Wednesday, July 07, 2004

LOTS OF CONTROVERSY recently in Israel over an Old City rabbi's suggestion that anyone ceding land from biblical Israel "is like a rodef" � one whom it is justified to pursue and kill. The fear is that this was a veiled reference to Prime Minister Sharon's plan to pull the Jewish settlements from Gaza and it has brought back disquieting memories of the Rabin assassination.
Last Update: 30/06/2004 15:46
Knesset to debate rabbi's 'rodef' remarks
By Nadav Shragai, Haaretz Correspondent, and Haaretz Service

The Knesset will hold a special debate next week in the wake of a top Jerusalem rabbi's remark that anyone who wants to cede the land of Israel is like a "rodef," who can be killed according to Jewish law, Army Radio reported Wednesday.
Earlier Wednesday, the radio reported that MKs Eitan Cabel (Labor) and Avshalom Vilan (Meretz-Yahad) asked the attorney general to open an investigation into the rabbi of the Old City of Jerusalem, Rabbi Avigdor Neventzal, who made the comments Tuesday.

"It should be known that anyone who wants to give away Israeli land is like a rodef, and certainly land should not be given to idol worshipers," Neventzal said. However, he also said it is impossible to issue a rodef ruling today.

A public storm erupted nine years ago when West Bank and Gaza Strip rabbis debated before the 1995 assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin whether he should be subjected to "din rodef" - the Jewish law of rodef, which literally means one who chases and refers to a license to kill someone who intends to kill someone else.

This is the first time that din rodef has been mentioned again by a respectable rabbi in the context of giving away Israeli lands.


There's an update today by Reuters here.

There's a commentary on Yigal Amir's use of the concept here, written by Yitzchok Adlerstein and published in 1996 in First Things, but I can't find a reference anywhere to the specific (rabbinic?) texts that refer to din rodef. Can anyone help me out?

UPDATE (9 July): More here.
THE SAMARITANS are not immune to the current troubles on the West Bank:
Palestinian Renounces Ties to Community

Associated Press Writer

July 5, 2004, 6:23 AM EDT

NABLUS, West Bank -- He grew up in a tiny tribe tracing its roots back to the Bible, but when Nader Sadakah decided to take up arms against Israeli soldiers, he was expelled by his community.

The Samaritans, just 660 strong, have been caught between warring Israelis and Palestinians, not picking sides during nearly four years of Mideast fighting. Sadakah's choice undermined their survival strategy.


Sadakah, 27, spoke about his choice at a coffee shop in Nablus' old city, a dark warren of twisting alleys that is frequently raided by Israeli forces.

Sporting a neatly trimmed short beard, Sadakah glanced around nervously as he spoke and sipped a cup of coffee. A shiny, automatic pistol protruded from his belt.

Sadakah said that since the early 1990s, he has been a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a tiny PLO faction which once had a Marxist bent. Sadakah said he has been on Israel's wanted list for the past three and a half years, a claim the Israeli military would not confirm.


But it has also apparently caused problems for the Samaritans.

Hosni Wasif, a Samaritan high priest in Nablus, said Israeli authorities had begun taking a hard line against Samaritans because of Sadakah's activities, subjecting them to new scrutiny at military checkpoints.

"By joining a left-wing faction he left our religion," Wasif said. "The entire sect sees him as an apostate."


The title of the article strikes me as odd. It would make sense to say "Samaritan Renounces Ties to Community," but why "Palestinian?" Sadakah has identified himself now with the Palestinian cause, but before that he was a Samaritan and only "Palestinian" in the sense that he lived in the region known historically as "Palestine," that is, roughly the region corresponding biblical Israel. By that definition all Israelis are "Palestinians" as well. I'm not sure whether the muddled terminology comes because the reporter thinks his audience is too ignorant to know what "Samaritan" means or whether it's an effort to co-opt the Samaritans, obviously quite against their will, into the Palestinian political identity. Both maybe.
NEW BOOK REVIEWS from the Review of Biblical Literature:

deClaisse-Walford, Nancy L.
Biblical Hebrew: An Introductory Textbook
Reviewed by Bryan Rocine

Deutsch, Robert
Biblical Period Hebrew Bullae: The Josef Chaim Kaufman Collection
Reviewed by Walter Aufrecht

Deutsch, Robert and Andr� Lemaire
The Adoniram Collection of West Semitic Inscriptions
Reviewed by Walter Aufrecht

Dever, William G. and S. Gitin, eds.
Symbiosis, Symbolism, and the Power of the Past: Canaan, Ancient Israel, and Their Neighbors from the Late Bronze Age through Roman Palestina: Proceedings of the Centennial Symposium W. F. Albright Institue of Archaeological Research and the American Schools of Oriental Research Jerusalem, May 29-31, 2000
Reviewed by Ziony Zevit

Isser, Stanley
The Sword of Goliath: David in Heroic Literature
Reviewed by Mitchel Modine

Maier, Johann
Translated by Felice Montagnini
Le Scritture prima della Bibbia
Reviewed by James E. West

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob
Just Wives?: Stories of Power & Survival in the Old Testament & Today
Reviewed by Lanoir Corinne

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob
Just Wives?: Stories of Power & Survival in the Old Testament & Today
Reviewed by Athalya Brenner

Zimmerli, Walther
Edited and Translated by K. C. Hanson
The Fiery Throne: The Prophets and Old Testament Theology
Reviewed by Mark Mcentire

Geljon, Albert C.
Philonic Exegesis in Gregory of Nyssa's De Vita Moysis
Reviewed by Lester Grabbe

Matthews, Shelly
First Converts: Rich Pagan Women and the Rhetoric of Mission in Early Judaism and Christianity
Reviewed by Bert Jan Lietaert Peerbolte

Nickelsburg, George W. E.
Ancient Judaism and Christian Origins: Diversity, Continuity, and Transformation
Reviewed by Pieter W. Van Der Horst
MORE ON THE DAMAGE TO MASADA from natural forces: NPR has an audio edition of "Rains Damage Jerusalem's Ancient Masada Fortress." Here's the description:
Archeologists in Israel warn that the ancient stone fortress of Masada is crumbling, the result of a heavy rainstorm last winter. Located high above the Dead Sea in Israel's Judean Mountains, Masada has attracted thousands of visitors since it was excavated in the 1960s. Jews have long regarded this archaeological wonder as a symbol of Jewish pride and courage. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

VIGILIAE CHRISTIANAE has a new issue out (58.2, 2004). Here's an article of interest:
NHC II,2 and the Oxyrhynchus Fragments (P.Oxy 1, 654, 655): Overlooked Evidence for a Syriac Gospel of Thomas (pp. 138-51)
Nicholas Perrin

Abstract: Whereas it is generally assumed that the Gospel of Thomas was first composed in Greek, here the author finds evidence, confirming his earlier published thesis, that the well-known Nag Hammadi text was first set down in Syriac. On comparing divergences between the Greek witness to Thomas (P.Oxy 1, 654, 655) and the fuller Coptic version (NHC II,2), it is argued that each of these differences can be readily attributed to the texts' final reliance on a common Aramaic source. In most instances, the hypothesized shared source may be inferred to be of either western Aramaic or Syriac character, but in some cases, the evidence points decisively toward Syriac-speaking provenance. Consequently, the investigation sheds light not only on the relationship between the two extant witnesses of Thomas, but on its dating as well.

Requires paid personal or institutional subscription to access.

Monday, July 05, 2004

"BLESSED ARE THE CHEESEMAKERS." I just noticed that Josephus tells us that they had their own valley in the vicinity of Jerusalem, near the recently rediscovered Pool of Siloam:
The Valley of the Cheesemakers, as the ravine was called, which, as we said, divides the hill of the upper city from that of the lower, extends down to Siloam; for so we called that fountain of sweet and abundant water.
The reference is Jewish War 5.4.1 [= 5 �140] in Thackeray's LCL translation (but the link leads to Whiston's translation, which reads "Cheesemongers").

Probably this post indicates that I'm working too hard.
THERE'S A REVIEW by R. Dean Anderson of James D. G. Dunn (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to St. Paul�(Cambridge: �Cambridge University Press, 2003) in Bryn Mawr Classical Review (via Rogue Classicism). He doesn't like it:
In sum, despite several interesting and well thought-out chapters, I cannot see where this book really has a place. It serves neither its intended audience nor can it suffice as a student's textbook.
SERVER CRASH: The server for my University e-mail account (to which the PaleoJudaica e-mail is routed) crashed over the weekend and it appears that at least some of the e-mail sent to me during the outage was lost. If you sent me anything between Friday evening (Scotland time) and Sunday morning, either to the blogger@ account or my jrd4@ account, please resend.

UPDATE: Cancel that. The missing messages are now coming in.
ABSENT VOICES: The Story of Writing Systems in the West, Rochelle Altman's long-promised book, is now published and available through Oak Knoll Press's website (follow the link). She e-mails me that it won't be available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble until the end of this month. (There is an Amazon entry for it from over a year ago, but I guess Amazon won't actually be able to ship the book for a while.) The Oak Knoll Press blurb reads:
Absent Voices is unique among books that explore one of mankind's greatest achievements: the art of writing. Writing enabled communication by the absent; yet, beneath any communication system, so conspicuous that it is concealed, lies a culture's writing system. If there be no writing system, there be no books, no libraries and no world wide web. Not just a history, Rochelle Altman's work examines the complex unity of writing systems. Absent Voices is a "must read" for all biblical, classical, and medieval scholars as well as anyone interested in the fascinating history of the Western writing system, their origins, and their components that are the basis of the giant communication systems of today.

Also, Rochelle has an article on the "James ossuary" inscription in the current issue of Jewsweek:
Ossuary was genuine,
inscription was faked

I'm an expert on ancient scripts and I'm here to report that the "James ossuary" was genuine, but the second part of its inscription is a fraud.

David Meadows at Explorator is "wondering about the date of this

UPDATE: David was right. Both Stephen Carlson and Evy Nelson inform me that the article first appeared as early as 2002. Evy supplies this link, which dates it to 3 November.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

JEWISH-TEMPLE DENIAL WATCH: The article "Palestinians Blast Israeli Bid To Block Aqsa Restoration" in Islam Online makes the following comment in passing:
Israel claims Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam's third holiest site, was built on the so-called Temple Mount , an allegation refuted by scores of historians.

This is a stock sentence that Islam Online often puts in its articles on the Temple Mount and I have commented on it before. Maybe it's just me, but when I see a blatant lie like this one in an article, it makes me think that it's pretty likely that the piece contains other lies.

Saturday, July 03, 2004

"PEELING THE LAYERS OFF THE MASADA MYTH": Dr. Tamar Landau reviews "Ani, Shalom Bat Shmuel" ("I Am Shalom Bat Shmuel") for Ha'aretz. Excerpt:
The inspiration for Myno Ben-Guigui Yeger's book is a short passage from Book 7 of the "The Jewish War," which has fired the imaginations of many. Another novel inspired by this same passage is Yoram Avi-Tamar's "Life of Joseph: An Unpublished History." The tragedy has reached a peak: The Jews on Masada have committed mass suicide and everything has gone up in flames. There seems to be no hope. But then it turns out that there are survivors: "Yet was there an ancient woman, and another who was of kin to Eleazar, and superior to most women in prudence and learning, with five children, who had concealed themselves in caverns under ground, and had carried water thither for their drink, and were hidden there when the rest were intent upon the slaughter of one another. Those others were 960 in number, the women and children being withal included in that computation. This calamitous slaughter was made on the fifteenth day of the month Xanthicus [Nisan] - The women heard this noise [of the Romans coming up the mountain] and came out of their underground cavern, and informed the Romans what had been done, as it was done; and the second of them clearly described all, both what was said and what was done, and this manner of it; yet did they not easily give their attention to such a desperate undertaking, and did not believe it could be as they said, that they went through with such an action as that was."

There is no historical proof of this incident, and no way of knowing whether Josephus was telling the truth or merely embroidering a dramatic ending for his story. One way or the other, our curiosity is piqued: Who was this woman? How did she save herself? What made her disobey Eleazar and run away instead of committing suicide? Where was she educated? What happened to her afterward?

Myno Ben-Guigui Yeger tries to answer these questions in her novel, and does it with great charm and delicacy. The heroine of this beautiful book is Shalom, the daughter of Shmuel, from the house of Eleazar. She is a young Jerusalemite from an aristocratic family, as one might guess from her learning, beauty, political awareness and knowledge of languages.

Friday, July 02, 2004

EXCITING NEWS ABOUT THE COPTIC GOSPEL OF JUDAS � Pierluigi Piovanelli (University of Ottawa) e-mails the following:
. . . I attended the Annual Meeting of the AELAC in Dole (France), together with Francois Bovon, Stanley Jones, Nicole Kelly, Stephen Shoemaker, as well as many French, Italian, and Swiss colleagues.

The AELAC meeting was, as usual, very interesting, but it was today [Thursday], during the 8th International Congress of Coptic Studies, here in Paris, that I heard of a new and exciting "apocryphal" discovery, that I would like to share with you.

Rodolphe Kasser (University of Geneva) announced that he is going to publish a Coptic papyrus codex of 31 folios (62 pages). The manuscript is written in Sahidic and can be dated, on paleographical grounds, to the 4th/5th century. It is rather damaged and in poor and fragmentary conditions. It comes from Muhazafat Al Minya, in Middle Egypt, and is presently hold by a Swiss Foundation.

The codex contains three "treatises": (1) the Epistle of Peter to Philip, (2) the First Apocalypse of James (both of them are also present among the NHC [Nag Hammadi codices] but, according to Kasser, in a "different version"), and (3) ca. 31 pages of the previously unknown Gospel of Judas!

For Kasser there are no doubts that we have here the text of the "blasphemous" work bearing the same title that Irenaeus criticized in his Refutation of All the Heresies.

Kasser's publication is (hopefully) scheduled for the end of 2005.

In the discussion, James Robinson pointed out that, some years ago, Stephen Emmel had already seen such a codex and made a brief mention of it. Could it be a new and previously unknown NHC?

In any case, this is a major discovery not only for Coptic, Gnostic or apocryphal studies, but also for ancient Judaism and early Christianity.

UPDATE: Stephen C. Carlson at Hypotyposeis comments.

UPDATE (5 July): Wieland Willker comments on the Textual Criticism list.

UPDATE (9 July): Welcome Instapundit readers. If you're interested in ancient history, critical historical study of the Bible and ancient Judaism and early Christianity, new discoveries like the Gospel of Judas, etc., please have a look at the "About" link and the "Home" (main page) link to the right. I also try to keep up in a general way with the current situation with antiquities, museums, etc. in Iraq.
WHEN SCRIPTS DIE: Science Magazine has a report on an Oxford conference that explored the reasons why ancient scripts vanished.
The Slow Deaths of Writing
Andrew Lawler

A diverse group of scholars ponders not just why scripts vanish, but why they sometimes survive so long
OXFORD, U.K.--The biblical God punished humanity for its arrogance by creating innumerable languages--nearly 7000 at latest count. Writing systems, however, escaped the curse. During the 5 millennia since writing first emerged on the same Mesopotamian plain as the legendary Tower of Babel, fewer than 100 major scripts have appeared. But once born, they can be surprisingly durable. A handful of researchers are now taking a closer look at how scripts vanish to glean insight into how and why cultures disintegrate. They have found that writing systems show an amazing tenacity, even in the face of invasions, language changes, and religious upheavals. Ironically, the more cumbersome systems often prove the hardiest. "There is so much intense emotion invested in scripts, they tend to live longer than they have any right to do," says Mayan anthropologist Stephen Houston of Brigham Young University in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Houston was part of an unusual collection of scholars who met this spring at the University of Oxford* to hash out a wide variety of script deaths and their meanings. Anthropologists and philologists presented case studies of more than a dozen scripts, including Egyptian hieroglyphics, Mayan glyphs, and Sumerian cuneiform, plus some less traditional recording systems (see sidebar, p. 32), in order to discern larger patterns in the scripts' last gasps. "Their decline is as worthy of investigation as their origin," says Oxford Egyptologist John Baines. He and his colleagues believe that the death of scripts can provide new insight into cultural collapse and the relationship between a script and its culture. But they also differ in how far to go in comparing script disappearance.

The 2-day meeting exploded some general assumptions about the way scripts live and die. Although in some cases a script and its culture slowly degraded in tandem, in other instances writing systems were decoupled from cultural crises and persisted in the face of natural or political disasters. Nor did scripts inevitably disappear when people began to speak a new language. "Scripts and language don't correlate in any simple way," notes Baines; in some instances a script kept alive a language not spoken by the general population for 1000 years. And in case after case, scripts survived in pockets long after their culture was all but dead.


The piece deals mainly with ancient cuneiform, Egyptian hieroglyphics, and the Maya language, but Aramaic, Greek, and other languages come up as well.

My favorite fun fact (or, better, fun theory) in the article is the following:
[UCL philologist David] Brown proposes that a boom in astrology --essentially a niche market for the script--kept cuneiform alive for the last few centuries of its existence. Around 200 B.C.E., he notes, there was a great flowering of astronomical texts. "This was a spinoff product of temple culture," he says, because the Babylonian temples were long famed as centers of astronomical observations. "Elite scholars made money doing astronomy," he suggests. Although the direct evidence for this is lacking, he argues that the prevalence of astrological tablets in these later years hints strongly at an economic basis for the continued existence of cuneiform guilds, or families of scholars. But 2 centuries later, Babylon's monopoly over the astronomy- astrology business weakened, Brown says, as more accessible Greek horoscopes spread through the Roman Empire. That shift, he suggests, pulled the rug out from under cuneiform's economic basis, although the system's existence may have continued for another century or two.

Never underestimate the importance of the astrology column in the newspaper.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

PHILOLOGOS picks up the thread from last week on the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (in the Forward) and concludes that the Arabic was botched but the writer had some help with the Hebrew from an anonymous rabbi. Excerpts:
The Hebrew inscriptions tell a different story. Gloria Dei is felicitously translated astif'eret ha-el and Gloria Mundi as tif'eret ha-olam. The only unusual thing is the Hebrew of the middle portal � which, as we said last week, leads to the abode of Venus, the goddess of love. Although every educated Italian in Renaissance times knew Latin, few knew Greek; yet the Hebrew over this portal, gidul ha-ahavah, is translated not from the Latin Materamoris but from the Greek Erototrophos. Moreover, the translation itself is inexact, since gidul ha-ahavah means "the nourishment [or cultivation] of love," not "the nourisher of love." How are we to account for this?


And yet, Colonna's Hebrew helper, who could have chosen between em ha-ahavah, "the mother of love," and megadelet ha-ahavah, "the nourisher of love," opted for a third, less literal alternative. There only could be one reason for this: the fact that he was a rabbi! In other words, while as an Italian Jew he was a man of the Renaissance, too, and had no objection to assisting a Christian in publishing a book containing nude and erotic illustrations, he drew the line at polytheism. If Colonna wanted to invoke the ancient Greek and Roman gods as part of his allegory of love's progress, that was his affair, but our rabbi was not about to desecrate the Holy Tongue by following suit. Possibly without even telling the author what he was doing, he therefore substituted "the nourishment of love" for "the nourisher of love" and kept the Hebrew free of pagan allusions.

HERE'S AN IRAQI JEWISH ARCHIVE UPDATE from the Forward (requires free registration to access):
Fate of Rare Document Trove Remains
Unclear as Iraq Regime Takes Charge

July 2, 2004

With political authority in Iraq now formally turned over to a fledgling local government, the fate of a cache of rare and historic Jewish documents rescued by American soldiers from destruction in Baghdad remains up in the air.

"The final disposition is to be determined," said Doris Hamburg, director of preservation programs at the U.S. National Archives & Records Administration in College Park, Md.

Hamburg reported last week on the status of the treasure trove of communal records and Jewish holy books at a panel at the 39th annual convention of the Association of Jewish Libraries held at the Marriott hotel in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Included in the collection are parts of a Bible printed in Venice in 1568, pieces of a damaged Torah scroll and rare books on rabbinic law. A 1,400-year-old Talmud, thought to be one of the oldest in the world and believed to have been part of the cache, is missing.

Hamburg told the Forward that the ultimate significance and value of the documents � rescued last year from the flooded basement of Saddam Hussein's secret police headquarters � can be determined only after a thorough analysis by scholars.

To perform this, the National Archives is looking to find between

$1.5 million and $3 million in private donations, she said.

"There are still a lot of things we don't know" about the documents, she said. The trove represents the legacy of Iraq's storied Jewish community, which dates to 586 BCE.

The question of whether the trove will be declared Jewish patrimony or will be claimed by an independent Iraq has discouraged potential donors from coming forward, sources close to the project said.

"Until a decision is made on where it's going to go, it's unlikely American Jewish philanthropists are going to give money," said one project source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.


The article is mostly a rehashing of the previously reported story, but it does contain some new details. As I've said before (see first link, above), I'm skeptical about there ever having been a seventh-century Talmud in the collection.