Saturday, December 19, 2009

LECTIO DIFFICILIOR, Electronic Journal for Feminist Studies in Europe, has posted a new issue (2/2009). TOC:
• Sophie Kauz
Frauenräume im Alten Testament am Beispiel der Siedlung

• Reuven Kiperwasser
“Three Partners in a Person”
The Genesis and Development of Embryological Theory in Biblical and Rabbinic Judaism

• Ernst Axel Knauf
Salome Alexandra and the Final Redaction of Psalms

• Nancy C. Lee
Prophetic ‘Bat-‘Ammî’ Answers God and Jeremiah

• Pamela J. Milne
Son of a Prostitute and Daughter of a Warrior:
What Do You Think the Story in Judges 11 Means?

• Jane Tolmie
Eve in the Looking-Glass:
Interpretive labour in the Anglo-Norman Jeu d’Adam
(Via the Agade List.)
THE TESTIMONIUM FLAVIANUM - the discussion of Jesus that survives in the work of Josephus - is considered by Geza Vermes is a good article in Standpoint:
Jesus in the Eyes of Josephus
January/February 2010

Joseph son of Matthias, better known as Flavius Josephus — surnamed after his patron, the Roman Emperor Titus Flavius — was the greatest Jewish historian of antiquity. Without his work, much of the contemporaneous history of Israel would be floating in a vacuum. Josephus's vignettes concerning Jesus, John the Baptist and Jesus's brother, James, are the only pieces of outside evidence relating to first-century New Testament figures. The issue of their authenticity is, therefore, of major importance. However, before tackling it, let me say a few words about the author and his reliability as an historian.

Vermes concludes:
In conclusion, what seems to be Josephus's authentic portrait of Jesus depicts him as a wise teacher and miracle worker, with an enthusiastic following of Jewish disciples who, despite the crucifixion of their master by order of Pontius Pilate in collusion with the Jerusalem high priests, remained faithful to him up to Josephus's days.

Let me offer therefore the text that I believe Josephus wrote. The Christian additions, identified in the paragraph that follows the earlier reproduction of the English translation of Antiquities 18: 63-64, are excised and the deletions are indicated by [......]. The dubious authenticity of the phrase "[and many Greeks?]" (see the same paragraph above) is signalled by the question mark. Finally, the word [called] is inserted into the sentence "He was [called] the Christ" on the basis of Josephus's description of James as "the brother of Jesus called the Christ".

About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man...For he was one who performed paradoxical deeds and was the teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews [and many Greeks?]. He was [called] the Christ. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing among us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him...And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.
I agree with his general position (i.e., #3) and with most of his reconstruction.

A brief summary of a 2003 lecture by Steve Mason on Josephus is here. And my discussion of Josephus on the Essenes is here.

Friday, December 18, 2009

CONGRATULATIONS to the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library at Saint John's University, which has just received a major grant:
Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awards $343,000 grant to HMML


The Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (HMML) at Saint John's University has been awarded a $343,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support the cataloging of more than 15,000 Eastern Christian manuscripts digitized in the Middle East and Ethiopia.

This project builds on a Mellon-supported HMML project that began in the 1990s that developed standards for electronic cataloging of manuscripts. A 2008-09 Mellon grant laid the groundwork for this most recent award by refining those cataloging standards for use with non-western manuscripts and devising a model for distributed cataloging of these collections by scholars located in the Middle East, Europe, and North America.

HMML is the only institution in the world exclusively dedicated to the photographic preservation of manuscripts, with a particular emphasis on manuscripts located in places where war, social unrest or economic conditions pose a threat to collections or to the communities holding them.

The HMML has been mentioned in earlier posts here, here, and here.
AN EARLY MODERN EXORCISM from the Cairo Geniza:
A Ghostly Trace of the Jewish Occult
By Nathaniel Popper (The Forward)
Published December 16, 2009, issue of December 25, 2009.

A newly discovered piece of stained, wrinkled paper conjures up the details of a Jewish exorcism that appears to have been performed sometime in the 18th or 19th century.

The ghostly document details the prayers that were performed on Qamar bat Rahmah to try to rid her of the spirit of her dead husband, Nissim ben Bonia. According to the handwritten but well-preserved Hebrew text, the rabbis asked the ghost to “leave this woman, Qamar bat Rahmah, [and forgo] all authority and control that it has over her; and Nissim ben Bonia shall have no more authority and control whatsoever over Qamar bat Rahmah in any form or manner at all.”

The 150-word text provides a haunting insight into the often forgotten world of the Jewish occult. While exorcisms are frequently described in Jewish texts from the Middle Ages on, this appears to be the first text that provides the prayer used in a specific exorcism.


Some of the geniza’s collection made its way to the University of Manchester, in England, where the exorcism text was found while Renate Smithuis, a researcher, was cataloguing the 11,000 items there. When she shared the text with an Israeli colleague, Gideon Bohak, who is an expert in Jewish dybbuks, or spirits, she realized the significance of her discovery.


The prayer makes a number of things clear. At the time of the exorcism, Qamar bat Rahmah is married to Joseph Moses ben Sarah and is bothered by the spirit of her late former husband, Nissim ben Bonia, and the “control that it has over her.” The prayer is respectful to ben Bonia’s spirit and asks that when it leaves his widow’s body, it “shall go and reunite with his [vital] soul, his spirit and his [rational] soul in the place which is appropriate for them.”

Exoricisms are known from as far back as pre-Christian polytheism and they survive in Judaism, Christianity, and other traditions today. Earlier posts on a modern cinematic exorcism and an alleged modern exorcism scam are (respectively) here and here. Gideon Bohak, who is mentioned in this article, is translating a number of ancient exorcistic hymns attributed (fictionally) to King David for the More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project. Some of the many past posts on the Cairo Geniza are here, here, here, here, and here.

UPDATE: And here's a translation of a late antique exorcism text on an Aramaic incantation bowl.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A "BIBLICAL ARCHAEOLOGY" LECTURE SERIES sponsored by the British Academy:
The 2010 Schweich Lectures on Biblical Archaeology, given by Professor Fergus Millar FBA

Religion and Community in the Roman Near East – Constantine to Mahomet

27 January, 3 & 10 February 2010
5.30pm - 6.30pm, followed by a drinks reception
The British Academy, 10 Carlton House Terrace, London, SW1Y 5AH

Free Admittance

Wednesday 27 January 2010
I. The Legacy of Alexander and the Bible. A Greek Christian World?

When the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, acquired control of the Eastern provinces of the Empire and called the Council of Nicaea in 325, it was over six and a half centuries since Alexander had conquered the Near East. When the forces of Islam invaded in the 630s, Greek had been the primary public language there, from the Mediterranean to the Tigris and from the Taurus Mountains to the Red Sea, for almost a millennium.

But how deeply had Greek culture penetrated, and was the Christian Church in the Near East wholly Greek-speaking? What 'resistance' was offered by either an Aramaic or Syriac-speaking population, or by paganism. Where do the Jewish and Samaritan inhabitants of Palestine fit in? This long apparently ‘Greek’ phase in the Near East demands attention.

Wednesday 3 February 2010
II. Jews and Samaritans in a Greek Christian World

In the first few centuries CE, a network of Greek cities came to cover almost all of Palestine, and by the sixth century more than fifty of these places had bishops, who preached and wrote in Greek. In this context, what forms of religious, social or cultural self-expression were open to Jews or Samaritans?

In the fourth–sixth centuries churches were built almost everywhere – but so also were Jewish and Samaritan synagogues – and it was these, not the churches, which produced elaborate representational art on their mosaic floors. Jews also produced the vast corpus of rabbinic literature in Hebrew or Aramaic. But how separate was Jewish life in reality from its gentile environment? Should we think of separation into distinct geographical zones, of peaceful co-existence, or of communal conflict?

Wednesday 10 February 2010
III. Syrians and Saracens: Alternative Christianities?

Aramaic, in various dialects, persisted as a spoken language all through the centuries of Graeco-Roman rule. But, while Hebrew and Jewish Aramaic were long-established languages of culture in which religious texts were composed, at the moment of Constantine's conversion there was not a single community anywhere in the Roman Near East where Greek was not the dominant public language.

Christian literary composition in Syriac, which in origin was the Aramaic dialect and script used at Edessa, had however already begun before Constantine. The subsequent emergence of Syriac as a major language of Christian literary culture, and as expressed in the many beautiful contemporary manuscripts which survive, is of huge significance. But what was the role of Syriac-speaking Christianity in relation to Greek, and to the profound theological divisions of the time? Was it in Greek or in Syriac that the Bible and monotheism were transmitted to the Arabs of the desert?

About the Speaker
Fergus Millar was Camden Professor of Ancient History at the University of Oxford from 1984 to 2002. He is the author of The Roman Near East, 37 BC-AD 337 (1993) and A Greek Roman Empire: Power and Belief under Theodosius II, 408-450 (2006). He was awarded the Kenyon Medal for Classical Studies in 2005. Currently Senior Associate of the Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, Oxford, he is writing on the linguistic, cultural and religious history of the Roman Near East in the fourth to sixth centuries.

Schweich Lectures on Biblical Archaeology
The Leopold Schweich Trust Fund, set up in 1907, was a gift from Miss Constance Schweich in memory of her father. It provided for three public lectures to be delivered annually (now triennially) on subjects related to 'the archaeology, art, history, languages and literature of Ancient Civilization with reference to Biblical Study'.

A poster for your notice board can be downloaded here:

Please visit our website for full details of our forthcoming events.
Telephone enquiries: 020 7969 5246 / Email:

Please note our ticketing and seating policy:

British Academy Lectures are freely open to the general public and everyone is welcome; there is no charge for admission, no tickets will be issued, and seats cannot be reserved. The Lecture Room is opened at 5.00pm, and the first 80 audience members arriving at the Academy will be offered a seat in the Lecture Room; the next 60 people to arrive will be offered a seat in the Overflow Room, which has a video and audio link to the Lecture Room. Lectures are followed by a reception at 6.30pm, to which members of the audience are invited.
THE JERUSALEM SHROUD STORY continues to be recycled in the news. Here's one article of many:
DNA of Jesus-Era Shrouded Man in Jerusalem Reveals Earliest Case of Leprosy

ScienceDaily (Dec. 16, 2009) — The DNA of a first-century shrouded man found in a tomb on the edge of the Old City of Jerusalem has revealed the earliest proven case of leprosy.

The burial cave, which is known as the Tomb of the Shroud, is located in the lower Hinnom Valley and is part of a 1st century C.E. cemetery known as Akeldama or 'Field of Blood' (Matthew 27:3-8; Acts 1:19) -- next to the area where Judas is said to have committed suicide. The tomb of the shrouded man is located next to the tomb of Annas, the high priest (6-15 C.E.), who was the father in law of Caiaphas, the high priest who was said to have betrayed Jesus to the Romans. It is thus thought that this shrouded man was either a priest or a member of the aristocracy. According to Prof. Gibson, the view from the tomb would have looked directly toward the Jewish Temple.

Details of the research will be published December 16 in the journal PLoS ONE.

The molecular investigation was undertaken by Prof. Mark Spigelman and Prof. Charles Greenblatt and of the Sanford F. Kuvin Center for the Study of Infectious and Tropical Diseases at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Prof. Carney Matheson and Ms. Kim Vernon of Lakehead University, Canada, Prof. Azriel Gorski of New Haven University and Dr. Helen Donoghue of University College London. The archaeological excavation was led by Prof. Shimon Gibson, Dr. Boaz Zissu and Prof. James Tabor on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

The renewed attention to the shroud seems to have been generated by the (welcome) publication of this journal article on the DNA evidence, which is available online here (as noted by Joe Lauer on his list). This is the abstract:
Molecular Exploration of the First-Century Tomb of the Shroud in Akeldama, Jerusalem

Carney D. Matheson1,2,3*, Kim K. Vernon3,4, Arlene Lahti1,5, Renee Fratpietro1, Mark Spigelman3,6, Shimon Gibson7, Charles L. Greenblatt3, Helen D. Donoghue6

1 Paleo-DNA Laboratory, Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, Canada, 2 Department of Anthropology, Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, Canada, 3 Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, The Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School, Jerusalem, Israel, 4 Department of Anthropology, Department of Zoology, University of Queensland, St. Lucia, Australia, 5 Department of Biology, Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, Canada, 6 Department of Infection, University College London, London, United Kingdom, 7 University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Charlotte, North Carolina, United States of America
Abstract Top

The Tomb of the Shroud is a first-century C.E. tomb discovered in Akeldama, Jerusalem, Israel that had been illegally entered and looted. The investigation of this tomb by an interdisciplinary team of researchers began in 2000. More than twenty stone ossuaries for collecting human bones were found, along with textiles from a burial shroud, hair and skeletal remains. The research presented here focuses on genetic analysis of the bioarchaeological remains from the tomb using mitochondrial DNA to examine familial relationships of the individuals within the tomb and molecular screening for the presence of disease. There are three mitochondrial haplotypes shared between a number of the remains analyzed suggesting a possible family tomb. There were two pathogens genetically detected within the collection of osteological samples, these were Mycobacterium tuberculosis and Mycobacterium leprae. The Tomb of the Shroud is one of very few examples of a preserved shrouded human burial and the only example of a plaster sealed loculus with remains genetically confirmed to have belonged to a shrouded male individual that suffered from tuberculosis and leprosy dating to the first-century C.E. This is the earliest case of leprosy with a confirmed date in which M. leprae DNA was detected.
Background on the (non-)relationship to the Shroud of Turin is here. Background on the leprosy connection (from 2003) is here.

Also, Todd Bolen has a post at the Bible Places blog which summarizes current coverage. He is skeptical of the debunking of the Shroud of Turin based on the Jerusalem Shroud:
Here’s an important statement in the JPost article:
Based on the assumption that this is representative of a typical burial shroud widely used at the time of Jesus, the researchers conclude that the Turin Shroud did not originate from Jesus-era Jerusalem.
That gives you the basis for the researchers’ conclusion that the Turin Shroud is fake. As long as there was only one shroud maker in town in the first century, we can be absolutely sure that the Turin crowd [read "shroud?" JRD] is from the medieval period. (I have no interest in or knowledge about the Shroud, but I do care about assumptions necessary for conclusions. The conclusions are in the headlines; the assumptions are always buried if not omitted.)
That's not quite what it says in the Daily Mail article quoted in my post yesterday. The claim there is that "[i]t was made with a simple two-way weave - not the twill weave used on the Turin Shroud, which textile experts say was introduced more than 1,000 years after Christ lived." That is a more general claim that ought to be verifiable or falsifiable based on the reasonably ample surviving textile evidence from antiquity. If it is true that this type of weave is only attested much later, that would severely weaken any case for the genuineness of the Shroud of Turin. Are there specialists in first-century textiles out there who would like to speak up?

UPDATE (24 December): Reader Evy Nelson points me to a textile expert who headed up a 2002 restoration of the Shroud and who was featured in a PBS segment of Secrets of the Dead:
And yet, when [Mechthild]Flury-Lemberg finally did agree to head the restoration and conservation of the linen in the summer of 2002, the Shroud had a far different story to tell her. She first noticed that the entire cloth was crafted with a weave known as a three-to-one herringbone pattern. "This kind of weave was special in antiquity because it denoted an extraordinary quality," she says. (Less fine linens of the first century would have had a one-to-one herringbone pattern). That same pattern is present on a 12th century illustration that depicts Christ's funeral cloth, which, she says, is "extremely significant, because it shows that the painter was familiar with Christ's Shroud and that he recognized the indubitably exceptional nature of the weave of the cloth." Flury-Lemberg also discovered a peculiar stitching pattern in the seam of one long side of the Shroud, where a three-inch wide strip of the same original fabric was sewn onto a larger segment. The stitching pattern, which she says was the work of a professional, is surprisingly similar to the hem of a cloth found in the tombs of the Jewish fortress of Masada. The Masada cloth dates to between 40 B.C. and 73 A.D. The evidence, says Flury-Lemberg, is clear: "The linen cloth of the Shroud of Turin does not display any weaving or sewing techniques which would speak against its origin as a high quality product of the textile workers of the first century."
(Cf. here for a still stronger statement.)

But Evy also notes that Joe Zias did not think highly of this PBS show. According to USA Today:
Joe Zias of Hebrew University of Jerusalem calls the shroud indisputably a fake. "Not only is it a forgery, but it's a bad forgery."

Zias says the shroud depicts a man whose front measures 2 inches taller than his back and whose elongated hands and arms would indicate he was afflicted with gigantism if it were real.
So that leaves us about where we started, with conflicting confident evaluations attributed to specialists and with none of those evaluations put in a peer-review publication. If any other ancient-textile experts want to weigh in, drop me a note.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

THE SHROUD OF TURIN'S GENUNINENESS is being called into question on the basis of the certainly genuine first-century Jerusalem Shroud. The Daily Mail interviews archaeologist Shimon Gibson, who excavated the latter shroud.
Burial cloth found in Jerusalem cave casts doubt on authenticity of Turin Shroud

By Matthew Kalman
Last updated at 1:08 AM on 16th December 2009

Archaeologists have discovered the first known burial shroud in Jerusalem from the time of Christ's crucifixion - and say it casts serious doubt on the claimed authenticity of the Turin Shroud.

Ancient shrouds from the period have been found before in the Holy Land, but never in Jerusalem.

Researchers say the weave and design of the shroud discovered in a burial cave near Jerusalem's Old City are completely different to the Turin Shroud.

Radiocarbon tests and artefacts found in the cave prove almost beyond doubt that it was from the same time of Christ's death.

It was made with a simple two-way weave - not the twill weave used on the Turin Shroud, which textile experts say was introduced more than 1,000 years after Christ lived.

And instead of being a single sheet like the famous item in Turin, the Jerusalem shroud is made up of several sections, with a separate piece for the head.

Professor Shimon Gibson, the archaeologist who discovered the tomb, said ancient writings and contemporary shrouds from other areas had suggested this design, and the Jerusalem shroud finally provided the physical evidence.

The debate over the Turin Shroud will not go away. Last month a Vatican researcher said she had found the words 'Jesus Nazarene' on the shroud, proving it was the linen cloth which was wrapped around Christ's body.

Gibson's work makes me even more skeptical of these claims about writing on the Shroud of Turin, on which I have commented here (with links to earlier posts on the Jerusalem Shroud) and here. But as I've been saying, I will be happy to look at the evidence when it is published with good photographs. Or, better yet, let the West Semitic Research Project team loose on it. They'll sort it in no time.
ROBERT CARGILL has an essay "On False Accusations of Anti-Semitism within the Academy" at the Bible and Interpretation website in which he defends himself against accusations of anti-Semitism by Raphael Golb (this in the context of the Dead Sea Scrolls sock-puppetry identity-theft case now under litigation in New York).

Background to the case is here and keep following the links back.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

SETH SANDERS has just published a book: The Invention of Hebrew (University of Illinios Press).
The Invention of Hebrew is the first book to approach the Bible in light of recent epigraphic discoveries on the extreme antiquity of the alphabet and its use as a deliberate and meaningful choice. Hebrew was more than just a way of transmitting information; it was a vehicle of political symbolism and self-representation.
Note that Seth also blogs at Serving the Word.
THE SALAMANDER IN THE TALMUD: Eli Dahan has the story at the Learning Biblical Hebrew blog.
JIM WEST has an essay on Blogging the Bible at the Bible and Interpretation website. Excerpt:
Blogging the Bible is the best way for scholars to get scholarship to the mass of consumers. Scholars can and should write journal articles in peer reviewed journals. They should publish excruciatingly detailed tomes that only a few other experts in the same field will ever read. They should meet at conferences and hear papers and interact and learn and grow professionally and intellectually. Likewise, they should write “popularizing” books targeted for the wider public. And finally they should, and I would suggest must, also attend to their duties as the disseminators of publicly consumable biblical scholarship for people who will not, or cannot, read extensive treatments. This is not to suggest that they dumb down their ideas, scholars should clarify, not reduce. But, scholars should also understand that anything that can't be explained in some clear fashion, so that the majority of people can understand it, may become an exercise in self-importance, not true scholarship.

Scholarship, it seems to me, must always be aware of its audience. And communication of said scholarship means dissemination. Scholars have a tendency--when they gather--to bemoan their students’ ignorance in the most basic matters. And yet within their hands, at their very fingertips, is a formidable, under-used tool for the correction of that state of affairs: Blogging the Bible.
Fair points, all. It's good that there is now an SBL unit on this subject.

Monday, December 14, 2009

JOB ADVERT at Portland State University: Schusterman Teaching Fellow and Assistant Professor of Classical Judaism.
THE HANUKKAH NARRATIVE, and its use in various subsequent historical contexts, comes under further scrutiny:
Heroes or rabble-rousers? The real story of the Maccabees

By Gil Shefler · December 10, 2009

NEW YORK (JTA) -- In 165 BCE, a group of warriors led by Judah Maccabee and his band of brothers ushered in a new era in Jewish history when they routed the soldiers of the Greek-Syrian empire and rededicated the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

That victory, and the miracle of the menorah that followed, is celebrated every year by Jews around the world at Chanukah.

But if the same thing had happened today, would contemporary Jews hail the Maccabees as heroes?

The place in Jewish history of the Maccabees -- a nickname for the first members of the Hasmonean dynasty that ruled an autonomous Jewish kingdom -- is much more complex than their popular image might suggest.


"My guess is that most liberal Jews today wouldn't necessarily get along with the Maccabees if they showed up again," said Rabbi Jill Jacob, the rabbi in residence at Jewish Funds for Justice.

“Even those of us who are regularly active in Jewish life may find it hard to identify with Matityahu, the leader of the Jewish revolt, whom the first Book of Maccabees depicts as killing a Jew who sacrifices to a pagan god," she wrote in an essay about the meaning of Chanukah.

Jacobs argues that Jews should be aware of the complicated history, though they do not have to be bound by it.

"In redefining Chanukah, each generation considers anew the questions of assimilation and ethnic identity, the tension between Judaism as a religion and the Jewish people as a nation," she wrote.

Many Jews in ancient times also had their reservations regarding the exploits of Judah Maccabee and his brothers.

In general I would say that it is perilous to hold up any event, text, or narrative from antiquity as an unambiguous moral example for today. The ancients often took moral standards for granted which we find very troubling. But that should not stop us from learning from what they said and did, appreciating the courageous stands they often took under horrendous conditions it is hard for us even to imagine, and (one would hope) improving on their example.
THE HELIODORUS INSCRIPTION - now confirmed as genuine by the excavated fragments published this year - leads Senior Albright Fellow Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg to take the narrative of 2 Maccabees more seriously:
Hanukka, another version


Last year we knew that the story of Heliodorus in the Second Book of Maccabees was built around a kernel of truth. The story goes that the Emperor Seleucus IV (187-175 BCE) sends his chief minister to the Temple in Jerusalem to rob its treasury. To the consternation of the priests and the people, Heliodorus marches into the Temple, but there he is confronted by a golden rider on a warlike horse and beaten to the ground by two golden boys (3:25). He is dragged out empty-handed and hardly conscious.

It's a good story and has been illustrated by such great artists as Raphael in the 16th century and Gustav Doré in the 19th, but was it true? That sounds most unlikely, but the Heliodorus stele (inscribed tablet) that was lent to the Israel Museum by the Steinhardt family and exhibited there last year tells a related story. It is written in pure Greek bureaucrat-speak and tells howthe Emperor Seleucus instructs Heliodorus in 178 BCE to check the temples of the empire to see that they are suited to the needs of the population and their gods, and in particular to inspect the temples of Coele-Syria, the land later to be called Palestine and Israel.

Heliodorus sends the letter on to "his brother" Dorymenes, and he in turn writes to one Diophanes telling him, "You will do well to take care that everything is carried out according to the instructions." In other words,the emperor 's orders are passed down the line, and probably it was Diophanes who tried to check the Temple and was prevented from raiding it, but the author ofSecond Maccabees just remembered the most important name, that of Heliodorus.


THE STELE and its fragments now give us the confidence to follow the Hanukka story in the Second Book of Maccabees, which is rather different from the one in the First.


Antiochus has no idea how to handle Jews; he has to consult his expert, the High Priest Menelaus. First of all, he is led into the Temple by Menelaus to demonstrate to the Jews that he is the overall master of their fate, and Menelaus allows him to rob the Temple further to pay his tribute to the Romans (5:21). Then Menelaus advises him to abrogate the ancestral laws of the Jews, like circumcision and keeping the Sabbath, to build an idol in the Temple and force the Jews to sacrifice to it and eat the entrails. All these indignities would keep them down.

For some Jews this was too much. The Maccabees fled into the countryside where Judah started their counterrebellion. After three years they managed to regain the Temple and cleanse it of pagan worship. They celebrated the festival of Hanukka for eight days, to make it like the Succot they had not been able to celebrate two months earlier, when they were "living like wild animals in the mountains and caves" (10:6).

They lit the menora for eight days like on Succot, not because they had found a small jar of pure oil with the seal of the high priest that lasted for eight days by miracle. If they had found such a jar, and it had on it the seal of the last High Priest Menelaus, would they have used it? This high priest who had usurped the position, who had robbed the Temple to pay his bribes, who had arranged the murder of the old priest Onias, who had led the emperor into the Temple, helped him to rob it and advised him how to forbid the Jewish laws and customs and to replace them with pagan ritual, would they have accepted the kashrut of such a man? Would you have bought a jar of oil from such a priest?
Incidentally, as I noted a few years ago (bottom of post), the sixth-century chronographer Malalas has a passage on the Maccabean revolt that appears to come from Seleucid sources and which gives yet another perspective on events. We hope to include this as "8 Maccabees" in the More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

THE KEEPER OF THE ARK at Axum is glimpsed by Mark Sissons (SF Chronicle):
At this point, I hoped - no, needed - to catch a rare glimpse of the Keeper of the Ark, the only mortal allowed to lay eyes upon it (not even the Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is granted that privilege). Keepers are virgin monks chosen to protect this holiest of Christian relics for their entire lives. They remain confined to the sanctuary (some say with a chain), never setting foot outside the chapel grounds until they die.

As the afternoon light began to fade and the Keeper had not yet made an appearance, I reluctantly prepared to leave the compound. What naive presumption drove me to think that the one man on Earth entrusted with protecting the word of God would condescend to make an appearance just for me?

Just then, a bearded, almost spectral figure swathed in black glanced furtively from behind a chapel doorway protected from intruders by a spiked fence. It was the Keeper. We locked eyes - the virgin monk and the spiritual voyeur. I wondered if I should pursue him, risking life, limb (and perhaps even eternal damnation) to discover what lies behind that door? There must be something inside important enough for the Keeper and countless Keepers before him to sacrifice their freedom, and even their lives.

Before I could act, the Keeper retreated behind the chapel's heavy wooden door, closing it - as well as my fleeting opportunity to solve 3,000-year-old mysteries - behind him.
For more on Ark of the Covenant traditions (and goofy notions), including Ethiopian Ark traditions, see here and follow the links.
NEW ORLEANS SBL: David Larsen summarizes April DeConick's paper, "Star Gates: What Were the Gnostics Doing?" on his Heavenly Ascents blog.