Saturday, May 10, 2003


Iraqi Documents on Israel Surface on a Cultural Hunt (Yahoo News)
Wed May 7, 8:59 AM ET

By JUDITH MILLER The New York Times

BAGHDAD, Iraq (news - web sites), May 6 What began today as a hunt for an ancient Jewish text at secret police headquarters here wound up unearthing a trove of Iraqi intelligence documents and maps relating to Israel as well as offers of sales of uranium and other nuclear material to Iraq.


The search began this morning when 16 soldiers from MET Alpha teamed up with members of the Iraqi National Congress, a leading opposition group headed by Ahmad Chalabi, to search for what an intelligence source had described as one of the most ancient copies of the Talmud in existence, dating from the seventh century. The Talmud is a book of oral law, with rabbinical commentaries and interpretations.

A former senior official of the Mukhabarat, Saddam Hussein (news - web sites)'s secret police, had told the opposition group a few days earlier that he had hidden the ancient Jewish book in the basement of his headquarters. The building had been badly damaged by coalition bombing, said the man, who is now working for the Iraqi National Congress, but he was still willing to take a group there to recover it. MET Alpha hesitated. Its mission was hunting for proof of unconventional weapons in Iraq, not saving cultural and religious treasures. But Col. Richard R. McPhee, its commander, decided that the historic Talmud was too valuable to leave behind.

Early this morning, a seven-vehicle convoy pulled out of the Iraqi Hunting Club, a former Baathist retreat that is now the headquarters for the Iraqi National Congress. Accompanied by members of the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, MET Alpha's chaplain, who has a strong interest in religious texts, and a reporter, the group arrived at Mukhabarat headquarters only to find the section of the building in which the precious document was said to be stored under four feet of murky, fetid water. Dead animals floated on the surface. The stairwell down to the muck was littered with shards of glass, pieces of smashed walls and other bombing debris.

Temporarily daunted by the overpowering stench, MET Alpha's leader, Chief Warrant Officer Richard L. Gonzales, and two other MET Alpha soldiers eventually collected themselves and plunged into the mire in search of the holy text as the team chaplain shook his head in disbelief.

What they found instead of the precious book was what the former Iraqi intelligence official said was the operations center of the Mukhabarat's Israel-Palestine department. Two Iraqi National Congress members joined the soldiers in the water as they inched their way by flashlight through the 50-foot hallway to the rooms where they happened upon the intelligence documents.

Slogging down the dank hallway, the soldiers reached a room where they found hundreds of books floating in the foul water. There they rescued three bundles of older Jewish books, including a Babylonian Talmud from Vilna, accounting books of the Jewish community of Baghdad between 1949 and 1953 and dozens of more modern scholarly books mostly in Arabic and Hebrew "Generals of Israel," by Moshe Ben-Shaul; David Ben-Gurion's "Memoirs"; and "Semites and Anti-Semites," by the Princeton scholar Bernard Lewis.

But no seventh-century Talmud.


COURSE NOTES for Religious Studies 361: Post-Biblical Judaism, taught by Professor Eliezer Segal, are online. The notes are fairly sketchy, but include numerous excerpts from primary sources, and your undergraduates may find the site quite helpful. (Via the Rutgers University Virtual Religion Index)

Friday, May 09, 2003


Here's a website on the alleged fragments of the Book of Enoch from Qumran Cave 7, in which Ernest A. Muro, Jr., has collected a number of articles from Revue de Qumran and some other things in support of the identification. When we were covering the Epistle of Enoch in the last (2002) Old Testament Pseudepigrapha online course, I floated the idea that the surviving recension of the EE was a Christian revision of the original, but this site pretty much convinced me I was wrong. The discussion is somewhere in the majordomo archives for that semester.

Thursday, May 08, 2003

Many items found in museum vaults

From Terry Frieden
CNN Washington Bureau
Thursday, May 8, 2003 Posted: 5:14 AM EDT (0914 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. Customs agents, working with military and museum experts at the National Museum in Baghdad, have recovered nearly 40,000 manuscripts and about 700 artifacts, government officials announced in Washington Wednesday, leaving perhaps only a few dozen key pieces missing.

Well good!

"The Ossuary Find: Was It Really from 'The Brother of Jesus'?
By Hershel Shanks (Beliefnet, via Bible and Interpretation News)

This is an excerpt from the book by Shanks and Witherington

The article by Rochelle I. Altman, with which Shanks disagrees can be found online here:

Official Report on the James Ossuary

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

MORE ON OIL MINISTRY: scroll down to the update on yesterday's post.
TODAY IS THE ANNIVERSARY OF THE FOUNDING OF THE LIBRARY OF ALEXANDRIA, at least according to the Egypt State Information Service. They don�t give an ancient source and I have no idea if we actually know even the year it was founded, let alone the day, but this is a good excuse to round up some things on the Library. Here�s a great website on the Library of Alexandria for a course on Greek science at Tufts University. There is a new library in Alexandria meant to emulate the ancient one, and it is discussed in this National Geographic article. There is also an online Digital Library of Alexandria under construction. According to the legend in the Letter of Aristeas, King Ptolemy II (285-247 B.C.E.) ordered the librarian, Demetrius of Phalerum, to commission a translation of the Pentateuch in Greek. This was done by seventy-two translators from Palestine in seventy-two days. The story was written long after the fact, but most specials seem at least to accept the third-century date for the translation of the Pentateuch.

The main library was destroyed, apparently accidentally, by Julius Caesar in a battle with Pompey. The associated library of the Temple of Serapis may have survived much longer and there are various legends about its destruction. Evaluations of the evidence for the destruction of the Library of Alexandria can be found here, here, and here.

Tuesday, May 06, 2003


An embedded reporter denies that the Ministry of Oil was protected by American troops while looting went on elsewhere.

"Bad Reporting in Baghdad" (The Weekly Standard)
From the May 12, 2002 issue: You have no idea how well things are going.
by Jonathan Foreman
05/12/2003, Volume 008, Issue 34


More irritating is the myth constantly repeated by antiwar columnists that the military let the city be destroyed--in particular the hospitals and the national museum--while guarding the Ministry of Oil. The museum looting is turning out to have been grotesquely exaggerated. And there is no evidence for the ministry of oil story. Depending on the article, the Marines had either a tank or a machine gun nest outside the ministry. Look for a photo of that tank or that machine gun nest and you'll look in vain. And even if the Marines had briefly guarded the oil ministry it would have been by accident: The Marines defended only the streets around their own headquarters and so-called Areas of Operation. Again, though, given the pro-regime sources favored by so many of the press corps huddled in the Palestine Hotel, it's not surprising that this rumor became gospel.


Jonathan Foreman is a correspondent for the New York Post, embedded with the Scout Platoon of the 4th Battalion, 64th Armored Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division in Baghdad.

UPDATE (7 May): Andras Reidlmayer has a post to the IraqCrisis list which collects photographs and evidence that the Oil Ministry was hit by a U.S. airstrike and then looted on 9 April but occupied from that afternoon on by U.S. Marines. There was at least one tank there sometime before Baghdad fell.

US soldiers take up positions outside the burning Oil Ministry in Baghdad before the city fell to coalition forces(AFP/File/Ramzi Haidar )

Sat Apr 12, 2:50 AM ET

US soldiers take up positions outside the burning Oil Ministry in Baghdad before the city fell to coalition forces(AFP/File/Ramzi Haidar )

THE WEB PAGE OF ROBERT DEUTSCH has lots of goodies including the texts of articles he has published in peer-review journals back as far as the 1980s. Some recent ones of interest include:

"A Lead Weight of Hadrian: The Prototype for the Bar Kokhba Weights" (originally published in Israel Numismatic Journal Vol. 14, 2000-2, Pp 125-128)

"A Lead Weight of Shimon Bar Kokhba"
(originally published in Israel Exploration Journal Volume 51, Number 1, 2001, Pp 96-9)

"Five Unrecorded 'Yehud' Silver Coins" (originally published in Israel Numismatic Journal #13, 1994-1999, Pp 25-6)

(via Bible and Interpretation)

Monday, May 05, 2003


"Most antiquities feared lost in looting found intact in museum" (Austin American-Statesman)

By Christine Spolar
Sunday, May 4, 2003

BAGHDAD � The vast majority of the Iraqi trove of antiquities feared stolen or broken have been found inside the National Museum in Baghdad, according to American investigators who compiled an inventory over the weekend of the ransacked galleries.

A total of 38 pieces, not tens of thousands, are now believed to be missing. Among them is a single display of Babylonian cuneiform tablets that accounts for nine missing items.

As the byline says, the article originated in the Chicago Tribune (I've verified this from their website, although I'm not registered and so cannot actually access the article there). I hope this news is true, but I think it will be weeks or more before we get a clear idea of the damage and in the meantime we should be skeptical of all such reports, positive or negative.

UPDATE (3:02 pm): That was the positive; here's the negative. Same comments apply:

"Experts Despair of Iraq's Stopping Loss of Relics" (New York Times)


NASIRIYA, Iraq, May 4 � The ransacking of the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad last month may have prompted urgent calls for a clampdown on trafficking in Iraqi antiquities, but Iraqi and American officials concede that it will be almost impossible to prevent the continued illegal export of treasures from ancient Mesopotamian sites.

The immediate focus is on trying to recover what was stolen from the museum, but in the rare roadblocks still operated by American and British troops here, the search is for weapons, not for antiquities. The only success to date came when a unit of the Iraq National Congress stopped a truck and found a steel case containing 453 small objects taken from the museum.


"What happened to the Iraq museum is only the tip of the iceberg," said Jean-Marie Durand, a French archaeologist. "For years, the whole country has been looted. At Larsa, the site was turned over by a bulldozer. It looked like the moon."


The resulting traffic, in the main in small pieces that generally sell for hundreds, or at most a few thousand, dollars, is profitable because the cost of looting is minimal, and a large turnover is possible. Mesopotamian antiquities of greater value, on the other hand, are more likely to be noticed by museums or archaeologists if they are put on sale publicly at, say, auctions.

The antiquities dealer in my banner ad was advertising a cuneiform tablet and an Aramaic incantation bowl.

�Sabean Mandeans pray for peace in Iraq" (Middle East Online, UK)

On banks of Tigris, Sabeans praying for suffering in war, for future Iraq that must retake path of unity, democracy.

By Beatriz Lecumberri - BAGHDAD
Just off the banks of the Tigris River in the heart of Baghdad's old city lies the temple of Sabean Mandeans, a tiny community that despite its reclusiveness has been hit hard by the war.

In a rite of purification, Sabean Mandeans with long beards, white tunics and rustic sandals immersed themselves up to their waists in water.

"Thirty-three of our followers were killed in the American air strikes. They were civilians who were at home," temple priest Ala Dehle Kama recalled with clear bitterness.

The dead, he explained, had parted the world without receiving their final baptism, a ritual of utmost significance as it is supposed to bring the follower out of suffering and into the light.

For Kama, the Sabean Mandeans are praying not only for their dead, but for all who suffered in the war, and for a future Iraq that must "retake the path of unity and democracy."


"Collectors, archaeologists debate who should own nation's history" (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

Interesting article that discusses whether antiquities should be kept solely in their country of origin or dispersed for safety among many countries. Iraq is the focus, but many of the issues apply readily to biblical or ancient Jewish antiquities.

Great. Now my blog is hawking antiquities in the banner ad. Please remember I have no control over these ads!

Lehrhaus Judaica, an adult school for Jewish studies, has online courses (i.e., a series of written and illustrated lectures) on "Fifty Years of the Dead Sea Scrolls" and "A Journey Through Jerusalem," both by by Jehon Grist, Ph.D. I've skimmed through them and both look like useful resources for students and nonspecialists. (Via the Rutgers University Virtual Religion Index)

Sunday, May 04, 2003


I've already mentioned SAVAE, the San Antonio Vocal Arts Ensemble, who have theories about ancient Jewish music and who have tried to recreate such music in their own CD, Ancient Echoes. Now National Public Radio has a piece on them (which our St. Mary's postgraduate Bruce Hansen was kind enough to point out to me):

Music from the Time of Jesus
Ensemble Recreates Sacred Songs of Ancient Times

The article includes a link to an audio interview that gives a taste of the music. (You may need to download the free software to hear the audio.) Some of it sounds more like church liturgical music than I would expect for the first century, but I can't claim to know anything about ancient Jewish musicology. Interesting stuff, anyway.