Saturday, April 19, 2008

A NEW HISTORICAL MOVIE is reportedly in the works, based on a character who makes a brief appearance in the Bible.
Will Smith’s Lesson for Jerusalem
Continental Divide
By Eric Frey (The Forward)

Hollywood star Will Smith is reportedly planning to make a movie on Taharqa, a black warrior king from Nubia who ruled over Egypt during the 7th-century BCE. The film is likely to focus on issues of black pride, but if Smith and his scriptwriters do their homework well, “The Last Pharaoh” should also be of particular interest to Jewish moviegoers. According to some scholars, Taharqa played a key part in the early history of Judaism — and his story carries a crucial lesson for the future of the State of Israel.

The figure of Taharqa, who was born in what is today Sudan, is linked to a pivotal historical event that is described in the Bible: the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem in 701 BCE. Hezekiah, the king of Judah, had little chance of surviving that onslaught by one of the greatest military powers on earth; only two decades before, the Assyrians had conquered the neighboring kingdom of Israel and deported many of its citizens.

But the Assyrians eventually withdrew from the walls of Jerusalem and Hezekiah’s throne was saved. Judah kept its independence for another 115 years, until it was defeated by the Babylonians, who went on to destroy the first temple in 586 BCE.

The rescue of Jerusalem had enormous consequences for religious thought. Recent archaeological discoveries have convinced most historians that monotheism had not yet fully taken root among Israelites at the time of the siege, and the Torah had very likely yet to be written down.

It was only after the withdrawal of the Assyrians that the embattled survivors became deeply convinced that their God was truly unique and almighty. That new belief then had more than a century to evolve and flourish, and it grew strong enough to allow the exiled Jews to retain their faith during the Babylonian exile and later return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple.

Why, though, did the Assyrians withdraw from Jerusalem? The Bible talks about God visiting a plague on the invading army. It also mentions a lack of water in the Judean Hills that bedevilled the besiegers, and archaeologists have since credited King Hezekiah for having the foresight to build a tunnel to Gihon Springs that gave the city a secure water supply.

But in a recent book, journalist turned historian Henry Aubin argues convincingly that it was the approach of the Kushite-Nubian army — headed by young Taharqa, whom the Bible refers to as king of Ethiopia — that made the Assyrians lose heart. Militarily, it makes sense: It’s not the best idea to be caught up besieging a city like Jerusalem when a hostile force approaches from the rear.

The reference to Taharqa (Tirhakah) is found in 2 Kings 19:9:
[9] And when the king heard concerning Tirhakah king of Ethiopia, "Behold, he has set out to fight against you," he sent messengers again to Hezeki'ah, saying,
[10] "Thus shall you speak to Hezeki'ah king of Judah: `Do not let your God on whom you rely deceive you by promising that Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria. RSV
The Bible does not refer to a plague. The story, later in the same chapter, is much more dramatic:
[35] And that night the angel of the LORD went forth, and slew a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the camp of the Assyrians; and when men arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies.
Imagine what CGI could do with that.

Herodotus recounts the same episode, but says that thousands of mice came into the Assyrian camp during the night and ate their quivers, bowstrings, and shield handles, so that their battle gear fell apart when they tried to use it and they were routed. (Sounds like a scene from a Monty Python movie.) Modern scholars have combined the two accounts to infer (i.e., take a wild flying guess) that rats in the camp brought about an outbreak of the plague.

Well, it's a good story, however you tell it. Should be an interesting movie.

I'll leave it to you to decide whether Frey's political advice is useful.
AN OBITUARY FOR DAVID NOEL FREEDMAN has been published in the Los Angeles Times. And the UPI also has a brief one.
SHIMON BAR KOKHBA is in the news, in a story in the The Tyee inspired by Passover.
The Other Messiah
Dr. Richard Freund: 'Extraordinary story.'
In Israel, unearthing the tale of a Jesus rival named Simon bar Kokhba.
By Michael McKinley
Published: April 18, 2008


But Dr. Richard Freund, the running-shoed, ball-capped American archeologist and rabbi whom we so fortuitously met in Beit She'an pointed us in the direction of another messiah, a man whom most people have never heard of, but whose deeds and their consequence resonate around the globe.

"Come with me to Yavneh," said Freund. "I'm doing excavations there. It's an extraordinary story."


His birth name was Simon bar Kozeba, but the great Jewish sage of the day, Rabbi Akiva, christened him "bar Kokhba," meaning "Son of the Star," a Hebrew wordplay on a verse from the Book of Numbers that says "A star (kokhba in Hebrew) has shot off Jacob."


Did Jesus of Nazareth and Simon bar Kokhba fit the bill, each in their own way? But why did the name of Jesus survive, and inspire a new religion, while Simon bar Kokhba disappeared from history?

The answer to this question lies in a dark forbidding cavern in the blistering desert east of Jerusalem, and it's at the heart of the Jewish-Christian divide. In the 1960s, an Israeli archeologist found a trove of letters -- the largest cache of ancient correspondence ever uncovered in Israel -- that included messages from Bar Kokhba.

Four decades later, convinced that more evidence of Bar Kokhba's reign was overlooked, Richard Freund returned to the desolate area with the latest in modern equipment, including ground-penetrating radar. And he discovered much more about the mighty Simon bar Kokhba.

The big split

The cave mouth is high up a craggy cliff face, and rare birds nest in the cool darkness, protected today by strict laws that mean wildlife officials must keep a lookout to prevent the archeologists from entering whenever a bird is spied bringing food back to the nest.

Despite the obstacles, Freund's team found yet another cache of artifacts and produced a sharpened new view of Bar Kokhba's revolt and place in Jewish history -- including evidence of Judaism's final breach with the religion founded by the first messiah, Jesus.

"I think the split occurred right in the middle of the Bar Kokhba rebellion," Freund told us, "when the Christians said 'This is not our Messiah' and the Jews said 'This is going be the liberation we have been praying for all these years.'"

Bar Kokhba's letters show him warning his followers not to trust the "Galileans" -- a common name for the followers of Jesus of Nazareth. The Galileans, who already were being called Christians, were in the ascendancy. While the Romans were fighting the Jews, the Christians were gaining power and influence and converts in the heart of the Roman Empire.

This was not their war with the Romans, for the Christian messiah was the Prince of Peace, and they would win in the end, with history-changing results. And without the support of the Galileans, Simon bar Kokhba's revolt was doomed.

These are just excerpts; there's more in the article.

We now know from his letters that his name was actually Shimon bar (son of) Kosiba. His followers came up with the title Bar Kokhba, as the article explains. And much later, in the Talmud, he was known as Bar Koziba, "son of a liar," since it had become clear that he was not the Messiah after all.

Judas the Galilean was killed a few years later than the article indicates: around 6 C.E.

I have commented on Richard Freund's work in one of the Judean Desert Caves here. But I haven't been following his more recent work.

I am skeptical about the supposed connection between the Galileans in Bar Kosiba's letter and the early Christians. There's nothing in the letter to indicate that they were anything more specific than just Galileans.
PASSOVER begins tonight at sundown. Best wishes to all those celebrating.

Friday, April 18, 2008

AN OBITUARY FOR KRISTER STENDAHL has been published in the Nantucket Inquirer and Mirror.
NEIL ASHER SILBERMAN is not enthusiastic about the UCLA/USC proposed archaeological plan:
Unfortunately, the "Israeli-Palestinian Cultural Heritage Agreement" announced last week in Jerusalem has not quite lived up to the great challenge it set for itself.

The brainchild of two U.S.-based archaeologists, Ran Boytner of UCLA and Lynn Swartz Dodd of the University of Southern California, this initiative brought together three Israeli and three Palestinian archaeologists to formulate a set of recommendations about the equitable division of disputed objects and sites, as part of a comprehensive political final-status agreement. The idealism and dedication of this binational group should not be dismissed lightly. But their final text disappointingly concentrates on the physical control of sites and the repatriation of relics, without seriously confronting the core issues: bridging the enormous differences in attitudes toward archaeology between Israelis and Palestinians, and addressing the utter lack of a sense of shared archaeological heritage.

Regrettably, the agreement's principles cling stubbornly to old-fashioned concepts of territory, sovereignty and exclusive possession of cultural property that dramatically reduce the possibility of ever seeing archaeology as anything more than a zero-sum game. ...

Cutting the baby in two? Will both would-be parents agree with this archaeological variation of the famous Solomonic judgment simply because it seems fair? ...
Background here.

UPDATE: But according to Science Magazine the proposal is getting a more positive response elsewhere:
About 50 Israeli archaeologists, including IAA officials, showed up on 8 April in Jerusalem to hear the U.S. and Israeli part of the team make their case, says Boytner. (No Palestinians attended.) Ilan was prepared for the worst but says "surprisingly, the overwhelming response was positive and congratulatory. Not a single person spoke against the document." The consensus was that "this process should continue," says audience member Hanan Eshel of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat-Gan, Israel. The buzz at the meeting was that the team's anonymous Israeli member is an IAA archaeologist. "We will not comment," says Boytner.

A follow-up meeting is being planned for the Israeli side. Among Palestinians, there is broad support but also those who "do not want to involve Israel whatsoever in a future Palestinian state," says team member Ghattas Sayej, an archaeologist with the Palestinian Association for Cultural Exchange in Ramallah, the West Bank. The effort to convince Palestinian archaeologists to formally ratify the plan is being led by team member Nazmi el-Jubeh, co-director of RIWAQ, an architectural conservation organization in Ramallah.
UPDATE (19 April): Dead link fixed. Sorry about that.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Loren T. Stuckenbruck, 1 Enoch 91-108 (Commentaries on Early Jewish Literature; Berlin: W. de Gruyter, 2007)
My review copy for the SOTS Booklist.
Murder mystery entices applicants
Daniel Rolle [Cherwell]
Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Dead bodies on the quad used to dispel myths about Oxford.

Oxford University's Admissions Office have used a murder mystery event to try and increase applications from state sector pupils.

During the Easter vacation University authorities invited local schoolchildren to take part in the event, based at Pembroke College. 50 students, aged between 14 and 15, were greeted at the beginning of their three-day visit by a body on the front quad, followed by the revelation of the Morse-like murder mystery scenario.

Students were faced with a number of conundrums including a letter written in Syriac, which they were able to decode after a master class given by Gareth Hughes of the Oriental Institute. Hughes praised the intentions of the programme: “The best way to encourage the brightest to Oxford is to stimulate and challenge. The Access Programme is incredibly important – especially considering Oxford's position and status as a fairly elite institution. The murder mystery event is therefore an excellent way of engaging bright and enquiring minds in a variety of different ways.”

Whatever works.

(My bold emphasis.)
AN OBITUARY FOR KRISTER STENDAHL has been published in the New York Times.

(Via the Agade list.)
AN OBITUARY FOR DAVID NOEL FREEDMAN by Bill Propp has been published on the Society of Biblical Literature website.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Dated 15 April 2008

To the HDS community--

It is with immense sadness, but also with immense thankfulness for a singular life wonderfully well-lived, that I write to inform you that Krister Stendahl, our beloved friend, teacher, colleague, and former Dean, died this morning. A funeral service is planned for Friday morning at University Lutheran Church, and a memorial service to be held at Harvard's Memorial Church is being planned for sometime in May. Details on that University event and on other chances to recall, celebrate, and honor Krister will be communicated as soon as we know them, by email as well as on the HDS website. Please keep all of the Stendahl family in your thoughts and prayers.


William A. Graham,
(Posted by Bob Kraft on the PSCO list.)

I was a postgraduate at Harvard during Professor Stendahl's last year there before he left to become Bishop of Stockholm, but I didn't really get to know him. Regarding his scholarly career, note this from the Wikipedia article on him:
Stendahl is perhaps most famous for his publication of the article "The Apostle Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West." This article, along with the later publication of the book Paul Among Jews and Gentiles, conveys a new idea in Pauline studies suggesting that scholarship dating all the way back to Augustine may miss the context and thesis of Paul. His main point revolves around the early tension in Christianity between Jewish Christians and Gentile converts.

Through his interest in the Jewish context of the New Testament, Stendahl developed an interest in Jewish Studies and has been active in the Jewish-Christian dialogue.
He also edited the seminal and classic collection The Scrolls and the New Testament (New York: Harper, 1957), which I have on my book shelf and still refer to.

Requiescat in pace.
Subject: Online database of sources and parallels to the Talmud Yerushalmi

From: "Leib Moscovitz" (
Subject: Notice for H-Judaic
Sent: Tuesday, April 15, 2008 10:28 AM

The Talmud Department of Bar-Ilan University and the Livin Chair for Talmudic Research are pleased to announce the online publication of a database of sources and parallels to the Talmud Yerushalmi.

The database contains references to biblical verses cited in the Yerushalmi, as well as sources/parallels from the Mishnah, Tosefta, Halakhic midrashim, the Yerushalmi itself, and the classical aggadic midrashim, as well as selected parallels from the Babylonian Talmud (additional parallels are currently being entered).

The database consists of a collection of PDF files, which can be viewed, searched, downloaded and printed, and is located at the following URL: (see also for more information).
(From the H-JUDAIC list.)
ARAMAIC WATCH: Steve Caruso (of the Aramaic Blog) has set up "the first release of a (nearly comprehensive) diagram of all known Aramaic dialects" here. It's quite impressive. I confess I've never heard of most of the late and modern dialects in the rightmost columns.
Muslim cleric objects to repairing Western Wall stones

The top Muslim cleric in Jerusalem, Mohammed Hussein, on Tuesday said he would object to Israel carrying out repair work on the Western Wall.

Hussein said that the wall is a part of the attached Al Aksa mosque, warning that any Israeli action there would be seen as aggression.


Background here.
Conference on « The Aramaic Texts from Qumran », Aix-en-Provence, June 30 – July 2, 2008
Maison Méditerranéenne des Sciences de l’Homme, Aix-en-Provence, France

generously sponsored by the CNRS, Université de Provence (Aix-Marseille I), French Ministry of Foreign Affairs,
UMR 6125 (Centre Paul Albert Février), UMR 8167 (Orient et Méditerranée)

Contact :
Katell Berthelot, CNRS, Jerusalem :
Daniel Stökl Ben Ezra, CNRS, Aix-en-Provence:


Monday, June 30, 2008

9H30 : Welcome

10H : Opening lecture
• Devorah Dimant (University of Haifa), « Themes and Genres in the Aramaic Texts from Qumran ».

11H15 : Coffee break

11H45 : Comprehensive perspectives
• Emile Puech (CNRS, Jerusalem) : « Le volume XXXVII des Discoveries in the Judaean Desert et les manuscrits araméens du lot Jean Starcky ».
• Arnaud Sérandour (EPHE, Paris) : « Les textes araméens de Qumrân, pour qui, pour quoi ? ».

13H : Lunch

14H15 : Exegesis I
• Katell Berthelot (CNRS, Jerusalem) : « Les références aux textes bibliques dans les textes araméens de Qumrân ».
• Armin Lange (University of Vienna) : « “The False Prophets Who Rose in Israel” (4Q339 1) ».

15H30 : Coffee break

16H : Exegesis II
• Thierry Legrand (University of Strasbourg) : « Exégèses targoumiques et techniques de réécriture dans les manuscrits araméens de Qumrân ».
• Loren Stuckenbruck (University of Durham) : « The Lamech Narrative in the Genesis Apocryphon (1QapGen) and Birth of Noah (4QEnochc ar): A Tradition-Historical Study ».

17H15 : Coffee break
17H45 : The Birth of Noah
• Esther Eshel (Bar Ilan University) : « The Genesis Apocryphon and Other Related Aramaic Texts from Qumran ».
• Matthias Weigold (University of Vienna) : « Aramaic Wunderkind: The Birth of Noah in the Aramaic Texts from Qumran ».

19H : Cocktail and dinner

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

9H30 : Onomastics
• André Lemaire (EPHE, Paris) : « Nabonide et Gilgamesh : l’araméen en Mésopotamie et à Qumrân ».
• Michael Langlois (Collège de France, Paris) : « Shemihaza & Co : l’onomastique des anges déchus dans les légendes araméennes de Qumrân ».

10H45 : Coffee break

11H10 : Linguistics
• Steven Fassberg (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem) : « Salient Features of the Verbal System Reflected in the Aramaic Texts from Qumran ».
• Jan Joosten (University of Strasbourg) : « L’araméen de Qumran entre l’araméen d’empire et les Targums. L’emploi de la préposition « devant » pour exprimer le respect dû au roi et à Dieu ».
• Ursula Schattner-Rieser (Institut Catholique de Paris) : « L’apport de la philologie araméenne et l’interprétation des archaïsmes linguistiques pour la datation des textes araméens de Qumrân ».

13H : Lunch

Afternoon : excursion

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

9H30 : Genres
• Moshe Bernstein (Yeshiva University) : « The Genre(s) of the Genesis Apocryphon ».
• Jörg Frey (University of Munich) : « On the Origins of the Literary Testament: Farewell Discourses in the Qumran Library and their Relevance for Reconstructing the Genre of ‘Testamentary Discourse’ ».

10H45 : Coffee break

11H15 : Sciences and Esoteric Knowledge
• Jonathan Ben-Dov (University of Haifa) : « Scientific Writings in Aramaic and Hebrew at Qumran ».
• Sam Thomas (California Lutheran University) : « Esoteric Knowledge in Qumran Aramaic Literature ».
12H30 : Lunch

14H : Apocalyptics
• Florentino García Martínez (Catholic University of Leuven) : « Aramaica qumranica apocalyptica ? ».
• Lorenzo diTommaso (Concordia University, Montréal) : « The Development of Apocalypticism in Light of the Aramaic Texts from Qumran ».

15H15 : Coffee break

15H45 : Eschatology
• Daniel Stökl ben Ezra (CNRS, Aix-en-Provence) : « Messianic Figures in the Aramaic Qumran Texts ».
• Hugo Antonissen (Catholic University of Leuven) : « The Architectural Presentation Technique in Aramaic New Jerusalem, Compared to Similar Descriptions in Other Texts, particularly in Ezekiel and the Temple Scroll ».

17H : Coffee break

17H30 : Conclusion and general discussion
• John J. Collins (Yale University), « The Aramaic Texts from Qumran: Conclusions and Perspectives »

20H : Dinner (in town)
(Program e-mailed by Eibert Tigchelaar.)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

THE TEN COMMANDMENTS -- the court case:
10 Commandments focus of antiquities dispute

A Brooklyn rabbi and an Israeli antiquities dealer are trading barbs over an ancient stone inscribed with the Ten Commandments.

The dispute has now been taken to a Federal Court in Brooklyn, where an Israel-based antiquities dealer, Robert Deutsch, claims he has yet to receive full payment on a number of antiquities, including a 4th century CE stone inscribed with the Ten Commandments. Deutsch claims that Brooklyn-based Rabbi Shaul Shimon Deutsch, of no relation, agreed to pay $110,000 for the stone in 2003.

The stone, an ancient Samaritan synagogue inscription, was found in 1913 at the excavation of an ancient synagogue in Tel Yavne. The inscribed slab sat on top of the Torah ark, as was the custom.

The dispute seems to be over whether the stone was being sold outright or leased for five years.
"ASCENSION OF THE WATCHERS" -- THE BAND. Brought to you by the Book of Enoch.
Wired: How does your spirituality inform your work without pigeonholing it?
[Burton C. Bell:] I would hope that people who do listen to it, merely enjoy the work as a whole. The Book of Enoch was inspirational to me inasmuch as it drove my creativity to write music and words so very personal. But these works are never mentioned throughout the lyrics. The idea is about a Watcher who is pleading for redemption from God.
W. Wall stones in danger of crumbling
By ETGAR LEFKOVITS (Jerusalem Post)

First it was the southern wall of the Temple Mount. Then it was a section of the ancient walls of Masada that were in danger of collapse. Now, it's the turn of the stones of Jerusalem's Western Wall.

Stones at the site are in danger of crumbling, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, the rabbi of the Western Wall, said Monday.

The damaged stones that are beginning to disintegrate are not the ancient ones dating back to the Second Temple Period, but, ironically, the small uniform stones that make up part of the wall built in the 19th century and financed by the British philanthropist and financier Sir Moses Montefiore in an attempt to repair the site at that time.

Repairs are scheduled for shortly after Passover, but the halakhic issues are complex.

UPDATE (16 April): More here.

Monday, April 14, 2008

JAMES C. VANDERKAM will be speaking on the Dead Sea Scrolls in Thousand Oaks, California.
The art of authentic forgery
By Nadav Shragai (Haaretz)

Criminal case 482/04, the State of Israel v. Oded Golan and others, lays out the details of one of the biggest forgery scandals ever in the history of archaeology. According to the indictment, those miseld by Golan, a well-known Tel Aviv antiquities collector, included renowned experts who were ready to confirm the authenticity of the many and controversial findings he supposedly discovered, such as the Jehoash Tablet inscription and an ossuary that supposedly held the bones of James, the brother of Jesus.

And yet, today, three years after the start of the trial, after more than 70 witnesses for the prosecution have taken the stand, and the defense has started to present its arguments, the state prosecutor's office and the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), which initiated the indictment, face a problem: Marco Samah Shoukri Ghatas, the Egyptian artist who confessed to manufacturing many items for Golan, including the Jehoash inscription, will not be coming to Israel to testify. According to the IAA, it is the Egyptian authorities that are preventing Ghatas from coming to Israel. Golan's attorney, Lior Bringer, on the other hand, counters that it was the Egyptian's choice not to come.

Either way, the prosecution believes it will win the case even without the testimony of Ghatas, a talented stone artist and jeweler from the Khan al-Khalili market in Cairo. The testimony submitted in an interrogation conducted by the Egyptians and in which he confessed to many of the crimes, has already been cited in the Jerusalem District Court, where the case is being heard by Judge Aharon Farkash. Nevertheless, says an IAA official, "we're very interested in bringing him to Israel, so that the man who by his own admission forged the antiquities for Golan, will say so formally in court."

Ghatas himself spoke openly about the artifacts he manufactured with reporter Bob Simon, on the CBS-TV news program "60 Minutes." And authorities here say they have assured him that if he comes to testify, he will not be arrested.

Regarding the other defendants:
The original indictment was issued against five people. Two of them have in the meantime admitted to some of the crimes attributed to them, were dropped from the indictment and became state's witnesses. In addition to Golan, two other accused people remain: Faiz al-Amla, an antiquities trader from the village of Beit Ula in the southern part of the Hebron Hills, and Robert Deutsch, a well-known antiquities dealer from Tel Aviv. The state signed a plea bargain with al-Amla, and he was convicted and sentenced to a six-month jail term.
And Golan still maintains his innocence:
Lior Bringer, Golan's attorney, says his client denies all the charges attributed to him and stands by the authenticity of the items. "It seems unlikely to me," says Bringer, "that [Ghatas], who was in Israel so many times, encountered trouble coming here to testify. It doesn't seem to me that the Egyptian government prevented him from coming here. What seems more likely is that the man himself prefers, for reasons of his own, not to come to Israel. The antiquities that the Israel Antiquities Authority claims are forgeries - the Jehoash inscription, the ossuary and all the rest, are authentic," says Bringer.
There's lots more in the article, so read it all. For my take on the Joash/Jehoash inscription, see here.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

THE SITE OF QUMRAN is in the news:
Israel blasted over ‘truth’ of scroll ad
By Candice Krieger [Jewish Chronicle, UK]
The Israeli Government Tourist Office was this week forced to change its ThinkIsrael advert following a ruling from the Advertising Standards Authority that it was misleading and breached its code of conduct.

The magazine advert promoting Israel displayed images of well-known landmarks, including Qumran, the site where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, with text stating: “You can travel the entire length of Israel in six hours.”

The ASA said that the image, together with the text, implied that Qumran was in Israel. Since Qumran is in the West Bank, it therefore considered the advert was misleading. ...
The image was replaced by one of Masada. I take their point, but at the same time Qumran is an important site for Jewish heritage and many tourists do come to see it for that reason.