Category Archives: Research

The Final Excavation Season at the Horvat Kur synagogue

By Raimo Hakola  

A team representing the University of Helsinki and the CSTT has participated in what the excavation team believes to be the final season of digging at the Horvat Kur synagogue. The Kinneret Regional Project, a joint expedition of the University of Helsinki, Leiden University, Bern University and Florida Atlantic University, finished the excavations of the Byzantine-era synagogue that was first found in 2010. During this year’s excavations, led by Jürgen Zangenberg, Raimo Hakola, Stefan Münger and Byron McCane, the team tried to find traces of the earliest phase of the building, which was apparently constructed for the first time in the second half of the fourth century.

Earlier excavation seasons have revealed the detailed layout of a so-called broadhouse synagogue that was built at the site around 450 CE and later renovated at least once in the late sixth or early seventh century, before it went out of use in the seventh century. The team thought to be finishing the excavations of this synagogue already in 2015, when a mosaic floor predating the excavated synagogue was found. The mosaic contained a menorah, seven branched candle holder and the name of a synagogue benefactor (for an earlier report on the excavation of this mosaic, click here). The finding of the mosaic came as a surprise, because it soon became clear that the mosaic did not belong to the excavated broadhouse synagogue, but was from an unknown building predating it. During subsequent excavations, our team has tried to find more traces of this early building in order to understand better its layout and function.

Students at work during the excavations. Photo by Raimo Hakola.

During this year’s campaign, carried out in June and July 2018, the team focused on excavations below the floor level of the broadhouse synagogue. The team was able to expose, among other things, a terrace wall running from north to south. Our initial interpretation is that this wall served as a foundation wall for the eastern wall of the mosaic synagogue. The preliminary analysis of the pottery suggests that the wall was constructed in 350-400 CE, which corroborates with the dating of the so-called “mosaic synagogue” based on a coin found in the bedding of the mosaic. The team now has enough evidence to postulate that the synagogue with the mosaic floor was built in the second half of the fourth century. After the destruction of this building in the early fourth century, a new and larger broadhouse synagogue was built on the site of the earlier building and this new building remained in use for over 200 years.

Excavations beneath the floor of the later synagogue. Photo by Raimo Hakola.

Raimo Hakola, one of the co-directors of the Horvat Kur excavations, led the Helsinki excavation team in 2018. Helena Wahala took care of find registration and prof. Ismo Dunderberg and theology student Yoon-Hee Choi participated in the excavations as volunteers. The Kinneret Regional Project now focuses on the analysis of the finds and findings and continues the preparation of the final excavation report. Raimo Hakola, Rick Bonnie and Ulla Tervahauta will contribute to the forthcoming publication. The Horvat Kur excavations are a part of the research program of CSTT. These excavations clarify the changes that took place in Jewish society after the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 CE when synagogues became important local centers and assumed some of the roles that the temple earlier had. CSTT has been an important sponsor of the excavations that have been carried out in co-operation with the Finnish Institute in the Middle East.

Welcome to Helsinki! A List of CSTT Contributions to the EABS/ISBL Meeting

In only two weeks, hundreds of biblical scholars will gather in Helsinki to attend the combined meetings of the European Association of Biblical Studies (EABS) and the International meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL), which takes place from 31 July to 3 August.

As the meetings are held in our hometown, we hope to showcase to you all the diverse and wide range of research the CSTT is currently engaged in. To make your conference experience easier, we have brought together all contributions by our research centre to this year’s EABS/ISBL meeting.

The contributions are grouped under four headings corresponding to the different research teams in our centre. The list includes contributions from our full and associate members. You can find the abstracts of the papers and more information on the sessions by using the excellent online program book.

We warmly welcome you all to lovely Helsinki!


TEAM 1. Society and Religion in the Ancient Near East

July 30 – 16:00–17:30
CSTT-director Martti Nissinen: Presiding in panel discussion “What I Would Like to See Happening in Biblical Studies,” in Opening Session

Aug 1 – 14:00 – 17:00
Martti Nissinen: Presiding, in themed-session “Timo Veijola’s Contribution to Biblical Studies,” in Editorial Techniques in the Hebrew Bible in light of Empirical Evidence (EABS)

Aug 2 – 14:00–17:30
Martti Nissinen: “Why Prophets Are (Not) Shamans,” in themed-session “Shamanism in the Bible and Cognate Literature” in Anthropology and the Bible (EABS)

July 31 – 9:00–11:00
Izaak J. de Hulster: “Hermeneutical Reflections on a Recently Excavated Cylinder Seal Fragment from Abel-beth-maacah,” in Iconography and Biblical Studies (EABS)

July 31 – 14:00–17:00
Izaak J. de Hulster: Presiding, in Iconography and Biblical Studies (EABS)

Aug 2 – 9:00–11:00
Izaak J. de Hulster: “Predecessors of Hilma Granqvist: Women Exploring the Land(s) of the Bible before 1920,” in themed-session “Holy Land Explorers: In Recognition of Hilma Granqvist” inHistory of Biblical Scholarship in the Late Modern Period

Aug 2 – 14:00–17:30
Jason Silverman: “Imperium as Context for Defining “Elite”: Persians and Yahwistic Socio-economic Structure,” in themed-session “Elite Cultures and Achaemenid Koine” inJudaeans in the Persian Empire (EABS)

Aug 2 – 9:00–11:00
Kirsi Valkama: “Aapeli Saarisalo and Biblical Archaeology” in themed-session “Holy Land Explorers: In Recognition of Hilma Granqvist” inHistory of Biblical Scholarship in the Late Modern Period

Aug 2 – 14:00–17:30
Kirsi Valkama and Rick Bonnie: Presiding, in Archaeology and the Biblical World

Aug 1 – 14:00–17:30
Joanna Töyräänvuori: “The Ambiguity and Liminality of the Mediterranean Sea in Ancient Semitic Mythology,” in Ugarit and the Bible: Life and Death (EABS)

Aug 2 – 14:00–17:30
Gina Konstantopoulos: Presiding, in Dispelling Demons: Interpretations of Evil and Exorcism in Ancient Near Eastern, Jewish and Biblical Contexts (EABS)

July 31 – 14:00–17:30
ShanaZaia: “‘My Brothers Were Plotting Evil’: Family Violence in the Ancient Near East,” in Families and Children in the Ancient World

July 31 – 14:00–17:30
Sebastian Fink: “Visual Poetry in Sumerian Lamentations: A Diachronic View,” inDiachronic Poetology of the Hebrew Bible and Related Ancient Near Eastern and Ancient Jewish Literature (EABS)

Aug 1 – 14:00–17:30
Sebastian Fink: “Entering and Leaving This World: Birth and Death in Mesopotamia,” inUgarit and the Bible: Life and Death (EABS)

Aug 3 – 9:00–10:30
Andres Nõmmik: “A Consideration of the City-States of the Late Bronze Age Southern Levant,” in Ancient Near East

Aug 1 – 14:00–17:30
Patrik Jansson: “Prophesying and Twisting: Exploring the Metaphorical Description of Prophesying Women in the Greek Text of Ezekiel 13:17–23,”in Metaphor in the Bible (EABS)

Aug 1 – 14:00–17:30
Lauri Laine: “What God Should Not Be, but Still Somehow Is? Cognitive Perspectives on ‘Theological Incorrectness’,” inWhat a God is Not – the Early History of Negative Theology (EABS)

Aug 2 – 14:00–15:30
Helen Dixon(Wofford College): “Sign, Performance, Possession, Home: What Are Non-royal Phoenician Mortuary Stelae Doing?” in themed-session “Texts in Space” in Ancient Near East


TEAM 2. Text and Authority

Aug 2 – 14:00–17:30
Team 2 leader Anneli Aejmelaeus: “Re-linking 1 Sam 3 and 4,” inSeptuagint of Historical Books (EABS)

Aug 1 – 9:00–11:00
Tuukka Kauhanen: Presiding, in themed-session “Septuagint Syntax” in Septuagint Studies

Aug 2 – 14:00–17:30
Tuukka Kauhanen: “Editing the Septuagint of 2 Samuel,”in Septuagint of Historical Books (EABS)

July 31 – 16:00–17:30
Katja Kujanpää: “Job or Isaiah? What Does Paul Quote in Rom 11:35?” in themed-session “Textual History”, in Septuagint Studies

Aug 2 – 16:00–17:30
Jessi Orpana: Presiding, in themed-session “History, Kingship and the Economy” in Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls

Aug 2 – 14:00–17:30
Paavo Huotari: “Characteristics of the Lucianic Reviser in 2 Samuel,” in Septuagint of Historical Books (EABS)

July 31 – 16:00–17:30
Miika Tucker:“Continuity and Change: A Historical Perspective on the Assessment of Septuagint Jeremiah as a Textual Witness,”in themed-session “Textual History” in Septuagint Studies


TEAM 3. Literary Criticism in the Light of Documented Evidence

Aug 1 – 9:00–11:00
Team 3 leader Juha Pakkala: Presiding, in themed-session “Evoking Coherence in Redactional Processes of Fortschreibung and in Re-writing Biblical Texts” in Developing Exegetical Methods (EABS)

Aug 1 – 9:00–11:00
Mika Pajunen: “The Functions of Extensive Psalms and Prayers in Narrative Contexts,”in themed-session “Evoking Coherence in Redactional Processes of Fortschreibung and in Re-writing Biblical Texts” inDeveloping Exegetical Methods (EABS)

Aug 2 – 9:00–11:00
Ville Mäkipelto: Presiding, in themed-session “Translation Technique and Revisions” in Septuagint of Historical Books (EABS)

Aug 2 – 9:00–11:00
Ville Mäkipelto: Presiding, in themed-session “Joshua 8 – Literary Development in Light of Text, Literary, and Redaction Critical Perspectives” in Editorial Techniques in the Hebrew Bible in light of Empirical Evidence (EABS)

Aug 2 – 9:00 – 11:30
Timo Tekoniemi: Presiding, in themed-session “Editorial Techniques in the Hebrew Bible” in Editorial Techniques in the Hebrew Bible in Light of Empirical Evidence (EABS)

Aug 2 – 14:00 – 17:30
Timo Tekoniemi: Presiding, in themed-session “Textual Criticism” in Septuagint of Historical Books (EABS)

Aug 1 – 14:00–17:00
Reinhard Müller(Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster): “Timo Veijola’s Commentary on Deuteronomy,” in themed-session: “Timo Veijola’s Contribution to Biblical Studies” in Editorial Techniques in the Hebrew Bible in light of Empirical Evidence (EABS)

Aug 2 – 14:00–17:00
Reinhard Müller (Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster):“Eckart Otto’s Models of ‘Urdeuteronomium’ and Deuteronomistic Deuteronomy,” in themed-session: “Eckart Otto’s Commentary on Deuteronomy” in Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Law

July 31 – 14:00–17:30
Urmas Nõmmik: “Changes in Form and Genre: Five Research Questions,” inDiachronic Poetology of the Hebrew Bible and Related Ancient Near Eastern and Ancient Jewish Literature (EABS)

Aug 1 – 9:00–11:00
Anssi Voitila(University of Eastern Finland): “Usage-Based Translation Syntax of the Septuagint,”in themed-session “Septuagint Syntax” in Septuagint Studies

Aug 3 – 9:00–10:30
Anssi Voitila (University of Eastern Finland): Presiding, in themed-session “Interpretation” in Septuagint Studies


TEAM 4. Society and Religion in Late Second Temple Judaism

July 30 – 16:00–17:30
Team 4 leader Jutta Jokiranta: Member in panel discussion “What I Would Like to See Happening in Biblical Studies,” in Opening Session

July 31 – 14:00–17:30
Matthew Goff (Florida State University) and Jutta Jokiranta:“Survey Results on Ethics and Policies Regarding Unprovenanced Materials” in themed-session “Ethics and Policies Regarding Unprovenanced Materials” inQumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls

Aug 1 – 9:00–11:00
Jutta Jokiranta: Presiding, in themed-session “Ritual and Qumran” in Ritual in the Biblical World

Aug 2 – 14:00–17:30
Raimo Hakola:“The Ancient Synagogue at Horvat Kur, Galilee: Excavations 2010-2018,” in Archaeology and the Biblical World

July 30 – 16:00–17:30
Rick Bonnie: Member in panel discussion “What I Would Like to See Happening in Biblical Studies,” in Opening Session

July 31 – 14:00–17:30
Rick Bonnie: ”Researching Cultural Objects and Manuscripts in a Small Country: The Finnish Experience of Raising Awareness of Provenance, Legality, and Responsible Stewardship,” in themed-session “Ethics and Policies Regarding Unprovenanced Materials” in Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls

Aug 1 – 9:00–10:30
Elisa Uusimäki: Presiding, in themed-session “Gendered Virtue?” in Virtue In Biblical Literature (EABS)

Aug 1 – 16:00–17:30
Charlotte Hempel (University of Birmingham) and Elisa Uusimäki: Presiding, Early Career Development Workshop

Aug 2 – 9:00–11:00
Elisa Uusimäki: “Is There ‘Virtue’ in Semitic texts? An Analysis of the Testament of Qahat,” in themed-session “Is there Virtue in Semitic texts?” in Virtue In Biblical Literature (EABS)

Aug 2 – 14:00–17:30
Elisa Uusimäki: Presiding, in themed-session “Portraying Virtue” inVirtue In Biblical Literature (EABS)

Aug 3 – 9:00–11:00
Elisa Uusimäki: Presiding, in themed-session “Open Session” in Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls

Aug 1 – 14:00–17:30
Katri Antin:“Intellectual Illumination as a Visionary Experience,” in themed-session “Visions and aspects of Spatial Theory – Focus OT” in Vision and Envisionment in the Bible and its World (EABS)

Aug 3 – 9:00–11:00
Katri Antin:“Implicit Exegesis as a Mean of Transmitting Divine Knowledge in the Thanksgiving Psalms,”in themed-session “Open Session” in Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls

Aug 1 – 16:00–17:30
Hanna Tervanotko: Member in panel discussion “Teaching Gender and the Bible,” in Status of Women in the Profession

Aug 2 – 14:00–17:30
Hanna Tervanotko: “Reading 1 Samuel 28 and Odyssey 11 through the Lens of Shamanism,” in themed-session “Shamanism in the Bible and Cognate Literature” inAnthropology and the Bible (EABS)

Aug 1 – 14:00–15:30
Sami Yli-Karjanmaa: “Philo’s Reincarnational Anthropology: A Comparison with Clement,” in themed-session “Philo of Alexandria” in Judaica

Aug 3 – 9:00–11:15
Hanna Vanonen: “Apocalyptic Vision or Ritual Instructions? The Qumran War Texts as Apocalyptic Literature,” in themed-session “Apocalyptic Literature: Second Temple Judaism” in Apocalyptic Literature

What has Tbilisi to Do with Helsinki?

By Jutta Jokiranta.

Georgia (Tbilisi) and Finland (Helsinki) have a lot in common, we discovered when CSTT members spent a successful week in Tbilisi Javakhishvili University. People in both countries speak a strange language, their number is around 5 million, and both countries have gained independence a hundred years ago (Finland in 1917, Georgia for a short period in 1918).

Tbilis as seen from the hill of the Mtatsminda Pantheon (picture by Ville Mäkipelto).

CSTT is about “cross-fertilization,” making scholars from different fields and areas of expertise to communicate and learn from each other. This was a specific purpose of the Tbilisi meeting, “Texts, Traditions and Transmission: Global and Local Transitions in the Late Second Temple Period,” 21‒25 May 2018, organized by CSTT Teams 2 and 4, in cooperation with local hosts in Tbilisi, especially Anna Kharanauli, Natia Mirotadze, and their students.

The aim of the symposium was to find points in common in the study of the history of the Second Temple period—the scribal milieu—and the study of scribal revisions of scriptural texts and traditions.

Picture by Ville Mäkipelto

Did we find points in contact? To give an example, special interest was on the so-called kaige-recension, in which the translators at the turn of the era brought the original text of the Septuagint into closer conformity with the Hebrew proto-Masoretic text. Anneli Aejmelaeus explored its origins and suggested tracing it to Greek speaking synagogues in Palestine. Rick Bonnie gave an overview of early synagogue finds in Palestine and showed how their architecture could be characterized by restricted access and private visibility; these buildings were used by only part of the village population. Raimo Hakola reassessed the evidence for the assumed village scribes in Galilee behind the Q-document that Matthew and Luke used, and identified a more likely home place for them in the Judean setting.

Keynotes from outside CSTT were Catherine Hezser and Mladen Popović. Hezser challenged us to think in more precise terms about scribes who were craftsmen and sages who were learned writers of literary texts. Popović presented a model of “book publishing” in the ancient world and compared the Dead Sea Scrolls scribes to Roman literati and reading communities.

The 9th/10th century three-nave basilica in Uplistsikhe (picture by Ville Mäkipelto).

The meeting organization was exceptional as CSTT members prepared to the meeting in a brainstorming session already in the spring. This was worthwhile as communication took place “behind the scenes” outside the meeting too. The organizers, Raimo Hakola, Paavo Huotari, and Jessi Orpana are now planning a publication on the basis of the meeting.   

Georgian scholars have long-standing contacts with Helsinki Septuagint scholars. We also learned from rich Georgian manuscript collections and their research. Inscriptions have been found in Iberia—as the former kingdom in Eastern Georgia was called—in five different languages, Persian, Greek, Aramaic, Hebrew, and Latin.

CSTT director Martti Nissinen exploring the caves of the ancient rock town Uplistsikhe (picture by Ville Mäkipelto).

Two excursion days at several archaeological sites and churches were a true climax for the week. In the end, a visit to the National Museum of Georgia as well as our exquisite evening meal experiences proved that Finland and Georgia are not quite the same: in Georgia, archaeological finds start from early hominids onwards—and fruit and wine do grow better in Georgia.

Exploring a local archaeological site (picture by Ville Mäkipelto).
Enjoying the amazing Georgian food culture (picture by Ville Mäkipelto).

”David shot first!” Seeking parallels between the editing of Star Wars and the Hebrew Bible

By Timo Tekoniemi.

What do Han Solo and King Solomon have in common? How about the many deleted scenes of the first Star Wars film A New Hope, and Yahweh’s consort Asherah? Certainly no association can be made between George Lucas and the genesis of the ancient sectarian Qumran community?

Despite over two millennia separating these characters and texts, these phenomena are indeed linked to one another. Not only has it been often noted that Star Wars fandom resembles in many respects a religion of its own, but both the Hebrew Bible and modern films are shaped and revised by editors, who are also bound to use similar editorial techniques. Like the ancient scribes, professional film editors have omissions, transpositions, harmonizations, and even theological/ideological corrections in their toolbox. In this light, one immediately recognizes the similarities between the many omissions made to the very first preliminary cut of A New Hope (“The Lost Cut”), which was deemed as a failure and in need of radical re-editing, and the likely omission of the Israelite goddess Asherah from the Hebrew Bible. Both of these radical and vast omissions were made necessary in their respective new contexts, whether a need for a watchable movie or a new theological paradigm where Yahweh was understood as the sole god of the Israelites.

The editorial interventions of scribes and editors were/are not always this drastic, however, but, more often than not, rather small and slight – but far from inconsequential. For example, when we note that in the Septuagint edition of 1 Kings 11:1 King Solomon seems to become less sinful, being simply a “lover of women” instead of “lover of foreign women” (thus breaking against Deut 7:1–4, where intermarrying with foreigners is prohibited), we are likely dealing with a slight ideological enhancement of the picture of the pious king Solomon. This impression is corroborated by a similar “pious correction” later made by George Lucas to his re-edited Special Edition (1997) of A New Hope. Despite being the only one to shoot in the original version of the film, in the now infamous scene of the Special Edition one of the heroes, Han Solo, seems to shoot in self-defence only after the bounty hunter Greedo, who is after the reward on his head. This change mitigates the blame of Han’s cold-blooded murder – and, in fact, renders Han a victim of Greedo’s aggression!

Depiction by Giovanni Battista Venanzi of King Solomon being led astray into idolatry in his old age by his wives, 1668. Source.

Despite its minor scale, this alteration made by Lucas has incited widespread opposition in the fan community, as it considerably changes the depiction of Han Solo, and has therefore larger ideological repercussions to the whole saga. Thus, when the fans maintain to this day that “Han shot first”, they are in fact defending both their right to claim authority to maintain their view of the old canon (where Han still shoots first) and the earlier, untampered textual edition, the original trilogy. There is an ongoing battle between the different Star Wars canons, which forms a very close parallel to the current scholarly dispute concerning the canonicity of different books and editions of the biblical books. It is likely that observations of this ongoing modern “battle of canons” could also help biblical scholars to better understand how the ancient communities (and their leaders) may have understood and contested the different ideas of textual canon(s) of their time.

Like the Qumran community, which seems to have severed its ties with the Jerusalem priesthood after some theological disagreements, also parts of the fan community have gone as far as completely denouncing George Lucas as the “high priest” of the saga. To them, Lucas no more has any authority in matters concerning Star Wars. Many of these fans have taken matters in their own hands in the form of fan-editing, i.e. editing the movies themselves to better conform to their own canonical picture of the saga, which is mainly based on the original trilogy. In the process these fan-editors have created a fluid and massive textual plurality of different versions and editions of the loved Star Wars movies (to date at least 137 fan edits!). Somewhat paradoxically, however, the fan-editors see themselves not as rebellious renegades, but, on the contrary, as the keepers of the flame for “the original Star Wars,” now seemingly desecrated and abandoned by Lucas. This massive interpretive textual plurality resembles in many ways that found in the caves of Qumran.

It has become clear that there are multiple parallels between the Star Wars saga, its editing, and its reception by the fan community, on one hand, and the editing of the Hebrew Bible, on the other. Viewpoints taken from Film Studies are therefore not only valid when assessing the editorial techniques reflected by the Hebrew Bible, but might, with further research, prove to be an invaluable parallel and aid to text- and literary critics alike, enhancing our understanding of the textual evolution of the Hebrew Bible. Since the Star Wars franchise is also currently in a textually active situation, with new instalments being filmed at the very moment (the next film, focused on young Han Solo, will be published in May), the saga is an excellent example of a constantly evolving literary work.

Portion of the Temple Scroll, labeled 11Q19, found at Qumran. Source.

Texts were and are thus rewritten exactly because of – not in spite of – their importance to the community. Even radical editing of a text is, at least to a certain degree, always a means to preserve an earlier text that is perceived as somehow important. An immutable text becomes, in a way, dead, and in danger of being simply forgotten; or, in the words of George Lucas, “films never get finished, they get abandoned.”

Timo Tekoniemi’s article “Editorial In(ter)ventions: Comparing the Editorial Processes of the Hebrew Bible and the Star Wars Saga,” was published in the Journal of Religion & Film 22/1 (2018): 1–30. It can be downloaded either at the journal’s home page or his academia.edu page.

Antiquarianism for Fun and Profit: Financing Your (God’s) Home in Ancient Mesopotamia

By Shana Zaia.

Buying a house or apartment, paying a mortgage, maintaining your home: these are common concerns of property-owners in the modern world and most people turn to banks to finance their real estate ventures. But what if you’re an ancient Mesopotamian priest with the god’s house—that is, a temple—to run? Here, the funding agency is not your bank but rather your king, and you’ll need to make quite a persuasive case to get his attention.

Temples in ancient Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq) were not only religious spaces: they controlled property and slaves, acted in legal cases, and stored money and precious goods in their inner sanctums. Even with these riches, upkeep was expensive and required additional resources as temples needed renovations and particular accessories for the performance of routine rituals, especially for larger festivals such as for the New Year. So, the king was in charge of reconstruction projects and he and other elites often made donations to the main temples, which also benefitted from royal exemptions from taxation and from other means of support such as receiving spoils of the king’s military campaigns.

A stele from Babylonia showing King Ashurbanipal (687-c. 627 BCE) performing the “basket bearing” ritual to mark the start of temple construction. British Museum 90865.

But not all temples were so lucky when it came to royal patronage; wealth was generally concentrated in the major temples, the ones that were most important to royal ideology. Peripheral and provincial temples were not necessarily as financially stable and may have struggled with maintaining the building, keeping the rituals running, and paying the officials and staff. A temple in this situation was best served by trying to attract the attention of the king so that he would support their cult. So how did local priests try to convince the king to grant them privileges and financial assistance? The answer was by invoking ancient history—or something like it.

Stele from Babylon showing a ziggurat and the temple at its top. Source.

For example, the priests of the Sippar temple of the sun god, Šamaš, got quite creative. At some point, probably the Neo-Babylonian period (626-539 BCE), the priests approached the king with an impressive inscription, the Cruciform Monument, that was written in an antique form of Akkadian and explained privileges and funds granted to their temple by the third millennium king Maništušu. The monument claims that the temple received land, renovations, provisions for the priestesses and temple, mandated labor from 38 cities, and gifts for Šamaš and his consort Aya. This was an effective strategy—kings paid careful attention to the deeds of ancient predecessors, especially construction projects and granting privileges, often to outdo them and receive divine favor. Thus, the appeal for the king to follow in Maništušu’s footprints was strong.

Cruciform Monument, British Museum 91022. Source.

There was, of course, one tiny detail that king, who was probably illiterate, wasn’t aware of—the monument was not ancient at all! The Sippar priests created the text themselves, imitating the ancient script and language of Old Akkadian to convince the king to provide support. They didn’t quite get the Old Akkadian right and perhaps went a bit too far in ending the text with “this is no lie, it is the truth.” It is unknown whether the king saw through their ruse or if the priests were successful, but the fact that this monument exists shows the importance of texts and ancient theological ideals. This is not our only example of “pious frauds,” which usually had to do with temple privileges in a similar way as this case, so it’s clear that this was not an isolated incident.

Later, in Seleucid period Uruk (312-63 BCE), the local elites took an even more elaborate approach to promote their temples. Uruk had a long history of being the main cult center in southern Mesopotamia as the home of Ištar (called Inanna in earlier periods) and Anu (earlier, An). But, the city was overshadowed by the rise of Babylon and its city god Marduk in the Old Babylonian period (c. 2000-1600 BCE). When Babylon’s status later declined, Uruk’s literate elites took the power vacuum as an opportunity for a religious reform that would put Uruk back on the cultic map.

Marduk of Babylon depicted on a Babylonian cylinder seal. Source.
Map of Mesopotamia, including the Babylonian cities of Sippar, Uruk, Babylon, and Nippur. Source.

Even though Uruk had become marginal, Ištar remained one of the most popular deities throughout Mesopotamia’s history, especially in royal ideology. But the reform did not promote Uruk’s Ištar cult—no, strangely enough, the Urukean elites revived the cult of Anu, the god of the heavens, who did not have the same popularity despite historically being the highest god in the pantheon. The exact timeline is not clear, but by the Seleucid period, Anu’s dominance in Uruk was indisputable and rising. Local archives show how the scribes promoted Anu from a local god to a universal god through ancient texts that recognized him as the head of the pantheon, sometimes reinterpreting the texts to prove their theological ideals.

Example of an Akkadian text that exalts Anu found in Seleucid period Uruk (312-63 BCE). Full edition.

Why did the Urukeans revive a long-defunct cult instead of capitalizing on their powerful and popular local goddess? Like the Šamaš priests in Sippar, the answer lies in strategic antiquarianism and the tendency in ancient Mesopotamia to repackage theological innovations as a return to ancient traditions. Anu’s status as the traditional head of the pantheon meant that his relative unimportance in living cult mattered less than the fact that he outranked all other gods. Most importantly, he outranked Marduk of Babylon and even Enlil of Nippur, another rival cult city in Babylonia. A governor of Uruk even created an ancient past for the (new) temple complex built for Anu by claiming that it was actually built by a legendary sage who was said to have lived before the Great Flood.

Reconstruction of the Bīt Reš, the Seleucid period temple complex of Anu and his consort Antu (image by Staatliche Museen zu Berlin/Deutsches Archäologisches Institut). Source.

Unfortunately, we don’t know how these reforms played out regionally or to what extent non-literate classes knew about them. We are left to wonder if the Urukeans managed to draw the king’s attention to their ancient and powerful (if somewhat neglected) god Anu and thereby to channel imperial wealth and resources into their city.

Šamši-Adad V of Assyria (c. 815 BCE) shown facing the symbols of the gods. The horned crown representing Anu is the highest in the sequence (British Museum 118892). Source.

As we can see, the stakes for temples to attract royal patronage were quite high and temple staff could resort to some rather drastic measures. Luckily, this was probably not the norm, as many temples were important enough in royal ideology that they were supported by the king with no further prompting. Generally this was because the temples’ resident gods were considered supporters or protectors of the king in his political and military endeavors and so the king patronizing their temples would inspire these gods to continue showing favor to him. Still, these gods and their associated temples were subject to changing beliefs and many temples, especially smaller ones, likely quietly faded into obscurity and neglect. But, thanks to a few cases such as the ones above, we can see how some temples fought back against their increasing marginalization by invoking an ancient—if fictitious—past in which their gods and temples were high priority for an esteemed royal ancestor

Written by Shana Zaia.

Further Reading

P.-A. Beaulieu, “Antiquarian Theology in Seleucid Uruk,” Acta Sumerologica Japonica, vol. 14 (1992): 47-75.

A. Berlejung. 2009. “Innovation als Restauration in Uruk und Jehud. Überlegungen zu Transformationsprozessen in vorderorientalischen Gesellschaften” in Reformen im Alten Orient und der Antike. Programme, Darstellungen und Deutungen, ed. E. – J. Waschke. Mohr Siebeck.

N. Na’aman. “The ‘Discovered book’ and the Legitimation of Josiah’s Reform.” Journal of Biblical Literature 130: 1 (2011): 47-62.

Scribal Transpositions in the Biblical Text May Indicate Changes in Theology

By Ville Mäkipelto, Timo Tekoniemi, and Miika Tucker

Many texts in the Bible have been preserved in manuscripts that hold different sequences for the same texts. These differences are due to the ancient scribal practice of transposing textual units during the copying of texts. Our collaborative article concludes that these transpositions were often motivated by changes in the ideology and theology of the scribes and their communities. 

Our article presents a text-critical study of three documented cases of large-scale transpositions in the textual witnesses to the Hebrew Bible. The method used by scribes to transpose textual units was either by swapping two adjacent units with each other or by relocating a single unit into an entirely different location in the text. Transpositions would often create textual discrepancies at the seams of the intrusion. Sometimes these were left to be, but sometimes they occasioned a series of compensatory revisions to smoothen out the rough edges left in the text. The transpositions vary in their length and nature, but all are in some way related to theological reasons.  

The book of Joshua preserves a tradition which claims that, after the conquest of the city of Ai, Joshua built an altar at Mt. Ebal and undertook a ritual reading of the law with the Israelites (Josh 8:30–35). The position of this tradition after the destruction of Ai is due to secondary swapping of the text with the following verses (Josh 9:1–2). It can be shown from textual details that, in the last centuries BCE, theologically motivated rewriting took place behind the Hebrew textual tradition that is now usually held as the authoritative Hebrew Bible (Masoretic text = MT). The swapping was likely related to this rewriting motivated by the growing importance attributed to Gilgal as the central camp of Joshua and the wish to present the capture of Ai as a more divinely led campaign. The earlier sequence is preserved by the Septuagint (LXX). Moreover, in one Qumran scroll parts of the text are transposed earlier in the narrative of Joshua in order to fulfill commandments found in the book of Deuteronomy. 

In 1 Kings, the relocating transposition of the regnal narrative of Judah’s pious king Jehoshaphat (22:41-51 MT/16:28a-h LXX) has incited debate for over a century. While many have noted that the transposition is linked to chronological changes between the two versions, less attention has been given to the theological changes this relocation reflects. In 2 Kgs 3:14 there is a remarkable difference between the LXX and MT editions concerning the name of the Judahite king, whom the prophet Elisha is said to “hold in high regard.” In MT this king of Judah is the unproblematic Jehoshaphat, but in the original LXX this king is the evil Ahazyah, grandson of Ahab (2 Kgs 8:18). It is likely that this theologically awkward LXX reading was noticed by a reviser behind MT, who saw it as inapproppriate for a revered prophet and pupil of Elijah, the greatest prophet of all time, to respect an evil king. However, since in the more original LXX chronology Jehoshaphat dies already before the story told in 2 Kgs 3, the later reviser was forced to also move Jehoshaphat’s reign closer to this story.  

The relocating transposition of the oracles against the nations (OAN) in Jeremiah from the middle of the book (LXX) to the end (MT) reflects a shift in the text towards a more favorable outlook for the exiled community of Judean refugees in Babylon. The sequence of texts in the LXX ends dismally for the Judean refugees: Jerusalem is destroyed and its people exiled; The remaining refugees flee to Egypt against the will of YHWH, who subsequently condemns them; And finally the book ends with another retelling of the destruction of Jerusalem. By transposing the OAN to the end of the book, the MT shifts the focus away from the condemnation of the Judeans towards the condemnation of the other nations. The oracle against Babylon assumes a climactic role in the text that hightens expectations for the salvation of Israel and the demise of its conqueror. The relocation of the oracles from the middle of the book to its end has brought about a series of compensatory revisions. The most obvious of these is Jer 25:14 in the MT, which stands as a “patch” in the place where the OAN used to be located. Other such revisions are found both in Jer 25 and within the OAN themselves. 

“Transposition was one of the key editorial techniques in the repertoire of the creative ancient Jewish scribes.”

As shown by the article, scribal interventions have left their traces in the variant manuscript traditions witnessing to the many books of the Hebrew Bible. By studying these traces carefully, we can gain a better understanding of changes that took place in the history of the Bible. Transposition was one of the key editorial techniques in the repertoire of the creative ancient Jewish scribes. When one analyzes the traces of transpositions, together with other scribal changes, it is possible to formulate plausible hypotheses on the early history and changes in Jewish and Christian thought and traditions. 

The articleLarge-Scale Transposition as an Editorial Technique in the Textual History of the Hebrew Biblewas published in the newest volume of the peer-reviewed journal TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism. The article is open access and can be read here: http://rosetta.reltech.org/TC/v22/TC-2017-M%C3%A4kipelto-Tekoniemi-Tucker.pdf. 

Date Beer: Brew It like the Ancient Babylonians

By Tero Alstola.

Barley beer and grape wine have a history of thousands of years in the ancient Near East. However, neither of these was the favourite alcoholic drink of the ancient Babylonians in the first millennium BCE. Instead, a beverage fermented from the fruit of the date palm was widely consumed, and ancient records from Babylonia constantly refer to its production and resale in pubs or taverns. This blog post introduces this ancient drink and describes an attempt to produce it using a 2,000-year-old recipe.

Although the research literature tends to call it “beer”, the beverage is actually closer to cider. It is produced from fruit and water and fermented using natural yeast in the dates. However, as the term “date beer” is widely used in Assyriology, it is employed in this blog post as well.

The ancient Babylonians themselves have not provided us with an actual recipe for brewing date beer. However, we do know that in addition to water and dates, a plant called kasû – perhaps dodder – was sometimes added to the beer. Despite the lack of recipes written in Babylonian, we have a date beer recipe from antiquity, recorded by the pharmacologist Dioscorides in the first century CE. According to Dioscorides, date beer was brewed using dates and water which were put into a cask and let ferment for ten days. On the eleventh day, the beverage was ready to be consumed.

Only unpasteurised dates and water was used for brewing the ancient drink.. Picture by Tero Alstola.

In order to taste the daily life of the Babylonians, we utilised Dioscorides’s recipe to produce date beer using ancient methods. We used only two ingredients, dates and tap water. Because fresh dates were not available, we decided to use dried ones instead. This may have been the case in Babylonia as well, because the date harvest took place in autumn but date beer was apparently consumed all year round. Because the fermentation process is caused by the natural yeasts in the date fruit, we used unpasteurised dates without preservatives.

Five decilitres of dried, seedless dates were mashed and put into a small plastic bucket. One litre of water was added, but the ingredients were not stirred. The bucket was covered with a tight lid and placed on the bathroom floor with underfloor heating. It is important to pay attention to the cleanness of the kitchen utensils used, as harmful microbes can ruin the beer.

Mashed dates and a liter of water. Picture by Tero Alstola.

 

The bucket was left intact for eleven days. Picture by Tero Alstola.

The bucket was left intact until the eleventh day. Then the lid was opened and the liquid was filtered in order to remove the date mash from the beer. We experienced some difficulties in the filtering process, which were caused by the thickness of the substance. We therefore recommend first removing the date mash from the bucket and letting the liquid settle so that solids sank to the bottom. Thereafter one can pour the uppermost, clear layer of date beer through a filter. This should result in an easy filtering process and more beautiful beverage.

The mash after fermentation. Picture by Tero Alstola.

We tasted the date beer immediately after filtering because it does not keep well. The beverage had a yellow, cloudy colour and fruity, acidic taste. The sweetness of the dates was gone, and the beverage tasted more like dry cider. Surprisingly, the brownish-greyish mixture of dried dates and water had turned into a beautiful, tasty drink.

Finally, a word of caution is in order: several ancient records refer to terrible headaches caused by date beer. The reader is advised to brew and drink responsibly.

The beautiful final product. Picture by Tero Alstola.

 

Further reading:

Magen Broshi, “Date Beer and Date Wine in Antiquity”, Palestine Exploration Quarterly 139 (2007), pp. 55–59.

Seth C. Rasmussen, The Quest for Aqua Vitae: The History and Chemistry of Alcohol from Antiquity to the Middle Ages (Cham: Springer, 2014).

Marten Stol, “Beer in Neo-Babylonian Times” in Lucio Milano (ed.), Drinking in Ancient Societies (Padova: Sargon, 1994), pp. 155–183.

Global and local cul­ture in­ter­mingled in the Middle East in An­tiquity

The research project Globalization, Urbanization and Urban Religion in the Eastern Mediterranean in the Roman and Early Islamic Periods studies the urbanisation, urban culture and the interactions between cities and their surrounding rural areas in the Eastern Mediterranean during antiquity.
The project, which recently was awarded funding from the Nordic research funding body NOS-HS, combines the research interests of classical historians, scholars of Islam, archaeologists and theologians. Dr. Raimo Hakola, a Senior Researcher in the CSTT, will co-direct this project together with colleagues from the Universities of Aarhus (Prof. Rubina Raja) and Bergen (Profs. Simon Malmberg and Eivind Seland).
The Nordic funding will be used to arrange three interconnected multidisciplinary workshops in the period 2018-2020. The first one will be held in Helsinki during the autumn of 2018.
For further information, read the full article here.

Queering Qohelet

By Marika Pulkkinen.

During the last decades, the LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered/transsexuality, Intersexed) movement and queer activists have focused on pragmatic issues such as same-sex marriage and rights for adoption for couples living in a same-sex partnership or marriage. The debates on these issues tend to center on questions of kinship: how do the current civil legislations around the world correspond to the reality in which many LGBTI people live? In biblical studies, the interpretation of specific passages that have been used to deny these rights have gained overwhelming attention.

Nevertheless, recent studies from queer hermeneutic perspectives have shifted in tone from apologetic to more descriptive, which in my view seems liberating. Not only the texts that have been used in these debates, but also other biblical texts are currently under examination. One possible way to read the ancient texts is to focus on the aesthetics from the embodied perspective. For instance, José Esteban Muñoz’s study Cruising Utopia. The Then and There of Queer Futurity (NYU Press, 2009) aims at construing or imagining a utopic queer future that is built on the past reality of the LGBTI people. Muñoz formulates his scope in almost eschatological tones: “[q]ueerness is not yet here. Queerness is an ideality. […] We may never touch queerness, but we can feel it as the warm illumination of a horizon imbued with potentiality. We have never been queer, yet queerness exists for us as an ideality that can be distilled from the past and used to imagine a future. The future is queerness’s domain.” (2009, 1).

This study can be seen as a counter force for Lee Edelman’s No Future. Queer Theory and the Death Drive (Duke University Press, 2004), which is also a study from a queer reading perspective. The study views the queer present as by definition lacking a future. Edelman criticizes heteronormative reproductive futurism. For him, “queerness names the side of those not ‘fighting for the children,’ the side outside the consensus by which all politics confirms the absolute value of reproductive futurism.” (2004, 3). Edelman uses the capitalized ‘Child’ “[…] as the emblem of futurity’s unquestioned value and purpose […]” (2004, 4).

In 2017 SBL annual meeting in Boston, the program unit of LGBTI/Queer hermeneutics chaired by professor Joseph A. Marchal (Ball State University) arranged a book review panel of Lee Edelman’s No Future, as well as an open call for papers reading the Book of Ecclesiastes from the perspective of queer experience and queer theory. The book of Ecclesiastes have been read from various queer hermeneutical perspectives (see, e.g., Jennifer Koosed 2006, cf. also the literature listed in her chapter in The Queer Bible Commentary). Particular attention has been paid to Qohelet’s “latent homosexuality” (cf. Frank Zimmermann, The Inner World of Qohelet, 1973). Taking a different path, Jared Beverly‘s presentation (Chicago Theological Seminary) explored Qohelet in dialogue with Lee Edelman’s No Future (2004), focusing on Edelman’s critique of “the (heteronormative) investment in the future that necessitates the sacrifice of (queer) present,” as Beverly put it. Qohelet is seen as lacking the view which is predominant elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible: a positive emphasis on the future through reproduction. Beverly sums up in his abstract that Qohelet’s “[…] perspective does not invest in the figure that Edelman calls ‘the Child’ because all of one’s investment in the future is ultimately futile anyway […].” Hence, Qohelet’s advice to enjoy the present (8:15) can be viewed in light of the tone of queer temporality.

The papers presented in the LGBTI/Queer hermeneutics section were firmly engaged in concepts used in the cultural studies as well as the recent phenomena and products of popular culture. In addition, the theoretical framework behind the papers was based on critical theory, semiotics, and poststructuralism. The discourse seemed to alienate a scholar like me who is more accustomed to take part in conversations of more textually (rather than theoretically) orientated approaches, but is also enough informed by the cultural gap between these approaches to not ask entirely naïve questions. This alienation prevented me from inquiring, e.g., how to locate a queer experience of parenthood? Are the LGBTI parents not part of “reproductive futurism”? Perhaps this kind of questions will be discussed more profoundly next year, as the program unit of LGBTI/Queer hermeneutics has a call for papers for formulating interpretive methods that emerge from the diversity of LGBTI/Q experience and thought focusing on kinship in SBL annual meeting 2018.

For further reading:

Jeremy Punt 2011, “Queer Theory, Postcolonial Theory, and Biblical Interpretation: A Preliminary Exploration of Some Intersectio” in Bible Trouble: Queer Reading at the Boundaries of Biblical Scholarship. Ken Stone & Theresa Hornsby (Eds.). Society of Biblical Literature: Semeia Studies. Atlanta, 2011, 321–341.

Jennifer L. Koosed, “Ecclesiastes/Qohelet” in The Queer Bible Commentary. Deryn Guest, Robert E. Goss, Mona West & Thomas Bohache (eds.) London: SCM Press, 2006, 338–355.)

Cover image: Frieze on the Royal Albert Hall depicting Qohelet 9:1, by GeographBot: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Frieze_on_the_Royal_Albert_Hall_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1430602.jpg.

 

Conceptions of Virtue in Early Judaism

University of Helsinki Research Funds has granted funding for a three-year long research project titled “Conceptions of Virtue in Early Judaism” directed by CSTT team 4 member Elisa Uusimäki. Also Sami Yli-Karjanmaa from team 4 and Anna-Liisa Tolonen from the Centre of Excellence Reason and Religious Recognition take part in the project.

The project asks what virtue (i.e., human behaviour regarded as morally valuable) meant for ancient Jews. How did they discuss and practise virtue? According to Uusimäki, her team fills a research gap by analysing conceptions of virtue in early Jewish literature (ca. 350 BCE – 150 CE).

– Scholars have typically sought for the historical roots of virtue discourse in Greek philosophical sources. Jewish sources can no longer be ignored, however, if the diversity of the Mediterranean virtue discourses is taken seriously, Uusimäki explains.

– This project demonstrates the cultural variety of such discourses, thus enabling dialogue between biblical, religious, and Greco-Roman studies.

Congratulations to Elisa and her team!