Saturday, September 05, 2009

Their trial is still continuing. Many of the world's top archaeological experts have testified as both prosecution and defense witnesses in proceedings that already run to more than 9,000 pages. And while the original charges against the ossuary appear to have been popularly accepted as conventional wisdom, they seem to be headed for trouble in the courtroom. Judge Aharon Farkash, who has a degree in archaeology, has wondered aloud in court how he can determine the authenticity of the items if the professors cannot agree among themselves. (Read a story from TIME's archive on the ossuary of James.)

The director of the Israel Antiquities Authority will soon take the witness stand for the first time since he declared, in December 2004, that the ossuary and other items seized in a two-year investigation were the "tip of the iceberg" of an international conspiracy that placed countless fakes in collections and museums around the world. He promised more arrests. But no other fake items have been seized, no-one else has been arrested, and Judge Farkash has hinted strongly that the prosecution case is foundering.

Next week, defense attorneys will present evidence suggesting that scientists testifying for the prosecution have disproved their own findings against the ossuary. The scientific evidence against Golan is largely based on measurements of the oxygen isotopic composition (in technical terms, d18O — Delta 18 Oxygen) of the thin crust — or patina — covering the ossuary inscription.
There follows a clear discussion (insofar as I can tell, not being a geologist) of the technical issues. Overall, if the press reports are accurate, things do not seem to be going well for the prosecution.

Background here. Note also the recent posts here and here.
THE SISTERS OF SINAI, by Janet Soskice, is reviewed in the New York Times. Excerpt:
When, then, Agnes and Margaret arrived at St. Catherine’s, having traveled nine days by camel through the desert, they were specifically intent on examining the contents of this closet. At Harris’s suggestion, they had also come prepared to photograph manuscript finds they would not have the opportunity to transcribe on site — preparations that give evidence of both their seriousness of purpose and their expectations of success. And successful they were. Handling a dirty wad of vellum, sharp-eyed Agnes saw that its text, a racy collection of the lives of female saints, was written over another document. When close scrutiny revealed the words “of Matthew,” and “of Luke,” she realized she was holding a palimpsest containing the Gospels. Written in Syriac, a dialect of the Aramaic Jesus had spoken, the Sinai Palimpsest, or Lewis Codex, as it came to be called, would prove to date to the late fourth century; the translation it preserved was even older, dating from the late second century A.D. — “very near the fountainhead” of early Christianity.
Note also earlier comments here.
I'm BACK IN ST. ANDREWS. The conference went well. Too tired to say more now.

Friday, September 04, 2009

AZUSA PACIFIC UNIVERSITY has acquired some Dead Sea Scroll fragments:
Azusa Pacific University Acquires Five Dead Sea Scroll Fragments and Rare Biblical Artifacts

Azusa, Calif. (Vocus) September 4, 2009 -- In its most significant holding to date -- and possibly ever - Azusa Pacific University acquires five Dead Sea Scroll fragments and a collection of rare biblical antiquities.

Joining Princeton University and the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, APU becomes only the third institution of higher education to own original Dead Sea Scroll fragments. These earliest known texts of the Hebrew Bible, dating back to roughly 150 B.C., were discovered in the caves of Qumran, east of Jerusalem, between 1947-56. Today, many of the estimated 15,000 known fragments are held in private collections. With this acquisition, APU can study, research, and share these fragments with scholars and the public while carefully preserving the history of Scripture.

"This acquisition allows us to tell the remarkable story of how humanity came to have the Bible, and how Scripture has been preserved through history," said President Jon R. Wallace, DBA. "Having these documents also reinforces APU's history and commitment to a high view of Scriptures. This is a milestone for APU, and we are deeply grateful to Legacy Ministries International for allowing us to continue Legacy's devotion to protect these ancient documents that mark the very beginnings of the written Bible."

Four of the fragments were obtained from Lee Biondi of Biondi Rare Books and Manuscripts in Venice, California. The fifth fragment came from Legacy Ministries International, a Phoenix, Arizona-based nonprofit committed to telling the story of the Bible and assembling artifacts, objects, Bibles, and documents tracing the history of Scripture.


"Since their discovery, many Dead Sea Scroll fragments have been known only to their owners, and many are becoming impossible to read since they are no longer accompanied by the low humidity, thick ozone layer, and coverings that protected them for almost 2,000 years," said James H. Charlesworth, George L. Collord Professor of New Testament Language and Literature at Princeton Theological Seminary and director and editor of the PTS Dead Sea Scrolls Project. "Now, thanks to the president and scholars at Azusa Pacific University, these fragments have been recovered and will be scientifically protected. Each one preserves priceless data from the beginnings of Western Culture and is a unique witness to documents in the Bible of Jews and Christians." Charlesworth will be working closely with several APU faculty to publish these fragments.

No further specifics are given about the contents of the fragments. In any case, it is good that they have found a home where they will be properly cared for and published.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

I'M OFF TO ABERDEEN for the British New Testament Conference, which starts late this afternoon and goes until Saturday lunchtime. I have noted program information here. I'm giving a short paper in the New Testament and Second Temple Judaism Seminar, "The Book of Revelation and the Hekhalot Literature," the same paper I gave at the SBL meeting in Boston last November. I'm pretty sure there will be no overlap in audience - apart from the online one, that is. If you have not read it yet, you can download the paper and the accompanying handout here.

I expect to have Internet access at Aberdeen University and to continue blogging more or less as usual.
TOP TEN DISCOVERIES: Biblical Archaeology Review, in honor of its 200th issue, has selected "ten excavated finds from our first 199 issues that are undeniably important to our understanding of the Biblical world." All of the discoveries in the list are important and interesting, and most have been found since BAR started publishing in the 1970s and were covered at the time of their discovery in BAR. But I'm still scratching my head over the exception, the Coptic Gnostic library from Nag Hammadi, and trying to figure out why it is included and the Dead Sea Scrolls are not.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Dead Sea Scrolls talk opens Jewish Studies series

(The Chapel Hill News)

A talk by a pioneer of Dead Sea Scrolls research will kick off a series of community events sponsored by the Carolina Center for Jewish Studies at UNC-Chapel Hill.

The events for the 2009-10 academic year will begin with the Sept. 14 lecture by Geza Vermes, emeritus professor of Jewish Studies at Oxford University. He will discuss the scrolls and evaluate their contribution to the study of ancient Judaism and early Christianity.

Vermes' talk will be this year's Eli N. Evans Distinguished Lecture in Jewish Studies at 7:30 p.m. at the William and Ida Friday Center for Continuing Education. It is free to the public.

Background here.

Also, Professor Vermes e-mails the following:
As you kindly posted the notice of my talk at ULM on the historical Jesus, you may like to note that during my American escapade I am also lecturing on the DSS at UNC Chapel Hill on 14 Sept., Johns Hopkins in Baltimore on 22 Sept. and at ULS in Baton Rouge on 29 Sept. Furthermore I am scheduled for a graduate seminar at Duke on 17 Sept. on History in the DSS.
ANOTHER REVIEW of The Sisters of Sinai, better than the one in the WaPo, but still needing some clarifications.
The Sisters of Sinai

How a pair of wealthy identical twins made one of the most significant scriptural discoveries in history.

By Carmela Ciuraru | August 31, 2009 edition (Christian Science Monitor)

The Sisters of Sinai: How Two Lady Adventurers Discovered the Hidden Gospels By Janet Soskice Knopf 304 pp., $26.95

Margaret and Agnes Smith were identical twin sisters born in Scotland in the mid-19th century. They suffered tragedy early on when their mother died two weeks after giving birth; their father died when they were just twenty-three, leaving them wealthy but alone in the world.

How Margaret and Agnes made one of the most significant scriptural discoveries in history is the subject of The Sisters of Sinai, the latest book by author Janet Soskice, a fellow of Jesus College at Cambridge University. She recounts how the intrepid women found and deciphered one of the earliest known copies of the Gospels – written in ancient Syriac, the dialect of Aramaic, which was the native language of Jesus.

The last sentence could be phrased a little more clearly: Syriac is a dialect of Aramaic and Aramaic (not that dialect) was the native language of Jesus.
The women were keenly interested in ancient biblical manuscripts (and Agnes’ husband had been a scholar of Jewish and early Christian archaeology). With the help of a generous Quaker scholar who was intrigued by these audacious Scottish sisters – and who remained a steadfast supporter – Margaret and Agnes learned how to use camera equipment so they could photograph any important discoveries for later study. He also told them of a “dark cupboard” beneath the archbishops’ rooms at the library that contained chests of Syriac manuscripts – possibly some of the earliest texts of Christianity. Agnes had recently steeped herself in studying Syriac, in preparation for what she might find, and Margaret learned the language later on.

It was in that neglected cupboard that the women found a palimpsest: beneath a manuscript on the lives of women saints was the “yellowish-red underwriting” of the four Gospels, which they had to steam apart with a tea-kettle. The texts were small – just 8-5/8 by 6-1/4” – and nearly impossible to decipher. Agnes noted that some delicate pages “could only be discerned by letting the noon-day sunlight shine through,” to fully reveal their marks.

Despite this revelatory find, the painstaking work of transcription and translation had just begun, and Margaret and Agnes lacked sufficient knowledge to take on the entire project alone. Along with some Cambridge scholars, they toiled away at their task, eventually learning that this text dated to the late second century, which put it “very near the fountainhead of early Christianity,” Soskice writes. (The twins ended up making four trips to Sinai in five years.)

It's debatable whether the text dates to the late second century. The manuscript itself (the underwriting with the Syriac Gospels) was written in the late fourth century. It is possible that the Old Syriac translation was done as early as the second century, although this is not certain. Follow the first link above for more information.

Manuscripts from St. Catherine's Monastery are getting a lot of attention today.
Fragment from world's oldest Bible found hidden in Egyptian monastery

Academic stumbles upon previously unseen section of Codex Sinaiticus dating back to 4th century

By Jerome Taylor, Religious Affairs Correspondent
(The Independent)

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

A British-based academic has uncovered a fragment of the world's oldest Bible hiding underneath the binding of an 18th-century book.

Nikolas Sarris spotted a previously unseen section of the Codex Sinaiticus, which dates from about AD350, as he was trawling through photographs of manuscripts in the library of St Catherine's Monastery in Egypt.


Only a quarter of the fragment is visible through the book binding but after closer inspection, Father Justin was able to confirm that a previously unseen section of the Codex had indeed been found. The fragment is believed to be the beginning of Joshua, Chapter 1, Verse 10, in which Joshua admonishes the children of Israel as they enter the promised land.

Speaking to The Art Newspaper, Father Justin said the monastery would use scanners to look more closely at how much of the fragment existed under the newer book binding. "Modern technology should allow us to examine the binding in a non-invasive manner," he said.

Mr Sarris said his find was particularly significant because there were at least 18 other book bindings in the monastery's library that were compiled by the same two monks that had re-used the Codex. "We don't know whether we will find more of the Codex in those books but it would definitely be worth looking," he said.

Indeed. Bit by bit, a letter at a time, whatever it takes. Until we're done.

Lots more on the Codex Sinaiticus here.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

MICHAEL F. BIRD has an essay at the Bible and Interpretation website arguing that Jesus himself made messianic claims:
The Messianic Jesus Makes a Come Back

While his earliest followers should have been convinced by an ignominious death that Jesus was a false-prophet and pseudo-Messiah, they quickly came to the conviction that he was not only the Messiah, but was more than the Messiah, and was now to be identified with Israel's "Lord" in some way.

Essay based on Are You the One Who Is To Come? The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2009)

By Michael F. Bird
Highland Theological College
UHI Millennium Institute
August 2009
I've been moving house since yesterday and have not had much time for blogging today.

Monday, August 31, 2009

APOCRYPHA WATCH: The Wisdom of Solomon was quoted at Senator Kennedy's funeral on Saturday:
The senator's stepson, Curran Raclin, gave the first reading from the Book of Wisdom. "The souls of the just are in the hand of God," Raclin read, "and no torment shall touch them."
The reference is Wisd. 3:1.
ARAMAIC-SPEAKING CHRISTIANS IN TURKEY face legal challenges and challenges from emigration according to Today's Zaman:
Arameans search for roots and rights in mardın

Father Malki Gümüşsoy raises his hand toward the heavens and starts to pray in front of the locked iron door of one of the eight closed churches of Dargeçit, Mardin, a city in southeastern Anatolia famous for its multi-religious and multi-ethnic character.

Gümüşsoy represents one of these colors of Mardin; he is an Aramean priest. Also known as Syriacs, Arameans speak a Semitic language that dates back 3,000 years and was used by Jesus Christ. However, 80-year-old Gümüşsoy worries about the young generation of Arameans in Turkey. They face a lack of teachers and schools in which to teach even basic literacy.

He also worries about Turkey's Aramean population, which has diminished sharply due to mass migration -- primarily to Europe. In fact, two of his four children have opted to move to Europe.

2010-2012 Postdoctoral Associates in Judaic Studies

The Program in Judaic Studies at Yale University is offering a two-year Jacob & Hilda Blaustein postdoctoral fellowship that will begin on July 1, 2010. Candidates for the fellowship must have a Ph.D. in hand by July 1, 2010 and must have received the degree no earlier than 2007. The Program seeks a specialist in Ancient Jewish History/Judaism who will work closely with appropriate members of Yale’s faculty.

The Judaic Studies Blaustein Fellow will be expected to be in residence, to conduct research in Yale’s library and archival collections, to participate actively in the intellectual life of the university, and to teach three semester courses over two years. The annual stipend will be $50,000 plus health benefits. Candidates should send a cover letter, CV, project proposal, three letters of recommendation, and a list of proposed courses to:



P.O. BOX 208282

NEW HAVEN, CT 06520-8282


The deadline for receipt of application materials is

Monday, February 8, 2010

For a list of recent and current postdoctoral associates in Judaic Studies, click here.
(Via the H-JUDAIC list.)

Sunday, August 30, 2009

BOOK REVIEW by Matthew Shaer in the Washington Post:
A Sister Act of Perseverance

Sunday, August 30, 2009


How Two Lady Adventurers Discovered the Hidden Gospels

By Janet Soskice

Knopf. 316 pp. $27.95

In early 1892, twin sisters Margaret and Agnes Smith, unschooled in paleography but possessed of keenly rebellious spirits, traveled from England to St. Catherine's Church, at the foot of Egypt's Mt. Sinai. There, in a "dimly lit little room below the prior's quarters," they discovered "an unpromising brick of parchment," its surfaces coated with dust. Despite the state of this "grimy codex," Agnes, the older of the sisters, was convinced that she had made a great discovery, and after 40 days of study she emerged with proof.

As scholar Janet Soskice reveals in her luminous new study, "The Sisters of Sinai," Margaret and Agnes had nosed out nothing less than the earliest known copies of the Gospels -- an account written in Syriac, the language likely spoken by Jesus himself. At the time, Soskice writes, "the Bible remained an unquestioned compendium of truth, its immutable word conveyed supernaturally through the generations." And yet this codex -- so different in content from the modern edition of the Gospels -- indicated that scripture was actually the product of years of careful revisions. The Bible, in other words, had evolved.

The second paragraph has a number of errors. Codex Syriacus is the earliest copy of the Gospels in Syriac, not the earliest known copy in any language.Syriac is a dialect of Aramaic, not a language in its own right. Jesus spoke Galilean Aramaic, a Western dialect. Syriac is an Eastern dialect of Aramaic which originated in Edessa. And the content of this manuscript is not all that different from modern editions. Actually, it's closer than the traditional Greek text in that it leaves out the longer ending of Mark. But it also has its own odd secondary readings. For details see here and scroll down to "The Old Syriac."

Some even worse garbling of the subject is noted here. The book under review sounds interesting, though.

UPDATE: Reader Meg Dea e-mails::
Most disappointing about that review is that it fails to mention the writings these 2 Victorian sisters left behind. Agnes Lewis Smith's books Eastern Pilgrims: The travels of three ladies and In the Shadow of Sinai are both still in print, as far as I know, and most entertaining reading.