Saturday, October 02, 2010

Alter's new translation of the wisdom books of the HB

ROBERT ALTER has published a new translation of the wisdom books in the Hebrew Bible. Nathaniel Stein in The New Yorker looks at its literary quality in comparison to the King James Version:
But the various inaccuracies and other inadequacies of the King James Version, though they justify a new translation, are beside the point when it comes to that version’s aesthetic power. The K.J.V. is so ingrained—its poetry has so completely seeped into the collective consciousness of the English-speaking world—that a new rendering, however valuable, is a vaguely disconcerting experience. In the four centuries since its completion, the K.J.V. has become our lives’ background poetry, its phrases and rhythms echoing through the canon, having been endlessly plundered by writers in search of a turn of phrase, or of a certain resonance unattainable elsewhere.

Which suggests a fun exercise for quickly determining just how different Alter’s new version is. In a world that possessed only this new translation, how would some familiar works be different? How would those famous titles, epigraphs, and other allusions come out?

Friday, October 01, 2010

Golb found guilty

THAT WAS FAST! The Golb identity-theft case went to the jury yesterday and they promptly came back with a verdict of guilty on 30 of the 31 counts.
Son of Dead Sea Scrolls Expert Is Convicted

Published: September 30, 2010

The son of a prominent professor at the University of Chicago was convicted on Thursday of impersonating a New York University professor and other scholars who disagreed with his father’s theories on the origin of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Jurors took half a day to find the son, Raphael Haim Golb, a 50-year-old real estate lawyer, guilty on 30 of 31 counts, including identity theft, criminal impersonation and aggravated harassment.

Before the trial, prosecutors had offered Mr. Golb a plea deal under which he would not have served time in jail. Now, at sentencing on Nov. 18, he could receive up to four years in prison.

He should have taken the plea bargain. Then again, it looked to me as though he was more interested in getting a platform for his views on the Dead Sea Scrolls than in winning the case.

A tragic story all around.

Background here.

(Bumped to top of page.)

Audio files of ancient Akkadian literature

READINGS FROM ANCIENT AKKADIAN LITERATURE in the original Akkadian have been made available by Cambridge University as online audio files. The readings include excerpts from the Gilgamesh Epic, the Atrahasis Flood Epic, the so-called Babylonian Job story, and the Babylonian Creation Epic. The Daily Mail has a story on the project:
Heard for the first time in 2,000 years: Scientists post readings of ancient Babylonian poems online

By Daily Mail Reporter
Last updated at 10:37 AM on 29th September 2010

Scholars have rediscovered how to speak the language of the King Of Babylon,

Scholars have rediscovered how to speak the language of the King Of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar

The ancient language of Babylonian can be heard for the first time in almost 2,000 years after Cambridge University scholars posted readings and poems online.

Babylonian, one of the chief languages of Ancient Mesopotamia, dates back as far as the second millennium BC but died out around 2,000 years ago.

However, Cambridge historians have resurrected the ancient tongue by discovering how the language was pronounced and spoken.

Researchers have now recorded readings of ancient tablets, poems and laws, and posted them online.

The project is the brainchild of Dr Martin Worthington, of the University of Cambridge, who described uncovering the pronunciation as 'detective work'.

These tablets have not been read aloud for over 2,000 years and working out how Babylonian was pronounced required detailed forensic investigation.

The project website is here.

We probably know better how ancient Akkadian was pronounced than we do how ancient Hebrew or Aramaic was pronounced. There is much more epigraphic evidence for Akkadian and it is vocalized, albeit in a perversely complicated writing system.

UPDATE: Akkadian next? Google adds Latin to machine translation service.

UPDATE (2 October): The AP has a story on the project here.

1 Enoch article in latest JBL

THE JOURNAL OF BIBLICAL LITERATURE has a new issue out (129.3, downloadable here with subscription).

A number of the articles look interesting, but I noticed this one in particular: Randall D. Chestnut, "Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 2069 and the Compositional History of 1 Enoch" (pp. 485-505). It makes some advances on Milik's treatment, based on new access to the actual manuscript fragments.

The full TOC of the current issue is here.

Conference on Iran and Israel at YU

A CONFERENCE at Yeshiva University on 31 October: Iran and Israel: From Cyrus the Great to The Islamic Republic.

Review: Daly (ed.), Apocalyptic Thought in Early Christianity.

Robert J. Daly (ed.), Apocalyptic Thought in Early Christianity. Holy Cross Studies in Patristic Theology and History. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2009. Pp. 303. ISBN 9780801036279. $32.99 (pb).

Reviewed by Oleh Kindiy, Ukrainian Catholic University (

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

Since its inauguration in 2003, the Pappas Patristic Institute has embarked on a weighty project of annual patristics conferences and publications exploring specific topics in the field of patristic studies. The present volume is the second book in the series of the Holy Cross Studies in Patristic Theology and History, edited by Robert J. Daly. It is comprised of fourteen individual papers each dedicated to early Christian authors, theological themes, and iconographies of early Christian perceptions of the Apocalypse.

The volume is full of interesting essays. These two in particular caught my eye:
Alexander Golitzin discusses how apocalyptic metaphors influenced the development of the articulation of mystical experience in the early period of the monastic practice. He analyzes texts of Aphrahat and Macarius as interacting with the contemporaneous Jewish mystical tradition of merkavah. Both authors are eager to embark on a spiritual ascending journey to God. However, this ascent was indeed not only a way up, but also a step ad intra, which was a direct imitation of the apocalyptic solution of the Second Temple Judaism amplified by the eschatological enthusiasm stirred by the Christ-event.

Lorenzo DiTommaso surveys the chief issues in the study of the Daniel apocalyptica, which only recently received serious attention from modern scholars. DiTommaso redefines an “apocalypse” as a genre and adds to it apocalyptic oracles and testaments. Written in the post-Nicene and Byzantine period, these texts assure audiences that history is under God’s control. Some compositions do depend on the Greek Apocalypse of Daniel, but most of them, against the standard view, absorbed contemporaneous phobias and beliefs of a later period independently, reflecting political tensions and fears of Islamic invasion.
Professor DiTommaso is editing some Daniel material for the More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

iPad May Revolutionize Archaeology


Golb trial covered in NYU Local

THE RAPHAEL GOLB IDENTITY-THEFT TRIAL is taken up by the NYU Local: "‘Academic Crusader’ Charged For Impersonating NYU Professor."

Background here.

Stuxnet meets ancient Judaism?

STUXNET meets ancient Judaism?
In a Computer Worm, a Possible Biblical Clue

Published: September 29, 2010

Deep inside the computer worm that some specialists suspect is aimed at slowing Iran’s race for a nuclear weapon lies what could be a fleeting reference to the Book of Esther, the Old Testament tale in which the Jews pre-empt a Persian plot to destroy them.

That use of the word “Myrtus” — which can be read as an allusion to Esther — to name a file inside the code is one of several murky clues that have emerged as computer experts try to trace the origin and purpose of the rogue Stuxnet program, which seeks out a specific kind of command module for industrial equipment.

Not surprisingly, the Israelis are not saying whether Stuxnet has any connection to the secretive cyberwar unit it has built inside Israel’s intelligence service. Nor is the Obama administration, which while talking about cyberdefenses has also rapidly ramped up a broad covert program, inherited from the Bush administration, to undermine Iran’s nuclear program. In interviews in several countries, experts in both cyberwar and nuclear enrichment technology say the Stuxnet mystery may never be solved.

There are many competing explanations for myrtus, which could simply signify myrtle, a plant important to many cultures in the region. But some security experts see the reference as a signature allusion to Esther, a clear warning in a mounting technological and psychological battle as Israel and its allies try to breach Tehran’s most heavily guarded project. Others doubt the Israelis were involved and say the word could have been inserted as deliberate misinformation, to implicate Israel.


Then there is the allusion to myrtus — which may be telling, or may be a red herring.

Several of the teams of computer security researchers who have been dissecting the software found a text string that suggests that the attackers named their project Myrtus. The guava fruit is part of the Myrtus family, and one of the code modules is identified as Guava.

It was Mr. Langner who first noted that Myrtus is an allusion to the Hebrew word for Esther. The Book of Esther tells the story of a Persian plot against the Jews, who attacked their enemies pre-emptively.

“If you read the Bible you can make a guess,” said Mr. Langner, in a telephone interview from Germany on Wednesday.

Carol Newsom, an Old Testament scholar at Emory University, confirmed the linguistic connection between the plant family and the Old Testament figure, noting that Queen Esther’s original name in Hebrew was Hadassah, which is similar to the Hebrew word for myrtle. Perhaps, she said, “someone was making a learned cross-linguistic wordplay.”


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah

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

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

More Golb testimony in DSS identity-theft trial

MORE ON GOLB'S TESTIMONY in the Dead Sea Scroll identity-theft trial:
Dead Sea Scrolls cyber-bully admits lying to authorities

By DAVID K. LI (New York Sun)

Last Updated: 9:54 PM, September 28, 2010

Posted: 2:39 PM, September 28, 2010

A prosecutor today hammered the "deranged" Dead Sea Scrolls cyber-bully for lying to investigators about the defendant’s scheme to discredit his dad’s academic adversaries.

During tedious and testy cross-examination, Manhattan lawyer Raphael Golb was forced to admit he lied throughout his 2009 video-taped interview with authorities, who were grilling him about fake e-mail addresses created to wage cyber war against rival scholars.

"In my deranged state of mind, yes!" a frustrated Golb blurted out, admitting to his series of deceptive answers.


The defense claims Golb initially lied because he was so stunned he was arrested for exercising his freedom of expression.

"Yes, I lied over and over again during the interview, the interrogation," an exasperated Golb admitted.

It doesn't seem to me that he has helped himself much with his own testimony, but we'll see what the jury thinks. The AP has more analysis in "Att'y: Son in NY Dead Sea Scroll case not criminal."

Background here.

BMCR Reviews on Sicarii and Hannibal

Mark Andrew Brighton, The Sicarii in Josephus's Judean War: Rhetorical Analysis and Historical Observations. Early Judaism and Its Literature 27. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2009. Pp. xiv, 184. ISBN 9781589834064. $26.95 (pb).

Reviewed by Dmitry Bratkin, St Petersburg State University (

[The reviewer apologizes for the tardiness of this review.]

This book is a revision of the author's University of California (Irvine) dissertation and shares every benefit and drawback of this genre. One has to be cautious when writing (or reviewing) a new piece of scholarly work in this field as it is vast and dominated by a number of competing disciplines and approaches, each of which provide a particular bias. Moreover, the scholarship on Josephus is an industry in itself so that any evaluation of one's predecessors is selective by necessity. This makes any historiographical survey a difficult and uncomfortable list of details and authors. However, M. A. Brighton is fully aware of those hidden traps and steers his ship safely and convincingly through the troubled sea of Josephus and his world.

And (cross-file under Punic Watch):
Robert Garland, Hannibal. Ancients in Action. London: Bristol Classical Press, 2010. Pp. 168. ISBN 9781853997259. $24.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Fred K. Drogula, Providence College (

Robert Garland has produced a concise, useful, and highly readable book that provides an excellent introduction to a difficult subject. The stated mission of the ‘Ancients in Action’ series is to introduce “major figures of the ancient world to the modern general reader, including the essentials of each subject’s life, works, and significance for later western civilisation” (back cover), although Garland further attempts “as much as possible to examine and evaluate Hannibal’s success and failure from his own perspective, in the belief that it is the business of a historian not only to present facts but also to imagine possibilities” (11). This is a daunting task, since (as Garland readily acknowledges [17, 30]) we have very little information about Hannibal’s character and personality, and what we do have mainly comes from later, pro-Roman sources. Nevertheless, Garland assembles the surviving information into a thoughtful and engaging narrative of Hannibal’s career that raises questions and provides insights into the life of Rome’s most famous enemy.

Via the Agade list.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Director of El Shaddai interviewed

ARCHANGEL METATRON WATCH: The Director of El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron comments on the use of the "Book of Enoch" (i.e., the Book of the Watchers in 1 Enoch 1-36) in an interview with Joystiq. Excerpts:
So what is the world in the game supposed to be? Is it a weird interpretation of our world or is it a fantasy realm?

It is completely a fantasy world, completely original. It came out from the developers. It's not really an interpretation of the real world.

Does it have a name?

There is no name. We don't have a specific name for the game world.

It's set in sort of a fantasy landscape, but the story is based on Biblical themes. What inspired the use of these Biblical elements?

That's because the project started when the UK headquarters asked me to make something based on the Book of Enoch, which is Old Testament apocrypha. That's how it started.

What about the Book of Enoch led into an action game?

It's not that I thought that a game based on the Book of Enoch would be good for an action game, per se, but it's because I have a lot of experience with action games. Also, when the UK headquarters based on the Book of Enoch, there was another guy from the UK headquarters who said he wanted to make something beyond God of War. We decided to combine them and make it into one game.

When the guy at the UK office who requested the Book of Enoch game -- when you showed him this, what did he think?

He was very pleased.


About the religious elements. Do you think Japanese players and Western players will feel different about the religious aspects?

I guess that probably people will feel differently in Japan. I think so.

In what way?

As for Japanese people, the Old Testament, we're not familiar with these kinds of things at all. They don't feel familiar. It's a complete fantasy for Japanese people.

I dare say Japanese and Western players will react differently, although the Enochic material is very foreign to Westerners too.

This was interesting, but I wish he had said more about the details of the use made of the Book of the Watchers.

Background here and here.

Lod Mosaic on display at the Met

THE LOD MOSAIC is on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art:
Met Unveils Ancient Israeli Mosaic

By PIA CATTON (Wall Street Journal)

In 1996, workers in Lod, Israel, were preparing to expand a road when they found something that turned out to be an artistic and archeological treasure: a Roman mosaic from about 300 A.D. Preserved just three feet below the modern surface, it was in nearly excellent condition.

On view beginning Tuesday at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (through April 3), the mosaic—50 feet long by 27 feet wide—looks slightly larger than some Manhattan apartments. It is believed to have been used as an interior ground cover for an entrance hall at the home of a wealthy Roman, living in what would have been the eastern portion of the Roman Empire.

Background here.

Raphael Golb testifies

RAPHAEL GOLB is testifying in his own identity-theft trial:
A Trial on Identity Theft, With Scholarly Discourse

Published: September 27, 2010

Loyal son. Academic crusader. Dead Sea Scrolls expert.

Raphael Haim Golb is accused of impersonating professors who disagreed with his father’s theory on the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Raphael Haim Golb, a 50-year-old real estate lawyer, seemed at times to take on the role of everything but criminal defendant as he testified in his own defense on Monday in State Supreme Court in Manhattan.

Mr. Golb faces charges that he stole the identity of and impersonated a New York University professor and others who disagreed with his father’s theories about the origin of the Dead Sea Scrolls in an effort to discredit them.

Mr. Golb spent much of his nearly three hours on the witness stand defending the theory of his father, Norman Golb, a professor at the University of Chicago, that the scrolls were kept in various libraries in Jerusalem until they were hidden during the Roman war of A.D. 67 to 73 in the caves where they were found more than a half-century ago. Others, including Lawrence H. Schiffman, the N.Y.U. professor whom Mr. Golb is accused of impersonating, contend that the scrolls, among the earliest surviving biblical documents, were written by a Jewish sect known as the Essenes who lived near the caves.

This academic debate provided an underlying — though not extremely relevant — theme to the case, as Mr. Golb drifted into lengthy dissertations that implored the jurors, if nothing else, to agree with his father’s theory.

The New York Sun also has coverage here, the AP here, and the Chronicle of Higher Education here.

Background here and here.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Review: Boyarin, Socrates and the Fat Rabbis

Daniel Boyarin, Socrates and the Fat Rabbis. Chicago/London: The University of Chicago Press, 2009. Pp. xiv, 388. ISBN 9780226069166. $45.00.

Reviewed by Oona Eisenstadt, Pomona College (


The broadest purpose of this book is to argue that Plato’s dialogues and the Babylonian Talmud are examples of Menippean satire, or spoudogeloion, a genre in which high and low elements are mixed in such a way that the practices of intellectuals “are both mocked and asserted at one and the same time” (26). Almost every society, Boyarin tells us, produces such satire, but Plato and the Talmud are particularly comparable because they share a Hellenistic viewpoint (133) and because they apply the satire similarly. The meat of the book constitutes a description of the similarity through close readings of several passages from Baba Metzia and other tractates (chs. 4, 5, and 6), as well as the Protagoras (ch. 2), the Gorgias (ch. 3), and the Symposium, particularly the speeches of Pausanias, Socrates, and Alcibiades (chs. 7 and 8). Boyarin’s interpretations of Talmud are novel and compelling, as is the evidence adduced of a general rabbinic familiarity with Greek and Roman stories. The interpretations of Plato probably offer the scholarship at large no net gain, but reframe the work of others in way that is consistent and engaging. The book is driven by delight in all things clever and witty, and, while often cavalier, is pleasant and unrancorous.