Saturday, June 14, 2008

THE NABATEAN SPICE ROUTE is the subject of a long Travel piece in the Sydney Morning Herald. Excerpt:
Dr Tsvika Tsuk, the chief archaeologist of the Israel Parks and Nature Authority, says the government has invested $US6 million ($6.4 million) in the past 10 years in the spice route, predominantly to preserve the Nabataean ruins. "There are no Nabataean documents but we know about them from the Roman historians, and the Negev is littered with archaeological clues," he says. "They numbered about 10,000 in the third and fourth centuries BCE [Before Common Era or BC], although at their peak, in the first century CE [AD], they grew to 25,000."

The next day we continue west towards Gaza. Soon, the desert gives way to greener pastures. Atlantic pistachio trees appear. European bee-eaters abound; a lilac-breasted roller flits by.

The beware-of-the-camels signs disappear and in their place are signs to Sderot, the Israeli town often the target of Kassam missiles from Gaza.

Gaza, the heartland of Hamas extremists, is a no-go zone. Instead, I'm perched on a ridge just above Kibbutz Nir-Oz, peering through binoculars. Although the Mediterranean is barely visible, I imagine ships full of cargo gently edging their way across the horizon, redolent with perfume, incense and spices.

So why did the kings of the desert who ruled the spice route for 500 years disappear, leaving only astounding archaeological relics? What happened to these ingenious nomads who built "the rose red city half as old as time", as Petra was described by British scholar John Burgon in 1845?

The Romans began to discover sea routes, rendering the overland spice route obsolete. In 106 AD, they annexed the Nabataean kingdom. Soon the nomads began planting crops, including vines, which they harvested on terraces that are now being reinvented by Eyal Izrael and a clutch of Israeli viticulturists. Laying down roots on the land ensured the Nabataeans' assimilation into Roman culture.

"We knew about the Nabataeans growing grapes," says Izrael, who owns Carmey Avdat Winery. "We took their concept and planted the vines exactly on the same spot, taking advantage of the same irrigation systems."

Gazing at the fertile valley below, I realise the rock I am standing on is not what it seems. It is the crossroads of antiquity and modernity.
There are in fact Nabatean documents and I'm sure the reporter misunderstood whatever Dr. Tsuk said. There are some substantial texts in the Babatha archive and there are also thousands of brief rock inscriptions.

Friday, June 13, 2008

TZIPORI (Sepphoris), home of Rabbi Judah the Nasi, traditional editor of the Mishnah, gets a Tourism profile in the Jerusalem Post. Excerpt:
It was in Tzipori, at the end of the third century, that the eminent rabbi edited a compilation of Jewish traditional literature and Oral Law known as the Mishna. Considered the second most important book in Judaism (after the Torah), the Mishna shaped, and continues to shape, all aspects of Jewish life everywhere.

No wonder, then, that on the day that Rebbi breathed his last people thronged to the city to mourn him and follow him to his grave. The Talmud tells us that many miracles occurred on that fateful day, a Shabbat eve. It seems that the sun stood still until every mourner returned home. And only after each one had cooked his fish, filled a jar with water and lit his lamp did the sun sink in the Heavens and Shabbat commence.

Despite its indisputable importance, there was little to see at the site of ancient Tzipori until the early 1980s. Although small-scale excavations were carried out during the British Mandate, and remains of a Roman theater were discovered, no effort was made to find the rest of the famous Jewish city. Indeed, the hill on which it stood was completely covered with dirt, brush, and fruit trees left from the hostile Arab village that stood nearby until 1948.

When serious digs finally began, archeologists could hardly believe the result: not only did the ancient city sport a theater, but one that was well-preserved. Unique mosaics were uncovered in several parts of the site along with entire neighborhoods, a market street and the marvelous underground water system.

Today ancient Tzipori is one of the most exciting national parks in the country. When you visit, you follow a wide Roman Cardo to marvelous extensive fifth-century mosaics illustrating the Nile River Festival and Amazon warriors. If you look down at your feet you will see crevices made by chariot wheels and, carved into the stones, a menora and games played by children long ago.
"METHUSELAH," the Masada date sprout, is now a small date palm:
"Methuselah" Tree Grew From 2,000-Year-Old Seed
Anne Minard
for National Geographic News
June 12, 2008

The oldest-sprouted seed in the world is a 2,000-year-old plant from Jerusalem, a new study confirms.

"Methuselah," a 4-foot-tall (1.2-meter-tall) ancestor of the modern date palm, is being grown at a protected laboratory in the Israeli capital.

Because a witness to the long-ago siege recorded the Jews' plight and eventual mass suicide, locations of their food stores—which the Jews left behind to show they didn't starve to death—were well documented.

So the exact age of the seed isn't a big surprise, said project leader Sarah Sallon of the Hadassah Medical Organization in Jerusalem, but: "I was surprised that we were able to grow it."

Methuselah beats out the previous oldest-seed record holder, a lotus tree grown from a 1,300-year-old seed in 1995 by Jane Shen-Miller, a botanist at the University of California, Los Angeles, and colleagues.

There are photos too.

I've noted the progress of "Methuselah" frequently in the last few years. The first announcement was here.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

SOLOMONIC MAGIC is alive and well. Get your amulets and seals while they're hot.
"TUTELA VALUI." You find Latin in the most interesting places.

Glenn Reynolds comments "At least it didn't say Romanes eunt domus."

People seem to be taking Ms. Dupre to task for messing up the language, as often does happen with tattoos, but I'm not sure that's fair in this case. It looks to me as though she's aiming to say "I have stayed healthy through protection." The grammar works if tutela is taken as an ablative of means or instrument (with a final long a). The message, of course, is appropriate, but one wonders how many of the intended readership would have known Latin well enough to get the point.

UPDATE: I see that Rogue Classicist David Meadows understands the grammar the same way I do.

UPDATE: Welcome to Instapundit readers.

UPDATE (13 June): Welcome to Ann Althouse's readers as well.
THE RUSSIAN COLLECTION OF JEWISH MANUSCRIPTS is on the agenda of the JNUL and they hope to have it relocated to Israel:
State renews efforts to bring disputed Jewish manuscript collection from Russia
By Anshel Pfeffer

The State of Israel plans to renew its efforts to retrieve the world's second-largest collection of ancient Jewish manuscripts from Russia.

Various parties have been trying to bring the impressive Ginzburg collection to Israel for years. Now, they are hoping that renewed Russian-Israeli cooperation, primarily Israel's expected transfer of the Sergei building in Jerusalem to Russia, will enable the collection to be brought to Israel.

The noble Russian-Jewish Ginzburg family acquired its collection over three generations, beginning in the 1840s. The collection includes 14,000 books, 45 incunabula (books published in the 14th century at the start of the printing era), more than 2,000 Hebrew manuscripts and 1,000 Arabic manuscripts. It is considered the second largest collection of antique Jewish literature in the world, after the Bodleian Library in Oxford.

Baron David Ginzburg, the last of the collectors, died in 1910. After his death, Zionist activists, including Eliezer Ben Yehuda, began trying to bring the collection to the land of Israel. In May 1917, the National Library in Jerusalem signed a contract with parties in Russia to buy the collection for half a million rubles. The acquisition was funded by donations from Russian Zionists, and when the money was delivered, the books and manuscripts were packed into crates to be delivered. But the shipment was delayed by World War I, and when the Bolshevik Revolution broke out, the Soviet authorities seized the books and sent them to the Lenin Library in Moscow.

Over the years, prominent Jews, including Albert Einstein, Israel's first president, Chaim Weizmann, and Foreign Ministry officials, tried to bring the Ginzburg collection to Israel, but their efforts were rejected. Now the heads of the Jewish National and University Library (Israel's official national library, which is located in Jerusalem), including director general Shmuel Har Noy and board chairman David Blumberg, are trying to put the matter on the public agenda.


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Plenty of bullocks and bureaucrats
Home » Opinion » Opinion (Otago Daily Times)
Wed, 11 Jun 2008

Farmers are unfairly blamed for all sorts of ills; the latest is rising food prices, writes Gerry Eckhoff.

"How can he get wisdom . . . whose talk is of bullocks?" So says the book of the Apocrypha - Ecclesiastes, from the Old Testament.

We farmers are told that food production (beef ) is a good thing to do - but only as long as it is cheap and sustainable, so I guess that is why we farmers still talk of bullocks 2000 years later, and how to get cheap food on the tables of the great unwashed even cheaper.

The quotation is from Sirach 38:25. Whether the context fits, I leave up to you.
DOCTORAL DEMOGRAPHICS at the Hebrew University:
Koreans dominate in Bible studies at Hebrew U.
By Ofri Ilani (Haaretz)

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem awarded 328 doctoral degrees this year, in a ceremony which took place last week. Hundreds of new scientists completed doctorates in molecular biology, biochemistry, computer sciences, and other fields which have been popular in recent years. But the Bible Department, which is one of the university's finest departments, awarded only six new doctorates.

Like many other humanities disciplines in Israel, biblical research has suffered from a steady decline in popularity, and few students seek advanced degrees in that field. Among the six students who did receive a doctorate, two are Israeli, one is American, and three are Koreans, who have become the dominant group among the department's graduates this year.

Young Sik Cho wrote a doctorate about "concepts of wealth in the Book of Proverbs." Yun Ho Chong examined the "factors which created a negative stance toward the Golden Calf cult in the Bible." Song-Yun Shin investigated the "language of Hagai-Zecharia-Malachi and its place in the history of the Hebrew Bible." In addition to them, Song Dal Quan completed a doctorate in the Hebrew Language Department which pertained to "use of 'haya (to be)' syntax in biblical language."

Good for them. They're doing some interesting work.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS EXHIBITION in san Francisco is reviewed by
Never Before Seen Dead Sea Scrolls Fragments On Display In SF
Bits Of History On Loan From Israel Antiquities Authority

By Kris Sanchez, NBC11 News Anchor/Reporter

POSTED: 2:40 pm PDT June 9, 2008
UPDATED: 3:05 pm PDT June 9, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif -- When you hear the word Israel it's hard not to automatically think of the headlines of political conflict that come with every passing day. Yet you can visit a small collection of pottery, glass, gold and parchment on display in San Francisco and be transported 5,000 years in time.

"The Dead Sea Scrolls and 5,000 Years of Treasures" is an exhibit featuring items on loan from the Israel Antiquities Authority. Curator Renee Dreyfus told NBC11, "Although it is a small exhibition, it's got under 50 items, each one tells a unique story about this land."

5 Thousand Year Old Israel Treasure Comes To The Legion Of Honor
The Dead Sea Scrolls get top billing, but Dreyfus' favorite piece is a mosaic table made of glass found in a Byzantine villa. "It's just dazzling. Nothing like it has ever been found before. We are the first institution to show it. It hasn't even been on view in Israel yet. It's extraordinary, it's unique, it's one-of-a-kind," Dreyfus said.


The fragments of Dead Sea Scroll, so fragile they're only lit up for viewing 15 seconds at a time, tell the story of the beginning of days. The fragments at the Legion of Honor now are on display for the first time every, anywhere. They are juxtaposed with fragments of the Book of Enoch, a text written at the same time, but which was not part of the Hebrew bible.

Background here.

It's nice to see the Enochic texts getting some exposure. They were at the San Diego exhibition as well.
A CAVE with evidence of occupation has been found under a third-century church in Jordan:
Ancient cave found under church
Built in 230 A.D., church is one of Christianity's oldest in the world

By Dale Gavlak (AP)
updated 5:05 p.m. ET June 9, 2008

AMMAN, Jordan - Archaeologists in Jordan said Monday they have discovered a cave underneath one of the world's oldest churches that may have once been an even more ancient site of Christian worship.

Archaeologist Abdel-Qader Hussein, head of the Rihab Center for Archaeological Studies, says the cave was unearthed in the northern Jordanian city of Rihab after three months of excavation and shows evidence of early Christian rituals.

The cave lies under St. Georgeous church, built in 230 A.D., making it one of the oldest churches in the world, along with one unearthed in the Jordanian southern port of Aqaba in 1998 and another in Israel discovered in 2005.

Claims that it could be a first-century Christian worship site have been received with skepticism by historian Thomas Parker, who specializes in such things.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Burglar makes the mistake of choosing 22-stone mastiff's home

By Chris Brooke (Daily Mail)
Last updated at 8:54 AM on 09th June 2008

Of all the gardens in all the world, the thief had the bad luck to break into the one where Cromwell was peacefully gnawing on his bone.

The three-year-old English mastiff is a gentle pet. But his breed are also born guard dogs - and big ones at that.

Only the thief and Cromwell know exactly what happened next.
Enlarge Cromwell, his owner George Watson and the burglar's torn shirt

But it can't have been friendly, as the dog's owner heard a 'scream, a roar and a commotion' from the back garden.

George Watson, 43, had been having a bath and ran outside in his towel, to see the thief zooming off down the driveway in his van.

Apart from a very agitated dog, the only evidence the man left behind was the torn Tshirt.

Okay, not the usual PaleoJudaica fare, but this next bit caught my eye:
The breed now known as the English mastiff was brought to this country by Phoenician traders as early as the 6th century BC.

After the Roman invasion, they were used to fight in arenas against other large animals such as lions.
I didn't know the mastiff had a Phoenician connection, but the claim is certainly widely made on the Internet. The sentence above is a bit too telegraphic - the Phoenicians certainly didn't bring the dog directly to Britain - but here's a more detailed account:
These ancient mastiffs, whatever their origins and prey, are believed to have been the ancestors of the later war-dogs and sheepdogs for which ancient Epirus and Sparta were to become so famous. Molossia, a country in Epirus (located on what is now the Western coast of the Greek mainland), gave rise to the term "Molosser," which was the name given to the famous mastiffs of that region and which is still used to refer to members of the mastiff family.

Phoenicians traveling to Italy and on to Spain and France are thought to have carried these guarding dogs with them, perhaps selling them along with sheep and goats to herdsmen in those areas. By this time there were already reported differences in the ancient mastiffs. A number of sources available today refer to the early difference that developed between the white, longer muzzled, graceful "shepherd's" dog and the darker, heavier, dog used for protection and for war (Raulston). Both Strang and von Stephanitz report that Columella, a Roman writer, in about the year 60 AD in De Re Rustica describes two types of guard dogs: the white, swift sheep guarding dog or shepherd's dog and the dark colored, heavy farm guard dog. These early imports from Asia Minor to the Pyrenees were certainly of the first type and were the basis for the breed we now know as the Great Pyrenees.

Once the mastiff reached the Roman Empire, they had already been bred to suit special purposes, the first step in the development of "breeds" within a species. The Romans had developed one breed that very closely resembles the Sennenhund or Swiss Mountain Dog of today (Hubbard). In fact, there were no prehistoric Swiss mastiffs, or doggen, prior to the last century BC (Raulston). The Romans took their mastiffs into Gaul, now known as France. Their mastiffs guarded the mountain passes where a few hundred years later the St. Bernard would be found. These early mastiffs also contributed to French breeds like the Dogue de Bordeaux and quite possibly to the many breeds of hounds found in France. To the south, in Italy the Neapolitan Mastiff was born. In Spain, very near the homeland of the Great Pyrenees, the Spanish Mastiff developed. To the north, in Belgium, the feared tracker, St. Hubert's Hound, the ancestor of today's Bloodhound, was developed from the descendants of those fierce hunting dogs of prehistoric times. The retrievers, like the Labrador and the Chesapeake, are thought also to trace to the ancient mastiffs.

From the Alps, the mastiff is thought to have been adopted by the Germanic peoples and then to have traveled to Great Britain with Angles and Saxons. The Great Dane is known as the Deutsche Dogge (or German Mastiff) in most countries today. In Chaucer's day the Middle English words alaunt or alan and alano were also used to indicate early mastiffs. These words may have derived from the word Alani, the name of an Eastern race that lived before the time of Christ in what is now Albania (AKC) or they may have , in fact, been corruptions of the word Allemannni, the Germanic people who invaded France prior to the reign of Charlemagne.
I have no idea how accurate any of this is, but it's interesting.
SWORDS INTO PLOWSHARES: The Jerusalem Post has an article on the Isaiah Scroll exhibition:
A message for the ages

'They will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore." Thus is the prophecy of Isaiah, the eighth-century BCE prophet who preached a message of universal peace, and whose lips, according to biblical sources, were divinely anointed with fire.

As the Jewish people mark Shavuot, the celebration of receiving the Torah from God, the Israel Museum is proudly displaying Isaiah's scroll, one of the world's oldest known scrolls, and the most complete Dead Sea scroll ever found.


Sunday, June 08, 2008

MILESTONE: Just noticed that PaleoJudaica passed the 500,000 unique visitors mark sometime in the last couple of days. (See the counter on the lower right.) Welcome to visitor number half-million, whoever you were!
YEHUD UNDER PERSIA RULE is covered briefly in Die Zeit.
THE JERUSALEM SYNDROME gets some coverage in the Toronto Star:
Visiting Jerusalem can spark a psychotic reaction

When this ancient city's messianic vibe takes over, some pilgrims don bedsheets and start preaching

Jun 07, 2008 04:30 AM
Oakland Ross
Middle East Bureau

JERUSALEM–More than 2 million visitors flock to this holy city in a good year – including business-people, pilgrims and vacationers – and most survive the experience without suffering major upset.

But there are some notable exceptions.

In the medical literature, the condition is referred to as a form of "psychotic decompensation" or a "unique acute psychotic state."

Or, to put it in layman's terms, the City of Gold can have a strange effect on some people's heads. About 100 people a year, on average.

There's even a name for the sometimes-unnerving result.

They call it the Jerusalem syndrome.

More on the Jerusalem Syndrome here.
The Western Wall in Jerusalem is a holy spot to Jews around the world.

The wall is the only remaining portion of the Holy Temple built by Solomon that was destroyed in the year 70. This temple was the center of Judaism, considered to be the resting place of God's presence on Earth. Jewish tradition teaches that prayers first ascend to the Western Wall before ascending to heaven.

Actually it's a remnant of the platform that held Herod's Temple. More here.
Their names may be lost to history, but their stories endure
By Shona Crabtree, Religion News Service
Published: June 06, 2008

WASHINGTON (RNS)—Lot’s wife and daughters. Two thieves crucified with Jesus. Three Wise Men. They’re all iconic figures from the Bible, yet they all have one thing in common. Officially, they have no names.

The Bible is riddled with famous or infamous people who went nameless—in some cases forever, and in others for decades or centuries after their stories were recorded.

How and why they were eventually named, and why they initially went nameless, are the types of questions that intrigue scholars. And while anonymity often is equated with unimportance or insignificance, some scholars have challenged that assumption.

Adele Reinhartz, professor of religious studies at the University of Ottawa, is the author of Why Ask My Name? Anonymity and Identity in Biblical Narrative. While some anonymous biblical figures simply aren’t that important, she cited several times when an unnamed person is essential to the story.

Take Lot’s wife and daughters. ...
HAPPY SHAVUOT to all those celebrating. It begins tonight at sundown. More here.