Saturday, October 18, 2014

On the Punic Wars

PUNIC WATCH: A number of articles relating to the Punic Wars have been piling up in my inbox. Here they are:

First, a series of brief, vivid, popular articles on the Punic Wars by Travis Simpson in the Courier News.

The First Punic War
History time, folks.

I like Hannibal, son of Hamilcar Barca. If I hadn’t told you previously that he was a historical figure, you wouldn’t have believed me. His story has the makings of a fantasy novel, or perhaps and episode or three of Game of Thrones.

It’s got...blood oaths, vengeance, monsters and a lot of bloodshed.

Hannibal was from Carthage, a city on the Mediterranean, and his story is the story of the Punic Wars and the fall and eventual destruction of Carthage.

The Second Punic War
Imagine you are a roman soldier. You’ve been equipped with a spear, armor and a sword. Across the battlefield is a creature you’ve likely never seen in your life. It’s lumbers over you, a gray fleshed giant.

As the sounds of battle surround you, the creature centers on your phalanx — on you and your fiends. You look at your weapons. Just what will bring this thing down? You watch as is stomps and crashes its way over the men in front of you. Many dropped their weapons and ran.
Sort of like the battle of Minas Tirith.

Second Punic Wars, continued
Hannibal spent his entire life with a seething hatred of the empire across the Mediterranean. He was bred to cross the Alps, to cause an uprising and to spark fear in the heart of Rome.

On the other side, you have Publius Scipio. Scipio’s father (of the same name) discovered Hannibal’s army as it crossed the Alps and was able to warn Rome of the incoming apocalypse. He was gravely wounded in the Battle of Ticinus and was only saved by the bravery of his son.

Almost 16 years later, Scipio (the son) meets Hannibal head on in the Battle of Zama with almost two decades of mutual hatred, murder and destruction between the two empires.

These two men have known nothing else.
Cool story about their meeting after Hannibal's defeat. Part four, on the Third Punic War, is still forthcoming.

Second, a snippet on the latest regarding Halle Berry's Hannibal miniseries (not to be confused with Vin Diesel's Hannibal movie trilogy project): CBS orders new seasons of Halle Berry's 'Extant' and 'Under the Dome' (Mark Dawidziak, The Plain Dealer).
Berry has another big-budget television project in the works. She is the executive producer behind the miniseries "Hannibal" being developed for the History Channel. It will tell the story of one of the greatest generals in antiquity, Hannibal Barca, and his arch-rival, Scipio Africanus, who went head-to-head in the Second Punic War.
More on this miniseries and on Hannibal himself is here and links.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Friedman, Studies in the Language and Terminology of Talmudic Literature

NEW BOOK FROM THE ACADEMY OF THE HEBREW LANGUAGE: Shamma Friedman, Studies in the Language and Terminology of Talmudic Literature. In Hebrew!

John Dee's library

COMING EXHIBITION: Scholar, courtier, magician: the lost library of John Dee.
January – July 2016

A major exhibition revealing the fascinating life, times and lost library of Queen Elizabeth I’s most famous ‘conjurer’.

John Dee (1527–1609) is one of the most intriguing characters of 16th century England. A member of the Elizabethan court, he is infamous for his attempts to make contact with other-worldly spirits and his study and practice of alchemy. He was also a mathematician and scholar of navigation, a founding fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, a university lecturer on rhetoric, and an astrologer.

Dee’s library was one of the most famous collections of books and manuscripts of its time, as renowned for its contents as for the fact it was pillaged and dispersed while Dee was travelling in Europe during the 1580s.

Today the Royal College of Physicians library contains more than 100 books previously belonging to Dee: the largest known collection of Dee books surviving in one location. They were acquired as part of the library of the Marquis of Dorchester, presented to the physicians in the 1680s. It is not clear how these 100-plus volumes came to be owned by Dorchester, but there is evidence that many of them were stolen from Dee by a certain Nicholas Saunder.

The Dee collection contains some of the most dramatic and beautiful books in the RCP library, including mathematical, astronomical and alchemical texts. Many of the books are heavily and elaborately annotated by Dee himself.

Our 2016 exhibition will be the first time the books of Elizabethan England’s most famous ‘conjurer’ will have been displayed in public.
HT Liv Ingeborg Lied on Facebook. And Aron Sterk added that a few books from Dee's library are at Chetham's Library in Manchester: 101 Treasures of Chetham's - Material associated with John Dee (1527-1608).

For my own work on John Dee's angelic seances in relation to ancient Jewish visionary traditions, see here and links. Related posts here, here, here, and links.

Conference on gynaecological knowledge in late antiquity

H-JUDAIC: Conf: Female Bodies and Female Practitioners in the Medical Traditions of the Late Antique Mediterranean World. Berlin, 27.-29.10.2014.

The conference aims at discussing the emergence and transmission of gynaecological knowledge from different angles in ancient medical theory and practice. Beside the medical approach, we will consider cultural practices and socio-religious norms that enable and constrain the production and application of gynaecological know-how (e.g. certain taboos on examining or touching the female body, etc.). The role and function of female specialists (e.g. healers, midwives or wet-nurses) as objects and subjects within ancient medical discourses will also be elaborated in further detail.

The combination of topics from various disciplines will provide ample possibilities for a comparative exploration of this field. The multi-perspective approach will help to sharpen our understanding of similarities and differences between Talmudic knowledge on this topic and the medical traditions in Ancient Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Graeco-Roman, Persian, Byzantine, and Syriac cultures.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

TC 18-19

TC: A JOURNAL OF BIBLICAL TEXTUAL CRITICISM has published a couple of new volumes since I last mentioned it:

Volume 18 (2013)

Volume 19 (2014)

Thanks to AWOL for the reminder.

ANE Monographs from the SBL

FOR YOU, SPECIAL DEAL: Free downloadable Ancient Near East Monographs from the Society of Biblical Literature.

The latest on Ezra-Nehemiah and Ugaritic


What’s New with Ezra-Nehemiah (Thomas M. Bolin)

The Current State of Ugaritic studies (Gregorio del Olmo Lete)

Very useful bibliographic surveys of recent developments in these areas. The ASOR Blog requires free registration to access the essays.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah

SHEMINI ATZERET begins this evening at sundown. In Israel, this is also the holiday of Simchat Torah (Simhat Torah). Outside of Israel, that holiday begins tomorrow night at sundown.

Shemini Atzeret is a biblical holiday mentioned in Numbers 29:35-38. Simchat Torah is not a biblical holiday, but it marks the beginning and ending of the annual cycle of Torah readings.

Best wishes to all those celebrating.

Daf Yomi begins Seder Nashim

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Sex With Your Uncle? OK. Sex With Your Widowed Daughter’s Rival? Not OK. When two mitzvot conflict, the Talmud asks, how do we decide which takes precedence? The first tractate in Seder Nashim (The Order of Women) is Yevamot (Levirate Marriage).
This type of union, known as levirate marriage (the English word comes from the Latin term meaning “brother-in-law”), is designed to prevent the dead husband’s lineage from dying out: His brother impregnates his wife in order to provide him with a posthumous heir. The practice is commanded in Deuteronomy 25:5: “If brothers dwell together and one of them dies and he has no child, the wife of the dead man shall not be married outside of the family to one not of his kin; her brother-in-law will have intercourse with her and take her to him to be his wife and consummate the levirate marriage.” There is, however, a significant problem with this commandment, because it seems to directly contradict an earlier prohibition from the book of Leviticus: “You shall not uncover the nakedness of your brother’s wife; it is your brother’s nakedness.” When two mitzvot conflict, the Talmud asks, how do we decide which takes precedence?
As they say on Facebook, it's complicated.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Hurtado on the Geniza

LARRY HURTADO has been blogging about the Cairo Geniza:
New Testament Texts in the Cairo Genizah
NT Texts in the Cairo Genizah: Bibliographical References
Provenance of Aquila OT Genizah Manuscripts
For lots of background on the Cairo Geniza, see here and links.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Columbus Day varia

OH, YES — COLUMBUS DAY: Columbus, the size of the earth, and 4 Ezra. An appropriate post from a few years ago. Also, more recently, this: Hebrew, pepper, and Columbus. On the actual discovery of America, see the comments at the bottom of this post.

Incidentally, it has also been argued in recent years that Christopher Columbus was secretly Jewish. For this reason, Barbara Aiello thinks that The Jews can save Columbus Day (Times of Israel Blog). I blog, you decide.

I know Columbus Day was officially yesterday, but I just remembered to post on it now.

Zohar Ammud Yomi

REMINDER: "Zohar Ammud Yomi (A Daily Page of Zohar) begins at sundown in your location. Monday night, October 13 – Tuesday, October 14, 2014 (20 Tishrei 5775)." Background here. It is currently taking place on the The Zohar Facebook page.

Also, here's an audio file that I haven't had the chance to listen to yet: Daniel Matt on Translating the Zohar.

Roman and Late Antique "Assyrians" and "Syrians"

THE CURRENT ISSUE OF THE JOURNAL OF NEAR EASTERN STUDIES has an article on the ancient use of the terms "Assyrian" and "Syrian" which complicates and enriches the historical background of the current political discussion on whether modern Aramaic-speaking Christian groups in the Middle East constitute an ethnic identity.
Nathanael Andrade, Assyrians, Syrians and the Greek Language in the late Hellenistic and Roman Imperial Periods (JNES 73 [2014]: 299-317)
The analysis is complicated and there is no abstract, but here's an excerpt from the conclusion:
As stated in the analysis above, Greeks first began to distinguish between Syrians and Assyrians during the classical period. According to their perspective, the Syrians lived in the Levant west of the Euphrates river, and the Assyrians lived in the region of Mesopotamia extending east of it. The Greeks conceived of Syrians and Assyrians as sharing the same ethnic descent and cultural features, most notably the Aramaic language, but they arbitrarily placed them in regional categories. When the Hellenistic Greek kingdoms and (eventually) the Roman empire asserted authority over the Near East, they made this conceptual partitioning into a social fact maintained by imperial infrastructure. While they perceived Syrians and Assyrians (and Arameans) to be the same people, the Seleucids nevertheless defined Syria as a region west of the Euphrates and divided it into administrative districts. Roman authorities recognized this territory as the land inhabited by the Syrian ethnos, a social category distinct from the Assyrians who dwelled in Parthian and then Sasanian Mesopotamia.

Such modes of differentiation were durable. During the mid-third century ce, one of the compilers of the Thirteenth Sibylline Oracle, himself a Syrian, lamented in Greek how Syrians had suffered the invasions of “Assyrian” hordes who had fought in the Persian ranks. This could have been an archaizing reference, but it also reflects the belief that Syrians lived in Roman territory and Assyrian counterparts in Persian ones.91 Sharing the same ancestral legacy, they nonetheless belonged to different social categories. Syrians were Assyrian, but they were a discrete, specific subset of them.

Despite such differentiation, Syrians of the Roman empire still could meaningfully conceive of themselves as Assyrians. While encapsulating a heterogeneous array of individuals who alternatively traced Greek, Assyrian, and other Near Eastern genealogies, they could emphasize how their ethnos in aggregate constituted the social legacy of the same ancient people from whom the Assyrians of the Parthian and Sasanian empires claimed to have originated. They could also reckon “Aramean” to be the common name for such Assyrians in the Aramaic language and not just for the inhabitants of the Sasanian Persian region called bēth Arāmāyē (otherwise known as Babylonia or Asūrestān). Even as Syria’s local cultures underwent tremendous cultural transformation, integrated Greek idioms, or generated “hybrid” cultural forms, Syrians still could produce narratives of an “Assyrian” past and vaunt Assyrian self-definition in ways that embedded their innovative and dynamic cultural expressions in a venerable pre-Hellenistic origin. Syrians adopted and adapted new practices amid imperial pressure, but they could continue to see themselves as traditional, as Assyrian, by constantly producing new perspectives on the history of the Assyrians, and reconceiving what Assyrian traditions were. Being Syrian and Assyrian was not a static phenomenon. It was a process of cultural creativity and productive memory, of forging links to a common Assyrian heritage while also identifying with a specific social unit to which many fellow Assyrians did not belong: the Roman imperial Syrian ethnos. How Syriac-speaking Christians fashioned distinct yet intersecting identifications as Syrians, Assyrians, or Arameans in late antiquity is a complex issue that cannot be explored here. But as this article has hopefully shown, how Greek-writing Syrians, or Assyrians, did so during the high Roman imperial period is a complex issue too.
Requires a JSTOR subscription to access the full article. Cross-file under "Modern Aramaic Watch," sort of.

Weitzman at Penn

CONGRATULATIONS TO STEVEN WEITZMAN,* who has just been appointed to a named chair at the University of Pennsylvania.
Steven Weitzman, who came to Penn in July from Stanford University, has been appointed Abraham M. Ellis Professor of Hebrew and Semitic Languages and Literature in the department of religious studies. He is also the new Ella Darivoff Director of the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies. Dr. Weitzman is a scholar of biblical and Jewish studies. He applies insights from the study of religion, literary theory, anthropology and other fields to understand the origins of Jewish culture, the formation of the Bible and other ancient texts like the Dead Sea Scrolls and the history of how the Bible has been reimagined in later cultural traditions. Among his recent projects is a collaboration with a Stanford geneticist that aims to bridge Jewish studies and population genetics.

As director of the Katz Center, Dr. Weitzman will lead this distinguished research institute into its third decade of post-doctoral research on Jewish civilization in all its historical and cultural manifestations.

Dr. Weitzman received his PhD from Harvard after completing his BA at UC Berkeley, and had previously spent several years teaching in the department of religious studies at Indiana University where he served as director of its Jewish Studies program for six years.

The Abraham M. Ellis chair was created in 1954 by the Abraham M. and Rose Ellis Foundation. The Ella Darivoff Director was established in 2001 by Philip M. Darivoff, W’79, WG’85 and Betsy Marks Darivoff, C’79.
For more on the genetics research mentioned above, see here.

*And also to his Penn colleague Eve Troutt Powell, who has also just been appointed to a named chair at Penn.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Virtual Magic Bowl Archive Project relocated

THE VMBA: VIRTUAL MAGIC BOWL ARCHIVE was noted here back in 2011 when it was a project of Southampton University. The old website is still there, but the project is now at Exeter University and there's a new and updated website there (the first link above).
The aim of the VMBA is to provide online resources for those engaged in the study of Aramaic incantation bowls from Sasanian Mesopotamia, perhaps the most important primary source we have for studying the everyday beliefs and practices of the Jewish, Christian, Mandaean, Manichaean, Zoroastrian and Pagan communities on the eve of the Islamic conquests.

While we envisage more features being added over time, the initial resources will focus on some 650 texts that comprise part of the Schøyen Collection, which are currently being prepared for publication by an international team of scholars under the supervision of Professor Shaul Shaked.
Via AWOL. More on Professor Shaked here, here, here, and links.

The "Roman Ascent" to Jerusalem

RUINS: Ancient road into Jerusalem lies buried under construction debris. Historic pilgrims’ route known as the Roman Ascent now passes through sewage main and firing range.
The outskirts of Jerusalem, like the rest of the city, are a combination of the ugly and the beautiful. After Har Hamenuchot cemetery, under a heap of construction debris dozens of meters high, between a gigantic sewage main and the police firing range is a green valley though which the historic road to Jerusalem once ran. Very little has survived – a few curbstones, hints of ancient paving and archaeological remains at either end. The rest has been swept away over the years or disappeared under the cemetery, the range and the sewage main.

In honor of Sukkot, we took a walk along the ancient pilgrims’ route to Jerusalem, known as the Roman Ascent.

Even though it may actually be a Hasmonean rather than a Roman road.

Four Who Entered Paradise reloaded

THE FORWARD: Mysticism, Heresy and Multimedia Art (Michael Kaminer).
In the Talmudic legend called “Four Entered the Orchard,” a quartet of wise men who explore Jewish mysticism meet severe ends: One dies, one loses his mind, and one forsakes Jewish tenets altogether. Only one leaves intact.

Here’s hoping that the artists in “Pardes,” a new exhibition at Toronto’s Koffler Centre of the Arts, meet gentler fates. Inspired by the ancient tale, the exhibition “brings together four Israeli sound and multimedia artists to investigate notions of mysticism, heresy and the occult from secular perspectives, as they relate to contemporary society,” according to Mona Filip, the Koffler’s director.

The Talmudic story “becomes an overarching metaphor and theme of research for the show,” Filip said.
Pardes is also “a metaphor for the transcendent,” according to Toronto-based curator Liora Belford, who organized the exhibition. ”Where traditional transcendent and institutionalized religions are waning, alternative forms of non-physical yet non-transcendent ‘spirituality’ are emerging.”

Sounds interesting, but be careful not to ask where the drinking fountain is while you're visiting the exhibit.

Past references to the story of the Four Who Entered Paradise are collected here.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Jenkins on "the outside books"

THE ANXIOUS BENCH: In Many Tongues. Philip Jenkins comments on Outside the Bible. I hope at some point he will also have a look at Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: More Noncanonical Scriptures. I think he will like it.

Yee et al. Fortress Commentary on the Bible: The Old Testament and Apocrypha

Fortress Commentary on the Bible: The Old Testament and Apocrypha

by Gale A. Yee (Editor); Hugh R. Page Jr. (Editor); Matthew J. M. Coomber (Editor)

Availability: In stock.

Format: Hardcover
Pages: 1,050
ISBN: 9780800699161
Height: 9.25
Width: 7.5
Item No: ED015737
Release Date: Wednesday, October 1, 2014


The Fortress Commentary on the Bible: Old Testament and Apocrypha presents a balanced synthesis of current scholarship, enabling readers to interpret Scripture for a complex and pluralistic world.

The contributors bring a rich diversity of perspectives to the task of connecting solid historical critical analysis of the Scripture with sensitivity to theological, cultural, and interpretive issues arising in our encounter with the text. The contributors represent a broad array of theological commitment—Protestants, Catholics, Jews, and others.

The introductory articles and section introductions in the volume discuss the dramatic challenges that have shaped contemporary interpretation of the Old Testament and Apocrypha. Individual book articles provide an introduction and commentary on key sense units that are explored through the lenses of three critical questions:

  • The text in its ancient context. What did the text probably mean in its original historical and cultural context?
  • The text in the interpretive tradition. How have centuries of reading and interpreting shaped our understanding of the text?
  • The text in contemporary discussion. What are the unique challenges and interpretive questions that arise for readers and hearers of the text today?
The result is a commentary that is comprehensive and useful for preaching, teaching, and research.