The First Jewish Members of SBL

In his history of the SBL, Ernest W. Saunders notes that its first Jewish members were Marcus Jastrow, Gustav Gottheil and the latter’s son, Richard J. H. Gottheil, who joined in 1886, a few years after the society was founded (Searching the Scriptures: A History of the Society of Biblical Literature, 1880-1980 [Society of Biblical Literature Centennial Publications 8; Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1982], 6-7). Apart from Jastrow’s great Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic Literature, I realised that I knew very little about these scholars, so I decided to look into them a bit.

Penn has a great online exhibit on The Meaning of Words: Marcus Jastrow and the Making of Rabbinic Dictionaries. Jastrow was born in 1829 in eastern Prussia (formerly part of the Kingdom of Poland). After traditional rabbinic studies, he studied in Berlin and took a PhD from Halle in 1855, eventually coming, after some political difficulties, in 1866, to Philadelphia to become rabbi at the Congregation Rodeph Shalom. In addition to his painstaking work with the dictionary, he was also involved in important ways with the Jewish Encyclopedia (1906) and the English translation of the Bible under the Jewish Publication Society. Quoting from the Penn site:

Jastrow introduced a new type of religious leadership and learning to America, one heavily influenced by the academic model of the German university, the spirit and methods of historical-critical inquiry, and the religious reform of Jewish theology and ritual observance. As David Werner Amram, a scholar of early Hebrew printing and friend, put it in a memorial address “[Jastrow’s] thought was a blend of Talmudism, classicism, and modernism.”  Jastrow’s arrival meant that familiarity with the best of European scholarship would now enter the mainstream of American Jewish cultural life. Indeed, Jastrow’s three major scholarly contributions – his English-Aramaic rabbinic dictionary, his role in the creation of the first English-language Jewish Encyclopedia, his contribution to the first Jewish critical translation into English of the Hebrew Bible – as well as the scholarship of his son Morris, all bear witness to this revolutionary cultural and intellectual transfer.

Gustav Gottheil was born in Prussia, but served the Manchester Congregation of British Jews in the UK for 13 years. He then went to the Temple Emanu-El in New York to succeed Samuel Adler. An active leader, he was also a founder and president of the Jewish Publication Society and involved in the American Zionist movement. The NY Times obituary for him (20 April 1903) prints one Dr. Silverman’s eulogy: “Dr. Gottheil believed in a progressive judaism. He believed and taught a Judaism that vibrated with the life of the present day,t hat was abreast of the modern science and philosophy. He loved the present with a ll its great problems; he kept his finger on the pulse beat of the world in order to know exactly the early symptoms of the religious and social life, that he might be ready to suit his word and work to the real and urgent needs of the time.”

Richard Gottheil was born in Manchester, England, in 1862, but moved to New York with his family as a child when Gustav Gottheil took up his position in New York City. After undergraduate work at Columbia, he studied in Berlin, Tübingen, and Leipzig, obtaining his PhD from the last of these in 1886. He worked especially in Semitics, focusing especially on Hebrew, Syriac and Arabic texts, including some from the Cairo Genizah. In 1903, he served as the president of SBL – as far as I can tell, from this list, its first Jewish president. He was, moreover, an ardent Zionist and was the first president of the Zionist Organization in America. Joshua Bloch memorialised the younger Gottheil in this way:

‘He was the first to organize a curriculum of Semitic courses at Columbia, and taught in almost all the branches falling within the scope of the department, including many courses in Old Testament studies. In those days a knowledge of Hebrew and Greek was an essential requirement in the preparation for the Christian ministry. But for an accurate knowledge of the Sacred Scriptures more than that was necessary. The fruits of archae- ology and criticism demanded their rightful place in circles where biblical studies were pursued. Few among the intelligent, church- going people of that day knew anything of the new and completely transvaluated estimate of the surviving literature of the ancient Hebrews which modern critical scholarship had arrived at. When Gottheil began his work at Columbia, it was his ambition that this altered appreciation of Hebrew literature should be widely understood and accepted by intelligent people without any disturbance of faith and without any of the painful and trying and destructive criticism which confronted the last decades of the nineteenth century. No easy task, indeed, and a rather delicate one at that; for, those were the days when Robertson Smith in Scotland, and Charles A. Briggs and Henry P. Smith in America were tried for “heretical” opinions on matters biblical’.

For further reading:

David Werner Amram, Memorial Address on the Tenth Anniversary of the Reverend Doctor Marcus Jastrow (Philadelphia, 1913); further here.

Richard Gottheil wrote a biography of his father, The Life of Gustav Gottheil: Memoir of a Priest in Israel (Bayard Press, 1936).

Joshua Bloch, “Richard James Horatio Gottheil, 1862-1936,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 56.4 (1936): 472-89, with extensive bibliography of his works.

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A mysterious citation: ‘Cursed is the one without a seed in Israel’

In a short note published in 1983, N. Adkin called attention to a curious quotation in (esp.) Latin fathers: maledicta sterilis, quae non parit semen in Israel (with variations) (N. Adkin, ‘An Unidentified Latin Quotation of Scripture related to Isaiah 31,9’, Revue Bénédictine 93 [1983]: 123-125). He called attention to this citation in Jerome, Let. 22.21.1, Adv. Helv. 20; Adv. Iovin. 1.22 (cf. 1.37); in Isaiam 2.4.1, 15.56.4-5; in Zach. 3.14.18-19, but also in Origen, in the Latin translation by Rufinus of Hom. in Genesis 11.1 and in Jerome’s Latin translation of Origen’s Hom. in Ezech. 4.1; in the Ambrosiaster, Quaest. 1.17; Cassian, Conlat. 21.32.2; and Quodvultdeus, Liber promissionum 1.25.34. None of them offer a definitive identification for this citation (nor do their editors), though Jerome combines it several times with Isa 31:9 and Ps 127:3.

Writing before the advent of the fully searchable corpora we now have, Adkin erroneously suggested ‘Neither Augustine nor Ambrose nor any other Greek Father cites it’. In fact, it appears in Augustine on Faustus’s lips (attributed to Moses):  ‘So we find him pronouncing a curse on all youths of both sexes, when he says: “Cursed is every one that raises not up a seed in Israel.” This is aimed directly at Jesus, who, according to you, was born among the Jews, and raised up no seed to continue his family. It points too at his disciples, some of whom he took from the wives they had married, and some who were unmarried he forbade to take wives. We have good reason, you see, for expressing our abhorrence of the daring style in which Moses hurls his maledictions against Christ, against light, against chastity, against everything divine’ (14.1; cf. 14.13). And we find the quotation in Greek (via the TLG) in a couple of places: a (7th century?) tractate of Adversus Judaeos literature (ἐπικατάρατος ὃς οὐκ ἔχει σπέρμα ἐν Ἰσραήλ), and in St. John of Damascus in the Expositio fidei, 97: ἐπικατάρατος πᾶς, ὃς οὐκ ἐγείρει σπέρμα ἐν τῷ Ἰσραήλ. It also occurs in some later medieval Latin authors like Aelred of Rievaulx and Bernard of Clairvaux, though probably derived from Jerome.

But where does this citation come from? None of the proposed explanations Adkin examines is convincing, and he rightly repudiates them all. And yet it seems to appear on the scene as something that has widespread currency as scripture. Any ideas?


Oxford New Testament Seminar, Trinity Term 2014

Senior New Testament Seminar

Trinity Term 2014

Fridays 2.30-4.00 pm

(see below for locations)


09 May (2nd week)

The Pusey Room, Keble College

Dr. Courtney Friesen (Oxford)

‘Drinking Early? Dionysiac Intertexts and Acts 2’


23 May (4th week)

The Stafford Crane Room, Keble College

Dr. Matthew Novenson (Edinburgh)

‘Ancestry and Merit in Early Jewish and Christian Messiah Texts’


06 June (6th week)

The Stafford Crane Room, Keble College

Dr. Simon Gathercole (Cambridge)

‘Sins in Paul’


20 June (8th week, 2.30-6.00pm)

Marking the Retirement of Prof. Christopher Rowland

The Pusey Room, Keble College

Prof. Loren Stuckenbruck (Munich)

‘Jewish Apocalyptic and the Understanding of Time in the New Testament
in Recent Interpretation’

Dr. Christine Joynes (Oxford)

‘Seeing the Scriptures: Reviewing the Task of Biblical Exegesis’

*Queries to Dr. Ben Edsall

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A Missing Translation of F. C. Baur

I have previously called attention to overlooked (partial) translations of Baur in American periodical literature in his own lifetime. I recently came across another planned translation, this time of Baur’s essay comparing Plato and Jesus, but one that apparently never came to fruition. On pp. 258-59 of the American Biblical Repository for January 1839, we find notice that ‘A volume of Selections from the German will be published early in the ensuing Spring, translated by Profs. Edwards and Park of Andover.’ Among the principal contents is listed ‘IV. Comparison of Platonism with Christianity by Prof. Baur of Tübingen’. When the book was published, however, later in 1839, we find Baur lacking (together with some of the other proposed contributions). On page 8 there is a footnote that reads: ‘We may here mention that another volume is in the course of translation which will be entirely devoted to Plato and Aristotle. It will include the Life of Aristotle by Dr. A. Stahr of Halle, and a Comparison of Platonism with Christianity by Prof. Baur of Tübingen. It will also contain an estimate of the character of both these philosophers, with illustrations from the recent commentators upon their writings’. (One paragraph is translated on p. 386). Unfortunately, so far as I can see, such a volume was never published. It’s a pity. But is there languishing in some Massachusetts library an unpublished translation of Baur?

UPDATE: if it were ever completed, and still extant, any translation would probably be among the Park Family papers at Yale. Any adventurous soul in New Haven care to have a snoop around? If I were using those archives, incidentally, I’d be curious about this listing for Box 7: ‘Schleiermacher, Friedrich Ernst Daniel (1768-1834). Notes and a sermon, written in German, unsigned (see box 10, folder 121, v. 5, p. 22). Has this been published and is it widely known? Maybe so, but still interesting…

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Wishing for Manuscript Images

We’ve seen lots of wonderful news in terms of free and easily accessible images of a number of manuscripts of classical, New Testament and early Christian texts in recent years.

But if I had to signal one manuscript that is not yet online but I wish would be made accessible, it would be Codex Hierosolymitanus 54 (H), sometimes also called Codex Constantinopolitanus or Ἁγίου Τάφου 54. This is the manuscript Bryennios discovered in the 1870s in the Jerusalem Greek Patriarchate, and it contains the only (nearly complete) text of the Didache, as well as important witnesses to 1-2 Clement and Barnabas, in addition to a long recension of the Ignatian letters and some other materials. J. Rendel Harris published some images of this manuscript for the Didache in 1887, and Lightfoot did so for the Clementine material in 1890, but photographs of the Barnabas material have never been published in full (except for a photograph in one of Harris’s essays in 1885).

The Library of Congress and the University of Regensberg, and perhaps other institutions, hold microfilms of the manuscript (it was microfilmed under Kenneth W. Clark in the mid-20th century), but it would be wonderful if someone were to fund high quality digital images of this manuscript, and make them freely available online. From the perspective of 2nd century Christian studies, this manuscript must be very high on the list of important manuscripts for which we want images.

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Baur & Lightfoot on history: Pneumatology vs. Christology?

A  speculative question: in thinking about the ways in which 19th century concepts of history underlay some of the prominent exegetical disputes, might it be that, at least in terms of some general currents, the Tübingen school operated with a concept of history determined by the flow of the Spirit (Geist), while the British reaction – above all Lightfoot, Westcott and Hort – conceived of history with the fixed point of the Incarnation primarily in view? And so do these theological concepts shade out into their broader reconstructions of history as, in the former case, a long process of the Spirit’s self-realisation in history, marked by conflict and reconciliation, and in the latter case a more punctiliar moment which the witness of the NT writers unfolds and toward which it continually looks back? So is this a conflict, in part at least, between pneumatology and Christology?


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Two recent T&T Clark titles of note

I have a number of books to mention or review here, and hope to say more about these in coming months. But in the meantime I thought I’d call attention to a couple of notable recent titles by T&T Clark/Bloomsbury, which I received in exchange for writing a few blurbs.

The first is Thomas Wayment’s The Text of the New Testament Apocrypha (100-400 CE). This is a collection of editions and photographs of papyri of a range of early Christian texts for the first three or four Christian centuries. This is a rich resource, though almost every word in the title is open to misunderstanding. In a sense this volume is concerned more with manuscripts than texts, since this is a series of editions of papyri rather than a text-critical attempt to judge the value of these witnesses for the text they preserve. The designation ‘New Testament Apocrypha’ is conventional in some ways, but its problems are well known. Christoph Markschies has spelled these out in some detail in the 180pp introduction to the recent updated and retitled Antike christliche Apokryphen (a new version of Hennecke’s New Testament Apocrypha). A defined relationship to some body of texts already known as the ‘New Testament’ is a problematic assumption, as is the category of ‘apocrypha’ (only certain texts designate themselves as ἀπόκρυφος in antiquity; on which see H. Förster’s recent article in ZNW 104 (2013): 118-45). Moreover, not everything contained in this volume fits even in conventional understandings of those terms (the brief introduction to the volume [only 4pp!] does enough to signal that the author is aware of some of these problems). It is, nevertheless, highly useful to have in one volume the careful editions of these papyri, together especially with the beautiful photographs – the crowning glory of the book, to be sure. There are 47 manuscripts here in 10 categories: Acts of the apostles, Epistle of Barnabas, the Didache, the Gospel of Mary, the Gospel of Peter, the Infancy Gospel of James, the Shepherd of Hermas (by far the largest number, with 18 mss), Sayings Gospels, Narrative Gospels and Unidentified Fragments. There are no translations, but those interested in serious primary source work will be very grateful for this wonderful book. 

The other isn’t really a new book, but worth noting nonetheless. Scholars of early Christianity and early Judaism have long relied on the ‘new Schürer’: the revision of Emil Schürer’s classic work, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ, revised by a team of Oxford scholars in the 1970s and 80s, including Fergus Millar, Martin Goodman and the late Geza Vermes (together with others for individual sections). The revision – three volumes in four – was published only in hardback for a long time, making it difficult to afford for the individual scholar. At long last, however, it is now available in paperback, at a much more reasonable – if still not cheap – price. But even though there’s been a lot of water under the bridge in Jewish studies over the past 30-40 years, and a more thorough revision of these volumes might at some later stage be desirable, there is still a mass of useful information here that remains worth consultation.

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