Monday, November 07, 2005

The Faculty of Theology of the University of Copenhagen is pleased to announce an MA-level Distance Learning Course: "Introduction to the Dead Sea Scrolls".

For general information and links to application form, point your browser to and click "Dead Sea Scrolls Course" in the top bar.

For further information, please contact assistant professor, Ph.D. Søren Holst at

Associate Professor, Ph.D. Carsten Selch Jensen
Coordinator of the Distance Learning Programme
at the University of Copenhagen's Faculty of Theology

(From Søren Holst on the g-Megillot list.)
CONGRATULATIONS TO THE JOURNAL OF SEMITIC STUDIES, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary on 16 November.
THE THIRD-CENTURY "CHURCH" AT MEGIDDO is the subject of a somewhat more temperate article ("Site May Be 3rd-Century Place of Christian Worship") in the Washington Post. Excerpts:
Judging by the age of broken pottery discovered on the floor, the distinctive mosaic style, inscriptions citing Jesus and the apparent pre-Byzantine design of the building, state archaeologists said the structure was most likely a public place of Christian worship that dates to the mid-3rd or early 4th century. If true, the find would join the early 3rd-century Christian gathering place at Dura Europus in Syria as one of the oldest of its kind.


Some archaeologists not involved in the project said the conclusions, while tantalizing, might be premature given that only 10 percent of the site has been excavated. Workers have yet to turn up a dated inscription or other evidence that firmly establishes the year the structure was built.

Zeev Weiss, an archaeology professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem who runs the largest excavation project here in the Galilee region, said: "There is no question that what they have found is connected to Christianity. The only questions concern the design of the structure, the use of the structure and the date.

"To my mind, they don't really know what they have," said Weiss, who nonetheless called the discovery "very interesting." "That's probably why they are hesitating to call it a church."
THE LUBAVITCHER REBBE is the subject of a conference at New York University:
"Reaching for the Infinite:" Scholars At NYU On the Lubavitcher Rebbe
NEW YORK CITY — Sunday, November 06, 2005 (Lubavitch News Service)

“Menachem Mendel Schneerson is larger than life,” said Elliot Wolfson, a professor at NYU and scholar of Chasidism. “To speak of him is fraught with danger.”

And yet that’s precisely what a cadre of academics and scholars of Chasidic thought are attempting to do this week as they tackle a variety of themes related to the Rebbe and his legacy. Coming to NYU’s Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies, from as far as Australia, Israel and the U.K., the academics are presenting at a conference billed “Reaching for the Infinite, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Life, Teachings and Impact.”


The article doesn't mention that some Lubavitchers believe he was the messiah.

UPDATE: Steven Weiss is attending the conference and has put up a number of posts on it already.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Dictionary of Manichaean Texts being compiled in Britain

TEHRAN, Nov. 5 (MNA []) -- The most comprehensive Dictionary of Manichaean Texts is being compiled at the British Academy.

The project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Board.

The three volume dictionary is being compiled by Professor Sims-Williams, Dr. Gunner Mikkelsen and a number of other scholars. The first volume entitled “Texts from the Roman Empire” was published in early 1999, and the remaining volumes are now in course of preparation, covering the texts from Iraq, Iran, Central Asia and China.


Most cool.
Prison dig reveals church that may be the oldest in the world
By Amiram Barkat, Haaretz Correspondent, and AP

A mosaic and the remains of a building uncovered recently in excavations on the Megiddo prison grounds may belong to the earliest church in the world, according to a preliminary examination by the Israel Antiquities Authority.

One of the most dramatic finds suggests that, instead of an altar, a simple table stood in the center of the church, at which a sacred meal was held to commemorate the Last Supper.

Photographs of three Greek inscriptions in the mosaic were sent to Hebrew University expert Professor Leah Di Segni, who told Haaretz on Sunday that the use of the term "table" in one of them instead of the word "altar" might lead to a breakthrough in the study of ancient Christianity. It is commonly believed that church rituals based on the Last Supper took place around an altar.


There's also a photo of one of the inscriptions.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

THE EGYPTIAN BLOGGER who was arrested on 26 October has generated scarcely any interest in the mainstream media so far. But here are a few posts from another Egyptian blogger with more info and links. At the moment Technorati is listing 53 blog posts about him, but there are probably more, since it often takes a day or so for Technorati to cycle through.

Glenn Reynolds also points to a petition from the Committee to Protect Bloggers which asks for Abdolkarim Nabil Seliman's release. I've signed it. I hope you will too.

In addition, on Friday I sent the following note to the Egyptian Embassy in London (
Dear Sir,

I write regarding the reports that Egyptian blogger Abdolkarim Nabil Seliman was arrested in Egypt on 26 October for publishing blog posts that criticized Salafi Islam and the Egyptian Government, and that his whereabouts are currently unknown.

If the reports are accurate, this is a serious human rights violation and is particularly disturbing from my personal perspective given the announcement today in Al-Ahram Weekly of an upcoming international conference on Coptic studies to be held later this year in Sohag.

I am a lecturer at a British university and one of my research specialties involves ancient biblical pseudepigrapha written in numerous languages, including Coptic. Thus, this is the sort of conference I might well wish to attend. However, given that I have criticized the Salafis and the Egyptian Goverment on my own weblog, I would fear for my personal safety in Egypt after hearing the report of Mr. Seliman's arrest.

Is this really the sort of publicity you want for your country? I urge you to release Mr. Seliman immediately, drop all charges against him, and henceforth respect his human rights to criticize both his own government and religious traditions with which he disagrees.

Sincerely yours,

James R. Davila

Please feel free to write a note of protest to the Egyptian Embassy in your country. In the USA the e-mail address of the Egyptian Embassy is If you live in a country other than Britain or the USA, you can find the relevant e-mail address easily through Google.

Please do be polite (abusive letters are counterproductive) but also firm. The main points are that Mr. Seliman's right to free speech (whatever one thinks of his views), including the right to criticize his government and religious views with which he disagrees, should be respected and he should be released without charge immediately. My understanding is that there is not a right to free speech in Egypt, so this should be presented as a universal human right. You may want to point out also the very negative international publicity that is arising from reports of this incident. Feel free to poach any of the language in my e-mail if it applies to you.

I encourage you to do this. Such messages do make a difference and could be very important in this case. Thanks.

Okay, now back to ancient Judaism and related matters.

UPDATE: There's good news and bad news (see here too). Only the good news is pretty bad too. Do send that e-mail.
A NEW BLOG ON HEBREW MANUSCRIPTS: Giluy Milta B'alma, a new blog by Dr. Ezra Chwat, has the purpose of providing informal preliminary publications of interesting Hebrew manuscript finds, especially from the Cairo Geniza. Here's the blurb:
Working from the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts in the National Library in Jerusalem, we present here new and interesting findings in Hebrew Manuscripts, particularly the Cairo Genizah. This is a good place to announce preliminary findings, and get feedback from fellow scholars. We welcome posts in Hebrew or English. They will be archived in hardcopy for bibliographic reference.

(Via Hagahot.)
THE 40TH ANNIVERSARY OF NOSTRA AETATE was observed in a conference in Jerusalem last week:
Catholics Want Message of Respect for Jews to Continue
By Julie Stahl Jerusalem Bureau Chief
November 04, 2005

Jerusalem ( - Catholic and Jewish scholars and theologians gathered in Jerusalem this week to mark the 40th anniversary of an important Catholic Church document acquitting the Jewish people of killing of Jesus Christ.

But scholars said they are concerned that the message of respect for the Jewish people could be forgotten by coming generations.

Blamed for the death of Jesus and considered rejected by God, the Jewish people suffered persecution, pogroms, torture and death at the hands of the Catholic Church, among others, for 1,900 years.

But a change in official Catholic doctrine came with the declaration of Nostra Aetate , a document accepted by the Second Vatican Council on October 28, 1965. It opened a door of friendship and diplomacy between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people.


Friday, November 04, 2005

ANOTHER INFORMAL SEGERT OBITUARY, this one by his student Tom Finley, posted by Ed Cook on Ralph.
THE LIBRARY OF ALEXANDRIA is the subject of an article ("Library, most magnificient") in the Hindu, for reasons unclear to me. It collects a lot of traditional material quite uncritically. For some evaluation of some of that material, see this post and its final link.
Scene set for Coptic studies
The Third International Seminar on Coptic Studies will be held in Sohag early next year.
Jill Kamil looks at the preparations [Al-Ahram Weekly]

"People have come to know that the series of Coptic studies seminars that take place in monasteries are serious affairs," well-known Coptologist Gawdat Gabra says. "Already we have had a most satisfactory response to our announcement that the next seminar will take place in Sohag early next year, and it promises to be even more successful than the other two."


UPDATE: It sounds like an interesting conference, but if this story is accurate, maybe I shouldn't attend:
Egypt arrests blogger
04/11/2005 09:28 - (SA)

Cairo - Egyptian police have detained a blogger for his anti-Islamic and anti-government writings and confiscated his books and copies of his articles, his family and other bloggers said on Thursday.

Abdolkarim Nabil Seliman, a 21-year-old law student at Al-Azhar University, was arrested on October 26. His whereabouts are not known.


Another blogger, Malik Moustafa, closely followed Seliman's detention and accused followers of the fundamentalist Islamic Salafi movement in Alexandria of being behind the arrest. Moustafa said the arrest followed articles in which Seliman accused the Salafis of inciting the latest sectarian tensions in his neighbourhood of Mouharm Bay.

Blatant remarks

Seliman was detained three days after posting an article to his blog commenting on the violent riots that erupted when thousands of security forces clashed with streams of angry Muslim worshippers in front of a Coptic Christian church over a play put on by Christians deemed offensive to Islam.


In addition to his anti-Islamic writings, Seliman posted several articles blatantly attacking Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak regime and describing it as a "symbol of dictatorship".


Criticising the Salafis and the Egyptian Government. What could he have been thinking?

According to this article, the poor guy's mother even had to condemn him to stay out of trouble.

For more on those riots, see this AP article . For more on the detention of Abdolkarim Nabil Seliman see here (includes links to his blogs if you read Arabic) and here.
THE TREE OF LIFE synagogue mosaics exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum is reviewed by the Forward in "The Roman Era, Revised". (Requires free registration). Excerpt:
"If you were wealthy, you could afford marble and the poor had plaster floors," [archaeologist and cultural property lawyer Lucille] Roussin said, meaning it [the synagogue floor at Hamman-Lif] was likely that this community was someplace in between. The inscriptions on the floor were written in Latin, the least common language for Jews of the period, trailing Greek and Aramaic. This suggests a high level of comfort with the prevailing culture. The designs also speak loudly. Some scholars believe that elaborate figurative images may indicate that the communities' interpretation of Jewish law was less strict — much like Reform Judaism today — than in places where only the geometric mosaics condoned by the rabbis are found. It is also possible that the Jews of Hammam-Lif simply had less knowledge of Jewish law coming together in Israel and in Babylonia.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

FROM THE DEPARTMENT OF JUNK PHILOLOGY: The Axis of Logic has a long rant against Israel et al. by Ghali Hassan. My interest here is mainly in the first few paragraphs. The bold-font emphasis below is mine.
Critical Analysis
Anti-Semitism and Arabs

By Ghali Hassan
Nov 2, 2005, 21:31

Ur-Fascism can come back under the most innocent of disguises. Our duty is to uncover it and to point our finger at any of its new instances — every day, in every part of the world.
- Umberto Eco, NY Review of Books, June, 1995.

To Israel’s friends and supporters of its colonial policy in Palestine, ‘anti-Semitism’ means; any criticism of Israel’s brutal policy against the Palestinians and any criticism of Zionism and its racism that continues to inflict great harm on Arabs and Muslims. The real victims of today’s Western anti-Semitism are Arabs and Muslims, not Jews.

The term ‘anti-Semitism’ has nothing to do with religion. It originated in 18th century Europe where philologists used the term ‘Semite’ to distinguish languages from each other by grouping them into ‘families’ originating from the so-called ‘mother’ tongue to which they are related. Despite the lack of a common ancestral language, Arabic, Aramaic, Amharic, Assyrian, Hebrew, etc. where [sic] grouped as ‘Semitic’ languages. For both Arabic and Hebrew, the classification was incorrect. In other words, neither Arabic nor Hebrew is Semitic.

This is quite wrong. All these languages, including Hebrew and Arabic, do have an ancestral language that is called "Proto-Semitic" for the sake of convenience. ("Semitic" comes from the legendary biblical ancestor "Shem" in the book of Genesis.) Proto-Semitic broke up into various Semitic languages and proto-languages before writing was available, so no texts survive in it, but its existence is clear from linguistic reverse-engineering of the surviving Semitic languages. This is elementary knowledge to anyone trained in Semitic philology.
With the rise of European racism against minorities in the 19th century, European Jews where [sic] targeted. Differences between Jews and other European citizens have to be manufactured. Since European Christians (the Protestant Reformists) adopted the Hebrew bible, religion was not an option for those differences. The Jews were identified as ‘Semites’ based on the incorrect assumption that their ancestors spoke Hebrew, which wasn’t the case. Ancient Hebrew tribes were Aramaic speakers.

This is bizarre. It is perfectly clear from the Hebrew Bible and numerous Iron Age Hebrew inscriptions that Hebrew was the language spoken by the ancient Judeans and Israelites. If I may quote myself:
While I am discussing inscriptions, it is worth noting that the epigraphic evidence makes it clear that speakers of Hebrew engaged in a monumental building project in Jerusalem around 700 (the Siloam Tunnel inscription). Other excavated Hebrew inscriptions in Jerusalem around this time include the Silwan tomb inscription, the Ophel ostracon, and an ostracon from Arad that mentions "the king of Judah." Substantial corpora of Judean Hebrew correspondence by worshipers of YHWH were found on ostraca from the end of the Iron Age (late 600s to 586/87) at Lachish and Arad. The Lachish letters mention "the king" (##3, 5), "the prophet" (#3), and possibly (the reading is damaged) "Jerusalem" (#5). The Arad ostraca also refer to "the king" (#24). These are all excavated inscriptions whose genuineness is not in doubt.

The Arameans in what is now Syria spoke Aramaic (the CAL website seems to be jammed at the moment, but here's the Google cache version of their "Aramaic" article.) After the Babylonian Exile, the Persian Empire used Aramaic as its diplomatic language, which resulted in its being used all over the ancient Near East in the Persian period and widely for centuries thereafter. Again, anyone who knows anything about the history of the Semitic languages knows this.

The article also makes the daft revisionist claim that "Judaism, Christianity and Islam are all part of Arab culture."

If this is an example of "critical analysis" by the Axis of Logic, I'm not impressed.
ANNE RICE WATCH: There's lots more in the media about Anne Rice and her Jesus book and I don't have time to note all of it. But this paragraph struck me. It's in a New York Times article from 26 October:
On the Internet she has challenged bloggers who dismiss her, on religious grounds and otherwise, as unqualified to take on the subject. "I tell them it's sincerely written and it's the Jesus of the Gospels," she said.

Hmmm ... Anne Rice reads blogs. I'll let you know if I get any e-mail from her.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

MORE ON ANNE RICE and her Jesus book from Beliefnet:
Anne Rice: 'Stations on a Journey'
The best-selling author gives up writing about vampires to write about the 'ultimate supernatural hero'--Jesus Christ.
By Marcia Z. Nelson
Anne Rice has nailed her vampire novels into a coffin.

"I will never write those kind of books again -- never," Rice said, referring to three decades of work that include bestsellers like "Interview with the Vampire" and other books in the Vampire Chronicles series.

That's a bummer, because it means we'll probably never see the resolution of that wild cliffhanger at the end of Taltos. But this seems to confirm my fear at the time I read it that she had written herself into a corner she couldn't get out of.
Her books about witches and dark angels, she said, "were reflections of a world that didn't include redemption."

Actually, I recall quite a bit of redemption in Memnoch the Devil, even if God didn't seem overly enthusiastic about the idea.

Then, near the end of the piece:
In the end, Rice seems to consider her new book a gift, both to Christians and to non-Christian fans of her previous work. "This is a book I offer to all Christians," she writes, "to the fundamentalists, to the Roman Catholics, to the most liberal Christians in the hope that my embrace of more conservative doctrines will have some coherence for them in the here and now of the book...

"I offer this book to those who know nothing of Jesus Christ in the hope that you will see him in these pages in some form. I offer this novel with love to my readers who've followed me through one strange turn after another in the hope that Jesus will be as real to you as any other character I've ever launched into the world we share."

The ellipsis is in the article. It will be very interesting to see how all of these readers react to this new book.

The article also describes her faith journey from and back to the Catholic Church and looks a bit at her view of New Testament scholarship.
THAT BELONGS IN A MUSEUM, as Indiana Jones would say. I hope some philanthropist will see it that way, or at least will see to it that this lot of geniza fragments being sold by Christie's remains fully accessible to scholars for research.
DIGITALIZED SPECIAL COLLECTIONS are the subject of an interesting Library Journal article:
Rarities Online
By Andrew Richard Albanese — November 1, 2005
With digitization, special collections are entering a golden age of usability

Columbia University librarian James G. Neal beams as he walks past item after item on display in the school’s Butler Library, treasures drawn from the massive Brander Matthews Dramatic Museum. The collection is a veritable feast for theater scholars, including everything from rare first editions, sketches, and manuscript drafts to playbills, set designs, ornate masks, and some remarkable 19th-century handcrafted marionettes.

It is in unique collections like these that Neal sees a bright future for libraries. In fact, at the April 2005 Association of College and Research Libraries annual conference in Minneapolis, Neal told an audience of librarians that in the digital age, librarians are poised to enter a new “golden age” of special collections, spurred by digitization and greater online access to primary resources.

“Research libraries traditionally have been evaluated by how many volumes they hold, but the smallest library can eventually access as many volumes as the largest,” Neal explains, alluding to the advent of digital databases for contemporary resources. “In the future, I believe great research libraries will be evaluated more and more on their special collections.”

Here's a (from my perspective) particularly interesting example:
[Alice] Schreyer [special collections librarian at the University of Chicago] points to the Goodspeed Manuscript Collection Project at the University of Chicago. With a $250,000 award from the Institute of Museum and Library Services matched by $227,762 from the university, the project has created a remarkable digital collection of 65 Greek, Syriac, Ethiopian, Armenian, Arabic, and Latin manuscripts dating from the seventh to the 19th century, complete with software to scroll over and examine every part of the manuscripts in detail. The program, Schreyer says, began with a faculty member using the collection with a class but quickly evolved. “We really felt the research potential of the collection was of global interest to scholars, and we wanted to be able to share that worldwide,” Schreyer says. “It’s a collection that has not been heavily researched because it is all in Chicago.” It is now freely accessible, and such efforts epitomize the transformation of learning.

In a curious old-media-mindset lapse, the article neglects to give URLs or links to the projects it cites, but you can access the Goodspeed New Testament Manuscript Collection by following this link.
SO YESTERDAY I spent the day driving to the Edinburgh airport, picking my family up from a holiday, bringing them home, and getting them settled in. Plus teaching a Hebrew class. So what happens while I'm away? The Israeli government arrests Hanan Eshel.
Police arrest archaeologist suspected of ancient relic trade
By Jonathan Lis, Haaretz Correspondent

An archaeologist was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of locating and purchasing an ancient document from antiquities thieves.

Professor Hanan Eshel, of Bar-Ilan University, is suspected of purchasing pieces of a Leviticus scroll from the Bar Kokhba period (132-135 CE) from three West Bank Bedouin for $3,000. The three Bedouin allegedly showed the document first to a doctoral student of Eshel, Roi Porat. Porat, who was also questioned yesterday, allegedly called in Eshel, who subsequently made the purchase. Eshel and Porat were released with limitations after questioning.


Apparently the charges are failing to inform the IAA of the purchase within 15 days and also "illegal excavation." A longer Hebrew version of the article is here, but be forewarned: the page gave my Firefox browser the Evil Rotating Beach Ball screen freeze.

For more on the Leviticus scroll fragments in question, see here.

There are further details in this Jerusalem Post article:
Police probe leading archeologist

In a bizarre case, the former head of the archeology department at Bar-Ilan University is under investigation for illicitly trading in antiquities valued at $1 million, police said Tuesday.

Regarding the charges, it says:
After purchasing the scroll, he [Eshel] said he had it photographed at a police lab, a claim police deny.

"I bought the scroll to give it to the State of Israel and, instead of thanking me, they are accusing me of trying to steal it, which is nonsense," he said.

Eshel maintained he reported the find to the Antiquities Authority a few months after it was shown to him, but that the authority did nothing about it.

Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby, however, said that Eshel hid both the discovery of the Bar Kochba-era scroll in a Judean Desert cave and his purchase of it.

The Antiquities Authority, subsequently lodged a complaint with the police, which opened an investigation, Ben-Ruby said.

During questioning, Eshel reportedly told the police he did not report the find to the Antiquities Authority because he was afraid that "they would steal the credit," Ben-Ruby said.

Prof. Aren Maeir, current head of Bar-Ilan's Land of Israel studies and archeology department, accused the Antiquities Authority and police of blowing the case "completely out of proportion."

There's been some discussion on the ANE List. Joseph I. Lauer has bee especially good at digging up references.

It's really too soon to know what all this means or how it will play out. I have the highest regard for Hanan Eshel as a scholar and a friend and I can't imagine him deliberately breaking any antiquities laws. I believe there has been controversy on whether he should have dealt with the looters at all, though. That is a difficult question.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Kabbalah leader arrested over '£30,000 charge for fraudulent cancer cure'

· Madonna's Israeli host questioned in Tel Aviv
· Woman told £4 branded water would help chances

Conal Urquhart in Tel Aviv
Tuesday November 1, 2005
The Guardian

The head of a religious centre which hosted Madonna's visit to Israel was last night under arrest on suspicion of promising to cure a woman's cancer in return for more than £30,000.

ARAMAIC WATCH: Aramaic chat rooms as PSYOP?
Make love, not jihad: PSYOP, OSINT efforts should tackle repression of romance

By Steve Hammons
October 31, 2005 (American Chronicle)

In the struggle against terrorism, religious extremism and in dealing with challenges in Iraq, there are many strategies and tactics available. These include so-called "hard power" options such as bullets and bombs as well as "soft power" such as persuasion, education and psychological operations (PSYOP).

Dr. Walid Phares, a professor of Middle East studies and senior fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, wrote an article titled "�Valentine's Day Enrages Jihadists." Phares noted that, "the terrorists are not intimidated by death, but they are terrorized by love."


This situation is ripe for PSYOP and open source intelligence (OSINT) endeavors to "liberate the oppressed," as the U.S. Army Special Forces motto goes.


"Love warfare has become the boldest threat that can roll back jihad. On the internet, Arab, Persian, Kurdish, Aramaic, and other love and music chat rooms attract ten times the al-Ansar-crowded rooms. There, you read and hear discussions of love; they seek, not decadence, but the early stages of a romantic revolution," according to Phares.


My emphasis.