Saturday, September 08, 2007

FROM THE BOOK DISPLAY - I picked up two more items yesterday:
Birger A. Pearson, Ancient Gnosticism: Traditions And Literature (Fortress, 2007)

Larry W. Hurtado, The Earliest Christian Artifacts: Manuscripts and Christian Origins (Eerdmans, 2006)
Larry's lecture last night was so good that I couldn't resist buying his book. More on that later.
I'M BACK IN ST. ANDREWS. I didn't have any time to blog in Exeter before I left. Good conference, more on it later.

Friday, September 07, 2007

THE CONFERENCE is going well and I'm making notes for my report to you later. I'm a little tired from last night, which, as tends to happen at the BNTC, culminated in Lloyd Pietersen's room with the usual suspects and some bottles of whisky. We have free time this afternoon and, with blogging now caught up, I feel a nap coming on.
JEWISH MYSTICAL BOOKS are on display in Russia:
Rare Judaica at Russian State Library

Published: 09/06/2007 (JTA)

Rare vintage books from the Russian State Library’s massive Judaica collection went on display for the first time.

The exhibition, “Jewish Mysticism and Hassidism,” began Thursday and includes selections from the library’s holdings of more than 80,000 Jewish books and manuscripts. Sponsored by the Russian Jewish Congress and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, it is the first such exhibit ever mounted in the country’s largest library.

Preserving The Language Of Jesus
A Tiny Syrian Village Is Working To Keep Aramaic Alive

MALULA, Syria, Sept. 6, 2007

(CBS) For thousands of years, a tiny Syrian village has kept a well-guarded treasure: the language of Jesus. Tucked away in the Qalamoun Mountains, just north of Damascus, Syria, is Malula - one of the last places on earth where Aramaic is still spoken.

Aramaic was a thriving language during the time of Jesus and his disciples. Many of the gospels were written in the Semitic language, along with sections of the Talmud and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

People who come to Malula take in a piece of history and hear in its purest tones the 3,000-year-old language closely related to Hebrew. For the religious here, keeping Aramaic alive is nothing less than a calling.

"Of course we are interested to maintain this language, because at the end, this is the language of Jesus Christ," says Father Toufic Eid of St. Sergius Church.

The locals and the Syrian government are taking conservation of this national treasure very seriously. They have opened a special school where students from 5 to 50 brush up on their Aramaic, and, for the first time in their history, learn to write this traditionally oral language.

Past coverage is here, here, here, and here.
TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH - The Waqf is still digging that trench:
Silence in the Face of Continued Temple Mount Destruction

by Hillel Fendel

( As an Arab bulldozer continues to dig away at the current Temple Mount floor, evidence is mounting that actual walls from the Second Temple are being destroyed. The world is silent, while Prime Minister Olmert continues talks with the Palestinian Authority regarding future sovereignty over the holy area.

The actual digging, under the auspices of the Moslem Waqf [religious trust to which Israel has assigned responsibility for the Temple Mount - ed.], has been ongoing for several weeks. Only over the past 8-10 days, however, has attention been paid to the dangers of the barely supervised works. The Waqf claims that the purpose of the 400-meter-long, 1.5-meter deep trench is to replace electric cables in the area.

Discarding a Temple Wall, Piece by Piece
For the Jews, however, the trench represents more than just better lighting. Under the current floor of the Temple Mount compound lie the remains of the Second Holy Temple, largely untouched since it was destroyed by the Romans nearly 1,950 years ago. For pieces of one of the Temple courtyard office walls to be unceremoniously bulldozed up and discarded - as archaeologists such as Drs. Eilat Mazar and Gavriel Barkai believe has happened - is all but traumatic for Jews who have been praying for centuries to see the Temple rebuilt.

A week ago, Temple expert Dr. Gavriel Barkai told Arutz-7 that according to his, and others', calculations, the route of the trench passes precisely through the spot where one or more of the office walls stood the day of the Roman destruction.

"Some man-worked stones have been found in the trench," Barkai said at a press conference last week, "as well as remnants of a wall that, according to all our estimations, are from a structure in one of the outer courtyards in the Holy Temple."

Shortly afterwards, Dr. Mazar examined a photo of the trench, clearly showing a chopped-up carved stone. Mazar said the damaged stone displays elements of the Second Temple era, and might well be part of the Jewish Temple. She says she needs to view it up close; but the Waqf does not allow her to do so.

Waqf Stops TV Crew
In fact, the Waqf is so protective of the dig and its finds that it has tried to stop all photographing of the area. Rabbi Chaim Richman of the Temple Institute reported that his camera was confiscated before he was allowed to visit the site this week, and WND's Aaron Klein and an InfoLive.TV camera crew were prevented from taking pictures of the dig on Thursday.

The article in which WorldNetDaily reports that their representative was barred from photographic the site is here.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

REFLECTIONS ON GNOSTICISM from someone named Douglas Todd in the Vancouver Sun:
A new force in popular culture
Movies are fuelling a renewed fascination with Gnosticism today, but does it really offer satisfying answers?

[Skipping over the discussion of Dan Brown and Elaine Pagels, which you can read by following the link.

Still, despite the renewed fascination with Gnosticism today, does it really offer satisfying answers?

Although it appeals to many, Gnosticism has a harsh and depressing side.

In addition to politics, there may have also been strong metaphysical reasons for the early church rejecting it. Gnosticism teaches that the earthly realm is a meaningless illusion, a place full of suffering and pain. Developed in response to the cruel reign of the Roman Empire, Gnostics believed the world was a dismal place and the body was evil.

This bitter world, they thought, was like a bad dream, ruled by second-rate deities known as demiurges. Only the distant true God, existing in a completely different dimension, was good.

In many ways, this is the theme of The Matrix series, which paints our "normal" world as governed by malevolent forces. In The Matrix, the hero, Neo, is "saved" only after he "frees his mind" and obtains esoteric knowledge.

Despite the appeal of the Matrix movies, Gnostic theology's dualistic view of a bad world, good God, doesn't fit with western culture's current emphasis on spirituality as a way to integrate health, wholeness and gratitude for all that is.

It also contradicts mainstream Christianity's emphasis on Creation being good, an incarnation of God. Perhaps it is no surprise the only followers of Gnosticism today are about 20,000 so-called "Marsh Arabs" in Iran and southern Iraq (who were persecuted by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.)

But it's not necessary to entirely throw out Gnosticism. As Richard Smoley concludes in the new book, Forbidden Faith: The Secret History of Gnosticism, it's ultimately best to de-emphasize the ancient sect and focus more on the process of gnosis itself, on inner spiritual knowledge.

Authentic understanding, Smoley suggests, can be obtained by liberating oneself from false beliefs. Gnosis, Smoley astutely suggests, is as important as faith and reason as a way to comprehend the sacred.

Without some direct, intuitive experience of the sacred, spirituality always runs the danger of feeling second-hand.
For more on the Matrix angle on Gnosticism, see here.

On that note I'm going to go enjoy the material world at the drinks reception, which starts in a few minutes.
Archaeology Takes to the Skies as teams up with Albatross Aerial Photography
September 06, 2007 Publishing News

(PRLEAP.COM) Tel Aviv (September, 2007) �, the world�s only photo and video bank devoted entirely to archaeology has teamed up with Albatross Aerial Photography to add aerial photos and video to their already comprehensive library.

The site is here. It includes photos of archaeological sites in Israel.
Jews beg Christians to help save the Temple
(Israel Today)

The Temple Institute in Jerusalem has issued a statement strongly urging Bible-believing Christians to petition their governments and the government of Israel to put an end to Muslim destruction of important Jewish artifacts atop the Temple Mount.

Background here.
John M. G. Barclay, Flavius Josephus: Against Apion (Brill, 2006)
My review copy for the JSNT Booklist.
I'M AT EXETER UNIVERSITY. Got here this morning. The business about our dorm rooms having dial-up Internet access sounded to good to be true, and it was, but the conference organizers have kindly logged me onto a machine in one of the local computer clusters while they try to sort out something more long term.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

I'M OFF TO EXETER first thing tomorrow morning for the annual British New Testament Conference, where I co-chair the NT & Second Temple Judaism Seminar with Darrell Hannah. I'm responding to a paper this year, but not presenting one myself. I'm told that dial-up e-mail will be available in our rooms, so I hope blogging will continue more or less as usual.
THE STANDARD EDITION OF [see update] THE TESTAMENT OF SOLOMON is being reprinted by Gorgias Press. It's very dated, but still the best available.
Conybeare, F. C.. The Testament of Solomon

E-mail this product to a friend

Author: F. C. Conybeare
Title: The Testament of Solomon
Series: Analecta Gorgiana 56
Publisher: Gorgias Press LLC
Publication Date: 8/7/2007 12:44:29 PM 1898
Availability: Forthcoming
ISBN: 978-1-59333-871-8
Language: English
Format: Paperback 6 x 9, 1 volume(s), iv+46 pages, illustrations

The Testament of Solomon is the tale of King Solomon’s encounter with and subjugation of demons whom he subsequently engages in the construction of his temple. While beseeching the Lord Sabbaoth concerning his servant who has been attacked by the demon Ornias, Solomon is given a ring that endows its possessor with authority over the demons. It is through the power of this ring that Solomon comes to the aid of his servant and is able to command the demons to assist in the completion of the temple. Solomon’s dialogue with these demons reveals much concerning the demonology of Testament’s author and redactors. Herein a translation of the text is introduced with a critical essay concerning the religious provenance of the text. Through a careful analysis of possible Christian passages in the Testament Professor Conybeare argues that the Christian elements do not point to a Christian author. Instead, with comparison to the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, he suggests that both are Christian recensions of Graeco-Jewish originals.

Frederick Cornwallis Conybeare (1856-1924) was a British orientalist who wrote extensively on religious themes from biblical and Christian literature, especially matters related to Armenian Christian literature. He taught at Oxford University and authored such notable books as Myth, Magic, and Morals, History of New Testament Criticism, and The Life of Apollonius of Tyana.
UPDATE (9 September): Sorry, I misread the advert. This is an old translation, not the standard edition, which was by C. C. McCown. My mistake; comes of wishful thinking I guess.
Thousands of wooden toy Noah’s Arks made in China are being recalled across Britain after excessive lead was found in paint.

PROFESSOR ELLIOT WOLFSON, renowned specialist in Jewish mysticism, is visiting Rice University for a semester, where a conference is to be held in his honor. April DeConick has information at the Forbidden Gospels blog.
THE SILOAM TUNNEL INSCRIPTION is returning to Israel on loan from Turkey - perhaps to stay:
Hezekiah Inscription to return to Israel

By Jay Bushinsky (Washington Times)
September 5, 2007


An ancient inscription memorializing Jerusalem's salvation from Assyrian invaders 2,700 years ago is to be returned to the Holy Land from Turkey for study and public display.

Israel has been trying for about 20 years to recover the artifact, which marks one of the most important turning points in Hebrew history.


Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek made the first attempt to retrieve the inscription for contemporary Israel two decades ago. Last month, Mayor Uri Lupolianski asked for it again at a meeting with Turkish Ambassador Namik Tan. The ambassador said it would be returned in accordance with international law as a loan rather than a restitution.

A member of the Turkish Embassy's staff in Tel Aviv said the inscription could be deposited in Jerusalem "on a long-term basis" if some kind of reciprocity was made. Otherwise, it may stay at the Israel Museum for as little as three months.

Mr. Barkay suggested that the diplomat was hoping for a loan of items dating from the Ottoman Empire's 400-year-long rule over Palestine. Most of this material is stored in Israel's state archive, he said.

Sounds like a fair trade to me.

Background to this story is here (and follow the links from there). Also, I have discussed Sennacherib's invasion of Judah here.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

MESSAGES TO THE DEMIURGE: We have a winner! Two, in fact, and eleven runners up. John Tierney reports at the TierneyLab blog. But does that second winning post mean that the theological conundrum is solved?
BIBLICAL STUDIES CARNIVAL XXII has been published by Duane Smith at Abnormal Interests.
'Land of Milk and Honey' it is
By ETGAR LEFKOVITS (Jerusalem Post)

Now it's official. The Land of Milk and Honey has lived up to its name.

A Hebrew University archeologist has uncovered the oldest known apiary, or beehive colony, in the Middle East. Prof. Amihai Mazar found the beehive colony, dating to the 10th to early 9th centuries BCE, in an archeological excavation this summer in the Beit She'an Valley.

The biblical-period beehive colony was discovered in Tel Rehov, which is believed to have been one of the Israelite kingdom's most important cities.

Three rows of beehives were found in the apiary, containing more than 30 hives, although the archeologists estimated that the total area may have contained some 100 beehives.

Beekeepers and scholars estimated that as much as half a ton of honey could be culled from these hives every year, the university said Monday.

Beats dog stew in my book.

Plus, there are inscriptions:
During the dig, archeologists also uncovered three ceramic storage jars found near the beehives with the inscription "To nmsh." "Nimshi" is known in the Bible as the name of the father and in several verses the grandfather of Israelite King Jehu, the founder of the dynasty that usurped power from the House of Omri (II Kings: 9-12).

The archeologists involved in the dig believe that it is possible that the discovery of three inscriptions bearing this name in the same region and dating to the same period indicates that Jehu's family originated from the Beit She'an Valley and possibly even from the large city located at Tel Rehov.

The large apiary discovered at the site might have belonged to this illustrious local clan.
PHILISTINE CUISINE has been illuminated by recent excavations:
Crock-pot cookery

Unlike most of the peoples living in the region in the biblical era, the Philistines were not Semites, but rather one of the Sea Peoples who immigrated from the Aegean Sea region of today's Greece and western Turkey. They brought with them technologies new to the area, including a wide range of pottery vessels and a sophisticated political organization.

They prepared meals in a characteristic sealed pottery vessel suited to long cooking times at low heat, while most inhabitants of Canaan at the time used open pots and faster cooking methods. The bones found at the Philistine cities showed that their diet was also different from those of their neighbors. While the Canaanites and Israelites ate mainly beef and lamb, the Philistines ate mainly pork, with an occasional meal of dog meat. The Philistines' wine culture was also very well-developed.
Dog stew, eh? My cat would approve.
ELAINE PAGELS is lecturing on the Gospel of Judas at Emory University. She still seems to be taking the line that Judas was a good guy in this Gospel.
THE NEW BISHOP OF CYPRUS AND THE GULF has a degree in Oriental Studies and seems to have focused on Northwest Semitic languages. This according to the Cyprus Mail:
New Bishop brings hope to Middle East posting

THE NEW Bishop of Cyprus and the Gulf, Rt Revd Michael Lewis, aims to play a part in encouraging Greek and Turkish Cypriots to resolve their differences when he takes up his post in November.

Bishop Lewis, of Middleton in the diocese of Manchester, replaces the Most Revd Clive Handford, who was also presiding bishop of the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East. He retired in April this year.

The new Bishop of Cyprus and the Gulf, in an interview with the Church Times to be published later this week, said he did not pretend to be an expert on the politics of the divided island where he will be based. But he would “relish living in it and learning from it”, and developing a relationship with the Greek Orthodox Church.


Bishop Lewis’ interest in the Middle East dates back to his time at Oxford University where his degree in oriental studies involved learning Hebrew, Aramaic and Syriac. More recently he has led numerous pilgrimages and study tours to Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Israel and Turkey.

I don't know if the language training will help in his new post, but it's kind of cool.
Remnants of the Second Temple Being Destroyed by Islamic Wakf

by Hana Levi Julian and Alex Traiman

( A large trench being dug on the Temple Mount is destroying a never before uncovered section of the outer wall of the Second Temple. The construction is being supervised by the Wakf—the Muslim Authority acting as custodians to the Temple Mount.

Archeologists have been calling for construction to halt on the trench, which is approximately 1,300 feet long and five feet deep. The Wakf claims the trench is being dug to replace 40-year-old electrical cables for nearby mosques.
Muslims dig a trench across the temple mount destroying ancient artifacts
Photo: The Temple Movement

New photos of construction debris from the Temple Mount show carved stones casually dumped in a pile that appear to be a section of the outer wall of the Second Temple, according to archaeologist Eilat Mazar.

UPDATE: forgot to note that background is here.

UPDATE (6 September): More here.

Monday, September 03, 2007

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Where do all the prayer notes go?
Ari Rabinovitch, Reuters
Published: Sunday, September 02, 2007

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - People from around the world place their prayers in Jerusalem's Western Wall or mail them to "God, Jerusalem." It's Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz who clears them up.

Millions of people a year visit the Western Wall -- one of Judaism's holiest sites -- and leave a written prayer on pieces of paper wedged into the cracks of the ancient stones.

The tradition has been adopted by members of many faiths around the world. It is very common for Christian pilgrims traveling through the Old City of Jerusalem to stop by the Western Wall and leave a note, the rabbi says.

As Rabbi of the Western Wall, it is up to Rabinowitz to make sure there's room for future paper wishes. Twice a year his team collects hundreds of thousands of notes and buries them on Jerusalem's Mount of Olives.

Now you know.
A COPTIC BOOK WORKSHOP is being held in Portland, Maine:
Bonnie Bishop will guide participants through the making of a Coptic book, in which the spine and binding threads are exposed. These essential aspects of this ancient book form present in African, Roman, and early Christian cultures from 4th century AD. Bonnie invites workshop participants to explore various methods of journaling as a way to engage in and further self-discovery and inquiry, using the Coptic book as a place to record dreams, events, drawings, and poetry, or personal writings.

The instructor will provide all paper, thread, needles, awls and bone folders. However, participants should bring their own scissors and can bring any of the above tools if they have them and prefer using their own. They should also bring favorite drawing supplies, paper and pictures for collage, glue sticks, stamps, inks, etc., and any other materials desired to embellish the covers or work the interior pages.
I suppose the journaling won't be in Coptic, more's the pity. Still, sounds like fun.
ROBERT ALTER is intereviewed by the Boston Globe about his translation work on the Hebrew Bible:
Q&A with Robert Alter

By Harvey Blume | September 2, 2007

ENGLISH TRANSLATIONS OF the Hebrew Bible - most notably the King James version - have been key not only for the believers who look to them for instruction and inspiration, but to the evolving literary and cultural sensibility of the West. It's no wonder, then, that the radical approach to translating biblical texts that Robert Alter has taken - first in ``The Five Books of Moses" (2004) and now in ``The Book of Psalms" - has been greeted with responses ranging from delight to irritation.

Alter aims to reproduce the rhythmic energy of the Hebrew texts in an English that adheres as closely as possible to the meaning and style of the original. Alter's Genesis, for example, begins: ``When God began to create . . ." The word ``began" is key: Creation, for God, is a work in progress. It's a powerful reading that can easily jolt someone wedded to older versions.

As Alter explained when I called him in Berkeley, where he has taught literature since 1967, he was drawn to biblical translation almost despite himself, propelled by a sense that recent translations were badly flawed. Often, translations lacked sensitivity to English literary values, modeling themselves on the lingo of ``high-school textbooks, bureaucratic directives, and ordinary conversation." And almost always, according to Alter, translators simply failed to recognize that the Hebrew Bible, whatever its religious content, was a collection of masterpieces composed by authors who took ``writerly pleasure" in their work.

THE HAZOR ARCHIVE STILL HASN'T BEEN FOUND, despite excavation of the site since 1990.
A city of stature in days of old
By Ran Shapira (Haaretz)

About two weeks before the end of the last excavation season at Tel Hatzor, in July, a clay tablet with hieroglyphic was found. The tablet teaches how to forecast the future with an animal liver, a practice common in the ancient East.

The priests would examine the liver of an animal that had been sacrificed to the gods and use it to predict the future. The tablet found at Hatzor has not yet been deciphered, but its hieroglyphics are reminiscent of the style of early documents from the ancient kingdom of Mari on the Euphrates, in what is today Syria. Mari was an important political center during the Middle Bronze Age, in the years 2000-1500 B.C.E., and Hatzor was the only city in the Land of Israel that had connections with it at that time.

Clearly the writer means "cuneiform" not "hieroglyphic(s)."
In the coming seasons, Ben-Tur and Zuckerman are planning to dig under the houses close to the northern slope of the tel, in search of concrete evidence to prove the assumptions about the earlier layers from the Iron Age and the Bronze Age. They are hoping to find the Canaanite administrative palace and the archive of Hatzor, both of which the archaeologists have been seeking since they returned to the site.

We've been waiting a long time for that archive. Bring it on!

UPDATE (4 September): Duane Smith comments at Abnormal Interests.
Nadia Abu El-Haj, Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society (University of Chicago Press, 2001)
I finally decided that I need to have an informed opinion about this book, so I ordered a used copy from Amazon. I'll post a review when I get a chance.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

UAT Instructor Creates Cuneiform and Hieroglyphic Translator

TEMPE, AZ--(Marketwire - August 23, 2007) - University of Advancing Technology (UAT) instructor and senior web developer Joe McCormack has completed work on a web-based application that translates English words into cuneiform script from the Assyrian, Babylonian, Sumerian and the hieroglyphic script of Egyptian. The tool may be seen at his website,

The translator works by converting cuneiform and hieroglyphs, both used in the earliest forms of writing, into English words. For example, typing "I am a father" into the Ancient Egyptian translator yields hieroglyphs that roughly translate to "I am" and "father." The translator has been featured on several museum websites around the world and websites specializing in resources for the ancient world.

Great! Now all we need is the time machine.

(Via Explorator 10.19.)
KAREN TINTORI, one of the authors of The Book of Names, is interviewed in January Magazine. She and co-author Jill Gregory are working on another "hidden history thriller."
THE GOLEM is the subject of two recent books:
The Sorcerer's Apprentice?
Another look at the mythic servant who repeatedly saved the Jewish people

August 30, 2007 - Robert Leiter, Literary Editor [Jewish Exponent]

The golem -- the massive, hulking servant figure who manages to repeatedly save the Jewish people from doom and destruction in any number of tales written in the 19th and early-20th centuries -- has popped up in book form once again in The Golem and the Wondrous Deeds of the Maharal of Prague, the work of Yudl Rosenberg as edited and translated by the distinguished novelist Curt Leviant. Just about a year ago, W.W. Norton publishers released a compilation of golem tales, titled simply The Golem, that brought together various works in several genres, written by a quartet of writers, Rosenberg among them, all translated by Joachim Neugroschel. The other authors represented were S. Bastomski, Dovid Frishman and H. Leivick, who penned the classic play about the massive creature fashioned from a piece of clay by a wonder-working rabbi.

There is a great deal of overlap between these recent books. Both translators fill in the history behind the term "golem" and identify the nature of the character that bears the name, and the general outline is similar. They part ways, however, in their assessments of Rosenberg.

Earlier posts on the Golem are here and here.