Friday, October 09, 2015

Destroying a manuscript to save manuscripts?

LET'S NOT MAKE A HABIT OF THIS: Destroying a Manuscript to Test Multispectral Imaging (Peter J. Gurry, ETC). I get why they did this and I assume they did it responsibly, but overall let's stick to non-destructive and non-invasive scanning technologies.

Recent somewhat relevant posts are here and here and links.

The International Qur'anic Studies Association

A NEW ACADEMIC SOCIETY: The International Qur'anic Studies Association. John F. Kutsko, Executive Director of the Society of Biblical Literature has e-mailed the following:
In 2012, SBL received a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation for a consultation to explore the formation of a learned society for scholars of the Qur’an. In May 2014, the International Qur’anic Studies Association (IQSA) incorporated as a wholly independent organization, with a governance structure and programming to support a scholarly guild and its members. Following incorporation, IQSA filed for 501(c)(3) status as a tax-exempt, non-profit organization.

I am delighted to inform you that on 30 September 2015, your colleagues in Qur’anic studies received approval from the IRS. Our congratulations go to all involved in IQSA: Emran El-Badawi (executive director, University of Houston), Gabriel Said Reynolds (chair, University of Notre Dame), the IQSA board, and IQSA’s members.

Please visit IQSA’s website— —to learn more about its programs and services. Join IQSA members at their meeting, which affiliates with SBL at the Annual Meeting.

Please help support and encourage their mission to foster Qur’anic scholarship.
I am delighted to see this important development and am happy to add my congratulations. The academic study of the Qur'an has been around for a long time, but it is taking on new strides and there is much work to be done. I look forward to following the work and progress of IQSA.

Some related posts here and here and links.

Lieu on Marcion

Marcion and the Idea of Heresy

Is not the task of the historian to judge whether certain views were or were not ‘heretical’; instead the ‘heretic’ has been defined as such by the styles of argument and ways of structuring truth adopted by those whose position ultimately came to dominate.

See Also: Marcion and the Making of a Heretic: God and Scripture in the Second Century (Cambridge University Press, 2015).

By Judith Lieu
Lady Margaret’s Professor of Divinity
Faculty of Divinity
October 2015
Marcion will also be the subject of an SBL session next month, as noted in this unfortunately titled ETC post: Marcion Smackdown in Atlanta (SBL) (Tommy Wasserman). And Larry Hurtado discusses Marcionism briefly in his latest blog post in the context of early Christian diversity.

I noted a couple of recent related publications here and here.

Patmore, The Transmission of Targum Jonathan in the West

The Transmission of Targum Jonathan in the West: A Study of Italian and Ashkenazi Manuscripts of the Targum to Samuel (Journal of Semitic Studies Supplement)
Paperback – 15 Oct 2015
by Hector Patmore (Author)

Targum Jonathan is one of our most important sources for understanding how Jews read, interpreted, and used the Hebrew Bible in Late Antiquity and in subsequent generations: it is cited widely in rabbinic literature and by medieval commentators (Rashi, Kimhi, etc.) and continued to play a role in synagogue liturgy and study. Through a detailed study of the extant medieval manuscripts of Targum Samuel that were produced in and around Italy, France, Germany, and England, this book explains how and why the text of Targum Jonathan changed over time. It explores the relationship of these manuscripts to the ancient translations of the Hebrew Bible (e.g. Septuagint, Vulgate, Peshitta) and to Hebrew manuscripts containing variant readings of the biblical text; it examines their unique exegetical variants, including the complex system of marginal notes in the famous Codex Reuchlinianus No. 3, and analyses the longer versions of the Targum found in liturgies and those designated Tosefta Targums, which incorporate a wealth of additional haggadic material. This volume will be of interest to anyone engaged in text criticism of the Hebrew Bible, the study of Jewish exegesis, liturgy, and manuscript production, or the development and use of Aramaic.

Review of Briant, Darius in the Shadow of Alexander

Pierre Briant, Darius in the Shadow of Alexander (translated by Jane Marie Todd; first published in French 2003). Cambridge, MA; London: Harvard University Press, 2015. Pp. xvii, 579. ISBN 9780674493094. $39.95.

Reviewed by Jennifer Finn, Marquette University (


To scholars of ancient studies, Pierre Briant will be undoubtedly be a recognizable name. His Histoire de l'empire perse: De Cyrus à Alexandre (translated into English in 2002) broke ground in historical studies as an exemplum for an egalitarian incorporation of Classical and Near Eastern source material, and its methods were at the forefront of a profusion of novel interpretations of cultural interaction in the ancient Mediterranean.1 Promised in this initial study was an evaluation of the source material related to Darius III, the much-beleaguered opponent of Alexander the Great. Briant delivered, with the publication of Darius dans l’ombre d’Alexandre in 2003. This edition, now translated into English, is unmodified, excluding the addition of a new preface. Briant maintains that the last sentence of the introduction to the first edition should be unchanged: the objective remains “to explain why Darius, along with so many others, is condemned to haunt the realm of historical oblivion” (x).

Not about ancient Judaism, but provides some rich material on the international historical and political context of Second Temple Judaism.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Review of Magness, Archaeology of the Holy Land

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Book Note: Magness, Archaeology of the Holy Land (Brian Leport). I noted the book here back in 2012 when it was published.

Anxious Zechariah

PHILIP JENKINS has been posting lots of interesting things in recent months over at The Anxious Bench and I have fallen far behind in noting them. I'm going to try to keep better track and also, over time, to catch up with some of his past posts. For starters, I note his recent series on the Book of Zechariah:

Placing Zechariah

Zechariah's Apocalypse

Zechariah and Revelation

Zechariah’s Angels

Archaeology at Cartagena

PUNIC WATCH: Archaeologists unearth more of the history of Cartagena. Cartagena may have been a large Roman weapons factory (Murcia Today).
It sometimes seems that Cartagena has so much history that it’s hard to know what to do with it all, and more prime examples of the wealth of archaeological heritage in the city are currently being unearthed in the Plaza de la Merced.

The second dig in the Plaza de la Merced is only in its early stages, but already the Decumanus Maximus (the main east-to-west street) has been located and a possible monument to nymphs has been found. Below the nymphaeum are the remains of a Punic home, whose destruction is thought to date from the time of the Roman conquest of the city by Scipio Africanus in 209 BC.

The Spanish town of Cartagena does a commendable job of extracting the full tourism potential from its Punic heritage. They celebrate a Punic festival every year in September.

The birthday of the world

SEDER OLAM RABBA: This Day in Jewish History, 3761 BCE The World Is Created, According to the Hebrew Calendar and an Obscure Sage. Basing himself on no source but the bible, Rabbi Yose ben Halafta, who lived in the 2nd century CE, sat down and did the math (David B. Green, Haaretz).
October 7, 3761 B.C.E., is the date on which the world was created – according to the Hebrew calendar that governs the passage of time among the Jewish people.

The calculation of the year is fairly simple to understand; how the precise day and month were arrived at is a little more complicated.


It is generally accepted that the sage Rabbi Yose ben Halafta is one who made the calculation. He was a tanna, a sage of the Mishnaic period, who lived in Sepphoris, a town in the Galilee, in the 2nd century C.E.

Yose ben Halafta was one of the principal students of Rabbi Akiva, the most revered rabbinical figure of his time. Rabbi Yose was in turn the teacher of Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi, who would become the chief editor of the Mishnah, one of whose most frequently cited rabbis is Ben Halafta. He is commonly accepted as the author of the book Seder Olam (“Order of the World,” sometimes called Seder Olam Rabba, the “Great Order of the World,” to distinguish it from a later work with the same name), a history that attempts to give dates to all of the people and events mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, and up to Rabbi Yose’s time, which coincided with the Bar-Kochba Revolt of 132 C.E.

For Rabbi Yose, the only relevant source is the Bible. He does not attempt to reconcile it with any other chronology, but rather, to make sense of and quantify the chronology as it presented in Scripture.

The ascribed authorship of the tractate is traditional and should, as usual with these things, be taken with a grain of salt. Whatever its original date of composition, Seder Olam Rabba seems to have undergone a long process of editing. Its chronology is a bit dodgy in places: it makes the period of Persian domination between the building of the Second Temple (520 BCE) and Alexander the Great (c. 333 BCE) only 34 years.

The other Queen Helena

THE JERUSALEM POST: The Queen who Built a Palace in Jerusalem (ELAINE ROSE GLICKMAN, The Streets of Jerusalem Blog).
Actually, there are two Queen Helenas. One was an empress and the mother of Constantine the Great, who in the fourth century visited the Holy Land and – according to legend – located the tunic of Jesus, pinpointed the site of his resurrection, and even found the nails used in his crucifixion. When my family rented an apartment on Heleni Hamalka last summer, I assumed that was the Helena for whom the street was named. I didn’t realize until later that there was another Queen Helena, and I am sorry not to have fully appreciated her legacy while I was in Jerusalem.

Well, at least you’ll know better next time you are in town! And the Heleni Hamalka memorialized in Morasha is definitely worth knowing. An early-first century queen of Adiabene (a district in ancient Assyria with its capital in present-day Iraq), Helena became acquainted with Judaism through Jewish merchants who visited her country and – according to legend – hired a tutor in order to learn everything she could. Around the year 30 C.E., she turned her back on the dominant Ashurite religion and – along with her younger son Izates – formally converted to Judaism.
Queen Helena of Adiabene was a real historical person, but that doesn't necessarily mean that all the stories told about her in the rabbinic literature are historical. More on her is here and links.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Witte, Texte und Kontexte des Sirachbuchs

Texte und Kontexte des Sirachbuchs
Gesammelte Studien zu Ben Sira und zur frühjüdischen Weisheit

[Texts and Contexts of the Wisdom of Sirach. Collected Studies on Ben Sira und Early Jewish Wisdom Literature. Published in German.]

In the essays of this volume, Markus Witte focuses on text-critical and literary-historical problems of the book of Ben Sira, portrays its different theologies and determines its position in the context of the early Jewish wisdom.

Religious appropriation of Cyrus the Great

BIBLIOGRAPHIA IRANICA: Religious Appropriation of National Symbols in Iran: Searching for Cyrus the Great. An article by Menahem Merhavy published this year in Iranian Studies 48.

Background on Cyrus the Great is here and here and many links, in some of which I comment on anachronistic efforts by Iranians and others to present Cyrus as a tolerant, modern-minded, founder of human rights.

An hydraulic gardening system in Petra

NABATEAN WATCH: Meet 3 Erie women archaeologists (Marissa Orbanek. All three are doing interesting work, but I want to focus on that of Professor Leigh-Ann Bedal, who is excavating Nabatean (Nabataean) material in Petra, Jordan.
Bedal, an associate professor of anthropology at Penn State Behrend, directed an excavation of an ancient desert garden and pool complex that appeared in a documentary feature on PBS this past year. The program, "Petra: Lost City of Stone," uses computer reconstructions and hydraulic studies to explore the elaborate water systems in the capital city of ancient Nabatea, located in modern Jordan. The program is part of a three-episode series, "Building Wonders," produced by Nova. Other episodes explore the Roman Colosseum and the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.

"When I started this in 1997, I had no idea what I was getting myself into," Bedal said. "I had been digging in Petra for a few years and wanted to discover more history that would add to the Temple. But when I started digging, we uncovered so many features in just that one field season and realized that this wasn't a market place of the temple, but rather, it was a pool and a garden."

Bedal discovered evidence of an elaborate hydraulic system and a large garden terrace -- the only known example of a Nabatean garden.
Background on the Nabateans and Petra is here and many links.

Schiffman on Ir David

LAWRENCE SCHIFFMAN: Rediscovering Ir David. New Finds Revealed in an Ancient City.
The exciting results of archaeological excavations of ancient Yerushalayim have been coming to light steadily since the reunification of the city during the 1967 Six Day War. More recently, the area of Ir David, the City of David, to the south of Har Habayis (Temple Mount), has been yielding amazing discoveries.
A popular article published in Ami Magazine.

Reinhartz on JBL

THE EDITOR SPEAKS: The Journal of Biblical Literature and the Critical Investigation of the Bible (Adele Reinhartz). A fascinating history of JBL with reflections on its past and present roles.

HT Ancient Jew Review Twitter.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

The recent history of the GJW

MORE IMPROBABILITIES: 'Gospel of Jesus's Wife': Records Hint at Improbable Journey of Controversial Papyrus (Owen Jarus, Live Science). Mr. Jarus has uncovered some sources about the life of the man who reportedly originally bought the Gospel of Jesus' Wife in the 1960s, Hans-Ulrich Laukamp. The current, anonymous owner claims to have bought the fragment from Laukamp. A couple of excerpts:
Laukamp died in 2002, and the claim that he owned the text has been strongly disputed by Rene Ernest, the man whom Laukamp and his wife Helga charged with representing their estate. Ernest told Live Science that Laukamp had no interest in antiquities, did not collect them and was living in West Berlin in 1963 and thus couldn't have traveled to Potsdam from across the Berlin Wall. (West Berliners were not allowed to visit Potsdam at that time.)

Similarly, Axel Herzsprung, Laukamp's friend and business associate, told Live Science that Laukamp never had an interest in antiquities and never owned a papyrus. Laukamp has no children or living relatives who could verify these claims.


If the "Jesus's Wife" papyrus is authentic, it would mean that Laukamp would have had to figure out a way to reach Potsdam in 1963. In that year, West Berliners could only travel to East Berlin at Christmas, and only if they had family on that side of the city, according to historical records from that time period. President John F. Kennedy himself protested these conditions, flying to West Berlin in 1963 to give his famous "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech.

If Laukamp did try to reach Potsdam, he would have risked being caught and would have had to explain to East German, and possibly Soviet, authorities that the papyrus he was carrying, with the Coptic handwriting, was simply an ancient papyrus and not a coded message.
The story doesn't sound very likely. On the one hand, the history that actually happened frequently sounds pretty unlikely. But on the other, the problems with the story of the recent history of the GJW just add to the pile-on of unlikely things we have to believe if we take it to be a genuine ancient artifact. As I have said before, maybe we won the lottery this time, but I remain to be convinced.

The main significance of the material that Mr. Jarus has uncovered is that it provides lines of inquiry that could illuminate the story further, such as copies of Laukamp's signature that could be compared to the unpublished sale document bearing a signature that is supposed to be his.

Read it all. Background here and many links.

Textual criticism articles

ETC: Recent Journal Articles on Textual Criticism (Peter J. Gurry). Including a couple of new (small) Septuagint fragments of the Book of Job.

More on Tut's tomb

HIDDEN CHAMBERS? INTERVIEW: Egypt's antiquities minister speaks on the search for Nefertiti in Tutankhamun’s tomb. Egyptian Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh Eldamaty tells Ahram Online his expectations and plans regarding Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves' theory on the location of Nefertiti’s crypt (Nevine El-Aref). Excerpt:
Ahram Online (AO): What is your opinion about Reeves' theory, and could it be true?

Minister: It is a respectable scientific theory that could prove right or wrong, and when examining the west and north walls of Tutankhamun’s burial chamber, I realised that all the evidence that Reeves mentioned regarding the existence of hidden chambers is true.

I also noticed an area on a wall where the type of stone used was different than that in other walls. It is covered in painted plaster with the purpose of hiding something.

I am 75 percent certain we will find chambers behind both walls, but not one containing Nefertiti.

If the theory proves true and we locate Nefertiti’s resting place, we would be facing a discovery that would overshadow the uncovering of the golden king himself. This would be the most important discovery of the 21st century.

However, if we find the tomb of another royal member or an extension of Tutankhamun’s tomb, the discovery would be on par with the original discovery of the king's tomb in the 20th century.
Oh. Well is that all?

Seriously, it is not time to get excited yet. Let's wait until they actually find a hidden chamber or two, if they do. But this could turn into a very important discovery and meanwhile I will be watching the situation closely.

For background and reasons why it matters to PaleoJudaica, see here. Cross-file under Technology Watch.

The Jehoash inscription, geology, and politics

THE ASOR BLOG: The Jehoash Affair: A Personal Recollection (Howard R. Feldman). I cannot judge the merits of the article by Prof. Feldman's team, both because I haven't seen it and because I would not be qualified to judge the geological analysis if I did. I certainly hope that politics did not play a role in its rejection by an unnamed geological journal in 2008. But I do know that if one has written an article one believes in, it may take a rejection or two to get it published. I am surprised that there is no mention of the article being submitted again to a different journal. I encourage them to do so.

Background on the Jehoash Inscription (Joash Inscription), which is still widely regarded to be a forgery, is here and here and many links

Palmyra, ISIS, and history

PALMYRA WATCH: IS ‘terrified by history,’ says UNESCO after Palmyra Arch blown up. UN’s cultural body says it will make every effort to ensure those behind the destruction are brought to justice (AFP). Well yes, I hope that happens. But I'm not holding my breath.

Meanwhile, we can at least keep the real history of the region in the forefront, whatever ISIS does to try to eliminate it.

Background here with many links.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Shemeni Atzeret and Simchat Torah 2015

SHEMINI ATZERET began last night at sundown. In Israel, this is also the holiday of Simchat Torah (Simhat Torah). Outside of Israel, the latter holiday begins tonight at sundown. Best wishes to all those celebrating!

The biblical and other background is noted here.

Blaming "the Jews" for Middle East antiquities looting

OH DEAR: Jewish conspiracy looting Mideast antiquities, say Arab archaeologists. Prominent Iraqi, Syrian historians claim Jews seek to destroy region’s Arab heritage to avenge 2,500-year-old Babylonian exile (Tamar Pileggi, Times of Israel/AFP).
According to a prominent Iraqi historian and archaeologist and a Syrian director of the country’s famed Palmyra museum, an “international Jewish mafia” is plotting to loot Iraq and Syria of its most valued antiquities in an effort to prove the veracity of the Jewish Bible and eradicate evidence of Arab heritage in the Middle East.

“The Jews are always looking for antiquities – especially Middle Eastern ones, and particularly Iraqi ones – in order to prove that the Torah is true,” Ali al-Nashmi, the Iraqi archaeologist, said on the pan-Arab Mayadeen television channel earlier this month.

MEMRI has posted both interviews here with English subtitles. My spoken Arabic is not good enough to make out more than a word or two here and there. But MEMRI is good at providing reliable translations in the videos they post, so, along with the AFP, I am taking them at their word in what follows — with all the usual caveats about things I have not fully verified firsthand myself. The content reported in the video and the article is almost the same (see below).

Given Palestinian Jewish-Temple denial, widely repeated in the Arab world etc., and the depredations of the Waqf on the Temple Mount, it's hard not to see a certain amount of projection in the reported comments.

After some more comments on the same lines as those already quoted, we come to this:
Walid Al-As’ad, the director of the Palmyra Museum, spoke to the Mayadeen network in a similar vein, explaining that Jews are driven to “erase the Arab origins of these antiquities” – this time a reference to Syrian artifacts – and “destroy the city [of Palmyra] and wipe it off the face of the Earth, in order to erase the memory of their Babylonian exile,” an exile he said was abetted by archers from Palmyra who served in the army of Chaldean King Nebuchadnezzar II when he destroyed the First Temple and exiled the Jewish elite to Babylon.
Neither interviewee seems to have a very clear idea of what the "Torah" is. Palmyra (Tadmor) is not mentioned in the Pentateuch. The only biblical mentions of the site are in 1 Kings 9:18 and 2 Chronicles 8:4, with reference to the reign of Solomon. The story about the archers does not appear in the Bible at all. I don't know whether the Talmud mentions Tadmor. (The video does not show either speaker saying the phrase "in order to erase the memory of their Babylonian exile," although it appears — not as a quotation — in the caption below the video.)

Then we come to this:
In August, Islamic State jihadists beheaded Walid’s father, Khaled Al-As’ad, and hanged his mutilated body in public. The elder As’ad had served as director of the Palmyra Museum for 40 years until his retirement in 2003, when Walid took over the position.
Now I know the junior Mr. Asaad (As'ad) lives in a Baathist state and his government may have put him up to this, or he may be speaking out of fear of reprisal from ISIS. Or both. So I'm trying to cut him some slack. But this is just sad, and it brings shame to the memory of his father.

For reports on the destruction of Palmyra (by ISIS, not the Jews) and the murder of the senior Asaad (also by ISIS), see here, here, here, here, and many links. Some other relevant recent posts are here and here, and don't forget to follow those links.

Was Jesus a Phoenician?

SHORT ANSWER: NO. LAU lecture explores question: Was Jesus a Phoenician? (Lebanese Examiner).
(NEW YORK) — The Lebanese American University held a lecture Wednesday exploring evidence compiled by author Karim El Koussa, which suggests Jesus may be a Phoenician, according to his private studies.

The university hosted the Lebanese author at the LAU New York Academic Center, where university officials frequently host public forums and hold Arabic language courses, among others.

El Koussa said 40 people attended the lecture, which included a book signing for his publication “Jesus the Phoenician.” He admits the results of his studies often spark controversy because they contradict conventional beliefs that Jesus was a Jew.

“Some people are used to the traditional way of thinking that was imposed on them throughout their life and are definitely afraid to open their minds to controversial ideas in matter of religion and history,” El Koussa said, referring to points discussed in his book. “They usually react in a very fierce way as if they are threatened, although many of the reference I am using are coming from the New Testament itself.”

No actual arguments are included in the article, so there are none to reply to. But Jesus was a Galilean who self-identified as a Jew. The lecturer's credentials for his remarkable assertion are "a degree in communications from NDU." This notion is not one even noticed, let alone taken seriously or treated as a theory in the scholarly literature on the historical Jesus.

This is perhaps related to the notion that Jesus was a "Palestinian," on which I commented some years ago here and here.

More destruction at Palmyra

PALMYRA WATCH: Islamic State destroys Palmyra’s triumphal arch. Activists say jihadist group has destroyed the Arch of Triumph at Syrian archaeological site because of ‘idolatrous’ columns (AFP).

Background here and links.

Bar Kokhba-era site vandalized

ISRAEL HAYOM: Bar Kokhba-era antiquities site razed by Palestinian vandals (Efrat Forsher). Ancient city in Gush Etzion was site of first discovery of one of the caves Bar Kokhba used for concealment during his second century revolt against Roman rule • Students at the Kfar Etzion Field School come across irreparable damage during field trip.
An antiquities site that served as an encampment for Jewish leader Shimon Bar Kokhba during his revolt against the Romans from 132 to 136 C.E. has been destroyed by Palestinian vandals.

Discoveries made at the Kiryat Arabia site, located near the village al-Arub in Gush Etzion, have been a vital source of information about the period of the Bar Kokhba Revolt, and its destruction is a blow to research efforts.

In 1968, a winding, branching cave was discovered at the site, the first of the system of caves where Bar Kokhba hid to be discovered. A few years later, the Kfar Etzion Field School began conducting excavations at the site under the guidance of Professor Yoram Tsafrir, which turned up exciting finds and shed light on the final days of the revolt.

The cave was originally dug beneath the ancient community of Kiryat Arabia, which is mentioned in scrolls found at Nahal Hever in the Judean Desert. The Nahal Hever scrolls also include military correspondence between Bar Kokhba and his fighters.

In one that apparently dates back to 134 C.E., Bar Kokhba orders a man named Yehuda Bar Menashe, who was in Kiryat Arabia, to supply him and his soldiers with the Four Species mandated by Jewish law (citron, palm, myrtle and willow) for the observance of the approaching Sukkot holiday. This demonstrates how strictly Bar Kokhba and his army followed the commandments of Jewish law, even under difficult circumstances.

The letter mentioned is P.Yadin 57. The location, vocalization, and meaning of the site named "Kiryat Arabia" is uncertain. It may or may not have to do with "Arabia" or "Arabs." It is also uncertain whether it is to be identified with the vandalized site. Also, the article does not make clear how the writer knows who did the vandalizing.

It is an ironic synchronicity that the vandalizing of a site that may be mentioned in P.Yadin 57, which letter also refers to preparations for the Festival of Sukkot, was discovered and announced during the Festival of Sukkot some nineteen centuries later.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Review of Quinn and Vella (eds.), The Punic Mediterranean

Josephine Crawley Quinn, Nicholas Vella, The Punic Mediterranean: Identities and Identification from Phoenician Settlement to Roman Rule. British School at Rome studies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014. Pp. xxvi, 376. ISBN 9781107055278. $125.00.

Reviewed by Carolina López-Ruiz, The Ohio State University (


This important collection of essays explores current debates about Phoenician culture in its western Mediterranean aspects, a field of growing interest.1 Its authors examine what we call “Punic” culture, that is, the western Phoenician colonial world after the sixth century (all dates BCE), marked by the rise of Carthage. The contributors agree that the name Punic (from the Latin for “Phoenician,” or “Carthaginian,” poenus, punicus) does not correspond with a clearly defined and distinct identity, but should be treated as a subset of the broader “Phoenician world,” slippery, vague, and complex as that term might be in turn. The ultimate (and frustrating) difficulty for historians and archaeologists is how to discuss those cultures (Phoenicians, Sardinians, Iberians, Numidians, and others) who left little or no literary evidence and no surviving self-defining narratives, without creating artificial modern categories shaped by material evidence, institutional projects, and intellectual trends. How do we bridge the gaps and correct for the biases in the Greek and Roman sources in order to form a more authentic view of the “Phoenicians” that is not Hellenocentric or Romanocentric? Do the cultural differences reflected in material practices reflect a separate identity between western and eastern Phoenicians? In general, the chapters all build on current views of the construction of identities and postcolonial theory, offering a fresh perspective on old and recent archaeological materials and (in fewer cases) written materials.

Cross-file under Punic Watch.

More on the carbonized Leviticus scroll

THE SMITHSONIAN: 1,500-Year-Old Text Has Been Digitally Resurrected From a Hebrew Scroll. Special software helped reveal the words on a burned scroll found inside a holy ark near the Dead Sea (Devin Powell). HT Jim West, who notes that James Aitkin is quoted in the article. Nice video too.

Background here and links.

New chambers in Tut's tomb?

TECHNOLOGY WATCH: Search for Nefertiti's burial chamber in Tutankhamun tomb (BBC).
While assessing the scans last February, Dr [Nicholas] Reeves spotted what he believed were marks indicating where two doorways used to be. The archaeologist from the University of Arizona says he believes Nefertiti may lie inside.

Egypt's Antiquities Minister Mamdouh el-Damaty hopes that non-invasive radar equipment can be used in the tomb within the next three months.

"If it is true, we are facing a discovery that would overshadow the discovery of Tutankhamun himself," said Mr Damaty.

Radar equipment "will confirm whether there's something" there, he added.
No, this isn't about ancient Judaism. But since I am forever going on about the imminent promise of non-invasive and non-destructive scanning technologies, it seemed worthwhile to note a case where primitive forms of such technologies are already being used to solve an archaeological question. I hope they do find more chambers in Tut's tomb — preferably well stocked ones! But the real point is that the technology now exists either to find them or to rule them out.

CFP for digital editions conference

ETC: Call for Papers: Digital Editions: Academia, Society, Cultural Heritage (Peter J. Gurry). Note that the date of this conference is 16-18 March 2016, not the 2015 typo at the link. The deadline for submission of proposals is 16 October 2015.

Krasnowolska and Rusek-Kowalska (eds.), Studies on the Iranian World I. Before Islam

BIBLIOGRAPHIA IRANICA: Studies on the Pre-Islamic Iranian World. Notice of a new book: Krasnowolska, Anna & Renata Rusek-Kowalska (eds.). 2015. Studies on the Iranian World I. Before Islam. Krakow: Jagiellonian University Press. Nothing specific on ancient Judaism in the TOC, but the Manicheans (Manichaeans) come up a couple of times.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Review of Bradley, Smell and the Ancient Senses

Mark Bradley (ed.), Smell and the Ancient Senses. The senses in antiquity. London; New York: Routledge, 2015. Pp. xii, 210. ISBN 9781844656424. $39.95 (pb).

Reviewed by Stuart Eve, University College London/L – P : Archaeology (


Mark Bradley opens this collected volume of 13 essays by stating: “one of the most interesting things about smell is its very transitoriness and elision from the record, as well as its ambiguities and complexities” (p. 2-3). This sentence sums up the book as a whole and sets the stage well for what can be considered an excellent collection of work on smell in the ancient world.


The breadth of the different contributions means there is not room to discuss each one individually, but each certainly contributes something useful to the volume and as a whole they give a good overview of the current (and varied) thinking on the subject. The early chapters present excellent discussions of smell for both medical diagnosis and prognosis, along with a discussion of which herbs and trees may have been experienced and exploited for their smelly qualities. In some cases it seems as if the authors are perhaps 'tacking on' a discussion of smell to some of their previous research – this is particularly true of Koloski-Ostrow (with her focus on sewerage systems) and Potter (on Roman dining) – but the contributions don't necessarily suffer for this and indeed it can be taken as evidence of how pervasive the study of smell should be.

The choice of the contributions means interesting juxtapositions are sometimes presented, with Butler's exploration of the poetical creation of the sweet-smelling 'scent of a woman' being set against Bradley's discussion of the foul smells of the body. The chapters on the role of scent and smell in religious contexts, (Clements [on Greek ritual], Green [on smell in Rabbinic Jewish ritual], and Toner [on smell in Christianity]) work together very well to present three different ways in which smell can be used to appease or attract the gods. The exploration of the role of incense throughout these three chapters aptly demonstrates both the ethereal nature of smell, but also its politicisation to achieve one's own aims.3 As Clements says, “odour emerges as an experience of divinity, and divinity, in turn, as an experience of odour” (p. 59).


RevQ 105/27 (2015)

A NEW VOLUME IS OUT: Revue de Qumrân 105, tome 27 (2015). Follow the link for the TOC.

Thompson on "Biblical Archaeology"

Biblical Archaeology: The Hydra of Palestine’s History

Both Israel Finkelstein and William Dever have allegedly distanced themselves from the kind of “biblical archaeology” of William F. Albright. Their own efforts, however, to relate Palestinian archaeology and biblical narrative not only reflect Albright’s earlier methods, they create a politically oriented incoherence. In three recent works, since the turn of the millennia, Finkelstein uses archaeologically based arguments primarily to resolve problems of biblical interpretation. Dever, who also has published three biblical-archaeological studies since 2001, concentrates, rather, on archaeological issues, while using biblical narrative for his underlying historical context. A discussion of the figures of Solomon and Josiah on the one hand and a discussion of “landscape archaeology” and site classification, on the other hand, illustrate the shortcomings of their methodology.

This article has been published as part of the Festschrift for Niels Peter Lemche, Teologi, historie og erindring, in the Dansk teologisk tidsskrift 78 (2015), 243-260.

By Thomas L. Thompson
Professor emeritus
University of Copenhagen
October 2015


AWOL: Open Access Journal: ARTA: Achaemenid Research on Texts and Archaeology. Lots of good articles on Achaemenid Persia. I noted a recent one here.

The Mt Zion excavation

JAMES TABOR: Fabulous Coverage of our Mt Zion Dig! Professor Tabor links to a popular report on the Mt Zion excavation, headed by him and Shimon Gibson under the auspices of the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. It will be running again in 2016.

Background on the excavation and its most famous discovery, the "Mt Zion cup," is here and links.