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Jewish and Greek Afterlife – No Great Difference

Posted by NT Wrong on December 10, 2008

Is immortality exclusively a Greek concept and bodily resurrection exclusively a Jewish concept? No. There’s not such a great separation between Jewish and Greek conceptions of the afterlife according to an article by Stephen J. Bedard in the latest issue of the Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism.

“Traditionally Greek thought has been put in the category of the immortal soul and Jewish thought in the category of a bodily resurrection. However, this oversimplification disguises the true picture. In reality, both Greek and Jewish writings express both an immortal soul and some kind of transformation of the body or at least a second stage of afterlife.”
– Stephen J. Bedard, ‘Hellenistic Influence on the Idea of Resurrection in Jewish Apocalyptic Literature.’ Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism 5 (2008): 174-189, 188.

Bedard discusses Greek ideas of a two-stage afterlife in the Platonic Myth of Er, or what N. T. Wright refers to as “life after life after death”. He then discusses the Egyptian myth of the bodily resurrection of Osiris, opposing those who would reject its description as bodily resurrection. Bedard then discusses Greek concept of apotheosis, relating them to angelic transformation in Daniel. Lastly, he provides a couple of examples where Greek concepts influenced Jewish literature.

The article thus contains some good counterexamples to the oversimplification of the concept of Jewish/Christian “resurrection” that appears in many apologetic works of New Testament scholarship. So why has there been such a concerted effort to pretend that the early Christian conceptions of resurrection were unique? Bedard provided his own answer towards the end of his article:

“Despite the best effort of scholars such as N. T. Wright, foreign influence on Jewish theological development cannot be denied… The only reason to deny Greek influence, as Wright attempts to do, is the mistaken notion that Jewish equals truth and Greek equals falsehood.”
– Stephen J. Bedard, ‘Hellenistic Influence on the Idea of Resurrection in Jewish Apocalyptic Literature.’ Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism 5 (2008): 174-189, 189.

Spotted on Ekaterini’s informative blog.

Posted in Death, Early Jewish literature, Greek texts, Resurrection | 4 Comments »

Kuttamuwa Inscription – Image, Transcription, Translation

Posted by NT Wrong on November 30, 2008

The University of Chicago’s high-resolution photo of the recently discovered Kattamuwa Inscription from Zincirli is here.

Dennis Pardee’s transcription of the Kattamuwa Inscription is here, via Jim Getz.

John Hobbins’ English translation of the Kattamuwa Inscription is in two parts: here (lines 1-5) and here (lines 6-13) — and each post reproduces Pardee’s transliteration.

Posted in Archaeology, Neo-Hittite | Comments Off on Kuttamuwa Inscription – Image, Transcription, Translation

The Kuttamuwa Inscription

Posted by NT Wrong on November 24, 2008

At SBL yesterday, Dennis Pardee delivered a paper on the 8th-century stone slab found recently during the new dig at Zincirli.

Jim Getz provides a copy of Pardee’s initial transcription of the mortuary slab — although note the difficulty in distinguishing dalet (/d/) and resh (/r/) in the words on the slab, particularly because there’s only a small amount of local vocabulary known. Here’s a Zincirli dalet and resh from one of Frank Cross’s tables, to illustrate the difficulty in distinguishing the two letters, even at the best of times:

dalet_zincirli resh_zincirli

The phrase bsyr/d.ʿlmy was being translated as “eternal chamber”. But on the basis of KAI 214, also from Zincirli, perhaps ‘lmy is spatial rather than temporal. In KAI 214, ‘lm means “tomb, grave” (“I erected this statue for Hadad in my tomb”; l. 1): so, “chamber of my grave”? Another comparison is Deir ‘alla ii 7: mškby ˁmlyk (“your eternal bedding”? or “the bed of your grave”?). I’m just wondering out loud.

The death/sleep extended metaphor is relevant for interpreting Og’s “bed”/”sarcophagus” (Deut 3.11).

Posted in Archaeology, Death, Neo-Hittite | Comments Off on The Kuttamuwa Inscription

Kispum Funerary Rites from Neo-Hittite Sam’al to Boston

Posted by NT Wrong on November 20, 2008

This 8th-century-BC stone slab was recently discovered on the Anatolian-Syrian border by archaeologists, at Zincirli, the site of the ancient city of Sam’al. Written on the slab, in a Northwest Semitic language and Phoenician script, is a declaration ‘by the deceased’ that his soul resides in the slab, and that he should be fed in a ‘feast’ (ḥgg), along with Hadad and Shamash.

“The inscription reads in part: “I, Kuttamuwa, servant of Panamuwa, am the one who oversaw the production of this stele for myself while still living. I placed it in an eternal chamber(?) and established a feast at this chamber(?): a bull for [the storm-god] Hadad, … a ram for [the sun-god] Shamash, … and a ram for my soul that is in this stele. …” It was written in a script derived from the Phoenician alphabet and in a local West Semitic dialect similar to Aramaic and Hebrew. It is of keen interest to linguists as well as biblical scholars and religious historians because it comes from a kingdom contemporary with ancient Israel that shared a similar language and cultural features.”

This is fascinating — an institution of a kispum-like funerary ritual involving those two Levantine deities most associated with caring for the dead, Baal (Hadad) and Shamash/Shapash. Provision is made for both the deceased and the gods to be ritually fed together! Sam’al is a little further to the north of Ugarit, from which we get similar kispum-like funerary rituals such as those narrated in texts such as KTU 1.20-22, 1.161. For a biblical marzeaḥ, see Jer 16.5-8. The eighth-century dating establishes temporal continuity with the Cisjordan area, and some degree of continuity in funerary rites from Ugarit (1200 BC).

It is reported that Kuttamuwa is not himself a royal figure, but seems instead to be a royal official. Yet, he is pictured with seat and footstool and with a king’s hat. Is this Kulamuwa, the successor of Panamuwa? Or was he a separate figure, perhaps a priest? A similar kispum-like ritual is described in KAI 214 (‘The Hadad Inscription’), where the descendant of Panamuwa is instructed to provide food and drink for Panamuwa, along with El, Hadad, Shamash and Rakib-El.

But for those of us in Boston, there’s more, care of Dennis Pardee:

“Schloen will present the Kuttamuwa stele to a scholarly audience at the meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research on Nov. 22 in Boston, the major annual conference for Middle Eastern archaeology. Dennis Pardee, Professor of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization at the University of Chicago, will present his translation of the stele’s 13-line inscription the following day at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, also in Boston, in a session on “Paleographical Studies in the Near East.”

I don’t think there is anything remarkable in the description of feeding Kuttamuwa’s “soul” — which is the focus of the News reports. It doesn’t even mean that Kuttamuwa is ‘disembodied’ — he may come for the food in another form from the underworld (perhaps as a bird).

Posted in Archaeology, Death, Neo-Hittite, Prophets, Ugaritic | 1 Comment »

Gilgamesh Translated Into Ape-Language

Posted by NT Wrong on November 13, 2008

Yes – in ‘Unusual But True’ News, that great ol’ Mesopotamian epic, The Epic of Gilgamesh, has been translated for Apes, using lexigrams. Lexigrams are picture-words, and are often arranged on boards for apes to point at while conversing with humans.

You can read Gilgamesh For Apes here in pdf format. I found out about it on Flávio Souza’s fairly new biblioblog, Ad Cummulus.

“It is far from certain what these apes will make of this text if it would be presented to them. Hopefully they would recognize the lexigrams as similar to those they have been taught to use, but I do not know if the convention of reading (from left to right and from top to bottom) means anything to them. […] But I do present this version of Gilgamesh in the good faith that some day, many generations from now, some ape will enjoy the experience of meeting Gilgamesh. At the moment, perhaps, this story will appear to them like the Jabberwocky poem appeared to Alice (in wonderland): ‘Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas–only I don’t exactly know what they are! However, SOMEBODY killed SOMETHING: that’s clear, at any rate–’.”

The question for me is – when will the Bible be translated into Ape? Can Christians continue to overlook the salvation of apes in their anthropocentric Bible translations? Apes need Jesus too.

Posted in aNE Texts | 2 Comments »

Ancient History – Mostly Silly

Posted by NT Wrong on October 26, 2008

Ancient Greek historian Dionysius of Halicarnassus, writing in the first century BC, sums up the work of the earliest Greek historians as “silly” nonsense. He explains that, whenever early historians tried to write histories of remote times, they were prone to simply making it all up.

According to Dionysius, the earliest historians had the goal of:

“bringing to the common knowledge of all whatever records or traditions were to be found among the natives of the individual nationalities or states, whether recorded in places sacred or profane, and to deliver these just as they received them without adding thereto or subtracting therefrom, rejecting not even the legends which had been believed for many generations nor dramatic tales which seem to men of the present time to have a large measure of silliness”
(On Thucydides)

While historians today don’t engage in such silliness, some biblical apologists are prone to naively taking the words of the historiographic biblical books at face value, paraphrasing them, with a complete lack of any historiographic discrimination. Silly biblical praphrases are still being written by apologists such as Provan, Kitchen, and Hoffmeier, more than 2000 years after Dionysius of Halicarnassus recognised such writings for the silliness they are.

How silly.

Posted in Greek texts, Historiography | 1 Comment »

Cult of the Dead connected to Kaddish?

Posted by NT Wrong on September 30, 2008

“cultic customs associated with the dead, including some idea of resurrection, continued from Ugarit through the rabbinic period; these motifs seem to hibernate from our perspective, because the religious texts from the Bible and early rabbinic sources rarely mention them and certainly give them no sanction.”
– Mark S. Smith, “Mythology and Myth-making in Ugaritic and Israelite Literatures.” Pages 295-341 in George J. Brooke, Adrian H. W. Curtis and John F. Healey, eds. Ugarit and the Bible: Proceedings of the International Symposium on Ugarit and the Bible; Manchester, September 1992. Ugaritisch-Biblische Literatur (UBL), 11. Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, 1994: 303.

There seems to be an obvious historical connection between Jewish cult of the dead (broadly understood), celebrated by the first-born son for his deceased parents, and mourning Kaddish, also celebrated by the first-born son (preferably) for his deceased parents. It has apparently been ‘Yahwehized’ in the process, operating as a sanctification of the name of Yahweh rather than the name and posterity of the deceased parents. The very name suggests some connection with the cult of the dead (קדש).

And then there’s this:

“Absolve your nation Israel which you redeemed (Deut 1.28). The Rabbis expounded in the Pesikta, “…this refers to the dead who can receive atonement through the charity of the living.” From this we learn that the dead derive benefit from charity which the living sanctify in their behalf… This also applies to one who recites Kaddish or any blessing publicly in the synagogue, as… in the story of R’ Akiva (R’ Bachya, Deut 21.6).

I don’t know much about the origins of Kaddish, though. Has anybody written on this connection? Does anyone have a comment or suggestion? If there is a link or continuity between Kaddish and the earlier cult of the dead, it could shed light on both.

Posted in Death, Ugaritic | 3 Comments »

History in The Iliad

Posted by NT Wrong on September 30, 2008

In the Boston Globe, September 28, 2008, Jonathan Gottschall writes an interesting article about history and fiction in The Iliad, a work that purports to refer to events at the time of the Bronze Age – Iron Age transition, but which was in fact written down many centuries later. That scenario might sound familiar to readers of the Hebrew Bible.

Scholars have allowed that a kernel of historical truth might be tucked beneath the layers of heroic hyperbole and poetic embroidery, but only a small kernel. In the last 50 years, most scholars have sided with the great classicist Moses Finley, who argued that the epics were “a collection of fictions from beginning to end” and that – for all their majesty and drama – they were “no guide at all” to the civilization that may have fought the Trojan War.

The poor early archaeological methods pursued by Schliemann led to a dismissal of any ‘historical’ basis for the Trojan War. However, recent archaeology has uncovered a destruction layer that many would identify with the ‘Trojan War’:

Recent advances in archeology and linguistics offer the strongest support yet that the Trojan War did take place, with evidence coming from the large excavation at the likely site of Troy, as well as new analysis of cuneiform tablets from the dominant empire of the region… Using new tools, such as computer modeling and imaging technology that allows them to “see” into the earth before digging, [Manfred] Korfmann and his colleagues determined that this city’s borders were 10 to 15 times larger than previously thought, and that it supported a population of 5,000 to 10,000 – a big city for its time and place, with impressive defenses and an underground water system for surviving sieges. And, critically, the city bore signs of being pillaged and burned around 1200 BC, precisely the time when the Trojan War would have been fought.

So what does this mean? Do the new archaeological, along with the Hittite imperial records, now prove all the details contained in The Iliad? Has archaeology proved the existence of The Historical Zeus?

But if the Trojan War is looking more and more like a historical reality, there is still the question of whether the poems tell us anything about the motives and thinking of the people who actually fought it. Do the epic time machines actually take us back to the Greek culture of the Late Bronze Age?

It is almost certain that they do not. Homer’s epics are a culmination of a centuries-long tradition of oral storytelling, and extensive cross-cultural studies of oral literature have established that such tales are unreliable as history. Homeric scholars believe that the epics were finally written down sometime in the 8th century BC, which means that the stories of Achilles and Odysseus would have been passed by word of mouth for half a millennium before they were finally recorded in what was, by then, a vastly changed Greek culture. Facts about the war and the people who fought it would have been lost or grossly distorted, as in a centuries-long game of “telephone.” Scholars agree that the relatively simple and poor culture Homer describes in his epics is quite sharply at odds with the complex and comparatively rich Greek kingdoms of the Late Bronze Age, when the war would have taken place.

So what does the Iliad teach us? It teaches us about the culture in which it was written down.

But even if the epics make a bad history of Greece in 1200 BC – in the sense of transmitting names, dates, and accurate political details – scholars increasingly agree that they provide a precious window on Greek culture at about the time the poems were finally written down.

Reconstructing a prehistoric world from literary sources is rife with complications. But there are aspects of life in the Homeric era upon which most scholars agree. Homer paints a coherent picture of Greek attitudes, ideology, customs, manners, and mores that is consistent with the 8th century archeological record, and holds together based on anthropological knowledge about societies at similar levels of cultural development. For instance, we can trust that the Greeks’ political organization was loose but not chaotic – probably organized at the level of chiefdoms, not kingdoms or city-states. In the epics we can see the workings of an agrarian economy; we can see what animals they raised and what crops, how they mixed their wine, worshipped their gods, and treated their slaves and women. We can tell that theirs was a warlike world, with high rates of conflict within and between communities.

Read the whole article here.

Posted in Archaeology, Greek, Greek texts, Historiography | 1 Comment »

Review of Biblical Literature – September 6, 2008

Posted by NT Wrong on September 5, 2008

Let’s have a look at what’s come up in the Review of Biblical Literature over the last month or so that could be of interest…

Boer, Roland, editor, Bakhtin and Genre Theory in Biblical Studies (2007)

This very good collection of essays includes contributions from John Anderson, Roland Boer, Martin J. Buss, Judy Fentress-Williams, Christopher Fuller, Barbara Green, Bula Maddison, Carleen Mandolfo, Christine Mitchell, Carol A. Newsom, David M. Valeta, and Michael Vines. There’s interesting applications of Bakhtinian genre-theory to illustrate the usefulness of Bakhtin’s reformulation. Gunkel commented on the volume, in an exclusive interview with the N. T. Wrong Blog: ‘Vell, ve vould have gone about it in a more disciplined vay, but nevertheless, this book is sehr gut!”

Grabbe, Lester L., Ancient Israel: What Do We Know and How Do We Know It? (2007)

Brian Schmidt reviews Lester Grabbe’s latest, a “prolegomena” to a history of Israel. (Is anything further possible, nowadays?) The Deveresque subtitle of Grabbe’s book is a good description of the content, and Grabbe examines a good number of the available methods: social science, archaeology, longue durée, ethnicity, ideology, new fundamentalist approaches, maximalists and minimalists, and the name-calling and shenanigans in what is the most heated topic in Hebrew Bible studies. Grabbe offers methodological principles for history writing. Reviewer Brian Schmidt makes some wise comments about the — at best ambiguous, probably simply wrong — commonplace that ‘archaeology cannot disprove the bible’. Schmidt’s comments on ‘Canaanite’ and ‘literacy’ are also valuable.

Metso, Sarianna, The Serekh Texts (2007)

From the author of The Textual Development of the Qumran Community Rule (1997), an examination of the various scrolls of Serekh ha-yachad, with discussion of their relation to CD also. The volume forms part of the ‘Companion to the Qumran Scrolls’ series.

Tischler, Nancy M., Thematic Guide to Biblical Literature (2007)

This looks like a handy guide to the use of biblical themes in Western literature. The reception of biblical themes is arranged topically: (1) Creation, (2) Earthly paradise, (3) Nature, (4) Animals and humans, (5) Temptation and Sin, (6) God’s Love, Human Response, (7) Friends and Family, (8) Love and Marriage, (9) The Hero, (10) Women as Heroes, (11) The journey of life, (12) Slavery and Freedom, (13) War, (14) Good people, (15) Justice, (16) Government and Politics, (17) Predestination and Free Will, (18) Truth, (19) Death and Afterlife, (20) Last Days. According to the reviewer, the book examines how different people have struggled with these broad questions. In confining itself to ‘Western’ literature, early Jewish and Rabbinic literature is not covered.

Rake, Mareike, “Juda wird aufsteigen!”: Untersuchungen zum ersten Kapitel des Richterbuches (2006)

Klaas Spronk provides a very good review of this book. Rake provides a historical-critical analysis of Judges 1-2, in a book based on her dissertation. She provides a “thorough survey” of theories of development, before offering her own radical reconstruction of the text, which allows her to reverse the majority opinion of influence — she concludes that Joshua is dependent on Judges 1-2, although the direction of influence is complex and uncertain.

Pruin, Dagmar, Geschichten und Geschichte: Isebel als literarische und historische Gestalt

This book analyses the different Jezebel traditions in the Bible and its reception, and also attempts to retrace the development behind the stories.

Younger Jr., K Lawson, editor, Ugarit at Seventy-Five (2007)

The papers derive from the Midwest Regional meetings of the American Oriental Society at Trinity International University (Deerfield, Illinois), in February 2005 — which was held to commemorate the 75th anniversay of the discovery of Ugarit (Ras Shamra). The first five essays deal with the Ugaritic texts. Mark Smith looks at various aspects of Ugaritic religion. Dennis Pardee looks at RIH 98/02 (discovered in 1998), a song to Attartu with parallels to Exod 15 and Judg 5. Nic Wyatt discusses the divinity of kings. Wayne Pitard discusses the monsters Anat fought in the Baal Myth. Pierre Bourdreuil looks at new texts from the House of Urtenu, including some new data on the rapi’uma/rephaim. The last three papers deal with archaeological or historical issues, including a survey of the evidence for the origins of the Arameans by K. Lawson Younger.

Posted in Archaeology, Biblical interpretation, Books, Criticism, Dead Sea Scrolls, Historical Books, Historiography, Reception, Ugaritic | Comments Off on Review of Biblical Literature – September 6, 2008

The Lost Treasure of Ugarit

Posted by NT Wrong on August 28, 2008

Ugarit is about to hit the big screen — in the first film of the Jack Hunter series: The Lost Treasure of Ugarit.
(Any resemblance to Indiana Jones is purely coincidental.)

Here’s the trailer:

The trailer spells an unusual ‘Ugaritic’ hapax legomenon: ʿ-g-ṯ-ś-ǵ-h-ʾu-n-ṭ-ʾi-r , or ‘????? Hunter’. The so-called ‘Ugaritic’ is in fact nonsense. I wonder whether somebody (‘A’) managed to transliterate ‘Jack Hunter’ into Ugaritic cuneiform, but later on some ignorant Hollywood person (‘H’) came along and replaced some of the symbols with more visually interesting, yet incorrect and nonsensical, Ugaritic symbols?

Jack Hunter (Ivan Sergei), an adventurous treasure seeker, goes to Syria after his mentor and father figure Professor Fredrick Shaffer (Sean Lawlor) is killed. Professor Frederick Shaffer believed that the people of Ugarit, a town in Syria that existed during the Pharoah’s reign, had buried a treasure before they were wiped out by the Pharoahs [sic]. Jack Hunter is one of the few archaeologists in the world who can interpret Ugarit writings [sic], however he never bought Frederick’s belief of a hidden treasure. Before he was killed, Frederick had discovered a clue that would prove his theory was true. We follow Jack to Syria where he meets Nadia Ramadan (Joanne Kelly) the Ministry of Archaeology for Syria. Nadia thinks Jack is only coming to Syria to steal their historical artifacts and sell them to the highest bidder. She and her co-worker Tariq Khaliff (Mario Bassill) accompany Jack Hunter on his quest to find who killed Professor Frederick. During their travels, Jack discovers that the treasure is in fact real. Jack, Nadia and Tariq are caught up in a chase thru Syria, Egypt and Turkey trying to find the lost Treasure of Ugarit before Albert Littman (Thure Riefenstein) gets it for himself and the Russian mafia.
The Lost Teasure of Ugarit – Official Website

It looks spectacularly awful.

Posted in Films, Religion & Society, Ugaritic | 4 Comments »