Category Archives: Biblical Studies

Rachel Elior Festschrift

If any of you readers have enjoyed through the years, as I have, the work of Rachel Elior, Daphan Arbel and Andrei Orlov have edited a Festschrift for her: With Letters of Light: Studies in the Dead Sea Scrolls, Early Jewish Apocalypticism, Magic, and Mysticism in Honor of Rachel Elior.

Professor Orlov was kind to forward the below information about the volume. You’ve just got to love a book that includes a chapter titled something like Jodi Magness’ “The Impurity of Oil and Spit among the Qumran Sectarians”! Rock it, sister! Ptui! Seriously, though, this collection promises to be a fascinating read. The names of several of the authors are already familiar to me and appreciated for their consistent skill and care in dealing with the materials. Those whom I don’t recognize (through the lack of breadth of my own reading, I’m sure), will I’m sure have interesting things to say, as well.


This collection of essays is a tribute to Rachel Elior’s decades of teaching, scholarship and mentoring. If a Festschrift reflects the individuality of the honoree, then this volume offers insights into the scope of Rachel Elior’s interests and scholarly achievements in the study of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Jewish apocalypticism, magic, and mysticism from the Second Temple period to the later rabbinic and Hekhalot developments. The majority of articles included in the volume deal with Jewish and Christian apocalyptic and mystical texts constituting the core of experiential dimension of these religious traditions.

Contents of the volume:

Daphna Arbel and Andrei Orlov
Rachel Elior – An Appreciation from her Colleagues and Students – 1-5

Frances Flannery
The Consideration of Religious Experience in the Work of Rachel Elior – 6-10

I. Exegesis

Kelley Coblentz Bautch
Peter and the Patriarch: A Confluence of Traditions? – 13-27

Silviu N. Bunta
In Heaven or on Earth: A Misplaced Temple Question about Ezekiel’s Visions – 28-44

James R. Davila
Scriptural Exegesis in the Treatise of the Vessels, a Legendary Account of the Hiding of the Temple Treasures – 45-61

Dan Merkur
Cultivating Visions through Exegetical Meditations – 62-91

Sergey Minov
“Serpentine” Eve in Syriac Christian Literature of Late Antiquity – 92-114

Annette Yoshiko Reed
From “Pre-Emptive Exegesis” to “Pre-Emptive Speculation”? Ma‘aseh Bereshit in Genesis Rabbah and Pirqei deRabbi Eliezer – 115-132

Mark Verman
Earthly and Heavenly Jerusalem in Philo and Paul: A Tale of Two Cities – 133-156

II. Ritual

Crispin Fletcher-Louis
The Book of Watchers and the Cycle of New Year Festivals – 159-168

Yuval Harari
A Different Spirituality or ‘Other’ Agents?: On the Study of Magic in Rabbinic Literature – 169-195

Rebecca Lesses
“They Revealed Secrets to Their Wives”: The Transmission of Magical Knowledge in 1 Enoch – 196-222

Jodi Magness
The Impurity of Oil and Spit among the Qumran Sectarians 223-231

Andrei Orlov
“The Likeness of Heaven”: The Kavod of Azazel in the Apocalypse of Abraham – 232-253

Pieter W. van der Horst
Mystical Motifs in a Greek Synagogal Prayer? – 254-264

III. Transformation

Daphna Arbel
“A Chariot of Light Borne by Four Bright Eagles”: Eve’s Vision of the Chariot in the Greek Life of Adam and Eve – 267-284

Joseph Dan
“Messianic Movements in the Period of the Crusades” – 285-298

April D. DeConick
Jesus Revealed: The Dynamics of Early Christian Mysticism – 299-324

Celia Deutsch
Aseneth: Ascetical Practice, Vision, and Transformation – 325-348

Naomi Janowitz
“You Are Gods”: Multiple Divine Beings in Late Antique Jewish Theology – 349-364

Alan F. Segal
Transcribing Experience – 365-382

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King James OT with Apocrypha Annual Reading Plan

Reader Ken Holpp left a comment asking if I knew of any good annual reading plans for the full King James Bible, that is, including the Apocrypha. That piqued my interest. As I wasn’t able to find such a plan promptly on the web, I decided to create a reading plan for the King James Bible Old Testament and Apocrypha, in the order in which they were published in the 1611 edition. The result is the One Year King James Old Testament with Apocrypha Reading Plan.

Were a user so inclined to use this plan, he would need a companion plan for reading the New Testament throughout the course of the year. Precisely in mind while I was doing this was the provision of the Optina Kellia New Testament reading plan, particularly that rendering of the plan communicated to me by my brother in Christ Esteban Vázquez, as described on my page titled Eastern Orthodox New Testament Reading Plan, and by Esteban on his own blog in a two part series: On Reading the Scriptures, Parts One and Two. The KJV plan above has included the Book of Psalms, so the reader would not need to follow a plan for reciting the Psalms (like the Eastern Orthodox practice of reciting a various number of Psalms per day, as described on my page Eastern Orthodox Psalm Reading Plan, whether following it in full or in a basic form.

Suggestions and corrections are always welcome!

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Legaspi conclusion

What, finally, of the scriptural Bible? In this story, it has been the shadowy counterpart to the academic Bible forged during the Enlightenment. Though perhaps only a shade, it has lived on in religious communities as long as men and women have revered its authority. A full account of the relationship between the scriptural Bible and its counterpart is beyond the scope of this work. In concluding this study, though, I would like to offer a brief reflection. I believe that the scriptural Bible and the academic Bible are fundamentally different creations oriented toward rival interpetive communities. Though in some ways homologous, they can and should function independently if each is to retain its integrity. While it is true that the scriptural reader and the academic interpreter can offer information and insights that the other finds useful or interesting, they remain, in the end, loyal to separate authorities. I grant the moral seriousness of the modern critical project and, to a modest degree, the social and political utility of the academic Bible. I also grant the intellectual value of academic criticism. A rational, irenic study of the Bible supported by state resources and disciplined by academic standards cultivated across a range of fields has produced, in a relatively short time, an astonishing amount of useful information. It has become clear, though, that academic criticism in its contemporary form cannot offer a coherent, intellectually compelling account of what this information is actually for. What critics like Collins have done as a result is to shift the rationale for modern criticism away from the intellectual and back toward the social and moral. There is value in the social and moral by-products of academic criticism, in things like tolerance, reasonableness, and self-awareness. The problem is that these rather thin, pale virtues seem only thinner and paler when compared to the classic virtues associated with the scriptural Bible: instead of bland tolerance, love that sacrifices itself; instead of an agreeable reasonability, hope that opens the mind to goodness and greatness that it has not yet fully imagined; and instead of critical self-awareness, faith that inspires and animates the human heart. Academic criticism tempers belief, while scriptural reading edifies and directs it. In this sense, they work at cross-purposes. Yet each mode presumes the value of knowledge. Perhaps the two are closest, then, when in that brief moment before thought recognizes itself, the mind wavers between words that have suddenly become strange, and knowledge is a choice between knowing what the text said and knowing what the words might be saying. It is a choice, at such a moment, between the letter that has been revived and the letter that has never died.

Michel Legaspi, The Death of Scripture and the Rise of Biblical Studies (Oxford, 2010), page 169, the last paragraph of the book.

The “Collins” referenced in the above selection is, of course, John Collins, and the work alluded to is his Bible after Babel, in which he describes the value of new postmodernist readings of Scripture as a solution to the chaotic morbidity of historical criticism right here and now as it’s practiced in the early twenty-first century Anno Domini.

On the “revived” in the last sentence, Legaspi refers back to the subject of the first chapter of his book, “From Scripture to Text,” in which he maps the death of Scripture in the sixteenth century and the creation of the academic BIble. The language of “renaissance” or “rebirth” and “revivification” or “revival” were key to the success of the academic Bible in those circles which created it to fill a perceived need for a Bible which is relevant to modern society (does that sound familiar?). In the end, this rebirth is no more universalist or of ultimate objective value than any other human product, as the academic Bible and the societal and cultural needs which it assuaged were time-bound, and are therefore now as obsolete as buggy whips.

This has been a very interesting book. I can only wish that Legaspi had Anders Gerdmars’s Roots of Theological Anti-semitism (Brill, 2009) available to him during the writing. Although Legaspi does touch in passing on the antisemitism of German academic Biblical scholarship, it could and should receive more attention, particularly as it is so very intertwined with the motivations and bases of the methodologies and, of course, their conclusions. There is nothing acceptable in that, particularly in seeing the direction that German culture was shortly to take, justifying its actions in part by recourse academic Biblical studies’ antisemitic conclusions. In fact, it is revolting.

Something else that someone might not catch in Legaspi’s conclusion: while all of Western Europe was convulsed by the death of Scripture and the creation of the academic Bible, Christians further east were those for whom “the letter…has never died.” While Western Europe prided itself on a Renaissance partly effected by refugee people and works from the fall of Constantinople, those same Greeks had never experienced a “Dark Ages” (nor had they ever stopped bathing) and maintained the literature and traditions of the ancient world, pagan and Christian, in a living tradition. There was nothing to “rebirth” as nothing had died. And the Orthodox Patristic interpretation of the Bible does not and will not permit of the kind of separation from faith that scholarship of the academic Bible requires. The academic Bible is an entity completely foreign to Eastern Orthodoxy, yet one which is easily recognized as the result of the shismatic and rebellious nature which seems a particular hallmark of Western culture. Very instructive.

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Legaspi, The Death of Scripture

I will let the beginning of Michael Legaspi’s praface in his The Death of the Scripture and the Rise of Biblical Studies present his thesis, as it works so very well:

Consider two scenes. The first takes place in an Eastern Orthodox church. The liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is under way. From behind the icon screen, the priest comes into view, carrying overhead, in solemn procession, an ornately bound, gold-plated volume: the Book of the Gospels. All stand. There is incense in the air. Acolytes, candles in hand, stand by to illuminate the reading of the Gospel. In that moment, the people are told not to look, to follow texts with their eyes, but rather to listen. The priest proclaims, “Wisdom! Let us attend!” and the people go silent. In the liturgy, the faithful see the Bible in procession, hear it in song, and venerate its holiness and authority with signs of loyalty and submission. The one thing the faithful to do not actually do during this service, however, is read the Bible. It is always read to the people by someone else. Written words voiced by readers and expounded by preaching are transmuted into oral and immediate ones. The second scene is a biblical studies seminar in a university classroom. It too is filled with people. They sit, not stand. At the center is a long table. On it are many Bibles, various copies in assorted languages: Hebrew, Greek, Syriac, Latin. Some lie open, others are pushed aside into impromptu stacks. They share the table with other writings: teacher’s notes, photocopies, reference works, dictionaries, grammars, commentaries. The atmosphere is sociable but cerebral, quiet but static. Heads are bowed, but over books. There are readers here too, but the oral performances are tracked closely by others whose eyes are attuned carefully to common texts. There is speech, but no song or prayer. Spoken words belong only to individuals. The texts focus readerly vision. Commentary is controlled.

In both senses, the Bible is at the center. In the first, its words are invisible, fleetingly oral, melodic. In the second, they are visible, unmoving, inscribed and fixed on pages. The two scenes represent very different enterprises. Yet they are not different because they embody different assumptions, discourses, and communal identities, though this is certainly the case. They are different, ultimately, because they have come into being by virtue of independent realities and by way of separate histories. They are different because the two groups, as a result of these histories and realities, are actually engaged with different Bibles: a scriptural Bible, and an academic Bible.

This book tells the story of the academic Bible, how and why it came into being. It begins at a moment when the scriptural BIble evoked by the liturgical scene above had already receded to the margins of modern Western cultural and public life. The Reformation engendered a crisis of authority in which authority itself–its location, its nature, its sources–was contested. As a result of this crisis, the ecclesial underpinnings of the scriptural Bible becasme too weak, too fragmented to sustain its place at the center of Western Christendom. It was moved to the boundaries, where, throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, it fueled confessional and anticonfessional theological programs, some critical and others traditional. Many of the tools and much of the material that would later be used to create the academic Bible were developed in the two centuries following the Reformation. Yet the academic Bible did not come into being until the eighteenth century, when biblical criticism took shape at the modern university as a post-confessional enterprise. The academic Bible was created by scholars who saw that the scriptural Bible, embedded as it was in confessional particularities, was inimical to the socio-political project from which Enlightenment universities drew their purpose and support. Given the choice between the scriptural Bible and something else, university men, the fathers of modern criticism, chose something else.

(pp vii-viii)

Although I already had found the book’s description interesting enough to promptly order it (and to bump it up upon its arrival ahead of all the other books I have waiting yet to be read), I was pleasantly surprised by the above mention of Orthodox liturgy, and moreso to learn through the course of the Preface that Legaspi and his family are Orthodox. Michael Legaspi is Assistant Professor of Theology at Creighton University.

The chapters of the book, presenting a development of Legaspi’s elegantly presented argument, are:
1. From Scripture to Text
2. Bible and Theology at an Englightenment University
3. The Study of Classical Antiquity at Göttingen
4. Michaelis and the Dead Hebrew Language
5. Lowth, Michaelis, and the Invention of Biblical Poetry
6. Michaelis, Moses, and the Recovery of the Bible
The book uses endnotes, but fortunately of the usable kind where the header of the page notes where the notes are to be found (the only dish in which these accursed things are palatable). Likewise there’s an actually helpful bibliography (not one of thoase “for further reading” abominations), an index, and an index of Biblical references. The last numbered page is 222, so it’s a compact volume. As one might tell from the chapter titles, Michaelis appears as something of a case study throughout. Aside from being a fascinating and pivotal character, Michaelis also became someone in whose image other academics (re)created themselves, and still do, to a degree. So in a way, his story is Everyscholar’s story in the Enlightenment.

Constantly coming to my mind as I read this book is Anders Gerdmars Roots of Theological Anti-Semitism: German Biblical Interpretation and the Jews, from Herder and Semler to Kittel and Bultmann (Brill, 2009), one of the most important books published in the last decade, in my opinion. The two, of course, are describing from slightly different viewpoints and from different levels of granularity the same period and several of the same characters and institutions while in general covering the same subject: the foundations of modern academic Biblical Studies. The two books, Death of Scripture (such an exquisitly provocative title!) and Roots of Anti-Semitism, are thoroughly complementary. Both involved intensive research into the historical context of the (re)foundations of German universities and the personnel involved in those and other movements of social and political import from the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries especially. The scholarship here is impeccable. Legaspi shows a deft had (just as Gerdmar does!) in summarizing and commenting astutely on various developments, making them easily grasped for those without benefit of more detailed histories in mind. Various humorous asides are also included, often of historical character. It makes the reading all that more compelling.

I am only at the beginning of chapter 3 now, but I write this, even if prematurely, to tell all and sundry: buy this book! It will be especially fascinating to those interested in intellectual history. There have been indications (now I can’t find them) in Legaspi that there are some surprises in store along the way. He does not hesitate to characterize his work as “revisionist” (p. 6):

“This book, however, is not simply an intellectual biography of Michaelis. It is also a revisionist account of the early history of biblical scholarship. A correct understanding of this history is essential to contemporary discussions about the role of biblical criticism in academic theology.”

Note the positive connotation of “revisionist” here: correcting the incorrect, bringing light to the Gentiles, or whatever you want to call it. In any case, it’s a good thing. And Legaspi’s writing itself is very pleasant to read (I was going to write “delicious”, but that’s a bit strong): it’s not overly complex, but is not shy of complexity where warranted. Oversimplification and dumbing-down are thankfully absent (as are any atrocious boxes filled with graphics and inane sub-literate summaries of the main text). This is an academic book from an academic press (Oxford, 2010), with an academic target (zing! in two senses!) in its sights.

Anyhow, I’m enjoying it. Others of my readers will, too, I’m certain. Happy reading!

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At last!

Yesterday, Sunday 29 August 2010, at 3:21pm, I finally completed my work in compiling and checking all the citations of ancients texts in the apparatuses of James Charlesworth’s Old Testament Pseudepigrapha volumes, in prepration for the publication of a full index to the OTP, co-authored with Charlesworth. I had started on 16 September 2007, according to my notes, so it took almost three years. I’ve compiled 66 handwritten pages of corrections, and my notes and the index raw data have filled two and a half lab books (of quarter-inch gridline paper, my favorite for the smaller lines; the corrigenda are on 8.5×11, quarter-inch gridline paper, as well).

My process was this, for each page:
1.) If the page is of introductory material, read it closely and carefully, checking every citation to an ancient work in an edition of that ancient work.
2.) On the pages of translations:
a.) check the sources noted in the marginal citations
b.) check the sources noted in the footnotes
3.) When a mismatch occurs, figure it out:
a.) mix the numbers around a bit, assuming it’s a typo (often the case)
b.) otherwise, find the most likely edition used by the translator/annotator and check it for a variant versification (this was the case in a number of instances)
c.) search an online (usually TLG) text for one or more key words of the verse in the translation, and see where that leads (this happened quite a bit, too)
d.) If none are found, then note the parallel as unfindable and omit it from the index as a too-badly garbled mistake (there are very few of these, probably fewer than ten).

Having access to the best available online resources through the University of California, and to its library resources (including interlibrary loan) made the completion of this project possible in the relatively short time it has taken. No one could have done this without such resources.

Yes, I checked every single reference, whether to the books in the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, the Deuterocanonical books, the Pseudepigrapha/Apocrypha (OT or NT), classical texts, and Rabbinic texts. That pretty well covers the range of things which will be included in the full index. All references to the works included in the OTP volumes themselves have been adjusted to the versification used in those volumes. Others have been adjusted to the NRSV (for those books included in it) or to the Rahlfs Septuagint (where applicable). I did have the NETS from almost the beginning of this project, and considered using it as the LXX reference, but it follows the Göttingen Septuaginta versification, which differs in places from Rahlfs, which is still the most commonly available and cited LXX text. So, I stuck with Rahlfs where these differ. That may change, of course. Classical texts follow the Loeb Classical Library versification generally. I also used the magnificent TLG regularly. This typically includes texts with the Loeb numbering. Where they differ, I followed whichever had the more structure. For the Rabbinic corpus, I’ve included not simply the standard page+recto/verso indication, but the outline indicators included in Neusner’s translations, as these will help readers to find exactly the point in question. Not many texts are still limited to simply page numbers in an edition, but this was the case with those works included in the Bet ha-Midrash collection, and a handful of others.

Now comes the typing. Ugh. Then I’ll have to proof it all against my handwritten notes. This is probably a couple of months of work in itself. But it’s exciting, all the same.

My next OTP-related project will also be published with Charlesworth as co-author: scanning and proofing all the translations, and then producing a full concordance to the translations included in the OTP, along with referring entries (“See also A,B,C.”) for common names in their various versions throughout all the texts. That will take about a minute a page in scanning time (I’ve timed it!) totalling roughly 30 hours scanning, and then a few minutes per page in proofreading (which, unlike the indexing/checking, I’ll be able to do anywhere, so I won’t have to be tied to the computer and surrounded by reference books at hand). Running the prepared text through the concordancing software takes only seconds. Preparing the text is what takes time and what matters. One thing I do is run a flat word list of a text being concordanced and then read through the entire list, noting anomalies of spelling and hyphenation and such, and then correcting the text. A few rounds of that results in a relatively perfect text. And in that process, I do expect to find further errors in the translations themselves (I’ve already noted some during the indexing project). So, by the end of my two projects, all of the text of the OTP, from the top to the bottom of every page, will have received close examination and correction where necessary. I expect this concordancing project to take only a few months, like just the rest of this year.

Before the OTP scanning, etc, I intend to finish up the blind entries (which are already well underway) for an otherwise complete concordance to the NETS (which incorporates corrections to the NETS translation provided by Pietersma). “Blind entries” are those like “Abraham, see Abraam.” The NRSV is the source of the first, and the usage in NETS is the second. This will assist users greatly. As this one is so far advanced, I figure it’ll be best to just get it done and out of the way.

So, that was fun! And is fun! And will be fun! I’m having fun!

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Another anniversary!

Happy International Septuagint Day!

Mark it on your calendars for next year!

The International Organization for Septuagint and Cognate Studies will thank you for it.

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Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentaries

The Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentaries (hereafter ZIBBC) are beautiful books. Let us make no mistake about that. Zondervan has produced some real eye candy with these two sets. These volumes are of the highest production value: heavy semi-gloss pages, full-color throughout, with two or more illustrations in every facing-page spread, with combination (both sewn and glued) sturdy hardcover library bindings (the NT volumes bear identical dustjackets to the library binding covers). Each volume is over 500 pages in length, and the text is in a clear and easily legible font, neither too small nor too large. The page layout is truly skilled, something that Zondervan seems always to have excelled at in its illustrated volumes. They have some really excellent book designers on hand, obviously. The aesthetic is modern without being flashy, and is consistent throughout all the volumes, New Testament and Old Testament. The photographs are generally large but are nearly always of sufficient detail that they are illustrative, and the wealth of them is quite impressive. Maps and other illustrations are also full-color. I will deal more with the illustrations below.

Continue reading

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