Saturday, November 03, 2007

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2007.10.56
David Goodblatt, Elements of Ancient Jewish Nationalism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Pp. 276. ISBN 978-0-521-86202-8. $75.00.

Reviewed by Carol Bakhos, University of California, Los Angeles (

Word count: 1887 words

Table of Contents

In Elements of Ancient Jewish Nationalism, Goodblatt masterfully argues that nationalism can be found in the ancient world, and that the collective identity asserted by the Jews in antiquity fits contemporary definitions of nationalism. The notion that nationalism existed prior to the modern period, however, runs contrary to the widespread view that it is a phenomenon only of the past 200 years. Scholars in the field by and large maintain that it probably originated as a result of efforts made by rulers and statesmen to mobilize their subjects and utilize their loyalty, and thus to strengthen their states in order to keep pace with the exceedingly competitive European environment.


In sum, Goodblatt's monograph, formidable in its meticulous treatment of cultural artifacts and nuanced arguments, is a weighty contribution not only to the field of ancient Judaism, but also to the study of nationalism. For many who adhere to the notion that nationalism is a distinctly modern ethos, this work furnishes countervailing evidence that commands serious attention. For those of us who are first and foremost engaged in the study of ancient Jewish history, Goodblatt provides a conceptualization of that history, which will serve us well in our exploration of the Jewish past and perhaps, too, in our understanding of the present.
(Both BMCRs via the Agade list.)
Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2007.10.46
ALSO SEEN: Susan Ackerman, When Heroes Love. The Ambiguity of Eros in the Stories of Gilgamesh and David. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005. Pp. xviii, 353; ills. 58. ISBN 0-231-13260-3. $47.50.

Reviewed by Jean-Fabrice Nardelli, Université de Provence (

If one epithet holds true about the bonding of Gilgamesh with Enkidu in the Gilgamesh and David with Jonathan in Samuel, it is 'ambiguous'. While those students of ancient sexuality and Semitic scholars who consider that it would do violence to the texts to exclude a lustful dimension in the dealings of either couple have never proved their case convincingly enough to make it mainstream, the advocates of the conservative Christian viewpoint, on the other hand, have failed to demonstrate once and for all that these dealings are nothing more than friendly, and possibly homosocial. This is due to the fact that the textual evidence lacks clarity, and affords material for both views.

Rather than trying to elaborate an interpretation and then attempting to explain away as many of the loose ends as possible, A(ckerman) focuses on this fundamental ambiguity of the male-male affect in the primary documents. She envisions this ambiguity as the key to the meaning of the relationships of both Gilgamesh / Enkidu and David / Jonathan. Her interpretive touchstone is the rites-of-passage model, specifically the liminal version, in which crises are 'redressed' by a period of ambiguity, a limbo characterized for the main protagonists with blurred social status and a cycle of exploits and hardships functioning as the steps of an initiation, by the end of which the hero of the narrative comes back into society with a whole new status.


This is a brilliant book, learned, moderate, sensible, which could have been a tremendous one had not the adherence to liminality loomed so large and had the author contrived to look more closely at what it entailed, between 2000 and 1000 B.C in the Semitic world, for two men of the warrior class to bond. Gender studies still have much light to shed on Semitic homosexuality.
A PROPOSED TUNNEL IN JERUSALEM near the Temple Mount is, unsurprisingly, generating controversy:
New Tunnel Would Connect Old City Muslim and Jewish Quarters

by Hana Levi Julian

( The Western Wall Heritage Foundation has proposed building a tunnel to connect the Western Wall tunnels in Old Jerusalem's Jewish Quarter with the rebuilt Ohel Yitzchak synagogue in the Muslim Quarter. The synagogue was abandoned during the Arab riots in 1936 and later was blown up by the Jordanian army during its conquest of the Jewish Quarter in the 1948 War of Independence.

A group of government agencies is considering the plan to build an underground passage, but Muslim clerics already have condemned it as a trick to enable Jews to destroy the Al Aksa mosque.

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and security services would have to approve the project, which comes less than a year after construction work near the Temple Mount was stopped by rioting Muslims around the world who accused Israel of trying to undermine to foundations of mosques.

The latest accusations by Muslim clerics neglect to mention that the proposed new tunnel would be located more than 100 yards away from the Temple Mount. In addition, construction work on the underground passageway would be minimized by using areas created by existing archaeological excavations beneath the Muslim Quarter.

150 Israeli Citizens File Lawsuit Against Islamic Trust Leaders over Alleged Temple Mount Destruction

samedi 3 novembre 2007

By Jeremy Reynalds (Journal Chretien)

A group of 150 Israeli citizens, which represent a cross section of the Israeli public, have filed a lawsuit against WAQF Islamic trust leaders in Jerusalem. The suit alleges that Islamic officials have engaged in the deliberate destruction of ancient Jewish relics on the Temple Mount.

According to a news release from the Shurat HaDin - Israel Law Center (ILC), the indictment was filed in the Jerusalem District Court as a private lawsuit. The private indictment is the first of its kind in Israeli legal history. If convicted, ULC reported the WAQF officials could face years in prison.


Friday, November 02, 2007

NADIA ABU EL-HAJ has been granted tenure at Barnard College according to the Columbia Spectator.
Abu El-Haj Reportedly Granted Tenure
By Hayley Negrin

Controversial Barnard professor Nadia Abu El-Haj has received tenure, according to an e-mail sent by a departmental administrator to the anthropology listserv on Thursday.

“Here is the good news: Professor Nadia Abu El-Haj is now a tenured member of the Barnard and Columbia Anthropology Departments,” academic departmental administrator Xiomara Perez-Betances wrote in the e-mail. The e-mail provided no further information.

Apart from the e-mail, Spectator was unable to confirm Thursday night that tenure had been offered. Abu El-Haj and Barnard College Communications did not return several calls placed last night, and Columbia spokesman Robert Hornsby declined to comment, saying the University does not discuss individual tenure processes.

Background here. Just keep following the links back.

UPDATE (3 November): The New York Times notes the story briefly.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Book Announcement

Gorgias Press would like to announce the following book:

Web link:

Title: The Descent of Christ in the Odes of Solomon
Author: William Romaine Newbold
Series: Analecta Gorgiana
Series Volume: 51
ISBN: 978-1-59333-866-4
Price: $32
Format: Paperback, 6 x 9, 1 vol(s), iv +44 pp.
Availability: In Print

Book Description

In The Descent of Christ in the Odes of Solomon Professor Newbold explores the implications of the Descent of Christ in the twenty-third Ode in regards to astrology and Gnostic thought. Fittingly the work begins with a review of the author’s conception of Gnostic ideology. Next, Newbold offers a translation of the twenty-third Ode with textual notes and a commentary. Though reliant largely on secondary source evidence for his comparisons of the Odes with Gnostic philosophy, Newbold offers provocative arguments for a correlation between the two. Likewise, a survey of the astronomical dating systems of the age is provided to compensate for the ambiguity surrounding the timing of the astronomical events referred to in the Odes. In the end, this essay supports the thesis of the author’s earlier work, Bardaisan and the Odes of Solomon, that the Odes emerged from a Judaeo-Christian, Mesopotamian setting.

William Romaine Newbold (1865-1926) was a philosopher and an antiquarian. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, he returned there as a Lecturer in Latin and was later promoted to Assistant Professor of Philosophy and eventually Dean of the Graduate School and later Adam Seybert Professor of Intellectual and Moral Philosophy. His research included several ambitious archaeological and literary analyses including the presumed discovery of the tombs of St. Paul and St. Peter.

Book Announcement

Gorgias Press would like to announce the following book:

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Title: Catalogue of All Works Known to Exist in the Armenian Language
Subtitle: Up to the Seventeenth Century
Author: Harrison Gray Otis Dwight
Series: Analecta Gorgiana
Series Volume: 54
ISBN: 978-1-59333-869-5
Price: $29
Format: Paperback, 6 x 9, 1 vol(s), iv+49 pp.
Availability: In Print

Book Description

Following an introduction, the Catalogue provides a description of all the works of Armenian provenance known to the author, proceeding chronologically by century. Each entry begins with a summary of the content of the work and a short biography of the author when available. Subsequent European editions or translations of each work are also noted. The work concludes with sections referencing the works of Greek Church Fathers preserved in Armenian and secular literature.

Harrison Gray Otis Dwight (1803-1862) spent thirty years in Constantinople as an American Congregational missionary to the Armenians. He was a graduate of Hamilton College and Andover Theological Seminary. He also wrote such notable works as Christianity Revived in the East, and Christianity in Turkey: A Narrative of the Protestant Reformation in the Armenian Church.

Book Announcement

Gorgias Press would like to announce the following book:

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Title: A Syriac Valentinian Hymn
Subtitle: An Excerpt from Epiphanius' Panarion
Author: William Romaine Newbold
Series: Analecta Gorgiana
Series Volume: 52
ISBN: 978-1-59333-867-1
Price: $32
Format: Paperback, 6 x 9, 1 vol(s), 48 pp.
Availability: In Print

Book Description

Epiphanius, the great fourth century heresiographer, included in his discussion of the Valentinians an excerpt from a Valentinian manuscript, presumably in his possession. At the end of this excerpt is what Epiphanius believes to be a list of the names of Aeons. However, this list proves to be a Syriac poem concerning the works of the Celestial Light and the Celestial Firmament. Newbold provides the Greek and Syriac texts to this poem with his translation as well as textual notes and commentary. This essay provides the reader with insight to the nature of the text and its contributions to understanding Valentinianism, and also the potential causes for Epiphanius’ mistaking the poem for a list.

William Romaine Newbold (1865-1926) was a philosopher and an antiquarian. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, he returned there as a Lecturer in Latin and was later promoted to Assistant Professor of Philosophy and eventually Dean of the Graduate School and later Adam Seybert Professor of Intellectual and Moral Philosophy. His research included several ambitious archaeological and literary analyses including the presumed discovery of the tombs of St. Paul and St. Peter.

Book Announcement

Gorgias Press would like to announce the following book:

Web link:

Title: The Emperor Julian and the Jews
Author: Michael Adler
Series: Analecta Gorgiana
Series Volume: 44
ISBN: 978-1-59333-857-2
Price: $38
Format: Paperback, 6 x 9, 1 vol(s), 67 pp.
Availability: In Print

Book Description

The Roman Emperor Julian is among the most vilified by ancient Christian writers. His interest in restoring the religion of the ancient Greeks and Romans earned him the ascription of “Apostate.” Though he was never in the league of Nero or Diocletian, he is accused of great persecutions against the Christians. However, he is also one of the few Roman emperors who had very favorable connections with the Jews. Thus, in Jewish histories he is not seen as a tyrant or a persecutor but as a benevolent and able leader. This study explores Julian's actions in regards to the Jews with special attention given to his advances toward rebuilding the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. It offers the reader an insight into another aspect of Julian’s reign.

Michael Adler(1868-1944) was an exceptional scholar of Jewish history and the Hebrew language. His publications range from works on grammar to synagogue histories. Several of his works focus on the history of Jews in England.

Book Announcement

Gorgias Press would like to announce the following book:

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Title: Hieronymi Quaestiones Hebraicae in Libro Geneseos
Author: Paul de Lagarde
Series: Analecta Gorgiana
Series Volume: 72
ISBN: 978-1-59333-964-7
Price: $37.7
Format: Paperback, 6 x 9, 1 vol(s), viii + 72 pp.
Availability: Forthcoming

Book Description

Written in the scholarly Latin of his day, Lagarde considers in this brief study the questions Jerome raises on the Hebrew of the book of Genesis. In an abridged commentary form, Lagarde follows the questions in the order in which the book of Genesis presents the material. Beginning with the creation, Lagarde skips along to the phrases of Jerome’s text that raise questions and provides his insights about them. Presuming that the reader of the Vulgate will understand the Latin of the original, the comments on the material are likewise written in Latin. In such a brief treatment, naturally the entire book of Genesis cannot be explicated, but a sufficient amount of material is addressed to reward the effort of the exegete who works through Lagarde’s observations. As useful now as when it was initially published, Lagarde’s understanding of the Latin of Genesis is worth the exploration.

Paul Anton de Lagarde (1827-1891) was a biblical scholar and student of ancient languages. Having studied at Berlin, Halle, London, and Paris, he had a wide exposure to international thought. He eventually taught at Göttingen. Despite his participation in the anti-Semitism of his day, he was a gifted student of Semitic languages. His voluminous linguistic works are still recognized for their insights into oriental languages. He made important contributions to the study of Syriac, Aramaic, Arabic, Hebrew, and Coptic, as well as Greek and Latin.

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Gorgias Press is interested to hear from scholars who are writing new monographs, text books, or reference works on the various subject areas that Gorgias Press publishes in. Gorgias Press also publishes revised doctoral dissertations in monograph form. To discuss a project proposal, write to
From a number of messages on the Hugoye list.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

MY COLLEAGUE RICHARD J. BAUCKHAM retires today from his post as Professor of New Testament and Bishop Wardlaw Professor at the University of St. Andrews. For the last four weeks our postgraduate Biblical Studies Seminar has been going through his latest book, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, with Richard there to comment and address questions. This has been an unparalleled opportunity for both our postgradates and Richard's colleagues in biblical studies. The last session on his book ended just a few minutes ago, and there is a reception in Richard's honor a few minutes from now. Then his colleagues will be taking him to dinner. I will post photos etc. in due course. Meanwhile, here is my tribute to Richard, to be presented at the reception:
Richard Bauckham received his first degree in History at Clare College, Cambridge University. His Ph.D. dissertation, also produced at Cambridge, was on a sixteenth-century theologian named William Fulke. In the 1970s Richard was a Research Fellow at St. John's College in Cambridge and a Lecturer in Theology at the University of Leeds. From 1977-1992 he was a Lecturer and then a Reader in the History of Christian Thought at Manchester University. During this period his research moved steadily into the area of New Testament studies (with related interest in early Jewish studies and non-canonical early Christian literature), although his commitment to theological studies remained strong, as it does to this day. Richard was appointed as Professor of New Testament Studies in the Divinity School of the University of St. Andrews in July of 1992 and he became Bishop Wardlaw Professor in 2000. During his time here he has also been appointed a Fellow of the British Academy and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

Richard is one of the foremost living New Testament scholars: he has published 17 sole-authored monographs and collections of essays and he has co-written or co-edited numerous other books. He has also published well over 200 articles in journals, books, and reference works. His recent monograph, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony is a groundbreaking contribution to the field. It argues that the content of all four of the canonical Gospels is close to the testimony of eyewitnesses; the Gospel of Mark is based on the testimony of Peter; and the Gospel of John was written by the "Beloved Disciple." The book issues a weighty challenge to the whole area of New Testament form criticism and is already having a major impact on the field. It has been called "a characteristic tour de force" by N. T. Wright, "a pioneering work" by Martin Hengel, and (my favorite) a "blockbuster" by Jimmy Dunn. Richard has supervised more than 20 doctoral students to completion during his time here, and has contributed to the supervision of many others. He has also been active throughout his time here in contributing to and encouraging dialogue and cooperation between biblical scholars and theologians. And, to top it off, he is the author of the children's book The MacBears of Bearloch, and I understand that there may be more to come in the series.

Richard is to move to Cambridge soon after his retirement, but he will continue his association with the School of Divinity, not least as one of the principal investigators for the More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project. We hope to see him here often in the years to come.
UPDATE (1 November): Here's a report on the evening from the Greek Geek. The sliver of body to the right in the first picture is me. I'll post a report too when I get a chance.

UPDATE (4 November): Fewer of my photos came out than I'd hoped, but here are some for now. I'll try to gather up some more.

Richard's last (for now) Biblical Studies Seminar at St. Mary's College. We were discussing chapters 14-18 of his book, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.

Richard and Professor Emeritus Robin Wilson at the reception for Richard after the seminar. Professor Wilson was last seen on PaleoJudaica in pictures from his 90th birthday party, in February of 2006. At Richard's reception last week, Robin told me that the day after the party he got an e-mail from a friend in New York who already knew all about the event thanks to PaleoJudaica.

Professor Wilson with Dr. Robin Salters (also retired from and currently an Honorary Reader in the School of Divinity).

Another photo of Richard with Mariam.
Dirk Jongkind, Scribal Habits of Codex Sinaiticus (Texts and Studies, Third Series, 5; Piscataway, N.J.: Gorgias, 2007)
My review copy for the SOTS Book List.
Annual festival toasts the best of Jewish cinema

Darren Levin
(Australian Jewish News)

GARY Lucas, an acclaimed New York-based guitarist who has performed with the likes of Nick Cave, Lou Reed and Iggy Pop, will open the 2007 Festival of Jewish Cinema in Melbourne and Sydney next month.

Lucas, who co-wrote two tracks on Jeff Buckley’s Grace (the title track and Mojo Pin), will perform an original live score for a screening of the 1920s silent film The Golem.

A German expressionist classic, the film recounts an ancient Jewish legend about a 16th-century rabbi who made a man out of clay to save his community.

Often referred to as the precursor to Frankenstein, the film was shot by Karl Freund, who worked on Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and FW Murnau’s The Last Laugh. Lucas has performed The Golem in more than 15 countries.

For more on The Golem, including a picture, see here.

UPDATE: And then there's "Beware of White Cats!" in which Tyler Williams reflects on Mespotamian omen texts such as:
If a white cat is seen in a man’s house — (for) that land hardship will seize it.
If a black cat is seen in a man’s house — that land will experience good fortune.
My take: if any kind of cat is in your house, you'll experience good fortune.
AN IMPORTANT EGYPTOLOGY LIBRARY has been acquired by Stanford University:
Stanford acquires a ‘world-class’ Egyptology library

BY CYNTHIA HAVEN (Stanford Report)

Joe Manning, associate professor of classics, with several volumes from the Erichsen library, which documents more than 1,500 years of Egyptian history, from approximately 650 B.C. to about 1000 A.D.

Stanford has acquired the library of one of the foremost Egyptologists of the 20th century.

The collection of Wolja Erichsen (1890-1966), now at Stanford's Green Library, documents more than 1,500 years of Egyptian history, ranging from about 650 B.C. to about A.D. 1000. It includes Egypt's important transition from paganism to Christianity.

"The Erichsen library is one of the most significant and perhaps the last great Egyptology library in private hands," said Joe Manning, associate professor of classics. "It is difficult to overestimate the importance of acquiring this collection. Stanford's acquisition adds great momentum to our research and strengthens our profile as one of the very best places in the world to study ancient Mediterranean civilizations."

Manning, speaking at an Oct. 15 reception to celebrate the acquisition, emphasized that this contribution from the "heroic age" of Egyptology, which peaked between 1880 and 1920 and was centered in Berlin, is "a huge deal."


Erichsen, a professor at the University of Copenhagen, was a specialist in demotic Egyptian, the script and language of Egypt from 650 B.C. to A.D. 200, and Coptic, the last stage of the ancient Egyptian language that has particular importance for the study of early Christianity, especially since Egypt was the location of the earliest organized church.

"The breadth of text editions and studies of demotic and Coptic text editions represented in this library is unmatched," Manning said. Many of the volumes are extremely rare text editions published in Germany before 1940. These editions often have large folio photographic plate volumes. "They are often better than working with digital photos, and simpler and easier to use," Manning added. "They are the next best thing to being there."

In many cases, they provide high-quality 16-by-20-inch photographs of texts that no longer exist because the original papyri were lost or destroyed during World War II.


Tuesday, October 30, 2007

ARAMAIC WATCH -- new at Etana Abzu, a free PDF digital facsimile of:
Aramaic Ritual Texts from Persepolis

Bowman, Raymond A.
Summary: The volume contains Raymond Bowman's edition of the Aramaic texts from Persepolis, unearthed during the expedition by the University of Chicago under Erich F. Schmidt between 1936 and 1938. Bowman has assembled important data on the chronology of Persepolis during the first half of the fifth century b.c. from the personal names and official titles listed in the Aramaic texts. He shows acumen in attacking certain textual problems, and his commentary and introduction provide the scholar with information necessary for a proper understanding of this corpus of some two hundred brief, formulaic inscriptions written on various stone implements - mortars and pestles, plates and trays - found in the treasury at Persepolis. [From an article by Baruch A. Levine in the Journal of the American Oriental Society 92 (1972) 70-79]
Publication Year: 1970
Type of Material: Book
Publisher: The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago
Place of Publication: Chicago
Notes: Pp. xiii + 194, 2 figures, 36 plates, 1 table
Subject: Iran
Online access:
Chuck Jones e-mails about the collection of which this is a part:
Two additional groups of digital facsimilies of important publications in Archaeology and Assyriology have appeared in recent days and are now indexed in Abzu. The first is another batch of ETANA Core Texts made available as part of a USAID grant to assist Iraqi universities to rebuild their archaeology programs and collections. Prof. Elizabeth Stone was the Principal Investigator for this grant, administered at Stony Brook University in New York State. (See also the SBL Forum entry at: They are served to the public free of charge courtesy of ETANA. The second is a set of fifteen additional titles in the Oriental Institute's Electronic Publications Initiative.

You can access all of them via the "View items recently added to ABZU" link at:
SBL SESSION ON JAMES BARR: This just in from the SOTS list:
I have been asked to circulate the following announcement: SOTS members attending SBL in San Diego may be interested to learn of the following session in honour of James Barr, which is not in the printed programme book.

Deborah Rooke
Membership Secretary

Monday, November 19, 2007, 1:00-3:30 -- Session honoring James Barr
Manchester A -- GH (GH=Grand Hyatt)

Samuel E. Balentine, Presiding

Douglas Knight
Archie Lee
Mervyn Richardson
Joe Blenkinsopp
William Abraham

LEE I. LEVINE is interviewed about the early history of the synagogue in Reform Judaism Magazine:
In Search of the Synagogue Part II: The Temple Destroyed; The Synagogue Takes a Turn [70c.e.–4th century]

To understand the evolution of the synagogue in Roman-occupied Palestine, we interviewed Lee I. Levine, professor of Jewish History and Archaeology at Hebrew University and author of The Ancient Synagogue: The First Thousand Years.

Monday, October 29, 2007

THE OPERA SUSANNAH is being produced by the Indiana University Opera Theatre. Here's an interview with the two student who play the title role. Except:
LIVE AT IU: Susannah is based on a story from the Book of Daniel in the Bible. Did you read the biblical version in preparation for your role? If so, please comment on how the Bible version helped shape your interpretation of Susannah for this production.

I did read Susannah's story in the Apocrypha and found the storyline to be very different from the opera's plot.

ELIZABETH ASHANTAVI: The stories have the same premise of a beautiful woman who is wrongly accused, but they end quite differently. In the Book of Daniel, Susannah pleads for God's help as she is being led to her death. God hears her cry and stirs up the holy spirit of the young Daniel, who recognizes the injustice of the situation. He proves her innocence, punishes those that have accused her, and she is restored as a member of the community.

If only the opera's Susannah had a savior like Daniel....
For recent past performances of Susannah see here, here, and here,
RON TAPPY is interviewed in the Pittsburg Post Gazette, mostly about the Tel Zayit Abecedary. Excerpt:
It seems fitting, then, that Dr. Tappy's most famous discovery as a biblical archaeologist is a 38-pound limestone rock inscribed with a 2,900-year-old alphabet.

The stone was found two years ago at Tel Zayit in Israel, a dig about 25 miles southwest of Jerusalem. Using distinctive pottery and carbon dating of the soil levels above it, the stone was firmly traced to the 10th century B.C., the time when the biblical King Solomon was supposed to have lived.

The discovery was described by some experts as the most important find in biblical archaeology in the last 10 years.

One reason for the buzz was that the stone suggests the earliest Hebrew Scriptures could have been written down in that era -- hundreds of years earlier than many scholars had believed.

For Dr. Tappy, the alphabet stone also suggests not only that King Solomon was a real historical figure, but that he did in fact have a growing kingdom at the time, because Tel Zayit sits on the border of Solomon's Judah and the kingdom of Philistia, where the Philistines lived.

In fact, Tel Zayit is quite close to Timnah, the ancient city where the biblical strongman Samson is said to have married a Philistine woman.

While some have suggested the alphabet stone might have been used to train scribes, Dr. Tappy, the G. Albert Shoemaker professor of Bible and archaeology at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, favors another theory.

The stone was part of a wall when it was found, he said, and "I do know that within a reasonable period of time after this period, the ancients believed the alphabet itself had power."

Since Tel Zayit probably sat on the edge of Solomon's kingdom, Dr. Tappy said, it's possible the stone was built into the wall of the city as mystical protection against Judah's enemies.

"I think the stone bespeaks an attempt to establish a presence in that part of the region, and if already the ancients were thinking of the alphabet as having magical powers to ward off evil, that may be another good reason to have it down there on the border."

Sunday, October 28, 2007

EXCAVATIONS AT HERCULAENUM may recommence as early as next year. There are high hopes for significant further epigraphic discoveries:
Greek 'treasures' expected from Herculaneum

By Malcolm Moore in Herculaneum (The Telegraph)
Last Updated: 2:37am BST 24/10/2007

At one o'clock on the morning of August 25, 79AD, a blast of burning gas and a wave of molten mud engulfed Herculaneum, preserving the only Ancient Roman library that has ever been found.

Now, archaeologists are finally hoping to excavate tens of thousands of scrolls, which may include lost works by Aristotle, Sophocles and Catullus. Excavation work has restarted on the famous Villa dei Papyri after an eight-year gap.

"It is impossible, absolutely impossible, to excavate this villa without finding fantastic things," said Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, the director of the Herculaneum Conservation Project. "We may find the lost scrolls of Aristotle, or we may find something even more exciting that we had not even thought of yet."

Of the 100 plays written by Sophocles, only seven have ever been found. Euripides also wrote 100 plays, the vast majority of which have been lost.

The enormous villa, which lies just outside Herculaneum, belonged to Lucius Calpurnius Piso, Julius Caesar's father-in-law. Around 1,800 scrolls, of middling importance, have been recovered since the villa was found 250 years ago, but archaeologists have only recently discovered two extra floors to the building.

Work on the site halted in 1999 after a previous excavation because of fears about the conservation of the site. Because the site lies four metres below the waterline, it is constantly flooded. In addition, the previous dig unearthed an unexpected complex of buildings that needed urgent restoration.

Meanwhile, the first work on the main site of Herculaneum for almost 30 years could begin as early as next year, with the aim of unearthing a collection of public records that will reveal the daily life of the city.

Perhaps the good conspiracy David Meadows thought he detected has born fruit. For additional background see here, here, here, and here. For the eruption of Vesuvius see here. And perhaps The Rule of Four deserves mention as well. You'll know why if you've read it. As usual, I will be keeping my ears open for news of Septuagint manuscripts and copies of the works of Philo of Alexandria and Greek Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. (For a wish list of lost books, many of which however were written after this time, see here, here, and here.) The site is probably too early to contain any fragments of the New Testament or other early Christian works; nascent Christianity was too disreputable in 79 CE for such works to be found in the library of a serious philosopher.

(Via Explorator 10.27.)
THE SEPTUAGINT AND THE ANCIENT LIBRARY OF ALEXANDRIA are mentioned in a Travel piece in the Chicago Tribune, along with the new Library and the Alexandria National Museum. And you can get a glimpse of the Library (the new one!) in the video.
The new old Alexandria
Rolling back the centuries in Egypt's second city

By Stephen Franklin | Tribune staff reporter
October 28, 2007


I am not talking about the remnants of the ancient city left behind by the Greeks and Romans, the city that young Alexander the Great had envisioned as a great port for his empire and the city of Cleopatra.

Today, much of that Alexandria sleeps on out in the bay, waiting to be rediscovered, or lies buried under the modern city's bustling streets, where 5 million wander daily.

Instead, I am drawn by the nearly 5-year-old Bibliotheca Alexandrina, which was inspired by the ancient library in Alexandria, and which feels as new as anything anywhere. It is an imaginative $200-million high-tech tribute to the library that vanished here more than 1,600 years ago.

The largest library of its time, it was where the Old Testament was translated from Hebrew to Greek, and scholars gathered to study astronomy, physics and anatomy. While its destruction is a mystery buried in time, its disappearance became a symbol of the price societies pay for the loss of their written soul and memory.

A parallel universe

The new library, designed by Norwegian architects, looks from the distance like a silvery sun rising. And because it is located on the edge of the 11-mile-long Corniche, the seaside promenade that curls along much of the waterfront in Alexandria, the visual impact is quite dramatic.

Imagine. The bottom of the building's circular face sits slightly below street level with the building tilting upward to 11 stories at the top.

Inside, you feel as if you have entered a parallel universe, especially if you have been meandering about amid the dust and decay of old Alexandria.

The library is a vast atrium with one wall looking out at the sea and sky. Standing on the street level, you look down at several levels of floors with row after row of desks and people busily glued to computers. For the moment, I am struck by the hope offered by such a building in a country where so many cannot read, and where so few who can actually read books.

More of Alexandria's past

Not far away is another innovative use of the city's past.

The Alexandria National Museum is an elaborate, gleaming white Italian-style, three-story building that was built for a wealthy businessman in the late 1920s, then became an American consulate before it was bought by the Egyptian Ministry of Culture.

Opened about four years ago, the museum sits in an older upscale neighborhood that is greener than most. Its collection runs from pre-historic and pharaonic to Greco-Roman to Coptic and Islamic, and finally to items from Egypt's last royal family.

Wandering through the tasteful and innovatively designed rooms for the first time, I decide that after dozens of trips over 40 years to Egypt as a reporter or meandering tourist, this is my second favorite museum in the country (next to the Coptic Museum in Cairo).

This year while living in Cairo and training Egyptian journalists there, I also came down with a serious case of crypt overload, the result of having visited countless ancient burial sites in Cairo and elsewhere. And so I consider this to be a life-saving antidote to crawling underground in breathlessly hot tombs with a zillion other tourists.

ARAMAIC WATCH -- A documentary on Syriac in Turkey:
Journey of a letter for tomorrow
Saturday, October 27, 2007

Syriac, one of the three oldest languages in the world, is used only by 1 percent of 15,000 Syriacs in Turkey today and faces extinction. The documentary 'A Letter for Tomorrow' is a novel effort to prevent its dissappearance

ISTANBUL - Turkish Daily News

A man on a seemingly impossible mission to save the script of his people from becoming extinct, Gabrial Aktaş, the last Syriac calligrapher in Turkey, is almost 70.

He is no longer capable of spending hours at his desk copying old Fankitos, the handwritten religious books of Syriacs, who are the oldest indigenous settlers of Mesopotamia in eastern Turkey. He started copying the four Fankitos in 2001. It took him 13 months to finish the first one, whereas the second one was finished in 15 months.

Aktaş talks of how he started copying them with a sparkle in his eyes. “When I finished the first Fankito, I looked at it. It was not very good,” he said. “My intention was not to become a calligrapher. I wanted to pass them to the future. But then I thought, ‘why not better my handwriting?' So people will remember there was Gabriel, from the Bakisyan village of Mardin.”

Syriac is one of the three oldest among 6,700 languages currently spoken around the world. Nearly 5,000 of them are expected to disappear by the end of this century. The threat is all too real for Syriac, which is used only by 1 percent of 15,000 Syriacs in Turkey today. However, Syriac has a special place among the thousands of languages that are faced with the threat of extinction. It is one of the few languages that has a written literature. The critical condition of the language is brought to light through a documentary titled “The Light Looks for Its Voice” (Işık Sesini Arıyor) by Hakan Aytekin, a lecturer at Maltepe University's Department of Radio, Television and Cinema.

This is very laudable, but in the meantime I hope someone is getting a photographic record of those manuscripts. Get that man a digital camera!

By the way, Syriac (or even Aramaic in general) is not one of the three oldest languages in the world. Not even close. It is, though, one of the oldest languages to still have native speakers.

The same story is treated more briefly here.
Hakan Aytekin, an academic at Maltepe University, realized the dangers Syriac has faced when a colleague found a letter in a trashcan. The letter made him realize how little he knew about the language and the culture. Isa Bakır, the owner of the letter, a Syriac, expressed a longing for the place he left years ago and requested that a song be played on the national radio channel.

Gabriel Aktaş, a Syriac clergyman and representative of the oldest Syriac tradition: calligraphy, realized the risk to his language and culture, started copying the old handwritten religious books of Syriacs to pass on to future generations.

The journey of this letter triggered another journey for Aytekin in the language of Syriac. Aytekin wrote a book and shot two documentaries about Syriacs. The last of his documentaries is entitled 'A Letter For Tomorrow.'
A CENTURIES-OLD TORAH SCROLL has been rescued from destruction in Iraq and has ended up in a Baltimore synagogue:
Synagogue unfurls piece of Jewish history
400-year-old Torah, found in Iraq and restored, finds a home in Howard County congregation

By Liz F. Kay | [Baltimore] Sun reporter
October 28, 2007

A 400-year-old Torah, saved from the sands of Iraq, has found its way to a synagogue in western Howard County.

The scroll of Hebrew scripture, containing the first five books of the Bible, was found by U.S. soldiers among the ruins of a synagogue in Mosul, Iraq.

A Jewish expert in Torahs who leads a worldwide effort to rescue scrolls like this got it out of the country and repaired it. Now, that piece of history has landed in Fulton, housed in an ark at Temple Isaiah.

The Reform congregation plans a year of educational events centered on this Torah and the Jews of Arab nations, beginning today with presentations by Rabbi Menachem Youlus, who is a sofer, someone trained in the transcription of Torahs. The year will conclude with a Torah dedication service.


One of the oldest known copies of the Torah is on exhibit at a Baghdad museum, Youlus said - and more than 360 scrolls are in its basement. Youlus, who lives in Cheswolde, said he has saved five scrolls in Iraq through his Rockville-based Save A Torah Foundation. The organization has rescued 557 Torahs and estimates more than 2,000 remain to be saved in Eastern Europe and elsewhere.

The organization says it researches the history of the scrolls before it buys them and returns them to their owners, if possible. In this case, Youlus said, he consulted international lawyers and Iraqi government officials to ensure the parchment was not covered by antiquities laws. As for an item such as this one, which was found in a severely bombed building, "anybody who wants to take it, takes it," he said.


Youlus said the Torah was found by an American soldier who came under fire in Mosul and ducked down in the ruins of a building. He spotted what he believed were some Hebrew words on the floor and walls.

Later, the soldier returned with friends, who confirmed the words were Hebrew. Then two of them discovered the Torah beneath the floor, Youlus said. He believes it had been hidden there.

In June, he said, he called Panoff, who had told Youlus that he was interested in bringing a special Torah to his synagogue. Panoff met with Temple Isaiah's board members, who pledged much of the $20,000 needed for restoration right away, the rabbi said.

Youlus, who declined to elaborate on how he got the Torah out of the country, soon set to work repairing it. He said the scroll, about 180 feet long, was in good condition despite being four centuries old. During a recent visit to Temple Isaiah, Panoff pointed out several patched parts of the gazelle-hide parchment.

I'm glad the scroll was rescued, but I'm astonished to hear that a four-hundred-year-old parchment does not count as an antiquity and can be taken from the country so easily. Still, I assume the Foundation and the Synagogue have checked over the legal situation thoroughly before making this announcement. I don't know the details of international antiquities laws about such things. Does anyone out there who does want to comment? Drop me a note at my "jrd4 at st-andrews dot ac dot uk" address.

UPDATE (8 November): More here.