The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible: A review

IN this review I recommend The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible which is a result of a lot of Modern research on the ancient texts found at Qumran, Egypt. The scrolls were found in caves tucked away for centuries by pious people who lived around 200-100 AD who obviuosly cared for their preservation. Today these scrolls or pieces of fragments consists of some 981 different manuscripts. All of them were discovered by local herdsmen in caves near Qumran between 1946-1947 and in 2017 in 12 caves from a Hellenistic-Jewish Settlement at Khirbet Qumran in eastern Judean Desert (West bank) was unearthed. The caves are loctaed some two kilometres from The Dead Sea and this explains their given name today. The Qumran texts dates back to the Second Century BC and the first century AD. Bronze coins found at the place also helps us date this period. The texts has been analyzed with radiocarbon and paleographic dating.

And the contents of these scrolls? The texts tells us a lot about historical events going around in the area at that time, such as Culture and Religion of course. The Dead Sea scrolls include the second oldest known surviving manuscripts included in the Hebew Bible Canon. Considering the time and context the texts were produced they tells us a lot about second Temple Judaism. Most of the scrolls are in Hebrew with some Aramaic and a very small number in Greek, And what about the material? Most texts are derived from parchments, some are from papyrus and some texts exists on copper. Traditionally the texts thought to have been written down by a Jewish sect known as the Essenes but some scholars now think they have been written by priests from Jerusalem, the Zadokites or other unknown Jewish groups. 40% are copies of texts we can find in the Hebrew Scriptures today. Some 30% are tetxs from the Second Temple era with texts not making it into the traditional Canon. Some wellknown non-canocial works are: Enoch, Book of the Jubilees, Book of Tobit, Wisdom of Sirach, Psalms 150-155). The rest 30% are the so called sectarian manuscripts compiled by groups of people we still don’t know that much about.

The Introduction to this work is valuable and presents the basics to anyone familiar or not with Scripture and dating of Scripture. It’s good to know that the term ”Bible” today means different to different people and cultures. The term ”canon” is also briefly explained. The Jewish Bible (the correct term or Acronym is TaNaKh) contains 24 books divided into three sections: Torah (5 Books), Neviim (Prophets) and Kethuviim (Writings). The Protestant Old Testament follows a similiar pattern but in different order: 39 books alltogheter, the 5 Books of Moses, Historical Books, Poetical Books and the Prophets. The order of the Catholic Church follows a similar pattern like the Protestant Churches but includes several deutero-canonical books which are not recognized as Canon by either Jews or protestants. These books are also known as Apocrypha.

The book goes on to describe the Essenses as the main group living at Qumran around 150 BCE to 68 CE. They are considered to be a very strict group of Essenses. Together with the pharisees and Sadducees the Essenses became the dominante streams within Hellenistic Judaism some 2000 years ago. The authors continue their Introduction with a brief sketch of the most important Bible mansuscripts we have today. It’s important to know a little about them because it shows how the Bible developed into a book. These three are known as [1.] The Masoretic Text (MT); [2.] Septuaginta (LXX); [3.] Samaritan Pentateuch (SP). I recommend this book to people already familiar with Bible Criticism and people just curious. The Introduction is excellent and may prompt you to learn more!

Learn more about the Dead Sea Scrolls at Biblical Archeaology Society which also has many free e-books for you to read.

My visit to The Vienna Central Cemetery: The Jewish Experience and WW2

IN THIS post I will write about my visit to one of the most well-known cemeteries in Europe and Austria. My journey was back in 2009 but I still remember my visit very well as I spent about two hours walking the older Jewish part of the cemetery. The Vienna Central cemetery (Wiener Zentralfriedhof) is also a cultural landmark receiving many tourists. It’s the final resting place of famous people like Beethoven and Mozart. As I arrived with my Nikon it was a very hot day in July it was all very quiet and I honestly can’t remember I saw that many people around. The photo below is what you can expect the old Jewish section to look like a warm beautiful summer’s day. Many stones are overgrown by vegetation reminding us this place soon 100 years ago was active and full of family members attending beloved ones final resting places. But as National Socialism arose in Germany in 1930s and Austria was ‘captured’ in 1937 all Jews were deported to Concentration Camps in Eastern Europe. You can see this for yourselves on several stones that something happened because there are no further burials or deaths noticed on the stones between 1939-1945 since their family members died in the Concentration Camps. In that point of view the Cemetery is a horrible reminder on what happened to Austrian Jews during WW2. 

Several non-Catholic denominations share the Zentralfriedhof and there’s an Evangelischer Friedhof. By far the largest non-Catholic sections, however, are the two old and new Jewish cemeteries.

A Rabbi’s gravesite

ONE of most interesting discoveries was a tomb of a rabbi and as I managed to sneak myself in with my camera I noticed people had scribbled several messages to him at the walls and the ceiling. I also noticed many of the messages dated to the late 1930’s and as early as 2004. All the messages are written in German and likely scribbled down by one-time vistors seeking the blessing of the deceased rabbi. Most of the content are somewhat desperate begging the rabbi to bless their souls and asking for help or guidance.

All photos in this post was taken by me. I saw several interesting graves with family names connected to many wellknown historical persons in Vienna history; such as Viktor Frankl and Arthur Schnitzler.

Gravesite of author Arthur Schnitzler

Arthur Schnitzler (15 May 1862 – 21 October 1931) was an Austrian author and dramatist. I was really happy upon discovering his grave since I love his novel Rhapsody – also published as Dream Story (Traumnovelle – 1925/26), later adapted as the film Eyes Wide Shut by American director Stanley Kubrick.

Notice all the small stones on Schnitzler’s grave. All of them marks an unique visit as it’s a Jewish custom to place a stone on a grave. There are many explanations why we place a stone rather than flowers which is connected to pagan worship in some Rabbinic sources. In the Torah patriarch Abraham builds an altar to God by help of stones. The Temple in Jerusalem was built by stones and The Wailing Wall surrounding the Second Temple. While flowers wither and die a stone can represent a more lasting memory. In European Jewry with a rich superstitious tradition the grave is the deceased’s new home and not make the soul go wander among the living a stone is said to keep it were it belongs until Judgement Day. You are welcome to comment on my post if you wish to share your experience on this famous cemetery. 

On the Mystical Shape of the Godhead – Basic concepts in the Kabbalah (1991)

ARE YOU INTERESTED in learning more about Jewish mysticism? In that case I got some academic books on the subject I wish to recommend. I wrote about Daniel C. Matt’s translation and commentary on The Zoharthe most famous book (12 volumes…) within Jewish mysticism; in a previous post. In this post I want to introduce you to Prof. Gerschom Scholem’s books. Mr. Scholem was the first pioneer within in the field work concerning literature related to mysticism in Judaism. He liked to describe himself as a historian of religious ideas. Scholem was also a professor of Jewish mysticism at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem until his death in the early 1980s.

On the Mystical Shape of the Godhead : Basic Concepts of the Kabbalah (1991) is one of the titles I recommend. THIS BOOK presents the core teachings within the kabbalistic tradition. I will touch briefly on reincarnation within the Kabbalah. The chapters are as follows:

  • Sch’ur Komah : The Mystical Shape of the Godhead
  • Sitra Achra : Good and Evil
  • Tsaddik : The righteous
  • Schekhinah : The feminine structures in the divine
  • Gilgul : The transmigration of souls
  • Tselem : The Concept of The Astral Body

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Modern Orthodox usually rejects the theory of gilgul (reincarnation), or transmigration (metempsychosis, is the term used by Scholem) of the soul. The concept varies a bit from the hindu theology about reincarnation, but there are similarities. There’s a strong connection between the idea of transmigration connected to punishment or reward. The soul, or various parts of the human soul transmigrates according to the Kabbalah in order to fulfill all the mitzvot (“commandments”) of the Torah.

While Ultra-orthodox, haredi Jews accept gilgul as “truth” Conservative Judaism and Reform Judaism usually let the individual decide on these matters for themselves; although I must say there are little focus on these matters in theological point of view. When Conservative and Reform Judaism developed into separate movements they usually looked down on teachings associated with Kabbalah because illiterate and uneducated Jews accepted them. So, how can we trace this unusual idea within Jewish mysticism? Scholem gives several explanations on why and how it got incorporated into kabbalistic teachings. Let’s mention some of it. The medieval text Sefer ha-Bahir is the oldest book in existence dealing with the concept of gilgul within the Kabbalah. It was redacted in South of France around 1180. This geographical area was inhabited by the Catharism movement which later was becoming wiped out by the Church. They also believed in reincarnation. Not surprisingly the majority of Jewish scholars immediately rejected the doctrine. As did the majority of scholars within Christianity and Islam around the same time. They had to deal with similar religious sects holding different beliefs. Let’s see how it may have influenced Jewish mysticism. In the sixth century the Church was very much afflicted by the teachings of Origen. Ōrigénēs Adamántios; 184/185 – 253/254 was a scholar and an ascetic who believed in reincarnation. He was one of the church fathers but never reached canonization because of several heretical beliefs. His thoughts on reincarnation likely came from Gnostic Christian sects. The Gnostics became heavily persecuted and finally crushed. Their beliefs likely sprung from several Oriental traditions such as the Orphic and Platonic thoughts on the transmigration of souls. A similar process arose within Shiite Islam were the Imams supposedly reincarnated and the belief spread into  Ishmaelite Gnostics and Sufis sects; while orthodox Sunnis rejected it completely. There are also evidence some Jews believed in reincarnation from non-jewish sources. In a work on Muslim sects and schism Ibn Mansour al-Bahgdadi (died 1037) mention some Jews held this belief based on the Book of Daniel, third Chapter. In the third chapter king Nebuchadnezzar’s vision indicates he was transformed in seven different kinds of beasts, birds as to punish his wickedness. God later restored Nebuchadnezzar and sent him again to the world as a true believer in Monotheism.

STAY TUNED for more posts on Scholem’s work .

Resources

 

‘Through a mirror, dimly’ – Can we trace 1 Cor. 13:12 back to rabbinic literature?

Do you think Paul (circa. 5-67 A.D) might have had a section from Babylonian Talmud (Yevamot 49B) in mind when he or an assistant (read: scribe), penned the first letter to the Christians in Corinth? To Christians through the ages the First letter to the Corinthians contain some of the most well-known verses from the New Testament. Chapter 13 is dedicated to the praise of love (agape) and is often quoted on weddings. In Pauline terms it’s not about any earthly love, but that of the spirit – agape. The message of the chapter is that love (agape) will survive prophecy. This post will focus on verse: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Cor. 13:12) + a very similar verse from the Talmud Bavli: “All the prophets gazed through a dim glass [literally: an ispaqlarya that does not shine], whereas Moses our Rabbi gazed though a clear glass [literally: an ispaqlarya that shine].” –Yevamot 49b.

I never read an N.T commentary which give a reference to Babylonian Talmud on the verse quoted which in a way can be fully understood since the Talmud Bavli (Babylonian Talmud) was finally a fixed “canon” about 600 when the Talmudic academies in Iraq finished it. But this fact doesn’t take away the possibilities of influence. We must also deal with some scientific context since the dimly mirror mentioned in both N.T and Bavli was a great scientific intervention in the first century and was made of polished glass rather than a speculum. In some translations, like the KJV the word “glass” instead of mirror is used.

I don’t know how established the Babylonian Talmud was as “text” when Paul was around but certainly he wasn’t unfamiliar with rabbinic commentary. I dare to say it contains traces of rabbinic literature and thought as Paul also was introduced to rabbinic scripture through the pharisee sect which was considered the most conservative. Religions also borrows themes and motifs from each other as they continue to develop. Paul presented his jewish background on several times in the N.T letters. “If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee[…]” — Philemon 3:5-7

The dating of the First Letter to Corinth is estimated to have been written about 50-60 A.D.I will exclude several verses in chapter 13 through these brackets […]. I put in some verses 8-10 to frame the context.

The New Revised Standard Version:

[…]”Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.”- 1 Cor. 13:8-10 […] “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” – 1 Cor. 13:12

Now, let’s compare the verse above to Babylonian Talmud, Yevamot 49b. I use a translation of the BT quote from The Zohar – Pritzker edition vol. I (Matt, 2004 p. 268): “All the prophets gazed through a dim glass [literally: an ispaqlarya that does not shine], whereas Moses our Rabbi gazed though a clear glass [literally: an ispaqlarya that shine].” –Yevamot 49b

Now, we have some more context! Let’s take a look at the word * ispaqlarya [אִסְפַּקְלַרְיָא] mentioned. It’s in Aramaic with the following meaning:

  1. speculum; lens; mirror
  2. glass
  3. windowpane
  4. In Jewish mysticism, of a later date than antiquity, it refers to prophetic vision

I don’t have to remind you about 1 Cor 13, but it’s clear there’s a parallel between mirrors and prophecy, ok. Now, let’s take a look at Talmud Bavli and see for ourselves where Paul likely got his inspiration! It’s important to remind you dear reader that plucking out verses is not a jewish habit, it’s something Christians do in their bible study.  WE need to take a look at a the entire section were this small quote appear.

The Rabbinic context : Yevamoth 49b. (Soncino Babylonian Talmud)

Yevamoth 49b is a large section of text dealing with various topics. The entire tractate Yevamoth is mostly concerned with marriage and off-spring. Footnotes relating to various other verses opted here:

SAID R. SIMEON B. AZZAI etc. [A tanna] recited: Simeon b. ‘Azzai said, ‘I found a roll of genealogical records in Jerusalem and therein was written “So-and-so is a bastard [having been born] from a forbidden union with] a married woman” and therein was also written “The teaching of R. Eliezer b. Jacob is small in quantity but thoroughly sifted”. And in it was also written, “Manasseh slew Isaiah”‘.

Raba said: He brought him to trial and then slew him. He said to him: Your teacher Moses said, ‘For men shall not see Me and live’ and you said, ‘I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up’. Your teacher Moses said, ‘For what [great nation is there, that hath God so nigh unto them], as the Lord our God is whensoever we call upon him’, and you said, ‘Seek ye the Lord when he may be found’. Your teacher Moses said, ‘The number of thy days I will fulfil’ but you said, ‘And I will add on to your days fifteen years’. ‘I know’, thought Isaiah, ‘that whatever I may tell him he will not accept; and should I reply at all, I would only cause him to be a wilful [homicide]’. He thereupon pronounced [the Divine] Name and was swallowed up by a cedar. The cedar, however, was brought and sawn asunder. When the saw reached his month he died. [And this was his penalty] for having said, ‘And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips’.

[Do not] the contradictions between the Scriptural texts, however, still remain? — ‘I saw the Lord’, [is to be understood] in accordance with what was taught: All the prophets looked into a dim glass, but Moses looked through a clear glass. As to ‘Seek ye the Lord when he may be found [etc.’] one [verse] applies to an individual, the other to a congregation. When [is the time for] an individual? — R. Nahman replied in the name of Rabbah b. Abbuha: The ten days between the New Year and the Day of Atonement. Concerning the number of thy days I will fulfil, Tannaim are in disagreement. For it was taught: The number of thy days I will fulfil.

The verses on Moses and dim glass are further exploited in the medieval midrashim such as the Leviticus Rabbah, 1:14. It contains numeruous homilies on Leviticus and was composed in the 12th century. With a supposed reference to a first century Sage Leviticus Rabbah, 1:14 concludes: “All the prophets had a vision of God as he appeared through nine specula while Moses saw God through one speculum.”

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The Babylonian Talmud today.

Resources:

  • Epstein, Isidore, and Israel W. Slotki. 1936. The Babylonian Talmud. Vols. 1-2, Vols. 1-2. London: Soncino Press.
  • Frankel, Ellen, and Betsy Platkin Teutsch. 1992. The encyclopedia of Jewish symbols. Northvale, N.J.: J. Aronson.
  • Nestle Aland : Novum Testamentum Graece (N28)
  • New International Version (NIV)
  • Matt, Daniel C. 2004. The Zohar Vol. 1. Vol. 1. The Zohar. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
  • Leviticus Rabbah – Hebrew version online here (Bar Ilan University).

 

 

Review: ‘The Zohar -Pritzker ed. vol I.’

THE ZOHAR is the most prominent work of Rabbinic literature within the kabbalistic tradition. The title “Splendor/Radiance”relates to several verses in Ezekiel 1:28; :2 and Daniel 2:31; 12:3 (Those who manifest wisdom will shine like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who turn many to righteousness will shine like the stars for ever and ever – Dan. 12:3). It follows the path of classical Midrash and is indeed a commentary on the Chumash (5 books of Moses).

THE ZOHAR deals with the mystical theories concerning creation, cosmogony and psychology of man in relation to the divine in this world and the coming world. There are many themes and endless discussions and homily on various topics such as the nature of G-d, creation, what the souls is and the cause and consequences of man’s actions (ethics). It contains numerous volumes and is written in an obscure Aramaic. The Ortodox or religious view of authorship states that Shimon bar Yohai (2nd century sage) was the true author while modern scholarship claims it has a much later autorship. Gerschom Scholem’s research proves that the Zohar was compiled and written down by a man called Moses De Leon in 1270.

THE ZOHAR – PRITZKER EDITION is a work of modern scholarship and pays attention to scientific methods concerning its history, origins and translation. The first volume was released in 2003. The final volume n:o 12 was released in 2017 so now you know how vast the entire text of the Zohar is in reality. Daniel C. Matt, one of the world’s foremost authorities on Jewish mysticism, has done the translation and commentary on the text. I only own the First volume which is enough for me since Genesis is sort of my favourite book when it comes to religious literature. Now we have a complete translation of all volumes available to anyone who which to learn more about the core text of Jewish mysticism. So how did it happen?

BACK IN 1995 Daniel C. Matt was contacted by Margot Pritzker who previously had studied the Zohar with her rabbi. She used a translation from the 1930’s and there was  a desatisfaction with the many available, but rather outdated, translations. Thoughts of a new translation of Zohar into English emerged. Matt warned it would take about 12-15 years to complete the task. But he agreed to carry out the project with the help of the Pritzker family who funded the entire project. Each volume was printed by the Stanford University Press.

THE FIRST VOLUME contains Margot Pritzker’s short foreword followed by translator’s introduction by Matt; acknowledgements, a foreword by Arthur Green on the contents of Zohar, theology of Zohar (10 sefiroth and so forth) and Zohar as text. The ingress consist of a longer text Haqadamat Sefer ha-Zohar. First lines: Rabbi Hizkiyah opened, “Like a rose among thorns, so is my beloved among the maidens (Song of Songs 2:2) Who is a rose? Assembly of Israel. For there is a rose, and then there is a rose! Just as a rose among thorns is colored red and white, so Assembly of Israel  includes judgement and compassion (Matt 2004, p. 1). To understand the context of these lines one needs to be familiar with the ten sefiroth, the divine emanations which connects the divine world with the earthly. These are core values within the Kabbalah and shows how G-d works within the divine and earthly worlds. In Kabbalah the functional structure of the sephirot in channeling Divine creative life force, and revealing the unknowable Divine essence to Creation is described. From the top of the Tree of Life resides keter (“crown”) which is the most divine, remote sefirah and it’s too difficult for any human to grasp. Only through kavannah, intense prayer a connection with the divine source can be established. The first sephirah describes the Divine Will above intellect.

img_0802The next sephirot describe conscious Divine Intellect, and the latter sephirot describe the primary and secondary conscious Divine Emotions. Two sephirot (Binah and Malchut) are feminine, as the female principle in Kabbalah describes a vessel that receives the outward male light, then inwardly nurtures and gives birth to lower sephirot. Corresponding to this is the Female Divine Presence, שְׁכִינָה‎‎, Shekhinah. Kabbalah sees the human soul as mirroring the Divine (after Genesis 1:27, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them”), and more widely, all creations as reflections of their life source in the sephirah. Every sefirah belongs to either a masculine or feminine quality. Duality in the verse above is clearly visible through the words judgement and compassion. The sefirah din (“judgement”) is associated with the feminine while rahamin (“compassion”) is a masculine quality. The verse which is about the Assembly of Israel, i.e the Jewish people, but also represent the shekinah, the tenth and final sefirah. The ingress is followed by Parashat Be-Reshit (Genesis 1:1-6:8) and Parashat Noah (Genesis 6:9-11:32).

The Zohar is not easy as a text. It’s full of symbolism, metaphors and allusions. Therefore, the commentary with explanations is greatly appreciated. And believe me, one needs them. Curious about the translator? Read more about Daniel C. Matt here (Questions & Answers).

Sources:

Matt, Daniel C. 2004. The Zohar Vol. 1. Vol. 1. The Zohar. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Zohar, Cover Comp