Saturday, February 19, 2005

The Society of Biblical Literature survey results are published now and other bibliobloggers have offered their perspective. I think the results were skewed because a) anyone who got the link could participate- and unfortunately the link was made widely available to non members of the society. And b) intentional "padding" of the survey was performed by many who simply cleared their "cache" and took the survey as many times as they liked. In future, such surveys / resolutions should be sent, by regular mail, to current active members of the Society only and a signature should be required in order for the survey to count.

He copied this to Matthew Collins, who wrote back:
Hi Jim,

Actually the survey recorded via individual identifiers in the link who responded and who didn't. It only allowed one response per identifier - so even if the survey was forwarded or the cache was cleared, it would work only once for each member. The results were in fact not skewed, but accurately reflect the membership.


I'm afraid this doesn't solve the problem. The language here is not very specific, so it's a bit difficult to interpret. The issue was never clearing the cache, but rather that deleting the cookies allowed one to vote multiple times. If a cookie is the device for recording via individual identifiers in the link, then the concern I raised is not addressed at all. If Matthew means that they checked their server logs and weeded out multiple votes from the same IP address (which I suggested in my unanswered e-mail to him), that goes part way toward addressing the problem, but doesn't solve it. In the first place, it would not correct cases where the same person voted from two or more computers (home and office, for example). It would also incorrectly delete a vote from two SBL members (e.g., spouses in the same household) using the same computer. Second, dialup services sometimes assign a different IP address to the same user with each session, so someone could have voted, logged off, then redialed and voted again later.

In addition, Matthew's reply doesn't address the problem of votes from non-SBL members. The Host Names of IP addresses are rarely so specific that they pin down the actual name of a user, so nonmember votes remain generally undetectable even with the information from the server logs. Nor would it be possible to attach a single hostname to a specific member in most cases.

In a word, the survey mechanism was insecure and the results should not be considered accurate. In the future such online surveys should be password protected according to the individual member's SBL password.

All this not to speak of the whole question of whether the Society of Biblical Literature should be getting into this sort of political debate at all.

UPDATE: Ken Penner e-mails:
Re: your blog on the SBL survey.
I think Collins was referring to the digits after the ?A= in the link sent to each member as the mechanism by which each member could vote only once. The link I was given was as follows:
[I've deleted the link here. - JRD]
Is the link you were given the same or different?

Yes my link was different. It looks as though Ken is right. Sorry Matthew, I withdraw my objections regarding security.
INSCRIPTIONES JUDAICAE ORIENTIS, vol. 3, Syria and Cyprus is reviewed by Daniel Stoekl Ben Ezra in Bryn Mawr Classical Review. This is a very useful critical review that recognizes and praises the remarkable achievement of the volume while pointing to weaknesses and making constructive suggestions for improvements in future editions and perhaps computerized and online supplements. The problem of identifying Jewish inscriptions is a difficult one, and I tend to take a more skeptical line than most. As the reviewer observes, the selection process itself is bound to distort the evidence in some way, whether by excluding undetectable Jewish inscriptions or including apparently Jewish ones that actually aren't. Each item in such collections needs to be weighed carefully on a case by case basis. But it is extremely useful to have all this information collected in this volume and the series as a whole.

(Via the Philo of Alexandria blog.)
NEW COPTIC TEXTS have been discovered on Luxor's west bank. Al Ahram has the story:
Coptic trove
Luxor's west bank was the site of a significant find, reports Nevine El-Aref

In Al-Gurna where several excavation missions are probing for more Ancient Egyptian treasures under the sand, a team from the Polish Centre for Mediterranean Archaeology has stumbled on a major Coptic trove buried under the remains of a sixth-century monastery located in front of a Middle Kingdom tomb.

Excavators unearthed two papyri books with Coptic text along with a set of parchments placed between two wooden labels as well as Coptic ostraca, pottery fragments and textiles.


Sounds like a very important discovery. Zahi Hawass is quoted as saying that it's comparable to the Nag Hammadi Library. There's little indication of the content of the new texts, but the article does conclude with this:
Early examinations and studies carried out in situ revealed that the newly discovered books could include more information about how early Christians performed their rituals.

It's important to note that the texts were excavated by professional archaeologists, which means their genuineness is not in doubt and the precious information about their physical context and stratigraphy is being preserved and studied.

(Via the Biblical Theology blog.)
THE ECOLE BIBLIQUE (The School of Biblical and Archaeological Studies) in East Jerusalem is profiled in the Jerusalem Post ("The brothers' work"). Excerpt:
A few years later, the Dominican Order decided to open a biblical institute in which the Scriptures could be studied in the land of their birth. Called L'Ecole Biblique (The School of Biblical and Archeological Studies), the now prestigious facility was the very first research institute of its kind in the Middle East. All of the teachers at the Jerusalem institute are Dominican monks in residence; all of the priory's monks are teachers who specialize in biblical history, archeology and ancient languages like Syriac, Phoenician and Aramaic at the highest levels. Although they must teach their lessons in French, there are monks at the priory from Mexico, Portugal, Poland and Ireland.

WHEN I entered the light and airy priory for the very first time, I was struck by the sense of tranquility imparted by its design. I was also fascinated by several of the artifacts along the walls. A metallic copy of the Copper Scroll, the only Dead Sea Scroll found in situ at Qumran, hangs just inside the entrance. The original was unearthed by Dominicans from the Ecole Biblique in 1952, during one of the school's many digs. As a matter of course, it was presented to the reigning Jordanian government, which permitted the order to make a perfect facsimile by pressing soft copper against the original.

But it was the library that was most impressive. Located in the basement, enclosed within stone walls over a century old, it reminded me of my college days at the splendid, subterranean University of Chicago library. I could happily have spent weeks here, leafing through the library's 140,000 volumes. A few date back to 15th-century Spain and subjects range from New Testament material to archeology and hieroglyphics. Old-timers say that Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, the father of modern Hebrew, browsed this very library. He probably even perused an early edition of one of the books I saw on display: A Guide to Biblical Hebrew Syntax

I stayed in the Ecole Biblique for about a month in 1988 and again for a couple of weeks in 1990, both times when I was editing Dead Sea Scrolls. The library there is indeed a wonder. It has everything and there a marvelous index of the holdings that allows you to look up articles by biblical verse covered.

One nitpick of the article regarding the Copper Scroll. I think what the author was trying to say was that the Copper Scroll is the only complete scroll to be discovered in situ at Qumran by archaeologists. But they did excavate many other scroll fragments there.

CORRECTION: Sorry, my memory was deceiving me. In 1990 I stayed at the Albright Institute, not the Ecole Biblique. They are both in East Jerusalem. I'm pretty sure I did consult the Ecole's library during that trip though.

Friday, February 18, 2005

KUDOS TO HARVARD for providing a good liberal arts course on the Hebrew Bible and Greek Culture. Responding to a critical article in the Atlantic Monthly, Harvard Senior David Weinfeld writes in the Crimson:
Douthat writes of the wonder he had as a freshman poring over the course catalogue. What he fails to realize is that there are tons of great courses out there�even in the core�but students are simply not taking them. This fall, I took Literature and Arts A-53: �Athens and Jerusalem� as an elective. Eight other undergraduates took the class with me. We rigorously compared the Hebrew Bible to Ancient Greek literature in one of the more enjoyable academic experiences of my Harvard career.

It's too bad that more students didn't take it.
SETH SANDERS'S "MARGINS OF WRITING" CONFERENCE starts at the end of next week. The University of Chicago Chronicle has an article on it.
Scholars to examine language, power it gains in evolution from spoken to written
By William Harms
News Office

The Oriental Institute is organizing a conference, �Margins of Writing, Origins of Cultures: Unofficial Writing in the Ancient Near East and Beyond,� to be held in Breasted Hall Friday, Feb. 25, and Saturday, Feb. 26.


I wonder if anyone will be blogging it.
THE ISRAEL MUSEUM is gearing up to celebrate its 40th birthday:
Israel Museum marks 40th (Jerusalem Post)

The Israel Museum has proudly announced a year-long series of special exhibitions and programs to mark its 40th anniversary.

The eight-part exhibition series, entitled "Beauty and Sanctity," is drawn largely from the museum's holdings and includes some notable recent acquisitions, as well as a few special loans of visiting masterworks from major institutions abroad. The works on loan will reflect the range of disciplines represented in the museum's collections, which span art, archaeology, and Judaica and Jewish ethnography. In some of the shows, these disparate sections will be brought together.


The exhibitions described are heavily weighted toward the modern rather than the ancient.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

THE FIRST-CENTURY JERUSALEM SHROUD figures in a story on TB and leprosy. The occupant of the shroud, you may recall, had both. I saw the headline some time ago, but only just realized that the Jerusalem shroud body figured in it.
TB 'may have killed off leprosy' (BBC)

Human remains dating from the 1st Century AD suggest tuberculosis (TB) may have killed off leprosy in Europe.

Scientists at University College London have been examining a shrouded body recently discovered in a sealed chamber in Israel.

The bones reveal the man was infected with both TB and leprosy.


The argument goes that those who caught both died of TB, and thus the formerly common disease leprosy became much rarer.

Incidentally, this recent Guardian review covers a book on leprosy, describing the medical condition and putting the disease into a historical context.

And perhaps it's worth mentioning that the fictional character Thomas Covenant has in the last generation given millions of readers of numerous languages a sympathethic understanding of Hansen's syndrome and the plight of its victims. (And yes, The Runes of the Earth is as good as the first six books in the series, if you like that sort of epic fantasy - which I do. Go Linden, go!)
AT LEAST ONE CHALDO-ASSYRIAN has been elected to Iraq's new National Assembly:
Iraqi exile voters put Chaldo-Assyrian Christian in Iraqi assembly

By Susannah A. Nesmith

Knight Ridder Newspapers

BAGHDAD, Iraq -Yonadam Kanna owes his seat in the new Iraqi National Assembly to people from places such as Detroit and San Jose, Calif., who voted for his slate in the Jan. 30 elections.

Without the 18,538 votes he received from expatriates, Kanna's slate would have been about 12,000 votes short of the number required to secure a seat in the assembly. Though more than 260,000 expatriates voted, Kanna's National Two Rivers slate is one of only three that received more than half their votes from abroad, and it's the only one that owes its seat on the assembly to expatriate votes.


He's hoping to barter his lone vote for the protection of his community by working with the new opposition led by interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi to block a constitution based on Islamic law. The slate that took the most seats, about 140, was blessed by a conservative Shiite Muslim cleric and has ties to the fundamentalist regime in Iran, but many here think it won't have a big enough majority in the 275-seat assembly to form a religious-based government.

Kanna's constituents in San Jose are proud that they helped put him in a position where he may be able to help prevent that. But they too are concerned that many Chaldo-Assyrians were prevented from voting, either because polling stations abroad were too far from their homes - a common complaint that crosses ethnic and religious lines - or because of irregularities in Ninevah province, where the Chaldo-Assyrian community is strongest.


Wednesday, February 16, 2005

CONGRATULATIONS TO THE UNIVERSITY OF ABERDEEN on its two new appointments in Old Testament/Hebrew Bible.
NICHOLAS DE LANGE is giving what sounds like a very interesting lecture at Princeton University on "The Greek Bible in the Byzantine Synagogue." He will argue, based mostly on new evidence from the Cairo Geniza, that Jews continued to use Greek translations of the Bible through late antiquity and into the Middle Ages. Lampros F. Kallenos gives further details on the TC List.
JEWISH STUDIES, AN INTERNET JOURNAL (JSIJ) has a new issue (vol. 3) out. Abstracts of the articles were e-mailed by the managing editor, Leib Moscovitz:
�Even if One Found a More Beautiful Woman�: An Analysis of Grounds for Divorce in Rabbinic Literature

by Ishay Rosen-Zvi

* *

This paper analyzes the development of rabbinic views about grounds for divorce. The common rabbinic view, which grants the husband the sole right�indeed, an almost unlimited right�to divorce his wife, differs both from the strict prohibition on divorce found in the New Testament and Qumran literature and the view of Roman law, which permits both husbands and wives to divorce one another. Through comparison of the principal tannaitic sources with parallel material in the New Testament and Qumran literature, we distinguish between first and second century views about divorce, and claim that the principal rabbinic source on this issue (Mishnah Gittin 9:9), which ostensibly describes a first century debate, actually reflects later tannaitic discourse. We suggest that this Mishnah, which takes the right of divorce for granted, reinterprets the original, first-century debate of the Houses of Hillel and Shammai as dealing with grounds for divorce. This reconstruction is based, inter alia, on the recent publication of a new tannaitic midrash by Menahem Kahana.

On the Need to Correct Krauss's Lehnw�rter: /Pnqrysyn/

by Daniel Sperber

S. Krauss' /Lehnw�rter/ (vol. 2) was published in Berlin in 1899. It constitutes a masterpiece of pioneering lexicography, listing words in rabbinic literature derived from Greek and Latin. However, it is full of errors and needs radical revision. This short article demonstrates how the entry �? ������ should be corrected and rewritten as several different entries with varied meanings and emended readings.

Mishnah Study and Study Groups in Modern Times

by Aaron Ahrend

This article discusses study of the Mishnah in modern times, beginning with the period after the Spanish Expulsion. We analyze the reasons that Mishnah was studied in modern times as an independent work, without connection to the Talmud. We then discuss the phenomenon of Mishnah study groups (/hevrot Mishnah/) and the regulations (/taqqanot/) adopted by these groups, examining some of the notebooks of these groups which have been preserved in archives. Finally, we publish several new collections of these /taqqanot/.

A Good Story Deserves Retelling � The Unfolding of the Akiva Legend

by Shamma Friedman

Original composition and creative transmission are native to the talmudic corpus. One of the pervasive literary devices of this corpus is transfer of motifs from one context to another, or even duplication and reapplication of a story from one hero to another.

The body of this paper is devoted to the famous accounts of Rabbi Akiva�s scholarly beginnings as recorded in the Bavli, Ketubbot 62b and Nedarim 50a.

The closest approximation to the original literary kernel of the Akiva legend is in ARNB, in short, unconnected pericopae. Akiva is unlearned and poor, but determined to conquer the study of Torah, and eventually he raises 12,000 pairs of disciples. Ultimately he is rewarded with great riches, and he bestows magnificent gifts upon his wife. He justifies this extravagance with the recollection of the suffering she underwent during his studies. In ARNA her role moves from passive suffering to active contribution; she supports the children. In the Yerushalmi her contribution is made directly to Akiva and romanticized: she cuts off her braids and devotes the money to his study of Torah.

Only in the Bavli are these themes woven into a continuous narrative, as they are further developed and romanticized. Most creatively, their son Yehoshua�s betrothal bargain (Tosefta Ketubbot) of having his wife support his study is assigned to his parents. Akiva�s boorishness now has him cast as a shepherd. The disinheritance theme is borrowed from R. Eliezer�s appearance before Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai, and is connected to one of the personalities who was sitting in the audience, Kalba Savua. The 12,000 disciples are combined with the 13 years of study. During this period he was described as living separately from his wife with her permission, in contrast to the literary description of the wrongdoings of Hanania ben Hakhinai, who remained in R. Akiva�s academy for 13 years without communicating with his wife.

The full exemplum was then taken over by an author working within the framework of Nedarim, who added the other fabulous tradition about R. Akiva and the Jerusalem-of-Gold. The brilliant prefiguration of the golden diadem in the straw scene allows the storyteller to shift Ketubbot�s betrothal pact a la Yehoshua to a more tender and stirring scene. Delaying the exhortation to study to a time after the betrothal and anticipating the Jerusalem-of-Gold bring both themes together as the couple exchange their mutual vows of love.

"Up to the Ears" in Horses Necks (B.M. 108a): On Sasanian Agricultural Policy and Private "Eminent Domain"

by Yaakov Elman

In B.M. 108a the first-generation amora, Samuel, to whom the rule that "the law of the secular state is valid" is attributed, rules that though one who takes possession of a riverbank is considered impudent, the court cannot remove him. To this is added a later comment: "Now that the Persians write that '[the adjacent riverbed] is acquired by you to the [depth] of water to the [height] of a horse�s neck, we do remove him.'" This decision raises a number of questions, among which are: Why should anyone be interested in acquiring riverbed property? Why should the court care?

Now that an early-seventh-century compilation of Sasanian laws is available - the Book of a Thousand Decisions - a relevant Persian law is available (see MHD 85:8-11). The Babylonian Aramaic term �water to the [depth] of a horse�s neck� is equivalent to the Middle Persian /gosh balay/, �the height of a horse�s ear.� The Sasanian law relates to the digging of a cana, and the rights of eminent domain that the diggers receive in return for this public service. The context of this decision becomes clear when we realize that the Sasanians introduced rice-cultivation into Iraq, and that a riverbed property in a meandering stream, such as the Euphrates, with a very gentle slope, might permit as much as a 30-meter strip to be cultivated. We may learn much about Sasanian agricultural and commercial policy from this decision and related ones.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

UPDATE ON THE BOOK: This weekend I got the good news that Brill has accepted The Book, subject to some revisions. They want me to make some cuts, do some minor revising, and take some comments into account. I am pleased with the outcome and think it will be a better book for the changes. I'm pretty confident too that some of the cut material can be published elsewhere.
SBL RESOLUTION UPDATE: Ed Cook draws attention to Matthew Collins's SBL Forum report on the resolution. I agree with everything Ed says and have nothing to add.
I'VE PICKED ON THE UAE GOVERNMENT quite a bit, so it's only fair that I praise them for something good they're doing:
Ancient scrolls being digitised in UAE

Monday, 14 February , 2005, 18:18 (Sify News)

Dubai: More than 100,000 ancient Indian manuscripts and 15 million historic documents in Urdu, Persian and Arabic and 5 million English manuscripts are being digitised by the Juma Al Majid Centre for Culture and Heritage in Dubai.


Well done. This is an important cultural heritage preservation project in general and, as always, there's no telling what odd bits of biblical pseudepigrapha might be in some of those manuscripts.

(Via Archaeologica News.)
HUMOR IN THE BIBLE is the subject of a conference in Turin:
Italy event probes Bible's lighter side


ROME -- Humor in the Bible? Scholars say the Old and New Testament are riddled with humorous references and aim to set the record straight at a three-day congress beginning Monday, "Laughter and Comedy in Ancient Christianity."


Monday, February 14, 2005

THE HERCULANEUM RE-EXCAVATION PROJECT now has some funding, according to the Sunday Times:
Millionaire to fund dig for lost Roman library

Nick Fielding

A PHILANTHROPIST has stepped forward to fund excavations at the ancient city of Herculaneum in Italy, where scholars believe a Roman library lies buried beneath 90ft of lava from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD79.

David W Packard, whose family helped to found the Hewlett-Packard computer company, is concerned that the site may be poorly conserved or that excavation of the library may not continue unless he underwrites the work.


Packard, a former classics scholar who lives in California, runs the Packard Humanities Institute, which supports archeological work in Bosnia, Albania and other countries. Though the institute has an endowment of �375m, Packard is not making an open-ended pledge to support work at the site. But he added: �If the proper circumstances develop, we can afford to do it. It is not a problem of having to go out and raise the money. There are no catches.�

He said there should be no conflict between those who want to excavate the villa immediately and those who argue in favour of conserving the whole site, generally acknowledged to be in a poor state of repair. �It would be irresponsible treasure hunting to dig the choice parts of the site and then leave afterwards,� he said.


This is very good news.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

ALTER'S PENTATEUCH AGAIN: On a more serious note, Martin Sieff has a review in the Washington Times of Robert Alter's new translation of the Pentateuch. Excerpt:
Mr. Alter's work, however, is in a class by itself. Over the past 25 years, this professor of Hebrew and comparative literature at the University of California at Berkeley has established himself as the grandmaster of style, translation and literary criticism par excellence in the English-speaking world in such definitive studies as "The Art of Biblical Poetry" and "The Art of Biblical Narrative." His vast new work is the worthy fruition of a lifetime's outstanding labors.

What Mr. Alter has always understood is that the formative texts of the Old Testament are as rich in word-play and complex literary coding and style as any of William Shakespeare's greatest plays and that the ultimate challenge of any translator ought to be to convey all that subtle and precise richness and elegance of style into English - or any other language.

The Nephilim and the assumption of Enoch are also mentioned.
CULTURAL ICON WATCH: We have a few items this morning. (All bold-font emphasis below is mine.) First, in the Newark Star Ledger a sports columnist named Jerry Izenberg takes someone named Jason Giambi to task for an insufficiently clear apology, apparently involving steriods.
More precisely, where were they on Thursday when Jason Giambi spoke to the media in code or in tongues or, possibly, even in early Aramaic. They would have been a long, long shot to make some sense out of the proceedings but probably the only ones who could have broken the Yankee-Giambi code.

The Yankees stage-managed a press conference that for all intents and purposes will go down alongside such unsolved mysteries as why the Druids built Stonehenge or the meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls or the exact location of Atlantis or the name of Casey Stengel's diction teacher.

Here we have Aramaic as a code for incomprehensible language (cf. "it's all Greek to me") and the Dead Sea Scrolls , as often, symbolizing abstruse, esoteric lore. Glossolalia and Atlantis are thrown in for good measure.

Then the Scrolls appear again in the same role in The Spoof, in a piece on Prince Charles's wedding plans which seems intended to offend, if not quite everybody, pretty near. The relevant passage reads:
According to transcripts of recently released translations of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Charles's startling bombshell co-incides with revelations accredited to the mysterious Three Secrets of Fatima - universally acknowledged to be the source of all accurate predictions concerning the Apocalypse, Armageddon and the meteoric rise to public office of George Walker Bush.

Finally, the Glasgow Herald has a piece by Brian Morton which seems mostly to be about the occupational risks to the arteries of French restaurant critics. It opens:
The French may be passionate about food, but they are morbidly obsessed with food writing. The real driving force behind nouvelle cuisine, cuisine minceur and Bernard Loiseau�s bold cuisine des essences wasn�t public taste, but the health and well-being of a motley horde of restaurant critics; not just the showbizzy newspaper writers, but the anonymous reviewers for Guide Kleber, Gault-Millau and above all the Michelin Red Guide, which is to other food guides what the New Testament is to the Apocrypha.

The Michelin Guide is thus the true canonical authority, while the other food guides are of lesser if not dubious authority.

All in all, an impressive Sunday morning for popular cultural memes involving ancient Judaism.