Saturday, July 15, 2006

SO WHAT DID GILGAMESH DO after he failed to find eternal life? Thanks to Jack Sasson's Agade list, we now know the answer.

Me, I'm glad to hear it. I always hoped that Gilgamesh would take up with Siduri the barkeep. She was a gal who had good sense.

UPDATE (23 July): For a review, go here.
THREE-HOUR VOLUNTEERS at the archaeological dig in the Tel Maresha caves:
While most archaeological excavations require hundreds of thousands of dollars, Mr. Alpert said, this one is unusual because it is self-supporting. “We have the people working and paying for the work, which has proven itself archaeologically and from a tourism standpoint,” he said. “That’s why we are able to dig for so long.” The Maresha excavation is licensed by the Israeli Antiquities Authority, and reports are submitted each year to evaluate its scientific contribution.

“This is the ultimate chutzpah,” said Ian Stern, another of the company’s three owners, who has a doctorate in archaeology and emigrated to Israel from New Jersey (the third owner is Asher Afriat, a historian and native Israeli). “We are providing the public with an active educational experience, while they do the work. Their money underwrites the excavation and is used for all the follow-up of putting the pottery together, registering and photographing the finds, and writing the scientific reports.”
The New York Times article also tosses in this intriguing epigraphic aside near the end:
On a previous dig, a 12-year-old girl found a shard with writing that was eventually found to be part of a marriage contract from 176 B.C.
MEGIDDO is currently being excavated again; the Tel Aviv University dig is in its eighth season and the Jerusalem Post has a profile:
Dig this tel

More than a hundred years ago, German archeologists began to excavate the remarkable tel (mound) of Megiddo. Since then, artifacts galore from 26 layers of civilization built on top of one another have been discovered. However, the site still has many untapped secrets waiting for a trowel or shovel to unearth and expose them to the light of the new millennium.

Scores of students from Israel and abroad, including archeology buffs of all ages, are hard at work hoping to discover the unknown as they participate in this season's dig on and around Tel Megiddo.

For 25 years a German team worked the site, mentioned in ancient Egyptian writings as Thutmose III - one of the mightiest kings of Egypt - waged war upon the city in 1478 BCE. The battle was described for posterity in hieroglyphic detail on the walls of his upper Egypt temple.

The Germans were followed by teams from the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago and financed by John D. Rockefeller Jr., some of their finds ending up in the US.

CHRISTIAN BRADY, of the Targuman blog, is moving to Penn State to become a dean:
Brady named dean of Schreyer Honors College
Friday, July 14, 2006 (Penn State Live)

Philadelphia, Pa. -- Christian M.M. Brady, director of Tulane University's Honors Program and associate professor of classical studies and Jewish studies, has been named dean of Penn State's Schreyer Honors College. Brady has directed Tulane's Honors Program since 2004 and previously was its associate director as well as director of the university's Jewish studies program.

Congratulations, Chris!

Friday, July 14, 2006

RUINS OF A PHOENICIAN CITY from the eighth century B.C.E. have been discovered in Mezquitilla, Vélez Málaga in Andalucía.

(Via the Agade list.)
THE CONFLICT OVER THOSE IRANIAN CUNEIFORM TABLETS is covered briefly by the Times of London:
Bomb victims want ancient tablets sold
From James Bone in New York
A SET of ancient Persian tablets is at the centre of a tug-of-war between Iran and the American victims of a suicide bombing.

The five victims want to force the sale of the 2,500- year-old clay tablets, which have been on loan to Chicago University since 1939, as compensation for Iran’s role in the 1997 attack in Jerusalem.

Oddly, the Google News headline for the article is "Terrorist victims demand sale of ancient alphabet." Maybe someone told the Times that cuneiform texts are not alphabetic and they changed the headline. If so, I give them points for catching and correcting the error. [UPDATE (15 July): Actually, the header at the very top of the article's web page still has the inaccurate title. Careless.]

Also, Chuck Jones has e-mailed this link for more information on the Persepolis tablets.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

TODAY IS THE FAST OF THE 17th OF TAMMUZ, which begins the traditional three-week period of mourning over the destruction of the Temple,which period culminates in the Ninth of Av (Tisha B'Av).
RAGEH OMAAR is doing a BBC series on the miracles of Jesus.
MORE ON THOSE IRANIAN CUNEIFORM TABLETS: Reuters has a longish article that gives lots of new details, including information on the contents of the tablets.
Iran wants disputed clay tablets returned from US
Wed Jul 12, 2006 10:12am ET12

By Edmund Blair

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran said on Wednesday it wanted to use diplomacy and cultural channels to ensure ancient clay tablets at the center of a compensation case are returned from the United States but said it was also ready for a legal fight.

The 2,500-year-old Persian tablets, which have been studied for decades at the University of Chicago, give a unique insight into the workings of the Persian empire with cuneiform etchings of payments and rations made to priests, guards and workers.


The tablets record barley and other payments inside the Persian empire from 509 to 494 B.C., around the height of Persian power at the time of Darius the Great, he said. Such information is not found on royal texts carved in stone.

The tablets include records of payments between priests and guards of different religions, a unusual account of such cooperation. Seals also depict artistic scenes from the period.


Although priceless historical pieces, scholars say the tablets would have limited value in the art market.
UPDATE: The Los Angeles Times has an article too ("Antiquities Stuck in Legal Limbo"). Excerpt:
Over the years, researchers in Chicago and in Iran discovered that the tablets were records of administrative details, including "salary and wages of government employees and workers, child benefit to mothers with babies, [and] offerings to gods and temples," said archeologist Shahrokh Razmjou.

Even the condition of the items offers a nod to the past: Some of them were broken when the army of Alexander the Great set fire to Persepolis in 330 BC, during the last of the wars between ancient Greeks and Persians.

Standing at a table in her windowless office in the basement of the Iran National Museum in Tehran, chief archeologist Zahra Jafar-Mohammadi carefully pulled out from a small wooden box a yellowish clay tablet, one that had been returned to Tehran from the Chicago museums. (University officials say that between 1948 and 2004, two-thirds of the collection was sent back.)

Most of the tablets are small enough to fit into the palm of a person's hand. Many were broken, forcing scientists to sift through thousands of shards to piece the tablets back together.

She's still waiting to see the estimated 5,000 tablets and 10,000 clay fragments that remain in Illinois.

"Auctioning off these pieces would be a catastrophe," Jafar-Mohammadi said.
It would indeed. The Justice Department seems to be trying to find a diplomatic solution. I hope they succeed.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

IN THE MAIL -- my review copy of:
Andrei A. Orlov, The Enoch-Metatron Tradition

Book Description
Andrei Orlov examines the tradition about the seventh antediluvian patriarch Enoch, tracing its development from its roots in the Mesopotamian lore to the Second Temple apocalyptic texts and later rabbinic and Hekhalot materials where Enoch is often identified as the supreme angel Metatron. He explores the imagery of the celestial roles and titles of the seventh antediluvian hero in Mesopotamian, Enochic and Hekalot materials.

The analysis of the celestial roles and titles shows that the transition from the figure of angel Metatron occurred already in the Second Temple Enochic materials, namely, in 2 (Slavonic) Enoch, a Jewish work, traditionally dated to the first century CE. The author then demonstrates that mediatorial polemics with the traditions of the exalted patriarchs and prophets played an important role in facilitating the transition from Enoch to Metatron in the Second Temple period.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Ancient Christian inscriptions found in Uzbekistan
10.07.2006 15:14:48 (
Eastern-Sogda Archaeological Expedition of the Science Academies of Ukraine and Uzbekistan found a new epigraphic monument – inscriptions in Sogdian language (Iranian language, close to Persian and Tajik) with the use of Armenian graphics (language close to today's Hebrew) - during the excavations of the early medieval Christian monastery in Urgut district of Samarkand region. The ancient engravings like these are a unique discovery. There are only a few of them in the world. Now their number has increased by around twenty.


The monastery was built in the late 9th century and existed approximately until the 13th century. A Zoroastrian temple Jar-Tepe and a temple of a pagan deity Aspan who could be the protectress of Urgut were located nearby.

In the mountain cave, near the monastery engravings in Sogdian and Syrian languages were found. One inscription used Chinese hieroglyphs, and scientists suggest that it could be written by some palmer from Sinjan. The world knows only one such monument discovered in 1922. These are "visitors'" notes, such as such and such (a Syrian name with the title of an ecclesiastic was here, as well as sentences like "good weather" or "it's snowing".

I'm pretty sure "Syrian" here means "Syriac."

The Armenian language and script are not "close to today's Hebrew." Armenian is an Indo-European language. I don't know the language but I believe that the Greek alphabet was the main (loose) template for the Armenian alphabet.

Monday, July 10, 2006

DID JESUS FLY? In one of those oft-reprinted Superman and Jesus pieces (see also here) we read the following:
Some disagree, arguing that Skelton has leapt to a conclusion greater than Superman's fabled ability to vault skyscrapers. For example, Jesus walked on water, but he didn't fly - except in some Gnostic gospels and the Apocrypha.
I don't recall Jesus flying in any of the Gnostic or apocryphal gospels. The resurrection scene in The Gospel of Peter has two angels flying down from heaven and carrying the risen Jesus out of the tomb, then an angel descends again into the tomb, but this is not the same thing as the earthly Jesus flying under his own power like Superman.
IX. 34 And early in the morning as the Sabbath dawned, there came a multitude from Jerusalem and the region roundabout to see the sepulchre that had been sealed.

35 Now in the night whereon the Lord's day dawned, as the soldiers were keeping guard two by two in every watch, 36 there came a great sound in the heaven, and they saw the heavens opened and two men descend thence, shining with (lit. having) a great light, and drawing near unto the sepulchre. 37 And that stone which had been set on the door rolled away of itself and went back to the side, and the sepulchre was

X. 38 opened and both of the young men entered in. When therefore those soldiers saw that, they waked up the centurion and the elders (for they also were there keeping 39 watch); and while they were yet telling them the things which they had seen, they saw again three men come out of the sepulchre, and two of them sustaining the other (lit. the 40 one), and a cross following, after them. And of the two they saw that their heads reached unto heaven, but of him that 41 was led by them that it overpassed the heavens. And they 42 heard a voice out of the heavens saying: Hast thou (or Thou hast) preached unto them that sleep? And an answer was heard from the cross, saying: Yea.

XI. 43 Those men therefore took counsel one with another to go and report these things unto Pilate. And while they yet thought thereabout, again the heavens were opened and a 45 man descended and entered into the tomb. And they that were with the centurion (or the centurion and they that were with him) when they saw that, hasted to go by night unto Pilate and left the sepulchre whereon they were keeping watch, and told all that they had seen, and were in great agony, saying: Of a truth he was the son of God.
Also, according to the Acts of Peter the heretic Simon Magus flew in the air to demonstrate his superpowers, but the Apostle Peter prayed and nullified his flying ability:
XXXII. And already on the morrow a great multitude assembled at the Sacred Way to see him flying. And Peter came unto the place, having seen a vision (or, to see the sight), that he might convict him in this also; for when Simon entered into Rome, he amazed the multitudes by flying: but Peter that convicted him was then not yet living at Rome: which city he thus deceived by illusion, so that some were carried away by him (amazed at him).

So then this man standing on an high place beheld Peter and began to say: Peter, at this time when I am going up before all this people that behold me, I say unto thee: If thy God is able, whom the Jews put to death, and stoned you that were chosen of him, let him show that faith in him is faith in God, and let it appear at this time, if it be worthy of God. For I, ascending up, will show myself unto all this multitude, who I am. And behold when he was lifted up on high, and all beheld him raised up above all Rome and the temples thereof and the mountains, the faithful looked toward Peter. And Peter seeing the strangeness of the sight cried unto the Lord Jesus Christ: If thou suffer this man to accomplish that which he hath set about, now will all they that have believed on thee be offended, and the signs and wonders which thou hast given them through me will not be believed: hasten thy grace, O Lord, and let him fall from the height and be disabled; and let him not die but be brought to nought, and break his leg in three places. And he fell from the height and brake his leg in three places. Then every man cast stones at him and went away home, and thenceforth believed Peter.
Otherwise I can think of no episodes with Jesus flying. Have I missed anything?

UPDATE: Wieland Willker e-mails to note that Aphrahat and Ephrem Syrus refer to an episode in which Jesus flies. It may have come from Tatian's Diatessaron. Wieland points to this TC review by William L. Petersen of Tjitze Baarda, Essays on the Diatessaron, for more information.

UPDATE (11 July): Reader Brent Landau e-mails:
... I saw your post about Jesus flying, a subject which has interested me in the past. Apart from the Diatessaron reference, another intriguing passage is apparently from the Jewish-Christian Gospel of the Hebrews, as cited by Origen. Here Jesus is "carried" and doesn't fly independently:
And if any accept the Gospel of the Hebrews - here the Savior says: "Even so did my mother, the Holy Spirit, take me by one of my hairs and carry me away on to the great mountain Tabor."
(Origen, Commentary on John 2.12.87 [on John 1:3])

Here's a link to an online source:

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Scrolls will be in spotlight
Events will surround local exhibit of oldest known copies of Hebrew Bible

By Sandi Dolbee

July 8, 2006

With San Diego's first-ever exhibition of the Dead Sea Scrolls just a year away, and ticket sales set to begin this fall, preparations are nearing biblical proportions.

Two dozen pieces have been chosen from the the Israel Antiquities Authority for the exhibition, which will be held June 29 through Dec. 31, 2007, at the San Diego Natural History Museum, according to Risa Levitt Kohn, a religious studies professor at San Diego State University who is helping to organize the show.

A dozen samples will be on display the first three months, to be replaced by another dozen for the second phase, she said.

AN OBITUARY FOR RABBI LOUIS JACOBS appears in the New York Times:
Louis Jacobs Is Dead at 85; British Rabbi and Scholar

Published: July 9, 2006

Rabbi Louis Jacobs, an internationally renowned scholar of Judaism whose seemingly clear path to the post of chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth was blocked by the Orthodox establishment more than 40 years ago, died on July 1 in London. He was 85.

The controversy over his blocked appointment is still alive among British Jewry and Orthodox scholarly circles worldwide. The Jewish Chronicle, a London-based weekly, often called Rabbi Jacobs "the greatest chief rabbi we never had." In a survey conducted by the paper last year, readers selected Rabbi Jacobs as the "greatest British Jew of all time," beating out all the chief rabbis as well as two formidable 19th-century figures, Benjamin Disraeli and Moses Montefiore.

Rabbi Jacobs wrote more than 50 books on a wide range of subjects, including theology, the Talmud, kabbalah, ethics, Hasidism and holidays. Although they often dealt with complicated subjects, the books were praised for their clarity and accessibility.

It was one of the rabbi's books that first got him into trouble with arbiters of Orthodoxy. In 1957, Rabbi Jacobs wrote a work of theology, "We Have Reason to Believe," in which he challenged the traditional view that the first five books of the Bible, known as the Torah, were dictated by God, word by word, to Moses on Mount Sinai.

May his memory be for a blessing.