I want to encourage you to have a look at my latest post on the Holy Land Studies Blog which replaced this blog about two years ago. In the next few blog posts, I will be doing something a bit different than I have in the past. Rather than addressing a Scriptural question about geography as I typically have, my aim will be to introduce you to a series of five sites that are interconnected thematically. I call this series Let’s Take Five. The themes linking each series of five sites will be varied. For example, I will chose sites that have some central element – be it chronological, regional, functional or visual – in common.
Loyal readers, I apologize for not posting anything in the past few months. Part of the reason for my absence has been a shift in my work. Since the end of the summer, I have been doing a lot less tour guiding and a lot more content writing for eTeacher Biblical. This is a great company that offers online courses about various aspects the Bible: languages, history and, now, geography. As the head of the Holy Land studies department at eTeacher, I have developed a new course called Exploring the Land of the Hebrew Bible and a new blog called Holy Land Studies. The course is only available to those who register, but the blog is free. I will be regularly posting materials. Please have a look. From time to time, I will post things here as well. As always, thank you for reading!
It's September 1st, and although there is nothing around here even close to "a touch of fall in the air", children have finally gone back to school. That means the summer is officially over. Finally. It has been another long and deadly summer here in the Middle East. Thankfully, I was not personally affected very much by the recent war in Gaza. Jerusalem, where we live, is too far from Gaza (about 60 miles as the crow flies) to be a real target for Hamas rockets, although there were a handful of attempts that the Iron Dome intercepted. Mostly, this war impacted my livelihood, as almost all tour groups cancelled their July/August trips. They actually tell you this in the tour guide course: make sure you have a secondary source of income to fall back on because when the security situation is not calm, tourism is the first thing to fall away. This was the first time I really saw it happen. For the past three years things have been quiet and Israel has enjoyed record-breaking numbers of tourists. 2014 was on track to be the highest grossing year to date for the tourism industry. All this abruptly ground to a halt on July 1. It is amazing how quickly the Old City of Jerusalem empties out when things get bad - or more precisely, when rumor has it that things are about to get bad. On June 12 the three boys were kidnapped in Gush Etzion. On July 1 their bodies were found in Halhul, and the next day Mohammed Abu Khdeir was murdered. Right then and there rioting began in Shuafat which spread to the rest of East Jerusalem. Since then there have been no lines at any of the major tourism sites. The markets in the Christian Quarter are deserted. I never saw the Church of the Holy Sepulchre so quiet. Over the past two months things never actually "got bad" in Jerusalem, but the tension down south in and around Gaza was enough to keep almost all tourists far away.
As many pundits have noted, despite the heavy fighting and appalling loss of life on both sides, this time around the "real" war was fought outside the Holy Land, on social media with hash-tags and YouTube videos. I rarely partake in online political debates, and am not a big social media user. This summer was no exception. I also rarely discuss political affairs on this blog as it is really meant to be limited to historical/philological matters. However, since so many visitors to this country whom I teach and guide eventually ask me, "so what do you think about the political situation here?", I feel as though I should say something. Like everyone, I read a lot of opinion pieces published over the last two months, and most of them left me with my head spinning. One, however, stands out in my mind as particularly lucid: "An Insider's Guide to the Most Important Story on Earth". It is written by Matti Friedman, a fairly young journalist who over the past ten years has become one of the most eloquent observers of current affairs in the Middle East. Please have a look. And when you are done with it, go read his excellent book, The Aleppo Codex.
One thing that makes the Gospel of Luke different from the other NT gospels is the central role it gives to the city of Jerusalem and its temple. Luke -- more than Mark, Matthew and John -- considers the city as much of a protagonist as Jesus himself. This certainly is due to the fact that Luke is writing in the years immediately following the destruction of the city by the Romans in 70 CE and is trying to invest this cataclysmic event with theological meaning. Luke's narrative is punctuated by four apocalyptic oracles of judgement predicting (a posteriori) the future destruction of Jerusalem (13:32-35; 19:41-44; 21:20-24; 23:27-31). The last of these is Jesus' famous utterance to the daughters of Jerusalem ("do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and your children") commemorated at the 8th Station of the Cross. Only Luke's gospel incorporates certain traditions that take place in the Jerusalem temple, for example: the presentation of Jesus to the Lord (Luke 2:21-38) and twelve year old Jesus teaching the temple elders (2:41-52). Luke is also the only gospel that closes in Jerusalem: "they returned to Jerusalem with great joy and they were continually in the temple blessing God" (24:52).
Most readers don't realize that the heart of Luke's gospel (chapters 9-18) is actually a travel narrative. Many of Jesus' most famous teachings are delivered on the road to Jerusalem. Luke's gospel is the most teleological of the four in the sense that the reader is constantly being reminded that Jesus must die in Jerusalem in order for his earthly ministry to make sense: "it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside Jerusalem" (13:33). Although Jesus does not enter the city until chapter 19, we are given short hints beginning as early as chapter 9 that the journey southwards is underway (Luke 9:51; 13:22; 17:11; 18:31; 19:11, 28). Peter Walker correctly says that for Luke, Jerusalem is the "pivot around which the narrative turns" (Jesus and the Holy City, 58) and S. G. Wilson similarly calls Jerusalem "the central bearings on which the double work swivels" (Gentile Mission in Luke-Acts, 95). What they both mean is that the whole thrust of Luke's first volume (the Gospel of Luke) is to get to Jerusalem; the thrust in his second volume (Acts of the Apostles) is to spread the good news from Jerusalem to "all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8).
Most New Testament scholars refer to Luke chapters 9-18 as “Luke’s Special Section” because so much of the material in these chapters is not found in the other two synoptic gospels, Matthew and Mark. In these chapters, Luke temporarily stops drawing on material from Mark's gospel and inserts his own material. The most famous examples of this unique Lukan material found in this section are the parables of Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37) and the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). The formal opening verse of Luke’s special section is Luke 9:51:
The word "solidified" in Greek is ἐστήρισεν (estērisen), an aorist conjugated form of the verb στερεόω (stereoō), “to strengthen”. This in turn derives from the adjective στερεός (stereos), which means “firm” or “stiff”. This Greek word, by the way, is the basis for the modern term stereo for a sound system which uses two or more separate channels to produce a fuller distribution of sound. This sound is regarded as more “solid” than a single-channel sound system. This Greek adjective is also the root of the word stereotype, literally a “firm" (στερεός), preconceived "image” (τύπος) that we have about certain groups of people.
The wonderfully vivid language of “making one’s face solid” used by Luke is meant to illustrate Jesus’ determination, not only to travel the 170 km by foot, but to eventually suffer persecution and death in Jerusalem. Luke is apparently particularly fond of this word because he uses it three times in Acts both to describe Peter's healing of a crippled beggar "made strong" (Acts 3:7, 16) and the "strengthening" of the church (Acts 16:5).
But why does Luke chooses to use word face as opposed to heart or mind? The face is not usually the part of the body we associate with decision-making or resolve. Luke uses the face because he wants to make clear that as a observant Jew, Jesus literally faces Jerusalem when he prays. The Greek πρόσωπον is most likely composed from two words: "on the side of" (πρός) and "eye" (ὢψ). In the following verses Jesus is spurned by the Samaritans “because his face was set towards Jerusalem” (9:53). The Samaritans who sanctify Mt Gerizim in place of Jerusalem were not interested in fraternizing with Jews like Jesus. Long-standing hatred between the two groups had been seriously aggravated by the razing of the Samaritan temple on Mt Gerizim by John Hyrcanus I in 128 BCE.
The first century Jewish historian Josephus tells the story of Samaritans in the village of Gineae (modern-day Jenin) killing Galilean Jews who were on the road to Jerusalem. He writes: "It was the custom of the Galileans, when they came to the holy city at the festivals, to take their journeys through the country of the Samaritans" (Ant. 20.118). Due to this hostility, Jews for the most part avoided entering Samaria, the northern part of Israel’s hill country, even though this was the shortest route (approximately three days). This made Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem much more difficult. Rather than walk along a natural plateau -- the watershed road that runs north-south through the hill country -- Jesus had to descend into the trough-like Jordan Rift Valley. This in turn required walking back up the steep ascent of 1200 meters from the city of Jericho to Jerusalem.
An aerial photograph of the steep cliff rising up abruptly from the Jordan Rift Valley, 20 km east of Bethlehem. The canyon that cuts through the escarpment is called Nahal Darga (Wadi Darajeh). The elevation difference of 1200 meters between the Dead Sea (-400 m) and the Jerusalem hill country (+800 m) covers a mere 20 km.
Two weeks from today, Jews around the world will celebrate the springtime festival of Passover. The numerous laws of Passover observed today mostly have their basis in the biblical account. For example, the prohibition against consuming leaven (Exod. 12:15) and the requirement to tell the story of the Exodus to one’s children (Exod. 12:27). But there are many features of the biblical account of Passover no longer practiced today, most notably the central ritual: the sacrifice of the paschal lamb. In the Torah the Israelites are instructed to sacrifice a lamb and mark their doors with its blood:
The phrase “put a mark” in Hebrew is התוית תו, literally: “entav a tav”. The final letter of the Hebrew alphabet, tav, looks like this today: ת. But in ancient Hebrew it was an X. So the mark that Ezekiel is commanded to place on the foreheads of those who are to be spared is a simple X. In the Greek alphabet - which like the Hebrew alphabet is derived from Phoenician – the final letter is known as tau and looks like this: T, an X turned on its side with one arm removed. The verse from Ezekiel was quoted by Pope Innocent III at the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) as part of his proclamation of the Fifth Crusade.
St. Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscan monastic order, was apparently present, and from this point on he used the letter tau as his personal signature. Today the tau cross is a popular Franciscan symbol worn by many Catholics.
This is interesting because when one walks around Israel today, one sees many taus but none of them belong to the Franciscans. The letter tau (together with phi) is the distinctive symbol of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate all over the Holy Land. It stands for φύλακες τάφου – the guardians of the tomb – the name of the fraternal order of priests who administer the sacred sites owned by the Greeks in the holy land. And there are many! The Greek Orthodox Church is the largest private landowner in the State of Israel. Large portions of the modern city of Jerusalem, including the upscale neighborhoods of Talbiyeh and Rehavia, are still owned by the Greek Orthodox and have been leased to State of Israel long-term. A major question on the minds of many is what will happen once these leases expire.
The Roman Catholic Church is the second largest private owner of property in the holy land. Almost all of this is administered by the Franciscans, who have served as the Custodia Terrae Sanctae ("caretakers of the Holy Land") since 1342. The symbols most often seen on Catholic buildings in the holy land are:
These two orders (the Latin C.T.S. and the Greek Τ.Φ.) responsible for overseeing the pilgrimage sites in the holy land both regard the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as their most essential responsibility. I would like to suggest that in choosing these names, both were informed by the scene of the guards at the tomb in Matthew 27:62-65. Following the burial of Jesus, the Jewish authorities are worried that his body will be stolen by his followers, who will then tell everyone that he has risen from the dead. Pilate tells them: "you have a guard of soldiers; go make [the tomb] as secure as you know how." In this passage the tomb of Jesus is naturally called a τάφος, the very word which appears in the name of the Greek brotherhood. The guard is referred to as a κουστωδία. This is not really a Greek word, but a loanword from the Latin custodia. Presumably, Matthew did not use the Greek φύλαξ in order to give the passage a more authentic Roman feel since Pilate is speaking about Roman soldiers. Incidentally, some of the Greek manuscripts, including Codex Bezae, contain the word φύλακας, but this is not the accepted reading. Perhaps this is the reason that Pope Clement VI chose the title Custodia Terrae Sanctae for the Franciscans in the 14th century.
The important point is that both of these fraternal orders of guardians see themselves as a corrective to the shoddy guardianship exemplified by the Roman soldiers in the gospel account. The Roman soldiers are both weak (in Mt 28:5 they shake with fear and become "like dead men") and corrupt (in Mt 28:11 they accept a bribe from the Jewish authorities to claim that the body of Jesus was stolen). Today, these Greek and Latin priests are trained to be proper guardians. Representatives of both of these orders are constantly present in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre making sure that nothing happens their respective property. This sense of constant vigilance also links us back to the Passover narrative with which we began. In Exodus 12:42 the night of 15th of Nissan is referred to as "a night of vigil (ליל שמורים) to bring them out of the land of Egypt," which the LXX translates this as προφυλακή. Would it be an overstatement to say that in such a contested site as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, every night is a night of vigil?
The first tractate of the Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot (“benedictions”), contains a rare glimpse into Jewish pilgrimage practices in Late Antiquity. In chapter nine we find a fascinating discussion of the blessing one should recite upon visiting a place where a significant biblical miracle took place:
ברוך שעשה נסים לאבותינו במקום הזה, "Blessed are you...who performed miracles for our forefathers in this place" (m. Ber 9:1). Because the Mishnah does not specify what these places are, the following tannaitic statement (baraita) is quoted:
The majority of these places should be familiar to readers of the Bible. For the most part, they are sites of battles or major events associated with the conquest of the land of Canaan under Joshua, the obvious exception being Lot’s wife which is found in Gen 19:26. Geographically, they are roughly organized in a circle from southeast to northwest and back down to the south. So far so good; now the interesting part. The list contains one item that should strike you as odd: “the stone which Og king of Bashan wanted to throw at Israel.” King Og is mentioned twice in the Torah (Num 21:33-36; Deut 3:1-13). Like his Transjordian colleague, Sihon king of the Amorites (Num 21:23; Deut 2:30), Og refuses to grant the Israelites passage through his territory - the Bashan (today’s Golan Heights) - and is defeated militarily. The defeat of these two kings is seen by the Bible as an example of divine intervention (Ps 136:19-20). But there is no mention of any rock-throwing in the biblical account. Indeed, on the next page of the Talmud, the Gemara is confused by this statement and asks for clarification.
This colorful midrash aggadah does a fine job explaining the rock-throwing, and even presents a novel reading of Ps 3:8. But what function does the hugeness of this rock (12 km wide) serve? Likely the huge size of the rock is inspired by the huge size of Og suggested in one of the stranger verses in the Torah (Deut 3:11):
Parenthetically, I must add that the Septuagint brilliantly translates the name עמק רפאים ("Valley of Rephaim") in 2 Sam 5:18,22 as κοιλὰς τῶν τιτάνων ("Valley of the Titans"). A truly marvelous example of religious syncretism in the Hellenistic world.
Back to the Rephaim. This race of giants likely are named after their founder, Raphah, as is suggested in 2 Sam 21:16-20. But their name may also come from the root רפה, denoting the "extinct ones", or even the "powerless ones." Contrary to what most people assume, the word for "ghosts" in the Bible, also רפאים (Ps 88:11), is unrelated to the name of this race of giants.
The off-hand mention of Og's huge iron bed in Deut 3:11 seems to be a reference to a well-known tourist attraction in the city of Rabbah, which today is the Jordanian capital of Amman. How big was this mythical bed that ancient Israelite tourists would snap pictures of? A cubit is a biblical measure which is basically the length of the forearm, or about 45 cm. If Og required a bed 9 cubits long (= 4 meters), he must have been quite a tall individual, perhaps about the size of another famous giant in the Bible: Goliath (1 Sam 17:4, “six cubits and a span”). Interestingly, while the Bible depicts Og as very tall, he is less than double the size a regular person.
Conversely, rabbinic legends like the one quoted above turn Og into something truly superhuman. For example, Abba Saul relates that while digging a grave, he came across an underground tunnel and was able to walk three parasangs (=13 km) inside of it. Later he found out that this was the femur of Og (b. Nid 24b). Another legend relates that in one meal Og would eat sixty oxen, drink a thousand measures and the volume of a single drop of his semen equaled 36 liters! (Soferim 1: 366-67).
Why this need to magnify Og to such massive proportions? Perhaps this legend emerges from an oral Babylonian tradition which the authors the Bavli were fond of. In recent years it has become increasingly popular for Talmudic scholars to situate these kinds of midrashim within a Zoroastrian context, but regrettably I know very little about this. Another possibility is that the authors of these stories are informed by their knowledge of the topography of the region with which Og is associated. Anyone who has walked around the Bashan can easily see that it is strewn with basalt boulders, which are the result of volcanic eruptions in the Pliocene Era (5-2 million years ago). This basalt cover is very different from the typical limestone/chalk landscape seen all over the land of Israel. Maybe to the ancient Israelites, the origin of these unusual boulders was the massive mountain which Og lifted up upon his head and smashed to pieces.
Similarly, the “bed” found in Deut 3:11 may be a reference to ancient burial markers found all over the Golan Heights, known as a dolmens. This is a table-like structure formed by laying a massive flat stone across two upright stones (see picture above). There are hundreds of dolmens scattered throughout the Golan Heights, most of which have been dated to the Chalcolithic Era (5800-3500 BCE). A particularly famous burial complex known as Rujm el-Hiri, pictured below, contains concentric circles at the center of which is a giant burial mound (tumulus). Perhaps travelers from west of the Jordan River unfamiliar with these massive structures composed these legends about Og to explain their origin. What is even more interesting is that the only other area in Israel which contains a similar concentration of dolmens is around Hebron. Many have suggested that this is precisely the reason that the Torah connects another race of primordial giants, the Anakites (literally, “huge ones”) with the Hebron region in the story of the spies (Num 13:22) and the conquest by Joshua (Josh 11:21).
The tradition of attributing large man-made structures in the holy land to primordial giants continues, as can be seen in the following two examples.
In the late 19th century, while digging the foundations for Jerusalem's Russian Compound, builders uncovered a massive Roman/Byzantine column which cracked during the quarrying process and was left in place. It is known in local lore as the "Finger of Og King of Bashan". Some scholars have hypothesized that this column was intended to be used in the emperor Justinian's massive Nea Church, which was the largest church in Jerusalem in the sixth century. Located in the area of today's Jewish Quarter, almost nothing remains of it.
This mound of stones at Khirbet el-Khan (Horvat Hanot), alongside the ancient Bethlehem-Gaza road, has been known as the tomb of Goliath since the Byzantine period. It is a few kilometers east of the Elah Valley where Goliath was killed by David. The 6th century Piacenza pilgrim visited this site and wrote: "there is also a heap of stones, such a mountain of them that there is not a pebble left for a distance of 20 miles, since anyone going that way makes a gesture of contempt by taking three stones and throwing them at his grave."
Jews were not the only ones who venerated holy sites in late antique Palestine. One of the first Christian pilgrims to the holy land, Egeria, traveled throughout the region in the 380s and left a detailed record of her trip. Her account of the view from the top of Mount Nebo reads as follows:
For more on the representation of Og in post-biblical Jewish texts, see Admiel Kosman, “The Story of a Giant Story: The Winding Way of Og King of Bashan in the Jewish Haggadic Tradition” HUCA 73 (2002), 157-190. For more on the rabbinic discouragement of pilgrimage, see Eyal ben Eliyahu, "The Rabbinic Polemic Against Sanctification of Sites," JSJ 40.2 (2009), 260-80.
The New Testament contains two different versions of Judas Iscariot's demise: suicide by hanging (Matthew 27:3-10) and spontaneous gastrointestinal explosion (Acts 1:18-19). Despite the significant differences between these two versions, both associate the death of Judas with a place in Jerusalem called Akeldama, the Field of Blood. Since the fourth century this name has been connected with a plot of land south of the Old City, in the Hinnom Valley. Today it is the site of the Greek Orthodox monastery of St Onuphrius (pictured above), which has occupied the site since 1874. Death hangs heavy in the air here. The whole area in and around the Hinnom Valley (aka Gehenna) is full of burial caves cut into the rock face. Many of these belonged to the aristocracy of Jerusalem in the First and Second Temple periods. The site of Akeldama contains Jewish burial caves from the Hellenistic era and was later used as a charnel house during the Crusader period.
Let's have a closer look at these two versions of the death of Judas in the NT. In Matthew's version, on the morning of the crucifixion (Friday), Judas regrets having betrayed Jesus and tries to return the 30 pieces of silver to the Temple authorities. They refuse to accept the money, claiming that it is too late: Jesus has already been arrested, tried by both the Jews and Romans and condemned to death by Pilate. This is your problem, not ours, they tell him. Dejected, Judas hangs himself (in an unspecified location). The money that he relinquished is then used by the Temple authorities to purchase a field known as the Potter's Field, which becomes a burial ground for foreigners. It is clear that what is driving this story is Matthew's desire to cite yet another verse from the Old Testament in order to show that the gospel fulfills prophecies in the Jewish Scriptures. Here, the verse cited is Zechariah 11:13, with some additions from Jeremiah 18:2; 32:7-9. So according to Matthew's gospel, Akeldama got its name after it was purchased by the priests using the money that Judas earned by "betraying the innocent blood" of his teacher Jesus.
In the opening chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, we find a rather different version. First, it is Judas himself who purchases the field with the money he received ("the reward of his wickedness"), and not the priests. Secondly, Judas does not hang himself. He does not even seem to commit suicide, nor does he express any regret for betraying Jesus. Rather, the text provides the following mysterious sentence: "and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his bowels rushed out" (Acts 1:18). What does this mean? What caused him to fall so violently that his belly exploded? What message does the author of Acts wish to communicate through this grizzly (perhaps "visceral" is the most apt word) scene? The Greek text of the verse reads as follows:
I find Most's interpretation fascinating but wonder if there might be a better answer. Another solution to this question might be found in an alternative reading of the verse in question which inserts the word πεπρησμενος ("swelling up") instead of πρηνὴς γενόμενος ("falling headlong"). This reading has been accepted by many NT scholars (see W. Bauer, Lexicon, s.v. πρηνής). This would mean that Judas' belly became distended to the point that it burst open. Could it be that the author of Acts was thinking of another biblical passage in which a betrayer is punished by means of a swollen belly that eventually leads to death? The best candidate for this is the Sotah ritual, an elaborate examination meant to convict a woman suspected of adultery (Numbers 5:11-31). The important verse for our purposes reads as follows:
I think this similarities are too numerous to ignore. The author of Acts constructed this vignette of Judas' death with the Sotah ritual in mind. His goal was not simply to vilify Judas but to demonstrate his guilt in an objective manner. The Akeldama episode serves as Judas' trial. The fact that he is tried in the manner of an adulterous woman demonstrates that Luke-Acts is not only interested in satanizing Judas (Lk 22:3), but also in feminizing him (Lk 22:47-8)
What these two versions of Judas' death have in common is that they are aetiological in nature. That is, they are intended to explain the origin of a name, in this case a place name (toponym). The name of the place associated with these two stories, Akeldama (Greek - Ἁκελδαμάχ) comes from two Aramaic words, field (חקל) and blood (דמא). Presumably, the original reason for this name was the reddish color of the soil. This is somewhat similar to the name of the "red ascent" (Maale Adumim) and the "red inn" (Khan el Ahmar) which are located on a stretch of the Jericho-Jerusalem road famous for its exposed pink limestone (see picture below). Both stories of the demise of Judas make the case that redness of the soil in Akeldama is due to the spilling of human blood; for Matthew it is Jesus' blood, while for Luke it is Judas' blood (not to mention his intestines).
There has been lots written in the last few weeks about a Proto-Aeolic column capital discovered in situ at Ein Joweizeh, in the Refaim Valley just outside Jerusalem. Proto-Aeolic (sometimes called Proto-Ionic) capitals have been found at many of the most important archaeological sites in Israel, including Megiddo, Hazor, Jerusalem, Samaria and Ramat Rachel (image above). Most date to the 9th-8th centuries BCE. They are considered the forerunners of the Greek Ionic order. Yigal Shiloh speculated that the volutes, a stylized motif based on the shape of a palm tree, were copied by the Israelites from the Phoenicians.
The Proto-Aeolic capital recently discovered at Ein Joweizeh ("Spring of the Little Nut" in Arabic) is a rare find because it is still connected to the column itself. It seems to have survived because it is carved directly into the bedrock several meters underground, at the opening to what is perhaps an even more impressive find: a water tunnel which dates to the First Temple Period and is the longest of its kind in the region (approx. 200 meters long). You can read an official report here. Much of the media coverage of the story has been focused on the political angle. Because Ein Joweizeh is located on the Palestinian side of the security barrier that surrounds the West Bank (this section has not yet been completed), the Israel Antiquities Authority was hoping to "let sleeping dogs lie" and did not initially publicize the find. Then all hell broke loose when the Kfar Etzion Field School announced the cover-up to the newspaper Mekor Rishon late last year. Last week the location of the capital was finally made public.
Today I was fortunate enough to visit this site, thanks to my friend and colleague Maayan Leshem. We were hoping to see the capital but were disappointed to find the opening to the tunnel filled in with dirt. Apparently all the media attention that the site has been getting in recent weeks has gotten the local inhabitants of Wallajeh (the Arab village where the spring is located) quite nervous. Presumably they are worried that if archaeologists begin to excavate the site, something of major importance will no doubt turn up which will result in the confiscation of their agricultural lands. Let's hope that the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Kfar Etzion Field School are able to come to a compromise with the local residents that satisfies everyone. In addition to the Proto-Aeolic capital and the water system, there might well be remains of a royal estate or an administrative center associated with the kings of Judah dating to the 8th century. The nicely chiseled ashlars one can see distributed around the area are a good hint that something big is lurking beneath the surface. Some have even proposed that this site is ממשת (MMST), the unidentified fourth royal city found on the LMLK jar handles, the other three being Soccoh, Hebron and Ziph.
Following Moses’ receipt of the Law and his descent from Mount Sinai, Exodus 24 contains a description of a unique ritual which ratifies the covenant between God and Israel:
The blood of the slaughtered bull is divided into two portions. Half is thrown against the altar, which represents God; the other half is presumably thrown against the twelve pillars, which represent the people of Israel. The covenant between God and Israel is thus sealed by means of both parties’ symbols being bathed in the bull’s blood. In the case of a standard sacrifice, the blood of an animal is drained and thrown against the altar. People are forbidden to eat this blood because it symbolizes life (see Gen 9:4). By ritually throwing the blood against the altar, the animal’s life-force (nefesh) is restored to God (Lev 17:11). The ratification ritual here in Exodus 24 is more complex than a typical sacrifice because it involves a restoration of the animal’s life to both the Creator and to humankind. This two-fold restoration of life serves as a visceral testimony which solidifies the relationship between the two parties.
But what really interests me in this passage is one particular word. The word translated here as “basins” is אגנות (aganot) in the original Hebrew, a rare word in the Bible. Normally when the priestly sections of the Torah refer to a basin for gathering blood the word used is מזרק (mizrak), literally "thrower", because it was used to dash the blood against the altar (e.g., Num 7 passim). Another common vessel found in Numbers 7 is a קערה (ke'ara) a bowl, dish or platter, from the Semitic root meaning to hollow out, make deep. The Mishnah uses the word בזיך (bazikh) to refer to a round vessel to gather the blood or entrails of sacrificed animals (m. Pes. 5.5; m. Tam. 4.3). With so many more common terms, why does the author of Exodus choose to use the rare word אגן here?
Let’s have a look at the etymology of the word and where else it appears in the Bible. The origin of the word is the Akkadian agannu, which means a bowl or cauldron. From Akkadian it made its way into several Semitic languages including: Hebrew (אגן) Aramaic (אגנא), Syriac (ܐܓܢܐ) and Arabic (إجانه).
Apart from our verse the word appears twice in the Bible: Isa 22:24 and Song 7:3. In the first example, Isaiah, having denounced Shebna, the corrupt royal steward (i.e., vizier or prime minister) to King Hezekiah, prophecies that a new steward named Eliakim the son of Hilkiah will be appointed:
It should be noted, by the way, that in 1870 the famous archaeologist Charles Clermont-Ganneau discovered a lavishly decorated 8th century BCE rock-cut tomb in the in the village of Silwan across the Kidron Valley from Jerusalem. It bears an inscription which reads “This is … yahu who is the Master over the Household” (זאת... יהו אשר על הבית). See picture below. Many archaeologists believe that the missing part of the inscription contained the words “the grave of Sheban,” making this a reference to the same individual denounced in Isaiah 22:15-19. In verse 15 Shebna is referred to as “master of the household” and verse 16 castigates him for “hewing your grave on the height and chiseling your resting place in the rock”.
The only other verse in the Bible that uses the word אגן (agan) is found in the erotically charged description of the female lover’s body (from the feet up to the head) in chapter 7 of the Song of Songs:
Each part of the woman’s body is compared to an object found in nature. The woman’s navel is compared to a round bowl used for mixing wine. The term used here for the bowl is not just אגן - but אגן הסהר (agan ha-sahar), literally the “full moon basin”. The word סהר (sahar) which means crescent in post-biblical Hebrew, is another example of a word that comes from Akkadian: sa’ru which means ring. This verse is the only instance of the word סהר in the entire Bible. The point is that this is a two-step analogy: the woman’s navel is compared to a round bowl which is in turn compared to the full moon.
Thus far it is not clear what is driving the author of Exodus 24:6 to use the word אגן. In the Septuagint, our verse from Exodus is translated as follows:
The Hebrew word אגן becomes κρατήρ in Greek. A krater is a large bowl used to mix wine and water, as seen in the image below. This is quite different from the small bowl alluded to in Isaiah 22:24. Interestingly, the only other use of the word κρατήρ in the LXX is to translate the flower shaped cups (גביעים) of the menorah, described in the following chapter of Exodus (25:31-40).
The reason that the word used in Exodus 24:6 is אגן is to distinguish the blood dashed against the altar from that that which is thrown upon the people. For the former, a "dashing-bowl" (מזרק) is sufficient; but for the latter a different vessel, something far larger is necessary. It would be inappropriate to equate the portion of blood given to God with that which is given to the people. Whereas God’s altar is bathed in pure blood, the portion reserved for the people is perhaps diluted in water in a mixing vessel used to blend wine (as seen in Songs 7:3).
The Jewish holiday of Tu B'Shevat, which was celebrated last week, is most famously mentioned in the opening mishnah of tractate Rosh Hashanah as one of the four new years in the Jewish calendar:
ארבעה ראשי שנים הם: באחד בניסן, ראש השנה למלכים ולרגלים. באחד באלול, ראש השנה למעשר בהמה; רבי אלעזר ורבי שמעון אומרין, באחד בתשרי. באחד בתשרי, ראש השנה לשנים לשמיטים וליובלות, ולנטיעה ולירקות. באחד בשבט, ראש השנה לאילן, כדברי בית שמאי; בית הלל אומרין, בחמישה עשר בו.
“There are four new years: The first of Nisan is the new year for kings and for festivals. The first of Elul is the new year for the tithe of beasts. Rabbi Elazar and Rabbi Shimon say: the first of Tishri. The first of Tishri is the new year for years, for shmitta and jubilee years, for planting and for [tithe of] vegetables. The first of Shevat is the new year for trees, according to the words of Bet Shammai. Bet Hillel says: on the fifteenth of that month.” (Mishnah RH 1:1, translation Joshua Kulp)
Let us set aside Tu B'Shevat for a moment, however. I want to focus on another aspect of this mishnah, namely the connection of the first of Nisan to the first of Tishri. Nisan and Tishri are both more than mere months. They are packed with festive activity. Both are regarded in the rabbinic tradition as tekufot, annual quarters, a temporal designation perhaps analogous to our modern concept of seasons. The question that interests me is what is the connection between the liturgical experiences of the Nisan season and the Tishri season? And furthermore, what does this have to do with the weekly parshah which often coincides with Tu B'Shevat, B'shalach?
In the period of the Bible, the Israelites celebrated two new years, one in Nisan and one in Tishri. The process by which these two festivals developed into our Pesach and Rosh Hashanah is a complex one which we will not explore here. The point is that in mishnaic times both dates were still recognized as new years. Each date has its own identity. Nisan marks the beginning of the royal cycle. Nisan marks the beginning of the agricultural cycle. One might argue that this mishnah is making a distinction between the human and natural domains, however I think it is more apt to speak of a distinction between the historical and the terrestrial. Or perhaps the urban and the rural. Put otherwise, the mishnah is defining two temporal realities: one for the official Judaism of Jerusalem (the seat of monarchy and the destination of festival pilgrimages) and one for the local Judaism of the provinces (where agricultural laws were most relevant). To this day, our calendar marks these two new beginnings by means of the holidays of Pesach and Rosh Hashanah. In the eyes of the rabbis these two holidays were not only linked, but they were in competition with each other for the highest prestige, as can be seen in the following text:
“R. Eliezer says: The world was created in Tishri, in Tishri the Patriarchs were born, and in Tishri the Patriarchs died. R Joshua says: The world was created in Nisan, in Nisan the Patriarchs were born, and in Nisan the Patriarchs died.” (Bavli, Rosh Hashanah 10b)
Another item which figured in rabbinic arguments over Nisan vs. Tishri was the liturgical commemoration of the 'Aqedah, the binding of Isaac (Genesis 22). On what day did the 'Aqedah originally take place and when should we memorialize it? Today, we are used to thinking of the 'Aqedah in connection with Rosh Hashanah. The Torah reading on the second day of Rosh Hashanah is taken from Genesis 22. We publicly read this narrative to remind (kivyachol) God, of the mercy he showed Abraham and to convince him to similarly take mercy upon us on the Day of Judgment. Moreover, the central symbol of the holiday, the shofar (preferably a ram's horn), is commonly seen as an allusion to the ram who is sacrificed in place of Isaac at the end of the story. Nevertheless, a divergent tradition which associated the 'Aqedah with Pesach is preserved in our sources:
“And when [God] chose Jacob and his sons, he fixed for himself the new moon of Redemption, in which Israel were redeemed from Egypt and in which they will be redeemed in the future...and in this month Isaac was born and in it he was brought to the 'Aqedah.” (Shemot Rabbah 15:11)
In the end, as we know, Tishri vanquished Nisan, and Rosh Hashanah claimed the rights to the 'Aqedah. But what about Nisan? Did it receive anything in exchange? Is there a parallel narrative associated with the Nisan season which similarly exemplifies the courage of the Jewish people to do God's will and displays God intervening in human affairs in a dramatic way?
To find the answer we must look at the Torah readings for both holidays. What we find is that on both Rosh Hashanah and Pesach we read well-known narrative sequences from the Torah which culminate in a suspenseful episode in which God dramatically intervenes. As we have already said, the 'Aqedah is the reading for the second day of Rosh Hashanah. However this incident is in fact only the second half of a larger narrative (Genesis 21-22) which is read over the two days of Rosh Hashanah. The narrative is the story of Isaac's coming of age: from his long-awaited and miraculous birth, to his weaning party, to his dynastic victory over his brother Ishmael, finally culminating in God's command that he be sacrificed.
Similarly, the Torah reading for Pesach is a major Pentateuchal narrative spread out over two days of the holiday (in this case, the first and seventh days), namely the departure from Egypt (Exodus 12-15): from God's command to sacrifice the paschal lamb, to the killing of the Egyptian first borns, to Israel's flight, to the encampment beside the Sea of Reeds, to the spectacular splitting of the sea, culminating finally in the Song at the Sea (“Shirat Hayam”). This, of course, brings us to this Shabbat, also known as Shabbat Shirah, because of the public reading of Shirat Hayam, which is found in parshat B'shalach.
The juxtaposition of the 'Aqedah and Shirat Hayam as the climactic liturgical moments of the Tishri and Nisan seasons (respectively) is corroborated in an unexpected and yet familiar place: the daily siddur. Comprised in large part of selections from Psalms, the liturgy of the morning service contains only two extended passages from the Torah (other than the Shema, of course). These are Genesis 22:1-19 (the 'Aqedah) recited before pseukei d'zimrah and Exodus 15:1-18 (Shirat Hayam) recited after it. The fact that the authors of the siddur chose to frame the hymns of praise recited every day with these two Biblical passages says a great deal about their centrality to the daily, as well as annual liturgical cycle.
Admittedly, the 'Aqedah and Shirat Hayam are not likely passages to be read side by side. First of all, they do not belong to the same genre. The 'Aqedah selection is a prose narrative, whereas Shirat Hayam is a poetic ode. The first builds up to a single moment of action, while the second describes the victorious denouement in the wake of the action. The first is terse and relies on empty space in its creation of suspense; the second is bombastic and lurid in is depiction of detail. Moreover, each passage expresses God's power to intervene in the world in a different way. In the 'Aqedah, God is elusive and mysterious. He remains in the background and when he emerges it is to display his mercy. At the splitting of the Sea of Reeds, God is front and center and the divine quality which is emphasized is physical might. In the 'Aqedah, God only enters the picture at the last second, sending an angel to hold back Abraham's hand, while at the Sea he is continuously present even if his actions are executed via a pillar of smoke/fire throughout the face-off.
However, there are important similarities also. Firstly, these two texts function analogously within their respective narrative units. Both are culminating events. The 'Aqedah is the tenth and final trial undergone by Abraham, while the splitting of the Sea is the greatest miracle which tops a long list of plagues in which the Egyptians are slowly tortured but never fully trounced.
More importantly, both passages are strongly connected to the same geographic location: the Temple Mount. In spite of the distinction made earlier between the urban character of Nisan and the rural provincial character of Tishri, both passages are expressly grounded in Jerusalem. In the 'Aqedah passage, God tells Abraham to go to “the land of Moriah,” a subtle yet clear reference to the hilly region where Solomon later built the first Temple (see 2 Chronicles 3:1). From a very early date, therefore, the tradition has existed that the 'Aqedah took place on the very site of the future Temples (see Genesis Rabbah 55:8). Likewise, Shirat Hayam describes God's future activity in which he will bring his people to the promised land: “You will bring them and plant them in your own mountain, the place you made for your dwelling, the sanctuary, O Lord, which your hands have established” (Exod 15:17).
There are also linguistic parallels between the two passages. Both passages refer to the act of splitting, using the same verb (ב-ק-ע), in their prologues. Just as Abraham had to split the wood (ויבקע עצי עלה) before he could lay his son Isaac between the logs, so too God had to split the sea (ויבקעו המים) before he could lead his children, Israel, between the walls of water. The 'Aqedah mentions a “ram caught in the thicket by his horns” (איל נאחז בסבך בקרניו), while Shirat Hayam says “trembling seized the tribes of Moab” (אילי מואב יאחזמו רעד). The two images are quite different, nevertheless the overlapping language is quiet unmistakable. The “tribes” or “lords” of the Moabites are referred to as “rams” and their “seizure” is effected by means of the same verb (א-ח-ז) as the entrapment of the 'Aqedah ram.
Interestingly, a survey of the verbs used in each passage shows two opposite trajectories of movement. The 'Aqedah describes a process of ascent to a high place, and so it is not by mistake that over and over the text uses the root meaning “to rise up, to ascend” (ע-ל-ה) to refer to the act of sacrifice. For instance: “offer (והעלהו) him up as a burnt offering (לעלה) upon (על) one of the mountains which I will point out to you.” Similarly, Abraham is twice depicted not merely seeing, but looking up and seeing. The text underscores the upward direction by using the phrase “he lifted up his eyes” (וישא אברהם עיניו). In contrast, the dominant linguistic trajectory of Shirat Hayam, expressed through the choice of verbs, is one of descent. The Egyptians are described using the following phrases: “drowned in the Sea of Reeds” (טבעו בים סוך), “the deeps covered them” (תהמות יכסימו), “went down to the depths like a stone” (ירדו במצולות כמו אבן), “sank like lead” (צללו כעופרת), “the earth swallowed them”(תבלעמו ארץ), “terror and dread descend upon them” (תפל עליהם אימתה ופחד),
Rabbi Joseph Dov Soloveitchik noted that the morning prayers begin on a very optimistic note with jubilant psalms of praise, all of which use strong, active verbs (שירו, הללו, הודו). The individual is confident that through her prayers she will truly render praise to the Creator. However, by the time the worshipper is ready to begin Shacharit, her tone has grown much less confident. She has realized the impossibility of adequately praising the divine, and so the verbs in the liturgy shift into the passive tone (ישתבח). The two trajectories I have described above fit in to Soloveitchik's schema well. Before we begin pseukei d'zimrah we are self-assured, hopeful that our davening will be truly meaningful. Like Abraham, we lift up our eyes in anticipation. We are ascending to that sought after spiritual high. But soon enough, we reach a barrier. Like the Egyptians we begin to sink like lead, embarrassed by what we thought we could accomplish. God does not laugh at us. Like the children of Israel, we are ushered through the sea-bed and planted up in the highlands, in the place of God's sanctuary, the very same spot where the 'Aqedah narrative left off. Tu B'Shevat figures into this scheme too. The trees also wish to render praise to the Creator. Just as Shirat Hayam begins with the words אז ישיר משה, so too it says about the trees in p'seukei d'zimrah, אז יררנו כל עצי יער.
So the fact that the 'Aqedah narrative and Shirat Hayam both appear in the daily liturgy indicates that the memorialization of the two great calendrical cycles – Tishri and Nisan – is a daily matter, that each day provides an opportunity for the individual to situate himself within both the historical and the terrestrial orbits. This year we will be lucky enough to add to these the arboreal as well.
The initial idea for this post came from Shalom Spiegel, The Last Trial (New York: Pantheon Books, 1967).
I attended an excellent performance this evening by the well-known radio personality and Jerusalem storyteller, Jacky Levy. For many years Levy has been telling stories about the old quaint neighborhoods of Jerusalem. Many of these are nostalgia-filled folktales that take place in the synagogues and shops of Nahlaot, where he lived until recently. But for the past few years, Levy has pioneered a new genre of storytelling that wonderfully restores the aggadot (legends) of talmudic literature to orality. The written Hebrew text is projected on a screen for everyone to read, but the storyteller doesn't simply read the words. He spins an elaborate tale out of the terse talmudic text. He adds dialogue peppered with modern slang. He adds contemporary allusions. He even inserts entire stories within the story. It's a bit of a meta-midrash, and it's very impressive when done correctly.
One of the stories that Levy told this evening comes from tractate Sotah of the Jerusalem Talmud (also Leviticus Rabbah 9:9) and contains lots of spitting, both good and bad. How could I have neglected to include this in my previous post? Here is the text in English translation:
This is a wonderful story for many reasons. First, it contains a strong female protagonist who behaves in a surprisingly modern manner. She enters the bet midrash to study Torah with a prominent sage instead of staying home to wait on her husband. Secondly, the wise sage has a sense of humor and is not afraid of dishonoring himself in public. His solution to the marital problem which he created is extremely clever because it satisfies everyone. Similarly, the punch line he delivers at the end is very slick. R. Meir wants to shut up his fawning disciples, so he says something shocking. He initially equates himself with God. But then he quickly turns this blasphemous statement on its head. If God is prepared to dishonor himself (by allowing an inscription containing his holy name to be dissolved in sacral water as part of the Sotah ritual) for the sake of marital peace, should not I be even more willing to dishonor myself? In Carnal Israel, Daniel Boyarin briefly discusses this story, noting that its underlying agenda is to show that "the function of the Sota ordeal was not to find out and punish guilty wives but to remove the jealousy of paranoid husbands, for this husband here is an analogue of the jealous husband of biblical times, and the spitting in the Rabbi's eye is an analogue of the ordeal" (p. 188).
Boyarin is no doubt correct, but I am most interested in how the spitting works in this story. The point of the story is not that Rabbi Meir is so humble that he is willing to have a woman spit in his face. Nor is the point that Rabbi Meir considers domestic peace (שלום בית) more important than his own honor. The point is that Rabbi Meir is able to make everyone happy through his quick thinking. His brilliant solution to the couple's fight is to made possible by the multifaceted meaning of spitting in the ancient world. In the mind of the husband, spitting in Rabbi Meir's face is an insult intended to teach him a lesson for keeping his wife away from home. Meir accepts his punishment but is able to reverse the meaning of this act by re-contextualizing in medical terms. He knows that he will have to get spit at, but he transforms the insult into an act of healing. There is a slight change in the act: rather than spitting once (combatively) in his face, the woman spits seven times (ritually) in his eye. But there is no difference in language between the two kinds of spitting; in both cases the Talmud uses the verb רקק. Here too, Rabbi Meir displays great wisdom. To ensure that the husband does not figure out the ruse, Meir redefines the meaning of seven spittings. Rather than being a ritual charm, seven becomes an illustration of the woman's extra zeal to fulfill her husband's vow.
So what is the lesson that can be learned from all this? Yesterday, I wondered if there is a connection between good and bad spitting in the ancient world. It appears that the answer is absolutely yes. The ancients appreciated the ambiguity of this heavily charged act and even exploited its multiple meanings for dramatic effect.
There has been much talk in the local and international media lately about the despicable behavior of religious Jews towards Christian sites and Christian clergy in and around the Old City of Jerusalem. Much of this has been vandalism of property, such as "price tag" attacks in which racist anti-Christian slogans are spray-painted in Hebrew on the facades of churches. In October, dozens of tombstones in the Mount Zion Protestant Cemetery were smashed. The most infuriating behavior, however, is the routine practice of spitting at Christian clergy as they walk through the streets. While this does not seem to be a totally new practice (Chabad has been spitting during the Aleinu prayer for generations), it has certainly taken off in Jerusalem in the last few years. The phenomenon also extends beyond Christians. In 2011, the spitting by a Haredi man at a seven-year old Jewish girl in Bet Shemesh made national headlines. Unfortunately, Israelis seem much less troubled by the spitting at Christians. Christian clergy get spit at all over the Old City, but the epicenter of this behavior seems to be Mount Zion, which contains several important Christian sites (Dormition Abbey, the Cenacle, Protestant Cemetery). It is also the site of the Diaspora Yeshiva which in recent year has attracted fundamentalist "hilltop youths" evicted from the West Bank by the Israeli police. It is presumed that the latter are responsible for the upswing in spitting incidents as well as many of the price-tag attacks.
All this spitting has got me thinking about the role that saliva plays in Judaism and Christianity. It's pretty obvious that today's Jewish acts of spitting directed at Christians are meant as an insult. Expectoration, like the violent discharge of other bodily fluids, is not usually regarded as an act of love. Yet there are many examples of good spitting in the ancient sources of both religions. Saliva was (and still is) believed to bring about healing, good fortune and to banish evil. Is there a connection between these two kinds of spitting?
Saliva was widely regarded in the ancient world as a medicine for a variety of afflictions, from blindness to epilepsy to various skin disorders.* Galen, the second century physician and surgeon from Pergamon, writes in his treatise On the Natural Faculties:
Pliny the Elder, the first century Roman polymath, writes in his Natural History:
*see the excellent article on this subject by G. Chowdharay-Best, "Notes on the Healing Properties of Saliva," Folklore 86:3/4 (1975), 195-200
There are three occurrences of Jesus healing by means of saliva in the gospels. In Mark 8:22-26 Jesus heals a blind man in Bethsaida by spreading saliva on his eyes. In Mark 7:31-37, Jesus heals a deaf man with a speech impediment by placing his fingers in the man's ears, spitting on his hand and touching the man's tongue. In John 9:1-12, he heals a blind man by spitting on the ground, forming a muddy paste in his hands and spreading the mixture on the man's eyes. After washing in the Pool of Siloam (pictured here), the man is miraculously healed:
The Babylonian Talmud also contains several references to saliva (רוק) as medicine. In Baba Batra 126b there is a discussion about how one can tell if a boy is the firstborn son of his father and not his mother. The answer? According to his spit:
Few modern people today use saliva as a medicine, although it should be noted that recently science has demonstrated that saliva does in fact contain wound-healing proteins called histatins. Many modern people, however, do believe that spitting will bring about good luck, or at least ward off bad luck. Baseball players have elaborate spitting rituals before they step into the batting box. Throughout the world, but especially in the Mediterranean Basin, people spit into the air three times to chase away the evil eye or the devil. This is the origin, for instance, of the phrase "tfu, tfu, tfu" that many Jews recite after announcing a piece of good news. Even Pliny talks about people in his day doing this, particularly boxers would spit in their glove to ensure that their punches would be strong. Perhaps this is the connection between good and bad spitting. Fundamentally, saliva is and was regarded as something undesirable, and the act of spitting seen as something vulgar. This is what provides its power to exorcise both demons and disease.
Merry Christmas to those who are celebrating. Last night, just 5 miles from my home, tens of thousands of (western) Christian pilgrims congregated in Manger Square, Bethlehem, to celebrate Christmas. Eastern Christians will do the same thirteen days from now, on January 6, which is December 25 according to the Julian calendar. The main event last night (televised around the world) was the Roman Catholic Midnight Mass which took place in the Church of St. Catherine. This is a Crusader structure that is attached to the real deal: the Church of the Nativity, a rare example of a Byzantine basilica in the Holy Land that is still standing. It is a magnificent building. Like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, it was first built by the Empress Helena following her famous fact-finding mission to the Holy Land in 326-28. But unlike the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which was destroyed in 614, in 1009, and again in 1808, the Church of the Nativity pretty much looks as it did when Justinian renovated it in the 6th century. Apparently what saved it from the huge wave of destruction by the Persians in 614 were its mosaics depicting the Magi (wise men from the East), which convinced the conquerors it was not a church. Beneath the basilica is the church's raison d'être: a crypt containing the Nativity Grotto, the cave where Jesus was born. Cave? This is quite unlike the traditional images of Jesus in a wooden barn seen in nativity scenes (crèches) across Europe and North America.
How authentic is the Nativity Grotto in Bethlehem? It depends on what one means by "authentic". The historical Jesus was probably born in Nazareth, not Bethlehem. The earliest gospel, Mark, refers to him many times as "the Nazarene" and contains no birth account at all. It simply assumes that he was born in the same place where he spent his childhood. The two later gospels that do contain a Bethlehem birth scene, Matthew and Luke, clearly do so to imbue Jesus with the necessary Davidic qualities of the Messiah (cf. Micah 5:1). But these two gospels do not mention the birth taking place in a cave. Matthew says it was in a "house", while Luke mentions "a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn." The latter is the inspiration for the barnyard nativity scenes we are used to seeing at this time of year. So in terms of real-world authenticity, this site falls short. But there is a different kind of authenticity which comes from generations of pilgrims venerating a site. Let us call this imagined authenticity. In these terms, the Nativity Grotto is as authentic as they come. Pilgrims have been coming to pray at this cave since the third century (at least).
So where does the idea of a nativity cave come from? Two second century Christian texts - Justin's Dialogue with Trypho and the Protoevangelium of James - describe the birth of Jesus in a cave. We don't know where Justin's information comes from, but the fact that he mentions the cave is significant. In his Dialogue (78.5), Justin is very bothered by the fact that Trypho the Jew regards Jesus as yet another magician belonging to one the many mystery cults prevalent in the Roman Empire. The idea of a nativity cave is a big problem for Justin because it is very similar to the underground caves used for Mithraic initiation rites. So instead, Justin introduces the cave as a fulfillment of Hebrew Scripture. Isaiah 33:14 asks “Who among us can live with the devouring fire?" the answer to which is the righteous one, who is described as follows:
"he will live on the heights, his refuge will be the fortresses of rocks"
הוּא מְרוֹמִים יִשְׁכֹּן, מְצָדוֹת סְלָעִים מִשְׂגַּבּוֹ
Fortunately for Justin, the Septuagint alters the words of this verse to read, "he shall dwell in the lofty cave of the strong rock."
οὗτος οἰκήσει ἐν ὑψηλῷ σπηλαίῳ πέτρας ἰσχυρᾶς
The use of the word "cave" (spelaion) here provides Justin with the perfect defense against the charge of Mithraism. Jesus was born in a cave not because his parents were followers of a secretive underground mystery cult, but because he is the righteous one who "can live with the everlasting burning". Justin is thus the earliest author to write about the birth of Jesus in a cave, but he does not tell us anything about the cave's appearance in his own day.
The first author to describe the veneration of a specific cave in Bethlehem is none other than Origen, who writes:
With respect to the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, if any one desires to have additional evidence from other sources, besides the prophecy of Micah and besides the history recorded in the gospels by the disciples of Jesus, he may observe that, in agreement with the narrative in the gospel regarding his birth, there is shown at Bethlehem the cave where he was born, and the manger in the cave where he was wrapped in swaddling clothes. What is shown there is famous in these parts even among people alien to true faith because it was in this cave that Jesus who is worshiped and admired by Christians was born. (Contra Celsum 1.51)
Origen's testimony is striking because it seems that he has actually seen the cave that he describes. Origen spent the second half of his life (231-254) in Caesarea Maritima, the capital of Roman Palestine. In his writings he alludes several times to visiting biblical sites, each time using the phrase "it is pointed out" (δείκνυται). This seems to be Origen's way of reassuring the reader that he was given a guided tour of the place in question, so his knowledge is reliable. Very few Christians engaged in pilgrimage to the Holy Land in the 3rd century. For the most part, the institution of pilgrimage only took off after the imperialization of Christianity in the mid-4th century. The Pilgrim of Bordeaux (333) is generally regarded as the earliest Christian to visit biblical sites in Palestine and write a travelogue, known as the Itinerarium Burdigalense. But at some point in the early third century Origen toured the holy land in search of places found in the Bible. What is so interesting is that he refers to the physical place here as "another source," as though it is comparable to the textual accounts found in the Old and New Testaments. This textualization of the land reminds me very much of the idea expressed in the title of J.M.P. Otts 1893 book, The Fifth Gospel: The Land where Jesus Lived. Of course, Origen does not mention anything about the date of Jesus' birth. The complicated question of how the Church settled on December 25 as the birth date is explored here.
Scriptural tattoos are a big trend in Christian America today. A lively debate is taking place among theologians over whether tattooing a biblical verse on one's body is a legitimate form of devotion or a vulgar violation of Leviticus 19:28. Popular verses include: John 3:16, Genesis 1:1, Galatians 2:20, Psalm 23 and many more. Particularly in vogue is having a scriptural tattoo in Hebrew or Greek, such as the example seen here.
But, uh oh! What happened here? This man wanted a massive tattoo of Psalm 23:4 in Greek (not clear why not Hebrew) to cover his torso, but he did not make sure to check that the text was correct! It seems that his computer turned every diacritical mark (i.e., accents and breathing marks over certain letters) into an additional character, making the text more or less nonsensical. He probably handed the tattoo artist a print-out and thought nothing more of it. Too bad he did not take the time to learn a bit of Greek before making this life changing decision! The corrected text is as follows:
ἐὰν γὰρ καὶ πορευθῶ ἐν μέσῳ σκιᾶς θανάτου, οὐ φοβηθήσομαι κακά, ὅτι σὺ μετ᾽ ἐμοῦ εἶ· ἡ ῥάβδος σου καὶ ἡ βακτηρία σου, αὐταί με παρεκάλεσαν.
"Even if I should walk in the middle of the shadow of death, I will not fear evil, because you are with me. Your rod and your staff, these have comforted me." (Psalm 22 :4)
Note, for example, that all the grave accents have been replaced with a period, and all the acute accents have become commas. Another interesting thing to notice is the word for "staff" in Greek is bakteria. When scientists first examined bacteria under a microscope in the 19th century, they saw tiny curved rods. Thus they gave it the Latin name bacterium which is a smaller version of the Greek baktron, a stick or rod. Incidentally, the long loaves of French bread known as "baguettes" are derived from the same root.
Over the past year I have served as an assistant to Judith Green on the writing of a new online Biblical Greek (koine) course. It is now complete and I encourage you to check it out. The course is offered by ETeacher, a company based in Israel that has had much success teaching Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic (as well as modern languages) online to students around the globe. This newest course (30 units) on which Judith and I collaborated is intended to prepare one to begin to read the New Testament and Septuagint in the original. The language of instruction is English, but it has already been translated into Spanish and Portuguese! The course has been approved by the Dept of Classics at Hebrew University and you can even take it for academic credit if you wish. One of the things I love about this course is the way it integrates archaeology and art history into the study of language. For example, there are several opportunities to decipher real Greek inscriptions on icons, mosaics, etc. Judith, who was my first Greek teacher in the MA program at the Rothberg School at Hebrew U (2003-4) did an amazing job including real Greek passages from the Bible (mostly the Gospels) from the earliest lessons. It is really exciting to be able to understand famous passages (such as the Lord's Prayer or the prologue to the Gospel of John) in the original Greek. Check it out!
The historic snowstorm of 2013 has finally ended. All in all, our corner of Jerusalem (750 meters above sea level) got hit with 60 cm of snow over three days. Neighborhoods at a higher elevation (e.g., Mt Scopus and Gilo are both above 800 meters) got closer to 80 cm. The last time this much snow fell in Jerusalem was February 5, 1950 (50 cm). The last time a significant amount of snow fell this early in the year was December 15, 1878 (43cm). It is unusual for big snowstorms to hit Israel in December because the Mediterranean Sea is still relatively warm. The all-time Jerusalem snow record, since they began keeping records? February 9, 1920 - 98 cm! This is known as the "Snowstorm of Tel Hai" because it took place a few days (March 1) before the famous Battle of Tel Hai in which Joseph Trumpeldor was killed. This battle was the first major incident of the Arab Riots of 1920. Usually this considered the formal opening of the Arab-Israeli conflict which is still going on today. Wouldn't it be poetic if the end to this century long war were brought about by an extraordinarily plentiful snowfall just as its beginning was? Here is a picture of Jaffa Road from February 9, 1920.
Although it has been over 48 hours since the snow stopped falling and the temperature is currently 8 degrees C, much of the city is still paralyzed. Schools are closed for the fourth day. Lots of people are still without electricity. Public transportation is intermittent. The major problem? Ice. During the day the strong sun melts the snow (which for the most part has not been properly cleared) and at night it freezes again leaving the roads covered in a vicious sheet of ice. Without snow tires, there is simply no way to drive up a hill like the one pictured above, right outside my house. By 11am everything is pretty much melted and life goes on as normal until the sun sets at 4pm and the cycle starts over again. Until a real warm front of air moves in, it does not seem possible to break the cycle. The bigger problem behind all this is of course lack of equipment. The city does not have enough snow plows to clear small side streets like ours. Individuals do not own snow shovels with which to dig out their cars. Most people don't even own a decent pair of winter boots. It's a big dilemma which many politicians are discussing now. Does it make financial sense for Israel to spend big bucks preparing itself for 60 cm of snow even if this only happens once every 50 years?
Jerusalem is currently getting hit with a major snowstorm. Over the past two days 30 cm have fallen, the largest amount for late December on record. All the main roads to the city are currently closed and many people are stranded. Lots of power outages. But here in our neighborhood of Katamon everything is rather tranquil. Shabbat Shalom.
Despite all the recent talk of the Hebrew Bible being the “Book of Books,” it is well known to anyone who has studied Judaism that the Bible has been taking a back seat to the Talmud for well over a thousand years. Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, whose numerous popular introductory books to the subject are bestsellers, calls the Talmud “the central pillar supporting the entire spiritual and intellectual edifice of Jewish life.” To the uninitiated, the Talmud (and here, I mean the Babylonian Talmud) is a strange book. Firstly, it is not one book but a set of 37 books (called “tractates”) containing over 2.5 million words spread across 6000+ folio pages. Secondly, unlike most contemporaneous literature from other religious traditions (e.g., the writings of the Church Fathers, the Qur'an) the Talmud is not a theological tractate or revealed prophecy or even a law code written by a single person. Rather it is an anthology of statements, sayings, aphorisms, legal opinions, and stories attributed to a plethora sages who lived over a 500 year period. It is eclectic, given to wild tangents and wonderfully free within a fixed structure. Mostly it is a running conversation, and much has been written about how this genre gave rise to a democratic impulse in Judaism.
The problem is that the conversation is not real. Open any page of the Babylonian Talmud and you will quickly see that this is not at all a natural dialogue which actually took place in a bet midrash some 1700 years ago. This is not a direct transcription of the oral proceedings that took place in the celebrated Babylonian yeshivot. How can it be that sages who lived hundreds of years apart can talk to each other? How is it that someone always happens to have a baraita on hand that precisely controverts the dominant view in the room? This sense of an “imagined conversation” reminds me of a screenplay which tries to go for realism but where the dialogue is a bit too good to be real. People don't talk like that in real life. You enjoy the story on the screen, but at no point do you forget that this is fantasy. Part of what makes the Babylonian Talmud fascinating is this element of fantasy. The fantastic Talmudic conversation flows smoothly by means of editorial additions and interpolations made by the redactor of the text. The Jerusalem Talmud did not undergo the same careful scripting and therefore is much choppier. The anonymous editorial voice in the Babylonian Talmud is thought to date to the 6th century CE and is known by scholars as the Stamma d’Gemara, or simply the Stam (which means something like the passive, neutral one). This is a term coined by David Weiss-Halivni in the 1980s and has become widely accepted in the academic study of the Talmud.
A few months ago, while watching Comedy Central, it occurred to me that there is something very Talmudic about the style of the Daily Show. Jon Stewart is neither a traditional stand-up comedian nor is he a mere parody of a newscaster. He is a comedic redactor of the official news. What makes the show brilliant is that Stewart knows how to play the role of the Stam masterfully. Note that his jokes always begin with a clip from one of the cable news channels (usually Fox), and he basically referees an imagined conversation between these clips. He carefully sews these clips together with editorial introductions: “…of course, that did not prevent her from saying the following...” The humor comes about through the skillful arrangement of these clips as well as Stewart’s cunning interpolations between them: a grimace, an impersonation, a flippant comment. For example, the devilish smile he flashes when he asks really?... akin to the Talmudic איני?.
The importance of this Stam-Stewart comparison goes beyond the mere fact that it demonstrates Jon Stewart's Jewish roots. It shows how much Talmudic discourse is intended to be entertaining. My friend Yoni Moss calls this a “show-like aesthetic.” When the Stam begins a sentence with the phrase סלקא דעתך אמינא, you know that this position will be soon rejected. But the reader plays along just to enjoy the mental exercise of imagining what could be. Stewart does this all the time when he shows clips of Republican ideologues saying typically reactionary things. This is followed by Stewart's straight-face commentary, "Got it. So what you are saying is..." You know full well that Stewart is temporarily agreeing with the conservative position in order to take it to an extreme that eventually reveals its stupidity. Or another example is when he shows the first half of a clip of a speech made by someone who is known to be radical. With a look of surprise on his face he says, "Oh well, you know, that actually sounds pretty reasonable..." Then he shows you the second half of the clip which contains an outrageously inflammatory remark. This of course is followed by Stewart's humbled expression of shock. This is sort of similar to the Talmud’s stock phrase כולי עלמא לא פליגי כי פליגי ב...
I especially love the comic device that Stewart often uses where he supposedly receives a message from his producer through a hidden earpiece: “Excuse me one second. What? Oh, I am being told that…” These intrusions almost always serve the same purpose: to undo an erroneous editorial assertion made by Stewart himself. When he goes too far to agree with a radical position, the earpiece informs him that he needs to swing back to the center. It works because it is invisible and unheard. This is almost like the Talmud’s bat kol that announces the truth from on high.
Absolutely! Since taking David Brakke's freshman seminar "Images of Jesus in Western Culture" at Indiana University in 1998, I have known that Monty Python's Life of Brian is much more than an irreverent comedy. I would certainly say that it has strongly colored my understanding of life in first century Judea. Similarly, it has impacted my view of the historical Jesus. I would even say that (for better and for worse) Brian is always looming somewhere in the background whenever I study anything having to do with Greco-Roman antiquity: the gospels, Josephus, Herodian architecture ... and naturally, Latin grammar.
Apparently, lots of scholars agree because in June 2014 an academic conference devoted to the subject will take place at King's College London. Academic interest in the film formally started with Philip R. Davies' famous 1995 article entitled "Life of Brian Research" in which he writes the following:
Among tour guides in Jerusalem, one of the most memorable parts of the film is of course the scene towards the beginning ("Saturday Afternoon, About Tea Time") where Brian watches Jesus deliver the Sermon on the Mount from afar. It is here that a member of the crowd mishears "blessed are the cheesemakers" instead of "the peacemakers". When one bystander asks "what's so special about the cheesemakers?" her husband, an aristocratic Hellenized Jew, nonchalantly answers: "Well, obviously it's not meant to be taken literally; it refers to any manufacturers of dairy products." This one line has to be one of the most concise illustrations of trends in biblical interpretation in Jewish antiquity.
As Davies notes, "cheesemakers" is clearly a reference to the Tyropoeon Valley (τυροποιῶν = in Greek) which bisects Jerusalem's Old City, separating the lower eastern ridge (Mt Moriah) from its higher western counterpart (Upper City). This central valley was the commercial heart of Jerusalem in the Second Temple Period, as can be seen from the impressive remains of shops which have been excavated south of the Western Wall, beneath Robinson's Arch (see image below). The Tosefta's reference to the "lower marketplace" (השוק התחתון) might preserve a memory of this area as well (t. San 14:14). The valley begins outside the Old City in the vicinity of the Musrara neighborhood, running southeast toward the walls of the Old City and entering the Damascus Gate. At this point, it turns due south and cuts directly through the Muslim Quarter all the way to the Dung Gate. It skirts the eastern side of the City of David, eventually joining the Kidron Valley, which runs down to the Dead Sea.
Today, the Tyropoeon Valley is hardly recognizable. Unlike the impressive Kidron and Ben Hinnom Valleys which circumscribe the Old City, there is little to be seen of the humble Cheesemaker's Valley. Over the centuries it has become almost completely filled in with debris and buildings. In the Ayyubid and Mameluk periods many homes and public institutions (i.e., mosques and madrasahs) were built upon vaults that spanned the valley in order to be as close as possible to the Haram al-Sharif. These massive constructions made it possible to access the Temple Mount by means of numerous east-west streets (e.g., Suq el-Qattanin, Tariq Bab el-Silsila) without ascending almost any stairs. So where is the Tyropoeon today? It mostly runs deep beneath the main north-south artery of the the Muslim Quarter that runs from Damascus Gate to the Western Wall Plaza. The name of the street - Tariq Al-Wad / Rehov HaGai (= The valley street) - preserves a memory of the original topography of the city.
We have Josephus to thank for coining the phrase in his famous description of the geography of the city (Jewish War 5.4.136-141). He does not explain his use of the term and it is not corroborated in any contemporaneous texts. Its meaning has puzzled generations of scholars. A convincing theory has been offered by the eminent Jerusalem archaeologist Dan Bahat. He thinks that the original name was the Valley of the Silversmiths, which makes sense given the archaeological evidence for commercial activity here. In Hebrew this would have been עמק הצורפים. Τransliterated into Greek, צורפים became τυροπιμ = Tyropim, which has no meaning whatsoever in Greek. Later, a copyist altered Tyropim to τυροποιῶν = Tyropoeon, which means "cheesemakers". This is a far more picturesque name for Greek audiences and it has stuck to the present day. Interesting to ponder what would have happened had Josephus chosen to translate the name to ἡ ἀργυροποιών φάραγξ. Monty Python would have had to find another beatitude to poke fun at.
The short story of Ehud in the book of Judges (3:12-30) contains a particularly gory account of the murder of King Eglon of Moab. Because he is a left-handed man, Ehud hides his sword on his right-thigh and is able to enter the king's chambers undetected. Eglon is apparently seated on the toilet (the text refers only to the "cool upper chamber," עֲלִיַּת הַמְּקֵרָה) when Ehud barges in and stabs him in the belly. The description of the murder is quite gruesome: "The hilt also went in after the blade, and the fat closed over the blade, for he did not draw the sword out of his belly, and the filth came out." (Judges 3:22)
In order for this scene to work, Ehud must have a massively fat belly. Indeed, the author sets up the scene by telling us:
וְעֶגְלוֹן אִישׁ בָּרִיא מְאֹד
The Hebrew word בריא usually means 'fat' in the Bible. It is often used with regard to fattened animals and is juxtaposed with the word רזה 'thin' (Gen 41:2; Ezek 34:20). In Modern Hebrew it means 'healthy', which maybe tells us about what the ideal body-type was in the late 19th century when Hebrew was revived.
Most translations of Judges 3:17 understand the word בריא to mean "fat"
Interestingly, the major exception is in the first translation of the Bible, the Septuagint (LXX), which contains the following:
καὶ Eγλωμ ἀνὴρ ἀστεῖος σφόδρα
The use of the word ἀστεῖος is surprising. It comes from the word ἄστυ which means city in Greek. So apparently, the translator is trying to convey the idea that Eglon was an urbane, sophisticated man. Perhaps refined, elegant, polite or even handsome? Why would the LXX use this word? Why depict Eglon in a positive light if he is the villain of the story? Moreover, the image of Eglon's fat belly seems so important for setting the stage for the dramatic stabbing that follows. Finally, the word ἀστεῖος is used elsewhere in the LXX to refer to decidedly virtuous figures: Moses (Ex 2:2), Eleazar the martyr (2 Macc 6:23), Judith (Jud 11:23).
Maybe this last reference is the key to understanding the use of the word. Perhaps the story of Ehud's killing of Eglon is meant to remind us of the story of Judith's killing of Holofernes (Judith ch. 13). Of course, if the parallel were perfect it would be Holofernes not Judith who would be called ἀστεῖος but intertextuality is not a game of precision. It is meant to drop hints that hopefully provide the reader with a deeper understanding.
It should be added that the LXX translation of Judges 3:17 should be seen as part of a post-biblical rehabilitation of Eglon/Moab. This can be seen in Ruth Rabbah 2:9 where Eglon is depicted as the ancestor of Ruth (and therefore of David) due to the fact that he stood up to hear the news from God that Ehud claimed to have (3:20).
Judas Iscariot's betrayal of Jesus is one of the famous passages in the NT that fueled anti-Semitism over the centuries. But was Judas really the key to Jesus' arrest and eventual crucifixion? Couldn't the Romans have found Jesus without Judas?
Some scholars think that Judas' crime was not just that he physically led the Romans to Jesus but that he divulged insider information about Jesus' teachings. For example, Jesus never refers to himself as the "Messiah" or the "King of the Jews" in his public teachings (usually just the "Son of Man"). All throughout the Gospels he is careful to walk a thin line: he is very good at staying out of explicit trouble while preaching a dangerous anti-establishment message. Perhaps in public he limited himself to topic related to social justice (e.g., Sermon on the Mount), healings and other miracles; but among the inner circle of 12 disciples he taught more apocalyptic themes, and alluded to himself as the Messiah or king of the Jews. When he is on trial before the Sanhedrin and later the Romans, these two titles are exactly what he is charged with. Could it be that Judas is the one responsible for revealing this information? Just a theory, but I find it quite convincing.
In my opinion, more interesting than the question "what really happened?" is the question"what is the significance of events to the author/reader of the text?" The point is that Judas is a symbol for the rejection of Jesus by the entire Jewish ("Judaic") people. As we know, the gospels were written a few generations after the events they depict. By this point (circa 80 CE), the Jesus Movement had been pretty strongly condemned within rabbinic Judaism. Remember all the nasty things the rabbis had to say about the "minim" in the Mishnah? By this point, it was pretty clear that rabbinic Jews were not going to convert en masse to become messianic Jews. Instead, the Jesus Movement (by now we can call it "early Christianity") would have to abandon the Jews altogether and invest itself entirely in the Gentile mission. So Judas becomes a lesson to the Gentile audience hearing the gospel - this is why the Jews are no longer the chosen people. It's not because they crucified Jesus (obviously the Romans were the only ones able to do this); it's because they stubbornly failed to accept Jesus as the Messiah and therefore facilitated his death.
The Greek Orthodox Monastery of St Onuphrius, located in the Ben Hinnom Valley southwest of the Old City of Jerusalem. This is the traditional location of the Potter's Field purchased by the Temple authorities with the 30 pieces of silver that Judas returned to them (Matt 27:3-10). According to the book of Acts, Judas himself purchases the plot and commits suicide there (Acts 1:18-19). In both versions the site is renamed the Field of Blood: Ἀγρὸς Αἵματος or Ἁκελδαμάχ which means 'field of blood' in Aramaic חקל דמא.
Giotto, The Kiss of Judas, c. 1304
One of the beloved Christian pilgrimage sites in Jerusalem is the Pater Noster Church located on the Mount of Olives. This is (according to Catholic tradition) the site where Jesus taught his disciples the Lord's Prayer, and you can find the prayer in 143 languages on tiles on the walls. But shouldn't it be located on the Mount of the Beatitudes above Capernaum, where the Sermon on the Mount took place?
In the gospel of Matthew the Lord's Prayer is part of the Sermon on the Mount (chs 5-7), but in Luke there is no such sermon. Instead, Luke takes all the material from Matthew 5-7 and sprinkles it throughout his gospel. Luke's version of the Lord's Prayer is in ch 11. Although he does not specify where this happened, the previous scene (ch 10) takes place in the house of Mary and Martha, who live in Bethany on the Mt of Olives.
The earliest church on this site, was not actually connected with the Lord's Prayer. The Eleona (ἐλαιών - olive grove in Greek) commissioned by Queen Helena in the 325 was meant to commemorate another teaching of Jesus, the so-called "Synoptic Apocalypse" (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21), which Jesus recites after leaving the Temple and looking out at the buildings. Today, this apocalyptic teaching is more connected with the church of Dominus Flevit (technically, the relevant passage there is Luke 19:39-44).
Sometime after the arrival of the Crusaders in Jerusalem, the site of the Eleona church (destroyed by the Persians 614) changed its tradition; still the location of Jesus teaching, but no longer the Apocalypse, instead the Lord's Prayer. The support for this comes from Luke 11, as explained above. So again, the question is not "where did Jesus really utter the Lord's Prayer for the first time?", but rather "which Gospel (Matthew or Luke) wins when we try to put together a map of Jesus' ministry?" Luke wins out probably because since the industry of Christian holy sites got started 1500 yrs ago, one of the guiding principles has always been to spread the wealth. If there are two competing traditions, sanctify them both. Why should a lone hill near the Sea of Galilee get all the glory? Moreover, the Crusaders were very interested in making Jerusalem the strong, holy center of their kingdom. Importing the Lord's Prayer from the Galilee to the Mt of Olives was a good way of adding prestige to the city that otherwise is mostly connected to Jesus' death.
An artist's representation of the 4th century Eleona Church based on pilgrim's accounts (i.e., Egeria in 384) and archaeological remains uncovered in the early 20th cent.
Today the Pater Noster Church is administered by the Carmelite order and belongs to the government of France.
I attended a discussion about anti-Judaism in the Gospel of John at the Van Leer Institute on Tuesday evening. Inevitably, the discussion turned to one of the really caustic verses in the gospel -- John 8:44, where Jesus tells the Jews "you are of your father the devil." One of the participants asked what the difference is between the term διάβολος used here and σατανᾶς used elsewhere in the NT. I just looked into this and did not come up with much.
The first term διάβολος (from which our 'devil' comes) comes from the Greek verb "to slander" (διαβάλλω) and is definitely more common in the Septuagint as a translation for השטן. The second term σατανᾶς is obviously from the Hebrew (or more likely the Aramaic סטנא) and is a NT innovation apparently. Because it is Semitic sounding, the second might appeal more to authors such as Matthew, who likes to use Jewish terminology to give their gospel an "authentic" flavor. For example, in the story of Jesus' temptation, Matthew and Mark both use σατανᾶς, while Luke, the responsible Greek historian, changes it to διάβολος. But this is not a strong argument since σατανᾶς appears 36 times in diverse places in the NT (including Luke) without any kind of consistency (e.g., 2 Cor 12:7, Luke 10:18, 1 Tim 1:20 Rev 2:9). One very interesting use of διάβολος is found in John 6:70 where a human being (Judas) is referred to as the devil, but this is quite unique.
So the best I can say is that the two words are synonymous. They both mean the adversary, the enemy, the one who accuses the human race before God. This is very much in line with the image of השטן found in the Hebrew Bible (Job 1 and Zechariah 3).
The short-lived (1969-70) CBS cartoon show Dastardly and Muttley in Their Flying Machines had a different title in France.
I am Jonathan Lipnick, tour guide and educator specializing in Christianity and Judaism. In this blog I explore questions (historical, linguistic) that come up in the course of my teaching and reading.