Saturday, September 14, 2013

Alexander, Gender and Timebound Commandments in Judaism

THE TALMUD BLOG: Review of Elizabeth Shanks Alexander, ‘Gender and Timebound Commandments in Judaism’- Guest Post by Raphael Magarik.
Yet, while Alexander conceived the idea for the book, as she explains in the introduction, “in the shadow of a contemporary cultural debate,” she writes as a Talmudist. Thus, she restricts herself historically to pre-Medieval sources and methodologically to descriptive history. Further, within those frameworks, Alexander does not so much answer as destroy the original question.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Rollston on David and Northwest Semitic epigraphy

CHRISTOPHER ROLLSTON IN BIBLE AND INTERPRETATION: By God I am King: David’s Rise to the Throne in Broader Context.
The epigraphic texts from the ancient Near East, therefore, paint for us a broader picture, they reveal more of the depth of the tapestry that is the world of the ancient Near East. And the epigraphic texts remind us that ancient Israel was part of the ancient Near Eastern world.
This essay will be useful when I lecture on the United Monarchy in my first-year Intro to Hebrew Bible this semester.

Yom Kippur

YOM KIPPUR, the Day of Atonement, begins this evening at sundown. An easy fast to all those observing it.

Biblical background noted here.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Talmud and intellectual questions

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: When Talmud Is the Focus of Jewish Observance, Theology Comes to Life. Instead of asking us to passively agree with the rabbis, oral law engages the intellect in concrete problems of logic and interpretation.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

DeConick et al., Practicing Gnosis

Practicing Gnosis
Ritual, Magic, Theurgy and Liturgy in Nag Hammadi, Manichaean and Other Ancient Literature. Essays in Honor of Birger A. Pearson

Edited by April D. DeConick, Gregory Shaw, and John D. Turner

Ritual, magic, liturgy, and theurgy were central features of Gnosticism, and yet Gnostic practices remain understudied. This anthology is meant to fill in this gap and address more fully what the ancient Gnostics were doing. While previously we have studied the Gnostics as intellectuals in pursuit of metaphysical knowledge, the essays in this book attempt to understand the Gnostics as ecstatics striving after religious experience, as prophets seeking revelation, as mystics questing after the ultimate God, as healers attempting to care for the sick and diseased. These essays demonstrate that the Gnostics were not necessarily trendy intellectuals seeking epistomological certainities. They were after religious experiences that relied on practices. The book is organized comparatively in a history-of-religions approach with sections devoted to Initiatory, Recurrent, Therapeutic, Ecstatic, and Philosophic Practices. This book celebrates the brilliant career of Birger A. Pearson.
My article, "Ritual in the Hekhalot Literature," is included in the volume.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Middle East varia, none good

I'VE BEEN COLLECTING bad-news articles and blog posts on the Middle East for the last couple of weeks. Sadly, they all remain relevant.

War Threatens Palmyra, UNESCO Pleads for Syrian Heritage Protection (Magda Abu-Fadil, Huffington Post). Background on Palmyra and its inscriptions is here and links. More on Palmyra in this war is here and here.

Syria's Rich Archaeological Treasures Imperiled by Civil War (Tia Ghose, Live Science).

Arms for Antiquities: Syrian Artifact Smuggling Bleeds Sites Dry - including Dura Europos (Joanne Bajjaly, Al-Akhbar). Background here and links.

Ma'loula Under Attack (Steve Caruso, The Aramaic Blog). Background on Ma'loula (Maaloula, Malula) is here with many links.

Pictures: Looters Shatter Museum of Ancient Egyptian Treasures (National Geographic).

Egypt demands return of stolen artifacts from Europe and U.S. (Afrik News). For some reason someone decided that this was a good time to re-release this 2009 article.

UPDATE: Accidentally left this one out: Mount Sinai monastery latest victim of Egypt's upheavals. Closure of St Catherine's monastery due to security concerns has devastated tourist trade of nearby town named after it (Patrick Kingsley and Marwa Awad, The Guardian). St. Catherine's Monastery and its manuscripts have been mentioned often at PaleoJudaica, for example, here, here, here, here, and here.

Goodacre on Schama on Paul

DOCUMENTARY FAIL: Simon Schama's misreading of Paul (NT Blog).
To reiterate, I think this is a superb documentary and I am a big fan of Schama. But I think this section falls below his usual standards. One of the reasons that this is important is that getting the history right plays a key role in Jewish-Christian relations. Given the appalling history of Christian attitudes to Jews and Judaism documented by Schama, it is worth paying careful attention to what Jews like Paul, right at the beginning of the Jesus movement, actually said.
Background on the documentary The Story of the Jews is here and links.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Cyrus Cylinder mystery

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS: Who broke the Cyrus Cylinder? (A. J. Cave, Payvand News of Iran). Key excerpt:
On 28 August, 2013, Dr. Jon Taylor, Assistant Keeper of Cuneiform Collections at the British Museum gave a talk: “Hormuzd Rassam and the Discovery of the Cyrus Cylinder” to a packed audience at Cal (UC Berkeley). The talk was presented by the Assyrian Heritage Fund and co-sponsored by the Center for the Middle Eastern Studies and the Townsend Center for Humanities. Among the attendees was the elderly great, great, great grandson of one of the brothers of Rassam who had traveled just for the occasion.

To prepare for the talk, Dr. Taylor had resorted to archival research in the vast acquisition registers of the British Museum. Thumbing through old records at the museum, he found out (rather unexpectedly) that the cylinder (identified later as the “Cyrus Cylinder” by the Assyriologists the British Museum) was listed as “unbroken” in boring bureaucratic documents, leading him to speculate that the cylinder was most likely broken (perhaps intentionally) before it was shipped to London.


Intense western interest in eastern biblical lands and peoples in the 19th century did not just lead to spectacular discoveries of ancient civilizations, it sparked a lively global trade in ancient artifacts procured in a “don’t ask, don’t tell” manner. Since 1850s illicit diggings for antiquities that institutions and individuals are willing to pay good money for have progressed in the Middle East without any sign of decline. Local laborers usually got paid literally pennies for each inscribed tablet they dug up, so it was not unusual for them or actually anyone in the antiquities supply-chain to break clay tablets they found into pieces to increase their meager pay and sell the “surplus” to Baghdad dealers.

Dr. Taylor prepared a list of the usual suspects who had access and motive to break the unbroken cylinder, and like a clever crime novel detective eliminated all but two, one of them Daud (Fat) Toma, one of overseers Rassam had hired—not deemed trustworthy even by Rassam himself.

We would never know without a shadow of a doubt, but we can safely say that the real culprit was the insatiable black market for antiquities.
For much more on the Cyrus Cylinder, see here and links.

Them Bones

LIVESCIENCE: Animal sacrifice at temple powered ancient Jerusalem's economy: Animal bones found in a dump dating to the end of the second Temple period suggest that animal sacrifice powered Jerusalem's economy.
Pilgrims came from hundreds of miles away to sacrifice animals at an ancient temple in Jerusalem, new research suggests.

An analysis of bones found in an ancient dump in the city dating back 2,000 years revealed that animals sacrificed at the temple came from far and wide.

"The study shows that there is a major interprovincial market that enables the transfer of vast numbers of animals that are used for sacrifice and feasting in Jerusalem during that time period," said study co-author Gideon Hartman, a researcher at the University of Connecticut.

The finding, published in the September issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science, confirms visions of the temple depicted in historical Jewish texts and suggests the economic heart of the city was its slaughtering operation.

You can find the original journal article here (#22) (noted by Joseph Lauer).

On the Temple as a "massive slaughterhouse," see also here.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Byzantine-era gold hoard excavated in Jerusalem

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Gold treasure trove unearthed at base of Temple Mount: Byzantine-era coins and unique menorah medallion found by Hebrew University archaeologists at site abutting Southern Wall (Ilan Ben Zion, Times of Israel).
“I have never found so much gold in my life!” [Professor Eilat Mazar] said with obvious excitement at a press conference on Mount Scopus. “I was frozen. It was unexpected.”

The centerpiece, a medallion that Mazar posited may have been used as ornamentation for a Torah scroll, is emblazoned with a seven-armed candelabrum — a menorah — a Torah scroll, and a shofar, a ram’s horn.
It must be nice to find gold often enough to be able to say that. Follow the link for cool photos.

Calaway, Sabbath and Sanctuary

JARED CALAWAY'S NEW BOOK: Sabbath and Sanctuary Available!

Historic Aramaic meeting

SYRIAC WATCH: Levita Meets the Maronites (Ed Cook).

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Peshitta resources

SYRIAC WATCH: Peshitta (Aramico blog).
The purpose of this page is to concentrate in one place, resources found on the internet that relate to the Aramaic Bible in his best-known version, the Peshitta. Most links are to posts on the blog, with details about the edition and links for viewing and downloading. This page will be continually updated.