Saturday, December 08, 2007

ANOTHER OBITUARY FOR JOHN STRUGNELL, this one in the New York Times.
John Strugnell Dies at 77; Scholar Undone by His Slur

Published: December 9, 2007

John Strugnell, a respected biblical scholar at Harvard whose tenure as the chief editor of the Dead Sea Scrolls ended in controversy over anti-Semitic remarks he made in an interview, died on Nov. 30 in Cambridge, Mass. He was 77 and lived in nearby Arlington.

He died while hospitalized for an infection associated with treatment of cancer, said his daughter Anne-Christine Strugnell.

At 23, while still a student of languages at the University of Oxford, Mr. Strugnell joined the original team of scholars piecing together and translating the scrolls, one of the great ancient finds of the 20th century. About 900 documents in Hebrew and Aramaic, bearing on a critical period in the history of Judaism and the origins of Christianity, were uncovered from 1947 to 1956 in caves near the Dead Sea, in the West Bank.


Scholars consider the Dead Sea Scrolls a reflection of the thinking of Jews during the turbulent period of the beginnings of Rabbinic Judaism and the emergence of Christianity. In his research, Mr. Strugnell personally translated several notable texts of Jewish religious literature, including one important document that he completed with a former student, the Rev. Daniel J. Harrington of the Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, in the years after his downfall.

Krister Stendahl, a former dean of the divinity school, described Mr. Strugnell as “a linguistic prodigy” in classical and Semitic languages and “a scholar’s scholar, one you would go to when you knew your own knowledge was not enough to solve a problem.”

Dr. Stendahl said that Mr. Strugnell had been plagued with depression for much of his life and that particularly given that struggle, it “was amazing how much research he managed to accomplish and the large number of students he prepared to be biblical scholars.”


Friday, December 07, 2007

AN UNOFFICIAL BIBLICAL STUDIES CARNIVALETTE has been published by Doug Chaplin at the Metacatholic blog.

Mark Goodacre comments that this "just goes to show that non-canonical texts can be as interesting as canonical ones." Well yeah.
ANOTHER REVIEW of Nadia Abu El-Haj's book, Facts on the Ground, has been published in The Current, an alternative student publication at Columbia University. It's of interest because it's by an anthropologist. He doesn't like it.
Searching for "Facts" on the Ground
David Rosen
Professor of Anthropology, Fairleigh Dickinson University

The very title of the Nadia Abu El-Haj's Facts on the Ground invites controversy. The phrase "facts on the ground" originally referred to a cardinal principle of the post-1967 Israeli settler movement, which held that by building and occupying settlements in the newly-controlled West Bank it would be able to create an undeniable dominion over Palestinian lands that would be impossible to dislodge. As used in El-Haj's book, the phrase refers to the entire archeological enterprise in this region of the world, which beginning in the 19th century, she charges, invented a mythological story of Israelite and Jewish historical presence in the land of Israel, and imbued that story with the false aura of factuality that has also proven impossible to dislodge. In her view, archeology is a "colonial science" whose main goal has been to intellectually erase the history of Palestinians from the land.


It is within this framework that Facts on the Ground is situated. Post-colonial discourse has intellectually colonized much of the anthropology of the Middle East. As a form of bricolage unburdened by rules of evidence or proof, it pulls together snippets of anything and everything to weave its dismal tale of unfettered nationalism and colonialism. The task is made easier by the book's definition of archeology, which intentionally conflates professional and scientific practices with popular and political uses of archeological material. Imagine the results if this definition were applied to cultural anthropology in the United States. Every use of anthropology, from the crackpot to the sublime, could be attributed back to the profession. And so it goes: a potsherd here and a potsherd there, a bizarre comment by a tour guide, a film in a museum exhibition all become grist for the mill.

Background on the tenure controversy at Barnard and its aftermath here. And just keep following the links back.
Jewish comic book hero
By NETANYA HOFFMAN (Jerusalem Post)

Rashi Hakadosh: A Light after the Dark Ages
By Rabbi Berel Wein
Mahrwood Press
64 pages; $14.95

If your teenager is a Jewish history buff (or if you would like him to be), Rashi Hakadosh: A Light after the Dark Ages may be just for him. Produced by scholar, historian, educator and Jerusalem Post columnist Rabbi Berel Wein and written by J. Cogan and Aryeh Mahr, this comic book about the life of 11th-century talmudic scholar Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki comes as a companion to other comic books on the lives of Maimonides and Shmuel Hanagid. Rashi's analysis is the most widely read Torah commentary, and he spent his life making the Torah and Talmud accessible to the layman.

I accidentally posted these last two posts on the Ancient World Bloggers Group Blog for a few minutes. Apologies.
MARVIN MEYER, one of the National Geographic's translators of the Gospel of Judas, responds to the criticisms of April Deconick in her recent NYT Op-Ed piece. Marlon Brando is invoked. I would have found his response more helpful if he had listed what he saw as the positive things about Judas in the document. A National Geographic representative responds as well.

Background here.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

IF ONLY IT WERE SO: Jack Sasson on the Agade list points to this curious fictional account of the archaeological discovery of a medieval library of heterodox chants and scriptures in Morocco.

Gnostic Chants of North Africa

by Prof. Ephraim Weinherz,
Coordinator of the Harvard Commission on the Wadi al-'Irfan Texts

During the first weeks after the discovery of the ruins at Wadi al-'Irfan in southern Morocco in January, 2000, it became clear that the texts found there were of far-reaching significance. To say the least, the mere juxtaposition of scriptures in Arabic, Hebrew, Aramaic, Latin, and Greek was most surprising especially for a dervish monastic library in such a remote region.

The author is making a subversive point in a lateral and perhaps overly subtle way (see the disclaimer at the end), but the scenario is quite well thought out and surprising plausible. It may well be that equally startling libraries actually are buried in out of the way places, and let's hope that they're found in our time.

But meanwhile, it occurred to me while reading the essay that our corpus in the More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project bears some striking resemblances to this fictional library in terms of contents, languages, and dates of texts and manuscripts. The same languages appear and more. The texts are scripture based, come in both prose and poetry, and sometimes have heterodox elements. At least one (the Balaam Text from Deir 'Alla) goes back to the actual period of the Hebrew Bible. The manuscripts are of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic origin (and pagan) with a generally similar range of dates. A pyramid even figures in one (the Surid Legend).

We may not have any newly recovered archives of lost apocryphal scriptures handy at the moment, but there's an amazing amount of work to be done on such documents that survive piecemeal in manuscripts scattered all around the world.

I've been coming down with a cold all day, so I hope these rumination still make sense to me when I'm feeling less muzzy!
AN OBITUARY FOR JOHN STRUGNELL has been published in the Boston Globe:
John Strugnell, 77; Dead Sea Scrolls expert who was dismissed after comments

Globe Staff / December 5, 2007

John Strugnell was perched at a scholarly pinnacle in 1990 when he sat for an interview with a reporter from an Israeli newspaper and made the anti-Semitic remarks that effectively ended his career.

As chief editor of the Dead Sea Scrolls project, he had been leading a team of translators in piecing together fragments of the ancient documents that shed light on early Judaism and Christianity. A language prodigy, Mr. Strugnell had joined the effort when he was 23 and in college. Nearly four decades later, he was heading the project and teaching at Harvard Divinity School.

"He was a linguistic genius," said Krister Stendahl, a former dean of the divinity school and a retired Lutheran bishop of Stockholm. "We brought him in to get the best man we could imagine for philological and textural criticism precision in our New Testament department."

Few colleagues, however, knew that while Mr. Strugnell labored in two high-profile jobs, he also was being treated for manic depression and struggling with alcoholism. Upon publication, his anti-Semitic comments led to his firing and public denunciations, though a few friends spoke in his defense, attributing his remarks to "mental imbalance" and a "drinking problem."

Actually, many of his friends and students, myself included, signed a statement in his defense which was published in Biblical Archaeology Review in 1991. John suffered from a bipolar mood disorder and alcoholism. And the fact is that people in the throes of a manic episode say things that they don't mean and would not say when in their right mind. He was still to some degree in this state in 1994, when he tried, with limited success, to nuance his views in a BAR interview with Hershel Shanks. John's problems were a part of his life, but they should be put in the context of other parts that are much more important, and indeed his acccomplishments in spite of these problems are remarkable. He made a huge contribution to the publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls in terms of his own work, his administrative work, and supervising the research of his students. Those who knew him well will remember him for his vast erudition and his steadfast support of his students. The Boston Globe piece does try to be fair, but they could have tried harder.

(UPI has also published a summary of the Boston Globe obituary. It focuses almost entirely on his unfortunate comments in 1990. Alas, it's a good example of the journalistic taste for dirt and sensationalism. I'm not going to link to it.)
Israeli archaeologists find 2,000-year-old mansion linked to historic queen

Remains of mansion archaeologists believe likely belonged to Queen Helene of Adiabene unearthed during dig in east Jerusalem parking lot; building by far the largest and most elaborate structure discovered in the City of David area

Associated Press
Published: 12.06.07, 10:56 / Israel News

Israeli archaeologists digging in an east Jerusalem parking lot have uncovered a 2,000-year-old mansion they believe likely belonged to Queen Helene of Adiabene, a minor but exceptional character in the city's history.

The remains of the building were unearthed just outside the walls of Jerusalem's Old City, underneath layers of later settlement that were themselves hidden until recently under the asphalt of a small parking lot. The dig site is in the Arab neighborhood of Silwan, built on a slope that houses the most ancient remnants of settlement in Jerusalem and is known to scholars as the City of David.

The building, which includes storerooms, living quarters and ritual baths, is by far the largest and most elaborate structure discovered by archaeologists in the City of David area, which was home 2,000 years ago almost exclusively to the city's poor. The contemporary Jewish historian Josephus Flavius, who penned detailed descriptions of Jerusalem, mentions only one wealthy family that lived there - the family of Queen Helene.

According to Josephus and Jewish texts, Helene was from a royal clan that ruled Adiabene, a region now in northern Iraq. Along with her family, she converted to Judaism and came to Jerusalem in the first half of the first century A.D.

UPDATE: Joseph I. Lauer notes that Arutz Sheva has more info, a map, and photos here.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Italy to restore dead sea scrolls

By Web Editor. Filed under General, Arton December 5th, 2007 (Italy Magazine)

Italy to restore dead sea scrollsItaly is to help restore the Dead Sea Scrolls, Italian Culture Minister Francesco Rutelli announced on a visit to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem Tuesday.

Rutelli said Italy was ”honoured” to lend its know-how to preserving Jerusalem’s batch of the famous Biblical scrolls, which have been slowly deteriorating since their discovery 60 years ago.

”The decision to entrust such a fundamental document to Italy bears witness to our acknowledged global expertise in conservation and restoration,” Rutelli said.

Italy’s Central Institute for Restoration and its Institute for Book Pathology will be involved in the two-year project, the minister said.

(Via Joseph I. Lauer's list.)
AN OBITUARY FOR JOHN STRUGNELL has been posted by his daughter, Anne-Christine Strugnell, at Jim West's blog.
MORE GOODIES are emerging from the new Herculaneum excavation:
Rare ancient wooden throne found in Herculaneum

Tue Dec 4, 10:13 AM ET

ROME (Reuters) - An ancient Roman wood and ivory throne has been unearthed at a dig in Herculaneum, Italian archaeologists said on Tuesday, hailing it as the most significant piece of wooden furniture ever discovered there.

The throne was found during an excavation in the Villa of the Papyri, the private house formerly belonging to Julius Caesar's father-in-law, Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus, built on the slope of Mount Vesuvius.

The name of the villa derives from the impressive library containing thousands of scrolls of papyrus discovered buried under meters (yards) of volcanic ash after the Vesuvius erupted on 24 August 79.

I didn't know that the new excavation at the Villa of the Papyri had already commenced, but I'm glad to hear it has. If they're finding wooden furniture, there's reason to be optimistic that more scrolls are preserved there as well.

(Via the Agade list.)

UPDATE: David Meadows comments on the "throne" and has a photo.
THE JERUSALEM POST seems to be taking something of a Scrooge line on Hanukkah this year:
Hard times now, hard time then

In the Zionist imagination, the holiday of Hanukka is a celebration of triumph, glory, and a golden age of Jewish power and sovereignty under the leadership of the Maccabees and their descendants.

While Ahad Ha'am and Max Nordau were early Zionist thinkers and activists who disagreed on almost every aspect of the emerging movement, the one element they agreed upon was the importance of Hanukka to modern Jews. Both men admired the Maccabees and placed them in the center of their ideologies. Looking back in history, however, the idea that the Hasmonean kingdom of Judah and his descendants were all-powerful and truly independent is, in part, a myth.

Yes, Judah Maccabee led a successful rebellion against the mighty Seleucid empire, he retook the temple in Jerusalem and reestablished it as a cultic center, and he founded a sovereign Jewish state in the Land of Israel. Yet, the history of the Maccabees after the triumph of Hanukka in 164 BCE is, for the most part, dismal and depressing.

Well, history is like that.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

THE HISTORY BEHIND HANUKKAH is discussed by Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg in an article in the Jerusalem Post. The focus is a debunking of the oil miracle, but it goes well beyond that.
What miracle of the oil?

As children we all knew about the miracle of the oil that was the basis of the festival of Hanukka. When the Maccabees conquered the Temple, they found only one cruse of oil with the unbroken seal of the high priest. It was enough to fuel the holy menora for one day but by miracle it lasted eight days, and thus the Festival of Lights, the festival of Hanukka, is celebrated for eight days.
This is the story in the Talmud, based on earlier versions in Megillat Ta'anit (which records all the days when we are not to fast) and repeated in the Scroll of Antiochus, which was read in medieval times.

It has been pointed out by scholars, Orthodox and otherwise, that this account is full of difficulties. There is no other record that the oil for the menora was ever sealed by the high priest, nor that he even had such a seal. The oil was said to burn for eight days, but it would have been impossible to produce fresh pure olive oil in that time. As the temple had been polluted by the Seleucids, the menora would not have been usable and, although the claim is made that the Hasmoneans made a temporary one out of their weapons, Maccabees mentions nothing about the oil or the miracle.

Above all, who was the high priest whose seal was so important to the Hasmoneans? The story assumes that the high priest was a person of impeccable respectability, who would have upheld the laws of purity in a meticulous manner. He was the spiritual head of the Jewish people and most reliable in keeping the holy laws. That is the assumption made by the writers of the Talmud and the two other sources mentioned.

TO EXAMINE the matter further we have to consult the two Books of Maccabees. They both tell the same story but in a different way and with different details. The First Book is more down-to-earth in its account, while the Second Book takes a more religious tone seeing the hand of God behind the events.

A DEBATE ON THE DATE of the recently discovered Galilean synagogue:
Rethinking Byzantine-era Judaism
By Ran Shapira

A row of artisans and laborers - one with a saw in his hand, another with a chisel, and others with various sized hammers - are depicted on the mosaic floor recently uncovered in a Roman- or Byzantine-era synagogue at Khirbet Wadi Hamam, on Mount Nitai in the Lower Galilee. The workers appear next to a very large building, which they seem to be constructing.

Because the image appears on the synagogue floor, the researchers have assumed it depicts the construction of an important Biblical structure. Is it the Temple, Noah's Ark, the Tower of Babel, or some other well-known work?

Dr. Uzi Leibner of the Hebrew University's Institute of Archaeology and Scholion Interdisciplinary Research Center in Jewish Studies, who is leading the excavation, has no clear answer at this stage. What is clear is that the mosaic, constructed from very small stones - whose sides measure about four millimeters each - is unique. No such scenes have been found in other ancient synagogues or structures in Israel from that period. But which period exactly are we referring to - the Roman or the Byzantine? The dig at the synagogue is being carried out to answer that question.

To judge by the findings, the synagogue, which sits within the Arbel National Park, is a "Galilean synagogue" - a high-quality Romanesque structure with an elaborate facade facing toward Jerusalem and attractive stone carvings. Synagogues of this type were thought to date from the late Roman period, between the second and fourth centuries. However, in the last few years, researchers have discovered that synagogues of this type were built in the Byzantine era, too - between the fifth and sixth centuries.

The debate was sparked by the synagogue at Capernaum, a fine example of a Galilean synagogue that clearly was built in the fifth century. The findings from that synagogue and others led some researchers to consider the hypothesis that the Galilean synagogues were built mainly in the fifth and sixth centuries.

HANUKKAH begins tonight at sundown. Best wishes to those celebrating it.

Monday, December 03, 2007

A NEW E-MAIL ADDRESS FOR PALEOJUDAICA is now given above on the masthead. The old address has been dead for some time, but I've only just gotten around to setting up the new one.
SOME REAL DEAD SEA SCROLLS, in addition to the already-noted replicas, are coming to South Korea:
Oldest Bible to Be Exhibited in Seoul

By Chung Ah-young
Staff Reporter (Korea Times)

An extraordinary exhibition is expected to unite all Christians ― Protestants and Roman Catholics alike ― this holy month.

The oldest Old Testament manuscripts found in the Dead Sea showing the history of ancient Israel at a time of transition in Judaism and the origin of Christianity are coming to Seoul to be exhibited for the first time in the nation.

Five genuine pieces and three copied pieces of the Dead Sea Scrolls will be on display, along with 800 pieces of other relics at Yongsan National Memorial Museum in Seoul from Dec. 5 to June 4, 2008.

The exhibition titled ``The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Birth of Christianity'' is expected to draw much attention from not only Christians and but also Korean historians and non-Christians as it is one of the oldest anthropological and historical resources.

Ben-Zvi institute calls for return of centuries-old Aleppo Codex fragments
By Anshel Pfeffer (Haaretz)

Scholars at Yad Ben-Zvi research institute in Jerusalem have called on Jews around the world who originally come from Aleppo, Syria and may possess fragments of the ancient Aleppo Codex to turn them over to Israel.

The call came yesterday at an event marking the 60th anniversary of riots against the Jews in Aleppo during which most of the codex, the authoritative copy of the Hebrew Bible written in the 10th century, was lost.

The head of Yad Ben-Zvi's Institute for the Study of Jewish Communities in the East, Prof. Yom Tov Asis, who witnessed the riots from the window of his Aleppo home when he was five years old, said yesterday: "We know for a fact that pages are being kept in various places in the world and we hope we can touch the hearts of those who are holding them."

The institute confirmed yesterday that talks are under way with former residents of Aleppo who are believed to be holding fragments of the texts, but declined to comment further so as not to jeopardize the negotiations. "This is the No. 1 asset of the Jewish people," Dr. Zvi Zameret, head of Yad Ben-Zvi said, "and I believe the Jewish people would do a great deal to have it back."

If any readers should happen to have one of these fragments or to know where one is, please get in touch with the Ben Zvi Institute.

Background here.
A CANAANITE-LANGUAGE DISCUSSION LIST is being launched by Yitzhak Sapir:
Dear all,

I would like to invite you all to a new discussion list that I created -- Canaanite! This discussion list will concentrate on the Canaanite family of languages, which for the purposes of the list includes Phoenician, Punic Neo-Punic, Ugaritic, all varieties of ancient Hebrew (even Mishnaic and Late Samaritan Hebrew), but not Modern Hebrew, and other attested 1st and 2nd millennium Canaanite dialects, including Amarna Canaanite, Ammonite, etc. I suppose that a major topic of discussion -- if the list takes off -- would be Biblical Hebrew, as would academically oriented discussions of Biblical passages. However, I really hope that similar discussions of Ugaritic or Phoenician would also take place. Thus, the recent discussions on ANE-2, where Phoenician ZYB vs Hebrew ZW or where Ugaritic vs Hebrew RP? were discussed would really have benefited from more expert input from scholars in those fields. This list would also form an important needed discussion list of one major subfamily of Northwest Semitic -- the other being covered by the Aramaic list.

So like I said, I invite everyone to join! You can do so with this link:

Also, if any scholars in relevant fields would like to take part in moderation of the list, and feel they have the time and resources to do so, please feel free to contact me privately in that regard.

Yitzhak Sapir
(From the Aramaic list.)

Sunday, December 02, 2007

APOCRYPHA WATCH: Vivaldi's Judith opera will be playing in Australia.
Heads will roll

Vivaldi's take on the gory biblical story of Judith and Holofernes is about to be revived by a small but ambitious opera company, writes Matthew Westwood | December 01, 2007 (The Australian)

REHEARSING an opera under a flight path may not be ideal, but aiming high in difficult circumstances is the aptly named Pinchgut Opera's way.

The company is in the second week of rehearsals for its production of Antonio Vivaldi's oratorio Juditha Triumphans. On the rehearsal floor, Sally-Anne Russell as Judith is beguiling her enemy Holofernes (David Walker) with sweet and tender music. Then another passenger jet flies overhead, shaking butnot completely shattering the tense and erotic mood.

The visiting Italian conductor Attilio Cremonesi rolls his eyes. "Sometimes it's a little bit too much," he says.

Pinchgut, a part-time Sydney company, has made a virtue of creative belt-tightening. The rehearsal space in the city's inner west is a disused clothing factory that has been made available by one of the chorus members: there are, incongruously, racks of men's ties in gold, blue and maroon on the floor. The atmosphere is one of intense concentration, however, as words and music are knitted into a dramatic whole.

Juditha Triumphans is the story from biblical times of the beautiful widow Judith, who charms the Assyrian enemy Holofernes so that she can decapitate him. The source of the legend is the Book of Judith, one of the apocrypha or deuterocanonical books that are part of the Catholic and Orthodox Bibles but omitted from Protestant versions.

The figure of the chaste and avenging woman inspired musicians and artists. The spectacular end to Holofernes was a scene that painters of the baroque period -- from Caravaggio to Artemisia Gentileschi, the best-known woman artist of the time -- would depict with grisly verisimilitude. Judith was the subject of more than 20 oratorios between 1621 and 1716, when Vivaldi's version was first performed in Venice.

RICHARD LEIGH, who unsuccessfully sued Dan Brown's publisher for copyright violation (not plagiarism), has died at the age of 64.
Richard Leigh

Last Updated: 12:01am GMT 30/11/2007 (The Telegraph)

Richard Leigh, who has died aged 64, was a co-author of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, one of the most controversial books of the 1980s; in 2006, with Michael Baigent, he lost his plagiarism case against the American Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code, the spectacularly successful thriller which they claimed was based on their book.

Written by Leigh, Baigent and Henry Lincoln, The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail claimed to have uncovered a massive conspiracy to conceal a bloodline descended from Jesus of Nazareth that has influenced the course of European history.

The protracted court case boosted sales of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, which had stalled at 3,500 copies a year in Britain, to 7,000 copies a week, a 100-fold rise. (Similarly, The Da Vinci Code returned to the bestseller lists with sales of 20,000 copies a week.) But against their royalties windfall, Leigh and Baigent - Lincoln took no part in the case - were left with a legal bill for their failed action of about £2 million.

I can't say that he made a contribution to human knowledge, but he did help keep life interesting. Peace be upon him.
APRIL DECONICK has an op-ed in the New York Times on the Gospel of Judas:
Gospel Truth

Published: December 1, 2007


AMID much publicity last year, the National Geographic Society announced that a lost 3rd-century religious text had been found, the Gospel of Judas Iscariot. The shocker: Judas didn’t betray Jesus. Instead, Jesus asked Judas, his most trusted and beloved disciple, to hand him over to be killed. Judas’s reward? Ascent to heaven and exaltation above the other disciples.

It was a great story. Unfortunately, after re-translating the society’s transcription of the Coptic text, I have found that the actual meaning is vastly different. While National Geographic’s translation supported the provocative interpretation of Judas as a hero, a more careful reading makes clear that Judas is not only no hero, he is a demon.

Read it all.

UPDATE (7 December): More here.