Saturday, April 04, 2009

WE'RE IN SAN DIEGO. Just got in. More tomorrow.
I'M OFF TO SUNNY SAN DIEGO for a fortnight's holiday. I should have Internet access and blogging should continue more or less normally, although it will be competing with family, close friends, beaches, etc. I am in transit as this message is posted and expect to arrive late in the evening San Diego time. Look for me then or on Sunday morning.

Friday, April 03, 2009

SBL PAPER: Recently got the good news that my paper proposal for the November 2009 Society of Biblical Literature meeting in New Orleans has been accepted by the Pseudepigrapha Section. Here's the abstract:

Specialists in the study of ancient parabiblical literature have been engaged for some time in a debate on what such literature should be called and how it should be studied. There is little agreement on terminology apart from the conclusion that the term "pseudepigrapha" is entirely unhelpful and should not be used. More broadly, it is widely agreed that these texts should be liberated from subjugation to the biblical canon and treated as worthy of study in their own right. With the More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project (MOTP) sending results to press in 2009, these issues take on a practical urgency, since the editors must make many decisions about how to arrange the texts, how to present them, and how to refer to them.

Moreover, these decisions cannot be made in a vacuum. The Charlesworth volumes brought the term and concept "pseudepigrapha" into popular consciousness and solidified their use in scholarly discourse. These volumes also laid out implicit templates for how to organize and present the texts (e.g., arranging the texts by genre and showing a distinct tendency to find texts to be early and Jewish rather than later and Christian). The editors of the MOTP have to take this background into account in order to provide a publication that is intelligible both to specialists in cognate fields and to the general public, while advancing their understanding of the current state of the question and maintaining the integrity of the work for specialists in parabiblical literature.

This paper discusses the practical problems encountered by the MOTP editors as they organized the project and prepared the texts for publication. These included the principles for selecting which texts to publish, how to arrange the texts in the actual publication, how to present them, and what title to give the whole work.
I will also be on a book review panel in the Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism Group.
MORE ON THE KHIRBET QEIYAFA INSCRIPTION: Aren Maier was at the 35th archaeological congress in Jerusalem and noted the following on the Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog.
Among that that I heard that were VERY interesting:
1) Haggai Misgav spoke about the Kh. Qeiyafa inscription, which still is for the most part undeciphered, but he showed some good slides of the 5 lines, 50 letters, and showed nicely the reading of, e.g., eved (slave), melek (king), al t’as (don’t do in biblical hebrew), etc. Inter alia, the so-called “Goliath inscription” from Tell es-Safi/Gath was mentioned.
Via Todd Bolen's Bible Places blog, as noted by Joseph I. Lauer.

Background here and keep following the links back.
A Pier from the Hellenistic Period was Discovered in Akko (2/4/09)

Archaeological discoveries shed new light on the question of the location of Akko’s harbor in the Hellenistic period and influence research regarding changes in sea level in antiquity
Remains of a unique and impressive floor were discovered at a depth of one meter underwater in Akko harbor. The remains constitute the first evidence of a low sea level during the Hellenistic period in Akko. The floor remains were discovered during archaeological excavations and inspections that the Israel Antiquities Authority Marine Archaeology Unit is carrying out within the framework of rehabilitating Akko’s southern seawall. The project is being implemented by conservators on behalf of the Old Acre Development Company, Ltd., and is underwritten by the Israel Lands Administration. The scope of the funding that the latter is providing totals several million shekels. As part of the project, a temporary rampart that serves as both a road and dam was built in the sea. The pool of water that formed between the rampart and the seawall was pumped out so as to create dry conditions for rehabilitating the seawall.

(Temporary IAA press release URL. Via Joseph I. Lauer's list.)
THE CITY OF TEL AVIV is celebrating the hundredth anniversary of its founding this year. Michael Handelzalts in Haaretz mentions a fun fact about the name:
One of the best-known facts about the first Hebrew city is that its name has a meaning - "Spring Hill" in English; furthermore, it is of both biblical and Zionist significance. "Tel Aviv" appears in the Bible, in the Book of Ezekiel (3:15), and is also the title devised by Nahum Sokolow for his Hebrew version of Theodor Herzl's utopian novel "Altneuland" ("Old New Land") - a work of fiction that eventually became fact.


This brings us to Nahum Sokolow and his idea of translating the title of Herzl's work as "Tel Aviv" in Hebrew. In a letter to Herzl in 1902, he says he is charmed by his own brilliant idea: It has an old biblical Eretz Israel sound, and also expresses the whole point of the book, juxtaposing the biblical heritage - as expressed by tel (the mound of rubble that remains after an ancient city has disappeared) - with aviv, meaning spring, a symbol of renewal.

The title may suit the spirit of Herzl's novel but, as both Ernst Klein and Eliezer Ben Yehuda pointed out, Sokolow was wrong in assuming that aviv in Ezekiel means spring. It is indeed the contemporary Hebrew meaning of the word, but in ancient Hebrew and based on the Akkadian expression, til abubi actually means "heap of ruins left from the waters of the flood." Which is logical, as Ezekiel is speaking about Babylon, where only a heap of rubble remained of the tower built after the flood. (By the way, don't look for the Tower of Babel in the Greek version of the Bible: It is called Syghistu there.)
I've not encountered this Akkadian etymology before, but it makes sense and I see that the commentaries accept it. But remember, etymology and usage are two different things!

By the way, the name Sygchysis (not Syghistu) in Greek means "commixture" or "confusion" and is an attempt to translate the Hebrew folk etymology for Bavel (Babylon) in Genesis 11:9.
THE BLESSING "OVER THE SUN at the beginning of its cycle," is to be recited in the ruin of the ancient synagogue at Masada:
Jews to Recite Rare Sun Blessing at Masada’s Ancient Synagogue

by Avraham Zuroff and Hana Levi Julian

( For the first time in two thousand years, the ancient synagogue atop the Judean desert fortress of Masada will ring out at dawn with the rare blessing of the sun.

The blessing, recited only once in every 28 years, will be uttered by Jews around the world at the first appearance of the sun on the morning that precedes the Passover seder. Rabbi Shimon Elharar, director of the Dead Sea Chabad House, will lead a group in the sunrise ceremony atop the Judean clifftop fortress of Masada.

The Israel Nature Society at Masada has teamed up with Chabad to host a public celebration for the rare event, which will take place on Wednesday, April 8, at the time of the vernal equinox.

Regarding the comments on the Roman siege of Masada later in the article, note that Josephus' account should be taken with a grain or two of salt. See here for links to commentary.

A more detailed description of the sun rite appears in the Jerusalem Post:
World of the Sages: The sun's new cycle


This coming Wednesday, on the eve of Pessah, we perform a ritual that occurs only once every 28 years. The source for this commemorative event is a passage in the Talmud (B. Brachot 59b). It records a tradition about blessings over astronomical events: "One who sees the sun at the beginning of its cycle, the moon in its mightiness, the planets in their orbits or the signs of the zodiac in their order, should say - Blessed are You, God, our Lord, King of the universe, who makes the work of creation."

Of the four astronomical events mentioned in the source, only one is commonly commemorated, that is "the sun at the beginning of its cycle." While the codifiers explain the other astronomical events - when the moon, the five planets visible to the naked eye and the constellations of the zodiac align in prescribed manners (see Maimonides, Laws of Blessings 10:18), it is not customary to recite the blessing over these events (Mishna Brura 229:9), perhaps because the calculations can only be made by a skilled astronomer and that task is beyond the ability of most people (Rabbi Ephraim Zalman Margoliot, 18th-19th centuries, Poland).

The blessing over "the sun at the beginning of its cycle" is, however, recited. "The beginning of its cycle" means the time that the sun returns to the position in the heavens which it occupied when it was first created.

The Talmud inquires: "When does it happen that the sun is at the beginning of its cycle?" The sage Abbaye responds: "Every 28 years the cycle begins again." Abbaye is referring to a major solar cycle; In truth the sun returns to its original position once a year, yet the blessing is prescribed for when the sun reaches its original position, on the same day and at the same hour of its original placement at the creation of the universe.

The sun was created and placed in the heavens on the fourth day of creation (Genesis 1:14-19), thus the blessing is always recited on the fourth day of the week - Tuesday night-Wednesday.

UPDATE (16 April): More here.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Károly Dániel Dobos and Miklós Köszeghy (eds.), With Wisdom as a Robe: Qumran and Other Jewish Studies in Honour of Ida Frölich (Hebrew Bible Monographs 21; Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2009)
I have an article in it entitled "Ritual in the Old Testament Apocrypha."
"THEY CONTROL THE ENTIRE WORLD." Dr. Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Egypt, is a fine archaeologist and an astute player in the requisite Egyptian politics, but, disappointingly, he also buys into conspiracy theorizing about the Jews. MEMRI has a clip from an interview with him in Arabic aired on Egyptian TV in February. Their English transcript is here:
Renowned Egyptian Archeologist Zahi Hawass: Jews Control the Entire World

Following is an excerpt from an interview with Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Egypt, which aired on Egyptian TV on February 11, 2009.

Interviewer: So [the Jews were dispersed in 133 C.E.?

Zahi Hawass: That’s right.

Interviewer: And they didn’t reunite until 1900?

Zahi Hawass: Exactly.

Interviewer: So they were dispersed for 18 centuries?

Zahi Hawass: For 18 centuries they were dispersed throughout the world. They went to America and took control of its economy. They have a plan. Although they are few in number, they control the entire world.

: Dr. Hawass, you are a great historian and archaeologist. I would like to figure out the mystery of how 15 million people, 5 or 6 million of whom do not share this vile Jewish logic... With regard to Israel and Zionism – we are talking about 7 or 8 millions. How is it possible that these 7 or 8 millions have taken control of the entire world, and have convinced the world of their cause, while we, over one billion Muslims, cannot convince the world of our cause? How would you explain this from a historical perspective?

Zahi Hawass: The reason is that they are always united over a single view. They always move together, even if in the wrong direction. We, on the other hand, are divided. If even two Arab countries could be in agreement, our voice would be stronger. Look at the control they have over America and the media.

Interviewer: So in your opinion, the secret lies in unity?

Zahi Hawass
: Yes. It was unity that gave them this power...

: You mean from a historical perspective?

Zahi Hawass: Of course.
Very disappointing. Regrettably, this will not enhance his international stature.

Oh and, by the way, the Bar Kokhba revolt ended in 135 CE, not 133.

Zahi Hawass has been mentioned previously on PaleoJudaica here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Via Joseph I. Lauer, who got it from Jim West, who was alerted by Dr. Israel Finkelstein.

UPDATE (8 April): More here.
VIN DIESEL is interviewed in the LA Times about his new movie Fast and Furious. At the end of the interview we get an update on his Hannibal movie project:
And for the last six years, Diesel has remained relentlessly dedicated to bringing a biopic about the Carthaginian military commander Hannibal to the screen. Over that time, producers have balked at its initial price tag of $230 million as well as Diesel's insistence on directing. Still, the ambiguously ethnic actor has gone as far as hiring a screenwriter to translate the script he and other writers have been working on into Punic -- an ancient language that has been extinct for more than 2,000 years.

Diesel said he identified with Hannibal on several levels.

"It's about overcoming insurmountable odds. But nothing speaks more to me than the fact that this was the first champion of multiculturalism," he said. "Rome's empire flourished because they were able to adopt the idea that many nationalities could coexist together. They learned that from Hannibal."

He weighed the consequences of pursuing his dream project.

"It takes someone with enough of an ego to believe they can tell this story better than anybody else. That's where I'm at," Diesel said, breaking into a wide grin. "They can't stop me. They can stomp me. Kick me when I'm down. But they won't stop me. Cross your fingers for me, brother!"
Fingers crossed!

I wonder if Father William Fulco is still doing the script. Translating English into vocalized Punic would be quite a challenge - indeed, a considerably greater challenge than translating it into first-century Aramaic for Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ.

Background here.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

"NEHEMIAH—THE MAN BEHIND THE WALL," by Dorothy D. Resig, is a new full-text article published on the Biblical Archaeology Review website.
THE ISRAEL FORGERY TRIAL seems to be going nowhere fast. Or maybe not so fast.
'Jesus ossuary trial' stalled after more than three years
By MATTHEW KALMAN (Jerusalem Post)

Robert Deutsch, 58, has been on trial at the Jerusalem District Court since September 2005 on six charges of faking and selling priceless antiquities. He is the owner of the Archeological Center, with shops in Tel Aviv and Jaffa, and runs twice-yearly antiquities auctions that attract the world's top collectors of ancient Judaica.

Deutsch's co-defendant, leading antiquities collector Oded Golan, is charged with faking the burial box of Jesus's brother and an inscribed stone attributed to King Jehoash that once adorned the First Temple, plus dozens of smaller items.

As Deutsch took the stand this week for the first time after more than three years in court, 120 witnesses and 8,000 pages of testimony, he said the charges against him were "lies and hallucinations."

Golan, Deutsch and three others were indicted in December 2004 on a total of 18 counts of forgery and fraud. The indictments were announced amid great fanfare, with the police and Antiquities Authority officials claiming they had uncovered a grand conspiracy on an international scale in which fake items had been unwittingly bought by museums around the world. They said the five accused were just the beginning.

Shuka Dorfman, director of the Antiquities Authority, described the charges against Golan as "the tip of the iceberg."

"These forgeries have worldwide repercussions," Dorfman said when the indictments were filed. "They were an attempt to change the history of the Jewish and Christian people."

"This was fraud of a sophistication and expertise which was previously unknown," said the Israel Police's Cmdr. Shaul Naim, who headed a two-year investigation. "They took authentic items and added inscriptions to make them worth millions."

But more than four years later, no one else has been charged and no one has been prosecuted over a single fake item from any museum. Charges against two of the five original defendants were dropped, and one man was found guilty on a minor charge.

Background here, here, here, and here.
Egypt arrests Turk with ancient Coptic relics: report

(Hurriyet Daily News)

Customs officials on Tuesday arrested a Turkish man at Cairo airport after they found ancient Coptic Christian relics in his luggage, an airport official said.

The 72-year-old traveler is suspected of trying to smuggle three Coptic bibles, two illustrated papyrus scrolls and fabrics dating back to the 6th century.

The man reportedly said he had bought the relics at Cairo’s Khan el-Khalili bazaar for 150 dollars (113 euros).

Not sure if it's just the fabrics or the scrolls too that date back to the sixth century. Anyway, I'm glad they were recovered. Hats off to those alert customs officials.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

IN THE MAIL - a gift from the author:
Richard Bauckham, The Jewish World around the New Testament: Collected Essays I (WUNT 233; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008)
A BYZANTINE-ERA MOSAIC FLOOR in Israel has been removed from its site at an ancient synagogue, restored, and returned to its original location:
1,500-year-old Mosaic Floor Unveiled in Ancient Synagogue Ruins

by Hana Levi Julian

( A spectacular 1,500-year-old mosaic floor in an ancient synagogue in the western Negev was unveiled to the public on Monday.

The mosaic, which is part of a synagogue from the Byzantine period (fifth and sixth centuries in the Common Era) is located in the community of Ma'on-Nirim.

A stunning portrayal of symbols from the period, the 3.70 x 7.80-meter Byzantine work of art is decorated with a seven-branched menorah and the images of various animals common to the area, among them the Lion of Judah.

Scenes of everyday life, including wine production from the surrounding vineyards, grace the medallions that dance along a vine winding around the floor.

The mosaic also includes an Aramaic dedicatory inscription. And dozens of amulets (language not stated - presumably Hebrew and/or Aramaic) and other small artifacts were found in the vicinity. The article has pictures. The original IAA press release (via Joseph I. Lauer) is at a temporary URL here. The photos are available in a zip file here.

Monday, March 30, 2009

THE BIRTH OF CHRISTIANITY EXHIBITION at the Houston Museum of Natural Science is profiled by Suzanne Ryan in the Houston Examiner. The piece includes video of Matthias Henze, Rice University specialist in ancient Judaism and early Christianity and Guest Curator of the exhibition.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

THE GOOD SHIP PHOENICIA is recruiting new crew:
Opportunity for young sailors seeking adventure

( UK)

Young aspiring sailors will have the opportunity for a memorable adventure when the round-Africa Phoenicia Expedition begins again in August this year, or you could be part of a one week adventure in May to move the boat from its current location to Aden in Yemen.

Background here.
HUGOYE: Journal of Syriac Studies has just published a new issue online (12.1, Winter 2009).