Thursday, May 05, 2016

Major grant for the Early Manuscripts Electronic Library

MANUSCRIPT DIGITIZATION: The Ahmanson Foundation Funds Project to Make Ancient Manuscripts Accessible (Kathy Brown, UCLA Library).
The Ahmanson Foundation has awarded a major grant to the UCLA Library to fund key aspects of the Sinai Library Digitization Project. This major project – initiated by the fathers of St. Catherine’s Monastery of the Sinai, Egypt, and made possible through the participation of the UCLA Library and the Early Manuscripts Electronic Library (EMEL) – will create digital copies of some 1,100 rare and unique Syriac and Arabic manuscripts dating from the fourth to the seventeenth centuries.

A UNESCO World Heritage site located in a region of the Sinai Peninsula sacred to three world religions – Christianity, Islam, and Judaism - St. Catherine’s Monastery houses a collection of ancient and medieval manuscripts second only to that of the Vatican Library. Access to these remarkable materials has often been difficult, and now all the more so due to security concerns in the Sinai Peninsula.

[...]
Past posts on the Early Manuscripts Electronic Library and its work at St Catherine's Monastery and elsewhere are here and here. For many other manuscript digitization projects, see here and here and links. And there's lots more on St. Catherine's Monastery, its manuscripts, and its current perilous circumstances here, here, and here and links.

Mysterious ancient smears

LIV INGEBORG LIED: Consider the most trivial mystery of all the mysteries of the Syriac Codex Ambrosianus solved.
In March, I spent a week in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana working on this codex, focusing in particular on codicological features, text layout and unit organisation, as well as signs of later use and reader engagement with the codex. One recurring feature caught my eye: it looked like someone had had “an accident” involving a pink highlighter while working on the codex. At least this was what I thought at the time. Something pink was smeared on the margins of a handful of the parchment folios. It made me shake my head, wondering who on earth would bring a pink highlighter to their desk when working on the codex. A special kind of “later reader engagement”, indeed. My imagination was certainly put to the test.
Cross-file under Syriac Watch. More on Codex Ambrosianus B.21 is here and links (including more from Professor Lied and photos of her and yours truly with the manuscript).

David at Dura-Europos

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: David as Warrior at Dura-Europos (Michael Peppard).
It’s not surprising, then, that the oldest excavated Christian church – the third-century house-church from Dura-Europos, Syria – would have featured an image of David on its walls. The surprising part is which episode of David’s many-wiled life these Christians chose to depict: on the main panel of the southern wall of its baptistery, this community commemorated David by showing him poised to slay the fallen Goliath.
That doesn't surprise me. Giants are cool. (But Professor Peppard's evaluation of the image is more sophisticated.)

There are many, many past PaleoJudaica posts on Dura-Europos. Start here (with more from Michael Peppard) and follow the links.

"Mary Magdalen" opens in Boston

NEW TESTAMENT APOCRYPHA WATCH: Ludovico Ensemble closes season with two sensitive premieres (Aaron Keebaugh, Boston Classical Review).
After a hiatus, the Ludovico Ensemble returned to action this season with several concerts that largely explored the music of Marti Epstein and Mischa Salkind-Pearl. Monday night at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Brookline, the ensemble offered world premieres by both composers to conclude the season on a sensitive note.

[...]

The most ear-catching music of the evening came in the premiere of Epstein’s Mary Magdalen, also scored for cimbalom and soprano.

Cast in six movements, the piece is a setting of excerpts from the Gospel of Mary and other Gnostic Gospels that tell of Mary Magdalene’s important place among Christ’s disciples.

Epstein’s score is beautiful in its simplicity, with shimmering textures and a serene, slowly unfolding melodic line. Some of the most haunting music came in the sections where Mary is addressing the disciples. “The Nature of Wisdom,” whereby Mary explains her vision, was underscored by a series of ringing overtones.

Soprano Ashe sang the lines with a soft elegance and a distant radiance while Tolle produced a color wheel of sounds on the cimbalom to give Epstein’s piece a memorable first performance. One hopes it will have many more.

Darth Vader's breastplate?

EPIGRAPHY WATCH? Star Wars Day: Facts You Never Knew About The Saga. One of these caught my eye:
Darth Vader’s chestpiece is an ancient Hebrew writing which translates to “His deeds will not be forgiven, until he merits.”
This sounded too good to be true, and a little checking indicates that it is only partly true. In the movies and elsewhere there are various versions of Darth Vader's chestpiece, most of which bear strings of Hebrew letters, sometimes upside-down and/or in odd fonts. But none of these make any sense. It looks as though random Hebrew letters were used to make the writing look exotic. It occurs to me also that the chestpiece may be intended to evoke the High Priest's breastplate in Exodus.

The most comprehensive discussion I could find of the writing on the chestpiece is here. And I see that, not surprisingly, James McGrath already discussed the topic several years ago, and his commenter Jason Staples noted the parallel with the High Priest's breastplate.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Bible-related digital mss and editions online

DREW LONGACRE (OTTC BLOG): Online Digital Manuscripts and Editions.
Last updated 28 April 2016

This page is a list of digital images of manuscripts and editions available online. This catalogue should be viewed as a work in progress, and I will continue to update it with new resources. It is by no means complete, but I hope it will be helpful for those looking for a one-stop portal for finding online primary resources that are significant for the study of the Old Testament text. Please post any additional sources you may be aware of in the comments, and I will incorporate them into the main list.

The 480 years of 1 Kings 6:1

THE BIBLE AND INTERPRETATION:
The Mysterious Number 480 in 1 Kings 6:1

There is a plausible option that 1 Kgs 6:1 and Judg 11:26 are parts of an ancient chronological scheme which was used in pre-exilic royal archives to connect the past history of Israel (the exodus and the settlement) to the chronology of the monarchy.

See Also: Guide to Biblical Chronology (Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2015).

By Antti Laato
Professor in Old Testament Exegetics with Judaic Studies
Åbo Akademi University, Turku Finland
April 2016
Many people have tried to make the chronology of the earlier part of the Deuteronomistic History work, even though it is both internally inconsistent and inconsistent with what we know of the chronology of the period from outside sources. I don't find any of these efforts very persuasive.

Steele (ed.), The Circulation of Astronomical Knowledge in the Ancient World

FORTHCOMING BOOK FROM BRILL:
The Circulation of Astronomical Knowledge in the Ancient World

Edited by John M. Steele, Brown University
Astronomical and astrological knowledge circulated in many ways in the ancient world: in the form of written texts and through oral communication; by the conscious assimilation of sought-after knowledge and the unconscious absorption of ideas to which scholars were exposed.
The Circulation of Astronomical Knowledge in the Ancient World explores the ways in which astronomical knowledge circulated between different communities of scholars over time and space, and what was done with that knowledge when it was received. Examples are discussed from Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Greco-Roman world, India, and China.
Second Temple-era Jewish literature, notably the Astronomical Book in 1 Enoch, the book of Jubilees, and some of the Dead Sea Scrolls, had a strong interest in astronomy.

Challenges to that study on Askenazic genetics

RESPONSE: Prominent scholars blast theory tracing Ashkenazi Jews to Turkey (Cnaan Liphshiz, JTA).
In an interview with JTA, Sergio DellaPergola, a prominent demographer of the Jewish people from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, called the study, which was widely reported in mainstream media, “one of the big canards of the 21st century,” citing what he regarded as an exceedingly small study population and the absence of genetic analysis of Sephardic Jews, which he said would have undermined the findings.

Shaul Stampfer, a professor of Soviet and East European Jewry at the Hebrew University, in an email to JTA said of Elhaik’s research: “It is basically nonsense.”

DellaPergola said that “serious research would have factored in the glaring genetic similarity between Sephardim and Ashkenazim, which mean Polish Jews are more genetically similar to Iraqi Jews than to a non-Jewish Pole.”

He noted the “great genetic similarity” between Ashkenazim and the Jews of Rome, who came from the Land of Israel and later from the Mediterranean. “In no way the explanation that Elhaik gives of the origins of the Jews in Europe can apply to the Jews of Rome. Therefore his explanation is wrong,” DellaPergola said.
I thought something like this would be coming. As I said before, these genetic questions are outside my expertise, but the claims of this study didn't seem to correspond to other genetic studies I had heard about. As usual, this question will have to be decided in the specialist literature. Background here.

Ezekiel's Exagoge to be performed

THEATRE: Ancient Greco-Jewish Play Telling Exodus Narrative to Premiere This Summer (The Jewish Voice).
Theatre dybbuk presents the world premiere of ‘exagoge’ in venues across Los Angeles

Theatre dybbuk will premiere “exagoge,” inspired by the second century B.C. play by Ezekiel the Poet, at Temple Israel of Hollywood (June 18-19), Grand Park/The Music Center (July 23) and Fowler Museum at UCLA (Aug. 6). “Exagoge” is the first recorded Jewish play, thought to have been written in Alexandria and which tells the biblical Exodus narrative in the style of a Greek tragedy.

Although only 269 lines of the original play exist, the company and artistic director/playwright Aaron Henne have used this fragment as the starting point for a full theatrical work, rich in movement, music and poetry.

[...]
What we have of the Exagoge of Ezekiel the Tragedian survives almost entirely in quotations in the works of later authors. It is a Hellenistic Jewish play written in Greek and, although it doesn't really fit the profile of an Old Testament pseudepigraphon, it was included in the Charlesworth Old Testament Pseudepigrapha volumes and so has an honorary place in the corpus. The play has been in the news recently, because new material from it has been discovered among the Oxyrhynchus papyri (see here and here).

I am delighted to see the play getting some attention. More on this production is here. I also like the name "Theatre dybbuk." More on the dybbuk traditions is here, here, here, and here. And, yes, cross-file under Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Watch.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Bar-Ilan, Words of Gad the Seer

IN THE MAIL:
Meir Bar-Ilan, Words of Gad the Seer. Printed for the first time from Cambridge MS O0.1.20. Copied at Cochin, India in the 18th century. Israel: Shorashim, 2015.
In Hebrew, with an English translation of the manuscript.The author sent me a copy a while ago and I've been meaning to mention it. Unfortunately, the book is not available on Amazon. The author is working on an introduction and translation of this text for volume 2 of the More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project. As noted today in an earlier post, the first volume, Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: More Noncanonical Scriptures, volume 1 (ed. Richard Bauckham, James R. Davila, and Alexander Panayotov), was published in 2013.

The Words of Gad the Seer has come up in past posts here and here. The text was inspired by the mention of a book with that title in 1 Chronicles 29:29-30, but it is not itself that book, if the latter ever existed as a separate work at all.

AJR news

CONGRATULATIONS TO ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: AJR NEWS | Welcoming a New Editor and AAJR Grant #2.

The Treatise of the Vessels in the news

REPRINT: Fate of Ark of the Covenant Revealed in Hebrew Text. A new media outfit that calls itself "Seeker" has shown up in the last few days and it seems to have assigned itself the task of reprinting online articles on every story relating to biblical studies over the last few years. Among these is Owen Jarus's January 2014 LiveScience article on the publication of my translation of The Treatise of the Vessels in Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: More Noncanonical Scriptures, vol. 1 (Eerdmans, 2013). The Treaties is a legendary account of the fate of the treasures of Solomon's Temple when it was destroyed by the Babylonians, and it is replete with vast wealth, secret hiding places, angels, and heroic biblical and other characters. And, of course, it mentions the Ark of the Covenant. The LiveScience article produced a brief media feeding frenzy back in 2014. The text has continued to receive attention occasionally since then, and it is nice to see it in the news again.

Background on The Treatise of the Vessels is here (cf. here, here and here) with many links.

Metatron enters the Cannabis Sector

ARCHANGEL METATRON WATCH: MRNJ, Metatron Inc. Announces Cannabis Investment Firm Pacific Equity Alliance LLC.

Teenage vandals confess

UPDATE: Teens Promise to Clean Up 1,300 Year Old Fortress They Vandalized (Dror Halavi, Harmodia).
YERUSHALAYIM - A group of teen vandals has ‘fessed up to damaging a 1,300 year old fortress in Ashdod, and has promised to clean it up. The youths said that they did not mean any harm, and were unaware of the historical significance of the site when they drew pictures on the walls of the structure for a party they were planning to hold there.

[...]
That was pretty clueless. But this is a good opportunity for a teaching moment for the kids, their school, and teenagers in general. Again, the IAA seems to have handled it well.

Background here.

Monday, May 02, 2016

The provenance of the Lod Mosaics

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: The Lod Mosaic—Jewish, Christian or Pagan? Who owned the magnificent Lod mosaics? (Robin Ngo). Summarizes an essay by Hershel Shanks which is behind the BAR subscription wall. For many past posts on the Lod Mosaics, start here and follow the links.

Notes on the DSS and Hellenism conference

CSTT BLOG: FROM SECTARIANISM TO EXPRESSION OF BROADER HELLENISTIC CULTURE: SOME NOTES FROM THE FIFTH GRONINGEN-LEUVEN MEETING ON THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS (RICK BONNIE). “The Dead Sea Scrolls and Hellenism” conference was noted as upcoming here.

Trismegistos updated

AWOL: Open Access Library: Trismegistos.
Trismegistos [TM], called after the famous epithet of Hermes - Thoth, the Egyptian god of wisdom and writing who also played a major role in Greek religion and philosophy, is a platform aiming to surmount barriers of language and discipline in the study of texts from the ancient world, particularly late period Egypt and the Nile valley (roughly BC 800 - 800 AD).

The core component of TM is Trismegistos Texts, currently counting 675313 entries. When the database was created in 2005, it focused on providing information (metadata) on published papyrological documents from Graeco-Roman Egypt. Chronological boundaries are always artificial, and the nature of the sources soon suggested that BC 800 and AD 800 were more suited. Since egyptology does not know a disciplinary boundary between papyri and inscriptions, TM also decided to expand by adding all epigraphic material as well. Papyrology on the other hand includes also writing tablets from outside Egypt, which led us to widen our geographical scope to the entire ancient world. Finally, since the distinction between published and unpublished is increasingly less productive in a digital environment, we now no longer discriminate in that respect either. In principle, however, we still provide only metadata.

This means that Trismegistos increasingly wants to be a platform where information can be found about all texts from antiquity, thus facilitating cross-cultural and cross-linguistic research. This will of course only be possible through cooperation with all players in the field, since our aim is to lead people to the partner websites, where more information, often including also photographs, transliterations and translations of the texts, can be found.
Keep reading at the link; there's more. The project has been much expanded since PaleoJudaica noted it in 2011 here and in 2013 here.

Mene mene tekel upharsin

THE BIBLE AND INTERPRETATION:
The Scribal Background of the “Menetekel” in Daniel 5

Since Aramaic was introduced as the standard administrative language in Achaemenid Palestine around 500 B.C.E. and dominated scribal training into the early Roman period, its influence on literary production is hardly surprising. Placing such key terms against their original background goes far beyond merely antiquarian interests; it helps uncover new literary subtleties in the biblical text and better assess their theological impact.

For Further Reading: Gzella, Holger (ed.). 2016. Aramäisches Wörterbuch (Theologisches Wörterbuch zum Alten Testament, vol. IX). Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, especially the articles jd, ktb, mnī, prq, and tql.

By Holger Gzella
Professor of Hebrew and Aramaic
Leiden University
April 2016
Cross-file under Aramaic Watch.

Biblioblog Carnival April 2016

THATJEFFCARTERWASHERE (BLOG): Biblioblog Carnival April 2016. Notes some interesting posts and is replete with cutesy headers.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

John Ma on the Maccabees and Religious Persecution

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: John Ma | Part Two: The Maccabees and Religious Persecution.



Part one of the interview was noted here.

Gemeinhardt (ed.), Zwischen Exegese und religiöser Praxis

NEW BOOK FROM MOHR SIEBECK:
Zwischen Exegese und religiöser Praxis
Heilige Texte von der Spätantike bis zum Klassischen Islam
Hrsg. v. Peter Gemeinhardt


[Between Exegesis and Religious Practice. Holy Texts from Late Antiquity to Classical Islam.]
2016. VIII, 297 pages.
29,00 €
sewn paper
ISBN 978-3-16-153229-0

Published in German.
Holy texts shape the lives, thoughts and deeds of religious individuals and communities. This collection of essays highlights this fact from various angles, illuminating the exegesis of such texts as well as their practical application. What foundation exists for the authority of sacred texts? In what way do they communicate divine knowledge to human beings? And how can their messages be expertly revealed? The relationship of holy texts to literary, philosophical as well as scholarly writings and corpora also play a role in the process. Judaism, Christianity and first millennium Islam are all taken into account along with contemporary Greco-Roman religion.
Follow the link for TOC and ordering information.

Butts, Language Change in the Wake of Empire

NEW BOOK FROM EISENBRAUNS:
Language Change in the Wake of Empire
Syriac in Its Greco-Roman Context

by Aaron Michael Butts
Linguistic Studies in Ancient West Semitic - LSAWS 11

Description

Just arrived, April 11

It is well documented that one of the primary catalysts of intense language contact is the expansion of empire. This is true not only of recent history, but it is equally applicable to the more remote past. An exemplary case (or better: cases) of this involves Aramaic. Due to the expansions of empires, Aramaic has throughout its long history been in contact with a variety of languages, including Akkadian, Greek, Arabic, and various dialects of Iranian. This books focuses on one particular episode in the long history of Aramaic language contact: the Syriac dialect of Aramaic in contact with Greek.

In this book, Butts presents a new analysis of contact-induced changes in Syriac due to Greek. Several chapters analyze the more than eight-hundred Greek loanwords that occur in Syriac texts from Late Antiquity that were not translated from Greek. Butts also dedicates several chapters to a different category of contact-induced change in which Syriac-speakers replicated inherited Aramaic material on the model of Greek. All of the changes discussed in the book are located within their broader Aramaic context and analyzed through a robust contact linguistic framework.

By focusing on the Syriac language itself, Butts introduces new – and arguably more reliable – evidence for locating Syriac Christianity within its Greco-Roman context. This book, thus, is especially important for the field of Syriac studies. The book also contributes to the fields of contact linguistics and the study of ancient languages more broadly by analyzing in detail various types of contact-induced change over a relatively long period of time.

Product Details

Publisher: Eisenbrauns
Publication date: 2016
Bibliographic info: Pp. xvii + 293
Language(s): English

Cover: Cloth
Trim Size: 6 x 9 inches
ISBN: 1-57506-421-9
ISBN13: 978-1-57506-421-5
Cross-file under Syriac Watch.

Iranian Studies 49.2 (2016)

BIBLIOGRAPHIA IRANICA: Iranian Studies: A volume in honour of Michael Morony. Notice of Iranian Studies, Volume 49, Issue 2, 2016. Special issue: “Sasanian Iran and beyond: A special volume in honour of Michael G. Morony and his contributions to late antique history“. Guest Editors: Touraj Daryaee and Khodadad Rezakhani.

Ancient Judaism makes an appearance.

ASJ Review 40.1

NEW ISSUE OF ASJ REVIEW: 40.1 (2016). Follow the link for TOC. Some of the articles and reviews have to do with ancient Judaism. You can view the abstracts for free, but the site requires a paid personal or institutional subscription to read the articles (or you can buy them individually).

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Granerod, Dimensions of Yahwism in the Persian Period

BIBLIOGRAPHIA IRANICA: Dimensions of Yahwism in the Persian Period. Notice of a new book: Granerod, Gard. 2016. Dimensions of Yahwism in the Persian Period: Studies in the Religion and Society of the Judaean Community at Elephantine. Walter De Gruyter.

Tropper, Rewriting Ancient Jewish History

FORTHCOMING BOOK FROM ROUTLEDGE:
Rewriting Ancient Jewish History: The History of the Jews in Roman Times and the New Historical Method (Routledge Studies in Ancient History)
by Amram Tropper (Author)

Half a century ago, the primary contours of the history of the Jews in Roman times were not subject to much debate. This standard account collapsed, however, when a handful of insights undermined the traditional historical method, the method long enlisted by historians for eliciting facts from sources. In response to these insights, a new historical method gradually emerged. Rewriting Ancient Jewish History critiques the traditional historical method and makes a case for the new one, illustrating how to write anew ancient Jewish history.

At the heart of the traditional historical method lie three fundamental presumptions. The traditional historical method regularly presumes that multiple versions of a text or tradition are equally authentic; it presumes that many ancient Jewish sources are the products of largely immanent forces of cloistered Jewish communities; and, barring any local grounds for suspicion, it presumes that most ancient Jewish texts faithfully reflect their sources and reliably recount events. Rewriting Ancient Jewish History unfurls the failings of this approach; it promotes the new historical method which circumvents the flawed traditional presumptions while plotting anew the limits of rational argumentation in historical inquiry. This crucial reappraisal is a must-read for students of Jewish and Roman history alike, and a fascinating case-study in how historians should approach their ancient sources.

Athas on the Bible and literacy in ancient Judah

WITH MEAGRE POWERS: No, those ancient Hebrew ‘sticky notes’ do not necessarily prove the Bible was written early (George Athas). In response to an article by Gordon Govier in Christianity Today on the recently published study on literacy in ancient Judah. One correction:
On the contrary, one of the documents in this collection includes a man protesting that he could read something for himself, which implies that literacy wasn’t widespread.
I believe this is Lachish Letter 3 (on which more here), not on of the Arad ostraca. But aside from that, this is a very good discussion of the issues. Note especially the following paragraph:
The study itself states that the kind of literacy levels that the Arad documents demonstrate only occurs again in c. 200 BC. The implication seems to be that it’s unlikely the biblical documents were written in the intervening period (600–200 BC) when literacy levels were lower. But there are so many problems with this inference. First, the claim relates only to the region of Judah. It says nothing about literacy levels outside of Judah. Second, the claim uses blank evidence (little apparent writing in 600–200 BC) as a warrant for reaching a positive inference (it’s unlikely the biblical documents could have been written in this period). But logically this is unwarranted. To state it another way, a lack of evidence is not necessarily evidence of lack. It could be that we just haven’t found all the other document caches like the one from Arad that date to this period. We just don’t know! Third, you don’t need most of the elite, let alone most of the population, to be reading and writing to create conditions conducive to the writing of texts like the ones in the Bible. You just need one competent literate person who can ‘put pen to paper’. And that person could write for themselves, or even for a whole group of people. One person can pen the imagination of hundreds! And fourth, since there evidently were biblical texts that were written in Judah between 600 and 200 BC (e.g. Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, Ezra, Nehemiah), the very low literacy levels actually count for nothing.
Cross-file under Epigraphy. Background to the story is here and links.

More on Samaritan Passover 2016

ANOTHER PHOTO ESSAY: Samaritan Passover marked by slaughter of the lambs. The Samaritan sect celebrates the holiday of Passover in close adherence to biblical traditions such as sacrificing animals and donning long white robes (Haaretz).

More on Samaritan Passover is here and links.

Jewish catacombs in Rome

OPENING TOMORROW: They're not secret anymore! The ancient Jewish catacombs in Rome that have been off limits for decades will finally open to the public (JOHN HUTCHINSON, Daily Mail).
The Jewish catacombs in Rome are set to open to the general public for the first time this weekend, offering visitors a chance to explore the ancient underground tunnels and artwork.

In a bid to highlight the diversity of Italy's cultural attractions, the ancient Jewish burial site at Vigna Randanini, will no longer be off-limits.

The well-known Christian catacombs of Rome, of which there are 40, attract thousands of visitors every year, whereas up until now only private parties have been permitted to explore the second century Jewish burial site.

[...]
Not a new story, but this article has lots of good photos. Background here.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Glenn Alexander Magee (ed.), The Cambridge Handbook on Western Mysticism and Esotericism

THE FORBIDDEN GOSPELS BLOG: Finally, the Cambridge Handbook on Western Mysticism and Esotericism is published (April D. DeConick). It includes numerous chapters on ancient Western mysticism and esotericism. Cross-file under New Book.

Marx-Wolf, Spiritual Taxonomies and Ritual Authority

NEW BOOK FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA PRESS:
Spiritual Taxonomies and Ritual Authority
Platonists, Priests, and Gnostics in the Third Century C.E.

Heidi Marx-Wolf


224 pages | 6 x 9
Cloth Jan 2016 | ISBN 978-0-8122-4789-3 | $55.00s | £36.00 | Add to cart
Ebook Jan 2016 | ISBN 978-0-8122-9244-2 | $55.00s | £36.00 | About | Add to cart
A volume in the Divinations: Rereading Late Ancient Religion series

"Spiritual Taxonomies and Ritual Authority is an original and thoughtful work, and one that will be of considerable interest to a range of scholars. Tracing the interactions among figures who have traditionally been perceived as operating within separate spheres—pagan Neoplatonists, Christian Platonists, Egyptian ritual experts, and gnostics—Heidi Marx-Wolf makes a persuasive and stimulating argument for how these thinkers used their expertise to establish their social authority."—James Rives, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

The people of the late ancient Mediterranean world thought about and encountered gods, angels, demons, heroes, and other spirits on a regular basis. These figures were diverse, ambiguous, and unclassified and were not ascribed any clear or stable moral valence. Whether or not they were helpful or harmful under specific circumstances determined if and what virtues were attributed to them. That all changed in the third century C.E., when a handful of Platonist philosophers—Plotinus, Origen, Porphyry, and Iamblichus—began to produce competing systematic discourses that ordered the realm of spirits in moral and ontological terms.

In Spiritual Taxonomies and Ritual Authority, Heidi Marx-Wolf recounts how these Platonist philosophers organized the spirit world into hierarchies, or "spiritual taxonomies," positioning themselves as the high priests of the highest gods in the process. By establishing themselves as experts on sacred, ritual, and doctrinal matters, they were able to fortify their authority, prestige, and reputation. The Platonists were not alone in this enterprise, and it brought them into competition with rivals to their new authority: priests of traditional polytheistic religions and gnostics. Members of these rival groups were also involved in identifying and ordering the realm of spirits and in providing the ritual means for dealing with that realm. Using her lens of spiritual taxonomy to look at these various groups in tandem, Marx-Wolf demonstrates that Platonist philosophers, Christian and non-Christian priests, and gnostics were more interconnected socially, educationally, and intellectually than previously recognized.

Zucker on the matriarchs of Genesis

THE BIBLE AND INTERPRETATION:
The Matriarchs of Genesis: Seven Women, Five Views

Women’s voices in the Bible are limited, but they are not absent. Where they do appear they come in three forms. The most common is through the omniscient voice of the narrator, or where someone describes something about women, or women’s actions. “Sarah shall bear you a son” (Gen 17:19). “Then Rebekah and her maids rose up, mounted the camels, and followed the man” (Gen 24:61). Secondly, women speak, sharing basic factual information. “Rebekah said to her son Jacob, ‘I heard your father say . . .’” (Gen 27:6). Thirdly, and most infrequently, women describe their feelings. Sarah explains, “God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me” (Gen 21:6). When suffering through her pregnancy, Rebekah cries out, “If this is so, why do I exist?” (Gen 25:22). Later she will say to Isaac, “I abhor my life . . . if Jacob takes a wife from the daughters of the Hittites . . . what will my life be worth?” (Gen 27:46). Rachel plaintively says to Jacob “Let me have children; otherwise I am a dead woman” (Gen 30:1). Yet even with these examples, there remains the ultimately unanswerable question, are these women’s voices speaking, or are these examples of men representing women’s voices?

See Also: The Matriarchs of Genesis: Seven Women, Five Views (Wipf and Stock, 2015).

By David J. Zucker, PhD
March 2016

Hurtado videos on scrolls and codices

LARRY HURTADO: Codex & Bookroll: New Videos.
I announce two newly-produced, short videos in which I explain the basics of the ancient bookroll and the codex, and the curious early Christian preference for the latter bookform ...

Goliath's skull

REMNANT OF GIANTS: The Discovery of the Skull of Goliath: Scenes from Don Verdean. Important discovery.