Saturday, September 04, 2004

IRAQI JEWISH ARCHIVE UPDATE: The Lebanon Daily Star has some details that are new to me in the article "Israel tallies up compensation claims by Iraq's Jews":
It appears that many of the manuscripts, Torah scrolls and books were confiscated from synagogues and libraries after the mass exodus of the Iraqi Jewish community in 1950-51. Most went to Israel. With the permission of the interim Iraqi Culture Ministry, the Coalition Provisional Authority had the water-damaged documents shipped to Texas, whereupon they were freeze dried and sent to the US National Archives and Records Administration in Washington for restoration and preservation. Archives officials are presently seeking between $1.5 million to $3 million in donations to further the restoration work. The final disposition of the documents remains an open question.

The Americans also discovered documents in the General Intelligence headquarters basement relating to Jewish property in and around Baghdad, property that had been sequestered by the Iraqi government beginning in 1951, during the mass emigration. The Israeli government has long campaigned to have the value of Jewish property abandoned in the Arab world deducted from any compensation the Israelis may one day pay to Palestinian refugees for the property they abandoned in Israel in 1948. Indeed, Israeli Diaspora Affairs Minister Natan Sharansky asked the Americans in 2003 to look for anything relating to Iraq's Jewish community after conquering the country.

After the property records were discovered in Baghdad, the State Department in late May 2004 passed along to Sharansky 800 black-and-white photocopies of the Arabic-language documents. After translation, they will be turned over to the Israeli Justice Ministry, whose director-general, Aharon Abramovitz, co-chairs the Israeli government's Compensation Committee for Jews Who Left Arab States. The Justice Ministry maintains an archive of 12,000 files dealing with property claims of Jewish immigrants from Arab countries and Iran. The unit responsible for this archive was first established in 1969, disbanded in the early 1990s, and recently revived.
I'M HOME. Got in late this afternoon. I'll try to post some thoughts on and photos of the conference in the next day or two.

UPDATE: Jeepers. Mark Goodacre started blogging the conference from the Edinburgh airport (here and here). The Ehrman lecture was the academic high point for me as well. One comment on it: the sentence that stuck with me the most was something along the lines of "Texts rarely constrain readings; they more often enable them." This is a good point. Adoptionists, Gnostic, and orthodox Christians could all read the Gospel of Luke and get their own theology out of it (perhaps in part because Luke wasn't himself a very systematic thinker). But texts do, of course, constrain readings in some ways too. The path that gets readers to the place they want can be straight and narrow, or winding and full of brambles, and, especially in the latter case, it can lead to all sorts of interesting side paths and dead ends. One can watch this happening in, say, New Testament exegesis of the Jewish scriptures or in rabbinic midrash. (I'm not disagreeing with Bart's statement, just drawing out other aspects of the problem.)

I suppose Friday evening was the social high point too: the banquet included reminiscenses by Graham Stanton and Jimmy Dunn of the founding of the BNTC. We were told that its conception was in 1978, its birth in 1979, and the first meeting in 1980, hosted by Paddy Best in Glasgow. It was conceived as an annual conference for British New Testament scholars, but not as a "society," so as not to give the appearance of competing with the Society for New Testament Study (SNTS), which is an international society that also meets annually somewhere in the world. (I think I have these details right.) This explains the curious phenomenon that one never joins or pays dues to the British New Testament Society, you just pay the registration fee for the British New Testament Conference if you want to come to it. Jimmy Dunn also commented, tongue firmly in cheek, that the BNTC demonstrated a classical evolution from a charismatic movement to a smoothly running institution with officers, a president, a secretary, a treasurer, and a website.

Another highlight of the evening was during the pre-banquet tour of New College, when Jimmy gave a glorious impromptu reading of the first page of a sermon by John Knox, which was on display. Then after the banquet some of us walked back to the dorms, which were some distance away, and made our way to the pub. And I recall (not too clearly) after that an evidently lengthy episode in Lloyd Pietersen's room with an improbably large number of people and three bottles of whiskey.

The weather for the conference, incidentally, was beautiful. Especially today, which was a proper summer day. And I met lots of interesting people, including a promising crop of postgraduate students from various institutions.

More presently. Rest now.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

I'M OFF TO EDINBURGH for the British New Testament Conference, which starts late this afternoon and goes through lunch-time Saturday. As I noted before, you can read my conference paper here. I don't expect to do any blogging during the conference, so look for me again on Saturday or Sunday.
A leading Jewish scholar offers the latest on the afterlife

The Associated Press
September 01. 2004 8:11PM

Western religions that believe in the one God traditionally teach that after the present life, individuals will exist eternally in resurrected bodies. Eastern religions believe the soul is embodied in either human or animal forms in numerous past and future lives.

Now comes Alan F. Segal of Barnard College in New York with the latest if not the last word on the Jewish, Christian and Muslim concepts: "Life After Death: A History of the Afterlife in Western Religion" (Doubleday). As one of the leading Jewish analysts of first-century Judaism and Christianity, Segal is admirably equipped to produce a 731-page blockbuster on this central, powerful theme of civilization.

He tells how Christianity borrowed and reshaped the Jewish belief in a mind-plus-body afterlife and carried it to many nations, and how Islam did the same with the Christian belief. But before the Jews, resurrection was being taught by Zoroastrians in pre-Islamic Persia (Iran), the forebears of India's present-day Parsees.


In modern times, belief in bodily eternal life has faded among Segal's fellow Jews and he shares some of that skepticism. But the concept, long an essential Jewish tenet, remains a pillar of Jewish Orthodoxy.

Segal says many modern Christians have retreated to the ancient pagan belief in which the body gets little attention, our souls are immortal by nature and all will be saved. He says it's a very appealing message to Americans.

Segal concludes that belief in eternal life seems to be an essential human need and ideal.

This concept, he writes, "exists in our minds rather than the world and gives a sense of meaning to our lives. Like beauty and justice, life after death is no less important for being unverifiable."
HAPPY BIRTHDAY to David Meadows's Rogue Classicism and Mark Goodacre's New Testament Gateway, both of which had their official launch one year ago today.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

ZAINAB BAHRANI says the coalition forces are botching the handling of Iraq's antiquities sites (in the Guardian, via Archaeology Magazine News). Excerpt:
Active damage of the historical record is ongoing at several archeological sites occupied as military camps. At Babylon, I have seen the continuing construction projects, the removal of and digging into the ancient mounds over the past three months, despite a coalition press release early in June stating that work would halt, and the camp would be removed.

A helicopter landing zone, built in the heart of the ancient city, removed layers of archeological earth from the site. The daily flights of the helicopters rattle the ancient walls and the winds created by their rotors blast sand against the fragile bricks. When my colleague at the site, Maryam Moussa, and I asked military personnel in charge that the helipad be shut down, the response was that it had to remain open for security reasons, for the safety of the troops.

Between May and August, the wall of the Temple of Nabu and the roof of the Temple of Ninmah, both sixth century BC, collapsed as a result of the movement of helicopters. Nearby, heavy machines and vehicles stand parked on the remains of a Greek theatre from the era of Alexander of Macedon. The minister of culture has asked for the removal of military bases from all archeological sites, but none has yet been relocated.

Iraq is ancient Mesopotamia, otherwise called the "cradle of civilisation". It has more than 10,000 listed archeological sites, as well as hundreds of medieval and Ottoman Muslim, Christian and Jewish monuments. The coalition did not establish a means of guarding the sites, though they would be protected in any other country rich in antiquities. As a result, archeological sites are being looted to an extent previously unimagined.
I'VE JUST UPDATED the bottom section of my links bar, the one with my own articles, papers, and reviews. I've added my two latest conference papers plus a couple of things from the Enoch Seminar last year. I've also corrected a couple of bad links in the weblogs and news sites section. The links bar could use an overhaul: I'd like to add some things and fiddle a little with the organization. But I don't think I'll be able to get to it anytime soon. I hope you find it useful anyhow.
Gibson's Passion on track for DVD records

Staff and agencies
(The Guardian)
Wednesday September 1, 2004

The mantle of most popular Aramaic-language DVD of the year already looks to be in the bag, after Mel Gibson's The Passion of The Christ sold 2.4m copies by noon yesterday, the first day of its American release. Industry analysts are expecting to receive figures for the first full day of sales late on Wednesday.


Most popular Aramaic-language DVD of the year. Wow!

UPDATE: But talking fish are more popular still. Oh well.
HERE'S A TRANSCRIPT of the NPR piece on the John the Baptist cave, which I mentioned earlier this week:
Profile: Shimon Gibson's Belief That He Has Found The Site Where John The Baptist Might Have Performed His Baptisms

All Things Considered: August 30, 2004

McCARTHY: Gibson and other experts spent three years excavating the cave. Among their finds, a quarter of a million shards of small vessels dating back to the first century, perhaps used in baptismal rights. They unearthed a stairway leading to a large immersion pool and a stone bearing a deep indentation in the shape of a foot that according to one theory was for ceremonial foot washing. Biblical scholar James Tabor says the cave was used for rituals, rituals he believes were associated with John the Baptist and his many disciples.

Mr. JAMES TABOR (Biblical Scholar): If we can show that there was this ritual baptism kind of activity going on in the cave in the first century, and it's the period of John and it's in the region where John lived, it's not such a stretch, then, to think that people are going there in association directly with John if not John himself.

McCARTHY: The Israel Antiquities Authority, which licensed the dig, says the science of the excavation is solid and that the cave is unique. But the director of excavations at the Antiquities Authority, Gideon Avni, says it is a stretch to conclude that John the Baptist was here, and says while the drawings likely depict John, their significance is questionable.

Mr. GIDEON AVNI (Director of Excavations, Israel Antiquities Authority): It's a kind of graffiti. It should be treated as a kind of a local archaeological phenomenon, which means there was a village nearby, maybe a monastery, some hermits going, wandering down hills and choosing this place for these depictions.
MASSIVE COIN FIND AT THE DEAD SEA: Apparently this has been know for years, but it's the first I've heard of it:
Pennies from heaven, or elsewhere (Ha'aretz)
By Danny Rubinstein

How did hundreds of thousands of bronze coins from the reign of Alexander Jannaeus (Yannai) end up on the bottom of the Dead Sea?


Archaeologist and antiquities dealer Lenny Wolf of Jerusalem says that until just a few years ago, coins of the sort found at the Dead Sea were valued at between $10-20, depending on the mint condition and the coin's state of preservation (their value dropped to as low as $5 per coin in the past few years because the market was flooded; it has lately rebounded). A few years ago, Wolf also heard about the big hoard found at the Dead Sea. An Arab merchant told him he had purchased many coins from that hoard, and after lengthy negotiations Wolf took tens of thousands of coins off his hands.

What's special about the Dead Sea hoard is the sheer number of coins. Wolf estimates, and several scholars concur, that there are 300,000 coins. That is an unprecedented number by Israeli and perhaps worldwide standards. Another interesting aspect of this hoard is that all of the coins, with a few exceptions, are from a single series: Pruta coins minted in the reign of the Hasmonean king Alexander Jannaeus (Yannai), who ruled from 104-76 BCE.

The average weight of each coin in the hoard is less than a gram. There are larger coins weighing over 3 grams and tiny ones weighing a tenth of a gram. Most are relatively well preserved because they rested for over 2000 years on the floor of the Dead Sea, with its low-oxygen waters.

One side of the coin displays a ship's anchor surrounded by the Greek inscription "King Alexander." The anchor is a royal symbol of the Seleucid rulers (heirs of Alexander the Great), and Ariel believes that Jannaeus adopted it to give his coinage standard value. In his book "A Treasury of Jewish Coins," numismatist Yaakov Meshorer maintains that Alexander Jannaeus may also have wanted the anchor symbol to highlight the fact that he conquered the coastal towns in the Land of Israel, from Acre in the north to Gaza and Rafah in the south.

The flip side of the coin displays an eight-pointed star, surrounded by a crown; in the spaces between the star points appears the Hebrew inscription "Yehonatan the king" (the Hebrew name of Alexander Jannaeus).


Most of the coins, alas, seem to have been sold by American antiquities dealers to private individuals. They were marketed as examples of Jesus' "widow's mite."

UPDATE: Stephen Goranson notes in an e-mail that in the sentence, "Tiny silver coins of the "yahad" type go for thousands of dollars on the antiquities market (the inscription yahad appears on today's shekel in a form copied from the ancient coin)" the word "yahad" should be "Yehud," i.e., "Judah." Wouldn't it be something if there were coins with "yahad" on them!

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

THE ARCHAEOLOGY OF IRON-AGE JERUSALEM: Dutch archaeologist Margreet Steiner has an essay on the Bible and Interpretation website:
Jerusalem in the 10th / 9th centuries BC

What has been found from the 10th (or 9th) century BC... are remains of public buildings and fortifications only. Jerusalem was only a small town then, maybe 12 hectares large, and it harbored certainly no more than 2000 inhabitants. Maybe the Queen of Sheba would still have enjoyed her visit to Jerusalem, but I doubt that she would have been greatly impressed.

Or � another possibility � the town of Jerusalem was founded in the beginning of the 9th century BC, and Solomon and David had nothing to do with it.

RECENT ARCHAEOLOGY IN ISRAEL: The Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs has put up a page on the John the Baptist caves and the ancient Jewish village at Tel Bareket. The information is basic, but there are some interesting photos of the cave.

John the Baptist incised figure drawing and
decapitated head (Photos: Shimon Gibson)

Monday, August 30, 2004

NPR HAS AN AUDIO PIECE on the John the Baptist's cave thing:
The Search for John the Baptist's Ritual Cave

Weekend Edition - Sunday audio

Aug. 29, 2004

Shimon Gibson, a biblical archeologist, believes he has found a cave outside of Jerusalem, where John the Baptist might have performed his baptisms. Other archeologists aren't so sure. NPR's Julie McCarthy reports.

I don't have time to listen to it right now, but there you have it.
A ST. ANDREWS COLLEAGUE (who shall remain nameless, lest he want to go back) tells me that access to PaleoJudaica is blocked in China. I can't think of anything I said that would make the Chinese authorities not like me, unless it be this, which seems kind of petty to get upset about.

Hmmm . . . maybe I should add "Banned in China" to the masthead.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

MORE SCROLLS DEBATE: Newsweek has an article, "Archeology: Questions in Qumran," (more of a blurb, really) on the more recent excavations at Qumran and their implications. Excerpt:
The scrolls, which contain the oldest known version of the Old Testament, are the work of ascetic Jews called Essenes, who were poor by choice. Archeologists have always assumed they lived at Qumran, a site revered by Jews and Christians alike. The problem is that whoever lived at Qumran wasn't poor. Peleg and Magen have dug up jewelry, perfume bottles, combs and other trinkets that aren't consistent with the Essenes' way of life. That may mean the scrolls weren't written in Qumran at all�which makes the barren plateau suddenly look a lot less holy.

The last sentence is not as revolutionary as it may sound. It was pointed out some time ago (I think Norman Golb, who is also mentioned in the article, may have been the first to make an issue of it) that of the 800-1000 scrolls from Qumran, scarely any two on them are written by the same scribe. They couldn't all have been written at Qumran unless nearly everyone who lived there was a scribe. But the new material culture certainly adds something interesting to the debate. I hope it's published soon.
YOU KNOW SOMETHING HAS TRULY ENTERED POPULAR CULTURE when it becomes the name of a pop band.
ARAMAIC: How Sweet it is!
Christian band's popularity grows since winning Battle of the Bands


There's just one word to describe the life of Aramaic in the months following their win at the first Let's Go! Battle of the Bands.


That's not a typo, by the way.

"It's been sweet with three Es," said guitarist Nic James.

In August alone, the band played on the bill with two national acts -- Tait and Everyday Sunday -- and have recently begun recording a five-song EP they hope to release later this year.

"We really didn't know what to expect from the Battle," said Wes Thompson, guitarist and lead vocalist for the four-person band. "We really did it just to get known in Chillicothe a little more and we ended up winning."

Thompson and James -- who along with drummer Andrew Pfeifer and bassist Noah Madsen make up Aramaic -- said the band's popularity shot up after the Battle victory.


(From the Chillicothe Gazette.)
HERE ARE A FEW PHOTOS from the OT & Anthropology Symposium on Friday:

Our host, Dr. Louise Lawrence, presents her paper "The Joy of Text" (on the Song of Songs and Bedouin poetry). Not only did she organize the conference, she presented a paper herself, ran the whole day when her coorganizer was unwell, and she still had the energy to cook dinner for three of us delegates afterward at her flat.

Coffee break. In the front row are (L to R) Alison Kelly, Seth Kunin, Philip Esler, and Nick Wyatt.

After the presentations, the seminar continued at the pub.

It was a good lot of papers and generated plenty of interesting discussion. Seth Kunin's question, "Why were animals sacrificed and not fish?" was thought provoking. Alison Kelly's reading of the Exodus legend in light of the principles of museum curating has to be a first. Both Louise and Philip Esler drew on twentieth-century Bedouin traditions to illuminate biblical material. (I know that's supposed to be a no-no, but there is a case for doing such things in light of the Malina "models" approach).

Many thanks to Glasgow University, Dr. Lawrence, and the other delegates for a productive conference. I'm already looking forward to next year's symposium on Anthropology and the New Testament at St. Andrews.