Saturday, May 21, 2005

DID THE QUEEN OF SHEBA RULE IN NIGERIA? A University of Toronto professor seems to think it's possible.
�Each year both Muslim and Christian religious pilgrims come to this site in Ike-Eri, Nigeria, to pray and honour the queen of Sheba (also known as Bilikisu Sungbo to those of the Islamic faith) even though Ethiopia maintains that she is actually buried in their country,� says professor and museologist Lynne Teather of the Museum Studies program at U of T. �Indigenous knowledge and oral traditions maintain that this is the shrine of the queen and through working with the Bilikisu Sungbo Project, we are trying to not only learn more about this fabulous queen, but to establish a feasibility study on how we can marry tourism to this heritage site.�

It would certainly be interesting to collect information about Nigerian traditions about the Queen, but the case for her actually ruling there doesn't sound very strong to me. The article, however, isn't very informative.
UCL INCANTATION BOWLS UPDATE: Al Jazeera has a piece on the investigation of the provenance of 650 Aramaic incantation bowls from the Sch�yen collection.
UK university reviews artefact loan
By Lawrence Smallman

Friday 20 May 2005, 13:06 Makka Time, 10:06 GMT

A leading international buyer of antiquities is at the heart of a British university inquiry that questions whether part of his multimillion-dollar collection was illegally exported from the Middle East.

University College London set up a committee of inquiry on Friday to question the provenance, or legal ownership, of 650 Aramaic incantation bowls dating from the 5th century CE.

Although Norwegian collector Martin Schoyen is not named in the inquiry, he is on record as having loaned the bowls to the university.


If they were taken from Iraq illegally, they should certainly be returned. But I do hope that UCL has made a careful photographic record of them. I wonder if the repatriation legislation has any provision for making sure fragile artifacts like these are photographed before moving them again. Anyone know?
ANOTHER CANDIDATE for the site where John the Baptist baptized:
Have Jordanian archaeologists found the place Jesus was baptized?
New evidence may have finally pinned down the legendary 'Bethany beyond the Jordan'

By Rami G. Khouri

[Lebanon] Daily Star staff
Friday, May 20, 2005

Have Jordanian archaeologists found the place Jesus was baptized?

AMMAN, Jordan: Substantial new evidence from archaeological excavations may have located where Jesus was baptized. Scholars long identified Jesus' baptism as taking place at the lower reaches of the Jordan River, east of Jericho - prompted by a combination of biblical references, Byzantine and other mediaeval texts, and the uninterrupted traditions of the Greek Orthodox Church, which has custody of the area.


The excavated main complex at Tell al-Kharrar comprises structures on and around the small hill adjacent the spring at the head of Wadi al-Kharrar. Artifact evidence shows that the site was inhabited from the Late Hellenistic/Herodian and Early Roman periods (2nd century BC to 2nd century AD), through the Late Byzantine and early Islamic periods (5th to 8th centuries AD), and again in late Ottoman centuries.

The strongest evidence for a Chrstian-era settlement here comes from the excavated remains of heavy stone jars, a distinctive feature of local Jewish communities. Father Michele Piccirillo of the Franciscan Archaeological Institute in Jerusalem and Mount Nebo, one of those who rediscovered the site in August 1995, identified these fragments. He believes that, along with remains of large ceramic storage jars, they are clear proof of a settled population, which he identifies as Bethany beyond the Jordan.


As usually with these things, the archaeology and the information it gives us about ancient Jewish life is more important (because it's definitely real) than any speculation about Jesus or John the Baptist being involved.
THE TEMPLE SCROLL is a show stealer at The New Hebrew exhibition in Berlin. And well it should be.
Hebrew on display in Berlin
By Dana Gilerman (Ha'arets)

The Temple Scroll from Qumran arrived at the Martin Gropius-Bau Museum in the center of Berlin on Monday morning. The scroll - one of the principal exhibits at "The New Hebrews: a Century of Art in Israel," which opens tomorrow - has come a long way, all the way from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem to the history museum in Berlin.

Michal Dayagi-Mendels, chief curator of archaeology at the Israel Museum, says the scroll has been undergoing preparations for the journey for the entire past year. "Four restorers worked on it every day, for hours and hours," she says.


"One could think of [the scroll] as our Mona Lisa," says Dayagi. "It goes on tour and is accorded proper respect. There is something very unique in the fact that Hebrew, the Jewish language, is on display after 2,000 years, especially in Berlin, at an exhibition of a century of Hebrew culture. There is something very powerful in this, attesting to a continuity that no one has succeeded in breaking," she says.


There's another article about the Temple Scroll in Berlin here. And this article on the exhibition has a paragraph on the Temple Scroll which includes a link to the Qumranica blog.

Friday, May 20, 2005

A DEAD SEA SCROLLS EXHIBITION is coming to my home town:
Museum announces first-ever local visit
By Sandi Dolbee

May 19, 2005

Tickets aren't on sale yet, and the event is more than two years away, but the San Diego Natural History Museum made it official Tuesday evening: Part of the Dead Sea Scrolls will go on exhibit here beginning in the summer of 2007.


UPDATE: Hmmm ... the exhibit runs from July through December of 2007 and the annual SBL meeting is in San Diego in late November of the same year. Looks like there's a good chance I'll get to see it.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

AUT ISRAEL-BOYCOTT UPDATE: The Scottish AUT deserves praise for doing the right thing.
Scotland AUT motion seen as 'anti-boycott measure'
By YAAKOV LAPPIN (Jerusalem Post)

LONDON, England

The attempt to boycott Israeli universities by Britain's Association of University Teachers (AUT) has been dealt another blow, following a decision by the Scottish AUT to pass a motion calling for dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian trade unionists.

Alistair Hunt, president of Scotland AUT, told The Jerusalem Post that the motion should be seen as an anti-boycott measure, and called into question the manner in which boycotts against the University of Haifa and Bar-Ilan University were passed. "I am pleased that AUT Scotland endorsed the motion by a large majority," said Hunt. "I am personally committed to the route of dialogue and debate instead of boycotts."

Hunt said that the motion was a continuation of a spirit of dialogue, which began at a meeting hosted by Scottish trade unionists last month, during which Histadrut representatives and members of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions pledged to work together.


Alastair Hunter (n.b., not Hunt) deserves a lot of credit for his courageous handling of this affair.

By the way, I'm pretty sure that the reference to the Birmingham branch of the AUT later in the article is a mistake for the Bristol branch. I would be most surprised (albeit very pleased) if the Birmingham branch, home of the boycott's chief architects, voted to reject the boycott.

I can't find the AUT Scotland statement anywhere on the Web. If anyone has the full text, please send it to me and I'll post it.

Also, I just noticed that the original AUT web page that made the case for the boycott is now inaccessible except to AUT members. I guess that shows how confident the AUT is of the arguments it accepted to institute the boycott. I expected something like this, so I copied much of the relevant material here quite some time ago. I should have followed my instinct and copied all of it.
PROFESSOR JAMES BARR has had a serious accident. Professor Heather McKay, SOTS Membership Secretary, e-mails the following on the SOTS mailing list:
MESSAGE FROM Prof Doug Knight (Vanderbilt)

I just received a call from Jane Barr, wife of James Barr, Emeritus Regius Professor of Hebrew at Oxford and Emeritus Distinguished Professor of Hebrew Bible at Vanderbilt.

James had a serious accident two weeks ago while attending the meeting of the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia. He fell down a steep staircase, striking his head badly. He has been in the hospital ever since, most of the time in the intensive care unit. For the last several days he has been awake and quite responsive, though unable to speak because of a breathing tube through the mouth. Today he is undergoing a tracheotomy. Jane said that the doctors are reluctant to make promises about his long-term recovery because of the brain injury he sustained from the fall, but she understands that it may take up to a year for him to regain his health and function.

Jane herself seemed quite distraught, as one might expect. Their daughter and two sons have been with them at the hospital for much of the time.

I asked how we could be of help, and she indicated she would appreciate that word be passed to others who know them.

I am very sorry to hear this and I wish Professor Barr a speedy and full recovery.
"KABBALIST BLESSES JONES: Now�s the Time to Find Holy Lost Ark." I swear I'm not making this headline up.

Vendyl Jones claims to be the inspiration for Indiana Jones, which is appropriate, because his plans for finding the Ark are about as plausible as the scenario in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
JOHN BROWN'S DIVINING FOR OIL IN ISRAEL is the subject of a USA Today article:
His mission: Seek and ye shall find oil

By Leah Krauss, Special for USA TODAY

KIBBUTZ MAANIT, Israel � John Brown believes he'll find oil in central Israel, although he has no scientific data or particular experience in the drilling business on which to base that.

The Dallas native is a relative novice in the energy industry. He says he'll find oil because his reading of the Bible tells him it's right here � under Maanit, an inland plain northeast of Tel Aviv, where he began drilling last month.


I have commented on the project here. The only thing to add is that, once again, it does not occur to a journalist to ask someone who specializes in biblical Hebrew whether the claims make any sense or not. Sigh.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

THE SBL CARG SESSION on biblioblogging, coming in November, is mentioned by Mark Goodacre, who posts the abstract of Rick Brannan's paper. I gave Kirk Lowery the abstract for mine, but Mark doesn't seem to have it. Here it is:

The rise of weblogs or "blogs" (basically just web pages produced with software that facilitates frequent updates and allows links to individual posts) as a media and political force has been an important cultural milestone in the last few years. Along with political pundits, hobbyists, diarists, etc., biblical scholars and those in related academic disciplines have also been establishing a niche for themselves in the "Blogosphere." By common consent, or at least in resignation, biblical scholars who blog refer to themselves as "bibliobloggers." As of this writing in the spring of 2005, for the last two years I have operated a blog called PaleoJudaica, which focuses on news and Internet content on ancient Judaism and its historical and linguistic context. Since PaleoJudaica began, there has been a gradual but ultimately geometric increase in the number of biblioblogs. At present I am aware of more than two dozen.

Given the rate at which web-based technology and its effects on our culture are developing, it is difficult to predict more than half a year in advance what aspects of blogging will be of greatest interest at the time of this CARG session. But I plan to share with you some of my experiences with PaleoJudaica and also to describe my work on Qumranica, a blog I have set up for the spring semester of 2005 for a course I am teaching on the Dead Sea Scrolls. I will also discuss some of the uses to which I and other bibliobloggers have put our blogs, such as commenting on and supplementing media stories in our areas of expertise; noting errors (which frequently are rife) in such stories; reporting on scholarly conferences we've attended; sharing our preliminary thoughts on our research; and sometimes providing advance summaries of scholarly work we are publishing.

UPDATE: Stephen Carlson collects and comments on recent posts pertaining to blogging. Me, I find blogging fun and restorative and should I stop feeling that way at some point, I'll probably stop blogging. I can't see that it has hurt my productivity and so far it's even led to a professional presentation (above) and a publication that I wouldn't have had otherwise. I may be an addict, but I'm a well-adjusted one.
AUT ISRAEL-BOYCOTT UPDATE: John Lyons, Lecturer in New Testament at Bristol University, e-mails to let me know that the Bristol chapter of the AUT has just passed the following motion. I understand that similar statements have been passed by Oxford, Cambridge, Sussex, and Warwick Universities.
This association regrets and deplores the resolution of the AUT Council to implement an academic boycott of Haifa and Bar-Ilan Universities in Israel. The ideals of an academic community and of academic freedom are such that a boycott of this nature could only be even contemplated after the case and the evidence for it had been searchingly examined and widely debated amongst members. Yet Council passed its resolutions on the basis of a perfunctory and one-sided debate.

The politics of the region are complex and members properly take a range of different views on the conflicts there. Moreover, it is perverse and counterproductive for British academics to seek to isolate members of the Israeli academic community, many of whom have been among the most vocal members of their society in opposing their government's policies. To single out Israel in this manner, whilst continuing to maintain relations with universities in such countries as China and Russia, is a sign of an unwarranted selectivity.

We should also be mindful of the effect on our own members. There are a significant number of Jewish members of the Association, many of whom identify with Israel as the Jewish national homeland. We take no view here for or against Zionism. But we recognize that such members of theAssociation are bound to feel marginalized and excluded by this resolution. Again, only the most compelling of cases, searchingly examined and widely debated, could warrant a decision with such a side-effect. No such examination or debate took place.

Accordingly, we resolve:

(1) to reject the call to boycott Israeli universities.

(2) to call on the AUT nationally to reverse its policy, which we deplore.

(3) to call on the AUT National Executive to call an emergency or extraordinary meeting of Council to discuss this policy.

(4) To take no measures locally to implement the current national policy on this matter.

(5) to deplore the fact that AUT Council made such a decision on the basis of a perfunctory and one-sided debate.'

Well done.

As a side note, the British government has finally made a statement on the boycott:
Howells wants end to Israeli boycott dispute

Polly Curtis, [Guardian] education correspondent
Tuesday May 17, 2005

The government made its debut in the row over the academic boycott of two Israeli universities today when the middle east minister, Kim Howells, issued a plea for a "peaceful" resolution to the row.


Mr Howells, who was minister for higher education until the post-election reshuffle and at the time that the boycott was agreed, said in a carefully-worded statement today: "I welcome the fact that the Association of University Teachers is to reconsider, on 26 May, its decision to boycott Bar Ilan and Haifa universities. I hope that the AUT will ensure the issue is fully-debated and will invite the two universities to express their views.

"The British government fully supports academic freedom and appreciates the independence of the AUT. But as a friend of both Israel and the Palestinians, we believe that we can best encourage both sides to take the steps needed for progress through close engagement to achieve a peaceful resolution."


The statement is indeed carefully worded (although not so carefully that the Guardian reporter couldn't misread it -- the "peaceful resolution" refers to the Israel/Palestine conflict, not the AUT controversy.) But it does make clear that the government thinks the boycott is a bad idea, which is all to the good.

But then there's this:
ADL's boss threatens boycott of UK academe
By Yair Sheleg (Ha'aretz)

The Anti-Defamation League is considering launching a counter academic boycott against British academia if Britain's Association of Union Teachers (AUT) fails to cancel its boycott of Bar-Ilan and Haifa universities, ADL National Director Abraham Foxman told Haaretz.

Such a counter boycott would not be restricted to Jews. "We would approach all the leading universities in the United States, and say to them: `If you believe in academic freedom and freedom of expression, don't accept the British boycott,'" said Foxman.


It's not entirely clear what Foxman has in mind, but if it really involves a boycott of British universities, it's not very helpful and doesn't show a clear understanding of the situation. The AUT does not speak for British academics or British universities and it would be ridiculous to punish us all for the AUT's bad decision. Please do back up those of us who oppose the boycott, but not this way.
MICHAEL PAHL blogs the Calgary conference on second temple Judaism. But where are the pictures, Michael?

UPDATE (19 May): Now there's a picture. Thanks Michael.
Stolen rare artifact recovered in mail
By ETGAR LEFKOVITS (Jerusalem Post)

A rare archaeological artifact dating back nearly two thousand years which was stolen from an archaeological site in Israel has been intercepted in the mail en route to the US, Israel's Antiquities Authority announced Tuesday.

The 5-7 cm lead weight,[mishkolet oferet] dating back to the second century Bar Kochba Revolt, was hidden inside a book sent by airmail.

The unusual package was sent by a former Israeli antiquities dealer to a prominent American antiquities dealer in New York, the head of the Antiquities Authority's anti-theft division Amir Ganor said.


This success is good news, but the overall picture continues to worsen:
About 300 archeology thefts are detected each year in Israel, with the illicit antiquities trade on the black market in the country estimated to be running in the millions of dollars a year.

Despite the overall drop in violence in Israel, the number of antiquities theft has risen more than 50 percent in the last year alone.

In 2004 there were 314 reported cases of antiquities theft, compared to less than 200 in 2003. The phenomenon of antiquities theft has taken on gold rush dimensions, with an antiquities site now plundered every day on average.
TRIAL DELAYED: The antiquities forgery trial in Israel has been delayed until September:
Antiquities fraud trial opens, then adjourns for four months
By The Associated Press

Five suspects in a forgery ring that allegedly produced a treasure trove of fake Bible-era artifacts went on trial yesterday in Jerusalem, but the judge agreed to adjourn until September.

Defense attorneys said they need more time to prepare, noting that investigators provided some of their material only in recent days. The next hearing is set for Sept. 4.


Tuesday, May 17, 2005

SOME BOZO? Why do e-mail messages from the Society of Biblical Literature to its membership now consistently contain the name "Some Bozo" in the sender field? I have e-mailed them about this and received no reply. I think someone needs to update a default setting.

UPDATE (18 May): The SBL technical people have been in touch. Whatever the problem is, it seems to arise in the Eudora Macintosh system I'm using and shows up only in the mailbox. One version of it is discussed here and a fix for it is given here. But this involves messages sent with no return address, which is not the case with the SBL messages I've been getting. Anyhow, thanks to Lauren Hightower and Bob Buller for their prompt replies.
THOMAS THOMPSON previews his new book on the Bible and Intepretation website:
Creating Biblical Figures

I reconsider the theme of life�s victory over death through the perspective of the related themes of �new wine� and �blood of the covenant,�... is intimately connected to the fertility myth of the dying and rising god, from Tammuz and Ba�al to Dionysus.

By Thomas L. Thompson
Professor of Old Testament,
University of Copenhagen
May 2005

Job, in his utopian, king-like role in Job 29, provides me with a useful paradigm for the biblical figure of the messiah (Th.L. Thompson and H.Tronier, Frelsens Biografisering, Museum Tusculanum: Copenhagne, 2004, 115-134) and an internal coherence to my new book, The Messiah Myth: The Near Eastern Roots of Jesus and David (Basic Books: New York, 2005), which provides the theme of a seminar this coming semester. ...

An online seminar, I hope? I've been interested in royal ideology in the Jesus traditions for a long time, so I look forward to reading this one. But if he really is arguing that Jesus never existed (as the Amazon reviews seem to indicate), he's got his work cut out for him. Note the review by biblioblogger Michael Turton in particular for a detailed commentary.
TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: I'm not sure what to make of this one.
Israelis Foil Plot by Jewish Extremists

Tuesday May 17, 2005 3:31 AM

AP Photo JRL152


Associated Press Writer

JERUSALEM (AP) - Three Jewish extremists planned to fire a missile into Islam's third-holiest shrine in hopes of unleashing mayhem across the Middle East and halting Israel's planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank this summer, police said Monday.

Officials admitted that hard evidence in the case was weak, but other opponents of the pullout showed Monday that even small numbers of demonstrators can tie up police throughout Israel, blocking main highways with burning tires and their own bodies. At least 300 people were detained, police said.


The plot apparently did not progress past the stage of discussion. No missile was purchased, no concrete plans were made and authorities did not have enough evidence against the three to go beyond ordering house arrest for a short time last month before releasing them.

Israel's Justice Ministry said the suspects would not be indicted because there was no evidence they carried out any part of the plot, and they had second thoughts about it even before they were detained.

Naftali Wirtzburger, attorney for the three, said his clients never served in the army and have no idea how to fire a missile. He accused security forces of entrapment.


There just isn't enough information here to tell what was really going on, but it sounds as if it could have been serious.

UPDATE: More details here and here. The plot sounds half baked, but dangerous and not to be ignored.

Monday, May 16, 2005

CALL FOR PAPERS ON SYRIAC: George Kiraz e-mails on the Hugoye list:
Periodically, Hugoye sends a call for submissions.

Hugoye is an peer-reviewed scholarly journal dedicated to Syriac studies, and is published twice a year in electronic form and in print. Papers on all aspects of Syriac studies are welcomed. For information, please see:

George Kiraz, General Editor

Actually, it appears that the correct address is The one above redirects you to this one.
JEWISH MOSAICS FROM THE ROMAN PERIOD will be on display at the Brooklyn Museum in their Tree of Paradise: Jewish Mosaics from the Roman Empire exhibition, according to
BROOKLYN, N.Y.- Twenty-one extraordinary Roman-period mosaics from the first archaeological ruins of an ancient synagogue to be discovered in modern times will be on view September 9 through November 20, 2005, at the Brooklyn Museum. This exhibition will examine the role of these mosaics, acquired by the Museum in 1905, in the development of synagogue decoration in the late Roman Empire. Approximately thirty-eight related artifacts, such as contemporaneous textiles, marble statues, gold jewelry, and bronze ritual objects, will be included.

Tree of Paradise: Jewish Mosaics from the Roman Empire will investigate the origins of synagogues, the development of Jewish art in the Roman period, female patronage in the ancient synagogue, the differences between early Christian and Jewish symbolism in art, and the relationship between ancient and modern synagogues.


Sunday, May 15, 2005

LEVANT ARCHAEOLOGY PROJECT: Calvin College News reports:
Calvin Prof Part of Norwegian Grant
May 13, 2005

Calvin College history professor Bert de Vries will be joining an international team of 16 archaeologists, anthropologists, geographers, historians and sociologists, including Bethany Walker of Grand Valley State, in a wide-ranging study of global moments in Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria - an area known as "the Levant."

The work will be funded over four years by a $2.6 million (16 million Norwegian kroner) grant from the Norwegian Research Council. The team was one of 17 successful applications out of 263 in an annual competition for 250 million Norwegian kroners of NRC funding for basic research in all fields.

THE MUSEUM OF BIBLICAL ART in Manhattan is reopening with displays on William Miller (the founder of the "Millerite" movement), evangelical art from the American South, and this:
The museum, formerly the Gallery of the American Bible Society -- the society was the main donor for the expansion -- also has a smaller exhibit showing centuries-old Bibles in Latin, Chinese, Syriac, Spanish and German, and a Torah scroll, at least 400 years old, from a synagogue in Kaifeng, China.

AUT ISRAEL-BOYCOTT UPDATE: Carla Sulzbach e-mails to point to the following response from Haifa University. Excerpt:
The University of Haifa is saddened and not a little outraged by the utterly unjust and unjustifiable decision of the AUT and by its attempt to erect barriers and obstruct the flow of ideas within the international academic community.

In lieu of evidence to support the singling out of Israeli academia, the authors of this campaign have chosen to adopt a three-year old urban legend.

We are astounded by the fact that the AUT never requested our response prior to adopting their resolution, and did not allow our position to be presented by members of the AUT who are familiar with the facts.

The case against Israeli academia, in general, and the University of Haifa in particular, is devoid of empirical evidence and violates the principle of due process. Driven by a prior and prejudicial assumption of guilt, the AUT has refused to confuse itself with facts.


Whatever the merits of the case, the conduct of the AUT before the vote was reprehensible.