Saturday, January 07, 2006

MORE RESEARCH ON PHOENICIAN HARBORS: A few months ago I noted this story on core samples taken at the harbor of Tyre. Now there's more:
Geoscience rediscovers Phoenicia's buried harbors
Space and Earth science : January 05, 2006 (

The exact locations of Tyre and Sidon's ancient harbors, Phoenicia's two most important city-states, have attracted scholarly interest and debate for many centuries. New research reveals that the ancient basins lie buried beneath the medieval and modern city centers.

A network of sediment cores have been sunk into the cities' coastal deposits and studied using high-resolution geoscience techniques to elucidate how, where, and when Tyre and Sidon's harbors evolved since their Bronze Age foundations. In effect, ancient port basins are rich geological archives replete with information on human impacts, occupation histories, Holocene coastal evolution, and natural catastrophes.


(Via Archaeologica News.)

UPDATE: There's an article in Nature as well. (Via Rogue Classicism and the revived Mirabilis blog -- welcome back Christine!)
Exploring the holy scriptures
By Rebecca Assoun in Paris Updated: 06/Jan/2006 14:55
(European Jewish Press)

An exhibition in Paris explores 3,000 years of history through the scriptures of the three monotheistic religions. “Books of words: Torah, Koran, Bible” shows how despite their common base, Judaism, Christianity and Islam developed original and different relationships to the texts.


The exhibition aims to explain the relationship that Judaism, Christianity and Islam have to the Bible.

“We have gathered fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Hebrew manuscripts celebrating the exit from Egypt, illustrated Bibles from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, works by Gutenberg and Korans written in golden ink,” she added.


Around 100 documents reveal the story of these books that have been passed on through generations, from owner to owner and across continents. Visitors can also listen to the various accounts of creation.


I would like to hear more about those Dead Sea Scroll fragments.

UPDATE (8 January): Much more here.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Extremists boast they cursed Sharon
By YAAKOV KATZ (Jerusalem Post)

Far-right activists took credit Thursday for the severe deterioration in Ariel Sharon's health, claiming that a pulsa denura - Aramaic for "lashes of fire" - death curse they instigated against the prime minister in July was the real catalyst behind his current state of health.

"I take full responsibility for what happened," far-right activist Baruch Ben-Yosef, one of the participants at the July pulsa denura, told The Jerusalem Post. "Our pulsa denura kicked in. Nothing could kill Sharon and he said his ancestors lived until they over 100 years old but we got him with the pulsa denura."


You may recall that the pulsa-denura is a curse ceremony created about a century ago. There's more on its historical background here and here. See also here and here on recent events having to do with the cursing of Sharon.

It really isn't a great surprise that a 77-year-old man who was very overweight and who had one of the most stressful jobs on the planet had a stroke, and no death curses are required to explain it. Sigh.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

VOTING WITH COLORED BEADS didn't seem to me to be the best way to proceed, but it's a lot more constructive than this:
Did Jesus exist? Court to decide (CNN)

Wednesday, January 4, 2006; Posted: 1:35 p.m. EST (18:35 GMT)

ROME, Italy (Reuters) -- Forget the U.S. debate over intelligent design versus evolution.

An Italian court is tackling Jesus -- and whether the Roman Catholic Church may be breaking the law by teaching that he existed 2,000 years ago.

The case pits against each other two men in their 70s, who are from the same central Italian town and even went to the same seminary school in their teenage years.

The defendant, Enrico Righi, went on to become a priest writing for the parish newspaper. The plaintiff, Luigi Cascioli, became a vocal atheist who, after years of legal wrangling, is set to get his day in court later this month.

"I started this lawsuit because I wanted to deal the final blow against the Church, the bearer of obscurantism and regression," Cascioli told Reuters.

Cascioli says Righi, and by extension the whole Church, broke two Italian laws. The first is "Abuso di Credulita Popolare" (Abuse of Popular Belief) meant to protect people against being swindled or conned. The second crime, he says, is "Sostituzione di Persona," or impersonation.


I'm more skeptical about the Jesus traditions than a lot of people, but this is just silly -- so much so that I wonder if it's a hoax. But if it is, it sure has fooled a lot of news carriers.

Two comments. First, the case that Jesus existed and that we can know at least some things about him is quite strong and is not at issue among historical-Jesus specialists. Second, the whole discussion has no place in a court of law and -- assuming the case is real -- if the judge is responsible, he'll throw the case out as frivolous immediately. Otherwise the Italian court system is going to look pretty silly.

Cross file under "You Can't Make This Up."
A DOCUMENTARY on Aramaic-speaking Christians in the Middle East:
Film Review: The Last Assyrians (Les Derniers Assyriens)

By Sonia Nettnin (

"The Last Assyrians" (Les Derniers Assyriens) is an amazing documentary about the history of the Aramaic-speaking Christians from ancient Mesopotamia until their present-day existence in the Middle East.

For six years Director Robert Alaux researched and wrote this historic documentary. It is the first film that tells the complete history of the Assyrian Chaldean Syriac people. History overlooks how they suffered from massacres, hunger and starvation during the1915 genocide; and the international community has not protected these people in their homeland after decades of mass exodus. Despite their pain and suffering this indigenous Christian community, including the Diaspora seek justice, peace, prosperity, security, and solidarity in the Middle East.

LIMBO IN THE KABBALAH? Limbo is in limbo right now for the Catholic Church, but Philologos tells us that it had a place in Jewish mystical literature too:
In later kabbalistic literature, however, as well as in the Hasidic circles that were heavily influenced by it, "the world of tohu," conceived as an intermediate stage between the ultimate good of pure spirit and the ultimate evil of pure matter, became a term for a nebulous domain — not unlike the Christian Limbo, in which souls admitted to neither heaven nor hell wandered. The reason for having to lead such an existence had nothing to do with the absence of a rite of initiation like baptism. Rather, the problem was an even balance between the dead man's sins and merits, which left his soul in a no-man's land.
Scholar of Dead Sea Scrolls to be honored by his students
By: David Campbell, Staff Writer 01/03/2006 (Princeton Packet)

Book to be published as tribute to Professor James H. Charlesworth of Princeton Theological Seminary


Professor James H. Charlesworth, the George L. Collord Professor of New Testament Language and Literature at Princeton Theological Seminary, is a leading expert on the scrolls.
The author and editor of many books, his other areas of research include the first-century Jewish historian Josephus, the Gospel of John, and the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old and New Testaments.
As seminary teacher and founder and longtime director of the Princeton Theological Seminary Dead Sea Scrolls Project, Professor Charlesworth has mentored generations of students who themselves have gone on to academic positions nationwide and around the world.
Now, 11 of his former students, all of whom worked with him on the Scrolls Project, have written essays for a forthcoming new book dedicated in his honor, "Qumran Studies: New Approaches, New Questions," to be published by William B. Eerdmans in the spring.


Congratulations to Professor Charlesworth!

(As an aside, note that this is the second Google News mention of the pseudepigrapha in the first week of this year. A trend? I hope so.)
Ancient village discovery raises questions
Associated Press

JERUSALEM - Discovery of an ancient village just outside Jerusalem has brought into question one of the strongest images of biblical times - the wholesale flight of Jews running for their lives after the Roman destruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

Just beneath the main road leading north from Jerusalem, archaeologists have found the walls of houses in a well-planned community that existed after the temple's destruction. It might lead to rewriting the history books if it was really Jewish. But at least one expert isn't sure it was.

The discovery of stone vessels indicate Jews in the village continued to live by religious purity laws after 70 A.D., said Debbie Sklar-Parnes, of the Israel Antiquities Authority, who is overseeing the dig.


But Hebrew University historian Lee Levine questioned whether the village was actually Jewish.

"The evidence is a little mixed," Levine said. The presence of wine amphorae from Italy and the absence of ritual baths cast some doubt on the Jewishness of the village, he said.


The village ceased to be occupied around 132, when the Bar Kokhba revolt began, which is another argument in favor of its Jewishness. But it could take years more excavation to determine decisively whether it was a Jewish village or not.

UPDATE: By the way, this excavation was in the news a couple of years ago. See here and here. The latter link has a letter to PaleoJudaica from the excavator with some additional details about the site.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

THE LIFE OF BRIAN has been voted the best comedy film ever in a poll by the British television Channel 4. I don't know if I would rate it the best, but it's awfully funny, reasonably in the top five anyway. I really think that one or two of the Pink Panther movies should have made it into the top ten.
TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and the leader of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement of Israeli Arabs are claiming that Israel is digging under the Al-Aqsa Mosque and undermining it. Here's the Jerusalem Post article:
Israel denies Temple Mount excavation

Israel dismissed as "blatant lies" and "preposterous and unfounded allegations" claims voiced by the top Muslim religious authority in Jerusalem and the firebrand leader of the Islamic Movement in Israel Tuesday that Israel built a synagogue and was trying to destroy a mosque on the Temple Mount by its recently-completed construction of a visitor's center near the Western Wall.


This UPI article has the clearest account of what is actually going on:
'Israel digging under Al-Aksa,' or not


JERUSALEM, Jan. 3 (UPI) -- Muslim leaders Tuesday accused Israel of digging underneath Al Aksa Mosque in Jerusalem. The site, one of Islam's holiest, is in danger, they said.

Israeli officials categorically denied the claims and this reporter who visited the alleged underground site saw no evidence of a dig towards the mosque.


At a press conference in Jerusalem, Tuesday, the Al Aksa Foundation presented a file and discs containing pictures and a film of "Excavation being done underneath the Aksa Mosque."

Sheikh Mohammad Hussein, the Mosque's director, told the conference that the Israeli government has endorsed the excavation and that Israel is planning to destroy Al Aksa Mosque and replace it with the third Jewish temple. Ekrima Sa'eed Sabri, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and the Holy Land, declared the works violate Al Aksa's sanctity that stretches from the bottom of the land to the sky above it.

Here is the UPI reporter's account of the actual situation:
This reporter joined a small group of soldiers guided through part of the tunnels. The mockup described at the press conference as a model of the third temple was actually an artist's reconstruction of the Second Temple King Herod had built in 516 BC and the Romans destroyed in 70 CE. That is 568 years before the Muslims arrived. It was part of a talk on what happened on that mount.

The alleged tunnel was actually a glass-topped shaft showing how deep the wall goes.

After the tour this reporter went, unaccompanied, up to the northern edge of the tunnel. He saw a small dark dig behind a black-padlocked iron gate door but the works there seemed to support the overhead construction and lead north, along the ancient wall, not east towards the Temple Mount/al Aksa area.

The path skirted what emerged as cave. A climb to the entrance showed two ladders and an empty water bottle but no works leading across the wall. At another spot this reporter climbed over a barrier to a plank leading to a lower level but there, too, there was no signs of penetration eastwards.

An employee accompanied this reporter to a southern, closed section, where workers were replacing the floor tiles. Usually worshippers prayed there, facing the Western Wall. Through a hole in a door he saw part of the tunnel he had visited moments earlier and was convinced he had covered the entire length of the wall.

There's also a brief and not very informative AP article. And for more on the visitor's center and the tunnel excavation, see here and here. Also, this claim about tunnels undermining the Al-Aqsa Mosque have been around for a while.

UPDATE: This article from the Muslim News, UK, which gives a fair summary of the situation, has just popped up on Google. It is related to (a toned-down version of?) this piece on, which is attributed to Al-Jazeera. And the Journal of Turkish Weekly presents the Palestinian propaganda undiluted.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

QUMRAN.NO seems to be a new Norwegian blog on Qumran by Anders Aschim, who already runs the Blix Blog. Welcome!
TWO JEWISH STUDIES POSTDOCS, each lasting three years, are being advertised by the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The deadline is 26 January. Details here.

(Via Daniel Stoekl Ben Ezra on the g-Megillot list.)

Monday, January 02, 2006

PSEUDEPIGRAPHA WATCH: The first Google News reference in 2006 to the Old Testament pseudepigrapha comes from the InfoWorld blog. But ignore the "ongoing debate" link at the end of the paragraph. If you want know more about the pseudepigrapha, a better place to start is here. Incidentally, the process of determining biblical canons (there were more than one), was much more like the "open access" approach than the author seems to realize. There is much nonsense circulating about this issue. Here's a nice chart of Church Old Testament canons from Kevin Edgecomb. And this site looks like it has a lot of sensible material.
JEWS IN JERUSALEM after the Great Revolt?
Dig reveals first sign of Jewish life after Second Temple
By Amiram Barkat (Haaretz)

Recent archaeological excavations near the Shuafat refugee camp in northern Jerusalem indicate the existence of a Jewish community in Jerusalem after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E.

The findings - said to be the first indication of an active Jewish settlement in the area of Jerusalem after the city fell in 70 C.E. - contradict the common wisdom that no Jewish settlement survived the Roman destruction of the city. However, some Israeli archaeologists have argued that Jewish settlement revived and continued to exist even after the destruction.


By the way, I'm back in St. Andrews. I drove back via the rim road around the city and avoided the central part. Much easier.
THE TEMPLE MOUNT ANTIQUITIES OPERATION (i.e., the salvage operation by Gabriel Barkay on the material excavated by the Waqf)is the subject of an article in the Washington Times. Good general coverage of the story, but nothing new.
EVER WONDER where the term "Blogosphere" comes from? Now you know.

(Via Instapundit.)

Sunday, January 01, 2006

GIVE THE DEVIL HIS DUE: Phil Harland is teaching an undergraduate course on "The History of Satan" and he promises some blogging on the subject. One more thing to look forward to in 2006.
MORE DETAILS on the Ink and Blood Exhibition's move to Florida:
Museum exhibit traces Bible history

Associated Press Writer

Written, assembled and translated over many centuries, the Holy Bible is the most printed and most read book in human history, influencing everything from art and music to politics and pop culture.

Regardless of whether its first scribes were touched by a divine hand as Christians believe, the Bible's evolution from ancient Hebrew text to the English language is a rich lesson in the history of civilizations, origins of the written word and the revolution of printing.

The tale is recounted in an exhibition opening at the Florida International Museum on Jan. 13 that boasts artifacts as rare and priceless as they come, among them bits of the Dead Sea Scrolls, a fragment of the Gospel of John dating to about 250 A.D., a 1455 Gutenberg Bible and a first edition of the King James version from 1611.


Apparently the "bits of the Dead Sea Scrolls" mentioned in the article are not much to look at. See the first link above.
ANCIENT VILLAGE near Jerusalem uncovered:
Remains of Second Temple era Jewish village discovered

By Itim (Haaretz)

Archaeologists have recently uncovered what they believe to be a large Jewish settlement dating back from the time of the Second Temple near the Shweifat Refugee Camp north of Jerusalem.

NEXT TIME I decide to drive into Edinburgh on New Year's Eve day, someone please remind me that Princes Street will be closed because about a million people are going to be partying on it in a few hours, so it's best to plot a route that doesn't involve crossing it. But we did manage to circumvent it and we got here eventually. Again, best wishes for 2006.