Saturday, August 07, 2010

Tony Scott to direct Hannibal the Conquerer?

TONY SCOTT (Ridley's brother) as director of Vin Diesel's Hannibal the Conquerer? Maybe. And it seems the project could be expanding into a trilogy.
Vin Diesel himself let slip that he was talking to Scott about his "Hannibal" pic.

Over on Diesel's facebook, the big guy writes "We talked about Hannibal and the Punic Wars and how by nature the story demanded three movies. The first movie centering around Hamilcar, Father of Hannibal and the Defender of Africa, in the First Punic War. He said he would get our friend Denzel to play Hamilcar. Haha, very super cool... Denzel is a friend, whom I admire and who has given industry advice that I use to this day. Him to playing Hamilcar and for Tony to Direct... exciting to say the least."

Now this "Hannibal the Conqueror" pic has been in development for the best part of a decade so don't go lining up for you tickets just yet.

Background here.

UPDATE (10 August): I should have flagged the fact that Denzel Washington's name is being dropped as a candidate to play Hamilcar, which is all to the good.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Raphael Golb case going to trial

THE RAPHAEL GOLB CASE is going to trial according to the New York Post:
Accused Dead Sea Scrolls identity thief rejects plea deal, plans trial

Last Updated: 2:11 PM, August 6, 2010
Posted: 2:05 PM, August 6, 2010

Plea negotiations broke down this morning for accused Dead Sea Scrolls cyber-bully Raphael Golb -- who now says he's taking his wacky identity theft and impersonation case to trial.

Golb, 49, is charged with trying to boost his historian father's scholarship on the 2,000 year old scrolls by going online in the name of rival scholars -- notably Dr. Lawrence Schiffman of New York University -- to discredit their work.

Plea negotiations before Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Carol Berkman fell apart today when prosecutors insisted that any deal include probation -- a deal breaker for Golb, said his lawyer, Ronald Kuby.


Then there's this odd exchange:
Has he [Mr. Golb] forsaken the scrolls?

"I continue to be interested in the topic," he said, mysteriously, to which Kuby snapped -- "Just keep your hand away from the curser!"
I assume this should be "cursor."

Read on for more about the defense and about Larry Schiffman's response to it ("You can call it a game all you want," he added, "but that doesn't mean anything. Russian Roulette is a game too.").

Background here and follow the links.

X-ray technology and the Jerusalem cuneiform fragment

TECHNOLOGY WATCH: An article in on the technology that determined that the Jerusalem cuneiform fragment originated in the vicinity of Jerusalem.
Now, by adapting an off-the-shelf portable x-ray lab tool that analyzes the composition of chemicals, Prof. Yuval Goren of Tel Aviv University's Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Civilizations can reveal hidden information about a tablet's composition without damaging the precious ancient find itself. These x-rays reveal the soil and clay composition of a tablet or artefact, to help determine its precise origin.

But Prof. Goren's process, based on x-ray fluorescence (XRF) spectrometry, can go much further. Over the years, he has collected extensive data through physical "destructive" sampling of artefacts. By comparing this data to readouts produced by the XRF device, he's built a table of results so that he can now scan a tablet - touching the surface of it gently with the machine - and immediately assess its clay type and the geographical origin of its minerals.

The tool, he says, can also be applied to coins, ancient plasters, and glass, and can be used on site or in a lab. He plans to make this information widely available to other archaeological researchers.


In his recent study published in the Israel Exploration Journal, Prof. Goren and his colleagues investigated a Late Bronze Age letter written in the Akkadian language and found among the Ophel excavations in Jerusalem.

Its style suggests that it is a rough and contemporary tablet of the Amarna letters - letters written from officials throughout the Middle East to the Pharaohs in Egypt around 3,500 years ago, pre-biblical times. Using his device, Prof. Goren was able to determine that the letter is made from raw material typical to the Terra Rossa soils of the Central Hill Country around Jerusalem. This determination helped to confirm both the origin of the letter and possibly its sender.

"We believe this is a local product written by Jerusalem scribes, made of locally available soil. Found close to an acropolis, it is also likely that the letter fragment does in fact come from a king of Jerusalem," the researchers reported, adding that it may well be an archival copy of a letter from King Abdi-Heba, a Jesubite king in Jerusalem, to the Pharaoh in nearby Egypt.
Well, maybe, but it could be a lot of other things too, such as a local administrative tablet. There's not very much of it. It's exciting to be able to harvest so much new data with technology, but it's also important not to over-interpret the evidence.

Background here and notice this regarding speculation about the contents of the tablet.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

More on the New Jersey DSS

THE DEAD SEA SCROLL FRAGMENTS IN NEW JERSEY get lots of coverage in the New Jersey Jewish Standard:
From Qumran to Teaneck
Fragments of history from the Dead Sea Scrolls

Josh Lipowsky • Cover Story
Published: 04 August 2010

Throngs of Jews walk past St. Mark’s Syrian Orthodox Cathedral in Teaneck every Shabbat on their way to shul, unaware that the church is the caretaker of an ancient and precious piece of Jewish history.

When Archbishop Mar Athanasius Yeshue Samuel arrived in New Jersey in 1949, he brought with him four scrolls and fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which include the earliest known texts of books of the Bible. Although the scrolls were later sold to an Israeli archeologist, Samuel kept the fragments and they are to this day under the care of the Eastern Diocese of the Syrian Orthodox Church, headquartered in Teaneck.

“His eminence was really firm he wanted [the fragments] to stay with the church because it’s been a privilege for our church to have those fragments and to make them again available,” said the church’s Very Rev. John Meno, who served as Samuel’s secretary from 1971 until the archbishop’s death in 1995.


From Qumran to Teaneck
The Dead Sea Scrolls: Scenes from a tragicomedy

Rebecca Kaplan Boroson • Cover Story
Published: 04 August 2010

The story of the Dead Sea Scrolls discovery and fate — and how fragments ended up in Teaneck — “is enormously interesting,” said Hershel Shanks, the founder of the Biblical Archaeology Society and the editor of Biblical Archaeology Review.


From Qumran to Teaneck
Yeshiva University students and professor take up the Dead Sea Scrolls challenge

Lois Goldrich • Cover Story
Published: 04 August 2010

“The problem with doing ancient history is that you don’t have very many sources,” said Steven Fine, professor of Jewish history at Yeshiva University and part of the group convened by Bruce Zuckerman to study the Dead Sea Scroll fragments at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Teaneck. “You have to squeeze out as much as you can from everything that does exist.”

Fine, who also heads YU’s Center for Israel Studies, is clearly excited by the project and the doors that Zuckerman’s work have opened for students in the field.


From Qumran to Teaneck
Dead Sea Scrolls and advanced technology

Lois Goldrich • Cover Story
Published: 04 August 2010

Digitizing the Dead Sea Scroll fragments in Teaneck led to an important discovery, said Bruce Zuckerman, professor of religion in the College of Letters, Arts & Sciences at the University of Southern California and founder/director of the West Semitic Research Project.

While the shooting itself took only several days, later analysis, conducted back at USC, revealed a possible new tool for refining the dating of the scrolls.

“We were very pleased; it was a complete surprise,” he said.


Initially, he explained, the four-member group was planning for the first time to use reflectance transformation imaging technology (RTI) on Dead Sea Scrolls — an imaging tool first shown to him 12 years ago by Hewlett Packard scientist Tom Malzbender, who demonstrated the concept by manipulating images of a bowl of rice. The aim was to get a detailed picture of the texture of the skin of the scroll, in order to gauge its condition primarily for purposes of conservation. In addition, he thought he might learn more about the hair follicle patterns on the skin. “I thought we might be able to pick something up,” he said. Pointing out that every skin is unique, “like a fingerprint,” Zuckerman said he hoped the technique might tell his team what kind of animal was used for the scrolls and would allow them to match fragments based on common patterns of follicles.

Shooting a series of 32 images at different light angles — later combining them into a master image allowing him to move the light around — Zuckerman found that he could see the skin patterns very clearly.

But even more, after enhancing the reflectivity of the surface, “we realized we could see the thicknesses of the ink strokes on top of the skin. In fact, we could even see the thicknesses of individual ink strokes and see which were made first, second, third.”

This has significant implications for paleography, he said. Traditionally, scholars have looked at the overall shape of the letters when studying ancient scripts. Now, with RTI, they can see much more — offering tantalizing new possibilities for the study of
the Dead Sea Scrolls.

One expert in the field has suggested that more than 50 of the scrolls were written by the same scribe, he said. “She looked at them and evaluated them by eye, but if we could get RTI images of these texts, we would have better empirical evidence to guide and test this kind of expert opinion.”

There's more on the Teaneck fragments and on Bruce Zuckerman's work here.

Tobias and Raphael in an 18th century Siddur

APOCRYPHA WATCH: The story of Tobias and Raphael, from the Book of Tobit, appears in the Siddur of an eighteenth-century Mohel:
The siddur, currently in the Braginsky Collection (reviewed in the Jewish Press, February 26, 2010), is called "Sefer Sod Adonai im Sharvit ha Zahav (Book of the Lord's Mystery with the [commentary] Golden Scepter." It was copied and illuminated by Aryeh ben Judah Leib of Trebitsch in 1716 and features a title page showing three men and two women in a synagogue setting. After that is the prayer Adon Olam illuminated with two rampant lions unfolding a cartouche with the Hebrew word Adon inscribed. Next are the first morning blessings: "Blessed are you Hashem regarding washing the hands. Blessed are You Hashem who heals all flesh and is wondrous in His acts." The blessing on washing the hands is surrounded by an illumination that depicts an angel on the left and a young man carrying a big fish on his shoulder on the right. Rather surprisingly the subject is from the Book of Tobias, part of the Catholic cannon and known as a book of the Apocrypha (from the Greek meaning "hidden things").

What's this subject doing in a pious Jew's siddur?
Read on, and enjoy the illumination as well.

(Niggles: It's the Book of Tobit, not the Book of Tobias. Tobias is the son of Tobit and one of the characters in the book. And there is still some debate on whether the original language of the book is Aramaic or Hebrew.)

Inside the Israel Antiquities Authority

INSIDE THE ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY with Eti Bonn-Muller in Archaeology Magazine.

The finder of the Jerusalem cuneiform fragment

THE FINDER OF THE JERUSALEM CUNEIFORM FRAGMENT is introduced by her mother in the Jewish Tribune:
The young woman who literally found the fragment with her own two hands is our daughter, Ephrat, who was born in Toronto in 1982, while we were on educational shlichut there. She had the privilege of working with Mazar on this, as on a previous occasion, as head of the sifting crew. Ephrat’s responsibilities included keeping track of what was found and where, and training new sifters.

On the morning of March 11, when the discovery was made, Ephrat’s regular work was slow, so she decided “to grab a bucket and sift.” In the first bucketful she noticed something that was “different than anything I had ever seen before. It had some kind of writing carved into it.” Mazar was summoned from Hebrew University and, the moment she saw the little piece of clay, declared it a significant find.

On July 12, four months later, the find was made public, after it had been examined and assessed by all the relevant experts.


Ephrat is not a student of archeology. Her BA studies were in the behavioural sciences at Ariel College. But she has hiked with my husband all over Israel and grew up in our home in Efrat, halfway between Bethlehem and Hebron, among the hills that Abraham walked.

“I was always interested in archeology,” she said, “and I just wanted the chance to dig.”
Background here and here.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Cyrus Cylinder fragments from China?

Extracts of Cyrus Cylinder found in China
British Museum curator has identified cuneiform text inscribed on horse bones

By Martin Bailey | From issue 215, July-August 2010 (The Art Newspaper)
Published online 2 Aug 10 (News)

LONDON. Two fossilised horse bones with cuneiform inscriptions have been found in China, carved with extracts from the Cyrus Cylinder. They were initially dismissed as fakes because of the improbability of ancient Persian texts turning up in Beijing. But following new research, British Museum (BM) specialist Irving Finkel is now convinced of their authenticity.

This discovery looks set to transform our knowledge about what is arguably the most important surviving cuneiform text, written in the world’s earliest script. Dating from 539BC, the Cyrus Cylinder was ceremonially buried in the walls of Babylon. Its text celebrates the achievements of Cyrus the Great, ruler of the Persian empire. The clay cylinder was excavated by BM archaeologists in 1879 and sent to London, where it is one of the museum’s most important antiquities.

The texts found in China inexplicably have fewer than one in every 20 of the Cyrus text’s cuneiform signs transcribed, although they are in the correct order. ...
I'm not at all sure what that last sentence means, but that's what it says, and it's repeated later in the article. This is not my area, but if Irving Finkel thinks it's real, it's worth taking note of. For more on the Cyrus Cylinder and on Irving Finkel, go here. And there's still more on Dr. Finkel here. And follow the links in both posts for still more.

(Via Francis Deblauwe on Facebook.)

Ancient Canaanite bracelet

LILIT MARCUS: I Would Totally Wear This Recently Discovered 3,000 Year Old Bracelet.

More ancient bling posts here and follow the links.

UPDATE: Oh oh! More here.

No bones of John the Baptist

ROBERT CARGILL: no, no you didn’t find the remains of john the baptist. Indeed not.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

A New Glimpse of Day One

S. D. Giere, A New Glimpse of Day One: Intertextuality, History of Interpretation, and Genesis 1.1-5 (BZNW 172; Berlin: de Gruyter, 2009)
A revised PhD thesis finished under my supervision in 2006. Glad to see it in print.

Mandaic Lexicon Project Receives Grant

ARAMAIC WATCH: Mandaic Lexicon Project Receives Grant.

Maaloula in the news

Speaking the language of Jesus
Teaching Aramaic was discontinued recently in Maloula, but new efforts are being exerted to revive the program

by Alastair Beach (Forward Magazine Syria)

Photo by John Wreford

In a dimly-lit grotto carved out of a cliff face in the foothills of Syria’s Anti-Lebanon Mountain range, scores of pilgrims pay their respects at one of the holiest Christian shrines in the world.

Surrounded by framed religious icons and beneath a low-slung rock ceiling festooned with flickering lanterns, a steady procession of awe-struck worshippers stoop down, made the sign of the cross and then reached through a tiny gap in the stone to try and touch the tomb of St Thecla, one of Christianity’s earliest martyrs.

Her burial place lies in Maloula, a small village which clings like a crab claw to a spine of sand-coloured rock about 55km north-west of the Syrian capital. It is famous for being one of the last places in the world where the inhabitants still speak Aramaic, the language used during the time of Jesus Christ.

I don't think I knew that Thecla was associated with the area. More on the apocryphal Acts of Paul and Thecla here.
“It’s quite extraordinary,” said Annyck Wustyn, a 63-year-old visitor from France. “In our country, where we are mostly Catholic, Aramaic is like a myth. Now I know it is a reality.”

The only way to try and learn the ancient dialect in Maloula itself is at the Aramaic institute that was established in 2007, when the Syrian government decided to launch a series of language courses in a bid to preserve the country’s unique heritage.

The programme has been frozen since last year when an article in suggested that the alphabet being used to teach written Aramaic bore an uncanny resemblance to the Hebrew characters found in modern-day Israel. But plans are afoot to try and breathe new life into the project this summer.

Background to that here and here. The Syrian government looks appallingly lame here and they deserve to be ridiculed mercilessly for this silly decision until they make it right.

Cross-file under "Aramaic Watch."

Dead Sea is finalist in New 7Wonders of World contest

THE DEAD SEA is in the running for status as one of the Seven Wonders of Nature:
Tourism Ministry Seeks ‘Floating Voters’ for Dead Sea Contest

by Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu (Arutz Sheva)

The Dead Sea is great for floaters, but no floating voters are allowed, say tourism officials, who want your vote to make the “lowest point on Earth” officially one of the “New Seven Wonders of the World.”

As part of its global marketing effort to promote the Dead Sea as a unique tourist destination and as a finalist in the New7Wonders of Nature online campaign, the ministry has launched a dedicated multi-lingual Dead Sea website. It also has posted a social media campaign to include Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

I know the first paragraph says Seven Wonders of the World, but that was a contest for human-made monuments and that contest is already over. The Dead Sea is a finalist in the New 7Wonders of Nature contest, the voting for which is set for 2011. The actual Dead Sea site linked to above refers to the correct contest.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Obituary for John WIlliam Wevers

AN OBITUARY for John William Wevers at the Globe and Mail. (Via the Agade list.)

Background here.

First blind PhD graduate in biblical languages?

Blind Andrews student gets biblical languages doctorate

By DEBRA HAIGHT - H-P [Herald Palladium] Correspondent
Published: Sunday, August 1, 2010 1:04 PM EDT

I stand

At the end of one miracle

And the beginning

of a thousand more.

I rest

Having finished one impossible journey

And about to start

What will seem as countless others.

– Ray McAllister, “The End and the Beginning”

BERRIEN SPRINGS — Ray McAllister graduates today from Andrews University, having overcome obstacles and achieving what very likely no one else in his position has.

Totally blind since age 12 due to a degenerative disease called Peter’s Anomaly, he hasn’t let his disability keep him from achieving his dream of getting a doctorate in biblical languages.

It’s a feat that he believes makes him unique in the state and maybe the nation and the world. He also thinks it’s fitting that he’s graduating in the week that saw the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

From what he’s been able to ascertain from conversations with the National Federation for the Blind and the Society of Biblical Literature, no other totally blind person anywhere has ever gotten a doctorate in biblical languages.


His biggest help throughout the last decade has been Sally, whom he married in 2001. She has done everything from reading quizzes and exams to him to dictating vocabulary words.

The technological assistance has also been tremendous, McAllister said. The Michigan Commission for the Blind provided him with the computers, scanners, software programs and the BrailleNote readers he needed to study.

He sees the hand of God not only in the help he got from his wife and the state, but also the assistance he’s gotten from other educational institutions and religious organizations.

For example, the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Computer Analysis of Texts provided him with text files of the entire Hebrew Bible and other religious tracts for a nominal charge. He now has the whole Bible in transliterated codes.

“I had to build my way through this,” McAllister said. “The Commission for the Blind didn’t have all the equipment I needed. I had to make my own path. That’s why I wanted to get my story out, so people could know how to get the different resources.”

McAllister also can’t praise Andrews enough for its help. While he was studying and preparing for his doctorate, it gave him the opportunity to teach seminary classes on biblical subjects.

And kudos to Penn's Center for Computer Analysis of Texts for its technological support.

Beer and Bible

Beer and Bible promote Israel’s cultural future

By JONAH MANDEL (Jerusalem Post)
08/02/2010 01:02

Group aims to inspire potential teachers.

There is nothing quite like a chilly pint of bitter in a welcoming and air-conditioned bar after a ridiculously hot day.

But the fine brew served on Sunday evening in Herzliya’s Theodor bar was primarily an alluring setting for the real delicacy put forth before nearly 40 secular men and women, the “living water” of the Bible.

As the axiom goes, there is no such thing as a free beer, happy hours notwithstanding. In this case, it was the initiative of the non-profit group Israeli Education, which for the third time against such a backdrop set out to expose the attendees to what the group does in instilling the Bible in public schools. It does this with the underlying aspiration to draw some of the young academics sipping drinks to become Bible teachers themselves, in a Kibbutz Seminar program currently in the works.

For a similar, but apparently unrelated initiative (which lacks beer), see here.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Mandaeans in Iran: a photo essay

MANDAEANS (MANDEANS) IN IRAN, a photo-essay in Payvand:
Photos: As Old as Water Itself - the Mandaeans of Iran, followers of John the Baptist
Text Source: Parvaneh Vahidmanesh Mianeh Photo: Hasan Sarbakhshian

Ancient baptism ritual still performed in southwestern province. These pictures offer a rare glimpse into the lives and religious practices of the Mandaean community in Iran.

As followers of John the Baptist, members of this small faith group, numbering between 5,000 and 10,000 in Iran, immerse themselves in moving water every Sunday. Because the rituals of birth, baptism, marriage and death centre on water, the Mandaeans have from time immemorial lived close to rivers - the Karoun in Khuzestan province of southwest Iran, and the Tigris and Euphrates in Iraq.

Iranian Mandaeans, alas, seem to be no better off than their Iraqi co-religionists:
In Iran, which always had a smaller Mandaean population, numbers have also fallen due to emigration. Current numbers are estimated to be between 5,000 and 10,000. After the US State Department granted Iranian Mandaeans protective refugee status in 2002, more than 1,000 moved to America.

Because the Mandaeans do not seek to convert others, they are not perceived as a threat by the Shia clerical establishment. Yet unlike other faith communities - Armenian and Assyrian Christians, Zoroastrians and Jews - the Mandaeans are not recognised as a discrete group in the Islamic Republic's constitution, and are not accorded representation in parliament as others are.

As a result, says Farid, a Mandaean from the town of Ahvaz in Khuzestan province who emigrated to France last year, "Our children are forced to attend Koranic classes and Islamic studies because Mandaeans are not mentioned in the Iranian Constitution.... Iranian Jews, for example, can opt out of religious classes for Muslims in school."

Farid also noted that the lack of formal recognition means that whereas other minorities may legally name children according to their religious preference, Mandaeans are required to adopt approved Muslim or Iranian names.

Shortly after the 1979 revolution, senior Mandaean clerics went to see Ayatollah Mahmoud Taleghani - an ally of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini regarded as tolerant of other faiths - to ask him what freedoms they could expect under the new regime.

They were shocked at Taleghani's response - that the Mandaeans would be "given an opportunity to convert to Islam."

Amnesty International has highlighted violations of the rights of religious and ethnic minorities not recognised by the Iranian state, including the Mandaeans, for example when applicants are vetted for employment and higher education.

As well as discrimination, the Mandaeans also miss out by being ignored.

Their location in Khuzestan means they rarely encounter government officials from distant Tehran.

Farid says the Iranian media simply ignore the Mandaeans.
Background here.