Thursday, October 27, 2016

Politics and the "Jerusalem" Papyrus

THAT DIDN'T TAKE LONG: Holding Up Ancient ‘Jerusalem’ Papyrus, Netanyahu Condemns UNESCO’s ‘Scandalous’ Resolution (David Israel, The Jewish Press).
Speaking Wednesday at the dedication of the Adelson School of Entrepreneurship at IDC Herzliya, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu connected the announcement of a rare, First Temple era Hebrew language papyrus that mentions the name Jerusalem, with the second UNESCO resolution this month that contradicted the Jewish history of the eternal city as well as the fact that two Jewish temples had stood on the compound now taken up by the Al Aqsa mosque.

I think this sort of political use of the newly announced papyrus is premature and unhelpful. It illustrated the concern I expressed yesterday about the papyrus, with its mention of "Jerusalem" in Hebrew in a late Iron Age II setting, as being "too good to be true." Like the Gospel of Jesus' Wife, the papyrus is exactly what the present Zeitgeist would want to have turn up in an ancient inscription. That doesn't prove it's a forgery, and so far the chances of it being genuine look pretty good to me, but it does make me worry. And if it turns out to be a forgery — and it may — the Prime Minister's action here will backfire.

Let's be cautious and take our time here. The IAA should release the full lab report of the carbon-dating testing so they can be evaluated independently. And all the media coverage and blog commentary in the last day is interesting and informative, but the real scholarly discussion of the new fragment only begins when we start to have peer-review publications on it.

Background on the "Jerusalem" papyrus is here and links. Background on the UNESCO resolutions is here and links.

Temple Mount pottery display

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Israel Displays First Temple-era Pottery Fragments Found on Temple Mount. State antiquities agency hopes disclosures will quell competing claims about work carried out at the holy site (Nir Hasson, Haaretz).
Discoveries found in situ on Temple Mount dating to the late First Temple period, excavated and collected by the Israel Antiquities Authority over the last 10 years, were displayed by the agency in Jerusalem on Wednesday. Other finds on display include the remains of a previously unknown monumental Muslim edifice that had been on the northern part of Temple Mount.

With these finds, the IAA hopes to refute that claims on the political right that archaeology on Temple Mount is in a state of anarchy, and also claims leveled by the Palestinians and UNESCO that Israeli archaeologists are party to damaging Muslim antiquities on the Temple Mount and are “Judaizing” Jerusalem.

Then there is some new information about an old story:
Come 2007, there was another incident in which the Waqf dug a channel to lay an electricity cable. Temple Mount activists and the Public Committee Against the Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount claimed that the Waqf had again destroyed archaeological finds on the Mount.

Following that incident, the state comptroller wrote a report on the cable project, but at the request of the government, the report remained sealed and confidential.

In a paper in publication, written with Dr. Ronny Reich and Deborah Sandhaus, Dr. Yuval Baruch, head of the Jerusalem District at the IAA, reveals that during the process of digging for the cable, a great number of archaeological finds were made and hastily excavated.

The excavations were carried out by IAA people on the site while the cable channel was being dug, with the acquiescence of the Waqf people, under spotlights (since the digging for the cable was being done at night).

The finds included pottery, broken bowls, cooking pots and pitchers dating to the late First Temple period (Kingdom of Judah). By them the excavators found animal bones and olive pits.

The pits were sent for carbon 14 dating, without revealing that their source was the Temple Mount, lest that fact influence the conclusions, Baruch told Haaretz.

The results complied with the dating of the pottery to around 2,500 to 2,600 years ago.
I covered the story of the cable excavation back when it happened here and here. It looks as though none of this important information was made public then. Past posts on the State Comptroller's report mentioned in the article are here, here, here, and links. Recent posts on the relevant UNESCO resolutions are here and here and links.

Another UNESCO resolution adopted

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Israel recalls ambassador after second UNESCO vote (APF). The UNESCO World Heritage Committee has adopted the latest resolution, whose full text I still have not seen.

Background here and links.

The Holy Sepulchre tomb uncovered in renovations

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC: Exclusive: Christ's Burial Place Exposed for First Time in Centuries. Restorers working in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Israel uncover stone slab venerated as the resting place of Jesus Christ (Kristin Romey).
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL For the first time in centuries, scientists have exposed the original surface of what is traditionally considered the tomb of Jesus Christ. Located in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem, the tomb has been covered by marble cladding since at least 1555 A.D., and most likely centuries earlier.

"The marble covering of the tomb has been pulled back, and we were surprised by the amount of fill material beneath it,” said Fredrik Hiebert, archaeologist-in-residence at the National Geographic Society, a partner in the restoration project. “It will be a long scientific analysis, but we will finally be able to see the original rock surface on which, according to tradition, the body of Christ was laid."

Whoever may have been buried there (and I neither insist on nor exclude Jesus), this is an excellent opportunity for scholars and archaeologists to study a rock-cut tomb that probably dates to the first-century CE. At least the other tombs nearby fit that description. Todd Bolen has some helpful background on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Holy Sepulcher) at Background on the current renovations to the Church are here (cf. here) and links.

DSS fragments on sale in London

MORE NEW DEAD SEA SCROLLS FRAGMENTS: Dead Sea Scrolls fragments put on sale for first time by Hampstead dealer (Anna Behrmann, Ham & High).
The 2000-year-old relics originally from the West Bank are being marketed for $1million dollars in London as part of a unique exhibition

Hampstead dealer Bernard Shapero is putting the 2,000-year-old relics up for sale at his private sale of Jewish books, manuscripts, art and jewellery.

The five Dead Sea Scroll fragments in Mr Shapero’s possession are extremely rare, with the vast bulk of the fragments now belonging to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

Interesting, but buyer beware. There is good reason to believe that some of the supposed Dead Sea Scrolls fragments now circulating are forgeries. I have no idea what the situation is with this particular set of fragments, but in general caution is warranted.

Background here and links.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Much more on the "Jerusalem" papyrus [with updates]

A MAJOR EPIGRAPHIC DISCOVERY: Oldest Hebrew mention of Jerusalem found on rare papyrus from 7th century BCE. Reference to consignment of wineskins ‘to Jerusalem’ appears on 2,700-year-old First Temple-era scrap believed plundered from Judean Desert cave (Ilan Ben Zion, Times of Israel).
A rare, ancient papyrus dating to the First Temple Period — 2,700 years ago — has been found to bear the oldest known mention of Jerusalem in Hebrew.

The fragile text, believed plundered from a Judean Desert cave, was apparently acquired several years. Radiocarbon dating has determined it is from the 7th century BCE, making it one of just three extant Hebrew papyri from that period, and predating the Dead Sea Scrolls by centuries.

The slip of papyrus, which was being formally unveiled by the Israel Antiquities Authority on Wednesday, measures 11 centimeters by 2.5 centimeters (4.3 inches by 1 inch). Its two lines of jagged black paleo-Hebrew script appear to have been a dispatch note recording the delivery of two wineskins “to Jerusalem,” the Judean Kingdom’s capital city.

There is a reasonably clear photo of the papyrus with the article. The earlier report said the script was dated to the eighth century BCE. This one says to the 7th century BCE. Either looks possible to me.

I had composed this post and was about to press "publish," when a couple of people sent me the following Israel Antiquities Authority press release, which had just come out. The post has been extensively revised, accordingly.

A Rare Document Mentioning the Name of Jerusalem from the Time of the First Temple was Exposed. In a complex enforcement operation, inspectors of the IAA seized a papyrus that includes the earliest reference to Jerusalem in an extra-biblical document, which is written in ancient Hebrew script. Excerpt:
A rare and important find was exposed in an enforcement operation initiated by the IAA’s Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery: a document written on papyrus and dating to the time of the First Temple (seventh century BCE) in which the name of the city of Jerusalem is clearly indicated. This is the earliest extra-biblical source to mention Jerusalem in Hebrew writing.

The document, which was illicitly plundered from one of the Judean Desert caves by a band of antiquities robbers and was seized in a complex operation by the IAA’s Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery, was presented today (Wednesday) in a press of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Two lines of ancient Hebrew script were preserved on the document that is made of papyrus (paper produced from the pith of the papyrus plant [Cyperus papyrus]). A paleographic examination of the letters and a C14 analysis determined that the artifact should be dated to the seventh century BCE – to the end of the First Temple period. Most of the letters are clearly legible, and the proposed reading of the text appears as follows:

[מא]מת. המלך. מנערתה. נבלים. יין. ירשלמה.
[me-a]mat. ha-melekh. me-Na?artah. nevelim. yi’in. Yerushalima.
From the king’s maidservant, from Na?arat, jars of wine, to Jerusalem

I have only briefly tried to read the inscription, but the proposed decipherment looks plausible to me. The name "Jerusalem" is clear in the second line.

Is it genuine? Could it be a forgery? On general principles I would be tempted to file an unprovenanced 7th-8th century BCE Hebrew papyrus that happens to mention Jerusalem under "likely too good to be true." But apparently it was seized by the IAA rather than, as originally reported, being bought from an antiquities dealer. (Or at least, it is not yet clear how the two reports fit together.) And the radiocarbon dating of the papyrus is important. It is not entirely impossible that a forger would be able to get hold of a blank papyrus fragment dating to the 7th-8th century BCE, but it seems very unlikely. And even then, how would the forger be sure enough of the date to make the script of the Hebrew match so well? So I think it is very probable that the papyrus and the inscription on it are genuine and that we should proceed with that as our preliminary conclusion, as the IAA is doing. Sometimes we are just lucky.

This post from February of this year seems a bit prophetic now, doesn't it?

As I've said before, the papyrus needs to be fully published in a peer-review publication before any definitive conclusions can be reached. But meanwhile, this appears to be a very significant discovery and it’s a pity that it was not found in a scientific excavation. It is important that the place where it was discovered be established if that is at all possible.

Background here and here. I have already replied to one journalist with a statement, so some of the above may appear in the media soon. I'll let you know if it does.

UPDATE: Epigrapher Christopher Rollston has put up an important blog post on the papyrus: The New ‘Jerusalem’ Papyrus: Not so Fast….Two excerpts:
IV. The Jerusalem Papyrus is from the antiquities market and it has been floating around on the market for a few years now. It was not found on an actual archaeological excavation. I saw some good images of it a few years ago in Jerusalem.


VIII. Ultimately, I believe that there is a fair chance that although the papyrus itself is ancient the ink letters are actually modern…that is, this inscription is something that I would classify as a possible modern forgery.
Read it all. If Professor Rollston is skeptical, then I should imagine there is good reason for skepticism. But here I would repeat my earlier point above. Yes, ancient blank papyrus is not terribly hard to come by, but the cases I remember hearing of involve papyrus from late antiquity and the Byzantine era (such as the Gospel of Jesus' Wife). There are far fewer papyri surviving from as early as the 7th-8th century BCE. Is it really likely that a forger got a blank piece of papyrus this ancient along with a context that told the exact age of the papyrus so the forger could fake the Hebrew script accordingly? I would think not, but I am open to correction by those better informed. In any case, I note Professor Rollston's objections and they should be taken seriously.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Owen Jarus has published a piece at Live Science which interviews Professor Rollston and which provides more (sometimes confusing) information about the discovery/seizing of the papyrus: Ancient Hebrew Papyrus Seized from Looters, But Is It Authentic?

A photo of the royal steward's tomb

EPIGRAPHY AND ARCHAEOLOGY: Jerusalem — The Neighborhood of Silwan — The Royal Steward’s Tomb (HolyLandPhotos' Blog). A rare photo by Carl Rasmussen in a difficult area to visit.
Unfortunately the second most important tomb from the First Temple Period is located in this village [Silwan]. This tomb was discovered by Clermont-Ganneau in 1870. It had two Hebrew inscriptions – one above the door and the other to the right of it. Both were carved out and sent to the British Museum where they are still housed. The largest inscription was over the door (note the large “gash” there).
I have not encountered this blog before, but it looks very interesting.

HT Todd Bolen at the Bible Places Blog.

More on the Samaritan Ten Commandments tablet

EPIGRAPHY: The media has taken notice of the imminent auction of the "Yavneh 10 Commandments Stone" by Heritage Auctions. I have found several stories on it. All of them seem to be based on the information given at the Heritage Auctions web page. The first below is the most thorough.

Earliest 10 Commandments Tablet Slated For Heritage Auctions (Fine Books and Collections)

Earliest Ten Commandments Tablet On Auction in Beverly Hills (JNi.Media/The Jewish Press)

Got $250,000? Earliest known 10 Commandments inscription up for auction (Grace Williams, Fox News)

Ten Commandments Up for Sale? What the Ancient Document Is Going For (CBN News)

Background here.

Mroczek interview

MARGINALIA REVIEW OF BOOKS: First Impressions # 95: Eva Mroczek on the Literary Imagination in Jewish Antiquity.
There was no such thing as the Bible when ancient Jewish literature was composed. With a more expansive view of sources, we can glimpse our way into a completely different picture of how ancient people might have imagined their own literary world.

Joseph Ryan Kelly speaks with Eva Mroczek, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of California Davis, about her new book The Literary Imagination in Jewish Antiquity.
Some past posts on Dr. Mroczek's book and her other work are here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Petition protesting the UNESCO resolution

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Tens of Thousands Demand UNESCO Stop Denying Ancient Jewish Ties to Jerusalem. Tens of thousands of signatures are on a petition demanding that UNESCO stop denying ancient Jewish ties to Jerusalem (Hana Levi Julian, The Jewish Press).
The Israel education organization “Stand With Us” and the International Legal Forum joined hands with the Israeli delegation to UNESCO on Tuesday and submitted a petition with more than 76,000 signatures of concerned people calling on the world body to recognize the historic ties between Judaism and Jerusalem.

The petition was submitted in Paris to Irina Bokova, secretary-general of the United Nations Education, Science and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Background here and links. Background on the new UNESCO resolution now under consideration is here. I am still waiting to see the full draft text of the latter.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Jewish history in Malta

TRAVEL: Jewish roots in Malta run deep (eTurboNews).
Jewish roots in Malta date back to the 4th and 5th Century during the Roman period as evidenced by several Jewish Catacombs with drawings depicting the Jewish Menorah (candelabra) that can be found at the St. Paul’s Catacomb site near Rabat. The long Jewish history includes periods of enrichment as well as slavery, depending on who was ruling Malta at the time.


Malta, an archipelago located in the sunny Mediterranean, has been one of the best kept secrets for a Jewish Heritage Experience. Not anymore! The Malta Tourism Authority (MTA), in partnership with North American based Exclusively Malta, a destination marketing company with expertise in developing exclusive and unique experiences for visitors to Malta, announced the launch of a Malta program infused with Jewish history that dates back to the Roman Period to the present.


Even the Island of Comino, almost uninhabited today but famous for the Blue Lagoon, has Jewish roots. Comino is where the well-known Jewish Mystic Avraham Abulafia lived from 1285 until his death in the 1290s. During this period, he compiled his Sefer ha Ot "Book of the Sign" as well as his last, and perhaps his most intelligible, work, the meditation manual Imrei Shefer "Words of Beauty".

Malta has shown up in PaleoJudaica from time to time, but always before, if memory serves, in connection with its Phoenician and Punic history and archaeology. See here and links.

The Bible and abortion

Ending a Life That Has Not Begun—Abortion in the Bible

All in all, the Bible does not speak as clearly about abortion as some politicians might wish. Where it does speak about pregnancy and abortion, the God-given character of human life is an important point of departure. On the one hand, there are passages that state how God has plans for some special human beings, his prophets, already during their stay in their mother’s womb. This implies that already at that stage God had selected them as the persons they would become. On the other hand, some passages indicate that human life was only thought to begin either at the moment the fetus was fully developed or even up to a month after the baby’s birth. It is therefore difficult to refer to anything like “the Bible’s teaching on abortion.”

Article from The Bible in Political Debate: What Does it Really Say? (Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016).

By Bert Jan Lietaert Peerbolte
Theology Department
Vrije Universit
The statement "It is therefore difficult to refer to anything like 'the Bible's teaching on [fill in any current political issue]'" is usually pretty accurate.

Hugoye 19.2

Hugoye 19.2


"Bar ʿEbroyo on Identity: Remarks on His Historical Writings"
Dorothea Weltecke, Universität Konstanz

"Wooden Stirrups and Christian Khans: Bar ʿEbroyo's Juwaynī's 'History of the World Conquerer' as a Source for His 'Chronography'"
Pier Giorgio Borbone, University of Pisa

"'And the Impure and Abominable Priests Fled for Help to the Names of the Devils': Amulets and Magical Practices in Syriac Christian Culture Between Late Antiquity and the Modern World"
Marco Moriggi, Università degli Studi di Catania

"British Library Additional 14,686: Introduction, List of Readings, and Translations of Colophon and Notes"
Nils Hallvard Korsvoll, MF Norwegian School of Theology
Liv Ingeborg Lied, MF Norwegian School of Theology
Jerome Alan Lund, Accordance Bible Software

Conference Reports

Recovering the Role of Christians in the History of the Middle East: A Workshop at Princeton University
Michael Reynolds, Jack Tannous, and Christian Sahner

Allographic Traditions among the Arabic-Speaking Christians, Jews, and Samaritans. Workshop on the Writings Systems of Garshuni, Judeo-Arabic, and Samaritan-Arabic
Ekaterina Pukhovaia, Princeton University

Book Reviews

Nestor Kavvadas, Isaak von Ninive und seine Kephalaia Gnostica. Die Pneumatologie und ihr Kontext
Lucas Van Rompay, 's-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands

David A. Michelson, The Practical Christology of Philoxenos of Mabbug
Pauline Allen, Australian Catholic University, University of Pretoria, Sydney College of Divinity
The articles etc. can all be accessed for free at the link.

#AARSBL16 app

NEWS YOU CAN USE: The #AARSBL16 app is here! (James McGrath). That is, if you're going to the 2016 annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature and the American Academy of Religion next month.

Christian Apocrypha at SBL 2016

APOCRYPHICITY: Christian Apocrypha at the 2016 SBL (Tony Burke).
Here is a quick rundown of the sessions and papers at the 2016 Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature focusing on Christian Apocrypha. I hope I found them all. See you in San Antonio.
Good to know.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Late-antique Samaritan Ten Commandments for sale

EPIGRAPHY: 1,500 years old Ten Commandments tablet heads to auction in Texas (News Network Archaeology).
A stone tablet thought to be about 1,500 years old with a worn-down chiseled inscription of the Ten Commandments will be sold next month at auction, with a stipulation that the buyer must put it on public display, an auction house said on Friday.

The two-foot (61 cm) square slab of white marble weighs about 200 pounds (90 kgs) and is believed to be the oldest existing stone inscription of the commandments, Dallas-Based Heritage Auctions said. Opening bid is $250,000 for the stone, which the current owner likes to point out is not the original.

The tablet is inscribed in Samaritan script with the principles which are fundamental to Judaism and Christianity. It was probably chiseled during the late Roman or Byzantine era, between 300 and 500 A.D., and marked the entrance of an ancient synagogue that was likely destroyed by the Romans, Heritage said in a statement.

Although I don't think I have heard of this object before, it has been around for awhile, there is some literature on it, and it seems to have been authenticated as a genuine ancient artifact. The article has a good photograph of the badly eroded inscription. The link to the auction company site has some closeups and views from other angles. The auction site dates it to 300-830 CE, with a somewhat wider range than the article suggests. It also gives considerably more details about the provenance. The report is that it was found near Yavneh.

I assume that any prospective buyer will have all the provenance and authentication details checked thoroughly before the purchase. If those hold up and it is sold, I hope that the buyer donates or lends it to a museum for permanent display.

HT James McGrath on Facebook. Cross-file under Samaritan Watch. For Rabbi Shaul Shimon Deutsch and the Living Torah Museum, see here and here.

Mazza on the Judean Desert papyrus

FACES AND VOICES BLOG: “New” Judean desert papyrus sold by an anonymous antiquities dealer? Dr. Roberta Mazza is a papyrologist at the University of Manchester and the Rylands Library and she provides some expert commentary and links in this blog post, including the identification of the papyrus photo in the Jewish Press article which announced the discovery last week. Over the weekend Corrado Martone also e-mailed me with the identification: "The image published at the top of the article is the so-called Document Dated to Four Years After the Second Jewish Revolt published by the Eshels in 2009." I noted the story of the recovery of that papyus at the time here and here.

As for the new papyrus, which is reported to be in Hebrew and possibly to mention the name "Jerusalem," and which has been carbon-dated by the IAA to the eighth century BCE, we are all awaiting further information that should be released later this week. Watch this space.

Background here.

Another UNESCO resolution

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: UNESCO to vote on yet another anti-Israel resolution. Vote expected on Wednesday on another resolution ignoring the Jewish connection to the Temple Mount (Nitsan Keidar, Arutz Sheva).
The watered down version drops the words "occupying power" in relation to Israel, in an attempt to soften the resolution’s tone and thus make it easier for it to be approved.

In addition, the new version uses the term Western Wall without quotation marks as the original version did.

At the same time, the resolution still includes a denial of the Jewish connection to the Temple Mount. The Temple Mount is mentioned in the resolution as “Al-Aqsa Haram Al-Sharif” and described as place of Muslim worship. The words “Temple Mount” and the fact that the Temple Mount is a holy place for Jews are not mentioned.

The resolution further argues that Israel’s archaeological work in the area is "intentional destruction" and calls on Israel to respect the status quo. The document ignores the Palestinian’s archaeological excavations underneath the Temple Mount.
I would like to see the full text of the draft resolution before I comment in any detail. But from what this article says, it looks as though the many criticisms of the last resolution are having some effect. Watch this space.

Background on the previous UNESCO resolution etc. is here and links.

Visotzky lecture

EVENT: Kent library hosts author Burton Visotzky, discussion of Aphrodite and the Rabbis (The Register Citizen).
KENT >> The Kent Memorial Library will host Kent resident and author Burton L. Visotzky Sunday, Nov. 6 at 2 p.m. He will discuss and sign copies of his newly published book, Aphrodite and the Rabbis: How the Jews Adapted Roman Culture to Create Judaism as We Know It. His writing is published in America, Europe, and Israel. He is the author of eleven books and over 120 articles and reviews.

Rabbi Burton Visotzky serves as Appleman Professor of Midrash and Interreligious Studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary. He is the Louis Stein Director of the Finkelstein Institute for Religious and Social Studies at JTS, charged with programs on public policy. Visotzky also directs the Milstein Center for Interreligious Dialogue at JTS.

Background on Professor Visotzky and his new book is here.

SBL Coptology party

ALIN SUCIU: Coptic Sushi, SBL, San Antonio 2016 Unfortunately Alin will not be able to attend SBL next month in San Antonio. There are a great many of these parties and dinners at SBL this year and I don't know how many I will be able to attend. But I will try at least to stop by as many as I can.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Shemeni Atzeret and Simchat Torah 2016

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

The biblical and other background is noted here.

Langer, Midrasch



2016. XI, 368 pages.
utb Jüdische Studien 4675/1
27,99 €
ISBN 978-3-8252-4675-4

Published in German.
Midrash is Jewish scholars' study of the Bible and its result, the eponymous literary genre. But Midrash is also teaching, mediation and preaching. Gerhard Langer examines the phenomenon of Midrash from its beginnings in inner-biblical interpretation up to the present. He thereby reveals the ways and means used by the scholars to make the writings accessible and keep them alive. The author presents the major Midrash works and highlights important topics with many examples. When it comes to the Jewish religion, Midrash is about nothing less than recognizing the ever-valid Word of God, conveying its constantly to be reinterpreted message, and by so doing become close to him.

Lee, Mapping Judah's Fate in Ezekiel's Oracles against the Nations

Mapping Judah's Fate in Ezekiel's Oracles against the Nations
Lydia Lee

ISBN 9781628371512
Status Available
Price: $49.95
Binding Paperback
Publication Date October 2016
Pages 316

A unique study of ancient challenges to identity boundaries

Ezekiel 25–32 contains some of the most virulent speeches directed against Judah's neighboring nations. Some scholars emphasize that the destruction of the nations in chapters 25–32 means the upcoming salvation of God’s people. Other scholars presuppose that the nations are judged by a separate moral standard and render the judgment executed upon the nations irrelevant to that upon Judah. In this study, Lydia Lee postulates a third way to perceive the rhetorical roles of the nations in Ezekiel 25–32. Unraveling the intricate connections between the oracles against the nations and those against Judah, Lydia Lee argues that Ezekiel 25–32 contains a daring message directed not only against the foreign nations, but also against Judah's land, temple, and nation. Lee places Ezekiel 25–32 in a broader context, considering how samples of its early reception within the prophetic book affirm or transform the bleak message about the oblique judgment for the house of Judah.


• Materials that addresses the historical roles of various nations with Judah for students of Hebrew Bible
• Critique of widespread assumptions about the absolute antagonism between the nations and the kingdom of Judah in Ezekiel
• Exploration of the commonalities between Judah and the surrounding nations
Follow the link for ordering information and more details. Also available in hardback.

The Schøyen Collection

AWOL: The Schøyen Collection: Manuscripts from around the world spanning 5000 years of human culture & civilization. It's been a while since I linked to the main page of the Schøyen Collection. This AWOL post will take you there.

I was able to visit Martin Schøyen's house and see some of his collection firsthand a couple of years ago while at a conference in Norway. Some other past posts on the Schøyen Collection are here, here, here, and here. The last link notes some questions being raised about the provenance and even authenticity of some of the Dead Sea Scroll fragments in the Schøyen Collection and the Green Collection, on which more here.

Levirate marriage

BIBLE ODYSSEY: Levirate Marriage (Dvora E. Weisberg).
Levirate marriage is one response to the challenges that arose when an Israelite man died leaving a widow but no children. What becomes of a widow with no children to care for her? What becomes of a man’s “name” and property in the absence of direct heirs? Levirate marriage, as described in Deut 25:5-10, offers a solution to both questions: Let the dead man’s brother marry the widow and let the children, or at least the first child of this union, be “accounted” to the deceased.

Some past PaleoJudaica posts on Levirate marriage in the Talmud are here and here.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Rosenfeld (ed.), What Ifs of Jewish History

What Ifs of Jewish History
From Abraham to Zionism

EDITOR: Gavriel D. Rosenfeld, Fairfield University, Connecticut
DATE PUBLISHED: September 2016
FORMAT: Hardback
ISBN: 9781107037625

What if the Exodus had never happened? What if the Jews of Spain had not been expelled in 1492? What if Eastern European Jews had never been confined to the Russian Pale of Settlement? What if Adolf Hitler had been assassinated in 1939? What if a Jewish state had been established in Uganda instead of Palestine? Gavriel D. Rosenfeld's pioneering anthology examines how these and other counterfactual questions would have affected the course of Jewish history. Featuring essays by sixteen distinguished scholars in the field of Jewish Studies, What Ifs of Jewish History is the first volume to systematically apply counterfactual reasoning to the Jewish past. Written in a variety of narrative styles, ranging from the analytical to the literary, the essays cover three thousand years of dramatic events and invite readers to indulge their imaginations and explore how the course of Jewish history might have been different.

• The first major scholarly study to systematically apply counterfactual reasoning to the Jewish past
• Spans three thousand years of Jewish history, ranging from the Exodus to the founding of the modern State of Israel
• Contributions range from analytical essays to entertaining works of literary fiction
Two of the essays are relevant to ancient Judaism:
1. What if the Exodus had never happened? Steven Weitzman
2. What if the temple of Jerusalem had not been destroyed by the Romans? René Bloch
Regarding the first, I'm not sure that the Exodus did happen, at least as anything like what is described in the Book of Exodus. But this is a mainstream view and I'm sure the author of the essay took account of it.

I have done some work on counterfactual history, including a published article that dealt with the Dead Sea Scrolls. See this post for some relevant discussion, as well as bibliography and links to a couple of my draft essays online.

The Italian PM on the UNESCO resolution

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Italy PM says officials should have voted against UNESCO Jerusalem resolution (Middle East Online). Another voice in the chorus of condemnation.

Background here and links.


YONA SABAR: Hebrew Word of the Week: ‘atseret “festive assembly; general, special assembly”. Again, timely. See tomorrow and cross-file under Shemini Atzeret.

Laird, Negotiating Power in Ezra-Nehemiah

Negotiating Power in Ezra-Nehemiah
Donna Laird

ISBN 9781628371390
Status Available
Price: $55.95
Binding Paperback
Publication Date October 2016
Pages 418

Donna Laird examines Ezra and Nehemiah in the light of modern sociological theorist Pierre Bourdieu. How did this context of hardship, exile, and return change what Ezra and Nehemiah viewed as important? How did they define who was a part of their community, and who was an outsider? It goes on to explore how the books engaged readers at the time: how it addressed their changing circumstances, and how different groups gained and used social power, or the ability to influence society.


• Chapters dedicated to penitential prayer and to the role of ritual
• Illustrations of how the writers used past traditions to justify dividing those who belong, the repatriates, from the local population
• Demonstration of how shifting strategies of discourse in the various sections of Ezra-Nehemiah reflect the changing political and social contexts for the community and the authors
Follow the link for ordering information and more details. Also available in hardback.

Friday, October 21, 2016

A Hebrew papyrus from the 8th century BCE? [Now updated]

EPIGRAPHY: Discovery: ‘Jerusalem’ on Hebrew Papyrus (David Israel, The Jewish Press).
A unique, 2,700-year-old Papyrus which mentions the Hebrew word “Yerushalma” (possibly meaning “to Jerusalem”) will be revealed next week at a conference on Innovations in the Archaeology of Jerusalem and Its Environs, at the Rabin Jewish Studies Building on the Mount Scopus Campus of the Hebrew University, Makor Rishon reported. Researchers say the papyrus may be the earliest evidence in Hebrew of the connection between the city of Jerusalem and the period of the Kings of Israel.

The papyrus is a document written on paper made from the pith of the papyrus plant, cyperus papyrus. Such documents were written on sheets of papyrus, joined together side by side and rolled up into a scroll, in an early form of a book. In a dry climate, like that of Egypt or the Judaean desert, the papyrus pages are stable, since they are made of highly rot-resistant cellulose; but storage in humid conditions can result in molds attacking and destroying the material.

First, just to be clear, the photo of "an ancient Hebrew text written on papyrus" at the top of the article is not a photo of the new Hebrew papyrus (nor does the caption claim that it is). That would be written in the paleo-Hebrew script, but the one in the photo is written in the much later square script. Offhand, I don't know what it is. [UPDATE (24 October): For the identification of the papyrus in the photo, see here.]

In any case, this announcement is very exciting. Papyri are fragile and there are very few that survive from the eighth century BCE and as far as I know all of those come from Egypt rather than the Judean Desert. The earliest surviving Hebrew(ish) papyrus is the Marzeah Papyrus, which appears to date to the seventh century BCE. Unfortunately it surfaced on the antiquities market and is unprovenanced. You can see a photo of it here (center, second from the top). As I noted back in 2005, epigrapher Christopher Rollston doubts that the Marzeah papyrus is authentic. I have no view myself, except that I am always skeptical of unprovenanced inscriptions, especially ones that are not available for examination.

With that as background, my heart sunk a bit when I read the last paragraph of the article on the new papyrus:
The Hebrew papyrus was discovered recently in the Judaean desert and purchased from an antique dealer. It was examined by the Israel Antiquities Authority’s labs, and carbon dated. The results showed with certainty that the papyrus dates back to the 8th century BCE, near the end of the Kingdom of Judea, a short while before the destruction of the First Temple.
The new papyrus is unprovenanced, but materials testing dates the papyrus material used for it to the eighth century BCE. That's good, but we must keep in mind that, going back all the way to the nineteenth century, modern forgers have know to use ancient materials. The most recent well-publicized case is that of the Gospel of Jesus' Wife.

Thus the date of the papyrus material used for this new inscription may or may not tell us when the inscription itself was written on it. That said, although I am going to reserve a little skepticism, I recognize that the authentication by the IAA should be taken very seriously. Also, I recognize that blank papyrus from the eighth century BCE would not be easy for a forger to find.

I look forward to more information when Professor Achituv gives his lecture on it next week. Ultimately the case needs to be made and decided in the peer-review scholarly literature and that will take time. The preliminary indications look good and I hope it turns out to be authentic.

By the way, I mentioned the cave inscription that refers to Jerusalem (at Khirbet Beit Lei) some years ago here.

HT: thanks to Joseph Lauer for his e-mail drawing attention to the announcement.

Weissenrieder (ed.), Borders

Borders: Terminologies, Ideologies, and Performances
Ed. by Annette Weissenrieder

[Grenzen: Terminologien, Ideologien und Eigenschaften.]
2016. IX, 508 pages.
Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 366
149,00 €
ISBN 978-3-16-154375-3

Published in English.
What are the relevant conceptualities and terminologies marking political, cultural, cultic, or religious borders and border zones? What terms represent “border” or “border zones” and what did they signify in antiquity? In this volume, an international group of archaeologists, classicists, historians, and biblical scholars investigates various terms, performances, and qualities of borders, and ideologies of boundaries in antiquity. Their primary focus is on physical borders and border zones of political organizations as well as of sanctuaries and houses, and on borderlines which can be experienced in demarcations and their relevance for religious life. The contributions also discuss instances where definitions of external borders are renounced altogether and states are organized from the center toward the outer margins, for example, with the sub-divisions of a given territory remaining undefined. And they look into trans-boundary social relationships, investigated on the basis of archaeological finds and textual sources, and their significance for the transfer of knowledge.
Many of the essays deal with ancient Judaism and related matters.

Sukkahs for Sukkot

JEWISH AND SAMARITAN: Two very different Sukkot celebrations in Israel (
In many ways, the unusual sukkah customs of Israel’s little-known ancient Samaritan community can’t hold a candle to the country’s most expensive “desert” huts. But it all depends on what you’re looking for.

The elegant sukkahs built by the Samaritans are designed in accordance with the ancient tradition of using dozens of kilograms of fruit picked by family members.


A more common sight in Jerusalem is the many homemade sukkahs built on private balconies and in courtyards. Hotels get into the act, competing with each other to build the fanciest constructs.

Also, reader Yoel points me to this brief but picturesque Times of Israel video: Inside the Samaritan high priest’s fruity sukkah, literally. It presumably goes with the article I noted yesterday. Follow the links there for more on Samaritan Sukkot and the Samaritans. For this year's Jewish Sukkot celebrations (and relevant background), start here and follow the links.

Islam, Jews, and Jerusalem

HISTORY AND TRADITION: Opinion - Islam Has Never Denied the Jewish Connection to Jerusalem. On the contrary, anywhere you look in early Islamic literature, if it discusses the city at all you’ll find its Jewish connection (Salman Masalha, Haaretz). Excerpt:
The deepening occupation and the ongoing conflict are also driving the other side out of their minds and their religion. I’ve discussed this at length in articles I have published in Arabic. Islam has never denied the Jewish connection to Jerusalem. On the contrary, anywhere you look in early Islamic literature, if it discusses the city at all you’ll find its Jewish connection.

There is a plethora of examples. For instance, it’s no accident that the ancient name of Surah al-Isra, the chapter of the Koran that discusses the Prophet Mohammed’s legendary journey from Mecca to Jerusalem and his ascension to heaven, was Surah Bani Israil, that is, the Surah of the Children of Israel.
There is a debate within Islam over the direction in which Muslims originally prayed. Some claim that Muslims prayed toward Mecca from the start, while others claim that they initially prayed toward Jerusalem. Ancient and canonical Muslim traditions cite Mohammed referring to Jerusalem as Qibla al-Yahud, meaning the Kaaba of the Jews. (The Kaaba in Mecca is Islam’s holiest site.) The reference is to the rock on which the Dome of the Rock was built in the seventh century.

Muslim commentators also discuss Al-Aqsa Mosque, which appears in the Koran as Suleiman’s Mosque or Suleiman’s Temple — in other words, Solomon’s Temple. Such commentaries even cite a tradition, or hadith, attributed to Mohammed, who said of the First Temple: “Solomon son of David raised [it] with gold and silver, with rubies and emeralds.” The tradition also says that this temple was destroyed twice, but all its looted contents are destined to return to it when the Mahdi comes, the Messiah who will restore our ancient glory.
I am no expert on Islamic literature, but I am aware of early Islamic traditions that take the connection of Judaism and Jerusalem for granted, and I am unaware of anyone claiming that there were no Jewish temples on the Temple Mount until quite recently, probably the 1990s.

Some relevant past posts are here, here, here, and here.

Jewish-Temple denial from an MK

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Arab MK: No Jewish Temple Ever Existed on Temple Mount (David Israel, The Jewish Press).
In a zeal reminiscent of the ISIS hordes destroying archaeological treasures belonging to cultures and religions before the birth of Islam, and a fervor matching that of the Arab members of UNESCO who voted to erase millennia of Jewish history in Jerusalem, MK Ahmad Tibi (Joint Arab List) on Thursday said that “There has never been any connection to the Al Aqsa Mosque to any other religion, and although I don’t wish to enter a religious dispute, there was no Temple.”

There's audio of the interview (in Hebrew) at the link. Reports of such denials, alas, are not new. See here and here.

"Solomon's Pools" at Gush Etzion

PHOTO ESSAY: Welcome to Breichot Shlomo (Solomon’s Pools) (Photo of the Day, The Jewish Press).
The Kfar Etzion Field School gave a special tour during Succot to Breichot Shlomo / Solomon’s Pools, just north of the town of Efrat in Gush Etzion.

Solomon’s Pools consist of 3 large pools that are an integral part of the water network that supplied ancient Jerusalem and the Second Temple with water. Much of the network was built by Herod, but parts (the lowest pool) are of earlier, Maccabean origin.

There was a report of damage to Solomon's pools earlier this year.