Monday, November 28, 2011

Another discussion of JANT

I just discovered another discussion of JANT, by Walter Russell Mead - Faith Matters Sunday: The Jewish Discovery of Jesus. He doesn't, however, review it, because he hasn't gotten it yet from Amazon. I'll be curious to hear what he thinks of it once he has a chance to read the commentaries and essays.

And here's some more:

From the JPS Blog - Rachel Broder discusses the book.

Joe Winkler on Jewcy again mentions the book, but hasn't read it yet.

A discussion on Project Quinn by Jessica Youseffi.

A very nice review of the book at Ancient Hebrew Poetry (John Hobbins).

Saturday, November 26, 2011

More reviews of JANT

Messianic Jewish Musings has just published a review of JANT - Jewish Annotated New Testament.

An anti-semitic review of the book at Maurice Pinay Blog: Anti-Christ "New Testament" published. His perspective seems to be extreme traditionalist Catholicism (which rejects the Second Vatican Council); he also advertises books by Michael Hoffman, a notorious Holocaust denier.

Discussion forum at the Center for Inquiry presents a range of interesting perspectives - Here comes the Jewish Jesus.

Jim West of Zwinglius Redivivus mentions the book favorably, but doesn't have a full review.

New York Times article on the Jewish Annotated New Testament

Good New York Times article on A Jewish Edition of the New Testament.

Some highlights:
The book she [A.J. Levine] has just edited with a Brandeis University professor, Marc Zvi Brettler, “The Jewish Annotated New Testament” (Oxford University Press), is an unusual scholarly experiment: an edition of the Christian holy book edited entirely by Jews. The volume includes notes and explanatory essays by 50 leading Jewish scholars, including Susannah Heschel, a historian and the daughter of the theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel; the Talmudist Daniel Boyarin; and Shaye J. D. Cohen, who teaches ancient Judaism at Harvard....
And yours truly, who wrote the article on Divine Beings.
So what does this New Testament include that a Christian volume might not? Consider Matthew 2, when the wise men, or magi, herald Jesus’s birth. In this edition, Aaron M. Gale, who has edited the Book of Matthew, writes in a footnote that “early Jewish readers may have regarded these Persian astrologers not as wise but as foolish or evil.” He is relying on the first-century Jewish philosopher Philo, who at one point calls Balaam, who in the Book of Numbers talks with a donkey, a “magos.”

Because the rationalist Philo uses the Greek word “magos” derisively — less a wise man than a donkey-whisperer — we might infer that at least some educated Jewish readers, like Philo, took a dim view of magi. This context helps explain some Jewish skepticism toward the Gospel of Matthew, but it could also attest to how charismatic Jesus must have been, to overcome such skepticism.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

My response to panel on Religious and Mystical Experience at SBL

I participated in a panel jointly sponsored by the Religious Experience and Esotericism and Mysticism sections of the SBL, giving a response to three papers - by Frances Flannery, Istvan Czachesz, and Jim Davila.

If you would like to read my paper, it's after the jump.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Jewish Voice for Peace at AAR/SBL

I spent the morning going through the book exhibit, and came upon a booth for Jewish Voice for Peace, where I argued with them for a long time. Not much enlightenment on either side - we were really talking past each other (not that I expected anything else). They are here trying to get people to support their divestment from TIAA-CREF campaign. I argued that punitive measures like this are guaranteed to alienate most Jews both in the U.S. and in Israel, but they kept saying that divestment had an effect on getting rid of apartheid in South Africa. I objected to the comparison of Israel with apartheid South Africa, and we disputed over the issue of Israeli Arab representation in the Knesset. They issued a rejoinder that even in the Iranian parliament has one token Jewish representative. I didn't bother arguing that Israel is nothing like Iran. I agreed with them on some of their diagnoses of the problems (settlement building, Bibi's intransigence, the perverse map of the separation wall which shuts whole Palestinian towns off by surrounding them with a wall - Kalkiliya and Walaje spring to mind) - but not on the solution. It was frustrating, and I felt angry that they were even here at AAR/SBL. I've been going to annual meetings since 1985, and I don't remember ever seeing a booth on political issues - even in the heyday of anti-apartheid campaigns or protests against the Iraq War.

Jon Haber of Divest This! has many times described the disruptive effect of groups like JVP, which try to bring Middle Eastern politics into organizations that basically have nothing to do with them, in order to push their own agenda. They drag their own agenda into unrelated groups, and cause nothing but discord and bad feelings. This is in sharp contrast to groups like J Street or the American Task Force for Palestine, which work openly to persuade people of their political views in the political arena. They lobby Congress or the President, they hold conferences of various kinds, they organize local chapters that engage in letter-writing or citizen lobbying. They do not try to take over groups that have nothing to do with the Middle East to further their own ends.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

"Reconstructing Practice from Texts" - Esotericism and Mysticism session at SBL

Yesterday morning I went to the fabulous first panel sponsored by the Esotericism and Mysticism in Antiquity section of the SBL (we used to be called the Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism section), where the presentations were fascinating and very wide-ranging. The two I found the most interesting were April DeConick's, “'The road for souls is through the planets': The Mysteries of the Ophites Diagrammed" and Cordula Bandt's "The Tract 'On the Mystery of Letters' in Context of Late Antique Jewish, Gnostic and Christian Letter Mysticism."

Here are the abstracts:

April's paper
This paper will reexamine the Ophite Diagram presented by Origen in his treatise against Celsus (6.21-40). I will make a detailed reading of the text and argue that the Diagram is exactly what Celsus and Origen claimed it was, a map of the soul’s journey through the planets. Furthermore, I will demonstrate that the prayers correlate to a Neopythagorean ascent pattern. I will conclude with the argument that Origen has preserved for us a piece of an Ophite initiatory handbook, that is the map, prayers and seals used in the intermediate initiatory rite when the soul practiced the death journey through the heavenly realms.
 Cordula's paper
Speculations on letters play an important role within Late Antique mystical and magical tradition. Letters are regarded as smallest units of speech, but on a more esoteric level they are also understood as tools to gain spiritual progress or even influence reality. Names of angels and heavenly powers which are nonsense clusters of letters, composed by combining them according to certain rules, occur as prominent means of protection and power in early and later Jewish mysticism as well as in Gnostic texts, which are preserved in original or as quotations in polemical writings by the Church fathers. However, in orthodox Christian tradition references and responses on the symbolism of letters are rather rare, despite Christ's famous saying in the Book of Revelation "I am the Alpha and the Omega" (Rev. 1:8, 21:6, 22:13). Nevertheless, exactly this cryptic dictum inspires the remarkable tract "On the mystery of Letters" which was composed probably by a Christian monk in mid-6th century Palestine. This tract is thoroughly rooted in orthodoxy, but presents an astonishing variety of interpretations of the Greek alphabet, revealing hidden secrets by close examination of certain features of the letters like name, shape, numerical value, position in alphabet, pronunciation etc. In 2007, I published the editio princeps of this unique work, accompanied by a German translation and analysis of its content. In order to give a wider public access to this still quite little known text, I am currently preparing an English version of my book. My paper at the SBL Annual Meeting 2011 will focus on similarities between Jewish and Gnostic letter mysticism in the first centuries of the Christian era and the tract "On the mystery of letters". I will show how the author transforms rather heterodox ideas into a truly orthodox approach towards the alphabet. I will also discuss why mainstream Christianity at this time seems to be reluctant to involve into mystical letter speculations.
Bandt has also published her dissertation "On the Mystery of Letters" and the Bryn Mawr Classical Review has a very laudatory review of the book. (The title is Der Traktat "Vom Mysterium der Buchstaben," Kritischer Text mit Einf├╝hrung, ├ťbersetzung und Ammerkungen. Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur, 162. Berlin/New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2007).

I'll post more about them later. In a few minutes I'm heading over for our second session, which we are doing together with the Religious Experience in Early Judaism and Early Christianity section.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

I'm in San Francisco for the SBL

I arrived in San Francisco earlier this evening for the AAR/SBL conference. I just noticed that both April DeConick of Forbidden Gospels and Jim Davila of Paleojudaica had blogged on their attendance at the conference. We are part of the Esotericism and Mysticism in Antiquity section, which has two meetings at the SBL this year, one at 9:00 tomorrow morning, the second on Sunday at 1:00. Tomorrow's session is on the theme of Reconstructing Practice from Texts (in Convention Center 2011). Sunday's session is on Praxis and Experience in Ancient Jewish and Christian Mysticism (in Convention Center 2018). I'll be responding to the papers on Sunday. Jim just wrote that he's going to be participating in another panel tomorrow, S19-212b - Engaging the "Wired-In Generation": Knowledge and Learning in the Digital Age. It's from 1:00-2:30 in Convention Center 3002.

This is the first time in several years that the AAR and the SBL are meeting together - I'm looking forward to going to some AAR sessions as well as SBL sessions, especially those sponsored by the Study of Judaism section of AAR.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Strange places in China

Noah Schachtman of Wired's Danger Room has called attention to a bunch of strange structures out in the Chinese desert. After the jump, there are some pictures of them.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Stephen Sizer's debate with Calvin Smith

Joseph W reports on Rev. Stephen Sizer's debate with Dr. Calvin Smith last night, in particular focusing on Sizer's closeness to the Iranian regime: Stephen Sizer on his links with Iran’s Khomeinists: “I’ll go anywhere to share the gospel”.

Dr. Smith has just written to let me know that the recorded debate has now been uploaded to Vimeo - here is the link.

Has the Church Replaced Israel? (TV debate) from Calvin Smith on Vimeo.

A rather opinionated assessment of the debate by Moriel Archive.

Gev of the Rosh Pina Project has some harsh words for Rev. Sizer's performance at the debate -
Stephen Sizer is a master at speaking a different way with a different message to different audiences. A prime example is last night’s debate he had on Revelation TV with Calvin Smith, Principal of King’s Evangelical Divinity School, UK. Sizer conceded most of the theological ground to Smith and sought to seem as reasonable and as nice as possible. I just felt like he was grooming his audience for some nefarious purpose.

Last night he concluded that he wanted to “learn from his Messianic brothers” however to an audience of largely non-Christian Palestine Solidarity Campaign supporters he called Israeli Messianic Jews, who support their country, an abomination! He later issued an “apology” when he was caught out, but blamed the naughty Zionists who filmed him for putting him under-pressure and hence he came out with that howler....
Sizer couldn’t keep to the theological topic that was billed in the debate and launched a tirade against Israel’s injustices but ignores, and sometime worse, he rationalises the violence and minimises the murderers of Jews by calling them political prisoners,  as we reported here.
Sizer’s elastic-sided ethics stretch so far as to allow him to promote a new blog site as if he had nothing to do with it, when it fact he started it. We reported this here.
In conceding to Calvin Smith that the Jews were still God’s chosen people and God has not finished with them, Sizer sang a different tune to the one he sang in Malaysia for a Viva Palestina meeting he addressed. He said in an interview to Shahanaaz Habib of the Star Newspaper that the idea that the Jews were God’s Chosen people was “absolute rubbish”. We reported this here.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Who tarnished Penn State's reputation?

I wondered whether there might be student response at Penn State last night to Paterno's firing. Well, there was, and it turned into a riot. Penn State Students in Clashes After Joe Paterno Announcement.

The New York Times reports -
After top Penn State officials announced they had fired Joe Paterno on Wednesday night, thousands of students stormed the downtown area to display their anger and frustration, chanting the former coach’s name, tearing down light poles and overturning a television news van parked along College Avenue.
One student said:
“We got rowdy and we got maced,” Jeff Heim, 19, said rubbing his red, teary eyes. “But make no mistake, the board started this riot by firing our coach. They tarnished a legend.”
The Board "started this"? They "tarnished a legend"? How about - Joe Paterno's turning a blind eye to hideous crimes started this? How about Joe Paterno tarnished his own "legend."

I look forward to the day when colleges and universities, along with the NFL, decide that it has to run its own farm system, rather than relying on American colleges and universities. Somehow baseball has managed to succeed without this kind of massive subsidy from our supposed higher education system.

TV Debate between Calvin Smith and Stephen Sizer

Dr. Calvin Smith has a brief report on his debate last night with Rev. Stephen Sizer on his blog - Calvin L. Smith: That TV Debate. He will be uploading video of the debate eventually to his website. If anyone would like to comment on the debate, I'd be interested to hear it. (I did not hear it, since I'm in the US and was at work when it occurred).

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Violence and sex, money, and war

Some random thoughts, in no particular order -

The scandal at Penn State is really unbelievable. When I read the story yesterday about how graduate assistant coach Mike McQueary had caught assistant coach Jerry Sandusky in the act of anally raping a 10 year old boy in the locker room, I was appalled - and then even more appalled to learn that McQueary did nothing to stop the rape, left, called his father, then reported it to Joe Paterno, the head coach, who sent the report up the line, with no one calling the police, or apparently even learning the name of the young victim. Today, the university's president, Graham Spanier, stepped down from his job, and Joe Paterno was fired by the Board of Trustees of the university.

Students at the university have been holding large rallies at Paterno's home, in support of him. Why? Apparently, football, the American religion, can't be questioned, even if the sainted head coach covers up the grotesque crime of child rape.


Is the world economy about to go into freefall again? Now it's Italy's turn to totter at the abyss. And maybe France's.... When will the EU leaders get their act together?
Italy, a central member of the euro zone and its third-largest economy, struggled to find a new government as anxious investors drove Italian bond rates well above 7 percent and the markets tumbled worldwide. And although critics have warned of just such an escalation for months, European leaders again were caught without a convincing response....

And of course the fear in Paris is that France will be next. Mr. Sarkozy’s government just announced another set of budget cuts and tax increases in the face of lower growth, to keep to its promises to cut its own budget deficit. But on Wednesday, the spread of 10-year French government bonds over their German equivalent rose to a euro area high of around 140 basis points. “Contagion” is not just a movie.

Iran apparently is much closer to getting a nuclear weapon. Should we do anything about it? Should Israel do something about it? An Israeli attack on Iran would very probably lead to a regional war, with thousands of missiles being launched from Lebanon and Gaza at Israel. I hope there's not a war - I'm going to Israel in January for seven months (I'm on sabbatical), and I'd rather not spend the time in a bomb shelter!

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Another Gaza flotilla

This morning I received an email from my favorite correspondents, US Boat to Gaza, informing the world that boats are now sailing to Gaza. From the press release:
At this moment, two boats are in international waters in the Mediterranean heading to Gaza.  One boat, the Saoirse from Ireland, includes parliamentarians among its passengers.  The other, the Tahrir, carries representatives from Canada, the U.S., Australia, and Palestine.  The U.S. Representative on the Tahrir, Kit Kittredge, was a passenger on the U.S. Boat to Gaza, The Audacity of Hope mission in Athens in July.  A journalist from Democracy Now is on the Tahrir also. Civil society organizations in Gaza await their arrival, and look forward to the delivery of letters collected from thousands of U.S. supporters in the To Gaza With Love campaign.  
It appears to me that this time around, they kept the sailing completely quiet before the boats reached international waters, in order to prevent what happened this summer from happening again, when the boats were basically stuck in Greek ports, under heavy pressure from Israel and the US. (I hope Israeli intelligence knew they were sailing!) Also, the boats sailed from Turkey, which supports the attempt to break the Israeli embargo on Gaza. (See article from Haaretz, which confirms that they kept the plan quiet so they wouldn't be stopped; apparently the Turkish authorities insisted that they send fewer people on the boats than they had originally planned).

Reuters reports:
The Israeli navy will prevent two yachts carrying pro-Palestinian activists which left Turkey on Wednesday from breaching an Israeli blockade and reaching the Gaza Strip, an Israeli military official said. Lieutenant-Colonel Avital Leibovich, speaking to reporters by telephone, would not say how the boats might be stopped, saying only "we will have to assess and see if we are facing violent passengers."

Israel was aware two yachts had set sail carrying Irish, Canadian and U.S. activists, Leibovich said. Describing their journey as a "provocation," she said they were still far from the Israeli and Gazan coast. Israel would offer to unload any aid supplies on board and deliver them to Gaza, Leibovich said. Israel blockades the Gaza coast to prevent the smuggling of weapons to Palestinian gunmen in the territory, she added.
There is, apparently, an unidentified boat following the Canadian one, about which @PalWaves says, "The #Tahrir captain is 99% sure it's Turkish Coast Guard following them, still trailing." I hope not - the worst thing would be a confrontation between the IDF and any part of the Turkish military.

UPDATE: apparently it was *not* the Turkish Coast Guard, and the Israeli Navy intercepted them yesterday (Nov. 4) and led them to Ashdod port.