Saturday, March 29, 2003

ON MASADA AND YADIN: The Chronicle of Higher Education reviews Nachman Ben-Yehuda, Sacrificing Truth: Archaeology and the Myth of Masada (Prometheus/Humanity Books).

For Nachman Ben-Yehuda, a sociologist who is dean of the faculty of social sciences at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Masada stands as a symbol of national mythology and academic deception -- a case study of how archaeologists can hijack the scientific method for ideological purposes.

In his controversial new book, Sacrificing Truth: Archaeology and the Myth of Masada (Prometheus/Humanity Books), Mr. Ben-Yehuda accuses Israel's most celebrated archaeologist, the late Yigael Yadin, of professional misconduct in his excavations at the site during the 1960s. After studying transcripts of conversations and documents written during the work and years later, Mr. Ben-Yehuda concludes that Yadin conducted "a scheme of distortion which was aimed at providing Israelis with a spurious historical narrative of heroism."

Many archaeologists, however, reject Mr. Ben-Yehuda's harsh assessment and even accuse him, in turn, of manipulating facts to promote his own agenda. "He twists and distorts things," says Jodi Magness, a professor of early Judaism at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, who has excavated at Masada in recent years. "It's very disturbing to me. I can only imagine that Yadin must be rolling in his grave."

The review includes a link to a live online discussion with the author. There's also another review of the book from U.S. News and World Report on the Hebrew University's Sociology Department's web page. I've seen challenges to the attempt to reconcile Josephus' account with the archaeology of Masada, but it sounds as though this book (which I have not read) challenges Yadin's character as well. The specialists quoted in the the reviews seem a lot less happy with the latter than the former.


Torrey Seland writes:

I read your comments on your paleojudaica page concerning Philo texts online, and I can tell you I have been working on it. As you probably know the texts (Yonge's) are available in the Logos programs (, (and in printed form by Hendricksons) and for some way back I found the texts available on internet, but it has now been removed. The text is still available in a zip-file provided by someone I don't know, but the file is damaged and useless.

I have discussed the possibilities of having this translation available online, with R Kraft, but there obviously is some copyright issues involved. Hence so far, there is just available online the texts mentioned on my Philo webpage.

Thanks Torrey. I wasn't aware that there would be copyright issues, since it's a nineteenth century translation. I hope something can be worked out.


From: (snipped)

Date: Sat Mar 8, 2003 10:53:11 am Europe/London

To: (snipped)


Reply-To: (snipped)


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Best wishes,

Yours "SHAMIL"

Dear "Shamil,"

I realize that the Nigerian scam letter provides a billion-dollar underground economy, but I'm afraid your concept still needs work. In the meantime I suggest you get a job. And maybe a life.

Friday, March 28, 2003

Representative Phil English (Republican of Pennsylvania) has introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives that urges all governments engaged in the Iraq War to work to "avoid damage to the cultural antiquities in that country."

Contains a nice rundown of important antiquities sites in Iraq. Let's hope it does some good.
SEPTUAGINT RESOURCES: I've just added a link to a Septuagint Page compiled by Joel Kalvesmaki of the Catholic University of America. It has links to various editions, scanned manuscripts, and countless other resources.
The banner ads at the top of the page (the price of a free Blogspot account) have taken an interesting turn: they started out with very generic content like advertisements for search engines, but are now starting to advertise Hebrew-related things. I have no control over ad content and I'm sure the human staff of Blogger aren't monitoring this sort of thing (thousands of new blogs are added to their system every day). That must mean that their software is reading what I've been posting and matching the ads to it. I suppose this is better than having Viagra ads up there, but it's still a little creepy.

Thursday, March 27, 2003

The U.S. military expedition into Iraq has skirted ancient sites named in Jewish and Christian scriptures and apparently avoided sacred turf where Shi'ite Muslims had their historic and bloody showdown with rival Sunnis.

Read the whole thing. This is a good sign.
UPCOMING CONFERENCES: There will be a Seminar on Philo and The New Testament in Jena in May, arranged by Corpus Judaeo-Hellenisticum Novi Testamenti. And in July there will be a symposium here at St. Mary's College on Anthropology and Biblical Studies: The Way Forward?, which covers the biblical period from Hebrew Bible to New Testament and includes my seminar paper on "Ritual in the Jewish Pseudepigrapha."
SPEAKING OF TORREY SELAND, he has recently published an article entitled "Saul of Tarsus and Early Zealotism: Reading Gal 1,13-14 in Light of Philo's Writings" in Biblica, which is available online.
JOSEPHUS ONLINE: I've just added a link (to the right) to the complete works of Josephus in the old Whiston translation. I thought I had remembered that someone had also put up the old Yonge translation of the works of Philo of Alexandria somewhere, but I can't find it on Google and Torrey Seland doesn't mention it on his Philo page, so I must be wrong. But somebody should! How about it, readers?

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

THE "JOASH TABLET" has accidentally been broken in half:
JERUSALEM (AP) - An ancient stone tablet some experts believe may date to the 9th century B.C., providing rare confirmation of biblical narrative, broke in half while being moved to an Israeli police station, officials said Monday.

An antiquities collector turned in the shoebox-sized tablet in Tel Aviv on Monday morning. Police bringing it to Israel's Antiquities Authority in Jerusalem broke it even though it was wrapped in two layers of bubble wrap and inside a box, said Amir Ganor, the head of the authorities' anti-theft division.

Officials didn't say how the break occurred, but a spokeswoman for the Antiquities Authority, Osnat Guez, said it could actually help scientists studying the tablet, since they will be able to check the inner layers to determine how old the stone is.

Well, that's something, I guess. But heck, first the "James Ossuary" and now this. Get a grip, guys!
JEWISH INCANTATION BOWLS FROM IRAQ: Lest a few readers wonder why Iraqi antiquities are getting so much attention on a blog on ancient Judaism, it's worth mentioning one small group of (many) Jewish antiquities from Iraq: the Aramaic incantation bowls. These were buried upside-down in the doorways to people's houses and other places to scare away demons and, sometimes, for other purposes. I discussed them briefly in this online lecture on ancient magic from some years ago. Gideon Bohak has a nice exhibition of ancient magic texts from the Special Collections Library of the University of Michigan, including some "Babylonian Demon Bowls" (none are clearly Jewish - Mandaeans and indigenous polytheists also produced the bowls - but the photos will give you an idea of what they look like). Here's a photo of another inscribed bowl from a Library of Congress exhibition. Scholars doing intensive work on the bowls include Shaul Shaked and Rebecca Lesses. I found an abstract of an article by Lesses on women and the bowl incantations in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, but full texts of the articles for this volume are not yet posted on the site. Rebecca, you should get on their cases about this. Mark Geller teaches a course on the Aramaic Incantation Texts at University College London. A review of a 1993 edition of Jewish incantation bowls by Shaked and Joseph Naveh can be found here and a review of new edition of texts by Dan Levene (which I haven't yet seen) is here. Follow this link for a bibliography of works on the Aramaic incantation bowls. In my book Descenders to the Chariot: The People Behind the Hekhalot Literature, I discuss the bowls in relation to early mystical traditions in chapters one and eight. There is a major collection of incantation bowls from Nippur at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Nothing on the website mentions them, but maybe that will change when this page on the Babylonian Section is finished. And we are promised another website on Aramaic, Mandaic, Syriac, and Pahlavi incantation bowls in the Schøyen collection, but it too remains under construction for now.

Heres a sample of what the incantation bowls sound like:

This bowl is appointed for the sealing of the house 2and of the wife and of the son of DDYNWY son of 'YSPNDRMYD, that there may depart from him the tormentress 3and bad dreams. I raise and I lift up a vessel; it is a work that has been made 4like that which Rav Joshua bar Perahya sat and wrote against them: a dismission against all the demons, devas, 5satans, liliths, and no-gooders that are in the house of DDYNWY son of 'YSPNDRMYD. Again, he wrote against them an eternal dismission 6in the name of letter from within letters, letters from within letters, letters of the name, blank space from within blank space, by which were subdued 7heaven and earth and the mountains, and by which the heights were uprooted and by them were delivered up sorcerers, demons, devas, satans, liliths, and no-gooders, 8and by which he crossed over from the world and ascended above you on high and brought against you spells of destruction for destruction and brought (them) out to bring you out 9of the house of DDYNWY son of 'YSPNDRMYD and from all that belongs to him. You are divorced by the dismission, and it is bound and sealed and resealed, just as the demons of old did not break their word 10and the men of old who were not diverted. Again, bound, sealed, and resealed is this dismission in the name of YH YH YH YH YH YH YH ;'. Amen. Amen. Selah.

11Sealed and guarded are the house and residence of DDYNWY son of 'YSPN[DRMYD] from the tormentress and bad dreams and curse. And may his wife and son be sealed and guarded 12from the tormentress and bad dreams and curse and vow and sor[cerers . . .] . . . Amen.

(Montgomery 32/33; translation from Descenders to the Chariot pp. 222-23)

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

RECENT REVIEWS of books on Qoheleth/Ecclesiastes in the Review of Biblical Literature:

Kamano, Naoto, Cosmology and Character: Qoheleth's Pedagogy from a Rhetorical-Critical Perspective

Miller, Douglas B., Symbol and Rhetoric in Ecclesiastes: The Place of Hebel in Qohelet's Work

Also, from the same source, an extended review by James Barr, with a response from the authors:

Jobes, Karen H and Moises Silva, Invitation to the Septuagint

I haven't read the book, but I do recommend the review as a useful discussion of the current state of Septuagint studies.

Monday, March 24, 2003

SPEAKING OF ANCIENT IRAQ, I'm glad that in all the war uproar people are still thinking about Iraqi antiquities:

To the oilfields, the ecology of the Gulf and the lives of countless civilians and soldiers, add another potential casualty of the impending war: the cultural patrimony of Western civilization. In January scholars gave Defense Department officials the names of archeological sites they hoped to spare. �[The military] had a list of 150,� says McGuire Gibson, professor of Mesopotamian archeology at the University of Chicago�s Oriental Institute. �We gave them over 4,000 more�but that only covers the 10 to 15 percent of the country we�ve studied.� Gibson is cautiously encouraged by the record of the earlier war, in which allied bombing spared most important monuments, even those adjoining military targets that were destroyed. But he�s also aware that in the featureless plains of southern Iraq, the only high ground consists of the ruins of ancient cities. If the Iraqis make a stand, these mounds, which can be as much as four miles around and 80 feet high, are the natural places to do it.

But they say that a bigger danger from looting. This has been a feature of war in this part of the world since long before the seventh century B.C., when a frieze in one of the palaces at Nineveh depicted an event described thusly in Michael Roaf�s �Cultural Atlas of Mesopotamia�: �An Assyrian soldier brings in a severed head to be counted with the rest of the booty after a battle in Babylonia.� In 1991, with Baghdad�s iron control over the country shattered, �nine of 13 regional museums were completely looted,� says Richard Zettler, associate curator at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Iraqi civilians began tearing into unexcavated sites with front-end loaders, carrying away anything of value. The plunder has been turning up ever since in dealers� catalogs and at auctions around the world. Last week on eBay, sellers were offering 4,000-year-old cuneiform-tablet fragments (�Be sure to bid on this fantastic piece of history!�) and a Sumerian silver necklace from 2500 B.C. �There are Iraqi antiquities everywhere you look,� says John Malcolm Russell, an authority on the region at Massachusetts College of Art. �And they didn�t all come from someone�s basement. There are very few legitimate objects on the antiquities market.�

The article is from Newsweek/MSNBC and came to my attention via The Command Post. Note the reference to Saddam and Nebuchadnezzar in the last paragraph. I've noticed a couple of similar articles in recent weeks and meant to blog on them tomorrow, but since this article came out today I thought I'd slip it in now. The other references are in my office and if they add anything I'll link to them later. If any readers have been involved in the efforts to keep the antiquities safe and you have more info, please pass it on to me!

UPDATE: here are links to the other two articles on Iraqi antiquities, one from Reuters and the other from the Washington Post. Each overlaps with the article quoted above, but also adds a little new information. (25 March 12:17 p.m.)

SADDAM AND NEBUCHADNEZZAR: It's widely reported that Saddam Hussein has been extremely interested in the ancient history of Iraq and has put a great deal of effort into (ham-fisted) "restoration" of local antiquities. Moreover, he uses this history for his own political purposes and holds up Nebuchadnezzar II as one of his personal role models. Not to be simplistic about the many modern factors affecting the things he's done since he came to power in 1979, but this datum certainly contributes to making sense of what's been going on in his mind. Nebuchadnezzar founded an empire in the ancient Near East; Saddam has had similar ambitions in the modern Middle East, hence the invasion of Kuwait in 1979. Nebuchadnezzar conquered and put an end to the Kingdom of Judah in 586/7; Saddam has made no bones about wanting to do the same to the modern State of Israel. Cyrus the Persian conquered the Babylonian kingdom that Nebuchadnezzar founded and allowed the Judeans to return home and rebuild; Saddam fought a long and hugely destructive war with Iran (Persia) in the 1980s, perhaps in part as payback to Cyrus' descendants.

A couple of websites from the Iraqi government illustrate Saddam's use of Iraq's history. (Not surprisingly, they are no longer up, but Google has cached them.) This propaganda piece picks up many of these themes. And note the "Hammurabi" and "Nebuchadnezzar" divisions of Saddam's Republican Guard described here.

There are countless news pages and websites that deal with the Saddam/Nebuchadnezzar connection. A recent Google search netted me 3,940 references, of which about 230 were listed. Many of them fall into the broadly "warpo" category, and I won't link to them. Most of the others are superficial, merely mentioning the connection in passing, but a few give more information. Here's a backgrounder on Saddam's building projects from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. This is a page on the Babylon International Festival. And this is a piece on Israel's Iraqi Jews from the China Post. And finally, this is a modern midrash on the Tower of Babel story from National Review Online. Propaganda cuts both ways.

If any readers can point me either to actual speeches by Saddam or other official Iraqi government sources that mention Nebuchadnezzar or ancient Babylon in general, I would like very much to see them. I will post anything interesting here. Even if the link is now dead, as it probably will be, give it to me anyway. Chances are I can recover it somewhere in the Google cache.

The information below is taken from the "About" link to your right, but I'm putting it all up here as a first posting for ease of reference.

A "weblog" or ("blog") is a regularly updated, archived web page devoted to a specific topic. There are blogs that are personal diaries, blogs that give up-to-the-minute political commentary, and blogs devoted to special topics like this one. Some are added to many times a day; most are updated less frequently. Unlike discussion lists, which take messages from numerous subscribers, a blog is maintained and added to by a single person (or sometimes a few people). One person (on whom below) runs this one.

This blog - - is an experiment that aims to chronicle and comment on current developments (mainly as recorded in Internet sources) in the academic field of ancient Judaism and its historical and literary context. I'm aiming to add to it at least several times a week, so please visit it to see what it is about and then continue to visit it often. is a blog on ancient ("paleo-") Judaism ("Judaica") and its historical and literary context from roughly the beginning of the Second Temple period (late 500s B.C.E.) to the rise of Islam (early 600s C.E.). I have intentionally phrased this fairly broadly: I am interested not just in ancient Jewish history in the Land of Israel and the Diaspora through late antiquity, and in ancient Jewish literature (late biblical texts, Dead Sea Scrolls, Jewish Pseudepigrapha, Josephus, Philo, Mishnah, Tosefta, Talmuds, Midrash, Targumin, Piyyutim, etc.), but also in ancient sources, ancient history, and methodological developments which increase or show promise of increasing our understanding of ancient Judaism. So items pertaining to, say, early Christianity, Christian Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, Roman history, archaeological techniques, etc. may be relevant as long as they have (either explicitly or implicitly) some connection with ancient Judaism. If an item involving First Temple Israel, medieval or later Judaism, or something even more tangential happens to strike me as especially interesting, I may throw it in as well. Hey, it's my blog.

Which brings up me. My name is Dr. James R. Davila (please call me Jim) and I am a Lecturer in Early Jewish Studies at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. Ancient Judaism and related matters are my area of expertise and this blog is my excuse to gather interesting things from the Internet on the subject and to talk about whatever paleoJudaic matters are on my mind. Please note: this is my own blog which I am maintaining as a private individual and no one else has anything to do with it or bears any responsibility for it. Opinions expressed are either my own or are clearly labeled as someone else's (with whom I may agree or disagree). This service is offered "as is," with no warranty of accuracy or correctness and no endorsement of any sites linked to. I blog. You decide.

I would be very grateful if readers would send me links to recent developments online regarding ancient Judaism as so understood, along your own comments if you have any. Please send all e-mail correspondence to (and be forewarned that I feel free to post anything sent to this address to the blog with the writer's name on it unless the writer explicitly tells me not to). If I like the item and have the time and energy, I'll post it. The following are some specific areas of interest.

1. Reviews of books on ancient Judaism published online. (I already get the Review of Biblical Literature, so please don't send me any from this source.) If I post a link to a review and you are the author of the book and want to reply to the review, I may post your comments.
2. Journal articles on ancient Judaism published online.
3. Newspaper articles published online on anything to do with ancient Judaism, including reports of new discoveries, well or dreadfully done "Sunday supplement" treatments, use (or misuse) for modern political ends, etc.
4. Abstracts of recently completed (fully completed, accepted, and passed, not just submitted) doctoral or master's-level dissertations. If you've just finished one, please send me an abstract and, if you have it, a link to any addition information on the Web. If you have ordering information (e.g., a UMI order number), give me that as well
5. Threads on e-mail discussion lists which happen to be saying interesting things about ancient Judaism. (I already subscribe to Ioudaios-L, so please don't send me things from there.) I will only note these for discussion lists that maintain an archive that allows me to link to the post or thread.
6. Really cool websites (yours or someone else's), especially new ones, which have something to do with ancient Judaism. If I think they're cool too, I may link to them and profile them briefly.
7. Job advertisements for academic or research positions in an area of ancient Judaism or at least involving ancient Judaism as a component. I will not, for example, post notices of jobs generically on the Hebrew Bible or New Testament, but I may post them if they refer to knowledge of Second Temple Judaism as subspecialty. Send me the description and, if possible, a link to a web page. No charge for this (or anything else on this blog), but I would like you to tell us who got the job when the search is over. If I don't hear back from you after a decent interval, I may come looking for you to find out.
8. Notices of conferences, symposia, or other special events that pertain in some way to ancient Judaism. Please include a short description with contact details and, if possible, a link to a web page.
9. Outrageous or (intentionally or unintentionally) humorous online articles, websites, blog discussions, et cetera pertaining in some way to ancient Judaism.
10. Factual corrections to anything I've already posted. If you convince me that I've made a mistake, I'll post a correction.
11. Anything else that I haven't thought to put in this list but which seems to fit the general parameters I've laid out above.

Finally, let me emphasize that all postings to this site go up entirely according to my whim. If you send me something, I will try to read it and seriously consider it for the site. If I don't post it, it means that either I decided it wasn't exactly what I was looking for, or I didn't have time, or I didn't do it for some other reason of my own (which I may or may not share with you). It probably doesn't mean I don't like you, so don't take it personally. If you disagree with something I've said, you're welcome to tell me about it, and if I think it has some substance I may post your disagreement, but if you're rude to me or persist in pestering me about issues you care about but I don't, I may stop reading your messages. I'm a pretty nice guy and I generally don't set out to offend people, but if something I say does offend you and you complain to me, it doesn't necessarily follow that I will care. If you don't like something I post, feel free to set up your own blog and have your say.

Thanks for visiting this site and for sending me items of potential interest. Please visit often.