Saturday, February 19, 2011

Sad News: Anson Rainey

SAD NEWS: ANSON RAINEY. News of Anson Rainey's death today has come in from numerous sources. Here is Jack Sasson's notice from the Agade list:
The saddest news from many sources in Israel is that Anson Rainey, a warrior for West Semitic scholarship, died this Shabbat in the early afternoon, after a blessedly brief battle with pancreatic cancer.

He will be buried tomorrow (Sunday, February 20), at 12pm, at the cemetery in Barkan (by Ariel). Shiva'ah will be observed at his home, [snip].

The notice below is taken from the website of the Department of
Archaeology at Tel Aviv University at:

Go there for a list of publications.
May his memory be for a blessing.

What’s Going On With Egyptian Synagogues?

CARLY SILVER: What’s Going On With Egyptian Synagogues?
As far as I know, no news outlet has reported extensively on the fates of individual synagogues. I have found only scattered reports about various sites. Apparently, some synagogues are being guarded and others are shuttered, but not much info is available. The Ben Ezra synagogue, original home of a cache of documents about life in the Middle Ages, provided scholars with a priceless fount of information about Jewish commerce in that time period. What is known about its fate during the chaotic Egyptian uprising? I don’t know.

As of late January, the synagogue of Eliyahu Hanavi reported that its employees were safe, but shops in the surrounding area have been looted. Another synagogue that was reported on was in the Egyptian town of Ghabes. There, a few weeks ago, a synagogue was set aflame and Torah scrolls were burned.

Why have we not been informed about what is happening to the Jewish cultural patrimony in Egypt? Are they so destroyed that news outlets just won’t tell us what happened? Can they not get close enough to figure it out? According to some, little synagogue damage has occurred in Alexandria or Cairo because “there remain only a handful of elderly Jews in Egypt’s second-largest city and virtually none in the capital.” Therefore, there doesn’t need to be coverage if nothing has happened, some might say. But I believe that the international Jewish community would like to know what has happened to these sites.
Aside from Zahi Hawass's assurance (quoted in this blog post) that synagogues in Egypt are safe, I don't recall seeing any specifics. I have not been following the news about Egyptian antiquities closely lately, but Google brings up nothing on the synagogues from the last few days. Does anyone have more detailed current information?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Video on Hirbet Madras excavation

THE EXCAVATION AT HIRBET MADRAS (KHIRBET MIDRAS) is covered in a video by the Jerusalem Post. It makes more of a possible connection between the church and a tomb of a prophet Zechariah than I think is warranted (more on that here) but is interesting and worth viewing nevertheless.

More background here.

Review of Halperin, Journal of a UFO Investigator

DAVID HALPERIN'S JOURNAL OF A UFO INVESTIGATOR is reviewed by Stuart Schoffman in The Forward. Excerpt:
Whatever on earth (or in heaven) it is meant to mean, “Journal of a UFO Investigator” is a captivating, wildly idiosyncratic book, a rare mashup of genre fiction and high-flying myth that lingers in the mind and invites rereading. Here, too, Halperin plants a helpful seed for his critics, in an early scene in the Rare Book Room of the Philadelphia library, implausibly manned by a 15-year-old Jewish kid named Julian. “That’s the remarkable thing about rare books, isn’t it?” Julian says to Danny. “You fall under their spell, you just can’t stay away.”
By the way, Potiphar's wife does not succeed in seducing Joseph, either in Genesis or the Qur'an. That's a rather important point.

Other reviews etc. here.

Obituary for Alan Segal

AN OBITUARY FOR ALAN SEGAL in the Columbia Spectator:
Prof. Segal remembered for devoted friendships, defense of Judaism

Segal, who taught for 30 years of teaching in Barnard’s religion department, died on Sunday.

By Sammy Roth

Published February 18, 2011

Former Barnard professor Alan Segal, who retired in December after 30 years of teaching in Barnard’s religion department, died of complications from leukemia on Sunday. He was 65.

Segal was primarily a Jewish studies professor and scholar, teaching courses at Barnard such as Introduction to the Hebrew Bible and Judaism in the Time of Jesus. He was also known for his work on different views of the afterlife and the relationship between Judaism and early Christianity.

And note this:
[JTS Prof. Tzvee] Zahavy said that even though Segal had been ill for a while, “it really did not slow him down,” adding that he had just completed a book which will probably be published soon, possibly by Columbia University Press.
Background here.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Festschrift for John J. Collins

CONGRATULATIONS TO JOHN J. COLLINS, for whom a Festschrift has just been published:
The "Other" in Second Temple Judaism: Essays in Honor of John J. Collins (Calvin Institute of Christian Worship Liturgical Studies) [Hardcover] Daniel C. Harlow (Editor), Matthew Goff (Editor), Karina Martin Hogan (Editor), Joel S. Kaminsky (Editor) (Eerdmans, 2011)
Shai Secunda has more details at the Talmud Blog.

Ryan S. Olson, Tragedy, Authority, and Trickery: The Poetics of Embedded Letters in Josephus.

Ryan S. Olson, Tragedy, Authority, and Trickery: The Poetics of Embedded Letters in Josephus. Hellenic Studies 42. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies, Trustees for Harvard University, 2010. Pp. xiv, 254. ISBN 9780674053373. $24.95 (pb).

Reviewed by Linda Zollschan (

This volume developed from Olson's DPhil dissertation from Oxford supervised by Martin Goodman, Chris Pelling and Steve Mason. Olson's central thesis is that the practice of quoting letters by Josephus was in imitation of long-standing Greek literary tradition that began with Homer. Olson proposes that Josephus made conscious allusions in his historical works to Greek literature which formed part of the influences that were part of Josephus' thought world. The author is completely up-to-date with the latest trends in scholarship regarding Josephus as a stylist of Greek literature, particularly the tragedians Sophocles and Euripides. Olson provides a stipulation that he is not concerned to distinguish between those Greek authors who were 'close' to Josephus' thought world from those that were distant.(4) Olson maintains that Josephus' audience was familiar with the literary models that Josephus incorporated into his work and that this audience was comprised of elite Romans in the city of Rome itself. (37-44)


Another DSS anniversary

This week in Haaretz 1955 / PM announces all seven Dead Sea Scrolls are now in Israel's hands

The press conference held by Prime Minister Moshe Sharett in his office on February 13, 1955, was more like an state party than a mere media event. Sharett, flanked by Hebrew University president Benjamin Mazar and archaeologist Nahman Orgad, had important news to convey: Four Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in 1947 in a cave in the Judean Desert were now in Israel's hands.

The announcement meant Israel was now in possession of all seven scrolls. "Three other scrolls were already held by the university, and so now all seven are ours," Haaretz quoted the prime minister as saying.


Obituary for Alan Segal

Alan F. Segal, leading religious scholar, dies at 65

* By Jay Levin The Record (Hackensack N.J.)
* First Posted: February 16, 2011 - 7:47 pm
Last Updated: February 16, 2011 - 7:47 pm

HACKENSACK, N.J. — Alan F. Segal of Ho-Ho-Kus, N.J., a leading religious scholar whose views on the origins of Judaism and Christianity and on the afterlife were much sought after, died Sunday. He was 65.

Background here.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

More on Alan Segal

A TRIBUTE TO ALAN SEGAL in Time Magazine by former student Joe Klein: The Rivers of Babylon. Excerpt:
... Alan Segal died a few days ago, after a long illness. He was not much of a believer, he once confessed to me. But I disagree. He belonged to the cathedral of learning, a blessed place where penitents transcend and lose themselves in a larger, deeper, boundless world. Scholarship was his Jerusalem. He inspired me and I'd like to see him off now, and thank him, with a portion of the psalm he used to welcome his students into his classroom:

How can we sing the songs of the LORD

while in a foreign land?

5If I forget you, O Jerusalem,

may my right hand forget [its skill].

6May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth

if I do not remember you,

if I do not consider Jerusalem

my highest joy.
On a related note, Diana Muir Appelbaum has written to me to say that Alan showed her a late draft of a complete book manuscript last summer, which he intended to publish. Does anyone know the status of this manuscript, which would be his final book?

UPDATE: Tzvee Zahavy e-mails:
Alan's book is complete and at the publisher in the final phases prior to publication.

His expansive thoughtful review of my son's book appeared on the Brill site yesterday, I saw it there after returning from Alan's funeral.


The Review of Rabbinic Judaism
ISSN: 1568-4857, Online ISSN: 1570-0704
DOI: 10.1163/157007010X536339
Volume 13, Issue 2, pages 262-274
UPDATE: Another tribute from Jeffrey Garcia at his Helek Tov blog. (HT Joseph Lauer.)

Anniversary of beginning of Qumran excavations

On this day: The Dead Sea Scrolls

February 15 1949: Excavations begin at Qumran

By Jennifer Lipman, February 15, 2011 (The Jewish Chronicle)


In 1949 the site was identified by European and US archeologists, and on February 15 1949 a team lead by Roland de Vaux and Gerald Lankester Harding began excavating the area. The excavations continued until 1956.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Deborah Green, The Aroma of Righteousness

BOOK NOTED by Josh Lambert in Tablet Magazine:
How did the rabbis of the Talmud smell? No, this isn’t the set-up for a terrible joke (the punchline of which would inevitably, lamentably, have to be, “With their noses”). Posed sincerely, this question drives Deborah Green’s The Aroma of Righteousness: Scent and Seduction in Rabbinic Life and Literature (PSU, March). Tracking references to perfume and incense in the Torah, Talmud, and midrash, Green recovers what she can of the olfactory culture of late antiquity to place the rabbis’ senses of smell into their historical context—and to understand how their embodied, sensual lives influenced their theological understandings.

The Lod Mosaic in the NY Review of Books

THE LOD MOSAIC EXHIBITION, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, is reviewed in the New York Review of Books:
The Lod Mosaic

G.W. Bowersock

It’s not easy to make sense of the remarkable Lod Mosaic, a large, ancient floor newly discovered in Israel and now on display in the United States for the first time at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But the very difficulty of interpretation, together with the excellent state of preservation, is what makes it so fascinating. We simply don’t know whether it was part of a residence or an official building, and we can’t even say whether the owner or owners were Jewish, Christian, or pagan. The date is not secure either, although the excavator proposes about AD 300 because late third-and-fourth-century coins and ceramic scraps were found immediately above it. Miraculously, what is on display at the Met survived intact apart from one large gash near the bottom that the excavator considers ancient damage, although not everyone agrees.

There are lots of photos, and detailed discussions of the images on the mosaic.

Background here.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Mandaic Valentine's in First Place Day!

JAMES MCGRATH: Happy Mandaic Valentine's in First Place Day!

Sad News: Alan F. Segal

SAD NEWS: ALAN F. SEGAL: I received a note this morning from Gabriele Boccaccini reporting that Alan Segal passed away peacefully yesterday afternoon. I can only add my agreement to Gabriele's comments:
Alan's premature death is very sad news for all of us who had the privilege of knowing him and being his close friends, and is a great loss for the entire community of specialists in Second Temple Judaism and Christian Origins. May his memory be a blessing.

Our thoughts are with his family.
I met Alan in 1991 at a Divine Mediator Figures Group session at the Society of Biblical Literature conference. At that time his best-known work was Two Powers in Heaven. He also presented a major paper at my 1998 St. Andrews conference on the origins of the worship of Jesus. He has since made many other important contributions to the study of ancient Judaism and early Christianity, has been a co-member of the steering committee for the SBL Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism Group, and was one of the major voices in the field. There is a short Wikipedia entry about him here.

May his memory be for a blessing.

UPDATE: James McGrath has links to Google preview pages of Professor Segal's books.

UPDATE: April DeConick has a long post in honor of Professor Segal.

UPDATE: Here is his Barnard College faculty profile page (via the Agade list). Note also his article in the recently noted Festschrift for Rachel Elior, With Letters of Light (final entry, which must be one of his last publications).

UPDATE (15 February): Larry Hurtado has a tribute.

UPDATE: Jared Calaway has a tribute as well. Jared was Alan's last doctoral student. Also, Mark Goodacre links to other brief notices.

UPDATE (16 February): More here.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Feminist Talmud Commentary: Tractate Sukkah

Shulamit Ṿaller. Massekhet Sukkah: Text, Translation and Commentary. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2009. x + 224 pp. $157.50 (cloth), ISBN 978-3-16-150121-0.

Reviewed by Harry Fox (University of Toronto)
Published on H-Judaic (February, 2011)
Commissioned by Jason Kalman

A Feminist Talmud Commentary: Tractate Sukkah

Shulamit Valler's book is part of a mega-project under the editorship of Tal Ilan to produce the first feminist commentary to the Babylonian Talmud. In conformity with the series as a whole (and as outlined in Ilan's Massekhet Ta'anit[1]), Valler opens her study with a general introduction to her particular tractate, followed with selected Mishnaic texts related to gender issues, followed by the bulk of the work--selected Babylonian Talmudic texts of the same sort but independent of the Mishnah. The Babylonian Talmud serves as the cornerstone of rabbinic Judaism, the Judaism that informed the Jewish people until emancipation and beyond; hence it is a timely and worthy project. It follows on the heels of similar projects examining the biblical canonical literature for Jews and Christians under the critical lens of feminism. Perhaps the project will push Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and others in Eastern religions towards a similar critical examination of their own canonical collections. To wit, this social revolution is now possible after a generation of effort produced a critical mass of feminist scholars capable of putting the traditional text under such intense scrutiny.