Saturday, June 17, 2006

LITERACY IN IRON-AGE JUDAH: This is a thoughtful and intriguing, if speculative, article in Haaretz which applies reader-response criticism to key texts in the Hebrew Bible. I'll excerpt a little to give you the flavor, but do read it all.
A literary circle in Judah
By Yaacov Shavit

Modern scriptural research deals, among other subjects, with the questions of the modes of writing and methods of redaction and editing of the books of the Bible, on the one hand, and with the sources the authors availed themselves of, on the other hand. More recently this research has also focused on the questions of what need prompted the writing of the books, who their readers were and how they read them.


Even if we assume that a few copies of the Deuteronomist composition existed, this is a work whose complexity can be grasped only by individual reading, which was not customary in the ancient world (in Greece, for example, it did not start before the fifth century B.C.E. ). Even if we assume that in Judah individual reading began earlier, it is clear that such a reader does not resemble an author, who draws for his work on earlier sources and conducts a conscious dialogue with them. A contemporaneous individual reader could read only five or six lines and would find it very difficult to read ahead or refer back - as could be done in later generations in the codex.

For this reader to grasp the intertextual connections which are found by readers of later periods, he would have had to reread the entire text. Moreover, to identify parallels to and passages borrowed from the different books, or a later commentary on early books - the reader would have had to be in possession of all of them. Individual reading of this kind and the realization of the text in this form are like the expositor and exegete of later generations, or of readers and researchers of recent generations, but were certainly not available to a reader of the First Temple period. That reader did not reread the texts in order to decipher properly their secrets and their intertextual relations, and he did not approach the books equipped with sophisticated techniques and theories about reading and interpretation.

It seems likely, then, that if the authors and editors of the Deuteronomist text wished to imbue the public of Judah with a common consciousness of the past, they could easily have found a more effective and simpler way, and would not have created a text meant only for the cognoscenti. Certainly they would not have made do with a small group of ideal readers who were capable of appreciating the modes of textual shaping, the stratagems, the parallels, the refinements and the contradictions between different and distant literary units, or the rhetorical devices and the existing overt and covert polemic that informed the text.

What we have is a wonderful and singular phenomenon: A large disparity existed between the rare quality of the scriptural work and the reading public for which it was in theory intended at the time of its composition, but which it could not reach. If so, it is impossible not to wonder whether the Deuteronomist composition (and not only it) was not written for its time, but with thought for future generations, and whether it indeed became the formative text of the consciousness of the past only generations after the return to Zion and not "in the present" - that is, in the First Temple period. It was only then that the people of Israel became a community of the book; that is, a community whose world is constructed and shaped by one compilation of texts, which became a "book."

UPDATE (19 June): Duane Smith comments at Abnormal Interests.

UPDATE: My colleague Richard Bauckham e-mails:
About the piece by Shavit on your blog - It is possible for literature to be written to work on more than one level. A very clear case seems to me the Book of Revelation, which itself implies it is to be read aloud to a group of people, but which has all kinds of intricate cross-referencing, biblical allusion and so forth. It is an exquisitely detailed composition packed with meaning. I suppose that a listening audience could make something of it, and a local skilled exegete would explain more of it to them, but then it must also be meant for Christian prophets or exegetes who would study it in the way the author himself studied the OT prophets.

Deuteronomy would not be unintelligible to a listening audience (which would be anaudience trained to listen) but would also offer more to those who might study it.
MOSHE DAYAN, the Israeli general, is accused of decades of archaeological looting in an A.P. article:
Dayan is accused in antiquities plunder
Associated Press

JERUSALEM - Stunning military victories made Israeli general Moshe Dayan an iconic figure on the international stage, but his reputation for looting antiquities is little known outside the country where his myth was born.

Across three decades until his death in 1981, Dayan, of the trademark eye patch, established a vast collection of antiquities acquired through illicit excavations. He also traded in archaeological finds in Israel and abroad, antiquities experts say.

"Moshe Dayan didn't deal in archaeology. He dealt in antiquities plundering," said Uzi Dahari, deputy director of the Israel Antiquities Authority. "He was a criminal. He knew he was breaking the law. He knew that all his activity was against the law, and he did it nevertheless."

The piece refers to an article in the Journal of Hebrew Scriptures which you can read here or download as a PDF file here. This is the abstract:
Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 4: Article 5 (2003)

Raz Kletter, A Very General Archaeologist - Moshe Dayan and Israeli Archaeology


This article is a preliminary investigation of three decades of robbery, collection and trade in antiquities by General Moshe Dayan, perhaps Israel’s most famous commander and politician. In trying to separate facts from the many rumors that follow his name, this contribution is mainly based on written sources, some never published before. They prove that, since 1951, Dayan was involved in large-scale robbery of antiquities in dozens of sites in Israel and the occupied territories. Dayan used army equipment and personnel for robbery and transfer of antiquities; established a vast collection of stolen and bought antiquities, and exchanged and sold antiquities in Israel and abroad. He became a negative model for others and damaged the cause of Israeli archaeology as a whole. Although Dayan was caught in person at least four times during robbery, he was never brought to justice. After his death, his collection was sold by his widow to the Israel Museum for 1 million US$. Though Dayan’s activities are a sort of a known secret in Israel, they were never investigated from an archaeological perspective. Many facts remain unknown since they appear in remote Hebrew sources, hence writers about Dayan, including some of his biographers, often follow the wrong, romantic view of him as the ‘good guy’- a sort of an Israeli Robin Hood that fights stupid bureaucracy and social rules. This article brings a representative sample of Dayan’s deeds and tries to evaluate them and to ask how they were possible, and what has changed since those “good old days”.

Friday, June 16, 2006

POPE'S SERMON ON ST. ANDREW: Not strictly relevant for PaleoJudaica, but since I live in St. Andrews I notice these things. The Pope preached a sermon a couple of days ago on "St. Andrew, the First Called."
ARCHAEOLOGY MAGAZINE has published its July/August 2006 issue. Highlights include "Seductions of Pseudoarchaeology: Pseudoscience in Cyberspace," by Kristin M. Romey, and "Untold Stories," by AIA President Jane C. Waldbaum. The latter explains how important contextual information is lost when artifacts are looted, and why it matters.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Egypt: Da Vinci Code based on Zionist myths

Authorities to confiscate copies of best-selling novel, ban film based on book from showing in Egypt


Egyptian authorities will confiscate copies of the best-selling novel The Da Vinci Code and ban the film based on the book from showing in Egypt, the culture minister told parliament on Tuesday.

To applause from members of parliament, minister Farouk Hosni said: "We ban any book that insults any religion... we will confiscate this book."


Georgette Sobhi, a Coptic member, held up a copy of the book and the Arabic translation and said it contained material which was seriously offensive.

"It's based on Zionist myths, and it contains insults towards Christ, and it insults the Christian religion and Islam," she said.

Given the persecution her own community has suffered, I would think Ms. Sobhi would think twice before spouting anti-Semitic nonsense like this. The Da Vinci Code is silly and annoyingly -- even offensively -- ignorant, but it can hardly be accused of containing "Zionist myths." As for insults to Christianity, Islam, or whatever, I refer the Egyptian MPs to the "sticks and stones" principle. In a civilized society freedom of religion and freedom of speech include the right to criticize and even insult people's cherished beliefs of any kind. Otherwise, it's not worth much. Related reflections here.

UPDATE (16 June): The Sandmonkey has a rant on the subject. And Ben Witherington notes that the film is now banned in China - after a highly successful three-week run! I wonder if this means that The Da Vinci Code will be disappeared from Google China.
SUPERMAN AS CHRIST-FIGURE: The new movie is reviving theological reflection on the Superman myth. CNN gets the prize for the best headline for this A.P. piece:
Jesus Christ Superman
Superman seen in many ways through eyes of beholders -- us

Wednesday, June 14, 2006; Posted: 11:44 a.m. EDT (15:44 GMT)

LOS ANGELES, California (AP) -- First there were the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Now, for many Christian moviegoers comes another gospel.

As the hype machine shifts into high gear for the upcoming release of "Superman Returns," some are reading deeply into the film whose hero returns from a deathlike absence to play savior to the world.

"It is so on the nose that anyone who has not caught on that Superman is a Christ figure, you think, 'Who else could it be referring to?' " said Steve Skelton, who wrote a book examining parallels between Superman and Christ.

Mark Goodacre comments on the article here.

This reminds me a little of James K. Brower hilarious article "The Hebrew Origins of Superman," published in Biblical Archaeology Review 5.3, May/June 1979, p. 23-26. Unfortunately it doesn't seem to be online.

UPDATE (16 June): Christopher Heard summarizes the BAR article over at Higgaion.
THE HERPES-CIRCUMCISION SCARE has led New York State to intervene:
State Issues Guidelines for Metziza B'peh

By: Jewish Press Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 14, 2006

After months of discussion, Orthodox rabbis and New York State Health Commissioner Antonia Novello signed a protocol on Monday that will regulate mohels’ use of metzizah b’peh.

More details at
Al Aqsa official: Jewish temples existed
Says proof passed down over the centuries by mosque custodians
Posted: June 14, 2006
1:00 a.m. Eastern

By Aaron Klein
© 2006

JERUSALEM – Contradicting most of his colleagues, a former senior leader of the Waqf, the Islamic custodians of the Temple Mount, told WorldNetDaily in an exclusive interview he has come to believe the first and second Jewish Temples existed and stood at the current location of the Al Aqsa Mosque.

The leader, who was dismissed from his Waqf position after he quietly made his beliefs known, said Al Aqsa custodians passed down stories for centuries from generation to generation indicating the mosque was built at the site of the former Jewish temples.

He said the Muslim world's widespread denial of the existence of the Jewish temples is political in nature and is not rooted in facts.

Well, his evidence doesn't amount to much, but he did come to the right conclusion. Sigh.

(With the usual caveats about the reliability of WND. I haven't seen any cross-verification.)

UPDATE (19 June): Menachem Brody e-mails:
I feel the need to mention again that this is not correct:

The Temples stood at the site that today is partially covered by the Dome of the Rock, in the raised center of the Temple Mount. Al Aksa is built (intentionally) on the Southern addition to the Temple Mount which was added by Herod. The seam of the added Herodian stones is clearly seen near the South-East corner of the Eastern Wall of the Mount.

This is very important to emphasize- since there in NO conflict of location between the Holiest site of Judaism, and the Mosque which is important to Islam. In other words- the Temple can be rebuilt without moving, damaging or impeding access to the Mosque. People who obscure this fact continue to cause senseless bloodshed.
I'm no expert on the topography of the Temple Mount, so I hesitate to say much. But it does seem clear that the Jewish Temples could not have stood at the site of the Al Aqsa Mosque, and I should have caught that. I guess I was so taken aback at the idea of someone in the Waqf acknowledging that the Temples stood on the Temple Mount that I didn't read the rest carefully. Sorry.

It is much less clear, at least to me, where the Temples stood in relation to the Dome of the Rock, which is also extremely important to Islam and could not be moved for any hypothetical construction projects. In any case, for reasons explained here, I am quite opposed to any further building on the Temple Mount even if it were politically possible.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

THE SITE OF BABYLON was the subject of a 30-minute program on BBC Radio 4 on Sunday:
The Battle for Babylon
Sunday 11 June 2006 13:30-14:00 (Radio 4 FM)

The site of the famous Hanging Gardens of Babylon lies only about 70km south of Baghdad where recent events have created a threat to its survival. Used as a base camp by military forces, there are reports of serious damage to the archaeological remains.

Jonathan Charles attempts to make the dangerous journey to find out what has happened to Babylon.
At the moment you can still listen to it online, but it won't be there permanently, so don't dawdle if you're interested.

Although Charles doesn't make it to the site, one of his colleagues get to the adjacent village and we get to hear people grumble because they can't hold wedding parties on the archaeological site anymore.

More seriously, the accusations that the US Army behaved irresponsibly while occupying the site are treated at some length and an Army representative replies to them. Basically he says that (1) the damage by looters would have been far worse if they hadn't occupied the site and (2) all the activities (e.g., filling sandbags with debris) were done in consultation with antiquity authorities (it's not clear to me who exactly they were). The program also deals with the importance of the site for history and the damage done to it by Saddam.

Not to wear the point out but, as in the post below, wouldn't it have been more constructive to have had regular (daily or more frequent) helicopter flyovers of the site, from which vantage the army could have doused the looters with refined putrescine water-balloons or aerosol? It would not do any permanent harm to the looters or the site, but it makes a horrific stench and would make looting a highly undesirable occupation and probably also would make looters easy to identify for the next day or two. I'm quite serious, and would like to know if there is some reason this wouldn't work. The problem of the looting of archaeological sites is a massive international one and it seems to me that it calls for a little thinking outside the box.

(Via Chuck Jones on the IraqCrisis list.)
"SMART DUST" may have been used to track down Zarqawi. David Nishimura suggests another creative use for it over at Cronaca.

I still think my putrescine proposal could have helped the latter problem a lot over the last few years. The BBC even lists it as a crowd dispersal measure here.
ARMY OF PHILOLOGISTS WATCH -- Another British university has received a major grant to digitize its Cairo Geniza fragments and make them available online:
Scientists to reassemble Maimonides' works


LONDON -- Scientists at a British university hope to use digital technology in reassembling some 300,000 tiny fragments of an 800-year-old Jewish philosopher's oeuvre.

The University of Manchester's Center for Jewish Studies is reassembling the life works of Moses Maimonides, a scholar and writer whose findings were hugely influential on modern Judaic thought.

A British government grant of $670,000 will fund the center's use of digital imaging software, a crucial aid in piecing the hundreds of documents back together.

Maimonides worked as a physician, lawyer and scientist in the Middle Ages, project leader Philip Alexander said. His writings were obtained from a medieval document storeroom - called a "genizah" - discovered in a Cairo synagogue.

There's a nice photo of a manuscript too and the caption adds some important details:
In this photo released by the University of Manchester, England Tuesday June 13, 2006 is seen a fragment of a manuscript which scholars at the university hope to use digital technology on to help reassemble a 300,000-piece puzzle from tiny fragments of the works of the medieval Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides.The University of Manchester's Center for Jewish Studies is reassembling the life works of Moses Maimonides, a scholar and writer who died eight centures ago, and whose work was hugely influential on modern Judaic thought. A 361,000-pound grant (US $670,000, 530,000) from Britain's Arts and Humanities Research Council will fund the center's use of digital imaging software, a crucial aid in piecing the hundreds of documents back together. Maimonides was one of the greatest minds Judaism ever produced, and worked as a physician, lawyer and scientist in the Middle Ages, project leader Philip Alexander said.
Congratulations to the University of Manchester!

Cambridge University has also received an AHRC grant to digitize its Cairo Geniza collection.

UPDATE (25 June): Manuscript Boy points out that this number of fragments can't all be by Maimonides. More here. Curious.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

YESTERDAY'S MASADA POST has been updated [later -- now twice]. To read it, scroll down or click here.
iBOOK UPDATE: Last night I got an e-mail from Apple saying that service had been completed and that the computer was "on its way." And this morning the website says "Product shipped (13-Jun-2006)." So far, so good.

UPDATE (1:27 pm): It's here! That was fast. Now, if (1) it works and (2) it continues to work, we'll be all set.
EPHRAIM ISAAC, the translator of 1 Enoch in the Charlesworth Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, is profiled by the Princeton Packet:
Scholar seeks world peace through understanding of languages

Only through communication will there be peace. And only with language will there be communication. So Ephraim Isaac has dedicated his life to both causes — peace and languages.


Mr. Isaac first came to Princeton in 1979 as a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study and later became a visiting professor at Princeton University, where he taught the university's first Swahili class.
After serving as an educator at various universities — in 1969, he helped establish Harvard University's first African-American studies program, and has taught at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Lehigh University, the University of Pennsylvania and others — he said he was motivated to establish the institute after noticing a gap in the study of Semitic languages.
"They are actually overlooked," he said, adding that often when they are taught, it is "in a very superficial way."
Originally from Ethiopia, Mr. Isaac said he has been captivated by language as far back as he can remember.

Assyria: Assyrians Demonstrate in Washington, D.C.
(UNPO, Netherlands)

A united Chaldo Assyrian Suryani front confronted the Iraqi government on its latest resolution to eliminate what the Assyrian Democratic Movement has worked for more than 27 years to establish, which is to be recognized as equal citizens, among other minorities in Iraq. Reminder... 'Al Rafidain' - Slate #740 won two consequtive elections in Iraq's primary election, electing Mr. Younadam Kanna, Secretary General of the Assyrian Democratic Movement, as their representative in Iraq's National Parliamant. Today, by dismissing the word Assyrian, Chaldean, and even Syriac, the Iraqi government has moved to recognize these minorities as Christians only, by extension stripping them from their national identity and eliminating their legislation powers from the Iraqi parliamant, hence their ability to play an integral role in Iraq's law making processes.

Maintenance of ancient manuscripts and their transmission to future generations is duty of all – President of Heydar Aliyev Foundation
Source: Trend
Author: S.Agayeva

The maintenance of ancient manuscripts and their transmission to future generations is the duty of all, MP Mehriban Aliyeva, the President of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, UNESCO’s Good Will Ambassador, stated in Baku on 12 June to the opening ceremony of the international conference on “Medicine and Pharmaceutics in the medieval manuscripts”. ...
EDOMITES IN THE NEWS: This story has been around for a while, but the New York Times gives a good overview here.
In a Ruined Copper Works, Evidence That Bolsters a Doubted Biblical Tale

Published: June 13, 2006


The findings, Dr. Levy and Dr. Najjar added, lend credence to biblical accounts of the rivalry between Edom and the Israelites in what was then known as Judah. By extension, they said, this supported the tradition that Judah itself had by the time of David and Solomon, in the early 10th century, emerged as a kingdom with ambition and the means of fighting off the Edomites.

The Hebrew Bible mentioned the Edomites no fewer than 99 times. In Genesis, Esau, Jacob's twin brother, is described as the ancestor of the Edomites, and a reference is made to "the kings who reigned in the land of Edom, before any king reigned over the Israelites." Dr. Levy said this statement showed that the Israelites acknowledged Edom's early political development.

In the context, Dr. Levy and Dr. Najjar wrote, "the biblical references to the Edomites, especially their conflicts with David and subsequent Judahite kings, garner a new plausibility."

Historians and archaeologists who generally endorse the new findings welcomed the more precise dating of ruins in the under-explored region and the attention focused on copper production in Edomite history. But they cautioned against interpretations that might encourage uncritical reliance on the Bible as a source of early history.

Most criticism has come from advocates of a "low chronology" or "minimalist" school of early biblical history. They contend that in David's time Edom was a pastoral society, and Judah not much more advanced. In this view, ancient Israel did not develop into a true state until the eighth century B.C., a century and a half after David.


Monday, June 12, 2006

JAMES OSSUARY WATCH: Further to Hershel Shanks's' Forgery Bombshell annoucement last month, Mr. Shanks now has an article ("Krumbein's bombshell") covering the same ground in greater detail in the Jerusalem Post. Excerpt:
Faced with this evidence, defendant's counsel consulted Prof. Steve Weiner, director of the Kimmel Center for Archeological Science of the Weizmann Institute for a recommendation as to a scientific expert. Defense counsel wanted the world's most reliable expert in stone patinas. Weiner recommended Professor Wolfgang E. Krumbein of Oldenberg University, Germany.

Krumbein has 15 books and over 400 scientific articles to his credit. He has been a visiting professor at a number of universities, including Harvard, and has engaged in several post-doctorate research projects at Hebrew University.

A copy of Krumbein's report has now been published on the Web site of the Biblical Archaeology Society (, and it is devastating to the prosecution.

Krumbein found that the patina inside the inscription could not have formed in less than 50 years. Thus, if the inscription is a forgery, it was forged at least 50 years ago.
He also strongly criticizes the IAA team that concluded that the patina was fake.

I assume Professor Krumbein will be testifying in the trial and this will be interesting. But I still don't think the discussion on the James Ossuary is going to get anywhere in the long run unless it moves to the peer-review journals. At that point, if it happens, I shall take a greater interest in it. The popular press is not a serious venue for debating such things.
CHALLENGING THE MASADA NARRATIVE: The History News Network has an essay by Australian freelance writer Kim Stubbs which asks "Is the Truth About Masada Less Romantic?". The answer to this sort of question is almost inevitably yes. In the essay she summarizes recent challenges to the traditional understanding of the story. Excerpt:
There are many apparent anomalies in the Masada story, and many of these can be traced to Yigael Yadin and his interpretation of the archaeological remains. Although a revered figure in Israel, he has been accused of interpreting his finds to fit with the heroic mythos of Masada. As to his motives for doing this, [Nachman] Ben-Yehuda suggests “nationalistic, ideological motivation played a very major part in the decision to excavate Masada”. 12 He also argues that a nation needs myths to help it “shape a central process of nation and state-building….to shape identities and create cohesion by fostering a strong sense of a shared past”. 13 This is particularly true of Israel at the time of Yadin’s dig. Less than two decades old and surrounded on all sides by enemies dedicated to her destruction, Israel needed “a new type of Jew, somebody that was willing to fight and die for his own country”. 14 Yadin interpreted the events at Masada in a way that provided the requisite role model.

Wherever the truth lies, the Masada story still resonates strongly today both as an enduring symbol of the Jewish state’s struggle for existence and of human courage in the face of insurmountable opposition. ...
I have noted reviews of Ben-Yehuda's book Sacrificing Truth: Archaeology and the Masada Myth here. And there's a summary of the book by Ben-Yehuda himself at the Bible and Interpretation website. (I seem not to have noted this before.) I have posted some comments on the Sicarii here and here. I do think it's troubling that the heroic understanding of the Masada story which has developed in Israel is based on the actions of the Sicarii, whom Josephus presents as unsavory characters indeed. See especially Jewish War 4.7.2:
And now a fourth misfortune arose, in order to bring our nation to destruction. There was a fortress of very great strength not far from Jerusalem, which had been built by our ancient kings, both as a repository for their effects in the hazards of war, and for the preservation of their bodies at the same time. It was called Masada. Those that were called Sicarii had taken possession of it formerly, but at this time they overran the neighboring countries, aiming only to procure to themselves necessaries; for the fear they were then in prevented their further ravages. But when once they were informed that the Roman army lay still, and that the Jews were divided between sedition and tyranny, they boldly undertook greater matters; and at the feast of unleavened bread, which the Jews celebrate in memory of their deliverance from the Egyptian bondage, when they were sent back into the country of their forefathers, they came down by night, without being discovered by those that could have prevented them, and overran a certain small city called Engaddi:--in which expedition they prevented those citizens that could have stopped them, before they could arm themselves, and fight them. They also dispersed them, and cast them out of the city. As for such as could not run away, being women and children, they slew of them above seven hundred. Afterward, when they had carried every thing out of their houses, and had seized upon all the fruits that were in a flourishing condition, they brought them into Masada. And indeed these men laid all the villages that were about the fortress waste, and made the whole country desolate; while there came to them every day, from all parts, not a few men as corrupt as themselves.
My bold-font emphasis.

UPDATE (13 June): Stuart Bornstein e-mails:
Why is Josephus a reliable source. Not for the facts on the ground but as to whether the people where Sicarii. That stands alone on his say so. He wrote if I am not mistaken as a guest of the Romans. Would he really have called them wonderful freedom fighters? Would the Romans have stood for that? How do we know that the Romans didn't commit the massacre at Ein Geddi.

As far as Yigal Yadin went, The complaints say that he was trying to install a nationalistic ideological motivation. Come on even if he was wrong; and there have been years to reevaluate the evidence, he could just have made a mistake. That is if he made a mistake. And exaggerations are not the same as mistakes because that would imply that the numbers are as precise as modern statistics, etc. when there are only guesses. Some better some worse.

Last but not least the exaggerations noted were in 2 speeches 10 years apart - 1964-1973. If everyone's words would be parsed to that extent, there would be few people who would not look like a fool.
As I have said elsewhere in print, Josephus is tendentious, self-serving, and frequently self-contradictory. But in this context it cuts both ways. The Sicarii and Josephus' portrayal of them are so closely bound up in his account of the events on Masada that it would be very difficult to separate the two. There are plenty of reasons to doubt the details of his account of the fall of Masada and it's possible that his account of the Sicarii is inaccurate too (although I know of know evidence for the latter and haven't seen it argued anywhere). But the question is not how do we know the Romans didn't do it, but what is the evidence that they did. What is the evidence for a different understanding of the Sicarii?

My point was that the account of Masada in popular culture draws on Josephus' story to make the defenders look like heroes, yet ignores the elements in that same story which make them look like murderous thugs. Granted, we should be cautious about imposing our standards on people who lived in antiquity in a much more violent and cruel world, but if Josephus is accurate, the Sicarii don't come off well even if we make such allowances. In any case, I think the selectivity of the modern popular version, which is not based on any critical sifting of the sources, is troubling.

Regarding Yadin, those who followed the links in this post will see that I have already noted that Ben-Yehuda has been taken to task for impugning Yadin's character. I haven't studied this whole issue enough to have a strong opinion about the matter, but I'd say in his book on Masada Yadin seems sincere, if sometimes too enthusiastic about getting the archaeological evidence to fit with Josephus. This is an occupational hazard we all face.

UPDATE: Reader Michael Pitkowsky e-mails:
A very good treatment of the "Masada Myth" in Israeli culture is Yael Zerubavel's book /Recovered Roots/.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Academic boycott of Israel cancelled
By TALYA HALKIN (Jerusalem Post)

The boycott of Israeli academics approved last month by members of NATFHE (National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education), Britain's largest academic trade union, expired on Sunday, following the union's merger with the AUT (Association of University Teachers), Britain's second academic trade union, into a new union called the UCU.

On May 29, NAFHE members voted to boycott Israeli lecturers and academic institutions that do not publicly declare their opposition to Israeli policy in the territories. The following day, the AUT announced that it did not endorse the NATFHE resolution and advised its members not to implement it.

In an official statement on its site, the AUT warned that "This tactic is fraught with difficulties and dangers and should not be followed by AUT members."

No kidding. Nevertheless, the anti-Israel ideologues got to make their pathetic little statement and they didn't care how much damage they did to the reputation of the union. Good riddance for now, but I'm sure we haven't seen the last of them. That's okay. They haven't seen the last of us either.
ANCIENT ASTRONOMICAL COMPUTER -- This is too cool not to note:
Ancient Astronomy Artifact Bears Hidden Text
By Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News

June 8, 2006— A shoebox-sized bronze device scooped out of a Roman-era shipwreck at the dawn of the 20th century has baffled scientists for years. Now a British researcher has stunningly established it as the world's oldest surviving astronomy computer.

A team of Greek and British scientists probing the secrets of the artifact, known as the Antikythera Mechanism, has managed to decipher ancient Greek inscriptions unseen for over 2,000 years, members of the project say.

"Part of the text on the machine, over 1,000 characters, had already been deciphered, but we have succeeded in doubling this total," said physician Yiannis Bitsakis.

Bitsakis is part of a multi-disciplinary team of researchers from universities in Athens, Salonika and Cardiff, the Athens National Archaeological Museum and the Hewlett-Packard company.

"We have now deciphered 95 percent of the text," he told AFP.

No word on what the inscription says. There's a conference coming up in November on the Mechanism. The website is at And here's a site on the object from the American Mathematical Society.

Incidentally, here's an interesting essay by Meir Bar-Ilan on "Astronomy and Astrology Among the Jews in Antiquity." I wonder if the Enochian astronomers would approve or disapprove of the Antikythera Mechanism.

(Via Archaeologica News.)
AREN MAEIR is June's Blogger of the Month at the Biblioblogs blog. His blog is The Official (and Unofficial) Weblog of the Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations.