Saturday, May 15, 2004

GORGIAS PRESS has an interesting profile of reprints of Victorian-era and early twentieth-century works on Syriac, Jewish studies, ancient Near East, etc., along with some recent titles on the same. They will also reprint a facsimile of any book you want, as long as it's in the public domain and you're willing to pay the rather steep fee. At conferences I've seen lots of interesting titles on their table, especially reprints of hard-to-find older items.
SOME DEAD SEA SCROLL FRAGMENTS are on display this weekend in Arizona:
4.Fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls are on display today and Saturday at Southwestern College, 2625 E. Cactus Road, as part of "The Forbidden Book Bible Symposium" presented by the Bible Museum.

Teachers and experts from across the country take part in the 14-hour event. The symposium is free, but reservations are required. Hours are 2 to 9 p.m. today and 9 a.m. to 4 pm. Saturday. Register at (623) 536-8614 or

UPDATE: For some reason the "Bible Museum" link works - at least for me - on Explorer but not Netscape. I've had a look at it now and the museum appears mainly to be an advertisement for an antiquities dealer. Please do not take my mentioning the exhibit as an endorsement of the business.
A CAPSULE HISTORY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT CANON: Richard N. Ostling presents one in an A.P. article entitled "'Da Vinci' sparks interest in choice of the canon." Looks accurate and to the point. Well done, Mr. Ostling.

Friday, May 14, 2004

PAST VOLUMES of the Zeitschrift f�r Papyrologie und Epigrafik (1991-2000) are available for free online. Many of the articles have to do with biblical and ancient Jewish matters. Wieland Willker has a list of these on the new Textual Criticism list.
A PASTISCHE OF BIBLICAL MYSTERY PLAYS wil be performed at the University of Chicago this weekend. Seth Sanders reports in the University of Chicago Chronicle:
Giant puppets will parade across the quadrangles to herald the return of a fifth-century medieval ceremony, which will be presented in the performance of The Greater Mysteries: A Pastiche.

The cosmic story of Genesis, from creation to flood, will be told through music, dance and ancient ritual during two performances at 8 p.m. on Friday, May 14, and again at 8 p.m. Saturday, May 15, in the neo-gothic Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, 5850 S. Woodlawn Ave.


�God�s relationship to humanity, from the fall of Lucifer and Adam to the reaffirmation of His covenant after the Flood, is the tale that the Mysteries will tell,� said Lorraine Brochu, Assistant to the Dean for External Affairs at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel. �The performance will be both wild and appropriate for ages 6 and up, from the arcane cleansing rituals in Hebrew, Latin, Greek and Arabic to the delightful dance of the giant puppets.�

This pastiche, or compilation, of various mystery plays is the creation of James Redfield, the Edward Olson Distinguished Service Professor in Classical Languages & Literatures and the College, who also directs.


I'm not quite clear on how a fifth-century ceremony can be medieval, but it sounds interesting and I wish I could go. I hope that Seth will do a follow-up article with some photographs.

UPDATE: Seth Sanders e-mails regarding "fifth-century medieval":
I didn't exactly write that, it's a press release from Rockefeller chapel. In fact the U of C news office has several hundred releases that have me as contact or author that I had nothing to do with but get my name on them as the point man for humanities and arts.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

JUST GOT THE GOOD NEWS that my paper, "Ritual in the Old Testament Apocrypha," has been accepted for the Anthropology and the Old Testament Research Seminar in Glasgow this August. I'll paste in the abstract below. As usual, I plan to put the oral version online just before the conference.

Recent decades have seen the emergence of "ritual studies" as a field in its own right, one pursued with increasing methodological sophistication and applied not only in the social sciences but also in the humanities. This paper is one segment of a larger project to explore the place of ritual in ancient Jewish literature that was transmitted by Christians but dropped by Jews. The larger corpus includes the works of Philo and Josephus; the Jewish Pseudepigrapha (covered in a symposium paper last year); and the Old Testament Apocrypha. The purpose of this paper is to apply methods and insights from ritual studies to further our understanding of the last group, the Old Testament Apocrypha.

The Old Testament Apocrypha consist of a collection of Hellenistic works, including books on scriptural or Jewish themes (1 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, the Wisdom of Solomon, Ben Sira, Baruch, the Epistle of Jeremiah, 1-2 Maccabees) and a number of supplements to books of the Hebrew Bible (Additions to Esther, the Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Hebrew Youths, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, the Prayer of Manasseh). They are generally agreed to be Jewish works, most of them supposedly composed in a Semitic language (Hebrew or Aramaic). Much of Ben Sira survives in Hebrew and some of Tobit in Aramaic, but the Apocrypha are preserved in their entirety only in other languages such as Greek, Syriac, and Latin. In at least two cases (Wisdom of Solomon and 2 Maccabees), and probably in others (e.g., Baruch), they were composed in Greek. Although the Apocrypha were rejected as scripture by Jerome and some other early church fathers, they were eventually transmitted as part of the Latin Vulgate, as well as part of the Greek Bible, and most of them became canonical in both the Catholic and Orthodox traditions. They thus form an ancient collection of allegedly Jewish works which Christians knew Jews to have rejected, but which nevertheless held scriptural authority for many early Christians and which eventually became authoritative in much of Christendom until the Protestant Reformation, when the Reformers removed them from their biblical canon.

Catherine Bell, in her book Ritual: Perspectives and Dimensions (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), proposes a sixfold typology of ritual, including rites of passage, calendrical rites, rites of exchange and communion, rites of affliction, rites of feasting and fasting, and political rites. In this paper I intend to catalogue and analyze in a very preliminary way the rituals mentioned or described in the Old Testament Apocrypha, using Bell's typology as a basis (although nuancing it as necessary by other typologies and mappings such as those of Ronald Grimes). Although I will analyze all the works in the Apocrypha, I will concentrate especially on those of substantial length, which can be shown on the basis of positive evidence to have originated in Jewish circles. The preliminary cataloguing will give us clearer information about the rituals and types of rituals important in the Judaism of the centuries immediately before and after the turn of the era, and this is the primary objective of the paper. Another objective is to search for trends in the ritual repertoire of the Jewish Apocrypha which may give us insight into why Christians chose these texts and not others to preserve.
THE TEMPLE MOUNT � "LET IT FALL"? Arutz Sheva has an opinion piece by Joseph Yudin, in which he argues that the Palestinians have themselves to thank if the the Temple Mount collapses and the mosques on it are destroyed. Excerpt:
During the autumn months of 2000, Palestinians began carrying out illegal construction of an underground mosque in the "Solomon Stables" part of the Temple Mount. This construction has not halted during the last four years and a "bulge" in the southern (retaining) wall appeared in the fall of 2002. The unauthorized construction destroyed Jewish antiquities thousands of years old, but both the Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon governments were afraid of the repercussions if police halted the work on the new "mosque", which is housed amongst the arches constructed by King Herod more than two thousand years ago to support the southern part of the Temple Mount. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that if you harm these arches, the floor and walls may come crumbling down. However, if you deny that there ever was a Second Temple, I guess it is easy to deny that these very arches supported it.

The Israel Antiquities Authority wanted to carry out repair work and oversee the excavations of the Temple Mount area, which it is entitled to do under Israeli law. The Waqf, however, refused to allow this and the Israeli governments did not force the issue. A "compromise" was reached whereby Jordanian archaeologists would oversee repairs on the south wall. The work, however, seems shoddy and many Israeli experts say the repairs are just a band aid for the effect, rather than a fix of the cause. An earthquake in February 2004 again struck the foundations of the Temple Mount, causing damage this time to the eastern (retaining) wall. Again, a key structural weakness pointed out by the Israel Antiquities Authority is the "Solomon Stables" part of the Temple Mount. The Waqf, of course, denies that any structural cracks exist in the eastern wall.

So, what are we to do? It seems to me that if the Israeli government is too afraid to enforce the rule of law on the Temple Mount, and allows the wholesale destruction of Jewish history by the Moslem authorities, then it should at the same time have no regard for any damage that befalls the Temple Mount caused by illegal construction by those very same people. If they damage the Temple Mount building a mosque, then let them fix it themselves. If the eastern and southern walls come crumbling down, let them come down. Herod was a beast of a being and we should not hold his creations as anything holy, anyway. If Mount Moriah is exposed once again to sunlight for the first time in 2,000 years due to Arab negligence, then so be it.

I'm no fan of the WAQF and I agree that they should lead, follow, or get out of the way. And I agree that all the illegal construction needs to be stopped. Nevertheless, I cannot be indifferent to the fate of the Temple Mount. We don't judge the value of historical relics by the morality of who made them, but by what they can tell us about the past. What's left of the archaeology of Herod's platform could still tell future archaeologists a great deal about the Second Temple period, and much of this will be lost if there is a major collapse. And the destruction of the ancient mosques on the Temple Mount would be a terrible tragedy, not only because of the rioting and mayhem that would ensue, but because they too are precious historical artifacts that deserve to be preserved. It's hard for me to get a clear picture of what the actual situation is without being there, but it's obvious that the Temple Mount has already suffered a major cultural and historical outrage with the building of the Solomon's Stables mosque, and a collapse would be a far greater catastrophe. I hope it can be averted and I encourage anyone who has any say in what happens to exert every effort to protect the site.
ANOTHER OBITUARY of Samuel Iwry appears in today's Washington Post. It has some interesting information on his research at the time the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered:
In 1947, the couple immigrated to the United States through San Francisco and moved to Baltimore, where Mr. Iwry resumed his studies. Albright assigned him to work on the Damascus document, a medieval Hebrew text that required someone who had a familiarity and ease with classical Hebrew.

When the ancient Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, beginning in 1948, the language in the Damascus document turned out to be so crucial to verifying the scrolls' authenticity that scholars consider its study to be the beginning of scroll scholarship.

"He was literally working on one of the most important Dead Sea Scrolls before they were discovered," said Kyle McCarter, a professor and former chairman of Near Eastern Studies at Johns Hopkins. "It was Albright's knowledge and recognition that something was going on and [Iwry's] skills and education" that enabled the pair to authenticate the scrolls' antiquity and significance.

As more scrolls were discovered into the early 1950s, scholars kept a special phone line between Jerusalem and Baltimore, through London. As Israeli scholars reported what was on the scrolls, Mr. Iwry was on the phone with Albright, giving him "a kind of intimate involvement with the scrolls that people don't know about," McCarter said. Mr. Iwry wrote the first doctoral dissertation on the scrolls and was regarded throughout his life as the expert on them. He completed his doctorate degree in 1951 at Johns Hopkins.

Wieland Willker e-mails:
Since the TC-list is now dead, I have set up a (hopefully only) temporal
replacement at Yahoo groups. It can be accessed at:

This is the description of the list:
This group is for the discussion of the variants in the text of the Bible in the original languages and the early versions. Posts must be on-topic. Contributors should be familiar with the contents of the web pages given in the Links section.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

IF GOOGLE ETC. DIRECTED YOU HERE (and it seems there are lots of you), I'm afraid PaleoJudaica is not the "arabic� site� showing� american� b*heading." The appearance of those words (and various similar combinations) on last week's page is an unfortunate coincidence, arising mainly from a reference to an episode in the book of Judith.

But while you're here, let me just mention that Al Qaeda sucks.
The Oriental Institute Research Archives is pleased to announce the availability on-line of:


This 136 page bibliography is a work in progress and is available in three formats, .pdf, .doc, .rtf

From the introduction:

"...In order to make this bibliography more "user friendly," I have presented it in the order of topics found in a grammar. The order here is largely traditional (with the customary division of phonology, morphology and syntax), although since the 1960s linguists have paid a great deal of attention to the interface between these levels of grammar. In section 15, the organization for syntax gives precedence of text linguistics before the syntax of clauses and their subunits, reflecting the current view that the sentence does not constitute the largest unit of grammatical analysis. One might go further and present syntax as theoretically prior to, and the context for, situating morphology, and, by extension, phonology as well; however, the traditional order of grammars is retained here for the sense of familiarity that it affords readers. I have included bibliography for the alphabet (under section 2), although properly speaking the alphabet is not a grammatical topic but a matter of the graphic representation of languages. However, the alphabet's historical importance for the study of West Semitic languages dictates its inclusion here. I have included some entries for Hebrew phonology or morphology with little or no mention of Ugaritic, in part to be more inclusive in these areas and in part to promote such work in the study of Ugaritic. Also included are entries for the syntax of particles (under 9.2) and for the verb (under 10.2.1) as well as some select individual verbal roots (under 14.11 and following). The bibliography in section 16 includes both basic and illustrative entries in the areas of lexicography, loanwards and semantics as well as personal names, but listings for dictionaries and lexica for Biblical Hebrew have not been included... Standard abbreviations have been used (see the list in the final section of this introduction); these are found also in Ugarit-Forschungen and Journal of Biblical Literature)."

Heads-up, Arne Halbakken and Chuck Jones.
THE SBL FORUM has posted a number of interesting short articles this month, as Mark Goodacre (here and here and here) and Torrey Seland have already noted. I haven't had the chance to read them all (I'm having the chance to do precious little reading outside things directly relevant to The Book right now), but here are some that look interesting:

Writing a Dissertation in Biblical Studies
by Jane S. Webster
"Learning how to write about the Bible in a dissertation was a challenge. In spite of the fact that I had to balance the needs of my family, the demands of being a teaching assistant, and the hunt for meaningful employment, I had to get the job done."

Writing in the Greco-Roman World
by Ronald F. Hock
"The skills and techniques that are necessary to be able to write any number of genres are taught in every educational system, and education in the Greco-Roman world was no different, though perhaps it did so with a rigor and thoroughness that would surprise those who are familiar only with current methods of teaching writing."

Hypertext and Publication in Biblical Studies
by Tim Bulkeley
My experiments with the hypertext forms of communication in biblical studies have centered on the genre of commentary. This genre, with its goal of explaining or interpreting a prior text, has features that are inherently hypertextual.

A Brewing Thought, a Spot of Tea: Scholarly Writing as Adventure
by Cheryl A. Kirk-Duggan
"By getting to know yourself better, from the inside out, you will become a better writer."

Journal of Biblical Literature Today
by Susan E. Haddox
Nearly half of the articles published in recent years utilize newer methodologies, including narrative, ideological, and sociological approaches

NOTE (13 May): Sorry, somehow this post got demoted to draft status and disappeared for a while. Can't say I'm impressed with Blogger's new setup so far. It seems prone to this sort of mixup.
SAMUEL IWRY has passed away at age ninety-three:
(JTA) - Hebrew scholar dies at 93

Hebrew scholar Samuel Iwry, an authority on the Dead Sea Scrolls, died Saturday in Baltimore at age 93. Iwry wrote the first doctoral dissertation on the scrolls, which shed light on Judaism and the origins of Christianity. He also was one of the world's leading Hebrew scholars. Born in Poland, Iwry was a direct descendant of the Ba'al Shem Tov, the founder of Chasidism.

May his memory be for a blessing.

There's an obituary in the Miami Herald. Excerpt:
. . . he began work on doctoral studies at the Johns Hopkins University with William Foxwell Albright, the noted Orientalist and archaeologist.

''With his mentor, Professor Albright, he was the first scholar to identify and authenticate the Dead Sea Scrolls, their antiquity and significance, and wrote the first doctoral dissertation on the scrolls,'' the son said.

Dr. Iwry -- who spoke five Semitic languages, five European languages as well as Latin and Greek -- joined the Hopkins faculty in 1951 and was professor of Near Eastern studies. He retired in 1991.

His autobiography, To Wear the Dust of War: From Warsaw to Shanghai to the Promised Land, will be published in August.

UPDATE: More here.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

JEWISH-TEMPLE DENIAL in the Arab world is laid bare in a new study by Dr. Yitzhak Reiter. This Ha'aretz article summarizes his findings:
A campaign of denial to disinherit the Jews

By Nadav Shragai


Indeed, a new study by Dr. Yitzhak Reiter, conducted for the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies states: "In the last generation, the Islamic and Arab history of Jerusalem has gradually been rewritten. At the heart of this new version is the Arabs' historic right to Jerusalem and Palestine. The main argument is that the Arabs ruled Jerusalem thousands of years before the children of Israel. In addition to building the Arab-Muslim case, the Muslim thinkers are formulating a denial and negation of the Jewish-Zionist narrative. Included in that effort is the de-Judaizing of the Temple Mount, the Western Wall and Jerusalem as a whole.


Contrary to the standard history whereby the Al-Aqsa mosque was built in the seventh century, in recent years an ancient tradition from the beginning of Islam has been gaining ground. According to it, the Al-Aqsa mosque was built 40 years after the construction of the mosque in Mecca by Adam (i.e., close to the seven days of creation). Other traditions that appear in the Waqf administration offices in Jerusalem attribute the building of the mosque to Abraham and Solomon, as Islamic figures, with no connection to Judaism. The former Jordanian minister of Waqf affairs, Abed al-Salaam al-Abadi, Sheikh Raed Salah and Islamic Internet sites refer to Abraham as the builder of the Al-Aqsa mosque 4,000 years ago.


Members of the Saudi royal family, Palestinian archaeologists (such as Dr. Dimitri Baramki), Sheikh Kardawi, Syrian clerics and others all identify the Jebusites as an ancient Arab tribe that wandered from the Arabian peninsula, together with the Canaanites, around 3,000 years B.C.E. and therefore predated the children of Israel in the land.


The "fabricated" Temple

The new history most jarring to Jewish hearers is that the First and Second Temple are lies fabricated by the Jews. In public discourse among Arabs, participants regularly add the word "al-maz'um" - that is, the presumptive or fabricated - when referring to the Jewish Temple. Mufti Sabri says that there are no remnants proving the Jews' claim that there was a temple on the site.

The current Jordanian minister of Waqf affairs, Ahmed Khalil, said last year that Israel is trying to intervene in Al-Aqsa affairs and conduct excavations beneath the mosque in order to build the fabricated temple there. Arafat Hajazi, a member of the southern branch of the Islamic Movement, asks in an article published in 2002 on the movement's Web site why the Jews did not build their Temple during the longer than 500-year period between the time it was destroyed a second time by Titus and Abed el-Malik built Al-Aqsa mosque; he also notes that hundreds of archaeological delegations have conducted excavations in the vicinity of Al-Aqsa and not one of them has found remnants of the Temple.

In another article, which recently appeared on the Internet site of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement, Egyptian archaeologist Abed al-Rahim Rihan Barakat, the manager of the archaeological site at Dahab in Sinai, writes, "The myth of the fabricated Temple is the greatest crime of historical forgery."


It's hard to think of a comparable campaign completely to misrepresent well-documented ancient history for political purposes
NEW BOOK REVIEWS from the Review of Biblical Literature:

Jacobs, Steven Leonard
The Biblical Masorah and the Temple Scroll: An Orthographic Inquiry
Reviewed by Stephen Reed

Washburn, David L.
A Catalog of Biblical Passages in the Dead Sea Scrolls
Reviewed by Ian Young

Davis, Frederick B.
The Jew and Deicide: The Origin of an Archetype
Reviewed by D. Andrew Kille

McQueen, Hector L, Calum M. Carmichael, and Timothy H. Lim, eds.
On Scrolls, Artefacts and Intellectual Property
Reviewed by Bruce Zuckerman

Monday, May 10, 2004

Archeologists Find Fabled Center of Learning in Egypt (L.A. Times via Cronaca)
� The University of Alexandria drew some of the ancient world's most famous scholars.

By Thomas H. Maugh II, Times Staff Writer

A Polish-Egyptian team has unearthed the site of the fabled University of Alexandria, home of Archimedes, Euclid and a host of other scholars from the era when Alexandria dominated the Mediterranean.

The team has found 13 lecture halls, or auditoria, that could have accommodated as many as 5,000 students, said archeologist Zahi Hawass, president of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities.

The classrooms are on the eastern edge of a large public square in the Late Antique section of modern Alexandria and are adjacent to a previously discovered theater that is now believed to be part of the university complex, Hawass said.

All 13 auditoria have similar dimensions and internal arrangements, he added. They feature rows of stepped benches running along the walls on three sides of the rooms, sometimes joining at one end to form a "U."

The most conspicuous feature of the rooms, he added, is an elevated seat placed in the middle of the "U," most likely designed for the lecturer.

"It is the first time ever that such a complex of lecture halls has been uncovered on any Greco-Roman site in the whole Mediterranean area," Hawass said, calling it "perhaps the oldest university in the world."

The discovery is "incredibly impressive," said UCLA archeologist Willeke Wendrich. "We knew it existed and was an extremely famous center for learning, but we knew it only from textual accounts�. We never knew the site."


The Septuagint translators, Philo of Alexandria, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen may have sat in these lecture rooms.

UPDATE (11 May): Reader Ellen Birnbaum, a Philo specialist, e-mails:
Thanks for posting the item about the "University of Alexandria." How odd that the excavators would call it this--I've never heard of such a University. They must mean either the gymnasium or the Museum. I'll be interested in how they identify this newly discovered site with one that's mentioned explicitly in the ancient sources!

UPDATE (23 January, 2005): More here.
A CAPSULE HISTORY of Second Temple Judaism: Rabbi Dennis Sasso provides a good summary in Exploring the Judaism of Jesus' time ( Naturally, I want to quibble about this or that, but I'll restrain myself this time. Excerpt:
What do we learn from these early centuries? We learn about the persistence of diversity. There were multiple expressions of Judaism during the Second Temple Period, as there was diversity within early Christianity. Both, like all vibrant, living traditions, continued to be diverse through history. As we seek dialogue with others within our own faith tradition, so must we seek understanding across faith traditions.

We can affirm one another while remaining faithful to our own heritage, recognizing that even as Christians walk in the footsteps of Jesus, Jews walk in the pathways of Torah. Only integrity and respect can pave the way to a time when the teachings that flowered 2,000 years ago will bring healing, harmony and hope to a world that yet yearns for redemption.

BLOGGER has upgraded its system. The site looks spiffy, but it also makes my Internet Explorer 5.1 crash at random and it refuses to recognize button input from my Netscape 7.02. Presumably this is nature's way of telling me I need upgrades. I'll try to do this today, but I'm extremely busy with other things, so apologies if my browser problems lead to light blogging for a while.

Sunday, May 09, 2004

THE IRAQ MUSEUM in Baghdad now has an official website (via John Simmons on the IraqCrisis list).

Excellent! Now how about a blog to go with it?

UPDATE (10 May): It seems this announcement was premature and that the site was only being tested internally. This from John Russell on the IraqCrisis list. Well, what I saw yesterday looked good. I'll let you know when I hear that the site is officially opened.
THE LATEST on the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition in Ohio, which now seems to be called the Dead Sea Scrolls to America exhibit:
Dead Sea Scrolls come to Bucyrus

By Dan Clutter
[Bucyrus] Telegraph-Forum staff


T-F photo by Beth Thompson

6-year-old Nathan Wayne of Caledonia reacts to his mother's comment that the papyrus is over 1,800 years old. The Dead Sea Scrolls to America exhibit is on display at Victory in Truth Ministries, 485 Ohio 4 South, 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday and noon-8 p.m. Sunday.

The Dead Sea Scrolls are the earliest recordings of Bible passages in existence, and fragments from the Scroll are in Bucyrus through the weekend.

The 2,200-year-old fragments that predate the birth of Jesus are passages from the Bible books of Genesis and Isaiah. They are on display with other Biblical finds at Victory In Truth Ministries, 485 Ohio 4 South.

The artifacts belong to Dr. Craig Lampe of Arizona, who has spent 30 years collecting Biblical treasurers from all over the globe.

"I have a Bible museum," Lampe said. "And mine is the only one strictly devoted to the Bible. This is a complete history of the Bible.

"We have about $7 million worth of Bibles. And about $4 million are here in Bucyrus now."

Lampe took the Telegraph-Forum on a guided tour of his impressive collection.


A list of manuscripts in the exhibition follows.
THE ORATIO LA GUIDITTA, by Alessandro Scarlatti, is playing in Houston:
'La Giuditta' to bow here
Copyright 2004 Houston Chronicle

Nothing like a beheading to stoke creative fires. The exploits of the ancient Jewish character Judith so fascinated Italian Baroque composer Alessandro Scarlatti that he turned them into an oratorio twice.

The tale is simple: A widow gets fed up with the Assyrian army besieging her city. She dolls herself up, sneaks into the opponent's camp, seduces the commander -- and chops his head off.

The story comes from the Book of Judith, part of the Apocrypha of the Roman Catholic Bible. Though its author probably invented many details, he left librettists plenty of ammunition.

According to The Oxford Companion to the Bible, the heroine is "a shameless flatterer," "a bold-faced liar" and "a ruthless assassin."

Ars Lyrica Houston performs the second Scarlatti version to close out the debut season of its St. Cecilia Concert Series at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church. It's the second Scarlatti oratorio Ars Lyrica has presented.