Saturday, May 22, 2004

Announcement: Graduate Students in Syriac Studies

We are pleased to announce the beginning of a new international group of students of Syriac Studies: Dorushe. This is intended to be a means for students at different universities in different parts of the world to have a way of coming into contact with other students of Syriac Studies. Graduate studies can be a trying time, especially when one may be one of only a few at a given institution working in the field. It is our hope that this group could establish a network for students to help and support each other. In the future, perhaps we could also work on projects together, or even plan student trips to visit places of interest or import to our studies. There will be an initial planning meeting at the North American Patristics Society meeting, on Saturday May 29, 2004 at 3:30 in Crown 434. Professors are invited to share this message with their students. We will begin a list serve to get into contact with each other. People with questions or suggestions can contact Jeanne-Nicole Saint-Laurent at . We are excited for the possibilities that this could bring and hope you will share our enthusiasm!

From the Hugoye list.
OLD CHURCH SLAVONIC online resources are noted here and here by Christopher Culver over at the Classical philology blog Nephelokokkygia. One, called "Help Me Learn Old Church Slavonic," is devoted to "the modern form of Church Slavonic that is currently used in the Russian Orthodox Church." The other, "Old Church Slavonic Online," is a set of inductive, text-based lessons on the old form of the language.
TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Arutz Sheva has more on the danger that the east wall may collapse. It quotes archaeologist Eilat Mazar as follows:
Dr. Mazar noted that construction on the Temple Mount is governed by the Antiquities Law, and that the person responsible for its enforcement is Prime Minister Sharon: "He shunts aside these matters, however, and therefore the responsible authorities can't take the necessary actions. This is the most important site in Israel, and yet we don't see the authorities there. We have to wake up and realize that if we don't take care of it, the vandalism and illegal construction will continue."
BOOK NOTE: A brief review by Betty E. Stein in the Fort Wayne News Sentinel:
"The Linguist and the Emperor," by Daniel Meyerson, tells us about Jean-Francois Champollion, a French boy who becomes obsessed with -- and adept at -- ancient languages. His brother provides him with the opportunity to get an education; he learns Greek and Latin and also Arabic, Chaldean, Hebrew, Persian and even Coptic, an old Egyptian language. This is the time of Napoleon. When the general and his army invade Egypt, the French soldiers find a rock with text written in Greek and hieroglyphics.

No one as yet had been able to decipher hieroglyphics. It is Champollion, the student and conqueror of ancient languages, who solves the mystery of that pink and gray chunk of rock. It was the Rosetta Stone, and it was he who was able, finally, to translate it into modern language. The writing style takes some getting used to. But watching this genius perform his great work is a rewarding experience.
THE SAMARITANS, who have just celebrated Passover, are the subject of an article, "Samaritans cling to unique heritage," in the Dallas Morning News. Excerpt:
Despite the Samaritans' marking of Passover, the Sabbath and other rituals and observances similar to Judaism, Samaritans are not Jews but a distinct people. They are best known from the New Testament parable Jesus told of the Good Samaritan who came to the aid of a mugged and wounded traveler.

In contrast to Jews, who follow both the Written Law of the Torah and the Oral Law, the Samaritans adhere only to the Five Books of Moses.

Like Orthodox Jews, the Samaritans strictly observe the laws of circumcision, family purity and kosher diet. They write in ancient Hebrew script, the language of their Torah, and pray in the ancient Hebrew dialect spoken by Jews through the first millennium A.D.

"Jews and Samaritans are both sons of the Israelites," said Israel Tzedaka, one of the Samaritans' elders, during the Samaritan Passover feast, which occurred a month after the Jewish holiday.

Mr. Tzedaka lives in the Israeli town of Holon, as do roughly half the world's Samaritans. During holidays and family occasions, the Israel-based Samaritans travel to Kiryat Luza, where the community's other half resides on Mount Gerizim, in Palestinian territory just southwest of Nablus.

"We trace our roots to the 12 tribes of the Kingdom of Israel," Mr. Tzedaka said, seated in the living room of his friend and kinsman Yaffet Ben Asher Cohen, who lives on the mountain.

Friday, May 21, 2004

There is a�reference that some Americans may miss in the discussion of the alternate title of "Monty Python's Life of Brian." The movie, "Patton," was sometimes subtitled "Salute to a Rebel" in the U.S., the times being what they were. In Britain the movie was offered as "Patton: Lust for Glory," which I assume is where the Pythons got the original title idea.

It's still a wonderful movie. Blessed are the cheesemakers.

How interesting. I didn't know that.
Ancient Moabite fort provides insight into history of weaving (Lebanon Daily Star)
Recent archaeological evidence from Jordan reveals the antiquity of a craft and an industry in the Middle East


Khirbat al-Mudaybi is a mid-size Iron Age fort constructed around 700 BC on the eastern Karak Plateau of Central Jordan, between the king's and desert highways. During antiquity, Mudaybi was located on the edge of the eastern frontier of Moab, an Iron Age state located east of the Dead Sea.


Three seasons of excavations carried out by the Karak Resources Project in the last three years have revealed that sturdy basalt and limestone walls, towers and gates enclosed the settlement. Most notable is the four-chambered monumental eastern gate where volute capitals rest on top of each pier wall, supporting stone lintels, wood beams, and a roof of mud and reeds. The gate faces the Fajj al-Usaykir, an important commercial route connecting the Arabian Desert with the interior of the Karak Plateau. Given the fort's strategic position, it is likely Mudaybi protected ancient Moab's eastern frontier and provided security for passing caravans.

Given their assumptions about the military function of Mudaybi, the excavation team was surprised to discover a weaving installation in the fort's domestic quarter. Here, at least 68 small, perforated clay loom weights were concentrated in the northwest corner of one of the rooms. Each weight was hand-molded from local clay into a round or cylindrical shape, ranging from 32 millimeters to 61 millimeters in height, 48mm to 86mm in width, and weighed from 70 to 437 grams. Multiple threads could be strung through a perforation in each weight, and multiple weights may have been needed for each group of warp - or vertical - threads to provide the necessary tension for weaving. This tension allowed the weaver to integrate weft - the horizontal thread - and warp.

. . . A senior researcher from the Institute of Archaeology, Andrews University, observed, "the discovery of so many loom weights makes me wonder if perhaps carpets or tents were being produced in this location by a family or specialized craftsman."

NOT AN EPIDEMIC: According to "No sects, please," in the Jerusalem Post, the "Jerusalem syndrome" has been overrated. Excerpt:
People afflicted by the so-called Jerusalem Syndrome suddenly imagine themselves to be biblical figures or feel compelled to start preaching on the streets of the city. The condition was first identified in 1982 by former Jerusalem district psychiatrist and director of the Kfar Shaul hospital, Dr. Yair Barel.

Sufferers usually believe they are Jesus, Moses, or the Virgin Mary, but several King Davids and at least one Mary Magdalene have also been recorded. While some sufferers arrive in Jerusalem with psychiatric conditions that are heightened (or triggered) by the city's spiritual atmosphere, others have no history of mental problems, but are overcome by the urge to preach in public dressed in white robes - often bed sheets from their hotel.

The condition is usually temporary, affecting religious pilgrims - mostly Christian, but occasionally Jews - who begin to exhibit strange behavior while touring holy sites, sometimes proclaiming that they are ancient religious figures sent on a mission.

"The media exaggerated the syndrome. The issue was blown out of all proportions. A minimal number of tourists have been affected - it passes within a few days. It's nothing," says Amnon Ramon, a researcher at the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies.

"The perception was that thousands come down with this syndrome every year, [but] the embassy has encountered only three cases in 20 years, I have heard of about a dozen cases in two decades - it's that rare," says Parsons. "The Jews who get it are always Samson or David - strong characters. Christians are often Moses or Elijah, the witnesses. As soon as they're back in their home setting, the symptoms disappear."

"There's no shortage of crazies who could do great damage," warns Ramon. "These include Christian, Muslim, and Jewish zealots.

In the 1980s, the "Jewish Underground," led by Yehuda Etzion, planned to sabotage the mosques atop the Temple Mount. Some view the Temple Mount Faithful led by Gershon Salomon as a potential threat to an already explosive situation.

While the influence of spiritual Islamic sects such as the Sufis has been overpowered by fanatical, often violent, Muslim groups and their affiliated terror cells, many of the Christian-affiliated cults appear to have drifted away from the city.

David Koresh also figures in the article.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

PEACHTREE CITY, Ga. -- Thank the Lord -- and the proofreaders at Peachtree Editorial and Proofreading -- that the Bible refers to "our ancestors" instead of "sour ancestors," and calls for an end to "factions" -- not "fractions." The proofreading service caught those typos and others before the latest edition of the Holy Book went to press.

At Peachtree, attention to detail is more than a job description. It's a calling.

"Bible readers are less forgiving of errors because they expect perfection in the Bible text," said June Gunden, who founded the business along with her husband, Doug.

Peachtree Editorial and Proofreading Service is believed to be the only one of its kind in the nation -- and one of only a few in the world -- to specialize in proofreading Bibles.

BETHSAIDA IN THE NEWS: Here's a long article, " Looking for miracles," in Ha'aretz about the excavation in Bethsaida, which excavation has uncovered a lot of interesting information and which hasn't received the publicity it deserves. The article is too long to excerpt properly, but here are a few bits:
Bethsaida is situated on a tel (a large mound formed by the accumulated remains of ancient communities) 1.5 kilometers away from the northern shore of Lake Kinneret, in an area that is today part of the Jordan River Park. The city that [archaeologist Rami] Arav and his expeditions have worked to uncover since 1987 lays on a basalt outcrop that descends from the Golan Heights. The tel is also known by its Arabic name, Et-Tell ("the mound"). It is 400 meters long, 200 meters wide and 25 meters high. Deep down in the earth, at least two different cities lie on top of each other, after having existed at different periods in history.

One of the periods represented at the tel is the Hellenistic-Roman era (Second Temple) - from the fourth century B.C.E. to the fourth century C.E. At the outset of this period, the experts say, Bethsaida was a large, bustling fishing village. Toward the end, it was abandoned by its inhabitants. Says Arav: "The waters of the lake reached the shores of Bethsaida until the third century C.E.," but subsequently receded about 1.5 kilometers southward due to geological changes in the region. The fishing village had found itself without water.

The tremendous excitement of the Christian pilgrims who visited the site stems from the fact that, according to the historical sources, at least three of Jesus' apostles were born here: Peter, Andrew and Philip. Jesus himself probably visited Bethsaida in the second decade of the first century C.E. According to the New Testament, it was here that he performed several of his most famous miracles - healing the blind man and feeding the multitudes (the Miracle of the Loaves and the Fishes) - and it was from Bethsaida that he was seen walking on water


Despite Bethsaida's popularity as a place of pilgrimage for Christians, the site is unknown to Israelis. Rami Arav, a graduate of Tel Aviv University, completed his doctorate in the ancient Middle East at New York University. He returned to Israel in 1986 and began to work as a researcher at an institute involved in studying the Golan Heights and to teach at the University of Haifa. As he scouted around for something interesting to research in the north, his eye caught the name Bethsaida.


Bethsaida is not just about Jesus. The researchers discovered that the city from the time of Jesus and Peter was built on the ruins of an older Bethsaida. In addition to the findings from Hellenistic-Roman times, the site has turned up remnants from an earlier period that is no less historically and archaeologically important: the First Temple period, from the 10th century B.C.E. to 732 B.C.E., when Bethsaida was laid waste by the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser III. For part of this period, Bethsaida was a large and important city, which was crowned capital of the biblical Kingdom of Geshur.

The findings from this period is of vast importance in biblical contexts. Thus it turns out that Bethsaida is also of interest to Israeli visitors, who are not necessarily interested in Christianity: The Geshurites were not Israelites, but the palace that was uncovered at the site apparently belonged to the king of Geshur, Talmai, son of Ammihud (or Ammihur). So it is quite possible that it was to this palace that King David came when he asked Talmai for the hand of his daughter, Ma'achah, who became his wife and gave birth to his son Absalom and his daughter Tamar.

Arav asserts that this is "the best-preserved palace of its kind that has ever been discovered in Israel. It is an archetype that is identical to King Solomon's palace in Jerusalem (which has never been found). The palace at Bethsaida is a highly valuable find."

What led Arav to these far-reaching conclusions? He cites four main causes: the comparatively vast dimensions of the city, the way it was built, the paved road leading to it, and the evidence of the religious services and administration that the residents received, which are embodied in the findings. The historical importance of the findings far transcends the fact that they were simply uncovered at this particular site.

But his conclusions have not gone undebated.

Worth reading in full
Eastern Temple wall in danger of immediate collapse (Jerusalem Post)

The eastern wall of Jerusalem's Temple Mount is in danger of immediate collapse, which could cause a 'domino effect' and bring down other sections of ancient compound, the head of the Israel Antiquities Authority Shuka Dorfman said Tuesday.

The rare public warning, made at a meeting of the Knesset's Interior Committee, came one month after a team of senior Egyptian and Jordanian engineers began to carry out tests to determine the stability of the eastern wall.


"Our ongoing demand for the renewal of full archaeological supervision of the site is needed now more than ever after it has been proven yet again that the direct result of the lack of such inspection on the Temple Mount is further antiquities damage as well as physical danger," said Hebrew University archaeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar, a leading mount expert and a senior member of the non-partisan Committee Against the Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount.

At the Knesset meeting Tuesday, committee head Yuri Shtern (National Union) called on the prime minister to have an authorized Israeli team carry out the needed repair work at the mount's eastern wall, as opposed to the foreign team at work on the southern wall.

This sounds like a good idea to me.

UPDATE: Ha'aretz also has an article on this. Excerpt:
Dorfman said no building materials are being brought to the mount now. Shlomo Ra'anan, who heads the police force on the spot, said as soon as police see any attempt to build there, the work is stopped and the authorities are informed.

Representatives of the committee for prevention of destruction of antiquities told the MKs that "wide-scale building is continuing [at the site] without appropriate archaeological supervision."

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

SPEAKING OF THE FORWARD, Philologos has a recent essay, "A Long Linguistic Chase", on the history of the words "emery" and "emerald." It opens:
Sometimes a seemingly trivial etymological question can lead to a long linguistic chase. Such a query was recently sent to me by Raymond Henkin, who asked:

"In Uriel Weinreich's Yiddish dictionary, the Yiddish word shmergl is translated as 'emery.' A search shows the origins of 'emery' to be either Greek or Latin. How say you?"

What I say, Mr. Henkin, is that before we are done we are going to have to touch not only on Latin, and more importantly, ancient Greek, but on Sanskrit, Akkadian, biblical and post-biblical Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic, Persian and French. If you're ready, here we go.
THE Forward has a new blog, Fiddish, run by Stephen I. Weiss of Protocols fame.

UPDATE: While I'm noting Protocols spin-offs, I should mention Avraham Bronstein's Back Row of the 'Beis blog.

Evidently there are now complaints about quality control at Protocols, but I haven't been reading it enough lately to be able to comment intelligently.

Also, I've noticed that quite a few blogs in recent weeks have added PaleoJudaica to their blogrolls. Thanks much, I do appreciate every link.
THE TEMPLE OF THE HEBREW GODDESS? That's a new one to me. The Berkeley Daily Planet reports on a pagan festival:
Pagans on Parade Cavort in Downtown Berkeley

Bay Area tree-worshippers, Goddess-worshippers, gay and straight wiccans, Shinto devotees and their kindred�many of them clad in lavish costumes�gathered in Berkeley Saturday for the always colorful Pagan Pride Parade and Celebration.


Though paganism was nowhere defined in event literature, a visitor to the affair could have walked away from the festivities with the notion many adherents were polytheist peddlers.

The grassy area of Civic Center Park was encircled by a ring of booths offering crystals, dolls, drinking horns, clothing, jewelry, idols, drawings, prints, ointments, oils, incense, and palm and card readings.


The other dispensers of free things�recruiters for the Covenant of the Goddess and the Temple of the Hebrew Goddess and promoters of gay marriage, immigration rights for same-sex partners, and legalized prostitution (itself a fine old pagan tradition)�were restricted to the elevated plaza around the defunct fountain, an area that attracted few visitors.

The paganisms on offer were distinctly New Age version of ancient traditions. No animals (or humans) were offered up as sacrifices, and the closest thing to ritual scarification on view were tattoos.

There were no temple prostitutes and no orgies, though several costumed males wore the horns of satyrs and the ever-randy Pan, and the only bared female breasts appeared on modern-day replicas of ancient Minoan statues.

And the only equivalent of the All-Seeing Eye was the tripod-mounted video camera run by a red-coated gentleman from atop the tower of old city hall building.

UPDATE: Reader Greg Gershman e-mails:
I did a little Googling on "Temple of the Hebrew Goddess" and came up with the site for the parade you mentioned, which links to a detailed list of the participating organizations:

A bit of the way down the Temple of the Hebrew Goddess is described, including a link to who appears to be the leader of the group.

This brought to mind a question I had while reading The DaVinci Code (which I recall you have been critical of in the past). The main character made the claim that Solomon's Temple did in fact hold pagan
type rituals, including the temple prostitutes and such. My gut reaction is that this was not true, but I was wondering if you had any information on the subject.

Thanks for the pagan parade info, Greg. As for Solomon's Temple, yes it certainly did hold polytheistic rituals, including prostitution, at some points in its history. King Ahaz had an altar put in the Temple, which he based on a model from Damascus, although it's not clear whether he worshiped Yahweh or other gods on it (2 Kings 16:10-16). King Manasseh set up idolatrous cults in the Temple (2 Kings 21:4-9). And King Josiah cleared idols and houses of male cult-prostitution out of it at the beginning of his reign (2 Kings 23:4-7). The Deuteronomistic History treats the polytheistic stuff as an aberration, but we have very little evidence for what went on in Solomon's Temple and it's hard to tell what was original policy and what was departure from it, either in the direction of worshiping other gods or of insisting on the worship only of Yahweh. After all, Solomon himself is remembered as having a pretty liberal view of the whole matter (1 Kings 11:1-8).

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

THE ALTERNATE HISTORY OF THE LIFE OF BRIAN � the title and the movie you didn't see:
Some of us still consider it a loss, nevertheless, that the Pythons did not stick with their original title. Eric Idle came up with that one, as the others agree. Since they agree so rarely these days, they naturally cannot remember where the flash of divine inspiration happened � Idle says New York, Palin reckons Canada, Cleese says Soho, the others remember an incident in Amsterdam � but the gospel according to Python is clear on one point: after Holy Grail, they were asked what they might be doing next. �Oh,� said Idle, �our next movie is Jesus Christ � Lust For Glory.�

But lo, it never came to pass, more�s the pity. In fact, it did not take the troupe long to conclude that Jesus was the wrong target entirely. They couldn�t really fault his teachings and failed to see what was funny about them. The less relaxed followers of Jesus, on the other hand, were another matter entirely.

In the recent Python Autobiography, Jones explained it this way: �The Life Of Brian isn�t blasphemous, it�s heretical. It�s not blasphemous because it takes the Bible story as gospel; you have to believe in the Bible, you have to know and understand the Bible story to understand it for the film, really. It�s heretical because it�s making fun of the way the church interprets it. Heresy is basically taking against the church�s interpretation, not against the basic belief.�

John Cleese, equally, has pointed out that Jesus barely features in the film and is seen only while delivering, perfectly seriously, the Sermon on the Mount. �What I think [the film] does very usefully is point out that whatever the founder says, within three minutes everyone�s rewriting it in accordance with their own emotional needs and that�s an extremely good point.� Not to mention a blessing for the cheese makers.

So keen were the Pythons to avoid playing into the hands of conservative believers, they even discarded an alternative plot that has entered the apocrypha of cinema as one of the great unmade comedies. In this version, Brian was to be the 13th disciple, the one who always turned up late. As Cleese put it: �Of course, the funny thing is that if you turn up five minutes late for a miracle you might as well turn up two and a half thousand years late. So he�d missed the Last Supper because his wife had invited friends around and he was going to come on afterwards for a drink. I thought it was really funny, but that got dropped quite early on.�

UPDATE (21 May): More here.

Monday, May 17, 2004


Fabry, Heinz-Josef, G. Johannes Botterweck and Helmer Ringgren, eds.
Translated by Douglas W. Stott
Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament: Volume 12: pasah-qum
Reviewed by Christopher Nihan

Gilbert, Maurice
Les cinq livres des Sages: Les Proverbes de Salomon, Le livre de Job, Qoh�let ou l'�ccl�siaste, Le livre de ben Sira, La Sagesse de Salomon
Reviewed by Dennis Stoutenburg

Mazzinghi, Luca
No Cerato E No Esplorato: Studi Sul Qohelet
Reviewed by James E. West

Skarsaune, Oskar
In the Shadow of the Temple: Jewish Influences on Early Christianity
Reviewed by Daniel E. Goodman

Sunday, May 16, 2004

THERE'S MORE ON THE REOPENING of the Shrine of the Book on the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs website (scroll down to the third story):
Israel Museum to reopen the Shrine of the Book following major restoration

On June 7, The Israel Museum in Jerusalem will reopen the Shrine of the Book, the architectural monument which houses the Dead Sea Scrolls, considered to be among the most important archaeological treasures uncovered in the last century and perhaps the most important patrimonial treasures of the State of Israel and the Jewish people. The Shrine has undergone a complete architectural restoration and installation redesign, to provide for the optimal preservation and display of the Scrolls and other treasures.

Built in 1965, the Shrine of the Book was commissioned for the display and preservation of the Dead Sea Scrolls, dating from the third century B.C.E. to the first century C.E. Its holdings include eight of the most complete Scrolls discovered, as well as one of the most famous handwritten Bibles � the Aleppo Codex from the 10th Century C.E. Designed by Austrian-born American architect Frederick Kiesler and American architect Armand Bartos, the Shrine is considered a master work of modern architecture and is considered an international landmark.


The permanent display featuring original Scroll documents has been reorganized also to highlight the Aleppo Codex, the oldest and most complete extant Hebrew Biblical codex until the discovery of the Scrolls, thus expanding the Shrine�s presentation of the full history of the Hebrew Bible � and underscoring the Shrine�s expanded role as a center for the study of canonical Hebrew texts. A complementary display on the theme of �A Day at Qumran� � devoted to the daily life of the sect who lived in Qumran during the time that the Scrolls were written � will include newly excavated material from Qumran, displayed for the first time.

THERE'S A PRELIMINARY REPORT on the archaeological excavation at Yavneh Yam during the 1992-99 seasons, over at the Bible and Interpretation website. Yavneh Yam was the harbor for the city of Yavneh or Jamnia, a famous center of the Tannaim, mentioned often in rabbinic tradition. An important ostracon (oddly, there seems to be no image of it on the Web) was also discovered at Yavneh Yam many years ago.