Saturday, September 24, 2005

BIBLICAL ARCHAEOLOGY REVIEW is the subject of what is evidently a series of critical essays being posted on the Bible and Interpretation website. The most recent is:
The Ages of BAR

The publication of unprovenanced objects from private collections simultaneously accomplished several things. It situated BAR as a source of primary data, presented by scholars without any of the usual controls on the authenticity of materials and quality of analysis, such as peer review, presentation at scholarly conferences (whose sponsoring organizations are usually bound to reject such objects), and dialogues in scholarly journals.

By Alexander H. Joffe
Archaeologist and Historian.
September 2005

An earlier essay was published by Jim West and received a reply from the magazine's editor, Hershel Shanks.
Unearthing earthly Jerusalem (Ha'aretz)
By Meron Rapoport

In Jerusalem's Old City, as in Hiroshima, everything is measured by the distance from the center of the cataclysm. In Hiroshima it is the distance from the site where the atom bomb fell; in the Old City they speak of the distance from the Temple Mount.Sometimes they measure this distance in meters, sometimes even in centimeters. The walls of the Temple Mount are a red line which is not touched, says veteran archaeologist Meir Ben Dov. A conflagration there would be a death certificate for this country. Ben Dov is a controversial figure, but everyone agrees with his view rabbis and archaeologists, policemen and Muslim clerics.

A man who was involved in law enforcement in the Old City says that occasionally he would visit the excavations around the Temple Mount in order to see how close they were getting to the walls of the mount. "That was my greatest fear that someone would try to get close to the Temple Mount," he says. Everyone is afraid, each for his own reason, and tries to keep his distance from these walls. And at the same time people are attracted to them as to a magnet.

This magnet is now being approached by the members of Ateret Cohanim, the best known among the organizations of Jews who have settled in the Old City. Through the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), Ateret Cohanim is at the moment conducting a dig at a depth of 12 meters beneath the building belonging to it, which is 80 meters away from the walls of the Temple Mount. But members of the organization are not satisfied with digging deep down, in one of the most sensitive places in the world. They are also digging along width-wise, to the east, in the direction of the Temple Mount, beneath the houses of Palestinian residents. The excavators have already advanced 20 meters eastward, while "clearing away earth" from subterranean spaces. Only 60 meters separate now them from the walls of the mount, says Jon Seligman, the IAA Jerusalem district director, who is supervising the dig.


All this in the context of Byzantine political complexities in Israeli society, not to speak of the larger context of Israeli-Palestinian/Muslim relations.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

THE HOUSE OF JUDEO-PERSIAN MANUSCRIPTS FOUNDATION in Los Angeles is devoted to collecting copies and originals of manuscripts written in Judeo-Persian (Persian written in the Hebrew alphabet), a literature that goes back at least to the eighth century CE. As always with such things, I wonder if there are any Old Testament pseudepigrapha manuscripts among them.
"ABACUS" -- A Hebrew word? Philologos has the story.

UPDATE: Miriam at Bloghead comments on the Philologos essay:
All very brilliant. But his theory has one weakness: why would a scribe need a box in which he can write, in dust, words and sums that can then be erased? It's hard to imagine.

Perhaps to scribble draft notes and sums before using expensive writing materials to write up the final draft? That's not far from what she goes on to suggest, but scribes would presumably find this useful too.

Whether or not writing in a box of sand would be halakhically acceptable on the sabbath, as Philologos seems to suggest, I leave to those who know more about such things than I do.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

A BOOK ON GIORDANO BRUNO AND KABBALAH is reviewed in the Commentator:
Are Hermes and the Kabbalah Irrelevent?

Giordano Bruno and the Kabbalah

By Joshua Harrison

Published: Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Karen Silvia De Leon Jones
University of Nebraska Press, 2004.

The figure of the Renaissance magus looms large at Yeshiva College. Indeed, the very slogan of the school channels the spirit of Egyptian pneumatic magic. Beckoning us to "bring wisdom to life," the new motto conjures an image of a magician, his figure ensconced in dark robes, Picatrix in hand, standing over the moribund YU student and imparting him with the ancient Gnostic wisdom of the Hermetica. Just as the ancient Egyptians brought the celestial powers into their idols, we take the lifeless Modern Orthodox youth and fill them with celestial knowledge!

Scorn is heaped on the pedant by Giordano Bruno. The pedant represents the opposite of the magus. With his emphasis on philology or his willingness to analyze primary texts (like Copernicus), the pedants of the world challenged Bruno, whom Yates calls "the lunatic the lover and the poet." Indeed, the Oxford doctors who so opposed Bruno find piercing arrows of invective hurled at them. While they ponder the true epicycles, Bruno hears the song of the Universe.

Of course, the Isaac Casaubon controversy, in which Casaubon used early philological methods to disprove the authenticity of the Hermetica as received Egyptian wisdom, brought this situation to a head. At least Bruno had the authoritative Hermetica on his side. When Casaubon proved that the Hermetica was a Gnostic text, and not a text that antedated Moses (who cribbed, in the old account, liberally from Hermes Trismegistus!), the later Magi, like Robert Fludd, had to persist in their art in the face of vastly superior critical scholarship.

French town tributes Jewish sage
By David Dahan Updated: 20/Sep/2005 16:37
(European Jewish Press, Belgium)

The French town of Troyes, where famed Torah scholar Rashi lived, is celebrating the 900th anniversary of his death with numerous activities including conferences and the naming of a square after him.

AN IMPORTANT RENAISSANCE EDITION OF THE HEBREW BIBLE has been acquired by the library of Berkeley University:
Bancroft Library adds rare Second Biblia Rabbinica, Hebrew Bible

By Kathleen Maclay, Media Relations | 20 September 2005

BERKELEY – The University of California, Berkeley, has obtained a rare Hebrew Bible that has served as the foundation for almost all Bibles published since its own printing in the early 1500s.

Paul Hamburg, librarian for UC Berkeley's Judaica collections, said there are likely only a dozen sets left in the world of the four-volume Second Biblia Rabbinica, including half a dozen or so in private ownership.


When completed in 1525, the Second Hebrew Bible presented for the first time the complete Masorah, the extensive Jewish tradition concerning the correct Hebrew text of the Scriptures accumulated over centuries.

It also contained an introduction by ben Hayim to the Masoretic text. "That introduction remains a classic text in the history of biblical scholarship and the critical study of the Masorah," said [Berkeley Librian Paul] Hamburg.

In addition, the Second Biblia Rabbinica has the Targum Onkelos, a classic Aramaic translation of the Bible, as well as more medieval Hebrew commentaries by rabbis than the first Rabbinic Bible.


UPDATE: Bad link fixed.
DID GOD HAVE A WIFE?. The Mail and Guardian, South Africa, reviews William Dever's new book on the goddess Asherah in ancient Israel.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

QUMRAN SYMPOSIUM: My doctoral student, Ian Werrett, draws my attention to a symposium of the Nordic Network in Qumran Studies which is being held in Jerusalem on 22-29 September. He and St. Andrews British Academy Research Fellow Grant Macaskill are presenting papers there.

CORRECTION: He's still listed on the website, but Grant tells me he had to withdraw from the conference. Apologies -- I should have double-checked with him before posting.
AN ESSAY DEEMED RELIGIOUSLY OFFENSIVE is being removed from an Israeli Defense Force educational booklet:
IDF agrees to ban essay that MK says defames Jewish values
By Amos Harel, Haaretz Correspondent

When MK Shaul Yahalom (National Religious Party) asked the Israel Defense Forces to stop distributing an article he said "damages and defames Jewish values," the request tested the limits of freedom of thought in the IDF.

The defense minister's bureau set the limits this month, reversing an earlier IDF decision and removing the article from an educational booklet distributed by the army's school for human resources.

In the article "The Stone Age," Assaf Inbari discusses the way in which Judaism relates to the Temple Mount and the Temple. He writes cynically about the various rituals associated with the Temple, and calls the Bible nothing but a collection of myths. Many of the ideas he presents are similar to those raised in biblical criticism or history courses at universities.

The last sentence strikes me as a bit misleading in light of this:
"Titus did Judaism a big favor," Inbari wrote. "He liberated it from the Temple. The Temple is all that stood in [Judaism's] way, caught in its throat - not swallowing and not vomiting."

That sort of editorializing would not, in my opinion, be appropriate as straightforward instruction in a university course on biblical criticism or history. It might make an interesting "respond to this quote" question for a tutorial (discussion section) or on a final exam. But it's difficult to judge the situation without reading the whole essay and knowing more about the context. For example, if the essay had this sort of tone and was presented by itself as an objective treatment of the Temple and Judaism, I can see there would be a problem. But if it was in a collection of essays expressing widely different viewpoints about the subject for the students to discuss, it probably wouldn't bother me.
A BIRD MOSAIC -- also from Byzantine-era Caesarea. (Via Archaeology Magazine news.)
Caesarea Byzantine mansion site inaugurated
By ETGAR LEFKOVITS (Jerusalem Post)

The remains of a lavish Byzantine mansion with pictorial mosaic flooring and a rare table with gold-encrusted glass platelets have been uncovered in the coastal city of Caesarea during an archaeological excavation, Israel's Antiquities Authority announced Monday.

MANDEANS are suffering persecution in Iraq:
Iraq chaos threatens ancient faith
Kate Clark

By Kate Clark
BBC News, Damascus

There are fears for the future of one of the most ancient, as well as the smallest, communities in Iraq - the Mandeans.

Their religion, Mandeanism, comes from the same general background as Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

They share many of the same prophets, but particularly honour John the Baptist.


Mandeans have traditionally been protected under Islamic law, as believers in one god - like Jews and Christians.

But since the war in Iraq, they have found themselves targeted by Sunni and Shia Islamic extremists, and by criminal gangs who use religion to justify their attacks.

One leaflet which Mandeans said had been distributed to homes in Baghdad gave this warning to both them and Christians (who form another of Iraq's minorities):

"Either you embrace Islam and enjoy safety and coexist amongst us, or leave our land and stop toying with our principles. Otherwise, the sword will be the judge between belief and blasphemy."


The Mandean language, incidentally, is a dialect of Aramaic, which is not made clear in the article.

Monday, September 19, 2005

DIVINATION CONFERENCE: This just in by e-mail from Angela Voss.


University of Kent, Canterbury
April 28th-30th, 2006

Keynote speakers: Gregory Shaw (Stonehill College, Mass.), Peter Struck (University of Pennsylvania),
Barbara Tedlock (SUNY, Buffalo)

This conference will explore the nature and implications of the visionary knowledge which arises through divinatory practices, the ‘inner sight’ which is evoked through the use of metaphor and symbol in a ritual or therapeutic context, or in everyday life. Questions of knowledge and realisation will be raised in relation to astrology and other forms of divination. Is divinatory insight best understood as a psychological process, an altered state of consciousness, or a spiritual connection with higher beings? Is it necessarily ‘esoteric’, comparable to the initiation rituals of the ancient mystery traditions, or is it available to anyone at any time? What is the role of training and expertise in divination? In the reading of an omen or interpretation of a symbol, how do imagination and technique work together to bring hidden knowledge to the surface? Does a symbolic perception artificially impose meaning on an otherwise meaningless world, or help to create a more coherent cosmos? Does divination allow a glimpse into deeper levels of existence, or simply distort our rational minds with delusion, projection and fantasy? In short, what can we learn from both historical sources and contemporary practice about the nature and ground of ‘truth’ in divination, its value and philosophical implications? What is being revealed, and through what agency?

Papers on any aspect of these questions (30 mins) are invited from both researchers and practitioners in fields including (but not limited to) ancient history, anthropology, astrology, classics, divination, philosophy, psychology, religious studies and theology.

Please send abstracts (200-300 words) to Dr Angela Voss ( by 31st December 2005
HERSHEL SHANKS is defending the authenticity of the Ivory Pomegranate inscription in the Jerusalem Post.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Stone’s biblical past is exposed as myth

Mark Macaskill and Jason Allardyce (Sunday Times of London)

ACCORDING to legend, it was used as a “pillow” by Jacob, the founder of Israel, as he dreamt of angels ascending to heaven on a ladder.

The fabled Stone of Destiny was then taken from Palestine to the north, where it became the ancient symbol of Scottish kingship.

After spending centuries resting at Westminster Abbey, it takes pride of place in the Great Hall of Edinburgh Castle. Now the Duchess of Hamilton claims to have unearthed evidence that unpicks the myth. She says she has proof that the stone, far from originating in the Middle East, was mined somewhat closer to home — Perthshire, in fact.

Jill Hamilton, the author and historian, took rock samples from the Palestinian village of Beitin, the traditional site of Jacob’s epiphany.


I'm sure it's still a very nice stone. You can see a photo of it here.
BOOK REVIEW by Jacob Lassner in the Middle East Quarterly:

Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society. By Nadia Abu el-Haj. University of Chicago Press, 2001. 352 pp. $52 ($20, paper).

The review was published in 2003, but has just been posted on the Middle East Forum website.
A SYRIAC CONFERENCE is to be held at the Catholic University of America in February, 2006:
Dorushe Conference on Syriac Pedagogy at CUA

The Center for the Study of Early Christianity and the Semitics Department of the Catholic University of America in cooperation with the Dorushe graduate student association invite proposals for the 2006 Dorushe Syriac Studies Conference. This year's conference will be held at the CUA campus in Washington, D.C., February 3-5, 2006. While all are welcome to give papers, the conference is especially designed to aid graduate students interested in integrating the field of Syriac studies with other academic disciplines for a teaching career. Proposals on any Syriac related topic are welcome, but discussion periods will primarily focus on pedagogical aspects (how to incorporate our Syriac research into the classroom for a broader audience.) Papers will be pre-circulated to attendees and summarized at the conference. In addition, a list of resources to aid in the teaching of Syriac and related fields will be compiled and distributed at the conference. For further details see:

E-mail proposals in the format outlined below by October 31, 2005 to

--Preparation of the Proposal--

Cover Sheet:
On a separate cover sheet include name, address, any academic affiliation, phone and fax numbers, e-mail address, the paper’s title, and indication of any projection or other special facilities needed. Graduate students should indicate their current stage in their program and how they foresee using Syriac in their future academic work.

Maximum word count: 300 words. Please submit your abstract as an e-mail attachment in RTF or MS Word Format. If your abstract includes Syriac or non-Roman characters please use a unicode font (such as the Meltho Fonts from Beth Mardutho). For purposes of anonymous judging, please do NOT include your name or other identification on the abstract. This information should be only on the cover sheet. Please be advised that the submission of an abstract and its acceptance represent a commitment from the contributor to summarize and discuss the paper in person at the conference.

(Via Michael Penn on the Hugoye list. Feel free to forward the message to anyone who might be interested.)