Saturday, October 10, 2009

THE CYRUS CYLINDER is now the center of a political row:
Museum's refusal to lend Persian artefact strains UK relations with Iran

British Museum wary of lending 2,500-year-old Cyrus cylinder because of unrest since disputed election

* Matthew Weaver
*, Friday 9 October 2009 13.12 BST

The Cyrus cylinder, made around 530BC. Its lettering decrees that everyone should be free to practise their own religion. Photograph: British Museum

Britain's troubled relations with Iran have become further strained by a row about an ancient Persian artefact described as the world's first charter of human rights.

The British Museum is refusing to honour an agreement to lend the Cyrus cylinder to Iran because of the political turmoil that has gripped the country since the violently disputed re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June.

The Iranian authorities have responded by threatening to sever links with the British Museum if it delays lending the 2,500-year-old cylinder, which was ordered by the Persian king Cyrus the Great to enshrine religious toleration.

Persian scholars claim the museum is right to be wary of lending the cylinder because of attempts by antisemitic historians in Iran to attack Cyrus's reputation as the father of the Iranian nation.


Hannah Boulton, head of press and public relations at British Museum, tried to play down the row. "When lending any material you have to check that is an appropriate moment," she said.

"We are committed to lending the Cyrus cylinder to Iran. We hope to be able to honour that commitment, we can't say when that will be. At the moment we are monitoring the situation in Iran."

The British Museum's position seems entirely reasonable to me.

Background on the Cyrus Cylinder is here, here, here, and here.
HEBREW PHILOLOGY is in the news today, which doesn't happen often enough.
God is not the Creator, claims academic
The notion of God as the Creator is wrong, claims a top academic, who believes the Bible has been wrongly translated for thousands of years.

By Richard Alleyne, Science Correspondent (The Telegraph)
Published: 5:45PM BST 08 Oct 2009

Professor Ellen van Wolde, a respected Old Testament scholar and author, claims the first sentence of Genesis "in the beginning God created the Heaven and the Earth" is not a true translation of the Hebrew.

She claims she has carried out fresh textual analysis that suggests the writers of the great book never intended to suggest that God created the world -- and in fact the Earth was already there when he created humans and animals.

Prof Van Wolde, 54, who will present a thesis on the subject at Radboud University in The Netherlands where she studies, said she had re-analysed the original Hebrew text and placed it in the context of the Bible as a whole, and in the context of other creation stories from ancient Mesopotamia.

She said she eventually concluded the Hebrew verb "bara", which is used in the first sentence of the book of Genesis, does not mean "to create" but to "spatially separate".

The first sentence should now read "in the beginning God separated the Heaven and the Earth"

According to Judeo-Christian tradition, God created the Earth out of nothing.

Hmmm ... The idea that Genesis 1:1 does not describe creatio ex nihilo is hardly new. The interpretation of Qal/basic stem of bara' as "to separate spatially" may be, I'm not sure. Presumably it's based on the only other usage of the root: in the Piel/factitive stem it means to chop down (trees), appearing only (I believe) in Joshua 17:15, 18. It's likely enough that Genesis 1:1 is about God reworking the primordial goo rather than creating out of nothing.
MORE ON THE TEN COMMANDMENTS coming to the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition at the ROM:
Oldest copy of 10 Commandments on display in Toronto
Posted: October 08, 2009, 7:35 PM by Ron Nurwisah
Christianity, judaism, dead sea scrolls

By Charles Lewis, National Post

The 10 Commandments, the moral giant of Western civilization, usually depicted as giant slabs raised over the head of Moses descending from Mount Sinai -- or of Charlton Heston in the movie -- actually fit neatly onto a 2,000-year-old document a mere 18 inches across and seven inches high.

The fragile piece of parchment, the oldest known written version of the complete 10 Commandments, will be on display at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto starting tomorrow. Those who study ancient biblical texts say that the tiny piece of parchment is profound.

Background here.
MORE on the third-century synagogue found recently in Turkey:

(ANSAmed) - ANKARA - The remains of an ancient synagogue have been revealed in an archeological dig in Turkey. The ruins, estimated to be at least 1,500 years old, were unearthed by a team of archaeologists from Akdeniz University in September and new artifacts are being discovered daily. Among those discovered on the site is a marble tablet featuring a menorah (a seven-branched candelabrum which has been a symbol of Judaism for almost 3000 years and is the emblem of Israel) flanked by a shofar (a horn, traditionally that of a ram, used for Jewish religious purposes) and a bugle on one side and a palm tree and lemon tree on the other.
Background here.

Friday, October 09, 2009

SHEMINI ATZERET begins this evening at sundown. In Israel, this is also the holiday of Simchat Torah (Simhat Torah). Outside of Israel, that holiday begins tomorrow night at sundown.

Shemini Atzeret is a biblical holiday mentioned in Numbers 29:35-38. Simchat Torah is not a biblical holiday, but it marks the beginning and ending of the annual cycle of Torah readings.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

COOL: The Oxyrhynchus Hymn.

(Via Mark Goodacre's NT Blog.)

For more on the Oxyrhynchus papyri, follow the links at this post.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Court extends Avdat suspects' remands
By YAAKOV LAPPIN (Jerusalem Post)

One of the two men arrested on Monday for taking part in a vandalism attack at the Negev's Avdat archeological park is the sole guard who was hired by the Nature and Parks Authority to protect the site, police announced on Tuesday.

The two men are accused by police of causing widespread damage to the site, knocking down ancient columns and splattering paint and oil on ruins, in revenge for the demolition of several illegal Beduin structures by the state on Sunday.

Aharonovich: Ovdat Culprits Will Pay for their Crime

Reported: 17:40 PM - Oct/06/09


On a tour of the vandalized Ovdat archaeological site, Public Security Minister Yitzchak Aharanovich said that Israel would "deal harshly" with the vandals that caused irreparable damage to an important cultural and historical site. Two suspects from a neighboring Bedouin village are being held as suspects, one of them a security guard at the national park, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

MK Sanaa condemns 'witch hunt' on Arabs in Avdat vandalism case

MK Taleb A'Sanaa (UAL-Ta'al) on Tuesday criticized what he called a "field trial and media lynch" against two Beduin arrested on suspicion of vandalizing the ancient Nabatean site of Avdat on Sunday night.

HaTikva: J'lem Riots, Ovdat Vandalism Related

Reported: 13:15 PM - Oct/06/09

( The HaTikva Party stated Tuesday that there is a common denominator between the Arab rioting on the Temple Mount and the vandalism perpetrated against the archaeological site at Ovdat in the Negev.

Background here.
THE JESUS PROJECT seems to be stalled and perhaps dead. Co-chair R. Joseph Hoffmann has a rambling essay on it at Bible and Intepretation: Threnody: Rethinking the Thinking behind The Jesus Project.

Excerpt (on Jesus):
With due regard to the complexity of evidence surrounding Christian origins—a subject that has been complicated, in a good way, rather than solved by the discoveries of modern scholarship—I no longer believe it is possible to answer the “historicity question. “ No quantum of material discovered since the1940’s, in the absence of canonical material would support the existence of an historical founder. No material regarded as canonical and no church doctrine built upon it in the history of the church would cause us to deny it. Whether the New Testament runs from Christ to Jesus or Jesus to Christ is not a question we can answer.

Obviously I do not deny the existence of mythic materials entwined with a more or less historical memory of a real individual. But as I have written elsewhere, we cannot point to a stratum of ancient biography where such intertwining does not exist: it is a matter of degree, not genre, and a matter of guesswork, not reconstructive surgery. The fate of the Jesus Seminar and the potential fate of the Jesus Project had it continued—or rather, had it been advisable for it to continue—reveals more about the history of guesswork than about the “reality” of Jesus. The NT documents, especially the Gospels, are precisely the sort of literature we would expect to emerge from a time when the dividing line between the natural and “supernatural,” indeed, the divine and human, was not clearly drawn: the true miracle would have been for the NT to stand completely outside the limits of Hellenistic storytelling and the rudimentary historiographical interests of a religious community.
I think what he's saying is that our sources about Jesus are not such that they are useful for answering the questions we wish to ask about him as a historical person. If so, I quite agree. (The same problem, incidentally, holds true for the Hebrew Bible and the history of ancient Israel.) That makes the effort to recover a clear picture of who Jesus was and what he said and did very difficult and perhaps futile. But are there actually New Testament scholars (i.e., who publish in peer-review journals etc.) who are "mythers" who think the historical person Jesus never existed? Who are they? That seems to me to be an extreme and highly implausible position.

Excerpt (on good collaborations):
In general, collaboration is suited to constructive and technical rather than interpretative or highly theoretical work. Because of the close traditional alliance between biblical studies and theology, as well as the nature of the biblical literature itself, it is notoriously hard to keep theology at bay in the realm of interpretation. Constructive work is different. Although far from perfect on a number of levels the Hennecke-Schneemelcher Neutestamenliche Apokryphen in Deutscher Ubersetzung was a pioneer work in the non-parochial study of extracanonical literature when it was first published in German, and in English translation in 1963, making the eccentric one-man collection of ghost-story writer M. R. James virtually useless. The same can be said of James Charlesworth’s editorial management in the translation of Old Testament apocrypha in relation to the 1913 collection edited by R. H. Charles and James Robinson’s production of a serviceable English edition of the Nag Hammadi materials. We owe to that generation of scholarship a way of moving beyond the legendary slings and arrows that were characteristic of the Dead Sea Scrolls “collaboration,” tactics that spawned a whole genre of intrigue and tarnished biblical studies as being theologically interested, religiously mysterious, and academically second class.
I agree with most of this, although the last sentence baffles me a little. It was only when the editing of the Dead Sea Scrolls was broadened out into a large international collaboration involving 40+ people that publication began to make real progress. The original team was just too small, but it took time to come to terms with this and remedy it. It took the original team (yes, they did all the work) ten years just to piece together the heaps of many thousands of fragments into separate scrolls. (Incidentally, two other major comparable archives, the Oxyrhynchus Papyri and the Cairo Geniza are still very far indeed from being fully published, despite being discovered long before the Dead Sea Scrolls.) And I think that unfortunate genre of Dead Sea Scrolls studies would have spawned itself whatever the original team had done or not done.

As for M. R. James, his work on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha is dated but still useful. But perhaps that is less true about his work on the New Testament Apocrypha. I haven't worked with it enough to know.

Excerpt (on the Jesus Project):
Do I regard the Project as worth pursuing, reviving? I think the historicity question, as I have said many times over, is an interesting one. But it is not a question that in the absence of a “real” archeological or textual discovery of indubitable quality can be answered. It cannot be answered directly and perhaps not even through the slow accumulation of new sources. The issue is not merely that such a discovery would not persuade die-hard mythers and would not support believers in the divine Christ. It is that such evidence is really not an academic possibility. Not even the unearthing of an unknown archive of the forced and sworn confession of a skilled forger and tale-teller by the name of Rufus, appearing in front of a magistrate in the year 68 CE, would suffice. We already possess material like that, it is forged.

But the chief reason that it is time to sound the knell for all such projects is that that they cannot function collaboratively, both by virtue of what they want to achieve—that is, the over-speculative nature of the task—and because they are examples of the perils of false collaboration: an incoherent anthology of opinion derived from the private prejudices and objectives of Jesus-makers.
Jesus Project, requiescat in pace?

Background to the Jesus project is here, here, here, and here.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

THE LIBRARY OF THE JEWISH THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY in New York is holding an open house in which a twelfth-century Talmud manuscript and fragments from the Cairo Geniza will be on display.
'Hall of Ages' uncovered within Western Wall tunnels

As police forces guarded the closed-off Temple Mount Monday, a group of visitors accompanied by a Jewish-Ukrainian philanthropist toured Jerusalem's Western Wall tunnels.
A view of the "Hall of Eras"...

The affluent Ukrainian's donation to the archaeological project made possible the rehabilitation of a Second Temple-era hall which was recently unearthed in the bowels of the Old City.

THE SAMARITANS are celebrating Sukkot too:
Ancient Samaritans celebrate different Sukkot in West Bank

by Saud Abu Ramada, Hua Chunyu, Emad Drimly

NABLUS, West Bank, Oct. 5 (Xinhua) -- As Jewish people all around Israel are celebrating their traditional feast of Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles), in northern West Bank, Samaritans, a small religious sect who consider themselves descendants of the ancient northern Kingdom of Israel, are also celebrating Sukkot, but in a somehow different way.

In the village of Kiryat Luza on Mount Gerizim near the West Bank city of Nablus, the Samaritan priest and Director of Samaritan's Museum Husney W. Kohen and his family have built theirin-door Sukkah (Tabernacles) with fruits of the holy land. Kohen said the sukkah was built to recall the same Tabernacle build by ancient Israelites after they left Sinai Desert in Egypt 3,500 years ago.

Priest Kohen considers himself as one of the best among his people in building up the sukkah. According to Kohen and his family, the sukkah was made up of 300-400 kg of fruits, and it took them eight hours to put the sukkah together.

The Samaritan sect celebrate Sukkot every year, just as the world's Jews do. Although, the basic principles of the two sects are the same, however, each celebrates their own feast differently.

According to Kohen, during Sukkot, the Jews build their sukkah outside the home, while Samaritans build in-door ones.

"Both people build tents to commemorate the years ancient Israelites spent in Sinai before reaching Canaan, but according to Samaritan Torah, we have settled down in this land, so we should build sukkah inside the house, which will enable us to do everything in it," said Kohen.

Police arrest 2 in Avdat vandalism

Police in Dimona on Monday evening arrested two Beduin men, a 47-year-old and a 51-year-old, on suspicion of vandalizing the Avdat National Park in the Negev on Sunday night.

The men denied involvement in the incident which left hundreds of archaeological artifacts at the UNESCO World Heritage Site severely damaged.

The suspects will be brought before the Beersheba Magistrate's Court on Tuesday for a remand extension hearing.

Police launched an investigation on Monday morning after church pillars at the ancient Nabatean City in the Negev were knocked down, stones and scripts were smashed, the altar was severely damaged and the walls of the compound were spray-painted.

This is tragic.
DID DAVID AND SOLOMON EXIST? asks Eric H. Cline in a long, good essay at Bible and Interpretation which surveys the current evidence. His take:
So, did David and Solomon exist? It is fair to say that they most likely did, at least if the Tel Dan Stele with its mention of a Davidic dynasty (Beit David) is any indication. However, the jury is still out as to how important they actually were, how large their empires were, and whether the biblical traditions and stories concerning the two men are essentially correct or were concocted later, either in the time of Josiah in the seventh century BCE or even after. Although David and Solomon have successfully overcome the sabotaging nihilism of the 1990s and the early part of the new millennium, the debates about them are still ongoing, with new discoveries impacting the debate as well as benefiting biblical archaeology as a whole.
That sounds about right to me.

Monday, October 05, 2009

THE STORY BEHIND the upcoming Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition in Minnesota:
St. Paul Science Museum Of Minnesota / Exhibit: $4 million. Bringing Dead Sea Scrolls to Minnesota? Priceless
By Devin Henry (
Updated: 10/04/2009 11:39:59 AM CDT

Science Museum archaeology curator, Dr. Ed Fleming, left, and Science Museum Senior Vice President, Mike Day, at the Science Museum. Day brought the Dead Sea Scroll exhibit here; Fleming helped develop the content. (Pioneer Press: Jean Pieri)

It took nearly two millennia to find the Dead Sea Scrolls hidden in a cave in eastern Israel. It took the Science Museum of Minnesota just five years to arrange to bring them to St. Paul.

When the scrolls go on display March 12, the event will cap off a multiyear, intercontinental endeavor undertaken by the Science Museum that involved trips to Israel and around the country to see how other museums had exhibited the famous sacred Jewish texts.

"It's the biggest exhibit we've ever done in terms of storyline," Science Museum Vice President Mike Day said. "In terms of artifacts, there aren't many as precious as the Dead Sea Scrolls."

Day's interest in a Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition was piqued in 2004 when he attended his first
This is a model that is currently being worked on of the dead sea scroll exhibit that will be at the Science Museum next year.
meeting as a member of the Association of Midwest Museums in Michigan: A museum there was hosting the Dead Sea Scrolls.

In 2005, the Science Museum first contacted the Israel Antiquities Authority, which catalogs and conserves the scrolls, about a possible exhibit. It would take three years of site visits and careful negotiations to get the scrolls to Minnesota.

This cloak-and-dagger tidbit is particularly interesting:
The antiquities authority continues to play a major role in the exhibit, finalizing exhibit outlines and planning another trip to Minnesota in November. To protect the scrolls, the authority is delivering each one by private courier to St. Paul, unannounced until the last minute. Once here, the scrolls will be set up in special climate controlled cases.

Even specifics about which scrolls will be coming are closely guarded. Science Museum archaeology curator Ed Fleming said the museum knows only which scrolls are "probably" coming, but he couldn't reveal them.
There's more to the exhibition's story, not quoted here, if you're interested.

The background at the end of the article is a little muddled. The Scrolls are not "older translations of books in today's Bible," they are exceptionally old manuscripts in the original Hebrew. And as for this:
For example, one common copy of the book of Jeremiah was written in Hebrew. Another version was shorter and written in Greek, another language used by the Jews of the day. The Dead Sea Scrolls feature texts of both editions in the same language, making the texts easier to compare.
It would have been clearer to note that the "same language" is Hebrew. The point is that we now know that the short edition of Jeremiah, which survives complete only in the Greek translation of the Septuagint (LXX) was translated from a Hebrew original, not abbreviated by the Greek translator. That means that, in principle, it has just as much claim to orginality as the long edition that survives in Hebrew in the Masoretic Text.

More on the exhibition here.
Gregg Gardner, Kevin L. Osterloh, Antiquity in Antiquity: Jewish and Christian Pasts in the Greco-Roman World. Texte und Studien zum antiken Judentum, 123. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008. Pp. viii, 475. ISBN 9783161494116. €109.00.

Reviewed by Sabrina Inowlocki-Meister, Université de Lausanne (

Word count: 4195 words

This high quality volume edited by G. Gardner and K. Osterloh is the result of a colloquium entitled "Antiquity in Antiquity: Jewish and Christian Pasts in the Greco-Roman World" and organized by the editors and P. Schäfer from January 22-24, 2006 at Princeton University. The collection of articles presented here will be of interest as much to students of Greco-Roman antiquity as to those of the Near-Eastern world.


Sunday, October 04, 2009

THE NEXT FEW WEEKS are looking very busy indeed and blogging may suffer for it. Just so you know.
SOME OF THE VINDOLANDA TABLETS are going home for a while:
Roman 'postcards' to go on show


"Postcards" written by Roman soldiers stationed in Northumberland are to be returned to the county.

The Vindolanda Tablets, named after the camp on Hadrian's Wall, are currently held in The British Museum in London.

Using a £4m Heritage Lottery Fund grant, a gallery is to be created at Vindolanda allowing some of them to be returned on temporary loan.

The tablets are among the earliest examples of the written word discovered in Britain.

They include a birthday party invitation from a commander's wife, while another reveals that soldiers wore underpants to keep warm in the northern winter.

Background to this exhibition (I think) is here. Follow the links there for more on the Vindolanda texts and their importance.
JOB: Bibliographer needed:
Gorgias Press is publishing a large bibliography on Syriac studies edited by Sebastian Brock (based on Brock’s former bibliographical works). We are looking for a researcher to validate all bibliographical data, make sure the format is standard, and proof our text against the originals. Familiarity with bibliographical information is important. This is a paid project. We are open to pay either in cash or in Gorgias books. There are 10,000 or so bibliographical entries which will be provided for proofing in chunks of 1,500 to 2,000. Deadline for the entire project is spring 2010. (Please make sure you have the time to do this before applying.) If you are interested, please send a CV and an email cover letter to

George A. Kiraz
(From the Hugoye List.)
ARAMAIC WATCH: A new book on the Aramaic texts from Elephantine:

Aramaic and Egyptian Legal Traditions at Elephantine
An Egyptological Approach

by Alejandro F. Botta

Alejandro Botta locates the Aramaic legal formulary in the context of the Egyptian legal tradition and looks at the influence of foreign legal practices on other formulae which do not have their roots in Egypt.

* Imprint: T & T Clark International
* Series: Library of Second Temple Studies, The
* Series Volume: 64
* Pub. date: 25 Aug 2009
* ISBN: 9780567045331

256 Pages, hardcover World rights $130.00
Follow the link for more details.

(Via the Agade List.)