Saturday, May 30, 2009

HANNIBAL as a role model for business investors:
Leaders & Success
Hannibal Overcame Mountains To Reach Victory

Posted 05/27/2009 05:19 PM ET

The name of the game was strategy, and Hannibal played it well.

"Of all that befell both the Romans and the Carthaginians, the cause was one man and one mind: Hannibal's," wrote the ancient Roman historian Polybius in his account of the Second Punic War.

Hannibal (247-183 B.C.) was the greatest military genius of antiquity, a master of battlefield tactics and long-term strategy. For 16 years he fought the mighty Roman legions, chalking up victory after victory. Only the failures of other Carthaginian leaders let Rome survive at all.

LARRY SCHIFFMAN lectured recently in Manchester on the Dead Sea Scrolls:
English Community Prepares for Holiday With Dead Sea Scrolls Lecture

By Chana Kroll (
May 27, 2009 3:30 PM

Few if any archaeological finds in the past century have elicited the interest or controversy that has surrounded the Dead Sea Scrolls. With that in mind, Jewish residents of Manchester, England, sat down to learn more about the scrolls, and what they can and cannot tell researchers, from one of the world’s leading scholars on the topic, New York University professor Lawrence H. Schiffman.

Schiffman, who serves as chair of NYU’s Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies and is a member of the university’s Centers for Ancient and Near Eastern Studies, began his pre-Shavuot address at the Beis Menachem Community Centre – a Chabad-Lubavitch educational institution in Manchester – by referring to what he called the “mystique” of the scrolls.


Friday, May 29, 2009


I love it.

(Via Helen Ingram on Facebook.)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

GEZA VERMES gave a lecture recently on Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls which is summarized in the Bournemouth Daily Echo:
Professor’s quest for the ‘real’ Jesus

7:00pm Wednesday 27th May 2009

By Fiona Pendlebury »

JESUS was a charismatic Jewish teacher rather than the divine figure of Christianity.

That is one of the claims of Professor Geza Vermes, an expert on the historical Jesus, and one of the first people to examine the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Prof Vermes, who is Professor Emeritus of Jewish Studies at Oxford University, gave a talk to a packed audience at the Orthodox Synagogue in Bournemouth on the historical Jesus. He has penned several books on the subject.

KILROY HIC ERAT. Ben Witherington discusses ancient graffiti for Biblical Archaeology Review in "Biblical Views: The Writing on the Wall."
HAPPY SHAVUOT (Festival of Weeks) to all those celebrating. It begins this evening at sundown. More here.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Haaretz reports on some recent developments. Yesterday:
PA minister: Hand Temple Mount over to global Islamic group
By Avi Issacharoff, Aluf Benn, Barak Ravid and Jack Khoury, Haaretz Correspondents

Tags: peace process

The newly appointed minister for Jerusalem affairs in the Palestinian Authority cabinet, Hatem Abdel Khader, has released a statement Monday noting that he favors transferring control of the Temple Mount to the 57-member Islamic Conference Organization in the framework of an Israel-PA peace agreement.

Haaretz reported last week on the P.A.'s willingness to transfer control of the Temple Mount to the organization. "The most important thing is to end the Israeli occupation," Abdel Khader also said.

PA president Mahmoud Abbas is to meet Thursday in Washington with President Barack Obama, in their first meeting since Obama took office.

Mounting opposition
By Zvi Bar'el

Tags: East Jerusalem, Palestinians

The announcement by Nabil Abu Rudeina, spokesman of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), to the effect that the PA is willing to transfer the holy places in Jerusalem to Islamic sovereignty in exchange for genuine Israeli compromises, was ostensibly supposed to constitute a breakthrough.

But that same Islamic sovereignty does not particularly thrill the foreign ministers of the 57 countries that met at the end of the week in Damascus for the Islamic Conference Organization. The proposal did not even come up for discussion. Instead, the participants mainly discussed the wording of the decisions condemning the construction and excavation activities being conducted by Israel in the Temple Mount area, whose purpose is the "Judaization of Jerusalem."

Not only can the proposal to transfer the Temple Mount to Islamic sovereignty not be defined legally - since what legal significance is there to the term "religious sovereignty" - it also angers some Fatah members, who say that "if the proposal really is valid, it overturns the vision of Yasser Arafat, who always adhered to the viewpoint that a Palestinian state without Jerusalem as its capital and the Palestinian flag on Haram al Sharif [the Temple Mount], is not a state."

Although Arafat had a relatively flexible viewpoint when it came to the religious status of Jerusalem, and always made a point of mentioning that it is holy to Christians and Muslims, in order to check any attempt to internationalize the city, when it came to control and sovereignty he was sharp as a razor.

And then it starts to get complicated ...

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

EPHRAIM ISAAC has become an editorial adviser for a new online encylopedia about Ethiopia, called

More on Professor Isaac here and here. And he has a Facebook page here.

Monday, May 25, 2009

THE BOOK OF ESTHER'S ORIGIN is explained by Oxford Assyriologist Stephanie Dalley in a new book reviewed in BMCR:
Stephanie Dalley, Esther's Revenge at Susa. From Sennacherib to Ahasuerus. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. Pp. xvi, 262; maps 4, figs. 53. ISBN 978-0-19-921663-5. $99.00.

Reviewed by Gary Beckman, University of Michigan (

Word count: 936 words

The Book of Esther is perhaps the oddest work included within the canon of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament: The story is set in Iranian Susa--far away from ancient Israel and Judah, and the biblical God is not mentioned even once in the text. Rather, we encounter a folkloristic narrative in which a murderous plot against the Jews of the Persian Empire is thwarted and turned back upon its originator without the aid of divine intervention, solely through the efforts of a virtuous, beautiful, and courageous woman. While there is still much debate among practitioners of biblical studies as to the historical veracity of many of the tales contained in the Books of the Pentateuch, Samuel, and Kings, few outside of fundamentalist circles seriously maintain that the widespread massacre of anti-Semites described at the conclusion of the Book of Esther--and mentioned in no independent ancient source--actually took place. And it was already recognized more than a century ago that the names of the protagonists of the work, Esther and her uncle Mordecai, are not ordinary Hebrew personal designations, but rather mutations of the names of the Mesopotamian divinities Ishtar (goddess of love and war) and Marduk (patron deity of the city of Babylon).

In this ambitious book, Stephanie Dalley, a cuneiform scholar from Oxford, sets herself the task of explaining just how this work came into being and why it entered the sacred literature of the Jews. She is well prepared to tackle this problem, having over the past decade devoted particular attention in her research to the precipitation of Assyrian and Babylonian traditions in both Classical Greek and biblical sources, discussing, for example, the "Hanging Gardens of Babylon," Semiramis, and the wives of Sargon II of Assyria (see bibliography, pp. 230-31).

The theory in brief:
... In a nutshell, she speculates that in Assyrian religion, significant historical incidents could be translated to the divine plane, incorporated into mythology, and reenacted in turn by humans in ritual, as documented in the obscure Akkadian-language liturgical scripts known to scholars as "Cultic Commentaries" (113-20). In particular, Dalley further postulates that the wars of Assurbanipal against the Elamites, whose capital was at Susa, were reflected in a festival of Ishtar of Nineveh (156). Consequently, the cultic calendar pertaining to this avatar of the goddess and various elements of her worship were passed on in oral and written tradition after the fall of Assyria, to reappear in altered form in the story of Esther. The resultant narrative entered the lore of the Jews as an aetiology for the festival of purim "lots," the etymology of whose designation unquestionably points to an Assyrian origin (167).
It will be interesting to see how convincing other Assyriologists find the reconstruction of this cultic calendar. The reviewer registers a very Scottish verdict of "not proven."

Sunday, May 24, 2009

TECHNOLOGY WATCH: A new effort to unroll those carbonized scrolls from Herculaneum.
Computer scientist to 'unroll' papyrus scrolls buried by Vesuvius [BC-SCI-VESUVIUS-SCROLLS:LX]

(Lexington Herald-Leader (KY) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) LEXINGTON, Ky. _ On Aug. 24, 79 A.D., Italy's Mount Vesuvius exploded, burying the Roman towns of Herculaneum and Pompeii under tons of super-heated ash, rock and debris in one of the most famous volcanic eruptions in history.

Thousands died. But somehow, hundreds of papyrus scrolls survived _ sort of _ in a villa at Herculaneum thought to have been owned at one time by Julius Caesar's father-in-law.

The scrolls contained ancient philosophical and learned writings. But they were so badly damaged _ literally turned to carbon by the volcanic heat _ that they crumbled when scholars first tried to open them centuries later.

The remaining scrolls, stored away in Italy and France, haven't been read _ or even unrolled _ since 79 AD.

Now, a computer scientist from the University of Kentucky hopes that modern digital technology will allow him to peer inside two of the fragile scrolls _ without physically opening them _ and unlock secrets they have held for almost 2,000 years.

Brent Seales, the Gill professor of engineering in UK's computer science department, will use an X-Ray CT scanning system to collect interior images of the scrolls' rolled-up pages. Then, he and his colleagues hope to digitally "unroll" the scrolls on a computer screen so scholars can read them.

"It will be a challenge because today these things look more like charcoal briquets than scrolls," Seales said. "But we're using a non-invasive scanning system, based on medical technology, that lets you slice through an object and develop a three-dimensional data set without having to open it, just as you would do a CT scan on a human body." The two scrolls that Seales and his team will work on are stored at the French National Academy in Paris. The UK group will spend July working there.


Seales sees other potential applications for the system, including deciphering otherwise unreadable written materials for homeland security purposes. But, he also admits that there are other ancient tests he'd like to examine.

"There are pieces of the Dead Sea scrolls that still haven't been opened yet," he said. "I've talked with some members of teams that work with those materials, and I'd love to see what more we could wring out of them.

"I guess I just like solving mysteries."
Indeed. Non-invasive scanning techniques are the way of the future. For a similar project in the United Kingdom, see here. For more on technological efforts to recover the text of ancient manuscripts, see here. (The University of Kentucky project is also mentioned briefly.)