Thursday, June 29, 2017

Ezekiel's Merkavah anniversary is today

TODAY IS THE 5TH OF TAMUZ, the anniversary of Ezekiels Merkavah vision as described in Ezekiel chapter 1. This was Ezekiel's prophetic call. This chapter also is the central inspiration for later Jewish and Christian mysticism. I have commented more about Ma‘aseh Merkavah ("the working of the Chariot," the traditional name of the chapter) and its influence in last year's post here.

I've been saving up a treat for you for this year's post. The Visual Midrash from the Tali Education Fund website has an article by Jo Milgrom and Yoel Duman on Ezekiel the Prophet: Dura Europos and beyond . It has a detailed discussion of the two scenes about Ezekiel in the murals that came from the third-century CE synagogue from Dura-Europos in Syria. It includes some later iconographic context.

The scenes do not have to do with the Merkavah vision, but they involve suitably visionary themes. The first is of the national resurrection in the valley of dry bones in Ezekiel 37. The second is of angelic slaughter of the sinful inhabitants of Jerusalem in the vision of Ezekiel 9. The latter takes place just before Ezekiel's second Merkavah vision in chapter 10.

Happy anniversary, Ezekiel!

For the many past PaleoJudaica posts on Dura-Europos, start here and follow the many links.

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Newsweek on the Zohar

ZOHAR WATCH: ZOHAR'S TRANSLATION UNLOCKS THE SECRETS OF JEWISH MYSTICISM IN AN AGE OF EXTREMISM (ALEXANDER NAZARYAN, Newsweek). Despite the clickbaitish title (for which I do not hold the author responsible), the article is good and is worth reading in full.
If you haven’t read Hebrew since the rite-of-passage ceremony known as the bar mitzvah, customarily conducted at the age of 13, then a willfully obscure text of ancient Jewish mysticism is probably not the best means to reacquaint yourself with the language of the Old Testament. Yet there I was in a Northern California synagogue, trying to remember my alefs and daleds, less out of the famous guilt of my tribe than a curiosity about that text—the Zohar—and, more specifically, about the man who has done more than any other alive today to unlock its secrets.
Knowing Hebrew is of relatively little help for reading the Zohar in the original. The author does note later that it is written in the cognate language Aramaic. A particularly uncooperative medieval Aramaic, at that.
Each month, the scholar of Jewish mysticism Daniel Matt holds a study session on the Zohar, among the most beautiful yet impenetrable works of Jewish spirituality. Matt’s authority on the subject is unrivaled: He is the only person to have translated the entirety of the Zohar into English. The effort spanned two decades and ran to 12 volumes (he had help on the last three). When I visited him in May at his house in Berkeley, California, the last of these had just been published. “For the English-speaking world, the Zohar's gates are now opening even wider,” declared Judy Silber on NPR.
I knew about the Daf Yomi Zohar study group (cf. here) on Facebook, but I didn't know about this group. It sounds fascinating.

The following is a great description of the content of the Zohar. But I would go easy on any comparisons to quantum physics.
The Zohar—central to the mystical strain of Judaism known as Kabbalah—is a 13th-century commentary primarily on the first five books of the Bible, known as the Torah. That might make it sound dull; it is anything but. Imagine the Old Testament as written by H.P. Lovecraft, Bible stories tripping on acid, rendered in difficult-to-decipher Aramaic, full of wisdom and beauty but shrouded in obscurity, a 1,900-page text written more than 700 years ago whose teachings have been embraced by celebrities like Madonna but not fully understood even by most scholars of Judaism.

The Zohar serves as “the ur-text of the mystical Jewish imagination,” explains Shaul Magid, the Jay and Jeanie Schottenstein professor at Indiana University, where he teaches Jewish and religious studies. Magid calls it a “kind of ‘mystical Jewish Bible,’ refracting the Hebrew Bible through its particular cosmological lens,” which includes a complex schema of 10 dimensions, or sefirot, that constitute reality. Some have even compared the cosmology of the Zohar to the conception of the universe suggested by quantum physics, string theory in particular.
Again, read the whole article.

For background on the Zohar and on Daniel Matt's translation of it, start here (cf. here) and follow the many, many links. Or run the term "Zohar Watch" through the blog search engine.

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Dyed textiles from Solomonic-era Timna

ARCHAEOLOGY: ARCHEOLOGISTS FIND EVIDENCE OF PLANT DYES FOR CLOTHING DATING TO SOLOMON. Joint study concludes 3,000-year-old dyed textiles found in Timna Valley used by ‘fashion elite’ (Daniel K. Eisenbud, Jerusalem Post).
According to the authority, the excavations, directed by [Dr. Erez] Ben-Yosef, recovered dozens of fragments of 3,000-year-old textiles, which were preserved due to the region’s extremely arid climatic conditions.

“The textiles date to King Solomon’s reign, in the Iron Age [11th-10th centuries BCE]*, and some are decorated with a red-and-blue bands pattern,” he said. “These are the earliest examples to have been found in the country and in the Levant [the eastern Mediterranean] of the remains of plant-based dyes.”
I am keeping an eye on the Timna Valley excavation. It is one of the few sites in Israel that has a dry enough climate to preserve organic remains for 3,000 years. So far they have found animal dung and textiles. The textiles are fragmentary, but survive well enough to preserve some of the colored dye on the fabric. This is an environment in which inscribed papyrus documents and parchment scrolls could conceivably survive. They haven't found any inscribed materials yet, but it is possible they are there. Keep digging!

Background here, here, and here.

*The second bracketed phrase is in the original paragraph.

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The Testament of Abraham - introductory matters

READING ACTS: What is the “Testament of Abraham”? (Phil Long). Last year I commented on the Testament of Abraham with reference to a post in Phil's series on Romans. I have nothing to add here.

I have been following Phil Long's blog series on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha here and links. Lately he has been posting on the Testamentary literature. Cross-file under Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Watch.

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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Remembering Nahum Sarna (1923 – 2005)

HIS YAHRZEIT WAS 16 SIVAN (10 JUNE): Nahum M. Sarna (TheTorah.com).
A Biography by Prof. Marc Zvi Brettler and Eulogy (delivered at the funeral) by Prof. Lawrence Schiffman.
I noted his passing in 2005 here, here, here, and here.

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Digital language database job

RELIGION PROF: Digital Humanist Wanted. James McGrath shares a job announcement. If you are good at digital language research, Greek, Syriac, and Arabic, and if you also want to live in Vienna, this could be the job for you.

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T. Job: executive summary

READING ACTS: The Testament of Job. A chapter-by-chapter summary.

For past posts in Phil Long's blog series on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, see here and links. He has been posting on Testaments recently. Yesterday's post was the first on the Testament of Job. Cross-file under Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Watch.

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Latest on Emek Shaveh's tunnel petition

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: LEFT-WING NGO PETITIONS HIGH COURT TO HALT WESTERN WALL TUNNEL EXCAVATIONS. ‘According to law, a ministerial committee must convene and decide whether to approve the archaeological excavations carried out in the tunnel,’ says Emek Shaveh (Daniel K. Eisenbud, Jerusalem Post). I have been following Emek Shaveh's litigation about the Western Wall tunnel excavation for some time. The details are technical and I'm not sure I follow all of them.

Background to the story is here and links.

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Reactions to suspension of Western Wall plan

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Some critics of Western Wall plan still unhappy after freeze. Archaeologist says expansion of pluralistic prayer site may still harm antiquities; feminist religious activist who opposed agreement finds little joy in reversal (Melanie Lidman, Times of Israel).
The government decision to suspend a plan creating a pluralistic prayer space at the Western Wall brought little satisfaction to two non-Orthodox groups that opposed the original proposal: archaeologists and religious activists who had sought greater gains than the compromise afforded.

On Sunday, the government suspended a plan it had previously approved for a pluralistic prayer area, following calls by Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox coalition allies to scrap the deal. The plan would have seen the establishment of a properly prepared pavilion for pluralistic prayer — as opposed to current temporary arrangements — under joint oversight involving representatives of all major streams of Judaism.

The government has said despite the deals being canceled, it will continue to expand the prayer space at Robinson’s Arch south of the main Western Wall plaza, leading to continued concerns over archaeological damage to antiquities there.

[...]
I have been following this controversy for some time, with particular attention to the concerns of archaeologists. Background here and links.

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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Review of Maltominiand Slattery (eds.), Oxyrhynchus Papyri, Volume LXXXII

BRYN MAYR CLASSICAL REVIEW: N. Gonis, F. Maltomini, W. B. Henry, S. Slattery, The Oxyrhynchus Papyri, Volume LXXXII [Nos. 5290 - 5319]. Edited with Translations and Notes. Graeco-Roman memoirs, 103. London: Egypt Exploration Society, 2016. Pp. xii, 176; 12 p. of plates. ISBN 9780856982309. £85.00. Reviewed by Michael Zellmann-Rohrer, Oxford (michael.zellmann-rohrer@classics.ox.ac.uk).

This new volume includes fragments of Classical works, some new Greek fragments of Jannes and Jambres, a fragment of Philo, some new Greek magical papyri, and more.

Another new manuscript of Jannes and Jambres was noted here. Cross-file under Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Watch.

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The Testament of Job

READING ACTS: What is the “Testament of Job”? (Phil Long). I cannot rule out that the Testament of Job is a first-century Jewish work, but I do not assume that it is. It makes good sense as a late-antique Christian work. That is the first social context in which we find it.

The Testament of Job was composed in Greek. A fragmentary fourth-century Coptic manuscript is our earliest witness to it. We have published a translation by Gesa Schenke ("The Testament of Job: Coptic Fragments") in Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: More Noncanonical Scriptures (Ed. Bauckham, Davila, and Panayotov; Eerdmans, 2013), pp. 160-175. So you should buy this book.

For Phil Long's blog series on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha start here and follow the links. He is currently working through the Testaments and he just finished the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs. Cross-file under Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Watch.

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Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz z'l'

SAD NEWS: Artscroll Founder Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz Dead at 73 (David Israel, The Jewish Press).
Rabbi Zlotowitz et al’s most ambitious endeavor was the publication of the Schottenstein English Edition of the Talmud. This monumental, 73-volume work was published one tractate at a time, and completed in 2005 after fifteen years of painstaking labor. The worldwide impact of the Schottenstein Talmud has been unprecedented, offering thousands of Jews access to the Talmud.
May his memory be for a blessing.

For more on the ArtScroll/Schottenstein Talmud, start here and follow the links.

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More Assyrian land woes in Turkey

ASSYRIAN (MODERN SYRIAC) WATCH: Turkey Seizes Assyrian Monastery Property (Ygar Gültekin, http://www.agos.com.tr via AINA).
After Mardin became a Metropolitan Municipality, its villages were officially turned into neighbourhoods as per the law and attached to the provincial administration. Following the legislative amendment introduced in late 2012, the Governorate of Mardin established a liquidation committee. The Liquidation Committee started to redistribute in the city, the property of institutions whose legal entity had expired. The transfer and liquidation procedures are still ongoing.

In 2016, the Transfer, Liquidation and Redistribution Committee of Mardin Governorate transferred to primarily the Treasury as well as other relevant public institutions numerous churches, monasteries, cemeteries and other assets of the Syriac community in the districts of Mardin. The Mor Gabriel Monastery Foundation appealed to the decision yet the liquidation committee rejected their appeal last May. The churches, monasteries and cemeteries whose ownerships were given to the Treasury were then transferred to the Diyanet.

Inquiries of the Mor Gabriel Monastery Foundation revealed that dozens of churches and monasteries had been transferred to the Treasury first and then allocated to the Diyanet. And the cemeteries have been transferred to the Metropolitan Municipality of Mardin. The maintenance of some of the churches and monasteries are currently being provided by the Mor Gabriel Monastery Foundation and they are opened to worship on certain days. Similarly, the cemeteries are still actively used by the Syriac community who visits them and performs burial procedures. The Syriacs have appealed to the Court for the cancellation of the decision.

[...]
Oh dear. I had thought that the complications regarding the lands associated with the Mar Gabriel Monastery (whose claim on them reportedly goes back many centuries) had all been resolved. I guess there is more to be sorted out.

The Turkish Government will want to take a close look at this one. They will want to ensure that everything proceeds transparently and according to the law and natural justice. The world, including the ECHR, is watching.

Background on this story is here and many links.

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Monday, June 26, 2017

The SBL Handbook of Style on MOTP

NEWS YOU CAN USE: Citing Text Collections 4: MOTP. The SBL Handbook of Style Blog tells you how to cite Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: More Noncanonical Scriptures, volume one (ed. Bauckham, Davila, and Panayotov; Eerdmans 2013). Their abbreviation is different from the one we use in the volume. We'll have to sort that out in volume two.

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Trolls threaten a Classics professor

THIS IS APPALLING: UI prof's post on ancient statues, white supremacists elicits death threats. PaleoJudaica has mentioned Professor Sarah Bond's work from time to time. I am sorry to hear that this has happened to her.

Idiot trolls who threaten people are a growing plague on the internet. They come from all sides and they obstruct discussion of important topics. Everyone should condemn, shun, despise, and ridicule them.

Seidman on Cynthia Baker’s "Jew"

MARGINALIA REVIEW OF BOOKS:
Jewish Identity as a Psychic Wound?
Naomi Seidman on Cynthia Baker’s Jew
. This is the fifth essay in Marginalia's Forum on Cynthia Baker’s book Jew.

This essay doesn't have anything particular to do with ancient Judaism, but I note it for the sake of completeness. For past essays in the series and more information about the forum, see here and links.

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T. Benjamin: Being good.

READING ACTS: Testament of Benjamin.

For Phil Long's blog series on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha start here and follow the links. His current series on the Greek Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs has come to Benjamin, who is number twelve. Now Phil is off to Zambia for a pastors' Bible conference. But his series on the OTP Testaments will continue while he is away.

Cross-file under Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Watch.

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Sunday, June 25, 2017

Menorah engravings at Hierapolis

HOLY LAND PHOTOS' BLOG: Jewish Presence at Hierapolis (Menorahs) Carl Rasmussen has photos of ancient menorah engravings on tombs in Hieropolis (cf. Colossians 4:12-13).

For past PaleoJudaica posts on ancient menorahs and representations of menorahs, see here, here, and here and follow the many links.

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Holtz, Die Nichtigkeit des Menschen und die Übermacht Gottes

NEW BOOK FROM MOHR SIEBECK: GUDRUN HOLTZ, Die Nichtigkeit des Menschen und die Übermacht Gottes Studien zur Gottes- und Selbsterkenntnis bei Paulus, Philo und in der Stoa. [Human Nothingness and the Supremacy of God. Studies on Divine and Self Knowledge in Paul, Philo and the Stoa.]. 2017. XIV, 471 pages. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 377.
Published in German.
Regard for the self has recently been rediscovered as one of the central themes of Hellenistic philosophy. Taking the Jewish theologian Philo of Alexandria and the Apostle Paul as her main examples, Gudrun Holtz shows how theological anthropology was developed in contrast to contemporary philosophical conceptions of the self, particularly to the Stoa. The common core of the theological-anthropological conception of both authors can be captured in the phrase “not of people, but of God”. The Pauline doctrine of justification proves itself to be a reification of this shared essence. Other than has been repeatedly assumed lately, the

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Tolan et al. (eds.), Religious Minorities in Christian, Jewish and Muslim Law

NEW BOOK FROM BREPOLS: Religious Minorities in Christian, Jewish and Muslim Law (5th - 15th centuries). J. V. Tolan, C. Nemo-Pekelman, N. Berend, Y. Masset (eds.).
The fruit of a sustained and close collaboration between historians, linguists and jurists working on the Christian, Muslim and Jewish societies of the Middle Ages, this book explores the theme of religious coexistence (and the problems it poses) from a resolutely comparative perspective. The authors concentrate on a key aspect of this coexistence: the legal status attributed to Jews and Muslims in Christendom and to dhimmīs in Islamic lands. What are the similarities and differences, from the point of view of the law, between the indigenous religious minority and the foreigner? What specific treatments and procedures in the courtroom were reserved for plaintiffs, defendants or witnesses belonging to religious minorities? What role did the law play in the segregation of religious groups? In limiting, combating, or on the contrary justifying violence against them? Through these questions, and through the innovative comparative method applied to them, this book offers a fresh new synthesis to these questions and a spur to new research.
I can't find anything in the TOC that deals with anything as early as the fifth century. The title does say that, though, so I assume such matters come up somewhere.

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A fourth review of Glinert, The Story of Hebrew

BOOK REVIEW: The story of Hebrew. A look at Lewis Glinert’s wonderful new book (CURT LEVIANT, The Jewish Standard).
Every page of “The Story of Hebrew” is packed with information about the language, from its beginnings through post-1948 Israel. In addition to this longitudinal approach, Lewis Glinert, a professor of Hebrew and linguistics at Dartmouth, also approaches his subject laterally, focusing on various lands where Jewish or Hebrew life and culture thrived, including early Palestine, Babylonia, North Africa, Spain, Europe, Russia, the United States, and Israel.

[...]
Earlier reviews of the book have been noted here and links.

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Saturday, June 24, 2017

Hurtado on Keck on the NT as a "field of study"

LARRY HURTADO: Is the New Testament a Field of Study?. Professor Hurtado discusses an article with that title by Leander Keck, published in 1981. Read the whole post, but here are two excerpts:
Referring to “the Mandaean fever of the 20s and a severe case of Qumranitis in the 50s,” Keck observes that “repeatedly our agenda probably elevated to major significance for the New Testament certain texts which might not have been nearly as influential on the early Christians as we have made them.” (p, 32).
Yes.
In short, for theological purposes the NT is (and should be) a “privileged” body of texts. But for historical purposes we should both take account of the breadth and diversity of early Christian literature and also the dynamics that from a remarkably early point gave to certain texts a special status and authority among at least many (most?) early Christian circles.
Yes.

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Stacey on Qumran

THE BIBLE AND INTERPRETATION: A Brief Response to the Reviews of Qumran Revisited by Magness (RQ 104, 2014: 638-646) and Mizzi (DSD 22, 2015: 220) (David Stacey). This essay deals with technical details of the archaeology of the site of Qumran and those interested in such matters should have a look. I don't think I knew that there was an ancient dam at Qumran.

A couple of other recent Bible and Intepretation essays have also dealt with the archaeology of Qumran. See here and here and note the discussions in the comments.

There are many past PaleoJudaica posts on the archaeology of Qumran and various controversies surrounding it. Many were collected here. And to that list from 2014, add the posts here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

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Biblical Sidon

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: Biblical Sidon—Jezebel’s Hometown. Who were the Sidonians? As usual, the BAR article (“Sidon—Canaan’s Firstborn,” by Claude Doumet-Serhal) is only available via a paid subscription. But the BHD essay gives you an overview.

Some of the past PaleoJudaica posts pertaining to ancient Sidon are here, here, and here. Some past posts on Jezebel are here, here, here, here, and here. Cross-file under Phoenician Watch.

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The Nash Papyrus in the news

DIGITIZATION: See An Ancient Ten Commandments Fragment Digitized By Cambridge Digital Library (Jake Romm, The Forward). That fragment is, of course, the Nash Papyrus, on which more here and links. It's from Egypt and was recovered in 1902. It is as old as some of the older Dead Sea Scrolls, the first of which were discovered only in 1947. (Philip Jenkins, call your office!)

This is not a new story: I noted the digization of the Nash Papyrus for the Cambridge Digital Library back in 2012. But it's nice to see it getting some more attention.

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Friday, June 23, 2017

Interview with Robert Kraft

WILLIAM ROSS: LXX SCHOLAR INTERVIEW: DR. ROBERT KRAFT (Septuaginta &C. Blog).
This interview highlights one of the senior figures in the field, Dr. Robert Kraft, who is Berg Professor of Religious Studies Emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania (see also Academia.edu). Aside from his work in Septuagint scholarship, Dr. Kraft is well known for his focus on the Apostolic Fathers. He also played a crucial role in creating the earliest digital tools for the study of biblical texts, and was a key player in developing Computer Assisted Tools for Septuagint Studies (CATSS), which is now available in BibleWorks and other software programs.
Read it all.

I talked a bit about Bob Kraft's pioneering contribution to computer-assisted biblical studies research in my 2010 SBL paper: What Just Happened. The rise of "biblioblogging" in the first decade of the twenty-first century.

I have noted some past interviews of LXX scholars by William Ross here and links.

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Ancient "industrial zone" in the Galilee

ARCHAEOLOGY: Ancient industrial site discovered in Galilee. Students and experts from the Israel Antiquities Authority discover ancient agricultural installations carved into bedrock that appear to have been used to store locally-produced products (Itay Blumenthal, Ynetnews).
"As we expanded the excavation with the students, we found more and more installations, and it would appear that these are not for private use, but rather a real industrial zone, from the Middle Bronze Age (1,800 BCE) or from the Roman-Byzantine period (5th-2nd centuries CE)," said Yoav Zur, the IAA director of the excavation.
HT Joseph Lauer.

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T. Joseph: So ethical.

READING ACTS: Testament of Joseph. Like many of the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, the Greek Testament of Joseph is full of ethical concerns. But, again like the other Testaments, this one is quite oblivious to the ritual law. This seems like a problem if we want to regard them as Jewish works.

Granted, the setting is the Patriarchal period and this was before the Torah of Moses was revealed. That could be why ritual law is ignored. But the Book of Jubilees covers the Patriarchal period and is still full of interest in the ritual law. And the Testament of Zebulon even anachronistically mentions the Law of Moses (3:4). So I am not entirely satisfied with that explanation.

It is clear that some of the Testaments drew on Jewish sources in Hebrew and Aramaic, but I don't know whether all of them are based on such sources. If so, a lot of those sources are lost. Some may be Christian compositions written to fill in the gaps to make of full set of twelve testaments.

I have noted earlier posts in Phil Long's blog series on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha here and links. His current series is on the Greek Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs. Joseph is number eleven. One more to go. Cross-file under Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Watch.

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Theosophy and ancient apocryphal scriptures

THE ANXIOUS BENCH: Alternative Scriptures: Theosophy and the Esoteric Tradition (Philip Jenkins). The nineteenth-century Theosophists knew about the Essenes and the Gnostics and had access to Coptic Gnostic texts. All this long before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls or the Nag Hammadi Library.

I have noted earlier posts in Professor Jenkins's series on "alternative scriptures" here and links.

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