Thursday, March 05, 2015

Golb gets jail time

RAPHAEL GOLB: Panel Affirms Sentence in Dead Sea Scrolls Case
(Joel Stashenko, New York Law Journal).
An appeals court has affirmed a two-month jail sentence for a blogger whose case prompted the state Court of Appeals to rule that the state's second-degree aggravated harassment statute was unconstitutional.

A unanimous panel of the Appellate Division, First Department, upheld Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Laura Ward's sentence, which included three years of probation, for Raphael Golb in People v. Golb, 13595.

HT Stephen Goranson.

If I understand the situation correctly, Mr. Golb is now out of appeals and must serve his sentence. Reuters also has an article that notes the following:
Golb, who has remained free during the appeals process, is scheduled to begin his sentence on July 22, the district attorney's office said.
Background on the Golb Dead-Sea-Scrolls internet-impersonation case is here and follow the many links.

The Textual History of the Ethiopic Old Testament Project

"THE TEXTUAL HISTORY OF THE ETHIOPIC OLD TESTAMENT PROJECT (THEOT) is an international effort to identify and to trace textual trajectories found in Ethiopian manuscripts that contain books included in the canon of the Hebrew Bible." It does not seem to have its own dedicated website, but this post on the Juxta website (the source of the quotation) gives some information on it, as do the 2011 and 2014 calls for papers of the SBL Ethiopic Bible and Literature Consultation. And this Marylhurst University press release (from which I found out about the project) briefly discusses the work of Dr. Garry Jost on the Ethiopic text of Obadiah.

Isbel on From Yahwism to Judahism

From Yahwism to Judahism

Some scholars have argued that there were multiple factors involved in the reasons why the exiled Judahites did not abandon Yahweh for Marduk, but the scaffolding for the multiplicity as it is normally defined is of such a patchwork character as to be unwieldy.

By Charles David Isbell
Director of Jewish Studies
Louisiana State University
December 2008

Review of Drake, Slandering the Jew

Susanna Drake. Slandering the Jew: Sexuality and Difference in Early Christian Texts. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013. 184 pp. $55.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8122-4520-2.

Reviewed by Gail Labovitz (American Jewish University 15)
Published on H-Judaic (February, 2015)
Commissioned by Matthew A. Kraus

According to the Flesh: Sexual Slander as a Tool of Early Christian Anti-Jewish Rhetoric

Two decades ago, Daniel Boyarin took the title of his book Carnal Israel from Augustine’s Tractate Against the Jews, where in the course of interpreting 1 Corinthians 10:18 (“Behold Israel according to the flesh”), Augustine describes the Jewish people as “indisputably carnal.” Stating at the outset that “Augustine knew what he was talking about,” Boyarin therefore announced his intent to “assert the essential descriptive accuracy of the recurring Patristic notion that what divides Christians from rabbinic Jews is the discourse of the body, and especially sexuality.”[1] In this new book, however, Susanna Drake returns to the rhetoric itself. Although she cites Augustine, and Boyarin’s interpretation of his words, as “the initial provocation for the present study” (p. 112, n. 8), her concerns are not the accuracy, but the intent and implications of such accusations made by Christian writers against Jews in late antiquity: what did it mean not only for Augustine, but for a number of early Christian writers--and those for whom they wrote--to accuse Jews of carnality? Her questions are: How did the figure of the “carnal Jew” come to function as a topos of early Christian literature? When did this topos first appear, and what purposes did it serve? How did the stereotype of the carnal Jew serve Christian leaders as they forged the boundaries between orthodoxy and heresy, Christianity and Judaism? And what can the development of this topos tell us about ancient understandings of gender and sexuality (p. 2)? To this end, she examines “the sexualized representations of Jews in writings by Greek church fathers from the first through fifth centuries CE” (p. 2); the authors she focuses on are the unknown author of the Epistle of Barnabas, Justin Martyr, Origen, Hippolytus, and John Chrysostom.


Review of Tabory and Atzmon, Midrash Esther Rabbah

THE TALMUD BLOG: Review of Tabory and Atzmon, ‘Midrash Esther Rabbah’ (Shai Secunda).
Overall, this new edition is a great pleasure to work with – and to learn from, beginning to end. No doubt it will be the fountainhead from where all future research on the literary history of Esther midrashim begin. When read on its own, this midrash will ever-beguile you with its playful hermeneutics (another valuable introductory chapter outlines Esther Rabbah’s many different interpretive strategies) and surprising traditions.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Purim 2015

HAPPY PURIM to all those celebrating! The festival begins tonight at sundown.

Some past Purim posts are collected here.

The Talmud on Sefaria

THE TALMUD BLOG: The ‘Status of The Talmud’ on Sefaria (Yitz Landes). The Sefaria website is here.

AJR on Josephus

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW has recently published two pieces on Josephus:

The Jewishness of Josephus: an Interview with Sören Swoboda
This is an interview with Sören Swoboda, author of Tod und Sterben im Krieg bei Josephus: Die Intentionen von Bellum und Antiquitates im Kontext griechisch-römischer Historiographie (“Death and Dying in War in the Works of Josephus: The Intentions of Bellum and Antiquitates in the Context of Greco-Roman Historiography”). The book was published in 2014 by Mohr Siebeck. Dr. Swoboda is currently a member of the Theological Faculty at the University of Jena, in Germany. The interview was conducted at the SBL meeting in November 2014.
The Understudied and Marginal Josephus: Bringing Him into the Conversation (Jacob Feeley)
Indeed, outside his usual haunts, Josephus appears rather like a strange guest at a dinner party, politely acknowledged with smiles or nods, but rarely approached. This is in part understandable. That Josephus wrote in Greek, an extremely difficult language which takes years if not decades to master, may deter students of Jewish Studies in particular. Josephus, moreover, does not speak as readily to the immediate concerns of contemporary Jewry. For Classicists, with their prejudice for literary style (a stylist, Josephus was not), their unfamiliarity with the Jewish tradition, and the general decline in knowledge of the Bible, Josephus can appear arcane or unappealing. Even those who refer to his works tend to use them as repositories of useful data rather than interpreting them on their own terms.

The Talmud on gentile governments, rape, and testimony

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Belief, Truth, and Lies in Divorce, Marriage, Rape, and Female Chastity. Rightly or wrongly, Talmudic thinkers presumed that gentiles would persecute the Jews in their midst.
Can Jews rely on gentile courts to dispense justice? The question arose in this week’s Daf Yomi reading, in the course of an extended discussion of the major subject of Tractate Ketubot so far: female chastity. And the rabbis’ answer speaks volumes about their experience with the Roman and Persian governments they lived under. Many moments in the Talmud make clear that Jews in Talmudic times—as in much, perhaps most, of Jewish history—saw non-Jews as potential persecutors. (In Tractate Eruvin, for instance, we learned that a Jew should never live alone among gentiles, for fear that they will murder him.) And the Talmud periodically refers to times when the laws cannot be enforced due to government persecution—as happened after the Bar Kochba revolt in the 2nd century C.E., not long before the Mishna was written down.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Review of Taylor, Antiochus the Great

Michael J. Taylor, Antiochus the Great. Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military, 2013. Pp. xviii, 190. ISBN 9781848844636. $39.95.

Reviewed by Filippo Canali De Rossi, Liceo Classico Dante Alighieri (


Il libro è una biografia di Antioco III inserita nella storia della dinastia dei Seleucidi, a partire dal fondatore Seleuco I Nicatore fino agli ultimi epigoni. È la storia di un grande impero sovranazionale e delle strategie messe in atto per la sua creazione e successiva espansione, conservazione e difesa della sua esistenza.


Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Could the ancients see blue?

Could our ancestors see blue? Ancient people didn't perceive the colour because they didn't have a word for it, say scientists
  • Studies say language shapes what we see by making us focus on objects
  • Blue doesn't appear at all in Greek stories and other ancient written texts
  • As a result, scientists believe ancient civilisations didn't notice the colour
  • Egyptians - who were the only culture that could produce blue dyes - were the first civilisation to have a word for the colour blue in 2500 BC
  • The Himba people in Namibia do not have a word for blue and tests have shown they have difficulty distinguishing between green and blue (Ellie Zolfagharifard, The Daily Mail)
The blue and black (or gold and white) dress that sweeped the internet last week revealed just how differently two people can see the world.

But it's not just about lighting conditions or optical illusions - evidence is mounting that until we have a way to describe something, we may not see its there.

Ancient languages, for instance, didn't have a word for blue and scientists believe as a result our ancestors didn't notice the colour even existed.


It wasn't just the Greeks. Blue also doesn't appear in the Koran, ancient Chinese stories, and an ancient Hebrew version of the Bible, according to a German philologist named Lazarus Geiger.


This story, which I have noted before, is making the rounds and the Mail's coverage is as good a place to find it as any. For the blue-black/white-gold dress, see here. (I see white-gold.)

In principle it makes sense that people might not be able to distinguish a color if their language didn't have a word for it. That said, I am not persuaded that ancient Hebrew did not have a word for blue. Ancient garments dyed with the tekhelet dye look to me to be in shades of blue, although I'm only looking at photos and the tones may be more bluish-purple. But there also is the Hebrew word sappir, which is a kind of gem, either sapphire or lapis lazuli, both of which we would call blue. This seems to me to be good evidence that the ancient Israelites could see something like our color blue.

Bronze statue in new Israel Museum collection

THE BELFER COLLECTION: Bronze nude stands out in new acquisition by Israel Museum. Rare statue and ‘absolutely pristine’ ancient glass among artwork to go on display in honor of institution’s jubilee (Ilan Ben Zion, Times of Israel).
His unblinking black eyes are what first draw you in. Beneath curled brazen locks, his piercing gaze is arresting — in part because he’s an unblemished four-foot statue older than Jesus. Visitors to the Israel Museum will soon lock gazes with this rare Roman bronze — one of just a handful remaining intact from the ancient world — when it goes on public display for the first time in June.

The 1st century BCE nude, with its original colored-glass eyes, was among several hundred ancient Near Eastern and Greco-Roman artifacts recently donated to the Israel Museum by New York art collectors Robert and Renee Belfer in honor of the institution’s 50th anniversary. The museum hailed the addition as a “transformative gift” that helps flesh out its already impressive collections.


The adolescent figure’s identity is uncertain, as the object it once held in its right hand is missing. “If divine, the possibilities include Hercules, who might have held his club, or Bacchus, who would have held his kantharos,” or two-handled drinking bowl, the catalog description of the statue reads. “If an athlete, he could have held a palm branch or a wreath.”

His provenance is likewise obscure. What’s known is that he was obtained by late TV mogul John W. Kluge after passing through the hands of at least two other antiquities retailers. The Belfers bought the boy at a Christie’s auction in New York for a cool $1,351,500 in 2004.

It's a nice statue all right. But given that it's unprovenanced and bought on the antiquities market, I just hope it's genuine.

Background on the collection is here.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Jesus' house in Nazareth?

ACTUALLY, PROBABLY NOT: Jesus' House? 1st-Century Structure May Be Where He Grew Up (Owen Jarus, LiveScience).
Archaeologists working in Nazareth — Jesus' hometown — in modern-day Israel have identified a house dating to the first century that was regarded as the place where Jesus was brought up by Mary and Joseph.

The house is partly made of mortar-and-stone walls, and was cut into a rocky hillside. It was first uncovered in the 1880s, by nuns at the Sisters of Nazareth convent, but it wasn't until 2006 that archaeologists led by Ken Dark, a professor at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom, dated the house to the first century, and identified it as the place where people, who lived centuries after Jesus' time, believed Jesus was brought up.

As usual with these things, the real story is that we now have detailed records of the excavation of a first-century Jewish house in Nazareth, which is archaeologically quite important. That there is a Byzantine and Crusader-era tradition that it was the house of Jesus hardly amounts to significant evidence that it was.

Leonard Nimoy z'l'

PEACE BE UPON LEONARD NIMOY, who, by his own account, adapted his Vulcan hand salute from a Jewish ritual he saw (well, peeked at, actually) in Synagogue as a boy. The sign represents the letter Shin (שׁ). Back in 2004 I noted the story of the salute here.

He lived long and prospered. May his memory be for a blessing.

Ahituv awarded 2015 Israel Prize

CONGRATULATIONS: Prof. Shmuel Ahituv to be 2015 Israel Prize laureate in Biblical Research Ahituv is a past head of the bible, archeology and ancient near eastern studies department and was the founder of the BGU Press (Lidar Gravé-Lazi, Jerusalem Post).
Prof. Shmuel Ahituv, of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, will be awarded the Israel Prize in Biblical Research, the Education Ministry announced on Thursday.


Sunday, March 01, 2015

Ben Sira, gender, and canon

Why Is There a Bible and What Do Women Have To Do With It?
Gender, Ben Sira, and the Canon

What makes Ben Sira stand out within this larger cultural gender ideology is that the women he fears most are not the women on the street, or even the singing girls he expects to encounter at banquets (Sir. 9:1-9). Rather, in a far more acute manifestation of gender anxiety, the woman he fears most is his own wife.

The following essay is adapted from Ben Sira and the Men Who Handle Books: Gender and the Rise of Canon-Consciousness (Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2013).

By Claudia V. Camp
John F. Weatherly Professor of Religion
General editor, Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies
Texas Christian University
January 2015

Conference on Jewish Attitudes Toward Wealth and Poverty

MICHAEL SATLOW: Conference Announcement: Jewish Attitudes Toward Wealth and Poverty. At Brown University in November.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Anxious Gnosticism

PHILIP JENKINS has been putting up a series of informative posts on Gnosticism over at The Anxious Bench. They are still in progress, but this seems like a good time to note what he has published to date and to make some comments of my own.

Those Who Know
Ever since my undergraduate years, I have been interested in early Christian history and Gnosticism. In the next few posts, I will talk about some of the things I have learned about Gnosticism, why it is so important, and some of the areas I am still trying to explore in my present book project. Here, I will just define my terms, and identify my main questions.
More on Kabbalah and Gnosticism here.

The Beginning of Wisdom
I am assembling that package of ideas out of pure imagination, and I can point to no group of texts that prove its existence. What I am suggesting is that a large part of Gnosticism could, hypothetically, have been constructed without wandering too far outside Judaism as it existed, in its very diverse and sectarian forms, during the first century AD.
True, but I still want some texts.

Athens, Jerusalem and Nag Hammadi
Gnosticism thus emerges from a world in which Platonism more generally defined had become a common currency of philosophical language and thought. Of the vast number of ideas and theories that Plato and his successors generated, some are particularly relevant to our subject here, in providing the intellectual vocabulary of Gnosticism.
Gnostics and Platonists
Although the origins of Gnostic thought are controversial, many of the core themes and terms undoubtedly stemmed from Greek philosophical thought, especially Platonism. That did not necessarily mean that early Gnostics were taking these ideas directly from Greek thinkers or schools, rather that they came from a Jewish (and emerging Christian) world that had long sought to integrate Platonic concepts. Any attempt to separate Greek and Jewish elements in this synthesis is doomed to failure.
Asking the Wrong Question
I have been puzzling over the origins of Gnosticism, and we can certainly find some plausible answers to that issue. Jewish, Greek and Christian, (and possibly Persian), the building blocks were all clearly there. Perhaps, though, I have been asking the wrong question all along. Instead of asking why some people came up with that particular set of answers, we should rather inquire why others didn’t.
Philo’s Answer
Greek philosophy made it all but impossible to reconcile the transcendence of God with a deity who created and ruled the world, with a deity like that portrayed in the Hebrew Bible. During the Second Temple era, that clash of visions was deeply troubling for Jews who wished to integrate into the Greek-dominated international culture.

Of the thinkers who tried to reconcile the systems, the best-known was Philo of Alexandria (25 BC – 50 AD), whose life overlapped with figures like Jesus and Paul. ...
Dating the Gnostics
Obviously, arguing from silence is risky. The account I have given here is drawn from Irenaeus, who was widely traveled and well-connected, but who did not necessarily know everything that was in progress in every corner of the Christian world. He knew Asia Minor, Rome and Gaul at first hand, but might not have had such good connections elsewhere. As I have remarked, such early accounts of Gnosticism are curious in their geographical emphasis. They focus on Alexandria and Antioch, with much commuting to and from Rome. Few pay much attention to the quite intense activity that seems to have been in progress in Mesopotamia, where Jewish Christian, baptismal and Gnostic sects were highly active no later than the early second century. Perhaps Irenaeus was simply missing some key events and activists.

Alternatively, perhaps Irenaeus really was depicting historical reality, in which Gnosticism really was an innovation of the late first century, at least a generation or two after Jesus’s time. And at least in its early days, it was strictly confined to Syria, even to Antioch itself.

The question then arises: why then, and why there?
I'm sure Professor Jenkins's answers will continue to be interesting and I look forward to hearing more. Background to the series is here.

For my part, I have not found any arguments for a pre- (or non-) Christian Jewish Gnosticism in antiquity persuasive. The development of Gnosticism seems much easier to me once you add Pauline theology (notably its demotion of Jewish law) into the mix of Judaism and Platonism. And, tellingly, none of the surviving Gnostic texts deal with the halakhic and national/ethnic issues that the demiurgic myth would inevitably have raised. I have discussed the issues in greater detail here and here.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Idumeans in the Court of Judea

Full House: Idumaean Preeminence in the Court of Judaea

The power struggles among these Idumaean nobles, which probably originated long before the Hasmonean annexation, were no longer simply local fights between petty elites. Instead, they were transported from a local Idumaean context to the national stage of the Judaean royal court and the Roman Near East.

See Also: The Many Faces of Herod the Great (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2015)

By Adam Kolman Marshak
Gann Academy
Waltham, MA
February 2015

Review of Morlet et al. (eds.), Les dialogues Adversus Iudaeos

Sébastien Morlet, Olivier Munnich, Bernard Pouderon (ed.), Les dialogues Adversus Iudaeos: Permanences et mutations d'une tradition polémique. Actes du colloque international organisé les 7 et 8 décembre 2011 à l'Université de Paris-Sorbonne. Collection des Études Augustiniennes. Série Antiquité, 196. Paris: Institut d'Études Augustiniennes, 2013. Pp. 428. ISBN 9782851212634. €46.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Barbara Crostini, Stockholm University (

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

This is an extremely wide-ranging, informative, and balanced collection of essays on a body of literature that is as important as it is sensitive in the current scholarly investigations of intercultural and interfaith relationships across the centuries. The individual contributions are of the highest level, displaying remarkable scholarship but also subtlety in reviewing the materials. While the weight of the evidence lies in the late antique period, which receives the greatest number of contributions in the volume (pp. 49–268), the perusal of this genre into the medieval period (pp. 269–384) and beyond (pp. 385–402) affords a better perspective by which to evaluate the earlier dialogues, whose context is necessarily constrained by our limited knowledge about the period.


Looting of archaeological sites in Israel

TREASURE HUNTERS: Israel struggles to stop archaeological site raids (Yuval Avivi, Al Monitor).
The staff of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) gets very nervous whenever news breaks that a large archaeological treasure has been found. That is what happened Feb. 17, when amateur divers discovered a treasure trove of rare, ancient coins near the ancient port town of Caesarea. “We know that the discovery of a treasure of this size, and the publicity that such a find receives in the media causes people to think that they can find treasures just about anywhere,” Eitan Klein, deputy director of the Unit to Prevent Antiquities Theft at the IAA, told Al-Monitor.

Klein said, “People take the law into their own hands and set out to find antiquities themselves, even though this means breaking the law and causing destruction to important archaeological sites. For the most part, they don’t even find anything. What was discovered last week is the kind of thing that happens just once every 50 years.”

I have not commented on the discovery of this trove of Fatimid-era gold coins near Caesarea, because it falls outside the chronological horizon of PaleoJudaica, but the story has been all over the news and you can read more about it, for example, here. Otherwise, background here and links and, more generally, here and links.