Bart Ehrman now podcasts… via a prophet

Bart Ehrman, Professor of New Testament at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has commenced a podcast: The Bart Ehrman Podcast. But his words are spoken by another, his prophet on earth, John P. Mueller.

It involves a weekly podcast in which John reads two posts that have previously appeared on the blog, some of recent vintage and some archived, often from long ago.

So John P. Mueller reads posts from The Bart Ehrman Blog. The Blog is only available in full behind a paywall (to raise money for charities fighting poverty, hunger, and homelessness). The podcast is free, but only includes a selection of the posts on Ehrman’s blog. That is, the blog is not-for-profit but not via prophet, and the podcast involves no fee but is via prophet.

While Mueller’s voice differs from Ehrman’s slightly, his words are the ipsissima verba of Ehrman, a feature which is – after all – much more than can be said for the prophetic books of the Hebrew Bible/ Old Testament.

John J. Collins on the Invention of Judaism

In ASOR’s publication, The Ancient Near East Today (August 2017, vol. 5, no. 8), John J. Collins provides a very informative summary of his new book:

The Invention of Judaism: Torah and Jewish Identity from Deuteronomy to Paul. Taubman Lectures in Jewish Studies 7. Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2017.

Notably, for Collins, there is something distinctly religious (in concept, if not in name) about being Jewish by the second century BCE:

“In the second century BCE, the Syrian king Antiochus Epiphanes issued a decree proscribing the ancestral laws of Judea…. According to 2 Maccabees, chapter 6 “it was impossible either to keep the Sabbath, to observe the ancestral festivals, or openly confess oneself to be a Ioudaios.”…  It is clear that Epiphanes was not forbidding people to say where they were from. The decree presupposed a normative understanding of what it meant to be a Ioudaios: to observe the Law of Moses, at least in its distinctive practices. What Epiphanes tried to do was to suppress the distinctive identity of the people of Judah, by proscribing the traditional formulation of their way of life.”

Collins then describes how the Jewish Torah (Law) was largely unknown before Ezra’s arrival in Judah (traditionally dated to 458 BCE), and even then its laws were not followed in any literal sense until “the attempt by Antiochus Epiphanes to suppress it”.

It’s a good summary of the early development of Judaism, Jewish identity, and Torah observance: read the article here.

Is Og with the Quick or the Dead? New article from Laura Quick

Laura Quick has just published a useful discussion of the issues surrounding interpretation of King Og’s ערשׂ, in Deuteronomy 3.11, which she interprets as a literal sleeping bed rather than as a coffin or sarcophagus:

Laying Og to Rest: Deuteronomy 3 and the Making of a Myth,” Biblica 98:2 (2017): 161–172.

Quick argues first of all that there are no grounds for interpreting Og as having a link to the dead within the context of the biblical narrative in Deuteronomy 3. She points out, rightly I think, that the Rephaim, of which Og is the last member, were in the perspective of the biblical narrative alive at the time of the biblical conquest. While the Rephaim are long-dead in other poetic biblical passages, that is not the case here, because this is precisely the early pre-Israelite biblical period when the Rephaim are presented as still alive. Similarly, Francesca Stavrakopolou has argued that “It might be supposed, with Mario Liverani and others before him, that the biblical writers recast the Rephaim as giants because they believed that ‘before being dead they must have been alive . . . They should thus have been a people, one that exists no more, but lived in Palestine before [the Israelites’] arrival’” (Land of Our Fathers, 67, citing “Liverani, Israel’s History, 276. See also Loretz, Götter – Ahnen – Könige als gerechte Richter, 259–66″).

However, I note that from the perspective of the author of Deuteronomy, who knows of Og’s ערשׂ being on display in Ammon in his own day, the fact that Og is alive in the biblical narrative is evidentially neutral for identifying his ערשׂ – he’s been long dead and buried. So as King Og is now remembered as one of the long dead, it’s still just as plausible that we’re talking about his sarcophagus.

Quick also agrees with Allan Millard’s view that a bed made with iron indicates a literal sleeping bed rather than a sarcophagus, which would be made of stone. (See also Ulrich Hübner, “Og von Baschan und sein Bett in Rabbat-Ammon (Deuteronomium 3,11)”, ZAW 105 (1993): 86–92.) This is a plausible argument. And yet, as the history of debate has shown, there is a lot of uncertainty that remains. For example (and there are further possibilities), Driver (Deuteronomy, 54) suggested that the ברזל might be basalt rather than iron. As the ערשׂ is evidently on display in Ammon, in Deuteronomy’s day, this is quite understandable as a gigantic basalt tomb; but it is less understandable that there would be an enormous manmade bed with iron parts. It’s possible, but at the very least, the case is hardly laid to rest on the basis of the “iron”/”basalt”.

So Quick tries to rebut the links between Og and the dead which rely on data from outside of the biblical narrative in Deuteronomy 3, that is: the Ugaritic text KTU 1.108 (tablet ca. 1200 B.C.E.), Psalm 68, and a Phoenician tomb inscription from the early fifth century B.C.E., Byblos 13. Her reasoning here seems to be that, if these texts don’t support a chthonic connection to Og, this removes the supporting arguments upon which some scholars have relied to interpret Og’s ערשׂ as a sarcophagus rather than a bed. So this is not a direct argument for the interpretation of Og’s ערשׂ as a sleeping bed or sarcophagus. And it cannot logically have the power to put the issue to rest.

Yet Quick is right that the the general article before ʿg in the Byblos 13 inscription makes it difficult to translate the term as the proper name ‘Og’, and that the reference to Bashan/bashan in Psalm 68 is not in the immediate context related to the dead. But in respect of the Ugaritic KTU 1.108, her assertion that  “the translation preferred by the majority of Ugaritologists reads these lexemes not as toponyms, but as divine names, Aṯtartu and Haddu” – which cites only (the often idiosyncratic) de Moor – is not convincing. The relevant part of the text reads (with my translation):

yšt rpˀu mlk ˁlm He is established, the rpˀu, the eternal king,
           wyšt [ˀil?] gṯr wyqr             and established is [the god(?),] Gathar-and-Yaqar;
ˀil yṯb bˁṯtrt the god who sits (enthroned) in Athtarat,
           ˀil ṯpṭ bhdrˁy the god who rules in Hedrey.

Contra Quick, most interpreters do identify the parallel words in KTU 1.108 with the cities situated in the Hauran (biblical Bashan), south of Damascus, north of the Yarmuk River. In Deut. 1:4; Josh. 12:4; 13:12, 31, the two cities are associated especially with King Og, who is described as enthroned (Heb. √ישׁב, cf. Ug. √yṯb) in the same two cities and also as one of the Rephaim. In favour of this interpretation are Michael C. Astour, ‘Two Ugaritic Serpent Charms’, JNES 27 (1968), 21; Margulis, ‘A Ugaritic Psalm’, 294 (‘the Honor of El sits (enthroned) in Ashtaroth’); Marvin H. Pope, ‘Notes on the Rephaim Texts’, in Essays on the Ancient Near East in Memory of Jacob Joel Finkelstein, ed. Maria de Jong Ellis, MCAAS 19 (Hamden: Archon, 1977), 170 (‘the god who dwells in Ashtaroth’); Sergio Ribichini and Paolo Xella, ‘Milk‘aštart, MLK(M) e la tradizione Siro-palestinese sui Refaim’, RSF 7 (1979), 154 (‘e Yqr il risiede in ˁAṯtartu’); Johannes C. de Moor, An Anthology of Religious Texts from Ugarit, Nisaba, 16 (Leiden: Brill, 1987), 187 (‘the god who is dwelling in Athtartu’); Dennis C. Pardee, Les textes para-mythologiques de la 24e campagne (1961), Ras Shamra-Ougarit 4 (Paris: Éditions Recherche sur les Civilisation, 1988), 81 (‘le dieu qui siege à ˁAshtarot’); Wyatt, Religious Texts from Ugarit, 395 (‘the god enthroned in Athtarat’); Gregorio del Olmo Lete, Canaanite Religion: According to the Liturgical Texts of Ugarit, tr. Wilfred G. E. Watson (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2004), 186 (‘(the) god who sits in ˁAṯtartu’); DULAT, 195 (‘the god who sits in TN’); Aïcha Rahmouni, Divine Epithets in the Ugaritic Alphabetic Texts, HO, Section One: The Near and Middle East 93, tr. J. N. Ford (Leiden and Boston: Brill), 208 (‘The god who sits (enthroned) in ˁAṯtartu’).

In addition, the preposition b- does not ever mean ‘with, in the company of (a person)’, which favours the toponymic interpretation (Rahmouni, Divine Epithets, 38).

The spelling of Ug. hdrˁy versus Heb. אדרעי is not a common transition in North-West Semitic but is not unattested (e.g., Akkad. ewūm ‘to become’, cf. Aram. hǝwā: Sabatino Moscati, Anton Spitaler, Edward Ullendorff, and Wolfram Von Soden, An Introduction to The Comparative Grammar of the Semitic Languages: Phonology and Morphology, PLONS 6 (Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1969), 42. Alternatively, Baruch Margulis suggests a scribal error of hdrˁy for ˀidrˁy, given the similarity of h and ˀi and the single, small missing wedge which would be involved (‘A Ugaritic Psalm (RS 24.252)’, JBL 89 (1970): 294). Nicolas Wyatt dismisses the difference as insignificant, imploring, ‘This is a school exercise!’ (Religious Texts from Ugarit: The Words of Ilimilku and His Colleagues, BS 53 [Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1998], 396 n. 8).

So there is life yet in King Og’s sarcophagus, I think.

Giant Skull Openly Displayed at Harvard in ca. 1929!

Whatever happened to this giant skull, pictured on display at Harvard Medical School, in ca. 1929? Was it suppressed as part of a worldwide cover-up of Nephilim bones by nefarious atheist scientists?

No. The picture is of anatomist Harris Peyton Mosher (1867-1954) with a giant teaching skull. Harris Mosher was, at the time, Professor of Laryngology at the Harvard Medical School and Chief of Laryngology at the Massachusetts General Hospital.

According to Dr. Robert A. Jahrsdoerfer (MD), Mosher was “a Goliath in the field of otolaryngology and a living legend in his time” (“A Century of Progress: Harris Peyton Mosher: The Man Behind the Award”, Laryngoscope 106 [November 1996]: 1323-1325).

h/t: @PaleoAnthropology+

The Original Sausage Fest: The Swiss Reformation in 1522

The most interesting thing to come out of the Refo500 celebrations is a cantata produced to celebrate the beginning of the Swiss Reformation – an event which has become known as the “Affair of the Sausages”.

Back in 1522, the Catholic Church made it compulsory that every Christian should fast for Lent, the 40 days leading up to Easter. But the reformer Ulrich Zwingli believed that fasting should be voluntary – a matter of individual choice. So while most of the town of Zürich was fasting, he joined in a rebellion at the house of Christoph Froschauer, a printer, in which two smoked sausages were cut up and distributed among his workers.

A cantata was written last year by composer Edward Rushton and lyricist Ulrich Knellwolf, to commemorate what might be considered the most momentous sausage-eating act in all of Christian history. The piece is called… “Geist und Wurst”.

Yes: “Spirit and Sausage”.

Here are some excerpts:

Performances in Switzerland over the last year have been followed by a celebratory sausage-eating:

Enoch from Antiquity to the Middle Ages

Exciting news for fans of Enoch and the giants. A volume from John C. Reeves and Annette Yoshiko Reed is planned for 1 March 2018 which will provide the first part of a comprehensive compendium of literature from antiquity to the Middle Ages which reference Enoch:

John C. Reeves and Annette Yoshiko Reed, eds., Enoch from Antiquity to the Middle Ages: Sources From Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, Volume I. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018. [432 pages]

There’s some more information on John C. Reeve’s UNC Charlotte project webpage. Reeves describes the aim of the “Enoch from Antiquity to the Middle Ages” project as twofold:

(1) to assemble all the fragmentary extant references to and citations of Enochic works within the aforementioned religious literatures [Jewish, Christian, gnostic, and Muslim] into one convenient collection, and (2) to compare, classify, and analyze these subsequent references and citations in order to gain a clearer picture of the scope and range of what might tentatively be termed the ‘Enochic library,’ or the entire corpus of works attributed to Enoch.

An exciting, not to mention wide-ranging, project!

h/t: Annette Yoshiko Reed

Ancient misinterpretation of large bones as mythological giants

A new study provides a useful survey of ancient and early modern discoveries of large bones which were misinterpreted as the remains of giants. (They usually, in fact, belonged to mammoths and whales.)

Marco Romano and Marco Avanzini, “The skeletons of Cyclops and Lestrigons: misinterpretation of Quaternary vertebrates as remains of the mythological giants” Historical Biology (June 2017): 1-24.

The article provides a host of examples. But the short section on biblical giants on pp. 3-4 contains many errors: a quotation from Genesis 6.4 is wrongly cited “Genesis 6.3”. The term “nephilion” should be Heb. “nephilim” or Ar. “Nephilin”. The Anakim are wrongly identified as Amorites in Numbers 13, which is rather the result of a conflation with the differing account in Deuteronomy 1. It has “cube” instead of “cubit”. It confusingly alternates between arabic and roman numerals for the same biblical citations (e.g. “Deuteronomy 2, 10-11”, but “Deuteronomy II, 10”). The phrase “one the vanquished kings” should be “one of the vanquished kings”. It has Italian “Giosuè” for “Joshua”. The citation “Number XXI, 33” should be “Number[s] [XXII], 33”.

Note also earlier studies on this subject by folklorist Adrienne Mayor and biblical scholar Brian Doak.