Saturday, September 12, 2009

Bloomsbury Academy Autumn Conference 2009

Archaelogy and the Bible

BA’s Autumn Conference will be held on SATURDAY 24 OCTOBER, from 10.30 to 17.30, in No.1 Lecture Theatre of UCL’s Cruciform Building. Its subject will be the very important one of ARCHAEOLOGY AND THE BIBLE, with particular reference to the Old Testament. We’ve chosen this because recent discoveries by archaeologists working on ancient sites in the Holy Land and neighbouring regions have been numerous, important and sometimes astonishing, capable of transforming our understanding of both ancient texts and of the world that gave rise to them, one which extended far beyond the banks of the Jordan.

There will be seven lectures in all, one of them short and introductory, and these will be delivered by a team of six distinguished scholars, each an expert in his or her own field. Together they will introduce participants to a selection of these discoveries and reflect on the significance of them. PHILIP MADOC, the distinguished actor, will once again provide relevant readings for us, subject to freedom from his working commitments. The programme will conclude with a FORUM, to which all present will be welcome to contribute.

Morning coffee and afternoon tea will be provided at appropriate times and long-distance travellers will be pleased to learn that there will be a pay bar selling coffee and other refreshments in North Cloisters before the event begins. The PETRIE MUSEUM will remain open throughout the luncheon interval and the day will conclude with a RECEPTION, at which WINES and SOFT DRINKS will be served. All participants are invited to attend, as GUESTS of BA.
Looks like an impressive lineup of speakers.

(Via the SOTS list.)

Friday, September 11, 2009

Peter Schäfer, The Origins of Jewish Mysticism (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2009)
My review copy for the JSNT Booklist.
Contemporary alchemy
Petr Nikl offers a ritual to reanimate the Golem.

Posted: September 9, 2009

By Tony Ozuna - For the [Prague] Post

The Golem, Prague's most mysterious and enduring Jewish legend, is closely associated with Rabbi Loew, also known as the Maharal of Prague, who died 400 years ago and is currently the subject of an exhibition at Prague Castle. Meanwhile, local artist and performer Petr Nikl is offering a different take on the Golem at the Robert Guttmann Gallery in Josefov.

Loew was the chief rabbi, and thus leader, of Prague's Jewish community from 1596 to 1604. This was during the reign of Emperor Rudolf II, who, as monarch of the Holy Roman Empire, made Prague the center of his esoteric activities. According to legend, he even visited Rabbi Loew's home in the Jewish Quarter, along with the famous German astronomer Johannes Kepler and the Danish alchemist Tycho Brahe.

Nikl is a contemporary artist-alchemist who creates interactive sculptures and installations as if he were a direct descendent of Brahe or Kepler. His Golem, described as "a tactile sculpture for drawing with light," takes the form of a huge crystal ball - or at least that's how it appears from a distance in the dimly lit, elongated gallery space.

Upon entering the gallery, visitors are given instructions on a video screen to look for a sign or word that will revive the Golem - that is, their own "imaginary Golem," using a combination of letters, symbols or whatever other marks they choose to make on a drawing board in the room, which they should imagine to be the Golem's forehead.

Related item here. More golem posts here.
AN ANCIENT SYNAGOGUE has been discovered in Israel:
One of the Oldest Synagogues in the World was Exposed in the Israel Antiquities Authority Excavation

A synagogue from the Second Temple period (50 BCE-100 CE) was exposed in archaeological excavations the Israel Antiquities Authority is conducting at a site slated for the construction of a hotel on Migdal beach, in an area owned by the Ark New Gate Company. In the middle of the synagogue is a stone that is engraved with a seven-branched menorah (candelabrum), the likes of which have never been seen. The excavations were directed by archaeologists Dina Avshalom-Gorni and Arfan Najar of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The main hall of synagogue is c. 120 square meters in area and its stone benches, which served as seats for the worshippers, were built up against the walls of the hall. Its floor was made of mosaic and its walls were treated with colored plaster (frescos). A square stone, the top and four sides of which are adorned with reliefs, was discovered in the hall. The stone is engraved with a seven-branched menorah set atop a pedestal with a triangular base, which is flanked on either side by an amphora (jars).

According to the excavation director, Dina Avshalom-Gorni of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “We are dealing with an exciting and unique find. This is the first time that a menorah decoration has been discovered from the days when the SecondTemple was still standing. This is the first menorah to be discovered in a Jewish context and that dates to the Second Temple period/beginning of the Early Roman period. We can assume that the engraving that appears on the stone, which the Israel Antiquities Authority uncovered, was done by an artist who saw the seven-branched menorah with his own eyes in the Temple in Jerusalem. The synagogue that was uncovered joins just six other synagogues in the world that are known to date to the SecondTemple period”.

This IAA (temporary) url is via Joseph I. Lauer. The story is also noted briefly by Arutz Sheva.

UPDATE (12 September): There's more coverage now in lots of places, all based on the IAA press release. Arutz Sheva has the best photos.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Secrets of lost religion unveiled for first time

Thursday, 10 September 2009 (

It could be the trailer for a new 'Indiana Jones' film, or the blurb for the latest Dan Brown book.

"They were remnants of a lost-world religion. Buried for 1,500 years in the dusty sands of Egypt before being accidentally discovered, and brought to Nazi Germany.

"And then they were lost again, the priceless artefacts looted by the Russians and taken across the Iron Curtain. But now, they're back, and in Dublin."

However, the hero of this rather incredible tale is the collector Alfred Beatty rather than the actor Harrison Ford. And this is fact, not fiction.

"It represents the fulfilment of Sir Alfred Chester Beatty's dream to have the Mani Books displayed alongside treasures from the ancient world such as the Biblical papyri and the Egyptian Love Poems," Michael Ryan, director of the Chester Beatty Library said yesterday.

The new exhibition in Dublin Castle opened yesterday and tells the story of the discovery of the lost books of Manichaean. It's a long tale, dating back to third-century Persia and focussing initially on the prophet Mani and his religion.

For details of this collection see this online Encyclopaedia Iranica article on the Chester Beatty Library (scroll down to "iii. Coptic Manichean Manuscripts").
NEWS ON THE MT. ZION CUP INSCRIPTION from National Geographic:

Coded Inscription

What sets the newfound cup apart is its inscription, which is still sharply etched but so far impossible to understand.

Similar to intentionally enigmatic writing in the Dead Sea Scrolls, the cup's script appears to be a secret code, written in a mixture of Hebrew and Aramaic, the two written languages used in Jerusalem at the time (see video of a village where the language of Jesus is still spoken).

"They wrote it intending it to be cryptic," Gibson said.

In hopes the script can be deciphered, Gibson's team is sharing pictures of the cup with experts on the writing of the period. The researchers also plan to post detailed photos of the cup and its inscriptions online soon.

One thing the team is sure of, though, is that whoever inscribed the cup had something big in mind—and didn't want just anyone to know.

"They could be instructions on how to use [the cup], could have incantations or curses. But it's not going to be something mundane like a shopping list."
I'm not sure which "intentionally enigmatic" Dead Sea Scrolls are alluded to here. There are Scrolls in a cryptic script, but the secret code is the script rather than the content. Is the Mt. Zion cup written in a cryptic script? An earlier article in the Los Angeles Times says that "the text is in an informal cursive script and is apparently deliberately cryptic," but goes on to say that the name of God is readable in it. Two lines of the text have been published, but I haven't had time to try to read them. Has anyone else come up with anything? My recollection is that the Aramaic, Canaanite, and Dead Sea Scrolls lists have been quiet on the subject.

Whatever the cup says, I doubt that it's a shopping list.
Bar-Kochba Treasure Discovered in Judean Hills

by Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu


The largest-ever known number of coins from the time of Bar-Kochba, the Jewish leader against Roman invaders, has been discovered in the Judean Hills by cave researchers from Hebrew and Bar-Ilan Universities.

The research team found three batches of bronze, silver and gold coins in a deep cavern in a nature reserve.

Pottery and weapons also were discovered during a research project by Prof. Amos Frumkin of Hebrew University and Prof. Hanan Eshel and Dr. Boaz Zissu of Bar-Ilan University.

Perhaps in honor of the soon upcoming Talk Like A Pirate Day, the original headline seems to have read "Bar-Kokhba Treasure Chest Discovered in Judean Hills." Alas, it seems there was no chest.

Via Joseph I. Lauer and the Agade list.

(Was about to post this last night when my home broadband suddenly went offline.)

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Antiquities Authority chief: Top scholars were suspected of ties to forgery group


A world-famous French scholar who authenticated one of the Israel Museum's prize exhibits and Israel's leading analyst of ancient semitic inscriptions were once suspected of being part of an "international forgery industry," it was revealed on Tuesday.

Shuka Dorfman, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, said that both Prof. Andre Lemaire of the Sorbonne and Ada Yardeni, Israel's leading epigrapher, had been under suspicion as the Authority prepared its case against those accused of faking dozens of priceless archeological items, including a burial box possibly connected to Jesus.

Dorfman divulged this information as part of the testimony he was giving at the Jerusalem District Court in the long-running trial of two men accused of dealing in fake antiquities.

The trial, which began in 2005, followed an indictment that Dorfman described at the time as "the tip of the iceberg" of an international forgery network.
Read the whole article; there's too much of interest to excerpt it all. But the bottom line seems to be that the iceberg has been steadily melting as the prosecution has been forced to back away from its original claims.

Background here.
HANAN AND ESTHER ESHEL are speaking at Trinity Western University:
Two days of Dead Sea Scroll lectures at TWU

Published: September 08, 2009 4:00 PM (
Updated: September 08, 2009 4:10 PM

Bar-Kokhba, Qumran, Ein Gedi. These words roll off the tongues of Dead Sea Scrolls heavy-weight professors Hanan and Esther Eshel.

Collectively they have over 50 years of experience studying the ancient scrolls, the archeology of them and their historical and cultural importance.


Tuesday, September 08, 2009

ARE THERE ETHICS IN THE HEBREW BIBLE? Philip Davies has a go at the question at Bible and Interpretation. Excerpt:
Oh for the simplicity of a god to tell us what is right and wrong! If we read Genesis 2–3 in a certain way (the orthodox Christian way, for example) we have to conclude that when we try to do what we think is right, rather than simply obey a divine command, however inscrutable, we fall (and we get punished in a big way). “Doing what is right in our own eyes”—what heresy! Can any theology be more adamantly opposed to “ethics” than this?

(Via the Agade list.)

Monday, September 07, 2009

JUNK HISTORY WATCH: Haven't had an entry in this file for a while.
Governor stirs controversy over Great Pyramid of Giza

By Ramadan Al Sherbini, Correspondent (Gulf News)
Published: September 06, 2009, 22:56

Cairo: The first shot was fired by Giza Governor Saeed Abdul Aziz early last month, when he announced that the city famed for its pyramids would celebrate Giza Day on every August 23.

He explained that this decision had been reached as a result of a study completed by a panel of archaeologists and astronomers, who concluded that the building of the Great Pyramid began on August 23.

This announcement met with an angry response from Zahi Hawass, Egypt's top archaeologist.

"This study is inaccurate," said Hawass, general secretary of the Superior Council of Antiquities. "There is no clear text from the ancient history [that states] when the Great Pyramid was built. The belief that the Great Pyramid was built during the Nile flood, when there was usually no work, is completely erroneous."

I suppose that's junk history too - I'll take Dr. Hawass's word for it - but it's not the junk history I had in mind, which comes at the end of the article.
The independent newspaper Al Youm Al Sabe this week speculated that Hosni, who is vying for Unesco's top post, did not want to anger the Israelis, who claim their ancestors built the Giza pyramids.

"He [Hosni] needs Jewish votes for his bid in the upcoming Unesco election," the newspaper reported, quoting an unnamed senior official at the Supreme Council of Antiquities, an affiliate of Hosni's Ministry of Culture.

The report added that the timing of the controversy was inopportune for Hosni
Er, no. The Israelis don't think that their ancestors built the pyramids, although it's reported that Menachem Begin once claimed this. Josephus seems to have come up with the idea, and it was much later promulgated by a Scotsman, but today I don't know of anyone who believes it except perhaps a few Egyptians. (For the Begin and Josephus references, see that last link.) Needless to say, the notion is bogus.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

JOSEPHUS AND PHILO are profiled in an article by Michael Hickey in the Marco Eagle. It's pretty much accurate, although I know of no evidence that Philo was a Pharisee and that seems quite unlikely to me, and his Logos theology influenced early Christianity, but not, almost certainly, Judaism in the same period.

UPDATE: Reader Carl Kinbar e-mails:
In your post today, you write that Philo's "Logos theology influenced early Christianity, but not, almost certainly, Judaism in the same period." In "Border Lines," Daniel Boyarin makes a case for similar Logos theologies in nascent Christianity and Judaism. Israel Efros (in "Ancient Jewish Philosophy") makes the same claim. IMO, there are similarities. I've found a sort of Logos theology as late as the fifth or sixth century CE in Shir Hashirim Rabbah and Vayikra Rabbah. Though I'm not sold on Boyarin's thesis that nascent Christianity and Judaism had a shared theology of the godhead, there are similarities. But Christianity certainly focused on it, while Judaism didn't.
APOCRYPHA WATCH: J is for the Book of Judith.