Saturday, August 16, 2008

VISION OF GABRIEL WATCH: Christianity Today has an article on the inscription. Excerpt:
Darrell Bock, a professor of New Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary, says Knohl may be reaching too far with his translation. "The problem here is that there's not enough text to be able to be really confident about what the passage itself is reading in order to build a theory around it," he says.

Ben Witherington III, professor of New Testament interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary, agrees that Knohl offers a lot of conjecture to fill the gaps and holes in the text. "But what if he's right?" Witherington asks. "It just means that there were more persons in early Judaism, other than Jesus and his followers, who were talking about a dying and rising messiah. That's not a problem for Christianity, as far as I can see."

Bock doesn't see much of interest for scholars. "The text deals with some type of angelic communication, but beyond that it's very hard to tell what all is going on," he says. "The connection to messiah is virtually absent."

But Witherington calls it an interesting document, beyond the rarity of an ink inscription on stone. He thinks scholars will continue to be drawn to it.

"It's some kind of prophetic, apocalyptic Jewish text," he says. "I think this stone is as significant as many of the Dead Sea Scrolls. But it doesn't seem to have any value for the discussion of Jesus except by way of general background text, like the Dead Sea Scrolls."
That sounds about right to me, and I've made similar comments here and here.

Further background here, here, here, and here.
THE ROMAN TEMPLE newly excavated in Sepphoris (Zippori) is covered by National Geographic News. Excerpt:
Temple of the Gods

The newfound temple measures about 40-by-78 feet (12-by-24 meters). It was built just south of the decumanus, a colonnaded street running east to west that served as the main thoroughfare in most Roman cities.

The temple originally had a decorated façade, but its walls were plundered in ancient times and only the foundations have survived.

No archaeological evidence was found to indicate the nature of pagan rituals carried out in the temple. The structure was not built like a Jewish synagogue, and formal Christian churches did not exist until at least the third century A.D.

Coins minted in Zippori that date to the time of Antoninus Pius, who ruled Rome from A.D. 138 to 161, depict a temple to the Roman god Jupiter and goddess Fortuna.

"Roman religion of the time was complex and variegated and involved civic religions, mystery religions, personal religions. Romans could function in different religious contexts," said Ed Wright, director of the University of Arizona's Center for Judaic Studies.
Background here.
ART AND EMPIRE: The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston has an exhibition on the Neo-Assyrian Empire. Excerpt from the Art Daily article:
Art and Empire chronicles Assyria’s rise from a small landlocked kingdom in northern Mesopotamia to a magnificent empire stretching from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea. Its territories encompassed all of present-day Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, as well as large parts of Israel, Egypt, Turkey, and Iran—the greatest dominion known until that time. The exhibition features artistry created for several great Neo-Assyrian kings, from the first, Ashurnasirpal II (883–859 BC) of Nimrud, to the last, Ashurbanipal (668–631 BC), of Nineveh. Art and Empire brings the grandeur of this ancient Near Eastern realm to life through the display of 30 monumental wall reliefs, as well as numerous cuneiform clay tablets, sculpture—both in the round and in relief—and cylinder seals. Works on view range from The king on campaign (about 875–860 BC), a regal wall relief of Ashurnasirpal II going to battle in Kurdistan, to Dying Lion (around 645 BC), the moving image of a noble beast shot by an arrow, in the throes of a painful death, created during the reign of Ashurbanipal. (Among the finest wall relief carvings from this period are those of the lion hunts created for Ashurbanipal’s North Palace at Nineveh.) These are some of the many objects that shed light on the administration of the empire, culture, trade, personal beliefs, and interrelationships among religion, magic, and medicine. Military dress, equipment, and horse trappings illustrating army life, as well as decorative ivory pieces, furniture fittings, and metal vessels showcasing the luxurious cosmopolitan lifestyle enjoyed by royalty, are among the highlights of the exhibition.


Such rules and regulations, as well as public documents (tax rolls, agricultural records, and treaties), religious rituals, and literary texts were written in cuneiform script and preserved on clay tablets, many of which were discovered by Layard’s protégé, Hormuzd Rassam, from the extensive library at Ashurbanipal’s palace in Nineveh. (In the 19th and 20th century, more than 20,000 cuneiform tablets were excavated by the British Museum.) Ashurbanipal asserted that he could read the wedge-shaped cuneiform script, and his desire to preserve in one place all of the world’s important works of literature and science has been called visionary.

Some of those collected by Ashurbanipal were 1,000 years old at the time. Included in the king’s library were numerous copies of The Epic of Gilgamesh (7th century BC), considered the most important work of Mesopotamian literature. One tablet of Gilgamesh is featured in the Administration and Culture section of Art and Empire, as are intricately carved cylinder seals used by the royal household; when rolled out over clay, the impressions they made served as official seals. Often crafted from semi-precious stone, the cylinders featured scenes of kings, warriors, gods, as well as animals. Such cylinders were used to form a parure, or jewelry set, commissioned by Layard as a wedding gift for his wife, Enid. After wearing her grand necklace of Assyrian, Akkadian, Babylonian, and Achaemenian seals, Lady Layard later wrote in her diary that it was “much admired” by Queen Victoria when the Layards dined with her in 1873.


Friday, August 15, 2008

THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS: THE MOVIE. A seven-minute film on the IAA website.

(Via Jim West on the g-Megillot list.)
Dome of the Rock 'erased' from Temple Mount

Religious movement’s Tisha B’Av pamphlet shows Temple Mount minus Muslim sites; group chairman says hopes al-Aqsa will be obliterated altogether, not just through Photoshop software

Kobi Nahshoni (Ynetnews)
Published: 08.15.08, 08:08 / Israel Jewish Scene

"On the eve of Tisha B'Av the serious question is raised whether we should take the opportunity and ascend to the Temple Mount as it stands empty, inviting us to build our dream house on it."

Whoever read this caption which appeared on the cover of the Maayanei Hayeshua movement’s latest pamphlet might have thought that this was a symbolic expression of the expected redemption on the eve of Tisha B’Av.

However, those with a keen eye noticed that the huge picture of the Temple Mount which was spread on the cover page was missing the Dome of the Rock, and that the pamphlet “cleaned” the mount of all Muslim signs


The chairman of the Maayanei Hayeshua movement told Ynet in response that “Jews throughout the world hope for a day in which the al-Aqsa Mosque will actually be obliterated from the Temple Mount and not just by means of Photoshop software.

“We have been waiting for this day for too long. When it happens, Jews from the entire world will come to Jerusalem in order to build the beloved Temple, and no Muslim will dare open his mouth against it. I hope that Israel is indeed ready for this day.”
This is not helpful. The political issues are obvious. I've commented on the archaeological issues here.
THE HADRIAN EXHIBITION is reviewed by Elizabeth Speller in the New Statesman. Excerpt:
Not everyone requires an official narrative, of course. Reviewers sometimes have the opportunity to see an exhibition outside opening hours, and for sensuous pleasure such intimate viewing is an unmatched experience. An exhibition, however, is primarily not a spectacle, but a conduit of information, and watching visitors respond to the displays is informative in itself. The densest bottleneck is around finds from a cave in Israel where Jewish rebels and their families attempted (unsuccessfully) to evade the Roman soldiers. The exhibits are beautifully preserved and mostly very simple: footwear, a straw basket, house keys, letters and a mirror. Almost all are objects familiar from our own lives and resonate with images we know from the aftermath of violent conflict today - and they prove that it is not just precious metal, marble and superb craftsmanship which draw the crowds or re-create the past.

Why Hadrian? He was intelligent, restless and controlling, his political skills consolidated the empire, his aesthetic agenda transformed the city of Rome, and his suppression of Judaea was to store up problems for posterity, but Hadrian was not so much an exceptional emperor as a very good exemplar, not least because such a breadth of material survives him. But ultimately, in common with the major exhibition that preceded it, "The First Emperor: China's Terracotta Army", and almost certainly "Babylon", planned for November, this is an exploration of power. Specifically, of absolute power, and how it can marshal unimaginable resources to shape a world.
Background here.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

DEAD BODIES are apparently less interesting than the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Well, I would hope so.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Three 9,000-Year-Old Skulls Found in Galilee

by Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu

( Archaeologists have discovered three 9,000-year-old skulls at the Yiftah'el dig in the Lower Galilee, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Wednesday. Experts said the placement of the skulls confirms the worship of ancestors from during that time, practiced by displaying skulls inside houses.


"The skulls were found plastered – that is to say sculpted – which is a phenomenon that is identified with the New Stone Age," said site director Dr. Hamoudi Khalaily. "The practice included the reconstruction of all of the facial features of the deceased by means of sculpting the skull with a variety of materials such as plaster that was specifically intended for this. On the skulls that were found in the excavation the nose was entirely reconstructed."

And Arutz Sheva has this aside, which perhaps has some potential for the next Indiana Jones movie:
Some Torah authorities explain that findings which are dated before the Jewish date of creation are remnants from worlds which G-d created and destroyed before this world.
Seriously, this is a very interesting find from a period from which very little evidence survives.
ASSYRIANS Mark Genocide Awareness Day.
THE BOOK by Yona Sabar's son Ariel is reviewed by the Jewish Week. Excerpt:
The remarkable arc of Sabar’s life is at the center of his son Ariel Sabar’s outstanding book, “My Father’s Paradise: A Son’s Search for His Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq”(Algonquin). In telling his father’s story intertwined with the family’s tales, journalist Sabar reconstructs the little-known history of the Kurdish Jews, who lived in harmony with their non-Jewish neighbors. In Zakho, Muslims would bring tea to their Jewish neighbors on Shabbat, when the Jews weren’t able to cook. Jewish men wore the same baggy trousers and embroidered shirts as Muslims, “even if a few strands of tzitzit poked out from beneath their shirts.”
“My father had staked his life on the notion that the past mattered more than anything,” the younger Sabar writes, adding, “He sublimated homesickness into a career.”
“My Father’s Paradise” is also a deeply personal story of a distant father and son who were ultimately reconciled. Growing up in Los Angeles in the 1980s, Ariel Sabar found his father embarrassing, regarding him as the uncoolest person he knew, with his unstylish clothing and beat-up car, and his passion for ancient languages rather than popular culture.
But, after moving across the country to attend college, falling in love with and marrying a non-Jewish woman and working hard in his first reporting jobs, Sabar was drawn to write about his father after the scholar was called to consult on the television series “The X-Files,” about the language Jesus might have used. For the first time, Sabar asked his father, as he might have questioned any source, about his life in Zakho. His story in the Providence Journal, “Scholar Dad Goes Showbiz: ‘I Am the Walrus’ in Aramaic” brought him a greater response than all of his previous articles combined. He then thought that he had said everything he had to say about his father.
But there was more. The truth is out there.

(Sorry, couldn't resist.)
THE FORT WALLA WALLA MUSEUM in Washington has made what sounds like a strong staff appointment:
Christina Daltoso has joined Fort Walla Walla Museum in the newly created position of executive assistant.

Daltoso is a 2004 Whitman College graduate who majored in history with a focus on the ancient world. She recently completed work at Walla Walla University, where she studied biblical/ancient languages, including classic Arabic, biblical Hebrew and Sumerian.

Having been an intern at the museum, Daltoso was involved in nearly every phase of museum work. In her new role she will assist Executive Director James Payne with the museum's capital campaign and operational issues. The job, which follows an archaeological dig in Jordan this summer for Daltoso, comes as the museum moves into "high gear" on its enhanced services, programs and related facilities project, officials say.
It's always particularly gratifying to encounter employed Sumerologists. Congratulations to Ms. Daltoso and to the Museum.
TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: The Al Aksa Foundation is grumbling about the Mughrabi (Mugrabi) Gate bridge construction plans:
An Islamic group on Tuesday condemned a long-time Israeli proposal to enlarge the section of the Western Wall allotted for women's prayer.


The Islamic group, which held an east Jerusalem press conference Tuesday to protest the Israeli plans, denies the existence of the Jewish temples on the Temple Mount and refers to the Western Wall as "the al-Buraq wall."

The plan for the expansion of the women's section at the Western Wall has not yet been approved by a state planning committee.
Actually, I thought that part of the plan had already been rejected. It's never very clear to me which committee (or committees), if any, is allowed to make final decisions on town planning in Jerusalem.
I'M OFF to the Edinburgh book festival. No time for blogging this morning. I'll try to fit some in this evening.

UPDATE (7:45 pm): We heard a very good lecture by Cambridge astrophysicist John D. Barrow on the history of Cosmic Imagery. But the venue was disappointing. The tent where the lecture was held was suffocatingly hot and all the doors were kept closed (to keep noise out?). I've not been to the book festival before, but I would have expected better planning. Oh, and we bought some books too.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

THE ROMAN TEMPLE at Sepphoris (Zippori) gets some more coverage from the AP and the Jerusalem Post. Here' the archaeologist's take on the significance of the discovery:
The excavations, undertaken by the Noam Shudofsky Zippori Expedition led by Prof. Zeev Weiss of the university's Institute of Archaeology, shed light on the multi-cultural society of ancient Zippori. They indicate that Zippori, the Jewish capital of Galilee during Roman times, had a significant pagan population which established the temple at the heart of the city, and was later also inhabited by Christians.

"It shows that pagans who were a minority prayed in the center of the city and lived in harmony with the Jewish majority," Weiss said Monday.
Background here.
ARAMAIC WATCH: More on Maaloula (Ma'aloula, Malula) and its new Aramaic Institute:
Syrian villagers keep Jesus' language alive

Brooke Anderson, [San Francisco] Chronicle Foreign Service

(08-11) 17:06 PDT Maaloula, Syria -- Marian Shanees had never seen the letters of her native language of Aramaic. Now, a new program in Maaloula, one of the few places where Aramaic is still spoken, will change that.

"This is the first time I'm seeing my alphabet," said 7-year-old Marian, who started learning the language in early July at the Aramaic Language Institute. "I'm really happy to be studying the language of my ancestors."

Aramaic was the language spoken by Jesus and a Semitic tribe thousands of years ago. Today, it is still spoken in three Syrian villages, Jabaadeen, Serkha and Maaloula - all within an hour's bus ride of the Syrian capital of Damascus.

In the summer of 2007, the institute, in affiliation with the University of Damascus, opened its doors in Maaloula, the main town where Aramaic is spoken. Now, children and adults who grew up speaking the language can learn to read and write it.


Right now, Maaloula's relatively new Aramaic Committee is trying to gather information on the language from the town's elders to create a modern Aramaic dictionary.

Elias Tajara, 60-year-old former math teacher, is in his second summer teaching Aramaic. For Tajara, who remembers a time when the entire town spoke Aramaic fluently, teaching his native language is more important than math because "it's the language of our forefathers."

There's also a list of Aramaic words and phrases, presumably in the Maaloula dialect, at the end of the article.

Background here.

Monday, August 11, 2008


Lammas Fair 2008

No, I didn't go on the Eclipse ride again (my son did), but I did have more of those doughnuts!

(Click on the image for a larger version.)
A ROMAN TEMPLE has been discovered at Sepphoris:
Roman Temple Uncovered In Zippori (Sepphoris)

ScienceDaily (Aug. 11, 2008) — Ruins of a Roman temple from the second century CE have recently been unearthed in the Zippori National Park. Above the temple are foundations of a church from the Byzantine period.

The excavations, which were undertaken by the Noam Shudofsky Zippori Expedition led by of Prof. Zeev Weiss of the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, shed light on the multi-cultural society of ancient Zippori.

For a couple of recent tourist pieces on Sepphoris, see here and here.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

THE PHOENICIA sets sail today to circumnavigate Africa:
Around Africa in a Phoenician boat

Lina Sinjab
BBC News, Damascus

On Arwad Island off the coast of Syria, a group of 20 sailors-to-be are preparing for a voyage their captain believes has not been undertaken for two and a half millennia.

They plan to set off on Sunday on a journey that attempts to replicate what the Greek historian Herodotus mentions as the first circumnavigation of Africa in about 600BC.

Their vessel, the small, pine-wood Phoenicia, is modelled on the type of ship the Phoenician sailors he credited with the landmark voyage would have used.


The skilful shipbuilders in Arwad are familiar with construction techniques dating back 200-300 years, but shipbuilder Orwa Bader, 28, says this is the first time they have ever tried to build in the Phoenician style.

"Usually it takes three men and two months to build any type of ship. But this time, we needed at least five to 10 builders to work on it over eight months to make it ready. It was a hard but enjoyable job."

The vessel, designed on the basis of information from wrecked ships, pottery and other archaeological artefacts from the era, is made entirely of wood, with a single sail and no engine.

The only concession to 21st Century sailing equipment is its navigational system. Its top speed will be the equivalent of 10km/h on land.

Bon voyage!

Background here.