Thursday, April 26, 2018

Cherubs or cupids?

DECORATIVE ART: Naked Cherubs Fresco, Rare Art Unearthed in Nero-era Mansion by Rome. Mosaics, colored stucco and cherubs sporting on sky-blue background found in house that had been occupied for hundreds of years (Philippe Bohstrom, Haaretz).
Elaborate decorations including stucco from the time of Nero have been found in the remains of a villa and bath complex in the outskirts of Rome. Among the wonderfully preserved wall paintings is one of winged cherubs on a sky-blue background.

The Villa delle Terme degli Stucchi Dipinti, occupying a vast stretch of land near the Ciampino airport south of Rome, was discovered in a salvage excavation in 2010 while the municipality was prospecting land for a new neighborhood. Systematic excavation started three years later.

What the archaeologists found was a luxurious home dating between the 2nd century B.C.E. and the 1th century C.E., with an elaborate thermal bath complex.

This site is of considerable interest in itself, but it doesn't have a direct connection with ancient Judaism. I draw attention to it because the terminology is a little confusing. The "cherub" fresco shows slightly chubby children with wings. I would call them "cupids", not "cherubs."

The biblical "cherub" comes out of Canaanite tradition and is an angelic winged sphinx. For example, cherubs were an iconographic motif used in Solomon's Temple and on the Ark of the Covenant. (Click on any image below for a larger version.)

A cherub throne is depicted on the front right corner of the Phoenician Ahiram sarcophagus (Wikimedia Commons). Cf. 1 Kings 10:18-20.

Ezekiel's cherubs mix in a lot of Babylonian iconography and some visionary wildness, but are based on that template. In Jewish and Christian mysticism, four cherubs form the base of God's throne.

Art Deco cherubs of Ezekiel in the Church of the Hermitage of Camaldoli, Italy (J. R. Davila).

A "cupid" is a Greco-Roman representation of the mythological figure of Cupid from the myth of the love story of Cupid and Psyche. But it represents him in that chubby child mode. In later Christian tradition, the cupid iconography was associated with the term cherub. According to Philologos, this chubby child tradition came from a misunderstanding of a comment in the Talmud. It still lives today in the image of winged baby Cupid shooting people in their hearts with his arrow to make them fall in love.

A cupid frescoe from Herculaneum (Wikimedia Commons)

I see nothing about this Roman site that connects it to ancient Judaism, so it would be clearer to call the figures in that fresco "cupids" rather than, anachronistically, "cherubs."

That is my understanding, but I am not an art historian. If I've gotten something wrong above, I would be grateful if any readers who are real art historians would correct me. Anyway, this is an interesting site and an interesting article.

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Review of Dodson and Briones (eds.), Paul and Seneca in Dialogue

BRYN MAYR CLASSICAL REVIEW: Joseph R. Dodson, David E. Briones (ed.), Paul and Seneca in Dialogue. Ancient Philosophy & Religion, 2. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2017. Pp. xviii, 340. ISBN 9789004341357. $159.00. Reviewed by Dominik Wolff, Stade (
The question “What if?” elevates historical studies from a mere descriptive level to a true Geisteswissenschaft. The reviewed collection of fourteen essays undertakes just this approach by putting two contemporaries of the 1st century CE, the Christic 1 apostle Paul and the Stoic philosopher Seneca, into dialogue, although the two of them actually, to our knowledge, never met.2 As such, this compilation follows in the footsteps of J. N. Sevenster’s seminal book “Paul and Seneca” (Leiden: Brill 1961), and extends the path of its predecessor.

Cross-file under Counterfactual History.

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80% fixed-term post in OT/HB at Edinburgh

VACANCY AT THE UNIVERSITY OF EDINBURGH: Teaching Fellow in Old Testament & Hebrew Bible.
Vacancy Ref: : 043574 Closing Date : 17-May-2018
Contact Person : Mingyuan.Cao Contact Number :
Contact Email :
Applications are invited for a three-year fixed term, part time (28 hours per week) Teaching Fellow in Old Testament & Hebrew Bible post.

The successful candidate will teach at undergraduate and postgraduate level. Applicants should meet following essential criteria to be considered for appointment:

PhD in Old Testament/Hebrew Bible or the anticipated completion of such a PhD prior to the commencement of the appointment
A thorough knowledge of current trends within the discipline.
Evidence of excellent teaching.
This post is offered on a part-time (28 hours per week), fixed term basis for 36 months.
Follow the link for further particulars. Since this is not a full-time position, applicants must already have the right to work in the UK.

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Rabbinic Hebrew post at Cambridge University

FIXED-TERM RESEARCH POSITION: Research Associate/Research Assistant in Rabbinic Hebrew Philology.
Applications are invited for the post of Research Associate or Research Assistant (depending on qualifications) in Rabbinic Hebrew Philology in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies, University of Cambridge, beginning 1st October 2018 for one year.

The holder of the post will work with Dr Shai Heijmans on a critical edition of Mishna Codex Kaufmann (ms. Kaufmann A50). Dr Heijmans is currently preparing a diplomatic edition of the Codex, as part of a project funded by the AHRC, whose Principal Investigator is Dr Michael Rand. The aim of the edition is to provide complete and maximally accurate documentation of the Mishna text as it appears in the codex—consonants and vocalization—and to create a critical apparatus for the elucidation of palaeographical and textual difficulties.

Follow the link for further particulars. The deadline for applications is 9 May 2018, so don't dawdle!

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Wednesday, April 25, 2018

An early Qur'anic palimpsest

A COPTIC SURPRISE: Passages from the Bible discovered behind Qur'an manuscript. The only recorded palimpsest in which a Christian text has been effaced to make way for the Islamic holy text is to go on sale at Christie’s (Alison Flood, The Guardian).
French scholar Dr Eléonore Cellard was looking for images of a palimpsest page sold a decade earlier by Christie’s when she came across the auction house’s latest catalogue, which included fragments from a manuscript of the Qur’an which Christie’s had dated to the eighth century AD, or the second century of Islam. Scrutinising the image, she noticed that, appearing faintly behind the Arabic script, were Coptic letters. She contacted Christie’s, and they managed to identify the Coptic text as coming from the Old Testament’s Book of Deuteronomy – part of the Torah and the Christian Old Testament.
An eighth century fragment of the Qur'an is pretty early, although we've seen earlier. For new readers, a "palimpsest" is a manuscript whose text has been erased and then overwritten with a new text. Twenty-first century technologies are making it increasingly possible to recover the erased underlying text.

If any PaleoJudaica readers happen to be wealthy philanthropists, I draw your attention to the fact that the fragment is for sale. Its early date makes it important for Qur'anic studies. The underlying Coptic biblical text must have been produced by Christians. So the fragment could also tell specialists some interesting things about Christian-Islamic relations early in the Islamic era. That's a lot of return for your money.

As usual, I hope that whoever buys the fragment donates it to a museum. Or at least that the buyer makes it available to scholars for study. Publications on it would only increase its profile and value.

For past PaleoJudaica posts on early (7th century) Qur'an fragments, start here and follow the links. Cross-file under Coptic Watch. For past posts on other palimpsest manuscripts, start here and follow the links.

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Orion Center symposium on the DSS at 70

ANOTHER SEVENTIETH ANNIVERSARY: The Sixteenth International Orion Symposium. The Dead Sea Scrolls at Seventy: "Clear a Path in the Wilderness," in conjunction with the University of Vienna, New York University, the Israel Antiquities Authority, and the Israel Museums. April 29-May 2, 2018. The theme is "The Wilderness." Follow the links for the program and the paper abstracts.

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Powell, Narrative Desire and the Book of Ruth

Narrative Desire and the Book of Ruth

By: Stephanie Day Powell

Published: 22-02-2018
Format: Hardback
Edition: 1st
Extent: 224
ISBN: 9780567678751
Imprint: T&T Clark
Series: The Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies, Playing the Texts
Illustrations: 12 bw illus
Dimensions: 234 x 156 mm
RRP: £85.00
Online price: £76.50
Save £8.50 (10%)

About Narrative Desire and the Book of Ruth

Stephanie Day Powell illuminates the myriad forms of persuasion, inducement, discontent, and heartbreak experienced by readers of Ruth. Writing from a lesbian perspective, Powell draws upon biblical scholarship, contemporary film and literature, narrative studies, feminist and queer theories, trauma studies and psychoanalytic theory to trace the workings of desire that produced the book of Ruth and shaped its history of reception. Wrestling with the arguments for and against reading Ruth as a love story between women, Powell gleans new insights into the ancient world in which Ruth was written.

Ruth is known as a tale of two courageous women, the Moabite Ruth and her Israelite mother-in-law Naomi. As widows with scarce means of financial or social support, Ruth and Naomi are forced to creatively subvert the economic and legal systems of their day in order to survive. Through exceptional acts of loyalty, they, along with their kinsman Boaz, re-establish the bonds of family and community, while preserving the line of Israel's great king David. Yet for many, the story of Ruth is deeply dissatisfying. Scholars increasingly recognize how Ruth's textual “gaps” and ambiguities render conventional interpretations of the book's meaning and purpose uncertain. Feminist and queer interpreters question the appropriation of a woman's story to uphold patriarchal institutions and heteronormative values. Such avenues of inquiry lend themselves to questions of narrative desire, that is, the study of how stories frame our desires and how our own complex longings affect the way we read.

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Who is that "neighbor" you should love in the BIble?

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: Love Your Neighbor: Only Israelites or Everyone? (Richard Elliott Friedman). This is the full text of an article from the September/October 2014 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review. Professor Friedman argues that "neighbor" means everyone.

For more on his reconstruction of the historical Exodus, see here and links.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2018

McGrath on Blogging

RELIGION PROF: Blogs as Havens for those Fleeing Facebook (James McGrath). Professor McGrath is one of the original nine "bibliobloggers," and he is still blogging. His thoughts have weight on the matter. I agree with the following*:
But what is the appropriate response? To attach a narrowing funnel? To thin the herd? Or to find some other method of drinking effectively from such a source? Human beings are currently coping with the literal impact of things that were historically scarce – not only water but food and especially sugars – becoming abundant. And so we need to learn to cope with a shift from scarcity to abundance if we are to survive, in many domains and not just that of information in the internet era. And I think that blogs can likewise play an ongoing role as their place amidst the internet’s deluge of information shifts in the opposite direction, from a role of predominance to a more limited and select set of contributions.
At present one of the greatest challenges to the human race is filtering. Perhaps it is the greatest challenge. How do we deal with the abundance of everything now available to us? Food. Opportunities. And information. How do we individually and as a society confront the vast and growing heap of information before us and winnow out the best quality grain for ourselves without suffocating under the chaff? Choose your filters well!

If you are using Facebook as your main filter, please stop. It is the processed carbs and sugar of information.

For a list of those original nine (most of whom are still blogging) and other comments on social media and biblical studies, see my blog post What Just Happened, which gives the full text of my November 2010 SBL paper. It was an update to three other contributions I published on the subject in 2005. A brief quote:
If I may hazard more predictions, I expect that these somewhat fragmented and still relatively primitive private media productions will become increasingly powerful, increasingly user-friendly, and increasingly integrated into a personal media expression that is as seamless as the user wishes it to be and that puts into the hands of a private individual the media resources that in the 1980s would have been available only to a major production studio. There is no time here for a proper discussion of the implications this will have for society and individual liberty, but I think they will be largely positive. In a word, the increasingly Orwellian surveillance powers of the State will be to a significant degree neutralized by the ability of billions of individuals to turn those powers back on the State and to shine the glaring light of universal publicity on an ever-increasing portion of its actions. This is already happening.

I predict also that, despite all the new media resources, blogging has found its own niche in the new media – it provides focused discussion that is readable at leisure and ring-fenced for particular purposes – and it will be here to stay at least for quite some time to come.
That was about seven and a half years ago. I think my prophecies have aged well. For a bit more on that, see here and links.

As for blogging, PaleoJudaica continues as ever. To other bibliobloggers who stopped and are starting up again, welcome back! Likewise, welcome to those starting a new blog. If your blog, old or new, is of interest to ancient Judaism, drop me a note and let me know, so I can link to it.

*CLARIFICATION: The quote from James is from his January post on the same topic. Sorry for the confusion.

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The Talmud on "sacrifice not for its own sake"

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Slaughtered Offerings. In making animal sacrifices, says this week’s ‘Daf Yomi’ Talmud study, ancient Jews learned the importance of doing religious actions with deliberate purpose.
This week, with the beginning of Seder Kodashim, the focus shifts from the worldly to the divine. Kodashim—literally, “sacred things”—deals primarily with the services and rituals performed in the Temple in Jerusalem, which the rabbis call the Beit Hamikdash, the “sacred house.” For most of the remaining Daf Yomi cycle, which ends in January 2020, we will explore the complex rules governing sacrifices and offerings in the Temple.
Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

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Review of de Bruyn, Making Amulets Christian

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Book Note | Making Amulets Christian: Artefacts, Scribes, and Contexts (Andrew Henry).
Theodore de Bruyn, Making Amulets Christian: Artefacts, Scribes, and Contexts, Oxford University, 2017

Theodore de Bruyn’s Making Amulets Christian is a comprehensive introduction to textual amulets from late antique Egypt. Although many of the topics discussed in the book could shed light on ritual practice elsewhere in the Mediterranean world, de Bruyn limits himself to Egypt because this is where the bulk of textual amulets from this period are found.


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Giffone, 'Sit At My Right Hand'

'Sit At My Right Hand'
The Chronicler's Portrait of the Tribe of Benjamin in the Social Context of Yehud

By: Benjamin D. Giffone

Published: 19-04-2018
Format: Paperback
Edition: 1st
Extent: 256
ISBN: 9780567681195
Imprint: T&T Clark
Series: The Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies
Dimensions: 234 x 156 mm
RRP: £28.99
Online price: £26.09
Save £2.90 (10%)

About 'Sit At My Right Hand'

Benjamin is portrayed in Chronicles differently from how he is portrayed in the Deuteronomic History. In the latter, Benjamin's relation to Judah is shown as varied and complex, incorporating both highs and lows. The Chronicler, by contrast, smooths over these difficulties by emphasizing the historically close relationship between the two tribes.

Benjamin D. Giffone sees in this evidence that the Judah-Benjamin relationship reflects the socio-political situation of late Persian Yehud, in which the relatively poor Jerusalem cult struggled to maintain material support from landed nobility in the region. Material evidence shows that the historically Benjaminite regions prospered during the Neo-Babylonian and early Persian periods. The Jerusalem cult competed with cultic locations known for their alliances with either Benjamin or Joseph for the support of wealthier landowners. It is within the context of this struggle for support that the Chronicler rewrote Israel's narrative - partly to garner Benjaminite support. Giffone synthesizes observations that are literary and historical to reveal a literary phenomenon - the differing portraits of Benjamin - and situate this within the historical context of Persian Yehud. In so doing, Giffone offers a new understanding of Yehud during this period, and elaborates an important motif in these two sections of the Hebrew Bible.

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Monday, April 23, 2018

The synagogue at Umm el Kanatir

ANCIENT ARCHITECTURE: THE HIDDEN TREASURE IN ISRAEL’S GOLAN HEIGHTS. On Israel’s 70th year of rebirth, an ancient synagogue comes to life (Ari Lieberman, Front Page Magazine).
Some refer to this site by its Arabic name of Umm el Kanatir or Mother of Arches, while others refer to it by its Hebrew name, Keshatot Rechavam or the Arches of Rechavam, named after Israeli general, Rechavam Zeevi. Both Hebrew and Arabic names reference two prominent and well-preserved Roman-era arches built over a local spring.

Keshatot Rechavam is no ordinary archaeological site. It has been identified as the site of the ancient Jewish village of Kantur and houses a spectacular and ornate Byzantine era, 5th century synagogue, some 60 feet long by 40 feet wide.

The synagogue along with the entire village was destroyed in 749 C.E. when it was struck by a massive earthquake. But the stones of the impressive synagogue remained where they fell or in archaeological terms, remained in situ, untouched for nearly 1,300 years; that is, until now.
Past PaleoJudaica posts on the ancient synagoge of Umm el Kanatir/Keshatot Rechavam are here and here. The restoration work on the site mentioned in them is now far advanced and perhaps completed.

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On the sacrifice of Isaac again

CANDIDA MOSS: Was Abraham a Murderer? Archeologists have discovered and published an ancient version of the story in which Isaac actually died (The Daily Beast). More on that Coptic magical text that refers to "the Mountain of the Murderer" and to the possible extrabiblical traditions behind it.

Background here and links.

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TImna for tourists

TRAVEL: The Israeli Park with a Valuable Secret. Many people visit Israel’s Timna National Park to admire its rock formations, but the full story of this place can only be experienced by heading underground (Sara Toth Stub, BBC).
The caverns and shafts throughout Timna National Park reveal thousands of years of mining history. Evidence has been found linking these mines to Ancient Egypt’s New Kingdom, which existed from the 16th through the early 11th Centuries BC. Copper from here enriched the series of Ramses pharaohs who used it for everything from weapons to jewellery. However, further evidence shows that mining here reached its peak several hundred years later. High-resolution radiocarbon dating of seeds and other organic matter left in the miners’ work camps indicates the mines were active between the 11th and 9th Centuries BC, lending credence to theories that Timna was the source of copper for the biblical King Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem.

And until recently, experts assumed the gruelling manual labour had been done by slaves. But archaeological findings over the last few years, including high-quality dyed fabrics preserved by the dry climate, indicate that the metalworkers were employed rather than enslaved. Remains of sheep and goat bones as well as date and olive pits also suggest that the workers ate a rich diet of foods not usually found in the desert.
I have been exploring the implications of some of the finds at Timna mentioned above, as well as similar finds at Megiddo. See here and follow the links.

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Report on Cambridge LXX Seminar

INTERACTIONS OF TRADITIONS BLOG: ‘The Septuagint within the History of Greek’ seminar – 20 April 2018 (SRECKO KORALIJA, Interactions of Traditions Blog). I noted the seminar as upcoming here.

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Sunday, April 22, 2018

Wimpfheimer, The Talmud: A Biography

The Talmud
A Biography

Barry Scott Wimpfheimer

Hardcover 2018 26.95 21.95 ISBN9780691161846 320 pp. 4 1/2 x 7 5/8 10 b/w illus.
E-book ISBN9781400890248

The life and times of an enduring work of Jewish spirituality

The Babylonian Talmud, a postbiblical Jewish text that is part scripture and part commentary, is an unlikely bestseller. Written in a hybrid of Hebrew and Aramaic, it is often ambiguous to the point of incomprehension, and its subject matter reflects a narrow scholasticism that should hardly have broad appeal. Yet the Talmud has remained in print for centuries and is more popular today than ever. Barry Scott Wimpfheimer tells the remarkable story of this ancient Jewish book and explains why it has endured for almost two millennia.

Providing a concise biography of this quintessential work of rabbinic Judaism, Wimpfheimer takes readers from the Talmud's prehistory in biblical and second-temple Judaism to its present-day use as a source of religious ideology, a model of different modes of rationality, and a totem of cultural identity. He describes the book's origins and structure, its centrality to Jewish law, its mixed reception history, and its golden renaissance in modernity. He explains why reading the Talmud can feel like being swept up in a river or lost in a maze, and why the Talmud has come to be venerated--but also excoriated and maligned—in the centuries since it first appeared.

An incomparable introduction to a work of literature that has lived a full and varied life, this accessible book shows why the Talmud is at once a received source of traditional teachings, a touchstone of cultural authority, and a powerful symbol of Jewishness for both supporters and critics.
Follow the link for more on the author and the book, including the full text of chapter 1.

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The sages on menstruation and (unhealthy) flow

PROF. CHARLOTTE E. FONROBERT: Menstruant as Zavah: How the Laws of Niddah Developed (
Leviticus 15 describes two types of impure bleeding for women: menstruation (niddah), and bleeding that is “not during her menstrual period (zavah).” The Rabbis attempt to define the difference in an abstract manner, and in so doing, elide the two.

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Another review of Quinn, In Search of the Phoenicians

PHOENICIAN WATCH: Troubled and troublesome. Identities in the Middle East continue to haunt and raise questions—two books reviewed (Thomas Schellen and Riad Al-Khouri, ExecutivE).
In Search of the Phoenicians by Josephine Quinn Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford, 2018 Hardcover, 360 pages

The book “In Search of the Phoenicians” by Josephine Quinn opens—not counting her introduction—with a 1946 quote by then freshly minted Member of the Lebanese Parliament, Kamal Jumblatt. The quote bubbles with fervor for the Lebanese “ancient young country” and, as Quinn points out, not only connects the nation of Lebanon with the Phoenicians through history and geography but passionately portrays the Phoenicians as being responsible for the idea of the nation itself. In Jumblatt’s phrasing, optimism for Lebanon is rooted via backward projection in the ancient history of the Phoenician coast which saw “the emergence of the first civic state.”
This is a very thoughtful review and I encourage you to read it. The article also reviews a new book of essays dedicated to Simon Wiesenthal.

Earlier reviews (etc.) of Professor Quinn's book are here and links.

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Comprehensive Bibliography on Syriac Christianity

THE AWOL BLOG: Online Comprehensive Bibliography on Syriac Christianity. First noted by AWOL in 2012, but I seem to have missed it then. Cross-file under Syriac Watch.

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Saturday, April 21, 2018

Another review of Sanders, From Adapa to Enoch

Seth L. Sanders. From Adapa to Enoch: Scribal Culture and Religious Vision in Judea and Babylon. Texts and Studies in Ancient Judaism Series. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2017. xiv + 280 pp. $194.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-3-16-154456-9.

Reviewed by Uri Gabbay (Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
Published on H-Judaic (April, 2018)
Commissioned by Katja Vehlow (University of South Carolina)

The book under review is an extraordinary example of a multidisciplinary endeavor, combining the fields of Sumerology, Assyriology, biblical studies, Qumran studies, apocalyptic literature, and religious studies. Not many books contain in their bibliography references both to Piotr Steinkeller’s studies on Sumerian literature and history of the third millennium BCE and to Gershom Scholem’s studies of Jewish mysticism, attesting to the wide range of sources handled insightfully and successfully by the author of this book.

Past reviews etc. of the book are noted here and here and links.

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Ancient Christians read the OT Pseudepigrapha

RICK BRANNAN: What Did Early Christians Read?
P.Oxy. 63.4365 (transcription, images) is a letter from one woman to another regarding lending books to each other. This letter, albeit short, indicates that both women were Christian and familiar with reading Christian manuscripts.
The letter is one of the papyri recovered from Oxyrhynchus. It dates to the early fourth century. Specifically the two women were lending each other a copy of "the Ezra" (4 Ezra?) for a copy of "the Little Genesis" (Jubilees). How cool is that?

Cross-file under Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Watch. There are many, many past PaleoJudaica posts having to do with the Oxyrhychus papyri, some of which have to do with fragments of Old Testament Pseudepigrapha and New Testament Apocrypha, and of course also of biblical manuscripts and many documentary texts like the one above. Recent posts on the Oxyrhychus papyri are here, here, here, here, here, and here. And follow the links for earlier posts.

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Wuppertal LXX conference 2018

WILLIAM ROSS: THE 7TH INTERNATIONAL SEPTUAGINTA DEUTSCH CONFERENCE (WUPPERTAL). It takes place on 19-22 July 2018. Follow the link for details. Cross-file under Septuagint Watch.

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Proto-Theodotian and the Psalms of Solomon?

THE ETC BLOG: New Light on ‘Proto-Theodotion’ (John Meade). A post on a pre-publication by Jan Joosten which argues, inter alia, against the consensus, that the Psalms of Solomon were composed in Greek, not Hebrew.

In my book The Provenance of the Pseudepigrapha (Brill, 2005, pp. 160-161) I took an agnostic position on whether the book was composed in Hebrew or Greek. It's interesting to see someone making a case foro Greek composition.

Cross-file under Septuagint Watch and Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Watch.

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Friday, April 20, 2018

The Masada siege from the Roman perspective

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: The Masada Siege. The Roman assault on Herod’s desert fortress (Robin, Ngo).
Archaeological investigations of the Roman siege works at Masada have been much more limited in scope than those conducted on the cliff-top fortress. According to author Gwyn Davies, we must therefore consider both the account given by Josephus and the surviving archaeological evidence in order to reconstruct what happened in the Masada siege.
As usual, the article by Professor Davies, "The Masada Siege—From the Roman Viewpoint," is behind the BAR subscription wall. But this essay will give you a taste of it.

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Menstrual impurity according to P, H, and the sages

PROF. CHARLOTTE E. FONROBERT: Niddah (Menstruation): From Torah to Rabbinic Law (
In Leviticus 15, the laws of niddah are about purity; Lev 18 and 20, however, prohibit sex during menstruation. The rabbis, who inherited both of these texts, create a new, hybrid concept: the prohibition of sex while a woman has the status of menstrual impurity.

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IOTS 2018

TARGUM WATCH: Conference Programme: Targum Studies in London, IOTS 2018 (NTCS).
The focus of this meeting will be on two related issues:

The Aramaic dialects within their Late Antique environment
The development of the Targums within their wider interpretative milieu.
The conference takes place on 9-12 July. Follow the link for further particular.

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Michael Stone honored

ARMENIAN WATCH: Professor of Armenian Studies Michael Stone awarded Matenadaran Commemorative Medal.
YEREVAN, APRIL 7, ARMENPRESS. A special event took place on April 7 in Yerevan’s Matenadaran Institute of Ancient Manuscripts on the occasion of the 80th birthday of Michael Stone – Professor Emeritus of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Honorable Doctor of the Armenian National Academy of Sciences.

Matenadaran staff presented the invaluable contribution of Michael Stone in Armenian Studies to the audience of the event.

Congratulations, and belated happy birthday, to Professor Stone. In his long career he has made great contributions to Armenian studies, ancient Jewish studies, and their areas of intersection.

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Thursday, April 19, 2018

Top finds of Israeli archaeology

HAPPY 70TH INDEPENDENCE DAY TO ISRAEL! ToI asks the experts: What are the most important finds of Israeli archaeology? From Dead Sea Scrolls to space-age tech, the dramatic history of the ever-developing field is indelibly entwined with that of the nation itself (Amanda Borschel-Dan, Times of Israel).
Sukenik retrieved the other scrolls and fragments held by a Bethlehem antiquities dealer. After careful study, he held a press conference to share his initial findings in the Jewish Agency building in the middle of war-torn Jerusalem. A lengthy 1955 New Yorker article paints a picture of daily shelling of New Jerusalem neighborhoods, “between three and five every afternoon” — exactly the time and location of the press event.

“To attend it required some nerve. An American correspondent fainted in the street on the way, and had to be carried in by his colleagues. The reporters were flabbergasted when Sukenik, who seemed quite unperturbed by the flashing and banging about him, announced the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls,” writes journalist Edmund Wilson.

As Sukenik described his discovery, “a shell burst. The reporters had at first been rather peevish at having been asked to risk their skins for old manuscripts, but they ended by being impressed by the scholar’s overmastering enthusiasm.”
This article is not another top-ten list. It is much more nuanced and sophisticated. You should read it all.

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On Sennacherib's siege of Jerusalem

THE WORLD IS FULL OF HISTORY: How Mice May Have Saved Jerusalem 2,700 Years Ago From the Terrifying Assyrians. The entire region quailed before King Sennacherib, known for horribly torturing rebel monarchs, but he didn't kill King Hezekiah. Inquiring minds have been asking why ever since (Philippe Bohstrom, Haaretz).
At the end of the day, all accounts – the Assyrians, the Bible, and Herodotus, interpreted events. They didn't invent them.

Something unexpected happened to the Assyrian army, which the people of the ancient Near East attributed to divine meddling.

The ancient kings had to keep their subjects and gods happy and propaganda was the most effective way to distort history and cover up failure. Sennacherib's failure to conquer Jerusalem was embarrassing and was over-compensated by grand reliefs on palace walls and extravagant claims of plunder. The fact that one of the main instigators of the Assyrian rebellion, Hezekiah, remained on the throne, albeit denuded of his wealth and women, may say it all.
This is a good article and is well worth reading. It's in their premium section, but you can still read it with a free registration with Haaretz.

As for the siege of Jerusalem, something remarkable happened there. I don't know what. The best story is the one in which the Angel of the Lord struck down the Assyrian army. Do what you will with it.

Past posts on Sennacherib's siege of Jerusalem are here and here and follow the links.

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Ramos, Torah, Temple, and Transaction

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Dissertation Spotlight | Alex Ramos.
Ramos, Alex. Torah, Temple, and Transaction: Jewish Religious Institutions and Economic Behavior in Early Roman Galilee. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, 2017.

My dissertation examines the regional economy of Galilee in the Early Roman period. It re-evaluates models and assumptions traditionally used to assess economic transactions and socioeconomic conditions in this region and time. Drawing on insights from scholars in Religious Studies who have demonstrated the artificiality of modern distinctions between religious, political, and economic spheres, I consider the ways that political and religious institutions and frameworks could have shaped the boundaries and incentives of economic behavior among Jews in Early Roman Galilee. Most crucially, I examine the vital role that religious rules and norms—namely the Torah commandments that govern cult practice at the Jerusalem Temple, pilgrimage for the festivals, and assorted aspects of agricultural production and consumption—could play in defining the parameters of economic necessities, structuring incentives for economic behavior, and defining a “bounded” economic rationality for Galilean Jews. By highlighting the role of religion in shaping the traditionally compartmentalized sphere of economy, this study indicates the value of integrating analysis of religion and economy not only for Early Roman Galilee, but also for ancient Mediterranean history and for Religious Studies more broadly.


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John Collins elected to the Academy of Arts and Sciences

KUDOS: Three Yale faculty elected members of American Academy of Arts and Sciences (Yale News). Among the three:
John J. Collins, the Holmes Professor of Old Testament Criticism and Interpretation
Collins has published many books and articles on the subjects of apocalypticism, wisdom, Hellenistic Judaism, and the Dead Sea Scrolls. His class at the Yale Divinity School “What Are Biblical Values?” is a favorite of Divinity Schools students.
Congratulations to Professor Collins and to all of this year's inductees into the Academy.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Aqedah in a new Coptic magical papyrus

COPTIC WATCH: Ancient Egyptian Incantations Tell of Biblical Human Sacrifice (Owen Jarus, Live Science).
Scientists have deciphered what they describe as a 1,500-year-old 'magical papyrus' that was discovered near the pyramid of the Pharaoh Senwosret I.

The text dates to a time when Christianity was widely practiced in Egypt.The unnamed person(s) who wrote the incantations in Coptic, an Egyptian language that uses the Greek alphabet, invoked God many times.

The text seems to have an unusual, but not unprecedented, take on the Aqedah:
Several times in the papyrus God is called "the one who presides over the Mountain of the Murderer" a phrase that likely refers to a story in the Book of Genesis in which God told Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac on Mount Moriah, wrote Michael Zellmann-Rohrer, a researcher in the department of classics at Oxford University, who described the magical papyrus in the journal Zeitschrift für Ägyptische Sprache und Altertumskunde.

The Book of Genesis says that God stopped Abraham before he actually sacrificed his son. However in this papyrus the story is described in such a way that it sounds as if the sacrifice wasn't stopped wrote Zellmann-Rohrer noting that other texts from the ancient world also claim that the sacrifice was completed. "The tradition of a literal sacrifice seems in fact to have been rather widespread," Zellmann-Rohrer wrote.
For more on the tradition that Isaac was actually sacrificed, notably covered in Shalom Spiegel's book The Last Trial, see here and here.

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Monetizing King Hezekiah's Book of Healings

OLD TESTAMENT PSEUDEPIGRAPHA WATCH: Ancient Hebrew Medicine of Judean Desert Heals Body, Soul (Maayan Hoffman, Breaking Israel News).
Ancient Hebrew medicine was practiced in the Land of Israel at least until the second century BCE, explained Amir Kitron, a Doctor of Chemistry who has learned to combine the herbs of the Judean Desert to create natural and effective skin care products.

Kitron said ancient Hebrew medicine involved combining powerful herbs into creams, oils and ointments for topical use and healing.

“In the Bible, you see many things being topically applied,” said Kitron, who company, Herbs of Kedem leverages such techniques. “The Tanakh is our inspiration.”
What, you ask, has this to do with the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha? Read on:
Jewish tradition teaches about a “Book of Remedies, which contained the accumulated healing wisdom of the Jewish People. King Hezekiah hid this book because the cures were too effective. The medieval commentator Rashi explains that when a person became sick, he would follow what was written in the book and be healed, and as a result people’s hearts were not humbled before Heaven because of illness.
According to the Mishnah (Pesahim 4:10), King Hezekiah suppressed this book. I have mentioned it before here and here. I doubt that story, but it may have served as an catchy back-narrative for an actual book of remedies circulating in the time of the Mishnah.

This is not an endorsement of the modern remedies discussed in this article. Their merit is for you to decide. You should not look for medical advice from philologists.

Cross-file under Lost Books.

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J. Harold Ellens (1932-2018)

SAD NEWS: I received word earlier this week that Dr. J. Harold Ellens passed away on 14 April. Hal had a lifelong career as a practicing psychotherapist. He also maintained an active involvement in theology and biblical studies. In 2009, he completed a PhD in Second Temple Judaism with Gabriele Boccaccini at the University of Michigan. He was a charter member of the Enoch Seminar and he contributed much to the field. He will be missed by many. His Wikipedia entry is here and his personal website is here.

Resquiescat in pace.

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Free articles from Dead Sea Discoveries (2)

FOR YOU, SPECIAL DEAL (CONT'D): Free articles from Dead Sea Discoveries
To celebrate the 25th Volume of Dead Sea Discoveries, 25 articles from the past 25 Volumes will be available for free downloading during 2018.
The following 5 articles are now freely accessible until 15 June:
This is the second round of celebratory free articles. The first round (which is no longer available) was noted here. The current listing of free articles is as follows:
• Residential Caves At Qumran, Magen Broshi and Hanan Eshel
(Volume 6, Number 3)
• Angels at Sinai: Exegesis, Theology and Interpretive Authority,
Hindy Najman (Volume 7, Number 3)
• Pliny on Essenes, Pliny on Jews, Robert A. Kraft
(Volume 8, Number 3)
• Scholars, Soldiers, Craftsmen, Elites?: Analysis of French Collection of Human Remains from Qumran, Susan Guise Sheridan (Volume 9, Number 2)
• From Literature to Scripture: Reflections on the Growth of a Text's Authoritativeness, Eugene Ulrich (Volume 10, Number 1)
Follow the first link above to access them.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Talmud on social hierarchy

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: When a King Sins. In this week’s ‘Daf Yomi’ Talmud study, the surprising origins of power’s responsibility to the governed. Plus: How the Kingdom of Judea became the Religion of Judaism.
The Talmud was the product of a Jewish society strongly concerned with hierarchy and deference. That has been clear in many ways throughout the Daf Yomi cycle, but never more so than last week, when we finished the brief Tractate Horayot. Horayot means “decisions,” and the tractate begins by discussing how a court can atone for making an incorrect ruling. In its last pages, however, the tractate turns to the subject of protocol: in Jewish society, who outranks whom? And what happens when Sages, who are notoriously proud and touchy, get into a contest over who is the most learned? At the same time, as often happens, the end of the tractate serves as a kind of grab-bag of moral sayings and aggadah on various subjects.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

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Probation, not jail, for Golb

THE RAPHAEL GOLB CASE: Case of Dead Sea Scrolls, online aliases ends with probation (AP). In the end, Mr. Golb was sentenced to three years of probation (already served) rather than two months in jail.

Background on this long, strange, sad case is here with many links.

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Excavating the United Monarchy by naked mole rat?

ARCHAEOLOGY: Did King David's United Monarchy Exist? Naked Mole Rats Uncover Monumental Evidence Surveying by mole rat burrowing in studying Tel ‘Eton in the Hebron hills, sways the debate toward the existence of a major United Monarchy in the Davidic and Solomonic eras, archaeologist claims (Nir Hasson, Haaretz).
Did King David even exist, let alone his fabled son, the wise King Solomon? And if they existed, did they rule over a powerful, united Jewish kingdom with its capital in Jerusalem? The truth is that to this day, no categorical proof of either the kings or the great kingdom has ever been found, leaving aside one suggestive engraving that some believe says "House of David". Also, the interpretation of archaeological findings from their purported era, the 10th century B.C.E. has been controversial, to put it politely.

Now the discovery of a second monumental building confidently dated to the Davidic period has been announced, in a Canaanite town that apparently had allied with a powerful Judahite kingdom. The discovery was made with the help of naked mole rats, little burrowing rodents endemic to the region.

Skeptics claim that no fortifications, public works or signs of statehood have been found in the region of Judah from the Davidic era. Now, claim Bar-Ilan University archaeologists excavating a monumental structure at Tel ‘Eton, near the Hebron hills in the central Israeli lowlands – they have.

They believe that structures dated to later times, may have actually originated earlier. The Bar-Ilan team argues that they found evidence of that very thing, with the help of a system they developed – mapping by mole rat.

The naked mole rats dig their deep burrows and archaeologists sift the resulting dirt mounds.

Faunal-assisted archaeology seems to be a thing nowadays. We have also recently seen excavation by porcupine and important archaeological inferences from gerbil bones and pigeon poop.

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Finds on the Sanhedrin Trail

ARCHAEOLOGY: New Interactive ‘Sanhedrin Trail’ Yields Ancient Oil Lamp Adorned with Menorah (JNi.Media).
Students who participated in preparing a new archaeological hiking trail discovered a 1,400-year-old oil lamp bearing the symbol of a menorah. The discovery was just one of many side-benefits of the unique interactive trail that thousands of young people have been preparing and excavating.

The Sanhedrin Trail—offered by the Israel Antiquities Authority on the occasion of Israel’s 70th Independence Day—will be accompanied by a unique web application that will serve as a readily accessible “independent guide” in the spectacular landscapes of the Galilee, and will offer a different sort of hiking experience.

The finds also include a gold coin of Suleiman the Magnificent.

Background on the Sanhedrin Trail is here.

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Monday, April 16, 2018

Was Pharaoh's heart hardened?

PHILOLOGOS: Has the English Translation of "Pharaoh's Heart Was Hardened" Been Wrong All Along? Figuring out the right way to characterize Pharaoh’s heart (Mosaic Magazine). Philologos explores an interesting suggestion that I don't recall seeing before. Published during Passover, but I only just found it.

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Final (?) appeal on the Golb-DSS impersonation case

THE RAPHAEL GOLB CASE: Strange case of online impersonation in Dead Sea Scrolls feud set to end. Ten years ago, Raphael Golb created fake online accounts to go after the detractors of his scholar father; courts have spent the years since trying to figure out what he did wrong (AP). The court is supposed to decide the latest on this case today. That's supposed to end it. We'll see.

Background on this strange, sad case is here and many links.

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Research positions on Coptic magic at Würzburg

These positions will be part of a new in-depth project studying “magical” texts from Late Antique and early Islamic Egypt written in Coptic, and will involve the creation of a database of published and unpublished texts, the edition and re-edition of original manuscripts, and the production of research situating them within their historical, social and intellectual context. The appointed applicants will work with the team co-ordinator (Dr. Korshi Dosoo).
Follow the link for details and application information. The deadline is 31 May 2018. Cross-file under Coptic Watch.

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Materializing Ancient Judaism

BELATEDLY: UM Frankel Center Event: Materializing Ancient Judaism Symposium. This conference took place on 9-10 April at the University of Michigan. You can see the program of papers here.

I thought I posted a notice of it some time ago, but it appears that I did not. So you have it now. I trust it went well and that we can look forward to a publication in due course.

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Sunday, April 15, 2018

Schiffman on Shusan

PROFESSOR LAWRENCE H. SCHIFFMAN: SEEKING SHUSHAN. This post has a reprint of his recent article in Ami Magazine. The Persian city of Shushan (Susa) is the scene of a number of events in Second Temple Jewish biblical literature.

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Dever on the Biblical minimalism-maximalism debate

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: Biblical Minimalism and Maximalism in Scholarship. The legacy of BAR’s founding editor, Hershel Shanks.
In his latest BAR article, [archaeologist William] Dever took on the task of summarizing the Biblical minimalism-maximalism debate, which originated in Europe in the early 1990s. One more time, Dever introduces the general public to the crucial arguments about what Biblical scholars or archaeologists would consider a fact or a construct; what may have been an early historical reality or later myth; how the so-called low chronology (now mostly abandoned) moved all the archaeological evidence from the tenth to the ninth century B.C.E. stripping thus the figures of Saul, David, and Solomon of any historicity. Dever even hints that archaeological digs at Khirbet Qeiyafa and Tel Rehov have since provided a solid evidence for advanced culture and centralized government as early as the tenth century, the time of the Biblical King David.
As usual, the full article, "For King and Country: Chronology and Minimalism," is behind the subscription wall. But this essay gives you a taste of it and some related links.

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Luke-Acts and the Great Isaiah Scroll

THE BIBLE PLACES BLOG: Luke & Acts (9): Book of Isaiah (Michael J. Caba). The connection is tenuous, but this post includes some good links on 1QIsaa.

Past PaleoJudaica posts involving the Great Isaiah Scroll are here, here, and here and links.

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More from Hicks-Keaton on Joseph and Aseneth

NEW ARTICLE IN THE JOURNAL FOR THE STUDY OF JUDAISM: Jill Hicks-Keaton, Aseneth between Judaism and Christianity: Reframing the Debate. (JSJ 49 [2018]: 1-34).
The question of whether Joseph and Aseneth is “Jewish or Christian?” is the central frame in which the provenance of this tale has traditionally been sought. Yet, such a formulation assumes that “Judaism” and “Christianity” were distinct entities without overlap, when it is now widely acknowledged that they were not easily separable in antiquity for quite some time. I suggest that the question of whether Joseph and Aseneth is Jewish or gentile is more profitable for contextualizing Aseneth’s tale. This article offers fresh evidence for historicizing its origins in Judaism of Greco-Roman Egypt. Placing the narrative’s concerns for boundary-regulation alongside the discursive projects of other ancient writers (both Jewish and gentile Christian) who engaged the story of Joseph suggests that the author of Joseph and Aseneth was likely a participant in a Hellenistic Jewish interpretive tradition in Egypt that used Joseph’s tale as a platform for marking and maintaining boundaries.
This article is an adaptation of the first chapter of her new monograph, Arguing with Aseneth, which I noted here. The article is probably behind a subscription wall. I have access to it through my institution.

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Saturday, April 14, 2018

Interview with Geoffrey Khan

INTERACTION OF TRADITIONS BLOG: Interview with Dr Geoffrey Khan (Srecko Koralija).
I am very pleased to publish an interview with Dr Geoffrey Khan, an expert in the field of Semitic studies, and the Regius Professor of Hebrew at the University of Cambridge.

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Review of Marciak, Sophene, Gordyene, and Adiabene

BRYN MAYR CLASSICAL REVIEW: Michal Marciak, Sophene, Gordyene, and Adiabene: Three 'Regna Minora' of Northern Mesopotamia between East and West. Impact of empire, 26. Leiden: Brill, 2017. Pp. xv, 581. ISBN 9789004350700. $184.00. Reviewed by David Woods, University College Cork (
This book is a result of research funded by the National Science Centre in Poland and conducted at the University of Rzeszów from 2012 to 2015. It does exactly what the title suggests, discussing the geography and history of the three neighbouring regions of Sophene, Gordyene, and Adiabene in northern Mesopotamia during the period from about 200 BC to about AD 600. There is no single, overarching argument, and the result is essentially a reference work for anyone interested in the development of these regions. Many of the chapters have already been published in a variety of academic journals during the period from 2011 to 2016. However, the journals were sometimes relatively obscure, and it is good to have revised versions of the original papers drawn together to form a larger, coherent whole. The author draws upon a wide range of literary sources in a number of languages, primarily in Greek, Latin, Syriac, and Armenian. He also draws upon a wide range of material sources and the latest archaeological data. The result is an indispensable tool for anyone interested in the geography and history of northern Mesopotamia.

The material on Adibene (modern day Erbil) will be of particular interest to PaleoJudaica readers. The ruler of the kingdom of Adiabene, Queen Helena, converted to Judaism in the first century CE. Background here and links.

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Soar over Masada

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC: Soar Over a Legendary Fortress in the Judean Desert. This remote palace complex of Masada looks as dramatic as the stories behind it (Abby Sewell). Nice video and a good summary essay to go with it.

For some relevant PaleoJudaica posts on Masada, see here and links. For another flyover video of Masada, see here.

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PBS documentary on Hannibal

PUNIC WATCH: How (and Where) Did Hannibal Cross the Alps? Experts Finally Have Answers (Mindy Weisberger, Live Science).
For over 2,000 years, historians have argued over the route used by the Carthaginian general Hannibal to guide his army — 30,000 soldiers, 37 elephants and 15,000 horses — over the Alps and into Italy in just 16 days, conducting a military ambush against the Romans that was unprecedented in the history of warfare.

Such an achievement required careful planning and strategizing, but with little physical evidence of the journey available today and few recorded details of the crossing, uncertainty remains about how it was accomplished.

However, in "Secrets of the Dead: Hannibal in the Alps," a new documentary airing on PBS tonight (April 10), a team of experts takes a fresh look at Hannibal’s incredible trip across treacherous mountain terrain. Together, they re-create his long-lost route and reveal the latest discoveries about his historic accomplishment — and depict the famous elephants that played a critical part in his victory against the Romans.

For more on the coprological evidence for Hannibal's route, see here. There are many past PaleoJudaica posts on Hannibal and his campaign in the Second Punic War. For some of them see that post, plus here, here, here, here, and here, and follow the links

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Friday, April 13, 2018

Adele Reinhartz is breaking up with John

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Reflections on My Journey with John | A Retrospective from Adele Reinhartz.
I am grateful to the editors of Ancient Jew Review for the opportunity to reflect on my long engagement with the Gospel of John. The invitation comes at an appropriate moment: I have just submitted a book manuscript on John, called Cast Out of the Covenant: Jews and Anti-Judaism in the Gospel of John, which will be published by Lexington/Fortress Press later this year.[1] This book concludes what is very likely my last major project on the Fourth Gospel. While I already have made commitments to several conference papers and articles on John, I do not plan another sustained book-length study. In effect, having long had a conflicted relationship with the “Beloved Disciple,”[2] – since my doctoral research in the late 1970s -- it is time to break up. For this reason, it seems like the right time to reflect on my relationship with the “other man” in my life (as my husband refers to “John”).

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Ryan on Jesus and early synagogues

Jesus and Early Synagogues

When we situate Jesus’ ministry within what we know of early synagogues and their functions, we can infer that Jesus’ teaching and proclamation would have been open to discussion and debate for the assembly to decide whether to accept or reject it, just like any other proposition put forward in a public synagogue. We must remember that public synagogues represented the town, and that the decisions made in local synagogue assemblies were thus made for the town as a whole. If Jesus could persuade the local assemblies to accept his teaching and proclamation of the outbreak of the Kingdom of God, and to repent in light of it (Mark 1:14-15), it would have been tantamount to the corporate acceptance of the proclamation by that town.

See Also: The Role of the Synagogue in the Aims of Jesus (Fortress Press, 2017).

By Jordan J. Ryan
Assistant Professor of New Testament
University of Dubuque Theological Seminary
April 2018
Cross-file under New Book.

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Review of Worthington, Ptolemy I

BRYN MAYR CLASSICAL REVIEW: Ian Worthington, Ptolemy I: King and Pharaoh of Egypt. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016. Pp. xiv, 253. ISBN 9780190202330. $35.00. Reviewed by Charlotte Van Regenmortel, University of Leicester (
Of all Alexander's successors, Ptolemy is perhaps the one most worthy of a biography. Having been born into a relatively humble family, he rose to become one of Alexander's bodyguards, and eventually Pharaoh of Egypt. His life, furthermore, falls within a timespan that incorporates the early Hellenistic world's major developments. From the rise of Philip of Macedon and the campaigns of Alexander to the solidification of the Hellenistic monarchies, Ptolemy was there. With this book, Ian Worthington, an expert on the period, provides the first biography of Ptolemy I since W. M. Ellis's Ptolemy of Egypt (1994). Although the influence of Ptolemy, who is known as patron of the arts, economic innovator, and sophisticated administrator, cannot be downplayed, a full-length biography proves to be a difficult enterprise. The nature of the source material, from which Ptolemy is largely absent until the death of Alexander, is problematic when the aim is a singular focus on Ptolemy, as can be seen from this book.
Some knowledge of the Diadochoi (the "Successors" to Alexander the Great), especially Ptolemy I and Seleucus I, is important as background for Second Temple Judaism. Both are mentioned, although not named, in the Book of Daniel.

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"Holocaust" or Shoah?

BELATEDLY FOR YOM HASHOAH: The Slaughter of Six Million Jews: A Holocaust or a Shoah? (Prof. Zev Garber,
What do the terms “holocaust” and “shoah” mean, and what do they reveal about how we view the respective roles of God and the Nazis in the Jewish genocide?
Yom HaShoah/Holocaust Remembrance Day was on the 11th-12 of this month this year (27 Nisan). Another post on the question of whether "Holocaust" is an appropriate term for the slaughter of millions of Jews by the Nazis is here. Professor Garber's essay is the most thorough discussion of the issue that I can recall reading.

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Thursday, April 12, 2018

Was YHWH a god of metallurgy?

TIMNA AGAIN: Jewish God Yahweh Originated in Canaanite Vulcan, Says New Theory. The cult of YHWH as god of metallurgy originated among semi-nomadic copper smelters between the Bronze and Iron Age, suggests biblical scholar: And he was not worshipped only by Jews (Ariel David, Haaretz).
TIMNA – Around 3,200 years ago, the great empires around the Mediterranean and the Middle East suddenly imploded. The Egyptians retreated from Canaan and the copper mines of Timna in the Negev, skulking back to the banks of the Nile. And in the arid wastes of southern Canaan, a new power arose.
The Timna mines were taken over by semi-nomadic tribes, which set up a mining operation that dwarfed the previous Egyptian industry.

This new desert kingdom would leave its mark on the main building at Timna: the Egyptian temple of Hathor, protector of miners. The new masters smashed the effigy of the Egyptian deity – leaving the fragments to be found by archaeologists more than 3,000 years later – and set up over the ruins of the temple a tent sanctuary, judging by the remains of heavy red and yellow fabric found in the 1970s.

There they worshipped a new god, one that had no apparent name or face.

That miners' god was none other than the deity known by the four Hebrew letters YHWH, who would become the God of the Jews and, by extension, of Christians and Muslims, claims Nissim Amzallag, a biblical studies researcher at Ben-Gurion University.

Hmmm ... interesting idea. I agree that the biblical texts seem to look to the region of Timna/Edom for the earliest traditions about YHWH. But, with Professor Romer, I think the fiery imagery around YHWH has to do with his being a storm god, not with any association with a metallurgical cult.

Overall, I'm skeptical. The only way to solve the question decisively would be if we found early texts from, say, Timna. I am keeping an eye on this site in case that happens. For background to that issue, see here and follow the links. (Keep reading, the post does not seem relevant at first.)

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Review of Ogden, The Legend of Seleucus

BRYN MAYR CLASSICAL REVIEW: Daniel Ogden, The Legend of Seleucus: Kingship, Narrative and Mythmaking in the Ancient World. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2017. Pp. xiv, 386. ISBN 9781107164789. $120.00. Reviewed by Marijn Visscher (
In this excellent book, Daniel Ogden tackles head-on a tricky, but fruitful topic in Hellenistic studies: the many stories, legends and myths surrounding the figure of Seleucus Nicator. The book consists of six thematic chapters that roughly follow the course of Seleucus’ life. The seventh, and final, chapter is a more in-depth discussion of methodology and sources. The book aims to unite and combine different narratives about Seleucus into a coherent whole, while systematically disentangling various layers of the legend. One of its strong points is the exhaustive collection and thorough discussion of the sources. Ogden not only discusses different source passages in depth, he integrates his discussion with possible typological comparanda. The most important of these is the Alexander Romance, but Ogden also looks at folk-tale motifs and other legends, from Greek and Near Eastern mythology. In addition to his careful analysis of passages, Ogden often raises more speculative questions about the material, which subsequently remain unanswered. This happens consistently throughout all chapters and seems to be a conscious choice. Many of the questions raised are tantalising, but not particularly well suited where they appear in the text, as throw-away remarks that disturb the flow of the main argument.

The Book of Daniel mentions Seleucus I, although not by name. For more on that, see here. The review does not mention the passage in Daniel, but I assume the book under review does somewhere.

For some past posts on the Seuleucid dynasty and its importance for biblical and Second Temple Jewish studies, see here, here, and here and links.

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AJR on Lambert, How Repentance Became Biblical

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: How Repentance Became Biblical (Jillian Stinchcomb).
David Lambert. How Repentance Became Biblical: Judaism, Christianity, and the Interpretation of Scripture. Oxford University Press: 2015.
Useful for students of the Hebrew Bible, certainly, but also for students of early Christianity, rabbinics, and the ancient Mediterranean world, this book asks and invites more questions- about interiority, about repentance, about reading the Bible historically and how it has historically been read- than it answers. To that end, it usefully opens conversations that might otherwise remain foreclosed.
I noted the publication of the book here.

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On the origins of Passover

BELATEDLY FOR PASSOVER: The Surprising Ancient Origins of Passover. The holiday we know today began as two distinct ones, one for nomadic herders and one for farmers. Neither involved Egypt (Elon Gilad, Haaretz).
The Passover Seder is one of the most recognized and widely practiced of Jewish rituals, yet had our ancestors visited one of these modern-day celebrations, they would be baffled.

Not only does our modern Seder wildly diverge from the Passover of old: during antiquity itself the holiday underwent radical changes. Below we chart as best we can - considering the shortage of historical documentation - the origins of Passover, from the dawn of Israelite people to the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, and the consequent establishment of the embryonic Passover Seder, which modern Jews would recognize.

This came out in late March. I've been meaning to get to it. It involves a good bit of speculation. But overall it's a plausible reconstruction.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

More on the Torah sheet acquired by the Library of Congress

MANUSCRIPT: Ancient Torah scroll sheet preserved for public display. A Rutgers professor played a vital role in its acquisition (Alexandra DeMatos, Philadelphia Inquirer).
The Library of Congress recently got its hands on a Torah scroll sheet that dates to the 10th or 11th century, the earliest known legible version of the “Song of the Sea” and an invaluable find — and a Rutgers University professor played a vital role in its acquisition.

Detailing the flight of the Jewish people from Egypt, the vellum sheet measures 23 by 23.5 inches and contains Exodus 10:10 to 16:15, beginning with the “Ten Plagues” and continuing through the “Song of the Sea.”

This article gives some of the back story of the acquisition of this manuscript by the Library of Congress, including the contribution of Professor Gary Rendsburg.

There is an older (post-Dead Sea Scrolls) Torah fragment that includes the Song of the Sea: the Ashkar/London manuscript from the 7th/8th century CE. It is illegible to the naked eye, although technology has recovered its text. Background on both manuscripts is here and here and links.

UPDATE: doubled final link now corrected!

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Hurtado reviews "Jesus' Female Disciples: The New Evidence"

LARRY HURTADO: Women in the Jesus-Movement.
Last night in the UK, Channel 4 aired a TV documentary on the evidence of women’s involvement in the ministry of Jesus and the earliest Jesus-movement, featuring Professor Helen Bond (New College, Edinburgh) and Professor Joan Taylor (Kings College London), available here. On the whole, and for the popular TV audience for which it was prepared, the programme was interesting and informative. The main point was (quite rightly) to bring to the foreground the place of women among Jesus’ followers and in early Christianity thereafter.

I haven't seen this documentary, but I'm hearing good things about it. Unfortunately, I don't think the Channel 4 link will work outside the U.K. (Please correct me if that's wrong.) But the CSCO Blog has background material on the documentary here. And Professors Bond and Taylor discuss the new Mary Magdalene movie here.

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James on garden exoticism in the Song of Songs

The Exotic Garden in the Song of Songs

The logic of the garden exoticism in the Song, then, persuades the reader not that the garden is a “fantasy garden,” but that the space is the result of attention and care—one that presumes the intervention of a skilled gardener.

See Also: Landscapes of the Song of Songs: Poetry and Place (Oxford University Press, 2017).

By Elaine T. James
Assistant Professor of Theology
St. Catherine University
April 2018
Cross-file under New Book.

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Hamburg Coptic Summer School 2018

ALIN SUCIU: Summer School in Coptic Literature and Manuscripts. Follow the link for details. The application deadline is 31 May 2018.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2018

School kids excavate Talmudic-era lamp fragments

ARCHAEOLOGY: Pupils reconstruct 1,500-year-old Holy Land life in school archaeological dig. Newly uncovered ornately decorated oil lamps served as the heart of family life during the Talmudic era (Amanda Borschel-Dan, Times of Israel).
A group of elementary-school-aged archaeologists-in-training don’t have to dig deep into their imaginations to visualize life in the Land of Israel some 1,500 years ago.

In an archaeological excavation just meters outside of the grounds of the Benzion Netanyahu school, students in grades one through six from the West Bank settlement of Barkan 25 kilometers outside Tel Aviv have uncovered pieces of ornately decorated Talmudic-era clay lamps.


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The Talmud on "manifest illegality"

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Disobey. In this week’s ‘Daf Yomi’ Talmud study, how are individual Jews supposed to act when a religious court makes a ‘manifestly illegal’ ruling or unjust order?
This week, Daf Yomi readers began Tractate Horayot, the last tractate in Seder Nezikin, the division of the Talmud that deals with civil and criminal law. Horayot, whose name means “decisions,” is a very short tractate—just 14 pages long—and it deals with a narrow but important area of Jewish law: namely, what to do when a court issues an erroneous judgment. The short answer is that courts that mistakenly permit a forbidden act, and thereby encourage the Jewish people to sin, are liable to bring a sacrifice in atonement. But, of course, matters are never quite so simple in the Talmud, and the discussion ends up touching on basic questions about law and justice: above all, the question of when a person is obligated to obey a mistaken or unjust authority.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

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Judeo-Arabic poetry in the Cairo Geniza

GENIZA FRAGMENT OF THE MONTH: Judaeo-Arabic Poetry in the Cairo Genizah: T-S Ar.37.127 (Mohamed A. H. Ahmed).
Unlike Hebrew liturgical poetry, Arabic and Judaeo-Arabic poetry in the Cairo Genizah is an area that has hitherto received very little attention. While many scholars have worked on the Hebrew poetry, with extensive collections collated in books and on websites,2 the Arabic material has been largely neglected. If mentioned at all in catalogues, labelling is mostly limited to ‘Arabic poetry’, without any further details, and the large majority of sources still await description.


Much of the Arabic poetry in the Cairo Genizah collection is written in Judaeo-Arabic. ...
Most of this material is a bit late for PaleoJudaica (the Fatimid era). But I do like to keep an eye on what is going on in the field of Judeo-Arabic.

Speaking of which, in March I finally finished working through the fragments of the Judeo-Arabic translation of Sefer HaRazim and incorporating their evidence into my notes. It was one of the most difficult philological projects I have ever taken on.

Regular readers may recall that I am translating the famous Hebrew Talumdic-era magical tractate Sefer Ha Razim, "The Book of the Mysteries," for MOTP2. The Judeo-Arabic is an early translation of the Hebrew and it is important for reconstructing the text. I am now working on the Latin translation. Yes, there was a Latin translation too. I don't know who made it, but Christian Kabbalists and magicians liked such thing in the Middle Ages and beyond.

Past PaleoJudaica posts on Judeo-Arabic are collected here. Past posts involving Sefer HaRazim are here and links. Other past posts noting Cairo Geniza Fragments of the Month in the Cambridge University Library's Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit are here and links.

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Cambridge LXX seminar this month

WILLIAM ROSS: UPCOMING CAMBRIDGE SEMINAR ON THE SEPTUAGINT. William is in the last hurdle of thesis writing, but he has taken the time to let us know about the one-day "The Septuagint within the History of Greek" seminar taking place at the Faculty of Divinity at Cambridge University on 20 April 2018. I'm one of the 99% of his audience who won't be able to make it, but if you're in the area at the time, it sounds very much worth attending.

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Monday, April 09, 2018

Resurrection in the Book of Ezekiel (and in Ugaritic)

THEM BONES: The Valley of Dry Bones and the Resurrection of the Dead (Prof. Devorah Dimant,
Originally an allegorical vision about the future return of Judeans to their land, Ezekiel’s vision (ch. 37) becomes one of the cornerstones for the Jewish belief in the resurrection of the dead. The early stages of this development are made clear in a little-known Qumran scroll called Pseudo-Ezekiel.
Good essay. Instead of commenting on it directly, I'm going to use this as an excuse to share a few thoughts about Ezekiel's vision and the development of the idea of resurrection in the biblical world.

First, I want to depart a bit from the consensus on Ezekiel's vision of the dry bones. I agree that it is a symbolic representation of the revival of the nation after the exile rather that a description of the eschatological resurrection of the dead. But ... it's hard for me to think that the image didn't also evoke the idea of the physical resurrection of the dead in the mind of Ezekiel and his audience. Would anyone have used this image unless some ideas about physical resurrection were not already part of the cultural narrative? I doubt it.

Possibly around the same time as this oracle, the Deuteronomistic History was telling stories about individual resurrections carried out by the prophets Elijah and Elisha. So the idea was in the air. When prophets start seeing visions of a vast throng of individual resurrections, something interesting is in the air, and I don't think it's just symbolism.

Second, here's a tangentially related thought, something that occurred to me many years ago. I've never seen anyone else point it out. The Ugaritic texts from the late second millennium BCE include the Aqhat Epic, in which the hero Aqhat is killed by the goddess Anat. One guess was that in the lost ending Aqhat was resurrected from the dead. If so, that would be the earliest known direct reference to resurrection in the Northwest Semitic/Canaanite/Israelite world. But the ending is lost, so this is very speculative and I don't think it is seriously argued anymore.

But there is something interesting that is not speculative because it actually is in the text. When Aqhat's father, Danel, learns of the murder, he sets out to recover his son's body for burial. When vultures fly by, he invokes a curse of Baal on them which makes them fall from the sky and be torn apart, so he can examine the contents of their stomachs. (I know. Yuck!). Eventually he finds the vulture who ate Aqhat and buries what is left of him. But interest point is that after he examines the first dead vultures and finds they did not eat Aqhat, he recites an anti-curse in the name of Baal which reconstructs them and sends them flying off as good as new. So as early as the Ugaritic epics, people were exploring the idea of invoking the power of a god to raise individuals (birds in this case) from the dead. It's a very old idea.

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