Saturday, September 18, 2010

Séamus Ó Coigligh, R.I.P.

Language, literature expert and former curator of Cork Public Museum

(The Irish Times)

Séamus Ó Coigligh: SÉAMUS Ó Coigligh, polymath, expert in European languages and literature and former curator of Cork Public Museum, has died at the age of 94. During the Cold War, he wrote a column in The Irish Times , An Eye on Russia and An Eye on Eastern Europe, from 1959 until 1972. He was a frequent book reviewer on Russian affairs in The Irish Times , and also contributed articles to various European and Irish language journals.
His specialty was mostly in Irish and in European languages, but this caught my eye:
Ó Coigligh lived among his thousands of books in all rooms of his house, books which he referred to as his “friends”. He was able to read all current European languages, as well as a number of extinct languages such as Manx. As well as understanding Aramaic and Hebrew, he had a good grasp of Urdu and Arabic. He usually introduced himself to a new language by first studying the Bible in that language.

I do that too. I also do it to keep up languages that I already know. For example I read the Arabic New Testament some years ago when I wanted a break from Qur'anic Arabic.

Requiescat in pace.

Koine Greek still spoken?


(Via James McGrath on FB.)

More on Bible Lands Museum Jewish magic exhibit

A walk through the subconscious

The exhibition 'Angels and Demons' at the Bible Lands Museum focuses on the rich history of sorcery in Judaism.

By Benny Ziffer (Haaretz)

There has been a sort of exorcism going on in the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem over the past few months. An exhibit called "Angels and Demons" - curated by gifted Assyriologist Filip Vukosavovic, whose life story would make a great novel - tells the story of this young Montenegrin's love for Israel and his decision to join his fate to that of Jerusalem, by researching incantations and amulets related to Jewish tradition.

The exhibit displays the entire history of Jewish magic, from the early Middle Ages onward, in the form of objects, some of which you wouldn't suspect of being useful for sorcery if it weren't for the explanations provided. These items embody humanity's fears, past and present, in the face of danger. A seemingly shapeless lump of clay turns out to be a little sculpture of a person with its hands and feet tied, signifying the desire of its owner to symbolically bind evil so it won't harm him. And there are angels for all seasons, whose names are no less strange than the powers attributed to them. Their role? To defend people in difficult times, whether from the evil eye, bad health or other problems.

Nice article, but I think he means "unconscious." (The text of the article also uses "subconscious," so it's not an editor's error.) Also, "sorcery" is usually reserved for offensive magic that aims to harm another person. Most of the magic discussed here does not seem to come under that category.

Golb trial and Eisenman-Qimron case

THE GOLB IDENTITY THEFT TRIAL is tied to the Eisenman-Qimron Dead Sea Scrolls copyright trial by Neil Wilkof at the IPCat blog (which deals with copyright, IT, etc. issues). Excerpt:
One of the most media-drenched iconic copyright cases of the last 20 years must certainly be the dispute over the copyrightability of the Scrolls. Well, not exactly the Scrolls themselves, since they entered the public domain nearly 2,000 years ago. But in the case of Eisenman v. Qimron, the Israel Supreme Court was called upon the decide on whether the reconstruction of one of the ancient texts by an Israeli academic--Professor Elisha Qimron-- was a protected copyright work.

What Qimron did was study the text itself, which itself was a physical recreation of a large number of parchment fragements that had been discovered in a desert cave in the late 1940's. Imagine having your grandchild tear up into fragments your favorite copy of Beowulf in the original Norse language and then try to put the fragments back together again--you get the idea. Since the physical reconstruction itself revealed gaps in the text, Professor Qimron was asked to complete the text, which he did.

The reconstructed text was then set to be the centerpeice of a book that Professor Qimron intended to publish. But before he could do so, however, the reconstruction was published in a journal--Biblical Archealogical Review. Qimron alleged infringement, while the defendants challenged the copyrightability of Qimron's reconstruction, arguing inter alia that what he did was reconstruct a pre-existing work (albeit of ancient provenance) that may well have significant academic value, but which did not constitute a "work" in the copyright sense. Qimron prevailed at tht trial court level and the Supreme Court affirmed.

Behind the particulars of the case (and the archaeo-political intrigue behind it) the debate continues to rage over who composed the Scrolls. Two of the most prominent scholars in this field are Lawrence Schiffman of New York University and Norman Golb of the University of Chicago (who was a witness in the copyright case discussed above). The debate centers on whether the authors of the scrolls were members of the Essenes, an ascetic sect that lived in the Judean desert, or other groups located in Jerusalem and elsewhere. Now the issue of the authorship of the scrolls has led to its own lawsuit.
I believe Qimron's text of 4QMMT was published without permission in A Facsimile Edition of the Dead Sea Scrolls, not BAR. In any case, the post has links at the bottom to various resources on the earlier trial. You can read an unofficial English translation of the Hebrew-text Israeli Supreme Court judgment here.

Also, the current case is now getting attention from British media with this Telegraph article.

Background here.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Yom Kippur

YOM KIPPUR (THE DAY OF ATONEMENT) begins this evening at sundown. An easy fast to those observing it. The biblical precepts for Yom Kippur appear in Leviticus 23:26-32.

International Conference on Judaea and Rome in Coins

THE INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON JUDAEA AND ROME IN COINS, 65 BCE TO 135 CE, was held earlier this week in London. Nikos Kokkinos has posted abstracts of several papers on the Ioudaios-L list.

I noted the conference last year here, but mistakenly implied that it would be in 2009.

Cyrus Cylinder political fallout

CYRUS CYLINDER POLITICAL FALLOUT: The UAE National has a balanced and sensible article on the latest Iranian response to the loan of the Cyrus Cylinder by the British Museum. Excerpt:
The cylinder is now back in Iran, on loan from London for four months. This has presented the Iranian clerical regime with a dilemma. Celebrations of Iran’s pre-Islamic past have been out of fashion for 30 years as too reminiscent of the shah.

But Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, has seized the opportunity to bask in the cylinder’s glow and turn it into a symbol of the Islamic Republic’s power and prestige. For years Mr Ahmadinejad has been seen as a religious zealot, impatiently awaiting the return of the messiah of Shiite Islam. Now he is emerging as an Iranian nationalist.

In a ceremony on Sunday to unveil the cylinder at the Iranian National Museum, Mr Ahmadinejad sought to link modern Iran with the old Persian empire. He decorated a man dressed as one of King Cyrus’s soldiers with a keffiyeh, which is part of the uniform of the pro-government militia, the Basij. Having described Cyrus as “King of the World”, he praised the cylinder as embodying respect for the basic rights of mankind, freedom of thought and choice, and the revolutionary ideal of fighting oppression. Folk dancers representing the various ethnic groups of Iran performed to the sound of traditional instruments.

Stepping up the rhetoric, the hard-line newspaper Keyhan said that the cylinder “belonged to Iran” and suggested it should not be returned to the “thieves” of the British Museum.

There are several problems with this Iranian nationalist discourse. First, the cylinder was discovered in Babylon, 85 kilometres south of Baghdad, so if it were to be returned, it would be to Iraq, not Iran. Second, scholars are somewhat sceptical as to the thesis of Cyrus the Great as the pioneer of human rights. The proclamation appears to be part of a tradition going back thousands of years in Mesopotamia – modern Iraq – whereby new kings would make such declarations on ascending to the throne. “The Cylinder may indeed be a document of human rights and it is clearly linked with the history of Iran, but it is in no real sense an Iranian document: it is part of a much larger history of the ancient Near East, of Mesopotamian kingship, and of the Jewish diaspora,” Neil MacGregor, the director of the British Museum, has argued. In short, the cylinder’s origins lie as much in Mesopotamian tradition as in Persian.

Academic disputes aside, what matters is the context in which Mr Ahmadinejad was speaking. It is not uncommon for a politician in a tight spot to wrap himself in the nation’s flag, and the Iranian president is certainly beset by problems. ...
I don't think the British Museum has covered itself with glory by giving Iran's batty head of state this excuse for a political platform, although he does seem to be seizing the opportunity to make a fool of himself with it. Cyrus was an ancient empire builder, not a human rights champion, but in some ways he looks pretty good next to the current Iranian Government.

That article calling for Iran to keep the Cylinder sounds ominous.

Background here.

New pagan finds at Hippos-Sussita

Greek Gods In The Land Of Jesus

By News Staff | September 16th 2010 12:05 AM | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
(Science 2.0)

Tolerance has meant different things in different eras. For some religions in the past, there was a 'convert or die' mentality, which tended to drive out competitors but, at least when it comes to works of art, old religions have always survived.

A fresco of Tyche, the Greek goddess of fortune from the Byzantine period had been discovered at the Sussita site, on the east shore of the Sea of Galilee, and a maenad, one of the companions of the wine god Dionysus, was found also. The city of Sussita is located within the Sussita National Park under the management of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.


During their excavations the researchers found a residence that appeared to belong to person of rank in the city and it contained an inner courtyard with a small fountain at its center. Near the fountain they found the fresco of Tyche, and they believe she had been deified as the city's goddess of fortune.

According to the researchers, the wall painting may be dated to the end of the Roman period or the beginning of the Byzantine period, the 3rd-4th centuries A.D.


Tyche was not the only mythological figure to be discovered in this compound. Found on a bone plate was an etched relief of a maenad, one of a group of female followers of Dionysus, the god of wine. ...
The article has photographs of both finds.

For a related discovery at Hippos-Sussita last year, go here. And for more posts on the site, go here.

Schiffman testifies in Golb trial

LAWRENCE SCHIFFMAN is testifying in the Raphael Golb identity-theft trial:
Scholar says he never ripped off Dead Sea Scrolls 'bully'

By DAVID K. LI (New York Post)

Last Updated: 4:32 PM, September 16, 2010

Posted: 4:31 PM, September 16, 2010

A leading Hebrew scholar today angrily lashed out at accusations he ripped off a rival’s work and deserved to be targeted by a relentless cyber bully.

Lawrence Schiffman -- chairman of NYU's department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies -- minced no words in defending his academic reputation against defenders of Manhattan lawyer Raphael Golb.

Golb -- the son of another noted Hebrew scholar, Norman Golb -- is on trial for creating fake Internet personas to wage cyber war against his dad’s academic rivals, who clash on theories about the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Defense lawyers claim Schiffman, who prosecutors said was Golb’s top victim, is an academic fraud and needed to be called out by any means necessary.

"I’ve never plagiarized Norman Golb!" an agitated Schiffman screamed in Manhattan Supreme Court.

The defense spent most of its cross-examination of Schiffman, trying to hammer him for a seemingly minute error he made in citing Norman Golb‘s research.

The NYU scholar once wrote Golb believed the Dead Sea Scrolls came from a single library of work in Jerusalem -- when in fact the defendant’s dad theorizes the writings came from several literary institutions.

Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Carol Berkman continually chastised the defense for this line of questioning and repeatedly called it "irrelevant."

"I made one error, if you call it plagiarism … forget it, no chance!" Schiffman yelled.

I doubt very much that Larry was "screaming." He does have a booming voice that carries. Incidentally, I recall making the same error about Golb's position in a post for one of my online Dead Sea Scrolls courses in 2001. One of the list members politely corrected me and no one accused me of plagiarism.

Background here.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Celebrating the King James Bible

Why all the fuss about an old translation of an ancient book? There are two reasons: first, it is the founding text of the British Empire (including breakaway colonies such as the United States), and was carried to every corner of the English-speaking world by migrants and missionaries; second, it matters now, both as a religious text and as the finest embodiment of English prose. Its history in the intervening centuries has been complex. The text has evolved over the centuries, and there are thousands of small changes in spelling, punctuation and grammar. The commissioning of a revised translation was suggested by a puritan to King James, but the KJV was subsequently repudiated by some puritans, because of its inclusion of the Apocrypha and its use of ecclesiastical terms (e.g. ‘baptize’ instead of ‘wash’, ‘church’ instead of ‘congregation’, ‘bishop’ instead of ‘elder’). In the twenty-first century its most loyal advocates are those at opposite ends of the Protestant continuum: Anglo-Catholic ritualists who revere it alongside the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and evangelicals who think that God answered the prayers of the translators by helping them to produce the most authoritative of all translations.

Is it a good translation? The answer is yes and no. On the affirmative side, it is certainly the most scrupulous of all translations, in part because the scholarly fire-power of the original translators could not be matched in our less educated age. Where could one now find fifty translators with competence in Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac, Samaritan, Ethiopic and Arabic (the languages of the English polyglot Bible of the period) and a command of patristic, rabbinical and Reformation commentaries? Another reason for its scholarly probity is the scrupulous process through which the KJV was produced. The time lavished on the translation by the learned translators was secured by relieving them of other duties; no modern publisher would buy out fifty scholars for several years in order that they might devote their full attention to a translation of the Bible.
That's a bit unfair. I doubt that all of the fifty translators controlled all of those languages and commentary traditions, and there are many biblical scholars today who control many of them. I myself am competent in all of them except Ethiopic and the Reformation commentaries, although I'm not equally strong in every area. I bet we could assemble a group of scholars to match the competencies of the original team without too much trouble. And, as the blog post goes on to admit, we have many more ancient manuscripts at our disposal than they did. Whether a publisher would want to pay for a new project on the same scale may well be another matter, though.

All that said, the King James translation of the Bible was a stunning work of scholarly erudition and literary sophistication and beauty for its time and on many counts it has stood the test of time until today. Its fourth centenary deserves to be thoroughly celebrated.

UPDATE (17 October): More here. hacked

LIVIUS.ORG was reported hacked yesterday. I noticed it was down, and then Judith Weingarten linked to Roger Pearse's notice of the attack on FB. Everything seems to be back up today and I can find nothing about the attack on the Livius website itself.

Regarding Roger's post, I really don't think this episode justifies banning all Muslims, or even all of Turkey, from the Internet, and if we were to take that rather unfocused collective approach the Chinese and the Russians would be well ahead in the queue. A more productive course would be to track down and punish the actual perpetrators, whoever they are. I trust that this is the approach that the authorities are taking.

UPDATE: Jona Lendering has an account of what happened here. I have to say I'm a little jealous. But maybe Blogger just has better hacking countermeasures.

Did the ancient Israelites drink beer?

Did the Ancient Israelites Drink Beer?

By Michael M. Homan (BAR)

Ancient Israelites, with the possible exception of a few teetotaling Nazirites and their moms, proudly drank beer—and lots of it. Men, women and even children of all social classes drank it. Its consumption in ancient Israel was encouraged, sanctioned and intimately linked with their religion. Even Yahweh, according to the Hebrew Bible, consumed at least half a hin of beer (approximately 2 liters, or a six-pack) per day through the cultic ritual of libation, and he drank even more on the Sabbath (Numbers 28:7–10). People who were sad were advised to drink beer to temporarily erase their troubles (Proverbs 31:6). Yet the Biblical authors also called for moderation. Several passages condemn those who consumed too much beer (Isaiah 5:11, 28:7; Proverbs 20:1, 31:4). The absence of beer defines a melancholy situation, according to Isaiah 24:9.

So what's with the translation "strong drink," which goes back at least to Tyndale? Why make beer into something stronger?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A "hastily documented" 1st century CE tomb in Jerusalem

A "HASTILY DOCUMENTED" FIRST-CENTURY CE TOMB in Jerusalem is reported by Hadashot Archeologiot. Excerpts:
The hurried process and poor lighting conditions in the cave precluded a proper examination and description of the cave’s contents. Artifacts were not removed from the cave and once its documentation was done, it was sealed and covered with soil. ...

The cave was carefully hewn with a serrated mallet that left diagonal stone dressing marks on its sides, which are mostly upright and slightly curved toward the top. ...

Seven complete ossuaries, at least eight lids and numerous ossuary fragments were discovered in the cave; no other artifacts were found. The ossuaries were concentrated on the western and eastern stone benches (Fig. 3). All the ossuaries were made of soft limestone, except for a single ossuary of hard limestone. Two of the ossuaries were closed with a lid; one of the lids was attached to the ossuary with a bronze nail. Due to the haste, only two complete ossuaries and several decorated fragments were documented (Figs. 4, 5). A two-line Hebrew inscription (length of inscription 0.37 m; Figs. 6, 7) was incised on the hard-limestone ossuary. The letters were clearly engraved, separated from each other and painted blue. The inscription reads: “Alexa bar Shalom barat Alexa/Cursed is the one who casts me from my place”. Careless engravings or traces of faded paint were noted on other ossuaries; these may also be inscriptions that require further research for decipherment. Some of the ossuary fragments were consolidated together with bone fragments in the corners of the chamber and it seems that these ossuaries had been shattered by grave robbers who damaged the cave; the robbers had apparently penetrated into the cave via the entrance, which was later blocked.

Via Todd Bolen at the Bible Places blog, who is not impressed with the haste of the documentation.

"Royal" theater box excavated at Herodium

A "ROYAL" THEATER BOX has been excavated at Herodium:
King Herod's royal theater box uncovered at Herodium

09/15/2010 00:05

Theater box reveals Jewish monarch's luxurious lifestyle, displays rare example of elaborate style of Roman wall painting found outside Italy.

A royal box built at the upper level of King Herod's private theater at Herodium has been fully unveiled in recent excavations at the archaeological site, providing a further indication of the luxurious lifestyle favored by the well-known Jewish monarch, the Hebrew University announced in a statement released Tuesday.

The excavations at Herodium National Park at the eastern edge of Gush Etzion region, were conducted by Prof. Ehud Netzer under the auspices of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Institute of Archaeology.


The royal box (measuring eight by seven meters and about six meters high) is the central space among a group of rooms attached to the upper part of the theater's structure. This impressive room likely hosted the king, his close friends and family members during performances in the theater and was fully open facing the stage.

More on the excavations of Herodium (Herod's apparent tomb) here. Todd Bolen has a page on the site of Herodium at his Bible Places website.

Adolfo Roitman speaking at TWU

ADOLFO ROITMAN is speaking at Trinity Western University:
Dead Sea Scrolls guardian speaking in Langley

Published: September 14, 2010 1:00 PM
Updated: September 14, 2010 1:48 PM

The guardian of the Dead Sea Scrolls is delivering a public lecture later this month.

Dr. Adolfo Roitman will deliver his lecture, ‘From Serpent to Satan: The Story of Paradise in Scripture, Literature and Art’, at Trinity Western University’s Northwest Auditorium.

The lecture takes place on Tuesday, Sept. 28 at 7:30 p.m.

Roitman is curator of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the director of the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, one of the world’s leading archaelogical museums.


Golb identity-theft trial begins

THE GOLB IDENTITY-THEFT TRIAL began in New York yesterday:
Dead Sea Scrolls 'cyber bully' claims he had right to fight dirty

By DAVID K. LI (New York Post)

Last Updated: 5:35 PM, September 14, 2010

Posted: 5:34 PM, September 14, 2010

Defenders of an alleged cyber bully went on the attack today, accusing a noted Hebrew historian of plagiarism and claiming their client had every right to fight dirty in this no-holds-barred academic brawl.

Raphael Golb, 49, went on trial for allegedly engineering a wacky 2008 identity theft and "sock-puppeting" campaign against his dad’s intellectual rivals over ancient origins of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

During opening statements to jurors, defense lawyers didn’t back away from acts Golb is accused of committing by prosecutors -- and even glorified his actions.

"Raphael Golb is a whistle blower," defense lawyer David Breitbart told jurors in opening statements.

The story is also covered by the AP and noted by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Background here.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Syriac symposium at Duke, June 2011

Sixth North American Syriac Symposium
Duke University, Durham, North Carolina
June 26-29, 2011

The Sixth North American Syriac Symposium will be organized at Duke University on June 26-29, 2011. Held every four years since 1991, the North American Syriac Symposium brings together university professors, graduate students, and scholars from the United States and Canada (more than half of the participants) as well as from Europe, the Middle East, and India, in particular from the State of Kerala. The Symposium offers a unique opportunity for exchange and discussion on a wide variety of topics related to the language, literature, and cultural history of Syriac Christianity, from the first centuries ce to the present day.

While adopting the general template of previous symposia, the Duke Symposium will at the same time be organized in such a way that it aptly reflects current trends in Syriac studies. Additionally, it will allow Duke scholars and students to communicate to a wider audience some highlights of their research, teaching, and resources.

To serve as a general framework and organizational principle, the following theme has been chosen:

Syriac Encounters

Encounters and interactions between individuals, generations, communities,traditions, ideas, languages, and religions.

This general theme allows us to highlight various kinds of diachronic and synchronic interaction and dialogue, formation of communal identity, construction of tradition, language contact, and religious conversation both within Syriac Christianity and between Syriac Christianity and other traditions, in particular Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Islam, and various forms of Western Christianity. The overall theme is not meant, however, to exclude topics that are not directly related to it.

For more information, follow the link.

Via Stephen C. Carlson on FB.

More on the Petra cave art

MORE ON THE PETRA CAVE ART – new images from National Geographic: Before & After: Wine-Cult Cave Art Restored in Petra?

Via Archaeology News. Background here.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The futility of book-burning

The futility of book-burning

(The Republican-American)

When Florida pastor Terry Jones talked about burning copies of the Quran on Saturday to mark the Sept. 11 attacks, an aspect of the worldwide overreaction seemed based on the mistaken belief that fricasseeing copies of another faith's holy writings was something novel. It isn't. There's a venerable tradition of torching someone else's holy books.

There are also copious examples of how futile an exercise that is.

The most combusted book in history is probably the Talmud, a compilation of Jewish commentaries on and interpretations of the first five books of the Bible. Anti-Semites burned copies of the Talmud from the early Middle Ages through the massive Nazi bonfires of the 1930s, yet there are likely more copies of the Talmud extant today than at any point since the earliest rabbis began compiling it nearly 2,000 years ago.

And then there's the even more instructive case of the best-read author in English history, a man who every bit as much as William Shakespeare could be considered the grandfather of the language. Most people don't know his name, but nearly everyone who reads English knows his words.

I refer to William Tyndale, whose story exemplifies the futility of burning books. Tyndale was executed in 1536 for what at the time was considered the most heinous of crimes: daring to translate the Bible into English. The official charges, pushed by King Henry VIII, were heresy and treason.


All of which leads to an incident from Tyndale's career that illustrates the pointlessness of book-burning. At one point, the Bishop of London offered to buy up an entire printing of Tyndale's Bibles so he could burn them. Tyndale gleefully sold them to the bishop, who dutifully consigned the books to the fire. Tyndale, meanwhile, used the profits to publish an even larger run of his Bibles than the bishop had bought and burned.

Were I a publisher of Qurans, I would emulate Tyndale and offer to print copies on spectacularly pyrotechnic stock. For when the flames had died down, there would be exactly as many copies of the Quran in the possession of those who revere and cherish the book as there had been before the fire, and I'd have turned a tidy profit.

I think Mr. Goodman fails to grasp the investment that Muslims have in the sanctity of individual copies of the Qur'an. But the point remains: burning scriptures is a pathetic exercise in futility. If you strike them down, they shall only become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.