This article is a discussion of two Greek loanwords found in the Rabbinic text Song of Songs Rabbah. It shows that these words are best identified and explained through a comparison with a Stoic theory of fire, described and refuted by Philo of Alexandria. That these words, both hapax legomena in Rabbinic literature, are used in the Midrash show that at least some rabbis were conversant in Greek scientific terminology—and perhaps specifically with a version of this Stoic dispute. The uses to which these terms were put show that the rabbis deployed their vast, specialized knowledge where it was most important to them: interpreting the scriptures.
In recent years, a new generation of Talmud scholars rediscovered Roman law as a valuable comparative tool. In addition to localized comparisons, several broad syntheses have been offered by scholars regarding Roman law and rabbinic halakhic thinking. In his article in this issue, “The Rabbinic Movement from Pharisees to Provincial Jurists” (doi: 10.1163/15700631-bja10070), Yair Furstenberg offers to explain the rise of the field of civil law in later Tannaitic literature as part of the rise of the local jurist in the eastern provinces. I seize the opportunity of Furstenberg’s novel thesis to rethink recent trends of comparing Tannaitic halakhah and Roman law and their limitations.
The language of the Septuagint is not only a linguistic question: evaluations of the language have been intertwined with presuppositions on the social context of Jews in antiquity, in particular their linguistic competency, educational background, and position within the Graeco-Roman society. Recent work has rehabilitated the position of Jews in ancient society and with it came a renewed quest for understanding the social locus of the language of the Septuagint and related Jewish-Greek writings. In order to appreciate the language of the Septuagint, we need to contextualize it appropriately within the history of Greek, diachronically and synchronically. The dedication of a special issue to the present topic by Journal for the Study of Judaism signals the recognition of the importance of the Septuagint for the wider discipline. In this introduction, the editors lay out recent trends in the field and discuss its challenges.
In discussing the dismantling and transport of the tabernacle and its furnishings, Numbers 4:20 prohibits any viewing of the “holy,” except by Aaron, the priest, and his sons. Philo of Alexandria, as well as several modern scholars, read this as a prohibition on any non-priestly viewing of the sacred, Jewish cultic vessels, including the menorah, the shewbread table and the incense altar. Accordingly, a dominant view in research holds that during the Second Temple period these cultic utensils were concealed from the sight of non-priests. However, this view partly overlooks and partly misinterprets our main source in that respect: Josephus indicates that the Jewish holy vessels were actually displayed to the Jewish crowd gathered in the temple court during the Second Temple period. This is supported by the images on certain Hasmonean coins as well as by later texts, such as P.Oxy. 840 and rabbinic literature.
Num 20,1–13 apparently re-edits the water miracle of Exod 17,1–7. The outcome, however, is far more dramatic. By striking a rock in the wilderness, Moses manages again to supply water to the thirsting people, but he and Aaron receive a heavy sanction. They will not be able to lead the people into the Promised Land. The reason for this punishment is obscure, and many interpreters throughout the centuries have ventured to propose different motives. By a close reading of the text as it stands, particularly the discrepancies between the commands of God and their execution by the leaders, we argue that a more holistic solution can be found to this difficult problem. Instead of a specific action or gesture, it is the overall posture of Moses and Aaron that conditions the outcome.
Hebrew Bible scholars tend to dismiss Deuteronomy’s “Law of the King” (17:14–20) as a utopian construct that was never realistic and/or historical. Underlying these views, however, are certain assumptions about what is culturally plausible in a world dominated by sacral kingship. Since this is the most common form of government in human history, generalizations about the historicity of Deuteronomic kingship requires an intercultural analysis of theopolitics, divine right of kings, and separation of powers. This article sets Deuteronomic kingship in the larger context of sacral kingship in Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas. What then emerges is the bridging of a notable false dichotomy in scholarship – Israel’s form of sacral kingship is both distinctive as well as realistic in nature. This suggests that skepticism about the historicity of the “Law of the King” is beholden to a Eurocentric frame of reference which is also skeptical of Western-style absolute monarchy.