Saturday, January 23, 2010

Four DSS conservators

4 Israeli women work tirelessly to save Dead Sea Scrolls

By Nir Hasson, Haaretz Correspondent

Tags: Qumran, Dead Sea

For the past two and a half months, Tania Treiger, a conservator with the Israel Antiquities Authority, has been pouring over a piece of parchment about 20 centimeters square. It began with a microscopic examination of the fragment to gauge its condition, and continued with the placement of special paper over the writing to very slowly remove the circa 1970s adhesive tape.

Treiger, whose tools include Q-tips, tweezers and lots of patience, is one of four "guardians" of the Dead Sea Scrolls. These four women, all from the former Soviet Union, are the only people in the world permitted to touch the scrolls.

First paragraph: I really do hope the author means "poring."

Second paragraph: it's kind of cool that I seem to be one of the last few people who were permitted to touch the Scrolls, around 1987-90 when I was working on the Genesis-Exodus material in my dissertation, which later came out in DJD 12. Although I suppose it would have been better for the Scrolls if we hadn't been permitted.

This is news to me:
The first of the Dead Sea Scrolls, among the most important archaeological finds in the world, were discovered in the mid-1940s in the Dead Sea area, and have been making headlines ever since. This week, the Hebrew daily Maariv reported that the IAA had decided to stop sending the scrolls abroad to exhibitions for fear of legal complications, after the Jordanian government demanded that Israel return scrolls to Jordan. ...
Not a good development, although perhaps understandable. Background on the Jordan demand is here.

The work of these four conservators is exceedingly important and I am glad to see them getting some public recognition for it.

Milwaukee DSS exhibit opens

Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit inspires visitors

By Jackie Loohauis-Bennett of the Journal Sentinel

Posted: Jan. 22, 2010 10:57 p.m.

The ink on the 2,000-year-old parchments has faded. But for visitors at the opening of the Milwaukee Public Museum's "Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bible" exhibit Friday, the power of the ancient writings remains.

The museum sold more than 1,500 tickets to the first day of the largest temporary exhibit it has ever produced. The exhibit displays more than 200 artifacts, including actual fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls from the third century B.C. to first century A.D., carrying biblical texts from such books as Genesis, Exodus and Deuteronomy. Medieval and modern Bibles also are on display.

Photo gallery here. Video here.

UPDATE: There's a lecture series to go with the exhibit.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Postdoc in Second Temple Judaism at UCL

A POSTDOCTORAL FELLOWSHIP with the title Research Associate: By the Rivers of Babylon: New Perspectives on Second Temple Judaism from Cuneiform Texts is being advertised by University College London.
UCL History Department is distinctive for the breadth of its expertise, stretching from the fourth millennium BC to the contemporary world. We are seeking a researcher to work within the framework of a comparative project under the direction of Dr Caroline Waerzeggers studying Second Temple Judaism and the Neo-Babylonian temple cult, specifically focusing on the post-exilic temple community of Jerusalem. The postholder will also be expected to do a moderate amount of teaching.

The post is funded by the European Research Council for 4 years from 1 September 2010.
(Via the Agade list.)

Jobs: Jewish Studies Chair and Lectureship at Nottingham

JOBS: A Chair in Jewish Studies is being advertised at the University of Nottingham.
This post is available from 1 September 2010 (or as soon as possible thereafter) and will be offered on a permanent contract

Applications are invited for a Chair in Jewish Studies. Candidates should have an outstanding record of research in some area of Jewish studies, and a sufficiently high international reputation to attract research students and research grants. The successful candidate will contribute to the Department’s teaching programme, and play a role in the administration and leadership of the Department. Applications are welcomed from any area within Jewish studies, ancient, medieval or modern, and from those whose approaches are textual, historical, philosophical or theological
Nottingham is also advertising a Lectureship in Religious Studies with a preferred expertise in Jewish studies:
This full-time, permanent post is available from 1 September 2010

Applications are invited for the above post in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies. Candidates should hold, or be near completion of, a PhD. Candidates should be able to demonstrate a good research record and potential in religious studies, preferably with expertise in the Jewish tradition, but applications are also welcome from those whose specialism lies in the sociology or anthropology of religion, or comparative religion, or from those with an interest in the Islamic tradition. The successful candidate will be responsible for teaching undergraduate and postgraduate modules, for supervising postgraduate research and for contributing to departmental administration
(Via the BNTS list.)

SAD NEWS: Abraham Malamat

SAD NEWS: the Agade list reports that Abraham Malamat has passed away:
From Shmuel Ahituv came this very sad message:

I am sorry to convey the sad message that Professor (emeritus) Abraham Malamat of the Hebrew University has passed away today January 21 at the age of 87.

The funeral will take place at Har Hamenuchot cemetery, Jerusalem on Sunday. For further details as known, contact 02-5631587.

Shiv'a will be at the Malamats' residence: 1 Rashba Street, Jerusalem.
Charles Halton collects some information about Professor Malamat's publications over at Awilum. May his memory be for a blessing.

More on the Talpiot Tomb

MORE ON THE TALPIOT TOMB: the tomb from which the Jerusalem Shroud came and the one that some have argued to be the burial place of Jesus and his family. A Bible and Interpretation essay offers replies to various refutations of the statistical evidence that has been brought forth to prove a connection with Jesus:
Talpiot Dethroned

We have noted that a number of scholars have misstated facts in analyzing the statistics of the tomb. We also acknowledge that despite these errors, the Talpiot tomb might not be the Jesus family tomb. Nevertheless, an analysis on the calculations of the names in the tomb should at least be accurate and based on acceptable statistical methods.

By Kevin Kilty
Department of Physics and Engineering
LCCC, Wyoming

With Mark Elliott

Editor, Bible and Interpretation
I think all I can say here is that such debates belong in peer-review journals. It's helpful to have a popular essay from time to time which summarizes the discussion in the journals, but the discussion itself isn't going to be advanced in popular essays.

For some past coverage of the Talpiot Tomb see here, here, here, here, and here. For the Jerusalem Shroud see here and follow the links.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Davila 666?

NO RELATIONS, I assure you.

Silviu Bunta to lecture on Cain and Abel

SILVIU BUNTA is giving a public lecture at Illinois Wesleyan University in March:
Monday, March 8

Assistant Professor of Religious Studies Silviu Bunta from the University of Dayton will present “Whose Son was Cain Anyway?: Genesis 4:1 as a Case of Textual Insinuation.” The story of Cain and Abel can be found in many religions, appearing in the Bible, the Torah and the Qur’an. Some versions allege Cain was the son of the serpent in the Garden of Eden.

Bunta, a native of Romania, holds a doctorate from Marquette University (Wisconsin). He specializes in the study of Judaism and Christian origins, focusing particularly on mystical trends in early literature not included in canon writing, but attributed to biblical figures. Bunta has recently published several articles in the field of Jewish and Christian mysticism in volumes and scholarly journals such as Henoch, the Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha, Catholic Biblical Quarterly and the Journal for the Study of Judaism.
Professor Bunta is also involved with the Society of Biblical Literature's Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism Group.

Ashdod antiquities exhibit looted

THIEVES with a sense irony have looted an antiquities exhibit in Ashdod:
Burglars swipe artifacts from 'Antiquities Thieves' exhibit

By Yanir Yagna
Tags: Israel news

In a display of what might be called ironic chutzpah, burglars broke into an Ashdod museum this week and stole silver coins from the Hellenistic period and other archaeological finds that were part of an exhibit called "Antiquities Thieves in Israel."

The exhibit, at the Korin Maman Museum, displayed artifacts that the Israel Antiquities Authority had previously recovered from antiquities thieves. Now it seems the authority will have to begin its hunt all over again.


New effort to carbon date the DSS

A NEW EFFORT to carbon date the Dead Sea Scrolls:
International researchers find method to date Dead Sea Scrolls
2010-01-21 08:38 BJT

STOCKHOLM, Jan. 20 (Xinhua) -- A Danish archaeochemist and an international team of researchers have found a way to enable scientists to precisely date the Dead Sea Scrolls, according to reports reaching here from Copenhagen on Wednesday.

"For more than a decade we've been saying that there was no point in dating the scrolls before we found a method to remove the oil. Now we have found just such a method," Kaare Lund Rasmussen, Associate Professor and Archaeochemist of the University of Southern Denmark, was quoted as saying by the Danish newspaper Politiken online.

Treatment of the scrolls included being spread out using plant oil, which in turn made precise carbon dating of the scrolls almost impossible, said Politiken.
The article notes that some of the Scrolls were carbon dated in the 1990s, but this new project aims to remove the oil to get a more accurate dating.

Review of Milwaukee DSS exhibition

THE MILWAUKEE DEAD SEA SCROLL EXHIBITION is reviewed by Jackie Loohauis-Bennett in the Journal Sentinel. Excerpt:
The exhibit offers plenty of spectacles to get visitors into an epic mood. Enter the exhibit through the monumental re-creation of Jerusalem's 1st century B.C. Robinson's Arch, for instance, and you expect Charlton Heston to pop up and lead the way.

Rooms filled with rare artifacts from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem quickly whisk visitors into the same time and space as the scrolls. Some of these artifacts - medical instruments, oil lamps - almost never leave Israel, and they provide insight into the culture that gave birth to the Old Testament.

A limestone plaque made to scare off the devil if he looked in its mirror reveals just how closely the people of Jerusalem lived to the supernatural world every day.

To open up the exhibit even more, the museum quickly gives the scroll saga a human face with a series of amazing artifacts. A sandal and comb were probably owned by one of the legendary Jewish rebels who committed suicide during the Roman assault of Masada. An ossuary box brings to life the biblical figure of Simon of Cyrene, said to have carried Jesus' cross.

The Dead Sea Scroll fragments, of course, star in the exhibit, and they're bound to send shivers down the back of any Bible student. Visitors can follow the English translations of texts from Genesis, Exodus and Leviticus line for line on the scroll fragments as they were set down 2,000 years ago.

The Isaiah text, "Woe to those who rise early in the morning to run after their drinks," packs a new punch when read in the handwriting of a scribe who believed he was communicating a warning directly from God.

The scrolls' fragments range from the size of a stamp to a book page-sized segment. Here again, the museum staff conquered a difficult exhibition problem: the physical display of such ancient, tiny texts. Specially-built cases and lights make the fragments easy to see and experience.

Like the scrolls themselves, the exhibit does have its share of controversy. Does the Jeselsohn Stone really refer to a Messiah rising from the dead after three days? If so, does the stone itself date from before, during or after the time of Jesus? The museum gives visitors enough information to seek out the answer on their own.

SBTS buys 3 DSS fragments

THREE DEAD SEA SCROLLS FRAGMENTS have been acquired by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary:
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary obtains 3 fragments of Dead Sea Scrolls
Posted Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2010

By CHRIS VAUGHN (Star-Telegram)

FORT WORTH — Only eight months after the Kimbell Art Museum purchased an exceedingly rare Michelangelo painting, the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary dropped its own antiquities bombshell Wednesday — the school has acquired three fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls, one of the world’s most important archaeological and spiritual discoveries.

The fragments — appearing to carry verses from the biblical books of Exodus, Leviticus and Daniel — are admittedly tiny, measuring only a few square inches each and protected in a sheath of glass. But because the scrolls are the oldest version of the Hebrew Bible ever discovered, it would be impossible to overstate their importance to religious scholars, not to mention the leadership of the Baptist seminary.

"This is an occasion of considerable consequence," said Paige Patterson, president of the seminary.

The seminary bought the pieces for an undisclosed price from a private collector who had them in a Swiss bank.

SBTS is looking to buy more Scroll fragments. Last September, Azusa Pacific University also bought some Scroll fragments.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Tomb of Ezekiel (traditional) Watch

TOMB OF EZEKIEL (TRADITIONAL) WATCH: YNet News has an update on current efforts to stop the turning of this tomb in Iraq into a mosque. The new information:
Manager of the "Justice for Jews" organization Shlomo Alfassa has approached US government authorities in Washington following the reports and demanded to "stop the Islamization of the Jewish prophet's tomb."

An application has also been made to the UNESCO headquarters, which is responsible for maintaining the religious character of holy sites.
Background here.

Qeiyafa Ostracon watch

QEIYAFA OSTRACON WATCH: Christianity Today has a helpful roundup of scholarly responses to Gershon Galil's proposed translation:
Archaeology: What an Ancient Hebrew Note Might Mean
Scholar says five lines of ancient script on a broken piece of pottery confirm Kingdom of Israel's existence in 10th century B.C. Others are cautious.
Gordon Govier | posted 1/18/2010 09:59AM

Five lines of ancient script on a broken piece of pottery, first spotted by a 17-year-old excavation volunteer in the summer of 2008, have been proclaimed as one of the oldest known examples of Hebrew writing. An Israeli historian believes they also testify to the formation of the kingdom of Israel and the writing of Hebrew Scriptures.

The ostracon (a piece of pottery with writing on it, the ancient equivalent of note paper) was found at Khirbet Qeiyafa, the 3,000-year-old ruins of a city on a ridge above the Valley of Elah. The ruins overlook the valley where the Bible says David slew Goliath roughly 3,000 years ago.

Professor Gershon Galil, the chair of the Department of Jewish History at Haifa University, has released a reading of the ostracon which he says confirms that the Kingdom of Israel existed in the 10th century B.C. (the time of King David), and that the biblical Scriptures were written centuries earlier than many modern scholars believe.

Whether other scholars will accept Galil's reading after it's published in a scholarly journal remains to be seen. Some already believe he has overstated his case.

Responses follow from Seth Sanders, James Hoffmeier, Chris Rollston, William Schniedewind, and Aren Maier.

Background here and follow the links back.

Jacob Neusner's meeting with the Pope

A REPORT on Jacob Neusner's meeting with the Pope (Catholic News Service blog):
US rabbi says pope has finished second volume on Jesus
Posted on January 19, 2010 by Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY — U.S. Rabbi Jacob Neusner, a prolific author and professor at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y., told the Vatican newspaper that Pope Benedict XVI has finished the second volume of his book on Jesus.

The rabbi says the pope told him so during their 20-minute meeting yesterday.

The fact that the pope would tell a U.S. rabbi that the manuscript is finished isn’t quite as odd as it would appear. In the pope’s first volume, “Jesus of Nazareth,” there were more quotes from Rabbi Neusner than from anyone but the Gospel writers and St. Paul.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Matthew and the Age of Pisces?

MATTHEW AND THE AGE OF PISCES? Professor Jay Williams asks Who Were the Magi? (at Bible and Interpretation) and comes up with a novel answer involving astrology. Excerpt:
Jews, on the whole, officially refused to accept astrology because of the emphasis upon the seven “planets” that were understood to be gods. Nevertheless, it would have been difficult for anyone during the later Hellenistic age not to be aware of the findings and beliefs of astrology. It was, after all, considered by many to be a highly acceptable science. Several centuries later, Jews constructed a synagogue at Beth Alpha that had on its floor an astrological diagram. Another such synagogue existed also in Tiberias.

In any event, it is quite probable that many people at the time of Jesus knew that they were, slowly but surely, entering a new age, the age of Pisces, the fish. Both Aries and Pisces are rather vague constellations and do not have the sharp outlines of the Big Dipper or Orion. Nevertheless, those who watched the heavens carefully could see the first star of Pisces rising in the east at the time of the vernal equinox. The new age was beginning.

It is doubtful that any Persians would have thought that the spiritual power of the New Age was to be born in Judea as the Jewish Messiah, but that is beside the point. The author of Matthew was surely not Persian but probably Jewish in background and it is he who, according to our theory, wished to connect Jesus to the coming of the New Age. Indeed, Jesus is seen by him as the Lord of the New Age, as the reign of heaven becomes a reality.
I'm not sure what "officially" means here. It's hard to pin down an "official" Judaism in this period. The Temple priests? But we don't know what position, if any, they advanced about astrology. And there are astrological texts among the Dead Sea Scrolls (4Q186, 4Q534, 4Q561, 4Q318). But, if anything, that strengthens rather than weakens Professor Williams's case. So one more interpretation of the Star of Bethlehem to add to the list. More on the Magi and the Star of Bethlehem here.

In the mail

IN THE MAIL - or at least in my mailbox. A copy from my colleague Professor De Troyer:
Kristin De Troyer, Armin Lange (eds), with the assistance of Lucas L. Schulte, Prophecy after the Prophets? The Contribution of the Dead Sea Scrolls to the Understanding of Biblical and Extra-Biblical Prophecy (CBET 52; Leuven: Peeters, 2009)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Shlomo Sand interview

SHLOMO SAND, author of The Invention of the Jewish People is interviewed by in the Guardian. Excerpt:
Sand is scathing about accusations made by Jews living elsewhere that his book is anti-Israel. From the comfort of the diaspora they charge him with sedition. Some say his thesis fuels antisemitism. Overseas donors to Tel Aviv University have called for him to be sacked.

But Sand has voted for Israel with his feet. He is not anti-Zionist, he says, but post-Zionist: accepting modern Israel as a fait accompli. Besides, his interest in the country's survival as a democracy is not theoretical. His family lives there.

Diaspora Zionists can nurture the Jewish myth of biblical nationhood as dual citizenship alongside their passports from safer states. When they refer to "Israel" and "Jerusalem" in their prayers, they do not have to distinguish between scriptural metaphor and political reality. It is a distinction on which Israel's survival depends.
Otherwise the interview doesn't really address criticisms of the book aired in earlier reviews (for some of which, go here and keep following the links).

Iraqi Jewish Archive update

IRAQI JEWISH ARCHIVE UPDATE: The AP reports that the Iraqi authorities want the archive back. My own view (based on natural justice, not any expertise in the law) is that ancient cultural treasures belong first to humanity. Claims of the country of origin are certainly important and legitimate to take into account, but the key question is how the artifacts can best be preserved for humanity. In this case, Iraq is not giving the world any reason for confidence in its ability and willingness to care properly for Jewish artifacts, given its current treatment of the (traditional) Tomb of Ezekiel. This point is made rather more vigorously by CAMERA.

Background here and possibly here and here.

UPDATE (24 May): Dead link fixed. Sorry about that.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Nag Hammadi murders update

Egypt security court trial in Copt killings

(Gulf Times)

Three Muslims accused of gunning down six Egyptian Christians on the Coptic Christmas Eve will stand trial before an emergency security court, the state prosecutor said yesterday. Abdel Magid Mahmud said in a statement that the three men were charged with premeditated murder aimed at harming national interests. ...
And Egyptian bloggers have entered the picture:
'Naga Hammadi bloggers' released after one-day detention

Pakinam Amer (Al-Masry Al-Youm)

Around 30 bloggers and activists were released Saturday after being briefly detained in Qena's Security Directorate. The young men and women were apprehended in Naga Hammadi's train station, southern Qena, after traveling from Cairo to offer condolences to the families of victims of sectarian violence and pay their respect to Bishop Kirollos of the Naga Hammadi Diocese, who was allegedly himself a target in the attacks against Christians there.


The bloggers, who are on their way back to Cairo as time of writing, were among a group of Egyptians that include politicians like Osama Ghazali Harb of the liberal Democratic Front Party, Kifaya leader George Ishaaq and Cairo university professor and opposition leader Mohamed Abul Ghar, who wanted to visit Naga Hammadi to show solidarity with the town's Christians, whose moves are also stifled. However, the politicians had taken a different route, and were on their way to Naga Hammadi in private cars.

Wael Abbas, prominent bloggerm said he spent "one of the worst nights ever in detention." On his way back to Cairo, he told Al-Masry Al-Youm on the phone that they were left to sleep on the cold floor in jail all night. "When we were transferred to Qena's prosecution, we were told we faced charges of 'illegal gathering, disrupting authorities' work, and shouting slogans that could cause sectarian rifts'," he said, adding that he was questioned in the absence of his lawyers.

The bloggers include Amira el-Tahawy, Mustafa el-Naggar, Ahmed Badawi, Shahinaz Abdel Salam, Mohamed Khaled known by his alias "Demagh Mak" and human rights activist Paula Abdo -- himself an eyewitness to some of the clashes that occurred earlier in Naga Hammadi following the shooting.

Doesn't sound like the greatest moment for free speech and freedom of expression in Egypt.

Background here.

The Milwaukee DSS exhibition starts on the 22nd

THE MILWAUKEE DEAD SEA SCROLLS EXHIBITION opens on 22 January. The Journal Sentinel gives its top ten high points:
Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit sheds light on discovery, Bible

By Jackie Loohauis-Bennett of the Journal Sentinel

Posted: Jan. 16, 2010

The Dead Sea Scrolls saga is an epic that would have made Hollywood director Cecil B. DeMille twitch with envy.

The story has all the elements of DeMille's "Ten Commandments" and more, everything from biblical prophecies and international intrigue to an ancient treasure map.

The Milwaukee Public Museum's exhibit "Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bible: Ancient Artifacts, Timeless Treasures," running Jan. 22 through June 6, is an epic production in its own right. Five years in the making, it's the largest temporary exhibit ever produced by the museum. The show contains more than 200 items from scroll fragments to pages from medieval Bibles.

The exhibit is designed to explain the importance of the 2,000-year-old Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in Qumran beginning in 1947. These parchments have shed new light on the Bible itself and on the times in which the Old Testament was created.

Exhibit visitors might find their heads spinning from the scope of the show. Here's our "10 Things You Must Not Miss" guide to the Dead Seas Scrolls exhibit.

The Vision of Gabriel stone and the Copper Scroll are included.

The exhibit also honors John Trever, as another article, also in the Journal Sentinel, notes:
Exhibit puts spotlight on Milwaukee scholar who helped preserve Dead Sea Scrolls

By Jackie Loohauis-Bennett of the Journal Sentinel

Posted: Jan. 17, 2010 3:05 a.m.

The Milwaukee native dodging bullets as he ran through the streets of Jerusalem in 1948 carried a remarkable secret. He knew that if he were hit, the greatest biblical discovery of all time might be lost to the world forever.

John Trever, a student of the Old Testament at the American Schools of Oriental Research, was playing a leading role in revealing the importance of the Dead Sea Scrolls. In the Milwaukee Public Museum's upcoming exhibit, "Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bible," opening Jan. 22, Trever is honored as a hero in interpreting and preserving the scrolls and their meaning.


Trever arrived to study at the American Schools of Oriental Research and found himself almost alone there during spring break in February 1948. The original scrolls were then in the hands of the archbishop of the Syrian Orthodox Church in Jerusalem, who was trying to identify them in the midst of the violence surrounding the partition of Palestine.

After a series of mysterious phone calls and covert negotiations, the scrolls were brought to the school and shown to Trever and fellow student William Brownlee.

Trever had done his doctoral dissertation on the Book of Isaiah. When the first scroll was unrolled before him, Trever recognized the writings immediately. According to Weston W. Fields' new book, "The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Full History," Trever "burst into (Brownlee's) room with the thrilling announcement." The writing on the scroll was, amazingly, from Isaiah.

"Dad recognized it very quickly, and he realized it was very significant. He knew from the writing the scroll wasn't a fake. He realized it would push the origin of the complete Bible text back more than 1,000 years. He was coincidentally the best-suited person in the world for that initial revelation," James Trever said.

John Trever knew the scrolls were priceless. As gunfire and mortars went off around him breaking fragments of the scrolls onto the floor, he knew they must be preserved somehow for future research.

He needed to save the writings through photographic copies. But he was out of film.

Background here.