Friday, May 29, 2015

Palmyra: has the destruction begun?

PALMYRA WATCH: Syria: Isis Palmyra demolition has begun with ancient God Lion statue destroyed (Nour al-Rafee, International Business Times).
However, it seems the strategy has now changed. On Wednesday (27 May), a Syrian radio station broadcast a declaration from an alleged IS commander in Palmyra claiming the group will "destroy statues" representing idols but preserve the historical monuments and the ruins.

In fact the process of obliterating the horde of ancient statues has already begun. It commenced almost as soon as the militants seized control of their quarry.

Two days after IS seized control of Palmyra, one citizen witnessed militants crushing statues in the city's museum. He says: "I heard a loud noise, so I went up to the roof to see what is going on. I saw Daash [Isis] crushing the "god lion" statue with construction machines. There were many other crushed statues but I could not recognise the rest of them because they were totally ruined."

The god lion, or to give it its full title, the Lion of Al-Lat, dated from the first century AD.

It stood at the entrance to the ancient Bel's Temple, and was built in homage to the goddess Al-Lat, a pre-Islamic Arabian goddess who was one of the three chief goddesses of Mecca, and is mentioned in the Quran.
Related:
UN resolution on protecting Iraqi antiquities excludes Syria.
Despite its artifacts facing similar threat from Islamic State, diplomats wary of rushing to defense of Assad regime
(Cara Anna, AP). That's a difficult choice: oppose ISIS by supporting Assad's regime? And things like this don't make the decision easier: ISIS posts photos of appalling conditions in Syria's Palmyra Prison. The terror group releases photos of the infamous prison, site of the 1980 massacre by Rifaat Assad; ISIS executes 20 locals in the Roman amphitheater at Palmyra (Ynet News).

More on the history and antiquities of Palmyra:

When Palmyra rivaled the Roman Empire (Mike Duncan, Reuters);

Stones that speak. Syria’s famous ruined Roman city has meant many things to many people (The Economist).
So today Syrians worry about the threat of Palmyra being demolished, but less than outsiders might expect. That is not only because they are more concerned with the humanitarian toll that has left over 200,000 of their countrymen dead. “The Syrian memory of Tadmur is black,” says Omar al-Abdullah, a Syrian journalist who now lives in Turkey. He recites, as every Syrian can, the tale of the Tadmur prison massacre. ...
A How-To Guide To Buying Artifacts Looted by the Islamic State (David Francis, Foreign Policy). Don't do this; it's evil. Plus, as the article warns clearly, it is illegal. And also you would have to cozy up to the Turkish Mafia.

Background on Palmyra is here with many links.

City of David Visitors' Center update

ABOUT TO BEGIN CONSTRUCTION: Final Steps Underway for Jerusalem’s City of David Visitor’s Center (JNS News Services/Jewish Press).
Final steps are underway for building the City of David’s “Kedem” visitor’s center in Jerusalem that will sit on top of the “Givati Parking Lot” excavation just outside of the Old City of Jerusalem’s walls. The visitor’s center will serve as an entryway to the Jerusalem Walls National Park, which includes the City of David and Mount Zion, as well as to the Old City’s Ophel and Hulda Gates.

[...]
Back in early 2012 I noted a report that implied that the project was "going forward apace," but it appears that the actual construction has not yet begun, which is more the pace I would have expected. This Elad-sponsored project has not been without controversy.

UPDATE: Joseph Lauer points to a 2011 article by Israel Finkelstein in The Forward for background on the history and politics of the area called "the City of David": In the Eye of Jerusalem’s Archaeological Storm.

Psychedelic Philistines

DUDE! Sex, drugs and Philistines: A biblical psychedelic scene. Breakthrough ‘sensory archaeology’ research reveals a 3,000-year-old ritual culture of mind-altering substances in Israel (Daniel Bernstein Times of Israel).
The now-lackluster central Israeli town of Yavneh was apparently once the center of a thriving drug scene, according to Israeli researchers.

Cutting-edge technology has allowed archaeologists to find traces of hallucinogenic materials, used over 3,000 years ago by the biblical Philistine people for spiritual rituals, Haaretz reported Thursday.

[...]
So far there has been little to no evidence for the use of psychoactive drugs in the religion of ancient Israel. But new technology like this may be changing the picture.

The date of the Last Supper

REVISITED: New theory on date of Last Supper (Leesha McKenny, Cooma-Monaro Express). For some reason this article from 2011 just surfaced again on Google. I thought it as well to note it, in case people see it and wonder about it. The theory is hardly new, and wasn't in 2011: Sir Colin Humphreys, a physicist, has been advancing it since the mid-1980s and so far I don't know of any New Testament scholars who have been persuaded by it. I noted the book and some responses to it here and here back when it came out.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Palmyra video: ruins still seem to be intact

PALMYRA WATCH: Islamic State says it won’t destroy Palmyra. Jihadists’ video shows spectacular ancient ruins still intact, though no word on fate of Hebrew inscriptions. It's not clear to me from the content of the article that ISIS have actually said that they won't destroy ancient Palmyra; they have just released that video of the apparently undamaged ruins, which they have also been using as a backdrop for executions.

Background here and links.

The Talmud's use of the Bible

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS: How much of Tanach is in the Talmud? (Lev Israel, The Sefari Blog). Not surprisingly, the answer is complicated, but this blog post makes a good start.

Via Ancient Jew Review.

Hebrew Bible editions galore!

NEWS YOU CAN USE: Articles on Five New Editions of the Hebrew Bible (Peter J. Gurry, ETC).
I recently learned two things I didn’t know: there are five editions of the Hebrew Bible in various stages of production and there is a new Hebrew Bible journal with a number of good articles on these editions.

[...]

Review of Lieber, A Vocabulary of Desire

H-JUDAIC REVIEW:
Ulmer on Lieber, 'A Vocabulary of Desire: The Song of Songs in the Early Synagogue'

Author: Laura Suzanne Lieber
Reviewer: Rivka B. Ulmer

Laura Suzanne Lieber. A Vocabulary of Desire: The Song of Songs in the Early Synagogue. Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 2014. 450 pp. $210.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-90-04-23463-5.

Reviewed by Rivka B. Ulmer (Bucknell University)
Published on H-Judaic (May, 2015)
Commissioned by Matthew A. Kraus

"I am My Beloved's": The Mosaics of Love in Early Piyyut

The title “Vocabulary of Desire” implies that payyetanim, liturgical poets, used the available words of the biblical Song of Songs as lexemes to construct richly woven, liturgical poetry. In post-biblical interpretation the Song of Songs expressed God’s love for Israel and Israel’s love for God, and it provided ancient Jewish exegetes with a powerful vocabulary. Perhaps of even greater significance, the poetry of the Song of Songs “provides a natural language for liturgical prayer. The Song, while hardly an overtly religious work, nevertheless offers a profound, and important, vocabulary for theology” (p. 22). The resulting piyyutim, liturgical poems, are examined in this book, which contains two parts. The two parts are successfully integrated and explain certain concepts concerning the structure and the religious messages of the piyyut and the culture that produced it.

[...]
I noted the release of the book last summer here.

The Pharisees

ELI KAVON: Who were the Pharisees? (Jerusalem Post, Past Imperfect Blog). Corrects the negative stereotypes about the Pharisees, but does so by reinforcing the ones about the Sadducees. Also, there does seem to be a relationship between the Pharisees and the Rabbinic sages, but the exact nature of the relationship is complex and still in need of clarification.

A few past posts on the Pharisees are here, here, and here.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Catching up on Palmyra

PALMYRA WATCH: I have fallen behind on posting on Palmyra, but there does not seem to be much news about the ruins in the last few days. Here is what has been happening overall:

Military news:
Official: Syrian army preparing for counterattack on ISIS (AP, 24 May);

Assad Starts Heavy Bombing of Ancient Palmyra. After ISIS captures city with rich archaeological heritage and massacres residents, Assad regimes launches multiple airstrikes (Arutz Sheva, 25 May).

The ruins:
Syria antiquities chief: Palmyra ruins unharmed for now, i.e., as of yesterday (Reuters, 27 May);

Syrian Official: No Damage Done to Palmyra. Syria's antiquities chief says the historic city of Palmyra had been unharmed since being seized by ISIS jihadists. (Ben Ariel, Arutz Sheva, 27 May).

Historical background:
The Venice of the Sands in Peril (G.W. Bowersock, The New York Review of Books)

Hebrew inscriptions, jewels of Palmyra’s Jewish past, may be lost forever. With Islamic State now in control, fears grow for archaeological gems that point to the ancient city’s resonant Jewish history (Ilan Ben Zion, Times of Israel, 25 May).
Among the archaeological gems from Palmyra, the pearl of Syria’s desert, at risk after the Islamic State’s takeover last week are vestiges of its Jewish past, including the longest Biblical Hebrew inscription from antiquity: the opening verses of the Shema carved into a stone doorway.

Western archaeologists who visited the site in the 19th and 20th century discovered Hebrew verses etched into the doorframe of a house in the ancient city. But whether that inscription is still at the site is unclear.

The last time a European scholar documented it in situ was 1933, when Israeli archaeologist Eleazar Sukenik of Hebrew University photographed it.

“What may have happened to it since is anyone’s guess,” Professor David Noy, co-author of Inscriptiones Judaicae Orientis (Jewish Inscriptions of the Near East), said in an email on Friday.

[...]
I didn't know about this inscription, of which there is a photograph in the article. More on the building:
But most significantly, etched into the doorway of a house in central Palmyra, northeast of its main colonnaded street, were the four opening lines of the Shema, one of the central Jewish prayers, verses from the book of Deuteronomy. Scholars have debated whether it was an entryway to a synagogue, but now they lean toward it having been a private home.

The Biblical passage differs from the traditional text only inasmuch as it substitutes God’s name Yahweh for adonai — my Lord.

On the sides of the doorway were two other apotropaic inscriptions in Hebrew script believed taken from Deuteronomy as well. It was last photographed in the 1930s, and scholars contacted by the Times of Israel couldn’t ascertain whether it was still at the site, or whether in the intervening decades it was destroyed or sold on the black market.
According to the following article, the inscriptions and some related fines are from "prior to the sixth century [CE]": ISIS Takeover of Ancient City, Palmyra, Threatens Jewish Artifacts (Suzanne Vega, JPUpdates, 26 May).

Background on Palmyra is here and links. And more on Queen Zenobia of Palmyra is here.

1000-year-old ketubah on display

MARRIAGE CONTRACT: Rare 1,000 Yr Old Ketubah on Exhibit in Jerusalem (Hana Levi Julian, The Jewish Press).
A rare, 1000 year old ketubah written in Aramaic in the town of Tzur by the scribe Yosef HaKohen son of Yaakov HaKoen.

An extremely rare 1,000-year-old ketubah inscribed in Aramaic is now on exhibit in the National Library in Jerusalem.

The Jewish marriage contract dates from November 28, 1023 (CE), according to Dr. Yoel Finkelman, curator for the National Library’s Judaica section.

Written by a scribe named in the ketubah as Yosef HaKohen, son of Yaakov, the document was inscribed in what once was the town of Tzur for a couple named Natan HaKohen, son of Shlomo, and Rachel. Both were from Tzefat (Safed.)

The document is especially significant as it provides concrete evidence of a Jewish community in the city of Tzefat (Safed) in the 11th century (CE).

[...]
There is a photo in the article. More on Jewish marriage contracts (ketubot/ketuvot) here and links.

Barkay on that mosaic floor in the Dome of the Rock

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Archaeologist Slams 'Islamic Brutality on the Temple Mount.' Archaeologist reveals ancient mosaic floor on Dome of Rock from Second Temple days damaged to degree as yet unknown. (Benny Toker, Ari Yashar, Arutz Sheva).
Archaeologist Dr. Gabi Barkay, director of the Temple Mount Sifting Project, told Arutz Sheva on Tuesday that the extent of the damage inflicted to the ancient mosaic floor of the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount may never be known.

"The rugs that were donated by Abdullah the King of Jordan have already been attached to the floor, there is no documentation of the floor under the rugs - I was there and they didn't let me in," Barkay said. "The information we know is only from videos spread on the internet by Islamic sources."

[...]
And here is more information on the date of the architecture:
"A portion of the floor is in halls surrounding the building since the Crusader Period, the other portion is in a more ancient cave, perhaps from 3,000 years BCE, and part of it is likely to be from the days of the Second Temple," said Barkay.

Describing the ancient mosaic floors, he said, "on one of the flooring tiles in the shape of a hexagon, when you tap it there's an empty space (below it); this is described in ancient sources as the 'well of spirits,' a place where there are the spirits of tzadikim (righteous people - ed.)."
Apparently he wisely ignored the nonsense about the flooring being the gateway to the Ark of the Covenant.

Background to the story, and also on the Temple Mount Sifting Project, is here.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Video: Peter Williams on the LXX

NEWS YOU CAN USE: Why Peter Williams Does Not Believe in the Septuagint (Peter J. Gurry, ETC).

Natalie Portman flees idolatry

THE TWO CITIES: Natalie Portman, Idolatry, and Ancient Judaism.

CRINT e-books

PHILONICA AND NEOTESTAMENTICA: CRINT Online!
Scholars working in the field of Philo and ancient Judaism, will certainly know the Compendia Rerum ad Ioudaicarum series. Now these great books are also available online ...
Just to be clear, "online" here does not mean "online for free."

Judith makes sauce of Holophernes

OLD TESTAMENT APOCRYPHA WATCH: Judith on a Pasta Label: Must be sauce to lose your head over (Deane Galbraith, Remnant of Giants).

Monday, May 25, 2015

Report on Edinburgh Canon Conference

LARRY HURTADO: Edinburgh Canon Conference. I was not able to attend this day conference, but I heard it was very good. I noted the announcement of it here.

Review of Stigmata

AN OLDIE: Blu-ray Review: Stigmata (Adam Frazier, Geeks of Doom). Blu-ray resurrects (heh) another forgettable movie. I reviewed it on PaleoJudaica many years ago.

The Rephaim in an inscription?

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS: Does Rapha’ appear on a 9th-Century BCE Jar at Tell es-Safi/(“Gath”)? (Deane Galbraith, Remant of Giants). Possibly it does, and that would be really cool, but the reading is uncertain.

Aramaic Studies Today

ASSIMLATED TO THE BLOGOSPHERE: STEVE KAUFMAN - ARAMAIC STUDIES TODAY.
This blog is intended to serve as a vehicle for the academic community to review and discuss new (and previously published major) publications in Aramaic Studies. We welcome contributions and comments from all specialists in any of the areas of Aramaica. Short notices drawing attention to relevant out-of-the-way publications are also welcome.
There are some good posts there already, including a request to review a book on Aramaic and posts on a new volume of Idumean ostraca and a new dictionary of Christian Palestinian Aramaic.

Old Persian dictionary

BIBLIOGRAPHIA IRANICA: Dictionary of the Old Persian royal inscriptions. By R├╝diger Schmitt; Wiesbaden: Reichert, 2014.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Handwritten Aramaic Bible

ARAMAIC WATCH: Handwritten Bible to be Released (Express News Service, India). "THRISSUR: With the aim of inculcating the message of the Holy Bible, a handwritten Bible (Peshik Aramaic) spread over 3,876 pages of the Assyrian Church of the East (Chaldean Syrian Church) will be released on May 24 at the nearby Chelakkottukara Mar Aprem Church, as part of its year-long Platinum Jubilee valedictory celebrations."

The project was announced last year.

Palmyra antiquities still unharmed

PALMYRA WATCH: IS takes over Palmyra museum, raises flag over citadel. Though most artifacts were removed some time ago, concerns mount over fate of ancient ruins (AP). The news as of yesterday evening, coming from the Syrian Director of Antiquities, is that some modern statues in the museum were destroyed, but the few, large antiquities remaining inside have not been damaged, nor have the ruins of the ancient city. This is good news as far as it goes, although in the horrific context of the rounding up and public execution of Assad loyalists in the city.

Background here and links.

Transhumanist Gnosticism and Cyborg Nephilim

CINEMA AND PHILOSOPHY: Will Our Robot Overlords Be Freer Than Us? A Philosophical Investigation (Jonathon Sturgeon, Flavorwire). A co-review of Alex Garland's Ex Machina and The Soul of the Marionette by "the gloomy philosopher John Gray."
Give the British a perfectly normal story about robots, and they will turn it into a disquisition on freedom. In the recent posthumanist film Ex Machina, director Alex Garland does just that: when a brilliant programmer builds an artificially intelligent creature named Ava, it isn’t long before she kills everyone and flees headlong from captivity. But when she exits the compound, is she truly free?

[...]

But to get things started, Gray, who is England’s resident pessimist, points out that the secular, technoscientific belief in progress — of the kind that motivates the characters in Ex Machina — is not actually secular at all. In fact, with its faith in the evolution of consciousness beyond the body, it is instead a weird strain of ancient Gnosticism, which you might remember as that post-Christian conviction that the God of the Old Testament was actually a demiurge, a contemptible sub-God who ensnared our souls in matter. “To be free,” the Gnostics thought, “humans must revolt against the laws that govern earthly things…[t]hey must exit from the material world.” And in the ideology of modern science, Gray writes, the Gnostic project of “liberating the spirit from the material world has not disappeared.”

Gray has in mind the transhumanism of Ray Kurzweil, the daydream of downloaded and uploaded consciousnesses, the self-augmenting networks of a dozen Hollywood blockbusters, the apparent posthuman sexual iconicity of Scarlett Johansson… and other ecstasies.
Transhumanists and Singularitarians often are accused of being Gnostics, and I'm not sure they particularly mind. Somewhat related posts are here, here, here, and here.

Also, on a tangentially related note, Deane Galbraith, with whose recent posts over at Remant of Giants I am now catching up, helpfully points to Frauke Uhlenbruch: Nephilim as Cyborgs.

Model shrines and the Jerusalem Temple?

THE ALGEMEINER: Surprising Discovery May Prove Existence of the Jewish Temple. This picks up a story from 2012 about the discovery of model shrines (two of them) at Iron Age II Khirbet Qeiyafa. I posted the original press release here and some responses from archaeologists here. They are interesting artifacts, but they aren't unique and they don't prove the existence of a Judean Temple on the Temple Mount in Iron Age II. There is no direct evidence for the Temple, chiefly because Herod's renovations cleared away all its remains, but there is plenty of compelling circumstantial evidence, which I have collected here (cf. here).

Syriac revival in Kafro, Turkey

SYRIAC WATCH: Reclaiming Syriac heritage: A village in Turkey finds its voice. Returning from Europe decades after fleeing war, ancient community asserts new multicultural identity in Aramaic, German (Dalia Mortada, Aljazeera America).
For Alptekin and Demir to be back in Kafro (known as Elbe─čendi in Turkish) is a dream come true. Along with all the other residents of the village, they fled to Europe from 1978 through the 1990s until the village was left empty at the height of fighting between the Turkish military and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in southeastern Turkey. At that time, the PKK led the fight for an autonomous Kurdish state — a fight that tapered off through the 2000s until an official cease-fire in 2013 but has since still simmered and occasionally boiled over into violence.

The citizens of Kafro, however, aren’t ethnically Kurdish or Turkish but Syriac, an ancient Christian population. Their mother tongue is Aramaic, a variation of the same language biblical scholars say Jesus spoke. Their ancestors have been in the region for centuries, in southeastern Turkey, northwestern Iraq and northeastern Syria, but today they make up a tiny minority in the Turkish population. They didn’t want to get involved in the fight between the state and the PKK. “Our only option was to leave,” Alptekin said.

But now, taking advantage of the decline in the conflict, they are returning and taking with them the experiences of a wider world far beyond the old boundaries of the ancestral village. Though most of Kafro’s old residents still live abroad, many visit for the summer months, and along with Alptekin’s, 17 families of the original 50 have returned from places Germany and Switzerland to the live in Kafro full time.

They brought a generation that was born in Europe, and the influence of decades abroad can be seen and heard. They dress in European outdoor clothing, and residents, especially teens, speak a mix of German, Turkish and Aramaic.
More on Syriac in Turkey is here, here and here with many links.

Hukabee and the Ark of the Covenant

OH DEAR: Does Mike Huckabee Know Where the Ark of the Covenant Is Buried? The GOP candidate endorses a "Jewish Indiana Jones" who claims the CIA is interested in him because he knows the location of this legendary biblical artifact (Tim Murphy, Mother Jones). Somehow PaleoJudaica had missed Harry Moskoff, whose book is here at Amazon (and you can see Mr. Hukabee's endorsement on the back cover). And here is another article on the book.

Background on the Ark of the Covenant and the various futile searches for it is here and here and links.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Shavuot 2015

THE FESTIVAL OF SHAVUOT (Weeks, Pentecost) begins today at sundown. Best wishes to all those celebrating. Some biblical background is noted here.

Review of Secunda, The Iranian Talmud

BIBLIOGRAPHIA IRANICA: Review: The Iranian Talmud. By Geoffrey Herman at AJS Review.

Background here and links.

Early Islam: The Sectarian Milieu of Late Antiquity?

ENOCH SEMINAR CONFERENCE: Early Islam: The Sectarian Milieu of Late Antiquity? / Fourth Nangeroni Meeting (2015 Milan), conference. It meets on 15-19 June, just before the regular bi-annual meeting of the Enoch Seminar at the same venue. I shall be at the latter, presenting a main paper, but I am sorry to have to miss this Nageroni meeting.