Saturday, July 30, 2005

THE MORE OLD TESTAMENT PSEUDEPIGRAPHA PROJECT, developed by my colleague Professor Richard Bauckham and myself, has brought the University of St. Andrews a major research grant from the Leverhulme Trust. The University's press release is here:
Light Shed on Ancient Jewish and Christian Texts

This post was originally published on 28 July at 9:55 am. But I'll keep it at the top of the page for a while and will keep adding updates below. There are also plenty of new posts under this one, so do scroll down and check.

[UPDATE (6:00 pm): Welcome to visitors who find their way here through one of the articles coming out about the project. You may be interested also in this post about a book I've just completed on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (the page proofs are sitting on my desk right now) and in the St. Andrews Old Testament Pseudepigrapha website, which contains lots of material from a course I have been teaching on the subject. And if you look at the bottom of the links panel to the right, there is a link to some relevant papers and book reviews available online. Also, you may want to look at this post on lost books, some of which will figure in the comprehensive list of Old Testament pseudepigrapha which we're compiling for the project.]

This is the good news I promised you a few days ago. The grant has allowed us to hire a full-time research fellow to administer the project. The research fellow is Dr. Alexander Panayotov, who has appeared on PaleoJudaica from time to time (for example, here and here). The photo in the latter link seems to have rotted, but here's one of him and me at his graduation in June of 2004.

He is to join us here in January, when the project will really begin to move full-speed ahead. But we've already been spending a fair amount of time on it and we continue to add texts to our list (see the first link above, which has just been updated) and to invite new contributors.

UPDATE: The Herald has called to arrange a photo shoot of me with some manuscripts later today.

UPDATE (5:40 pm): Just had the photo shoot with the Herald, using the wonderful photolithographic facsimile volume of Codex Ambrosianus as our manuscript prop. The article should be out tomorrow. I was interviewed by the Jewish News earlier today and the press office has had inquiries from the Daily Mail and the Times of London. And there's already an article in the Scotsman and a brief notice in icScotland.

Watch this space.

UPDATE (29 July). There was a brief blurb last night in the Edinburgh Evening News and there's a piece this morning in the Telegraph. The Herald article will probably be out over the weekend.

By the way, I should also take this opportunity to welcome another pseudepigrapha researcher coming to St. Andrews. Grant Macaskill has been awarded a three-year British Academy Fellowship. Grant is in the final stages of the Ph.D. here and when he starts the Fellowship he will be producing a critical edition of 2 Enoch, an extremely important pseudepigraphon preserved only in Old Church Slavonic. St. Andrews is rapidly becoming a major international center for Old Testament Pseudepigrapha studies.

UPDATE: The Times has an article too: "Translators turning to magic texts for a spell." Everybody seems to like my little quote about divine-human miscegenation, pagan prophetesses, and incantations. The story is also in the Courier, the local Fife newspaper, but it doesn't seem to have made it to its online edition.

(12:28 pm): Just got off the phone with Radio Scotland. They're interviewing me at 4:50 this afternoon (GMT).

UPDATE (evening): You can hear the Radio Scotland Newsdrive interview by following the link and clicking on "LISTEN AGAIN." They seem to keep only the most recent show archived, so this one should be available until Monday afternoon GMT. The access facility is very primitive, but my segment, which is only a few minutes long, starts somewhere between 50 and 55 minutes into the program. The jump-forward (in 15- or 5-minute intervals only) works on some systems but not all. Good luck.

UPDATE (1 August): Another article. Info here.

UPDATE (11 August): An article from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
JIM WEST ON THE TEMPLE AND TEMPLE MOUNT: Further to the update on my post on the forthcoming Temple Mount blogburst, Jim West has posted a comment to his first post and then a later post as well. First, in response to my comment on his first post (JRD is in italics, JW in Roman type):
The Palestinians and the Arab world in general have for some years been taking the line that no Jewish temples ever existed on the Temple Mount.

Such notions are not to be taken seriously if one is talking about the Temple of Herod, for instance. But there is no archaeological evidence at all for any earlier temple on the site.

If "not to be taken seriously" means "bogus," I agree. But these bogus notions are coming from PA leaders and Muslim clerics employed by the PA. They seem to be mainstream positions among Palestinians and widely in the Arab world. They need to be replied to even though they are bogus. There's a "big lie" for you.

As for their being "no archaeological evidence at all for any earlier temple [than Herod's] on the site," as phrased, that's more or less correct. (I could dispute that point, but let it lie for now.) Herod's expansion of the Temple Platform seems to have obliterated the earlier architecture. Of course, the only way to find out if some of that earlier architecture survives is to excavate the site. Obviously that is politically impossible. I have expressed the hope that future technologies may someday allow us to do nonintrusive scans of the site.

But in any case, what is the implication you are drawing from this (current) lack of archaeological evidence? Are you seriously suggesting that there wasn't a Jewish Temple on the site before Herod built it? That would mean there must have been a massive conspiracy by Josephus, the (pre-Herodian!) Dead Sea Scrolls, etc., to convince someone or other that there was a pre-Herodian Temple on the (previously empty?) site. I can't parse this at all, so I'll just have to ask you what you do mean.
And the Waqf, under the oversight of the Palestinian Authority, has done horrible damage to the archaeological record through illicit construction on the Temple Mount.

Isn't that exactly what Ben-dov calls "the big lie"? See my latest posting on the issue here. And if you would kindly care to comment on any of its contents I would love to hear.

The main things I would say is that the article was written in 2001 and is now out of date and that in any case it oddly downplays the damage that the Waqf has done. Taking the second point first, I would say that digging out 10,000 tons of material in uncontrolled excavations from a site as important as the Temple Mount is horrendously irresponsible. We don't know what architecture might survive down there and even if most of it is fill from Herod's work, that fill could contain some tremendously important stuff and we don't know what layering might survive in it. Layering can survive sometimes in fill, depending on the circumstances of its deposit. Only painstaking archaeological excavation would be able to tell us all this. By the way, what authority do "police reports" have for an archaeological question? And since when is archaeological importance limited to "spectacular" finds? I thought "bits of buildings, ceramics, coins" were the mainstay of archaeology.

Regarding the first point, archaeologist Gabriel Barkay has been analyzing the rubble from the Waqf's excavation and I don't think the things he has found in it are trivial. They include, for example, Hebrew epigraphic material and artifacts from both the first and second temple periods. Until all the material is published (assuming he finds the funds to excavate it all), we won't know exactly what is there. And we will never know what was destroyed in the Waqf's bulldozing.

Jim also says:
Even today, the fear that archaeology may not prove what so many want proven lies beneath the apprehension. What if there were no Solomonic Temple? What if the arrival in the land of migrants from Babylon is as far back as Israel can trace its existence as a "nation-state"? Would that fact somehow mean that present day Israel had no right to exist? That seems to me an odd conclusion.

I'm not sure that ascribing unworthy motives to the people one disagrees with is a constructive approach here. And the merits of their position still remain to be weighed, whatever their motives. I'm sure there must be people with the motive Jim describes, but there are plenty of others who are simply horrified at the wanton destruction in a site of such historical importance. I'm one of the latter and I'm just as appalled by the loss of Islamic and Crusader-era data as I am about data on the earlier periods. I agree that the right of present-day Israel to exist is not predicated on the historical specifics of Judean and Israelite kingdoms in the Iron Age II.

I've read some of the "minimalist" research (sorry, I hate that term too, but I don't know of a better one) but certainly not all of it. I have not encountered anything by a minimalist scholar that forthrightly denied that there was any Judean temple on the Temple Mount at any time in Iron Age II and I think this would be pretty difficult to maintain. Whether there was a grand edifice in the time of Solomon as described in the Bible is quite another matter, as I said in my last post on this subject. If someone can point me to serious scholarly discussions that do deny there was a pre-exilic temple in Jerusalem, I would be grateful if you would point me to them. Ditto, if a "minimalist" scholar holds this position and would like to e-mail me and tell me why.

I've spent way too much of my Saturday morning on this and need to get on to other things. But I am working on a long post on the archaeological and historical evidence pertaining to Judean/Jewish temples on the Temple Mount for the Temple Mount blogburst and plan to post it just before. I will have more to say then.

UPDATE: Jim replies:
I don't believe I have ascribed any sort of motives, unworthy or otherwise, to anyone I disagree with. In fact, I've simply asked a question.

The statement I was referring to was the sentence "Even today, the fear that archaeology may not prove what so many want proven lies beneath the apprehension." The immediately preceding context was "But many religious and secular Zionists find cause for worry. "If anything is sacred to secular Zionists, it's archaeology," explains Gorenberg. "It provides an essential link between today's Israelis and the ancient Jews." That's really what its all about." The italics are the article and the Roman type is Jim's comment. I don't think that this sums up the reasons for concern over the damage to the Temple Mount by the Waqf. There are good archaeological and historical reasons to be mightily disturbed by the damage. Zionist ideology is not "really what it's all about," although I don't deny that that is the issue for some people.

Jim continues:
If there were no evidence (and note, that is the issue so far as I am concerned) for a Solomonic (First) temple what impact could that possibly have on the State of Israel's present claim to the land? What Jim and others seem to be suggesting is that until no proof of a Temple can be found, it must be presumed to have existed. And if the Waqf weren't wantonly destroying materials, said evidence would be found. That argument seems tenuous. It is as much as saying "there's evidence but we don't have it so that proves it's there to be found".

My point of view is that, archaeologically speaking, we cannot claim there was a First Temple until we have evidence that there was.

Okay, but any Jewish Temple at all is the issue for the Palestinians, which was one of my points. As to an Iron Age-II Temple, much here depends on what one does with the evidence of the Deuteronomistic History and other relevant texts from the Hebrew Bible, doesn't it? There's also some interesting (genuine, excavated) epigraphic evidence, although it's not conclusive. But all that is a discussion for another post, which I intend to get around to. As I said, I've not seen the position Jim is taking here in a specialist peer-reviewed publication, and I'm not inclined to put a lot of my time into debating positions that haven't passed that hurdle.

Meanwhile, the Waqf should still not be wantonly destroying materials.

UPDATE (31 July): Jim quotes my last two sentences above and concludes:
Hence, if a position isn't found in a "specialist peer reviewed publication" it has no merit and isn't worthy of the time it may involve to discuss it until it "passes that hurdle".

This, of course, is not what I said and, given the amount of time I've spent this weekend discussing his position, is rather ungracious. Jim either thinks there was no Iron Age II Temple or else wishes to act as devil's advocate for that idea. Fine. But so far he's given me no indication that he is anything but a congregation of one. I have asked for publications on this idea and so far have received no answer. The only argument Jim has produced in favor of the idea is the lack of archaeological evidence, which I have addressed above. Somehow this is transformed into "no evidence" and "no proof." I have pointed out the matter of the Deuteronomistic History. It's certainly a mainstream position (I'm not saying a consensus) that Dtr was published either in the time of Josiah or not long afterward, and this seems to me to be the most persuasive view. Not everyone would agree, and that's fine. It's worth discussing. But Dtr is not "no evidence" and "no proof."

I'm willing to spend some time discussing speculative ideas, but there's a limit to how much, which is what I said above. I did not say that such an idea "has no merit and isn't worthy of the time it may involve to discuss it." It depends on the idea and the context of the discussion, doesn't it? Jim is putting words in my mouth that I did not say. He did this to Judith Weiss as well and it is not an appealing rhetorical tactic.

Yes, of course peer-review publication is a very useful filter, because it makes sure that an idea has positive arguments in its favor that some other scholars have at least found worth moving forward for debate. If someone wants seriously to advance a position, that's the place to do it. Coincidentally, Yuval Goren has just made the same point on the ANE list.

As for the rubble already dug out by the Waqf, I never said I expected it to prove the existence of the First Temple. I think no such thing. I do think that precious historical evidence has been destroyed by the actions of the Waqf, and that's what I said.

Again, I plan to come back to the Temple Mount and its archaeology and history in a couple of weeks.

OLD TESTAMENT PSEUDEPIGRAPHA WITH GREEK MORPHOLOGY is another promising project from Logos Bible Software. The project's web page opens:
The Pseudepigrapha are among the most important non-canonical texts for biblical study, second only to the Dead Sea Scrolls. Students of the Bible engage the literature of the Pseudepigrapha (Greek portions as well as those in Hebrew and Aramaic) because this material provides sharp insight into how the Jewish community of Jesus’ day approached and interpreted the Hebrew Scriptures. invaluable resource for the study of both early rabbinic Judaism and Christianity. —Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible

Old Testament Greek Pseudepigrapha with Morphology will include morphologically tagged and lemmatized Greek texts for all the Greek Pseudepigrapha included or referenced in Charlesworth’s The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (2 vols., Doubleday) and M. Denis’s Concordance grecque des pseudépigraphes d’Ancien Testament. Concordance, corpus des texts, indices (Louvain-la-Neuve, 1987). We have also been supplied with Greek texts from Craig Evans and the Online Critical Pseudepigrapha project.

In total, the Logos edition will include 81 books, letters, and fragments, making it the most complete electronic assemblage of Greek pseudepigraphal texts available. A number of texts left out of other electronic editions on the market (e.g., Apocalypse of Daniel and the Psalms of Solomon) will be included in the Logos edition! The complete list of included texts is at the bottom of this page.

The Logos edition will also include brand new introductions, written by Dr. Michael Heiser, PhD. (see samples below). These introductions provide a summary of the significant features of each text and explain how each plays a role in biblical studies.

There's lots more on the page, so have a look. This is a prepublication announcement, which I think means that they will come out with it if enought people sign up to buy it. So if you're keen to have it, sign up now.

This sounds exciting, but I'm afraid I have to allow myself one criticism. The sample introduction to The Life of Adam and Eve tells us that it "can inform us as to Jewish conceptions of the appearance and significance of the throne chariot of Ezekiel 1, 10." Most, if not all of the scholars currently working on this text agree is it probably a Christian rather than a Jewish composition. I hope very much that these introductions reflect cutting-edge research on the pseudepigrapha rather than the naîve approach that has been characteristic of much of their use until recently. But aside from this one point, it looks like a great project.
THE LEGEND OF THE TEN MARTYRS is the subject of what seems to be a very short Hebrew book reviewed in Ha'aretz:
Memories of martyrdom
By Rabbi Israel Meir Lau

"Aseret harugei malkhut bemidrash uvepiyut" (no English title) by Alter Welner, Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook Institute, 44 pages


Alter Welner's book "Aseret harugei malkhut bemidrash uvepiyut" deals with the story of the Ten Martyrs and with the way it is expressed in midrash and liturgical poems. The martyrs were Tannaim, who were led by Rabbi Akiva and had fought Roman rule in the Holy Land. Welner understands two things that all of us have understood all these years: First, the "Aileh ezkera" prayer and the Ten Martyrs are directly linked to martyrology, total self-sacrifice and martyrdom in all periods and in all generations. Second, this elegy, which is recited on the two fast days of Yom Kippur and Tisha B'Av (on the Ninth of Av, August 14 this year) and which is about individuals who were "cedars of Lebanon and mighty figures in Torah," is about martyrdom irrespective of the time period, and it thus includes the martyrs of the previous generation. The book has three introductions and each of them presents a theme common to both the tale of the Ten Martyrs and the martyrs of every generation.


Friday, July 29, 2005

UPDATE ON JEWISH SCHOLARS IN IRAQ: With reference to this post, this post, and this post, I note that Donny George, director of Iraq's National Museum, posted an important statement in December on the IraqCrisis list. Somehow I missed blogging on it, but Chuck Jones has just posted it again. Here it is:



The policy for access to study objects of the Iraqi Museums shall be as follows:

Access to the collection for purposes of study or cataloging shall be granted to all scholars, regardless of race, religion, gender or ethnicity. Access will be granted, depending on the condition of the objects and by previous approval and appointment with the museums. Research will be conducted within the museum's facilities. Access will not be granted to scholars and institutions that are known to work with stolen Iraqi antiquities or give expertise to the illicit market in antiquities, whether that work involves Mesopotamian Antiquities, the Cultural Heritage of Iraq, or antiquities illicitly acquired from other countries.

Dr. Donny George
Director General
Iraqi Museums
December 2004

My emphasis. This statement says exactly what needed to be said. Well done. I trust that the policy will be implemented exactly as it is written. If you are a Jewish scholar applying for research access to objects in an Iraqi museum, please alert me to your application and keep me posted on how it goes.
THE ROMAN JEWISH CATACOMBS are in the news again. The Cleveland Jewish News reports:
Restoring burial sites in Rome

(JTA) -- Work will begin in September to restore ancient Jewish catacombs in Rome so that tourists can visit.


Recent scientific research, published this month in the magazine Nature, indicated that the Villa Torlonia catacombs date from the first century C.E.


The publication and publicity seems to be getting them some needed attention.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

BEN WITHERINGTON acknowledges that St. Andrews is God's country. But of course.
JEWISH STUDIES, AN INTERNET JOURNAL (JSIJ) has posted a new article by Meira Polliack:
Wherein Lies the Pesher? Re-Questioning the Connection Between Medieval Karaite and Qumranic Modes of Biblical Interpretation


The article questions the long-held thesis concerning the existence of a viable connection between the Qumranic pesher and the early Karaite model and method of interpreting biblical prophecy (and some other biblical texts), as argued primarily by N. Wieder, and later adopted in other studies.

Although much clarification will be required in future research, the theoretical direction upon which this article draws, is that Karaism is first and foremost an expression of a crisis internal to Rabbinic Judaism. It primarily reflects a dialectic with the intellectual traditions of Rabbinic Judaism, as well as deep unease, to the point of implosion and friction with its social-political outlook. The more Karaism and its driving ethos are examined in the context of Rabbinic Judaism rather than in that of "sectarian" Judaism, the supposed impact of the Second Temple sects on Karaism becomes less probable. As research progresses, a re-evaluation will inevitably be sought of the relative place and degree of importance attributed to each of these basic contexts in the formation of early Karaite literature.

The hypothesis proposed is that the parallels which have been identified between the exegetical texts of both groups are analogous in nature, reflecting a similar orientation in the history of Jewish Bible interpretation, yet cannot be confused with actual influence of Qumranic sources upon early Karaite literature. The analysis offered concerns three major aspects of the comparative sources: the conceptual framework of interpretation (I), its methodology (II) and terminology (III). It will be shown that in all these aspects there is no substantive continuity between the interpretive systems idiosyncratic to the Qumranites and the Karaites. Hence, the process, style and content of biblical interpretation cannot be used in support of wider claims presupposing some form of historical linkage between these two dissenting movements of antiquity and medieval times.

As introductory background, two additional dimensions of the claim to connection are generally outlined, which do not concern its exegetical manifestation, but focus on halakhic and historical forms of evidence which have been harnessed to this claim. A short general introduction is also appended which highlights recent breakthroughs in Karaite Studies (of relevance to the comparative discussion). Also appended are short sections on hermeneutic theory and conclusions, which draw attention to the wider implications of this debate for the study of the history of Jewish Bible exegesis.

It can be downloaded here as a PDF file.
THE TIBERIAS EXCAVATION has issued a press release, as has been noted already by several other bloggers. Excerpt:
Beneath the apse hall, remains of an impressive, first-century, marble floor were found. There is no natural marble in Israel, and therefore, this floor must have been part of a grand structure belonging to an individual of extraordinary wealth. The excavators believe it was one of the palaces belonging to Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, who founded Tiberias in 20 C.E. A marble floor of this type from the Second Temple period has been found previously in Israel only at the Herodian palaces of Masada, Jericho, and Herodion.

The finds in the remains of the complex's ancient shops this season were extremely rich: complete oil lamps, bronze coins, including more of the "Jesus coins" ( a coin from the 11th century bearing the image of Jesus, discovered in earlier excavations there ), glass and stone vessels, jewelry and frescoes. On the western façade of the basilica complex, a row of shops was discovered along with a 50-meter section of street paved with basalt stones, which the archaeological team named "Galilee Street."

UPDATE (29 July): Live Science has a note on the Jesus coin with nice close-up picture.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

WELCOME BACK to the ANE List! The new listowners write:
Dear Listmembers,

After a several weeks hiatus the Oriental Institute is pleased to announce the re-launch of the ANE list. With the departure of Chuck Jones to Athens, the list is now organized and maintained by John C. Sanders (OI Computer Lab) and Magnus Widell (OI Research Archives). Basically, list operations remain as the were while Chuck was running the list. It's a testament to Chuck's capacity that it has been relatively easy for us to take over the list operations.

Ok, lets start ANE scholarly discourse again!
DAVID MEADOWS is back from holiday and is blogging like a fiend over at Rogue Classicism. Go and have a look.
First of all, please note the new Kesher Talk URL if you haven't already.

The following text with links is here:

Sunday was the fast day of the 17th of Tammuz, beginning the Three Weeks of somber reflection that lead to Tisha B'Av, the Jewish holy day commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Temples (in each case also the destruction of the Jewish nation at that time).

During these three weeks, I am asking for contributions to a blogburst to appear just before Tisha B'Av.

The theme of this blogburst is the destruction of Temple Mount archeological relics under the authorization of the Muslim authority in charge of the Mount, in the context of ongoing propaganda attempts to erase Jewish history.

A "blogburst" is a simultaneous and cross-linked posting of many blogs on the same theme, usually to commemorate a particular event or to publicize a situation. The organizer makes a master blog entry with links to all the other blogposts on the topic.

Kesher Talk has spearheaded several blogbursts in the past, most notably commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Munich Olympics Massacre. That effort earned links from James Taranto's "Best of the Web" and Instapundit, among others.

Tisha B'Av begins the evening of Saturday August 13th and continues till the evening of Sunday August 14th. Because Shabbat is just the day before, please post your contribution and email me the permalink before 3 PM, Friday August 12th.

If you don't have a blog but would like to write on this topic, email me your essay and I will post it on Kesher Talk in its own permalink, and link to it from the main blogburst entry.

You don't have to be Jewish, or know anything about Tisha B'Av, to contribute to this blogburst. You can post solely about any of these topics, or in combination:
- the ongoing Temple Mount destruction and efforts to mitigate it
- the history of Jewish Jerusalem and Jewish residence in Israel (preferably that which can be corroborated by artifacts and documents)
- the disinformation campaign to falsify Middle Eastern history to erase the Jewish presence
- controversies about future Jewish and Muslim activity at the Temple Mount
- personal experiences at the Temple Mount
- Tisha B'Av: its rituals and many meanings

I have many URLs on these topics and will be happy to email them to you upon request, to assist you in writing your contribution. Of course, your own resources are welcome and desired.

Feel free to publicize this effort on your blog - the more contributors the better; that's how a blogburst works.

Judith Weiss
Kesher Talk

I'll see what I can come up with.

UPDATE: Jim West takes exception to this project on the following grounds:
From the sound of it, only contributions which support the belief in a grand, Solomonic Temple will be included as the blogger defines herself as a person with a hawkish liberal Jewish perspective.

His emphasis. On the grounds that Jim doesn't like Judith's politics, he puts words in her mouth which she did not say. What she did say was that she wants discussions of "the history of Jewish Jerusalem and Jewish residence in Israel (preferably that which can be corroborated by artifacts and documents)," which sounds perfectly reasonable to me. I don't know what she thinks about the various minimalist positions about such things -- I don't buy all of them myself -- but her having a "hawkish liberal Jewish perspective" doesn't disqualify her from being interested in the actual evidence.

He continues
The troubling bit, at least for me, is the line which suggests that there is [an] ongoing propaganda attempt to erase Jewish history. If this means, as I think it must, that any questioning of the historical truth claims of the Deuteronomic History is seen as an attempt to erase Jewish history, then I must strenuously disagree with the premise.

No she doesn't mean that, Jim, as you really ought to know if you've been paying attention to what has been going on in the Middle East in recent years. She's talking about claims coming from Palestinians and the Arab world in general that there were no Jewish temples at all ever on the Temple Mount (see, for example, here, here, here, and here) and that the Wailing Wall is "a Muslim wall" rather than a Herodian structure. These are just a few examples of a very widespread phenomenon that I have blogged on frequently.

Yes, there is solid archaeological evidence that raises significant doubts about the stories of Solomon's and David's empires. That does not mean that there was no temple on the Temple Mount in the Iron Age II. Yes, there is room for debate over the date of its founding and how big it was. It seems quite unlikely that it was the grand structure described in 1 Kings 6 and 7 in the time of Solomon. But archaeologist Israel Finkelstein certain accepts a reasonably grand temple on the site by the time of Josiah's royal state, and it may be that Josiah's "repairs" to the temple involved expanding a more modest original structure. (That's my speculation, not Finkelstein's.) But whatever you do with the first temple, how can you possibly take seriously the claim that the second temple, even in its expanded Herodian form, didn't exist? That certainly sounds like a "disinformation campaign to falsify Middle Eastern history to erase the Jewish presence" to me. And the destruction of the archaeology of the Temple Mount by the Waqf under the auspices of the Palestinian Authority (see, e.g., here, here, and here), on which Jim does not comment on at all in his post, involves erasure that goes far beyond mere disinformation. Now there's something to be troubled about.
THE PULSA DE-NURA CURSE CEREMONY is in the news. The AP article "Israeli soldiers practice removing settlers from homes three weeks before Gaza pullout" ends with this:
On Tuesday, well-known Jewish extremist Michael Ben Chorin said he and about 20 others carried out an ancient curse ceremony called "pulsa denura," calling death down upon Sharon, author of the pullout plan. The mystical ceremony was conducted in a cemetery in Israel's north, he said.

"We called on angels of destruction to kill Sharon as soon as possible," he told Israel Radio.

Such a ceremony preceded the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by a fanatical opponent of concessions to the Palestinians. The assassin was influenced by hard-line rabbis and extreme religious pronouncements.

The mainstream settlers council, Israel's chief rabbi and pro-peace groups condemned Ben Chorin and the ceremony.

And well they should. It's been speculated that carrying out this ceremony may count as incitement to murder. See first link above.

UPDATE: Something Jewish has more details in "Sharon's kabbalistic curse." It seems that the cursers have chosen their words carefully to try to avoid charges of incitement. But there's also this quote from WorldNetDaily:
Dayan told WND he is not inciting anyone to assassinate Sharon.

"We are talking to angels and spirits, not people," he said. "If someone takes the law into his own hand and kills Sharon, it's not my problem."

I wouldn't be so sure about that. The Jerusalem Post has the following:
Charges could be filed for pulsa denura

Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz weighed Tuesday night whether or not to issue criminal charges against far-right disengagement protesters enacted a pulsa denura (Aramaic for "lashes of fire") death curse against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in an effort to thwart the disengagement plan.


(Bad link to last article now fixed.)

UPDATE (28 July): Some additional details in an article today in
Several years before Rabin's death, the pulsa denura curse was invoked against archaeologist Yigal Shiloh, who was accused by ultra-orthodox activists of desecrating ancient Jewish graves while excavating in Jerusalem. When Shiloh died not long afterwards, the activists claimed credit. But the curse has also been directed over the years at other prominent people without ill effect.

Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek was the target of such a ceremony more than 25 years ago but he is still alive at 94.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

INDIAN MANUSCRIPTS: Earlier this month I thought about blogging on an article about a project to conserve ancient (and more recent) manuscripts in India, on the grounds that there might be an Old Testament pseudepigraphon or two tucked among them. But then I thought that was reaching too far.
Scholars catalog ancient manuscripts to preserve 4,000-year history of India

Rama Lakshmi, Washington Post

Sunday, June 26, 2005


And so it goes, as India's 30,000 manuscript hunters fan out nationwide, seeking the nation's heritage in old temples, madrassas, mosques, monasteries, libraries and homes.

Launched two years ago, the National Mission for Manuscripts is a five- year project to catalog for the first time India's ancient documentary wealth and ensure that basic conservation practices are followed to halt their rapid decay. Officials say that India is the largest repository of manuscripts in the world, with an estimated 5 million texts in hundreds of languages.

Linguistic scholars and history students involved in this adventurous hunt for ancient volumes use not only expertise but also social skills, coaxing and cultural sensitivity to gain access to manuscripts.


The manuscript project's officials say the nationwide survey will open a window to India's ancient knowledge systems: religion, astronomy, astrology, art, architecture, science, literature, philosophy and mathematics.

"We are creating a manuscript map of India. The survey will present new facets to our intellectual heritage," says Sudha Gopalakrishnan, chief of the National Mission for Manuscripts. The project will not take the volumes from their owners but merely document what is available and help in conservation.

"The key abstracts of all the ancient knowledge found in our manuscripts will be available digitally for the world to see," Gopalakrishnan says


The oldest manuscripts that India possesses are a set of sixth century Buddhist texts that were found buried in the hills of Kashmir about 60 years ago. In the last two years, the surveyors have found rare ancient Sanskrit and Arabic treatises on such subjects as diabetes, astrophysics, interpretation of dreams, surgical instruments, concepts of time and the art of war. A 400-year- old handwritten Koran was found in a locket measuring 3 inches.


It seems I was wrong. Recently, while going through our list of texts for the More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project, I noticed that one of the documents, the Words of Gad the Seer, being prepared by Dr. Meir Bar-Ilan, survives in a single eighteenth-century Hebrew manuscript from Cochin, India. Let's hope that the National Mission for Manuscripts finds more like it.
APOCRYPHA WATCH: Some good advice from Kansas Senator Sam Brownback to Supreme Court nominee John Roberts:
The men did not discuss their shared Catholic faith, but Brownback did urge Roberts to read the Book of Wisdom, a book in the Old Testament Apocrypha.

"There's a chapter about how we are judged at the end," Brownback said. "Those who are judges and leaders are held to a higher standard -- that what we do be the right thing to do and that we apply justice. I did recommend that he read that at some point in time."
CONGRATULATIONS to Philip Alexander, Professor of Post-Biblical Jewish Literature at the University of Manchester, who has been elected to be a Fellow of the British Academy (FBA). A well-deserved honor!

Monday, July 25, 2005

MY "LOST BOOKS" POST has been extensively updated over the weekend.

UPDATE (26 July): And it's still being updated. Keep checking.
APOCALYPTO, Mel Gibson's next movie, is to be filmed in an "obscure Mayan dialect" according to Variety. Now can someone tell me what filmworthy event happened among the Mayans 3,000 years ago?

UPDATE: I'm not subscribed to Variety, but this Google excerpt from the article reads "Set 500 years ago, pic will be filmed in an obscure Mayan dialect, presumably with the same kind of subtitles Gibson reluctantly added to "The Passion of the [Christ]". Five hundred years ago would make more sense.

UPDATE: Bryan Cox e-mails:
It's just a guess on my part, but Gibson's Mayan movie may have something to do with the fact that the Mayan calendar ends on December 21st, 2012. This seems to have inspired many "end-of-the-world" stories. If you google "Maya 2012" (or some derivation of that), you'll find lots of information.

The first place I ever bumped into this fact about the Mayan calendar was in "Breaking the Mayan Code" by Michael D. Coe, a very interesting account of the decipherment of Mayan script.

UPDATE (26 July): Yep, it's 500 years. Here's a Reuters article.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

MORE ON THE JEHOASH INSCRIPTION from the Bible and Intepretation website;
The Jehoash Inscription: An Evaluative Summary

The strength of the forgery position is the cumulative weight of all the objections that have been raised rather than any single objection taken alone.

By Stuart A. Irvine and Charles David Isbell
Jewish Studies
Louisiana State University
July 2005

They seem to want to keep the possibility of its genuiness open, mainly on the grounds that we don't know the Hebrew of the period very well. You can see some of my thoughts on the inscription here. I haven't had time to read the essay carefully yet. I may have more to say later.
Trouble brews over homes at ancient Jerusalem site
Fri Jul 22, 2005 2:13 AM BST

By Cynthia Johnston

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - A new row is rumbling in Jerusalem over the fate of dozens of Arab houses on land that may have been the gardens of biblical King David's capital and next to where Christians believe Jesus performed miracles.

On one side are Palestinian residents of Bustan, a hamlet of about 80 homes.

On the other are Israeli authorities who say some houses may face demolition because they were built illegally on land set aside for a park. Israeli archaeologists also want the ground cleared.


Many residents of Bustan say they have received demolition orders and are challenging them in court. Several have exhausted court challenges and their homes could now face demolition, community leaders say.


Meanwhile, Israeli archaeologists are keen for the land to be cleared. It lies atop what they believe were royal gardens at the foot of Kind David's capital. Nearby is the Siloam pool, where the New Testament says Jesus gave a blind man sight.

"We hope that somebody will help us in this fight to protect the area," said Yuval Baruch, Jerusalem District Archaeologist for the Israel Antiquities Authority.

"We just asked the municipality to do their job, not to allow people to build without permission... And if somebody does that, they have to take action to remove his house, not just in this area, but all over Israel."

Sami Ersheid, a lawyer representing many of the residents, dismissed the calls for preservation.

"Wherever any prophet touched his foot on the earth, do we have to preserve it until the end of this world?" he said.


Sounds like a messy situation.
ERIC AND CAROL MEYERS, along with the Sepphoris excavation, are profiled in a Durham Herald-Sun article:
Duke husband-and-wife archaeologists renowned for decades of field studies

By PAUL BONNER : The Herald-Sun
Jul 23, 2005 : 11:40 pm ET

DURHAM -- The excavators were turning up tesserae, small bits of colored tile, that told Eric and Carol Meyers a mosaic probably lay beneath.

The Duke archaeologists and a team were digging in a banquet hall of a Roman-style villa at Sepphoris, four miles from Nazareth and not far from the Sea of Galilee in Israel. It was July 2, 1987, a Friday afternoon.


And from the same source, an article on the disagreement between Eric Meyers and Hershel Shanks over the James Ossuary.
one box bedevils friendship

By PAUL BONNER : The Herald-Sun
Jul 23, 2005 : 11:41 pm ET

DURHAM -- Few single archaeological artifacts have stirred as much controversy as the so-called James ossuary.

It has placed Duke archaeologist Eric Meyers and an erstwhile friend, Hershel Shanks, editor of Biblical Archeology Review, at odds -- with Meyers among those doubting the authenticity of a key phrase of its inscription.