Saturday, January 08, 2011

Cyrus Cylinder to stay 3 more months in Iran

Cyrus Cylinder will stay in Iran for another three months
PostDateIcon Saturday, 08 January 2011 11:50 | PDF Print E-mail

By Shimon D. Cohen - CAIS

LONDON, (CAIS) -- Iran's Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organisation (ICHTO) has announced this morning, the Cyrus the Great Cylinder will remain in Iran for another three moths.

The priceless artefact was loaned by the British Museum to Iran on September 10, 2010 for a period of 4 months to be displayed on a special exhibition at the National Museum of Iran (NMI).

A statement from the British Museum is expected on Monday.

Background here.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Arbel and Orlov (eds.), With Letters of Light

Daphna V. Arbel and Andrei A. Orlov (eds.) With Letters of Light: Studies in the Dead Sea Scrolls, Early Jewish Apocalypticism, Magic, and Mysticism (Ekstasis: Religious Experience from Antiquity to the Middle Ages; Berlin: de Gruyter, 2011)
This is a Festschrift in honor of Rachel Elior. I have an article in it on "Scriptural Exegesis in the Treatise of the Vessels, a Legendary Account of the Hiding of the Temple Treasure." (More on The Treatise of the Vessels [Massekhet Kelim] here and follow the links. And, no, I haven't yet tracked down the whereabouts of that marble plaque.) I've had a chance to skim through the volume and it looks very good.

Review of Sacred Treasure

SACRED TREASURE, a new popular book on the Cairo Geniza by Mark Glickman, is reviewed in the Seattle Times:
'Sacred Treasure' tells engaging story of early Hebrew documents

Everybody knows about the Dead Sea Scrolls, but Seattle rabbi Mark Glickman tells the story of another treasure trove of early Hebrew documents from Egypt in his new book, "Sacred Treasure: The Cairo Genizah."

By Irene Wanner

Special to The Seattle Times

Seven Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947 in a cave above the ancient desert outpost of Qumran, on the Dead Sea's West Bank. By 1956, more than 900 documents dating from 150 BCE to 70 CE had been found in 11 caves. Soon world famous, these copies of Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts became a source of international contention. They were kept inaccessible for many years, then moved to the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem after the 1967 Six-Day War, and are now available for study there and digitally.

By contrast, the world's largest trove of 10th- to 13th-century documents from the Cairo genizah (storage room) of Ben Ezra Synagogue number in the hundreds of thousands. Until now, they attracted mainly scholarly attention. But as Seattle-area Rabbi Mark Glickman observes in his fascinating new book, "Sacred Treasure — The Cairo Genizah: The Amazing Discoveries of Forgotten Jewish History in an Egyptian Synagogue Attic" (Jewish Lights Publishing, 255 pp., $24.99), the potential knowledge in so many medieval texts is cultural wealth beyond compare. Anyone who loves reading mysteries and travel with a dash of archaeology and ancient history will find Glickman's tale both entertaining and educational.

Background here.

Brent Landau interviewed

BRENT LANDAU is interviewed by about his book The Revelation of the Magi. Video and transcript here.

More reviews here.

Happy Orthodox Christmas

HAPPY CHRISTMAS to Orthodox Christians, who celebrate it today. And special good wishes to the Coptic Church, which like other Middle Eastern churches, has been subjected to horrific persecution by Islamists. The extremists managed to cancel Christmas in Iraq, so it is good to see that both Christians and Muslims are standing up to them in Egypt.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

A modern Jewish mystic speaks

A MODERN JEWISH MYSTIC discusses his experiences in an article in The Foward:
The Problem of Spiritual Experience
Is Mysticism in the Mind of the Beholder?

By Jay Michaelson
The article is difficult to excerpt and is worth reading in full, but here are a few passages:
I’ve been thinking about these questions for quite a while. In college and grad school, I read hundreds of testimonies, tracts and accounts of mystic quests; accounts of visionary ascents, ecstatic unions and divine theophanies. Eventually, I moved beyond theory to try contemplative practice for myself.

What can I report? I can say, in my own limited experience, that if you do what some mystics and contemplatives say, you can experience the results they promise: dissolving of the sense of self; rapture in concentrated joy; feelings of immense bliss; and, for religious souls, a certainty that one is held and loved and engulfed by the Divine. And I think it is worth the effort.

Moreover, there is a sense of “presence” in these experiences that is more than a sensation of having one’s mind altered. Particularly in meditation, the mind feels perfectly clear, not swooning or drunken or seen through a soft cinematic lens. Yet with that clarity, a great love arises without any prodding or effort, and there is often an obvious certainty that the love is not just a personal wiggling of neurons but some openness to how things actually are. That’s the feeling, anyway.


Well, I was trained to be a skeptic. The process of education is fundamentally about acquiring the cognitive skills of doubt, especially in volatile contexts such as religion, and learning to take apart assumptions more critically and carefully. So I think it’s important, and possible, to be analytically rigorous about spiritual experience. Here are some ways to do it.

First, it is helpful to distinguish what we know from what we don’t. At the very least, since I have experienced what mystics have described, by following their recommendations, that means that if I’m deluded, generations of mystics are as well. It’s not just me, and it’s not new; it’s ancient, widespread and revered. Moreover, the mystics’ testimony is “expert” testimony. Contemplatives are precisely the people who have devoted the most attention to the mind and the spirit. I wonder what my Seder interlocutor, a dentist for 30 years, would’ve said if I had doubted the foundations of modern dentistry. Who are you inclined to believe more — the doubter who has never explored these pathways or millions of experts who spent their lives doing so?


A second useful analytical tool is to tease apart experience from interpretation. “I felt a great love” could be interpreted as “I felt the love of Hashem” or “I felt the love of Christ” — or just “I felt a great love.” And that depends not on the phenomenology of the experience but the conceptual frame in which it is understood. So as soon as one moves from experience to concepts, one is no longer entitled to the certainty of one’s spiritual perception.


And, finally, valuing spiritual experience without determining a set interpretive frame diminishes the allure of particularism. If we suppose that spirituality can prove the mythic assertions of the Bible, we are mistaken. Indeed, the universality of mystical experience is why contemplatives tend more to be universalists than do non-contemplatives. Though there may be phenomenological differences in different spiritual experiences, mysticism makes plain that, if religion is like a finger pointing to the moon, you can see the moon with any number of pointers, even those a particular tradition or text wants to suppress.
Again, read it all. For scholars studying ancient mysticism, the experience of the mystics is a black box. The experiences of modern mystics and intermediaries has the potential to give a peek into that black box and are worth listening to. Some related thoughts are here, here, and here.

UPDATE: Last link now corrected!

Obituaries for Shemaryahu Talmon

OBITUARIES FOR SHEMARYAHU TALMON have recently been published in the JTA Eulogizer column and (in Hebrew) in Haaretz.

Qumran Seminar in Paris

QUMRAN SEMINAR IN PARIS, program from Christophe Batsch:

Fondateur : Francis SCHMIDT (Directeur d’études, EPHE)
Responsable : Christophe BATSCH (Université de Lille)

Programme 2010-2011

le mardi de 13h à 15h, salle Pierre-Jean Mariette
INHA : 2 rue Vivienne 75002 Paris
(métro : Bourse, Palais-Royal, Pyramides)

Mardi 7 décembre 2010 : Daniel STÖKL (CNRS), Les grottes et les
bibliothèques de Qumrân

Mardi 11 janvier 2011 : Maria GOREA (Paris VIII), Le targoum de Job

Mardi 8 février 2011 : Francis SCHMIDT (EPHE), Trois textes liturgiques : 4QOrdo (4Q334), 4QPrières du soir et du matin (4Q408), 4QPrières pour les fêtes (4Q507-509)

Mardi 8 mars 2011 : Arnaud SERANDOUR (EPHE), La Nouvelle Jérusalem de

Mardi 12 avril 2011 : Ursula SHATTNER (Catho Paris) et Jörg FREY
(Münich), Les 4QMystères

Mardi 10 mai 2011 : Hedwige ROUILLARD-BONRAISN (EPHE), Les pesharim

Mardi 7 juin 2011 : Giuseppe PAPPALARDO (INFN, Italie), Études
archéométriques des manuscrits de la mer Morte au moyen de techniques nucléaires
I'm slightly behind on this one, but most of the papers are still to come.

SBL awards for junior scholars

SBL AWARDS for junior scholars:
January 4, 2011

CALL FOR PAPERS January 10 Deadline

Paul J. Achtemeier Award

The primary goal of the Paul J. Achtemeier Award for New Testament Scholarship is to stimulate the finest and most penetrating work in New Testament studies. In order to compete for the award a paper of publishable quality must be submitted. The paper must not have been previously published or accepted for publication. The awarded paper will be delivered at an SBL national or international meeting with a panel discussion. There is a $1,000.00 monetary award.

The award will be given to a member who has completed the doctorate and been in a teaching and/or research position for at least two (2) years and ordinarily no more than ten (10) years. A person may receive the award only one time. The nominee/applicant will submit a current academic CV and a paper, normally in English, and of no more than 10,000 words in PDF format. Applicants will submit all materials via electronic mail to

Applicants should consult the SBL Handbook of Style for guidelines. The subject of the paper is open, but it must advance some dimension of New Testament scholarship. The paper will be evaluated within three categories:

1) persuasive thesis that engages the New Testament,
2) clarity of expression and thought,
3) originality and creativity.

The Achtemeier Award Committee for 2011 consists of Harold W. Attridge, Steven J. Friesen, and Marianne Meye Thompson.

The submission process and calendar is the following:

10 January 2011 Announcement of Intent to submit
1 March 2011 Submit all materials (make sure you receive a confirmation of receipt, if not, contact Sandra Stewart Kruger, immediately)
30 April 2011 Announcement of Awardee

David Noel Freedman Award

The David Noel Freedman Award for Excellence and Creativity in Hebrew Bible Scholarship is open for submissions.

The $1,000 award will be given to an SBL member who submits a paper in Hebrew Bible scholarship. The paper must not have been published or accepted for publication. The awarded paper will be delivered at an SBL annual national or international meeting with a panel discussion.

SBL Members Eligible
The SBL member must have completed the doctorate and held a teaching or research position for a minimum of two (2) years and ordinarily no more than ten (10) years. A person may receive the award only one time.

Submission Requirements
There are two required steps in the process.
First, all intentions to submit a paper for the award must be sent to no later than 10 January 2011. Please indicate in the subject line of all correspondence the last name of the applicant. All of the contact information for the individual should be included in the email. If the tentative title for a paper is available, please indicate it. Include a current copy of your academic CV in PDF format. Name the file with the first and last name of the applicant. Please be certain that the date of the CV is indicated.

Second, by 1 March 2011 the following materials must be attached to an email and submitted to

1. Update any items on the academic CV that was initially sent.
2. Paper of no more than 10,000 words (double spaced) including footnotes submitted in PDF format and attached to the email. Applicants should refer to the SBL Handbook of Style for guidelines. Do not include bibliographies. Please name the document with the last name of the person applying and the date submitted. Make sure you receive a confirmation of receipt, if not, contact Sandra Stewart Kruger, immediately.
3. A brief statement (no more than 100-250 words) regarding the way the paper advances Hebrew Bible scholarship.

The paper will be evaluated on the basis of three criteria:
• a persuasive thesis that engages the Hebrew Bible;
• clarity of expression and thought; and
• originality and creativity.

Award Committee
The 2011 award committee is Susan Ackerman, Dartmouth College; Carol Meyers, Duke University, and William H. C. Propp, University of California San Diego.

10 January 2011 Nominations or intent to submit
1 March 2011 Submission of the materials required for consideration
30 April 2011 Announcement of Award

Museum exhibit: The Story of Iran and the Jews

The story of Iran and the Jews, now on display in Israel

An exhibition devoted to the history, culture and contemporary life of Iranian Jewry opens at Beit Hatfutsot in Tel Aviv.

By Haaretz Service

An exhibition devoted to the history, culture and contemporary life of Iranian Jewry opened last week at Beit Hatfutsot in Tel Aviv, presenting the first in-depth and comprehensive view of Iranian Jewry through ancient artifacts found in the Persian country.

The story of Iran's ancient Jewish community unfolds over more than 2,700 years, back to when the Jews were exiled from Jerusalem through to today, after most members of Iran's Jewish community have relocated throughout the world. According to Professor David Yeroushalmi, a member of the Center for Iranian Studies at Tel Aviv University and the exhibition's historical advisor, over 20,000 Jews still live in Iran today, most of them in Tehran.

Among the items exhibited are archeological artifacts, many on public display for the first time, a wide range of cultural artifacts, including ancient manuscripts, talismans, carpets and both secular and religious music.

Arutz Sheva also has an article on the exhibition, with more pictures. I'm not sure how Haaretz calculates the Jewish exile to be more than 2700 years ago. (Arutz Sheva goes one better, with "more than three thousand years.") The Babylonian Exile happened in 587/586 BCE, which adds up to just a few years short of 2600 years ago. I'm not sure when a Jewish community was founded in Iran, but it was presumably after that.

The Garshuni script explained

THE GARSHUNI SCRIPT is explained by Dr. Adam McCollum in the HMML Chronicle:
Arabic in Syriac Script: Some Garšūnī Basics

This is the inaugural post in a series that will deal with manuscripts and the languages, literature, and history of Christianity in the Middle East. I serve as lead cataloger of Eastern Christian manuscripts at the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (HMML), Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota. HMML is a repository of microfilms and high-quality digital images of several thousands of manuscripts in—as far as Eastern Christianity is concerned—Arabic, Armenian, Syriac, and Ge`ez from collections in churches, monasteries, and libraries in Ethiopia, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, and elsewhere in the Middle East, along with more in European languages from western collections. HMML has entered into agreements with the owners of these manuscripts 1. to preserve them against destruction, theft, etc., and 2. to make them more accessible for scholars to study.

In this first post, I’d like to talk briefly about an interesting phenomenon in Christian Arabic literature: Garšūnī, also known as Karšūnī (and in older publications even Carshun or Carshunic). Whatever it is called and however it is spelled, it refers to the writing of Arabic in Syriac letters. The earliest continuous examples of this kind of writing appear in the fourteenth century, but there are short notes and colophons dated before that time. It is, however, not a practice only of the past: HMML collections have a number of examples of Garšūnī from well into the 20th century.

Via Abu 'l-Rayhan Al-Biruni on FB.

Much of this will be interesting to nonspecialists, although parts do get technical. Garshuni has been mentioned at PaleoJudaica here and here. The important work of the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library has been noted here, with links to previous posts.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Review of Gambetti, The Alexandrian Riots of 38 C.E. and the Persecution of the Jews

Sandra Gambetti, The Alexandrian Riots of 38 C.E. and the Persecution of the Jews: A Historical Reconstruction. Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism 135. Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2009. Pp. viii, 336. ISBN 9789004138469. $169.00.

Reviewed by Torrey Seland, School of Mission & Theology, Norwa (


Buy this book from Amazon and support BMCR

The present study, dealing with the political problems of the Jews in the fourth decade CE, is one of the most interesting works published in this field in recent years. The monograph developed from a 2003 doctoral dissertation at the University of California, Berkeley, supervised by Erich Gruen. After a brief Introduction, the theses of the book are set forth in ten well-argued chapters, followed by a chapter of conclusions, and five appendices, an impressive bibliography, and indexes. The book challenges much of the received view concerning the Alexandrian riots in the thirties CE, and its theses will have to be addressed in future work.


A retrospective of the voyage of the Phoenicia

A RETROSPECTIVE on the voyage of the Good Ship Phoenicia:
The history maker

8:24am Friday 31st December 2010 (Dorset Echo)

* By Laura Kitching

A DORSET expedition leader is celebrating a successful sailing year after recreating the first circumnavigation of Africa in a wooden boat.

Philip Beale battled the odds to complete his dream quest of re-enacting the 20,000 nautical mile historic voyage, believed to have been undertaken by Phoenicians more than 2,500 years ago, according to Greek historian Herodotus.

It took two years and two months and involved in-depth research into Phoenician history, ship construction, design and building of a 20m wooden replica Phoenician ship in Syria and teamwork by international sailors to safely navigate through the pirate-infested waters off Somalia.

Now Beale, of East Chaldon, near Lulworth, has made history but rather than rest on his laurels, his sights are set on bringing the vessel back to the United Kingdom – and to its home port of Weymouth – in 2012/13.

Beale said: “Thankfully we got home in one piece.

Indeed. But the sailing career of the Phoenicia is not over yet:
“The ship is in Syria at the moment undergoing some maintenance but it’s our plan to bring it back to the United Kingdom in 2012 or 2013.

“The idea will be to sail up the Channel initially to London and then bring it to all the major ports – as Weymouth is the home port we’ll definitely bring it there.”
Background here and follow the links.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Saving Babylon

A Triage to Save the Ruins of Babylon

Published: January 2, 2011

JIMIJMA, Iraq — The damage done to the ruins of ancient Babylon is visible from a small hilltop near the Tower of Babel, whose biblical importance is hard to envision from what is left of it today.

Across the horizon are guard towers, concertina wire and dirt-filled barriers among the palm trees; encroaching farms and concrete houses from this village and others; and the enormous palace that Saddam Hussein built in the 1980s atop the city where Nebuchadnezzar II ruled.

Something else is visible, too: earthen mounds concealing all that has yet to be discovered in a city that the prophet Jeremiah called “a gold cup in the Lord’s hands, a cup that made the whole earth drunk.”

On the hillside during one of his many visits to the ruins, Jeff Allen, a conservationist working with the World Monuments Fund, said: “All this is unexcavated. There is great potential at this site. You could excavate the street plan of the entire city.”

That is certainly years away given the realities of today’s Iraq. But for the first time since the American invasion in 2003, after years of neglect and violence, archaeologists and preservationists have once again begun working to protect and even restore parts of Babylon and other ancient ruins of Mesopotamia. And there are new sites being excavated for the first time, mostly in secret to avoid attracting the attention of looters, who remain a scourge here.

The World Monuments Fund, working with Iraq’s State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, has drafted a conservation plan to combat any further deterioration of Babylon’s mud-brick ruins and reverse some of the effects of time and Mr. Hussein’s propagandistic and archaeologically specious re-creations.

In November, the State Department announced a new $2 million grant to begin work to preserve the site’s most impressive surviving ruins. They include the foundation of the Ishtar Gate, built in the sixth century B.C. by Nebuchadnezzar’s father, Nabopolassar, and adorned with brick reliefs of the Babylonian gods Marduk and Adad. (The famous blue-glazed gate that Nebuchadnezzar commissioned was excavated in the early 20th century and rebuilt in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.)

The objective is to prepare the site and other ruins — from Ur in the south to Nimrud in the north — for what officials hope will someday be a flood of scientists, scholars and tourists that could contribute to Iraq’s economic revival almost as much as oil.

This is very good news, but there are plenty of challenges remaining.

This Tower of Babel business (carried to the point of silliness by Arutz Sheva here) refers to the ruins of a ziqqurat from the time of Nebuchadnezzar II (c. 600 BCE). He may have rebuilt an older ziqqurat, but this is the Tower of Babel only in that it may have inspired the creation of that legend when the Jewish exiles of Nebuchadnezzar's time saw it.

Related, also in the NYT: A Tour of Iraq’s Ancient Sites. Included are a video about the (traditional) tomb of Ezekiel (already noted here) and a photo of Hebrew inscriptions at the (traditional) tomb of the prophet Nahum, as well as photos and videos of other sites of biblical and related interest.

Karbala Christian sites in danger

CHALDO-ASSYRIAN WATCH: The horrific persecution of Iraq's Aramaic-speaking Christians includes desecration of their sacred historical sites and artifacts. This from the Memri blog:
Iraqi Christians in Karbala Report Looted Churches, Desecrated Graves

Reporting from Karbala, Iraq, journalist Fadhel Rashad says that Iraqi Christians are not only subject to killing and deportation, but that their churches, cemeteries, and historical artifacts are being targeted for desecration and looting by organized criminal gangs.

In the province of Karbala, 108 km (67.5 miles) south of Baghdad, officials confirmed that the legacy and history of Christians have become a target for destruction. Karbala, Fadhel wrote, is not just a city for Shi'a Muslims; it was inhabited by people of various sects and religions throughout history, and there is a great deal of archeological evidence to indicate that Christians had built churches and performed religious rites in the city.

In one church, he wrote, Aramaic writing on the walls suggests that the church was in existence in the fifth century CE. There are signs that Saddam's military forces used the place for target shooting.

Source: December 31, 2010
I have noted previously the Al-Aqiser Church in Karbala, which is perhaps the one mentioned here.

Modern trials of the Samaritans

The modern trials of the ancient Samaritans

By Helena Merriman

BBC News, Nablus

The Samaritan community has lived in the Middle East for thousands of years - but they are having to find new ways to secure their future, Helena Merriman reports from the West Bank.
A couple of excerpts:
Before, they would take sides, but now they are trying a new approach - neutrality.

They are building good relations with their Palestinian and Jewish neighbours and are unique in the region for having both Israeli and Palestinian identity papers.

This means they can travel between Israel and the West Bank with ease.

Some entrepreneurial Samaritans are now using their unique status to offer a delivery service to businessmen in the West Bank town of Nablus, just a few miles away from Mount Gerizim.

Many Palestinian businessmen there export goods to towns in Israel, but because they have to go through Israeli checkpoints, deliveries can be slow.

An exporter of car parts to Nazareth and Haifa, Ibrahim, pays the Samaritans to take some of his goods to Israel.

"The Samaritan drivers help us because they can take goods to Israel in one day," he tells me at his shop.

"If you want a Samaritan driver, you call them, they take the goods in their cars and return back to Nablus without the checkpoints."


Mr [Joseph] Cohen tells me that since there are many more men than women, they have to look outside their own community to find potential wives.

Some Samaritans have been using the internet to find brides from other countries, and he introduces me to Alexandra from the Ukraine, who converted to the Samaritan faith and married his cousin.

More recently, an American woman has made history by becoming the first person to convert to the Samaritan faith without marrying in.

Originally from Michigan, Sharon Sullivan now lives with her four children within the Samaritan community.

She says it is sad that more people do not know about this ancient religious sect.

"The good Samaritan story is about a Samaritan who is caring for someone not of their own religion," she says.

"And although the title has been used by so many organisations, the people themselves are unknown."

To address this, Ms Sullivan and Benyamin Tsedaka, a Samaritan historian, have spent the past seven years working on an English translation of the Samaritan Torah - one of the world's most ancient religious texts.
Alexandra was mentioned in PaleoJudaica here (and under the name "Shura" here?). I have also noted Mr. Sedaka's and Ms. Sullivan's Samaritan Torah project here.

UPDATE: That English translation of the Samaritan Pentateuch is now available for preorder from

Monday, January 03, 2011

More on the Septuagint in the Cairo Geniza

MORE ON THE SEPTUAGINT IN THE CAIRO GENIZA: Manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible with Greek glosses which are in the Cambridge Geniza collection are online here. (HT Gerald Rosenberg.)

Background here.

Jesus kicks ass in the apocryphal Infancy Gospels

JESUS KICKS SOME ASS in the apocryphal Infancy Gospels. If profanity and irreverence offend you, you might want to give this one a miss. But this stuff really is in the Infancy Gospels and the take on it in Cracked is pretty funny.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Assyriologist Gonzalo Rubio on dead languages

ASSYRIOLOGIST GONZALO RUBIO explains why dead languages are important in this excellent interview with LiveScience. Excerpt:
LiveScience: What is it like to study a dead language?

Rubio: In many regards, we are resuscitating a dead civilization through the understanding of its dead languages. When one studies an economic document from ancient Mesopotamia, there are names of individuals entering a contract or making a purchase, normally in front of a number of named witnesses: These are all people who lived three or four thousand years ago, people whose names were forgotten and buried in the sand until modern scholars brought them back to a modicum of life in their articles and books.

When an assyriologist holds a tablet inscribed with cuneiform characters, be it in Sumerian or in Akkadian, there is a chance that she or he may be the first person to read that text again after millennia of oblivion. Even if one is not the epigrapher who first looks at the tablets found at an archaeological site, even as a scholar reading texts at a museum, there is an overwhelming feeling of discovery and recovery, the excitement of bringing a civilization back to life by understanding it, text by text, tablet by tablet.
I have some related observations here.