Then and Now
Author Archive

The Goring Ox

Few biblical phrases have been as thoroughly parodied as the “goring ox.”  In fact, the entire ox-thing that the Bible has going is, for many, an ongoing source of amusement and puzzlement.  Why does such a great, lofty, and divine text spend so much time talking about oxen and other barnyard animals?  Most everywhere you...

Gluckel of Judah?

  Seventh-century BCE Judah is not typically thought of as a hotbed of feminism.  If the Hebrew Bible is to be believed, women were very much on the economic, social, religious, and legal margins of this society.  The texts portray a society largely created by and maintained for men. It turns out, however, that these...

The Rorschach Interview

A couple of months ago, I sat down with an Israeli journalist to talk about my work.  It turned out that she was primarily interested in the issue of when and how “Judaism” as we more or less know it today emerged from the Israelite religion of the Bible.  In the scholarly circles in which...

The Holocaust and Me

Tonight begins Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.  It is a day that usually leaves me both unsettled and confused. Watching my children learn about the Holocaust from slick, well-designed and age-appropriate curricula has made me aware of just how raw and scattershot my own Holocaust education was.  Holocaust education was a battering experience.  I remember...

The Clothes of a Woman

This month, for the first time in a while, the group Women of the Wall managed to pray at the Western Wall without any serious incidents (here is a news report of the gathering).  The group’s goal, in addition to simply conducting a meaningful prayer service at the Western Wall, is to advocate for equal...

The Gift in Antiquity

I am delighted to announce the publication of my new edited volume, The Gift in Antiquity, published by Wiley-Blackwell.  The official description: The Gift in Antiquity presents a collection of 14 original essays that apply French sociologist Marcel Mauss’s notion of gift-giving to the study of antiquity. Covers such wide-ranging topics as vows in the...

Fee of a Whore

“You shall not bring the fee of a whore or the pay of a dog into the house of the Lord your God in fulfillment of an vow, for both are abhorrent to the Lord your God,” the Bible declares (Deuteronomy 23:19; translation NJPS).   This cryptic verse, like many such other biblical commands, raises a...

The Disappearing Spy

Yesterday and today Israeli news has been abuzz with a story that dare not speak its name.  In 2010 a mysterious prisoner committed suicide in an Israeli prison.  The Australian press is reporting that this prisoner was actually an Australian citizen who moved to Israel and was involved in ways unspecified with the Mossad before...

Biblical Criticism and the Human Element

The Bible is an incoherent document. This is not news.  It was noticed long ago and has spawned some two centuries of biblical criticism that has focused on answering the very simple question of how the biblical texts came to be incoherent – that is, if we reject the religious assumption that the biblical text...

The Second Commandment… Not

As is well-known, the Jews of Palestine largely refrained from using figural art from around the 2nd century BCE (or a bit earlier) to the third or fourth century CE, including the creation of statues.  There were, of course, exceptions to this general phenomenon – some figures show up in grave graffiti and on some...

Parsing the Al Qassam Tweets

  Reading the twitter feed of the Al Qassam Brigades during this ongoing crisis is a bit surreal.  Many of the tweets are dry, simple facts: how many “projectiles” have been fired where.  These tweets appear (from cross-checking with those coming from Israeli officials and new outlets) more or less accurate. Sometimes the tweets are...

Did Jews in Antiquity Know Their Bible?

“Regular public reading of the Torah,” Wikipedia (as of today) reports, “was introduced by Ezra the Scribe after the return of the Judean exiles from the Babylonian captivity.”  The original source for this claim was certainly not the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, which report a public reading of the Torah (so we think) but...