“The Perspective from Mt. Sinai: The Book of Jubilees and Exodus” by Betsy Halpern-Amaru

BetsyBetsy Halpern-Amaru. The Perspective from Mt. Sinai: The Book of Jubilees and Exodus. Journal of Ancient Judaism Supplement 21. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2015, 192 pp., 80,00 €. 

*I like to express my gratitude to Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht for providing me a review copy in exchange for my honest opinion. 

The Perspective from Mt. Sinai by Betsy Halpern-Amaru explores “the treatments of Exodus narrative and law in Jubilees” from a literary perspective, with special regard for the “intersection of structure and context” (20). In other words, Halpern-Amaru examines how Jubilees reworks the Exodus narrative, including themes, motifs, and structures. While her goal is not to challenge a redaction approach, at times she interacts with critical scholarship in order to provide an alternative a redaction approach.

She begins by examining how Jubilees re-orients accounts in regard to transition and era markers. In particular she highlights how the author disconnects Joseph from the spiritual authority in Genesis, symbolized freedom to enslavement through Amram rather than Joseph, and the birth of Moses by the appearance of Amram rather than following three stages of oppressive enslavement. Chapter Three examines how the author of Jubilees utilizes, omits, or adjusts elements of Exodus in order to draw out the literary reworking of Moses’ life.

Chapter Four focuses on how Jubilees treats the plague and Exodus in terms of redemption. Redemption, as she demonstrates, is reworked from Exodus by demonstrating God’s care and how heavenly forces served as instruments to God. Chapter Five considers how Jubilees present Pesach/Massot through a patriarchal prototype in the Akedah account and in the exodus account. Chapter Six analyzes how Jubilees uses Exodus 12-13 to develop the pesach statute in association with Moses at Mount Sinai. Chapter Seven explores treatment of Sabbath in Jubilees from three perspectives: (1) expansion of the institution of Sabbath during creation, (2) expansion of the command to keep Sabbath, and (3) expansion of the command against work on Sabbath in the Decalogue. Chapter Eight illustrates how Jubilees‘ angel narration “displays a medley of three types of closure” (149): thematic, present time, and circular closure.

While Halpern-Amaru’s work has a few good comments on how Jubilees reworks Exodus, it lacks organization, structure, and well-defined methodology which otherwise would have made the book digestible.  As she bounces between Jubilees, Exodus, and other supporting texts, it becomes unclear to which texts she is referring. As a result, her arguments are not clear and lack strength. Much of this is in part due to the lack of clear structure and methodology. At the outset of the book, her stated purpose, a study on ” the treatments of Exodus narrative and law in Jubilees” from a literary perspective, is so broad that is gives the reader no mental stage-preparation for the ensuing analyses.

For the interpretation of Jubilees and reception of Exodus, this book is valuable. For it draws out many nuanced aspects how the former reworks the latter. Opacity of her arguments, though, make it incredibly difficult to engage with. As a research resource for studies of Second Temple Judaism, this book is worth referencing. As a standalone books, beneficial for general reading, The Perspective from Mt. Sinai would do better on the library shelf rather than your own shelf.

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“Masculinities and Third Gender” by Ilan Peled

Ilan Peled. Masculinities and Third Gender: The Origins and Nature of an Institutionalized Gender Otherness in the Ancient Near East. Alter Orient und Altes Testament, Band 435. Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, 2016, 333 pp., 109.00 €. 

*I’d like to express my gratitude to Ugarit-Verlag for providing a review copy in exchange for my honest opinion. 

In his first published monograph, Ilan Peled tracks the phenomenon of persons born male whose masculine identities were considered ambiguous. Consequently, Peled classifies these people as third gender. Through the monograph he explores several ambiguous figures: gala, kalûkulu’uassinnukurgarrû, lu-sag / ša rēši, and a few less known third gender figures. Third gender, as a byproduct of socialization, and the concept of hegemonic masculinity, and thereby subordinated masculinities, are his two primary methodological approaches. Importantly, his argument places stakes in several fields: Gender Studies, Sociology, Assyriology, Biblical Studies, and Anthropology.

Titel713Chapter One briefly examines aeteological Mesopotamian myths in order to (1) illustrate the place of third gender figures within narrative and hymnic texts, and (2) to demonstrate how the figures parallel real life, as further discussed in later chapters. Chapter Two surveys the gala, kalû, and kulu’u, highlighting the gala/kalû as having emerged originally as performers of lamentation, eventually attaining an important role in the king’s court and cultic practice, and the kulu’u primarily as effeminate males. One argument of Peled is of particular importance: the gala/kalû were not always castrated or part of a lower class.

In Chapter Three, Peled examines attestations of assinnu and kurgarrû from a variety of genres. He suggests the close relationship between the two figures, assinnu as feminine and sexual and kurgarrû as masculine and militant, represented the dual character of Ištar. One argument is particularly valuable. After discussing relationship between assinnu and prophecy, Peled notes that “The Mari texts are the only Mesopotamian records to illustrate any relation between third gender figures and prophecy, and even there this relation is slight” and “It seems that their functions were restricted in most cases to cultic performance” (Peled, 2016, pp. 174-175), converging with Ilona Zsolnay’s point that assinnu were “far from being gender-bending prophets who enter mantic states to bond with a loving form of the goddess Ištar”. In contrast, though, he does not consider the assinnu “a special class of warriors” (Zsolnay, 2013, p. 98).

In Chapter Four, Peled examines attestations of lu-sag and ša rēši from three perspectives: chronological survey of titles, attestations of castration, and a clinical perspective. For those castrated lu-sag and ša rēši, Peled distinguishes the eunuchs from other third gender figures, for they often functioned in important palace positions. Chapter Fives examines seven less known third gender figures separately because there are so few attestations of them.

Finally, Peled summarizes and concludes his work, simplifying subordinated masculinities to three categories: cult personnel, palace attendants, and general concepts. For each category, he provides a possible explanation for the origins of that particular third gender categorical figure. These subordinated masculinities, argues Peled, were institutionalized by men of hegemonic masculinity in order to maintain power and define themselves. By utilizing the concept of hegemonic masculinity, Peled suggests that those of subordinated masculinities became the third gender, boundary breaking, non-normative men. Even as boundary breaking figures, they survived as “an integral stratum within the structure of their society… which contributed a great deal to social stability” (Peled, 2016, p. 294).

Through Masculinities and Third Gender, Peled’s interpretations are minimalistic, remaining relatively close to the original text and avoiding unnecessary speculation. The result is a major re-consideration of older works as “limited and circumstantial” (Peled, 2016, p. 136). For example, unless it is clearly present, Peled argues against all third gender figures as being castrated members and of lower status. In this manner his work is extremely valuable, pushing against many tendencies when scholars interpret third gender figures.

Likewise, the depth of lexical analysis is immeasurably valuable and will be a fundamental text for future social history studies. For the “book forms a historical-philological study… more than an overall discussion of pure social history” (21). While some may find the lack of “pure social history” problematic, it is nonetheless a wonderful contribution to the greater discussion of social history in ancient Mesopotamia.

On a more critical note, there was something off about his methodology, which he acknowledges. He primarily uses two theories: third gender and hegemonic masculinity. Rather than allowing masculinities subordinated to the hegemonic masculinity to remain masculinities, he pushes these into the third gender category. Third gender as a concept, though, encompasses what is neither male or female. It is a unique category, not necessary for figures on the feminine-masculine spectrum. This lack of clarity regarding his methodological framework in this regard does not take away from the overall analysis and conclusions; however, clarifying his definitions and methodology, especially third gender, would strengthen his overall argument. Likewise, elucidating the connection between third gender and subordinate masculinities would strengthen his overall argument.

In conclusion, I highly recommend this work. In particular, those involved in the history of gender, ancient Near Eastern history, and Biblical Studies may find special significance in Peled’s work. His erudite analysis engages with a range of texts in order to elucidate the origins and role of major gender-ambiguous figures throughout a broad spectrum of ancient Near Eastern history. No doubt this is fundamental legwork to future gender studies in ancient Mesopotamia.

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Blaming the Woman

Wonderful post.

Dr. Claude Mariottini - Professor of Old Testament

The story of the Levite and his concubine in Judges 19 is one of the most misunderstood stories in the Bible. Many Christians have never read the story and are unfamiliar with its gruesome details. If you have never read this story, stop, go to Judges 19 and read it for the first time. Some Christians have read the story but have never paid attention to the ugly actions of an abusive husband. If you have never paid attention to the outcome of the story, stop, read the story again. I will wait for you.

A Story of Violence

I have written one post on this horrific story titled Rereading Judges 19:2. This post has resulted in many comments from readers. Most men and a few women who left a comment blame the woman for being unfaithful to her husband. Some even believe that just by leaving her husband…

View original post 2,489 more words

Pseudepigrapha Saturday: Apocalypse of Adam

Introduction to the Text: 

The Apocalypse of Adam is preserved in a manuscript discovered near Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in 1946. It is one of many manuscripts of gnostic secret revelations. In this particular text, Adam communicates knowledge to his son Seth, the progenitor of the race of gnostics. In the story, he receives messages from three figures. Three stories are revealed, all of which find biblical precedents: the great Flood, re-population of the world, and  “a cosmic conflagration that is perhaps based on the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah” (Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 2:707). Each event is explained as the creator God’s attempt to destroy the race of Seth. At the end of the text, the author equate baptisms with knowledge.

God Judging Adam 1795 by William Blake 1757-1827

God Judging Adam 1795 William Blake 1757-1827 Presented by W. Graham Robertson 1939 (http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N05063)

Because dating the text is difficult, G. Macrae dates it anytime between the first and fourth centuries CE, more likely earlier than later (Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 2:708). Present form of the text, though, occurred through a growth process of narrative and language elements. Although we may be tempted to consider it either a Jewish or Christian text, depiction of the Illuminator of Knowledge, a major figure within the text, is neither absolutely one or the other. Thus, it may represent a transition period from a form of apocalyptic Judaism to Gnosticism, the latter being a distinct system of practices and beliefs. Macrae suggests that it reflects “an encounter between Jewish practitioners of baptism and sectarian gnostics, who diverge from them on this issue in particular” (Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 1:709).

Musings on the Mythological Background for the Apocalypse of Adam

As I read through this text, I was intrigued by the implicit and explicit references to Greek mythology. I list a few examples below:

Text Reference
“Then God, the ruler of the aeons and the powers, separated us…” (ApAdam 1:4)



The idea that Adam and Eve were once a single androgynous being reflects the androgyne myth (Aristophanes’s Speech from Plato’s Symposium)



“And God will say to Noah – whom the nations will call Deucalion” (ApAdam 3:8)



In the Greek flood story, Deucalion is the hero (See Apollodorus, Bibliotheca, 1.7.2; Pseuo-Lucian, De Dea Syria 12-13)



“He is a drop. It came from heaven to earth. Dragons brought him down to caves” (ApAdam 7:24)



“The infant Zeus is said to have been hidden and nourished in a cave; cf. Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1.1.6-7” (Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 1:717, footnote j)



“Of the nine Muses on separated away” (ApAdam 7:31)



Although this reference is not to any particular story, the Apocalypse of Adam continue to note that the Muse became androgynous and conceived. This is a common motif in Greek myth (See Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1.3.5)



Although this list of references is quite brief, it does well to highlight how Greek mythology informed the way in which the author of the Apocalypse of Adam approached and viewed the world and history. Each reference to Greek mythology was appropriated for his specific purpose. No doubt he was influenced by Greek myth. At the same time, no doubt he viewed the world in a way unique to him and his community.

My point is that, as people viewing texts 2,000 years after the fact, it is important to recognize two aspects of every culture: (1) each culture should be permitted to stand independently and read on their own terms, and (2) we should recognize that each culture influences the other. Seeing that texts are products of cultures, these aspects are equally applicable to texts. In the case of the Apocalypse of Adam, Greek mythology and thought influenced the text; however, the text is also an independent testament of a particular historical situation and worldview. Balancing these two aspects is one of the greatest challenges when reading ancient texts and seeking to understand how ideas developed.

*For those who read Pseudepigrapha Saturday consistently, please be aware that I will be wrapping up my Pseudepigrapha Saturday posts for the foreseeable future. I am doing this because I start at the University of Chicago mid-September. While I still plan on using my blog as a way to study (i.e. posting about major texts in my courses, posting about approaches and methodologies, etc.), I will not be posting on a weekly, consistent basis. 

Pseudepigrapha Saturday: Eldad and Modad

UPDATE: 8/2/2016

I should clarify that the Book of Eldad and Modad is only cited by title at one point, namely in The Shepherd of Hermas. In this post, I am not focused on the traditions surrounding the text as much as how the quote expands upon Numbers. Being made aware of my lack of clarity, I will work more diligently to provide more thorough introductions for my Pseudepigrapha Saturday posts.

Special thanks to Jim Davila at PaleoJudaica for his comment.

Introduction to the Text:

Unlike texts for which an entire document or multiple fragments exists (i.e. Jubilees, Maccabees, Pseudo-Phocylides, Theodotus, etc.), the Book of Eldad and Modad is only cited one time within a second century Christian work called the Shepherd of Hermas. The text says the following:

“The LORD is near to those who turn (to him),” as it is written in the (book of) Eldad and Modad, who prophesied in the desert to the people.

– Hermas, Vision, 2.3.4

This brief citation from the Book of Eldad and Modad expands upon an occurrence in Numbers 11:26. In Numbers 11:25, Eldad, Modad, and the rest of the elders prophesied, altogether 70 elders. While 68 of the elders stopped, Eldad and Modad continued prophesying. A person reported to Moses that they were still prophesying. Moses responded: “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them” (NIV, Numbers 11:29).The Book of Eldad and Modad, therefore, expands upon the ambiguity of what these two men prophesied.

The Book of Eldad and Modad as an Expansion for Literary Structure

Although we lack a full version of the Book of Eldad and Modad, we can conjecture as to how the book, and the citation in particular, changes the structure and overall aim of Numbers 11:26-29. As previously noted, it provides more color for characters by revealing previously unknown and ambiguous prophecy. Concurrently, inclusion of this prophecy by Eldad and Modad helps to shape the text as a whole. Consider Numbers 11 with and without inclusion of the prophecy (possible location for the prophecy is italicized and bolded):

26 Now two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the Spirit rested on them. They were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp, saying “the LORD is near to those who turn (to him)”. 

27 And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.”

28 And Joshua the son of Nun, the assistant of Moses from his youth, said, “My lord Moses, stop them.”

29 But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!

Numbers 11:26-29 (ESV)

As a literary expansion, elucidation of the particular prophecy of Eldad and Modad serves as a foil to both Joshua and the young man. It effectively makes them both look silly because they choose want to silence prophecy that is of the LORD. It also strengthens Moses’ claim because by highlighting that prophecy for all is a good thing. The opposition between Joshua’s and young man’s reaction and Moses’ reaction suggests that the expansion was intended to justify and make more pointed Moses’ statement.

“Expanding Ezekiel” by Timothy P. Mackie

Timothy P. Mackie. Expanding Ezekiel: The Hermeneutics of Scribal Addition in the Ancient Text Witnesses of the Book of Ezekiel. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, pp. 339, 100 €.

In this high-level study and analysis of the scribal additions in the book of Ezekiel, Timothy P. Mackie (Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at Western Seminary, Portland Oregon) explores the variety of textual additions. Through his methodology and large grouping of what he considers to be scribal additions, Mackie contributes the broader discussion regarding early Jewish textual transmission practices.

Inspired by J. H. Tigay’s The Evolution of the Gilgamesh Epic, his methodology for identifying textual expansions in the MT, as compared to the OG tradition, draws on quantitative differences. While he assumes that both texts have a common ancestor, he does provide both traditions, the OG and MT, with indepdendent literary integrity. Following, he engages in a highly nuanced terminological discussion in order to establish his framework for organizing what he sees as scribal textual expansion: explication, elaboration, and coordination. Within each category, which outline the purpose of the expansion, Mackie provides multiple results, results shaped by study of the expansions. Each result he break down further into four categories for the source of the scribal expansion: new, in-text, inner-text, and inter-text.

Chapter III-IV explore a variety of the expanded texts within each category, result, and source. Unfortunately, due to the large number of scribal expansions (a complete list of scribal expansions is available in the appendix), he is only able to directly engage with a select few expansions.

Specifically relevant to Ezekiel, Mackie posits that late scribal expansions in the book “express a preservative orientation not just for the text in general but for its particular wording” (207). Thus, Mackie provides an important, small window into the diversity of Second Temple period textual transmission practices. This is especially evident in that his analysis highlights how intimately familiar scribes were with other biblical traditions during the period of transmission. He also briefly compares the textual transmission of the Gilgamesh Epic to Ezekiel and the Synoptic Gospels to Ezekiel, two things which I shall comment upon below. Ultimately, he place his stake within broader discourse by emphasizing that his analyses of the scribal expansions show “the complex relationship between the transmission of scriptural texts and the interpretive traditions surrounding them” (218).

While I have no doubts Mackie’s work is somewhat significant, his conclusion that he contributes “in a substantial way to our understanding of Jewish scribal practice in this period” (218) is quite overstated. His research does provide greater understandings of scribal practices and techniques; however, speaking metaphorically, all he does is sharpen an already existing sword. He provides important supporting data and conclusions that strengthen our understandings, though not necessarily substantially.

I do applaud Mackie, though, for his methodology and the more nuanced interpretations within the text of Ezekiel. Regarding the methodology, the clear categorical distinctions and coverage of so many types of scribal additions illustrate how strong his methodology is. Yet with a strong methodology, a more thorough investigation of Ezekiel would have been beneficial. The majority of scribal additions are merely added into the large appendix. Direct analysis of these additions with his methodology may have yielded more authoritative and significant conclusions. On the select additions which Mackie does analyze, each one contributes in a very nuanced way to our understandings of scribal additions. Perhaps a future study will engage more thoroughly with the material.

On a more negative note, I shall comment on a conclusion by Mackie. In comparing the transmission history of the Gilgamesh Epic to Ezekiel, Mackie notes that “the scribe whose work we have observed int his study leaned more towards the preservative mode”, while “the scribes active during the final stages of the Gilgamesh Epic’s development more often played the role of literary contributors, and on a much larger scale, reshaping and reformulating the base text as much as preserving it” (211). His comparative conclusion could be significant; unfortunately, the conclusion lacks depth and evidence to be justified, for it wasn’t anywhere near the focus of his study. Additionally, there is an unacknowledged danger in comparing the late expansions in Ezekiel to a text like the Gilgamesh Epic: if Ezekiel’s expansions emerged following period which adhered to Greek scribal epistemology, then he applies a Greek scribal epistemology to ancient Near Eastern texts. As Marc van de Mieroop (2016) has wonderfully explored, Babylonians did, in fact, have a unique epistemology. Therefore, Mackie must provide justification in order to compare textual transmission from two distinct philosophical frameworks.

He is on point, though, when he reads Ezekiel’s textual growth (MT and OG) as a historical parallel to the textual growth of the Synoptic Gospels. Because late textual additions in Ezekiel occurred in a similar context as the Gospels, his idea of reading these two as parallels (Ezekiel and Synoptic Gospels) is justified. Further study upon this topic may very well reveal substantial information about the nature of Jewish exegetical and scribal practices.

In conclusion, Timothy P. Mackie’s in-depth analysis of late Jewish scribal techniques provides a small puzzle piece in the grand scheme of how we understand the topic. While a few of his conclusions are too strongly stated or don’t stand up to scrutiny, his methodology and insights that Ezekiel parallels the Synoptic Gospels is valuable. There is a lack of substantive conclusions, which may have been due to a limit of page within the book. For those specifically engaged in closer readings of Ezekiel from a highly technical perspective, I do recommend this work. Even then, Mackie fails to offer insight into the vast majority of what he calls scribal additions. That said, I hope that he makes scribal additions to his book and writes in further detail about the nature of scribal additions in Ezekiel.

Pseudepigrapha Saturday: Demetrius the Chronographer

Introduction to the Text:

Demetrius was an ancient historian who wrote about the “inconsistencies and obscurities found in the biblical tradition, especially in matters of chronography” [1]. A chronologist is one who records the order in which things happen. So, Demetrius, as a chronologist writing from a Jewish perspective, attempts to provide a coherent timeline of events within the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible.

At the moment, we only have six extant (existing) fragments. Each fragment is present via excerpts of Alexander Polyhistor (yet another ancient historian) in Praeparatio Evangélica by Eusibius (and yet, another yet: an ancient, Christian historian). That is to say that we don’t have any full manuscripts, only quotes and citations from other authors.

On the Nature Chronography by Demetrius 

As noted previously, Demetrius was chiefly interested in writing a cogent history of biblical tradition with special regard for chronology. What some have missed, though, is exactly what constitutes “chronology”. In the few extant fragments, what can we learn about how Demetrius, and thereby others in a similar school of thought, conceptualized chronology and decided what was relevant?

Fragment 2 focuses on the chronology from Jacob to Joseph, with specifics about the life cycle of each figure and major geographical movements. Fragment 2 specifically notes that, after Jacob left Laban following a twenty year period, Jacob met and wrestled God. Consequently, his name was changed to Israel.

“And while he was going to Canaan, an angel of the Lord wrestled with him, and touched the hollow of Jacob’s thigh, and he became numb and went lame; on account of this the tendon of the thigh of cattle is not eaten. And the angel said to him that from that time on he would no longer be called Jacob, but Israel” [2].

Although this could be interpreted as a transition explaining to the reader why Demetrius now briefly refers to Jacob as Israel, and to note that they are the same people, it is important consider the context of this statement. Unlike the original Genesis narrative, Demetrius is primarily providing a chronology. Thus, it is important to read the brief digression as a part of the genealogical chronology [3].

Within Demetrius the Chronographer, the sudden digression into the name change of Jacob is an important part of the genealogy. Surrounding context only focuses on geography and chronology. So, the sudden addition of the name change account must have some purpose and connection to its surrounding context, for it doesn’t serve any explanatory purpose of an inconsistency or incongruity. If we read the name change account as a part of the genealogy, then, it becomes evident that Demetrius understands Jacob’s geographical movement into the land of Canaan and subsequent encounter with God as a new generation.

So, a change in name, and thereby identity, is just as important to Demetrius as the birth of a child or age of a person. Having been written in the 3rd century BCE, it highlights the importance of and relationship between names and identities. When considering the method of Demetrius in constructing a coherent chronology, one must consider that what Demetrius considered to be relevant to chronology is not necessarily what we consider to be relevant to chronology.

[1] J. Hanson.”Demetrius the Chronographer”. James H. Charlesworth (ed.). The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Volume II, Third Edition. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2013.

[2] Ibid., 849.

[3] Lorenzo DiTommaso, “A Note on Demetrius the Chronographer, Fr 2.11 (=Eusebius, PrEv 9.21.11),” Journal For The Study Of Judaism In The Persian, Hellenistic And Roman Period 29, no. 1 (February 1998): 81-91.