The Christian Monks Who Saved the Jewish Literature of the Second Temple Era

While some of the late books of the Hebrew Bible were composed after the building of the Second Temple in the 5th century BCE, much of what Jews wrote from around 200 BCE to the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE has been ignored by Jewish tradition. These centuries, however, were a period of significant Jewish literary creativity, the products of which have been preserved in part thanks to Orthodox Christian monks. Malka Simkovich writes:

Some of the most popular Jewish documents that were highly circulated among Jews in the ancient world were preserved in monasteries that thrive to this day: St. Catherine’s monastery in the Sinai Desert, and the twenty monasteries on the Greek peninsula of Mount Athos. Both St. Catherine’s and Mount Athos were settled by Orthodox Christians in the early medieval period, and both are geographically isolated: St. Catherine’s is surrounded by desert, and Mount Athos’s rugged mountainous terrain, with its sharp cliffs that give way to the sea, is difficult to access. . . .

The manuscripts preserved in the library of St. Catherine’s include three copies of the ancient Jewish novel Joseph and Aseneth. . . . In the first half [of the novel], the lovely Egyptian maiden Aseneth, a daughter of the priest Pentephres [Potiphera], falls in love with Joseph. This section builds off of the passing reference to the marriage of Joseph and Aseneth in Genesis 41:50–52. . . . When Pentephres [first] mentions to Aseneth that he is considering giving her to Joseph as a wife, Aseneth, who has not yet met Joseph, reacts with disgust that she would have to marry a lowly Israelite. But when Joseph comes to visit Pentephres’ household and Aseneth meets Joseph for the first time, she is immediately smitten and renounces her idols. . . .

Joseph and Aseneth touches on a number of themes that readers in the late Second Temple period would have found pertinent to their own lives. [Along with] Daniel, Joseph was the consummate Diaspora Jew. He lived in Egypt (like hundreds of thousands of Jews who lived there in the late Second Temple period), was widely respected among Gentiles, and never renounced his ancestral faith. Readers of this story would have appreciated Joseph’s effective balancing of his tradition with being a modern man of his times. They also would have appreciated the typically Hellenistic features of the story: an unlikely romantic pairing, threats against the hero’s life by a wicked antagonist, and a story that climaxes in a battle between good and evil forces.

Read more at Lehrhaus

More about: ancient Judaism, Apocrypha, Hellenism, History & Ideas, Monasticism, Orthodox Christianity

The State Department Seems to Be Covering Up Palestinian Incitement

July 26 2017

Last week, the U.S. State Department released its annual report on global terrorism in the year 2016, and, for apparently the tenth consecutive year, the report defended the Palestinian Authority in language identical or nearly identical to that used in years before. For example, the 2016 report notes that “The PA has taken significant steps during President [Mahmoud] Abbas’s tenure (2005 to date) to ensure that official institutions in the West Bank under its control do not create or disseminate content that incites violence.” That same sentence also appeared in the department’s reports for 2015, 2014 and 2013. Similar repetition of language from those years and years earlier can be found across the report.

What’s going on? “Two prominent former Israeli diplomats are charging that the State Department is recycling parts of its old reports in order to whitewash the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) incitement to violence,” Rafael Medoff writes, quoting the former Israeli diplomat Alan Baker:

[According to Baker], State Department officials seem to be “taking previous reports and copying them, making slight changes where they consider it relevant,” instead of objectively assessing the PA’s most recent behavior.

Baker said that not only has the PA failed to take “significant steps” against incitement, but “the opposite is the case—their own actions, statements and publications, naming streets and squares after terrorists, formally paying fees to terrorist families, all point to a distinctive step backward in violation of Palestinian commitments pursuant to the Oslo Accords.”

The result, Baker said, is that “the Palestinians see it as a license to continue and as support for their struggle. If the State Department closes a blind eye, this is tantamount to giving a green light.”

[According to a second Israeli diplomat], the State Department slants its reports about the PA because the department “fears that its own words will be used to buttress congressional efforts to cut aid to the PA. . . . ”

Read more at JNS

More about: Israel & Zionism, Palestinian Authority, Politics & Current Affairs, State Department