Friday, June 26, 2009

Picking up the Pieces

Shall we finish things off? Dan Levene (Southampton) and Matthew Ponting (Liverpool) gave a presentation that was methodologically significant for the conference but dealt with Mishna and Palestine. In short, they discussed a startling set of data in Roman Palestine where unlike all other metalworking sites after the introduction of brass, there is very little chemical mixing between the brasses and the bronzes. This implies that there was pretty much no zinc around in the shops and they were quite conservative in their opposition to brass. It requires a concerted effort between the shops and the "scrap-metalers". This seems to be confirmed by the lists of objects in m. Keilim (especially 11-13), but why is another question. Probably had something to do with purity, but that was not the purpose of the talk.

After a few rice cakes and peanut butter (stay tuned for the "department of British entertaining), it was back to antiquity, and cedars at that. Michael Stone basically cataloged this tree in literature, ancient and late antique, and demonstrated the way in which its pairings with things like vines was literary and not botanical. The most entertaining moment was, of course, a Gafni one. There is a Yerushalmi passage that describes how Bar Kokhba tested incoming troops - by taking off their fingers. The rabbis disapproved and suggested that he have the soldiers try to uproot cedars from the backs of horses. Gafni has a colleague who argued that the story must be fictive, as cedars don't grow in the land of Israel! (talk about old school historical scholarship!). In retort, Gafni replied that there are no cedars left in Israel since they were uprooted - by Bar Kokhba's soldiers.

The very calendrical Sacha Stern gave a talk about calenders, which we will have to get to later. And I had to miss Sabah Alidihisi's talk about the Mandaeans in order to catch my flight - any conference goers reading this who might want to fill in the blank?


  1. "the story must be fictive, as cedars don't grow in the land of Israel! (talk about old school historical scholarship!)"

    --forgive my ignorance (or dont, as you wish), but please explain why this is old school...and what the new school (namely,,,who?) would say? and why Gafni's comment is funny? -- on the surface, to a talmud ignoramus like myself, it seems not very serious, but hardly scholarly-like.

  2. It is old school to normally assume that a folk story with obviously exaggerated elements that appears in the Yerushalmi (and Palestinian midrashim) is historical, and only disprove its historicity based on a botanical "fact." Gafni's comments plays off of this - that if you take the story as history, then you can anyway explain why there are no cedars, because bar kokhba's men uprooted them.
    Like all humorous moments, through explanation I have just neutralized its potency.


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