Saturday, January 29, 2011

Current status of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo

EGYPT: I'm following the situation as closely as I can while needing to do other things. This AP article sums up just about everything I've been able to find about the status of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

Briefly: a major government building across the street from the museum was torched and, last I heard, was still burning. The museum itself has not, as far as I can find out, been damaged by the fire. Last night some young men among the protesters blocked the Museum entrance with a human chain until army forces could arrive and secure the building, which it seems they have now done. There was nevertheless some looting: at least two mummies were destroyed—no word on which ones. An AP reporter heard one of the protesters protecting the museum shout to the crowd "We are not like Baghdad." (The article has been updated and I can't find a link right now.) Those are some brave and praiseworthy young men.

I visited the Egyptian Museum in 1985. (Website currently down, courtesy of the Mubarak government.) The Tutankhamun treasures are the best known artifacts there, but there is much much more. For example, I recall seeing the Merneptah Stele and some Amarna letters.

The best source for up-to-date information on the situation in Egypt seems to be Al Jazeera, whose English website is live-streaming events from the scene as they happen.

I send the Egyptian people every good wish for success in their struggle for a free society.

UPDATE: This Flikr photostream has a photo of the human shields with arms linked surrounding the Museum. Click on the "Newer" button above the photo on the right for several pictures of the damage inside the museum. (Via Chuck Jones on Facebook.)

UPDATE (30 January): The latest report is that the heads of two mummies (again, no word on which ones) were torn off and ten small items were damaged, this by nine looters who were caught and arrested. The earlier report also said that the gift shop of the Museum was looted. Bad, but would have been much worse if not for the regular people who, at considerable risk to themselves, protected the museum.

UPDATE: Those ten damaged artifacts are starting to sound more important. (HT reader Joe Slater).

UPDATE: Continuously updated news on the fate of Egyptian museums and antiquities can be found at the Egyptology News blog. Via a supplement to this week's Explorator.

Friday, January 28, 2011

David Halperin, Journal of a UFO Investigator

Crossing UFOs and sacred texts in a whodunit

By Jonathan Kirsch (

Starting with its beguiling title, “Journal of a UFO Investigator” by David Halperin (Viking, $25.95) is an enchantment from beginning to end, a coming-of-age story that is also a kind of whodunit and, above all, an eerie adventure tale set in the subculture of flying saucers and space creatures.

Most intriguing of all, however, is the fact the David Halperin brings to his first novel everything he has learned about myth and legend over a long career as a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina. Halperin, for example, has written extensively about the visions of Ezekiel, whose description of fiery wheels has long been interpreted as an account of an early visitation by a spaceship.

The story that Halperin tells opens on the day in 1966 when 13-year-old Danny Shapiro reports a sighting to his friends and fellow adolescent “UFO investigators.” The search for a plausible explanation draws young Danny into a mysterious text, an even more mysterious death, and then into what appears to be a deadly pursuit across time and space. “Riddles chased mysteries, were chased by enigmas, around and around my brain,” is how young Danny explains it all to himself.

This I must read.

David Halperin wrote some of the most innovative and thought-provoking research on early Jewish (merkavah) mysticism published in the late twentieth century. His books include The Merkaba in Rabbinic Literature (1980), Faces of the Chariot: early Jewish responses to Ezekiel's vision (1988), and Seeking Ezekiel: text and psychology (1993). He has also published interesting work on the psychology behind UFO abduction experiences.

BC exhibit: Dura-Europos: Crossroads of Antiquity

McMullen Museum Presents "Dura-Europos: Crossroads of Antiquity": Feb. 5 – June 5

Treasures on Display, Excavated from Ancient Multicultural City,
Altered Understanding of Religious Practice in Late Antiquity

CHESTNUT HILL, MA (1-11) — The McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College is the exclusive venue for Dura-Europos: Crossroads of Antiquity, which showcases well-preserved Roman artifacts excavated in the 1920s and 1930s from the ancient city Dura-Europos, located in the desert of modern-day Syria high above the Euphrates River. Organized by the McMullen and the Yale University Art Gallery, it is on display from February 5 through June 5, 2011.

Follow the link for much more.

Symposium: Language in the Study of Ancient Judaism and Christianity

Ad fontes: Language in the Study of Ancient Judaism and Christianity

Starts: February 9, 2011 at 4:00 PM
Ends: February 9, 2011 at 6:00 PM
Location: Andrews 101 (Newman Lecture Hall)
Contact: Michael Daise

A symposium on the importance of ancient languages for the understanding of ancient Judaism and early Christianity, co-sponsored by the Reves Center for International Studies.
Details at the link

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Leonard Greenspoon lecturing on Codex Sinaiticus

LEONARD GREENSPOON is lecturing on the Codex Sinaiticus in Omaha.

Jewish-Christian Encounters in the First Centuries CE at TU

Jewish-Christian Encounters

Tel Aviv University

Advanced Summer Program for the Study of

Jewish-Christian Encounters in the First Centuries CE

The Advanced Summer program for the Study of Jewish-Christian Encounters in the First Centuries CE, under the auspices of the Religious Studies program in Tel Aviv University, is a 6 week English-language program, designed for advanced students (M.A., M.Div., M.A.R, Ph.D., etc.) in ancient Judaism and early Christianity from the United States and Europe. With the guidance of its international academic board of renowned scholars, the program aims is to build bridges between these disciplines, and thus to facilitate interdisciplinary work.

The program will provide English-speaking students with basic scholarly skills in the Hebrew language and in rabbinic literature and culture. It will expose them to current scholarship and to leading Israeli scholars in these fields, as well as to various archeological sites.

The summer program will offer traditional classroom instruction as well as scholarly day tours to ancient Jewish and Christian sites. It will provide the equivalent of two American academic courses in the English language.

1. A Hebrew course. The course will be offered in two levels (depending on enrollment):
1. Hebrew for beginners. Intended for students with no Hebrew background.
2. Readings in rabbinic literature. Intended for students with some background in Hebrew (biblical or modern).
2. An introductory course entitled "Jewish-Christian encounters". The course will employ philological, historical and philosophical tools to examine various texts, concepts, and cultural realia of Talmudic times in the land of Israel. The course will integrate visits to key locations in the Galilee and Jerusalem, as well as to various archeological digs, and will include a lecture series with leading scholars.

In addition, a non-credit course entitled "Talmud and Theology" will examine Talmudic discussions that engage key theological themes, and explore their relevance for contemporary Jewish thought and practice.
For registration information follow the link above.

(HT Shai Secunda)

More on China's new interest in Judaism

The Chinese Discover Jews and Israel and Can’t Seem To Get Enough
Chinese Scholars On a Visit to Israel Say Their People Want To Know ‘What the Jewish Nation Is All About’

By Nathan Jeffay (The Forward)
Published January 26, 2011, issue of February 04, 2011.

Tel Aviv — Back in 1991 Chen Yiyi was, as he puts it, a “bored” law student at Peking University. At the time, China was in the process of formalizing relations with Israel, and the Chinese Education Ministry and Israel’s Foreign Ministry selected his university as the site of China’s first Hebrew course taught by visiting Israeli teachers. When the class fell short of its eight-student enrollment target, Chen was persuaded to sign up to boost its numbers.

Little did Chen know at the time that he was embarking on a career in what would soon be a burgeoning field within Chinese academia: Jewish studies.

Chen, who is now director of Peking University’s Institute of Hebrew and Jewish Studies, teaches a Bible course at his school that is billed as a class in Tanach, using the Hebrew word for the Bible and drawing upon Jewish interpretations. Now in its eighth year, the class can accommodate a maximum of 200 students each session, but it regularly has 500 students sign up.

“People see it that the best students of the best university need to know about the cornerstones of other civilizations, and the cornerstone is Tanach,” Chen said.

Chen — whose accomplishments include translating the Israeli novelist A.B. Yehoshua into Chinese — was part of a delegation of 10 Chinese scholars of Jewish studies who visited Israel for a weeklong study tour in mid-January. The academics brought with them stories of their bursting-at-the-seams lecture halls and classes where Tanach, Hebrew and even Aramaic are studied, despite the fact that the field of Jewish studies essentially didn’t even exist in China 20 years ago.


In Song’s telling, the curiosity reflects “Judeophilia” rather than “Judeophobia.” As the Chinese nation has embarked on a process of economic and technological advancement, it looks upon Jews, another ancient people that seems to have excelled in this area while maintaining a distinctive identity, as a “model it can employ to modernize itself,” he explained.

Song said that Judaism is perceived by Chinese people as being part of the foundation of Western civilization. As a result, they see Judaism as synonymous with “Western,” and many take the view that to learn about the West, one should become familiar with Judaism.

Indeed, Song observed that Judaism is not just seen as Western, it is seen as the best of the West. In China, he said, many erroneously believe that John Rockefeller and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart were Jewish. “Everything that is successful, smart and rich is regarded as Jewish,” he said.

While the most popular Jewish subjects in China are those related to Jews in finance and contemporary Jewry, some Chinese want to go back to basics and learn about scripture. The study of the Bible has never been particularly popular in China, where the dominant faiths have been Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism, and where religion was repressed by the communist authorities. In today’s era of openness, however, it is the focus of much curiosity.

Since Christianity and Judaism are both regarded as foreign faiths, there is no reason that studying the Bible through the Christian tradition would necessarily seem more natural than through the Jewish tradition. And even among Chinese Christians there is an interest in studying Judaism. Many Jewish studies students are Christians who “think that they could do with understanding Judaism to understand Christianity,” Song said.

Related post here. This current article puts the earlier one in a less creepy context.

Jerusalem tunnel now open, Palestinians still unhappy

New Jerusalem tunnel will damage Temple Mount, Palestinians say
Despite Israeli claims to the contrary, parts of tunnel pass just meters from the Western Wall.

By Yair Ettinger and Nir Hasson (Haaretz)

The tunnel leading from the City of David in Silwan to beneath the walls of Jerusalem's Old City, excavated by the Israel Antiquities Authority and announced to media fanfare Sunday, is drawing fire from Palestinians who claim it will damage the Temple Mount.

Parts of the tunnel come within just a few meters of the Western Wall, contrary to Antiquities Authority claims yesterday, but officials stress that the religiously sensitive parts of the tunnel were not dug by the agency. They were dug out many years ago, and were merely reexposed by the project, they say.

Concerns about possible riots in East Jerusalem yesterday over the tunnel turned out to be unfounded, and the public debut of the Second-Temple era passageway went off without a hitch.

Background here (immediately preceding post).

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

News on and around the Temple Mount


First, the Art Daily has a piece summarizing the recently completed work in and around the Old City, and near, but not on or under, the Temple Mount:
Clearing Work Completed by Israel Antiquities Authority on a Second Temple Period Water Channel

JERUSALEM.- Clearing work has been completed on a Second Temple Period water channel in excavations being conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority in the City of David located within the Jerusalem Walls National Park. The excavations are being run in conjunction with the Israel Nature & Parks Authority, under the auspices of Professor Ronny Reich and Eli Shukron from the Israel Antiquities Authority.

For the last seven years, researchers from the Israel Antiquities Authority have been involved in the removal of large amounts of debris that have accumulated in the largest water channel from the Second Temple period. The route of this channel follows that of the Tyropoeon Valley. The channel is located beneath the main paved and stepped road which traversed Jerusalem in those days. The road passed next to the Western Wall in the north and down to the Siloam Pool in the southern portion of the City of David. At no point, does the route of either the road or channel pass beneath the Temple Mount.

Two parts were uncovered and previously known:

* The northern part was discovered in 1867 by the British explorer Charles Warren beneath the ancient paved road next to “Robinson’s Arch”. This part, located in the Davidson Center Archeological Park, was explored again by Professor B. Mazar (1968-75), and Ronny Reich & Billig (1994-96).

* The southern part was discovered by the archaeologists Bliss & Dickey (1894-1897) next to the Siloam Pool at the southernmost tip of the City of David, approximately 600 meters south of the Davidson Center Archeological Park.


The central and monumental discovery made here is the paved road which lies above the water channel which was discovered. It is on this road that residents of Jerusalem and pilgrims walked in ancient times. Only a few individual sections of this road have been revealed throughout its route. However, now, the water channel that runs beneath it has been uncovered in its entirety (approximately 600 meters). “There is evidence from this channel that city leaders from two thousands years ago, took strides to ensure the welfare of the city’s residents and the pilgrims who visited. In ancient times the channel carried mainly rain water that collected in the city streets so as not to accumulate and inconvenience the public,” adds Professor Reich. Aspects of the channel point to the monumental investment that went into its construction. In the northern part it is carved into the bedrock and covered with an arched stone dome along its length, while further south it is built and covered with flat slabs of stone.

Background here. An earlier post on that paved road is here.

Second, what is this about?
Huge Jordanian Generators Sighted on Temple Mount

by Gil Ronen and Rachel Sylvetsky (Arutz Sheva)

Huge electricity generators donated by the government of Jordan were brought into the Temple Mount Tuesday. A group led by Likud's Moshe Feiglin documented the entry of the generators into the Mount.

Sources in the Jerusalem Municipality's Supervision Department told the Temple Heritage Fund that the municipality had not given permission to bring in the generators and that they were informed of the matter by Avi Roif, Commander of the Old City Police. The municipality sources were said to be outraged at Roif for allowing the generators' entry despite his not not being authorized to do so.

It is not clear to what use the generators will be put. The Wakf has in the past conducted unauthorized digging and construction activity on the Mount, apparently in order to obliterateany archaeological vestiges of Jewish presence there. The heavy generators themselves might damage the holy site and they might be used to illuminate and provide energy for projects about which Israel has not been informed.

More on the Waqf's illicit excavations on the Temple Mount here and here.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Noah’s Ark Confession Repudiated

NOAH'S ARK CONFESSION REPUDIATED. But it still isn't Noah's Ark.

Background here.

New Jesus-apocryphon fragment

NEW JESUS-APOCRYPHON FRAGMENT: Alin Suciu reports on An Unknown “Apocryphal” Text From the White Monastery.

(Via What's New in Papyrology.)

Alex Joffe on the Iraqi Jewish archive

IRAQI JEWISH ARCHIVE WATCH: Alex Joffe has an editorial on the fate of the Iraqi Jewish archive in Jewish Ideas Daily. Excerpt:
By what right should a society that barely tolerated and then expelled its Jews, and that loathes and forbids the presence of Jews now, be given 27 cases of Jewish documents and books? Saad Eskander, the director of the Iraq National Library and Archives, has stated one rationale: "Iraqis must know that we are a diverse people, with different traditions, different religions, and we need to accept this diversity . . . [and] that Baghdad was always multiethnic." A glance at the headlines from Iraq suggests that such noble aspirations are increasingly belied by reality.

Besides, should the materials be returned to Iraq, what assurances are there that anyone, much less Jews, will have access to them? What assurances that the materials will be preserved at all? Countless artifacts from Israeli excavations in Sinai were returned to Egypt as part of the 1979 peace agreement. No one knows their fate, but rumors have long circulated that they were simply dumped alongside the road. Similar proposals have been made regarding artifacts, even demonstrably Jewish ones, excavated in the West Bank, which Israel is being urged to turn over to the Palestinian Authority as a confidence-building measure. Intellectuals, who in other settings deplore "politicization" of the past, are usually at the forefront of such seemingly therapeutic schemes.

Free societies, with their competing interests and concerns, do a mixed but on the whole creditable job of maintaining their pasts. Unfree societies, thanks to corruption and racism, typically do a very poor job, and when they do make an effort, as in Iraq under Saddam, it is in furtherance of the regime's dictatorial and repressive aims.

International refugee law provides for "non-refoulment": that is, refugees must not be returned to a situation where they would be put in jeopardy. Might a similar principle be considered for antiquities? Could it be asserted that unfree states forfeit their claims to antiquities, particularly those originating with minorities they have expunged or exterminated, and against whom they discriminate in the present? The legal dimensions remain to be explored; in the meantime, like many of the Jews who created it, the Iraqi Jewish Archive lingers in exile—so far, thankfully, in a free country.
As I have said many times before, the standard should be that ancient artifacts are the heritage of humanity and they should be kept where they are safest and best cared for. I have commented on the case of the Iraqi Jewish archive (whose fate PaleoJudaica has been following closely since 2003) here, with links to earlier, more extensive comments. See also the case of the political and legal controversy over confiscating the Persepolis Fortification Archive as compensation for terrorism here and follow the links.

Newly uncovered tunnel passes under Old City walls

Newly uncovered tunnel passes under Old City walls
Silwan residents say dig damages homes.

By Nir Hasson (Haaretz)

The Israel Antiquities Authority has completed an archaeological dig of a tunnel that will enable visitors to cross under the walls of Jerusalem's Old City, not far from the Temple Mount.

The tunnel, which was uncovered during excavations conducted over the past few months, was formerly used for drainage and dates back to the Second Temple. It links the City of David in Silwan with the Archaeological Park & Davidson Center, which is located near the Western Wall.

The Antiquities Authority stressed that the newly uncovered tunnel does not come near the Temple Mount and that it has no plans to dig in that direction.

The digging had been going on for seven years and was delayed for about a year by order of the High Court of Justice, after Silwan residents filed a petition claiming the dig was damaging their homes.

In September 2009, Supreme Court Justice Edna Arbel rejected the petition and lifted the halt on the dig. Since then, work has been stepped up and in recent weeks the segment of the tunnel between the City of David and the Davidson Center was completed.

(Via Joseph I. Lauer.) The story is also covered by The Israel Project here and the AFP here. Some past PaleoJudaica posts dealing with the tunnel project are here and here.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Eilat Mazar interviewed in The Trumpet

ISRAELI ARCHAEOLOGIST EILAT MAZAR is interviewed in a long piece in The Trumpet: Using the Bible as Her Guide. The Trumpet is a conservative Evangelical publication and the interview is framed accordingly. But the positions it attributes to Dr. Mazar do not seem inconsistent with what I've heard her say elsewhere. Excerpt:
When David conquered the Jebusite city around 1000 b.c. he took up residence in the stronghold—the Jebusite fortress at the north end of the city. According to 2 Samuel 5:9, he then began to build up the area around Millo and inward. The New International Version says David “built up the area around it, from the supporting terraces inward.” So David set out to enlarge the city limits—first concentrating on a royal palace. The Bible says King David’s palace was partially built by workers sent to him by the Phoenician king of Tyre as a gesture of friendship (verse 11). “And David went on, and grew great, and the Lord God of hosts was with him” (verse 10).

Near the end of David’s palace construction, the Philistines attacked. And since the new palace may not have been reinforced strongly enough to withstand the Philistine assault, verse 17 says David went down to the citadel to barricade himself within the city walls until the conflict ended. This, Dr. Mazar theorized more than 10 years ago, indicates that David’s new palace stood on higher ground than the Jebusite fortress.

She published her theory in Biblical Archaeology Review in January 1997. Under the title, “Excavate King David’s Palace,” on a two-page artist’s rendering of the ancient City of David, Mazar drew an arrow pointing at the north end of the city, underneath the caption “it’s there.” She wrote, “Careful examination of the biblical text combined with sometimes unnoticed results of modern archaeological excavations in Jerusalem enable us, I believe, to locate the site of King David’s palace. Even more exciting, it is in an area that is now available for excavation. If some regard as too speculative the hypothesis I shall put forth in this article, my reply is simply this: Let us put it to the test in the way archaeologists always try to test their theories—by excavation.”

A decade later, excavation did exactly that. In 2005, just under the surface in the northern-most region of the City of David, she found what she calls the Large Stone Structure and labeled it King David’s palace.
Past PaleoJudaica posts on her large stone structure in the City of David include this, this, and this. This is an interesting story and she is right to be pleased that she found a large tenth-century building where she thought there would be one. At the same time, this is a long way from our being able to assign the building to King David. We would need first to have full published reports of all the tenth century material excavated in the building, then to place the data fully into the context of what we know about the tenth century from elsewhere. And even then, quite likely the evidence would be inconclusive. Unless, that is, we actually find epigraphic data that ties the palace directly to David. A seal of a court official that mentions him or a lapidary royal inscription on one of the walls of the building would do nicely. But I'm not holding my breath.

On another note, this is pretty cool:
Although she may be the poster child of biblical archaeology today, Dr. Eilat Mazar isn’t the first to hold the Bible in such high esteem.

“There is nothing new about reading the Bible to see how much of the reality can be tangible. It is a whole school that started with Robinson and later on in force with Albright, of which my grandfather considered himself to be a follower and a student,” she says.

“My grandfather” is the late professor Dr. Benjamin Mazar, a leading Israeli archaeologist in his own right. He is best known for his massive excavation at the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount, which spanned the late ’60s and the ’70s. He also served as president of the Hebrew University between the years of 1953 and 1961.


Meanwhile, Dr. Mazar worked in the City of David excavations under the direction of Dr. Yigal Shiloh. Each day after the excavations, as she worked with her grandfather, he would ask her, “What’s new at the excavation?”

“What’s new? We just discussed all the new things yesterday, so what can be so new?” she would reply.

“No, no, no; what’s new?” the professor would ask again.

“He was expecting new and fresh thinking every single day. He really pushed me. On the one hand it was quite distressing, but on the other hand it pushed me to constantly be thinking every time that I am excavating,” Mazar recounts.
I met the late Professor Mazar at the Ashkelon excavation in the late 1980s and I remember a conversation or two with him which went on very similar lines.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Epic of Gilgamesh on stage

Theater Review (NYC): Immortal: The Gilgamesh Variations

Author: Jon Sobel — Published: Jan 22, 2011 at 8:07 pm (StageMage)

The wooden staircase you climb to get to the Bushwick Starr theater has more character than some entire plays. You're rewarded for the climb—through January 30, anyway—with a strenuous, rewarding journey through the ancient Sumerian-Akkadian Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the earliest works of literature in history. Sumerian legends told of a semi-divine hero-king, Gilgamesh, who tyrannized his subjects in the city of Uruk until they pleaded with the gods for help. In response they created Enkidu, a primitive man of great strength who lived in the forest with the beasts until being seduced by a temple harlot into coming to Uruk to be a companion to Gilgamesh.


But here they are, and a fine lot too. The Forge enlisted eleven playwrights to each adapt one of the eleven main tablets for the stage. Director Gabriel Shanks, together with a solid cast and a talented production team, stitched them together into a real theatrical epic. The shifts from one playwright's voice to the next can be heard, usually subtly but now and then joltingly. As the company presumably intended, these shifts add to the effectiveness of the episodic story, offering changes in tone (elegiac and hilarious, solemn and boisterous, cerebral and physical). The program's trendy reference to the production as a "remix" is going a bit far; though it takes liberties with details of characterization and setting, in outline it hews to the story as written, and properly so. Audiences aren't terribly familiar with the Epic of Gilgamesh, which therefore doesn't seem to call for radical reinterpretation. Much of the staging here feels as if it could have been transplanted from, say, Greek drama. I suspect, though, that on a second viewing, once familiar with the story, one would better appreciate the multiple creative points of view.

Earlier stage productions are noted here and here.

Talmud to be translated into Italian

Talmud to be translated into Italian

January 21, 2011

(JTA) -- The Talmud will be translated for the first time into Italian thanks to an official collaboration between the Italian government and the Italian Jewish community.

A protocol launching "Project Talmud" was signed Friday in Rome by cabinet ministers, the president of Italy's National Research Council, the president of the umbrella Union of Italian Jewish Communities (UCEI) and Rome's chief rabbi.


Is Hershel Doomed to the Lake of Fire?

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS: Is Hershel [Shanks] Doomed to the Lake of Fire? Adele Yarbro Collins says no.

Well he did ask.

UPDATE: Bad link now fixed.