Monday, March 19, 2018

Quick on Deuteronomy and Aramaic curses

Curses in the Book of Deuteronomy and in Old Aramaic Inscriptions

The law code of the book of Deuteronomy is capped with a series of curses that threaten harm upon any individual that should fail to keep the Deuteronomic laws. While this method of divine encouragement to keep the commandments of God might seem surprising from a theological point of view, curses were an integral part of the legal, political and religious life of the ancient Near East, found in a variety of ancient texts including the Hebrew Bible, Neo-Assyrian treaties, and Northwest Semitic inscriptions. Placing the biblical curses within the larger context of this ancient Near Eastern material provides new insights into the background and function of the curses in the book of Deuteronomy.

See Also: Deuteronomy 28 and the Aramaic Curse Tradition (Oxford Theology and Religion Monographs; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017).

By Laura Quick
Assistant Professor of Religion and Judaic Studies
Princeton University
March 2018
It seems the Arameans were fond of "futility curses." Cross-file under Aramaic Watch and New Book.

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Mary Magdalene the "apostolesse?"

THE ANXIOUS BENCH: Mary Magdalene’s Myth: The Latest Chapter (Philip Jenkins). Professor Jenkins has not yet seen the new Mary Magdalene movie (nor have I), but it has inspired him to discuss some issues about the historical and traditional Mary Magdelene. It develops that she was referred to as an apostle ("apostolesse") in 15th century England.

Interesting discussion about which resurrection appearances of Jesus might be more historical. But that question raises metaphysical and psychological issues as well ...

Background on the new Mary Magdalene film is here.

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Priestly laws in the Torah

PROF. JEFFREY H. TIGAY: Why Are Laws for Priests Included in the Torah? (
The Torah’s program to democratize knowledge and create an educated laity.

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Koller, Elitzur and Bar-Asher Siegal (eds.), Studies in Mishnaic Hebrew and Related Fields

Studies in Mishnaic Hebrew and Related Fields
Proceedings of the Yale Symposium on Mishnaic Hebrew, May 2014

Edited by: Aaron J. Koller, Elitzur A. Bar-Asher Siegal

Purchase options: Price Site price
Printed book $ 47.00 $ 42.30
Online book & Download $ 35.25
Publisher: The Program in Judaic Studies, Yale University, New Haven
In collaboration with: The Center for Jewish Languages and Literatures. The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Categories: Hebrew and Jewish Languages, Linguistics and Language
Publish date: January 2018
Language: English
Danacode: 45-341040
ISBN: 978-965-481-067-8
Cover: Hardcover
Pages: 445
Weight: 985 gr.

The eighteen studies presented here originated in a symposium held at Yale in 2014, attended by scholars from Europe, Israel, and North America. The papers approach the subject of Mishnaic Hebrew from many different angles and directions, including grammar, from morphology to syntax to pragmatics; the relationship between the literary dialect and epigraphic evidence; manuscripts; questions of language contact, lexicography, social history, and medieval traditions; and the problem of translating Mishnaic Hebrew into modern languages. The contributors to this volume are among the leading scholars in the field and the collection represents both the current state of research and the cutting edge of future work.
Follow the link for the TOC and ordering information.

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Sunday, March 18, 2018

Gnostic America Conference at Rice University

APRIL DECONICK: Gnostic America Conference, March 28-31, Rice University.
I am pleased to announce the Gnostic America Conference. We will convene at Rice University on March 28-31. The conference is free and open to the public. We are exploring the afterlives of Gnosticism in America.


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Shofar sheep

FOR TRUMPETING: ISRAELI SHEPHERDESS USES MODERN SHEEP BREED TO REVIVE ANCIENT SHOFAR SOUND. Turning her flock's horns into shofars is part of God's plan, says Lewinsky, who calls herself a "traditional and God-fearing Jew" (Reuters/Jerusalem Post).

Some background on the use of the shofar is here.

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Clandestine Aramaic

SO ANGELS AND THE IDF DON'T KNOW ARAMAIC? Incarcerated Peleg Protestor Asks Friends to Send Letter in Aramaic So IDF Won’t Understand (Yeshiva World).

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Neef, Arbeitsbuch Biblisch-Aramäisch

NEW BOOK FROM MOHR SIEBECK: HEINZ-DIETER NEEF. Arbeitsbuch Biblisch-Aramäisch. Materialien, Beispiele und Übungen zum Biblisch-Aramäisch. [A Guide to Biblical Aramaic. Materials, Examples and Exercises in Biblical Aramaic. 3 rd revised and expanded edition.] 3rd reviewed and revised edition 2018. XVIII, 208 pages. 29,00 €. sewn paper. ISBN 978-3-16-156012-5.
Published in German.
With its 16 lessons, this guide is an introduction to the biblical Aramaic language. A textbook with a didactic concept, it contains materials, examples and exercises as well as paradigm tables, a vocabulary list, the answers to the exercises, a subject index and an index of biblical passages. The exercises, i.e. the verb and nominal forms to be determined, as well as the texts to be translated, are all from the Aramaic part of the Old Testament. The book has been designed so that readers who have no knowledge of Hebrew or another Semitic language can also use it. Since the answers to the exercises are given, the book can also be used for autodidactic studies and the indexes make it a good reference work.

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Saturday, March 17, 2018

Boccaccini is a Knight of the Order of the Star of Italy

Proud and happy. I was awarded the honor of "Cavaliere dell'Ordine della Stella d'Italia" (Knight of the Order of the Star of Italy) by Italy's President, Sergio Mattarella, for my contribution to the promotion of Italian culture abroad.
As he adds:
An important acknowledgment not for me only, but also for the entire work of the Enoch Seminar.
Well done, Professor Boccaccini!

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Free articles from Dead Sea Discoveries

FOR YOU, SPECIAL DEAL: 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 first 5 articles are now freely accessible until 15 April:
Follow the first link above for links to the articles. The list is as follows:
  • Prayers From Qumran and Their Historical Implications - Esther Glickler Chazon (Volume 1, No. 3)
  • Rabbinic Literature as a Source for the History of Jewish Sectarianism in the Second Temple Period - Albert I. Baumgarten (Volume 2, No. 1)
  • On the Testimony of Women in 1QSa - Philip R. Davies and Joan E. Taylor (Volume 3, No. 3)
  • "The Holy Angels Are in Their Council": the Exclusion of Deformed Persons From Holy Places in Qumranic and Rabbinic Literature - Aharon Shemesh (Volume 4, No. 2)
  • Lady Wisdom and Dame Folly At Qumran - Sidnie White Crawford (Volume 5, No. 3)
And congratulations to DSD for a quarter century of excellent publications!

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Women, WIkipedia, and the ANE: International Women's Day 2018

On the 8th of March, International Women’s Day, the Centres of Excellence ANEE and CSTT co-organized a Wikipedia edit-a-thon with the theme “Women and the Ancient Near East”. The aim was to improve both the Wikipedia pages on female scholars of the ancient Near East and on women in the ancient sources. The event took place in a casual but inspiring atmosphere, and the Wikimedia volunteers provided some editing training for the ones not so familiar with Wikipedia content creating. The event gathered 15 participants, who created in total 4 new Wikipedia articles, edited 9 existing ones, and added 2540 words to Wikipedia.


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Jack Miles at BC

ANNOUNCEMENT: Distinguished Professor emeritus Jack Miles to be Boston College visiting chair (UCI News).
John R. “Jack” Miles, UCI Distinguished Professor emeritus of English and religious studies, has been appointed the 2018-19 Corcoran Visiting Chair in Christian-Jewish Relations at the Center for Christian-Jewish Learning at Boston College.

Congratulations to Professor Miles and to Boston College. I note with particular interest his current project:
During his tenure as the Corcoran Chair, Miles will complete a book, The Greatest Translation of All Time, about the original translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew and Aramaic into Greek.

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Friday, March 16, 2018

The DSS exhibition in Denver

OPENS TODAY: Dead Sea Scrolls on Purity, Morals on Display for First Time, in Denver. Vast Israeli antiquities exhibit showcasing Temples era and the start of the great religions visiting Denver Museum of Science and Nature for six months (Ruth Schuster, Haaretz). PaleoJudaica readers are familiar with this story, but today there is some news on which specific scrolls will be on display:
For the sake of their preservation, the first 10 scrolls displayed in Denver will return to Israel after three months and will be replaced by 10 other scrolls, the IAA explains.

Also among the Dead Sea Scrolls on exhibit in Denver in the two rounds are biblical, extra-biblical and sectarian scrolls found in Qumran.
These are the two scrolls that will go on public display for the first time ever:
Infectious impurity

The scroll on rules of ritual purity and impurity, called Tohorot (Purities) A, dates from the late 1st century B.C.E., says the IAA.

Only the ritually purified were allowed to handle sacred matters. Purification included immersion in the ritual bath (mikveh) and in some cases, even isolation, if the spiritual blemish was caused by illness.


Secret of existence
The other scroll going on display for the first time in Denver is called Musar Le'Mevin – to "he who understands" lectures on morality for learned disciples. It is also known as the Sapiental Work Scroll.

The messages are presented as information coming directly from God, conveyed through sages to their followers. It too dates to the late 1st century B.C.E. and is rather like an apocalyptic book of Proverbs.
Read the article for more details about both and about the exhibition in general.

According to the Jerusalem Post (Sarah Levi), the Tohorot scroll is in the first round of scrolls and Musar Le'Mevin is in the second.
The first round of display will feature scrolls that deal with ritual purity and impurity. The second round will feature part of the scroll called Musar lemevin, “Instructions to those who understand,” which contains apocalyptic prophecies.
Background on the Denver exhibition is here and links. And there's more on the Dead Sea Scrolls in Denver here.

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That other DSS project in Denver

IT'S A GOOD JOB: That's a Job?: This Denver woman translates the Dead Sea Scrolls. A DU professions is one of three editors working on a new translation of the Dead Sea Scrolls - manuscripts dating back over 2,000 years, which include laws, poetry and some of the earliest biblical documents (Erin Powell,

For more on the work of Professor Alison Schofield, see here. And for the now-opening Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition in Denver, see the next post today and also here and links.

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The oldest Torah scrolls

THE ANCIENT NEAR EAST TODAY: The World’s Oldest Torah Scrolls (Gary A. Rendsburg).

A recent announcement by the Library of Congress regarding the purchase of a single Torah scroll sheet dating from approximately 1000 C.E. has generated great interest in the topic of old Torah scrolls. Just what are the world’s oldest Torah scrolls and where does the Library of Congress scroll fit in?

This announcement is news to me, but good news.

For more on the carbonized Leviticus scroll fragment, see here, here, and here and links. For more on the Ashkar and London fragments of Exodus, see here and links. For more on the first Cairo Geniza Genesis fragment (T-S NS 3.21), see here. And more on that Italian oldest complete Torah scroll is here and here.

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Josephus for Christians

JOSEPHUS HAS SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE: Why Should Christians Read Josephus? Josephus’ writings have unique value for Christians (Stephanie Hertzenberg, Beliefnet).
“Antiquities” contains two references to Jesus Christ, one in Book XX and one in Book XVIII. The latter is blatantly Christian and is believed by scholars to have been inserted into the work later. The reference in Book XX, however, is believed to have been written by Josephus himself. The mention is short, just one line, but it supports the historical existence of Jesus of Nazareth “who was called Christ.”

Josephus was not a Christian, yet he wrote about events that were incredibly important to Christians: the life and death of John the Baptist, the existence of Christ, the growth of early Christianity and the fate of some of the apostles. The descriptions of these events as written by an outsider show Christians a new perspective on familiar stories.
One of the apostles - James, Jesus' brother.

There is debate on whether Josephus' longer passage about Jesus (the "Testimonium Flavianum") is partly genuine and partly interpolated or entirely a later addition. See here and links.

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Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Library of Alexandria

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: The Ancient Library of Alexandria. The West’s most important repository of learning (J. Harold Ellens).
Such scientific and philosophical enterprises were not new or surprising in Hypatia’s Alexandria, which already boasted a 700-year-old, international reputation for sophisticated scholarship. Founded in 331 B.C.E.9 by command of Alexander the Great, the city contained almost from its beginnings an institution that would remain of immense importance to the world for the next 2,300 years. Originally called the Mouseion, or Shrine of the Muses, this research center and library grew into “an institution that may be conceived of as a library in the modern sense—an organization with a staff headed by a librarian that acquires and arranges bibliographic material for the use of qualified readers.”10

Indeed, the Alexandria Library was much more. It “stimulated an intensive editorial program that spawned the development of critical editions, textual exegesis and such basic research tools as dictionaries, concordances and encyclopedias.”11 The library in fact developed into a huge research institution comparable to a modern university—containing a center for the collection of books, a museum for the preservation of scientific artifacts, residences and workrooms for scholars, lecture halls and a refectory. In building this magnificent institution, one modern writer has noted, the Alexandrian scholars “started from scratch”; their gift to civilization is that we never had to start from scratch again.
This long essay is the most fulsome account I have seen, short of a monograph, of the ancient Library of Alexandria and its influence.

Some past PaleoJudaica posts on the Library of Alexandria (and other ancient libraries) are here and here and links. Past posts on Hypatia, about whom the movie Agora was made in 2011, are here and here. And more on the Neoplatonists and their libraries is here.

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AJR reviews Stang, Our Divine Double

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Book Note | Our Divine Double (Nathan Tilley).
Charles M. Stang. Our Divine Double. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016. Pp. 309. ISBN 9780674287198. $49.95.
Stang’s argument successfully and elegantly traces the motif of the divine double throughout these 2nd and 3rd century texts. He offers mostly close readings of these texts in ways that echo ancient Aristarchean criticism and “New Criticism,” and, as one can see in the introduction and the philosophical conclusion, he sees these texts in light of perennial questions of selfhood (77-78). The book, however, goes well beyond close reading, as Stang takes up numerous historical, cultural, and literary questions along the way, lightly wielding his masterful command of a formidable range of literature from Plato to contemporary continental philosophy.
Past PaleoJudaica notices of the book (with some comments of my own on the divine double tradition) are here and here.

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More on the Denver DSS exhibiton

VIDEO: Ancient Manuscripts, Artifacts On Display In Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibit (CBS4 Denver). The exhibition opens tomorrow. No word yet on which specific scrolls will be on display. You can see some of them in the video, but I wasn't able to identify any of them.

Background here and links.

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Hurtado on those dubious DSS fragments

LARRY HURTADO: Dead Sea Scrolls Fragments of Dubious Authenticity
In November last year, the popular press featured news of scholarly doubts about the authenticity of many of the numerous putative scroll fragments from the Dead Sea area that had come on the antiquities market in the last fifteen years or so: e.g., here, and here. Yesterday, I finally got around to perusing the published scholarly studies that generated these news stories. The key publications are two lengthy articles in the journal Dead Sea Discoveries, which I heartily recommend to anyone seriously interested in the topic: ...
Background here and follow the links

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Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Progress on the Galen Syriac palimpsest

There are lost ancient texts hiding before our very eyes. Writers weren't always intending their words for long-term preservation, and the need to reuse precious resources, like animal hide, sometimes meant erasing an old text to make room for the new.

But modern technology can recover these secret texts, as research taking place this week at the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL), an instrument housed at a U.S. Department of Energy laboratory in California, shows. The payoffs are worth it: a team began their analysis on Friday and have already identified a previously unreadable page as part of a preface.

The process is explained most clearly in a Live Science article by Rafi Letzter: Blasting This Old Book with X-Rays Could Reveal Greek Physician Galen's Ancient Words.
That's according to a news release emailed to Live Science yesterday (March 12). The earlier, sixth-century ink reacts a bit differently to X-ray light than the later, 11th-century ink. Under the extreme energies of the lab's Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL), those differences are significant enough that, according to the statement, the researchers hope to parse the remnants of the original text despite the scraping, the additional ink and the centuries of age.
They are currently working on 26 pages of the manuscript.

Background on the Galen Syriac palimpsest is here and links. And for many past PaleoJudaica posts on palimpsest manuscripts, start here and follow the links.

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AJR on PSCO: Belser, Snakes in the Garden

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: PSCO 2017-18: Snakes in the Garden: Sexuality, Animality, and Disability in the Rabbinic Garden of Eden (Matthew Chalmers). A report on Philadelphia Seminar of Christian Origins 2017-18, Meeting #4, Julia Watts Belser (Katz Center/Georgetown): Snakes in the Garden: Sexuality, Animality, and Disability in the Rabbinic Garden of Eden.

Past posts on Rabbi Dr. Belser's work are here and links.

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Comparing the MT and the Jewish LXX revisions

ETC BLOG: Textual Examples Wherein MT and the Jewish Revisions Differ (John Meade).
In this post, I give a few examples wherein Theodotion, Aquila, or Symmachus reflect a different vocalization of the consonantal text than what the later Masoretes recorded as the traditional reading. The issue is this: how closely do the Three (1–2 century Jewish revisers of the Greek Jewish Scriptures) mirror the Masoretic Text (9–10 century)?
Dr. Meade continues his interesting series on Hexaplaric readings of the Septuagint.

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Park of Wonders theme park in Israel

PROPOSAL: Developers plan Jewish theme park in desert town of Dimona. Pla'im Park -- 'Park of Wonders' -- is conceived as Israel's first real theme park, with educational value to boot (Jessica Steinberg, Times of Israel).
Project CEO Lea Malul told Walla news the park was envisioned as a Jewish “Magic Kingdom” — a reference to one of the four Disney World parks outside Orlando, Florida.

It is set to include 16 major rides. Plans include a water ride touching on the days of the week (with the Sabbath an island of tranquility in the hectic affair), a Jacob’s Ladder attraction and a roller coaster passing through gigantic tomes — representing Jews as the people of the book.
My first thought was to check to see if the date of the article was April 1st. But no, this is a real project - although it doesn't seem to have any actual funding yet.

Perusing the PaleoJudaica archives, I see this is not the first Jewish-history theme park proposed or built in Israel. See here, here, here and here.

On related notes, there is the Holy Land Experience theme park in Orlando, Florida (see here and here). There are Phoenician theme parks in Lebanon and Tunisia. And how could I omit Erich von Däniken's Mysteries of the World theme park in Switzerland?

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Tuesday, March 13, 2018

A Festschrift for Hershel Shanks

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: First Person: Festschrift: A Celebration of Hershel Shanks. From the March/April May/June 2018 Biblical Archaeology Review (Robert Cargill). The current double-issue of Biblical Archaeology Review is a festschrift for Mr. Shanks. (Congratulations, Hershel!) The links in Professor Cargill's essay give free access (unusually) to the full text of the articles. They look very interesting.

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A disquieting case of scholarly forgery?

POSTHUMOUSLY DETECTED: Famed Archaeologist 'Discovered' His Own Fakes at 9,000-Year-Old Settlement (Owen Jarus, Live Science).
A famed archaeologist well-known for discovering the sprawling 9,000-year-old settlement in Turkey called Çatalhöyük seems to have faked several of his ancient findings and may have run a "forger's workshop" of sorts, one researcher says.

James Mellaart, who died in 2012, created some of the "ancient" murals at Çatalhöyük that he supposedly discovered; he also forged documents recording inscriptions that were found at Beyköy, a village in Turkey, said geoarchaeologist Eberhard Zangger, president of the Luwian Studies Foundation. Zangger examined Mellaart's apartment in London between Feb. 24 and 27, finding "prototypes," as Zangger calls them, of murals and inscriptions that Mellaart had claimed were real.

If all this is true and is verified, it looks as though the field of Luwian studies had a very close call.
The 1995 letter to Zangger shows both the depth of Mellaart's historical knowledge and imagination. It provides a detailed description of what the Beyköy texts say, naming numerous ancient places, people and events. Mellaart created an elaborate backstory for the texts, getting around his false claim that he couldn't read Luwian by saying that the texts had been partially deciphered by other researchers who were all dead by 1995. "Fred Woudhuizen and I identified about 260 people and place names. It is much like a Harry Potter kind of world. The names are consistent and apparently make sense. Mellaart was evidently a genius in some ways. But he misused his talents, thereby causing tremendous damage to the field," Zangger said.
If I understand the article correctly, some of the iconographic material that Mellaart published over the decades may have been forged too.

This story, of course, is not about ancient Judaism. But it is an important cautionary tale. There is always the danger of unscrupulous scholars who go rogue and produce forgeries that are very difficult to detect. It sounds like this is one such case. The worst damage was averted this time. But how many cases have gone undetected?

Some relevant past posts are here, here, here, here, here, and here. The messy matter of the Israel Forgery Trial, which didn't really settle matters one way or the other, deserves a mention of its own. See here and here and follow the many links. And finally, there is the infamous case of the Gospel of Jesus' Wife. See here (cf. here) and many links.

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The Talmud on statues and related problems

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Statue of Limitations. This week’s ‘Daf Yomi’ Talmud study considers how Jews can avoid idolatry and still live in a public space full of graven images.
Take statues, which today we tend to think of as merely art objects—the kind of thing you find in the Greek and Roman galleries of a museum. To the rabbis, however, these statues were not meant for aesthetic admiration; they were images of gods like Apollo or Jupiter, and so they were abominations. “All statues are forbidden,” says the Mishna in Avodah Zarah 40b, “because they are worshipped once a year”—presumably on the holy day of the god they represent. Still, the rabbis realized that many statues were meant for ornamental purposes, not religious ones, and so they try to find a rule of thumb to tell these categories apart. The Mishna goes on to say that, in fact, a statue is prohibited only if it “has in its hand a staff, a bird, or an orb.” The Gemara explains that these were typical attributes of gods, meant to express their power: “A bird represents dominion as the idol grasps … the entire world the way one grasps a bird.”
Actually, statues are controversial again these days, but for other reasons.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

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Berlejung and Filitz (eds.), The Physicality of the Other

NEW BOOK FROM MOHR SIEBECK: The Physicality of the Other. Masks from the Ancient Near East and the Eastern Mediterranean. Ed. by Angelika Berlejung and Judith E. Filitz. [Die Leibhaftigkeit des Anderen. Antike Masken aus dem Vorderen Orient und dem östlichen Mittelmeerraum.] 2018. X, 570 pages. Orientalische Religionen in der Antike 27. 149,00 €. cloth. ISBN 978-3-16-155513-8.
Published in English.
This volume comprises the conference proceedings of the international and interdisciplinary meeting held in Leipzig from November 9 to 11, 2015. Scholars from different research areas present masks from Egypt, Israel/Palestine, Syria, Mesopotamia, Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Greece, mainly from the third to the first millennium BCE. The masks are analyzed from archaeological, iconographical, anthropological, philological, and theological perspectives. In many cases, the masks refer to gods, ancestors, spirits, and are used as a means to communicate between human beings and supernatural powers. Masks belong to the human condition and seem to be the international and intercultural answer to one of the most existential questions of human life. In addition, the volume includes an archaeological catalogue of the masks from Israel/Palestine of the Neolithic Age until the Persian Period.

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