The Purple of Royalty

Slaves Hill, TimnaA recent report from Israeli archaeologists should be of great interest to all of us. Excavations at Timna, just north of Eilat, have revealed a hoard of textiles, including some dyed purple, from the era of Kings Dovid and Shlomo, almost 3,000 years ago. No, Timna was not part of the Jewish kingdom at that time, but this is very much a story of significance for the history of Bnei Yisrael in the time of the Tanach. In fact, we will see that it is even connected to our understanding of the building of the Beis Hamikdash.

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John the Baptist and the Dead Sea Scrolls: Purity Perspectives

Mikveh at QumranI want to begin my remarks today with a methodological issue that needs to be brought to bear in the attempt to place John the Baptist squarely within the framework of Second Temple Judaism. This has to do first with the extent of our knowledge of the religious situation in the Greco-Roman period in the Land of Israel and, second, with the ramifications of this situation on the use of comparative evidence.

Here is what concerns me: we need to recognize that the amount of information that we have about the complex ferment of ideas that was going on in this period is very fragmentary. This is true not only about many of the significant texts that were recovered at Qumran, of which we have some 5-15% preserved (judging form biblical MSS), but also about the various groups that we term “sects.” After all, had the Dead Sea Scrolls not been preserved and had they not been found, look how much less complex our view of Second Temple Judaism would have been! Now imagine how much richer our understanding would be if the libraries or genizot of other communities (assuming that such collections existed) were to come to light. So… Continue reading

Putting Together the Story of Chanukah

The ancient sources that tell the story of the Chashmona’im

Story of ChanukahAsk any Jewish child who the hero of Chanukah is, and he or she will automatically respond, “Yehudah the Maccabee.” But how do we know this? Our traditional sources (an excerpt from Megillas Taanis quoted in the Gemara, Al Hanisim and Rambam) do not mention the names of Yehudah and his brothers. But our ancestors must have known the names, because a tremendous number of boys in the Bayis Sheini and Mishnaic times were given the names of Yehudah and his brothers: Shimon, Elazar, Yochanan and Yonasan. Of course, the name of their father Matisyahu is known to us from Al Hanisim, but nothing is mentioned there of his heroism or his role in the Maccabean Revolt. The Gemara, followed by the Rambam, does tell us that the revolt was led by the sons of Chashmona’i, referring to Matisyahu. So how do we know the rest of the story? And where can you go if you want to get all of the details?

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