Saturday, June 04, 2005

THE ORIGINAL AFRICAN HERITAGE STUDY BIBLE is the subject of an article in the Los Angeles Times:
Bible Emphasizes Roles of Blacks, Africa in History

� This King James Version's depiction of Moses, Jesus and Mary as dark-skinned instills pride in an ancient heritage.

By K. Connie Kang, Times Staff Writer

When real estate developer Karen Bunkley bought a copy of the Original African Heritage Study Bible for a class at Holman United Methodist Church in Los Angeles two years ago, she couldn't put it down.

The text is the King James Version. But, in a marked departure from traditional Bibles, it highlights all the passages that refer to Africa or Africans and includes commentaries putting such history and culture into context. It also contains maps of Africa and illustrations of Bible characters � Moses, Jesus, Mary � all with dark skin and curly hair.


I've not seen this and can't comment on it. But here is what biblical scholar Vincent Wimbush has to say about it:
Vincent L. Wimbush, a professor of religion at Claremont Graduate University, says his view of the African heritage study Bible is "mixed."

"I see the project as a response � almost a desperate cry on the part of people away from the center of the discourse about the Bible," he said.

In trying to correct the "Europeanization" of the Bible, however, they may be making the same mistakes that Europeans made by whitening the Bible, Wimbush said.

"That just leaves us playing the same kind of the game: Mine is better than yours," he said. "I think that whole game is flawed, suspect and dangerous."
JOSEPHUS IN THE NEWS: has recycled an article on "Dead Sea Minerals and Skincare Products : Cleopatra's Beauty Secret" that extols the healing virtues of Dead Sea mud. It originally came from the Jerusalem Post, although this is not acknowledged. For commentary on the references to the Queen of Sheba, Cleopatra, and Josephus, see my earlier post here I don't know whether Josephus actually said anything like this or not.
MORE ON THE PROPOSED SILWAN HOUSE-DEMOLITIONS: This UPI article has lots of details from both sides of the controversy and is worth a read.
Palestinian neighborhood fears demolitions


The two-story house is one of 88 that Jerusalem's municipality says have been built illegally and should be removed to restore an open public area in the valley that it wants to make a national park. The archaeological and ancient remains in that area "have an international and national value and they give the city its status as one of the most valuable cities in the world," Jerusalem City Engineer Uri Shetrit said.

It is the most important archaeological site in the country, said Amihai Mazarm a professor at the Institute of Archaeology. Large areas have been excavated, King David's palace was probably there, but dense Arab and Jewish construction in recent years prevents archaeological digs, he told United Press International.

"The issue is who lives in the village (now), not where David walked 3,000 years ago. ... This cannot be a reason to take (down) houses of people who have lived here all their lives," said peace activist Meir Margalit of the Israel Committee Against House Demolitions.

Palestinians and peace activists suspect the municipality's moves in Silwan are part of Israel's efforts to surround Jerusalem's Arab neighborhoods with a string of Jewish homes. That would cut East Jerusalem from its West Bank hinterland and then East Jerusalem could hardly be the Palestinian state's future capital.


Friday, June 03, 2005

SPECIAL TREASURES of the Jewish Theological Seminary Library are now available for viewing online. Among these are Cairo Geniza fragments of Talmudic and other texts and of texts by Maimonides, including one containing his signature.

(Via Hagahot.)

Thursday, June 02, 2005

MENE MENE TEKEL UPHARSIN: Philologos has a good column on this mysterious phrase.
Haredim riot in renewed grave protest
By ETGAR LEFKOVITS (Jerusalem Post)

Several dozen haredim pelted motorists, buses and police with stones Wednesday night at a central Jerusalem thoroughfare in renewed protest over what they believe is the desecration of ancient graves during construction of the trans-Israel highway, police said.


Once again, archaeologists say there are no ancient graves there.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

ESCHATOLOGY IN THE NEWS: Arutz Sheva has a piece by one Moshe Lerman entitled In the Footsteps of the Moshiach," which gives a very (very) detailed exegesis of Daniel's seventy weeks (Daniel9:24-27) , combined with Lurianic Kabbalah, with the agenda of proving that Meir Kahane was the Messiah ben Joseph (the suffering messiah in rabbinic tradition who dies in battle -- I can't find a good link) and that the new Sanhedrin is predicted in scripture. If I am reading Lerman correctly, he reckons that Daniel's final seven weeks of years began around 1970 (20 years before Kahane's assassination). This is a wonderful modern-day example of actualization of scripture for current events in the exegete's time (one of my research interests for the second temple period). Which is by no means, of course, to endorse the writer's political views, exegesis, or forecasts.
BLOGGING -- how ... Ciceronian.
Fire Destroys Part of Dead Sea Reserve

Tuesday May 31, 2005 9:31 PM

JERUSALEM (AP) - Two-thirds of Israel's Ein Gedi nature reserve was destroyed by fire Tuesday, causing considerable damage to animal and plant life in the lush oasis sandwiched between the harsh Judean Desert and the Dead Sea.


Also at risk are archaeological sites, including ruins from the Chalcolithic period about 4,000 B.C., when inhabitants first began to use copper. During the Byzantine period, the Jewish residents of the area built a synagogue there. Ein Gedi also is mentioned in the Bible.

The cause of the fire isn't known yet. It seems no one was injured, but there's nothing about whether any of the archaeological sites were damaged.

UPDATE: My doctoral student, Ian Werrett, e-mails to point to this Jerusalem Post article, which suggests that the fire was started by a cigarette. He adds:
As you know, I was on the archaeological team working at the Byzantine site in Ein Gedi in 1996/97 and, based on the description of the fire in the Jerusalem Post, I doubt that it came anywhere near the Byzantine site or the ancient tell of Ein Gedi. It sounds to me that the fire happened in Nahal David, which is half a mile or so to the west of these two sites. Having said that, the Chalcolithic site is on the cliffs above Nahal David and could have been damaged but, if memory serves, there is little to no vegetation around the Chalcolithic ruins.
GRAVE CONTROVERSY CONTINUES: The construction of Highway 6 near Kibbutz Regavim is proceeding again, despite Hareidi Orthodox protests, but the Israeli Transportation Minister has promised to stop it if any ancient graves are actually found.
THE PLAN TO DEMOLISH PALESTINIAN HOMES IN SILWAN is receiving vigorous press coverage. There are articles in the Jerusalem Post, Ha'aretz, Al Jazeera, and the Scotsman. Reuters considers whether the demolition of a mosque is involved and Scoop reports that there will be a protest rally in Silwan this afternoon.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

OXYRHYNCHUS PAPYRI WATCH: The New York Times has an article ("Historical Discovery? Well, Yes and No") which explicitly corrects some of the excesses of the Independent article that started the whole media discussion. Excerpt:
As is so often the case with British newspapers, the Independent article turned out to be both true and not true. It was right to say that new technology was indeed making it easier, in some cases, to read the Oxyrhynchus material, and that new discoveries were being made. But it was not right to say that the technology had just been discovered, or that it was functioning as a sort of Rosetta stone, or that so many new revelations were emerging as to herald "a second Renaissance."

"This stuff has been coming out for years now, and some of the things mentioned in the Independent story are months or years old," said Dr. James Romm, an associate professor of classics at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y., and the director of its classical studies program. He called the article "very much overhyped" in a field where any public attention at all is rare.

"I'd love to know who first talked to whom in order to generate such good P.R," Dr. Romm said in an interview. "There is material coming out from those authors, but it's coming out in dribs and drabs."

(Via Rogue Classicism.)

UPDATE: Just occurred to me to ask, why the qualification "British newspapers" in the first quoted sentence? Sounds pretty typical of the press to me. The New York Times is not exempt. (See also here and here.)
ILLEGAL PALESTINIAN HOUSING in the vicinity of early Jerusalem is slated to be demolished:
Jerusalem to raze Silwan homes
By Meron Rapoport (Ha'aretz)

The Jerusalem Municipality has begun proceedings to raze 88 buildings housing some 1,000 residents in the Silwan neighborhood, to "restore the area to its landscape of yore," according to the city engineer, Uri Shetrit. The demolition, if it goes ahead, will be among the largest to take place in East Jerusalem since 1967.

The Silwan houses are within a neighborhood the Palestinians call "al-Bustan" and the municipality calls "King's Valley." It's located inside the wadi sloping down from the City of David, below the Old City, adjacent to the compound settled by Jews from the non-profit organization Elad. Wadia al-Fahari, who is coordinating residents' action, says that the neighborhood's earliest houses date from the 1940s and `50s, and most houses were built in the late 1980s and early `90s on private land belonging to Silwan villagers.

Shetrit issued a letter in November 2004 "ordering the removal of illegal construction in King's Valley." Shetrit's letter explained that the area is "the beginnings of Jerusalem" from 5,000 years ago, and that "King's Valley, along with the tel of David's City, constitutes an entire archaeological entity in which all of the sites are interconnected."


If the demolition proceeds, I imagine it will be controversial.

Monday, May 30, 2005

A DEAD SEA SCROLLS MUSEUM IN TENNESSEE? Maybe. The curator (owner?) of the Ink and Blood exhibition seems to be setting out to found one.
Biblical museum possible for 'Boro

(Daily News Journal)

The curator of a traveling exhibit of authentic Dead Sea Scroll fragments and rare Bibles said Murfreesboro would be his first choice for a permanent museum to display the massive collection of artifacts and manuscripts.

A 10-15 acre site near state Route 840 and Interstate 24 in Rutherford County would be the perfect location, said William Noah, a local physician and exhibit curator.


Artifacts now on exhibit range from fragments of Dead Sea Scroll fragments, the very earliest biblical fragments in existence; ancient inkwells that date from 2000 B.C. to the time of Christ; Proto Cuneiform clay tablets, pictographic writings dating from 3100 B.C.; and Roman artifacts such as coins, medical instruments and Byzantine jewelry.

A nonprofit entity � the National Museum of Biblical History � was formed this year as a fund-raising vehicle for the permanent museum of the same name. A portion of the proceeds of the Ink & Blood Dead Sea Scrolls to the English Bible Museum beginning with the Lexington, Ky. exhibit, which opens in Lexington Center June 24, will go toward funding the museum.

John Kea, chairman of the nonprofit board, said he expects it to be a number of years before the museum will become a reality.

OXYRHYNCHUS PAPYRI (ETC.) WATCH: The Washington Post has an article ("Imaging Technology Makes Ancient Text Readable") on the use of multispectral imaging on the Oxyrhynchus papyri and the Herculaneum scrolls, with special attention to work at BYU. On a quick read-through I didn't see any notable inaccuracies. A couple of excerpts:
Obbink, who holds appointments at both Oxford and the University of Michigan, is a leading authority on ancient classics and conservation. He won a 2001 MacArthur Fellowship for his work at both Oxyrhynchus and Herculaneum. In 1996, he reconstructed Philodemus's "On Piety," a treatise on the gods and religion, from seemingly disparate pieces of the Herculaneum scrolls.

At Oxyrhynchus, Obbink is trying to repeat this achievement by recovering Hesiod's "Catalogue of Women," a genealogy describing the love affairs of gods with mortals and the offspring they produced. "We have so many pieces now that the text can be said to exist," Obbink said. "There are a lot of gaps, but you can read it."

That being the case, the following is especially interesting to someone who works on the Old Testament pseudepigrapha, which often were written in or now survive translated into most of these same languages:
Obbink and his colleagues have found a variety of languages and scripts in the fragments. Besides Greek and Latin, they include Hieratic (cursive hieroglyphs), Demotic (hieroglyphic shorthand), Coptic (Egyptian with the Greek alphabet), Aramaic, Hebrew, Persian, Old Nubian, Syriac and, in the later deposits, Arabic.

Obbink is going through 725 boxes of material to pick out the promising fragments, which are assigned to students "who translate them and try to figure them out," he said. "It's part of learning Greek and Latin, and it sharpens your editing skills."
TODAY the annual Scottish Universities postgraduate day-conference is taking place here in St. Andrews, with St. Mary's College (and, more specifically, yours truly) as host. We have 20 student papers and a keynote address by Professor Philip Elser. It will be a very full day and I have commitments in the evening as well. I will try to do some blogging if I get a few minutes free here or there, but no promises.

UPDATE: The conference went very well, with 55-60 attending from St. Andrews, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Glasgow, and Stirling. Many thanks to all who participated, attended, and helped out.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

CHILD SACRIFICE IN CARTHAGE UPDATE: Philip Harland agrees with me and N. S. Gill provides some background links.
THE TALMUD ON WHEN LIFE BEGINS? The Washington Post has an article today on the theological debate over the use of stem cells, a subject that has been touched on before in PaleoJudaica. I'm not interested in getting into the debate, but this paragraph caught my eye (my emphasis):
DeLay and others who oppose stem cell research on theological grounds might be surprised to learn that it is not Abraham but Adam whose life and circumstances are interpreted by Jewish and Muslim thinkers when they assess the morality of this science. In Genesis, God breathes into a lump of clay to form the first man, Adam. Thus, life is seen as beginning when organs, particularly the lungs, develop, since it is then that the vital spirit arrives. The Talmud states that before 40 days, what is in the uterus is akin to water, not a human being. DeLay would do well to return to the Bible, because rabbis and imams who read it as their source of inspiration would not concur that Abraham's life and Muhammad's life were defined some seven to eight days after their conception, the time when researchers take stem cells from the blastocyst.

Is it true that the Talmud says this? If so, can anyone give me the reference?

UPDATE: Nachum J. Stone refers me to Bekhorot 21b and Carla Sulzbach to Yebamoth 69b.

UPDATE (1 June): For somewhat related matters, see my earlier post "Abortion and the Torah."