Saturday, December 20, 2003

"ARCHAEOLOGISTS DECRY LACK OF TEMPLE MOUNT SUPERVISION" (Jerusalem Post via Bible and Interpretation News)


Bemoaning the "insufferable indifference" of the Antiquities Authority on the issue, Hebrew University professor of archeology Eilat Mazar charged that the authority had failed to function as the supervisory body it is mandated to be by law, noting that it has even failed to enforce its own rules barring the use of cement by Jordanian engineers to fix the bulge on the southern wall of the Temple Mount.

Mazar, a leading spokeswoman of the independent non-partisan Committee against the Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount, said that her committee will shortly renew and intensify its public campaign to seek full archeological supervision at the site.

The office of Education Minister Limor Livnat, which oversees the Antiquities Authority, declined request for comment, referring queries on the matter to the Prime Minister's Office.

The Prime Minister's Office said Thursday in a generally worded statement that "the issue of archeology on the Temple Mount is carried out in joint cooperation with several bodies including the police and the Antiquities Authority, cooperation which was seen in [the resolution to] the bulge on the southern wall of the Temple Mount."

Wakf officials, who have opposed the reentry of non-Muslim visitors to the site to begin with, say they have their own inspectors on the compound.
ELIE WIESEL'S BOOK Wise Men and Their Tales: Portraits of Biblical, Talmudic, and Hasidic Masters is reviewed by Erin Leib in the New York Times. Excerpt:

Wiesel's storytelling is, of course, much more than an act of transmission. It is an act of love and of lesson-giving. ''Wise Men and Their Tales'' continues the series he began years ago of intimate snapshots from the ancient world of the Bible and the Hasidic world of the shtetl, this time adding Talmudic personalities, rabbis of the third to sixth centuries A.D. who expounded upon biblical law and lore. Just as, for Wiesel, biblical stories are not events of bygone times but paradigmatic tales of complex human beings navigating complex relationships, Talmudic masters are not disembodied rabbis debating obscurities but brilliant and flawed men struggling to make sense of God's will and God's world. And Hasidic life, in all of its glory and all of its difficulty, is his lost world, as present to him as the present.

The book begins with the exuberant proclamation ''I love Rashi,'' the medieval Jewish commentator. Thereafter, Wiesel is very eager -- indeed, a little too eager -- to tell us whom else he loves. He loves Gideon the prophet ''because he was not afraid to doubt certainties.'' He loves Rabbi Tarfon because he was humble; in fact, he loves ''all of the sages in the Talmud, even those who lose.'' He likes the Hasidic rabbis of Zanz and Sadigur a great deal, though they hated each other. And he really loves speaking Yiddish. His enthusiasm lies somewhere between engaging adoration and irritating obsequiousness.

And yet, ''Wise Men and Their Tales'' is not saccharine. It is a soft but also a demanding book, as Wiesel insists upon justice for both the characters traditional Jewish interpretation favors and those it maligns.
GEZA VERMES is interviewed today in the Independent. Excerpt (but read it all):

"My view of Jesus," he protests, picking his words slowly and with great care, "is that he was a totally eschatologically inspired person, very charismatic, who fitted very well into the world in which he lived." So Jesus did, in his opinion, most certainly exist - but not as most of us have come to know. He was not, Vermes believes, the son of God. And, of course, he adds almost casually, he didn't say many of the best-known phrases associated with him.

There is, as we talk, an odd counterpoint between this wholesale destruction of Christian tradition that Vermes is delivering from his armchair and the joyful, almost sing-song tone of his voice, which would be better suited to telling tales of reindeer in Lapland. With his chubby cheeks, copious beard and propensity to chuckle, Vermes could easily pass for one of Santa's elves. If the publishers' blurb hadn't told me he was 79, I would have guessed his age as early sixties. He has the same youthful exuberance and evident delight in talking about his subject that he also brings to the pages of his books.

Popularising religion and its history can be a thankless task. The theological establishment accuses you of selling out. Jews are suspicious of one of their number waving a flag for Jesus. And the zealots in the pews only want opinions that confirm all their prejudices. Vermes is, for all these interest groups, something of a maverick. He is the first to admit that his crusade to engage a wide audience, interested in but not wedded to organised religion, can be a lonely one. "Now is the season for books of the year and religion is never ever mentioned as a category," he laments.

His own longevity in the general marketplace rests partly on the phenomenal success of his translation of the Dead Sea Scrolls, ancient documents which give a unique insight into the world in which Jesus lived. When Vermes's version came out in 1962, it broke a taboo because the rest of the academic world was carefully keeping to itself the Scrolls, discovered in the late 1940s by shepherds in caves at Qumran. Vermes's trust in his readers' intelligence remains the key to his writings to this day.

His latest book is The Authentic Gospel of Jesus. It is available in the U.K., but Amazon U.S.A. doesn't list it yet.

UPDATE: The Guardian also reviews the book today.
WHEN WAS JESUS REALLY BORN? Bottom line: we just don't know.

Friday, December 19, 2003

HAPPY HANUKKAH to my Jewish readers! The holiday begins tonight at sundown. Its origins are described in the apocryphal book of 1 Maccabees 4:52-59. This is the earliest account (late second century B.C.E.). I quote from the RSV:

52: Early in the morning on the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month, which is the month of Chislev, in the one hundred and forty-eighth year,
53: they rose and offered sacrifice, as the law directs, on the new altar of burnt offering which they had built.
54: At the very season and on the very day that the Gentiles had profaned it, it was dedicated with songs and harps and lutes and cymbals.
55: All the people fell on their faces and worshiped and blessed Heaven, who had prospered them.
56: So they celebrated the dedication of the altar for eight days, and offered burnt offerings with gladness; they offered a sacrifice of deliverance and praise.
57: They decorated the front of the temple with golden crowns and small shields; they restored the gates and the chambers for the priests, and furnished them with doors.
58: There was very great gladness among the people, and the reproach of the Gentiles was removed.
59: Then Judas and his brothers and all the assembly of Israel determined that every year at that season the days of dedication of the altar should be observed with gladness and joy for eight days, beginning with the twenty-fifth day of the month of Chislev.

There's a somewhat later (first century B.C.E.) account in 2 Maccabees 10:1-8 (again, RSV):

1: Now Maccabeus and his followers, the Lord leading them on, recovered the temple and the city;
2: and they tore down the altars which had been built in the public square by the foreigners, and also destroyed the sacred precincts.
3: They purified the sanctuary, and made another altar of sacrifice; then, striking fire out of flint, they offered sacrifices, after a lapse of two years, and they burned incense and lighted lamps and set out the bread of the Presence.
4: And when they had done this, they fell prostrate and besought the Lord that they might never again fall into such misfortunes, but that, if they should ever sin, they might be disciplined by him with forbearance and not be handed over to blasphemous and barbarous nations.
5: It happened that on the same day on which the sanctuary had been profaned by the foreigners, the purification of the sanctuary took place, that is, on the twenty-fifth day of the same month, which was Chislev.
6: And they celebrated it for eight days with rejoicing, in the manner of the feast of booths, remembering how not long before, during the feast of booths, they had been wandering in the mountains and caves like wild animals.
7: Therefore bearing ivy-wreathed wands and beautiful branches and also fronds of palm, they offered hymns of thanksgiving to him who had given success to the purifying of his own holy place.
8: They decreed by public ordinance and vote that the whole nation of the Jews should observe these days every year.

The story about the lamp that didn't run out of oil for eight days is found in the Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 2 (p. 34):

What is 'Hanukah? The rabbis taught: "On the twenty-fifth day of Kislev 'Hanukah commences and lasts eight days, on which lamenting (in commemoration of the dead) and fasting are prohibited. When the Hellenists entered the sanctuary, they defiled all the oil that was found there. When the government of the House of Asmoneans prevailed and conquered them, oil was sought (to feed the holy lamp in the sanctuary) and only one vial was found with the seal of the high priest intact. The vial contained sufficient oil for one day only, but a miracle occurred, and it fed the holy lamp eight days in succession. These eight days were the following year established as days of good cheer, on which psalms of praise and acknowledgment (of God's wonders) were to be recited.

UPDATE: More here.
I HAVE ADDED a number of of updates to posts from 11 December on, so if you haven't been going back to recheck earlier posts, please do.
THE ECONOMIST reviews Margaret Barker's book The Great High Priest: The Temple Roots of Christian Liturgy. The entry point is Mary the mother of Jesus in early Christian and Islamic tradition, but there's lots more and it's a hard article to excerpt. Here are a few selections:

Her latest book, �The Great High Priest�, is a collection of densely woven arguments about the continuity between Judaism and early Christian practices. It touches on at least two interlocking themes: the sex of divinity, and the locus of holiness.

From Judaism to Christianity

As she (and many others) have observed, much of the poetry dedicated to Mary comes from what is called the �wisdom tradition� of the Jewish religion. This takes the form of passages in which wisdom is perceived as a form of feminine divinity. One of the most explicit references to wisdom as a sort of female agency or power is in the Book of Proverbs: �Wisdom hath builded her house...She hath killed her beasts; she hath mingled her wine and furnished her table.� Mrs Barker believes that there are scores of other places in the Jewish scriptures where �wisdom language� is lurking just below the surface. Some of this language was transferred, in Christianity, to Christ or the Holy Spirit, but most of it was applied to Mary.

Mrs Barker believes the worship of a deity in feminine form was more explicit before the catastrophe of 586BC when the first Temple, built by Solomon, was destroyed and the Jews went into exile in Babylon. As evidence, she cites a passage in the book of Jeremiah where Jewish exiles in Egypt are scolded for continuing to offer cakes, libations and incense to the �queen of heaven�.

They reply defiantly that everything had been going well in Jerusalem's Temple, and among the Jews generally, so long as the heavenly monarch was given her due. Only when that practice ceased had disaster befallen. Other scholars have noticed references in the Old Testament to �groves� and �high places� where forbidden religious rites were going on, and have assumed, perhaps reasonably, that these too were rites associated with a feminine deity.

To back her interpretation of this passage, Mrs Barker draws on a version of the Book of Enoch found among the Dead Sea Scrolls�manuscripts whose discovery 50 years ago transformed Christian and Jewish scholarship. This document asserts even more clearly that the cult of a female force called wisdom had been a feature of the first Temple, but was then abandoned, disastrously.

I think the reviewer has misunderstood her here. The passage about the departure of Wisdom from the earth to heaven is in 1 Enoch 42, from a book called the Parables of Enoch, which was not found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, although fragments of most of the rest of 1 Enoch (which is itself a collection of books) in the original Aramaic were found at Qumran. Chapter 42 reads (in the Charles translation):

1 Wisdom found no place where she might dwell;
Then a dwelling-place was assigned her in the heavens.

2 Wisdom went forth to make her dwelling among the children of men,
And found no dwelling-place:

Wisdom returned to her place,
And took her seat among the angels.

3 And unrighteousness went forth from her chambers:
Whom she sought not she found,
And dwelt with them,

As rain in a desert
And dew on a thirsty land.

Back to the review:

As an exercise in textual analysis, Mrs Barker's case is almost unanswerable, albeit not entirely original. The idea of wisdom as a female agency or person also existed among the Greeks, for whom Athene was the goddess of wisdom, just as Minerva was for the Romans. More recently, in the 1930s, the idea caused furious disputes in the White Russian diaspora in Paris, with bitter allegations of heresy being traded.


As many a religious historian has noted, there are two temple practices that foreshadow the Eucharist. One was the weekly ceremony in which 12 loaves of bread were brought into the temple, consecrated and then consumed by the high priests. The other was the annual rite that marks the high-point of the Jewish calendar: the Day of Atonement, the only time when the priest entered the holy of holies, the most sacred part of the temple.

Before doing so, the priest would select two almost identical goats. One would be slaughtered, and its blood was taken into the holy of holies before being sprinkled in various parts of the temple. The other was sent out into the desert, a �scapegoat� bearing the sins of the people.

As one standard translation puts it, the priest would sacrifice one goat for the Lord, the other to a demonic force called Azazel. But Mrs Barker, drawing in part on Christian sources, argues for a different reading of the Hebrew: one goat was sacrificed as, rather than for, Azazel, whereas the other was sacrificed asthe Lord. If she is right, then the paradoxical Christian teaching that God the Son, being crucified, is both �victim and priest� in an act of supreme sacrifice becomes easier to understand. And it is clear that the links between the Eucharist and the Atonement rite are closer than previously realised.


So how does that argument tie in with Mrs Barker's earlier observations about the worship of the feminine in early Jewish religion, and the transfer of this tradition�or at least its language and metaphors�to Mary? Very closely, she would argue.

First, the Christian (and Muslim) story of the young Mary going into the heart of the Temple indicates, in Mrs Barker's view, that sex is transcended in the divine reality that Jewish high priests entered when they made their annual procession into the holy of holies. There is thus, she argues, a sense in which the priest entering the holy of holies ceases to be male. Mrs Barker, a Methodist preacher herself, concludes that this journey to a �place beyond gender� can be made by a person of either sex, and there is no reason why women cannot be Christian priests. Conservatives may regard this as feminist claptrap but, whatever they believe about that thorny topic, many Christians may be sympathetic to the stress that Mrs Barker lays on the traditional story of Mary's early life among the temple priests, in a place of pure holiness where nobody except an elite caste of males had ever been.

Muslims, like eastern Christians, believe that Mary's mother was expecting a child who would perform unique services to God, and was therefore surprised when her baby turned out to be a girl. Christians and Muslims will never agree on the nature of Mary's child: was he God incarnate, who experienced death and rose again, or a uniquely inspired prophet who did not die but ascended to heaven? Yet Christians and Muslims alike can see in Mary an affirmation that there is no limit to the holiness, or proximity to God, that any human, whether male or female, can attain. Surely that is reason enough, for people of any faith, to feel reverence for history's foremost Jewish mother.

I haven't read the book yet (sorry Margaret) so I don't have many comments. The wisdom influence sounds plausible. The bit about the second goat being sacrificed as YHWH is certainly an original interpretation, but I'd have to see the whole argument to evaluate it.
BIBLICAL ARCHAEOLOGY REVIEW is publishing an article by an American geologist who disputes the Israeli conclusion that the inscription on the "James Ossuary" is a modern fake. This according to the Raleigh News and Observer; the January issue of BAR has not been posted to the BAR website as of this posting. Here's an excerpt from the Raleigh News and Observer article:

Israeli researchers said the main clue that the inscription was phony was that its letters had been cut through a soft gray residue that could not have built up naturally with age and thus was most likely a homemade paste smeared over the inscription to make it appear old.

James Harrell, a geologist at the University of Toledo and a member of the Association for the Study of Marble and Other Stones in Antiquity, wrote in the publication that the Israeli investigation was flawed.

The inscription, he said, could be ancient and the traces of residue found within its letters might have been left by something used to clean the inscription, or someone might have smeared the film over the lettering to hide the cleaning.
THE JOURNAL RADIOCARBON has a recent article on the Dead Sea Scrolls:

Are the 14C Dates of the Dead Sea Scrolls Affected by Castor Oil Contamination?

Radiocarbon, 1 April 2002, vol. 44, no. 1, pp. 213-216(4)

Carmi I.

The paper "The effects of possible contamination on the radiocarbon dates of the Dead Sea Scrolls I: castor oil" by Rasmussen et al. (2001) is discussed. Detailed analysis of the extant dates of the Dead Sea Scrolls suggests that the pretreatment of the samples was adequate. Errors and omissions in the paper are discussed and the implications of the experiment of Rasmussen et al. (2001) are questioned.

Requires paid personal or institutional subscription to access.

(Heads up, Stephen Goranson and S�ren Holst on g-Megillot.)

Thursday, December 18, 2003

THE JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2004 ISSUE (57.1) OF ARCHAEOLOGY MAGAZINE IS ONLINE, marking the 125th anniversary of the founding of the Archaeological Institute of America. Articles of interest include:
"Albanian Synagogue Surfaces"

"Letter From Switzerland: Theme Park of the Gods"

"Building Trust in Iraq"
Manhattan assistant district attorney and Marine Corps colonel Matthew Bogdanos on tracking down the looted artifacts of the Iraq National Museum

Excerpt from the last:
What's still missing?
You have the public gallery from which originally forty exhibits were taken. We've recovered eleven. Turning to the storage rooms, there were about 3,150 pieces taken from those, and that's almost certainly by random and indiscriminant looters. Of those, we've recovered about 2,700. So there's about 400 of those pieces, excavated pieces, missing. The final group is from the basement. The basement is what we've been calling the inside job. And I will say it forever like a mantra; it is inconceivable to me that the basement was breached and the items stolen without an intimate insider's knowledge of the museum. From there about 10,000 pieces were taken. We've only recovered 650, approximately.
THE JOURNAL NEW TESTAMENT STUDIES has a new issue online (49.4). Note in particular the following article:

Of Cherubim and the Divine Throne: Rev 5.6 in Context



This article seeks to establish that Rev 5.6, despite its imprecise language, situates Christ on the divine throne and not merely next to it or alongside it. That Christ shares the divine throne is clearly asserted elsewhere in the book of Revelation (3.21; 7.17; 22.1, 3). Since this is the case, and as the other ways in which John's language at 5.6 can be understood introduces a number of difficulties, it is probable that John also intended 5.6 to be another affirmation of Christ's enthronement on the one divine throne. This conclusion is confirmed when it is noticed that John envisioned the living creatures which surround the throne to be living, constituent parts of the divine throne itself. Christ is thus in the midst of the throne and in the midst of the living creatures because they, as components of the throne, are both a part of it and surround it. This has been argued by at least one earlier interpreter. It has not, however, been noted just how widespread or how early is the evidence for the living creatures or cherubim as both living and constituent parts of the heavenly divine throne. Archaeological evidence, as well as passages from 1 Enoch, the Song of the Three Young Men, the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice, Josephus, 2 Enoch, the Apocalypse of Abraham and On the Origin of the World are examined and shown to support such a conception of the divine throne and of the cherubim.

Requires paid personal or institutional subscription to access.
ACCORDING TO AN "UNNAMED SENIOR VATICAN OFFICIAL", the Pope liked Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ.

"It is as it was."

The quote has not been confirmed by the Vatican.
MORE ON THE "ABSALOM'S TOMB" INSCRIPTIONS from the Christian Science Monitor.

New find, old tomb, and peeks at early Christians


Scholars differ over how significant the findings at "Absalom's Tomb" are. Professor [Gideon] Foerster says, "It fills a gap and gives us one more detail of what we know about that historical site. The fact that the name Zacharias is mentioned there shows us that Christians in the 4th, 5th, 6th, or 7th century believed he was buried there. If you have a literary source, it's just a literary source. If you have an inscription this is real evidence."

Foerster discounts that Zacharias was buried at the site, saying that during the 1st century those monuments belonged to the Jewish priestly families of Jerusalem, and Zacharias did not belong to such a family.

Like [Emile] Puech and [Joe] Zias, he says the building is from the 1st century and the inscription is from the 4th century. But Jim Strange, a professor of religious studies at the University of South Florida, says the recovery of the inscription is "quite amazing."

"Here you have something showing 4th-century Christians were trying to locate the traditional places of the gospels," he says. "We don't know if it actually is Zacharias's tomb ... but it is clear someone in the 4th century was convinced it was. This suggests that the Byzantine Christians had some piece of intelligence to make the identification. They spoke to locals who told them, 'We know where Zacharias and Simeon are buried.' "

He is calling for more searches for inscriptions nearby. "The Kidron Valley could be full of sites offering insights about what 4th-century Christians believed."

Zias says his discovery also tells us about the futility of disputes over sacred sites in the Holy Land. "If the Absalom Memorial is not Absalom's tomb, but rather Zacharias's Tomb, then we could ask, What about David's Tomb, or Rachel's Tomb, or Joseph's Tomb in Nablus? The question of whether we are killing each other over something authentic is highly relevant."

UPDATE: Mark Goodacre calls attention to the odd quote from Foerster to the effect that Zacharias was not of a Jewish priestly family in Jerusalem. I had vaguely noticed it but didn't take the time to follow it up when I made the posting. According to Luke 1:5 Zacharias was a priest of the division of Abijah and according to 1:8-23 he was actually serving in the Temple when he had the vision in which the angel Gabriel announced the coming birth of John. I don't know what Foerster was thinking � if, of course, he was quoted correctly.

UPDATE: More here.

UPDATE (19 December): I just noticed the following in this article:

Next to the Zacharias inscription, the two have also discerned the word Simeon, a reference, they say, to the old priest who recognized the infant Jesus as the Messiah.

The passage in Luke that mentions Simeon (2:25-35) never says he was a priest.

The Jerusalem Post article I linked to earlier also has lots of mistakes. It's always surprising to me how sloppy journalists are with anything I know about. It seems reasonable to extrapolate that they're pretty careless about everything.
PHILOLOGOS discusses the spelling of Hanukkah (Chanukah, Hanukah, Chanukkah).

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

THE EXHIBITION "ANCIENT TREASURES AND THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS" has moved from Montreal to Ottawa and here is an update on it.

Ben Segal

Public-spirited scholar of Aramaic and Hebrew studies

Geoffrey Khan
Tuesday December 9, 2003
The Guardian

Judah "Ben" Segal, who has died aged 91, was a leading scholar in the field of Aramaic and Hebrew studies. He was professor of semitic languages at the School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas), in the University of London, from 1961 until his retirement in 1979.

Among much else, he was largely responsible for a degree course that allowed students to study all the major languages of the semitic family, including Arabic, Hebrew, Aramaic, Akkadian and Ethiopic. This course, which sadly no longer exists, was unique in a British university at the time, and provided an excellent training for those who wished to undertake a research degree in semitic philology. It ensured that students gained a thorough knowledge of the languages and were able to read the most challenging texts, rather than simply learning "about" the languages.

Segal's own research was wide ranging. Several of his publications concerned the Christian Aramaic dialect known as Syriac, and the culture and literature of eastern Christianity. His first book, The Diacritical Point And The Accents In Syriac (1953), a study of the vowels of Syriac, is greatly admired by semitic philologists and often regarded as one of his best works.

In 1970, he published Edessa: The Blessed City, an erudite but very accessible historical study of the city of Edessa, modern Urfa in southern Turkey, where the Syriac language had its origins. He also made major contributions in the field of Hebrew and Jewish history; his book The Hebrew Passover From The Earliest Times To AD70 (1963) quickly became a standard work.

In retirement, Segal continued his scholarly research with considerable energy. . . .

He was also a war hero who operated in north Africa behind German lines, making good use of his knowledge of Arabic, and who provided intelligence that saved many allied lives. May his memory be for a blessing.

UPDATE (18 December): Rebecca Lesses has more on his work and, as a bonus, gives us the abstract for a paper she's now writing on images in the ancient Aramaic incantation bowls. Here's an example of one such image-bearing bowl from Gideon Bohak's Babylonian demon bowls online exhibition. I suppose we should assume that the sorcery skills of the bowl-makers were greater than their drawing skills.
THE POPE has seen the rough cut of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. No word yet on what he thought.
MORE ON THE INSCRIPTIONS AT "ABSALOM'S TOMB" from the Jerusalem Post. Not much in the article is new, but here are some things I don't remember being mentioned before:

[Emile] Puech adds that Absalom's Tomb is also mentioned in the Copper Scroll, one of the Dead Sea Scrolls, as well as in a 10th-century guidebook found in the 18th century in a Cairo synagogue storeroom.

[Shimon] Gibson says it was common practice for Byzantine monks to take over plundered tombs and retreat into them for solitude.


When Gibson finally entered the tomb, whose entrance is also nine meters up the wall, he made an additional discovery: a medieval inscription by a Jewish pilgrim.

Although the Jewish inscription is mentioned in an early 20th-century history of the site, Gibson says he was able to make a more accurate survey using 21st-century technology: a tracing made using a plastic sheet and a felt-tip pen.

The inscription, on an inside wall, mentions the name of the pilgrim, who Gibson speculates may have come from Spain.

"[It was] a sort of 'I was here' kind of thing," he says.

Although he believes there is nothing more to be found on the inside of the tomb, Puech suggests that the entire outside of the site should now be surveyed for further inscriptions.

UPDATE (18 December): Some errors in the article are caught here.

UPDATE (19 December): More here.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

SURVEY OF QUMRAN STUDIES: I've agreed to do a brief survey of the field of Qumran/Dead Sea Scrolls studies, covering the period 1998 to the present, for the American Journal of Archaeology. I would be very grateful if readers would help me out by sending me information on the following:

1. Archaeology. If you have done excavation work relevant in some way to the Dead Sea Scrolls or the site of Qumran or if you have published something relating to the archaeology of the site, please e-mail me with the reference and a paragraph or two on what you've done or said. Web links would be good too. Notes of archaeological work or study in progress would be very helpful, as long as I can use the material for my essay.

2. Conferences. If during the relevant period you have held a conference on the Scrolls or Qumran, or have published a conference volume on the same, please e-mail me with information on the conference and/or the volume. If you can supply summaries or web page links, so much the better.

3. Museum exhibits on the Scrolls and/or Qumran, especially before March 2003 when I started this blog and started paying more attention to such things. Again, summaries and web links would be helpful.

Please note that I have very little space and will have to speak in the most general of terms, so I can't promise that I'll be able to give specific mention to anything you send me. But I will read everything I get very carefully and it will all help in building up the general picture.

As you can see above, the piece will make its way online in due course.

Many thanks in advance for your help.
ELDER AVRAHAM BRONSTEIN of Protocols has a review of Rabbi Dr. Aaron Glatt's Women in the Talmud in the Yeshiva University Commentator. (Requires free registration.)

Daniel C. Matt (translator), The Zohar: Pritzker Edition, Vol. 1

You can read a San Francisco Chronicle review by a proud nonspecialist here:

David Kipen, "Translated Kabbalah not for the layperson"


The Zohar can also be, especially toward the end of the first volume, weirdly prophetic. In the Noah section, references crop up to what seem remarkably like dinosaurs and gravitation.

Appropriately enough, the first volume of the Pritzker "Zohar" ends with commentary on the Tower of Babel's destruction. God's punishment for our building the tower, remember, was the "confusion of languages," which sowed too much chaos for us ever to pull anything like that again. But without that curse of multiple languages, professional translators like Matt would be out of a job. For him the curse shapes up as, at worst, a mixed blessing.

For the rest of us, the new "Zohar" looks like a mixed blessing, too. The intrepid, especially those game to take one of the many Kabbalah classes offered around town, may now find the Zohar easier to tackle than ever before. But easier and easy are most emphatically not the same thing. Nobody should expect to read a few pages of the Pritzker "Zohar" and immediately see God. Just seeing straight would be an accomplishment.

There's also a customer review at the Amazon link above.
"NO SUCH THING AS A 'WAILING WALL.'" More Jewish-Temple denial:

Arafat's Mufti: No such thing as a 'Wailing Wall' (Jerusalem Post via Bible and Interpretation News)

On the same day that Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat was quoted as saying that he recognizes Jewish sovereignty over the Western Wall, his mufti, Ikremah Sabri, said on Friday that there is no such thing as a "Wailing Wall."


But the mufti, who was appointed by Arafat, told thousands of worshippers attending Friday prayers at the Al-Aqsa mosque that the Western Wall is part of the Al-Aqsa mosque and that it belongs to the Muslim Wakf (trust). "Seventy years ago the Committee of the League of Nations recognized the Al-Buraq Wall (Western Wall) as being part of the walls of the Al-Aqsa mosque," Sabri said.

The mufti pointed out that non-Islamic institutions accepted at the time the fact that the Al-Buraq Wall was a Muslim wall and attacked those who refer to it as the Western Wall.


In the interest of a reality check, the "Wailing Wall" is part of the western side of the massive retaining wall of Herod's Temple Mount (the lower, large stones in the photographs - especially clear in the third photo down). The Al-Aqsa mosque was built many centuries later.

Monday, December 15, 2003


This man was born in France on December 14th 1503:


And this man was captured in Tikrit on December 13th 2003:

Saddam Hussein after his capture
Saddam Hussein


Coincidence? Do you really think so?

UPDATE (16 December): a couple of readers have e-mailed to point out that I didn't take into account the ten days added by the Gregorian calendar reform. All I can say is I hope that wasn't the only problem they found in this posting.
I HAVE ADDED UPDATES to my earlier posts on Matthew and the Talmud and Leviticus and gay marriage.
ACCESS TO THE TRADITIONAL SITE OF "JOSEPH'S TOMB" in Nablus has been violently contested in recent years.

A Bad Time to Be a Samaritan (Newsday)
Middle Eastern sect fights to survive

By Conal Urquhart

December 15, 2003

Mount Gezirim, West Bank - When the apostle Luke told of Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan, the Jews of this region regarded the Samaritans as a sect to be shunned. Nearly 2,000 years later, the Samaritans are fighting for survival, having dwindled to a community of a mere 600 or so, and it is they who have ostracized Sophie Sedaka.

Sedaka, 28, would seem to be an advertisement for the Samaritan community. As one of Israel's best-known actresses, she is one of the most prominent of the sect, now one of the Middle East's tiniest religious minorities.

But the Samaritans have a shortage of women. In an effort to preserve the community and its "purity," women - but not men - are forbidden to marry outsiders. Those who transgress are cut off completely. Sedaka transgressed, and now is treated by her sect as a foreigner.


The story is too complicated to excerpt, so read it all. This sort of thing is very difficult and I wish the Samaritan community the best in sorting out how to deal with such situations.

Sunday, December 14, 2003


I don't think so.

Talmud confirms an early Gospel of Matthew (Toronto Star)


An ancient Jewish parody that quotes the New Testament's Gospel of Matthew may refute a major argument by biblical scholars who challenge the credibility of the Bible.

For more than a century, liberal scholars have contended that the Christian gospels are unreliable, second-hand accounts of Jesus' ministry that weren't put on paper until 70 to 135 A.D. or later � generations after those who witnessed the events of Jesus' ministry were dead.

Today's more liberal scholars say the Gospel of Matthew may have been aimed at Jews but it was written in Greek, not Hebrew.

They also believe that the Book of Mark, written in Greek, was the original gospel, despite the traditional order of the gospels in the Bible, putting Matthew first.

But a literary tale dated by some scholars at 72 A.D. or earlier, which comes from an ancient collection of Jewish writings known as the Talmud, quotes brief passages that appear only in the Gospel of Matthew. In his 1999 book, Passover And Easter: Origin And History To Modern Times, Israel Yuval of Jerusalem's Hebrew University says that Rabban Gamaliel, a leader of rabbinical scholars in about 70 A.D., is "considered to have authored a sophisticated parody of the Gospel according to Matthew."


In Rabbi Gamaliel's story, a daughter whose father had died offers a golden lamp as a bribe to a Christian judge known for his honesty, seeking a decision that would allow her to share her father's estate with her brother.

When the judge suggests that dividing the estate would be proper on the basis of a new law that had superseded the ancient Law of Moses, Gamaliel argues that the judge is wrong and loosely quotes a statement attributed to Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew.

"Look further in the book, and it is written in it, `I have not come to take away from the Law of Moses nor add to the Law of Moses ... '" Gamaliel replies, and wins the case on the basis of that argument or the bribe he gave the judge � a "Libyan ass."


The argument, in a nutshell (and by all means read the whole article), is that the Talmud quotes Rabbi Gamaliel as quoting something rather like a passage in Matthew (5:18-19). Therefore he knew the Gospel of Matthew and it must have existed by his time, which, the authors say, means it must have been written before 70 or 72 C.E. (I'm not sure exactly why. Is this when he died? Or is the story set in pre-revolt Jerusalem?) Anyhow, I'll take their word about Gamaliel's date. There are still some big problems with the argument.

1. The Babylonian Talmud (the Bavli) was edited around 600 C.E. and the Palestinian Talmud (the Yerushalmi) around 400. Whichever Talmud they're talking about (probably the Bavli but they don't say - and they don't give the exact reference either) the story of the first-century saying of Gamaliel comes to us from a text edited many centuries later. How do we know that this isn't a much later legend which puts the saying in his mouth on the basis of knowing the Gospel of Matthew? Granted, the Talmud sometimes preserves early material, but earliness has to be proved, not assumed.

2. Even if Rabbi Gamaliel actually said this, the saying is not all that close to the Gospel of Matthew. How do we know that it isn't an oral tradition that Gamaliel picked up from Jesus' followers and which was later used independently by the author of Matthew?

Perhaps the book addresses these issues, but this article certainly doesn't convince me.

UPDATE (15 December): Stephen Goranson e-mails:

As your blog properly observed, Jim, the Altman and Crowder article does not prove (nor exclude) an early date for the Gospel of Matthew. (Nor did their similar article in the Kansas City Star, 7 July 2003.) Gamaliel the II--to whom the story was apparently attributed--lived many years after their date. But if this prompts anyone to read the article to which Israel Yuval referred, that may be worthwhile: Burton Visotzky, "Overturning the Lamp," JJS 38 (1987) 72-80. It's a good article, as my dissertation noted. But his nuanced reading of b.Shabbat 116a-b certainly allows for later dating. In any case, this section has potentially interesting information about a gospel, evangelion--punned against as (avon-gilyon, book of sin or )aven-gilyon, book of vanity--and the verse said to be at the end of the book.

The section is quite interesting. It includes a discussion of whether to save books of the minim (heretics) in the case of a fire. Via puns, as long
recognized by many scholars (my 1990 diss. pp92-94 has bibliography), these are the houses of the Nazarenes and Ebionites, Be Nitsraphi and Be )Abidan. See Anchor Bible on how these two terms evolved. Gamaliel II, of course, was associated in Talmud with the origin or revising of the Birkat ha-minim, the blessing/curse on heretics, known in many versions.

The Talmud version gives the mirror image of the account of heretics in Epiphanius (Panarion, 29 & 30). For the Christian Epiphanius (circa 375), the Ebionites were the more heretical of the two groups. For the rabbis, none would save books from the Nazarene house, but some consideration was allowed for possibly rescuing books from the house of Ebionites.