Saturday, December 06, 2014

Retro-Talmudic burial?

A PROPOSAL TO REVIVE A VERY OLD CUSTOM: Rabbi Seeks to Bring Back Cave Burial. Head of Etzion Bloc Religious Council seeks to bring back Talmudic era custom of exhumation and use of ossuaries.
Israel is dealing with a shortage of cemetery space, and a new initiative in the Etzion Bloc suggests an original solution – exhuming the dead person's remains one year after his funeral and reburial inside an ossuary that is placed inside a burial cave.

This was the customary way for Jews in the Land of Israel to bury their dead during Talmudic times, some 1,500 years ago.

The idea is being floated by Rabbi Rafael Ostroff, Chairman of the Etzion Bloc Religious Council.

The custom actually goes back at least to the Second Temple period.

Bohak, A Fifteenth-Century Manuscript of Jewish Magic

A Fifteenth-Century Manuscript of Jewish Magic: MS New York Public Library, Heb. 190 (Formerly Sassoon 56), Introduction, Annotated Edition and Facsimile, by Gideon Bohak. (Sources and Studies in the Literature of Jewish Mysticism 44), in HEBREW: Volume 1 328 pages, Study and Edition, Black and White Printing; Volume 2, 272 pages. ISBN 1-933379-49-9. SOLD AS A TWO VOLUME SET. The Jewish magical tradition was transmitted from generation to generation both orally and via manuscripts, which are well attested at least from the tenth to the twentieth centuries. Many hundreds, and perhaps even thousands, of manuscripts of Jewish magic have survived, and are available in public and private collections all over the world. And yet, no attempt has ever been made to penetrate this world in a systematic manner, or to edit any single manuscript of Jewish magic in its entirety. Hence the importance of the present edition, of a fifteenth-century manuscript, copied somewhere in the Arabic-speaking world by a Jewish scribe, Moses son of Jacob and Marhaba, and containing both Kabbalistic texts and an endless stream of magical recipes for every imaginable purpose. The edition of the manuscript is annotated with copious footnotes, is preceded by a detailed introduction and followed by detailed indices, and is accompanied by a color facsimile of the entire manuscript.

Friday, December 05, 2014


NEW RESEARCH GROUP: The Dead Sea Scrolls (European Association of Biblical Studies). The group also has a call for papers for the EABS meeting in Cordoba, Spain, in July of 2015. Jeremy Penner, one of the organizers, has e-mailed to note that the application deadline is February, 2015, and that the meeting will be part of the city’s celebrations of the 700th anniversary of the synagogue.

Ancient Jew Review

The Ancient Jew Review is the one stop for all your Ancient Jewish needs. The site regularly produces original content pieces, reviews books, interviews scholars of note on past and future projects, discusses contemporary issues, and creates a community of engaged readers with digital and in person discussion and book groups. The site also curates news and social media discussions relevant to Ancient Judaism. Finally, we provide a space to collaborate and create resources for students and scholars of Ancient Judaism.
Looks like an interesting and very ambitious site and I wish them the best, although the "one stop for all your Ancient Jewish needs" is a bit cheeky. I trust you will still want to keep visiting PaleoJudaica.

The Red Tent

TELEVISION: Best-selling ‘Red Tent’ to be star-studded miniseries (Phyllis Braun Arizona Jewish Post).
Anita Diamant’s beloved international best-seller, “The Red Tent,” is coming to the screen as a Lifetime miniseries, premiering Dec. 7 and 8.

“The Red Tent” is the tale of Dinah, the daughter of Leah and Jacob, whose story was almost a footnote in the Bible — a brief and violent detour within the more familiar chapters of the book of Genesis.

Told in Dinah’s voice, “The Red Tent” brings to life the traditions and turmoils of ancient womanhood. It begins with the story of Dinah’s mothers — Leah, Rachel, Zilpah and Bilhah — the four wives of Jacob.


Spring 2015 broadcast of The Dovekeepers

TELEVISION: CBS Miniseries 'The Dovekeepers' to be Broadcast Tuesday March 31 and Wednesday April 1, 2015.
CBS today announced THE DOVEKEEPERS, a four-hour limited event series from executive producers Roma Downey and Mark Burnett, will be broadcast Tuesday, March 31 and Wednesday, April 1, 2015 (9:00-11:00 PM, ET/PT).

The project stars Cote de Pablo, Rachel Brosnahan and Kathryn Prescott in the title dovekeeper roles, Sam Neill as first-century Jewish scholar and historian Josephus, and Diego Boneta as a star warrior of the Jewish army at Masada. The series is based on Alice Hoffman’s bestselling, critically acclaimed historical novel about a group of extraordinary women whose lives intersect in a fight for survival at the siege of Masada.

Background here and links.

Enoch as the Son of Man

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS: Which "Son of Man": Christ, Enoch, or Other? A great deal of academic ink has been shed over a simple academic error ( Philip Jenkins calls out R. H. Charles for the latter's mistranslation (i.e., speculative and unhelpful emendation) of a key verse (1 Enoch 71:14) in the Similitudes of Enoch.

Crimea as Temple Mount?

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Putin Says Crimea Is Russia’s “Temple Mount.” That will generate some commentary.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Cyrus the tolerant?

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS: What would Cyrus do? Tolerant governments produce societal harmony by winning people’s hearts and minds. Cyrus recognized this 25 centuries ago. (Katrina Lantos Swett, Jerusalem Post). Excerpt:
In later centuries, some Greeks preferred the vision of a coercive monoculture to Cyrus’ vision of toleration. When the villain of Hanukka, Antiochus of Syria, tried to impose this on the Jews, the Maccabees defeated him. But the quest for a monoculture did not end. It continued in Europe and remains even in modern times through radical strains of secularism. It continues in the Middle East with violent religious extremists like IS.

Today, researchers are confirming the obvious: Tolerant governments produce societal harmony by winning people’s hearts and minds. Cyrus recognized this 25 centuries ago. The result was security and peace. IS and other brutal tyrants do not acknowledge this, and the result is insecurity and strife. Cyrus and his vision will endure. IS will not. It’s destined for the ash heap, the final home for tyranny of every kind.
As often when Cyrus comes up, there is some idealization and projection of modern values onto him in this piece. It is true that Cyrus adopted the policy of tolerance of the cultures of the peoples he subjugated - as long as they surrendered promptly and thereafter kept order and paid the exactions charged by the Persian overlords. But if they didn't, he would kill them. His colonialism had effective propaganda and seems to have been administered competently, and it certainly was an improvement on the policies of his Assyrian predecessors and indeed of ISIS today. But ultimately this is damning with faint praise. It was still colonialism and imperialism and its exemplary value in the present is very limited.

I have earlier similar comments here and links. And for much, much more on Cyrus the Great and the Cyrus Cylinder, see here and follow the many links.

"Maccabee on the Mantel"

HANUKKAH TOY: Maccabee on the Mantel, For Jewish Tyke Who Has Everything (Ed Rampell, The Forward).
Move over “Elf on the Shelf” — the “Maccabee on the Mantel” may be just the ticket for the Jewish child aged three to eight who has everything.

The 10-inch plush depicting a smiling, bearded, robe-, sandal- and helmet-clad ancient Maccabean warrior bearing a Star of David-emblazoned shield comes with an illustrated storybook that briefly explains Hanukkah’s origins and significance.


Wednesday, December 03, 2014

“I was shown another calculation.”

SETH SANDERS: Apocalyptic Science.
Strangely, the earliest known Jewish apocalypse is also the earliest known Jewish scientific work. The Aramaic fragments of the Astronomical Book of Enoch, composed in the 3rd century BCE or earlier and found at Qumran, represent the first appearance of astronomy and mathematics in Jewish literature. But this science comes in a vision. The angel Uriel takes the patriarch Enoch on a heavenly journey where he sees the clockwork of the universe: the gates through which the sun, winds and heavenly bodies regularly move.


The editors of this earliest collection of Enochic works drew on the image, and grammar, of Moses’ passively gained vision–with the passive of the causative of the standard Biblical Hebrew verb of seeing–to frame Enoch’s own passively gained visions with the passive of the causative of the standard Aramaic verb of seeing. If the language of knowledge in Aramaic Enoch is both a reference to the Priestly Tabernacle vision and a distinctive editorial device shared between the Astronomical Book and the Book of the Watchers, then the Aramaic evidence bears on an old question about the creation of early Enochic literature. It means that the creators of this early literature drew more subtly and deeply on the language and imagery of the Pentateuch than has previously been acknowledged.

I would not in the first instance assume that the phrasing in Aramaic 1 Enoch was based on the description of the revelation of the Priestly Tabernacle to Moses in the Pentateuch. Rather, I would guess that both arise from the tradition of ancient Near Eastern revelatory visions such as the Sumerian account of the dream revelation of the temple of Ningursu to King Gudea of Lagash. But I haven't seen Seth's full argument and he may well have good grounds for finding a specific connection with the Pentateuch.

The Talmud and sexual coercion

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Can a Woman Rape a Man, as Shia LaBoeuf Claimed? The Rabbis Have a Say. This week’s ‘Daf Yomi’ Talmud study is NSFW.
Often in the Talmud, however, the intention behind an action matters as much as the action itself. We saw a good example of this in Tractate Rosh Hashanah, where we learned that a Jew does not fulfill his obligation to hear the shofar blown on Rosh Hashanah if he simply happens to be walking past a synagogue and unconsciously takes in the sound. To be effective, the listening must be a conscious effort to fulfill the commandment. Does the same hold true for levirate marriage? Is the sex act alone enough to validate the marriage, or does that act have to be undertaken willingly and deliberately by both partners?
Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Some Hekhalot Rabbati set to music

MUSIC: Jewish Devotional Songs for the 21st Century (Aromero, World Music
Pharaoh’s Daughter

Dumiyah (Magenta, 2014)

Pharaoh’s Daughter album Dumiyah presents a series of devotional Jewish songs with a mix of traditional music and cutting edge electronica. The band is led by singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Basya Schechter, who sings in Hebrew and has a sweet folk-pop style.

Dumiyah features ancient and modern liturgical poetry and prayers with new arrangements that blend trip hop, world music and new age. ...

Tzu Vemen (To whom can we attribute?), a mystical text from Hekhalot Rabbati, origins in the days of the Talmudic Sages, angels expressing in aleph bet order the attributes of God (sung on Shabbat).
There's lots more on the Hekhalot literature, including the Hekhalot Rabbati, here and here and links.

Syriac manuscripts in Chinese caves

SYRIAC WATCH: Dunhuang exhibition reveals China's multicultural past. Religious and cultural relics from Dunhuang's ancient grottoes are on show at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum (Enid Tsui , Life).
They may not have achieved the global renown of the Great Wall and the Terracotta Warriors, but it could be argued that Dunhuang's ancient grottoes are China's most important cultural relics.

These caves, hewn by hand out of cliffs that descend into the great Gobi Desert, chart the development of Chinese art for a thousand, uninterrupted years. They are also depositaries of a multicultural past that adds fluidity and colour to China's national identity.

Fourth-century devotees started carving meditation cells in the cliffs above the Dachuan River after a Buddhist monk named Le Zun had a vision at nearby San Weishan. Dunhuang's reputation as a sacred site grew and master craftsmen, both Chinese and from Central Asia, venerated the caves and added frescoes and statues until the Yuan dynasty. Silk Road travellers left Persian coins and Bibles written in the Syriac script, a close cousin of the Aramaic tongue of Jesus. Monks, Buddhist and Taoist were living in this remote spot until the 1930s.


Time and visitor number will continue to take their toll - which is why the Dunhuang Academy and its international partners have been pouring their efforts into digitisation projects and travelling exhibitions such as the one that opened at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum on Friday.

It will feature more than 200 genuine artifacts that have been discovered in the caves, including the Book of Psalms in Syriac and the only surviving copy of Essential Mantras in the Tanguy script.

More on Syriac in China here (also on the Dunhuang Library), here, here, here, and here.


ARAMAIC WATCH: Shine Tom morphs from crook to prof in another fantasy (Radhika C Pillai, The Times of India).
It seems fantasy bug has bitten actor Shine Tom Chacko. After delivering a stellar performance in the fantasy movie Ithihasa, the actor is all set to take the audience for a fantasy ride again with his upcoming movie Bibilio. And this time he will don the garb of a physics professor who makes in-depth studies about death and its different realms.


The language he speaks in the movie is mostly English. "Gabriel and Lucifer, the Biblical characters, have importance in the movie. And Lucifer will speak Aramaic," he says. Actor ARK and Mohan Padre play the two angels Lucifer and Gabriel, respectively. The filmmaker has also roped in many foreign actors to play keys role in the movie.

Traditionally angels don't know Aramaic, but apparently this movie considers Lucifer to be an exception.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Illegitimacy and conversion in the Talmud

LAST WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Talmudic Rabbis Ponder Sexual Relations That Are Prohibited by Jewish Law. Plus legitimate and bastard offspring, slaves, and distinctions between Jews, non-Jews, and half-Jews.
The names of the Talmud’s tractates are not always a sure guide to their contents. Tractate Yevamot is primarily devoted to the laws of levirate marriage—the obligation of a man to marry his deceased brother’s widow. But chapter 4, which Daf Yomi readers finished this week, also spent a good deal of time on the laws of illegitimacy and conversion. These may seem like totally unrelated topics, but in fact they emerge fairly naturally out of the main Talmudic discussion. In Yevamot 44a, for instance, the mishna states the law that a man who divorces a woman may not remarry her if she has been married to another husband in the interim. This rule comes directly out of the Torah, in Deuteronomy 24, where such a remarriage is described as an “abomination.”

The Talmud always has a lot going on.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Ancient military installation at Netiv Haasarah

Second Temple Era Military Outpost Discovered, Possibly Destroyed by Alexander the Great (The Algemeiner)
Archaeological excavations in Israel’s Netiv Haasarah have uncovered a Persian era military installation.

Netiv Haasarah is a town in the “Gaza envelope” with a population of about 700. The dig, headed by Dr. Yael Abadi Rice, found a fortified town and a military tower from approximately 2,100 years ago. This time period was when the Second Temple was standing in Jerusalem.

Something is garbled here. If the town was destroyed by Alexander the Great, the ruins would be a little over 2,300 years old, not 2,100.

IAA app

THERE'S AN APP FOR THAT: New App Puts Dead Scrolls on iPhone and iPad. A new App lets children and adults become virtual archaeologists (Jewish Press).
The Dead Sea Scrolls are now available on iPhone and iPad, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced Thursday with the launch of its first App featuring archaeology games and puzzles for kids.

Genesis 1:1 (the account of creation), the Ten Commandments, Psalms, and 11 other 2,000 year old manuscripts are featured in the ”Dig Quest” App that introduces kids ages 7-11 to archaeology with a suite of unique games, featuring beautiful artifacts from the National Treasures of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The App transforms a kid’s iPhone or iPad into an archaeological tool and lets them play games to hone their skills, discover secret meanings, solve puzzles, and piece the past together like true archaeologists. Along the way, they unlock ancient artifacts and create their own personal collection.


ISIS: UNESCO takes notice

ARUTZ SHEVA: UNESCO Debates ISIS Erasing of Jewish History. Special Paris session featuring Israeli expert to discuss ways of saving ancient Jewish sites that have come under ISIS's cruel grasp (Shimon Cohen, Ari Yashar).
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is to hold a special session on preserving Jewish historical sites that have fallen under the iron grip of the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist organization, which has been looting and wrecking ancient non-Muslim relics.

Prof. Shmuel Moreh, a Middle Eastern Studies expert of Hebrew University who was born in Baghdad and serves as Chairman of the Association of Jewish Academics from Iraq, is invited to the special conference to be held in Paris, reports Israel Hayom.

I hope it does some good. More on the (traditional) Tomb of Ezekiel and Tomb of Jonah and related matters is here and links.

Back home

I'M BACK IN ST ANDREWS. Got in last night, after an excellent SBL conference and a nice Thanksgiving holiday. Now back to work.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Dicken, Herod as a Composite Character in Luke-Acts

Frank Dicken
Herod as a Composite Character in Luke-Acts

Frank Dicken offers a new perspective on the three rulers who appear in Luke-Acts with the name “Herod,” contending that in light of their similar narrative depictions they may be construed as a composite character, i.e., a single character in the narrative. Viewing the Lukan Herods alongside other composite characters in Jewish and early Christian literature, the author then compares and contrasts the portrayal of the Herods in Luke-Acts with what is known about the Herods historically. Thereby he highlights two unique features – the title “King of Judaea” at Luke 1:5 and the name “Herod” for Agrippa I in Acts 12 – that result in construing the Herods as a composite. A reading of Luke-Acts focusing on each passage in which composite “Herod” appears demonstrates that understanding “Herod” as a single character is possible. Finally, Frank Dicken examines the characterization of composite “Herod” as an antagonist who embodies satanic opposition toward the spread of the gospel in the Lukan narrative.