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Article

Thomas Kuhn-Treichel

Philo Epicus was a Jewish-Hellenistic poet. He composed a hexametric poem on Jerusalem that featured both descriptions of the city and references to biblical events relating to the patriarchs. It is not clear whether he is to be identified with a Philo mentioned by Josephus (Ap. 1.218, with the attribute “the Elder”), Clement of Alexandria (Str. 1.141.3), and Eusebius of Caesarea (Hist. eccl. 6.13.7); while Nikolaus Walter argued for a distinction between the poet and a homonymous, otherwise unknown historian, some recent scholars seek to justify the identification.1 As to the date of his work, scholars have adduced literary, historical, and archaeological arguments to support various periods between the end of the 3rd and the first half of the 1st centuries bce.2 The only undisputable terminus ante quem for his work is the death of Alexander (11) Polyhistor (not long after 40bce), who quoted the poem in his treatise Περὶ Ἰουδαίων.

Article

Lawrence H. Schiffman

The Cairo geniza was a storeroom for no longer usable holy books in the synagogue of Fustat, Old Cairo, where for centuries, old Jewish manuscripts, mostly in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Judeo- Arabic, including also secular documents and communal records, were deposited. In the 19th century, European scholars became aware of this collection and manuscripts were removed to a variety of libraries in Europe and the United States. This material provides those studying the ancient world and ancient Jewish texts in particular with an amazing treasure of documents, throwing light on the history of the biblical text and its interpretation, the Hebrew language, Greek and Syriac versions of the Bible, Second Temple and Rabbinic literature, Jewish liturgy and the later history—political, economic, and religious—of the Jews in the Mediterranean basin. This material has totally reshaped our understanding of these fields. In the area of Bible, these texts illustrate the manner in which the vocalization and cantillation symbols were developed. Hebrew versions of some important Second Temple literature, later found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, had earlier been discovered in the geniza. Many previously unknown Midrashim and rabbinic exegetical materials have become known only from this collection. This material has provided an entirely new corpus of liturgical poetry.

Article

Aren Maeir

Biblical archaeology is defined as the study of the archaeological remains of the peoples, cultures, and periods in which the biblical texts were formed. While in the past biblical archaeology was often seen as an ideologically motivated field of inquiry, currently, a balanced and scientifically advanced approach is common among most practitioners. The large body of research in this field, continuing to the present, provides a broad range of finds, insights, and understanding of the relevant cultures, peoples and periods in which the biblical texts were formed.Biblical archaeology may be defined as the study of the archaeological remains of the regions, cultures, and periods, in which the biblical texts were formed. Modern biblical archaeology does not attempt to prove or disprove the Bible. Rather, archaeological study of the cultures in which the Bible was formed, or which are included in the Bible narratives, can provide a better understanding of the material and intellectual context of the biblical texts. The primary aim, however, is to study the archaeology of these regions, periods, and cultures associated with the Bible, the biblical interface being secondary. Biblical archaeology focuses primary attention on the regions and cultures of the Southern Levant, specifically the region of modern-day Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, and southern Syria. Nearby regions such as Egypt, northern Syria, Mesopotamia, Anatolia, Cyprus, and the Aegean are within its scope of interest. The main chronological focus of biblical archaeology are the periods in which the actual biblical texts were formed and written down—the Iron Age, Persian period, and Hellenistic period for the Hebrew Bible, about .

Article

For some ancient Jews, “diaspora” (together with its cognates) was an actor’s and not an observer’s term. But its import was primarily theological: God punished the Jews for their sins by dispersing them from their native land of Israel. Yet “diaspora” retains analytic utility for historians, if taken to refer to the geographically and temporally varied modes of Jewish life outside Palestine. It is not known to what extent diaspora Jews were emigrants from Palestine and their descendants; nor do we know how numerous they were. But we can follow the evidence where it exists. The main lesson is that the onset of Roman rule created crises around the integration of the Jews into their host societies. Intentionally or not, in the cities of the east (and the big villages of Egypt) the Romans fomented discord between different elements of the population. In Egypt, this led at once to the ultimately lethal—for the Jews, anyhow—three-way competition between Jews, Greeks, and Egyptians. Even in Asia Minor, normally understood as the best-case scenario for Jews under Roman rule, the evidence indicates that Jewish life in the Roman imperial period was more fragile, constrained, fraught, and impermanent than is often supposed.

Article

Lee I. Levine

The Jewish Patriarch (Hebr. Nasi) was the leading Jewish communal official in the late Roman and early Byzantine Empires, in both Palestine and the Diaspora. The Patriarchate, which emerged around the turn of the 3rd century under the leadership of Rabbi Judah I, had the support of the Severan dynasty (193–235 ce). The testimony of Origen (Letter to Africanus 14), who lived in Caesarea c. 230, views the function of the “Jewish ethnarch” (another term for Patriarch) as that of a king, enjoying, inter alia, the power of capital punishment.

Non-Jewish sources from the 4th century attest that the Patriarch enjoyed extensive prestige and recognition. The Theodosian Code is particularly revealing in this regard. One decree, issued by the emperors Arcadius and Honorius in 397, spells out the dominance of the Patriarch in a wide range of synagogue affairs; he stood at the head of a network of officials, including archisynagogues, presbyters, and others—all of whom had privileges on a par with the Christian clergy. Together with other realms of Patriarchal authority noted in earlier rabbinic literature, such as making calendrical decisions, declaring public fast days, and issuing bans, the prominence of this office in Jewish communal and religious life had become quite pronounced at this time.

Article

Benjamin G. Wright III

The book of Ben Sira is a wisdom text dating from the early 2nd century bce. It provides important evidence for Jewish wisdom traditions and teachers as well as Jewish scribes in this period. It was translated in Greek by the author’s grandson, and that version became the primary one, later becoming part of the Christian scriptural tradition. Fragmentary manuscripts of the Hebrew text were found in the Cairo Genizah and among the Dead Sea Scrolls.The Wisdom of Ben Sira is a Jewish wisdom book written in the early part of the 2nd centurybce by a Jewish scribe/sage from Jerusalem named Joshua ben (i.e., “son of”) Sira, who is better known from the Greek form of his name, Jesus son of Sira. Written in Hebrew, the work was not included in the Jewish canon of scripture, and the Hebrew text fell into obscurity. A translator, who in a prologue identifies himself as the author’s grandson, rendered the book into Greek in the latter part of the .

Article

Yosef Yuval Tobi

The beginning of the Ḥimyari kingdom is reckoned at 110 bce, when the tribe of Ḥimyar split off from the Qatabān kingdom in the western Ḥaḍramawt, located in the southern Arabian Peninsula, and established its own capital in Ẓafār, located in southeast of our time Yarim. Starting in the 1st century ce, there were incessant conflicts between the kingdom of Ḥimyar and the kingdom of Sheba, whose seat of government was Ma’rib, until the year 175, when the Ḥimyarites completely conquered the kingdom of Sheba. They had taken over Qatabān some hundred years earlier. The religion of the kingdom, as in all other kingdoms in South Arabia at the time, was polytheist, but during the 4th century, the effects of monotheism began to take hold. No later than 384, King Malkīkarib Yuha’min (r. 375–400) had adopted Judaism as the state religion. The kingdom of Ḥimyar remained in a state of constant war with the Christian kingdom of Axūm in Ethiopia, on the western shore of the Red Sea, while the Ethiopians succeeded in even occupying militarily the city of Ẓafār for a short time. The tension between the two kingdoms reached its peak during the time of As’ar Yath’ar’s reign (more commonly known as Yūsuf Dhū Nuwās) (517–525), who acted ruthlessly against the Christians in his kingdom, especially those in Najrān. Because of this action, the army of Axūm invaded Yemen in 525 at the request of the Christian Byzantine emperor, bringing an end to the Jewish kingdom of Ḥimyar. In 531, Abraha the Ethiopian took over the reins of government in Yemen and expanded his kingdom’s realm of influence further north towards the central part of the Arabian Peninsula. A short time following his death, Persia wrestled control of the kingdom, with the assistance of Sayf Dhū Yazan, who, according to tradition, was one of the descendants of Joseph Dhū Nuwās. In 629, Yemen fell entirely to the armies of Islam.

Article

Matthew Thiessen

There is little evidence of conversion to Israelite religion or Judaism in Jewish scriptures. For instance, while later rabbis understood the book of Ruth to portray the conversion of Ruth to Judaism, the book itself repeatedly refers to her as a Moabite, even after she declares to her mother-in-law Naomi that “your people will be my people, and your God will be my God” (Ruth 1:16). Similarly, the Hebrew text of Esther 8:17 portrays numerous Gentiles Judaizing: “Many peoples of the land Judaized because fear of the Jews fell upon them.” The Septuagint translation (LXX) adds that this “Judaization” included circumcision. While some scholars believe that this verse refers to conversion, the author claims that this action was taken only out of fear of the Jews. These Gentiles did not Judaize out of religious conviction; rather, they merely pretended to be Jews to avoid Jewish retaliation for the violent machinations of Haman.

Article

Zeev Weiss

In the heart of the Lower Galilee lie the remains of Sepphoris, capital of the Galilee during long periods of antiquity. Both literary sources and archaeological finds indicate that the city’s population included pagans, heretics, and Christians living alongside the Jewish population. Many sages lived in the city, which, according to rabbinic literature, boasted numerous synagogues and academies (batei midrash). When Rabbi Judah ha-Nasi (the Patriarch of Judaea) moved to Sepphoris at the beginning of the 3rd century, the Jews gained a significant presence on the city council. With the growth of the Christian community came the construction of churches and the involvement of the episcopus (head of the Christian community) in municipal affairs. Economically, Sepphoris had become a well-established city due to the fertile soil in the nearby valleys and its active trade with the immediate surroundings and distant markets. Hellenistic Sepphoris was built on its hill and slopes. Early in the 2nd century ce, the city spread considerably eastward, boasting an impressive grid of streets with a colonnaded cardo and decumanus running through its centre. Various public buildings were built in the city, including a temple, a forum, bathhouses, a theatre, a monumental building identified as a library or archive, as well as churches, synagogues, and some other structures dating to the early Byzantine period. Most of the common people lived in simple houses, while the wealthy lived in spacious, well-planned dwellings. The architectural layout of these large structures is impressive, as are the more than sixty colourful mosaics from the 3rd to 6th centuries ce uncovered in its private and public buildings. The various depictions in the mosaics have parallels in other cities of the Roman and Byzantine East, not only enhancing the ancient ruins of Sepphoris but also providing invaluable information about the city and its population. The wealth of evidence emerging from Sepphoris offers perhaps the greatest insight into Jewish society and its changing attitudes towards the Graeco-Roman culture to which it was exposed. This new outlook did not occur overnight or in all strata of Jewish society; rather, it was an ongoing process that intensified in the Roman period and reached a peak in the 5th and 6th centuries ce.

Article

Stefan C. Reif

Although some of the inspiration for later Jewish prayers undoubtedly came from the ancient Near East and the early books of the Hebrew Bible, there was at that early period of development little connection between the formal liturgy, as represented by the Temple cult, and the spontaneous entreaties of the individual. During the Second Temple period, the two methods of expression began to coalesce, and the literature included among the Dead Sea Scrolls testifies to the recitation of regular prayers at fixed times. The Talmudic rabbis laid down instructions for some statutory prayers, such as the shema‘ and the ‘amidah, and these gradually formed the basis of what became the synagogal liturgy.