Saturday, May 17, 2003


"Yeshua Ministries
What is Messianic Judaism? Conferences, Training & Support"

Can we please just go back to the one for the Iraqi-fugitive card decks?

"Uncovering an ancient maze" (International Herald Tribune)

Andree Brooks NYT
Saturday, May 17, 2003
In the Italian dust, signs of a past Jewish life

VENOSA, Italy Amid rolling pastureland about 300 kilometers southeast of Rome, dust is flying. Workers carefully dig through crumbling sandstone deep beneath the surface of a grassy hillside. Stout wooden beams support a makeshift entrance and a labyrinth of newly exposed passageways that lead into an ancient underground maze. A loopy string of construction lamps illuminate the way.

An excited archaeologist leads a visitor to a wooden board protecting a discovery made just the previous afternoon. It is a seven-branched candelabra, the original symbol of the Jews, carved into a slab found at a burial niche. The carving is so sharp and clean, it might have been completed yesterday.
The quality and clarity foreshadow even more important finds likely to come. The catacomb is only one of dozens of Jewish sites, artifacts, documents, rare books and manuscripts being discovered, analyzed and restored in southern Italy and Sicily. This work by scholars and government authorities is beginning to flesh out the largely unknown story of vibrant yet long-lost communities of Jews that inhabited the region from Roman times to the end of the Middle Ages. Jews were expelled from southern Italy, known then as the Kingdom of Naples, in the 16th century. Few returned even after the ban was lifted in the 18th century.
Historians associated with the excavation believe the catacomb may be the largest ever found in Western Europe. Hundreds of niches have already been cleared, the bones either looted or reburied according to ritual law. What is striking is that the inscriptions on the burial slabs found thus far are almost all in Greek. There is little or no Hebrew. When Hebrew is used, the characters mostly spell out Greek or Latin words. Both Greek and Latin were commonly used in that part of Italy at the time. This suggests an assimilated life for the Jews who may have lived here outside Venosa between the third and seventh centuries. "Our Jews were not separated from everyone else in those early centuries," said Cesare Colafemmina, visiting professor of Hebrew and Hebraic literature at the University of Calabria.
Documents indicate that Emperor Titus brought 5,000 captives to the region after the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70, Colafemmina said. But hundreds more are thought to have settled here before and after that, simply because it was a prosperous crossroads of maritime trade. And Jews played a vital role in Mediterranean commerce. By the end of the fourth century many towns were dominated by Jews. They even became political and community leaders, he said.


Read it all. The finds include a tombstone of a Jewish captive brought to Rome after the revolt in 70 C.E.

Friday, May 16, 2003


"DISCOVERY: Apostle Paul a midget"(Lark News)

What can I say? We tend to be overachievers.


Over on the IraqCrisis list, Francis Deblauwe writes:
The media made a big deal about the 39,400 manuscripts that were found back in a bomb shelter in western Baghdad and said that they were from the National Museum in Baghdad. This greatly helped to fuel the impression that the losses at the Museum were nearly non-existent after all. Now, from all info I have and from Edouard M�t�nier's assessment, it sure looks like this is the Saddam House of Manuscripts collection instead (split off from the National Museum in the 1990s). My question is: why has the scholarly community, esp. the ACCICH, not checked this issue ASAP and then contacted the media to make sure this gets the proper attention? We can roll our eyes when the umpteenth journalist writes that only some tens of artifacts are still missing from the Museum, but don't we need to be more actively countering this intentionally- or unintentionally-spreading wrong perception?


Yet no less an authority than McGuire Gibson, who has now visited the Baghdad museum, proclaims that "We have dodged a bullet � Through some luck and some real preparations by the museum staff, we have saved a lot," and this article assures us that:

"Looting at Iraqi museum probably overstated" (

What exactly that means remains to be seen. We should keep an eye on Dr. Deblauwe's Best guess of the Damage box on his website, but ultimately this is no more than a well informed guess that may be far off. Given that there is still strident debate over the number of civilian casualties � actual human beings killed � during the war in Afghanistan, I can't say I'm optimistic about our ever figuring out the fate of all the cuneiform tablets and artifacts in Iraq's museums. We'll see�

Meanwhile, here's an article I'm still scratching my head over:

"Iraq museum chief accused of looting plot"
May 11, 2003 The Sunday Times of London
Matthew Campbell, Baghdad

THE furore over the looting of Iraq's national museum took an unexpected turn yesterday when workers accused their director of conniving in the theft of priceless antiquities during the chaotic collapse of the regime in Baghdad. Fifty museum employees staged a protest in which they waved placards under the noses of American investigators proclaiming that Jabir Khalil, chairman of the Iraqi state board of heritage and antiquities, was a 'dictator' and a 'thief'.

Is it just me, or is this starting to sound like that Pink Panther movie (was it A Shot in the Dark?) where all the main characters apart from Inspector Clouseau turn out to be the murderer?

Thursday, May 15, 2003

"The First and Last Drops" (Forward Magazine)

An essay on the meaning of the biblical Hebrew words for rain, citing the ancient "Gezer Calendar." Evidently Philologos is a regular column that sometimes deals with paleojudaic matters (e.g., "Fore and After"and "Dat's Dat!" in back issues.


A few days ago I noted the story of the failed search for a seventh-century Talmud in Iraq which led to the discovery of important intelligence documents. Here's more on those documents:

Report: Romanian intelligence foiled attack on Israeli target (Ha'aretz)

By Yossi Melman and Amos Harel, Haaretz Correspondents, and DPA

BUCHAREST - Romanian intelligence agency SRI has reported that terrorists and staff at the Iraqi embassy in Bucharest had planned to attack Israeli and Western targets in Romania before the Iraq war, the Romanian news agency Rompres said Thursday.

Last week, The New York Times reported that American troops in Baghdad found a collection of Iraqi intelligence documents related to Israel, including maps of terrorist strikes against Israel over the last 12 years, a satellite picture of the Dimona nuclear reactor and detailed mock-ups of the Knesset, downtown Jerusalem and other official Israeli buildings.

SRI claimed that, in cooperation with foreign partner intelligence agencies, it had prevented the terrorists' plans. The terrorists would have used AG 7 grenade-launchers, which were to be supplied by a colleague employed as a spy by the Iraqi embassy.

The existence of these plans had been confirmed by documents found by coalition forces searching the information ministry in Baghdad after the fighting had ended.


Soldiers from the MET Alpha unit, the "mobile exploitation team" responsible for the search for nonconventional weapons, discovered the documents in a flooded Baghdad basement while in pursuit of an unusual quarry: a copy of the Talmud said to date from the seventh century, which would make it one of the oldest Talmuds in existence.


I guess they still haven't found that Talmud.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003


A holy war (Ha'aretz)

By Yair Sheleg

While the Israeli public focused on the war in Iraq, ongoing terror attacks and the economic crisis, those prominent in religious Zionism, or at least its rabbinic elite, have been agog over a different subject entirely: a new Talmud-study curriculum designed for the national-religious school system. The reactions? A free-for-all.

The "Revadim" ("Layers" in English) program is a method in which Talmudic tests are examined through a prism that differentiates between the various layers inherent in the text. A world war of sorts has erupted over the teaching method to the point that one of the critics of the curriculum proclaimed it worse and more dangerous than any act of terrorism.

Lest there be any doubt, the program is not the brainchild of secular Education Ministry officials. Nor was it spawned in a Conservative or Reform seminary. In fact, Revadim was devised in the very core of the national-religious establishment: the Department of Talmud at Bar-Ilan University.

The biography of the program's originator and designer, Rabbi Dr. Pinchas Hayman, 51, seems kosher. He was raised in an assimilated Jewish family in California and as a teenager became Orthodox. Hayman earned a bachelor's degree at the University of California in Los Angeles, in classical languages and philosophy. He then came to Israel, where he studied for two years at Jerusalem's Yeshivat Hakotel, in the Old City's Jewish Quarter.

Hayman then returned to the U.S., studying for the rabbinate at Yeshiva University, the flagship institution of Modern Orthodoxy in the United States. He also completed a master's and a doctorate in Talmud and Semitic languages at YU. Hayman then worked as a rabbi in Canada for seven years before immigrating to Israel in 1987. After living for several years in Ra'anana, he settled in Elkana, in western Samaria.

Four years ago, as a lecturer in the Department of Talmud at Bar-Ilan, Hayman established the "Program for Advanced Methodologies for the Teaching of Mishna and Talmud," which was intended to be an application-oriented research institute. The decision was prompted by the continuing crisis in the attitudes of national-religious youth to Talmud study. Numerous studies carried out by the Education Ministry's Religious Education Authority (which is responsible for curricular development in the national-religious sector), as well as those by independent scholars, indicated that for many religious young people, Talmud - a subject to which many hours are devoted each school day - is the most hated subject.


In order to adapt the method to the didactics of Israel's educational system, especially at the elementary-school level, Hayman has even "colored" the different layers in the text with different colors. He states that even before he had a chance to propose the method to the educational establishment, schools that had heard about it were asking to use it, as a means of contending with the crisis of Talmudic instruction. "I am not only talking about elementary schools, but religious high schools as well, such as the Bar-Ilan school in Netanya, and the technological high school on the Bar-Ilan University campus. Even a few yeshiva high schools, including the yeshiva in Kiryat Shmuel and yeshivas in Ra'anana and Tiberias, expressed interest in implementing the program," says Hayman.


[Rabbi Moshe] Bleicher [head of the Shavei Hebron Yeshiva] went so far as to assert that the dangers of the program were even worse that those of terrorist attacks: "All of the killing and the attacks initiated by all the terrorists from the outside against the Jewish People are nothing compared to the danger that is liable to develop from this act of terrorism being perpetrated from within our ranks. The terrorists kill and strike at our bodies, but here they are killing the Torah and the soul of the nation." Bleicher was unwilling to be interviewed for this article, and said that he had no interest in disclosing details of the debate to "an audience that in any event will not learn Talmud, not with Revadim, not without it."


Stratigraphic, historical-critical analysis of the Talmud is an extremely difficult but very important approach, and I commend Dr. Hayman for teaching it.

"Experts search for grave of legendary Gilgamesh" (ABC News online, via Archaeologica News)


Ricardo Eichmann, of the German Archaeological Institute, swatted down suggestions that Gilgamesh's grave was about to be unearthed.

He said the "anomaly" pinpointed by studying the magnetisation of the soil was problematic.

He warned it was "pure speculation" to tie it to Gilgamesh, suggesting the structure could date from the millennium before Christ, some 1,500 years more recent.

He said it would be like asserting that King Arthur, the legendary lord of Camelot, really existed.

"We don't even know where the river ran at that time," he added, saying it had changed its course by as much as several kilometres over the centuries.


Oh well. I kind of figured...

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

THE ASSYRIAN CHRISTIANS (from � and some still in � Iraq) have been in the news a fair bit lately, for obvious reasons. I haven't linked to the articles because they seemed outside even the very loose scope of this blog. But it's worth mentioning that they have provided various resources for learning their Assyrian dialect of Aramaic online. The Languages on the site has a page of Aramaic links, with the claim that, " Unlike many other web sites related to languages, only serious and useful sites are listed here." That's perhaps a bit of a stretch, and I wouldn't necessarily recommend every link on the page, but lots of them do look serious and useful. Add to them The Assyrian Aramaic Language website, which has a long series of graded lessons, and this site with the Syriac Peshitta in the original script and in translation.

U.S. Scholarly Organizations Unite to Protect Iraqi Cultural Heritage (Ascribe)

ANN ARBOR, Mich., May 12 (AScribe Newswire) -- Representatives of major scholarly societies and research centers active in archaeological and cultural work in Iraq met on Tuesday, May 6 at the Institute for Fine Arts of New York University in conjunction with the opening ceremonies for the exhibition on the "Art of the First Cities: The Third Millennium B.C. from the Mediterranean to the Indus" organized by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

By unanimous consent, the 31 representatives created the American Coordinating Committee for Iraqi Cultural Heritage (ACCICH). The Coordinating Committee will represent the constituent organizations in response to the catastrophic harm suffered by Iraqi museums, libraries, archaeological sites, and cultural properties. It will coordinate activities to avoid duplication of efforts.

It will work with various agencies in the private and public sector to channel American fund-raising activities. It will represent American scholarly expertise to government and non-government agencies. It will facilitate liaison between American scholars and European colleagues as well as with international organizations responding to the Iraqi crisis. The committee will designate working groups and subcommittees for specific tasks, in consultation with constituent organizations.

The committee's first and most urgent concern is for the security of Iraqi cultural sites and properties. It is imperative that the authority structures in Iraq seal the borders to prevent cultural properties from leaving the country. It is also imperative that the same designated authorities establish and maintain guards at all museums, libraries, and archaeological sites to prevent further destruction.

It is also imperative that only competent scholars and experienced museum professionals supervise the handling of objects and records to prevent further harm to surviving or recovered materials.


Monday, May 12, 2003

COURSE SYLLABI FOR PALEOJUDAIC SUBJECTS: As regular readers (all 15 of them - I love you guys!) will know, I've been collecting online course syllabi for subjects of interest to PaleoJudaica. The more elaborate ones get their own entry, but quite a few are just an outline of the course, reading material, due dates for work - the things that we usually pass out on a handout at the beginning of the course, plus maybe a few handouts from later in the course. It's still interesting to see what other people are doing in their courses, so here are some of the short course syllabi I've run across.

The Dead Sea Scrolls
Prof. Tyler F. Williams
Taylor University College

Professor Tzvee Zahavy
University of Minnesota

Teacher's Guide Based on CALLIOPE's Dead Sea Scrolls Issue, December 2001
Peggy Epstein
For use with CALLIOPE's December 2001 issue, Dead Sea Scrolls. This guide was prepared by Peggy Epstein, Language Arts Teacher with 25 years experience from Shawnee Mission High School, Overland Park Kansas; Ruskin High School, Kansas City, Missouri. Epstein has a Master's Degree in Instruction and Curriculum at the University of Missouri at Kansas City.

Prof C. T. R. Hayward
Durham University

Dead Sea Scrolls coming to capital
Exhibition starts in December at Museum of Civilization

Paul Gessell
The Ottawa Citizen

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

Portions of three of the first Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in 1947 east of Jerusalem are coming to the Canadian Museum of Civilization in December along with 100 ancient Israeli-area artifacts, including an ivory carving from King Solomon's temple.

The scroll fragments and other artifacts will first be exhibited at the Montreal Museum of Archeology and History at Point-�-Calli�re in the Old Port area of Montreal from June 17 to Nov. 2 and then move to the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau from Dec. 5 until April 12 next year.

Two of the three scrolls have never been exhibited outside Israel before, Stephen Inglis, the Gatineau museum's director of research, said in an interview yesterday.

Those two are: the War of the Sons of Light with the Sons of Darkness (otherwise known as the War Scroll) and the Isaiah B. scroll. The third one, the Community Rule scroll, has not left Israel since 1954, when it was purchased from an American collector.


Sunday, May 11, 2003


Feature: Preserving Samaritan speech

By Uwe Siemon-Netto
UPI Religion Editor
From the Life & Mind Desk
Published 5/9/2003 12:17 PM
View printer-friendly version

WASHINGTON, May 9 (UPI) -- The Samaritans, arguably the people with the best press in the New Testament, have a big problem: Not only have they shrunk to a minuscule community, but their language is threatened with extinction.

To preserve Samaritan Arabic for eternity, the Semitic languages department of Heidelberg University in Germany has recorded and archived a text spoken by a prominent member of this ethnic group. One text can now be heard in the department's Web site ( The speaker is Benyamim Tsedaka, publisher of the magazine "A.B. -- The Samaritan News."


The Samaritans go back to the time period of this blog and their liturgy is still in Aramaic, but their spoken language is now Arabic.