Monday, July 27, 2015

Fisher (ed.), Arabs and Empires before Islam

Arabs and Empires before Islam
Edited by Greg Fisher
608 pages | 89 black and white illustrations and 16 colour plates | 234x156mm
978-0-19-965452-9 | Hardback | July 2015 (estimated)
Also available as: eBook
Price: £120.00
  • The only volume to provide a rich and detailed anthology of sources for the history of Arabs in the Near East and Middle East in the pre-Islamic period
  • Features international contributors drawn from a broad range of academic disciplines, including archaeology, classics, ancient history, linguistics, philology, epigraphy, and art history
  • Provides up-to-date, comprehensive coverage of over 250 individual translated sources, such as ancient texts, inscriptions, and discussions of archaeological and artistic material

Arabs and Empires before Islam collates nearly 250 translated extracts from an extensive array of ancient sources which, from a variety of different perspectives, illuminate the history of the Arabs before the emergence of Islam. Drawn from a broad period between the eighth century BC and the Middle Ages, the sources include texts written in Greek, Latin, Syriac, Persian, and Arabic, inscriptions in a variety of languages and alphabets, and discussions of archaeological sites from across the Near East. More than 20 international experts from the fields of archaeology, classics and ancient history, linguistics and philology, epigraphy, and art history, provide detailed commentary and analysis on this diverse selection of material.

Richly-illustrated with 16 colour plates, 15 maps, and over 70 in-text images, the volume provides a comprehensive, wide-ranging, and up-to-date examination of what ancient sources had to say about the politics, culture, and religion of the Arabs in the pre-Islamic period. It offers a full consideration of the traces which the Arabs have left in the epigraphic, literary, and archaeological records, and sheds light on their relationship with their often more-powerful neighbours: the states and empires of the ancient Near East. Arabs and Empires before Islam gathers together a host of material never before collected into a single volume — some of which appears in English translation for the very first time — and provides a single point of reference for a vibrant and dynamic area of research.

Readership: Scholars and students interested in the history of the Near East and Middle East before the emergence of Islam, including the politics, culture, and religion of the period, from archaeological, epigraphic, linguistic, philological, and art historical perspectives.

Timely, given recent developments noted, e.g., here.

ASOR Glueck Collection

AWOL: ASOR Archives: Nelson Glueck Collection Index. The link to Glueck Collection itself is here.

Alexander the Great in a Jewish mosaic?

HUQOQ AGAIN: Mosaic of Alexander the Great meeting a Jewish priest is the first ever non-biblical scene to be discovered inside a synagogue
  • Artwork was uncovered in a fifth-century synagogue in Huqoq, Israel
    May depict Alexander the Great, based on the presence of elephants
    Scene is the first non-biblical story to be found in an ancient synagogue
    Depictions of Biblical hero Samson are also part of the decorative floor

Although I have mentioned this mosaic before, I don't think I have highlighted the details of this particular interpretation of it:

The largest top strip contains the scene showing a meeting between two men, who perhaps represent the legendary warrior and a Jewish high priest.

In the scene, a bearded soldier wearing battle dress and a purple cloak leads a bull by the horns, followed by other soldiers and elephants with shields tied to their sides.

He is meeting with a grey-haired, bearded elderly man wearing a ceremonial white tunic and mantle, accompanied by young men with sheathed swords, also in ceremonial clothes.

It's thought the warrior in the rare non-Biblical scene is Alexander the Great becaise of a procession of elephants (pictured). But Professor Magness said the identification of the figures in this mosaic is unclear because there are no stories in the Hebrew Bible involving elephants

Professor Magness said the identification of the figures in this mosaic is unclear because there are no stories in the Hebrew Bible involving elephants.

‘Battle elephants were associated with Greek armies beginning with Alexander the Great, so this might be a depiction of a Jewish legend about the meeting between Alexander and the Jewish high priest,’ she said.

‘Different versions of this story appear in the writings of Flavius Josephus and in rabbinic literature.’
HT Sarah Veale at Invocatio.

Josephus indeed tells a story about Alexander the Great meeting the Jewish High Priest, whom he had seen beforehand in a dream. In this story, the High Priest showed Alexander the biblical book of Daniel and Alexander, believing (correctly) that some of the oracles in the book were about him, was very pleased. It's a nice story (which you can read here along with some Livius commentary), but it's the sort of thing that someone would have come up with whether it happened or not, and there are historical problems. Not least of these, of course, is that the book of Daniel had not yet been written in Alexander's time.

Naturally, the historicity or not of the story has no bearing on whether it is depicted on this late-antique mosaic.

I don't know anything about the rabbinic versions of the story, so I won't try to comment on them here.

Background on Huqoq and its mosaics is here and many links.

UPDATE: Thanks to the readers who sent me the Talmudic reference b. Yoma 69a, which tells the story of Alexander's meeting with the High Priest Simon the Just. You can read a translation of the passage in a book edited by Lawrence Schiffman here. The passage by Josephus (Antitiquities 11.321-47) is translated immediately before it.

Strange on Shikhin

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Shikhin Excavations with James R. Strange (Brian Leport).
The excavation at Shikhin is directed by Prof. James R. Strange of Samford University. In addition to Prof. Strange, Drs. Mordecai Aviam (the Associate Director), David Fiensy, Dennis E. Groh, and Prof. Strange’s father, the legendary James F. Strange, provided valuable oversight and insight into the work. Each of these individuals were informative, telling us anything we wanted to know about Shikhin, its significance, and how this site relates to nearby Sepphoris, the site that James F. Strange supervised for many years. When the editors of Ancient Jew Review asked me if I’d be willing to give a report on a couple of the sites I visited, Shikhin was one of the first to come to mind. I contacted Prof. Strange asking him if he’d be willing to answer some interview questions and he was happy to oblige. ...
Past PaleoJudaica posts on Shikhin are here and here.

More on the Smithsonian's Palmyra exhibition

PALMYRA WATCH: Palmyra: Ruins that inspired the architecture of power (Jane O'Brien, BBC News, Washington).
What do the ruins of an ancient Roman city in Syria and some of the most iconic buildings in Washington and London have to do with each other? A new exhibit aims to connect US audiences with antiquities under fire in Syria's civil war.
The Palmyra exhibition at the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery was noted last month here. Additional background on Palmyra, its ancient history, and its current fate is here and links.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Panaino, Sidera Viva

BIBLIOGRAPHIA IRANICA: Ancient Iranian and Zoroastrian Astral Mythology, Astronomy and Astrology. Notice of a new book: Panaino, Antonio. 2014. Sidera Viva. Studi Iranici di Storia della Mitologia Astrale, dell’Astronomia e dell’Astrologia Antica. (Ed.) Andrea Gariboldi, Paolo Ognibene & Velizar Sadovski. . 2 vols. Milano: Mimesis.

Pluto and the Mandaeans

MANDAEAN (MANDEAN) WATCH: How 'Mordor' and 'Cthulhu' found their way onto Pluto and its moons (Andrew Freeman, Mashable). NASA has been getting some help from the public to name newly discovered features on Pluto and Charon. The rules:
According to official rules of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) — the governing body that assigns official scientific monikers to planets and other solar system bodies — land features on Charon will be named after "destinations and milestones of fictional space and other exploration," among other things.

FFeatures on Pluto itself, however, will earn monikers from the underworld, picked from among the world’s mythologies, including gods, goddesses and dwarfs associated with the underworld.
Tolkien and Lovecraft have been drawn on, but so has Mandaean mythology:
In addition, another land feature is known as Krun, named after an overlord of the Underworld in the Mandaean faith. According to the Our Pluto website, which was the venue for public voting on Pluto names, the Mandaeans are "the last surviving Gnostic group from late antiquity."
Some past posts on Mandaean and the Mandaeans are here, here, and here, and links

The Lewis-Gibson Collection

CAMBRIDGE DIGITAL LIBRARY: Lewis-Gibson. 1,700 medieval fragments from the Cairo Geniza, now part of the collection jointly owned by the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford.

HT the Talmud Blog on Facebook.

There are endless past PaleoJudaica posts on the Cairo Geniza: see here, here, here, and link. And there is more on the Lewis-Gibson sisters (Agnes Lewis and Margaret Gibson) here and links.

More on McKendrick et al. (eds.), Codex Sinaiticus

MEDIEVAL MANUSCRIPTS BLOG: Codex Sinaiticus: New Perspectives on the Ancient Biblical Manuscript. The book was also noted here.

Coins of Cyprus

PHOENICIAN WATCH: Ancient Coins of Cyprus (Mike Markowitz, CoinWeek). Cyprus had a significant Phoenician presence and this survey includes some interesting Phoenician coins with images of Astarte and Melqart.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Birmingham Qur'an fragments update

THE LATEST: Reader Gilles Firmin has e-mailed with several important links regarding the recently announced discovery of what could be very early fragments of the Qur'an found in the Mingana Collection at the University of Birmingham. I quote his full message in French and then unpack it below.
Samedi 25 juillet
Cher Monsieur Davila,

En décryptant les informations données par Wikipedia
on découvre dans les positions de thèse de Mme Fedeli la référence au manuscrit de la BnF auquel elle rattache les "feuillets de Birmingham" (§ 2).

Ce manuscrit (BnF ar. 328 c) a été décrit par François Déroche dans son catalogue des Manuscrits du Coran (t. 1, 1983, n° 4, p. 60-61 [Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France]); FD le cite souvent dans son édition du Codex Parisino-Petropolitanus
auquel les feuillets en question ont été rajoutés lors de la reliure de ce "codex". Il y évoque également la constitution de la collection Asselin de Cherville (début du XIXe siècle), qui a récupéré notamment des manuscrits de Fustat...

On trouve déjà des images en ligne des feuillets

G. F.
First, there is now a Wikipedia article that gives lots of additional information about the manuscript, including script, orthography, layout, and a detailed account of the contents: Birmingham Quran manuscript.

Second, an essay by Alba Fedeli on her research: The Qur’anic Manuscripts of the Mingana Collection and their Electronic Edition.

From these we learn that the two leaves of the recently announced Birmingham manuscript (Mingana 1572a) are from the same manuscript as sixteen of the leaves (= BnF Arabe 328(c)) inserted into the Codex Parisino-petropolitanus now in Paris. The latter codex includes fragments of several other early manuscripts of the Qur'an.

Third, the codex Parisino-petropolitanus is the subject of a book by François Déroche, published by Brill: La transmission écrite du Coran dans les débuts de l'islam: Le codex Parisino-petropolitanus.
The codex Parisino-petropolitanus is one of the earliest witnesses of the handwritten transmission of the Qurʾanic text which has survived to this day. The various fragments which were part of the original manuscript are scattered among various collections; once put together, they provide a unique picture of the state of the text during the 7th century (orthography and textual peculiarities) and of the circumstances in which the canonical version as we know it today took shape physically. The present study, first of its kind, paves the way for a more accurate understanding of the beginning of Islam, based on a significant document, and of the evolution of the Qurʾan during that period.
Fourth, photos of Ms. Paris BnF Arabe 328 (c) are available at the Corpus Coranicum website.

So sixteen more leaves of the same manuscript do survive in Paris, which is a very welcome and exciting development.

I am very grateful to M. Firmin for the additional information.

Background here and links.

Gheiby, Zarathustras Feuer

BIBLIOGRAPHIA IRANICA: A Cultural History of Zoroastrianism. Notice of a new book: Gheiby, Bijan. 2014. Zarathustras Feuer: Eine Kulturgeschichte des Zoroastrismus. Darmstadt: Philipp von Zabern.

Was Herod's Temple "Roman?"

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: In Honor of Tisha B'Av: Palestinians Say Holy Temple Was Roman. PA calls on Muslims 'all over the world' to stop 'Judaization' of the Temple Mount on day mourning its destruction - by 'all means' (Dalit Halevy, Arutz Sheva). One paragraph of this article calls for some commentary:
Dr. Jamal Amer, defined by the Hamas-backed Palestine newspaper as an expert on Jerusalem affairs, ahistorically claimed that the Temple is actually a Roman place of worship, built by the "Arab" King Herod, and has no connection to the Jews, historically and religiously. Amer also claimed that Jews falsify history due to greed regarding the holy city.
As usual with such things, I do not have access to Dr. Amer's comments directly, so my comments are in reply to the summary in this article.

There are three claims here: (1) the Temple was a Roman place of worship; (2) King Herod was an Arab; and (3) the Temple has no historical or religious connection with the Jews.

I'll start with (2). I have discussed the question of whether Herod was an Arab at length here. The short version is that one can make an argument that he was Arab by genetic background, but he was clearly culturally Jewish. Make of that what you will.

The other two claims go together. Herod's Temple was hardly free of connections with Judaism. It was a renovation of a much older Judean temple (discussion here). Although Herod answered to the Romans for his authority, so presumably they did not oppose the project, it certainly wasn't a "Roman place of worship" in the sense that Romans had any active role in running the worship at the site or that Romans rather than Jews worshipped there (although gentiles were allowed in one court). A Greek inscription was recovered from the Temple Mount in multiple copies which warns that any "foreigner" (ἀλλογενής) was to keep to the Court of the Gentiles and that any attempt to move onto the rest of the site was subject to the death penalty (Greek text here). Josephus knew of and referred to the inscription.

This takes Jewish Temple denial in a slightly new (to me) direction, which acknowledges the existence of Herod's Temple (which, after all, is pretty difficult to get around), but claims that it had nothing to do with Judaism. This is going even further that Yassar Arafat was willing to go: he at least acknowledged that Herod's Temple was a Jewish Temple.

Ultimately I don't think that claims such as we find here are advanced as serious history. They collapse upon any serious examination and are just aimed at low information readers who will not follow them up. I take the time to respond to them in the hope that some of those readers might find their way here and learn what the evidence actually shows.

Temple Faithful protests

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Activists Call to Rebuild Third Temple on Tisha B'Av. Temple Faithful Movement plans march to demand government 'remove enemies from Temple Mount and rebuild third Temple' (Ari Yashar, Arutz Sheva). It's no secret to regular readers that I condemn the destructive activities of the Waqf on the Temple Mount, but that I am also strongly opposed to any other efforts to excavate or build on it for the foreseeable future. Let's leave it as it is until archaeologists can deploy non-destructive and non-invasive technologies to explore what is buried there. For the present I have no other comments on the politics of the site.

Tisha B'Av 2015

TISHA B'AV (THE NINTH OF AV) begins this evening at sundown. An easy fast to all those observing it.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Wright, Psalms of Solomon

Robert B. Wright, Psalms of Solomon: A Critical Edition of the Greek Text (Jewish and Christian Texts 1; London/New York: T&T Clark, 2007)

The Psalms of Solomon, the most important early psalm book outside the canonical psalter, reflects the turmoil of events in the last pre-Christian century and gives an apparently eyewitness account of the first invasions of the Romans into Jerusalem. The Psalms of Solomon provides the most detailed expectation of the Jewish Messiah before the New Testament. Wright's critical edition is the first complete critical edition of the Greek texts of the Psalms of Solomon.
Sent by the publisher for some work I did for them.

Chair in Jewish Studies at Stanford

SEARCH FOR FULL PROFESSOR: Koshland Chair (Senior Position w/ Tenure) (
The Department of Religious Studies at Stanford University invites applications and nominations in the area of the study of Jewish religion and/or thought for the Daniel E. Koshland Chair in Jewish Religion and Culture. We seek a senior scholar of distinction in the field of Jewish Studies, with an outstanding record of research and scholarship and a demonstrated commitment to excellence in teaching and advising students at both graduate and undergraduate levels. The successful candidate may specialize in any area or period of the study of Jewish religion and/or thought.

The appointment will be at the full professor level, but scholars at the advanced associate level are also encouraged to apply.

The term of appointment would begin September 1, 2016 or as soon as practicable thereafter.
No specific deadline for applications is given in the announcement, but follow the link for application information.

On the origins of the Qur'an - with update on the Birmingham fragments

BACKGROUND: The origins of the Koran: From revelation to holy book (Behnam Sadeghi, BBC). This is a good summary of both the traditional understanding of the early history of the Qur'an and the current scholarly state of the question, which at present are much the same. But it is still pretty early days for the latter.

This discussion is of interest to PaleoJudaica not only because I have been following the recent story of the fragments of a very early Qur'an manuscript found in the Mingana Collection at the University of Birmingham, but also because the Enoch Seminar is now bringing Jewish, Christian, and Muslim scholars (and specialists in the early history of all three areas) into a discussion of Jewish and Christian traditions in late antiquity in relation to the origins of the Qur'an and Islam. This is an exciting development that is likely to result in important advances in the scholarly understanding of all three areas.

UPDATE: Robert Cargill has just posted a link at the Facebook Unofficial SBL/AAR Member Group to the following blog post by R. Joseph Hoffman: THE BBC-BIRMINGHAM “QUR’AN” FACTS FIASCO (The New Oxonian). Read it all, but it concludes:
So to repeat: What we have at Birmingham is the discovery of leaves of parchment, probably recycled and scraped and used by a religious teacher to record bits of memorized narrative from sources that finally make their way into the Qur’an. That there should be some overlap in these extracts and later editions of the Qur’an as copied and printed is not at all surprising. But as there is no prototype, it can hardly be said to be evidence of an unalterable textual tradition. There is no compelling reason to think that this slim discovery proves the inviolability of the Islamic holy book, or vindicates any doctrine. In fact, if treated intelligently and using the methods of western textual criticism, this could shed light on how books like the Qur’an evolved over time to become compendiums of the words of men regarded as the prophets and teachers of their tradition. So far however, we see little evidence that the find will be treated in that way. As Gerd Puin has said, “My idea is that the Koran is a kind of cocktail of texts that were not all understood even at the time of Muhammad. Many of them may even be a hundred years older than Islam itself. Even within the Islamic traditions there is a huge body of contradictory information, including a significant Christian substrate; one can derive a whole Islamic anti-history from them if one wants…” What we have at Birmingham perfectly illustrates that point.
Qur'anic origins is not my area of expertise, but I cannot find any indication that Dr. Hoffman has published anything in the area either. He has, however published the book The Just War and Jihad: Violence in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, (Prometheus Books, January 2, 2006), so he has published about Islam. Most of his work seems to have been on early Christianity. Past PaleoJudaica posts on some of it, mostly in relation to the Jesus Project, are here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Be that as it may, I am not in a position to evaluate his post, but the evidence he cites certainly raises the possibility that specialists in Qur'anic origins may find problems with the early evaluations of the Birmingham fragments.

Inevitably there must be a long period in which the manuscript is published in a critical edition and other specialists have time to digest the evidence and publish their own judgments. This will take years.

But meanwhile, watch this space.

And if any readers come across discussions of the Birmingham fragments by specialists in the origins of the Qur'an, please do point me to them.

UPDATE (25 July): More on the Birmingham fragments here.

DSS Lamentations scroll on display for Tisha B'Av

Dead Sea Copy of Lamentations to Be Displayed for First Time (Arutz Sheva).
A copy of the Book of Lamentations from the Dead Sea Scrolls collection will be put on display at the Bible Lands Museum for the first time. The display will only be up until the end of Tisha B'Av, on Sunday evening.

Apparently it's there now, if you are in Jerusalem and you want to go have a look.

Review of Dorff and Zoloth (eds.), Jews and Genes

BOOK REVIEW: Parsing the Jewish genome (Jonathan Kirsch , Jewish Journal).
Jewish law holds that Jewish identity is traced through the maternal bloodline, but history cautions us against the dangers of linking blood and religion. From the Spanish Inquisition to the Third Reich, the scrutiny of one’s ancestry has been a matter of life and death for Jews and their descendants. To put it another way, what is written in the Jewish genome cannot be erased.

Elliot N. Dorff and Laurie Zoloth, the editors of “Jews and Genes: The Genetic Future in Contemporary Jewish Thought” (Jewish Publication Society/University of Nebraska Press), are mindful of these dangers, but they insist that genetic science holds special meaning and promise for the Jewish people, a theme that is explored in fascinating and often surprising detail by rabbis, physicians, religious scholars, folklorists and bioethicists in the essays that are collected here.

The essays in the book are wide ranging, including not only obvious topics such as whether there is "a single 'Jewish gene'" (doesn't look like it so far), but also the concepts of a human soul and the image of God in the book of Genesis, as well as the concept of magic in the Talmud and the question of where research moves into the realm of sorcery.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Patricia Crone, 1945-2015

REST IN PEACE: Patricia Crone, Questioning Scholar of Islamic History, Dies at 70 (Sam Roberts, NYT).
Patricia Crone, a scholar who explored untapped archaeological records and contemporary Greek and Aramaic sources to challenge conventional views of the roots and evolution of Islam, died on July 11 at her home in Princeton, N.J. She was 70.

The Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, where she was a professor from 1997 until her retirement last year, said the cause was cancer.

Fred M. Donner, a professor of Near Eastern history at the University of Chicago, said Professor Crone had “made it clear that historians of early Islam had failed to really behave as historians — that is, had failed to challenge the validity of their sources, but rather had accepted complacently what I call the ‘traditional origins narrative’ created by the Islamic tradition itself.”

Some of Professor Crone's work has been noted by PaleoJudaica here. Cross-file under Aramaic Watch.

More on that "oldest" Qur'an manuscript

THE VERY OLD BIRMINGHAM MANUSCRIPT OF THE QUR'AN has understandably received a great deal of media attention in the last day or so, but most of it has just repeated the same details. But here are two articles that give us a little more.

The Guardian view on Birmingham’s Qur’an: part of a rich and complex intellectual history. This editorial gives some background on Alphonse Mingana, who was an Aramaic-speaking Iraqi Chaldean Christian, and on the Mingana Collection. PaleoJudaica readers who have been paying attention in the last day will be familiar with most of the information.

World's oldest Koran discovered in Birmingham: This really will rejoice Muslim hearts. All we need now is a Dead Sea Scrolls-era Book of Job to surface in Newcastle or Nottingham (Boyd Tonkin, The Independent). Bring it on! Aside from the amusing subheading, the article has some reflections on the implications of the manuscript and some contextual comparisons to the New Testament. Plus, he brings in a surprising connection with Edward Cadbury of Cadbury Chocolate.

Background on the story is here. As far as I can tell, no one has taken up my call to inquire about the records that show that the manuscript has always been a part of the Mingana Collection. I don't really doubt that it has, but something about its history would be good to know. Where did Mingana get it and from whom and under what circumstances?

For that matter, other questions occur to me.

• How secure is the Carbon-14 dating? Has it been done repeatedly to confirm the range of dates? I am no expert on C-14 dating technology, but it does seem to me that fairly often wildly different dates come up in different tests on the same object, usually due to some kind of contamination of the sample. This seems particularly relevant in that the news reports say that this manuscript had been bound with another one.

• What is the likely provenance of the manuscript? Where was it composed? What can we learn about the manuscript from the script?

• I had also been about to ask what the name of the "PhD researcher" who noticed the manuscript was, because the BBC report did not originally give it. But I just checked again and the name is now there: Alba Fedeli is the sharp-eyed researcher who first realized the importance of the manuscript. Kudos to the BBC for noticing the lapse and correcting it.

UPDATE: An informative article has just been published by the New York Times: A Find in Britain: Quran Fragments Perhaps as Old as Islam (DAN BILEFSKY). It has some new information that at least addresses some of my questions and also questions that I should have thought to ask.
Tom Holland, the author of “In the Shadow of the Sword,” which charts the origins of Islam, said the discovery in Birmingham bolstered scholarly conclusions that the Quran attained something close to its final form during Muhammad’s lifetime. He said the fragments did not resolve the controversial questions of where, why and how the manuscript was compiled, or how its various suras, or chapters, came to be combined in a single volume.

Consisting of two parchment leaves, the manuscript in Birmingham contains parts of what are now Chapters 18 to 20. For years, the manuscript had been mistakenly bound with leaves of a similar Quran manuscript.

Saud al-Sarhan, the director of research at the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, said he doubted that the manuscript found in Birmingham was as old as the researchers claimed, noting that its Arabic script included dots and separated chapters — features that were introduced later. He also said that dating the skin on which the text was written did not prove when it was written. Manuscript skins were sometimes washed clean and reused later, he said.

Professor Thomas said the text of the two folio pages studied by Ms. Fedeli, who received her doctorate this month, corresponded closely to the text of the modern Quran. But he cautioned that the manuscript was only a small portion of the Quran and therefore did not offer conclusive proof.
I should have thought to ask how much of the Qur'an survived in the fragments and which specific passages and what the relationship of those passages was to the text of the Qur'an we now have. Now we know: two pages, parts of Suras 18 and 20 (which verses?), and their text "corresponded closely" to the received text. (How closely? Are there variants?)

In the third paragraph quoted above, the issue of paleography and layout are raised, and it is very interesting that an Arabic paleographer thinks the writing on the fragments is later than the C-14 results indicate. Likewise this:
Graham Bench, director of the Center for Accelerator Mass Spectrometry at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, concurred, and added a caveat: “You’re dating the parchment,” he said. “You’re not dating the ink. You’re making the assumption that the parchment or vellum was used within years of it being made, which is probably a reasonable assumption, but it’s not watertight.”
I raised this issue myself in my earlier post. Dr. Sarhan suggests the parchment could have been reused after being washed clean. If so, it looks washed very clean, because I can't see any sign of underwriting.

The opening paragraph of the article also says this:
LONDON — The ancient manuscript, written on sheep or goat skin, sat for nearly a century at a university library, with scholars unaware of its significance.
So we have a clear assertion that the fragments are part of the original collection, which is probably true, but I would still like to see the paper trail, or at least hear what it tells us.

Nothing specific yet about provenance, although presumably it was somewhere is Arabia.

I commend the scholars in Birmingham for getting out information on this discovery at a remarkable pace. Questions remain, and each new revelation raises more, but there is plenty to think about in the meantime. And let us remember that real progress is only going to come when, in due course, peer-reviewed publications of and about the manuscript come out. I remain a little skeptical that the text is quite as early as the initial reports indicate but, as usual with these things, I would be very happy to find that my skepticism is misplaced for a change.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader G. Firmin has pointed me, first, to a page congratulating Dr. Fedeli on the completion of her thesis. It includes the abstract of the thesis. The thesis itself has been placed in the University of Birmingham's electronic depository of theses, but it will not be publicly viewable until May 2017. This is a common arrangement that allows a researcher to publish his or her research before the thesis is made public. I look forward to its formal publication in due course. The abstract opens as follows:
The Special Collections of the Cadbury Research Library at the University of Birmingham hold seven early Qur’ānic pieces on parchment and papyrus dating from the seventh century. Alphonse Mingana purchased them from the antiquarian dealer von Scherling in 1936.
Second, G. Firmin points to this University of Birmingham press release, which tells us:
Dr Alba Fedeli, who studied the leaves as part of her PhD research, said: ‘The two leaves, which were radiocarbon dated to the early part of the seventh century, come from the same codex as a manuscript kept in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris.’
So it does seem, as I expected, that there is a paper trail concerning the acquisition of the manuscript. And there is also the interesting news that more of the codex survives in Paris. It is not specified whether or not more fragments of this early manuscript survive in the remains of the codex in Paris, but it doesn't sound like it.

I'm going to try to get some actual work done now, but watch this space.

UPDATE (24 July): More here, especially in the update.

"Penis" in Hebrew

EUPHEMISMS AND SYNONYMNS: Why Hebrew has so many words for 'penis.' Ancient scribes in biblical times squirming at saying That Word begat euphemism creep. Thus were born dozens of terms for penis in Hebrew, an otherwise rather sparse language (Elon Gilad, Haaretz).
Hebrew has a great abundance of words for the penis, though it's usually a rather sparse language. This is because in Jewish culture, as in many others, the male organ is the subject of taboo and like other unmentionable subjects, it is prone to a process called ‘euphemism creep.’ Speakers shy at calling the taboo subject by name, and use a euphemism instead. Eventually this euphemism itself becomes tainted through use, and a new euphemism replaces it. Thus, creep generates a richness of synonyms not shared by non-taboo words.

Euphemism creep didn't start yesterday. The Bible is replete with circumlocutions for penis, to the extent that it isn’t clear what the actual word for penis was in ancient Israel.

Biblical allusions include basar (“flesh”, Exodus 28:42), erva (“nakedness”, Leviticus 18:6), mevoshim (“private parts”, Deuteronomy 25:11), regel (“leg”, 2 Kings 18:27), shofkha (“spout”, Deuteronomy 23:1), yad (“Hand”, Isaiah 57:8), and me’or (“Nakedness”, Habakkuk 2:15).

Later, during the times of the Mishnah and the Talmud (the first six centuries of the Common Era), the rabbis added some more euphemisms to those of eld: panim shel mata (“lower face”, Shabbat 41a), ama (“middle finger”, Shabbat 108b), etzba (“finger”, Pesachim 112b), shamash (“helper”, Nidah 60b), gevia (“corpse”, Negaim 6:7), parmashtaq (probably a Persian word for “penis”, Mo’ed Katan 18a), and evar (“organ”, Bava Mezia 84a).

And the multiplication of terms continued in the Middle Ages and even in modern Hebrew.

Although this is not a subject discussed frequently at PaleoJudaica, in a remarkable synchronicity the immediately preceding post also has to do with a biblical penis, that of Boaz. See the link to Chris Brady's post on "Boaz's Turnips."

Targum Ruth project update

TARGUMAN (Christian Brady) has a page up on his book project on Targum Ruth. I noted his draft translation several years ago, but the Targum Ruth page has lots of additional information, including a couple of articles he has published. Chris has a few recent blog posts on the project as well and he indicates he is making good progress.

Boaz’s Turnips – Or Boaz Wakes Up By a Pile of Barley
Rabbinical views regarding marriage
Boaz’s Shoe (or Glove)

Aramaic K-12 Academy

MODERN ARAMAIC WATCH: New charter school dedicated to preserving culture of Iraq’s indigenous people (Natasha Dado, The Arab American News).
[Nathan] Kalasho is the president of Kalasho Empowerment of Young Scholars, which manages Keys Grace Academy, a one-of-a-kind charter school dedicated to preserving the language, culture and history of Chaldeans, Assyrian and Syriacs.

Kalasho said the idea was to incorporate the heritage of Iraqi Christians.

“The only way to maintain our heritage is to make sure it is passed down to future generations,” he said.

The K-12 school, located at 27321 Hampden St. in Madison Heights, is scheduled to open in September and serve about 500 students. A grand opening ceremony is expected to take place Thursday, Aug. 6 from 5 to 8 p.m..

The non profit Academy’s curriculum follows the Michigan State Board of Education guidelines for all schools and offers tuition-free classes.

Keys Grace Academy’s mission is to prepare 21st century students to think and succeed in a diverse, technological and ever changing world through a partnership of homes, school and community. It will provide broad instruction of language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, computer science, art, music, physical education and health.

The school will offer classes in which students are taught how to read and write the dying ancient language of Aramaic spoken by Christ. It is spoken by Chaldeans, Syriacs and Assyrians.
Background on modern speakers of Aramaic in the Middle East and elsewhere is here and here and links. And for more, do a search for "Modern Aramaic Watch" on this blog.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

On reading the Mishnah

גֵּר־וְתוֹשָׁב: On reading the Mishnah (D. Miller). I have posted a few thoughts on reading the Mishnah myself here.

Oldest Qur'an fragments?

IN THE MINGANA COLLECTION: 'Oldest' Koran fragments found in Birmingham University (Sean Coughlan, BBC). A little beyond PaleoJudaica's usual range, but an important story that is of tangential interest and which deserves some commentary.
When a PhD researcher looked more closely at these pages it was decided to carry out a radiocarbon dating test and the results were "startling".

The university's director of special collections, Susan Worrall, said researchers had not expected "in our wildest dreams" that it would be so old.

"Finding out we had one of the oldest fragments of the Koran in the whole world has been fantastically exciting."

The tests, carried out by the Oxford University Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, showed that the fragments, written on sheep or goat skin, were among the very oldest surviving texts of the Koran.

These tests provide a range of dates, showing that, with a probability of more than 95%, the parchment was from between 568 and 645.

"They could well take us back to within a few years of the actual founding of Islam," said David Thomas, the university's professor of Christianity and Islam.

"According to Muslim tradition, the Prophet Muhammad received the revelations that form the Koran, the scripture of Islam, between the years 610 and 632, the year of his death."

The person who actually wrote it could well have known the Prophet Muhammad... he would maybe have heard him preach

Prof Thomas says the dating of the Birmingham folios would mean it was quite possible that the person who had written them would have been alive at the time of the Prophet Muhammad.

"The person who actually wrote it could well have known the Prophet Muhammad. He would have seen him probably, he would maybe have heard him preach. He may have known him personally - and that really is quite a thought to conjure with," he says.
So the radiocarbon test dates the parchment with a 95+% probability somewhere between about the time of the birth of Muhammud and less than two decades after his death. That could be of considerable interest for the text-critical study of the Qur'an and will also give lots of interesting codicological information about early Islamic manuscripts.

Two small points of caution. First, the test gives the date of the parchment, not the writing on it, so conceivably the text could have been written some time after the parchment was produced. But probably not a long time after. Second, and I hate to bring this up, but is it absolutely certain that this manuscript has been in the Mingana collection from the beginning? Given that modern forgeries are sometimes written on ancient material (notably, the Gospel of Jesus' Wife), I would like some assurance that the manuscript can be documented as part of Mingana collection from early on. This is probably the case, but the records of its acquisition and conservation would be worth checking. There's a question for a journalist to take up.

A comparably early Qur'anic manuscript is now housed on Uzbekistan. Past posts on Qur'an manuscripts are here, here, here, here, and here. And past posts on the Mingana Collection, which I toured back in 2003, are here, here, and here.

UPDATE (23 July): More here.

Magdala latest

MORE ON MAGDALA: Magdala, the Home Town of Mary Magdalene, Is Being Resurrected. The Galilee is now an extra-special place to visit, especially for women (Zoe Romanowsky, aleteia). Another article about the first-century synagogue found during excavation for a retreat center, the menora-inscribed stone also excavated there, and some questionable speculation about a connection with Mary Magdalene. Ms. Romanowsky interviews Fr. Eamon Kelly about the excavation and the (now constructed) retreat center on video.

Background here and many links.

The earliest domestication of chickens

NEWS FROM HAIFA UNIVERSITY: Sorry colonel, Israel had real original recipe chicken. Forget Kentucky. Ancient Israeli town of Maresha was where people first started preparing poultry for food, archaeologists say (David Shamah, Times of Israel).
A team of researchers excavating the site of Maresha in the southern Judean plain say they found evidence that chicken and eggs, were consumed in the region well before other antiquity sites.

“It’s accurate to say that Israel is where the chicken business was invented,” doctoral student Lee Perry-Gal told The Times of Israel. “Jewish chicken soup, Kentucky Fried Chicken – it all has its roots in the Hellenistic city of Maresha in central Israel.”

“At some point in between 200 and 400 BCE, the residents of Maresha began raising and eating chicken, as well as eggs, which we also have no evidence was eaten before this period,” said Perry-Gal, referring to an archaeological site near the Beit Guvrin caves in central Israel. “That changed, and chicken became a part of the culinary culture of Israel – and eventually the rest of the Western world.”
Actually, my understanding is that Maresha, although now in the territory of the State of Israel, was an Idumean town in antiquity. Past posts on Maresha are here, here, here, here and here and links.

Red heifer blues

DID THE TEMPLE INSTITUTE SPEAK TOO SOON? No holy cow: Israel trying to raise red heifer, but for meat-lovers. U.S. donors behind Negev efforts to raise Red Angus reject messianic Temple Institute's involvement in agricultural-economic effort (Nir Hasson, Haaretz).
But as opposed to the announcement by the Temple Institute, the project was not initiated and is not funded by it. Rather, it began several years ago at the initiative of the Cleveland-based Negev Association, with the cooperation of the research and development department of the Ramat Negev Regional Council.

The purpose of that project is to import embryos of Red Angus cows to Israel – to raise them for meat, which is thought to be of especially high quality and is very popular in the United States. This type of bovine species is also well suited to desert conditions. Frozen embryos and not live cows are imported due to Agriculture Ministry regulations, which forbid the import of such livestock due to the fear of the spread of disease.

Apparently, the Temple Institute joined this agricultural-economic endeavor, considering it a golden opportunity to help realize its objective on the Temple Mount. They reached an agreement with Moshe Tenne, the owner of a Negev cattle farm where the cows are being raised. According to the agreement, Tenne will permit monitoring by halakhic authorities (i.e., those versed in traditional Jewish law) if and when an embryo is successfully implanted and develops, and a red calf is born. He also agreed to the installation of cameras to supervise the conditions under which the mother and offspring are cared for.

But when the announcement was publicized last week, the Ramat Negev Regional Council received complaints about its cooperation with the Temple Institute. Donors in Cleveland were particularly angry, and in a conversation yesterday between the director of the Negev Association they support and a representative of the Temple Institute, the director said that they have no intention of continuing the cooperation with the institute.
Background here and links.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Annual meeting of Classics society in Israel

CONFERENCE: Israel Society for the Promotion of Classical Studies. Wednesday, June 1, 2016 to Thursday, June 2, 2016 (AIA). The call-for-papers deadline is 17 December 2015. Follow the link for further particulars.

Blog posts on the GJW

TWO RECENT BLOG POSTS by prominent New Testament scholars sum up the current situation regarding The Gospel of Jesus' Wife fragment.

Larry Hurtado: “Jesus’ Wife” Fragment: The Collective Negative Judgment

Mark Goodacre: The Jesus' Wife Fake Latest

Both posts point out that Karen King and the Harvard Divinity School (see here) have yet to comment on the recent issue of NTS that is devoted to the GJW and on some important developments the articles in the issues discuss.

Background here and links.

The Aleppo Codex again

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: The Aleppo Codex. The mystery of the missing pages in the oldest Hebrew Bible (Jennifer Drummond). The full BAR article by Yosef Ofer is behind the subscription wall, but this column gives some idea of the content.

There are many PaleoJudaica posts on the Aleppo Codex. Start here and follow the links back

Vows, food, etc., in the Talmud

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: The Talmud as a Jewish ‘Canterbury Tales’ of Earthy, Ribald Moral Inquiry. Along with other questions of mind and body, this week’s ‘Daf Yomi’ is also a field guide to Talmudic-era cuisine.
Anecdotes about the sages are one of the Talmud’s favorite subjects, and this week’s reading, mainly in chapter 6 of Nedarim, contained a number of such stories, all having to do with food. Indeed, the whole chapter was dedicated to food, including the names of different dishes and how they were prepared. The reason has to do with the main subject of the tractate, the taking of vows. Apparently one of the most common kinds of vows was swearing not to partake of a certain food: The first mishna in the chapter, for instance, deals with someone who swears not to eat cooked foods. This is yet another example of the kind of unreasonable promise the rabbis associate with vowing.

To determine the exact scope of such a vow, then, the rabbis must determine exactly what is meant by cooking. Does it include roasting, boiling, or baking? This inquiry leads the rabbis to a wide-ranging discussion of culinary practices, in a way that turns the chapter into a kind of field guide to Talmudic-era cuisine. We hear about roasted meat, boiled eggs, fig compotes (which one particular slave knew how to make in 800 varieties), pickled vegetables, and the Babylonian dish kutecha, a dip made of bread and sour milk. It’s enough to give any Talmud student an appetite.
Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Apocryphal theatre

OLD TESTAMENT APOCRYPHA WATCH: Review: ‘Vinegar Tom’ and ‘Judith’ Examine Woman as Myth: Judith: A Parting From The Body/Vinegar Tom (BEN BRANTLEY, NYT). The Apocryphal books of Ecclesiasticus (Ben Sira) and Judith are both invoked in this "earnestly playful double bill of one-acts from the Potomac Theater Project."