Saturday, August 28, 2004

The Odes of Isaiah: A Newly Discovered Syriac Pseudepigraphon � A Thought Experiment
Filling in the blanks
By Joshua Schwartz
"Yerushalayim Bein Khurban Lehitkhadshut" ("Jerusalem between Destruction and Restoration - Judah under Babylonian Rule") by Oded Lipschits, Yad Ben-Zvi, 551 pages, NIS 115.80.

Most people are familiar with the controversial "empty country myth" in the context of 19th- century Palestine. Israeli historians, "old" and "new," have spent a whole generation debating the facts, the conventional thinking and the ideologies on which our understanding of Israeli and Palestinian history is based. Far from the spotlights, however, another "empty country" debate is taking place. The time frame in this case is the brief interval of Babylonian rule over Palestine - less than 70 years - in the sixth century B.C.E.

In this case, it is not a question of Jews and non-Jews, but of exiles and those who remained in Eretz Israel. What did the exiles in Babylon who wept at the memory of Zion find when they returned to Palestine? Did they find a vacant land emptied of its inhabitants, a land that had been desolate for 70 years, or did they find a land where Jews - even a large number of them - continued to reside?

There are two schools of thought in the debate over the question of continuity (or noncontinuity) of Jewish habitation in ancient Palestine. Those who believe in continuity, among them Hans Barstad, argue that despite the destruction of the Temple in 586 B.C.E. and the fall of the Kingdom of David, a Jewish cultural, economic and demographic presence never entirely disappeared. According to this school of thought, Jews continued to live in the Negev, the district of Benjamin, the Judean Hills and possibly even Jerusalem. Those in the opposing camp regard the biblical descriptions - "Those who survived the sword he exiled to Babylon" (2 Chronicles 36:21); and "Thus Judah was exiled from its land" (2 Kings 25:21) - as historical truth.


The premise of Oded Lipschits' book, an outgrowth of the doctoral dissertation he wrote under the supervision of Prof. Nadav Ne'eman of Tel Aviv University, is that the period of Babylonian rule over Judah was not just an interim period. It was a period of great import for the religious, social and cultural consolidation of the Jewish people. True, there are very few historical, biblical or extra-biblical sources for this time frame, and it is difficult to reach conclusions on the basis of the meager archaeological findings attributed to this period. And yet Lipschits believes it is possible to draw a broad and comprehensive picture, "showing the centrality of this interval in the geopolitical processes in Eretz Israel between the late First Temple period and the Persian, Hellenistic and Roman periods."

Although Lipschits admits that in the end there is no certainty, and many key questions remain unanswered, there is no question that the period of Babylonian rule over Judah is no longer an unknown quantity. With his insights and commentary, Lipschits has illuminated the darkness.

In the matter of the land being "empty," Lipschits takes the middle ground. Most modern scholars are reluctant to embrace the radical "discontinuity" theory and concede that some Jews remained in Judah during the Babylonian period. The debate is ultimately over how many of them remained and where they lived. Lipschits dwells at length on these issues, some of which he has written about before.

Analyzing the archaeological findings, Lipschits shows that while the country was not deserted during the Babylonian period, the amount of settled land decreased by 60 percent and there were only 40,000 inhabitants living in the administrative district of Judah at that time, compared with 110,000 toward the end of David's reign. (Some scholars, of course, will disagree with these statistics or doubt that population figures can be assessed altogether).


UPDATE: Noted already by Jim West here.
HERE'S A BOOK REVIEW from the Financial Times:
Review: The Temple of Jerusalem
Published: August 27 2004 17:30 | Last updated: August 27 2004 17:30

The Temple of Jerusalem

by Simon Goldhill

Profile �15.99, 195 pages

The latest in Profile�s series of books about the world�s most famous monuments and sites looks at a building that doesn�t exist: the Temple of Jerusalem, which was razed to the ground by the Romans in AD70. Yet its symbolic power as a place to be yearned for and fought over is undiminished: the current Palestinian intifada against Israeli occupation stems from Ariel Sharon�s visit in 2000 to the area where it stood, the Temple Mount, which is sacred to both Islam and Judaism.

MEL GIBSON'S THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST is to be released on DVD on Tuesday, at least in the States. I'm not sure about Britain or elsewhere.
Gibson, nearly omnipresent back then, is not doing interviews. The DVD and video do not feature director's commentary, behind-the-scenes features, CD-ROM treats or other add-ons that would typically accompany a DVD of a film that enjoyed a $375 million U.S. box office. Fox's press release covers under two pages and contains no quotes from critics or executives.

Nonetheless, the "Passion" DVD is expected to sell well, especially among devout Christians who are hungry for serious spiritual themes as an alternative to Hollywood's typical R-rated fare. The Family Christian Stores chain, with 300 outlets, is discounting the DVD, while offering the free DVD documentary "Jesus: Fact or Fiction."

I dare say the DVD will also sell briskly among Aramaists. And, incidentally, I would say that the movie counts as "R-rated fare" in terms of violence.
I'M BACK. Got in a little after midnight last night. I'll try to post some conference photos this evening. Watch this space.

UPDATE (29 August): The pictures are posted here.

Thursday, August 26, 2004


Friday 27th August 2004


Neil Glover (University of Glasgow)
Ruth The Moabite Infiltrator

Philip Esler (University of St Andrews)
The Role of Hannah in 1 Samuel 1-2: A Narrative and Social-Scientific

11.40-11.55 COFFEE


Louise Lawrence (University of Glasgow)
�The Joy of Text�? Sanctified Subversions in the Song of Songs and Bedouin Poetry

Seth Kunin (University of Aberdeen)
Rethinking Biblical Sacrifice from a Structuralist Perspective

1.05-2.00 LUNCH


Jim Davila (University of St Andrews)
Ritual in the Old Testament Apocrypha

Alison Kelly (University of Dublin)
Prophets, Kings and the �Out of Egypt� Motif in the Book of Hosea

Nicolas Wyatt (University of Edinburgh)
Marriage, Mayhem and Murder: An Everyday Story Of Royal Folk

3.45-4.00 TEA


Sarah Nicholson (University of Glasgow)
Father /Daughter Myths (Tamar, Ruth, Levite's Concubine and Lot's Daughters)

You can access the oral version of my paper, "Ritual in the Old Testament Apocrypha," by clicking on the link. Actually, the online version is somewhat longer than the oral version. The latter has to fit into a 35-minutes-with-discussion time slot.

No blogging tomorrow. I leave for Glasgow early in the morning and don't expect to be back until very late.
STILL MORE ON VIRGINS: In this week's column in the Forward, "Virgin Legend?," Philologos replies to critics of a recent column which discussed, inter alia, the Greek word parthenos in Matthew 1:23. Excerpt:
Because the translation of almah in Isaiah has been such a theologically loaded issue over the centuries, it is worth pursuing it a bit further � which I might begin doing by observing that, while I am no Greek scholar, my Liddell and Scott's Greek-English Lexicon, which has served many generations of Greek students as a standard reference work, translates parthenos as "a maid, maiden, virgin," and lists its adjectival meanings as "virgin, pure, chaste, unsullied." Moreover, my Unabridged Oxford English Dictionary defines both "maid" and "maiden" as "1. A girl; a young (unmarried) woman; 2. A virgin."

It is certainly the case that there is an ambiguity in all these definitions, since even in sexually strict societies not every young unmarried woman is a virgin. Yet it is also the case that, had the translators of the Septuagint wished to be less ambiguous, they might have chosen words other than parthenos for Isaiah's almah, such as kor�, which can mean either "young woman" or "young wife" with no implication of virginity at all; pais, or neanis, which also means a young woman and is the Septuagint's word for Ruth the Moabite when Boaz asks of her: "Who is this damsel?" (The Hebrew word for "damsel" here is na'arah � which, as Mr. Deutsch correctly says, is translated by the Septuagint in the story of Dina as parthenos. But Mr. Deutsch is wrong about parthenos designating Dina after her rape, since it in fact describes her beforehand. Nor do I know what makes Mr. Siegel think that parthenos normally would be used in ancient Greek for a young mother.)

I don't have time to do a word study of the Septuagint use of parthenos right now, but my sense is that Philologos is right. The basic meaning of the word a young, unmarried woman, implicitly a virgin. It should also be noted that the translation of the Greek version of Isaiah is a rather free paraphrase and the translator seems not have known Hebrew very well.
"SECOND TEMPLE VILLAGE UNCOVERED" in the vicinity of Modi'in (the ancestral town of the Maccabees/Hasmoneans) (Jerusalem Post):

The rural Jewish town uncovered at the site existed from about 100 BCE to 135 CE, until the Bar Kochba revolt, said archeologist Dr. David Amit. Several hundred people are estimated to have lived there, perhaps the extended members of five to eight families. Excavations at the ancient village have uncovered a 2,000-year-old street, Jewish coins from the time of the rebellion, and wine presses, as well as a mikve (Jewish spiritual bath). The mikve, which is still visible, was turned into a regular water well by pagans who lived at the 50-dunam village for several generations after the Jews vacated the area.

Adjacent to the Jewish village lies a 5,000-year-old Canaanite city from the Early Bronze Age, dating to approximately 3,000 BCE. The 70-80 dunam city, which was divided into a smaller upper and a larger lower level and was surrounded by a wall and watch towers, existed for up to 400 years, said Tel Aviv University archeologist Sarit Paz, who is heading the excavations at the site.


Wednesday, August 25, 2004

MORE ON THE LOOTING of the Hebrew archives in the French National Library:
Probe into Hebrew documents scandal widens (via Bible and Interpretation News)
By Haaretz Staff

The investigation into allegations that the head of the French National Library's Hebrew-language archives, Michel Garel, destroyed and stole books and documents for which he was responsible, has astounded the French public and media. Now, however, the investigation has revealed even more astounding facts, according to a report yesterday in the French-language daily, Liberation: Some 25 manuscripts (five in Hebrew) and 121 other documents have been stolen from the library in recent years, making the theft the most extensive in the history of the institution.

According to sources at the library, "Garel did not carry out the theft alone." A source close to the investigation added: "Garel is most definitely not the only thief at the National Library, and he is not accused of all the thefts."

You ask. Saladin answers (Ha'aretz)
By Irit Rosenblum


The shows are part of the Caesarea Port Project to promote the site as an international tourism center. They offer a reenactment of events and figures in the ancient city and can handle some 3,000 visitors a day. The first screening room, in a refurbished building with Crusader foundations, shows a 10-minute film describing the changes Caesarea has undergone through different eras with the aid of animated segments and computerized imaging. The film depicts the site starting in the Herodian era, and then continues through the Byzantine, Crusader and Mameluke periods, up until the beginnings of Zionism and Baron Rothschild's settlement enterprise.

After this film, visitors continue to a room where one can see 3-D images of heroes of Caesarea's past - King Herod, Rabbi Akiva, Paul the Apostle, Saladin, Baron Rothschild, Hanna Szenesh and others. Visitors stand beside a control panel covered by a transparent screen on which the figures are screened. It is possible to converse with the heroes of the past, ask them questions (designated) and receive answers. The historical figures are played by modern-day public figures such as Alex Ansky (Herod), Oded Teomi (Baron Rothschild), Emmanuel Halperin (King Louis IX), Dina Doron (Hanna Senesh's mother) and Juliano Moore (Saladin).


Tuesday, August 24, 2004

THE BRITISH NEW TESTAMENT CONFERENCE WEBSITE now has the full schedule posted for the Edinburgh conference at the end of next week (2-4 September). This includes the main speakers, the seminar papers (with abstracts), and the short papers (also with abstracts). The full text of some papers is also (temporarily) posted. Download them now if you want them. I am nearly done with my paper and will get around to putting it online on my own web page as soon as I can, but it may be next week. I'm busy right now with my Anthropology and OT Symposium paper (the Symposium is in Glasgow on Friday) and other things, like The Book.

Monday, August 23, 2004

"IN SEARCH OF THE SACRED" Newsweek has an article on the supposed cave of John the Baptist, with some interesting digressions. Excerpts:
But the issue is more complicated for Jews. Orthodox Jews consider it a sin to disturb Jewish graves, but Dever, the American scholar, suspects the issue of Jewish graves is hiding a more serious agenda: "They don't want scientific investigation," he charges, "because they're afraid it will prove their patriarchal stories aren't historical." And, in fact, current scholarship is not especially congenial to Old Testament literalists. There is, essentially, no evidence for the existence of Abraham and the other patriarchs, and�despite more than a century of intensive study of Pharaonic Egypt�only the barest wisps of support for the Exodus, the central event in Jewish theology. There are accounts of Egyptian raids into Palestine that brought back captives, presumably as slaves, and a dispatch from a border guard in the early 12th century B.C., reporting that two people had escaped from Egypt into the Sinai. On the basis of what has been found so far, "there was no Exodus, at least not of hundreds of thousands of people making a miraculous escape across the desert," Dever says. "And there was no conquest" of the land of Canaan by Joshua. "There are several chapters in Joshua on Jericho," says Carol Meyers, a professor of Biblical studies at Duke, "but Jericho wasn't even inhabited at the time." Some things do check out: an Egyptian artifact, the Merneptah stele, refers to a victory by Pharaoh's Army over the Israelites in about 1200 B.C. That date falls in the period when the minimalists deny that Jews even lived in the Holy Land. This particular question is so politically fraught, according to Claire Pfann, a New Testament scholar in Jerusalem, that minimalists have accused their opponents of forging evidence to bolster the Zionist case.

So the territory on which Gibson has embarked is a treacherous one, both politically and geologically, but for good or ill he has jumped in with both feet. . . .

Few of his colleagues, even the few who have seen the cave, go along with him. "Maybe Gibson and the kibbutz want to attract tourists," says David Amit, a senior archeologist with the antiquities authority who describes himself as a friend of Gibson's. "It's pure fiction. It's not archeology." Even Tabor, who agrees with Gibson that the cave was undoubtedly used for ritual purposes in the first century, concedes that "you can't prove John was there." Among other objections to Gibson's theory, there is nothing in scripture to suggest that John baptized believers anywhere except in the Jordan River. And there is little more than conjecture for a scenario sketched in Gibson's book by which John "might very well have sent Jesus intentionally to visit the scene of his early baptism activities ... and our [Tzuba] was just that place."

See also the related Newsweek article "Unearthing the Bible" and Mark Goodacre's numerous postings on the John the Baptist cave story since it broke. I've linked to the first posting but there are lots more, so you might want to go to the NT Gateway main page and just keep scrolling down until you get to August 18.) Specialists are generally skeptical about the cave's connection to John. Me too. But if it can be established that it actually is a first-century installation involving ritual purification, that alone would be a tremendously important archaeological discovery.
Herod's Theater in Jerusalem - A Wooden Structure

Was Herod�s theater such a monumental structure? If it were a monumental structure in the urban center, could it disappear without trace or mention in Josephus' long and detailed description of the city

Joseph Patrich
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
August 2004

Sunday, August 22, 2004

ROGUE MEDIA ALERT. The Bible and Interpretation website is advertising for a field reporter:
Now Hiring: Bible and Interpretation Field Reporter

��� The Bible and Interpretation has an opening for a part-time field reporter to write stories on the latest archaeological discoveries in Israel and the Middle East, interview archaeologists and submit photos.

In order to be considered for this position, applicants must meet the following qualifications:
� Academic background in Biblical studies and archaeology
� Access to a digital camera
� Excellent writing skills
� Reside in Israel

��� This position will remain open until filled. Interested individuals should send short r�sum� and letter of interest to:

When they says "hiring," I take them to mean, you know, for money. A journalist who reports on archaeology stories and who is also trained in archaeology. Imagine that! Let's get the word out on this one. Well done!
EPHRAIM ISAAC is profiled in the Princeton Packet (via Bible and Interpretation News):
Ethopian Jew directs Institute of Semitic Studies in Princeton.

���Think of Ephraim Isaac as a bridge between geographical regions, cultures, religions and languages.
���As an Ethiopian Jew, Professor Isaac, director of the Institute of Semitic Studies in Princeton, bridges the divide between Africa and the West, Africa and the Middle East, blacks and whites and between Christians, Muslims and Jews.


���Professor Isaac is the son of Moses Isaac, a Jewish silversmith and Hebrew teacher from Yemen who was serving as a ritual slaughterer to a Yemeni community in Ethiopia.


���Professor Isaac was the first professor hired in Afro-American Studies at Harvard. Princeton Professor Cornel West was one of his students.
���He has taught at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, Howard University Divinity School, Lehigh University and Bard College.
���His research spans biblical Hebrew, the late Second Temple Period in Israel, rabbinic literature, Ethiopian history and the origin of the African slave trade.
���Professor Isaac has been a fellow of the National Endowment for the Humanities and at the Institute for Advanced Study.
���There is a scholarship in his name at Harvard.
���He has translated The Book of Enoch from a 14th century Ge'ez manuscript and is currently working with faculty members at the Princeton Theological Seminary on translating Enoch from fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Arts: Digital Digging (Jerusalem Report via Archaeologica News)
Matti Friedman

A skeptical archaeologist uses state-of-the-art technology to reconstruct a long-forgotten synagogue in the Golan


You won�t find too many Israelis named Jesus -- Yeshu, in Hebrew -- but one of them is the long-haired, chain-smoking, self-educated archaeologist digging Um el-Kanatir. Yeshu Dray�s real name is Yehoshua, but he has been called Yeshu ever since (he explains rather vaguely) an incident in which his army buddies crucified him for a few hours in a Sinai wadi in the early 1970s. Dray, 51, never formally studied archaeology, but his one-man company, Restoration of Ancient Technology, has carried out some of the most important reconstructions of Israel�s ancient infrastructure. He rebuilt a section of the famous aqueduct that led from the base of the Carmel hills to the Roman city of Caesarea, for example, and part of another one that carried water from what�s today called the Etzion Bloc, south of Jerusalem, to the Temple Mount. Dray�s companion, Ilana Gonen, is also an archaeologist, and the two are working together on the Um el-Kanatir dig. The name of the site had circulated among archaeologists not only for the anticipated richness of its artifacts, but also because of the physical challenge it posed to the potential excavator. That is what drew Dray and Gonen there.


Putting a jumble of ancient rocks together this way is a tremendously difficult thing to do, and this is where the cutting-edge technology comes in. At Um el-Kanatir, Dray brought in a local company called Mabat 3-D Technology. Using laser scanners on tripods, the Mabat crew carried out scans of the ruin before the dig began, taking shots of the site from a perspective of a full 360 degrees, and then putting them together to create an overall 3-D image of the synagogue. The scan recorded the exact location and angle of each stone, each pillar and each ornament, before anything was moved. Once the location of all the artifacts had been noted digitally, diggers could begin to clear the rubble away. Knowing precisely where and at what angle the stones were found allows Dray to induce where they were before they fell. Much of this work is also done on computer, on a program that Gonen designed, which helps them to put the pieces together like a digital puzzle, seeing how they may have fit before actually moving them on the ground.

In order to keep track of the thousands of building stones on the site, Dray and Gonen implant microchips -- 3mm by 11mm -- into tiny holes drilled into them. A sensor detects the chip and gives the piece�s catalog number, which in turn tells the diggers the precise original location in the ruin provided by the laser scan. "This is the first time Israel has seen these methods," says Gideon Foerster, a veteran Hebrew University professor of archaeology who took part in the landmark digs at Masada and at Beit She�an. "They make it much easier for the archaeologist to place each of the findings. When you write numbers on the stones, which is the way it has been done until now, they get erased, and information is lost." Of Dray, Foerster says, "He�s an imaginative guy, and there is no question that he does very good work."


The synagogue was a basilica, the standard Roman-influenced design for public buildings at that time. There were balconies, supported by pillars, around three sides of the inner space, and a central nave some 40 feet high. The diggers found Byzantine coins under the floor, left there when the building was constructed, perhaps for good luck. They found household implements, agricultural tools, and a bizarre, beautiful Aladdin-style bronze lamp shaped like the head of a satyr; the flame would have flickered from the tip of his beard.

According to the Hebrew University�s Foerster, the synagogue is one of the best-preserved examples ever found in Israel. "This is undoubtedly a unique site," he says. "The number of findings, the fact that they were found in situ, and their exceptional level of preservation -- all of these things make it special."

The dig's findings sketch a portrait of a prosperous Jewish settlement, with perhaps 250 inhabitants, during the 5th and 6th centuries CE, when the Golan was in a corner of the newly Christian empire run out of Byzantium. . . .

The village was abandoned in the middle of the 8th century. Dray guesses that the end came in 749, on January 18, when a massive earthquake rocked the Jordan Rift valley, devastating Jerusalem and other urban centers. . . .

Now that the stones have been scanned, tagged and cleared, and now that the shape of the building has emerged, the next stage, say Gonen and Dray, is to raise it. "We can reconstruct the whole building -- it�s all there," Dray says with great enthusiasm, estimating that they will need about four and a half months to plan and carry out the reconstruction. The problem, predictably, is money. The dig has cost $150,000 so far, and Dray and Gonen figure they need another $250,000 to rebuild the synagogue. For now, they are continuing small-scale work on the site, hoping that the money materializes. If it does, Um el-Kanatir could become one of the Golan Height�s most popular archaeological sites.

Sarah Laughed: modern lessons from the wisdom and stories of Biblical women
by Vanessa L. Ochs, Published by McGraw-Hill, 235 pages, Purchase
Summary in a sentence: University of Virginia religion professor retells the stories of Old Testament matriarchs such as Eve, Sarah, Leah and others in fresh and creative ways that help today's women rediscover their ancient wisdom and insights.
Why you should read it: Assuming you want to learn from the past, this book does a good job of humanizing heroes into terms we can understand.
Why you might be turned off: Assuming you want your Biblical literacy to be written by a rabbi and published by Feldheim, then this is not your cup of tea.


The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Talmud
by Rabbi Parry Aaron, Published by Alpha Books, 345 pages, Purchase
Summary in a sentence: If you thought the Torah was heady stuff, try the Talmud that comments on it, but worry not for an idiot's guide is here.
Why you should read it: The truth is the Torah is only half the picture, and much of Jewish insight is contained in the rabbinical commentaries on our sacred scrolls. For that reason alone, you should get into Talmudic study, but it's not easy. An idiot's guide couldn't hurt.
Why you might be turned off: You might, just maybe, even if only a little bit, think of yourself as something better than an idiot. Your elitist tendencies and egotism run amok will likely prevent you from stooping to publicly peruse from the pages of an idiot's guide.