Then and Now
Author Archive

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...

The New Testament in its German Context

In the year between graduating from college and beginning graduate school, I stumbled on a book that profoundly changed the way that I thought.  Gerd Theissen’s Sociology of Early Palestinian Christianity (Fortress, 1978) presented a way of reading New Testament texts that thoroughly rooted them in their historical contexts.  Theissen read these texts in a...

Mishnah in the mama lashon?

  Translations are intriguing.  To translate a text – especially a large and complex one – is no small undertaking.  A translation project originates as a potentially idiosyncratic perception by somebody (or a group) that their target audience needs linguistic access to a text. The translation itself might be a labor of love funded out...

In-Law Troubles?

  Think you have trouble?  (Let me add, for the benefit of my wonderful wife and mother-in-law, that I do not!)   In-law relations were just as complex and occasionally fraught in antiquity.  Here is a recently published essay of mine (in pdf) on the subject: Jewish In-Laws

Rabbinics Must Die

I recently wrote a reaction to two essays on the contemporary state of “rabbinics” for The Talmud Blog that can be found here.  Below is a copy, although I urge readers to carry on any discussion at The Talmud Blog. In our line of work, the word “rabbinics” hardly raises an eyebrow; it is, after...

On Buying a Sukkah in Israel

  The last time I bought a sukkah in the U.S., I went online, selected my model, and clicked the button.  UPS brought it the next week.  It was a snap-together model, and while not very difficult to figure out how to put together, the instructions did help.  My fingers became slightly numb from the New...

On the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife,” and a Word to Prospective Forgers

The new “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” fragment has captured the imagination of scholars and the news media alike.  How weird. For those of you who are gainfully employed and have a rich enough life that you have not wasted your time following this story, a very brief capsule  summary.  A small papyrus fragment, written in...

Did You Need a Ticket for Kol Nidre in Ancient Alexandria?

A tidbit from the ancient Jewish philosopher Philo (Special Laws 1.186-187): (186) On the tenth day the fast takes place which they take seriously–not only those who are zealous about piety and holiness, but even those who do nothing religious the rest of the time. For all are astounded, overcome with the sacredness of it;...

Biblical Books in the Bavli (Continued)

I received several excellent comments to the last post.  I do not have the data to respond to most of them; to assemble just  the data – which often requires expert judgment on each of the over 13,000 instances in the dataset – would be a worthy project but one that would require many resources...

Bible in the Bavli: The Bavli’s Citation of Biblical Books

  This last year, in an effort to better understand the citation patterns in the Babylonian Talmud (Bavli) and the ways in which the Bavli knew and used the Bible, I developed a spreadsheet that contains each biblical citation in the Bavli(described in more detail here).  In my first attempt to analyze this data quantitatively,...

Our Taxing Forefathers

This was the purpose of the forced labor (devar ha-mas) which Solomon imposed:  It was to bild the House of the Lord, his own palace, the Millo, and the wall of Jerusalem… (1 Kings 9:15) According to the Bible, Solomon depended on this forced labor – mas in Hebrew – to realize his many glorious...