Saturday, December 24, 2016

Hanukkah 2016

HAPPY HANUKKAH (CHANUKKAH, CHANUKAH) to all those celebrating! The eight-day festival begins tonight at sundown. That means that this year the first day of Hanukkah will overlap with Christmas. (Cross-file under Cosmic Synchronicity.)

Last year's Hanukkah post is here. It links to past Hanukkah posts with additional historical background. PaleoJudaica has put up many posts on Hanukkah in the last year. See here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Stronk, Semiramis’ Legacy

BIBLIOGRAPHIA IRANICA: Semiramis’ Legacy. Notice of a new book: Stronk, Jan p. 2016. Semiramis’ Legacy: The History of Persia According to Diodorus of Sicily (Edinburgh Studies in Ancient Persia). Edinburgh University Press.

I have commented here on the importance of the work of Diodorus for biblical studies, notably as cultural background to the Book of Daniel.

Butts and Gross, The History of the ‘Slave of Christ’

From Jewish Child to Christian Martyr

Edited and Translated by Aaron Michael Butts & Simcha Gross

Publication Status: Forthcoming

Series: Persian Martyr Acts in Syriac: Text and Translation 6
Publication Date: Nov 29,2016
Interior Color: Black
Trim Size: 6 x 9
Page Count: 269
Languages: English, Syriac
ISBN: 978-1-4632-0573-7

The History of the ‘Slave of Christ’: From Jewish Child to Christian Martyr offers the first critical editions and English translations of the two Syriac recensions of this fascinating text, which narrates the story of a young Jewish child, Asher, who after converting to Christianity and taking the name ʿAḇdā da-Mšiḥā (‘slave of Christ’) is martyred by his father Levi in a scene reminiscent of Abraham’s offering of Isaac in Genesis 22. In a detailed introduction, the authors argue that the text is a fictional story composed during the early Islamic period (ca. 650–850) probably in Shigar (modern Sinjār). Building upon methodology from the study of western Christian and Jewish texts, they further contend that the story’s author constructs an imagined Jew based on the Hebrew Bible, thereby challenging the way that previous scholars have used this text as straightforward evidence for historical interactions between Jews and Christians in Babylonia at this time. This ultimately allows the authors to reevaluate the purpose of the text and to situate it in its Late Antique Babylonian context.
Cross-file under Syriac Watch.

December 25?

'TIS THE SEASON: Why is Christmas on December 25? (Anthony Le Donne, The Jesus Blog).
From the modern historian’s perspective, we must conclude that we haven’t the first clue of Jesus’ birthdate. Rather, December 25 is a theological guess that was not widely commemorated until the 6th century. What I find most interesting, however, is that commemorating the life of Jesus restructured how Christians thought about their annual calendar. Conversely, once a commemorative calendar had been established, these traditions eventually restructured how Christians thought about Jesus.
Cross-file under Asking the Important Questions.

Christmas carols and NT textual criticism

'TIS THE SEASON: Variants affecting carols (P.J. Williams, ETC Blog). Which variant readings in Greek New Testament manuscripts influenced the wording of Christmas Carols in English? There are a few, but watch out also for apocryphal readings in the comments.

Friday, December 23, 2016

The Magi and the OTP

'TIS THE SEASON: The Magi and the Cave of Treasures (Philip Jenkins, The Anxious Bench).
As any Bible reader knows, the infant Jesus was visited by Magi, who brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh, and a cold coming they had of it. But where did they actually get these gifts from? However arcane and speculative such a question may seem, the resulting curiosity generated a vast body of Christian literature. Although not mentioned in canonical scripture, the resulting tales became an integral part of faith for countless believers.

Past posts on The Cave of Treasures are here and here. You can read an old translation at the second link. As noted, this text has recently been translated for the More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project.

Past PaleoJudaica posts on the Magi in history and legend are here and here and links.

Cross-file under Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Watch and New Testament Apocrypha Watch.

Toledot Yeshu

'TIS THE SEASON (POLEMICAL COUNTER-HISTORY EDITION): The Jewish Jesus Story. In the mysterious and controversial ancient Hebrew text ‘Toledot Yeshu,’ a counterlife of the Nazarene ‘bastard, son of a menstruant’ that criticizes Jews as much as Christians (Eli Yassif, Tablet Magazine).
Toledot Yeshu (The Life Story of Jesus) is almost certainly one of the most mysterious and controversial, yet exceedingly popular, books in the history of Hebrew literature. The book lays out for the reader the New Testament stories about the life of Jesus of Nazareth from a Jewish point of view. The Virgin Birth, the divinity and messiahship of Jesus, the betrayal by Judas Iscariot, the sentencing of Jesus before the Sanhedrin, his death, and his resurrection as Son of God are all replaced by a newly shaped narrative, what the late historian Amos Funkenstein termed “counterhistory,” that crudely derides the deepest principles of the Christian faith.

But it is remarkably sympathetic to the figure of Jesus himself.

Past PaleoJudaica posts on Toledot Yeshu (Toledoth Yeshu) are here and here. The latter notes a new edition of the text, published two years ago.

Interview with Steven Fine

MENORAHS GALORE: Everything You Wanted To Know About Menorahs But Were Afraid To Ask (Benjamin Ivry, The Forward).
Hanukkah does not begin until December 24, but the historian Steven Fine has already captured the holiday mood in “The Menorah: From the Bible to Modern Israel.” Among other things, Fine’s book explains the distinction between the seven-branched menorah used in the ancient Temple and the hanukiah, or nine-branched candelabrum lit during Hanukkah. A professor at Yeshiva University, and head of the Arch of Titus Digital Restoration Project, Fine spoke to the Forward’s Benjamin Ivry about menorah history and lore.
Past posts on Professor Fine's new book are here and links. Past posts on ancient menorahs in general are here (cf. here) and many links. Past posts on why the Temple menorah is not in the Vatican are here, here, here, here, and here. I have posted some photos of the Arch of Titus here. Cross-file under 'Tis the Season (Hanukkah Edition).

Fredriksen on Hayes, What’s Divine About Divine Law?

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Paul and the Mosaic Law (Paula Fredriksen). I take it that this too is from the recent SBL session on Professor Hayes's book, although that is not stated explicitly. For the earlier SBL reviews posted at AJR, see here and here. The first of those two post also collects earlier PaleoJudaica posts on the book.

Amihay, Theory and Practice in Essene Law

ARYEH AMIHAY: Theory and Practice in Essene Law ( This file includes the front and back matter and the introduction to his new (2016) OUP book with this title.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Hyrcanus was here

EPIGRAPHY: Hasmonean Period Stone Bowl Engraved with Rare Hebrew Inscription ‘Hyrcanus’ Discovered (JNi.Media).
A stone bowl engraved with a rare Hebrew inscription – “Hyrcanus” – dating to the Hasmonean period was discovered in the archaeological excavations of the Israel Antiquities Authority in the Givʽati Parking Lot at the City of David at the Jerusalem Walls National Park. “Hyrcanus” was a common name of the time, as well as the name of two kings of the Hasmonean dynasty.

According to researchers, “This is one of the earliest examples of the appearance of chalk vessels in Jerusalem. In the past, these vessels were widely used mainly by Jews because they ensured ritual purity (stone vessels never receive tumah).”

("Tumah" means "ritual impurity.")

Postdoc on the ideology of writing in the ancient Mediterranean

Brown University: DOF: Religious Studies
Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Culture and Ideology of Writing in the Ancient Mediterranean
Location: Providence, RI

The Departments of Religious Studies, Classics, and History, and the Programs in Judaic Studies and Early Cultures, invite applications for an International Post-Doctoral Fellowship in the area of the culture and ideology of writing in the ancient Mediterranean. Specialization is open, but preference will be given to candidates who employ the digital humanities in their research; applicants from outside North America are especially encouraged to apply. The fellow’s administrative home will be in the Department of Religious Studies, but applications are invited in any of the fields represented by the sponsoring programs, and the successful candidate is expected to be able to work across disciplines.

Fellows participate in a weekly, multi-disciplinary seminar at the Cogut Humanities Center and teach one course each term. S/he will join a strong intellectual community of scholars from across the university who work on issues involving the role of writing in the pre-modern world.

This is a two year position beginning July 1, 2017, with stipends of $61,500 and $63,907 in their 1st and 2nd years, respectively, plus standard fellows’ benefits and a $2,000 per year research budget. Applicants must have received their Ph.D. within the last five years from an institution other than Brown.

Applicants should submit a CV; letter of interest; and writing sample (of about 20 pages) online through, and arrange for the submission of three letters of recommendation. The Search Committee will begin reviewing applications on February 1, 2017.

For further information, write to either of the Search Committee Chairs, John Bodel ( or Michael Satlow (

Application Instructions
Applicants must have received their Ph.D. from an institution other than Brown within the last five years. The appointment will begin July 1, 2017. Applicant should submit a CV; letter of interest; and writing sample (of about 20 pages) online through, and arrange for the submission of three letters of recommendation. The Search Committee will begin reviewing applications on February 1, 2017.

Schiffman on the Jerusalem papyrus and forgeries

PROFESSOR LAWRENCE H. SCHIFFMAN: JERUSALEM PAYPYRUS “PROVES” JEWISH CONNECTION TO TEMPLE MOUNT. BUT IS IT A FORGERY?. A thoughtful new article by Professor Schiffman in Ami Magazine. Background on the Jerusalem papyrus is here and links.

In that article Professor Schiffman also tells an instructive little tangentially-related anecdote which is worth quoting:
Hearing these accusations reminded me of an experience I had last summer when I was in Yerushalayim. I had gotten an email from a woman who was an investigative reporter for a Canadian French-language news program; she had attached scans of a supposedly antique Jewish magical amulet. The reporter asked me to call her in Beirut. Sitting in my hotel room in Israel, I was soon speaking with her.

She had already been told by another scholar, an expert in Jewish magical texts, that what she had scanned was a forgery. Strangely, the amulet was a mixture of our standard Hebrew script, ksav Ashuri—Assyrian or square script—and ksav Ivri—the old Hebrew script (paleo- Hebrew), which went out of general use in the time of Ezra and Nechemiah, around 450 BCE. Ksav Ivri was only used later for nationalistic reasons on Jewish coins and in the writing of some Biblical manuscripts found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Kusim (Samaritans) continue to use the old script for their Torah scrolls and mezuzos today.

The combination of the scripts in one sloppily written, nonsensical text showed clearly that it was forged. The reporter explained that she was actually investigating an influx of forged Judaica currently being marketed as having been smuggled into Beirut from Syria and Iraq, where antiquities thieves have been having a field day. So I was in no way surprised when questions about the authenticity of the Jerusalem papyrus were raised.
Mixed scripts with sloppily-written, nonsensical text are features characteristic of forgeries. That doesn't necessarily mean every text with those features is a forgery, but the combination should make us consider the possibility carefully.

Toledo and Ángel, The Zoroastrian Law to Expel the Demons

BIBLIOGRAPHIA IRANICA: The Zoroastrian Law to Expel the Demons. Notice of a new book: Andrés Toledo, Miguel Ángel. 2016. The Zoroastrian law to expel the demons: Wīdēwdād 10-15. Critical edition, translation and glossary of the Avestan and Pahlavi texts (Iranica 23). Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag.

Hanukkah and the Maccabean war

'TIS THE SEASON (HANUKKAH EDITION): The Maccabees Were on the Wrong Side of History — So Why Do We Still Celebrate Hanukkah? (Barbara Brotman, The Forward). The author consulted with many scholars about the question. I don't think we can simplify the Maccabean war to either a rebellion against an oppressive outsider or a civil war. The situation was complicated and both were involved.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

New DSS from the Cave of the Skulls

EPIGRAPHY: New Dead Sea Scrolls Fragments Found in Judean Desert. Documents from Iron Age and Roman times surfacing in the black market helped convince archaeologists there was more to be found (Philippe Bohstrom, Haaretz).
New fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls have been found in the Cave of the Skulls by the Dead Sea in Israel, in a salvage excavation by Israeli authorities. The pieces are small and the writing on them is too faded to make out without advanced analysis. At this stage the archaeologists aren't even sure if they're written in ancient Hebrew, Aramaic or another language.

“The most important thing that can come out of these fragments is if we can connect them with other documents that were looted from the Judean Desert, and that have no known provenance," says Dr. Uri Davidovich of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, among the scientists investigating the caves.


The latest finds, two papyri fragments about two by two centimeters with writing and several fragments without discernible letters, were made during a three-week salvage excavation in the Cave of the Skulls this May and June by a joint expedition of the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The excavations were led by Uri Davidovich and Roi Porat of the Hebrew University, together with Amir Ganor and Eitan Klein from the IAA.

Nothing exciting or even particularly interesting here yet, but hopefully this is a harbinger of better things to come as the IAA's new comprehensive survey of the Judean Desert caves proceeds. The article also discusses many other non-epigraphic finds in the Cave of the Skulls. Past posts on the exploration of the Cave of the Skulls last spring and on the IAA's cave-survey initiative in general are collected at the end of this post.

More ancient Jewish coins up for auction

NUMISMATICS: Goldbergs: Extraordinary Collection of Ancient Jewish Coins at Auction January 10 (Coin Week).
One of the most extensive collections of extraordinary high quality ancient Jewish coins, assembled by a Long Island Doctor over two decades, will be auctioned at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel on January 10. Included are a remarkable number (45) of extremely rare silver coins picturing the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, minted just 60 years after the Temple had been destroyed in 70 CE. Each of these museum-quality, approximately quarter-dollar-size silver coins pictures the interior of the Temple, including the Ark of the Covenant surrounded by columns, usually with a star above--thought to refer to the Jewish leader Simon Bar Kochba (Simon Son of the Star), who was proclaimed the Messiah by Rabbi Akiva, and whose name, in ancient Hebrew, surrounds the Temple. The other side of the Temple coins features lulav and etrog, along with Hebrew inscriptions like “For the Freedom of Israel.” The auction company estimates that most of the Holy Temple coins will sell for $5,000 USD and up.
There are coins that have the indicated inscriptions, but the pictured coin reads somewhat differently. On it, the side with the Ark and the Temple reads ירושלם, "Jerusalem," and the side with the lulav and etrog reads שבלחר ישראל, "y(ear) 2 of the free(dom) of Israel." I am not a numismatist, but that's what I see.

The auction of the Brody Family Collection also includes some coins from the first revolt, a late Hasmonean menorah coin, other Hasmonean-era coins, and a gold Judea Capta coin.

As always, I hope that any collector who buys the coins will make them available for scholars to study and will perhaps exhibit some of the more interesting and rare ones in a museum.

Ancient menorahs

'TIS THE SEASON (HANUKKAH EDITION): Oldest-known Images of Hanukkah Menorahs: Not What We Know Today. Ancient images of Hanukkah menorahs usually had seven arms, per the divine dictate, but alternatives may have arisen due to bitter mourning, and a rabbinical ban (Miriam Feinberg Vamosh and Ruth Schuster, Haaretz).
The menorah today has nine branches: one for each of the eight days of the Hanukkah miracle, and the central stem holding the shamash. The oldest known depictions of menorahs were different. They usually had six arms plus the central stem, and some rare ones have only four.

There is no consensus on how today's nine-armed candelabrum used in commemorating Hannukkah emerged, especially given the divine directive to make menorahs with seven branches for other purposes entirely, but there are some intriguing ideas.

Hanukkah itself commemorates the purported miracle of one day's oil lasting eight days, at the height of the Maccabean revolution against Greek oppressors in the 2nd century B.C.E. Nowhere do Jewish sources dictate that a menorah be lit in commemoration, but that is the practice nowadays. As for menorahs themselves, one of the earliest-known depictions is from some 200 years later, and it's in Rome.

However, the oldest reference to a menorah is from a much earlier time, a time from which we have no archaeological evidence at all: the wandering of the Jews in the desert.

A long article that surveys the uses and forms of the menorah through late antiquity, with a brief stop in the present.

Many past posts on ancient menorahs are here and here and links.

Greeks on the Temple Mount

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Evidence of Greeks on the Temple Mount (Jennifer Greene, Temple Mount Sifting Project Blog).
It’s all Greek to Me
There are donuts EVERYWHERE and we are getting in the holiday season! As Channukkah approaches, we wanted to share with you one of our important finds relating to the Greeks on the Temple Mount. At the beginning of the project, we found a handle from an amphora that was stamped by an official from the Greek Island of Rhodes. This unique find from our sifting dates to the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes IV and constitutes a direct link to the Greco-Seleucid regime.

Cross-file under 'Tis the Season (Hanukkah Edition). Past posts on the Temple Mount Sifting Project are here and oh so many links. Past posts relating to the Acra/Akra are here and here and links.


CONSERVATION CONTROVERSY: Paved paradise? The secrets of an ancient Jerusalem-area village revealed. Ahead of plans to a luxury neighborhood, architects and archaeologists find a treasure of ancient remains in the onetime Palestinian village of Lifta on Jerusalem's outskirts (Nir Hasson, Haaretz).
The Antiquities Authority has just completed a first-of-its-kind survey in the abandoned village of Lifta, on the western approaches to Jerusalem, ahead of plans to build a neighborhood of private homes on the site.

The survey, a copy of which was obtained by Haaretz, includes an archaeological, historical and geographic study, including measurements and digital reconstruction of each of the village’s structures, and how the entire village looked in various periods. Israel has never reconstructed any former village in this manner.

The study led to new insights regarding Lifta’s history and development, its function and architecture. Artifacts from the Hellenistic period were discovered, as well as subterranean spaces never known about before.

All this may not help conserve the village in face of a plan to build an upscale neighborhood on the site.


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Review of Fine, The Menorah

ANOTHER ONE: Book Review: The Menorah, by Dr. Steven Fine (Ari Abrahams, YU Commentator). Excerpt:
The Menorah: From the Bible to Modern Israel by YU’s very own Dr. Steven Fine gives a very rich and detailed history of this majestic religious artifact from the seemingly unfinished description given in p’sukim of the Torah, to the Menorah of the Arch of Titus, emerging as national emblem of the state of Israel and the Jewish people. It was recently published by Harvard University Press in November.

By exploring many artifacts and a vast body of texts, The Menorah, captures the extensive history of the Menorah that was once lit in the Beit Ha’Mikdash and its exile to Rome. Also explored are the intriguing discoveries that a Menorah figure served a lamp that illuminated synagogues for a thousand years after the destruction of the second Beit Ha’Mikdash, and the evolution of the Menorah as a symbol for the return of the Jews to Israel and establishment of the state of Israel after a long and painful exile.
And there's this:
For Steven Fine, The Menorah began as a 12th grade AP Art History Essay in San Diego California, yet it took a career as a historian to cultivate the language skills and understanding of artifacts to complete the work. This book is the life of a scholar. Perhaps the audience for this book is more appropriate for museum-goers than people looking for a page turner to take on their tropical excursion from the New York winter. Yet, any educated and curious person can surely appreciate this book that is filled with plenty of important and intriguing content and stunning pictures.
Good for him. One of my high school projects in San Diego turned into an undergraduate paper at UCLA and then only recently into an actual publication. San Diego seems to be a good place to start these things.

A Maccabean-era coin for Hanukkah

NUMISMATICS: 2,000-year-old coin from Maccabean revolt found in Jerusalem (Yori Yalon, Israel HaYom).
Bronze prutah bears image of King Antiochus IV, who declared death sentence on Jews • Tower of David Museum Director Eilat Lieber: It's exciting to find Antiochus himself thrown down here between the stones and tell him: We're still celebrating Hanukkah.
So there! Cross-file under 'Tis the Season (Hanukkah Edition).

From a Syriac hymn to a modern Christmas carol

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: The Origins of “The Cherry Tree Carol.” How a Christmas carol links the modern Middle East and medieval England (Mary Joan Winn Leith). An English version of a fifth-century Syriac dialogue-hymn came to us via the Crusaders and Mystery Plays, and it survives as a Christmas carol today.

Via John Burger at Aleteia. Cross-file under Syriac Watch and 'Tis the Season.

A manger

'TIS THE SEASON: Away in a Manger (feeding trough!) (HolyLandPhotos' Blog). Just in case you wanted to see what one looks like. But see also the immediately preceding post.

Carlson on the Nativity scene

'TIS THE SEASON: Stephen Carlson on the "Inn" in Luke's Infancy Account (Brice C. Jones). No inn, no innkeeper, and no stable. Oh oh.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Academic posts involving ancient Judaism

H-JUDIAC has a bounty of advertisments for jobs and fellowships in Jewish studies. The ones below all encompass a wider range that just ancient Jewish studies, but the ancient period is included in all of them.

Visiting Fellowships in Jewish Studies – 2017/2018 Academic Year
In an effort to enhance the quality of courses, instruction, and research in Jewish Studies at universities throughout the world, a Visiting Fellowship program has been created by Yad Hanadiv and the Beracha Foundation, together with the National Library of Israel.
For not-tenured or not-yet-tenured scholars.

POSTDOC: Perilman Post-Doctoral Fellowship at Duke Center for Jewish Studies
The Duke Center for Jewish Studies is proud to offer a Post-Doctoral Fellowship that honors the memory of Rabbi Nathan Perilman, who, after serving at Temple Emmanu-El in New York City, joined the Triangle-area Jewish in his retirement. The Fellowship may be used for post-doctoral studies (Ph.D. received within last three years) in any field of Jewish Studies. Preference may be given to candidates whose presence on the Duke campus promises the greatest contribution to faculty, student and regional seminar interaction; for example, those whose research interests correspond to those of faculty and graduate students at Duke, or to those for whom the use of the Duke library and special collections would be most beneficial. Candidates must agree to be in residence at Duke University for the tenure of their fellowship. ...
Research Fellowships in Jewish Studies and the Hebrew Bible at Duke University
Research Fellowships in Jewish Studies and the Hebrew Bible
The Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library and the Center for Jewish Studies are pleased to announce the availability of new fellowships, with awards of $1500, to support scholars, students and independent researchers whose work would benefit from access to the Judaica materials held by the Rubenstein Library, the Duke Divinity School Library and/or Perkins Library.

Who is eligible?

Faculty members, graduate or undergraduate students and independent scholars
All applicants must reside beyond a 100-mile radius of Durham, N.C., and may not be current Duke University students or employees.
The Rabin-Shvidler Joint Post-Doctoral Fellowship in Jewish Studies at Fordham and Columbia
The Rabin-Shvidler Joint Post-Doctoral Fellowship in Jewish Studies at Fordham and Columbia

Fordham University’s Jewish Studies Program and Columbia University’s Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies announce a joint post-doctoral fellowship in Jewish Studies for the 2017-2018 academic year. The fellowship will consist of a stipend of $50,000, with an additional subsidy for travel and relocation. Fellows will be affiliated with both institutions.

This fellowship is open to scholars in all fields of Jewish Studies, preference will be given to scholars who strengthen and/or complement the intellectual interests of the faculty at both institutions.

Requirements are a Ph.D. granted between June 1, 2013, and June 30, 2017, and an excellent command of Hebrew. Fellows will be expected to be in residence between September 1, 2016 and May 31, 2017, teach one undergraduate course per semester, and give one lecture and a faculty seminar during their fellowship period.
JOB: Lecturer in Hebrew at Fordham University
The Department of Modern Languages and Literatures at Fordham University announces a lecturer position in Hebrew. Candidates who have experience teaching modern and biblical Hebrew are particularly encouraged to apply. The candidate will direct and develop a new Hebrew program following the same sequence as the other language courses taught in the department. He or she will also teach content courses in the Jewish Studies Program and Modern Language and Literatures. Other responsibilities will include among others: language placement, advising, assessment, tutoring, and event planning. Initial 1-year with the potential for renewal. Rose Hill Campus.
In all cases follow the link for further particulars.

Urim ve-tummim

YONA SABAR: Hebrew Word of the Week: urim ve-tummim “Urim and Thummim.”
Apparently, two objects used by the High Priest (ha-Kohen ha-Gadol) for casting lots, to know “guilty” or “innocent, “yes” or “no” questions (Exodus 28:30; Leviticus 8:8; Ezra 2:63). But also by individuals, as when “Saul inquired of the Lord … either by dreams or by an oracle (Urim) or by prophets” (1 Samuel 28:6).


The nine-branched Hanukkah menorah

'TIS THE SEASON (HANUKKAH EDITION): Why Does the Hanukkah Menorah Have Nine Branches? The more familiar seven-branched menorah has symbolized Judaism since biblical times (Steven Fine, Wall Street Journal).
The menorah—“lamp stand” in Hebrew—has been the pre-eminent symbol of Jews and Judaism for millennia. It is the oldest continuously used religious symbol in Western civilization. Yet at this time of year, many people—Jews and non-Jews alike—find themselves puzzled about it. Why is there a nine-branched menorah for Hanukkah (which begins this year on the evening of Dec. 24) rather than the more familiar seven-branched one, as in the seal of the State of Israel?

Since biblical times, the seven-branched menorah has symbolized Judaism. It first appears in Exodus, as a lighting fixture within the Tabernacle, a sort of portable temple used by the Israelites during their desert wanderings. The menorah is described in Exodus in minute detail, based on a heavenly prototype.

For the answer to the question in the headline, click on the link and read on. But most readers familiar with the story behind the holiday will probably have already figured it out. For Professor Fine's new book on the menorah, see here and links. Some other past posts involving ancient menorahs are collected here.

Carthaginian battles

PUNIC WATCH: Today in History: Dec. 18 (manninglive).
218 BC – Second Punic War: Battle of the Trebia – Hannibal’s Carthaginian forces defeat those of the Roman Republic.
Okay, that was yesterday, but I was busy then and only noticed this morning. For more on the Battle of the Trebia, see here and here.

And on a closely related topic: Hannibal vs. Rome: Why the Battle of Cannae Is One of the Most Important in History (Akhilesh Pillalamarri, The National Interest).
One of the most pivotal battles in Western history, the Battle of Cannae, was fought some 2,200 years ago to the year. The Battle of Cannae occurred on August 2, 216 BCE in southeast Italy between Carthaginian forces led by Hannibal Barca and Roman forces led by Lucius Aemilius Paullus and Gaius Terentius Varro. Both forces also included various allied soldiers. The battle, which ended in a major Roman defeat, is considered to be of great importance because of its tactical lessons for posterity, as well as the fact that it was the closest the Roman state had come to destruction in its history up to that point.

Past posts on the Battle of Cannae are here and links, and here and here.

And occasionally I like to link to a reminder of why PaleoJudaica is interested in ancient Phoenician and Carthaginian (Punic) matters.

Jesus son of ...?

'TIS THE SEASON: Virgin Mary, Career-Killer. Questioning the birth story central to Christianity has been taking down scholars and skeptics for just about 2,016 years (Candida Moss, The Daily Beast).
Of all of the miracles recorded in the New Testament, the virgin birth of Jesus Christ garners the most cynical attention. Upon learning that I teach at the University of Notre Dame, almost every atheist I meet will make a crack about Mary’s sexual history. It’s an interesting phenomenon: People rarely tell me that they think the disciples lied about the Resurrection. But when it comes to the doctrine that Mary conceived the Son of God without having sex , no teaching is as closely protected or as broadly scorned.

The idea that Jesus’ mother was named Mary is uncontroversial in scholarly circles. But whether or not she was a virgin has been questioned since the second century. The pagan writer Celsus, a well-known critic of Christianity, wrote that Jesus’ biological father was a Roman soldier named Pantera. He wasn’t alone in his opinion; writing in the Talmud, rabbinic authors describe Jesus as “Yeshu ben Pantera”—meaning Jesus son of Panther, which was a relatively common name for Roman soldiers. The implication here is that Mary was a collaborator who got knocked up by a hated occupier and decided to concoct a story in which Jesus was the product of a sexless encounter with God.

Interesting article. One point that could have been added is that "Pantera" also looks suspiciously like a mispronunciation of the the Greek word parthenos, "virgin." So the origin of the idea that Jesus' real father was named Pantera could be an (accidental or deliberate) corruption of the phrase "Jesus son of the virgin" in Greek.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

18 December: Arabic Language Day

ARABIC WATCH: Examining the origins of Arabic ahead of Arabic Language Day (Rym Ghazal, The National).
To understand Arabs and their culture, one must first understand their language, but with many conflicting theories about its origins, this is no easy task.

To celebrate a language used by hundreds of millions of people around the world, ­December 18 is the designated UN Arabic Language Day. The day was established by the UN ­ Educational, Scientific and ­Cultural Organisation (Unesco) in 2010 to "celebrate multilingualism and cultural diversity as well as to promote equal use of all six of its official working languages throughout the ­organisation."

This date was chosen because it was the day in 1973 when ­Arabic became the sixth official working language of the General ­Assembly of the United Nations and its main commissions – the others being Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish.

The article has some information about Arabic linguistics and its place in the development of the Semitic languages, but the part of main interest for PaleoJudaica is on the influence of Nabatean on Arabic script:
"Some say Arabic script originated from Al Hirah (fourth-to-­seventh-century Mesopotamia) in the north, while others say it originated from the south of ­Arabia, from Himyar (110 BC to AD 525)," Al Naboodah. "The origin of Arabic is a highly debated topic, with new discoveries still happening."

A discovery in 2014 by a French-Saudi expedition team hailed "the oldest known inscription in the Arabic alphabet" at a site located near Najran in ­Saudi Arabia. The script, which was found on stelae (stone slabs) that has been preliminarily dated to AD 470, corresponds to a period in which there was a missing link between Nabataean and Arabic writing.

"The first thing that makes this find significant is that it is a mixed text, known as ­Nabataean Arabic, the first stage of ­Arabic writing," says epigrapher Frédéric ­Imbert, a professor at Aix-Marseille ­University.

The Nabataean script was developed from Aramaic writing during the second century BC and continued to be used until around the fourth or fifth century. Nabataean is therefore considered the direct precursor of the Arabic script. Nabataean script is a close ancestor, and the Najran style is the "missing link" between Nabataean and the first "Kufi" inscriptions.

Until this discovery, one of the earliest inscriptions in the ­Arabic language was written in the ­Nabataean alphabet, found in Namara (modern Syria) and dated to AD 328, on display at the Louvre in Paris.
At the beginning of the article there is also a nice photograph of a Nabatean inscription dated to 10 CE. The caption reports: "The stone is on display at The Sharjah Archaeology Museum under the Exhibition: Petra, Desert Wonder until March 16, 2017." The Sharjah Museum is in the UAE.

Some related posts are collected here and links. Cross-file under Nabatean (Nabataean) Watch and Aramaic Watch. There is a lot more on the Nabatean language and script here and links. More on ancient Aramaic in the UAE is here and links.

Punic Death Metal track "The Rise of Hannibal" released

PUNIC WATCH: KATAKLYSM Frontman's EX DEO Project: Listen To New Song 'The Rise Of Hannibal' (
EX DEO, the reactivated Ancient Roman-themed arsenal fronted by KATAKLYSM singer Maurizio Iacono, will release its third album, "The Immortal Wars", on February 24, 2017 via Napalm Records. The cover artwork was created by renowned artist Eliran Kantor, who has previously worked with TESTAMENT, HATEBREED, SOULFLY and KATAKLYSM.

The song "The Rise Of Hannibal", taken from "The Immortal Wars", can be streamed below.

The sound fits the subject matter nicely.

Past posts on the forthcoming album are here and here.

"Canon" comes to Sheffield

JAMES MCGRATH: Canon in the UK.
Thanks to Meredith Warren for introducing students in Sheffield, England to Canon: The Card Game! Here are some photos from the class, which I understand enjoyed the experience immensely – as well as having interesting conversations relevant to the course.

Background here. I look forward to the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha deck.

Aliquot and Bonnet (eds.), Phénicie hellénistique

Julien Aliquot, Corinne Bonnet (ed.), La Phénicie hellénistique: Actes du colloque international de Toulouse (18-20 février 2013). Topoi Supplément, 13. Lyon: Société des Amis de la Bibliothèque Salomon-Reinach, 2015. Pp. 396. ISBN 17640733. €30.00.

Reviewed by Paul Keen, University of Massachusetts Lowell (

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

As noted by Aliquot and Bonnet in the introduction to this volume, scholarship has often been inclined to treat Hellenistic Phoenicia either obliquely as (to borrow Sartre’s phrase from the conclusion, p. 367) a “somewhat banal Hellenistic province” or as a unique example of Hellenization in which Greek culture found a ready footing among Phoenicians participating in the Hellenistic koine while simultaneously retaining their own language and certain cultural and religious habits.1 In recent years, scholarship on the Hellenistic and Roman Levant, as well as the Punic west, has done much to increase the sophistication and breadth of our understanding of continuities and change in terms of cultural and religious identity beyond the binaries encapsulated in the increasingly out-of-favor concept of Hellenization.2 Nonetheless, outside of Bonnet’s Les enfants de Cadmos, published only shortly before this volume, Hellenistic Phoenicia as a region and chronological period in its own right had eluded monograph- length treatment since Grainger’s 1991 survey.3 Here, Aliquot and Bonnet, two of the principal protagonists of scholarly advances in the region, have sought to remedy this gap and to broaden our understanding of the region and period through the publication of fifteen papers and a concluding analysis by Maurice Sartre, each focused on our understanding of, and the evidence for, the shifting political, economic, and cultural dynamics of the period.

Cross-file under Phoenician Watch.

Oldest languages "being used"

WHAT WOULD WE DO WITHOUT LISTS? List Of Oldest Languages In The World. These languages have been there since years and we bet you did not know since how long they were being used. Read to find out more (Syeda Farah Noor, Boldsky).
History speaks volumes, new discoveries or finding out about the missing villages, everything gets interesting when we get to know the facts. Little things like learning about the oldest languages in the world can add on some bit of knowledge.

Here, in this article, we are about to share the list of some of the oldest languages that are being used in the world.

These are the languages that have been followed for decades and there are hardly any changes in the way they are being used in today's generation!
Well, that's a bit of an exaggeration.

The phrase "being used in the world" is pretty vague. Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek are listed, naturally, as ancient languages still being spoken. But liturgical languages appear to count too, since Egyptian (i.e. Coptic) and Latin are included too.

Please ignore whatever is said about any individual language. Scarcely anything said about any language I know about is correct.