1. I finished my assigned reading of Jacob Lauterbach’s Rabbinic Essays. What stood out to me today was something Lauterbach said on page 255:
Indeed, the decree of the two Joses declaring the land of the gentiles unclean (Shab. 15a) may have been issued for the very purpose of stopping this extensive emigration of the people into foreign lands…
The Talmud reference reads as follows (in whatever translation my Judaic Classics Library is using):
Jose b. Jo’ezer of Zeredah and Jose b. Johanan of Jerusalem decreed uncleanness in respect of the country of the heathens and glassware. But the Rabbis of the eighty years decreed this? For R. Kahana said, When R. Ishmael son of R. Jose fell sick, they [the Rabbis] sent [word] to him, Rabbi, Tell us the two or three things which you stated [formerly] on your father’s authority. He sent back, Thus did my father say: One hundred and eighty years before the destruction of the Temple the wicked State [sc. Rome] spread over Israel. Eighty years before the destruction of the Temple uncleanness was imposed in respect of the country of heathens and glassware. Forty years before the destruction of the Temple the Sanhedrin went into exile and took its seat in the trade Halls.
The Joses lived in the second century B.C.E. They declared the foreign lands unclean, according to legend, and yet, another view is that the lands became unclean eighty years before the destruction of the temple, which would be in the first century C.E.
I remember Fishbane saying that some authors in the Hebrew Bible viewed foreign lands as unclean. I wonder how he would address Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 15a.
2. I read Mordechai Coogan’s introduction to his II Kings commentary. Coogan says that texts from the time of Nebuchadnezzar say that King Jehoichin was in Babylon, which is consistent with the Bible. But there are differences between what one ancient Near Eastern text says and what the Bible has. Sargon says that he conquered Northern Israel, whereas the Bible attributes that to Shalmanesar V. Which is right is a matter of debate.
The ancient Near Eastern texts can also illuminate the historical context of the Bible. According to Coogan, the Babylonian Chronicle records “the downfall of the Assyrian empire, the military intervention of Egypt on its behalf, and the unsuccessful struggle with Chaldean Babylon allied with the Medes.” This provides a context for Josiah’s meeting with Pharaoh Neco in II Kings 23:29.
3. I continued my way through Lee Levine’s Judaism and Hellenism in Antiquity. Levine documents that many rabbis opposed the depiction of humans and animals, as a violation of the commandment; that Rabbi Gamaliel said it was all right, as long as the representations weren’t used in worship; and that there were synagogues in Palestine that didn’t care or didn’t know what the rabbis taught, for they depicted humans and animals.
4. Robert Byrd has passed away. Sean Hannity liked to call him Robert “KKK” Byrd because Byrd was a high-ranking member of the Ku Klux Klan back when he was younger; Byrd also filibustered against the Civil Rights Act. There were conservatives who pointed to Byrd to argue that there were racists in the Democratic Party, in response to the liberal charge that Republicans are racist. Hannity made a big deal about Byrd’s statement that there are “white niggers”. Personally, I don’t think Byrd should have used the “n” word, but we should remember what he was trying to say: he was explaining why he wasn’t a racist anymore. He learned that there were good people and bad people in all races, and so he should judge people by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.
Byrd himself had some conservative leanings. I remember reading in George Stephanopoolos’ All Too Human that Byrd gave President Clinton a flamboyant speech about how gays in the military led to the fall of Rome. And anti-war conservative Bill Kauffman remarked that he wasn’t surprised that Byrd opposed the Iraq War, on account of Byrd’s conservative, constitutionalist leanings.
Yet, Byrd was called the “King of Pork”, on account of all the pork that he got for his poor state of West Virginia.