Saturday, December 18, 2010

Independent obit for Ehud Netzer

ANOTHER EHUD NETZER OBITUARY, this one in the Independent:
Ehud Netzer: Israeli archaeologist best known for excavating King Herod's winter palace

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Ehud Netzer, who died on 28 October aged 76, was an influential Israeli archaeologist best known for excavating King Herod's winter palace near Bethelhem and discovering the monarch's tomb there. He died in hospital following a fall at the site when a safety rail broke.

Via Mark Goodacre's NT Blog.

More Netzer obituaries here.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Exciting Ethiopic manuscript news

Researcher identifies second-oldest Ethiopian manuscript in existence in HMML’s archives

Thursday, 16 December 2010 (Walta Information Center)

Addis Ababa, December 16 (WIC) - Ted Erho, a doctoral student at Durham University in England, recently spent six weeks at HMML studying Ge'ez (classical Ethiopic) manuscripts, according to Hill Museum & Manuscript Library.Com.

HMML’s microfilm and digital collections are the richest resource for the study of Ethiopian manuscripts in the world. Supported by one of HMML’s Heckman scholarships, Erho made stunning discoveries for both Ethiopian and biblical studies during his time at HMML.

Working with previously-uncataloged manuscripts from HMML’s Ethiopian Manuscript Microfilm Library, Erho has identified the second oldest Ethiopic manuscript in existence (the oldest is the famous Abba Garima Gospels), which also contains the oldest known copies of books from the Old Testament.

This manuscript, EMML 6977, dates prior to the Solomonic Era in Ethiopia, which began in 1270 CE and contains the books of Job and Daniel, as well as two homilies.

He also identified the oldest known major Ge'ez codex of the Old Testament (EMML 9001), which contains the entire Book of Jubilees, considered to be a canonical book by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Its presence in this manuscript is now the oldest known copy of the Book of Jubilees.

Finally, Erho is cataloging the biblical manuscripts from Gunda Gunde in northern Ethiopia, numbering more than fifty of the 220 manuscripts in the Gunda Gunde collection photographed in 2006 by Michael Gervers and Ewa Balicka-Witakowska in an expedition sponsored by HMML.

All but one of the Old Testament manuscripts at Gunda Gunde are from the sixteenth century or before, exceptionally early for Ethiopian manuscripts.
All of this is very good news for Ethiopic studies, and pseudepigrapha studies benefit as well. Earlier this year I published a post on the Garima Gospels manuscript (here) in which I pointed out that it must be one of the earliest surviving Ethiopic manuscripts. This new report confirms that it is the oldest. In the same post I expressed the hope that earlier copies of Ethiopic pseudepigrapha such as Jubilees might surface in the future. This new one doesn't seem to be as early as I had hoped for (the Garima Gospels are from late antiquity), but it's the oldest found one yet and I'll take it. More please.

Cross-file under "Pseudepigrapha Watch."

Matthew's magi in the news


First, were there women among them?
Was a wise woman among the magi who followed Bethlehem's star?

By Patricia Rice, Special to the [St. Louis] Beacon
Posted 1:24 pm, Thu., 12.16.10

As St. Louis Christians set up their Nativity scenes and give church Christmas pageants, they may want to add a new character: a woman among the magi.

The figure of a woman would put their creche scenes on the cutting edge of a fascinating and fresh idea in serious biblical scholarship that is likely to get much more attention next year.

The professor, Dominican friar and priest used his command of Old Testament references and his ease with gender in ancient Hebrew words to suggest that one or more women may have been among the magi who visited the infant Jesus in the brief story told in Matthew's Gospel, Chapter 2.

Viviano's full theory about the possibility of women among the magi will be published next year in "Studies in Matthew" by Leuven University Press, edited by another august biblical scholar Joseph Verheyden.

Viviano talked with the Beacon about his theory during his annual visit St. Louis.

Professor Viviano has some interesting ideas, which are worth reading. My thoughts in brief: (1) It is grammatically possible that one or more of Matthew's magi was a woman. The word is masculine plural, which in Greek allows for an all-male group or a group of mixed gender. (2) It's just a story. (3) If Matthew thought the magi included females, he didn't think it was important enough to mention directly. This issue has come up before and I have commented on it at greater length here and here.

Second, a quirky, but overall well-informed review of Brent Landau's The Revelation of the Magi in the Los Angeles Times by Nick Owchar. Excerpt:
A teacher at the University of Oklahoma, Landau discovered the "Revelation" not in a cave by the Red Sea but in the Vatican Library.

How did it get there?

He writes that it was among manuscripts collected in Egypt by G.S. Assemani (an 18th century orientalist working for the Vatican Library) who "brought it to Rome, where it resides today." Few have approached it, however, because most scholars say it has little historical value, he explains, and because the text is "preserved in Syriac, a language used by ancient Christians ... but one in which only a relatively small number of early Christian scholars are fluent." Landau says his translation of the "Revelation" (with the help of Cambridge scholar J.F. Coakley) is the first in English.

No matter what scholars might say of its historical value, Landau shows, with skill and authority, how the "Revelation" contains a valuable message of tolerance that is needed as much today as in the years of its composition.
And this is amusing and true:
Postscript: Landau's opportunity to translate such an interesting document makes me feel a little like Robert Langdon in "Angels & Demons," longing to get a look inside the Vatican Archives. How many more intriguing documents like the "Revelation" are out there somewhere? How many documents that might shape and expand our views are just sitting on a shelf?
More on Landau's book here.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

New translation of Slavonic 2 Enoch

A NEW TRANSLATION OF THE SLAVONIC VERSION OF 2 ENOCH into English by Florentina Badalanova Geller is now available as a pdf preprint from the Max Plank Institute in Berlin.

Via the Agade list.

For much more on 2 Enoch, go here and follow the links. For more on ancient Slavonica in general, see today's immediately preceding post and follow the links. The author of this new translation is pictured here (fourth from left) in my collection of Slavonic pseudepigraphers.

UPDATE: Just to note, as I think I have before, that my colleague here at St. Andrews, Dr. Grant Macaskill (fourth from right in the pic), is working on a critical edition of the Slavonic text of 2 Enoch, which is near completion.

Ancient Russian History anthology

THIS REPORT from the Russia-InfoCentre of a new anthology of foreign sources on ancient and medieval Russian history (Ancient Rus as seen by foreign sources) looks interesting, although it's hard to tell much about it from the brief notice.

For much more on Slavonica of interest to this blog, go here and here and follow the many links.

An ancient Nestorian monastery in the UAE

AN ANCIENT NESTORIAN MONASTERY that lasted into the Islamic era is now open to the public in the UAE:
Ancient Christian monastery site in Persian Gulf opened to public

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Dec 16, 2010 / 01:47 am (CNA).- The remains of an ancient Nestorian Christian monastery and church on Sri Bani Yas Island in the United Arab Emirates have been opened for public viewing, providing an important glimpse into the pre-Islamic history of the region.

The site was unearthed in the early 1990s and is believed to be the only permanent settlement ever established on the island, which is 160 miles southwest of Abu Dhabi.

A multi-building compound on the eastern side of the island, the site is the only known pre-Islamic Christian site in the United Arab Emirates. According to Archaeology Daily, the complex includes monks’ cells, kitchens and animal pens surrounding a courtyard dominated by a church. At least eight houses have been unearthed.

The monastery is believed to have been an important destination for pilgrims traveling along a trade route to India.


Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoun Al Nahyan, the chairman of the UAE’s Tourism Development and Investment Company, said they were “delighted” to open the ancient site to the public.

"We are proud of our heritage and are therefore focused on creating a multi-experience tourism destination where guests are able to enjoy a variety of activities, while protecting and preserving the history and culture of our country, as well as the natural environment of the island."

Good for them. I hope that attitude spreads in Islamic countries in the Middle East.

Storm damage to Caesarea is serious

Ruins of Caesarea in danger of falling into the sea
The ruins of Caesarea, the ancient Roman port that once numbered Pontius Pilate and St Paul among its residents, are in danger of being washed into the sea after sustaining heavy damage in a storm.

By Adrian Blomfield, Jerusalem 5:29PM GMT 15 Dec 2010 (The Telegraph)

Israeli archaeologists declared a "national disaster" after gale-force winds that battered the coast over the weekend destroyed breakwaters protecting the remains of the city, which was built by Herod the Great shortly before the birth of Christ.

"The damage is tremendous and dramatic," said Shuka Dorfman, the head of the Israel Antiquities Authority after touring the site. "With the collapse of the breakwater, the antique treasures in the Caesarea National Park are exposed to harm from the Ocean."

While Roman and crusader fortifications were damaged in the gale, it is the loss of the modern breakwater that has archaeologists most worried.

The barrier affords Caesarea, fragile because of erosion and a lack of natural sand, crucial protection from the waves. Officials warned that further heavy rain could easily cause the excavations to slide into the Mediterranean.

"It is a matter of time until it all collapses," said Zeev Margalit, the head of preservation at the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. "If Israel does not react immediately then a major international heritage site will be lost."

Background here.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

SAD NEWS: Shemaryahu Talmon

SAD NEWS: Shemaryahu Talmon. This just in from the Agade list:
From Rafael Zer ( came this saddest of news:

Prof. Shemaryahu Talmon (1920-2010) passed away this morning.
Prof. Talmon (90) was the chief editor of the Hebrew University Bible
Project for many years.
The Wikipedia entry for Professor Talmon is here.

May his memory be for a blessing.

Persepolis Fortification Archive Project Annual Report 2009-2010

THE PERSEPOLIS FORTIFICATION ARCHIVE PROJECT ANNUAL REPORT 2009-2010 has been posted at the Persepolis Fortification Archive Project Blog.

It's good to see that the important work on these Aramaic and Elamite texts continues apace.

Last year's report is noted here. Further background to the project and the attendant political controversy is here and follow the links.

Resurrecting the lost art of the mosaic

LILIAN BROCA is resurrecting the lost art of the mosaic:
A series of 10 mosaics she created to retell the Biblical story of Queen Esther took seven years to finish. One of the panels won a prestigious Lorenzo il Magnifico gold medal at the Florence Biennale International Exhibition in 2003.

Four years ago, the series was shown as a solo show at a Toronto art gallery. Most of the series was bought by a private collector of Canadian art who now owns eight of the panels.

The art historian and archaeologist Sheila Campbell, curator of the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies in Toronto, hails Ms. Broca as a rare contemporary artist to find success in the medium. “For my part,” she wrote for the show’s catalogue, “I enjoy watching the glory of the Roman and Byzantine worlds being reborn in the 21st century.”

The artist turned to mosaics after a lengthy period working in monochromatic graphite. “I was starved for colours,” she said. Her pieces from that time include a notable series on Lilith, a figure from Jewish mythology whom she found to be a “solid, powerfully down-to-earth woman with a great sense of justice and integrity.” Her pieces accompany a poem by Joy Kogawa called A Song of Lilith, published by Polestar a decade ago.

Storm reveals Roman-era statue at Ashkelon

STORMY WEATHER IN ISRAEL has unearthed a Roman-era statue:
Roman statue discovered in Ashkelon after storm damage
A 1.2 meter high statue of a woman was found after part of a cliff crumbled, revealing archaeological treasures.

By Asaf Shtull-Trauring (Haaretz)

Tags: Ashkelon Israel news

The massive storm that swept through Israel over the weekend caused a great deal of damage to archaeological sites all along the Mediterranean coast, but also uncovered a an impressive statue of a woman between 1650 and 1800 years old in Ashkelon.

The statue, a 1.2-meter high figure of a woman with her head missing, has been dated to Roman times and is thought to have stood erect in a bath house.

The statue was discovered when a cliff crumbled into the water at a sea-side archaeological dig in Ashkelon. Among the chunks of earth that broke off from the cliff were parts of a large building that apparently were once a part of a Roman bath house.

Sections of a colorful mosaic floor were also ruined. Many shards were washed away by the water.

The damage to the statue is ancient. The article also has a nice slide show of the statue and its recovery with a crane by archaeologists and the Ashkelon City Council.

Polyglot Meme

POLYGLOT MEME: How could I resist this? James McGrath writes:
And so I've decided to start a meme, asking those tagged [basically, anyone who wants to] to list every language that they have made some sort of concerted effort to learn, even if they didn't get beyond the first lesson or so, or even if they are still learning it. No need to specify the degree of fluency in the blog post - if readers are curious how much Swahili you know, they can ask.
I'm limiting the list to languages I learned to the point where I could use them with reasonable facility, although I'm pretty rusty on some of them now. I've made some effort with some other out-of-the-way ones (e.g., Elvish, Enochian, and Esperanto), but not to that point. And I'm not done! Judeo-Arabic is on the agenda next.

Arabic (Classical)
Aramaic (numerous ancient dialects including Syriac)
Greek (ancient)
Hebrew (biblical, epigraphic, modern)
Northwest Semitic (epigraphic Moabite, Ammonite, etc.)

I don't really think of HTML as a language, but others are including it in their lists, so I note it as an aside.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Archaeometry article on sealed Qumran jar

A SEALED JAR excavated at Qumran in 2004 is the subject of a forthcoming article in Archaeometry, which is prepublished here. Abstract:

5. A. D. BOND1,
7. M. BALLA6,
8. M. STRLIC7,

An intact and sealed storage jar known as Jar-35 was found in 2004, south of the Qumran settlement. A previous study identified tartrate in the deposit of the jar, indicating the possible past presence of wine (Buti et al. 2006). However, we cannot confirm this finding. Using liquid and gas chromatography with mass spectrometric detection, no trace of tartaric acid or salts thereof could be detected in our samples. We show that the major component of the deposit is gypsum. No other organic compounds were identified with the methods that we have applied. Both radiocarbon dating of charcoal in the deposit and thermoluminescence dating of the ceramic jar show that it dates to the main period of habitation at Qumran (c. 100 bc to ad 70).
A personal or institutional subscription is required to access the full article, but this piece in Unreported Heritage News summarizes it.

I haven't specifically noted this jar at PaleoJudaica, but it is mentioned in an online report on the 2004 excavation season by Randall Price, which I linked to here.

Rebuttal to letter by Israeli rabbis

A REBUTTAL to that letter from some Israeli rabbis arguing that Jews should not sell or rent property to non-Jews in Israel:
Falsifying Jewish law

Op-ed: Rabbis who ban home sales to Arabs distort Halacha, should go back to school

Michael Abraham (
Published: 12.13.10, 22:04 / Israel Opinion

The rabbis’ declaration banning the leasing of apartments to Arabs provoked many responses in favor and against. Many of these reactions – on both sides – were tendentious, selective and misleading. It is therefore important to make it clear that we are dealing with a document replete with distortions and demagoguery that has nothing to do with Jewish law.


According to such simplistic interpretation, we should also be beating wives who misbehave, placing non-believing Jews in a pit, banning women from Torah studies, and possibly even adhering to the “eye for an eye” rule. Yet the art of interpreting Jewish law is the combination of original sources and application under changing circumstances. Those who fail to understand it have no idea what Jewish law means.

Background here.

The Tea Party and the Talmud


PEF photostream of Jerusalem etc.

THE PALESTINE EXPLORATION FUND has posted a photostream on Flickr which has nineteenth and early twentieth-century pictures of Jerusalem and other Middle Eastern historical sites, etc.

(HT Dorothy Lobel King.)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Jerusalem artifacts found in storage in Old City

A "TREASURE TROVE" of ancient artifacts from Jerusalem has been found in storage in the Old City:
Study of amazing artifacts from ancient Jerusalem

Project by Shimon Gibson

Incredibly important ancient treasures from first-century Jerusalem – from the time of the ancient Jewish Temple and from the time Jesus was crucified – were dug out of the ground of Mount Zion in the 1970s and put into temporary storage. Usually this is where the scientific study of archaeological finds starts, with archaeologists writing up reports and with special objects being shown in museums. Unfortunately, owing to unpredictable circumstances, these unique finds were shifted from one location to another. Eventually their exact whereabouts came to be forgotten. Three decades went by. Everyone thought the finds were lost forever. Indeed I began searching for these artifacts in the 1990s but without luck, and I, too, gave up on the search. And then, suddenly, a miracle occurred: hundreds of crates, boxes and bags of archaeological artifacts were found locked away in padlocked cellars in the Old City. It turned out that these were the artifacts I had been hunting for over so many years…

This sounds like the lead-up of a movie but it is a true story, and the quantity and quality of artifacts is amazing. When we began unpacking some of the crates I was astonished to find a veritable treasure trove of unique and important objects, including a large bronze Christian crucifix, small potsherds with Hebrew and Greek inscriptions, some dating to Old Testament times, and well-preserved, large wall paintings from two thousand years ago (similar to those known from Pompeii) depicting columned-buildings, birds, and floral designs. Such museum-quality artifacts could help rewrite the history of Mount Zion and ancient Jerusalem, and you would think institutions would be falling over each other to help finance a project to preserve them, but they aren't. This is why I need your help.

Via Arne Berge.

Weather threat to Caesarea

THE SITE OF CAESAREA is threatened by the weather:
Storms prompt fears Caesarea's ancient port may collapse

Published: 12.12.10, 17:52 / Israel News (

Following the collapse of the Caesarea breakwater, the waves pounding Israel's shores are reaching the ancient port of Caesarea, prompting fears it may collapse too in one of the worst storms in this region for years.


Iranian Islamists holding tomb of Esther hostage

IRANIAN ISLAMISTS are holding the (traditional) tomb of Esther hostage: Iran hardliners threaten to ruin Jewish shrine.

A BBC Nativity program

The Jesus story with a hint of EastEnders

Tony Jordan's latest BBC drama proves you don't have to be a believer to make a good Nativity film, says Gerard Gilbert

Monday, 13 December 2010 (The Independent)

I'm not sure I'd describe Tony Jordan – elder statesman of EastEnders and co-creator of Life on Mars – as a non-believer, but to judge from his comments to a BBC press website to promote his new BBC1 series The Nativity, he sounds like what you might call an open-minded agnostic.


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Verdi's Nabucco playing in Florida

VERDI'S NABUCCO has been playing in Palm Beach, Florida:
Mostly excellent cast lifts Palm Beach Opera’s static “Nabucco”

By David Fleshler

Mark Rucker in the title role of Verdi's "Nabucco," which runs through Monday at Palm Beach Opera.

Absent for 25 years, Verdi’s Nabucco returned to Palm Beach Opera Friday with a mostly excellent cast, stark but dramatic sets and another fine performance by the company’s orchestra.

An opera isn’t mounted for a generation without a reason, and Verdi’s third opera has a creaking, preachy plot that ends with the Hebrew high priest telling the Babylonian ruler Nabucco, “In serving Jehovah, you shall be the king of kings.” But Verdi poured some great music into this musty libretto, and it was well served by this musically energetic production, which runs through Monday.

Rather than treating the opera as an opportunity for massive, intimidating sets filled with Old Testament props, the company used an effective, almost abstract Opéra de Montréal production with clean lines and a few iconic symbols. In the opening temple of Jerusalem scene, the setting consisted of steps, a few pillars and a menorah. As the scene moves to the Babylonian capital, there were more pillars, steps and the image of a mythical half-lion, half-eagle griffin. Dramatic lighting, which by the last scene illuminated the stage in eerie shades of orange and blue, helped make these austere sets work.

Nabucco also recently played at Masada.