Saturday, August 23, 2008

ANACHRONISTIC KABBALAH: A Syndey Morning Herald travel piece on Safed in the Galilee in says the following:
Zefat (also spelled Safed, Szfat, Tzfat and Sfat) is considered the birthplace of Kabbalah and, after Jerusalem, is regarded as Israel's holiest town. Situated in the Upper Galilee, it has been home to some of Kabbalah's greatest mystics during the past 2000 years.

Kabbalah is the study of the mystical aspects of Judaism. And according to rabbis in Zefat, Kabbalah is to the Torah (Jewish bible) what philosophy is to science; in other words, it is the study of the hidden and the spiritual aspects of God's commandments.

The most famous Kabbalist to have a strong connection with Zefat was Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai, who wrote the Zohar, considered the chief work of Kabbalah. During the second century he spent 13 years living and studying in a cave near Zefat with a group of his students.
The Zohar was at least mostly written (in Shimon Bar Yohai's name) by Moses de León and his circle in Spain in the late thirteenth century.
THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS are profiled briefly by CBN News and Stephen Pfann and Adolfo Roitman are quoted. Excerpt:
To learn more about the Dead Sea Scrolls, CBN News hiked up to one of those 11 caves with Stephen Pfann, founder of the University of the Holy Land and an expert on the Dead Sea Scrolls.

When asked why the Dead Sea Scrolls were so important to us today, Pfann said, "because they confirm the Bible that we have. There's variants, but basically it's [that] you can barely tell the difference between the two texts, [the one] that we have in Qumran and in our Bibles."
One never knows whether these quotes are accurate, but I think the case is overstated. I have commented on such matters here and here.

Friday, August 22, 2008

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Jordan is protesting the latest Israeli plans for the construction on the Mughrabi (Mugrabi) Gate bridge according to the APF.
"Foreign Minister Salah Bashir summoned the Israeli ambassador this week to officially inform him that Jordan rejects such illegal measures," said MP Mohammed Abu Hdeib, head of the lower house of parliament's committee on international affairs, after meeting Bashir on Thursday.

"Israel plans excavations near Al-Mughrabi Gate (of the mosque) and wants to build a bridge there, violating the 1994 peace treaty with Jordan and international treaties," he said.

Abu Hdeib told AFP that the planned work "threatens the foundations of Al-Aqsa," and warned: "This would also lead to a new violent conflict in the Middle East because Jerusalem is a red line for Muslims and Arabs."
Background here.
CHERUBIMSES – Philologos discusses, inter alia the English forms of the word Cherub:
But cherubim is a much more interesting word than kibbutzim. In medieval and Renaissance English, it was taken to be a singular form. This is why, when the Hebrew book of Genesis tells us that after Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden of Eden, God put k’ruvim at its entrance to keep humanity from returning there, the 1611 King James Version gives us, “And he [God] placed at the east of the garden of Eden cherubims.”

Ultimately, this goes back to the standard Latin Bible, which translates these words as et collocavit antes paradisum voluptatis Cherubim. Why Jerome, this Bible’s fourth-century translator, did not render the plural of the Hebrew k’ruv as cherubi or cherubes, in the Latin manner, is explained by his decision to capitalize it. He did not, that is, construe k’ruvim as a plural, but rather as the proper name of some kind of supernatural creature placed by God to guard the Gates of Eden — and as a result, cherubim or cherubin entered a large number of European languages with such a meaning.


What led Jerome, an accomplished Hebraist in his own right, to make such a mistake? He would seem to have been influenced by a vision of many cherubim in Chapter 10 of the book of Ezekiel, in which each cherub seen by the prophet is depicted as a composite creature, so that “every one had four faces: the first face was the face of a cherub, and the second face was the face of a man, and the third the face of a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle.” Since Jerome translates the first part of this as Quattuor autem facies habebat unum: facies una, facies cherub, he apparently understood the singular Hebrew noun k’ruv to be the “cherub-face” of a four-faced creature called k’ruvim in both the singular and the plural, just as our English word “fish” can mean either one fish or many.
Sounds plausible overall. That said, I'm not a Latin paleographer, but I'm pretty sure that capitalization of names came well after the time of Jerome.

Philologos also has a theory about how cherubim came to be pictures as cute little babies. That representation is quite different from the intimidating aspect they present in the Bible and in Jewish and Christian mysticial literature. I believe C. S. Lewis once commented that "cherub" is cognate with "gryphon," and that should tell us something. I don't know whether his etymology is right, but the comparison does give a good feel for what the cherubim are like.

I'm extremely busy today, so further blogging may end up on the back burner.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

IF THE UNIVERSE is a computer simulation, someone may just have found the Demiurge's "undo" command, which could be kind of useful.

(Via Instapundit.)
THE SEPTUAGINT INSTITUTE at Trinity Western University is profiled in The occasion is an upcoming conference to celebrate the completion of the NETS translation project:
Lost in Translation
International scholars will congregate at Trinity Western University to discuss the Septuagint at a September 2008 conference.
by Erin Mussolum

It is called the Septuagint and in some circles is known simply as LXX. But for the benefit of those unfamiliar with the peculiar sounding term, the Septuagint is the earliest Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible.

The Septuagint Institute at Trinity Western University is dedicated to the study of this anthology of ancient texts. Created to promote research on the Septuagint, the Institute involves the largest group of specialists in this field of research at any academic institution in the country: Dr. Rob Hiebert, Dr. Larry Perkins, Dr. Dirk Büchner and Dr. Peter Flint.

From September 18-20, the Septuagint Institute will host a gathering of some of the world’s most prominent biblical scholars who will discuss the results of their research on the Septuagint. The conference marks a special occasion as well for the four Trinity Western University scholars as it will be an opportunity to celebrate, together with other experts, the recent publication by Oxford University Press of A New English Translation of the Septuagint.

VISION OF GABRIEL WATCH: Professor Israel Knohl has published a new article in Biblical Archaeology Review which defends his theory that the inscription is about the suffering Messiah ben Joseph. The full text of the article is online:
The Messiah Son of Joseph
“Gabriel’s Revelation” and the Birth of a New Messianic Model
(Background here.)

UPDATE (22 August): Note that premier paleographer Ada Yardeni agrees with Knohl's reading and translation of the key phrase "In three days, live."

Also, Douglas Mangum comments at the Biblia Hebraica blog.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

MORE ON THE PHOENICIA, which was scheduled to set sail to circumnavigate Africa on the tenth of this month, although I haven't actually seen confirmation of the launch. An article in the UAE National has some additional information.
Arwad Island, the northernmost Phoenician trading post, still has a Phoenician-built wall on its sea front. When Beale was researching places to have a his vessel built, he combed the Lebanese, Turkish, Cypriot and Syrian coastlines in search of a community of traditional boatbuilders. Finally he discovered Arwad, only 35 kilometres from the Lebanese border but part of Syria, where there are still two families (one of three members, the other of 25 members) who build boats with traditional methods. A chance chat in a restaurant on the island with the 24-year-old business student Orwah Bakker, now project-manager of the expedition, led him to Khalid Hammoud, who built the ship with four others.

Hammoud’s family has been building boats for many generations. However, constructing an ancient vessel was a huge challenge, particularly as an ancient technique had to be used. It took two years of planning and design before the first plank of Aleppo pine was even laid and Bakker says that the hardest part for the team was the design stage, when every detail had to be painstakingly translated and explained.

Built of pine – whereas Phoenicians would have used the now-endangered and more expensive cedar – Phoenicia is an example of “plank-first construction”, an ancient technique that involves building the boat’s frame first and inserting the planks afterwards. The positioning of the first plank is a delicate process because it sets the shape of the whole ship. Each successive plank is then carefully joined by mortice and tenon pegs of olive wood, and each tenon fixed with two wooden dowels. The whole ship consists of 8,000 pegs, fixed with 16,000 dowels. “Usually it takes three men and two months to build any type of ship,” says Bakker. “But this time, we needed at least five or 10 builders to work on it over eight months to make it ready. It has been hard but enjoyable.”

Phoenicia’s route will take it first into the Suez Canal, and then into the Red Sea, which it has to enter before the tides change in early September. It will then pull in at Aden, Mombassa, Dar es Salaam, Maputo, Richard’s Bay, Cape Town, Accra, Gibraltar, Carthage, Alexandria, and, all being well, return to Arwad in May of next year. The stops have been chosen mainly because they make sense from a sailing point of view, but Carthage in Tunisia has particular significance because it was a Phoenician colony. Similarly, Alexandria is also where Beale suspects the Phoenician expedition to have ended, because Herodotus states that it was somewhere on Egypt’s northern coast.

Beale calls his expeditions “experimental archaeology”. Each voyage so far has been an attempt to see whether it would have been possible to sail such a vessel in certain seas at a certain time.
There are brief interviews with crew members and then this:
A week ago, the local community slaughtered a sheep to send the boat on its way. Beale adds, “We’re going to need all the luck we can get.”

Background here.
Arab posing as J'lem tour guide nabbed for selling ancient coins to tourists
By ETGAR LEFKOVITS (Jerusalem Post)

A 43-year-old Arab resident of east Jerusalem has been arrested for allegedly posing as a city tour guide and selling tourists various rare antique coins, the Israel Antiquities Authority said Tuesday.

The suspected antiquities thief was nabbed red-handed on Sunday in the Old City of Jerusalem by the state-run archeological body's anti-theft division in the midst of making a sale to unsuspecting tourists.

The suspect was found to be carrying around 100 impressive antique coins of various shapes and sizes, including Roman coins and a motley collection of other coins dating back to the Hellenistic Period.

The coins, which were taken from various archeological sites across the country, are valued in the thousands of dollars.

That's one arrest, but it's only the tip of the tel:
About 300 archeology thefts are detected each year in Israel, with the illicit antiquities trade on the black market in the country estimated to be in the millions of dollars annually.

The phenomenon of antiquities theft has taken on gold-rush dimensions with an antiquities site now plundered nearly every day on average.
The article also has a picture of some of the recovered coins.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

SCOTLAND is to blame for the notion that the Israelites built the Pyramids?
But even when human agency behind the pyramids is acknowledged, the credit for them is disputed. The most famous alternative theory is that Israelite slaves built these colossal structures. The late Israeli prime minister, Menachem Begin, stirred up a furore in Egypt when he claimed, prior to arriving for the first official visit by an Israeli leader to Cairo, that his ancestors built the pyramids.

Of course, no archaeologist takes this theory seriously, since the pyramids were already pretty ancient when the Israelites are presumed to have been in Egypt and it is now generally accepted that slaves did not work on the project.

There is also no biblical evidence that the Israelites worked on the pyramids. Baruch Brandel, the director of the Israel antiquities authority library, notes that: "The Torah only mentions that the Israelites built Pithom and Ramses during the new kingdom period."

So, where does this legend come from? Scotland, actually. Charles Piazzi Smyth believed that the mysterious Hyksos – who may have invaded, or simply migrated, to Egypt nearly a millennium after the pyramids were built – were the Hebrew people, and that they built the Great Pyramid.

Some Jews began to subscribe to this far-fetched theory to draw pride amid discrimination, just as the 19th century Afrocentric movement in the US extended the period of Kushite (modern-day Nubian) rule for two centuries during the third intermediate period to all of Egyptian history in order to claim that ancient Egypt was "black African".
Actually, Josephus came up with the idea long before Smyth. And unfortunately it still turns up in Egypt.
THE TOMB OF EZRA (traditional) at Al ʿUzair, Iraq, is featured in the Babylon & Beyond Blog at the LA Times. There are pictures, including of a couple of Hebrew inscriptions.

For notes on some possible Ezra traditions in Islam, see my essay on the Apocalypse of Sedrach here, points 2-3 near the end.

(Via Chuck Jones at the Iraq Crisis list.)

Monday, August 18, 2008

THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS REVISITED is a BBC series by Roger Bolton which has apparently been playing recently. I hadn't noticed it, but my doctoral student Kathleen Burt pointed it out to me. If you're in Britain you can see episode 2 on BBC iPlayer. You can also listen to the radio programs here. These might be accessible outside Britain - I'm not sure. There are interviews with George Brooke, Jodi Magness, and Daniel Schwartz.
TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: The article Digging out the truth? by Lela Gilbert in the Jerusalem Post looks at Jewish Temple denial in the Muslim world, the illicit and destructive digging on the Temple Mount by the Waqf, and the results of the sifting of the excavated materials by Professor Gabriel Barkay and his team. The results of the last get more and more impressive:
"At least it enables us to look at the soil, though everything comes from a very disturbed context," Barkay says. "But we know it comes from the Temple Mount. And we have tens of thousands of finds."

These finds, that cover approximately 15,000 years, have altered the historic understanding of the area's history. Sponsored by the Ir David Foundation, volunteers working with Barkay have been sifting through the debris, and have found Stone Age flint implements. They have discovered pre-Israelite material, Bronze Age pottery, two Egyptian scarabs and several seals and seal impressions.

One very significant find, confirming the recorded history of the Temple's existence, is the fragment of a bulla, a clay lump with a seal impression upon it, which is about 2,600 years old and dates from the First Temple period. Its inscription bears part of official's name, Gealyahu son of Immer. The Immer family is recorded in the Bible. "In Jeremiah 20:1," Barkay says, "probably the brother of Gealyahu is mentioned, a priestly man named Pashur son of Immer. He is introduced as the man in charge of the Temple."

Findings from the time of Solomon's Temple up to the 20th century illuminate the raging conflicts of passing civilizations. "We have enormous quantities of war artifacts: We have lead slingshots of the Seleucid armies in the battles of Judah Maccabee. We have arrowheads of the army of Nebuchadnezzar, who destroyed the First Temple. We have arrowheads of the Hellenistic period. We have one arrowhead bearing distinguishing markings of having been shot by a catapult. Those machines were only used by the armies of Titus in 70 CE in the destruction of the Second Temple. We have stone slingshots; we have spearheads; and we have medieval arrowheads from the Crusader conquest of the Temple Mount. There are even bullets from both the Turkish army and the British army in World War I."

Other findings on the Temple Mount - jewelry, coins, pottery shards and architectural fragments - provide specific details of human life spanning several millennia. "We have material dating back to the 10th century BCE, the time of David and Solomon. We have material from the time of the kings of Judah. We have material in abundance from the early Christian period. This is very significant, because it is written in most history books that the churches moved to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher after it was built (it dates back to at least the fourth century), and that thereafter the Temple Mount was neglected and was a garbage heap. But now we have to build a new history, based on archeological evidence.

"We have fragments of capitals from church buildings. We have remnants of chancel screens that separated the presbytery from the nave of the church. We have several bronze weights for weighing gold coins from the Christian era. We have to rethink the role of the Temple Mount in the time of early Christianity. Was it a garbage heap? Or is that biased history? I think that history was ideological."

Barkay says that large quantities of animal bones have been found on the Mount. "Bones are very important. We have pig bones which had to have come from pagan or Christian times. We also have bones of foxes. And that is interesting, because in the Talmud we have a story about foxes which until recently I thought was a legend."
Read it all.

Background here.
JACOB NEUSNER is interviewed by the Jerusalem Post:
'A utopian document, a utopian law'

In the world of Jewish studies, Prof. Jacob Neusner needs no introduction. The 75-year-old scholar of Talmud and rabbinic literature has written, edited or translated more than 900 books (though he doesn't want you to read them all), making him among the most active and prolific authors alive.

"But I have a limited repertoire," he says with a smile, an expertise which extends across a millennium and through dozens of difficult, tightly-written works that are the record of the rabbinic love affair with the Torah.

For Neusner, the study of rabbinic literature has been a kind of love affair in itself, and as with all true loves, he remembers clearly when it began. He sat down to study his first passage of Talmud just after Succot in October of 1954, at the age of 22. It was the eighth chapter of Baba Kama, "Hahovel," he recalls almost 54 years later.

"I was an American history major," and had always been a bit bored with the subject. "When I started studying Talmud, I finally came across something endlessly interesting. I had never met anything so challenging. It was like mathematics, only 1,000 times more complex. I was never bored again."

Now, struggling through the latest work, Sifrei Zuta Bamidbar, "a very strange text," he is a happy man. "Every line is a challenge, the challenge of reconstructing the thought processes of the rabbis."

The interview itself asks "Who were the rabbinic Sages? What can we know about their world? What can they tell us about Jewish life today?" At lot of it involves What-would-the-sages-do? sorts of questions.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Putting together prophecy
by Erin Wisdom
Saturday, August 16, 2008 (St. Joseph News-Press, MO)

The gate is four colors. Itís blue for divinity, purple for kingship, white for purity, red for blood. The gate is Jesus, 1,500 years before anyone knows him by name.

Through the gate is the outer court surrounding the tabernacle, and you must be with a priest to enter. If youíre an ancient Israelite, you bring a treasured lamb ó really more a pet than just a piece of livestock ó to sacrifice as payment for your sins.

If youíre not an ancient Israelite, you turn off your cell phone.

ìThese guys are out of 1,500 B.C.,î Everett Weed, whoís prepping you for your tour of the tabernacle, says of the priests who will take you through the experience. ìOne rang yesterday, and it scared them half to death.î

The tabernacle experience youíre about to have will take you not through the original Mosaic tabernacle but through a life-sized replica constructed by members of Green Valley Baptist Church.

Paul Ramírez Jonas: Abracadabra-I Create as I Speak at Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum


RIDGEFIELD.- Abracadabra translates from the ancient Aramaic language as “I Create as I Speak,” and represents artist Paul Ramírez Jonas’s desire to create work that will assert an interactive contract with the public, where one must give in order to receive.

Ramírez Jonas consistently utilizes pre-existing texts, including not only the written word, but also items as diverse as a walking trail and sheet music, in the service of creating new art. The artist considers himself a mere reader of such texts, interpreting the documents into forms such as performance, sculpture, photo, or video. Thus, a musical score may result in a sculpture, and a travelogue in a video, or the plans for a flying machine may emerge from a photo. Reading is the creative and free action that attracts Ramírez Jonas.

He says, “Being a reader, I have more in common with the public than with the author, and it is this commonality that I find so inspiring in working with pre-existing materials. My previous work also uses pre-existing texts; but my role is not as much to ‘read’ them anymore, as much as it is to present them for lecture. It is an invitation to read together, so to speak. Most pieces in this exhibition attempt, in their own way, to reassert a contract with their public. This contract stipulates that the works are here for you; but you must give a little to receive—even if it is just a penny, a wish, or a silent recitation.”

Visitors to The Aldrich’s exhibition can put that penny into a functional penny press machine entitled We Make Change. The viewer provides the muscle and the raw material; the machine re-engraves the penny so that it reads TRUST ME or WE TRUST, converting the coin, which has value in one economy, into an artwork that has value in a different economy.

A bit goofy, but at least the Aramaic etymology is plausible – as is confirmed, incidentally, by famed YouTube philologist Marina Orlova. (If bikini-clad women offend you, best not to click on that last link.)
Tacoma prof supervises archaeological dig online

THE NEWS TRIBUNE (Seattle Post Intelligencer)

TACOMA, Wash. -- In uncovering relics of the past, Doug Edwards is making a little history of his own.

Edwards, a religion professor at the University of Puget Sound for 21 years, has just wrapped up using video technology in Tacoma to conduct an archaeological dig in Israel - the first time anyone has led an excavation online, he says.

From July 9 through Aug. 16, Edwards supervised a team of 18 volunteers from the South Sound and across the nation, including two graduates from UPS and his 18-year-old daughter, Helen, who came home Wednesday.

"He's an amazing and far-reaching presence literally in that he was able to effectively direct an entire project from thousands of miles away," said Chris Mundigler, a colleague from Victoria, British Columbia, who's worked with Edwards since 2002 on projects around the Mediterranean.

Leading the dig from afar was born of necessity: Edwards, 58, is receiving daily treatment for bone cancer and learned in April that he couldn't accompany the team to Israel, where he's directed digs since 1992.


The team worked at Khirbet Cana, eight miles northwest of Nazareth. Cana is the site of a marriage feast where Jesus turned water to wine, according to the New Testament. The team looked for clues from shards of pottery to soil changes to see how first-century villages evolved.

Six days each week, Edwards held morning video conferences with his onsite director, along with specialists in Seattle, British Columbia and Virginia.

"The field supervisor gives me a report on what's happening, and we can share files, pictures on our computer screens," Edwards said. "For instance, if we have aerial photos and I want them to excavate a certain area, I can circle the place we want to talk about, and they can make comments on the screen."

The instant feedback - no mean feat when connecting individuals from scattered time zones - was valuable, he added.


Barry Goldstein, a UPS geology professor who's worked on digs with Edwards since 1998, described his colleague as a visionary and the "glue" of the lengthy excavation process.

Goldstein said the new technology allows interested parties to receive bits of information as onsite teams update an online database, rather than waiting five to 10 years for a comprehensive paper to be published.

This is cool. Doubly cool, with both the online supervision and the remarkable instant access to the raw data for outsiders. I with Professor Edwards a rapid and full recovery.
THE MESOPOTAMIANS by They Might Be Giants is now on YouTube.

Originally on MySpace, as noted here.

(Via Thoughts from a Young, Slightly Cantakerous, Aspiring Theologian, via the Agade list.)