Archive for May 2014

The True Herod: by Geza Vermes (yes!)   3 comments


T&T Clark announced a new book by Geza Vermes. It seems he left this draft before he left our world. Who was Herod the Great? How did he come to govern one of the most politically tumultuous regions in the world? Was he the heartless baby-killer of Matthew’s Gospel, or does this popular tale do Herod a great disservice? Geza Vermes, whose work on the Historical Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls has made him one of the most recognisable names in Biblical and Jewish studies, provides a new portrait of Herod. Vermes examines Herod’s legacy as a political leader, and a potentate, a man of culture, and an all-round smooth operator. Vermes opens up the fascinating character of Herod, from his sizable and fragile ego to his devastation at the execution of his beloved wife, an execution that Herod ordered himself. Beginning with the key historical sources (notably Josephus) Vermes moves on to consider Herod’s greatest legacy and testament – his extensive building works, which include the Temple in Jerusalem, Masada and Herodium. Colour images, combined with Vermes’ lively prose make this new picture of Herod an enticing and informative guide to one of Ancient History’s most misunderstood figures.


James Charlesworth’s review:

In this final book of his career, published posthumously, Geza Vermes’s insightful eye remains as sharp as ever. Rejecting the traditional villainous presentation of Herod the Great, and drawing on both literary and archaeological evidence, Vermes argues that Herod was a complex figure, capable of terrible acts but also of loyalty and diplomatic brilliance. Beautifully illustrated, and written with a real relish for presenting a personality almost larger than life, this book vividly explores the history of the Jews, Herod’s stunning rise to power, the convolutions of Herod’s personal and political life, his maniacal murders, monumental architecture, death and legacy. Herod has both horrified and fascinated us throughout the centuries, and this book superbly captures why.
Joan E. Taylor, King’s College London, UK
In The True Herod, his richly illustrated account of this much-maligned king of the Jews, Geza Vermes once again teaches us that to write great history is also — perhaps first of all — to tell a great story.
Paula Fredriksen, Boston University, USA
This is a fascinating journey into the past; the stimulating narrative causes the reader to ponder, wonder, and speculate about human frailties and fortunes. How does an evil genius succeed in building monumental cities and the Temple, even bringing peace to a tortured land? This biography of Herod, ‘a genuine tragic hero,’ is another of Vermes’s monumental achievements from a life devoted to research, study, and reflection.
James H. Charlesworth, Princeton Theological Seminary, USA



Posted May 22, 2014 by Mina Monier in Reviews

The Biggest Event on the Historical Jesus: Book Now!   1 comment


“I am pleased to be able to announce that a conference will be held this summer that looks to be outrageously fun and interesting.   It will be at King’s College, London.   And it will be on the Life of Brian and the Historical Jesus.   I have been asked to give one of the papers, and how could I refuse!   I’m going to have to cut short a family vacation in France, but there’s no way I’m missing this.  Here’s the publicity for it.” -Bart Ehrman

Jesus and Brian: A Conference on the Historical Jesus and his Times

20th – 22nd June 2014, King’s College London


Join some of the world’s most eminent biblical scholars and historians, with star guests, as they discuss Jesus, first-century Judaea and the controversies of the film Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

Full programme: programme.aspx

*Day tickets are now on sale £65 each.*

Saturday and Sunday tickets include a sandwich lunch as well as morning and afternoon refreshments. The Friday ticket includes a reception with drinks and canapés.

Full Conferenceregistration fee (3 days including lunches and refreshments): Was £220,

*Now £195*
Students/unwaged(3 days including lunches and refreshments): Was £110,

*Now £98*

Formal Conference dinnerat historic Inner Temple on Sat 21st June, with celebrity Key note speaker, *tickets £65*

Posted May 19, 2014 by Mina Monier in Conferences & Events

“Jesus and Temple: Textual and Archaeological Explorations” – Review (1)   2 comments


click on the cover for more information

Finally, the long awaited book Jesus and Temple by James Charlesworth (ed.) was published last month. The book is a collection of nine essays dealing with the current state of knowledge and sources that we have about the Temple of Jerusalem and Jesus (and his followers). The book embarks on a tour de force of cutting-edge knowledge from the latest archaeological works on the Temple mount and sets them in dialogue with our literary sources to give a fresh perspective of them. Literary sources also include a rediscovery of some of the “non-canonical” materials circulated in the early church.

In the first chapter, Charlesworth takes us through a socio-religious description of the life and services in the Temple during the time of Jesus, which helps us to see how Jesus experienced it. The chapter surveys the different financial and religious activities that Jesus was probably involved in, as well as the kind of people and appointees he encountered in his visits to his “father’s house”.

The second chapter is, in my opinion, the most fascinating one. The prolific archaeologist Leen Ritmeyer introduces “Imaging the Temple Known to Jesus and Early Jews”.  Ritmeyer, who spent more than 20 years excavating the Temple mount, revisits the literary reports about the temple structure found in Josephus and the Middot in the light of latest archaeological findings. He shows that the long held opinion that Josephus’ report should replace the Middot’s is not the best explanation for the variety of their views. He shows that archaeology promotes Josephus’ description of the outer area while Middot’s inner court is better. This enables the two  reports to complement each other to give us a better imaging of the Temple. Ritmeyer surveys several images and drawings of the Temple according to the best of today’s knowledge of the Temple’s structure. The pictures are very helpful, especially the isometric ones.

The construction of Leen Ritmeyer

The construction of Leen Ritmeyer

The next three chapters of Dan Bahat, Lawrence Schiffman and Gary Rendsburg deal with the question of the significance of the Temple for the Jews liturgically and theologically. Schiffman surveys biblical and second temple literature to argue for the cosmological centrality of the Temple as the source of divine powers in the world. He shows the graduation of holiness inside the Temple itself from the city to the Holy of Holies. I think that the survey shows how and why the Qumran texts reflected a climactic level of the Temple’s centrality in the life of the Jews and this cannot be explained apart from eschatology.

By the end of the fourth chapter you should have a vivid up-to-date vision of Jerusalem’s Temple at the time of Jesus. The next chapter sheds the light on Jesus’ Birthplace, Galilee, and its relationship with the Temple. I must admit that I find it the most fascinating chapter for its concise treatment of the latest archaeological findings in Galilee and their theological implications. Mordechai Aviam investigates the “Reverence for Jerusalem and the Temple in Galilean Society.” Aviam believes that contemporary scholarship created a baseless emotional hostility between Galilee and Jerusalem by misinterpreting Jesus and Josephus. His argument is that archaeology shows how the Galilean society revered the Temple to a great extent. His argument hinges on the most recent discoveries of the ritual baths (mikvaot), stone vessels, clay oil lamps and, most importantly, the Migdal synagogue. The first two themes are directly related to purification (baths and hand washing) and it is interesting to see how they both disappeared from Jewish life after the destruction of the Temple. For Aviam, this shows how purity washes were exported from the Temple to Jerusalem’s periphery. Clay oil lamps were not also far from purity if we understand the role of the light in the symbolism of Second Temple Judaism (most importantly the menorah).

Finally, the climax of Aviam’s argument is found in his treatment of the recently discovered synagogue in Migdal, Galilee.  In the floor of synagogue a stone with striking decorations was found. The stone’s symbols gathered all the elements of the Temple and its Holy of Holies on its sides and the top of it appeared as an altar with the tools such as the rakes (Magrefot… interestingly we Arab speakers still use the same word for the same tool مغرفة). The position and content of the stone made it appear as a replica of the Temple’s Holy of Holies, which is unparalleled in any of the discovered synagogues. Aviam suggests that these discoveries point towards a high degree of affiliation in Galilee towards Jerusalem and its Temple.

The migdal synagogue stone

The migdal synagogue stone

Despite the fact that these discoveries are impressive and that they do show an affiliation to the Temple, this does not indicate more than a religious attachment to the building which occupied the centre of their faith in God’s covenant. Galilee still experienced high financial burdens due to its triple taxation system that ensured its poverty. Hostility towards the Temple was not towards Judaism but the people working on it in the privileged Jerusalem. This is what could be found in the NT, Josephus and in different ways in counter temple movements like the one found in Qumran. Anyway, this chapter paves the way for what I can see as the second part of the book (the Christian part).

I will leave the next part for another blog post because I will deal with it more critically.

Mina M.

Posted May 13, 2014 by Mina Monier in Reviews