Saturday, May 29, 2004

IMAGES GALORE! In his latest TyndaleTech Email, David Instone-Brewer provides many links from all over the Web to Images for Powerpoint Lectures and Sermons on biblical and related subjects. I don't do Powerpoint or sermons myself, but I suspect I'll find other uses for some of these images.
KABBALAH "EXPERT" INTERVIEW: Rabbi Yehuda Berg, associate director for communications of The Kabbalah Centres, interacts with readers of USA Today. A few thoughts on this.

1. Rabbi Berg's ideas are pretty much unobjectionable in themselves � they mostly consist of moral platitudes that most people would agree with � and I imagine following his principles does some people a lot of good. Still, his New Age Kabbalah has almost nothing to do with traditional Kabbalah.

2. This doesn't bother me quite as much as you might expect. Massive revision of an ancient tradition is nothing new. Moses de Leon radically reinterpreted rabbinic Judaism when he wrote the Zohar � although he did keep it Jewish and halakhic � and he came up with something of lasting interest and value. The Apostle Paul may be a better historical analogy: he went further and dispensed with both Jewish ethnic identity and halakhah in his � soon very successful � new religion. I rather doubt that New Age Kabbalah will have the staying power of either Paul or Moses de Leon, but we'll see. Rabbi Berg is also clearly trying to make money from his Kabbalah, but, then, so was Moses de Leon.

3. Rabbi Berg makes some preposterous historical claims: Kabbalah was written by Abraham 4000 years ago; Plato, Jesus, and Muhammad were Kabbalists. Again, one can point out that Moses de Leon did the same: he had Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai and other Tannaitic rabbis teaching Medieval Platonistic ideas in Medieval Aramaic. But the world has moved on since then and I would like to think that we expect religious teachers these days to be responsible in the history they teach. Maybe that's being naive. But for me, if someone gets it wrong in areas I know about, I'm not going to trust them to tell me about things I don't know about, let alone about cosmic truth.

4. The thing that really does bother me about the new Kabbalah � something that is a major departure from the tradition � is its superficiality. Moses de Leon was tremendously learned and he produced a mystical canon that has exercised some of the most brilliant Jewish (and other) minds for many centuries. The superficial New Age platitudes of the new Kabbalah, harmless and perhaps even helpful in themselves, stand in tremendous contrast to the learned complexity of traditional Kabbalah. Although the idea of Kabbalah for the masses is appealing in principle, it really should have something to do with the teachings you actually find in traditional Kabbalah.

5. I think it is very misleading for USA Today to present this piece as an interview with a "Kabbalah expert." Rabbi Berg is doing his own thing, which is fine, but people who don't know better, and most people don't, are going to take his comments to be representing traditional Kabbalah, and they most certainly do not. Why couldn't USA Today have gotten, say, Daniel Matt, who is a high-profile scholar who really is an expert on Kabbalah? Sigh.

If you want to learn about traditional Kabbalah, here are some bibliographical resources:

Joseph Dan, Ronald C. Kiener, Moshe Idel, The Early Kabbalah (New York: Paulist, 1986). Excerpts from pre-Zoharic Kabbalistic texts, along with a useful, user-friendly introduction.

Daniel Chanan Matt, Zohar: The Book of Enlightenment (Ramsey, N.J.: Paulist, 1983). Excerpts and introduction, both by Matt himself.

Gershom G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (3rd ed.; New York: Schocken, 1954). Now out of date, but still very useful and reasonably user-friendly.

There are also, of course, the first two volumes of Matt's Zohar translation and commentary, but these are more oriented toward specialists.

For pre-Kabbalistic Jewish mysticism (Merkavah Mysticism or Hekhalot Literature) see:

Peter Sch�fer, The Hidden and Manifest God: Some Major Themes in Jewish Mysticism (Albany, N. Y.: SUNY, 1992). Excellent introduction, accessible to nonspecialists, but not available on Amazon, so I take it to be out of print.

Also (shameless self-promotion alert):

James R. Davila, Descenders to the Chariot: The People Behind the Hekhalot Literature (Leiden: Brill, 2001). A scholarly monograph presenting a particular interpretation of the Hekhalot literature, but should also be helpful as an introduction and overview for serious nonspecialists. Very expensive (sorry).

Friday, May 28, 2004

MASADA, THE MUSICAL, has delayed its run in Chicago (and thence to Broadway) until 2005:
Masada Delays Chicago Tryout; Aims for Spring 2005 Broadway Bow (Playbill News)

By Andrew Gans
26 May 2004

Masada, the musical based on the legend of Masada, has delayed its out-of-town tryout at Chicago's Ford Center for the Performing Arts.

A spokesperson for the musical confirmed to Playbill On-Line that the new musical, originally scheduled to begin performances at the Chicago theatre Sept. 19, will now play a limited engagement there Feb. 20-March 27, 2005. A casting notice had indicated that the musical would arrive on The Great White Way in December 2004; Masada is now aiming for a spring 2005 Broadway bow.

MORE ON THE JEWISH MANUSCRIPTS FROM IRAQ, now frozen and awaiting restoration:
Jewish Artifacts Remain in Limbo in Iraq (Yahoo! News via Archaeology Magazine News)

Thu May 27, 1:55 PM ET

By CARL HARTMAN, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON - A damaged Torah, a centuries-old Bible and other rare documents important to Iraq (news - web sites)'s few remaining Jews were rescued from a flooded cellar in Baghdad, only to remain in limbo here.


The materials are in moderate to poor condition � they remained wet for several weeks after being salvaged, which allowed mold to grow, and some records became detached from their bindings and were lost, according to the Iraqi Jewish Archive Preservation Report. The study was prepared for the Coalition Provisional Authority, which is overseeing Iraq until a June 30 transfer of some sovereignty to the Iraqis.


When it was found over a year ago, the collection first had to be taken from three feet of mucky water � a U.S. bomb had wrecked the plumbing of the police building.

A salvage crew heaped the documents in piles, loaded them into sacks and took them to a nearby courtyard, where they were partly dried. Later they were packed into 27 metal trunks and stored in a refrigerated truck to halt the mold.

They were then shipped to Texas, where they were freeze-dried to stop the remaining moisture from causing further damage. They are now at a National Archives laboratory.

Among the items are a Bible printed in Venice in 1568, rare books on Jewish law, pamphlets and parchment scrolls, including sections of a damaged Torah.

Doris Hamburg, in charge of conservation at the National Archives, said a 1,400-year-old Talmud, thought to have been in police hands, is still missing.


I'm skeptical about this seventh century Talmud, which would come from very close to the time of its final editing, and thus would be extremely important. It would also be hard to miss: the Babylonian Talmud consists of many large volumes; it's not something you could carry around in your backpack. I hope this early copy really is out there somewhere, but I'll believe it when I see it.

UPDATE: I should have linked to this earlier post too, which links to the detailed "Iraqi Jewish Archive Preservation Report."
MORE ON THE PITTSBURG EXHIBITION of the Dead Sea Scrolls etc.:
Fragments of Dead Sea Scrolls on view at ExpoMart

By Mary Frances Stotler
Friday, May 28, 2004

Documents written 5,000 years ago sit a mere arms-length away. Peruse a copy of temple-era biblical scrolls or skim through a page of the Guttenburg Bible.

"The Dead Sea Scrolls to the Bible in America," opening today and running through June 20 at the Pittsburgh ExpoMart, provides Pittsburgh residents the opportunity to experience rare Bibles and other religious documents in an intimate way.

"The Dead Sea Scroll portion is just one chapter in a very long history," says Lee Biondi, a dealer in rare books and manuscripts, and co-curator of the exhibit.

Pittsburgh marks the fifth stop on the Dead Sea Scrolls nationwide tour, with Cornerstone Television sponsoring the Pittsburgh visit. Indianapolis is the next major city on the circuit, but the length and schedule of the entire tour is yet to be determined. All of the traveling artifacts are from private collectors -- the majority are from the personal collection of co-curator Dr. Craig Lampe, Ph.D.

Also, here's something interesting I hadn't noticed before:
Another rare fragment showcased at the exhibit is a letter from Paul to the Colossians. This third-century document is the earliest surviving account of Paul's writing -- his work from the first century has since been destroyed. The Coptic tongue this version of Colossians is written in makes it unique. Coptic, the Egyptian language his book was penned in, indicates the vast expansion of the early Christian Church.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

ANDERS BELL is dissing the Harvard doctoral gown at the instigation of Ryan's Lair and Brad DeLong. But commenter Bill Poser is spot-on: the problem is not the color per se, it's the material. Besides being uncomfortable, the polyester doesn't dye well and I suspect that's why the noble Harvard crimson comes out icky pink. The older, actually crimson, gowns are cool. When I graduated, I couldn't bring myself to buy a pink polyester one for I-forget-how-many hundreds of dollars. The only academic gown I own is a black one, which we found here in a local charity shop.

Note to Harvard: I love you, but please get rid of the polyester. Even if a gown made of good-quality material costs more, more of us would buy one.

UPDATE (28 May): Anders writes:
NOTE: Jim over at Paleojudaica has accused me of "dissing" the Harvard gown - I prefer to think that I was merely drawing attention to it.

Well, drawing attention to something under the rubric "blatant absurdity" isn't all that neutral. But don't worry, I wasn't offended: I don't like it either.

See the same link ("scholarly threads continued" - good one!) for more on academic regalia.
THE PHILO OF ALEXANDRIA BLOG has had a spiffy makeover. Go and have a look.
Chaldean center boasts of rich culture and history

$23 million site opens in Dec. in West Bloomfield

By Jennifer Chambers / The Detroit News

WEST BLOOMFIELD � Adhid Yousif Miri studies the entrance of the new Chaldean Community Cultural Center and sees his ancient homeland of Iraq.


The focus of the community center will be its art gallery, museum and cultural center and a banquet hall that seats 750.

Association officials are collecting pieces of Chaldean art by working with scholars and historians from around the world and members of the Chaldean community who may have pieces packed away in their homes. Part of the center�s mission is to acquire, exhibit and serve as a permanent home for the artwork.

Museum organizers hope to reproduce part of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and craft a time line of the entire 5,000-year history of the Chaldean people.

Rosemary Antone, chairwoman of the center, is actively negotiating with the Berlin Museum, the Louvre in Paris, the Detroit Institute of Arts and Cranbrook to acquire artifacts or copies of artifacts for the center.


The lower level of the building will contain a gymnasium, where youngsters and adults can play basketball or soccer and swim in an outdoor pool, and classrooms where people can learn to read, write and speak Aramaic, the oldest continuously spoken language in the world.

�With what�s going on in Iraq, it is a language that may become extinct,� Manna said. �We are trying to do everything to preserve it. We have a lot of people who are here now who still speak it.�

Taking a stroll through history at Jordan's Umm Qays ruins
Ancient site was one of the 10 cities of the Roman 'Decapolis'

By Peter Speetjens
Special to The Daily Star [Lebanon]
Thursday, May 27, 2004

UMM QAYS, Jordan: "For passers by I say, as you are now, I was, and as I am now you will be. Life is mortal, so enjoy it."

Thus reads a text carved in a black block of basalt on display in the museum of Umm Qays. The text is attributed to Herod the Great, history's notorious killer of firstborns and an indulgent lover of parties and banquets, who is generally known for his cruelty rather than words of wisdom.

Located in Jordan's mountainous northwest, Umm Qays is the modern day name of ancient Gadara, one of the 10 cities of the Roman "Decapolis" situated on the Hauran Plateau between Syria and Jordan. Only a day-trip away from Amman, Gadara boasts a rich Roman and Christian history, as well as a profound natural beauty, including a spectacular view of the Golan Heights and Sea of Galilee.


But, as old Gods are replaced by new ones, in the 3rd century AD Gadara became a major Christian pilgrim destination, as according to Matthew and the New Testament, it was where Jesus had cast out the devil of two madmen into a herd of pigs. The two men were saved. The animals however, did not have a clue what got into them and plunged into the river.

As in nearby Bethany, Jordan, where Jesus is said to have been baptized by John, and in Mount Nebo, where Moses was buried, a complex of three churches and a number of religious buildings was erected in Gadara to deal with the streams of Christians who wanted to follow in Jesus' footsteps and be purified.

THE TETRADRACHM OF AETNA � on display in the Israel Museum:
One-of-a-kind coin makes its debut in Jerusalem (Ha'aretz)
By Amiram Barkat
Valued at $3 million, the Tetradrachm of Aetna makes first public appearance at the Israel Museum

It goes by the name of the Tetradrachm of Aetna; numismatists consider it to be the most valuable ancient coin in the world; and from today, it is on display to the general public for the first time in its history - at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. For the purpose of the exhibition, an insurance company has placed a value of $3 million on the coin.


The principal reason for the Tetradrachm's value is its rarity; it is the only one of a series to be found till now. In addition, the coin is very well preserved, and the quality of its minting and the level of the artwork it depicts is most impressive. A layman can easily identify the smallest details, including the folds of Zeus' robe or the panther skin that covers his throne.


The Tetradrachm of Aetna, however, is not for sale, and the reason for this lies in the coin's Jewish chapter from the past. In the 19th century, the coin found its way into the hands of one of Catania's wealthiest residents, who then sold it to the Castellani brothers, prominent antique dealers from Rome. In 1882, the Castellani brothers sold the coin to a Jewish antique collector, Lucian de Hirsch, for a record sum of 8,000 Belgian francs - some $50,000 in today's terms.


Lucian de Hirsch died of pneumonia at the age of 30, shortly after purchasing the Tetradrachm of Aetna; and his mother decided to bequeath his coin collection to the state, in return for the naming of a collection room at the Royal Library of Belgium after her son.

Since then, the Tetradrachm of Aetna has been featured in various catalogs and research papers, but has never before gone on public display.


Wednesday, May 26, 2004

AFRICA AND THE BIBLE is a new book by Edwin Yamauchi. Christianity Today interviews him in a somewhat inaccurately titled article: "Sudan's Biblical History". Excerpt:
What was the relationship between King Solomon and Africa?

The contacts with Solomon and Africa as far as the biblical texts are concerned are somewhat tenuous. The only possible site in Africa that Solomon may have traded with is Ophir. But the location of Ophir, which is a definite source of gold, can be placed either in East Africa or Western Arabia. Most of the connections with Solomon were made in the post-biblical period, particularly with the legendary development of the Queen of Sheba story and with the idea of Solomon's mines in Zimbabwe.

The legend of the Queen of Sheba goes far beyond the biblical visit to Solomon, and it even extends to Rastafarianism.

Sheba is the same as Saba, which is the area in southwestern Arabia, Yemen today. That's the source of myrrh and frankincense, and the queen brought the incense on camels on a perilous journey north.

The later tradition developed with the country of Ethiopia. Originally the name Ethiopia in Greek meant "sunburned face," that is anyone who is dark-skinned, particularly those south of Egypt but also even in India. The name of the modern country did not acquire the name Ethiopia until the 20th century. It had been called Abyssinia. But this misleads people, including the Ethiopians themselves to connect references to Ethiopia in the Septuagint and in the New Testament to their country.

In the middle ages, to support a particular dynasty that seemed to have decended from Solomon, the Kebra Negast, the national epic, was created. Ostensibly, it's the first to be a translation into Ge'ez the ancient Ethiopic language.

David Hubbard, the late president of Fuller Seminary, who did a wonderful dissertation on this, which was never published, does not think that the story is correct. But that story said the Queen of Sheba came from Ethiopia, modern Ethiopia, and she then had a son Menelik. Menelik then stole the Ark of the Covenant, which the Ethiopian Christians claim is still in their cathedral in the Church of Mary Zion in Aksum.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

THE BRITISH ASSOCIATION FOR JEWISH STUDIES is having its annual conference this year in Oxford on 12-14 July. The subject is Midrash. Wish I could go.
HAPPY SHAVUOT (Festival of Weeks, Pentecost), which begins at sundown today. The biblical rules for Shavuot are given in Exodus 23:14, 16; Leviticus 23:15-21; and Deuteronomy 16:9-12. In the New Testament it figures in the "tongues of fire" giving-of-the-Holy-Spirit episode in Acts 2:1-41 and is also mentioned in passing in Acts 20:16 and 1 Corinthians 16:8. It is mentioned in the Apocrypha in Tobit 2:1 and 2 Maccabees 12:31-32.

UPDATE (26 May): Arne Halbakken e-mails:
In your weblog for Shavuot, you mention "... 'tongues of fire'...." in Acts 2:3.

You might want to note the word hWSEI is used here.

BDAG calls this a "...marker denoting comparison, as, like (something) like, lit. 'as if'...."

"Tongues of fire" is not a good translation. RSV is better, "tongues as of fire".

Yes, I know. I was just in a rush and feeling lazy. They aren't presented as actual tongues of fire but something that, evidently, looked like tongues of fire. Of course, given the context, that would be pretty clear anyhow.
MORE ON THE MASADA SYNAGOGUE: According to the Australian, the ancient synagogue on Masada is being renovated.
The foreign-donated [Torah] scroll was placed in a room of the partially renovated synagogue on the edge of the site which the Romans attacked from a sloping ramp in 73 AD

The Romans captured the fortress only after its 900 defenders committed mass suicide and Masada is now a major site of pilgrimage for Jews around the world.

The religious emergency volunteer organisation Zaka, which organised the event, explained an active synagogue on the site was needed for the thousands of Jewish visitors who until now needed to bring a scroll to pray.

This article makes it sound as though the ruin of the synagogue is being rebuilt for modern use, but it doesn't say by whom or how. This worries me: the ruin is itself an archaeological and historical treasure. Any new buildings on the site should not interfere with the architechture already there. I'd like to know more about this.

UPDATE (30 May): More here.

Dahm, Ulrike
Opferkult und Priestertum in Alt-Israel: Ein kultur- und
religionswissenschaftlicher Beitrag

Reviewed by Christophe Nihan

Das, A. Andrew and Frank J. Matera, eds.
The Forgotten God: Perspectives in Biblical Theology: Essays in Honor of
Paul J. Achtemeier on the Occasion of His Seventy-Fifth Birthday

Reviewed by Sean P. Kealy

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 Marvin A. Sweeney

Greenspahn, Frederick E.
An Introduction to Aramaic: Second Edition
Reviewed by Max Rogland

Gunn, David M. and Paula M. McNutt, eds.
Imagining Biblical Worlds: Studies in Spatial, Social and Historical
Constructs in Honor of James W. Flanagan

Reviewed by Tom Craig

Kim, Hyun Chul Paul
Ambiguity, Tension, and Multiplicity in Deutero-Isaiah
Reviewed by Mitchel Modine

Lipschits, Oded and Joseph Blenkinsopp, eds.
Judah and the Judeans in the Neo-Babylonian Period
Reviewed by John Kessler

Newsom, Carol A.
The Book of Job: A Contest of Moral Imaginations
Reviewed by Michael S. Moore

Whealey, Alice
Josephus on Jesus: The Testimonium Flavianum Controversy from Late
Antiquity to Modern Times

Reviewed by Dennis C. Stoutenburg

Guggenheimer, Heinrich W.,ed.
The Jerusalem Talmud: First Order: Zeraim. Tractates Terumot and Ma'serot
Reviewed by David Instone-Brewer

King, Karen L.
What is Gnosticism?
Reviewed by Marvin Meyer

Monday, May 24, 2004

WHEW! I've just spent the last week reading about 700 lines of late-antique biblical epic poetry in Latin. Most of the 4th-6th-century Latin epic poetry on Old Testament subjects has never been translated into English and I have found some wonderful things for The Book, which I will make public in my paper "Did Christians Write Old Testament Pseudepigrapha that Appear to be Jewish?", scheduled to be presented in at the International SBL meeting in Groningen in July. As usual, I intend to post the oral version of the paper on PaleoJudaica before I leave for the conference.

I've also just finished Neal Stephenson's new novel, The Confusion, which I heartily recommend. It's the second volume of his Baroque Cycle trilogy, set during the lifetime of Isaac Newton and dealing with Newton, his real and imagined friends, enemies, and other contemporaries, along with pretty much everything else imaginable during the time-frame and on this particular planet.

No, it doesn't have very much to do with ancient Judaism, although alchemy and cabalism do play a fairly prominent part in The Confusion (and Newton really was interested in both). Plus, I'm pretty such one of the characters (and if you read either volume, especially if you've already read Stephenson's book Cryptonomicon, it will become obvious whom I mean) is either the patriarch Enoch returned from heaven on a long-term mission, or else the Wandering Jew.

UPDATE (25 May): Not surprisingly, I am not the first one to make the Enoch connection. Warning: this link contains spoilers and speculation. Lots of both. But if you've read the books, the site (Quicksilver Metaweb) is extremely interesting.
Torah Donated to Synagogue on Top of Masada (Arutz Sheva)
11:30 May 24, '04 / 4 Sivan 5764

( At the crack of dawn yesterday, a new Torah scroll was brought to the ancient synagogue located at the top of Masada, the mountain-top fortress used by Jewish freedom fighters and their families fleeing the besieging Roman armies.


I'm confused here: when I visited Masada in the mid-80s, the ancient synagogue was just a ruin. Has it been rebuilt?

By the way, can anyone tell me why Arutz Sheva consistently gives my Internet Explorer 5.2 a screen freeze?
They're Called to Smote Typos From the Good Book

The word they're looking for is "smite." "Smote" is the past tense form. Samson sought to smite the Philistines. Samson smote the Philistines.

Perhaps the L .A. Times should hire some of the Peachtree proofreaders.
Call for Papers:
Dispute in Rabbinic Literature: Its Limits, Logic, and Hermeneutic Status

The Institute for the Study of Rabbinic Thought at Robert M. Beren College, Beit Morasha of Jerusalem, invites scholars to submit proposals for papers for the Institute's Seventh Annual Conference, to take place during Hannukah, 5765 (2004), in Jerusalem.

This conference follows last year's conference discussion on the topic of "Religious Polemics as a Shaping Factor in Rabbinic Thought," which examined the importance of polemics in the perception of rabbinic thought in research, and the hermeneutic function of polemics in the academic construction of rabbinic thought. One of the issues raised in discussions was the relationship between internal and external polemics. This touches on the question of the boundaries between polemic and controversy (machloket), between legitimate disagreement and illegitimate religious differences. We wish to pursue various aspects of this issue, not handled in last year's conference, in the forthcoming conference, by focusing on the phenomenon of dispute in rabbinic literature. Controversy is phenomenologically close to polemics, but is an internal phenomenon of tradition. Controversy is a hallmark of rabbinic literature, and understanding the logic of this literature entails constant involvement with machloket. We therefore wish to raise a wide range of questions regarding the phenomenon of dispute, and dedicate the coming conference to them.

One aspect we wish to specially emphasize is the attempt to understand rabbinic logic through analyzing machlokot. The works of Marmorstein and Heschel make significant use of controversy as an interpretive tool for the understanding of rabbinic thought. We suggest the following foci for discussion:

* Definition of controversy, including its social, public, institutional and
intellectual (study) dimensions
* Evaluating controversy and dispute as intellectual and social phenomena
* Definition of the limits of dispute and distinguishing legitimate from illegitimate disagreement
* Justification of controversy as a phenomenon in the development of Oral Torah
* Using controversy as a tool for understanding rabbinic thought
* Literary and rhetorical representations of dispute
* Controversy in Halakha and Aggada
* The relationship between rabbinic dispute and related phenomena in adjunct literatures

Please send an abstract of up to two pages to Dr. Alon Goshen-Gottstein, at, by June 30, 2004. Only proposals approaching the study of the thought of the sages of the Mishna, Talmud and Midrash in a systematic manner will be considered. The study of extra-talmudic literature will be considered only inasmuch as it sheds light on issues pertaining to the thought patterns of the rabbinic authors.

Emailed by Opher Kutner.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Local museum boasts rare finds

Sunday, May 23, 2004
By Ann Rodgers, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Buried in the basement of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in Highland Park is a small archaeological treasure: The James L. Kelso Bible Lands Museum.

It is more staid than the upcoming touring exhibit on the Dead Sea Scrolls, but appeals to the same interests with rare finds of its own. In addition to pottery, jewelry and other items unearthed in the Holy Land, it features newly digitized films of early 20th-century digs. And it's free.

"This institution has not only taught archaeology, but it has been doing archaeology since the 1920s," said Ronald Tappy, professor of Bible and archaeology and director of the museum. Pittsburgh Theological Seminary stands alongside Harvard and the University of Chicago as schools that changed archaeology from the hobby of treasure seekers to a meticulous science.


Some delicate pieces have survived, including a wooden comb from Qumran, the site in Israel near the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947. There's an exhibit on the excavations, including a large model of the complex where most scholars believe the scrolls were created.

Although alternate theories have been proposed, the consensus is that Qumran was home to a religious community that copied the scrolls and hid them in anticipation of a Roman attack, Tappy said.

"This was a monastic desert community of Essenes who broke with mainstream Judaism," he said. "There is a scriptorium there where they have even found inkwells that were used."

If I may nitpick a little, whether it was a monastic community or a sectarian retreat center or something else is still debated. I'm a little uncomfortable with the term "monastic" here, since it brings to mind much later Christian communities and can color our reading of what was at Qumran in ways that might lead to confusion. And it's been argued by archaeologists in recent years that the room in question could not have been a scriptorium.

The museum also has lots of important data for the history of archaeology:
One of the museum's rarest finds came from its own storeroom. Many years ago the widow of James Kelso, the staff archaeologist for whom the museum is named, brought a collection of 16mm movies to the seminary. A former curator determined that the films were too fragile to project, so they were put into storage.

Then Bowden was reading Kelso's diary from 1930, and he mentioned that he must stop writing to take "moving pictures." Bowden immediately remembered the films and vowed to find out what was on them. Pittsburgh Filmmakers made a digital master at no charge.

Now visitors can watch Kelso and early archaeological luminaries on digs going back to the 1920s. Kelso was fascinated with the life of local Arabs and filmed workers drawing water from wells and farmers loading huge stacks of wheat onto a camel.

The earliest films are from Tell Beit Mirsim in the hill country southwest of Jerusalem, where seminary archaeologist M.G. Kyle was the chief administrator of an excavation conducted by the legendary William F. Albright. Still photos of that dig, begun in 1926, are displayed among those of other representative sites that seminary archaeologists have worked.

Photos from the 1950s show New Testament Jericho, which is not the Jericho where the Bible describes the walls falling. It was the home of Herodian kings, and Kelso directed the excavation of the Roman-style palace of Herod the Great.

In the 1960s, work began at Bab edh-Dhra', a town and cemetery near the Dead Sea in Jordan, last occupied in 2300 B.C. Kyle first surveyed it in 1924 as the possible site of Sodom.

And Professor Tappy (who, incidentally, was a graduate student at Harvard in the '80s at the same time I was studying there) has his own excavation in Israel:
Tappy, who joined the faculty in 1997, has been excavating at Zeitah, a mound of ruins in a valley between the biblical sites of Lachish and Gath. He maintains a Web site on the dig at

He chose Zeitah because he wanted to explore a tiny village from antiquity. But in the sort of surprise that characterizes archaeology, Tappy found that it had been a large town that was occupied from at least 2000 B.C. until the Israeli war of independence in 1948.

He thinks it might be the biblical city of Libnah, mentioned in the Book of Joshua, or Ziklag, where David governed before he was king. Tappy's was one of the last excavations to remain in Israel as political tensions heightened in 2001. A few days after he returned home, the terrorists struck on Sept. 11, 2001. But he is optimistic about the future. He will return to Zeitah June 5 with a team of 20 professionals and 35 volunteers.

It's good that the Scrolls exhibition is generating some well-deserved publicity for the museum.

Dead Sea Scrolls 'fragments' on exhibit

Don't ask me why "fragments" is in scare quotes.
Tour includes other ancient biblical texts drawn from private collections

Sunday, May 23, 2004
By Ann Rodgers, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A remarkable array of ancient and antique biblical texts, including four fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls, will be on exhibit at the Monroeville ExpoMart from Friday through June 20.


And it's generating more controversy:
Ronald Tappy, professor of Bible and archaeology at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, was disturbed that a Web site belonging to one of the show's chief sponsors sells panels cut from 400-year-old Torah scrolls.

Joel Lampe, the co-curator who operates the rare Bible dealership at, said the scrolls were badly damaged in a fire more than a century ago and are beyond restoration.

"We are the largest restorers of biblical materials in the world," he said of his family's business at the The Bible Museum in Goodyear, Ariz. They create whole Bibles from damaged rare texts and sell only pages and panels left over from the restoration process, he said.

Tappy, who has a similar Torah scroll at his Bible Lands Museum, compared it to smashing an ancient jug missing its handles and selling the shards. "There is something unseemly about selling it, even if it is just a fragment," he said.

But those academic debates will probably mean little to most people who tour the exhibit. The highlight will be what Biondi says are the only four biblical fragments from the Dead Sea Scrolls in the United States.

The scrolls, which most scholars believe were copied by a Jewish sect between about 100 B.C. and 68 A.D., were discovered in caves by Bedouin shepherds in 1947. There are scholarly debates about why they were stored in the cave and about the beliefs of those who stored them. But to the show's curators they are primarily a testimony to reliability of the Hebrew text as it was transmitted over the ages.

There's an update on the lawsuit in Akron, Ohio, too:
The show has had a somewhat troubled history of its own.

It toured several southern and midwestern cities as "From the Dead Sea Scrolls to the Forbidden Book." Then a collector who was a partner in the exhibit, William Noah, of Murfreesboro, Tenn., sued two other collector-partners, Biondi and Bruce Ferrini, of Bath, Ohio, over financing. The suit forced the exhibit into involuntary bankruptcy, and a trustee was appointed to sort through the competing claims.

Biondi said he was no longer involved in the suit and that Noah and Ferrini were not involved in the reconstituted exhibit. The trustee, lawyer Kathryn Belfance, of Akron, Ohio, was unaware of the Monroeville exhibit until a reporter called. She said she could not be sure whether it violated any court injunction.

"I don't know what assets they are using," she said. Unpaid bills remain from a March exhibit in Akron, which drew 2,000 visitors daily and had a gift shop that made "tons of money," she said.


There are also photos of a scroll fragment under regular light, when the writing is unreadable, and under infrared light, which makes the letters clearly visible.