English, Recent Publications

Zion 76:3 published

The latest issue of the journal Zion has just been published. Yehudah Cohn’s book, Tangled up in Text, is reviewed (once again!), now by Yonatan Adler.  This time around, the reviewer is far more skeptical (and ironically, therefore, traditional).  It seems like a good and constructive review that does more than outline the book and praise it. It asks some serious questions, which Cohn is obviously well aware of.

Also in the issue, Michal Bar-Asher Siegal publishes an article, “The Making of a Monk-Rabbi: The Background for the Creation of the Stories of R. Shimon bar Yohai in the Cave,” which is based on her 2010 Yale University dissertation.


English, Recent Publications

Laughing Last

The Oz Vehadar edition of the Yerushalmi has hit the shelves. Apparently it happened last year, but nobody told me. It is nothing short of revolutionary.

The edition itself has been circulating for a number of years now, as the other side of the Artscroll Yerushalmi, but the full edition contains some treats.

First, a preface. The editors review the history of the printing of the Yerushalmi, and list all the commentaries and their sources – which they say they checked against the MSS. They neglect of course to give credit where it is due (MS Escorial of the Yerushalmi was “discovered” in 1977; Hilkhot Hayerushalmi, attributed to Maimonides – perhaps written in his hand – are quoted, but no word about how they were discovered. The first should have been attributed to E.S. Rosenthal, the latter to Saul Lieberman). They also put the text of ed. Venice at the center of the page, noting that MS Leiden was full of mistakes (echoing none other than Zacharias Frankel). The preface also contains an explanation of why it is important to learn Yerushalmi, and what the differences between the Bavli and the Yerushalmi are. The list of Yerushalmi terminology culled from Frankel’s Mevo Hayerushalmi, found in ed. Vilna, is conspicuously missing.

Second, the edition also comes with an incredible upgrade to Baer Ratner’s Ahavat Ziyyon Virushalaim: all the medieval authorities (their names cover a six page list, in three columns) who quoted the sugya or wrote on it are cited and quoted in full. There are no critical notes, and the editions – or MSS – should of course be checked, but this is an amazing step forward. (J. N. Epstein tried to do this almost eighty years ago, and the index cards that were salvaged from Mt. Scopus – the Israeli soldiers used to roll tobacco in them – are the basis of a continuing project by Yaakov Sussman to finish the work. A sample of this work can be found at the end of Haym Soloveitchik’s Hayayin Biyemei Habeinayyim). (Another similar tool, which also provides references to scholarly literature – mostly in Hebrew – can be found here).

Third, the editors are aware of the various MSS of the Yerushalmi, and even some genizah fragments. The latter were known already in ed. Vilna (1924) and are quoted as variants at the bottom of the page. I haven’t checked systematically, and the publishers do not mention if they have other geniza fragments. I suspect that they don’t. Variants from MS Leiden, Vatican, and Escorial are quoted in the margins of the Yerushalmi page.

The page layout itself was changed, and the publishers assure us that this was done in consultation with the Gedolim.
With or without the Gedolim, the set is not yet finished, and the size of the volumes is hulking – the Yerushalmi is printed three times in each volume, each time with a different set of commentaries. The full edition of Zeraim is nine volumes. This would mean about 20 volumes in all. The price tag (NIS 110/volume) is also quite hefty. Despite these shortcomings, this is a serious step forward towards making serious Yerusalmi scholarship easier and more comfortable to do. All we need now is the geniza fragments.

English, Recent Publications, Reviews

Quotations of ARNB from an Oxford MS

The most recent Jewish Studies Quarterly contains an article by Christoph Berner, “Quotations from Avot de Rabbi Nathan B in MS Oxford (Bodleiana) Heb. c. 24,” JSQ 18 (2011): 217-265.  This takes us back to the good old days of publishing whole portions of rabbinic manuscripts in academic journals. This of course is still quite common in Israel, but less so in the US and Europe.
By the way, the word “quotations” in the article’s title should not be taken as an indication of size.  As Berner writes:

This manuscript is the autograph of the Magen Avot, a commentary on Avot de Rabbi Nathan A composed by Yom Tov ben Moshe Sahalon. As already noted by Schechter in his edition of Avot de Rabbi Nathan, MS Heb. c. 24 does not only contain the entire text of version A, but also vast passages of version B, which are quoted in the commentary. Although the significance of these passages for the study of version B can hardly be overestimated, it was beyond the scope of the editorial project situated in Gottingen to systematically search the voluminous manuscript (341 folios) for B traditions. In consequence, the synoptic edition of Avot de-Rabbi Nathan published in 2006 includes MS Heb. c. 24 as a textual witness of version A only,10 a fact that calls for a separate publication of the B material…

In other publication news, Seth Schwartz’ relatively new book was just reviewed by Eric Stewart at the Journal of the American Academy of Religion. For the most part, Stewart seems to like it.

Around the Web, English, Recent Publications

Another Synopsis Hits the Web

The Midrash Project of the Shechter Institute of Jewish Studies just added a synopsis of Midrash Qohelet Rabbah. The synopsis was put together by Shaul Barukhi under the guidance of Marc Hirshman and Reuven Kiperwasser, both of whom authored dissertations on Qohelet Rabbah (and in Kiperwasser’s case, also Qohelet Zuta). Hirshman is now at work on an edition of chapters 1-6.

Announcements, English, Recent Publications

Recently Announced Books

Not just your everyday cereal bowl. From the Bible Lands Museum's exhibit on Jewish Magic.

Eisenbruans has announced a new volume of editions of magic bowls. Aramaic Bowl Spells: Jewish Babylonian Aramaic Bowls Volume One will include bowls from the very important Schøyen Collection, and is being edited by Shaul Shaked, J.N. Ford, and Siam Bhayro. Shaked is one of the foremost authorities on the bowls, and his work has culminated in a slew of articlestwo volumes, and numerous lectures. I had the pleasure of hearing Ford give a talk at a conference that Shai organized last May in which he highlighted many Mesopotamian motifs that he found in the bowls. To top it off, Bhayro brings his expertise on the heterogeneity of pre-Islamic Mesopotamia and on magic texts from the genizah to the volume, which indeed promises to fill a very big gap in printed scholarship.

It goes without saying that the bowls are of utmost importance to the study of Talmud, and especially of the Bavli. Besides the linguistic importance, noted decades ago by Epstein and others, the bowls represent an important window on “the everyday beliefs and practices of the Jewish, Christian, Mandaean, Manichaean, Zoroastrian and Pagan communities on the eve of the Islamic conquests.” For some free content on the topic see here (profile from the Stanford Archaeological Center), here (an article by bowl expert Dan Levine), here (a summary by Shai of a lecture given by Shaked on rabbinic bowls), and here (another summary at the old Talmud blog, of a lecture by Bhayro on divorce motifs in the bowls).

Eisenbraun’s also announced the third edition of Emanuel Tov’s “Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible“. In its newest edition, the book, published originally in Hebrew as part of the “אנציקלופדיה מקראית”,

has incorporated the insights of the last ten years of scholarship, including new perspectives on the biblical texts among the Dead Sea Scrolls, all of which have now been published. Here are expanded discussions of the contribution of textual criticism to biblical exegesis and of the role of scribes in the transmission of the text. The introduction and references throughout the book have been thoroughly revised with the beginning student of textual criticism in mind.

Many of Prof. Tov’s articles, and even some of his books, are available on his personal website.

Members of the Hebrew University Bible Project at work. Note the Talmud scholar in the red shirt.

Although this may sound a little too biblical for readers interested mainly in the Talmud, textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible is an invaluable tool for understanding exegetical moves made by the rabbis. There are many instances in which midrashim were based on a text different than that which is before us today in most editions of the Tanakh. Additionally, scholars of rabbinic literature have a lot to bring to textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible, and the volumes of the Hebrew University Bible Project even have a dedicated apparatus of quotes from rabbinic literature.

English, General Culture, Recent Publications

The Sony Pictures Introduction to Talmudic Studies

A very interesting contribution to Talmudic Studies has just come out, and from a source that only a few months ago would have seemed rather unlikely- Sony Pictures Classics. SPC is distributing Yossi Cedar’s Footnote in North America and has just released the film’s press kit.

After providing a description of Talmudic Literature, the document discusses at length the field of research known as “Talmudic Studies”, dedicating a few paragraphs to “The Talmud Department at the Hebrew University- The Jerusalem School”:

The Talmud Department was one of the first of eight departments that were set up when the Hebrew University was established in 1928, and still exists to this day… The founder of the department, Prof. Yaacov Nachum Epstein, a legendary Talmud researcher with degrees from German universities and once a student of East European yeshivas, solidified the nature of the department that characterizes it to this day.

In light of Epstein’s studies, the Jerusalem school focuses on the bland textual reconstruction of the Talmudic texts and their wording during the preliminary research stages. The winding and unwinding of these long scrolls of ancient texts over the years resulted in many mistakes and errors, which raise doubt as to the authenticity of the text that were obtained. Therefore, before any researcher can ask himself questions that pertain to the content of the text, the concepts conveyed therein, the literary design or the history reflected therein, he must do his best to reconstruct the original text after it was obtained through dubious channels after hundreds of years.

This nondescript textual study, known as ‘philology’, requires extreme diligence. The researcher must collect photographs of the existing manuscripts of the text, some hidden away in libraries and basements around the world, and conduct a meticulous comparison of each and every word. This is painstaking work, rummaging around lost archives to find one more manuscript that will shed light on a baffling sentence in a forgotten text. Endless searching and documentation of small errors made by the Jewish book copier in the Middle Ages, in frozen Europe or remote Yemen, who lost focus for a split second…

This style is not very popular and the Talmud department attracts very few students as opposed to other departments. And among these students, some are forced to leave due to the high scholastic demands and the taxing nature of the work and studies. Nonetheless, many renowned researchers in diverse fields of Judaic studies included this department on their academic route and its academic standards are highly acclaimed in the field of Judaic studies the world over.

The critics of the Jerusalem school claim the exaggerated adherence to details prevents a view of the overall picture, and its members are an exclusive and arrogant clique that has lost its relevance.

The press kit is fascinating in the way that it seeks to provide a background to such a specialized field for the purposes of general culture (a movie).  It is definitely worth checking out.  Maybe someday it will even be considered required reading for Rabbinics courses.

English, Piyut, Recent Publications

Palestinian Vs. Babylonian Sources from an Unusual Angle

Scholars of Hekhalot literature, much like Talmudists, distinguish between Palestinian and Babylonian layers in the texts they study. The following post is about a rare occasion in which a newly discovered text from the Cairo Genizah potentially changes dramatically what we know about the provenance of ideas, motifs and texts.

Earlier this month another Festschrift was published (yet again by Brill), this time in honor of Menahem Schmelzer from the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. Everyone interested in late antique and medieval liturgy, piyyut and theology can find many interesting articles in the volume.  Most interesting for the readers of this blog is Michael Swartz‘s piece on Ancient Jewish Liturgy and Mysticism. In a nutshell, Swartz shows that the author of a fifth or sixth century Palestinian piyyut (published a few years ago in Jewish Studies Quarterly by Michael Rand) was acquainted with the ascent narrative pattern in Hekhalot literature . Swartz then singles out the importance of this newly discovered piyyut:

This finding is significant because of how components of the Heikhalot corpus have been dated by several students of this literature, including this writer. The hymnic element, consisting of compositions praising God on his throne and abounding in elaborate descriptions of the angels, has been traced to Palestine in late antiquity. However, it has been argued that the ascent narratives developed in Babylonia and were used to frame these hymns. This source now serves as strong evidence for placing the element of ascent in amoraic and early post-amoraic Palestine, at least for the narratives of Heikhalot rabati and parts of Heikhalot zutrati. (p. 278).

Swartz’s findings not only affect the study of Hekhalot literature but also that of piyyut. We now know that at least some early payytanim were familiar with Hekhalot notions and perhaps more interestingely, that they felt free to include such materials in compositions that were performed in public. Hopefully Swartz’s contribution will provoke interesting reactions from scholars of Jewish mysticism, rabbinic Judaism and Hebrew liturgical poetry from Late Antiquity.

English, Recent Publications

Journal for the Study of Judaism 42.3

JSJ 42.3 (2011) has just been published online.  And now, on to some of the spoils:

Margaret H.Williams, “Image and Text in the Jewish Epitaphs of Late Ancient Rome.”

This paper aims to establish for the first time the relationship between the verbal and visual elements of the Jewish epitaphs from 3d/4th-century C.E. Rome. A close analysis of the approximately 500 usable inscriptions leads to the conclusion that, the Jewish character of most of the images notwithstanding, the key operative factor at every social level was Roman memorialisation practice. The study thus throws considerable light on the acculturation of Rome’s Jews in Late Antiquity. Two appendices, in which all the symbols that occur are listed individually and by cluster, complete the study.

Fergus Millar, “A Rural Jewish Community in Late Roman Mesopotamia, and the Question of a “Split” Jewish Diaspora.”

This paper emphasises the significance of Syriac evidence for the history of the Jewish Diaspora, and then focuses on an episode in the Syriac Lives of the Eastern Saints by John of Ephesus, which records the demolition by the local Christians of the synagogue of a Jewish community established in a village in the territory of Amida. The significance of this story is explored in two inter-related ways. Firstly, there is the relevance of Syriac-speaking Christianity which, like Judaism, was practised on both sides of the Roman-Sasanid border. Secondly, the article suggests that the presence of Jewish communities in those areas of the Roman empire where Syriac or other dialects of Aramaic were spoken complicates the recently-proposed conception of a “split” Jewish Diaspora, of which a large part was unable to receive rabbinic writings because it knew only Greek. But for Jews living in areas where Aramaic or Syriac was spoken, there should have been no major linguistic barrier to the reception of the rabbinic learning of either Palestine or Babylonia.

I’ve been waiting for some work on John of Ephesus and some interfacing between Syriac Christianity and Sasanian Jewry.

There are also a slew of reviews, including one of Yehudah Cohn’s Tangled up in Text.  In addition, there is a very extensive “Books Received” section.

English, Recent Publications

Some new articles from off the beaten track

My new RAMBI RSS feed is the gift that keeps on giving. Here are some new and not so new titles from off the beaten track that caught my eye:

Stephen J. Pfann, “ Abducted by God? : The process of heavenly ascent in Jewish tradition, from Enoch to Paul, from Paul to Akiva,”  Henoch 33.1 (2011): 113-128.

Pfann’s aricle appears in a special issue of Henoch devoted to “Enochic Traditions and Mediatorial Figures in Second Temple Judiasm and Their Legacy in Early Christianity, Rabbinic Judaism, and Islam, curated by Jason M. Zuraswski, University of Michigan

Anders Hultgård, “La religión irania en la antigüedad: su impacto en las religiones de su entorno – judaísmo, cristianismo, gnosis” in Biblia y Helenismo; el pensamiento griego y la formación del cristianismo (Antonio Piñero ed.; Córdoba: El Almendro, 2007), 551-593.

Admiel Kosman, “ Über die geistige Liebe in der talmudischen Literatur : die Liebesgeschichte von Akiva und seiner Partnerin neu gelesen,” in Jüdischer Almanach (2010): 26-45.