Saturday, February 01, 2014

Robert Curzon, manuscript collector

LIV INGEBORG LIED: On manuscripts, preserves and cold feet: Robert Curzon's Visits to Monasteries in the Levant.

Lord Curzon (a.k.a. Lord Zouche) has been mentioned in previous PaleoJudaica posts here and here. And his 1873 obituary in The Times is online here.

Professor Lied gives Amazon links to purchase Curzon's volume. But if you don't want a hard copy (and you already have enough jar lids) you can read it here or download it as a pdf file or an electronic book here, both for free. For you, special deal!

Not dead yet?

IT'S FEELING BETTER: The Death of the Documentary Hypothesis (David Bokovoy).

Friday, January 31, 2014

MOTP1 reviews online

OLD TESTAMENT PSEUDEPIGRAPHA: MORE NONCANONICAL SCRIPTURES, Volume 1, is getting some attention in various online media.

First, Rick Brannan has finished his Twitter summary of the volume. Links to the tweets are collected on his blog here (noted previously here) and here.

Second, as Rick notes, Jim West has published a review on his blog here.

Third, Daniel Gurtner has published a review at here. (You have to log in as a member to download the whole thing.)

So add the above to the recent popular-media excitement over The Treatise of the Vessels.

Nice to see that the volume is already getting some attention. Here at St. Andrews, we are also going through it in our postgraduate Hebrew Bible/Old Testament seminar this semester.

If you haven't ordered your copy yet, you can buy it from Amazon here.

Review of Seow, Job 1-21

MARGINALIA: The Book of Job’s Past, Present, and Future Consequences – By Davis Hankins. Davis Hankins on C.L. Seow’s Job 1-21: Interpretation and Commentary. Excerpt:
Beyond Joban studies, Seow’s work unsettles the traditional commentary genre and opens vast interpretive possibilities for rereading our great books in light of the caches of evidence that interpreters have long treated according to what could be characterized as a usefulness paradigm. That is, the present text and interpreter make use of the past only to the extent that the past is useful to present concerns. What is not useful is suitable only for the archive. The uniqueness of Seow’s approach might be described in terms of its emergentist paradigm: the present is nothing more than an emergence out of the possibilities past consequences have opened.

More than simply a breath of fresh air for our shared humanistic inquiry, such work is also potentially quite urgent at this moment when the humanities are threatened on many different fronts, including by the ubiquitous demand for demonstrable usefulness. Where is the demonstrable usefulness of the humanities more clearly evident than in the history of consequences? This history reveals not only the usefulness of the humanities, but also how the humanities have shaped what counts as useful, an impact often overlooked in such discussions. While this history largely remains to be written, Seow’s significant contribution will hopefully and surely compel us to continue writing it.
I take the point and am largely sympathetic to it, although I think a good bit of the current trendy call for the humanities to be "useful" is corrosive and needs to be resisted. (Related thoughts here, here, and here.) But that is not to detract from the value of what sounds like a marvelous book.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Is Abracadabra Aramaic?

STEVE CARUSO: Abracadabra is NOT Aramaic.

Technically he is correct, but I think it's a little more complicated. Steve acknowledges that the first part of the phrase, "Abra," could come from the Aramaic word "to create," although it is badly pronounced (but ancient Greek-speaking magicians were less than rigorous about such things) and that the middle part, "ca" could be a preposition meaning "as" or "like." The problem is the last part, "dabra" which looks like an Aramaic form (with the emphatic ending "-a") of the Hebrew (not Aramaic) word davar (דבר), "word" (not "I speak"). As far as I can tell, this Hebraism is not attested in Aramaic, but we should be cautious about this, since the Hebrew root was borrowed into Aramaic, as we see in the word dibbura (דיבורא), "speech, "utterance," etc., in Rabbinic Aramaic (Jastrow, 295; Sokoloff, Palestinian, 144; Sokoloff, Babylonian, 326). If we allow for the possible similar (and otherwise unattested) borrowing of davar, Abracadabra could be a badly pronounced rendition of "I create according to the word" or the like. It seems entirely plausible to me that an ancient Jewish or Greco-Egyptian magician could have come up with this sort of cool-sounding incantation.

More on Abracadabra here and here and links.

Cross-file under "Aramaic Watch."

4 Maccabees in Sahidic Coptic

ALIN SUCIU: Ivan Miroshnikov’s Article on the Sahidic Version of 4 Maccabees. This Vetus Testamentum article is downloadable at Alin's blog post for free. For you, special deal!

Cross-file under "Old Testament pseudepigrapha."

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Mercava platform

Mercava platform claims it’s the future of Jewish education
Daf Yomi program providing free Talmud access is being piloted in 100 schools; is it revolutionary, or over-hyped?

By Julie Wiener January 25, 2014, 10:13 pm (Times of Israel)

NEW YORK (JTA) — An Israel-based nonprofit boasts staff and board members from brand-name companies like Facebook and Disney. Its splashy fundraising video promises a customizable online platform for Jewish learning with a comprehensive digital library of Judaic texts featuring translations, links to related sources, maps and videos.

But is Mercava the future of Jewish education or mere vaporware, the tech term for overly hyped software that never fully materializes?

The promotional video is cool, but I thought it could have more specifics. But maybe I don't think like a startup investor. In any case the agenda of the project is, as this article notes, also nothing if not ambitious:
Mercava is hardly the first piece of Jewish educational technology, but it may be the most ambitious. A start-up called Sefaria has begun enlisting volunteers to help put the entire Jewish canon online. The publisher Behrman House makes its textbooks available in digital form. And Israel’s Center for Education Technology has helped develop interactive textbooks for use in Jewish day schools.

But none matches Mercava in the sheer breadth of features, services, texts and other media it plans to make available in one central hub. The scale of the site’s ambitions is evident in its marketing rhetoric, which touts the project as “the biggest thing to happen to Talmud since Talmud.”

[CEO and co-founder Yehuda] Moshe said Mercava has been in development for nearly five years and that most of the “underlying work” is done. A basic version of its Daf Yomi program providing free access to the Talmud already is available and has been piloted in almost 100 schools, mostly in Australia and England, he says.

Additional products will begin rolling out in July with the release of 1,000 interactive books in Hebrew and English. A lesson builder tool for teachers will be released soon after.

It is not clear whether Mercava will be open source, but Moshe emphasized that most of its contents will be offered for free.

Incidentally, this isn't the first time the Hebrew word "Merkavah" has been used as a product title. That one was pretty ambitious too. It will be interesting to follow what happens with the Mercava platform.

Some exegetical creativity in the Talmud

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Too Much, Too Little: Talmudic Rabbis’ Creativity Shines When Interpreting Prohibitions. Manna, and fasting, are not just miracles of sustenance and faith, but also elements of jurisprudence. Excerpt:
Something similar happens in Yoma 76a, where Rabbi Elazar HaModai deduces that “the manna that fell for the Jewish people was 60 cubits high”—about 90 feet. At first, Rabbi Tarfon is skeptical, saying, “Modai, how long will you collect words?”—that is, speak meaninglessly. But Elazar HaModai has the figures to support his assertion. When the flood came in Noah’s time, he points out, the waters rose 15 cubits above the earth. Now, the flood happened because “the windows of heaven were opened.” But in the case of the manna, the book of Psalms says that God “opened the doors of Heaven.” And a door, Elazar calculates, is four times the size of a window. Thus the manna should be four times as high as the waters—that is, 60 cubits.
As Mr. Kirsch observes, this instance of Talmudic creativity is not without its problems. But it does illustrate how carefully the rabbis attended to intertextual connections within scripture. Read the whole column for examples of how jurisprudence fits in.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Welcome to Madhavi Nevader

OT/HB THREE-YEAR LECTURESHIP UPDATE: I am delighted to report that the temporary lectureship in Old Testament/Hebrew Bible here at St. Andrews has been filled with the hiring of Dr. Madhavi Nevader. She is just finishing up a Mellon Fellowship at Oxford and will be joining us here in the next couple of weeks.

Of course, everyone on Facebook already knows about this, but still a PaleoJudaica announcement is in order. Welcome Madhavi!

Review of Waddell, The Messiah

DIGLOTTING: Book Review: The Messiah – A Comparative Study of the Enochic Son of Man and the Pauline Kyrios.
Title: The Messiah: A Comparative Study of the Enochic Son of Man and the Pauline Kyrios

Author: James Waddell

Bibliographic info: XVI + 209 + 30 (of indices and bibliography)

Publisher: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2013.
Somehow I missed this book when it came out.

Chancellor's Fellowship at Edinburgh

LARRY HURTADO: NT Position Advertised: Edinburgh. The closing date for applications is 7 February 2014.

Postdoc on Syriac hagiography

SYRIAC WATCH: Job vacancies: two fully-funded ERC Postdoctoral Re
search Fellowships (4 years each) at Ghent University (Belgium)
The Department of Literary Studies at Ghent University (Belgium) is seeking well-qualified applicants for two fully-funded Postdoctoral Research Fellowships attached to the European Research Council project Novel Saints. Ancient novelistic heroism in the hagiography of Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages ( The Principal Investigator of this project is Prof Dr ! Koen De Temmerman, who, as a classicist, specializes in ancient fiction and its persistence in later periods.

There is one position available in the field of Syriac hagiography and another in that of Persian medieval narrative literature.

The two successful applicants will start employment on 1 June 2014 or as soon as possible thereafter.

Deadline: applications should arrive no later than 21 March 2014.
The description of the position in Syriac hagiography is as follows:
The successful candidate will have an excellent knowledge of Syriac and a very good working knowledge of both Latin and Greek. (S)he will preferably have specialized in Syriac, late antique narrative literature and will have as central corpora within the project the so-called Acts of Persian martyrs, collections of Lives and hagiographical romances. Each of these three corpora invites dialogue with those examined by other team members. (S)he will be capable of producing (a) a text edition (with English translation) of a carefully-selected set of late Sasanian Acts and (b) detailed literary studies that cover the narrative qualities of the texts and analyze concepts of heroism and fictionalization.
HT Andrea Schmidt (via Peter Van Nuffelen) on the Hugoye list.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Research grant on Christian-Jewish enmity

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS: How did it happen that the Jews became identified as enemies of Christians? Let me add my congratulations, along with Chris Keith, to McMaster Associate Professor Anders Runesson and his Swedish colleagues who have just received a major grant from the Swedish Research Council to study this problem.

Satlow, How the Bible Became Holy

How the Bible Became Holy

Michael L. Satlow

In this sweeping narrative, Michael Satlow tells the fascinating story of how an ancient collection of obscure Israelite writings became the founding texts of both Judaism and Christianity, considered holy by followers of each faith. Drawing on cutting-edge historical and archeological research, he traces the story of how, when, and why Jews and Christians gradually granted authority to texts that had long lay dormant in a dusty temple archive. The Bible, Satlow maintains, was not the consecrated book it is now until quite late in its history.

He describes how elite scribes in the eighth and seventh centuries B.C.E. began the process that led to the creation of several of our biblical texts. It was not until these were translated into Greek in Egypt in the second century B.C.E., however, that some Jews began to see them as culturally authoritative, comparable to Homer’s works in contemporary Greek society. Then, in the first century B.C.E. in Israel, political machinations resulted in the Sadducees assigning legal power to the writings. We see how the world Jesus was born into was largely biblically illiterate and how he knew very little about the texts upon which his apostles would base his spiritual leadership.

Synthesizing an enormous body of scholarly work, Satlow’s groundbreaking study offers provocative new assertions about commonly accepted interpretations of biblical history as well as a unique window into how two of the world’s great faiths came into being.

Michael L. Satlow is Professor of Religious Studies and Judaic Studies at Brown University. He has been awarded fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies and the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation. He lives in Providence, RI.
Some of this sound controversial. Should generate an interesting discussion.

HT T Michael Law on Facebook.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Bindings of Syriac manuscripts

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS: The Syriac manuscripts in the British Library: what happened to the bindings? (Liv Ingeborg Lied). More reason to think that we should save every scrap of every artifact from antiquity, even if it doesn't seem interesting to us now.

More On Shamma Friedman

MORE DETAILS FROM THE TALMUD BLOG: Shamma Friedman, Israel Prize Recipient.

Background here.