Saturday, January 29, 2005

EXPATRIATE IRAQI JEWS, many of whom evidently aren't going to vote this weekend, are discussed in the Washington Jewish Week:
Having forfeited his citizenship to leave Iraq in 1951, Iraqi-born Jew Nimrod Raphaeli still can't believe the opportunity he'll have this weekend.

"I never thought a day will come when I will register to vote in Iraqi elections," the 72-year-old Falls Church resident said last week after a trip to the New Carrollton Ramada Inn and Conference Center to make himself eligible to cast a ballot in a democratic election in Iraq.

A senior analyst with the Middle East Media Research Institute, Raphaeli was not sure he would actually put that right to vote into practice -- after all, he admits he has no intention of returning to his native country.

But, he said, since "they give me the right to vote, I wanted to register."

Raphaeli, though, is in the minority of the 15,000 Iraqi Jews in the United States. With only five polling centers in the entire United States available for Iraqi immigrants -- Los Angeles, Detroit, Chicago and Nashville are the others -- Raphaeli and others say most Iraqi Jews are unlikely to vote in large numbers because they have to make two trips to the election site, once last week to register and again sometime tomorrow through Sunday to vote.

In addition, some Iraqi Jews say that since they never plan to return to the country of their birth, they do not feel obligated to cast a ballot.


According to the article, the situation in Israel is even more complicated, with both registration and voting taking place only in Jordan.
PSEUDEPIGRAPHA WATCH: The Old Testament pseudepigrapha appear in the media very rarely. I only found the term mentioned once in 2004. But here's an article about an Iowa minister who is teaching a college course on them and writing a popular book on them with his wife:
Class looks at the writings of the ancient world (Quad-City Times)
By Mary Louise Speer

The Rev. Richard Sorrentino, an ordained minister and leader of New Hope in Christ Ministries, is leading a class beginning next month on the pseudepigrapha, a collection of ancient writings, during Comm-University at St. Ambrose University in February.

Sorrentino lives in Park View, Iowa, with his wife, Barbara, and the couple are working on a book about the pseudepigrapha.


The yet-to-be-published book is based on the pseudepigrapha writings highlighting ancient stories of events from the creation to the flood and other historic events.


Sorrentino and Barbara are writing a book based on the Book of Enoch and other texts. He is waiting with mixed emotions to see what kind of reception these findings trigger in readers.


It's always nice to see these texts getting some attention.
Coalition Asks Bush for Protection of ChaldoAssyrians in Iraq

Posted 01-28-2005 10:43:22 (GMT 1-28-2005 16:43:22)

(AINA) -- The Coalition for the Defense of Human Rights sent a letter to President Bush on January 25, asking for protection for ChaldoAssyrians, Mandeans, Yezidiiz and other non-Muslim minorities in Iraq. Here follows the letter.

Coalition for the Defense of Human Rights

President George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20500
25 January 2005

Mr. President:

We are writing to express our concern for the future of Christians, Mandaeans, Yazidies and other non-Muslim minorities in Iraq. There are three critical actions that you can take to help guarantee their survival.

* We would like you to instruct the United States Agency for International Development to insure that the ChaldoAssyrian community receive an equitable assignment of funds that have been committed for reconstruction;
* Urge the interim Iraqi government to implement Article 53 (d) of the Temporary Administrative Law creating an administrative district in the Ninevah Plains to serve as sanctuary and to secure the welfare of ChaldoAssyrian people; and,
* Strongly encourage the creation of alternative seats in the Iraqi Assembly constitutional drafting committee for non-Muslim minorities to enhance the inclusiveness of the constitutional process.

CHALDO-ASSYRIAN WATCH: An expatriate Assyrian Chaldean Catholic priest is interviewed in an L.A. Times article on southern Californian expatriate Iraqis who are voting in the current election. Oddly, the article seems no longer to be on the Times website, but the KTLA website still has it up. Here's the relevant passage:
Father Noel Gorgis, 38, is pastor of St. Paul Assyrian Chaldean Catholic Church in North Hollywood, an ivy-covered brick parish featuring inscriptions in Aramaic, the ancient language of Christ. A slim man with intense brown eyes, Gorgis was born in the northern Iraqi region of Zaho, the son of a farmer and brother to 10 siblings.

When Hussein began destroying neighborhoods in Zaho, the family left for another Christian village nearby. There, at age 12, Gorgis met the priest who would draw him into religious life. The next year, he began studying to be a monk.

But Gorgis was not able to practice his dream vocation. In 1987, he was drafted into the Iraqi army. As combat duty against Iran loomed, he deserted a year later and then was ordained. He was briefly jailed, rejoined the army, but deserted again for good in 1991. He fled on foot to Turkey.

In Hussein's Iraq, Gorgis said, he was unable to practice his faith, speak his language or honor his culture. The Baath Party tried to Arabize the nation, he said, a campaign that he fiercely resisted.

"You can't make me Arab. I may not have rights as a Chaldean in Iraq, but this is my identity," he said.

In December 1992, the United States admitted him as a refugee. He went to San Diego, where the Chaldean church took him under its wing. The church sent him to serve in Chicago for two years, then Arizona for seven years, and, in 2002, to Los Angeles. Today, Gorgis tends a congregation of 400 families.

He revels in the cultural diversity of Los Angeles. Thai food and sushi are among his favorite foods. Gorgis, who is a celibate monk, frets a bit that U.S. life seems to weaken family ties. But he pours out gratitude to his new country.

"To me, it was like I was a newborn," he said. "I couldn't live in my own country to be a Chaldean and speak my own language. For 20 years, I didn't find myself a free man to serve the church and the people of God. Thanks to this country, now I could see my future was more bright."

He plans to vote for the People's Unity Party because he supports one of its leaders, a Chaldean expert in international law, and the party platform calling for a secular constitution.

Asked if he supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq, he quickly corrected the questioner.

"I don't see it as an invasion; I look at it as liberation," he said.
The Rev Professor Peter Ackroyd (the Telegraph)
(Filed: 29/01/2005)

The Reverend Professor Peter Ackroyd, who died on January 23 aged 87, was a distinguished scholar and taught at Leeds University and Cambridge before becoming the Samuel Davidson Professor of Old Testament Studies at London University, occupying the chair for more than 20 years.

He was also a visiting professor at many American universities, and his expertise in the archaeology of the Near East brought him chairmanships of the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem and the Palestine Exploration fund.


Requiescat in pace.

Friday, January 28, 2005

I'VE ADDED A NUMBER OF UPDATES to some of the posts over the last three days. Have a look, if you haven't already.
FALSE PROPHECY ALERT: Seth Sanders writes:
[I]f anyone proclaims to you that you can't use Jonas Greenfield's "The Zakir Inscription and the Danklied" to help teach Pentecostals and Muslims about what Biblical and Near Eastern prophecy might have in common through a close look at the occasion, themes and poetics of prophecy in Hebrew and Aramaic, they are falsely prophesying and cannot be believed.

It's good to know these things.

Seth also gives a preview of some exciting Canaanite cuneiform inscriptions he's about to publish. (Given recent events, I trust these have a documented provenance or he would have said otherwise.)
Dead Sea Scrolls attract record crowds (Sun Herald)

2,000-year-old fragments capture imaginations



Fragments of 12 Dead Sea Scrolls, part of the historic cache found in 1947 by a goat herder and now on exhibit at the Gulf Coast Exploreum, have lured a record-breaking first-week crowd of 9,200 to the Mobile museum.


I can't say I'm surprised. The Scrolls always generate a great deal of public interest.
Museum's basement reveals hidden treasures (Chicago Sun-Times)

January 28, 2005

BY DAVE NEWBART Staff Reporter

In contrast to the many exotic spots where University of Chicago researchers have uncovered archeological treasures, this one was right under their noses.

In fact, some of the items soon to be on display in a new gallery at the university's Oriental Institute were found only recently -- in the institute's basement.


The exhibit also covers the history of early Israel, focusing on the town of Megiddo, the site of numerous battles and referred to in the Bible as Armageddon. It includes a small, intricately carved ivory griffin from the 13th century B.C. that has since become the city's symbol, Emberling said.

The exhibit includes a fragment of the Dead Sea Scrolls, one of a few in the United States, which the institute bought in Jordan in 1956.

Which fragment is it?

UPDATE: Stephen Goranson e-mails to point me to this image of the fragment, which gives some information it. The caption says "The text on this fragment comes from a non- biblical Essene psalter, similar to the Psalms of the Bible." It doesn't give a siglum, so I can't look the fragment up, but evidently it's something from a Hodayot-like collection of nonbiblical psalms. Does anyone have any more specific information?

Incidentally, I see that there is also an inscribed ossuary in the exhibit, bearing the Hebrew epitaph "Yo-ezer, son of Yehohanan, the scribe."

And, more generally, follow this link for a page of highlights of the collection.

UPDATE: Stephen Goranson e-mails: "Thanks to Stephen A. Reed et al., The Dead Sea Scrolls Catalog: Documents, Photographs... (1994) 467 it's correctly identified as from 4Q184, DJD V, plate XXVII, frag. 2."

UPDATE: Chuck Jones e-mails a link to a better photo of the fragment.

UPDATE (31 January): More on the identification of the fragment here.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: There's another, more detailed account of the 11th "Temple Feast" in Ha'aretz. Also, the recent rabbinic ban on Jews going onto the Temple Mount is being disputed by Rabbi She'ar-Yashuv Cohen, a member of the Chief Rabbinate Council.
THE DEUTEROCANONICA/APOCRYPHA are now available in Greek online at zhubert's. Everything I mentioned earlier is included and the Psalms of Solomon are there as well. The additions to Daniel and Esther seem to be incorporated in those books. Should be a very useful resource.

Turin shroud 'older than thought' (BBC)
The Shroud of Turin is much older than suggested by radiocarbon dating carried out in the 1980s, according to a new study in a peer-reviewed journal.

A research paper published in Thermochimica Acta suggests the shroud is between 1,300 and 3,000 years old.

The author dismisses 1988 carbon dating tests which concluded that the linen sheet was a medieval fake.


The author, Raymond Rogers, who has been working on the Shroud for years, claims that the 1988 tests accidentally included threads from a medieval patch used to repair it.

UPDATE (28 January): Over at Hypotyposeis, Stephen Carlson, a man of many talents, has a detailed discussion of the chemistry and methodologies behind these claims. Bottom line: he's skeptical.

UPDATE: On the ANE list, Joe Zias says that it is obvious to anyone who knows about first-century Jewish burial customs that the Shroud is a medieval relic.
Lecturer brings biblical sect to 21st century

Associated Press

Princeton University professor James Charlesworth took an auditorium full of listeners on a rapid, sometimes dizzying trip to the world of a Jewish sect that flourished in the time of Jesus.

"I promised to be succinct and fast," he said at the conclusion of his lecture and a question-and-answer session Wednesday night. "I hope I was also clear."

He succeeded on all counts. Though his remarks were occasionally quite technical - he would lapse into Hebrew or Aramaic almost unconsciously in the course of explaining some obscure point - he delivered his main points with a thundering clarity.

Charlesworth was the third and final speaker in a three-day symposium at Rocky Mountain College that examined the "Historical Jesus in the 21st Century." Speaking to about 250 people in Rocky's Losekamp Hall, Charlesworth addressed the question of whether, and if so to what extent, Jesus was influenced by the Essenes, the sect whose teachings, beliefs and rules of living were contained in what are known as the Dead Sea Scrolls.


You can also watch a video of a bit of his lecture, if you don't mind watching an ad for a Billings health club first.
Man sentenced for 2nd Temple artifacts theft (Jerusalem Post)

The Jerusalem Magistrate's court has sentenced a Palestinian man caught stealing antiquities from a Second Temple Jewish burial cave located just outside of Jerusalem to five months in jail, Israel's Antiquities Authority said Wednesday.


But I fear he is just a drop in the bucket of antiquities looters.
JEWISH SCHOLARS IN IRAQ? Over at the Canonist, Steven I. Weiss refers to my earlier post about whether Jewish scholars were now to be allowed to enter Iraq and asks "Is there an update that I missed, or are things just as they were?" My inquiry to the IraqCrisis list was not answered and I have no solid additional information. If anyone else knows of cases where Jewish scholars have since been allowed into Iraq (or prevented from entering) or of any cases pending, please let me know.
Here are my two cents on the Schottenstein/Artscroll phenomenon. While I do admit that it is beautifully produced and also agree with Rabbi Hauptman's assessment of it, I would like to point you to some other opinions on it as well.

BTW, the link in your earlier post of Sunday, Jan. 16 2005, which contains Rabbi Hauptman's quote:

THE SCHOTTENSTEIN ARTSCROLL TRANSLATION OF THE TALMUD is nearly complete, with the 73rd and final volume coming out next month. This article discusses it at length. Here's an evaluation of a Talmud scholar:

is no longer active (at least not when I click on it). But the article from which the quote comes can be found here:

or here:

written by Chanan Tigay

Some early (1996) insightful thoughts by Rabbi Shaye Karlinsky to the drawbacks of the Artscroll Talmud translation can be found here. It is lengthy but worthwhile plowing through (esp. towards the end).

And for those interested, the entire set of responses is found on:

under "Talmud translations".

I haven't had a chance to check these links out, but now you have them if you're interested.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

MEL GIBSON'S THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST has not been nominated for any major Academy Awards:
Conservative filmmaker Mel Gibson, who performed a miracle by turning an Aramaic-speaking Jesus into a worldwide box office star with "The Passion of the Christ," also was shut out of the major award categories.

The Biblical saga generated zero buzz among Oscar prognosticators, and Gibson declined to campaign for the film he directed and funded with his own money after all the studios passed. It did, however, land three minor Oscar nominations for makeup, cinematography and score.

Earlier this month, "Passion" won a lowly People's Choice Award for best film drama to go with the two Oscars Gibson won in 1996 for producing and directing "Braveheart."
A talmudic revolution
By Avi Beker

Most of the Jews in Israel, as well as in the U.S., are probably not aware of the silent but dramatic revolution behind the somewhat laconic announcement by the Mesorah ArtScroll publishing house in Brooklyn. It stated that the 73rd and last volume of the translation of the Babylon Talmud into English, accompanied by commentaries, would be published next month.

Without exaggeration, it can be stated that the Schottenstein Edition of the Talmud (named for the main donor) has caused the most significant revolution in the bookshelves of American and Israeli Talmud scholars in the past century. It has made the Talmud available on a scale that had never been known within or outside the Jewish people. Even in the heyday of the Eastern European yeshivas, before the Holocaust, there were never so many Jews who studied, read and understood the unique language, style and logic of the "Sea of Talmud." Every one of the volumes in the ArtScroll enterprise was published with more than 60,000 copies, and they have been deposited in the libraries of the most prestigious universities in the world.

ADOLFO ROITMAN lectured in Billings, Montana, last night:
Curator focuses on temples' role in history

Of The [Billings] Gazette Staff

Men have always built temples, Adolfo Roitman told an auditorium full of people Tuesday night.

Roitman, curator of the museum that houses the Dead Sea Scrolls in Israel, traced the thread of temples from the time of Moses in the Old Testament to Jesus and beyond.

He was the second of three internationally known experts to speak this week at Rocky Mountain College on the "Historical Jesus in the 21st Century." He spoke to a packed house of about 250 people in Taylor Auditorium.

Roitman is curator of the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, one of the world's leading archaeological museums. A senior lecturer at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, he also lectures widely on early Jewish literature, the history and significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls and biblical interpretation.

NEWLY RECOVERED LETTERS OF PROCOPIUS OF GAZA? This is the first I've heard of it.
Researchers find rare exchange of letters from 5th century Gaza Strip
Discovery offers proof of rich intellectual society in region better known today for bloody conflict
(Daily Star, Lebanon)

By Agence France Presse (AFP)

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

GENEVA: Swiss researchers have uncovered a rare exchange of letters written in ancient Greek during the fifth century in what is now the Gaza Strip, the University of Fribourg said on Monday.

The discovery offers proof of a rich intellectual society in a region that is better known today for a bitter and bloody standoff between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, said one of the researchers, Professor Jacques Schamp.

Located amid mounds of manuscripts stored at the Marciana National Library in Venice and the French National Library in Paris, the unpublished texts from an ancient school of philosophy in Gaza were identified after a one-year search, he told AFP.


The oldest discovery is an exchange of letters between a philosopher called Procopius of Gaza who lived around the years 465 to 529 and a young, and until now unknown, lawyer called Megethios.


The article seems awfully confident that the letters are genuine, but the composition of apocryphal letters in the name of famous people was rife in antiquity and the early Middle Ages. We should keep an open mind about this one until further information is available.

UPDATE (27 January): David Meadows comments over at Rogue Classicism and points to a French article that also has photos of what seem to be photocopies of the manuscript (see below). (I don't think it's a modern transcription; why would it be written out in a bound book and then photocopied, and why wouldn't they publish photos of the manuscript?). I'm no Greek epigrapher, but I agree that the script looks much later than the fifth century. It's written with fully accented minuscules. A fifth-century manuscript would be in unaccented majuscules (uncials). It doesn't say, that the photo is of the Procopius correspondence, but it would be odd if they released photos of something else in this article. It looks to me as though the researchers have a late copy of letters attributed to Procopius which may or may not be genuine. They have a publication forthcoming in the Byzantinische Zeitschrift this year and doubtless they will make their case for genuineness there.

UPDATE (28 January): Stephen Carlson at Hypotyposeis confirms my view of the script and has additional comments.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

NEW ST. ANDREWS POSTGRADUATE SCHOLARSHIPS: Even though the Divinity School has had our first meeting to assign places in our postgraduate program for next year, some spaces are still available in Hebrew Bible and ancient Judaism. Indeed, just today a new scholarship in this area has been announced on the University website. (See also the more general advertisement in the Guardian.) The relevant part of the University announcement reads:
New PhD scholarships in Arts and Divinity

St Andrews is Scotland's First University, and the Faculty of Arts has six hundred years of tradition and scholarship to draw upon. With the development of financial support and new facilities we are strengthening our position as one of the leading Universities in which to conduct research.

The University of St Andrews is committed to expanding its research postgraduate population in the Faculties of Arts and Divinity. We wish to recruit the best scholars from all over the world to be part of our thriving research culture to work alongside the many academics of international reputation within the University.

We are offering 46 scholarships equivalent to the value of a home fee (currently �3,010) for three years across the following Schools & specialisms:


Three scholarships from: Hebrew Bible/Old Testament studies; Theology; Theology, Imagination and the Arts.


My italics. The application deadline is 30 April. "Hebrew Bible/Old Testament" is understood also to include ancient Judaism (e.g., the Dead Sea Scrolls, etc.). Application information is available at I am the postgraduate officer for Divinity, so please contact me if you have any questions. If you've been thinking of applying to our program, there's no time like the present.
US politician hopes to speed building of third temple (Jerusalem Post)

Orly Benny-Davis has come a long way from her youth in Ramat Gan. Today a well-known US political activist, Benny-Davis ran for the senate last year in her home state of South Carolina. On Monday night, she was in Jerusalem to attend the 11th annual Temple Mount dinner and to help speed up the construction of the third temple.


How will the temple be rebuilt while the Muslim mosques are currently standing?

"No one knows how the temple will be built," he [Rabbi Menahem Makover] said. "But that is not the main issue. What we are here to do is to inform people of the importance of the temple and to show them it is not a theoretical idea but is real and alive."

Not everyone agrees with Makover that the way to rebuild the temple is not known.

"Maybe there will be a tsunami-like disaster similar to the one in Southeast Asia which killed hundreds of thousands of people," said Baruch Ben-Yosef, a member of the Temple Mount Faithful.

Now that is macabre. All I can say is that I hope he's not being quoted accurately.
"The mosques will be moved to Mecca where they should be, and we will climb the Mount to build an altar and conduct sacrifices."

I'm not impressed with the plan so far.
Carey: Save Iraq Assyrians from Ethnic Cleansing (the Scotsman)

By John-Paul Ford Rojas, PA

The former Archbishop of Canterbury today launched a campaign to save the ancient Assyrian people of Iraq from extinction.

Lord Carey said they were facing systematic ethnic cleansing which had worsened considerably since the fall of dictator Saddam Hussein.

The mainly Christian community has faced relentless persecution for hundreds of years from the largely Muslim population living alongside them.


There are 800,000 Assyrians in Iraq and there are thought to be around half a million living around the world. They still speak the ancient biblical language of Aramaic.


I'm glad this crisis is getting some high-profile attention.
SEAN FREYNE lectured last night in Billings, Montana, on Galilean archaeology. This piece in the Billings Gazatte summarizes his talk:
Scholar stresses Galilee archaeology.

Of The Gazette Staff

A close study of the archaeological evidence of first century Galilee provides a historical context for the movements of Jesus, says an Irish theologian.

And it is time that New Testament scholars paid closer attention to the recent archaeological discoveries that provide that historical context for the beginning of Jesus' ministry.

"It is time to bring spade and text together," said Sean Freyne, the first of three internationally recognized experts to speak this week at Rocky Mountain College on the "Historical Jesus in the 21st Century."


In the same series, Adolpho Roitman lectures tonight and James Charlesworth tomorrow night.
TODAY IS TU B'SHEVAT, the "new year for trees" (started last night at sundown). More here.

I'm extremely busy today. I'm convening this year's first meeting to rank postgraduate applications and assign places, and other things are going on too, so blogging will be a low priority. But I'll see what I can squeeze in.

Monday, January 24, 2005

APOCRYPHA 101: Over at zhubert's blog, Zack asks for some help.
Ok, so I'm working on adding the deuterocanonical works, specifically: Baruch, Tobit, Judith, Sirach, Wisdom, 1&2 Maccabees but I'm not sure what order to put them in (in relation to the canonical works). Should I put them between the OT and NT? Am I missing any? Also, I'm considering reverting the LXX back to original naming, such that Ezra/Nehemiah would be 1/2 Esdras etc. Hopefully I have my history right...1,2,3,4 Esdras is certainly one confusing mess :)

I looked through my library last night for some definitive answers on the LXX, but it just wasn't covered much in the classes I took, so I'm at a bit of a loss. A search on the internet just leads to contradictory answers. Can anyone help clarify this?

Bless you for taking this on! Here's my best shot at an explanation (from home, without access to most of my library, so subject to correction later).

The Catholic Bible mixes the Deuterocanonical books among the other OT books and also includes the additions to Esther and Daniel in the books of Esther and Daniel. The Protestant Bible, when it includes the Apocrypha at all, puts them (including the additions) in a separate section, either before or after the NT. (The Jewish Bible, of course, as well as many Protestant Bibles, leave them out entirely.) For the Catholic order, see any Catholic version, such as the Jerusalem Bible. For the order of the works as a separate section, see, for example, the RSV Study Bible or the NEB with the Apocrypha.

I believe the Greek Orthodox Bible mixes the Deuteroncanonica among the other OT books too, but it also includes 1 Esdras, 3 Maccabees, the Prayer of Manasseh, and Psalm 151. 4 Maccabees isn't in any of the major canons, but I think it comes as an appendix in the Orthodox canon. I have trouble keeping straight the Orthodox canons in non-Greek languages (Syriac, Coptic, Slavonic) and I'm not going to try here.

In modern translations, when the "Apocrypha" is set apart as a separate section of its own, it seems normally to include all or most of the above. Latin 2 Esdras (incorporating 4 Ezra), of course, does not survive in Greek, apart from a few fragments, but usually a translation of it is included as well.

I think ideally you should include all of the above Greek works (i.e., everything except 2 Esdras) as a separate section and tagged so that the Greek of the Protestant canonical books can be searched either separately or else along with the Apocrypha. Those interested only in the Protestant canon can then ignore them, while those who want to can search the Apocrypha and the rest of the OT LXX together.

All this of course, is contingent on how much work you want to put into it. But since you ask, that's my answer.
FORGERY SCANDAL WATCH: Over at Ralph, Ed Cook translates the section of the indictment which deals with the Joash inscription.
PMO to take over running Western Wall (Ha'aretz)
By Nadav Shragai

The government has decided to transfer responsibility for the Western Wall, the plaza facing it and the nearby excavations, currently handled by the tourism minister, to the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which is overseen by the prime minister.


I'm not sure what "PMO" stands for. Prime Minister's Organization? The point of the change seems to be to centralize the administration of the site under one organization.

UPDATE: Cynthia Edenburg suggests "Prime Minister's Office," which sounds right.
CULTURAL ICON WATCH: The late Johnny Carson (R.I.P.) on the place of the Tonight Show in the scheme of things:
Not that Carson was overly impressed by his legacy, mind you. "It's just a television show," he once said, "not the Dead Sea Scrolls."
MORE VISITOR RESPONSES to the Mobile Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit. On Friday 1200 people paid to see it. The Mobile Register is doing quite a good job of covering it.
HERE'S A TOURIST'S GUIDE TO SEPPHORIS, home of some interesting ancient ruins, in the Jerusalem Post.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

THE LIBRARY FROM HERCULANEUM is the subject of a long article in the Times today. It was buried by the Vesuvius eruption in 79 C.E., recovered in the 1700s, and only recently have many of the carbonized scrolls become readable with the help of new technologies. I don't know that the scrolls have ever been called the Dead Sea Scrolls of the Classical world, but if not, they should be. Now there is a move to reopen the excavation to try to find more texts.
Focus: The search for the lost library of Rome
Robert Harris
Even in our age of hyperbole, it would be hard to exaggerate the significance of what is at stake here: nothing less than the lost intellectual inheritance of western civilisation


Once the villa had been stripped, 200 years ago, the tunnels were sealed. But last week a group of the world�s leading classical scholars gathered in Oxford to demand that the site be reopened. They believe that there is a better-than-evens chance � �quite likely�, is how Robert Fowler, professor of Greek at Bristol University, puts it � that the villa may have possessed at least one other library still to be uncovered.

These are scholars, cautious by nature. Their optimism is therefore worth taking seriously. It follows the first detailed analysis of the 1,800 papyri, now largely unrolled and deciphered thanks to a technique known as multi-spectral imaging (MSI). What appear to the naked eye as jet-black cinders are transformed by MSI into readable text. Thirty thousand images are now legible on CD-Rom; suddenly poems and works of philosophy are speaking again, 2,000 years after they were sealed in their cedar-wood cabinets in the summer of AD79.

The author chiefly represented in the collection is Philodemus, an Epicurean philosopher of the 1st century BC who taught Virgil, the greatest Latin poet, and probably also Horace. He may indeed have given lessons to both beneath the porticoes of the Villa of the Papyri, for it is known that Philodemus was employed in the household of a powerful Roman senator, Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus, father-in-law of the dictator Julius Caesar. And it is now regarded as almost certain that Piso � who died more than a century before the eruption of Vesuvius � was the original owner of the Villa of the Papyri.

Apart from the texts of Philodemus, hundreds of other lost works of Greek philosophy � including half of Epicurus�s entire opus, missing for 2,300 years � have been rediscovered. Among them is a treatise by Zeno of Sidon, who Cicero saw lecture in Athens in 79BC. According to Richard Janko, professor of classics at Michigan University: �This is the first copy of Zeno�s writings to come to light; they had all been lost in later antiquity.�


... Eight of the world�s leading scholars of ancient history, including professors from Harvard, Oxford and London, wrote to The Times in the spring of 2002 demanding action: �We can expect to find good contemporary copies of known masterpieces and to recover works lost to humanity for two millennia. A treasure of greater cultural importance can scarcely be imagined.�

The signatories have now formed a pressure group, The Herculaneum Society, which convened in Oxford last weekend, and moves have begun to raise the $20m (�10.6m) or so needed to dig.

Frankly, it would be cheap at almost any price. Even in our age of hyperbole it would be hard to exaggerate the significance of what is at stake here: nothing less than the lost intellectual inheritance of western civilisation. We have, for example, a mere seven plays by Sophocles, yet we know that he wrote 120; Euripides wrote 90 plays, of which only 19 survive; Aeschylus wrote between 70 and 90, of which we have just seven.

We also know that at the time when Philodemus was teaching Virgil on the Bay of Naples, the lost dialogues of Aristotle were circulating in Rome (Cicero called them �a golden river�: the essence of ancient Greek philosophy); they, too, have vanished.

Then there are the missing Latin texts. Is it really likely that a palace on the scale of the Villa of the Papyri would not have had contemporary copies of Virgil�s Aeneid or the poems of Horace? Scholars have dreamt of making such discoveries for centuries, but until the last couple of years they were understandably dismissed as fantasies. Books in the ancient world were written on papyrus � strips of plant grown in Egypt and glued together � and papyrus simply cannot survive for 2,000 years except in freak conditions.

Conditions like being sealed in hot volcanic ash. I wonder if it's optimistic to hope that such a well-stocked library might have included the Septuagint or maybe even Greek translations of some of the Enochic books. In any case, it sounds to me like a possibility worth checking out.

The article also gives the web address of the Herculaneum Society:
WHAT STARTED AS A MILDLY STUPID JOKE has turned into an interesting discussion. Zeth has moved his "Er What" post here and replied to my update here. My posts are also often thoughts-in-progress, so I appreciate his continued reflections. One small point and one larger one in response. The small one: how do you know that Nicole and Pammy aren't donating lots of money to starving people in Africa? If I had to bet, I'd bet they're both giving more to charity of some sort than either you or I could afford. Say what you like about celebrities (and I do, don't I?), but that's something they usually get right.

The larger one: just to clarify, my stance is not one of "moral relativism" (and Zeth wasn't saying it was), but rather classical liberalism. That is, the belief that individuals have the right to do whatever they please as long as they're not directly hurting someone else by malice or culpable stupidity. I may or may not approve of what they're doing, but that's my problem, not theirs, and if I want them to change, its up to me to reason with them and up to them whether they want to listen to me. (This is neither a conservative nor a leftist position, but for some reason it often seems to make conservatives think I'm a leftist and leftists think I'm a conservative.)

I've already said what I have to say about using the Bible for moral insight in my first SBL resolution post, so I won't repeat myself here. I've commented on the Waterstone's debacle here.

I do take the point about Internet humor, and am still feeling my way through that one. But I don't have it in me to be earnest all the time. Bear with me.
THE LECTURE HALLS EXCAVATED IN ALEXANDRIA are the subject of an illuminating article ("Intellectual life in Roman Alexandria") by Jill Kamil in Al Ahram. These are late antique ruins, and thus long after the time of the Septuagint translators and Philo, but still from a place and period of great importance for intellectual history. The article has lots of interesting details. Excerpt:
More recent excavations have revealed a vast complex of well-preserved lecture halls of late Roman (fifth to seventh century) date. Some of them had been explored in the 1880s, but their total number has now grown to 13 and Majcherek says that only now has their purpose become apparent. The auditoria have similar dimensions to, and stretch along, the theatre portico, which is also the eastern colonnade of a large public square in the centre of the city. In all the rooms rows of stepped benches run along the walls in a horseshoe shape, with an elevated seat for the lecturer at the rounded end. When new rows of seats appeared in place of the lateral parodoi (passageway separating the stage from the auditorium), the classical semicircular plan of the cavea (auditorium) was changed into a horseshoe-shaped arrangement that archaeologists immediately recognised as similar to that found in the auditoria or lecture halls. The discoveries have shed new light on the function of the theatre, which was excavated back in the 1960s.

The rebuilding on antiquity appears to have been carried out to fulfil the need to adapt to a new function, which was to provide an assembly hall for meetings and lectures, seating a larger audience. Estimates of the capacity of the total number of auditoria, which are estimated to number 20 in all, run at several hundred students, which, incidentally, is the estimated capacity of the theatre structure.

This discovery has caused great excitement, since it has become clear that the Polish mission has actually put a finger on the very hub of intellectual life in late Roman Alexandria. The important issue now, according to Majcherek, is to understand what exactly this complex of auditoria represented. He claims that the entire evidence so far indicates that we are dealing with an academic institution that operated in late antique Alexandria. The central location of the complex in the ancient town, and the characteristic arrangement of particular halls, corroborates the conclusions drawn on their function.

(Via Archaeologica News.)