Saturday, May 21, 2011

Review of Juifs et chrétiens en Arabie aux Ve et VIe siècles

Joëlle Beaucamp, Françoise Briquel-Chatonnet, Christian Julien Robin (ed.), Juifs et chrétiens en Arabie aux Ve et VIe siècles: regards croisés sur les sources: [actes du colloque de novembre 2008]. Monographies, 32. Paris: Association des amis du Centre d'histoire et civilisation de Byzance, 2010. Pp. 302. ISBN 9782916716237. €30.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Hagith Sivan, The University of Kansas (

Far away from the centers of Roman and Sasanid power and from the raging doctrinal debates of early sixth century, the historian of late antiquity runs into an astonishing phenomenon. In a bizarre twist of Byzantine-Persian rivalry and of post-Chalcedonian controversies, an unforeseen light is shed on the emergence of southern Arabia as contested political, commercial and theological arena. The region, Himyar (roughly present day Yemen), was strategically critical to the trading interests of both empires. The major local players were the rulers of Himyar and their neighbors across the Red Sea, the rulers of Axum (present day Ethiopia). In the late fourth century the Himyarite ruling house apparently converted to Judaism. A century later the Axumites annexed Himyar to their kingdom. In 522, when the chronology of Himyarite events suddenly acquires precision, prince Yusuf revolted again the Axumite overlords of Himyar. His first priority was to secure the coastal region. In the course of his operations he besieged the town of Najran, setting on fire its church and its clergy (523). The Axumite king, Caleb, invading Himyar, defeated Yusuf and executed the Jewish inhabitants of the kingdom.

The events of 522-523 received extraordinary coverage. We have sources in Syriac, Greek, Geez, Sabean, Arabic, Armenian, Georgian, Hebrew, Aramaic, some with Chalcedonian bias, others reflecting the views of miaphysites, yet more with a Nestorian twist. Virtually all the sources display one striking feature in common, namely anti-Judaism.

English readers have had opportunities for familiarizing themselves with Himyarite events largely through the efforts of Irfan Shahîd. In addition, K. A. Kitchen has published a Bibliographical Catalogue of Texts in the series Documents for Ancient Arabia.

In the last two decades French scholarship on the south Arabian peninsula in general and on Yemen in particular has undergone a veritable renaissance. A scholarly team headed by the editors of the volume under review created a series devoted to the editing, commentary, and analysis of major sources relating to the Najran episode. The first volume dealt with the text known as “The Martyrdom of Saint Arethas and his Companions,” and appeared in 2007. The second, based on a 2008 conference, is a collection of articles, under review here, designed to highlight further research on the sources. Two more are in preparation. Both Beaucamp and Robin have already published important studies elsewhere. In 2009 alone two other related books appeared, one by Iwona Gajda on the kingdom of Himyar in its monotheistic phase, the other a volume of essays edited by Robin and Jeremie Schiettecatte on the historicity of the narrative sources in light of Axumite and Himyarite inscriptions.


Review of "Footnote" in Salon

FOOTNOTE is a success at Cannes and gets a good review in Salon, even though the reviewer is under the erroneous impression that philology is "unsexy," apparently due to issues with his father. Go figure.
Cannes: The Talmud scholarship comedy of the year!

A deadpan Israeli comedy about dueling father-son professors, "Footnote" is an unexpected hit at Cannes
Another review is noted here.

Lag B'Omer

LAG B'OMER (the Counting of the Omer) is celebrated beginning this evening at sundown (unless pre-empted by the Rapture, which doesn't look likely now). Best wishes to all those celebrating.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Review of Ulmer, Egyptian Cultural Icons in Midrash

Rivka Ulmer. Egyptian Cultural Icons in Midrash. Berlin: Walter De Gruyter, 2009. Illustrations. vi + 404 pp. $155.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-3-11-022392-7.

Reviewed by Marc Bregman (University of North Carolina at Greensboro)
Published on H-Judaic (May, 2011)
Commissioned by Jason Kalman

Egypt through Rabbinic Eyes

This book is a collection of ten interrelated essays, with numerous figures, color plates, and tables of motifs, by the prolific scholar of rabbinic literature, Rivka Ulmer, utilizing her additional expertise in Egyptology, art history, and cultural theory. A number of the essays that have been published previously are here revised, updated, and integrated into a monograph on the significance of Egypt, as a cultural icon, in rabbinic texts. The concept of “cultural icon” is best explained in the introduction to chapter 7, “Cleopatra, Isis and Serapis”: “For the purpose of this chapter a cultural icon is understood to be a representative of a particular culture or a famous individual that emerged to signify this culture to a sizable segment of the known world of antiquity, the Roman provinces and even Non-Roman territories” (p. 215).


Adin Steinsaltz interviewed in Tablet

ADIN STEINSALTZ is interviewed in Tablet Magazine:
Found in Translation

Scholar Adin Steinsaltz discusses his recently completed edition of the Talmud, why the Internet is better than TV, and the prospect of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and Elvis playing cards together
Background on his Talmud translation is here and follow the links.

Cargill on the latest on the fake metal codices

FAKE METAL CODICES WATCH: Speaking of Media Fails, I didn't have the heart to discuss this latest nonsense puff-piece on the Elkingtons, but Robert Cargill has it covered: i just threw up in my mouth: on david elkington and the lead codices.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Media Fail: "Egyptologist" accused of antiquities smuggling

Retired U.S. Academic Is Arrested in Israel on Suspicion of Antiquities Trafficking

By Matthew Kalman (Chronicle of Higher Education)


A retired American college lecturer has been arrested in Israel on suspicion of trafficking in stolen antiquities and attempting to smuggle them out of the country.

John L. Lund, 70, a motivational speaker, author, and tour guide, was detained late Monday by Israeli customs and antiquities agents as he prepared to board a plane at Ben Gurion Airport. Mr. Lund is an expert on Egyptian history, is the author of How to Hug a Porcupine: Dealing With Toxic and Difficult to Love Personalities, and, according to his Web site, has lectured in history as an adjunct faculty member at universities in California, Idaho, Utah, and Washington.

A search of his belongings revealed a stash of ancient silver and bronze coins that he was attempting to take out of Israel without a permit, as well as $20,000 and other evidence from the illegal sales of ancient coins, clay oil lamps, and glass and pottery vessels, said a statement from the Israel Antiquities Authority. Mr. Lund had been acting as a guide to two groups touring Israel.

One of the items retrieved by officials was a rare Roman lamp bearing an incised decoration of a seven-branched menorah. Such items are not permitted to be taken abroad without an export license from the antiquities agency.

Mr. Lund was allowed to leave Israel after posting a bond of $7,500. Israeli police expect to file charges in the near future.

Dr. Lund claims to be innocent, and the courts will have to sort this one out. But I find the case itself less interesting than the press reports about Dr. Lund's credentials. Here's what I could find with a little Googling.

Here is his profile at the Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum. Credentials:
... He is a popular speaker and author of many books, cd's and dvd's. His most recent book is, Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon, Is This the Place?.

He holds Bachelor's degrees in sociology and education from Brigham Young University, a Master's Degree in Educational Psychology from the University of Washington in Seattle and a Doctor of Education from Brigham Young University. Because of his emphasis in research, he also completed the equivalent of a Doctoral Minor in Statistics.
His own personal description is here and goes into somewhat more detail but adds nothing relevant.

The Deseret Book website has a list of 15 of his books for sale. They are all popular works, mostly in the self-help category. None of them has anything to do with Egyptology.

He is a motivational speaker, tour guide, and author of self-help and religious books. There's nothing wrong with any of those things, but an Egyptologist they do not make. If he has a doctorate in history, he's keeping it well hidden. Apparently he has taught at adjunct level somewhere and so counts as a retired "academic" or "professor," but if some institution let him teach ancient history, I'm not impressed with their recruiting standards.

I am no Egyptologist, but I'm more of one than he is. At least I have actually studied an ancient Egyptian language (Coptic) and have taught ancient Near Eastern history and mythology at the tertiary level.

The Chronicle of Higher Education report above details his background pretty well, but then spoils it with the howler "Mr. Lund is an expert on Egyptian history." Many of the media reports do no better and some are worse.

JTA: U.S. professor arrested for trafficking stolen antiquities. The article refers to him as "[a] retired history professor."

The Media Line: American Professor Caught Trafficking Antiquities in Israel; "[a]n American history professor."

Art Daily has an innocuous headline (An Attempt to Smuggle Hundreds of Stolen Antiquities from Israel was Thwarted) but describes Mr. Lund as "a retired university lecturer with a Ph. D in history from the United States."

Ynet News: US professor suspected of selling stolen artifacts; "[a] history professor from the US."

Then it gets even better:

Jerusalem Post: Egyptologist suspected of smuggling artifacts from Israel; " a former history lecturer specializing in Ancient Egypt."

Likewise Arutz Sheva: US Egyptologist's Attempt to Smuggle Stolen Antiquities Thwarted; "an American tour guide, a retired American university lecturer and expert on Egyptian history and culture."

To be fair, we don't find this nonsense this time with some media, including the major outlets:

Haaretz gets credit for getting it about right: U.S. tour guide arrested for antiquities trafficking.

CNN does all right as well: American arrested over alleged antiquities smuggling in Israel. Description: "a retired American university lecturer." Note that Mr. Lund had not been identified by name at this point.

The AP (Fox News, CBS, WaPo) likewise: Israel accuses US man of antiquities trafficking; "a retired U.S. lecturer."

I am not picking on Dr. Lund, nor am I pre-judging the outcome of this case. He is what he is and, as far as I can tell, he himself doesn't claim otherwise. My problem is with the media, much of which is simply incapable of judging academic credentials. Even Haaretz and the major media did not express themselves clearly by saying that he is a retired adjunct lecturer in areas that have nothing to do with ancient history. (The adjunct status is relevant: although many adjuncts are fully credentialed, publishing scholars, many are also non-academics teaching a course here and there. Dr. Lund clearly falls in the latter category.)

With Dr. Lund and, recently, with Mr. Elkington, it has become obvious that the media could not identify an Egyptologist if one rose up from an alabaster coffin in front of them. Once again, Media Fail.

UPDATE: At Rogue Classicism, David Meadows reaches the same conclusion about this story: Journalists Just Aren’t Trying Any More.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

VMBA: Virtual Magic Bowl Archive

The aim of VMBA is to provide an environment that will allow collaborative work on material that is otherwise difficult to access or unavailable. The material within this archive consists, at this stage, of parts of three collections: The Moussaieff Collection, The Dehays Collection and The Barakat Collection. By providing access to this material to a number of scholars and their students we aim to encourage the production of critical editions of these texts and their publication. A single portal providing access to a shared virtual environment where this can occur provides a convenient forum for collaboration between a small group of scholars from different institutions spread in a number of countries.
(Via AWOL.)

Updates on the Valmadonna and Schneerson Judaica collections

THE SALE OF THE VALMADONNA LIBRARY of Judaica has fallen through:
Treasured Judaica Library, Feared Lost, Is Back On the Market

By Paul Berger
(The Forward)
Published May 04, 2011, issue of May 20, 2011.

One of the world’s largest and most valuable private Judaica libraries is up for sale, again.

To the consternation of Judaeophiles and scholarly libraries around the world, public access to the Valmadonna Trust Library — or even knowledge of its whereabouts — was feared to have been lost last December, with the selection of an anonymous buyer in a sealed bid auction conducted by Sotheby’s. Scholars braced for the potential breakup or disappearance of an unparalleled assemblage of rare and historic Jewish books and an incalculable loss to Western culture. Libraries rued its loss, perhaps forever, as a potential acquisition.

But the sale of the collection, the Forward has learned, never went through.

“It’s sitting a few feet from me right now,” said David Redden, a Sotheby’s vice-chairman, in an April 29 interview. Redden, who led the sale in New York, said that an anonymous bidder had met or exceeded the $25 million minimum set by the library’s trustees. But Jack Lunzer, who amassed the collection, told the Forward that the trustees had aborted the sale because the buyer failed to meet two stipulations for purchase: that the library be kept whole and be made available to scholars.

The library has been sitting in Sotheby’s New York offices ever since.


The centerpiece of his library is a 16th-century Babylonian Talmud that was coaxed out of the collection of Westminster Abbey, where it had lain for about 400 years. The Talmud was published by Daniel Bomberg, a Christian printer who was the first to publish a complete edition. The Abbey refused repeated attempts by Lunzer over a period of 25 years to buy the books. In 1980, Lunzer spotted an opening: A New York collector needed to unload the original charter of Westminster Abbey. Lunzer bought the charter and used it as a bargaining chip to persuade, some might say blackmail, the Abbey into letting the Talmud go.

(HT Gerald Rosenberg.)

Previous posts on the Valmadonna Library sale are here, here, here, and here.

Tangentially related topic: U.S. looking at Chabad-Russia feud over texts (JTA). The dispute between Chabad and Russia over the Schneerson Collection has now led to US exhibition cancellations and is attracting the interest of the State Department. Background on that is here.

Part of State Comptroller's report on Temple Mount released

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Part of that suppressed State Comptroller's report on the Waqf and the Temple Mount has been released. From Haaretz:
'Waqf Temple Mount excavation damaged archaeological relics'

State Comptroller's report finds that the Muslim religious trust carried out works without permits and used heavy equipment damaging the Jerusalem holy site.

By Nir Hasson

Tags: Israel news Temple Mount Jerusalem Israel archeology Jerusalem Old City

* Published 18:52 17.05.11
* Latest update 18:52 17.05.11

In his annual report, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss found many shortcomings in the supervision of works carried out by the Waqf Muslim religious trust at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, saying that as a result, important archaeological artifacts had been damaged.

The majority of the State Comptrollers opinion is being kept confidential, as per the decision of the State Control Committee. According to the State Comptroller's report, this is "In order to guarantee state security and to prevent damaging Israel's international relations, in accordance with article 17 of the state comptroller's law."

The only section of the opinion that was made public was the conclusion, which says that supervision of the works that the Waqf carried out at the Temple Mount, particularly in the structure known as Solomon's Stables, was problematic. ...
The released text of the report follows.

Background here.

iGematria App

GEMATRIA — There's an app for that: iGematria App Unlocks Ancient Hebrew Numerology System.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Lecture on Qur'anic apocalyptic and the Aramaic Gospels tradition

LECTURE at the Middle East History and Theory Workshop at the University of Chicago:
Dr. Emran El Badawi

Thursday, May 19, 12:00–1:30, Pick 218
Stages of the Apocalypse in the Qur’ān and the Aramaic Gospels Traditions
(HT Abu 'l-Rayhan Al-Biruni.)

New book: Steven D. Fraade, Legal Fictions

Steven D. Fraade, Legal Fictions: Studies of Law and Narrative in the Discursive Worlds of Ancient Jewish Sectarians and Sages (Brill)

Ancient Jewish writings combine interpretive narratives of Israel’s sacred history with legal prescriptions for a divinely ordered way of life. Two ancient Jewish societies have left us extensive textual corpora preserving interpenetrating legal and narrative interpretive teachings: the sectarian community of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the sage-disciple circles of the early Rabbis. This book comprises studies that explore specific aspects of the interplay of interpretative, narrative, and legal rhetoric with an eye to pedagogic function and social formation for each of these communities … read moreand for both of them in comparison. It addresses questions of how best to approach these writings for purposes of historical retrieval and reconstruction by recognizing the inseparability of literary-rhetorical textual analysis and a non-reductive historiography.

Aramaic DNA Project

ARAMAIC WATCH: There's an Aramaic DNA Project:
A. INTRODUCTION The Aramaic DNA Project hopes to bring together all Aramaic (also known as Modern or Neo-Aramaic) speaking people and people of Aramaic-speaking heritage of the world. For 3000 years, and despite unrelenting strife of every conceivable sort, the Aramaic language has steadfastly retained a continuous presence in the region known as the Fertile Crescent.

The people who retained a form of the Aramaic language as their mother tongue offer a tremendous opportunity to catch a glimpse many centuries, and perhaps even millennia, into the past. The testing of DNA, specifically one's mtDNA and Y-DNA, is ideally suited for discovering one’s deep ancestral roots. This is because mtDNA and Y-DNA remain more or less unchanged for thousands of years. If we wish to understand the origins of the Aramaic-speaking people, it is imperative to undertake this task now. The growing diasporic aspect of many, if not all, Aramaic-speaking communities is at the root of this urgency. If this project were not undertaken, or pursued with sufficient zeal, we may forever squander our ability to peer, with least obstruction, back to the dawn of our civilization.

The Aramaic DNA Project aims to answer questions of interest to Aramaic-speakers regarding their recent and distant origins. It will also delve into the relationships between the different Aramaic-speaking groups with ancestral origins from different geographical regions including, but by no means limited to: Diyarbakir, Hakkari, Harput, Mardin, Mosul, Salamas, Seert, Urfa, Urmia, Tur Abdin, and Zakho.

The Project, in remaining true to standard scientific practices, as well as FTDNA’s terms of agreement, will remain objective and has no affiliations whatsoever. We encourage all Aramaic-speaking people and people of Aramaic-speaking heritage to join our Project regardless of self-designation including, but not limited to: Aramaeans, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Syrians, Ancient Syrians, and Syriacs. People of Aramaic-speaking heritage who have lost usage of the language due to assimilation are encouraged to join. All participants will be offered the option to identify by their preferred self-designation.

The Project is open to all religious affiliations and not limited to Christian communities. We welcome, with open hearts, Aramaic-speakers among the Jewish and Mandaean communities, and Aramaic-speakers from other religious affiliations. All Aramaic-speakers will be classified according to their self-designation into the appropriate haplogroup categories. We sincerely hope all Aramaic-speaking people tested at Family Tree DNA will consider participating in this very special endeavor. The administrators are more than happy to discuss any questions pertaining to the project. Please refer to our contact details above. Yours truly, Paul Givargidze Jean Fathi Nenos Birko

Monday, May 16, 2011

Thomas Verenna on the fake metal codices

FAKE METAL CODICES WATCH: Thomas Verenna has published an excellent article over at Bible and Interpretation about the metal codices and how they have been handled by the media and bibliobloggers:
Artifacts and the Media: Lead Codices and the Public Portrayal of History

More scandalous is the complete lack of journalistic integrity, honest research, and thorough fact-checking. These codices might never have been heard of if the authors of the reports for BBC and Fox News (among others) had just checked with the academic community before publishing the “find”. At the very least, the journalists might have used less authoritative language, expressed more caution, and exposed the controversy rather than simply stating, as if doing so made it fact, that these codices were “the earliest Christian texts” and that they held “early images of Jesus.”
As Tom concludes, "Perhaps blogging isn’t enough; but it is something."

Background here and just keep following those links.

BMCR reviews

Jordan D. Rosenblum, Food and Identity in Early Rabbinic Judaism. Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010. Pp. xiv, 223. ISBN 9780521195980. $85.00.

Reviewed by Matthew Kraus, University of Cincinnati (


Planning a dinner party for scholars of food, Classics and rabbinics would present a formidable challenge for any chef. Jordan Rosenblum assumes this task in Food and Identity in Rabbinic Judaism, a respectable attempt to serve fare both edible and satisfying to all. By examining the Tannaim's innovative adaptation of Jewish and non-Jewish customs, Rosenblum claims to develop a methodology for cross-cultural and trans-historical food studies. Rosenblum demonstrates how tannaitic texts establish a discrete rabbinic identity through the discursive construction of culinary and commensal practices. This essential thesis is not difficult to swallow, but it should be noted that the size of the portions vary. The rabbinics scholar has the most to digest, albeit abundantly seasoned with contemporary food theory. Classicists might enjoy the tastes, but will depart still hungry.


Anders-Christian Jacobsen, Jörg Ulrich, David Brakke (ed.), Critique and Apologetics: Jews, Christians, and Pagans in Antiquity. Early Christianity in the Context of Antiquity 4. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2009. Pp. 327. ISBN 9783631580110. $64.95.

Reviewed by Danielle Slootjes, Radboud University Nijmegen (

The volume under review presents the results of a conference, held in 2007, which marked the final stages of a larger research project at the University of Aarhus in Denmark that had started in 2000, called ‘Jews, Christians and Pagans in Antiquity – Critique and Apologetics’. This project examined the dialogues and conflicts between religious groups in the period between circa 100 B.C. and A.D. 500 in order to acquire a deeper understanding of apologetic literature (whereby they also included those texts that traditionally might not have been regarded as apologetic). The project has taken three phases into account: the pre-Constantine epoch, the Constantinian revolution, and the post-Constantinian era. The thirteen contributions in the volume focus for the most part on issues that deal with the concept and genre of the apologetics, as well as the writings that can be connected to these three phases.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Lexicon news

  • First, Lane's multi-volume Arabic-English Lexicon is now available online at the Perseus Digital Library. I have the set of bound volumes on my bookshelf, but it will be handy to have this for reference when I'm away from my office. (Via Abu 'l-Rayhan Al-Biruni.)

  • Second, a massive new dictionary of medieval Latin is being completed at Oxford University and is slated to be published online in 2014. Press release:
    Unique dictionary nears completion

    12 May 11

    A huge number of students ranging from linguists to those studying coins and family ancestry are benefiting from a 100 year project to compile the world’s most comprehensive dictionary of Medieval Latin.

    Work started on the unique Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources 50 years ago but experts began collecting material early in the 20th century.

    Now the initiative is nearing completion and Professor Tobias Reinhardt, Corpus Christi Professor of the Latin Language and Literature at Oxford University is responsible for seeing it through.

    “It will be an achievement of international importance, serving as a primary and essential reference volume to a very wide range of scholars, students, and interested members of the public,” Professor Reinhardt, who is based in the Faculty of Classics says. “Bringing it to completion in the current difficult funding environment will be a symbol of the resilience of the humanities in Britain.”

    The dictionary has drawn on the largest collection of literary and epigraphic sources of any similar project. Words used in Classical Latin and Late Latin – up to AD 600 – and the Middle Ages – from the sixth century to the 16th - are included. It details headwords – under which related entries appear – definitions, quotations and each word’s history. It follows the style of the Oxford English Dictionary.

    It is being used by students of philosophy, music, those studying names and even topography as well as language and literature students

    Entries range from words used in high literature to those common in day to day speech, many of which did not appear in text for hundreds of years.

    The dictionary also incorporates words from Greek, Celtic, Semitic, Germanic and Romance languages. “It is being used by students of philosophy, music, those studying names and even topography as well as language and literature students,” Professor Reinhardt adds.

    The dictionary is due be published fully online in 2014, a target he is confident will be met. The dictionary, which is a British Academy research project as well as a research project in the Faculty of Classics at Oxford, has recently won $800,000 from the Packard Humanities Institute enabling its completion.

    “People will be able to search for words online when they have an internet connection, using their iPhones and of course laptops. As a medieval Latin dictionary it is the leading publication in its field.”


PROFESSORS OF TALMUD are the central characters in the indie film Footnote:
CANNES REVIEW | “Footnote” Finds the Comedy in a Talmudic Feud

by Eric Kohn (Updated 23 hours, 31 minutes ago) []

Israeli writer-director Joseph Cedar’s last feature, the Oscar-nominated “Beaufort,” was a tense war movie about the 2000 South Lebanon conflict. His latest effort, “Footnote,” involves a much more personal war, in which the opposing sides are a father and his grown son. In Cedar’s dark comic fable, bookish eccentrics pit their egos against each other on a shrewdly composed battlefield where the only potential casualty is self-esteem.

Cedar’s screenplay follows a tale two of Shkolniks: The aging Eliezer (Israeli comic Shlomo Bar Aba), a veteran Talmud professor at Hebrew University, and his middle-aged son Uriel (Lior Ashkenazi), a more established researcher in the same field. From the first scene, Eliezer sulks in his son’s shadow, as the younger Skolnick accepts an award while his father watches from the audience. Cedar quickly explains the context with an introductory bit that surveys both of their backgrounds, aided by words on the screen and a deadpan voiceover seemingly imported from Woody Allenville. Like Allen’s best creations, Eliezer and Uriel harbor neuroses that run deep.