Jim Davila on the Lead Codices

Jim Davila has a new post up on his blog briefly sharing some thoughts on an academia.edu article on the lead codices recently written by Samuel Zinner. The article argues for interpreting the codices not as modern forgeries, but as modern Jewish amuletic art. Check it out if you’re interested in the codices.

Lead Codices Update

Jim Davila notes on his blog that The Economist is reporting the formation in London of a Centre for the Study of the Jordanian Lead Books. The Centre’s board will consist of some British politicians, and an “evaluation panel” will be headed by Richard Hayward of Durham University (a phenomenal scholar of early Judaism) and Fayez Khasawneh of Yarmouk University.

This is an interesting development, and I note The Economist’s anonymous article is still taking swipes at “intemperate things” said on the blogosphere. Stay tuned!

Septuagint Vocabulary: Pre-History, Usage, Reception on academia.edu

Jan Joosten, the Regius Professor of Hebrew at the University of Oxford, has placed a pdf of his edited volume, Septuagint Vocabulary: Pre-History, Usage, Reception, on academia.edu. You can view and download it on his profile. He has dozens of his papers available for download as well. Check it out.


The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Developmental Composition of the Bible

They don’t have a cover image up yet, but Brill is advertising a new book by Eugene Ulrich entitled The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Developmental Composition of the Bible. Here’s the blurb:

Eugene Ulrich presents in The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Developmental Composition of the Bible the comprehensive and synthesized picture he has gained as editor of many biblical scrolls. His earlier volume, The Biblical Qumran Scrolls, presented the evidence — the transcriptions and textual variants of all the biblical scrolls — and this volume explores the implications and significance of that evidence.

The Bible has not changed, but modern knowledge of it certainly has changed. The ancient Scrolls have opened a window and shed light on a period in the history of the text’s formation that had languished in darkness for two thousand years. They offer a parade of surprises that greatly enhance knowledge of how the scriptural texts developed through history.

Certainly looks like it’ll be a great book.

The American Scholar on the Value of Historical Research

Anthony Grafton and James Grossman have published a blog post on The American Scholar entitled, “Habits of Mind: Why college students who do serious historical research become independent, analytical thinkers” (HT Zalman Newfield). The article begins by summarizing the conventional thinking on both sides of the “value of the humanities” argument, and then settles in to a thoughtful and informed discussion of the benefits of the processes and side effects of studying one particular field with the broad and diverse macro-field of “The Humanities,” namely, history. You’ll have to read through the article yourself for all the insights, but the conclusion is that the student who learns to conduct serious historical research is not just learning a vocation, but is doing much more:

When a student does research in this way—when she attacks a problem that matters to her by identifying and mastering the sources, posing a big question, and answering it in a clear and cogent way, in the company of a trained professional to whom she and her work matter—she’s not becoming a pedant or a producer of useless knowledge. She’s doing what students of the humanities have always done: building a self and a soul and a mind that she can take with her wherever she goes, and that will make her an independent, analytical thinker and a reflective, self-critical person. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to be doing?

Erin Darby on Judean Pillar Figurines


On Facebook I recently posted this interview of Erin Darby regarding her new book, Interpreting Judean Pillar Figurines. The book, which attempts a more methodologically grounded analysis of the function of JPFs in ancient Israelite practice, is based on the author’s 2011 Duke doctoral dissertation (available here) and is published in Mohr Siebeck’s Forschungen zum Alten Testament series. It looks like it will make a very welcome contribution to the field, and I look forward to digging into it. Check it out!

Marginalia Blog: Why How We Define Religion Matters

Thomas Whitley has an insightful and important blog post up now over at MRBlog entitled “Why How We Define Religion Matters.” The post is commenting on the Washington Post’s new feature, Acts of Faith, and it highlights and critiques the Western and Protestant framework that defines what counts as religion for the editors of the feature. For whomever edits Acts of Faith, religion appears to be delineated by collections of beliefs, but if we are going to attempt to define religion at all (more complex a concern than you might think), we need to be aware that religion is more fundamentally about praxis than about belief. Religions are lived, not just assented to. David Morgan has even defined the concept of belief itself as “a communal set of practices that structure life in powerfully aesthetic terms.” And where belief is detached from practice, it functions primarily as a tool for “constructing a particular kind of identity.” Because Protestantism has exalted a particular notion of faith over and against religious praxis, however, our contemporary Western worldview has come to know religion primarily through those lenses.

When seeking to understand a religion, scholars have long trended to ask: what are its teachings? Focus on ‘belief’ as a set of teachings derives from the creedal tradition of Christianity, which was intensified by Protestantism. From there, belief passed beyond the realm of religion into the philosophy of language, where it came to be strictly defined in terms of the truth-value of a proposition. (Morgan, “Introduction,” 1)

This has far-reaching implications for contemporary discourse about religion, public and private, as Whitley points out (see here, as well):

Though I have been critical of how the Washington Post has covered religion before, this is not an attempt to call just them out, but rather is an attempt to show that how we define “religion “determines what we classify as “religious” which largely determines what gets sacralized in our society, what is afforded legal protections, and what counts as terrorism. This discussion is not one without relevance outside of the walls of academia, for major news outlets are jumping on the “religion beat” left and right these days but are often doing a disservice to their readers because they have not critically examined the category, their use of it, and the implications thereof.

I have additional concerns about the possibility of actually “defining” religion as opposed to just describing it, but that’s a discussion for another day. I think Whitley’s call to examine our presuppositions about knowing a religion when we see one is timely and important. A final thought from Kaufmann’s Critique of Religion and Philosophy (p. 103):

The chief lesson of a survey of attempted definitions of religion is that, in religion, practice, feeling, and belief are intertwined, and every definition that would see the essence of religion in just one of these three facts is too partial.


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