Saturday, July 31, 2004

THE MOSES OF HISTORY AND MYTH is the subject of an essay by Professor Brian Britt on the Bible and Interpretation website:
The Moses Myth, Beyond Biblical History

�Research on the myth of Moses may not resolve anxieties about whether Moses existed, but it does suggest that across centuries and continents, Moses has retained strong links to written tradition and polemics about group identity.

The piece is effectively a long blurb for his forthcoming book, Rewriting Moses: The Narrative Eclipse of the Text (Continuum/ T &T Clark International), which sounds quite interesting. Excerpts from the essay:
But while the divide between minimalists and maximalists threatens gridlock, an entirely different approach to Moses has begun to flourish. The subject of these studies is the myth of Moses: legends, retellings, and elaborations of the biblical figure. In hagiography, midrash, sermons, popular novels and films, the mythic Moses neither accepts nor rejects the historicity of the biblical text. Instead, the strands of this myth have proliferated by adapting the biblical Moses to many purposes, from Jewish, Hellenistic, and Muslim identity to liberation from slavery and oppression.


Debates on the historical Moses will continue, but in the absence of startling new interpretations of the evidence, this work will likely reach a standstill. Research on the myth of Moses may not resolve anxieties about whether Moses existed, but it does suggest that across centuries and continents, Moses has retained strong links to written tradition and polemics about group identity. Sorting this evidence in light of biblical scholarship promises to yield insights into complexities of myth, memory, and biblical tradition.

Reception history is where it's at.
CONFERENCE REPORT: I am very grateful to Jacques van Ruiten and his lovely family for inviting me and my family to stay at their home in Haren during the International SBL/IOQS conferences. (We all met last year at the Venice Enoch Seminar and our sons became good friends.) Jacques also very kindly gave me access to the Groningen libraries so that I could photocopy about 300 pages of articles I needed.

I saw and heard much too much to comment on here. What follows are a few brief observations on whatever happened to stick in my mind. Apologies to all the presentations to which I wasn't able to go or which I can't find the energy to describe.

Florentino Garc�a Mart�nez gave an excellent opening IOQS lecture on "The Study of the Texts from Qumran: A Groningen Perspective." His University of Groningen colleague Ed Noort introduced him, noting that that he had planned to say something about Florentino's publications, but when he got the 25-page list, he decided not to go into detail. He also pointed to Florentino's impressive Google profile.

A good bit of my time went into attending the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha sessions, which Pierluigi Piovanelli now adminsters and which he expanded into four sessions this year. I presented a paper in one session and chaired another and heard at least some of the papers in all four.

Pierluigi Piovanelli, University of Ottawa
"Why Peter? The Authoritative Role of Peter in the Monophysite Collections of the Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles"

I went to many papers in various different sessions and I don't have the time or energy to comment on them all. But I will note the following specific papers which had to do with newly discovered texts or new editions and information about texts we already had.

Dan Levene, University of Southampton
"'Just as the fire did not touch them so too may the demons not afflict ...'" This was a paper in one of the Magic sections which presented a new Aramaic incantation bowl that dealt with the story of Daniel's three friends in the fiery furnace.

Gideon Bohak, Tel-Aviv University
"Cracking the Code in Genizah Magical Texts." This paper, from the same Magic section, presented an unpublished text written in Hebrew in a substitution cipher. In it a woman invoked the angels to reveal to her (presumably in a dream) where a stash of gold coins were buried in her house.

Tobias Nicklas, University of Regensburg
"The Death of Peter." Tobias has just published a new edition of the Apocalypse of Peter. (Unfortunately, I can't remember the publisher, but if someone can send me the publication information, I'll post it. [Now see update below.]) His paper in the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha section drew on this and other legendary material about the death of Peter and Tobias reported that the edition has new photographs of the Greek Akhmim papyrus (which also contains fragments of the Gospel of Peter and 1 Enoch) but that the manuscript itself was lost when being transferred to the new Alexandria Library.

Note to the Egyptian authorities: This manuscript is tremendously important and you should be very embarrassed to have misplaced it. FIND IT!

St. Andrews was well represented. Five of our doctoral students presented papers. [Sorry, I had missed one originally and said four.] I was only able to be at two of them, so my photographic record is not complete. Given my skill as a photographer, that may not be a great loss. The presentations were:

Daniel M. Gurtner
"Functionality, Identity, and Interpretation: The Tearing of the Temple Curtain (Matt 27:51 par) in Light of Pentateuchal Tabernacle Texts" (Synoptic Gospels section)

Edward ("Mickey") Klink
"'What concern is that to you and to me?' The OT as a Tutor for Reading John 2" (Johannine Literature section)

Darian Lockett
"The Eschatological Wisdom of the Epistle of James and 4QInstruction: An Initial Investigation" (Pastoral and Catholic Epistles)

Grant Macaskill, "Creation and Eschatology in 4QInstruction." ( IOQS )

Ian Werrett, "Ritual Purity in the Dead Sea Scrolls: Severity or Particularity?" (IOQS)

I was very happy, delighted even, with the reception of both of my papers. If anyone thought I'd taken leave of my senses with either (and I admit I had some apprehensions along those lines), they were kind enough not to tell me. And lots of people had very positive responses.

Finally, I understand that Francis Schmidt of the EPHE submitted a statement during the IOQS business meeting on Wednesday afternoon which protested the reported cutting of funding to REJ and RevQ. I had to miss the meeting, but I did sign the statement and I assume it was approved by the membership. If anyone who was at the meeting can report on what happened, I would be grateful to hear. I would also like to post the statement here if someone can send it to me.

UPDATE: Bev Diaz points me to the Apocalypse of Peter edition mentioned above, which is published by de Gruyter:
Das Petrusevangelium und die Petrusapokalypse

Die griechischen Fragmente mit deutscher und englischer �bersetzung. Neutestamentliche Apokryphen I

Hrsg. v. Kraus, Thomas J. / Nicklas, Tobias

2004. 24 x 17 cm. X, 153 Seiten. 27 Faksimiles. Leinen. Euro [D] 49.95 / sFr 80.00 / approx. US$ 60.00. *
ISBN 3-11-017635-1

Friday, July 30, 2004

THE $2.5 MILLION GIFT to Harvard University from Sheik Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates, is being returned to him.
Arab's Gift to Be Returned by Harvard (New York Times via Mystical Politics)

Published: July 28, 2004

Harvard University is returning a controversial $2.5 million gift to its donor, the president of the United Arab Emirates.

Harvard said in a statement Monday that the president, Sheik Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, recently asked to withdraw the gift, which was to endow a chair in Islamic religious studies, before it was subjected to a formal deliberation this summer by the university.

Abdulla Alsaboosi, a spokesman at the United Arab Emirates Embassy in Washington, said negotiations between the university and Sheik Zayed's representatives had been going on for several months. "The negotiations were conducted in an atmosphere of cordiality and mutual respect," Mr. Alsaboosi said, "but in the end, since no decision was taken by the university, we felt regretfully that we had no option but to retract the gift."

Students and Jewish organizations had criticized the Harvard Divinity School for accepting the donation, which was made in 2000, because they objected to the sheik's support for a policy research organization, the Zayed International Center for Coordination and Follow-Up in Abu Dhabi, one of the seven states in the United Arab Emirates.


I suspect (and hope) that the decision to withdraw the gift was made because the writing was on the wall that Harvard wasn't going to keep it. In any case, I'm pleased with the outcome.

For more on the Zayed Centre controversy, have a look at these entries.
TERRORISM ON THE TEMPLE MOUNT BY JEWISH RADICALS has been a major fear during Tisha B'Av this year. Meron Benvenisti has some comments in "The looming Temple Mount catastrophe" in Ha'aretz. Excerpts:
Among the hundreds, indeed perhaps the thousands, who participate in the symposia and conferences that deal with the practical preparations for the establishment of a Third Temple, there are those who make no attempt to hide their plans to "remove the abomination." Ministers and senior officials - known to dine on non-kosher shellfish - demonstratively demand the right of every Jew to pray on the Mount and condemn the weak hand of their government, "which allows the PLO to rule the Temple Mount."

Those very same people are the ones who are warning against the actions of those who take their own incitement seriously. The chorus of inciters "against the Waqf" is joined by archaeologists, who loudly protest the activities of the Muslims, "meant to erase any evidence of the existence of the sanctuary," and thus encourage, without meaning to, of course, those who plot to erase any Muslim connection to the place.

It seems the only obstacle to catastrophe is the sweeping ban by the rabbinical establishment over praying on the Mount, a prohibition that is being undermined; and the day is not far off when it will collapse, "at least regarding that part of the Mount that was outside the Temple."


The UN Security Council has intervened in less dangerous situations, and sent in international forces to prevent far lesser catastrophes than the destruction of the mosques. Internationalizing the security on the Temple Mount and the presence of international forces skilled in counter-terrorism and resistant to nationalist and religious incitement are preferable to a police force which experience shows won't always know how to respond correctly and efficiently. Maybe internationalization of the Mount is really in Israel's interest; if a disaster happens, the blame won't be on us.
THE CURRENT EXCAVATORS OF QUMRAN are challenging some of the establishment views about the site and its relation to the Dead Sea Scrolls:
Archeologists claim Essenes never wrote Dead Sea Scrolls
By Amiram Barkat, Haaretz Correspondent

Located on the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea, Qumran is famous throughout the world as the place where the Essenes, who have been widely described in studies, conferences and exhibitions as a type of Jewish "monk," are said to have lived and written the Dead Sea Scrolls. However, based on findings soon to be published, Israeli archaeologists now argue that Qumran "lacks any uniqueness."

The latest research joins a growing school of thought attempting to explode the "Qumran myth" by stating that not only did the residents of Qumran live lives of comfort, they did not write the scrolls at all.

Two Israeli archaeologists, Yuval Peleg and Itzhak Magen, have recently completed 10 seasons of excavations at Qumran, sponsored by the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria. These are the most extensive digs since those conducted by Roland de Vaux half a century earlier. Among the finds were numerous pieces of jewelry, imported glass and expensive stone cosmetics containers.

"It's impossible to say that the people who lived at Qumran were poor," said Peleg. "It is also impossible that de Vaux did not see the finds we saw. He simply ignored what didn't suit him."


Obviously the views of the excavators will have to be judged on the basis of which they publish, which one certainly hopes will be far more extensive than De Vaux's publications on Qumran. But here are a few preliminary thoughts on what is said in this article (with no particular presumption that it reflects completely or accurately what Peleg and Magen said). I too a skeptical of the idea that there was a sectarian Jewish monastery at Qumran which kept the Dead Sea Scrolls in its library. Various problems: the anachronism of the term "monastery"; the striking lack of references to celibacy in the sectarian scrolls; the variant versions of allegedly key sectarian works like the Community Rule, which makes me wonder if a good bit of the sectarian consciousness wasn't based on utopian speculations rather than the practices of an actual community.

That said, I'm not sure what it means to say that the site lacks "uniqueness": everything is "unique" in some way or else it would be something else. I don't find the term "unique" to be very useful in an absolute sense. The question is how is the site unique and how is it the same as other sites and what does that tell us? (Okay, I guess that's three questions.) Also, it wouldn't surprise me to learn that high value items were found at the site of a monastery. Monastic orders can be poor on the individual level but rich on the collective level. But the jewelry and cosmetics containers do imply a significant presence of women, which, if it hold up, could cause further difficulties for the idea that the site was a celibate monastery.

As for whether the inhabitants wrote the scrolls, I'll just have to see what the evidence is that makes the excavators doubt this. My own working hypothesis, to which I hold pretty lightly, is that at least a good many of the scrolls were brought in for hiding by Essenes/sectarians living in Jerusalem and Judea when the war with the Romans was underway.

UPDATE: Stephen Goranson e-mails:
You wrote of "the" current excavators. Actually, there are several excavators, including Hanan Eshel, Magen Broshi, recently Randall Price, and others.

The second volume in the NTOA series (ed. J.-B. Humbert and J. Gunneweg) increases the links between the Essenes the Khirbeh and the Scrolls and caves. It even reports an yet another Qumran inkwell in a locus with a long inscription. Humbert, who knows all de Vaux's results, affirms Essene presence, as does S. Pfann, de Vaux's new editor.

For Qumran we needn't use the term "monastery," but, for the record, "monasterion" first appears in Greek in Philo, De Vita Contemplativa 25 & 30.

Some of the "luxury" items evidently are from Period III, that is, after 68 CE, after Essene habitation, as Joan E. Taylor writes in PEQ (2004) 81-87.

Hirschfeld's quotation--that finds "contradict everything we know about every aspect of the Essenes"--may I suggest, is over the top in perfect tendentiousness.

I have more on recent Qumran excavations here. As you can see, this is an area on which people tend to have strong views.
LOOTING OF ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITES isn't just a problem in Iraq:
In the company of grave robbers (Jerusalem Post)

Ransacked West Bank antiquities turn into black-market gold


Ron Kehati, the commerce inspector for the Israel Antiquities Authority, whose staff hunts antiquities thieves, estimates that illegal digging in the Palestinian areas is up more than 50 percent.

"Since the Palestinian Authority is over there, many people trade in illegal antiquities. After the PA or Palestinian police or whoever finds it, it all gets sold - it never gets to a Palestinian museum," he says. "Palestinians have histories as we do; [so] if they keep the land, they should also preserve the history of the land."

While the IAA worries about antiquities disappearing, archeologists cringe as amateurs ignore the rules of digging, recording and preserving historical sites.

"In the next generation we won't be able to see and enjoy what's there. It is an archeologically magnificent site that has a lot to offer tourists and archeologists," says archeologist and tour guide Ronen Bitan. "Who rules the land doesn't matter, as long as it is being preserved. It's a shame as an archeologist, regardless of political opinion, when my legacy is being ruined: that's a real tragedy."

The PA did set up an Antiquities Authority after Oslo, but Israeli officials say it disintegrated in recent years. The PAA head, Dr. Hamdan Taha, was in Morocco at press time and could not be reached for comment.

Palestinian archaeologists have protested that the closures preventing Palestinians from working in Israel has led the unemployed to take-up illegal digging. Bir Zeit University's Institute of Archaeology head, Hamed Salem, who was also abroad at press time, presented a paper recently to the World Archeological Congress saying that "Palestinian heritage work faces internal and external difficulties due to shortage of well-trained staff, limited funding and lack of authority to implement a comprehensive archaeology program under occupation and thus protect archaeological sites from plundering and destruction."

"Jewish antiquities will be lost," charges [Israeli buyer of antiquities] Tal, who likes to believe that he - with the help of his Palestinian accomplices - is redeeming Jewish history by carting it piece-by-piece back across the Green Line, where it will be preserved.


Then there's this:
The legacy of Tal's family - a long line of regional traders with a relationship to antiquities and to the earth - has left him obsessed with discovering the ancient Jewish history still buried. After recent purchases from Ahmed, and a description of where they were found, Tal has become convinced that the grave-digger has stumbled onto a mass grave of Jewish priests massacred in the First Temple period.

He knows that if he reports his suspicion to the IAA, the digger, the dealer, and he may be arrested, and their wares confiscated. And so he has come out on his own to investigate, venturing beyond the safety of Ahmed's home.

Read it all and weep.
AMERICAN VOLUNTEERS have been returning in larger numbers to Israeli archaeological digs this year:
Israeli archeological excavation sites help educate American students (Israel21C)
By Mark Schulman July 25, 2004

Indiana Jones would have never let travel bans and terror threats stand in the way of a good archeological dig. Especially if the field work was among some 35,000 known archaeological sites in Israel, ranging from small areas containing only loose pottery shards to large, fortified, walled cities like Masada and the City of David in Jerusalem.

That was the conclusion drawn by dozens of American volunteers, students and amateur archeology buffs who joined their Israeli counterparts and additional volunteers from Europe at eleven major excavations being conducted in Israel this summer.

By and large, security concerns and dwindling funding for large-scale digs have kept many American institutions and universities away, including hundreds of students and volunteers who are an essential part of any archeological project. A four-year old U.S. State Department travel advisory warning Americans against visiting Israel and the region has certainly not helped, resulting in some excavations being suspended in 2002 and 2003, amid the post-September 11 security concerns.

But this year, the wannabe discoverers are back with a vengeance - scattered throughout the country with trowel and pickaxe in hand in an attempt to make sense of the country's rich layers of history hidden beneath the ground.

"After 9/11 it became almost impossible to come, people were hesitant because of the security situation and insurance companies weren't willing to cover us," said Dr. Ron Tappy, professor of bible and archaeology at the Pittsburgh Theological and director of excavations at Tell Zeitah (Tel Zayit in Hebrew), an ancient village believed to be biblical Libnah in ancient Judah (Joshua 10; 2 Kings 19:8).

"It's good to be back again in the field," Tappy said. "We had about 45 professional staff and volunteers this summer, but I could have used twice as many people. Hopefully we'll see more come out and dig with us next year."

Did you know that the Irish are the descendants of the Tribe of Dan? That many Irish names have a Hebrew root and that Irish landmarks like Mount Kappure and Mount Tara are really Hibernia's commemoration of Yom Kippur and the Torah? Even the word Hibernia, the Roman name for Ireland, could have its root in the word "Hebrew."

Yeah, yeah, everybody and his grandfather around the world believes that they are one of the lost tribes. No matter where you go, you're bound to find some legend or bizarre, unexplained custom that the locals say is proof that they are the descendants of the ancient Israelites.

Take Mt. Tara for example. This is the place where in the days of lore the high kings of Ireland would gather to make the laws of the land. Legend has it that the Ark of the Covenant can be found there too. Did Tara come from the word "Torah"?

Then there is the strangely named Mount Kappure in County Wicklow. Legend holds that one of King Hezekiah's daughters fleeing the Assyrians washed up on Ireland. The princess married an Irish king. Once a year she would disappear to the mountain to pray and fast, just like on Yom Kippur.

Need more proof? Take the churches in west Galway. Unlike the other churches in Ireland, men and woman sit separately. Why? Well that's just the way it's been for hundreds of years. The Irish of the west coast are generally darker with black curly hair, further "proof" they descended from wandering Dan tribesman.

The more likely explanation is that they may have a touch of Mediterranean blood from the sailors of the Spanish Armada who swam to its shores after their fleet was sunk 400 years ago. History tells us that many Marranos had joined the Spanish fleet. This may explain the plethora of Cohan's and Levi's in Ireland. That's obvious. But what about Murphy, the most common family name in Ireland? The story goes that many of the Armada's ship surgeons were Jews and likely went by the name Mar'peh (Hebrew for "healers") and that became Murphy.

If you think that's a stretch, how about McCabe? Was it once Maccabi? Was Brennan originally Ben-Nun? I started thinking maybe I should change my name back to its original: O'Solomon.

All this is told to me by Raphael Siev, the director of the Jewish Museum in Dublin.

Just to be clear, this is not meant seriously. But it is amusing.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

I'M BACK. Five days with no blogging and even no e-mail was very refreshing. I'll try to report on the conferences in the next couple of days. It's late here and I'm tired, but here are a couple of interesting items noted briefly by Chuck Jones on the IraqCrisis list (in a message that does not seem to have been archived in its original form), both from Monday's Iraqi Press Monitor:
Rights of Jews 'under study'
) - Minister of Migrants and Displacement Bascal Ishu Werde said Iraq was to study the possibility of granting passports to Jews of Iraqi origin and to compensate those who lost their properties. She said they would grant passports to those residing inside Iraq first. Israeli sources said the passport issue was of "great importance" because it would enable Jews to travel freely within the Arab States and would allow them to participate in the Iraqi elections.
(Al-Mutamar is issued daily by the Iraqi National Congress.)

Authorities end restriction on travel to Israel
(Asharq Al-Awsat)
- The Manager of Passports Sabbar al-Atiya said the authorities have cancelled the prohibition to travel to Israel. He said new Iraqi passports would be issued without the famous note of "Bearer is allowed to travel to the entire world except Israel". He added that they started issuing the new passports, which would be valid for one year, on July 15 to replace the travel documents, which were no more valid, issued by the now-defunct Coalition Provisional Authority.
(London-based Asharq al-Awsat, a Saudi independent paper, is issued daily.)

I hope this means that the question of whether Jewish scholars will now be allowed into Iraq to do reseach is on the agenda and will be clarified soon.

Blogger seems to be feeling fussy and I'm in no mood to deal with it, so I think I'll call it a night.

UPDATE: Conference report here.