Saturday, June 14, 2003



Someone needs to say this, so I guess it may as well be me.

The tone of the press has changed during the last week regarding the Iraq antiquities looting. An example is David Aaronovitch's editorial in the Guardian from 10 June, "Lost from the Baghdad museum: truth," which you should read in its entirety if you haven't already. In it he says,

So, there's the picture: 100,000-plus priceless items looted either under the very noses of the Yanks, or by the Yanks themselves. And the only problem with it is that it's nonsense. It isn't true. It's made up. It's bollocks.

He closes,

Furious, I conclude two things from all this. The first is the credulousness of many western academics and others who cannot conceive that a plausible and intelligent fellow-professional might have been an apparatchiks of a fascist regime and a propagandist for his own past. The second is that - these days - you cannot say anything too bad about the Yanks and not be believed.

I passed the article onto the IraqCrisis list and it generated some other references and some discussion (follow the links for the next couple of days after my message). Francis Deblauwe wrote:

Now that the media are again running with a minimalist version of what happened in Baghdad ("only 33 artifacts still missing," as in Nightline (ABC) last night), I want to return to the urgent need for media relations by the ANE academic community. I think it's not enough to tape interviews with the various news outlets and educate and give interviews to journalists, and just hope that they'll quote us in the correct context. As I already hinted at on May 15 ([Iraqcrisis] media slipping into 'only tens of artifacts missing still' ), we really need to be smarter than this and get out of this purely reactive mode. Wasn't, for instance, the ACCICH set up for this kind of purpose? Please, I know we are all very busy coordinating assitance to Iraq but if we let public opinion, Congress and other legislative bodies get the impression that it wasn't so bad after all, then the funding could become much more problematic, no matter what the reality on the ground in Iraq is!

Worried and feeling powerless out here in the Midwest US,

Francis Deblauwe

And Cindy Ho wrote:

We are all thankful that many objects from Baghdad have indeed been spared. But isn't it true that the Warka Vase and the Warka face are still missing? [The Warka Vase has since been returned but is damaged. � JRD] Weren't the ceramic lions smashed? Didn't we see pictures of broken statues strewn all over the floors of the Museum along with archival documents and files? Aren't archaeological sites being looted? Can anyone consider this less than a tragedy?

Regardless of the magnitude of the loss, everything the scholars said about the importance of the collections is still true. Present day Iraq is still the cradle of civilization. The illicit antiquities trade is still thriving. If anything, this near catastrophe only underscores the vulnerability of cultural treasures.

Let's not allow media confusion detract us from the real issue: looting goes on every day, all over the world. We must not allow the recent report of the "exaggerated" loss comfort us into complacency. If the events in Iraq were a near catastrophe, it is a wake-up call, an unfortunate window of opportunity to bring some attention to an age-old and ongoing problem.

As an ordinary citizen who is concerned about our collective heritage, I ask the academic communities to unite together and join forces with the media and advertising industries to create a global awareness campaign. Tell the world about the importance of preserving cultural antiquities. Only our collective action can keep this tragic situation alive in the minds of everyone, from government and law enforcement officials, and to the perpetrators themselves.

Cindy Ho
SAFE (Saving Antiquities For Everyone)

Both Francis and Cindy make some important points, but they skirt around something that needs to be faced. The academic world blew it in response to the looting in Iraq. Too many people cried wolf too soon and they have seriously undermined our credibility with the outside world. A case in point (one that could be multiplied) is the ASOR (American Schools of Oriental Research) Statement on Baghdad Museum, 4/16/03. It begins:

The looting of the Iraq Museum (Baghdad) is the most severe single blow to cultural heritage in modern history, comparable to the sack of Constantinople, the burning of the library at Alexandria, the Vandal and Mogul invasions and the ravages of the conquistadors.

This rhetoric is not only inflated, it is over the top and embarrassing. It appears likely that some thousands of artifacts from the museum were looted or destroyed, perhaps as many as ten thousand. This is a terrible tragedy, but a Mogul invasion it is not, and exaggerating its scale like this can lead to no good. There were hints days before this statement - indeed on the very day the looting was announced - that the scale of the looting might be less than the initial reports, but this information is ignored. The invoking of Alexandria, Constantinople, etc. is not only overblown, it compares like with unlike in that these other lootings were by the invaders whereas it was the people being invaded who carried out the looting in Iraq. The statement goes on to say:

It took place under the eyes of U.S. military forces in contravention of the Hague Convention on the preservation of cultural property in time of war and the stated policy of the Department of Defense, which had written to the Society for American Archaeology regarding the safeguarding of cultural property in Iraq that "U.S. armed forces... conduct all their operations in accordance with the law of armed conflict, including those provisions of the 1954 Convention and 1999 Protocol that reflect customary international law."

Again, this is based on early reports by Robert Fisk and others to the effect that the allied troops just stood by and let the looting happen. But when reporters spoke to the commander of the tank battalion that actually fought in the area, it came out that Fedayeen had been holed up around the museum, and perhaps in it, and were shooting from it, and the U.S. soldiers took considerable casualties fighting them. Support for this version of the story has been offered by architectural historian Dan Cruikshank (see Aaronovitch's article above) and Fisk's original report even hints at evidence for it. According to this account of events, the troops had other things to worry about than museum looting, like being shot at. Why did ASOR uncritically take the initial, unverified reports as true? Why didn't they say that if it was at all possible the troops should have defended the museum, but it may not have been possible, and that the events needed to be investigated? Come to think of it, two days earlier (14 April) some of us did say that. Was it really prudent to hint that the U.S. forces had committed a war crime? Is this really likely to increase sympathy for our cause among the public or with the government?

This is one example. There were other academics who also responded publicly in this way to the looting of the museum. Aaronovitch quotes some but not all of them. It is true that they were misinformed and misled by the press reports, but they are not innocent. It was clear from the beginning that a large portion of the press wanted the invasion of Iraq to fail and were desperate to find something going wrong. The same press that spread outrageously inaccurate information about the looted antiquities had all but declared the war a Viet Nam quagmire ten days before Baghdad was liberated. Why would anyone believe what the media said from that point on? Perhaps these academics were against the war too. Fine: that was a defensible moral position. But even if they were, they should have been able to evaluate the antiquities situation objectively. Whatever anyone thought of the war, it would have been perfectly possible to take the line that the looting is a terrible thing, but in the fog of war and its aftermath we would do well to be cautious about mapping out its scale or assigning blame for it until we have solid information. I know it was possible because it's what I did, as you can see in the public archive of this blog.

The looting is a tragedy, but the jumping of some on the hysteria bandwagon has superimposed another on top of it: the academic world has played Henny Penny and the public and the press are responding by treating the original disaster as though it were trivial. The new line is that only a few dozen items were lost, so big deal. (Aaronovitch does not go this far but he does not mention thousands of items either.) If academics had taken a prudent position on the scale and blame for the looting we might now be able to point to the actual damage on the scale of thousands of artifacts and to get some real sympathy and concern from the public. But now everything we say will be diluted by the "twenty-five is not 170,000" meme. If you don't believe me, have a look at the blog of Glenn Reynolds (Instapundit - do a search of the word "looting"), which both reflects and drives a large sector of public opinion, and check out these comments by Howard Kurtz and these in the Charlotte Observer.

Worse yet, I fear that the current looting of archaeological sites in Iraq (and cultural looting elsewhere) may not get the attention it deserves. The early reports are that looting of sites in Iraq is widespread and serious, but could you really blame the public for not bothering about it very much? The war wasn't a quagmire and there weren't 170,000 artifacts looted from the Baghdad Museum. Why should anyone believe that the sky is falling this time? I'm not condoning this attitude and the evidence for the current looting is pretty persuasive, but this is what we're up against.

Iraq's history and antiquities are important to me: they figure in a fair bit of my published work. I hope very much that I'm wrong and that the academic community will get the support it needs from the public and the occupying governments to clean up after the museum lootings and to stop the site lootings. I am encouraged by the positive steps being taken, such as the National Geographic expedition I just linked to. (Note to the expedition: get lots of photographs of the sites that are being reduced to swiss cheese by illicit diggers and get those pictures in the papers and maybe send them to Andrew Sullivan and Glenn Reynolds too!) But I also hope that academics will be more careful in the future when faced with similar situations (and there may well be similar situations in coming years) and take a more cautious line until they know what's really going on. I hope ASOR will take down that web page and publish a retraction and correction. And I hope a number of scholars (I won't mention names, but they know who they are and their words are archived) feel a little ashamed of themselves for their premature and overblown public statements. They did neither themselves nor us, their colleagues, nor the ancient heritage of Iraq any favors.

UPDATE: The Washington Post now reports that, contrary to earlier rumors, the Warka Vase has been returned undamaged. (Via IraqCrisis and Francis Deblauwe.) UPDATE (17 June): Maybe not.

UPDATE (15-16 June): Welcome Instapundit and other referred readers. The "About" page (also linked on your right) tells about this site. The main page is here. If you are interested in ancient history, please visit again.

UPDATE (16 June): Glenn Reynolds (Instapundit) comments on this essay here. Andrea Harris (Spleenville) comments on it here. Some clarifications: first, I am a philologist and ancient historian, not an archaeologist (and there's only one of me); second, I don't agree with the "twenty-five is not 170,000"/"the museum looting that wasn't" memes for reasons explained above.
David Appell (Quark Soup) comments here.

UPDATE (17 June): Francis Deblauwe comments here. No permalinks, but once the post moves from "Latest Additions" it should end up archived permanently under "Archive 5, second 1/2 of June 2003." (Note to Francis: how about changing to blog format? A Blogger account is easy to set up.) He writes: "however, in retrospect, it is clear that whatever skirmish�yes, that's what it was�took place at the Museum compound, the US military didn't protect the Museum after this skirmish was long over, and that's the problem, not the initial phase." A skirmish? Okay, but it was a skirmish that lasted three days and left one marine dead and 35 wounded. And Fisk reports that bullets were still flying when he visited the museum on the 12th. It's a fair question to ask what the troops were doing from the 10th to the 12th and I don't know the answer. Lieutenant-Colonel Schwartz's troops were in charge, for example, shortly thereafter of securing the Baghdad Zoo, feeding the animals, and getting a supply line of food to them before they all starved. And during the period in question there were (we now know mistaken) urgent reports by Iraqis of underground prisons full of starving prisoners which had to be investigated. I am willing to consider claims that the troops should have set their priorities differently or that the priorities they did set were clearly unreasonable - bearing in mind they were operating in the fog of war and having to make snap decisions. But I would like a clear accounting of what they actually did and what precisely they should have done instead. (More on along these lines in my original posting on the day the looting was announced.) Until and unless this is provided, they deserve the benefit of the doubt. ASOR jumped to conclusions.

Friday, June 13, 2003

YET ANOTHER TECHNOLOGICAL TRIUMPH: now has a search engine, which you can find to the right under the links. I'm too embarrassed to say how many hours I spent getting the durn thing to work, but I hope you find it useful. And I'd like to thank the support staff of for help in setting it up.

While I was at it, I also got the little "Powered by Blogger" icon to behave. It's been there in the HTML code, but you can now actually see it. I hope the Powers of Blogger are happy.
MYSTICAL POLITICS is a new weblog by academic Rebecca Lesses, another specialist in ancient Judaism. She blogs on early Jewish mysticism and modern politics. Really. Also about her cat, Zachary.

Kol HaKavod, Rebecca!

How great was Alexander? (UCBerkeleyNews)

By Kathleen Maclay, Media Relations | 12 June 2003

BERKELEY � Alexander the Great may not have been so great after all.

A University of California, Berkeley-led group of researchers is challenging the common history that credits the Macedonian king with initiating the spread of ancient Greek culture throughout the Middle East during his conquest of the region during the 4th century B.C.

Backed by a nearly $234,000 collaborative research grant from the Getty Foundation, the team over the next two years will try to document a thriving Hellenized culture in the city of Dor, Israel, at least 100 years before Alexander marched in.

The birth of the Hellenistic period, when Greek culture began to spread far beyond its native territory, has long been set around 334 B.C. to 323 B.C., when Alexander and his troops began their 20,000-mile conquest, thundering from Macedonia south through what is now Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Egypt. The troops then set off for Persia and India.

"Our hunch is that at Dor, Hellenization - the wholesale importation of Greek material culture - begins in the 5th century B.C. and goes into high gear around about 400 B.C. So, it precedes Alexander," said Andrew Stewart, a UC Berkeley professor of art history and classics in the College of Letters & Science. He also is the project's principal investigator.

"There is, as far as we can tell, no boost given to this process by Alexander's conquests," said Stewart. "So, immediately we are challenging the view that it was Alexander who principally spread Greek culture throughout the Middle East."


The researchers will investigate what has been uncovered that reflects the efforts of inhabitants of Dor in adopting Greek culture, resisting it, or combining it with their own to form something new. They will look at these interactions in terms of material culture at various levels of society, throughout time.


Thursday, June 12, 2003


The Orion website has a page of past symposia associated with the Orion Center for the Study of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The most recent symposium was:

Eighth Orion International Symposium


7-9 January, 2003 at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Mt. Scopus Campus

The page contains abstracts or full (unrevised prepublication) texts of papers for the conference. The papers with full texts are listed with their authors' names in capitals on the page. These are:

"Law, Authority and Writing"
Cana Werman

"Things of Specified Measure"
Ahron Shemesh

"Reconstructing Qumranic and Rabbinic Halakhic Worldviews: Dynamic Holiness vs. Static Holiness"
Eyal Regev

"Tannaitic Halakha and Qumran: A Re-Evaluation"
Joseph Baumgarten

Some of them require you to download Hebrew fonts before you can read them fully.

The full page of past Orion symposia leads to pages for each symposium which also have abstracts and prepublication versions of papers. Many of these have since been published.

You can also access a list of all the papers and abstracts on the Orion website.

Wednesday, June 11, 2003


Tablet Is A Fake (Arutz Sheva)

The "Yehoash Tablet" is a forgery - at least according to a board of experts convened by the Antiquities Authority. The panel included archaeologists and ancient Hebrew script experts, whose findings will be published next week. [...]

Games with Gematria
Llewellyn Journal

Is gematria a valid and useful technique for investigating anything, or is it nothing but mental exercise? If it is useful, can it apply to anything other than Hebrew scripture? Is it even taking things too far to apply it to the Aramaic of the Zohar? How about non-Hebraic names, such as Bill Jones or Aleister Crowley? How seriously should you take correspondences that you happen upon in your reading and investigations?


Not very.

New Age, but sensible and worth a read.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

NEW BOOK REVIEWS from the Review of Biblical Literature:

Crown, Alan D.
Samaritan Scribes and Manuscripts

Goodblatt, David, Avital Pinnick and Daniel R. Schwartz, eds.
Historical Perspectives: From the Hasmoneans to Bar Kokhba in Light of the Dead Sea Scrolls: Proceedings of the Fourth International Symposium of the Orion Center for the Study of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Associated
Literature, 27-31 January, 1999

Gropp, Douglas M., Moshe J. Bernstein, Monica L. W. Brady, James H.
Charlesworth, Peter W. Flint, Stephen J. Pfann, Eileen Schuller, Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar and James C. Vanderkam
Wadi Daliyeh II: The Samaria Papyri from Wadi Daliyeh and Qumran Cave 4, XXVIII: Miscellanea, Part 2

Kr�ger, Thomas
Kohelet (Prediger)

Crossan, John, and Jonathan Reed
Excavating Jesus: Beneath the Stones, Behind the Texts

Bauckham, Richard
Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels

Rivka Nir, The Destruction of Jerusalem and the Idea of Redemption in the Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch (Early Judaism and Its Literature, SBL and Brill: 2003) ISBN #1589830504

The Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch is a pseudepigraphic apocalyptic work ascribed to Baruch son of Neriah, the scribe of Jeremiah. Its overt content concerning the last days of the First Temple period disguises a description of the fall of the Second Temple in 70 C.E. Contrary to the general scholarly view, this book attempts to show that the internal structure and central ideas of II Baruch must be understood in a Christian context. This theological identity is reflected mainly in traditions which describe the destruction of Jerusalem and the three apocalyptic visions which depict the coming of the Messiah and the eschatological redemption. The author�s conclusion may shed light on the Christian character of other Pseudepigraphic and apocalyptic books.

How interesting! Thanks to Cynthia Edenburg for drawing it to my attention.
THE CURRENT ISSUE OF BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION: A Journal of Contemporary Approaches (requires paid institutional or personal subscription), vol 11.2, is devoted to the family in the NT period. Note the following articles of paleojudaic interest:

"Epsilon, upsilon, sigma, epsilon, beta, epsilon, iota, alpha: Roman Imperial Family Values and the Sexual Politics of 4 Maccabees and the Pastorals"
Mary R. D'Angelo

"Gender, Judaism, and Literature: Unwelcome Guests in Household Configurations"
Amy-Jill Levine

Monday, June 09, 2003


This conference will immediately follow the July Venice conference on Enoch, to which I am going. Thanks to Gabriele Boccaccini for passing on this announcement.


Convegno internazionale, Venezia 4-6 luglio 2003

Che sappiamo del Messia?Quanti sanno che "Cristo"�

� la traduzione greca della parola ebraica mashiach = "unto"?

Gli ebrei lo aspettano ancora e lo interpretano in vari modi:�

una persona? un'epoca di pace? un impegno umano o un dono divino?�

Un rabbino dell'800 diceva: "Il Messia non � venuto e non verr�, sta venendo".

I cristiani lo identificano con Ges� di Nazaret.�

Ma dove sono oggi i segni della sua presenza?�

� per questo che i cristiani aspettano la sua seconda venuta?

Gli studiosi hanno scoperto le radici del pensiero messianico�

in correnti poco note (Enoch, Qumran): sono solo studi eruditi�

o servono a capire davvero la figura del Messia?

Oggi, il Messia pu� essere ancora un nome per le nostre speranze?

Un gruppo internazionale di esperti (cristiani, ebrei e laici) affronter� questi temi al convegno di Venezia: TI ASPETTIAMO�
Se vuoi saperne di piu'clicca qui

Dal 22 al 30 agosto 2003, a Fognano RV, due seminari estivi sullagiustizia sociale nella Bibbia

(Amos e Lettera di Giacomo).�
Per programma ed eventuale iscrizione clicca qui
Puoi divulgare questo messaggio ai tuoi amici in rete? Grazie!

By the way, the archive is back.
ARCHIVE PROBLEMS: Blogger is currently being upgraded, which, of course, means everything is going wrong. After it recovered from yesterday's outage, it deleted most of the PaleoJudaica archive. Presumably the archive still exists on the server somewhere, but the usual republishing fix isn't working. Bear with me; I'll keep trying.

This site contains articles by Norman Golb of the University of Chicago on the Dead Sea Scrolls and related matters from the nineties and early naughties. I am not persuaded by Golb's theory that Qumran was a military fortress to which sectarian and non-sectarian literary archives from Jerusalem were brought during the first revolt against the Romans, but I find his work very stimulating and it has influenced my views in a number of areas. Here is the summary of a student paper on Golb's work from my 2001 Qumran course, and pasted below is my summary of the seminar discussion (from the majordomo archives, 30 April 2001).


We made list of Golb's strongest arguments, and there seemed to be a general consensus that his objections to the Essene hypothesis, or at least its traditional formulation, were more persuasive than his attempt to formulate a positive theory of his own. The strong arguments included:

* the very large number of scribal hands in the manuscripts;
* the lack of manuscripts that bear the normal physical characteristics of scribal autographs;
* the lack of documentary records (note that 4Q342-58 are probably texts of the Bar Kokhba period recovered from Nahal Hever, not Qumran texts);
* The large textual and redactional variations in the supposedly Essene foundation documents--actually, I believe Golb doesn't mention this, but it does support his theory inasmuch as it points away from the library being gathered by a single, well-defined group;
* the confusion in Pliny over whether the Essenes were still living at the mentioned site near the Dead Sea after the Roman conquest in CE 68-70;
* the finding of a copy of the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice (perhaps a sectarian text, but not certainly) at Masada;
* the debunked scriptorium in the Qumran ruins;
* the lack of explicit mention of celibacy in the sectarian texts and its incompatibility with most (all?) of them;
* the evidently allegorical interpretation of Isa 40:3 in 1QS 8.14-16, which weakens the supposed explicit mention of the group going out into the desert.

We noted, however, that his contention that the Qumran library was too varied in content to be a sectarian/Essene collection could be turned on its head, in that most of the caves had sectarian works in them and that there was a curious lack of texts that espoused obviously different viewpoints. Where, for example, are copies of works like 1 Maccabees?

Sunday, June 08, 2003

AAAHHHHH! Blogger has been down since this morning and I've been having withdrawal pangs.


Religion 326: Religion - Ancient Judaism
Professor Jack Lightstone
Concordia University
Includes a course syllabus, lecture outlines, and translated excerpts of rabbinic texts.

Religious Studies 3DD3/History 3DD3: The Jewish World in New Testament Times
Dr. Eileen Schuller
McMaster University

TH 9990, Dead Sea Scrolls
Professor George Brooke
University of Manchester

We have year-end examiners' meetings etc. for the next couple of days, but I'll try to slip in a post or two, Blogger etc. willing.

UPDATE (9 May): I've corrected the bad link to the Lightstone course.