Thursday, August 24, 2017

Joseph and Aseneth: the courtship and wedding

READING ACTS: How did Joseph Get His Wife? – Joseph and Aseneth 1-22 (Phil Long). For Phil's previous post on Joseph and Aseneth, see here. There I also have some comments on the current state of the question about the text and provenance of the work. Follow the links there for the many past posts in Phil's series on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha.

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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Jordanian lead codices: (2) The inscriptions

THIS IS MY SECOND POST commenting on Samuel Zinnner's comprehensive report on the Jordanian Lead Codices: Son of the Star: Bar Kokhba and the Jordanian lead books, which has been published online by the Centre for the Study of the Jordanian Lead Books.

You can find the first post, which deals with the materials tests on the codices, here.
For previous posts on the codices, start here and follow the links.

With the discussion of the metals tests out of the way, let me turn to things that I can talk about with more authority — the inscriptions on the codices. As I said in the preceding post, I do not think there is a credible case that the lead codices are genuine ancient artifacts

Dr. Zinner has presented a basic decipherment of the texts and I accept it as essentially correct. But let’s be clear on what that means.

The people who made the codices made use of some coins from the various Jewish revolts, some other Hellenistic and Roman-era coins, and a second-century-CE grave epitaph. These are the sources for almost all of the text of the codices and at least most of the iconography. There is arguably some knowledge of the Bible and late antique and later magical and mystical traditions as well. See p. 214 of the report for a summary of the deciphered content.

They took these sources and copied out some coin texts with all sorts of creative reordering and creation of words that could be made from the letters. There is virtually no connected text; just words and the occasional brief phrase, plus apparently lots of nonsense sequences of letters. Sometimes words are backwards, arranged in geometric patterns, broken up with other letters in between, or some combination of such rearrangements.

Any attempt to make more sense of the texts amounts to a Rorschach test for cognitive dissonance. My own view is that this is exactly what their creators intended. To me the objects look like a modern, or at least comparatively recent, attempt to make evocative texts using the very little surviving material from the coins.

People who had access to very limited artifactual information about ancient Judaism created faux-artifacts on the basis of what they had. They used the coin inscriptions to make up texts that were ultimately meaningless, but always just on the verge of making sense. This was a cover for their lack of information and inability to produce a coherent and convincing ancient text. The texts on the codices offer just enough dots with just enough clear connections to invite their readers to try to connect more dots and make them say more than they do. That is my reading of them or, if you wish, the direction my own confirmation bias takes me.

To Dr. Zinner they look like something far more significant: an elaborate esoteric statement with evocations of nationalist ideology and mystical and apotropaic traditions. He draws on an impressive panoply of sources to make sense of them: Mesopotamian cylinder seals, Ophric gold plates, an ancient Celtic coin, Greek magical amulets, grave inscriptions, the Gospel of John, the Book of Revelation, late-antique Synagogue iconography, Sefer HaRazim, Babylonian incantation bowls, Samaritan theology, 3 Enoch, the Zohar, other Kabbalistic traditions, medieval and Renaissance magic, etc. This is an incomplete list, but it gives you the idea. His justification for drawing so much on later material is that these late traditions sometimes preserve much older material. This is true, but a very little of that goes a long way.

I do not find his interpretation convincing. If one compares material from a vast range of dates and provenances to the allusive and evocative texts on the codices, it would be hard not to find some interesting connections. I doubt that the analysis would pass muster in a peer-review publication without a great deal of pruning. (Of course, there is potentially a direct way to prove me wrong on that.) And even if we assume, for the sake of argument, that his analysis is mostly correct, I think it would amount to compelling evidence that the codices were produced in the Renaissance or later.

The most I can do in a blog post is suggest to you a broad interpretation of the epigraphic evidence of the codices which is an alternative to Dr. Zinner's. Have a look at the evidence and see which interpretation makes more sense to you. I blog, you decide.

I do not have time to comment on many of the claims in the report in detail, and to do so would try the patience of my readers. But I do want to say a little more about the use of the Abgar-Selaman inscription. I think it a crucial piece of evidence for our understanding of the codices.

That will be the subject of my next post.


Cross-file under Fake Metal Codices Watch. I acknowledge that various elements of the current discussion may point to some of the codices being something other than fake, but I remain to be convinced. See my coming posts for more. In any case, I continue to include this cross-file rubric so that readers can search it to find all my posts on the subject.

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6th-century building inscription excavated near Damascus Gate

ARCHAEOLOGY AND EPIGRAPHY: Emperor Justinian Mosaic Inscription Unearthed near Damascus Gate (JNi.Media).
According to [Greek epigrapher Dr. Leah] Di Segni, “This inscription commemorates the founding of the building by Constantine, the priest. The inscription names the emperor Flavius Justinian. It seems that the building was used as a hostel for pilgrims.” Di Segni added, “‘Indiction’ is an ancient method of counting years, for taxation purposes. Based on historical sources, the mosaic can be dated to the year 550/551 AD.”

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Rabbinics post at JTS

H-JUDAIC: Jewish Theological Seminary, Rabbinic Literatures and Cultures, Assistant Professor, Rabbinic Literatures.
The Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) is seeking a dynamic and creative assistant professor of rabbinic literatures and culture, including Talmud and Midrash. The candidate should have a passion for teaching and be engaged with current methodologies in the study of rabbinic history and literatures. The ideal candidate is an accomplished scholar and teacher who is committed to the mission of JTS.

The position is a three-year, non-tenure track, renewable position, with all the rights, responsibilities, and benefits of a full-time faculty appointment, beginning July 1, 2018. Candidates must have PhD in hand by July 1, 2018. Teaching will be principally in the JTS Rabbinical School, Kekst Graduate School, List College, and other programs of JTS.
Follow the link for application information. The deadline for full consideration is 20 October 2017.

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Seidler, "Jewish Identity on Trial: The Case of Mordecai the Jew"

NEW ARTICLE IN THE ONLINE JOURNAL OF HEBREW SCRIPTURES: Jewish Identity on Trial: The Case of Mordecai the Jew, by Ayelet SEIDLER.
Abstract : The book of Esther deals with issues of Jewish identity in exile. This article argues that early in the story (chapters 2 and 3) Mordecai is depicted as trying to assimilate into Persian culture before experiencing a reversal and returning to his Jewish identity, a development that occurs from chapter 4 onwards. This reading illuminates an important theme addressed in the book, namely, how the danger of assimilation threatens Jews in the Diaspora. The book portrays an ideal Jewish leader operating in a foreign court while adhering to his Jewish identity and serving his fellow Jews.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Israeli schoolgirl finds ancient half-shekel coin

NUMISMATICS: Ancient coin discovered in Halamish. 9-year-old girl finds coin from time of Temple with inscription 'Holy Jerusalem' (Mordechai Sones, Arutz Sheva).
A surprising and apparently shocking discovery in Neve Tzuf, in Binyamin: Hallel, a girl of about nine, discovered an ancient coin that turned out to be a half-shekel coin with the inscription "Holy Jerusalem."

Arutz Sheva spoke with the girl, Hallel, and her father, attorney Shimon Halevy, and Prof. Zohar Amar, who conducted the preliminary examination of the coin.

[...]
For past PaleoJudaica posts on half-shekel coins and their use, start here and follow the links.

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Joseph and Aseneth: questions of provenance

READING ACTS: Joseph and Aseneth (Phil Long). I discuss Joseph and Aseneth in my book, The Provenance of the Pseudepigrapha (Brill, 2005), pp. 190-195.

It should be mentioned that Joseph and Aseneth survives in Greek in several different recensions, two of which could be argued to be more original.

It is widely thought to be an Egyptian Jewish work, although it has also been read as a late-antique work by a Christian, a God-fearing gentile, or a Samaritan. It does read plausibly as a defense of gentile conversion to Judaism, but it could also be read as a Christian warning to avoid being "unequally yoked with unbelievers" (2 Cor 6:14).

I do not find credible the suggestion that the book was composed in Syriac and is a covert allegory about the marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. (Phil does not suggest this!)

See my book for more comments on the provenance of Joseph and Aseneth.

For notice of previous posts in Phil's ongoing series on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, start here and follow the many links.

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Annual bloggers' dinner at #AARSBL17

RELIGION PROF. BLOG: Bloggers’ Dinner and Drinks at #AARSBL17. James McGrath issues the annual invitation. The timing of this never seems to work for me. But I'll stop by if I can.

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Review of "Faces of Power" coin exhibition

NUMISMATICS: Israel Museum coin exhibit shows a daughter’s love is worth more than gold. Priceless collection of 75 gold Roman coins depicts evolution of propaganda and portraiture over 300 years (Amanda Borschel-Dan, Times of Israel).
Now this fit-for-a-king collection can be seen by the general public in the Israel Museum’s exhibit “Faces of Power,” temporarily on view in the Archaeology Wing.

The exhibit contains the portraits of 40 Roman emperors — and three usurpers — as well as the likenesses of 13 women who were members of the imperial family.

“These coins enable us to tell the story of the Roman gold currency for a period of more than 300 years, from the end of the first century BCE to the beginning of the fourth century CE,” writes Dr. Haim Gitler, the Tamar and Teddy Kollek chief curator of Archaeology and curator of Numismatics, in an impressive book of scholarly essays which accompanies the exhibit.

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Monday, August 21, 2017

The Jordanian lead codices: (1) The materials tests

AS PROMISED at the beginning of the month, I have some comments on Samuel Zinnner's comprehensive report on the Jordanian Lead Codices: Son of the Star: Bar Kokhba and the Jordanian lead books, which has been published online by the Centre for the Study of the Jordanian Lead Books. It is a massive work, over 1100 pages long. I will not attempt a detailed response, which would have to be very lengthy indeed. But I do want to address what I see as the main points raised in the report and to give you my views about them. So think of this as a long book review. This is the first of four blog posts on the report.

The second post, on the inscriptions on the codices, is here.

I begin with some comments on the materials tests on the lead. Apparently the definitive result of the tests at the University of Surry is that the tested codices in their current form must be at least 100 years old. More specifically, there were tests on the (polonium) radiation content of the lead and on alpha particle emission from the lead, and both gave results of zero. Reportedly the first indicates an age of not less than 100 years and the second an age of not less than 200 years. This is what the Lead Book Center report and the films say.

That said, there is an anomaly that I would like to have clarified. The University of Surrey’s press release refers to both tests and only claims that the they indicate that the lead is “more likely” to be over 100 years old. It says nothing about 200 years. And in the films, in an interview clip with Chris Jeynes (of the University of Surrey) repeated twice, he says that it is “very unlikely that the artifacts are less than fifty years old.” So we are hearing somewhat inconsistent claims here. I imagine that this is just a matter of confused presentation, but I do think it needs to be cleared up.

The films, the Surrey press release, and the report also make various claims about analysis of the corrosion on the codices as seen on the high-resolution photographs. These claims are not about tests done at Surrey and should be kept separate from those tests. The basic claims are that the corrosion would have taken at least a century, probably multiple centuries, and perhaps many centuries, to build up and the analyzers can think of no way that the effect could have been faked by a modern forger.

I am not specialist in metallurgy, ancient or otherwise, or in ancient material culture. I am not capable of a specialist’s critical evaluation of the tests and analyses. At the same time, I think that it is fair to demand a high standard of transparency and scholarly process when we deal with them.

The metals tests are potentially important, but I would like clarification on what exactly the Surrey tests prove. I also think the claims about the corrosion need to be filtered through peer-review in a journal on ancient material culture. Any of those claims that make the peer-review cut would need to be taken very seriously.

It is also unfortunate that none of the numerous lab reports on the tests on the codices have ever been published in full. I understand that this is largely or completely outside the control of the Lead Book Centre, but again I call upon those who own copyright of the lab reports to publish them in full.

I will anticipate my forthcoming comments to the extent of saying that what I see now is a confusing lack of correspondence between the physical evidence (the metals texts and analysis) and the textual and iconographic evidence. The textual and iconographic evidence does not align with the codices being ancient artifacts. Rather it points to their being clumsy modern productions. The physical evidence indicates that they are old and possibly very old. When the scientific tests and the more traditional forms of analysis do not line up, we have a problem.

This is not the first time we have been here. Remember the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife? The early reports told us that analysis of the physical appearance of the papyrus (by two professional papyrologists!) indicated considerable age.

There were materials tests for the GJW as well. The first round of Carbon-14 testing gave a date in the pre-Christian era, which was not particularly helpful. The second round gave it a still relatively ancient date of the eighth century CE. The ink used was also found to be consistent with an ancient origin. These were highly credible tests at the University of Arizona and Harvard University.

At the same time, from the beginning there were serious textual, linguistic, and paleographical problems with the GJW. In due course more information was uncovered, and now no specialist wishes to defend its authenticity. It’s a forgery.

Now all this should give us pause in relation to the Jordanian lead codices. On the one hand, the (duly vetted) opinions of scientists based on materials testing should be taken into account and indeed should be given considerable weight. But on the other hand, neither the tests nor the scientists are infallible. And there are serious problems with the idea that the codices are ancient artifacts.

I am willing to concede for the sake of argument that there is a core group of codices that are at least 100 years old and perhaps 200. But I regard any claims of greater age to be as yet not proven. And I cannot decisively rule out the possibility that even these results could have been faked by a clever modern forger. I think Dr. Zinner and I do not have any serious disagreements on this subject.

In my next post I will turn to more familiar (to me) matters regarding the inscriptions on the metal codices. Having now seen the full report and gone over its main points, I can say that I do not think there is a credible case that the lead codices are genuine ancient artifacts.

Cross-file under Fake Metal Codices Watch. I acknowledge that various elements of the current discussion may point to some of the codices being something other than fake, but I remain to be convinced. See my coming posts for more. In any case, I continue to include this cross-file rubric so that readers can search it to find all my posts on the subject. For past posts on the codices, start here and follow the many links.

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Report on ISBL Christian Apocrypha sessions

APOCRYPHICITY BLOG: 2017 International SBL Christian Apocrypha Sessions Report. Tony Burke is back from Berlin with a report. The content is broader than the title indicates. It includes papers on Jewish Apocrypha, a pagan text adopted later by pretty much everyone (Ahiqar), and Jewish-Christian material.

There's more on the 2017 ISBL meeting in Berlin here and here.

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Sin and eclipses according to the Talmud

ASTRONOMY: Solar Eclipse of 2017: Four Reasons It's Bad, According to the Talmud. Judaism's central rabbinic text says today's solar eclipse is nothing to celebrate (Allison Kaplan Sommer, Haaretz).
But at the downtown Brith Shalom Beth Israel synagogue Sunday evening, nestled in the historic southern city perfectly positioned for the Monday event, Dr. Jeremy Brown had bad news for a group who had gathered for a kosher meal on “Eclipse Eve”: in traditional Judaism, an eclipse is nothing to celebrate.

“Eclipses happen because people sin,” he said. There’s no getting around it, Brown says. The Talmud - the central text of rabbinic Judaism - is unambiguous in its interpretation of eclipses - both lunar and solar, as a form of divine punishment - a curse to be dreaded and feared, rather than a miraculous wonder of nature.

If that isn’t bad enough, Brown told his audience of Charleston locals and Jews who had come to the city for the big event, the four sins specifically blamed by the Talmud plunging the earth into eerie darkness are so notably bizarre and politically incorrect, that nobody really wants to talk about them.
This has led to a certain amount of exegetical difficulty in the centuries since.

Meanwhile, if you are in a position to observe today's eclipse, please stay safe!

An earlier post on today's eclipse is here. Some past PaleoJudaica posts dealing with (or debunking stories about) solar and lunar eclipses are here and here and links. And see also this recent post by Carl Rasmussen at the HolyLandPhoto's Blog: A Solar Eclipse and Old Testament Chronology.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Today's eclipse and King Hezekiah?

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: August 2017: An Eclipse of Biblical Proportions. Solar eclipses and Biblical events (Frederick Baltz). I don't recall seeing this explanation before for Hezekiah's reversing sun-shadow on the "dial of Ahaz" (2 Kings 20/Isaiah 38). In general I am skeptical about naturalistic explanations for biblical miracles. But I am not an astronomer. I don't have the expertise to evaluate this one. I blog, you decide.

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Sunday, August 20, 2017

Update on the Jubilees Palimpsest Project

THE JUBILEES PALIMPSEST PROJECT has some 2017 updates on its website which I have not yet noted. The project is devoted to technological reconstruction of (inter alia) the under-text of a Latin palimpsest manuscript containing the Book of Jubilees and a fragment of the Testament of Moses. In particular, they have now published a detailed reconstruction of the layout of the codex with sample photographic pages covering a few columns of Jubilees and, at the very end, the full text of the Latin Testament of Moses.

Past posts on the project are here, here, and here.

For other posts on palimpsest manuscripts, start here and follow the links.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Collins & Manning, Revolt and Resistance in the Ancient Classical World and the Near East

BIBLIOGRAPHIA IRANICA: Revolt and Resistance in the Ancient Classical World and the Near East. Notice of a new book: Collins, John & J.G. Manning. 2016. Revolt and Resistance in the Ancient Classical World and the Near East: In the Crucible of Empire. Leiden: Brill. Follow the link for a description and the TOC.

Not surprisingly, the ancient Jewish revolts against various pagan overlords receive thorough coverage.

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Review of Orlin (ed.), Routledge Encyclopedia of Ancient Mediterranean Religions

THE BIBLICAL REVIEW BLOG: “The Routledge Encyclopedia of Ancient Mediterranean Religions” (William Brown).

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Genetic analysis and the lost ten tribes of Israel

THE BIBLE AND INTERPRETATION: Can Genetics Solve the Mystery of the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel?. By Steven Weitzman, Department of Religious Studies, University of Pennsylvania, Augusta 2017.
Geneticists will always need to rely on non-genetic evidence to make any historical sense of the data—written texts, oral traditions, and interviews with people about who they are and where their ancestors come from. Without such evidence it is impossible to turn the testimony of DNA into a coherent account of the past, and that process means that there will also always be some degree of imagination involved in the construction of genetic history, just as is the case for historical accounts based on ancient texts or archaeological finds.
This is a good reminder that scientific texts are not as objective as sometimes we would like to think.

For past posts on Professor Weitzman's research, including his recently published book, The Origin of the Jews: The Quest for Roots in a Rootless Age, see here and links.

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Saturday, August 19, 2017

Meat and milk, chicken and cheese

DR. JORDAN D. ROSENBLUM: Why Chicken and Cheese Became Prohibited. But Chicken and Egg Remained Permitted (TheTorah.com).
We have seen that normative rabbinic opinion prohibiting the consumption of meat with milk develops to include fowl—at least in practice—in the broader injunction in Deuteronomy 14:21 to not cook a kid in its mother’s milk. Unlike Philo, however, the rabbis decide that this biblical law is not about compassion, mercy, or kindness, but about compliance with divine rule.[12] And since, for the rabbis, the law isn’t about compassion, mercy, or kindness, then milk and eggs are not analogous. Eggs are not “milk,” so they present no problem, unless – like Philo – one is making an ethical argument, which the rabbis are not. And further, since the rabbis don’t consider eggs to be “meat,”[13] then there is no problem with cooking, eating, or deriving benefit from eggs and milk.
A past post on the biblical texts behind the rabbinic meat-and-milk prohibition is here.

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Review of Ben Zvi and Edelman (eds.), Leadership, Social Memory and Judean Discourse in the Fifth-Second Centuries BCE

THE BIBLICAL REVIEW BLOG: “Leadership, Social Memory and Judean Discourse in the Fifth-Second Centuries BCE” (William Brown).

I'm not sure why the review does not give full bibliographic information on the volume, but here it is: Ehud Ben Zvi and Diana V Edelman (eds.), Leadership, Social Memory and Judean Discourse in the Fifth-Second Centuries BCE (Equinox, 2016).

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Pedagogical candle-eating

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: On Pedagogy and Playing with Fire: How (and Why) to Eat a Candle in Class! (Jill Hicks-Keeton). This sounds like quite a stimulating and informative pedagogical exercise. But do read to the end of the essay before you try it in your own class.

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Catena manuscripts

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS: What is a Catena Manuscript and Why should we Care? (John Meade, ETC Blog). Catena manuscripts are important for the study of the Septuagint.

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Friday, August 18, 2017

On nine dubious DSS fragments

IN DEAD SEA DISCOVERIES: Nine Dubious “Dead Sea Scrolls” Fragments from the Twenty-First Century. By Kipp Davis; Ira Rabin; Ines Feldman; Myriam Krutzsch; Hasia Rimon; Ã…rstein Justnes6; Torleif Elgvin and Michael Langlois. Abstract:
In 2002 new “Dead Sea Scrolls” fragments began to appear on the antiquities market, most of them through the Kando family. In this article we will present evidence that nine of these Dead Sea Scrolls-like fragments are modern forgeries.
Prepublished on the Brill website. I'm not sure whether you need a subscription to read it the full text, but do read it if you can.

Also, the recent ISBL meeting Berlin had a session on "Tracing and Facing Possible Forgeries: Methodology, Ethics, Policies." It was livestreamed and you can watch the video at the International Organization for Qumran Studies (IOQS) page on Facebook.

For past posts on the new Dead Sea Scrolls fragments that have come to light in recent years and the question of their authenticity, see here and links.

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Witches in the Bible?

DANGEROUS PHILOLOGY: Thou Shalt Not Suffer a Witch to Live: A Murderous Mistranslation? Not everybody agrees that the biblical reference in Exodus is to 'witches' as we understand them (Elizabeth Sloane, Haaretz).
“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” - Exodus 22:18 (22:17 in Hebrew)

This quote, found in the King James Version of the Bible, has been widely held responsible for the witch burnings that plagued Europe, and later America, in the Early Modern Period (1450 C.E. – 1750 C.E.). But the murderous practice may have all been the result of a Biblical mistranslation.

The original Hebrew word used in Exodus, translated as "witch," is mekhashepha. But what that word actually meant when Exodus was written thousands of years ago, we cannot know, leaving us with only modern interpretations.

[...]
I'm not sure that ancient Israelites would have made a sharp distinction between a "poisoner" and a "sorceror." In any case, there don't seem ever to have been many, if any, "witches" in the sense of people who practice magic to do evil. "Witchcraft" has functioned more as a social tool to use as an accusation against religious intermediaries who became troublesome in some way to the authorities.

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In defense of Dr. Blumell

HOBBY LOBBY FALLOUT: Accusations against BYU professor appear unsubstantiated (Jesse King, BYU Daily Universe).
BYU religion associate professor Lincoln Blumell was recently accused of working with illegally obtained artifacts owned by Hobby Lobby.

According to Blumell, he does not work with the type of artifacts he is accused of handling, and the claims appear unsubstantiated by anonymous sources.

[...]
David Meadows has already discussed this case, as noted here. One should always treat anonymous accusations with great caution.

Follow the last link above for background on this case, as well as for links to past posts on the Hobby Lobby settlement with the U.S. Justice Department, the Green Collection, and the soon-to-open Museum of the Bible.

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Life/Apocalypse of Adam and Eve

READING ACTS: The Apocalypse of Adam and Eve. Phil Long posts on the Greek version of the Life of Adam and Eve, also known as "The Apocalypse of Moses."

This is his second post on the Life of Adam and Eve. The first was noted here. I have some comments there as well. Follow the links from there for past posts on his longstanding series on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.