apocrypha Watch.

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Job in Classical and Mediterranean Studies at Vanderbilt.

H-JUDAIC: JOB: Vanderbilt University, Program in Classical and Mediterranean Studies, Tenure-track Assistant Professor.
The Program in Classical and Mediterranean Studies invites applications for a tenure-track Assistant Professor position starting fall 2018.

We seek an outstanding researcher and teacher of the ancient Greek world broadly defined. We welcome applications from scholars in related fields (history, material culture, language and literature, philosophy, religion) whose work interrogates or challenges traditional disciplinary boundaries. Competitive candidates are expected to be able to contribute across the curriculum by teaching Greek at all levels as well as courses in Mediterranean Studies and by developing courses in their own area of specialization. The successful candidate will enhance the growing, energetic community of a new program dedicated to studying and teaching the ancient world in comparative perspective across cultures, regions, and periods (https://as.vanderbilt.edu/classics/).
Follow the link for application information and further particulars. The closing date is 15 November 2017.

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