Saturday, December 22, 2007

ED COOK has posted his Fourth Annual Ralphies. I'm working on mine and plan, as usual, to post it on New Year's Eve.
Project leader Simon Tanner, of the Centre for Computing in the Humanities at King's College London, said the difficulty of photographing the scrolls would be deepened by the fact that in many cases there is little contrast between the writing and the material on which it is written.

The team would be using a digital camera offering up to 20 times more resolution than a conventional model and an infra-red camera that would enable the script to be more easily read against the background.

Tanner said he had worked on more than 450 digitisation projects and the scrolls were the most technically challenging he had faced. The Israel Antiquities Authority faced complex handling and conservation issues in making the scrolls available for digitisation.
Background here.
A BUILDING OF KING HEROD? I don't recall hearing about this one before.
Unknown Monumental Building Of Herod The Great (73-4 BC) Unearthed

ScienceDaily (Dec. 21, 2007) — This year Thomas Pola, professor for theology at TU Dortmund, and his team have continued the excavations in the East Jordan Land. With their findings on the mountain Tall adh-Dhahab (West) in the Jabbok Valley the archeologists could substantiate one assumption: everything points to the fact that the building remains from the Hellenistic and Roman era, found in 2006, were part of a yet unknown monumental building of Herod the Great (73-4 BC).

This assumption is based on the floors of one of the discovered peristyle yards (yards enclosed by continuous columns) which the archeologists were able to excavate. Prof. Pola sees the parallels with the architecture of Herod’s West Jordan Alexandreion as prove that there also was a monumental building of Herod the Great on the plateau of the mountain Tall adh-Dhahab. That would mean that in addition to his reign over the West Jordan Land, the Jewish king had a security system with which he could have controlled the ancient long-distance traffic in the middle Jordan Valley and the access ways to the plateau of the East Jordan Land.


Friday, December 21, 2007

SUN, SURF, SAND, and Dead Sea Scrolls. A good combination.
HAPPY WINTER SOLSTICE to pagan readers and anyone else celebrating.

UPDATE: Happy Yalda festival too.
Millions of Iranians all over the world Friday night will celebrate `Yalda', the longest night of the year and the first night of winter as a token of victory of the angel of goodness over the devil of badness.

`Yalda' is a Syriac word meaning birth and according to Mithraism, a faith that initially originated from Persia and later spread out throughout the ancient civilized world, the first day of winter which falls on December 21 this year, was celebrated as the birthday of Mithra, the angel of light.

Ancient Iranians believed that two groups of angels -- good and bad -- were in constant fight on the earth with each other and that on the dawn of the first day of the month of `Dey', beginning December 21, and with the victory of the rising sun as the symbol of 'Ahuramazda', the Zoroastrian god, over the evil of darkness the fight would come to an end.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

"RECONSTRUCTING PETRA": The Smithsonian has a nice article. Excerpt:
Directly ahead is a sheer cliff lined with elegant carvings reminiscent of Greek and Roman temples, a surreal vision in this remote mountain valley surrounded by desert. This is the back door to Petra, whose very name means rock in Greek. In its heyday, which began in the first century B.C. and lasted for about 400 years, Petra was one of the world's wealthiest, most eclectic and most remarkable cities. That was when the Nabatean people carved the most impressive of their monumental structures directly into the soft red stone. The facades were all that remained when 19th-century travelers arrived here and concluded that Petra was an eerie and puzzling city of tombs.

Now, however, archaeologists are discovering that ancient Petra was a sprawling city of lush gardens and pleasant fountains, enormous temples and luxurious Roman-style villas. An ingenious water supply system allowed Petrans not just to drink and bathe, but to grow wheat, cultivate fruit, make wine and stroll in the shade of tall trees. During the centuries just before and after Christ, Petra was the Middle East's premier emporium, a magnet for caravans traveling the roads from Egypt, Arabia and the Levant. And scholars now know that Petra thrived for nearly 1,000 years, far longer than previously suspected.


The Nabateans developed a writing system—ultimately the basis of written Arabic—though the inscriptions they left in Petra and elsewhere are mostly names of people and places and are not particularly revealing of their beliefs, history or daily lives. Scholars have had to use Greek and Roman sources to fill in the picture. Greeks in the decades after Alexander the Great's death in 323 B.C. complained about Nabateans plundering ships and camel caravans. Scholars believe that such raids whetted the Nabateans' appetite for wealth. Eventually, instead of attacking caravans, the raiders began guarding them—for a price. By the second century B.C., Nabateans dominated the incense trade from southern Arabia. Within several decades, they had assembled a mercantile empire stretching for hundreds of miles. The people who a few generations earlier had been nomads were now producing eggshell-thin pottery, among the finest in the ancient world, as well as grand architecture.

By 100 B.C., the tribe had a king, vast wealth and a rapidly expanding capital city. Camels lumbered into Petra with boxes of frankincense and myrrh from Oman, sacks of spices from India and bolts of cloth from Syria. Such wealth would have attracted raiders, but Petra's mountains and high walls protected the traders once they arrived in the city. The Siq, a twisting 1,000-yard-long canyon that in places is just wide enough for two camels to pass, made the eastern part of the city impregnable. Today it serves as Petra's main entryway. It may be the most dramatic entrance to an urban space ever devised. In ancient times, though, the primary entrance into Petra was likely the road by which I came by donkey.
It seems like a good article, but I'm surprised that it doesn't mention the cache of Nabatean documents in the Babatha archive. This is the largest surviving corpus of Nabatean texts.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

MORE ON THE "DEAD SEA SCROLL IN STONE": Manuscript Boy and reader Aaron Koller e-mail to note that it was published in Cathedra 123 (2007): 155-66. (Not available online, I'm afraid.) MB mentions it in passing here. Koller notes that Israel Knohl discussed it at some length in a Haaretz article in September:
'In three days, you shall live'
By Israel Knohl

The first mention of the "slain Messiah" called Mashiah ben Yosef (Messiah Son of Joseph) is in the Talmud (Sukkah 52a). In my book "The Messiah Before Jesus" (University of California Press, 2000), I argue that the story of this slain messiah is based on historical fact. I believe it is connected to the Jewish revolt in the Land of Israel following the death of King Herod in 4 B.C.E. This Jewish insurrection was brutally suppressed by the armies of Herod and the Roman emperor Augustus, and the messianic leaders of the revolt were killed. These events set the slain Messiah Son of Joseph tradition into motion and paved the way for the emergence of the concept of "catastrophic messianism." Interpretations of biblical text helped to shape the belief that the death of the messiah was a necessary and indivisible component of salvation. My conclusion, based on apocalyptic writings dating to this period, was that certain groups believed the messiah would die, be resurrected in three days, and ascend to heaven (see "The Messiah Before Jesus," 27-42).

Ada Yardeni and Binyamin Elitzur recently published the text of a fascinating text they call "Hazon Gabriel" or the Gabriel Revelation (Cathedra magazine, vol. 123). This text, engraved in stone, conveys the apocalyptic vision of the Archangel Gabriel. Yardeni and Elitzur date it by its linguistic features and the shape of the letters to the end of the first century B.C.E.

Knohl's theories about first-century messianic beliefs remain controversial, so bracket those as you read about the text. It seems, though, that this is a stone inscription discovered in the Transjordan, with a text that presents an eschatological revelation by the angel Gabriel and which mentions David, Ephraim, the prince of princes, the slain of Jerusalem, and the merkavah (chariot - God's throne-chariot?). I don't have access to the journal here, but I'll try to get hold of a copy of the article.

UPDATE: Alex Panayotov has pointed out to me that there is an English abstract of the Cathedra article online:
Ada Yardeni and Binyamin Elitzur

A First-Century BCE Prophetic Text Written on a Stone: First Publication

This is the first publication of a Hebrew inscription of 87 lines, written in ink on a large stone. Its precise provenance is unknown. The text is arranged in two columns, similar to the columns in a Torah scroll, and is written in a ‘Jewish’ script of the late first century BCE resembling the script evidenced in Qumran scrolls; however, its contents and style are different. The text contains a verse from the biblical book of Haggai, with minor changes, and expressions from Zechariah and Daniel. It also contains expressions from later Jewish literary sources, such as Hechalot literature, Piyyut, Talmud, and Midrash, as well as some that have no parallels elsewhere. Due to its bad condition, the inscription is difficult to interpret, but the expression which may be translated as ‘thus said YHWH, the God of armies, the God of Israel’ appears many times, with slight variations, similarly to expressions in biblical prophecies, and the name Jerusalem is mentioned several times. The text is written in the first person, the speaker identifying himself as ‘I, Gabriel’, probably referring to the angel by this name. It seems that the composer of the text belonged to the supporters of the Davidic dynasty and may have been addressing his opponents. However, since no similar text has been discovered to date, it is difficult to determine its precise nature.
UPDATE (29 December): More here.

UPDATE (30 December): More here.
Israeli boffins put Bible on microchip

December 19, 2007 - 11:41AM (

Israeli scientists said on Tuesday they have created the world's smallest Bible, fitting a Hebrew-language version of the holy book on a gold-coated silicon chip smaller than a pinhead.

Researchers from Technion, Israel's Institute of Technology, were able to pack the 308,428-word Hebrew Bible - known to most as the Old Testament - on a 0.5 millimetre square, Ohad Zohar, who directed the project, told AFP.

"This is the world's tiniest Bible," Zohar said. "The Guinness Book of World Records has a Bible 50 times bigger."

Follow the link for an image of the beginning of the text (Genesis 1).

(Heads up, my colleague Nathan MacDonald.)

UPDATE (26 December): More here.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A DEAD SEA SCROLL IN STONE? This just in from the Agade list:
From Dorothy Resig (

The Biblical Archaeology Society is pleased to announce the
publication of the following feature articles in the January/February
issue of Biblical Archaeology Review (Volume 34, Number 1):

"A New Dead Sea Scroll—in Stone?"

The first English publication of a new text written on a 3-foot-high
stone. The script dates to the turn of the era—just like a Dead Sea
Scroll. The inked writing is laid out in prepared columns—just like a
Dead Sea Scroll. The text contains Bible-like prophecies—just like
some of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

First I've heard of this. It sounds very similar to the Balaam text from Deir 'Alla, which, however, is from a much earlier period (c. 700 BCE). There's nothing yet at the BAS website on the Jan-Feb issue of BAR, but I look forward to hearing more.

UPDATE (19 December): More here.
PSEUDEPIGRAPHA AND ARAMAIC WATCH: The Odes of Solomon and other ancient Syriac poetry pertaining to the Nativity are discussed in Commonweal Magazine:
The Mary We Never Knew
New Light from the Syrian Tradition

Sally Cunneen

It’s hard to maintain the spirit of anticipation that should mark the season of Advent when Christmas itself has become little more than an occasion for extravagance and consumption. We could all use some fresh inspiration concerning what Advent is preparing us for.

I have found an unexpected source for such insight in the increasing number of English translations from ancient Syriac literature. It turns out that the early Christians pondered the same questions we face. And while Gnostic texts have been widely touted in the mainstream media in recent decades as alternatives to the canonical Gospels, the lesser-known Syrian Christian tradition opens up an equally ancient but orthodox theology and devotionalism that are surprisingly fresh, deeply human, and, despite the differences in time and culture, relevant to our own needs.

Of the three international languages of the early church, Greek, Latin, and Syriac, Syriac was closest to the Aramaic and Hebrew of Jesus and the Bible. It was rich in imagery and imagination, and was widely used in the Middle East until it was supplanted by Arabic, following Islam’s sweeping military conquests in the seventh century. The Odes of Solomon, which translator James Hamilton Charlesworth calls “the earliest Christian hymnbook,” suggests that there was a vital Christian community of Syriac speakers even before the end of the first century. At a time when prayers to Mary did not yet exist in the Western church, the description of the Nativity in The Odes is startling:

Syriac is clearly "in" this year.
A REPORT ON THE JERUSALEM SYNDROME from a Reuters journalist at the FaithWorld blog:
Desperately seeking the Jerusalem Syndrome
December 17th, 2007, filed by Ari Rabinovitch

One of the basic rules of journalism is to “be in the right place at the right time.” This is not easy to do when the story you want to cover happens only 10 or 12 times a year, at any one of dozens of locations indoors or outdoors and at any hour of the day or night. The odds were against me massively, but why should I let that get in the way when the story was as interesting as the Jerusalem Syndrome described in my feature “Come to Jerusalem, see the Messiah“?

Only about a dozen Jerusalem tourists per year suddenly get agitated, imagine themselves to be characters from the Bible, fashion makeshift togas out of hotel sheets and go out to holy sites to recite the Psalms, sing hymns or harangue passers-by to repent. There are enough anecdotes around to write a colourful story about the syndrome, but I wanted to get closer to the story. Maybe even see a syndrome sufferer first hand.

No such luck, but he did miss one at the Western Wall by just a week:
Just last week, the site apparently proved so overwhelming for a young woman in her 20s that she stripped naked and lay on the group, muttering “the holy temple, the holy temple” and “it is all from God” while pointing at the sky. She was later sent to hospital for a psychiatric evaluation.
Poor thing. Although there is a biblical precedent (1 Samuel 19:19-24), not everything done in the Bible is a good example to follow.
19] And it was told Saul, "Behold, David is at Nai'oth in Ramah."
[20] Then Saul sent messengers to take David; and when they saw the company of the prophets prophesying, and Samuel standing as head over them, the Spirit of God came upon the messengers of Saul, and they also prophesied.
[21] When it was told Saul, he sent other messengers, and they also prophesied. And Saul sent messengers again the third time, and they also prophesied.
[22] Then he himself went to Ramah, and came to the great well that is in Secu; and he asked, "Where are Samuel and David?" And one said, "Behold, they are at Nai'oth in Ramah."
[23] And he went from there to Nai'oth in Ramah; and the Spirit of God came upon him also, and as he went he prophesied, until he came to Nai'oth in Ramah.
[24] And he too stripped off his clothes, and he too prophesied before Samuel, and lay naked all that day and all that night. Hence it is said, "Is Saul also among the prophets?"
For more on the Jerusalem Syndrome, see here.

Monday, December 17, 2007

YALE UNIVERSITY is offering a free, not-for-credit online course on the Hebrew Bible.

(Via the T&T Clark blog.)
Cabinet okays renewing controversial Temple Mount Mugrabi excavation
By Akiva Eldar, Haaretz Correspondent

Tags: Temple Mount, Jerusalem

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) has been instructed by the cabinet to continue its work at the Mugrabi walkway near the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The cabinet recently instructed the IAA to complete the work "as soon as possible, with full transparency and with the cooperation of the relevant bodies."

Excavations at the site, a walkway leading to the Mugrabi Gate at the Temple Mount, were halted in June after they raised an international protest. At the end of September, following a report in Haaretz that the Ministerial Committee for Jerusalem Affairs had approved the continuation of the work, Science, Culture and Sport Minister Ghaleb Majadele appealed the decision to the cabinet secretariat and it was frozen. Two weeks ago, Majadele acceded to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's request to withdraw his appeal.

On November 29, the cabinet approved the Ministerial Committee for Jerusalem Affairs decision, instructing the IAA to "remove any finding that is not archaeological, and provide a solution to elements of conservation, esthetics, security, safety and possible social impairments." The latter element was a reference to homeless individuals who have taken shelter in structures at the site that have no archaeological value.

The cabinet decided to allocate NIS 3.5 million for the completion of archaeological and conservation work. The director-general of the Prime Minister's Office was charged with locating this money, as well as the funds for construction of a permanent bridge at the site, at an estimated cost of NIS 14 million. The budgetary source will be located as soon as the plans are approved by the Jerusalem Regional Planning Commission.

This sentence is strange:
The phrase "removing any find that is not archaeological" refers to all Palestinian finds and most of those of the Ottoman period.
I'm not at all sure what "Palestinian finds" are. The term does not have an archaeological meaning. And what is "archaeological" and what isn't in this context? What does "removing" it mean? It sounds almost sinister, as though some finds are "archaeological" and (by implication) should be treated accordingly, while others are not and should just be "removed." On his list, Joseph I. Lauer writes:
With regard to the statement in the English article that "The phrase 'removing any find that is not archaeological' refers to all Palestinian finds and most of those of the Ottoman period", the Hebrew version (which should be referred to) states that this refers "to the removal of all post-1700 finds - that is, most of the finds from the period of Ottomon rule."
That is somewhat helpful, but still doesn't explain what the post-1700 finds are and what "removing" them involves. I doubt that Haaretz is giving us a clear understaning of what's going on.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

MORE ON CARTAGENA: The 2005 Carthaginians and Romans Festival at Cartagena (a festival discussed earlier here) has a spot on YouTube:

Are those Phoenician cherubim from about 0:03 to 0:21?
APOCRYPHA WATCH: The story of Tobit figures in a London Times review by Waldemar Januszczak of a National Gallery exhibition of Renaissance German stained glass. He certainly has his own take on the story.
At its outset, however, I was much taken by a beautiful little panel from the Lower Rhine, produced anonymously in about 1520 and showing Tobias and Sarah tucked up in bed on their wedding night. Both of them appear to be sleeping soundly. And so, at the foot of their bed, is their dog, curled up neatly in a single circle of glass.

The story of Tobias and Sarah is one of my favourite examples of madly inventive biblical moralising. If you don’t know it, then your own past has been too godless and you are probably keener than you should be on sex with married women. According to the Apocrypha, Sarah was a dangerous woman. No fewer than seven of her husbands died on their wedding night, murdered cruelly by wicked spirits as they tried, unsuccessfully, to consummate the marriage. Undeterred by this nuptial carnage, Sarah’s cousin, Tobias, fell in love with her, and was about to become her eighth victim when the Archangel Raphael came down to him and advised him to catch a giant fish in the River Tigris, and to remove its heart, gall and liver. On the appointed wedding night, the angel advised Tobias to grill the fish’s liver in the nuptial chamber, so its smell would scare off the evil demons. All this Tobias did, and the marriage was successfully consummated. And the two of them lived happily ever after.

But none of the scary sexual fearfulness that underpins this weird tale of Sarah and Tobias, or any of its mad mood of fish-frying primitive magic, has been allowed to disturb the air of quiet German domesticity that the anonymous glass master of the Rhine has brought to his sweet telling of the story. There’s no hint of wedding-night anxiety. No touch of conjugal excitement. All of the story’s biblical terror has been smothered in an eiderdown of comfortable married bliss. Look how properly Sarah and Tobias are dressed for their wedding night, in their neat village bonnets. Look how well ordered the fateful bedchamber is. Sarah might be a dangerous demon in bed, but when it comes to cleaning and sweeping, she’s a perfect German Hausfrau.

The show’s point is that the stained-glass artists of Germany were mimicking the moods and approaches of the painters of the time, and therefore avoiding the ecstatic, light-filled sensuality you find in medieval stained glass. It’s true; they were. Accompanying this lurch into an unexpected realism – who would ever have imagined that a stained-glass window might one day go in search of house-proud village moods! – were various technical and stylistic developments that are, indeed, mightily impressive.

Look, for instance, at the rolled-up curtain hanging to the right of Sarah’s bed. It’s a fabulous piece of illusionism that really captures the folds and squashings of the cloth. And what about the decorated blue bedspread? All its folds are amazingly convincing, but I particularly enjoyed the two lumpy creases that mark the spot where Tobias and Sarah have chastely folded their hands over their genitals. At least, I think that’s what the folds mark.

What’s happening here is that German stained glass is trying, rather desperately, not to be stained glass at all. It’s trying to copy the illusionism and detail you find in, say, a Dürer painting. The show has a decent stab at describing the techniques involved in achieving this difficult descriptive-ness. Some of the best effects were achieved not by adding, but by taking away. The design of Sarah and Tobias’s fabulously illusion-istic bedcloth involved covering the blue glass in a dark film, then selectively scratching sections of it away. And how typical of the Germans to be extra-good at this.
Overall, he wasn't much impressed by the exhibit.
THE SAN DIEGO DEAD SEA SCROLLS EXHIBITION receives yet another review, this one in the Salt Lake Tribune:
The Dead Sea Scrolls in San Diego
Words apart
Exhibit provides a fascinating glimpse of these ancient, mysterious manuscripts
By Kurt Kragthorpe
The Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated: 12/15/2007 03:14:36 PM MST

SAN DIEGO - The impact of the Dead Sea Scrolls, written more than 2,000 years ago, painstakingly pieced together and displayed under glass at the San Diego Natural History Museum, is being recorded on index cards, preserved in plastic sheets in a looseleaf binder on a table positioned just outside the exhibit.
Visitors have expressed their impressions, with one describing the tour as "one of the greatest experiences of my life." That was from a 93-year-old woman.
And then there was the guest who wrote, "Now I can die, after seeing the scrolls for myself." Judging by his handwriting and his spelling of "othentick," Joshua Lopez is probably about 10.
More than 300,000 visitors over the past six months have witnessed the most extensive collection of the Dead Sea Scrolls ever displayed in the U.S.
Discovered in caves in Israel some 60 years ago, the scrolls contain manuscripts from the Hebrew Bible. The 12 scrolls being displayed through the exhibit's Jan. 6 closing depict the Ten Commandments from Deuteronomy, as well as parts of Psalms, Genesis, Leviticus and other Old Testament books.
Another guest commented that the exhibit was "breathtaking and humbling, to be so close to the origins of how our faith has been recorded."

ROBERT ALTER'S PSALMS TRANSLATION is reviewed in the Washington Times. Excerpt:
Ever since the King James Bible came off the press at the close of the Elizabethan era, biblical scholars on both sides of the Atlantic have attempted to correct and update it. The most recent laborer in this vineyard is Robert Alter, who teaches Hebrew at Stanford. In his "The Book of Psalms," he focuses on eponymous Bible book and seeks to present the passages "in a kind of English verse that is readable yet sounds something like Hebrew." I'm not competent to judge the accuracy of his translation, but I am bold enough to say that his revised version fails to come trippingly off the tongue.