Then and Now
How the Bible Became Holy

How the Bible Became Holy

In this startling reinterpretation of biblical history, a leading scholar shows how the Bible became the sacred text it is today


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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...

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...