Saturday, February 26, 2011

New book on ancient (pagan) angels

NEW BOOK: Rangar Cline, Ancient Angels: Conceptualizing Angeloi in the Roman Empire (Brill, March 2011).
Although angels are typically associated with Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, Ancient Angels demonstrates that angels (angeloi) were also a prominent feature of non-Abrahamic religions in the Roman era. Following an interdisciplinary approach, the study uses literary, inscriptional, and archaeological evidence to examine Roman conceptions of angels, how residents of the empire venerated angels, and how Christian authorities responded to this potentially heterodox aspect of Roman religion. The book brings together the evidence for popular beliefs about angels in Roman religion, demonstrating the widespread nature of speculation about, and veneration of, angels in the Roman Empire

Sheffield Conference: Religion in the Persian Period

A CONFERENCE ON RELIGION IN THE PERSIAN PERIOD is being held at the University of Sheffield in July.
It is thought that early forms of Judaism began to emerge in the Persian period amongst population groups with ancestral connections to the territories of Samaria and Yehud. The possible influence of Zoroastrianism on emerging Judaism has been explored periodically, but the issue of whether the Achaemenids continued to practice old Persian religion or emerging Zoroastrianism remains a point of debate. Persian policy with regard to religious tolerance or intolerance throughout the empire also could be profitably explored, as well as developments in religion amongst other subject groups under Persian hegemony.

Tzvee Zahavy: Alan F. Segal: An Appreciation

TZVEE ZAHAVY: Alan F. Segal: An Appreciation.
When my dear friend Alan F. Segal died at age 65 on Sunday, February 13, this earthly world lost a diligent, productive scholar of religions and a sparkling lecturer and teacher. And more than that, a great force of positive energy departed from our midst.


Friday, February 25, 2011

Hebrew Bible/Rabbinics and philosophy e-mail list

AN E-MAIL LIST on the Hebrew Bible, Rabbinic literature, and philosophy is now running. From Jack Sasson's Agade list:
From Yoram Hazony (

Sign Up for “Bible-Philos” Listserv

I wanted to inform you that the Shalem Center’s Department of Philosophy, Political Theory and Religion has organized a new listserv to provide information for scholars interested in being informed of developments in the philosophical investigation of the Hebrew Scriptures, Talmud and Midrash.

The “Bible-Philos” list will provide you with announcements relating to conferences, publications, and fellowships in the following subject areas:

1. The philosophical study of the metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and political thought of the Hebrew Bible, Talmud and Midrash.

2. The historical reception of the metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and political thought of Hebrew Bible, Talmud and Midrash in the West and beyond.

List subscribers will be encouraged to submit announcements and brief reviews of new publications appearing in these areas, which will then be distributed to list members.

To sign up for the “Bible-Philos” list, please click here.

An overview of the Jewish Philosophical Theology project at the Shalem Center is available here.

For additional information please feel free to write to me at (
The website for the list, with the subscription link, is here.

Arutz Sheva Radio tributes to Anson Rainey

TRIBUTES TO ANSON RAINEY have been published by Arutz Sheva on a radio show. Joseph I. Lauer sends information on accessing the audio files:
The following Arutz Sheva article leads to an audio of the LandMinds program.
At the archive site the following portions of the broadcast can be heard:
270. Anson Rainey Memorial (Part I) (February 23, 2011)
271. Anson Rainey Memorial (Part II) Interview with Dr. Paul Wright (February 23, 2011)
272. Anson Rainey Memorial (Part III) Interview with Dr. Yigal Levin (February 23, 2011)
273. Anson Rainey Memorial (Part IV) Interview with Prof. Aharon Demsky (February 23, 2011)
Background here.

UPDATE: Bad link now fixed. Sorry about that.

New BBC series on Jewish history

Schama to front BBC Jewish history series

Thursday, February 24 2011, 11:37am EST
By Andrew Laughlin, Technology Reporter [Digital Spy]

Academic and TV presenter Simon Schama is to front a new series on BBC Two documenting the incredible history of the Jews.

In the five-part series, titled The History Of The Jews, Schama will explore the 4,000 years of Jewish history from the Ancient Israelites to the impact of the Jewish people on the modern world.

Discussing the series, Schama said that any historian would want to tell the "epic story" of the Jewish people on Earth.


Excavations of important Syriac-related sites in Turkey

Syriac monastery to be included in Faith Park

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News

The thousands-of-years-old Syriac Mor Yakup Monastery complex in Mardin’s Nusaybin district is being restored. The historic monastery and a nearby tomb of a 13th-generation grandchild of the Prophet Mohammed will be united and opened to tourism as a Culture and Faith Park Complex. Mardin Gov. Hasan Duruer says the project will emphasize the beauty of living together

The restoration of churches and monasteries in Anatolia has not lost speed over the last few years, and the next relic slated to undergo reconstruction work is the Mor Yakup Monastery complex in the southeastern province of Mardin.


Common excavation with Syria

The restorations and excavations for the Faith Park project started in 2000. Duruer said during the restoration, 15 statues on calcareous ground, a mosaic panel, chamber ruins and 225 graves were found in the northern limestone grounds of the church as well as the ruins of a school that belongs to the monastery complex.

He said right after the opening of the park, archaeological excavations will begin to unearth the ancient city of Nisibis. “A part of the ancient city is within the borders of Syria and so we intend to pursue the work together with Syria,” he said.

The church father Ephrem the Syrian, famous especially for his corpus of beautiful Syriac hymns, lived in Nisibis in the fourth century. An excavation of this site would be very important. I hope it happens.

Nag Hammadi murder acquittals

NAG HAMMADI MURDER TRIAL UPDATE: This story should not be lost within the larger picture of recent events in Egypt.
Egyptian Christians Enraged Over Court Acquittal in Christmas Eve Massacre

Posted GMT 2-21-2011 0:45:47

(AINA) -- The Egyptian Emergency State Security Court in Qena acquitted today two of the three suspects in the Christmas Eve Massacre in Nag Hammadi in January, 2010, where six Coptics, between the ages of 16 to 23, were shot and killed by Muslims in a drive-by shooting. The Copts were killed as they filed out of Church after celebrating the Coptic Christmas Eve midnight mass in Nag Hammadi, 600km south of Cairo A Muslim bystander was also killed and nine Copts were seriously injured (AINA 1-7-2010).

The three Muslims accused of the shootings were Mohamed Ahmed Hussein, more commonly known as Hamam el-Kamouny, Qurshi Abul Haggag and Hendawi Sayyed. Mohamed Ahmed Hussein, 39, was sentenced to death by the court on January 16 and the other two were acquitted today. The defendants were charged with using force to disrupt public order and intimidate citizens, with the premeditated murder of seven people, illegal possession of fire arms, the attempted murder of nine others, and voluntarily damaging fixed and liquid assets.

Bishop Cyril, the Coptic Orthodox bishop of Nag Hammadi, said "The court imposed one death sentence because one Muslim was killed, and the Egyptian judiciary wasted the blood of the six murdered Copts, who are of no value to the society. This verdict saddened all Christians worldwide because it means that the State is applying Islamic Sharia on all Christians in Egypt." He explained that according to Sharia the blood of one Muslim, victim Ayman Hisham, is paid for by the blood of one Muslim, Al-Kamouny; since one Muslim died, one Muslim got the death penalty.

Bishop Cyril said that according to the law an accomplice to a crime is on equal standing to the person who committed the crime. "So where is this law and why has it been by-passed in this case and why have the two accomplices been an acquitted?" He said that this verdict brought back sadness and pain to the families of the victims who expected the second suspect to have been sentenced to life imprisonment -- if not the death penalty -- and the third at least fifteen-year imprisonment, but not an acquittal. "This is why we know that in Egypt the blood of a Christian is worth nothing."

Background here and follow the links.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Watson meets St. Jerome, sort of

WATSON MEETS ST. JEROME, at least in the imagination of Mike Hinkle (Edmond Sun):
When I read the story, I couldn’t help but think about a grumpy old fifth century church father. Let me explain.

A couple years ago, I took a room in an Arab hotel in East Jerusalem, rented a car and spent some time driving around Israel. My rental agreement wouldn’t allow me to take the car into the West Bank, so I hired a Palestinian taxi driver to take me through the Israeli checkpoint to Bethlehem. While there, I was shown to the damp tiny chamber where St. Jerome did much of his history-making work.

You may already know about St. Jerome, but just in case you don’t, here’s a snapshot. He was a crusty old ascetic that spent a good deal of his life writing Christian commentaries and translating the Bible from its original languages into Latin. He spent the last 30 years of his life writing and studying in a small poorly lit monastic cell in Bethlehem. St. Jerome had a towering intellect and made notable contributions to Christian theology and scholarship. But he really didn’t think much of his fellow man — being the sinful creature he is. And Jerome had little use for physical comforts. His only extravagance had to do with the acquisition of scholarly works and writing materials.

When I visited St. Jerome’s tiny cell in Bethlehem, I tried to get my mind around the discipline, commitment and self-denial that would lead someone to spend more than 30 years in these cramped, uncomfortable surroundings. It would be interesting to know if, at the end of his journey, St. Jerome felt like the results justified the sacrifice.

But now we have the mighty Watson. One can imagine an army of uninspired scholars feeding Aramaic and Hebrew characters into a database and standing by as Watson spews forth a superior translation in 10 minutes or less. It might be possible to download a comprehensive collection of dictionaries along with the original writing and allow Watson to produce biblical commentaries far superior to St. Jerome’s.

St. Jerome was prepared to endure cold and hunger in order to commit his meager resources to the purchase of his reading and writing materials. Today, I am able to transport a library of 1,700 books and receive daily newspapers from all across the world to be read on a device not much bigger than a slice of bread.

It would be interesting to know in terms of readability and quality, how the translations and commentaries of Watson would compare with those of St. Jerome. No matter what you may say in the abstract, there are those who will argue that, given sufficient commitment of resources, Watson’s work will prove superior.
Computers are not yet up to producing the Latin Vulgate (no, not even after this) or writing biblical commentaries with original content. But Watson brings the possibilities unsettlingly closer.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Another popular book on the Cairo Geniza

The Living Sea Scrolls

Inside a ‘battlefield of books,’
a rich mosaic of Egyptian Jewish life.

Adina Hoffman and Peter Cole
Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 22, 2011

This April, the Schocken / Nextbook Jewish Encounters series will publish “Sacred Trash: The Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza” by Adina Hoffman and Peter Cole, which tells in dynamic fashion the story of the retrieval of what has often been called the greatest discovery of Jewish manuscripts ever made. “No longer can we speak of the seven wonders of the world —” Cynthia Ozick has written of the Geniza and of “Sacred Trash.” “In this astounding and acutely relevant tale, Adina Hoffman and Peter Cole have uncovered a remarkable eighth; and in its connection to our own humanity, it surpasses all the rest.” What follows is a small piece of that wondrous story.

The excerpted passage is a nice brief account of the history and importance of the Cairo Geniza.

As indicated above, another popular book on the Geniza has been recently published, with a rather similar title: Sacred Treasure: The Cairo Geniza, by Mark Glickman. I have noted it here (and follow the links).

La biblioteca di Alessandria. Storia di un paradiso perduto

BMCR REVIEW of a book on the ancient Library of Alexandria:
Monica Berti, Virgilio Costa, La Biblioteca di Alessandria: storia di un paradiso perduto. Ricerche di filologia, letteratura e storia 10. Roma: Edizioni Tored, 2010. Pp. xvi, 279. ISBN 9788888617343. €30.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Alexandra Trachsel, University of Hamburg (


The study on the Library of Alexandria presented in this book is based on the results of the current research projects of the two co-authors. Both scholars are working on fragmentary texts from the Hellenistic period and have edited collections of fragments from ancient authors where the question of the selection and transmission of texts is crucial.1 In addressing this question, the authors have been brought to focus also on the function and the impact of the Library of Alexandria in processes of selection and transmission. Furthermore, both authors are developing their own projects in the field of digital humanities2 and this is an additional reason, as they admit themselves, for their scholarly focus on the Library of Alexandria. The link between these two topics is clearly stated in the first lines of the book and gets fully developed in the last chapter, entitled "Ritorno ad Alessandria." In between, the study offers a very wide panorama, based on an up-to-date bibliography, including both the process which led to the creation of the Library of Alexandria and the activity carried out within this institution. Another distinctive feature of this study, which differentiates it from other works on the Library of Alexandria, is the fact that it is framed by two chapters of a more deliberative nature. The first is a summary of the controversial evidence from Antiquity about the location of the library , while the last one, as just mentioned, draws parallels between the modern projects of "universal libraries" in digital form, such as Europeana and Google Books, and their Alexandrian model from Antiquity.


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Chris McKinny on Anson Rainey

CHRIS MCKINNY has a tribute to Anson Rainey at the BiblePlaces blog. My favorite part is the quote from Emanuel Hausman:
You may have heard this from Anson before but he often joked that the first thing on facing GOD was to ask Him how he pronounced YHWH -.- May he rest in peace.

Update on Jewish Catacombs under Mussolini's villa

THE JEWISH CATACOMBS under Mussolini's villa are being restored in association with the Holocaust museum being built there:
Italy’s first Holocaust museum to be built in Rome

02/22/2011 01:56

Country was partner, not victim, of Nazis, but hasn’t done soul-searching like Germany, says director.

ROME – Mayor Gianni Alemanno and the municipal authorities of Rome will be announcing on Tuesday the construction of a Holocaust museum as a focal point in the city’s 10-year “Stati Generali” plan for major projects in the city.

The Italian government and RAI-TV are currently sponsoring a television spot, which will be shown repeatedly until June, calling for Italians to submit any relevant wartime family records or material for exhibition.

Italy’s first Holocaust museum, based on preliminary plans drawn by architects Luca Zevi and Giorgio Maria Tamburini under the sponsorship of Rome’s previous mayor, Walter Veltroni, will be built in the central area of Villa Torlonia. The 2,500- square-meter building – estimated at a cost of 19 million euros, to be covered by the city – will be part of a designated 4,000-sq.m. area adjacent to both former dictator Benito Mussolini’s villa and the two millennium-old Jewish catacombs, that will be restored and opened for visits.

Other Stati Generali projects include modernizing Fiumicino Airport, improving the street network and restoring ancient cultural sites.

The museum’s director, Marcello Pezzetti, has a vast plan in mind, specifically aimed at increasing Italians’ awareness of their own role in the Holocaust.

This museum has been in the planning stages for a long time; I've been following the story since 2004 (background here and follow the links back). Still no word on when the building will commence.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Update on the Mor Gabriel Monastery case

The monastery is at the center of a harsh battle initiated in 2008 by the leaders of three Kurdish villages dominated by a tribe supported in Parliament by one of their leaders, Suleyman Celebi, who is a Parliamentarian with the pro-Islamic ruling party of Erdogan (the AKP or Party of Justice and Development).

Several accusations have been leveled against the monastic community, including proselytism, which is based on the fact that young men study Eastern or Syrian Aramaic at the monastery. There are also claims that the monastery was built on a place where a mosque once stood -- an unfounded and even absurd accusation, given that Mor Gabriel well precedes the birth of Islam. The accusation that sticks -- at least in the eyes of Turkish officials -- is the one upheld by the Treasury Ministry: undue appropriation of land. Even this accusation is not very comprehensible, given that the community of Mor Gabriel regularly pays the taxes on the land in question.

The affair has recently met with, perhaps, its definitive conclusion. With a decision made public on Jan. 27 (but that actually dates to Dec. 7), the "Yargitay" or Ankara Court of Appeals -- Turkey's highest appeals court -- overturned a verdict issued on June 24, 2009, by the court of Midyat. According to the Yargitay decision reported by Forum 18 News Agency, 12 plots of monastery land with a total area of 99 hectares (244 acres) are to be considered "forests" and hence belong "ipso facto" to the Turkish state.

A farce

For Mor Gabriel, the decision is a hard blow. To lose the lands means to lose the means of sustenance necessary for survival. While sources close to the Forum 18 agency described the decision as "highly political and ideological," the whole affair was described from the beginning as "a spectacle trial" or "farce."

"The purpose of the threats and the lawsuit seems to be to repress this minority and expel it from Turkey, as if it were a foreign object," the head of the Aramaic Federation, David Gelen, told AsiaNews back in 2009. "Turkey must decide whether it wants to preserve a 1,600-year-old culture, or annihilate the last remains of a non-Muslim tradition. What is at stake is the multiculturalism that has always characterized this nation, since the time of the Ottoman Empire."

The decision caused little upheaval in European environments, with the exception of Germany, where several parties, including the Social Democratic fraction in the Bundestag (Lower Chamber) and even Die Linke (the Left), denounced it.
I followed the case for some time in 2009 (background here and follow the links), but it has been quiet for the last year and a half. Next stop, the European Court of Human Rights.

Christopher Rollston on Anson Rainey

CHRISTOPHER ROLLSTON has posted a tribute to Anson Rainey at the Rollston Epigraphy blog:
Among the Last of the Titans: Aspects of Professor Anson Rainey’s Life and Legacy (1930-2011)

20 February 2011

The contours of the life of Professor Anson Rainey are significant, well known, and well documented. He was a force of nature, and he was beloved, respected, revered, and (on occasion) feared. Within the field, he was a polymath. He was among the most capable and authoritative scholars of the Northwest Semitic languages. Indeed, he was as comfortable in Ugaritic, Phoenician, and Aramaic as he was in Old Hebrew. Moabite and Ammonite were subjects of great interest for him and he knew the preserved texts in these languages so very well. In addition, he was also a most capable scholar of Egyptian and Coptic. Moreover, he was also a formidable scholar in various fields and subfields of Assyriology, and his contributions to the Amarna Letters are substantive, diverse, and legion; arguably these are some of his most enduring contributions. Of course, among his greatest passions was historical geography, and it is my opinion that he had no peers in this field. Furthermore, he had also spent many seasons excavating, and he knew the archaeology of much of the ancient Near East so very well. Of course, in addition to his fluency in several European languages, he was also fluent in both modern Hebrew and also modern Arabic. I know of no one who was so capable in so many things. With his death, we are witnessing the loss of one of the last of the polymath “titans” of the field.

Read it all.

Background here.

Talmud conference at YU

A TALMUD CONFERENCE at Yeshiva University: Talmuda de-Eretz Yisrael: Archaeology and the Rabbis in Lat Antiquity. The dates are Sunday-Monday, March 27-28, 2011. Registration is now open.

Via Joseph I. Lauer's list.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Kerala Syriac manuscripts project

Project to trace and preserve Syrian X''ian texts in progress

Thrissur, Feb 20 (PTI) A project to trace, catalogue and digitise lost documents relating to religious practices, culture and heritage of Syrian Christians of Kerala has been launched by the Church in collaboration with some European universities and local historical research bodies.
"The main objective of the project is to unearth valuable 16th and 17th century documents in Syriac, which had either been vandalised or stashed away by Portuguese Missionaries in their quest for bringing the ancient Christian community of India under Papal dominance," Metropolitan Mar Aprem, Metropolitan of the Church of the East, told PTI.
As the initial result of the programme, a facsimile edition of a manuscript has been brought here after its original text was lost seven centuries ago.
According to local church historians and secular scholars, a large volume of literature concerning the Syrian Christian culture and heritage were destroyed by Portuguese Missionaries by burning after the historic Synod of Diamper, held at Udayamperoor near Kochi in 1599, which offered a last chance to non-Catholic denominations to fall in line.
The text, known as Nomocannon of Abdisho of Nisibis (Canon Law), was compiled by the Metropolitan of Nisbis and Armenia in 1291 AD. The prelate died in 1318 AD, he said.
The revived text was edited by Istva Prczel of the Central European University, Budapest, formerly researcher at the Oriental Institute, Tubingen University, Germany.

I've noted the same project here, with a background link leading to a number of earlier posts.

The King James Bible reconsidered

The King James Bible reconsidered

We are steeped in the idioms and phrases of the King James Version. On its 400th anniversary, David Edgar questions how revolutionary it really was
[in the Guardian]
Celebrants of this year's anniversary have enjoyed pointing out the ironies of the translation: that it was commissioned to mollify the losing faction at a religious conference; that far from "inventing the language", it was written in archaic prose; and – most surprising of all – that it was made not by an individual genius but by six largely anonymous committees. But its authorship is much broader than the 53 clerics and one lay scholar who were selected to do James I's bidding in 1604. Most of the memorable Biblical phrases listed above were coined not in the hallowed cloisters of Oxford colleges or in the sepulchral calm of the Jerusalem Chamber but on the run. Five of the seven major English Bibles of the 16th century were produced in exile; two of their makers died at the stake. Each new Bible was the manifesto of a faction in the religious wars that revolutionised Tudor England, each subsequent Bible a revision and many a riposte. The full, 80-year-plus history of the English Bible is the story of the English reformation; it is spattered with blood and scorched with fire.
Lots of interesting background information on the earlier translations by Tyndale and others, used heavily by the King James version.