Friday, August 13, 2010

Coptic Psalms quote on wall of Egyptian Cave

PSALMS MATERIAL IN COPTIC inscribed on the wall of Cave T8 at Jabal al-Tarif near Nag Hammadi, Egypt (where the Nag Hammadi Coptic Gnostic library was found). According to this site the inscription gives the beginning lines of the Book of Psalms, and its paleography and the associated artifacts in the cave date it to the late sixth/early seventh century CE.

Via Chuck Jones on Facebook.

Tomb Planters?

TOMB PLANTERS? There are reports that hundreds of fake Muslim graves have been planted at the Mamilla cemetery (the one being excavated to make room for the Jerusalem Museum of Tolerance).
Exclusive: Arabs Faking Graves to Grab Jerusalem Land

by Gil Ronen, Chezki Ezra and Shimon Cohen (Arutz Sheva)

In the heart of Jerusalem, dozens of new tombs are being added to an ancient cemetery, but no one is buried beneath them. Jewish observers and sources in the Jerusalem Municipality say the pretend-graves are simply a Muslim project for grabbing land.

The Mamilla Cemetery is located on the outskirts of Jerusalem's Independence Park (Gan HaAtzmaut), between Agron and Hillel Streets. It is an ancient Muslim cemetery containing several dozen graves, which has been in a state of severe disrepair for more than a century, despite being under the supervision of the Muslim Waqf.

There's video too.
300 Fake Tombstones Removed So Far at Jerusalem Muslim Cemetery

by Gil Ronen (Arutz Sheva)

The Jerusalem Municipality has thus far removed 300 false tombstones that were built in the course of the past few weeks at the Mamilla Muslim cemetery in central Jerusalem. The tombs were built by Muslim elements who took advantage of the fact that the Jerusalem Municipality's Health Department granted them a permit to clean up and fix existing tombstones. Instead of just cleaning graves, however, the Muslims hired workers to try and grab land from the adjoining Independence Park (Gan HaAtzmaut).

The AFP also notes the story, and denials from Muslim sources, here. If these were real graves, that ought to be pretty easy to establish. Let's see some old photos of the area which have them there.

Report suppressed on Waqf Temple Mount excavation?

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: According to the Jewish Chronicle, a report by the Comptroller's Office which investigates the Israeli Government's (lack of) response to the Waqf's illicit excavation on the Temple Mount is being suppressed:
Islamic movement tried to remove evidence of Jewish Jerusalem

By Anshel Pfeffer, August 12, 2010

An investigation into the failure of law enforcement agencies to prevent what is alleged to have been an attempt to wipe out Jewish history on Temple Mount 11 years ago looks set to cause widespread controversy.

The publication of the report into the removal, by night, of 6,000 cubic metres of mud from beneath the Al Aqsa Mosque by the Muslim Wakf authority that oversees the management of the mosque compound, has been suppressed for months by the government.

The dirt was dug out to make way for a new underground mosque, but Israeli archaeologists and politicians claim that another motive of the Wakf and the Islamic Movement - which financed the work - was to remove evidence of Jewish history from the site where the two temples of Jerusalem stood.

This dirt has been extensively sifted by a team led by archaeologist Gabriel Barkai (Barkay) and countless precious artifacts from the full range of the Temple Mount's history have been recovered, although their physical context has tragically been lost. For a long trail of posts on the Temple-Mount-debris sifting project, go here and follow the links.

UPDATE: I see I have already noted an Haaretz article on this story here.

Michael Wise interviewed about Minnesota DSS exhibit

MICHAEL WISE is interviewed about the Minnesota Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition:
Dead Sea Scrolls help bridge 2,000-years of faith, history

By Pat Norby
Thursday, 12 August 2010

Catholic Spirit news editor Pat Norby re­cently talked with Michael Wise, professor of Hebrew Bible and Ancient Languages at Northwestern College in St. Paul and an adviser to the popular Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the Science Museum of Minnesota. Wise, who attends New Hope Chruch, an Evangelical Free Church in New Hope, was to present a talk sponsored by The Catholic Spirit on the Dead Sea Scrolls Aug. 10 in St. Paul.


"Amazing" gold coin excavated at Tel Kedesh

AN "AMAZING" GOLD COIN has been excavated at Tel Kedesh. Here's the IAA press release:

Head of IAA Coin Department: “This is the heaviest and most valuable ancient gold coin ever found in an excavation in Israel”

The coin, which apparently served ritual purposes, depicts a queen — apparently Arsinoë II — wife of her brother Ptolemy II

An extremely rare 2200-year old gold coin was uncovered recently in the excavations of the University of Michigan and University of Minnesota at Tell Kedesh in Israel near its Lebanese border. The coin was minted in Alexandria by Ptolemy V in 191 BCE and bears the name of the wife of Ptolemy II, Arsinoë Philadephus (II).

According to Dr. Donald T. Ariel, head of the Coin Department of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “This is an amazing numismatic find. The coin is beautiful and in excellent preservation. It is the heaviest gold coin with the highest contemporary value of any coin ever found in an excavation in Israel. The coin weighs almost one ounce (27.71 grams), while most ancient gold coins weighed 4.5 grams. In Ariel’s words, “This extraordinary coin was apparently not in popular or commercial use, but had a symbolic function. The coin may have had a ceremonial function related to a festival in honor of Queen Arsinoë, who was deified in her lifetime. The denomination is called a mnaieion, meaning a one-mina coin, and is equivalent to 100 silver drachms, or a mina of silver.

The obverse (‘head’) of the coin depicts Arsinoë II Philadelphus. The reverse (‘tail’) depicts two overlapping cornucopias (horns-of-plenty) decorated with fillets. The meaning of the word Philadelphus is brotherly love. Arsinoë II, daughter of Ptolemy I Soter, was married at age 15 to one of Alexander the Great’s generals, Lysimachus, king of Thrace. After Lysimachus’ death she married her brother, Ptolemy II, who established a cult in her honor. This mnaieion from Tel Kedesh attests to the staying power of the cult, since the coin was minted a full 80 years after the queen’s death.

According to Ariel, “It is rare to find Ptolemaic coins in Israel dating after the country came under Seleucid rule in 200 BCE. The only other gold Ptolemaic coin from an excavation in Israel (from `Akko) dates from the period of Ptolemaic hegemony, in the third century BCE, and weighs less than two grams.”

The excavations at Tell Kedesh, conducted since 1997, has uncovered a large Persian/Hellenistic administrative building, complete with reception halls, dining facilities, store rooms and an archive. While the documents in the archive were not preserved, the excavations yielded 2043 bullae, from which the flourishing of the Hellenistic phase of the building can be dated to the first half of the second century BCE.

Ariel notes that although the inscription on the coin identifies the queen as Arsinoë Philadelphus, “it is plausible that the second-century BCE mnaieia actually depict cryptic portraits of the reigning queens. Consequently, the queen represented on the Tell Kedesh mnaieion may actually be Cleopatra I, daughter of Antiochus III, whose marriage to Ptolemy V in 193 sealed the formal end of the Fifth Syrian War.”

Some three years ago an Alexandrine hoard of Ptolemaic gold coins appeared on the world antiquities market. That hoard, however, contained no coins of Ptolemy V, so the extreme rarity of the mnaieion from Tell Kedesh remains unimpaired.

To download an image of the coin (both sides), click here. Photographer: Sue Webb

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Origins of ABC

THE ORIGINS OF ABC - a wide-ranging history of the alphabet in a post at John Boardley's I Love Typography blog. I've skimmed it over quickly and the parts about which I know something look pretty accurate.

Nitpick: the latest surviving cuneiform text dates itself to 74-75 CE, not the fifth century CE. Aspects of Mesopotamian religion did continue into late antiquity (e.g., the Nabu cult in Barsippa), so that may be what the author was thinking about.

But looks like a good and useful popular synthesis overall.

Via various people on Facebook.

Pompeii and the pyroclastic surge

THE PEOPLE AT POMPEII died from a pyroclastic surge, and the media has finally noticed:
Scientists question accepted wisdom on what killed Pompeiians when Mt. Vesuvius erupted

By Angelica Marin (

POMPEII, Italy — A child lies on the ground with his tiny arms elevated in motion. Beside him, a woman with another child on her lap clenches her fists, as if guarding herself from an inevitable horror. Inside a dimly lit room, surrounded by chipping coral frescoes, lie 2,000-year-old skeletal remnants, vividly human forms encased in chalky plaster.

The Mt. Vesuvius volcano took their lives in 79 A.D., unleashing its fury and burying the ancient port city of Pompeii under layers of lava and ashes. The sight was so horrific, that Pompeians thought the gods had grown angry — and that the end of the world was near.

Since the uncovering of Pompeii in 1599, archeologists believed that these ancient Romans died by being suffocated by the ashes and gases spewing for two days from the mouth of Vesuvius. Their theory rested on the account of a contemporary witness, Pliny the Younger, who saw the eruption from across the Gulf of Naples, claiming that his uncle in Pompeii had taken his last breath under a cloud of ash.

“Our scientific research has proven differently, that death came because of the temperature, not suffocation,” said Giuseppe Mastrolorenzo, a rogue vulcanologist from the Naples Observatory. “Everything that has been written in the guides, and the texts, and that has been re-told to tourists is false,” he said.

After years of analyzing nearly 100 skeletal casts, testing bone tissue and creating numerous simulations of the Vesuvius eruption, Mastrolorenzo concluded that the people of Pompeii were instantly killed by a pyroclastic cloud, a gusty surge carrying the volcano’s lethal temperatures.

It's not clear to me what is new about this study, since the effects of the fatal pyroclastic surge at Pompeii has been known for a long time. I noted it at PaleoJudaica five years ago, citing a 2003 Archaeology Magazine article.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Unrest at another ancient Jericho synagogue

UNREST at another ancient Jericho synagogue:
30 arrested in march to Jericho-area synagogue
Right-wing activists seeking to establish an outpost near an ancient synagogue in Na'aran, near Jericho, clash with security forces.

By Anshel Pfeffer and Chaim Levinson (Haaretz)

Israeli security forces yesterday arrested 30 right-wing activists seeking to establish an outpost near an ancient synagogue in Na'aran, near Jericho. During the arrest, the activists clashed with police officers and soldiers who had been sent to the area.

The activists had arrived at the culmination of a protest march aimed at "bolstering the [Jewish] foothold on the old cities of Nablus and Jericho." The three-day march was organized by a youth group led by Rabbi Moshe Levinger.

At the end of the march, the activists arrived at the synagogue where some 60 soldiers and policemen were waiting. Some of the settlers were beaten while taken into custody. During the clash, a driver hired by the army to take activists away from the area hurled stones at the protesters and hit one woman.

The activists then boarded the vehicle, tore out seats and upholstery and broke two windows. They were taken to a police station in Ma'aleh Adumim.

This was not the first clash between security forces and activists trying to storm the Na'aran synagogue.

In February, the Israel Defense Forces arrested 35 right-wing activists who barricaded themselves inside the synagogue. The activists, who were well organized, easily got by the police and army roadblocks and entered Jericho.

The Na'aran synagogue is not the Shalom al Yisrael synagogue, which is also in Jericho and which has also seen considerable political unrest. Apparently this story in February was actually about the Na'aran synagogue, but the links there are to stories about the Shalom Al Yisrael synagogue. There, I think we have that straight now.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

New retrograde Hebrew and Aramaic lexicon

A NEW RETROGRADE HEBREW AND ARAMAIC LEXICON is noted at Balashnut and it doesn't get a terribly positive review:
I received an e-mail this morning from Amazon, suggesting that I might be interested in the Retrograde Hebrew and Aramaic Dictionary by Ruth Sander and Kerstin Mayerhofer (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2010). Here is a look from Google Books.

I agree that this seems more appropriate as an electronic database, especially given the price. Also, there is already an old retrograde lexicon for ancient Hebrew, although it is long out of print:
Kuhn, Karl Georg, Rückläufiges hebräisches Wörterbuch, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen, 1958

New book on Slavonic Pseudepigrapha

Andrei Orlov, Divine Manifestations in the Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, Orientalia Judaica Christiana 2 (Piscataway: Gorgias, 2009).
Via April De Conick, who also notes that Orlov has posted the introduction here.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Reidar Aasgaard, The Childhood of Jesus: Decoding the Apocryphal Infancy Gospel of Thomas. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2009. Pp. xii, 285. ISBN 9781606081266. $33.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Enrico Norelli, Université de Genève (

Même s'il suscite un certain nombre de réserves, le livre de Reidar Aasgaard est important en tant que tentative systématique de prendre au sérieux un ancien apocryphe chrétien comme témoin d'un milieu où on élaborait et on transmettait des récits sur Jésus. Il s'agit de l'œuvre couramment désignée comme Evangile de l'enfance de Thomas, bien que ce nom d'auteur n'apparaisse que dans une partie de la tradition manuscrite grecque, de plus clairement secondaire et tardive. L'entreprise est d'autant plus méritoire que l'apocryphe en question a souvent été liquidé par les savants comme une suite d'épisodes hétérogènes sans structure ni logique narrative d'ensemble, ayant un niveau littéraire modeste et un contenu théologique insignifiant. Cette évaluation a par ailleurs alterné avec une autre qui a voulu reconnaître dans ce texte des allusions cachées au mythe gnostique de l'âme emprisonnée dans ce monde puis libérée par le Christ, ainsi qu'une christologie docète.


Report on Temple Mount excavations "buried"?

Government 'tried to bury' report on Temple Mount excavations
Knesset to discuss 'suppressed' report on potentially explosive Temple Mount excavations.

By Nir Hasson (Haaretz)

It is over two months since State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss completed his report on excavations at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem – yet the Knesset will only discuss his findings this week, giving rise to charges that the government tried to suppress the controversial document.

The report has not yet been published but Knesset sources who have seen it say it contents are so sensitive that they could spark riots once revealed.


Lindenstrauss's report is expected to point the finger at government bodies, as well as the Waqf, in failing to monitor work on the site. The national Antiquities Authority, the police the Prime Minister's Office, the Attorney General and the Jerusalem municipality are all expected to come under fire.

The Comptroller will conclude the Antiquities Authority and the municipality were effectively evicted from the Temple Mount after the 1996 disturbances, leaving supervision of development work in the hands of the police, which was unequipped for the task.

Police have so far failed to open to a single file on destruction of antiquities.

"The likelihood is that the Waqf has carried out hundreds of illegal excavations, construction projects and demolitions," said Shmuel Berkovitch, an expert on Jerusalem's holy places.
For many posts on the Temple Mount sifting project, go here and follow the links.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

More on the rephotographing of the DSS in Minnesota

Megavision's website describes the technology used:
High- resolution photography and multi-spectral imaging [capture] high resolution images over 12 or more spectral bands from the near UV to the near IR. The spectral bands are created not by using band pass filters to filter reflected light, but by using narrow-band LED illumination which subjects the treasure to only the light energy that is required to expose a highly sensitive monochrome sensor.
The photographic images displayed on a wide computer screen are brown-gold, with black Hebrew script, just the way they look on the black background beneath the camera. All of the images produced with different parts of the light spectrum have been digitally combined, explains Ken Boydston, president of MegaVision, who is demonstrating the photography along with Greg Bearman of SnapShot Spectra. On the screen, many times larger than life, we can see faint lines, and the script marching along beneath them. Boydston zooms in on the edge of one fragment, where we see a tiny, illegible blotch.

The next image is black-and-white, the infra-red version of the same scroll fragments. The computer zooms in on the same blotch at the edge of the fragment of scroll. Under the infrared imaging, the blotch resolves into a shin, a Hebrew letter. From the discovery of the scrolls in 1947 until now, this shin has been hidden, invisible to the eyes of scholars.
Background here.