Thatcher endorses Harnessing Chaos


I heartily recommend this book to any individual with even a passing interest in contemporary British politics. It makes me reconsider everything. Everything.
– Margaret Thatcher

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Filed under Academic things, Books on Reception History

The final session featured some sick-ass freestyle scratching from DJ Raff


… wit mad rhymez from Tony Mnemonix and some old skool beatboxing from DJ Xley.

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Gigantobibliophile Goodness: Ancient Tales of Giants from Qumran and Turfan (Mohr Siebeck, June 2016)

goff - ancient tales of giantsBig news for gigantobibliophiles! This volume has just been published:

Matthew Goff, Loren T. Stuckenbruck, and Enrico Morano, eds, Ancient Tales of Giants from Qumran and Turfan: Contexts, Traditions, and Influences (WUNT 360; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2016)

While there has been much scholarly attention devoted to the Enochic Book of the Watchers , much less has been paid to the Book of Giants from Qumran. This volume is the proceedings of a conference that convened in Munich, Germany, in June 2014, which was devoted to the giants of Enochic tradition and in particular the Qumran Book of Giants . It engages the topic of the giants in relation to various ancient contexts, including the Hebrew Bible, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and ancient Mesopotamia. The authors of this volume give particular attention to Manichaeism, especially the Manichaean Book of Giants , fragments of which were found in Turfan (western China). They contribute to our understanding of the range of stories Jews told in antiquity about the sons of the watchers who descended to earth and their vibrant Nachleben in Manichaeism.

After the Introduction from Matthew Goff, Brian Doak examines the motif of giganticism in the Hebrew Bible and in its reception. The next two essays compare Greek Titans with Jewish giants and examine early Jewish literature in Greek. Part Two contains five essays examining aspects of the ancient Jewish context for giants (including especially the Qumran Book of Giants, along with other Dead Sea scrolls, Book of Watchers, and Daniel). Part Three takes us to Turfan, China, with four essays on the Book of Giants and Manichaeism.


I can’t wait to read it!


Filed under Ancient Jewish texts, Biblical Giants, Book of Giants, Books on Giants

John Barclay – Paul and the Gif


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by | May 25, 2016 · 9:19 pm

The Discovery of the Skull of Goliath: Scenes from Don Verdean

DON VERDEAN: Okay, right now we’re standing in the very creek bed
where David collected his five stones. That means the Philistine army
would have camped over here and the Israelites would have camped over there… Military protocol of the day would put David and Goliath somewhere right here in the middle.


CAROL: What is this place?

DON VERDEAN: This is the ancient village of Gath. Goliath’s birthplace. We all need to keep our eyes peeled for any natural landmarks… a… a monument of sorts.

CAROL: What about that monolith right there?

DON VERDEAN: What monolith?

CAROL: Right there.

DON VERDEAN: That’s not a bad idea.

CAROL: Well, to me, this monolith represents the physical strength of Goliath.
So, it only makes sense that they would’ve used something like this as a grave marker.

DON VERDEAN: Dang, you’re a natural…
Everyone be careful. Most Philistine graves in this region are quite shallow. That being said, let’s dig fast. Don’t want any looky-loos showin’ up.


BOAZ YOHALEM: Don. I hit something.

DON VERDEAN: Okay. Ho, ho, ho… everyone stop….  Carol, can you hand me
that brush from my kit?

CAROL: I can see a chunk of bone.

DON VERDEAN: Let’s not get carried away.

CAROL: Ooh! Is that the dome of a skull?!

DON VERDEAN: Phew. Certainly appears that way.


DON: Carol, would you do the honors?

CAROL: No, I’m afraid I’ll break it. You do it. All right, next time. Get that bag ready. Oh, my God. I don’t believe it. That’s… the skull of Goliath.

TOURIST: Hey! Hey! T-these guys just found the skull of Goliath!


DON VERDEAN: Earlier this month on a routine dig in Israel,
Miss Jensen, Mr. Yohalem and myself unearthed the remains of a very large human skull containing a river stone embedded in the frontonasal suture.
This discovery was made in Gath, the ancient birthplace of Goliath …

BOAZ YOHALEM: Tell them how we were chased by three al-Qaeda
guys on “motorcycles” …

DON VERDEAN: Uh… well, yes, as you already know word of our discovery spread quickly and not 10 minutes after we were on the road with the skull,
we were followed by three masked men on motorcycles… I immediately took evasive action and I knocked all three of them off the road…

What al-Qaeda would want with the skull of a Philistine, I have no idea.

BOAZ YOHALEM: They’re possibly cloning an army of giant al-Qaeda guys.


Filed under 1 Samuel 17, Ancient Jewish texts, Biblical Giants, Film, Goliath, Media

Judah’s military correspondence from ca. 600 BCE: Evidence of widespread literacy but not evidence of the Bible

An important article by Shira Faigenbaum-Golovin et al has been published t0day in ‘Early Edition’ form, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States. The article demonstrates that literacy was widespread in Judah in ca. 600, that Hebrew could be written and read by both high and somewhat lower ranks of the military, and that military officers produced detailed texts inscribed on pottery shards (ostraca).

Shira Faigenbaum-Golovina, Arie Shausa, Barak Sobera, David Levina, Nadav Na’amanb, Benjamin Sassc, Eli Turkela, Eli Piasetzkyd, and Israel Finkelstein, “Algorithmic handwriting analysis of Judah’s military correspondence sheds light on composition of biblical texts,” PNAS, early edition, April 11, 2016, doi:10.1073/pnas.1522200113

Arad ostraca, ca. 600 BCE

Arad ostraca, ca. 600 BCE

The authors examined over 100 ostraca found at the fortress of Arad, in southern Judah, on the border with Edom. The examination aims to provide material evidence to address two related questions:

1. Did “the first major phase of compilation of biblical texts in Jerusalem” take place “before or after the destruction of the city by the Babylonians in 586 BCE?”

2. What was the level of literacy at the time? In particular, the authors note that “identifying the number of ‘hands’ (i.e., authors) involved in this corpus can shed light on the dissemination of writing, and consequently on the spread of literacy in Judah.”

The article summarises that “the inscriptions contain military commands regarding movement of troops and provision of supplies (wine, oil, and flour) set against the background of the stormy events of the final years before the fall of Judah”. They mention that one of the inscriptions (Ostracon 18) refers to “the house of Yahweh” (p. 1), which they identify with the temple in Jerusalem.

However, the “House of Yahweh” need not refer to the temple at Jerusalem. The Elephantine correspondence confirms that, as late as ca. 400 BCE, worship of Yahweh co-existed with the worship of other gods, even by a community which was under the authority of the Jerusalem governor and priests. This is a long way from the Bible’s picture of centralized worship of one god (Yahweh). Furthermore, it does not cohere with the two standing stones which Yohanan Aharoni found in the earlier temple at Arad (not still standing in 600 BCE), and which William Dever plausibly suggests represent Yahweh and his divine consort Asherah. These considerations make it difficult to make the leap from a widespread basic literacy among certain military administrators to the composition of the books of the Bible in something like their current form.

The authors selected 18 inscriptions for handwriting analysis, based on their legibility and length. Handwriting analysis revealed at least four distinct hands. The archaeological and textual contexts revealed a further two distinct hands, bringing the total to at least six distinct hands. They also identified the following five authors by name or rank (p. 3):

1. The King of Judah;

2. An unnamed military commander: the author of ostracon 24;

3. Malkiyahu, the commander of the Arad fortress: mentioned in ostracon 24 and the recipient of ostracon 40;

4. Eliashib, the quartermaster of the Arad fortress: the addressee of ostraca 1–16 and 18; mentioned in ostracon 17a; the writer of ostracon 31;

5. Eliashib’s subordinate: addressing Eliashib as “my lord” in ostracon 18.

The authors conclude that ” it is reasonable to deduce the proliferation of literacy among the Judahite army ranks ca. 600 BCE” (p. 3). This conclusion is corroborated by “the existence of other military-related corpora of ostraca, at Horvat ‘Uza and Tel Malh.ata in the vicinity of Arad, and at Lachish in the Shephelah—all located on the borders of Judah.”  They summarise that, “in other words, the entire army apparatus, from high-ranking officials to humble vice-quartermasters of small desert outposts far from the center, was literate, in the sense of the ability to communicate in writing.” Such a level of literacy, the authors claim, must have been supported by “an appropriate educational system…  in Judah at the end of the first Temple period.”

The article notes the difficulty of comparing the situation in subsequent centuries: “not a single securely dated Hebrew inscription has been found in this territory for the period between 586 and ca. 350 BCE—not an ostracon or a seal, a seal impression, or a bulla [the little that we know of this period is in Aramaic, the script of the newly present Persian empire]” (p. 4). The abstract adds that “a similar level of literacy in this area is attested again only 400 y later, ca. 200 BCE.”

Although the article acknowledges other possibilities for composition of the Bible, it offers this evidence for widespread literacy in ca. 600 BCE as the basis for “works such as the Book of Deuteronomy and the history of Ancient Israel in the Books of Joshua to Kings” (p. 4). The article’s contention is that “the spread of literacy in late-monarchic Judah provides a possible stage setting for the compilation of literary works”

The strength of the article lies in its identification of the extent of literacy in far-flung reaches of Judea, among various ranking members of the military and military administration. Now this is a very basic level of literacy: the ability to write a few requisition orders and the like. Yet it would be not too rash to say that, given the literacy levels in the military establishment, we would expect that scribal literacy would be competent to produce more literary works of the forms which we find in the Hebrew Bible/Tanach. Indeed, the Tell Deir ‘Alla plaster inscription, written in a Hebrew dialect and located bang in the middle of Israelite territory during the period of its hegemony in the region, dates some two centuries before this. So scribes would be capable of the literary forms found in the Hebrew Bible. This doesn’t really tell us about the general literacy in the wider population, as the article implies it does. But more important is the question of literacy among the elites, which the article provides reasonable evidence for.

The question is: would these elites in fact have written such texts in ca. 600 BCE? And here the issue of content makes it unlikely that much of what we now find in the Hebrew Bible was composed this early. As already mentioned, the existence of an earlier temple to Yahweh (and Asherah) at Tel Arad and continued worship of many gods by priests of Yahweh, as evidenced from the Elephantine correspondence, is highly inconsistent with Deuteronomy’s prohibitions against worshiping other gods and centralization of worship in Jerusalem. Sure, it is possible that a “Yahweh-only party” or some similar group existed which differed from the royal establishment, and which disseminated a version of Deuteronomy as early as ca. 600 BCE. But if the Elephantine correspondence is anything to go by, it does not seem to have affected the worship of multiple gods before the fourth century BCE.

Further, following Nebuchadnezzar’s sack of Jerusalem and deportations, the scribal and ruling elite resided in Babylon, and other places such as Persia and Egypt. So the lack of evidence for literacy in Judea from 600-200 BCE is not determinative for the likely setting for the writing of biblical books. They could have been written in many other places, and quite plausibly were composed in Babylon. This is consistent with the books of Ezra-Nehemiah, which present Ezra as bringing the Torah from Babylon and introducing it to the Judean Jews, who had not hitherto been observing its laws.

So this article provides some insights into the extent of literacy in ca. 600 BCE Judah. It is also quite plausible that many of the sources for the biblical books were composed during this period. For we can observe many earlier layers within the final form of the books which now comprise the Hebrew Bible. But it would be a great leap to suggest that many if any of the books of the Hebrew Bible were in fact written as early as the ‘pre-exilic’ period. What this article provides is evidence of seventh-century BCE literacy, not evidence of the seventh-century BCE  literary composition of the books which became the Hebrew Bible.

There are lots of media stories on this one. Most focus on the article’s conjecture that parts of the Bible were written in the First Temple period. The Daily Mail is a bit behind the pack, discovering that the Bible is an anthology and, oddly, concluding from the journal article’s findings that “the writers of the Bible may have been far more numerous than previously believed”:


Filed under Ancient Jewish texts

The demarcation of humanities from pseudo-humanities. Or, is Theology the queen of the pseudo-sciences?


I’m interested in the question of whether it is possible to specify a demarcation of the humanities from pseudo-humanities, and the related question: if so, how? One valuable outcome of settling these questions is that it would counter all the wacky theorizing out there – such as reptilian shape-shifting overlord conspiracies, vaccine conspiracies, 9/11 conspiracies, and theology.

But the basis for a demarcation has been notoriously difficult to arrive at, even in the “hard” sciences.

What Michael Mahner points towards in the quote below – in a discussion of theology – seems like a good basis for demarcating pseudo-scholarship from genuine scholarship within the humanities.

The main problem with theology is institutional, because theology is by its very essence denominational: the theologian is the representative of some particular religion and is therefore expected to accept its creed as a given. The core of this belief system is not open to revision as a matter of principle, wherefore it must be regarded as a form of unscientific dogmatism. Thus, it is impossible that, as a result of internal progress in research, Christian theology will come to the conclusion that Christianity is actually false and Hinduism is true after all. For example, in the past 200 years the research of many theologians has contributed to demolishing the authority of the scriptures by putting them in a proper historical perspective, but this has not led them to abandon Christianity. Rather, it has spawned a hermeneutic industry of apologetics, attempting to save the Christian faith by reinterpreting and re-reinterpreting its tenets, often in unintelligible terms.

– Martin Mahner, “Demarcating Science from Non-Science”, pages 515-575 in Theo A.F. Kuipers, ed., Handbook of the Philosophy of Science, Vol. 1, General Philosophy of Science: Focal Issues (Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2007), p. 551

To summarize: good scholarship in the humanities tests every idea; bad or pseudo-scholarship in the humanities begins with ideas that it seeks to defend, and finds ways to continue to defend those ideas, being forced to dismiss or relativize any conflicting evidence.

In practice, however, this difference becomes difficult to measure. Tendentious people don’t think they’re any more tendentious than anybody else. Is it tendentious if one assumes that the laws of physics are universal, applying everywhere and for all time? Is it any more tendentious if my research takes it as properly basic that God exists, that he is a triune being comprising three persons, that the Son is co-eternal with the Father, that all people are sinners and do not deserve eternal beatific life, and that the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth results in the salvation of certain people?   It is always possible to point to certain seemingly “core” understandings within any field of research which seem to be beyond challenge. So is support for a certain body of knowledge – e.g., chemistry, physics, biblical studies, history, theology, mesmerism, reiki – just a matter of personal preference? Do they all provide knowledge, yet just of different kinds?

I don’t think so. Instead of a hard and fast demarcation, it might be better to think of the divide between pseudo- and genuine scholarship in the humanities as one of degree. Up one end of the scale are disciplines that have generated a lot of knowledge over the past couple of centuries, both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ sciences. Down the other end are those fields which seem bent on construing any facts to serve their theories, while ignoring or relativizing those facts which don’t so easily fit with them. I think it is possible to work out the grounds for such a distinction – albeit a contentious one.

In this regard, theology must be the queen of the pseudo-sciences. For it is the domain in which the most human energy has been applied in order to defend a significant body of assumptions which no longer cohere with knowledge derived from the commonly accepted genuine sciences. No doubt theologians will disagree…


Filed under Academic things