(BEING CONTINUED FROM 1/05/16)
a)The Multiple Faces and Phases of Texts at Qumran: Growth, Expansion, and Rewriting in Community Documents (Menahem Kister).
THE SHAPING AND SHAPES OF ANCIENT TEXTS AT QUMRAN
What is an ancient text? How should similar but different texts be treated? When should a text be considered a “recension,” and when is it an independent text? How do such closely-related texts clarify each other? These general questions concerning the transmission of texts and traditions are relevant, sometimes crucial, for the study of the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and rabbinic literature. The answers are complex and elusive. The growth of texts is one of the most important phenomena for understanding the form in which they reached us. The texts found at Qumran help clarify various aspects of the growth of many ancient religious writings, because they represent a variety of texts from a period (ca. second century BCE–first century CE) from which previously no texts written in Hebrew had been preserved (with the exception of Ben Sira and the Damascus Document, see below).
Earlier essays in AJR’s current series on the Dead Sea Scrolls (in honor of the 70th anniversary of their discovery) are noted here and links.
VIDEO: 1955 Film of Cutting Open of the Copper Scroll. Posted by the Leverhulme International Network Project for the Study of Dispersed Qumran Cave Artefacts and Archival Sources, courtesy of Judy Brown, John Allegro’s daughter. Seen on Facebook etc.
Qumran’s Glimpses into Textual Evolution
One of the most fascinating insights provided by the Dead Sea Scrolls is the way they allow us a first-hand glance at the way in which ancient texts grew. By looking at the original manuscripts we are almost watching ancient texts grow and evolve in front of our eyes. The question of how ancient texts developed over time has been and continues to be of great interest to scholars of the Hebrew Bible. The important difference for Qumran studies is that we have actual ancient manuscripts to check the theory in crucial places.
True. And that makes it all the more frustrating that scholars still can’t agree on basic questions like in what order the different versions of the text developed. So it is probably even more difficult to solve the similar but more complicated questions about, say, the redaction of the Pentateuch. [Update: dead link now fixed.]
b)DAVID KLINGHOFFER defends Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ on the basis of Talmudic references that assume that Jewish leaders were involved in the death of Jesus. (The article is in theLos Angeles Times, which requires a lengthy and rather intrusive, but free, registration.) Excerpt:
A relevant example comes from the Talmudic division known as Sanhedrin, which deals with procedures of the Jewish high court: “On the eve of Passover they hung Jesus of Nazareth. And the herald went out before him for 40 days [saying, ‘Jesus] goes forth to be stoned, because he has practiced magic, enticed and led astray Israel. Anyone who knows anything in his favor, let him come and declare concerning him.’ And they found nothing in his favor.”
The passage indicates that Jesus’ fate was entirely in the hands of the Jewish court. The last two of the three items on Jesus’ rap sheet, that he “enticed and led astray” fellow Jews, are terms from Jewish biblical law for an individual who influenced others to serve false gods, a crime punishable by being stoned, then hung on a wooden gallows. In the Mishnah, the rabbinic work on which the Talmud is based, compiled about the year 200, Rabbi Eliezer explains that anyone who was stoned to death would then be hung by his hands from two pieces of wood shaped like a capital letter T � in other words, a cross (Sanhedrin 6:4).
These texts convey religious beliefs, not necessarily historical facts. The Talmud elsewhere agrees with the Gospel of John that Jews at the time of the Crucifixion did not have the power to carry out the death penalty. Also, other Talmudic passages place Jesus 100 years before or after his actual lifetime. Some Jewish apologists argue that these must therefore deal with a different Jesus of Nazareth. But this is not how the most authoritative rabbinic interpreters, medieval sages like Nachmanides, Rashi and the Tosaphists, saw the matter.
Maimonides, writing in 12th century Egypt, made clear that the Talmud’s Jesus is the one who founded Christianity. In his great summation of Jewish law and belief, the Mishneh Torah, he wrote of “Jesus of Nazareth, who imagined that he was the Messiah, but was put to death by the court.” In his “Epistle to Yemen,” Maimonides states that “Jesus of Nazareth � interpreted the Torah and its precepts in such a fashion as to lead to their total annulment. The sages, of blessed memory, having become aware of his plans before his reputation spread among our people, meted out fitting punishment to him.”
It’s unfair of Jewish critics to defame Gibson for saying what the Talmud and Maimonides say, and what many historians say.
You can read some of the relevant texts here. And I’ve discussed some of them here and here. I would say that we just don’t know the exact circumstances of Jesus’ death. The fact that he was crucified indicates Roman involvement. The Gospels certainly portray some Jewish leaders as being involved, but there is much debate on how historically accurate the Passion narratives are. The Talmud (Gemara, that is – the Amoraic commentary on the Mishnah), of course, was written many centuries after the Gospels and anything it says about the first century is very dubious. Historically speaking, what Maimonides thought is irrelevant. He lived many centuries after the writing of the Talmud and we know more about the first century than he did. But pretty much everyone seems to agree that he’s right in this case: the Talmud’s Yeshu was Jesus of Nazareth.
Klinghoffer’s argument seems to be that some of Gibson’s critics are themselves being inconsistent if they accept the authority of the Talmud and of Maimonides yet still condemn Gibson. I’ll leave that debate between him and them.
c) Alexander the Great may not have been so great after all.
A University of California, Berkeley-led group of researchers is challenging the common history that credits the Macedonian king with initiating the spread of ancient Greek culture throughout the Middle East during his conquest of the region during the 4th century B.C.
Backed by a nearly $234,000 collaborative research grant from the Getty Foundation, the team over the next two years will try to document a thriving Hellenized culture in the city of Dor, Israel, at least 100 years before Alexander marched in.
The birth of the Hellenistic period, when Greek culture began to spread far beyond its native territory, has long been set around 334 B.C. to 323 B.C., when Alexander and his troops began their 20,000-mile conquest, thundering from Macedonia south through what is now Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Egypt. The troops then set off for Persia and India.
“Our hunch is that at Dor, Hellenization – the wholesale importation of Greek material culture – begins in the 5th century B.C. and goes into high gear around about 400 B.C. So, it precedes Alexander,” said Andrew Stewart, a UC Berkeley professor of art history and classics in the College of Letters & Science. He also is the project’s principal investigator.
“There is, as far as we can tell, no boost given to this process by Alexander’s conquests,” said Stewart. “So, immediately we are challenging the view that it was Alexander who principally spread Greek culture throughout the Middle East.”
The researchers will investigate what has been uncovered that reflects the efforts of inhabitants of Dor in adopting Greek culture, resisting it, or combining it with their own to form something new. They will look at these interactions in terms of material culture at various levels of society, throughout time.
d)FEATURE-Old religion survives on banks of Tigris
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis
BAGHDAD, June 17 (Reuters) – Iraqi devotees of an obscure religion perform virginity tests on their brides and take a dip in the murky Tigris river every Sunday to purify the soul.
“It is okay if the bride has lost her virginity. Only the ceremony would be different,” Sheikh Asaad Fayyad of the Sabea Mandean Nation, a relic of the ancient Gnostic religions, said at a wedding for five couples at the sect’s compound in Baghdad.
John the Baptist, New Testament forerunner to Jesus Christ, is the central figure for the world’s 20,000 or so Mandeans, most of whom live in southern Iraq and southwestern Iran.
The Mandeans, forbidden to marry outside the sect, are dwindling in number. Their scholars trace the religion’s roots to Adam, whom they say lived 980 million years ago — pushing mankind’s origins far earlier than those proposed by science.
Apart from a now tiny Jewish community, the Mandeans form the smallest group on Iraq’s religious spectrum, which ranges from majority Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims to minority Christians and Yazidis, an offshoot of Shi’ism.
Mandeans are secretive, wary of revealing their rites for fear of antagonising their compatriots, especially after the U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein in April.
The former Iraqi ruler did not interfere with them and allowed an Arabic edition of their holy book, Kanz Irba (Great Treasure), to be published two years ago.
Prayer and ceremonies are conducted in Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke. The Mandean ethic is similar to the Judeo- Christian tradition. They regard Jesus with suspicion, saying he added nothing to the message of John the Baptist and prophets before him.
The Mandeans encourage procreation and prefer mass weddings.
e)James K. Aitken gave a paper on his way cool Database of Septuagint Greek, which you can look at yourself.
Today’s Apocrypha session dealt with “Gnosticism.” I heard Tuomas Rasimus speak on “Who Founded Gnosticism” and Ky-Chun So speak on “Jewish Influences on Gnosticisim in the Apocalypse of Adam.” The abstracts are online at the SBL site (see Saturday’s post for the link – I don’t have the time to put links in now). Rasimus passed out a detailed handout and So gave us his whole paper. I have both in front of me and, herewith, some friendly, polemical comments that I also made, more or less, in the session.
1. The Nag Hammadi texts (and all Gnostic texts) were transmitted by Christians in the form we have them. The burden of proof lies on anyone who wishes to assert that we need to move backwards to a pre-Christian (in these cases, Jewish) origin for any of the documents. Bob Kraft has made this point in his paper “The Pseudepigrapha in Christianity,” and I have developed it further in my online essay “Jewish Pseudepigrapha and Christian Apocrypha: (How) Can We Tell Them Apart?.” The latter is an early draft of a chapter of the book I’m writing on Christian transmission of Jewish Pseudepigrapha. You can find both by going to the links section to the right, clicking on the “Courses Online” link, then clicking on the link to my Old Testament Pseudepigrapha site. Again, I don’t have time to put in the links myself right now.
2. “Heresy” in ancient Judaism, insofar as we can use the term at all, revolved around disagreements about ritual praxis rather than about beliefs or theology. By and large, ancient Jews argued about praxis, not beliefs.
3. The biblical demiurge myth has profound implications for Jewish ethnic/national identity issues and issue of halakhah, Torah observance, and ritual purity and praxis. These issues are entirely ignored, not only in the Apocalypse of Adam, but in the corpus of Gnostic texts as a whole. This is a very serious problem for anyone who wishes to assert a Jewish origin for Gnosticism.
4. The ApocAdam has elements that can be read most naturally as Christian: a suffering redeemer, baptism, and even (if memory serves – I don’t have the text in front of me) a play on the name “Jesus of Nazareth” near the end: Yesseus Nazareus or Mazareus or the like. It is possible to find ways to read these in ways not involving Christianity, but this is specious and unnecessary. The ApocAdam makes perfectly good sense as a document by Christians who believed in the biblical demiurgic myth.
5. The paper on ApocAdam cited no Jewish primary sources to support its assertion that the ApocAdam used Jewish sources that could not have been available to Chrisitians. Even if it could be shown that the work uses Jewish midrashic or apocalyptic sources, as it may well have, this proves nothing unless it addresses Jewish issues (such as ethnic identity or halakhah) which were mostly not of interest to Christians.
6. The argument appears to be that Jewish apocalyptic exegetical techniques could only have been used by Jews, since only Jews knew them. But the Jewish apocalypses that have come down to us were transmitted by Christians, not Jews.
7. I believe it was Jack Neusner who said “What we cannot show, we do not know.” It applies here. The case for Jewish origins of Gnosticism has not been made and I myself doubt that it can be, given the evidence we have available at present.
THE MARCH OF THE MACHINES
The banner ads at the top of the page (the price of a free Blogspot account) have taken an interesting turn: they started out with very generic content like advertisements for search engines, but are now starting to advertise Hebrew-related things. I have no control over ad content and I’m sure the human staff of Blogger aren’t monitoring this sort of thing (thousands of new blogs are added to their system every day). That must mean that their software is reading what I’ve been posting and matching the ads to it. I suppose this is better than having Viagra ads up there, but it’s still a little creepy
(TO BE CONTINUED)