Saturday, March 24, 2007

JOE WEAKS reviews the Kansas City Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition over at his Macintosh Biblioblog. The review is far better than anything you'll see in the mainstream media.
HAPPY BLOGIVERSARY TO PALEOJUDAICA, which started four years ago today. I don't have time this morning to put up a list of favorite posts from the last year, but during the Christmas break I did add some notable 2006 entries to the Memorable PaleoJudaica Posts link in the sidebar.

I've been extremely busy both personally and professionally in 2007 and this is likely to continue indefinitely. One result is that I have not done well in answering blog-related e-mail. But please be assured that I always read your e-mails and that I try to post anything interesting you send me (although time constraints do not always allow me to do the latter). Please do keep sending me things and please keep reading PaleoJudaica.

Friday, March 23, 2007

JUDAS IN THE NEWS: Judas has been resurfacing in the news recently, because of the new novel by Jeffrey Archer and Francis Moloney. The Independent has an article on him in FAQ format:
The Big Question: Should Judas be rehabilitated?
By Paul Vallely
Published: 22 March 2007

Why, what did he do?

In Christian tradition, Judas was the follower of Jesus who betrayed him to the Jewish authorities. The four gospels leave his motives uncertain, but his name has passed into common usage as a synonym for personal betrayal. "Judas" was what some folkie shouted at Bob Dylan when he set aside his acoustic guitar and went electric.

Isn't he the classic baddie?

Every story needs a villain, and Judas offers an archetype with his traitor's kiss. The trouble is that the modern fashion is not for heroes but for anti-heroes. And Judas makes a handy one of those too, hence the new book by a very odd couple, the perjurer-novelist Jeffrey Archer and one of the world's top biblical scholars, Professor Francis Moloney. A very unholy alliance. They have just written The Gospel According To Judas, which portrays Judas as traduced by the gospel writers since he was really trying to save Jesus from "an unnecessary death".


But wasn't the real Gospel of Judas found recently?

A 62-page codex, carbon dated to about AD300, but believed to be copied from an earlier document, was unveiled last year. It was in same Sahidic dialect of Coptic used in the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in 1945 (which included the Gospel of Thomas), which the Church does not accept as divinely revealed but which prompted a major re-evaluation of early Christian history. It may be the Gospel of Judas that we know existed because it was condemned as heretical around AD180 by the second-century bishop Irenaeus.

What did it say?

It said that Judas, far from being Jesus's enemy, was his chief Apostle, who was acting at Jesus's request when he "betrayed" him to the authorities. Without Judas's help, Jesus would not have been crucified and God's plan to save mankind from its sins could not have been fulfilled. Someone had to do it, to fulfil Old Testament prophecies, the early Christians believed. Judas was the chosen one.

The writer seems unaware that an increasing number of specialists believe that Judas is as evil as ever in the Gospel of Judas.

UPDATE: Also, as Ellen Birnbaum pointed out in an e-mail, the article confuses the Nag Hammadi Library with the Dead Sea Scrolls (quoted above).
A DOCUMENTARY on a Samaritan bride from the Ukraine:
Israel/Palestine - New Samaritans - 52 min 29 sec [22 March 2007]

For over 3,600 years, the ancient community of Samaritans have only intermarried. Today they number only a few hundred and inbreeding has caused serious problems. On the brink of extinction, their leaders take the unprecedented step of allowing two lucky men to marry foreigners. We follow them as they set off to faraway lands in search of brides. How will their new wives adapt to life in the Samaritan community?

Surrounded by old men chanting prayers and children dressed in traditional robes, Shura looks completely out of place. She smoothes down her scarlet dress and looks around the room at her new family. A few months ago, Shura was signed up by a matchmaking agency in Ukraine. Now, she has just married into the Samaritan’s First Family.


Thursday, March 22, 2007

ARAMAIC WATCH: Martin Schøyen wants his Aramaic incantation bowl collection back from University College London:
Tycoon orders university to return his ‘magic’ artefacts
Dalya Alberge, Arts Correspondent (Times of London)

A buyer of antiquities is suing University College London for the return of a multi-million-pound collection of ancient artefacts he lent it a decade ago.

Martin Schøyen, a Norwegian tycoon who has homes in London and Oslo, accuses the university of giving him “spurious reasons” for failing to return 654 Aramaic incantation bowls that date from the 1st century. He loaned the bowls, which are inscribed with magical texts, for academic research purposes in 1996. But two years ago the strength of criticism from scholars about the bowls’ provenance led the university to open an investigation. Lord Renfrew of Kaims-thorn, director of the McDon-ald Institute for Archaeological Research, Cambridge, joined an independent ethics committee headed by the lawyer David Freeman.

The committee’s report was delivered last summer, and although UCL has yet to publish it, the case will make other public institutions wary of handling unprovenanced antiquities.

While Mr Schøyen’s claim that the bowls were exported legally from the Middle East is being challenged, the collection remains in store at UCL.

They aren't from the first century. Such bowls were manufactured in the fifth to seven centuries CE.

For background to this story, see here and follow the links back.
Turkish team inspects controversial Jerusalem dig

Wednesday, March 21, 2007; 9:30 AM

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - A team of Turkish experts inspected an Israeli excavation in Jerusalem on Wednesday that Muslims fear could damage one of Islam's holiest sites.

Israel's archaeological dig is taking place 50 meters (165 feet) from the religious compound known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif and to Jews as Temple Mount. The work has sparked protests and concern in Muslim nations, including in Turkey.

About six Turkish officials toured the area briefly with Turkey's consul general in Jerusalem, Ercan Ozer.

"About" six? They couldn't just count them?
Knesset okays opening academy to promote Arabic language
By Reuters

Israel passed legislation on Wednesday to set up the first Arabic-language academy marking the first time such an institution will exist in a non-Arab country.


The institute, to be set up by Israel's Education Ministry, will work in parallel with an existing Hebrew-language academy and will promote research into ancient linguistic ties between Hebrew and Arabic, said Melchior. It will also study Arabic terminology, grammar, diction, and written Arabic. The academy will research the modern language and its adaptation to the technological era.

A LECTURE ON THE LEGAL SYSTEM IN ANCIENT ISRAEL by Bruce Wells at St. Joseph's University:
Professor studies judicial systems of Hebrew Bible
Pat DePippo '09

The Hebrew Bible has been a source of knowledge and a written set of spiritual guidance for the Jewish population for millennia, but can it be a document that is historically true and may even offer some insight on legality of the laws in ancient Israel?

Bruce Wells, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Theology, presented such an outlook during the latest installment of the College of Arts and Sciences Dean's Colloquium in the Presidents' Lounge last Thursday. Wells' lecture, entitled "What Do the Gods Know? Courtroom Evidence in Ancient Israel and Mesopotamia", argued the validity and accuracy of the Hebrew Bible as a legal text. He also discussed what sort of significance and impact it had on the functioning of ancient societies.

STEVEN FINE "Decries 'DaVinci Codification' of Culture" on the BAS website:
The public, and the scholarly world, is faced on an almost monthly basis with “discoveries” by either non-academics or lone academics that fly in the face of the kinds of careful scholarly research for which the academy prides itself. The “DaVinci Codification” of the public imagination is—to a very disturbing degree—affecting our cultural agenda.

While each outburst of new discoveries is truly a “teaching moment” for scholars and clergy and even an opportunity for reflection, my overall sense is that academic scholarship—and with it, our culture—is being damaged by this developing—and for some highly lucrative—discourse.
I think that depends on how willing scholars are to seize those teachable moments and divert them into something constructive.

(Heads-up, Evy Nelson.)

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

NOT SURE WHAT TO MAKE OF an Haaretz article (Searching for God's words," by Yair Sheleg) about the late Rabbi Mordechai Breuer, who had some idiosyncratic ideas about biblical criticism and "devoted his life to one impressive undertaking: determining the precise wording of the Bible." This seems to mean that he tried to reconstruct the Vorlage of the Masorah (the medieval vocalization and cantillation-marking of the surviving text of the Hebrew Bible).
For centuries, the Bible did not have any vowels or cantillation marks (Mesorah). These were added in the seventh to ninth centuries, mainly by scholars in Tiberias. For a long time, the Mesorah was transmitted orally from father to son, teacher to student. In the 10th century, a Mesorah expert named Aaron Ben-Asher, who is credited with writing the Aleppo Codex, recorded the marks.

Ostensibly, Breuer could have had a very useful tool in his search for a reliable version of the Mesorah, because large portions of the Aleppo Codex, from which Maimonides also gleaned the divisions that appear in his Mishneh Torah, arrived in Israel in 1958. The manuscript, preserved for many generations by the community in Aleppo, Syria, was damaged during the December 1947 pogroms there, following the UN resolution to establish Israel. Approximately two-thirds of its pages survived and were smuggled into Israel.

For Breuer, the problem was that the manuscript had been handed to the Hebrew University's Mifal Hamikra project, which did not agree to allow other researchers to share the asset. Due to lack of choice, Breuer embarked on a meticulous independent study: He took the five other most important Bible manuscripts (although newer than the Aleppo Codex) and began comparing them word for word, generally choosing what was written in the majority. Academia rejected this approach, his son says, "because the assumption was that the Mesorah did not have one agreed upon version, but that each of the important manuscripts reflected a different version." Breuer's work was perceived by academics as an "eclectic" combination. Breuer, however, thought there was one ancient version that could be revealed through the more recent copies.

And then he managed to get hold of facsimiles of the Aleppo Codex. The circumstances are unclear even to his son and his student, Ofer. The son knows only that "the day Dad came home with a copy of the Aleppo Codex, he was acting like an accomplice to a crime." There are several versions of his "accomplishment": some say the photocopies were given to him surreptitiously by someone with access to the Aleppo Codex; another, less likely, version says he simply approached the librarian of the Ben Zvi Institute, where the Aleppo Codex was being kept, and asked if they had another manuscript he had not seen, and the librarian innocently handed him photocopies of the Aleppo Codex. Meir Hovev, Breuer's friend, told Haaretz this week that Breuer said he received the copies from Shlomo Zalman Shragai, a Jewish Agency official who received the Aleppo Codex from the smuggler who brought it into Israel, and had kept some copies of its pages.

In any case, when Breuer reviewed the copies of the Aleppo Codex, he found his method was correct: Except for in two places, all the vowels and cantillation marks in the Aleppo Codex corresponded exactly with what he had reached through his independent, meticulous work. This information was not just a personal success but a research revolution: He proved there was one agreed upon version of the Mesorah, and that the Aleppo Codex reflected it. Otherwise, there would not have been a correlation between the majority of the other manuscripts and the Aleppo Codex, because the Aleppo Codex would have represented another Mesorah. Furthermore, this meant Breuer's work applied to the missing portions of the Aleppo Codex (most of the Pentateuch). Breuer then issued for Da'at Mikrah, and later independently, a version of the Bible that was quickly accepted as the most reliable and accurate.
The writer of this article seems to think that the Masoretic Text can be identified with the "precise wording of the Bible," so I don't have any great confidence in the article's perspective. I'm not a specialist in Masoretic studies, but if anyone is (an academic specialist, that is) and wants to comment, please drop me a note. (For the moment, use my jrd4 at st-andrews dot ac dot uk address. The blogger@ address above is down, but I hope to have it working again shortly.)
RISA LEVITT KOHN, Professor of Religious Studies at San Diego State University, has just given a lecture on the Dead Sea Scrolls in advance of the exhibition coming to San Diego later this year.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

IN MEETINGS ALL DAY TODAY -- and then some. Too tired to blog now, but check out the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha blog, where I have posted something.

Monday, March 19, 2007

ADMIN AND ARNI - Over at Ralph, Ed Cook has evidence that Luke's genealogy was originally written in Hebrew script.
Samaritan rebel returns to roots in new pop album

By Matti Friedman

11:22 a.m. March 18, 2007

TEL AVIV, Israel – A mainstream pop album is an unlikely place to encounter an ancient tongue known to a total of 705 people in the Holy Land.

But tucked between the smooth chords and Hebrew vocals on Israeli singer Sofi Tsedaka's debut CD, listeners can hear the lilting language of the Samaritans.

Tsedaka, well known here as the striking red-headed star of soap operas and children's TV shows, calls her new album a gesture of reconciliation with the Samaritans, the tiny religious sect she was born into and which she abandoned in anger a decade ago.


Sunday, March 18, 2007

TALPIOT TOMB WATCH: I can't hope to keep up with this subject and I refer you to Mark Goodacre's New Testament Gateway blog for regular updates. But here are two things I don't think Mark has mentioned yet. Richard Bauckham has published another essay, "Ossuaries and Prosopography," on Chris Tilling's Chrisendom blog. James Tabor continues to argue on his Jesus Dynasty blog the likelihood that the Talpiot tomb was the tomb of Jesus and his family. Recently he has posted a response ("Leah Di Segni on the Pfann “Correction” of Rahmani") to Stephen Pfann's proposed new reading. I am not a Greek epigrapher and I take no position myself on Pfann's proposal.
CALL SHERLOCK HOLMES! The mystery of the discarded Torah scroll:
It was the end of June when a Maplewood resident walking his dog stumbled upon an object not ordinarily found in the green rolling hills of Essex County’s South Mountain Reservation [in New Jersey].


In the end, the found scroll proved to be what is known as a “souvenir Torah.” Rabbis Geoffrey Spector and Adam Rosenbaum of Temple Beth Shalom in Livingston, where Chris Rakib works, told her that it is the kind of scroll that that is given to children who have their b’nei mitzva ceremonies on top of the Masada archaeological site in Israel.

The Hebrew letters are on paper, not parchment; therefore, it is not considered “kosher” for use in the synagogue (and not worth the tens of thousands of dollars that a full-size kosher Torah scroll can command).

Still, the Rakibs would like to reunite the scroll with Jennifer Langer, who, if she became bat mitzva in 5751, would be 27 or 28 years old. They would also like to know how the scroll ended up near the trash in a nature preserve? Even though it is not kosher, the scroll must have “sentimental value,” said Pierre Rakib.
THE STATE DEPARTMENT has condemned the jailing of Egyptian Blogger Abdolkarim Nabil Seliman:
US Condemns Court Decision on Egypt Blogger
By: Reuters | Mar 17,2007

The United States on Thursday condemned an Egyptian appeals court ruling that upheld a jail sentence for a blogger convicted of insulting Islam and President Hosni Mubarak.

"His conviction is a setback for human rights in Egypt," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.

Good. High time.