Saturday, June 25, 2005

MORE ON MESSIANIC JEWS: David Klinghoffer published an essay on them a while ago in the Forward. It's been reprinted in various places, most recently (as noted by Michael Pahl) in Jewcy, evidently as a counterpoint to the essay by Rabbi Marc Howard Wilson on Jews for Jesus, discussed here. More evidence for the complexity of real-life religious identities.
Are we fair to messianic Jews?
Some criticize messianic Jews for blurring the distinction between Judaism and Christianity. But are they any different from those who blur traditional Jewish values and those of secular liberalism?
Herod the one about an MSPs' temple on top of Arthur's Seat?


THE controversial �431 million Holyrood parliament could one day be replaced by a replica of Herod's Temple positioned on the top of Salisbury Crags, according to a new book.

Edinburgh-born architect and author Alan Balfour came up with the vision as he tried to imagine what the Scottish Parliament would be like in 500 years' time.

But Mr Balfour, now a professor of architecture in New York, is quick to make clear he is not advocating such a plan. But in a new book on Enric Miralles' Holyrood building, Creating a Scottish Parliament, he visualises how the parliament will develop over the next 50, 100 and 500 years.

By 2505, he says, the current parliament will be too small. And he goes on: "Imagine it sitting in the shadow of its successor - a new building, formed to the disgust of those who would wish to separate religion from politics, in the most theatrical reconstruction of Herod's Temple, spread across the crest of Salisbury Crags.


Yeah, and imagine how much that project would go over its budget.
THE PETRA EXHIBIT at Calvin College is profiled by the Northwest Indiana Times:
One Tank Trip: Grand Rapids, Mich
Travel back to a Middle East metropolis in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Times Correspondent

This story ran on on Saturday, June 25, 2005 1:04 AM CDT

Travel back several millenniums to "Petra: Lost City of Stone," an exhibit at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., about 2-1/2 hours northeast of Munster.

Petra, once a major Middle East metropolis carved out of red sandstone cliffs (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was filmed here), stood at the crossroads of the silk and spice trade routes. Considered a major exhibit with 200 artifacts including a life-size bronze cast of a Roman goddess never displayed before, this is Petra's last stop in the U.S.

Petra is where the Nabataeans built temples, tombs, houses, altars and aqueducts and became one of the major metropolitan outposts of its time, home to some 20,000 people. During its prime, in the century or so before the birth of Christ, the city was considered the wealthiest and the Nabataean empire included parts of Jordan, Israel, Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia.


It looks pretty accurate, apart from the first line: I don't think Petra has existed for several millennia.
Biblical garden features plants used centuries ago

By Candy Williams
Saturday, June 25, 2005

The sweet smells of summer are a little sweeter this season at the Rodef Shalom Biblical Botanical Garden in Oakland.

From intense jasmine to the delicate scent of a rose, from the pungent leaves of oregano to the welcome aroma of the cinnamon tree's bark, spices and fragrances from biblical times to the present are the focus of an exhibit created by Irene Jacob, of Point Breeze, founding director and caretaker of the garden for 19 years.

Through plantings, programs and tours, her display welcomes visitors to a virtual journey through thousands of years of taste and smell. The exhibit opened June 1 and runs through Sept. 15.

Jacob has taken special care to identify plants, the country of origin and Bible verses in which they are mentioned on markers staked in the ground next to different species. ...

Friday, June 24, 2005

NAHUM SARNA has passed away. Jim West has some information. May Professor Sarna's memory be for a blessing.

UPDATE: Jim e-mails to note that Tyler Williams has some biographical and bibliographical information, as well as a photo, posted on his Codex blog.

UPDATE (25 June): The New York Times has posted an obituary:
Nahum Sarna, 82, a Translator of the Torah, Is Dead

Published: June 25, 2005

Nahum Sarna, a biblical scholar who did notable translations of Scripture for modern readers, notably his work on the Jewish Publication Society's "Torah (New Translation)," died on Thursday at his home in Boca Raton, Fla. He was 82, and a former resident of Newton, Mass.


UPDATE (29 June): for corrections to this obituary, see here.
SOME CRITICISMS OF THE INK AND BLOOD EXHIBITION, which opens today in Lexington, Kentucky:
Bits and pieces of early Bible writings


By Sarah Vos


Ink & Blood, an exhibit on the history of the Bible that opens here today, has been heavily promoted on radio and television by a former Miss America and touted by area churches.

In ads, Heather French Henry calls it the "most comprehensive museum exhibition ever on the Bible."

But some scholars say the exhibit has more of an evangelical Christian spin than a historical one, that its advertising of the pieces of Dead Sea Scrolls is misleading and that one of the exhibits, the Marzeah Papyrus, may be a modern forgery.

In case you're not familiar with the somewhat acrimonious origin of the exhibit, this article summarizes it:
Ink & Blood: Dead Sea Scrolls to the English Bible was organized by Dr. William Noah, a Nashville-area pulmonologist, and traces the evolution of the Bible from early writings to the Dead Sea Scrolls to translations into Latin, German, French, and, most importantly from the exhibit's point of view, English.

Noah, 44, pulled the exhibit together from private collections, including his own. He doesn't have any formal training in biblical studies, but he has studied on his own and traveled around the world to see important Bibles and other artifacts. He wrote the panels that explain the objects and had scholars in the field review them, he said.

Ink & Blood isn't Noah's first Bible-related exhibition. In Dallas and Akron, Ohio, Noah and Bruce Ferrini, an Ohio art collector, and Lee Biondi, a California antiquities expert, put together an exhibit under a company called HisStory LLC. That exhibit included Dead Sea Scroll fragments from Ferrini's private collection.

The partnership broke up, and HisStory filed for bankruptcy in February 2004. In a related lawsuit, Noah accused Ferrini of taking close to $400,000 of the Dallas exhibition's profits and not giving Noah some $28,000 from gift-shop sales of videotapes and books created by Noah.

Since the breakup of HisStory, Biondi has put together a competing traveling exhibition called The Dead Sea Scrolls to the Bible in America. That exhibit was in Paducah earlier this year.

The first criticism is that the Dead Sea Scrolls fragments are not much to look at:
The pieces in the Lexington exhibit are small. They measure in centimeters, and the letters are no longer visible because time has blackened the animal skins they were written on. Some contain only a few letters from the scroll they were once a part of.

Weston Fields, executive director of the Dead Sea Scrolls Foundation, which helps coordinate Israeli Antiquity Authority-approved exhibitions of the scrolls, calls exhibits like Ink & Blood misleading.

"It's not really being honest with the public to advertise these tiny little things as a Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit," Fields said, despite the fact that they are genuine.

I believe this has been called the "burnt cornflake" look.

The second criticism is that the prominently featured "Marzeah Papyrus" may be a fake:
But Christopher Rollston, a paleographer at the Emmanuel School of Religion in Tennessee, said there are hundreds of written documents from the period. The papyrus is significant because it talks about a Marzeah, an ancient ritual gathering that is mentioned twice in the Old Testament and in the literature of other cultures. Scholars don't know exactly what it is.

But, it's the writing, along with the papyrus's mysterious origins, that makes Rollston wonder if it isn't a fake. To him, it looks like a mixture of Aramaic, Hebrew, Moabite and Anamite.

"I think that the forger didn't really do his homework on scripts," Rollston said. "Because we never have this mixture of scripts in any other inscriptions."

In addition, the papyrus wasn't found in an archeological dig, which means scholars don't know where it came from or how it was discovered. It first appeared on the antiquities market sometime during the last 25 years. In that same period, several modern forgeries purported to be religious antiquities have appeared on the market.

Over at Ralph, Ed Cook has also questioned the authenticity of the Marzeah Papyrus and has noted Rollston's reservations about it.
PROSTITUTION IN ANTIQUITY: Ha'aretz ("Origins of the sex industry") summarizes the latest issue of the journal Zmanim, which issue is devoted to this subject. Excerpt:
Mayer Gruber of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) reaches more solid conclusions in "Prostitutes and Prostitution in the Biblical World." He starts by exploring the many meanings of the Hebrew word "zona" in the Bible. Usually it means a woman who sells sex for money. But in some cases, the verb "zana" (whored) is synonymous with "na'af" (commited adultery) and refers to a married woman who sleeps with a man who is not her husband. The prophets used zona as a metaphor for a society that has abandoned the pursuit of decency and social justice. They compared the Israelites, who turned their back on God and embraced other gods, to a woman who has violated her marriage vows.

"The Torah, the prophets and rabbinic literature were critical of the profession," writes Gruber, but nowhere in these texts is there any allusion that prostitutes or those who availed themselves of their services were punished or deserving of punishment. Most surprising of all is Gruber's conclusion that there were no cult prostitutes in biblical times. "There is no evidence, either in the Bible or Ugaritic and Akkadian texts, of sex being part of any religious ritual," he stresses. "This is a myth which spread from book to book, very much like a computer virus."

Incidentally, the articles on "Prostitution" and "Prostitution (Cultic)" in the Anchor Bible Dictionary come to the same conclusion.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

JOURNAL OF BIBLICAL LITERATURE 124.2 (2005) has just been posted. Back issues are available for free, but you must log in as an SBL member to view the current issue. Here is the table of contents:
Exodus 31:12�17: The Sabbath according to H, or the Sabbath according to P and H?

The Ambidextrous Angel (Daniel 12:7 and Deuteronomy 32:40): Inner-biblical Exegesis and Textual Criticism in Counterpoint

On the Dating of Hebrew Sound Changes H > H and G > and Greek Translations (2 Esdras and Judith)

Defending the �Western Non-Interpolations�: The Case for an Anti-Separationist Tendenz in the Longer Alexandrian Readings

The Character of the Lame Man in Acts 3�4

1 Corinthians 11:3�16: Spirit Possession and Authority in a Non-Pauline Interpolation

The Last Battle of Hadadezer

Book Reviews

J'lem offers compromise on Silwan demolitions
By ETGAR LEFKOVITS (Jerusalem Post)

The Jerusalem Municipality has proposed that Arab residents of the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan present the city with an alternative housing plan to scores of illegal constructed homes in the area which had been slated for demolition, the city and residents
said Tuesday.


(Via Bible and Interpretation News.)

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

SERVING THE WORD is now a group blog with a somewhat wider agenda: not exclusively "posts on ancient Israel" and "narrow old topics (the shape of letters in 8th-6th century B.C.E. inscriptions)," but also "we (collectively, not royally) will begin to post irregularly on other topics, always keeping focused on the politics and mystery of language." I look forward to reading about those good old narrow topics and the broader new ones.
JEWS FOR JESUS: Michael Pahl points to an interesting article by a Rabbi Marc Howard Wilson on Jews for Jesus in Jewcy Magazine (formerly Jewsweek):
A deceptive name -- a deceptive assertion
Were they to make themselves known not as "Jews for Jesus," but as "Jews Who Have Chosen to Practice Gentile Christianity," the results might be equally lamentable, but the honesty would be refreshing.

My interest here is sociological. The controversy over Jews for Jesus reflects in some ways the controversies between Jews, Jewish-Christians, and gentile Christians in the early centuries CE. I've been thinking about these conflicts for some time because of the implications they have for understanding the Old Testament pseudepigrapha. They show that there was not necessarily a hard and fast distinction between Jews and Christians in antiquity, but rather a continuum between Torah-observant Jews and non-observant gentile Christians, with both Jewish-Christians and gentile Judaizing Christians fitting somewhere on the continuum in-between. (Something of the same continuum exists today, as the Jews for Jesus movement demonstrates.) If we have an OT pseudepigraphon that contains both (Torah-observant) Jewish ideas and also Christian ideas, how can we tell (or can we tell) if it was written by an observant Jew and edited by a gentile Christian or written by a Jewish-Christian or a Judiazing gentile Christian? Often, we can't. The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs is the paradigmatic example of such a text. We know that the author(s) used Jewish sources (Aramaic Levi, Hebrew Naphtali) but we don't know what else they used or what they were making up themselves.

I discuss some of these issues in my online piece "Jewish Pseudepigrapha and Christian Apocrypha: (How) Can We Tell Them Apart?", in which I support Jonathan Z. Smith's "polythetic" approach as the most useful etic methodology for unraveling the problems. This 2002 conference paper is a short and now out-of-date summary of chapter 1 of my forthcoming book, The Provenance of the Pseudepigrapha: Jewish, Christian, or Other? You can read much more on the subject in the book when it comes out, I hope in the fall (shameless self-promotion alert). I don't discuss the Jews for Jesus movement in the paper or the chapter, but I would evaluate it polythetically as a borderline case, one which has some features of the category Judaism and accepts itself as belonging to the category, but which is rejected from the category by (I believe) all other groups who class themselves in the category. It's a nice example of how complicated religious movements and their interrelationships can get in the real world.

UPDATE (23 June): A reader writes to point out that Jews for Jesus is only one segment of the "Messianic Jews" movement, which movement comes in a wide variety of levels of observance and not all of whom proselytize Jews. Fair enough. I was using Jews for Jesus as a specifice example of an interesting point on the continuum, one of many such points between strictly Torah-observant Judaism and non-observant gentile Christianity. And a one-dimensional continuum is itself is a fairly simplistic way of conceptualizing the situation.

UPDATE (25 June): More here.
"PETRA AND THE BIBLE." Philip Hammond publishes this essay on the Bible and Interpretation website. The biblical connections with Petra are mostly post-biblical. The reference to the ten thousand Edomites cast down from "the rock" is in 2 Chronicles 25:12.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

THE LAND OF THE MIDNIGHT SUN: In honor of the summer solstice, I've been sitting in my living room reading by sunlight until a few minutes ago. It's getting a little dark for that, but it's still quite light out and it won't get darker than twilight at night for another couple of weeks.
SITE LOOTING IN IRAQ: The good news is that site protection forces in Iraq are finally having an effect on the site looting. The bad news is that many of the already looted artifacts have not been showing up on the antiquities market and it's possible they may be held in storage for many years in the hope that ardor for recovering them will cool down. Meanwhile:
On the ground, archaeologist Abdal Amir Hamdani, in charge of antiquities for Dhi Qar province, home to some of Iraq's most famous archaeological sites, says his focus has shifted from looters to smugglers.

"I'm not an archaeologist. I'm a policeman," he says.

Hamdani uses what he calls a "hunting dog" -- a former looter turned paid informant -- who follows up on rumours and goes out with a digital camera and global positioning system (GPS) equipment to locate and mark smugglers' houses.

Italian carabinieri forces disguised as Bedouin then go with Hamdani to carry out often fruitful raids.

"This is the war within the war, the forgotten war," he says of his dangerous job.

Last October, eight Iraqi customs officers were found dead and their recently seized cargo of antiquities disappeared on the road to Baghdad.

Al-Fajir, 100 kilometres (60 miles) north of Hamdani's base in Nassiriyah, is rife with smugglers and dealers, he says, and 60 suspect homes in the small town of 10,000 have already been identified.

Hamdani shows photos of seized artifacts: Parthian glasswork, Sumerian statues and erotic images on temple tablets, hundreds of coins, gold jewellery and bowls inscribed in ancient Aramaic, some clumsily glued together, damaged forever.

This, incidentally, is the first reference to looted Aramaic incantation bowls I can remember seeing.

Here's a photo of some recovered antiquities.

(Via Frances Deblauwe and Archaeology Magazine News.)

UPDATE: Michael van Rijn links to an article on the Iraq Museum website on Internet sales of Iraqi artifacts. It has photos of Aramaic incantation bowls for sale on EBay and elsewhere. At least one has been brought to the attention of the FBI for return to Iraq.

Monday, June 20, 2005

UPDATE ON LATEST GOSPEL OF JUDAS ENTRY: The photo was of a codex of the Four Gospels, not the Gospel of Judas.

ANOTHER UPDATE (21 June): Matthew Hamilton e-mails:
1. check the Michel van Rijn website for photographs of the Gospel of Judas.
2. regarding the possibility of the Gospel of Judas being divided into parts or at least having stray leaves, the Gospel of Judas was apparently found with other MSS, including a codex of Exodus from the mid 4th century, with parts of the Exodus codex found in at least 4 collections.

I have noted Michael van Rijn's website on this subject earlier. And I'm about about to add an update to today's "Iraqi site looting" post with more from him (scroll up).

Also, go to Sunday's post on the Dead Sea Scrolls in Singapore for an update.
Egypt's other pasts

By Sylvia Smith for CNN
Sunday, June 19, 2005 Posted: 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)

CAIRO, Egypt (CNN) -- Although Egypt stands at the crossroads of continents and civilizations, images of pyramids, The Sphinx and mummies dominate, eclipsing its other historic cultural and religious strands.

Now attempts are being made to redress the balance and to put the Pharaonic period in context through an ambitious renovation project in Cairo and a series of cultural events in the United States.

Tourism has flourished under the watchful eyes of the Pharaohs with the majority of foreign visitors being attracted by the prospect of viewing ancient tombs and temples.

But this rather blinkered view of Egypt's past has been criticized because it overlooks the county's debt to the heritage of the Greeks, Romans, Copts and Islam.


True, and worth belaboring. But what about the Jews? For example, the Septuagint as the earliest translation of the Bible, Philo of Alexandria as an important Middle Platonist, the vibrant Jewish community in ancient Alexandria in general, etc. There's no mention of any of these in the article. I hope the project itself is more balanced. Does anyone know more?
PROFESSOR MORDECHAI COGAN of the Hebrew University debates scriptural precedents with the anti-disengagement people.
King Solomon gave land away (Ha'aretz)
By Mordechai Cogan

In discussing the legality of the disengagement from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank, opponents of the move are enlisting verses from the Tanach - according to which God promised the Land of Canaan to the Israelites - and pointing to the fact that those same areas that are about to be evacuated are included in this promise. In addition, the rabbis of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip warn that din torah (a rabbinical legal decision) prohibits the handing over of parts of Eretz Israel to non-Jews.


King Solomon transferred "20 cities in the land of the Galilee" to Hiram King of Tyre (1 Kings 9:11-13), apparently in order to erase the debt he owed Hiram for his assistance in building the Temple. These were 20 cities with their land and their inhabitants - the entire Acre Valley up to Rosh Hanikra, which became the property of the Phoenicians. This was recorded in the Tanach without any criticism on the part of the writer of the chronicles of Solomon, and the explanation for that is clear: There is no prohibition whatsoever in the Torah against handing over territories to someone who is not a member of the Israelite nation. The ownership of territories in Eretz Israel by the Jewish nation has always reflected the political and military circumstances of the period.

And if we are discussing the boundaries of the Promised Land, we should take note of the southern boundary of that same detailed map in the Book of Numbers. The line stretches from "the outmost coast of the Dead Sea eastward. And your border shall turn from the Negev to Ma'aleh Aqrabbim and pass on to Zin, and its limits shall be from the south to Kadesh Barnea, and shall go on to Hazar-Addar, and pass on to Azmon. And the border shall turn about from Azmon to the wadi of Egypt, and its limits shall be at the sea." That means that most of the Negev south of Be'er Sheva is not included in the estate of our forefathers. Moses explained that this piece of land, which is called the Land of Edom, belongs to the children of Esau, and by God's order, "meddle not with them, for I will not give you of their land, no, not so much as a foot's breadth; because I have given Mount Se'ir to Esau for a possession" (Deuteronomy 2:5).


It's interesting to note that the story in 1 Kings of Solomon's transfer of the cities to Tyre didn't go down well later on. The Chronicler changed it to "Huram" (Hiram) giving cities to Solomon (2 Chron 8:2: "Solomon rebuilt the cities which Huram had given to him, and settled the people of Israel in them").

From a historian's perspective, it's not at all clear how early any of the passages cited by Professor Cogan are. Nevertheless, if some want to argue against disengagement on the basis of the Bible, it's fair game for him to show that the biblical picture is more complicated.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

SOME DEAD SEA SCROLLS are coming to Singapore:
Treasures from Vatican Museum on show in Singapore
By Joanne Leow, Channel NewsAsia

SINGAPORE : The Asian Civilisations Museum is bringing in the largest ever Asian exhibition of art and artifacts from the Vatican.

This will be the most expensive project the local museum has ever mounted, with insurance costing a six figure sum.

From paintings by masters like Raphael and rare relics from the beginnings of Christianity, 140 objects from the Vatican and local churches will be on show at the one-off, specially curated for Singapore exhibition.


One of the extraordinary highlights of this exhibition is two fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

They are over 2,000 years old, right from the origins of Christianity.


I didn't know that the Vatican owned any Dead Sea Scrolls. The article doesn't say which ones they are, and the link given for the exhibition website leads to an incomplete page. The exhibition runs from Saturday to October.

UPDATE (20 June): Stephen Goranson e-mails:
According to a reference by Stephen Pfann in the DSS microfiche book to DSS: A Personal Account 1977 p.47 (by Trever, not Allegro as given there?--my copy is at home), the Vatican paid for some fragments in October 1951. Perhaps these are the same, now delivered? (Or perhaps the Vatican borrowed fragments from the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum?) I don't yet know which fragments.

UPDATE (21 June): Reader Matthew Hamilton e-mails:
Regarding the DSS on display in Singapore:

1. I checked through my records and can't find any mention of DSS actually held in the Vatican collections.
2. The purchase by the Vatican in the 1950s was cancelled by the Jordanian government when they cancelled all the foreign institution purchases in 1956.
3. I emailed Paolo Vian of Dipartimento Manoscritti, Biblioteca Vaticana, who replied

"Le posso confermare che in Biblioteca Vaticana non vi sono frammenti di rotoli del Mar Morto. In passato si � svolta presso la Vaticana una mostra sull'argomento ma con l'uso di riproduzioni e, comunque, di oggetti non appartenenti alla Biblioteca."

If my understanding of the Italian is correct, this is confirmation that there are no DSS in the Vatican collections, and Paolo Vian doesn't say anything about the Singapore exhibition.
4. I was able to get into the website of the Asian Civilization Museum, the website of the Empress Palace, and 3 other websites referring to the exhibit, but no mention is made of the DSS - but as these websites only present in the most glowing terms the art aspects of what is being displayed, I'm not surprisd by the lack of mention of fragments of the DSS (absence of evidence is not evidence of absence)

There are a range of possibilities - Vian is wrong (very unlikely), the web article by Joanne Leow is wrong (very likely, most web articles on the DSS are wrong), the DSS are only copies, the DSS are from another collection, and probably other possibilities.

Sorry if this doesn't clarify the situation.


UPDATE (22 June): More on the g-Megillot list.

UPDATE (27 June): More from someone who visited the exhibit here.

UPDATE: (1 August): More here.
Assyrian Coalition Sends Letter to Assyrian Patriarchs
Posted 06-18-2005 15:24:02 GMT 6-18-2005 20:24:2)

(AINA) -- A coalition of Assyrian (also known as Chaldean and Syriac) political and cultural organizations has sent a letter to two Assyrian Patriarchs, urging them to continue and expand the dialog between their churches. The Patriarch of the Chaldean Church of Babylon (a Roman Catholic uniate), Mar Emanuel III Dally and the Patriarch of the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East, Mar Dinkha IV, are both in the United States visiting their communities.

The letter urges the Patriarchs to continue the dialog begun in 1997 between Mar Dinkha IV and the former Chaldean Patriarch, Mar Bedawid, stressing the critical situation of the Assyrian community in Iraq, and the forthcoming Iraqi constitutional convention. The letter asks the Patriarch to work to ensure that Assyrians will be fundamentally recognized in Iraq's new constitution.


The full text of the letter is included in the article. You will recall that both Churches use a dialect of Aramaic as their liturgical language.
THE CODEX SINAITICUS CONSERVATION PROJECT is covered in a long Reuters India article. The discussion of Sinaiticus looks pretty accurate, although it's debatable whether it was one of Constantine's fifty manuscripts.
FEATURE - Monks use hi-tech camera to read ancient manuscripts
Sun Jun 19, 2005 12:54 AM ET

By Tom Perry

MOUNT SINAI, Egypt (Reuters) - The world's oldest monastery plans to use hi-tech cameras to shed new light on ancient Christian texts preserved for centuries within its fortress walls in the Sinai Desert.

Saint Catherine's Monastery hopes the technology will allow a fuller understanding of some of the world's earliest Christian texts, including pages from the Codex Sinaiticus -- the oldest surviving bible in the world.

The technique, known as hyperspectral imaging, will use a camera to photograph the parchments at different wavelengths of light, highlighting faded texts obscured by time and later overwritings.


Here are some other interesting details about the use of the same technology on other manuscripts at St. Catherine's:
Hyperspectral imaging will be used to read another of the monastery's most significant manuscripts -- the Codex Syriacus.

The technology should allow scholars to read the faint remnants of a washed-out 5th-century text which lie underneath visible 8th-century writing. The underlying text in Syriac is a copy of a 2nd-century translation of the New Testament gospels.

The technical name for a manuscript with two layers of writing on it is"palimpsest."
In the late 19th century, scholars applied chemicals to the manuscript which briefly made the underlying text visible but made the parchment more brittle. "It's almost certain that the whole text has not been extracted yet," Pickwoad said.

Photographing the rippled parchment may involve using up to "four cameras taking images from different angles and then knitting the image together, electronically pulling it flat because we may not be able to pull it flat physically," he said.

The technology could also be applied to read the faint traces of a script in a language only ever seen before carved in a few stone inscriptions. It lies in the pages of a Georgian manuscript dating to the 8th or 9th century.


The monastery aims to have 100 manuscripts photographed and accessible through a Web site by mid-2006. "Even though it's only 100 out of 3,000, it will be an important scholarly resource," he [monastery librarian Father Justin] said.

Book historians are currently cataloguing the condition of the manuscripts and the physical features of their bindings, 50 percent of which are original.

"The evidence of where a manuscript has been and where it has come from to get here is often in the binding," [book historian Nicholas] Pickwoad said.

Conservators are even keeping the dust they brush from the manuscripts for traces of pollen or seeds which may yield evidence on how texts in languages including Persian, Amharic and Hebrew made it to the middle of the Sinai Desert.

I wasn't aware that the project involved so many manuscripts.