Saturday, February 16, 2008

HOLY BABA BATRA! Neusner's translation of the Babylonian Talmud comes under scrutiny at Biblicalia and Neusner himself responds.
‘Unconventional scholar’ receives Israel Prize
By Abigail Klein Leichman [New Jersey Jewish Standard]


[Rabbi David Weiss] Halivni, a Holocaust survivor in his late 70s, is to receive the Israel Prize for his landmark research on the Talmud. The prize, conferred on Israel Independence Day, which falls this year on May 8, has been presented since 1953 to individuals or groups judged to have demonstrated excellence or broken new ground in certain fields. It carries with it an award of 50,000 shekalim (about $14,285).

A prodigy from Ukraine who received ordination at 15, Halivni has been turning out a multi-volume commentary on the Talmud, "Mekorot u’Mesorot: Sources and Traditions," since the 1970s. His non-traditional approach to analyzing the voluminous exposition of the Oral Law is based on deconstructing its divergent parts and surmising where errors may have crept into the text over many centuries.

"I work under the concept that Torah is not only Torah chaim [Torah of life] but Torat emet [Torah of truth]. If you say ‘The Rambam said …,’ you have to be sure that’s what he said. You have to be exact in understanding history."

While "Sources and Traditions" initially caused shock waves in some sectors, its author says it is "almost universally accepted in academic circles today." It is used nowhere as prominently as at the Union for Traditional Judaism, the Teaneck-based institution he founded after leaving JTS when it began ordaining women

There's also a good story about his teacher, Saul Lieberman.
A TRAILER for Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull is out. It has lots of explosions.

May 22nd. Be there.
Rare 'Book of Enoch' arrives in Jeffersonville

By Peter Smith
The Courier-Journal

RELATED VIDEO: Rare book features fallen angels and more


Now one of the world’s oldest manuscripts of Enoch has found at least a temporary a home in Jeffersonville.

The Remnant Trust — a private collection of rare books and documents with the aim of spurring public interest in culture-shaping works — unveiled the manuscript this week at its East Court Avenue building.

The wood-bound manuscript, written in red and black ink on animal-skin pages, is believed to date from the 15th or 16th centuries.

Two private collectors recently acquired it and loaned it to the trust for at least two years and will consider making it a permanent gift to the trust, said Kris Bex, president of the Remnant Trust. He did not disclose the price but said it was “expensive.”

“It’s one of a kind,” Bex said. “It’s the only Book of Enoch that’s ever been likely to have been sold or put on the market.”

Enoch was originally written in Hebrew or Aramaic by ancient Jews, and some ancient fragments of it have been found near the Dead Sea.

But the oldest complete versions are in the ancient Ethiopian language of Ge’ez because Ethiopian Christians are the only enduring church group that revered the book as Scripture.

James C. VanderKam, a professor of Hebrew Scriptures at Notre Dame University and a leading expert on the Book of Enoch, has inspected the book and estimates it’s probably one of the five or so oldest manuscripts of the work.

“We don’t have very many that go back that far,” said VanderKam, who co-authored an English translation of Enoch and is now working on a commentary.

VanderKam estimated the text was about 500 years old because it has similar script and contents to another edition of Enoch in the British Museum, although he said specialists in Ethiopian script could make a more decisive determination.

The manuscript came on the market in the last couple of years from an American owner, and the trust has been able to establish a chain of ownership dating back only to 1924. But VanderKam said it appears authentic.

Cool. Good article, plus the video has nice images of the manuscript.

Friday, February 15, 2008

THE TOMB OF THE PROPHET DANIEL in Iran is in the news:
Iran Jews celebrate Persian roots, seek to maintain shrinking community
By The Associated Press
Tags: Susa, Prophet Daniel

Members of Iran's tiny Jewish minority gathered at the holy shrine of the Prophet Daniel in the southwest of the country Thursday to celebrate their Persian roots and keep alive a dwindling community.

More than 200 Iranian Jews embarked on the long journey to Susa from cities across Iran to celebrate their Jewishness in an event organized by a local Jewish youth group to support the community.


"Prophet Daniel is the symbol of our proud Persian roots. The gathering in Susa is to highlight our presence in Iran since ancient times," said Farhad Aframian, the editor of the monthly Jewish magazine, who described the gathering as an opportunity for Jews from all over the country to socialize and keep in touch.


In addition to the tomb of the Prophet Daniel, Iran is also home to another of Judaism's important sites, the shrine of Mordechai an Esther, who became a Persian queen and persuaded King Xerxes not to slaughter the Jews in an event subsequently celebrated by the festival of Purim
As usual with this sort of thing, any direct connection between these monuments and the figures they honor is to be taken with a grain of salt.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

THE WINNERS of the Eisenbrauns Valentine's Day Contest have now been announced: four honorable mentions and third, second, and first place. Awesome! Heaven forfend that any of them ever turn to forgery.

UPDATE: Plus April DeConick gives us a Valentine's Day quote for Valentinians.

Hallmark take note. Lots of material here.
EMANUEL TOV praises the Mac on the Apple website:
Macs Underpin Dead Sea Scrolls Project
Profiles in Success: Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Apple technology has played a major role in a worldwide academic project: piecing together and publishing the 2,000 year-old Dead Sea Scrolls. A team of nearly 100 scholars, spread across several continents, used Macs to identify and reconstruct fragments of texts — among which are the earliest biblical writings known to man, and to add their commentaries and notes. As a result, 37 volumes of the scrolls have now been published, 60 years after they were first discovered.

“The Mac played an absolutely critical role in our 16 years of work”, confirms Professor Emanuel Tov, Editor-in-Chief of the Dead Sea Scrolls Publication Project, based at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “Most important for us was the Mac’s versatility in using different fonts, as we were working in Greek, Hebrew-Aramaic, ancient Hebrew, Syriac and English. We also found the Macs so easy to use, and they literally never crash”.

(Via Evangelical Textual Criticism.)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A Sense of Place, Stone by Stone
Art Around Town

Staff Reporter of the Sun
February 13, 2008

The artist Michal Rovner estimates that she has collected more than 10,000 cubic-foot stones on her farm in Israel. There are so many stones that the municipality governing her village wants to investigate what she's up to. The answer, though, can be found easily enough at PaceWildenstein's West 22nd Street gallery in Manhattan. Ms. Rovner used about 1,200 stones from her farm to build a 60-ton archaeological sculpture, "Makom II," which goes on view today.

Ms. Rovner and a team of eight masons spent two weeks in New York constructing the cubic structure, which is made from stones she collected all over Israel and the West Bank, mostly from abandoned homes. To retrieve stones from Palestinian territories, the artist sent a non-Israeli colleague to transport a stone to the border checkpoint, where she would meet him with a truck. Ms. Rovner, a former video artist who received a mid-career retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2002, said she was drawn to work with found or recovered objects because of their varied history and origins. "The intention was to put together all of these places into a coherent structure," she said. "I wouldn't be interested if the stones were all from one place."

If the stones are from abandoned modern houses, I suppose that's one thing. But I hope none of them are from ancient ruins.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Alternative Archaeology: from Shiloah to Silwan

By: Jonathan Mizrahi [ ::: Left Forum ::: ]
Monday, February 11, 2008

Recently a group of archaeologists got together with residents of the village of Silwan in East Jerusalem to create an alternative archaeology. Aware of the ongoing erosion of the meaning of the word "archaeology", and concerned with the political use to which archaeological research has been put, they decided to establish an organization that would try instead to represent a different archaeology. The group is called "From Shiloah to Silwan".

The group offers alternative archaeological tours in the village of Silwan, which is located south of the Temple Mount, just outside the Old city, a few dozen metres from the al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock. ...

In the 1990s, the "City of David" archaeological garden (which is part of the Jerusalem Walls national park) was transferred to the management of the "Elad" association, a private organization with a right-wing ideology the goal of which is the Judaization of Silwan village. The association made of the national park a part of the campaign to gain control over the village and dispossess its original residents. To that end the association finances all the archaeological excavations that are conducted in public areas in the village, and invested large amounts of money in order to convert the archaeological garden into one of the most visited sites in the country. The Elad association’s tour tells mainly about King David, a little bit about the Second Temple (a historical period that is referred to in archaeological terms as the Early Roman period), the Jews in the 19th century and the settlement in the 20th century – an account that completely ignores scores of archaeological and historical strata and deals mainly with one stratum (the days of King David), which itself has become the subject of many questions. The tour is tendentious and biased, and is intended to cause the visitor to identify with the activities of the Elad association and to impart legitimacy to its activities. Such activities are conducted in opposition to the village residents and even in opposition to the law. The tour teaches hardly a thing about the development of the city, its beginnings and life within it.

The alternative archaeological tour in ancient Jerusalem is intended to present archaeology as a cultural discipline and not as a political instrument. An archaeology that is not concerned with searching for the truth of the Bible or its non-truth. In the opinion of members of this group, it is not the role of archaeology in this country to prove or to refute the existence of one king or another. Archaeology concerns itself with strata and eras and not with historical figures. The group represents the past of Jerusalem in conjunction with the lives of residents of the village in the present. The focus on ancient Jerusalem (the "City of David") was done because in that complex place, where the city began its journey, and near the Temple Mount – an extremely sensitive spot, injustices are being done in the name of archaeology: open areas, roads and paths that had served village residents in the past have been converted in recent years into excavation zones that are closed to the residents, and which complicate their lives. The use of archaeology against the local residents is damaging to archaeological research itself in addition to harming many residents of the village. Members of the group believe that the past of Jerusalem, like the past of every place, does not belong to any specific person or group. The past belongs to all residents and to all who visit the site.

Our tours are conducted by two guides: one is an archaeologist and the other is a village resident. In conjunction with the archaeological story of Jerusalem, its beginnings and its development, the story of today’s villagers is told. The tour will focus on the archaeological findings that are open to the general public starting with area G in the upper part of the park, through part of the excavation areas the along the slope as far as the Pool of Siloah. At other points in the tour residents tell of life in the village, and the difficulties imposed by the efforts of the Elad association to dispossess them.

The concept sounds good, but given the spin in the article I wonder whether this tourism project is any more objective or apolitical than Elad's. In any case, the more the merrier.
Original folios of Wisdom Books from The Saint John’s Bible on display for first public viewing


For the first time, original folios from Wisdom Books: The Saint John’s Bible will be on display for public viewing. The exhibition, which includes 28 original pages, begins Feb. 18 and runs through Dec. 31 at the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (HMML) on the campus of Saint John’s University.

Wisdom Books is the fifth completed volume of The Saint John’s Bible and includes some of the Old Testament’s literary masterpieces, including Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes and Proverbs. The volume also includes the much-loved book of Job and two Old Testament works including the Wisdom of Solomon, which was originally written in Greek and Sirach which come to us from the Greek tradition.


Commissioned by Saint John’s Abbey and University in Collegeville, Minn., The Saint John’s Bible is a contemporary work created in the tradition of handwritten medieval manuscripts. The artistic director of the project, Jackson, is one of the world’s foremost Western calligraphers and scribe to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s Crown Office at the House of Lords. During the past nine years, Jackson has worked in rural Wales, with scribes and artists to write and illuminate The Saint John’s Bible entirely by hand, using quills and paints hand-ground from precious minerals and stones such as lapis lazuli, vermilion, malachite, on beautiful calfskin vellum. Silver, copper, and 24-karat gold leaf add light and brilliance to the pages.

The Saint John’s Bible, consisting of 1,150 pages in seven volumes, will be completed in 2009. It will be housed permanently at the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library, Saint John’s Abbey and University in Collegeville, Minn., where it will be used in worship and be available to scholars and the public. The Saint John’s Bible will tour to libraries and museums worldwide, offering educational outreach and spiritual programming initiatives

KENNETH ATKINSON and the New English Translation of the Septuagint (NETS) project are getting more media attention, this time from the AP:
UNI professor helps translate ancient scripture
Professor part of 24 scholars completing translation

POSTED: February 12, 2008

CEDAR FALLS — Hundreds of years ago, Jewish scribes wrote out their holy scriptures by hand.

Tediously. Cautiously. Lovingly.

Today, the translation and transcription of religious texts remains a time-consuming yet fulfilling process for many modern scholars with a biblical studies bent, as Kenneth Atkinson can attest.

Atkinson, an associate professor of religion and philosophy at the University of Northern Iowa, recently assisted with a unique and awesome project. Part of an international team of some two-dozen scholars, Atkinson helped complete an English translation of the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the ancient Jewish scriptures from around 250 B.C.


Atkinson was responsible for translating one of 41 books in the Septuagint. A book of poetic writings, ‘‘Psalms of Solomon’’ fits between the Old and New Testament. The collection of Psalms, once used in worship, tells the story of a people awaiting a warrior Messiah.

‘‘For Christians, this is a very important book,’’ Atkinson said. ‘‘It helps us understand the world that Judaism, Jesus and Christendom emerged from.’’

So while many people of faith say they are unfamiliar with the Septuagint, actually anyone who picks up a Bible stands to encounter it, Atkinson said.

It's good to see the NETS project - and Ken! - getting this publicity.

Monday, February 11, 2008

APRIL DECONICK begins a new feature: Apocryphote of the Day, a daily quotation from the (NT?) apocrypha.
DR. CHANA SAFRAI, I am very sorry to report, has just died after a battle with cancer. She was a specialist in Second Temple and Rabbinic Judaism. Some professional details are here. That is all the information I have at present. Dan Machiela at Notre Dame sent me the news.

UPDATE (12 February): More here.
Scholia Reviews ns 16 (2007) 45.

Roger Beck, A Brief History of Ancient Astrology. Brief Histories of the Ancient World. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2007. Pp. xiii + 159, incl. 10 figures, 4 tables, notes, bibliography and index. ISBN 1-4051-1074-0. UK£21.95. Further Details.

Robert Hannah
University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand

This book is a welcome addition to the series of ‘Brief Histories of the Ancient World’ produced by Blackwell. David Young’s A Brief History of the Olympic Games (2004) is at present the only other horse in the stable, but two more are in preparation, on Roman Law and on Ancient Greek. There is also from Blackwell the longer- established ‘Brief Histories of Religion’ and several stand-alone titles with the same ‘Brief History’ remit. The ‘Ancient World’ series as projected seems somewhat eclectic in its choice of topics -- all valuable, but hardly unified -- and one may wonder whether they could have been published as stand-alone titles also, but this impression may change over time as the series develops. Volumes in this series aim to offer ‘concise, accessible and lively accounts of central aspects of the ancient world. Each book is written by an acknowledged expert in the field and provides a compelling overview, for readers new to the subject and specialists alike’ (p. ii). For me, this new book fulfils this broad aim admirably.


Scholia Reviews ns 16 (2007) 42.

Fergus Millar, The Greek World, The Jews, and the East. Volume 3: The Greek World, the Jews, and the East. Studies in the History of Greece and Rome. North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 2006. Pp. xxvii + 516. ISBN 0-8078-3030-5. US$29.95. Further Details.

Lisa R. Holliday
Appalachian State University, Boone, North Carolina

The Greek World, the Jews and the East completes a three-part series of the collected articles of Fergus Millar. The previous collections, sub-titled The Roman Republic and the Augustan Revolution, and Society and Culture in the Roman Empire dealt with the rise of Rome and Roman expansion.[[1]] This volume focuses on the Greek east, covering the period from the conquests of Alexander through the fifth century C.E.

The articles are organized into three groups, 'The Hellenistic World and Rome', 'Rome and the East', and 'Jews and Others'. The topics covered are broad, ranging from studies of individual regions like Phoenicia in 'The Phoenician Cities: A Case-Study of Hellenization' (pp. 32- 50), to the effect of increased trading routes on the east in 'Caravan Cities: The Roman Near East and Long Distance Trade by Land' (pp. 275-99). In all of these works, Millar’s emphasis on the necessity of an expansive historical context is evident in the diversity of sources he utilizes and his ability to look beyond the period in question to later and earlier developments. This approach allows him to explore the period and location in question from new and often insightful perspectives.

THE POLITICS OF THE ARCHAEOLOGY OF JERUSALEM are treated briefly in this AP article:
Digging up Jerusalem's past is tricky
Posted on Sun, Feb. 10, 2008
Associated Press Writer

JERUSALEM -- Underneath the homes and ragged streets of the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan lie the remnants of a glorious Jewish past: coins, seals, a water tunnel hewn by a Judean king 2,700 years ago, a road that led to a biblical Temple.

But archaeology is hard-wired into the politics of modern-day Arab-Israeli strife, and new digs to unearth more of this past are cutting to the heart of the charged argument over who owns the holy city today.

Israel says it's reconnecting with its ancient heritage. Palestinians contend the archaeology is a political weapon to undermine their own links to Jerusalem.

Lying on a densely populated slope outside the walled Old City, the area is known to Israelis as the City of David, named for the legendary monarch who ruled a Jewish kingdom from this spot 3,000 years ago. It is the kernel from which Jerusalem grew.

But Silwan is in east Jerusalem, which Israel captured from Jordan in 1967 and which Palestinians claim for the capital of a future state.

Palestinians and Israelis are trying again to negotiate a peace deal, one which must include an agreement to share Jerusalem. The collision in this neighborhood - between Silwan and the City of David - encapsulates the complexities ahead.

The organization funding the digs, the Elad Foundation, is associated with the religious settlement movement and is committed to preventing Israel from ever ceding the area in a peace deal. It says it has a yearly budget of close to $10 million, nearly all of it from donations, and is buying up Palestinian homes in Silwan to accommodate Jewish families. Around 50 have moved in so far, living in houses flying Israeli flags and guarded by armed security men paid for by the Israeli government.


Sunday, February 10, 2008

INTERNATIONAL SEPTUAGINT DAY: Also from Kevin Edgecomb. Friday was International Septuagint Day and I missed it! I was doing some work on Josephus' account of the building of the Temple on Friday. I guess that will just have to count.
PSEUDEPIGRAPHA WATCH: Deuterbaruchian Pearls from Kevin P. Edgecomb.