Saturday, March 05, 2011

Reimagining the Talmud in poetry


On Sidon's archaeological heritage

Sidon's rich archeological heritage has yet to be fully uncovered

By Mohammed Zaatari
Daily Star staff
Friday, March 04, 2011

SIDON: The southern coastal city of Sidon has many archeological sites that still await discovery, according to report prepared by a Lebanese archeological association.

The report, prepared by Dr. Sami Farhat, a member of the Lebanese Association for Heritage and Archeological Studies, revealed that besides the famous Phoenician Eshmoun temple which lies at the northern entrance of Sidon, a temple to the goddess Astarte is located in the southern part of the city.


Friday, March 04, 2011

Ancient Kabbalistic metal books? I doubt it.

Heavy metal secrets from a Mid-East cave
Israel’s archaeological establishment believes they are a fake. But could a collection of metal books be an early example of Kabbalah?

By Simon Rocker, March 3, 2011 (The Jewish Chronicle)

Robert Feather is out to prove the sceptics wrong. A metallurgist with a passion for archaeology, he has been asked to help authenticate what he believes could be one of the most exciting religious discoveries since the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The West London Synagogue member has previously published a book on the Copper Scroll, the Dead Sea Scroll thought to hold clues about the location of buried Temple treasure.Now he is trying to establish the origins of a mysterious cache of metal books which could be linked to the Kabbalah.

The objects belong to Hassan Saeda, a Bedouin farmer in Galilee who says they have been in his family's possession since his great-grandfather found them in a cave in Jordan, a century ago.

His collection consists of more than 20 codices (early books), cast mostly in lead and containing cryptic messages in Hebrew and Greek along with symbols such as the menorah. In various places, the Hebrew letters appear to stand for Bar Kochba, leader of the second-century Judean revolt against the Romans; and the talmudic mystic Shimon bar Yochai, who hid from the Romans in a cave for 13 years.

The IAA and epigrapher Andre Lemaire regard them to be forgeries, and apparently crude ones at that. But sure, go ahead and do more tests on them. It can't hurt. And post good photos of them online so epigraphers and textual specialists can evaluate them freely. I would be happy to be wrong, but the case so far does not sound promising.

As for this:
Institutions involved with antiquities tended to be "ultra-cautious", Mr Feather said, "because they have burned their fingers on previous occasions. A classic example is that of the Shapira strips."

Moses Shapira was a 19th-century antique dealer in Jerusalem who acquired some leather strips which he thought were early biblical writings. "Initially they were hailed as one of the greatest historical finds of all time," he said. "Subsequently the British Museum dismissed them as forgeries, largely because the text differed from the biblical version of the time. Shapira was so distraught that he blew his brains out in a hotel in Amsterdam," he said.

"When the first of the Dead Sea Scrolls was discovered in 1947, similarities to the Shapira texts made scholars reassess their conclusions. It is now generally accepted that the Shapira strips were probably the oldest known version of Deuteronomy."
I know of no specialist who regards the Shapira texts as anything but forgeries. See the 2009 comments by blogger-epigrapher Christopher Rollston here and this refutation of Allegro's attempt to reopen the question in the 1960s (requires JSTOR access).

UPDATE (22 March): More here and here.

Article on Secret Mark in BAR

NEW ARTICLE ON SECRET MARK by Allan Pantuck, also in BAR.

The Oxyrhynchus Papyri in BAR

THE OXYRHYNCHUS PAPYRY: The remarkable discovery you’ve probably never heard of — new article by Stephen J. Patterson in BAR. Excellent introductory treatment of the subject.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Zahi Hawass has resigned.

ZAHI HAWASS has resigned.

(HT Judith Weingarten on Facebook.)

UPDATE: More here, also via Judith.

New collection of inscriptions from Jerusalem

A NEW COLLECTION of inscriptions from Jerusalem:
Major Research Project Documents for First Time all Ancient Inscriptions from Jerusalem and Surrounding Area


JERUSALEM.- The first installment of a major international research project gathering all the inscriptions ever found in Israel and the Palestinian Authority from the period of Alexander the Great (4th century C.E) until Mohammed (beginning of the 7th century A.D.) has recently appeared. The Corpus Inscriptionum Iudaeae/Palestine (CIIP), as the collection is called, will eventually encompass nine volumes, and promises to become one of the most important tools of research into this period. The first volume of the collection includes more than 700 inscriptions from Jerusalem and surrounding areas up until the destruction of the Second Temple.


Pope: Jewish people must never again be blamed for crucifixion

POPE: Jewish people must never again be blamed for crucifixion (Catholic Herald).
The Pope takes a significant step forward in furthering the cause of inter-religious dialogue by explicitly exonerating the Jewish people from all blame for the Crucifixion and death of Jesus.

In his forthcoming book on Jesus, the Pope dedicates three pages to the famous passage in St Matthew’s Gospel in which “the Jews” demand the execution of Christ and shout to Pontius Pilate: “Let his blood be on us and on our children.”

He uses both scholarship and faith to explain that the mob does not represent the Jewish people, but sinful humanity in general.

Furthermore, he offers theological insights to say that the blood of Jesus is not used in the purposes of vengeance but is poured out to reconcile mankind to God.
This ground was covered already by Vatican II in the 1960s, but apparently this is the first time a Pope has explicitly stated this position.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Review of Boccaccini and Ibba, Enoch and the Mosaic Torah

Gabriele Boccaccini, Giovanni Ibba, eds. Enoch and the Mosaic Torah: The Evidence of Jubilees. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2009. xxi + 474 pp. $55.00 (paper), ISBN 978-0-8028-6409-3.

Reviewed by Carla Sulzbach (McGill University)
Published on H-Judaic (February, 2011)
Commissioned by Jason Kalman

Connections between Jubilees, 1 Enoch, and Qumran

The present volume contains the main papers of the Fourth Enoch Seminar, held in Camaldoli (Italy) in July 2007. Since its inception in 2001, every seminar has covered a specific aspect of or contact point with what has been coined “Enochic” Judaism. Although that notion is not without its critics, it is a useful term as a starting point for study and discussion, if only because the Enochic corpus is so large and interacts on so many levels with other Second Temple Jewish texts.


Tekhelet recovered?

Rediscovered, Ancient Color Is Reclaiming Israeli Interest

Published: February 27, 2011

RAMAT GAN, Israel — One of the mysteries that scholars have puzzled over for centuries is the exact shade of blue represented by “tekhelet,” which the Bible mentions as the color of ceremonial robes donned by high priests and ritual prayer tassels worn by the common Israelite.

Though scientists and scholars are still debating the exact shade of the ritual blue, the dye used is modeled after a 2,000-year-old textile, above, and is produced from sea snails found in Israeli waters.

What was known about tekhelet (pronounced t-CHELL-et) was that the Talmud said it was produced from the secretion of the sea snail, which is still found on Israeli beaches.

Traditional interpretations have characterized tekhelet as a pure blue, symbolic of the heavens so that Jews would remember God. Not so, according to an Israeli scholar who has a new analysis: tekhelet appears to have been closer to a bluish purple.

The scholar, Zvi C. Koren, a professor specializing in the analytical chemistry of ancient colorants, says he has identified the first known physical sample of tekhelet in a tiny, 2,000-year-old patch of dyed fabric recovered from Masada, King Herod’s Judean Desert fortress, later the site of a mass suicide by Jewish zealots after a long standoff against the Romans.

An earlier effort to recover tekhelet dye is also mentioned in the article and was noted here at PaleoJudaica in 2003.

UPDATE (2 February): A recent article in The Forward on the latter: Dyeing To Be Holy: Snails Make Tzitzit Blue Again. (HT Joseph Lauer and Gerald Rosenberg.)

Philo in postcolonial perspectives?

TORREY SELAND: Philo in postcolonial perspectives?

AWOL goodies

THE ANCIENT WORLD ONLINE (AWOL) BLOG currently has lots of goodies posted:

LSJ at TLG: The Liddell-Scott Jones Lexicon
I have an old edition of the LSJ as an app for my iPod Touch and I use it a lot (along with a similarly old edition of the Lewis and Short Latin lexicon). But this is the current, up-to-date edition and it's very useful to have it online.

Thesaurus Linguae Graecae (TLG®) Updates: Added to the TLG since early February 2010.

What's new in the E-CORPUS digital library
Arabic, Syriac, Georgian, and Hebrew manuscripts.

Mandaic Online: Mandaic and Neo-Mandaic Texts and Resource

Monday, February 28, 2011

SBL and AAR back together

THE SOCIETY OF BIBLICAL LITERATURE and the American Academy of Religion have made up and are back together. April DeConick is happy. So am I.

Some background to the split is here.

James McGrath reviews Forged by Bart Ehrman

JAMES MCGRATH reviews Forged, by Bart Ehrman, over at Exploring Our Matrix.

Learn About the 3 Punic Wars

PUNIC WATCH: N. S. Gill: Learn About the 3 Punic Wars.

Review of Dura Europos exhibit at McMullen Museum

THE DURA EUROPOS EXHIBITION at the McMullen Museum is reviewed in Wicked Local Dover:
Dura-Europos: A buried city unearthed

By Chris Bergeron

Posted Feb 25, 2011 @ 10:01 AM

Around 165 A.D., Christians, Jews and pagans lived and worshiped side by side in a cosmopolitan city called Dura-Europos by the Euphrates River on the frontier of the Roman Empire.
Located in modern-day Syria, it housed a Roman military garrison of more than 10,000 soldiers and civilians whose lives reflected the hopes and dangers of those uncertain times.
A couple exchanged an engagement ring engraved with the word “Omonoia,” or “concord.” Soldiers dallied in a brothel adorned with a statue of Aphrodite, the goddess of love. A man named Tiro sold a 28-year-old female slave Math-Sin for 700 denari, worth about two years of unskilled labor.
Then sacked by invading Sasanians and abandoned in 256, the city lay covered by earth and lost for 16 centuries.
Through serendipity and determined archaeology, the city has come alive again through a remarkable exhibition at the McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College.

I have already noted the exhibition here. Lots more links on Dura Europos are given here.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Review of new translation of hymns of Zoroaster

BOOK REVIEW by Marion James in Today's Zaman:

‘The Hymns of Zoroaster’


The general assessment of Zoroaster in Western general knowledge often depicts him as an ancient oriental guru -- the pre-history forerunner of modern Indian holy men. In his new translation of the sacred texts of Zoroastrianism, Oxford Professor M.L. West challenges this thinking by stating that Zoroaster was “a revolutionary religious thinker and leader who appeared from nowhere in a remote region of Central Asia at the very dawn of Iranian history.”


What remains today of the teachings of Zoroaster? The hymns (Gathas) and a liturgy in seven chapters (Yasna Haptanhaiti) were mainly composed before the third century B.C. Of the 21 volumes, only 14 remain and some of those are fragments. These poems are composed in a very archaic language -- the obscure Older Avesta. The existing available translations differ widely from one another: West maintains that this is because many have been done by pure linguists who have paid little attention to the religious aspects of the pronouncements and ignored the beliefs and interpretations of modern-day Zoroastrians.

So, in a groundbreaking new work, he presents us with a new translation that is eminently readable. “Translation is challenging,” he says, as there are very few examples of Older Avestan available to us today. Moreover, “understanding the meaning is challenging.”


“The Hymns of Zoroaster: A New Translation of the Most Ancient Sacred Texts of Iran,” by M.L. West, published by IB Tauris (2010), 15 pounds in paperback ISBN: 978-184885505-2

Review of new translation of Arrian's Alexander

BOOK REVIEW in Hellenic News of America:
The Campaigns of Alexander: Anabasis Alexandrou

Paths of Glory


The Campaigns of Alexander: Anabasis Alexandrou

Translated by Pamela Mensch

Edited by James Romm

Illustrated. 503 pp. Pantheon Books. $40.


Arrian's great work on Alexander's electrifying campaigns of Asian conquest is now the subject of “The Landmark Arrian,” the most recent volume in the much-praised Landmark series of annotated editions of Greek historians, this one skillfully edited by James Romm, a professor of classics at Bard College, and supplemented with a panoply of maps, illustrations and background essays by leading Alexander scholars. The addition of Arrian to the Landmark list represents a departure of sorts. The previously featured historians — Thucydides, Herodotus and Xenophon — lived in the great era of Greek city-states in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C.; by and large, they did their work by recording their own experiences or information related to them by others.

By contrast, Arrian lived in a radically different world, as an ethnic Greek and a Roman citizen, a military commander and high public official under the emperors Trajan and Hadrian, as well as a philosopher and leading literary light of his day; as a historian, Arrian sets out to describe events that took place 400 years before his own lifetime, based on a wide variety of earlier historical accounts, all now lost, written with widely differing aims, from the fabulous to the propagandistic. In this sense, Arrian is closer to modern historians than to his more famous precursors, “a noble predecessor and even, perhaps, a little bit of a model,” as it's put in “The Landmark Arrian.”


No wonder “attempting to reconstruct the historical Alexander is almost as problematic as trying to reconstruct the historical Jesus,” as Paul Cartledge writes in this volume's introduction. ...

DSS lecture by Alex Jassen at Gustavus Adolphus

A DEAD SEA SCROLLS LECTURE is being given by Alex Jassen at Gustavus Adolphus College on 10 March.