Saturday, December 31, 2011

A new geniza on the Silk Road?

A NEW GENIZA on the Silk Road?
Scholarly world abuzz over Jewish scrolls find
12/31/2011 17:24

Ch. 2: If authenticated, historical find in Afghanistan may be on par with Cairo’s Geniza

The Jewish scholarly world is abuzz over the discovery of ancient Jewish scrolls in a cave in Afghanistan’s Samangan province, Channel 2 reported on Friday.

According to Arab Affairs correspondent Ehud Yeari, if validated the scrolls may be the most significant historical finding in the Jewish world since that of the Cairo Geniza in the 19th century.

“We know today about a couple of findings,” Haggai Ben-Shammai, Professor Emeritus of Arabic Language and Literature at Hebrew University was quoted as saying. “In all, in my opinion, there are about 150 fragments. It may be the tip of the iceberg.”

The scrolls, which were part of a geniza, a burial site for sacred Jewish texts, date from around 1,000 years ago and are in Arabic, Judeo-Arabic and ancient Persian.

So far they have identified a dirge and "an unknown history of the ancient kingdom of Judea, passages from the book of Isaiah and some of the works of Rabbi Saadia Gaon, a medieval sage." Also rings inscribed with names in Hebrew.

It would be nice to find some Judeo-Arabic fragments of Jewish pseudepigrapha or Hekhalot literature. We'll see. But let's get past the "if authenticated" part before we get too excited. It sounds as though we may be dealing so far with fragments on the antiquities market rather than anything excavated in situ.

(HT Christopher Rollston on FB.)

Friday, December 30, 2011

Exciting news from the Temple Mount Sifiting Project

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Exciting news from the Temple Mount Sifting Project. Yesterday Dr. Gabriel Barkay presented a paper on a new discovery at a conference at Bar-Ilan University. The information comes from some recent excavations that are to be discussed in two journal articles by Barkay and some of the other project members. These articles are summarized in a post at the project's blog: Finds from the First and Second Temple Period city dumps at the Eastern slopes of the Temple Mount.

Briefly, a salvage operation at the area indicated uncovered important ancient garbage dumps and the material was turned over to the Temple Mount Sifting Project for analysis. They have processed many important artifacts from the dumps. These include a very early assemblage of pottery (10th-9th centuries BCE), which certainly seems to indicate that someone was doing something in this area of Jerusalem in the late Iron Age IIA, and an inscribed "lmlk" "fiscal bulla" from the the 8th/7th century BCE.

(Via Joseph I. Lauer.)

More on the Temple Mount Sifting Project here and many links. It is worth emphasizing that these latest artifacts come from a scientific excavation, not from the informal ravages of the Waqf on the Temple Mount.

News on the tomb of R. Shimon bar Yochai

A bridge too far? 'Priests-only' bridge at Mount Meron to be demolished after just seven months

300-meter long bridge to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai's tomb replaces the traditional Cohanim route after a Hassidic sect claimed it passed by ancient burial caves.

By Eli Ashkenazi

The "purity trail," the bridge built only seven months ago at the Tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai at Mount Meron in the Galilee, will soon be demolished. The bridge, designed for use by Cohanim, or descendents of the ancient Jewish priesthood who are not allowed to come into contact with the impurity of a grave, was constructed without the necessary permits - even though the state encouraged its construction and even committed to paying half the NIS 500,000 cost.


Some background on the site and the rabbi is here and links.

The Jerusalem clay seal as a currency exchange token

GEORGE ATHAS has a new interpretation of the inscribed clay object recently discovered in Jerusalem: A Currency Exchange Token? A New Take on the Recently Discovered Ancient Seal from Jerusalem.

The "Deutsch" referred to is Robert Deutsch. He outlines his theory and gives references on his Facebook Wall here.

(Via the Agade list. Background here.)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Politics, archaeology, and Jerusalem

POLITICS, ARCHAEOLOGY, AND JERUSALEM: Two editorials and an article today.

Bulldozing Jewish history: Op-ed: World should not allow Arab effort to deny Jewish connection to Jerusalem (Giulio Meotti, Excerpt:
Threatened by Arab countries, Israeli authorities just closed the Mughabri Bridge, preventing Jews and Christians from entering Temple Mount. Historically it should be noted that only under Israeli rule was the site open for everyone, Muslims, Christians and Jews. The Waqf is now attempting to deliberately destroy all archaeological evidence of Jewish claims to this site, while using terror and intimidation to impose its exclusive claim to Temple Mount.

The Waqf has removed every sign of ancient Jewish presence at the site. At the entrance, a Waqf sign says “The Al-Aqsa Mosque courtyard and everything in it is Islamic property.” Today Jews are barred from praying on the Mount and are not even allowed to carry any holy articles with them. With Muslim observers supervising visits, Israeli police have frequently arrested Jews for various violations, such as singing or reciting a prayer even in a whisper.

Repeated lies
This week, a Jewish woman was arrested following claims by police and Waqf officials that they noticed she was praying on Temple Mount. Why is it a crime for a Jew to mention God’s name on Temple Mount? And why is the State of Israel complicit in enforcing this anti-Semitic rule?

European autocrats and the global media are also trying to downplay the Jewish connection to the site. Jewish archeologist Gabi Barkai stated that “it’s a lie more terrible than the denial of the Holocaust, yet connected to it.” UN and EU funded textbooks in the Palestinian areas all repeat the canard denying any Jewish legitimacy in the “Noble Sanctuary.”
More on the Waqf's illicit excavations on the Temple Mount here and links.

Hamas Leader’s Tour Theme: Fight “Judaization” of Jerusalem Jonathan S. Tobin, Commentary Magazine). Excerpt:
The point here is not just that Hamas seeks to destroy the State of Israel but that it is also trying to eradicate Jewish history. Many conquerors in the past have attempted to strip Jerusalem of its Jewish identity, but the ancient capital of the Jewish state and Jewish life cannot be “Judaized.” Haniyeh claims he is trying to build support for embattled Muslims in the city but his listeners must know that the last 41 years of Israeli sovereignty over the city is the only time in its history when there has been full religious freedom there. His goal is to end that era and replace it with an Islamist reign of terror. To the extent that any shift in tactics on Hamas’ part causes the West to drop its designation of the organization as a terror group, they will be aiding his campaign against the peace of Jerusalem.
More on Hamas and the "Judaization" of Jerusalem here, here, and links. For the recently discovered clay seal mentioned in the article, see here.

Silwan residents blame right-wing group for collapse of tunnel near mosque (Nir Hassan, Haaretz). Excerpt:
A channel dug for archaeological excavations in Silwan partially collapsed on Monday near the village's mosque. Residents of the East Jerusalem neighborhood place the responsibility for the collapse on the Elad nonprofit organization and accuse Elad of endangering the mosque and nearby homes.

Elad manages the City of David National Park, which is in Silwan, and funds many of the archaeological excavations carried out in the area by the Israel Antiquities Authority.

There have been a number of collapses in the past in the neighborhood, and residents claim the reason is digs that are conducted carelessly. They also point out cracks in their homes they claim are a result of the excavations. "How is it that in the houses above the tunnels there are cracks?" asked Jawad Siam, the head of the information center in Silwan.

Elad says infrastructure problems and illegal construction are the cause of the cracks and some of the collapses.
More on Elad and its archaeological ventures here (immediately preceding post) and links . (Wrong link fixed now. Sorry about that.)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

An index for the Talmud

After 1,500 Years, an Index for the Talmud

Published: December 27, 2011

The Talmud is a considerable body of work: 63 volumes of rabbinical discourse and disputation that form Judaism’s central scripture after the Torah. It has been around for 1,500 years and is studied every day by tens of thousands of Jews. But trying to navigate through its coiling labyrinth can be enormously difficult because the one thing this monumental work lacks is a widely accepted and accessible index.

But now that breach has been filled, or so claims the publisher of HaMafteach, or the Key, a guide to the Talmud, available in English and Hebrew. It was compiled not by a white-bearded sage, but by a courtly, clean-shaven, tennis-playing immigration lawyer from the Bronx.

As the article notes, the Talmud has not gone entirely un-indexed in the twentieth century, but this new index sounds useful and the price is certainly right. I suppose the market for this sort of thing is relatively recent, since traditional Talmud scholars would have had at least much of the corpus memorized anyway.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Hanukkah and Piyyut (Part II)

THE TALMUD BLOG: Hanukkah and Piyyut (Part II) (Ophir Münz-Manor).

Part one is noted here.

Alaa released

Egyptian Blogger Released From Jail


Updated | 6:28 p.m. A prominent Egyptian activist and blogger, Alaa Abd El Fattah, was released from detention in Cairo on Sunday and went directly to Tahrir Square to join a protest against the country’s military rulers.

This is likely a tactical retreat by the Egyptian authorities, who have not dropped any more charges and would presumably be happy to re-arrest Alaa when attention dies down. But the world will continue to be watching.

Background here and here.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Temple-related epigraphic find

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: The IAA has just announced an important scientifically-excavated epigraphic find that likely pertains directly to the ritual life of the Herodian Temple. The fact that it happens to be announced on both Hanukkah and Christmas is, I'm sure, entirely coincidental. Here's the press release (via Joseph Lauer) at a temporary IAA URL:
Exposed- A Find Indicative of the Activity in the Temple

A first of its kind find, indicative of activity in the Temple, was recently discovered:
a tiny item that was probably used as a “voucher” certifying the ritual purity of an object or food in the Temple Mount compound and in the Second Temple

The discovery was presented at a press conference at which the Minister of Culture Limor Livnat and Minister of Education Gideon Sa'ar participated

Layers of soil covering the foundations of the Western Wall, c. 15 meters north of the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount, were excavated beneath Robinson’s Arch in archaeological excavations of the Israel Antiquities Authority in the Jerusalem Archaeological Garden. On top of these layers, dating to the first century CE (the late Second Temple period), was paved the Herodian street which was the main road of Jerusalem at that time. From the very start of the excavations in this area the archaeologists decided that all of the soil removed from there would be meticulously sifted (including wet-sifting and thorough sorting of the material remnants left in the sieve). This scientific measure is being done in cooperation with thousands of pupils in the Tzurim Valley National Park, and is underwritten by the Ir David Association. It was during the sieving process that a tiny object of fired clay, the size of a button (c. 2 centimeter in diameter) was discovered. The item is stamped with an Aramaic inscription consisting of two lines – in the upper line "דכא" and below it "ליה". "דכא" or "דכי" in Aramaic means pure. Following the preposition "ל" in the word "ליה" is the shortened form (two of the four letters) for the name of the G-d of Israel.

According to the excavation directors on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, archaeologists Eli Shukron of the IAA and Professor Ronny Reich of the University of Haifa, “The meaning of the inscription is “Pure for G-d”. It seems that the inscribed object was used to mark products or objects that were brought to the Temple, and it was imperative they be ritually pure. This stamped impression is probably the kind referred to in the Mishnah (Tractate Shekalim 5: 1-5) as a "חותם" (seal). To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time that such an object or anything similar to it was discovered in an archaeological excavation and it constitutes direct archaeological evidence of the activity on the Temple Mount and the workings of the Temple during the Second Temple period”.

Tractate Shekalim tells of the administration procedures on the Temple Mount in which our object was used, “Whoever required libations would go to Yohanan who was in charge of the stamps give him [the appropriate amount of] money and would receive a stamp from him in return. He would then go to Ahiyah who was in charge over the libations, give him the stamp and receive the libations from him”. There can be no doubt that this is a very exciting find.

The Mishnah also mentions in Tractate Shekalim, “There were four tokens in the Temple and on them were inscribed; calf, ram, kid and sinner [which were issued as a receipt to those who deposited the appropriate funds]. Ben Azzai says: There were five; and they were inscribed in Aramaic.” Our object does not belong to this group. It shows that not all of the details concerning the administration procedures of the Temple Mount have come to us by way of the rabbinic literature. Here an artifact from an archaeological excavation supplements our knowledge with a previously unknown detail.

It is in this context and the spirit of Hanukkah that the Jerusalem District Archaeologist, Dr. Yuval Baruch, mentioned, “It is written in the Gemara (Talmud Bavli, Tractate Shabbat Chapter 2: Page 21) that the only cruse of oil that was discovered in the Temple after the victory of the Maccabees over the Greeks, “lay with the seal of the High Priest” – that is: the seal indicated that the oil is pure and can be used in the Temple. Remember, this cruse of oil was the basis for the miracle of Hanukkah that managed to keep the menorah lit for eight days”.

In addition to this item, other artifacts dating to the Second Temple period were discovered. Some are even earlier and date to the time of the Hasmoneans, such as oil lamps, ceramic cooking pots and a fusiform juglet that may have contained oils and perfume, as well as coins of the Hasmonean kings, such as Alexander Jannaeus and John Hyrcanus.

Click on the link to download high resolution photographs:
Photographic credit - Vladimir Naykhin

Media coverage so far includes:

Haaretz: Israeli archaeologists uncover first artifact confirming written record of Temple worship

Jerusalem Post: Archaeologists discover Second Temple era seal

Arutz Sheva: Second Temple Era Seal Unveiled

Associated Press: Ancient seal found in Jerusalem linked to ritual

Merry Christmas!

MERRY CHRISTMAS to all those celebrating!

Posts of Christmas past are collected here.

Some recent Christmas posts and links:

Alin Suciu is Putting Together the Puzzle of a Christmas Story: A Coptic Document in Princeton and Its Related Fragments.

Likewise, I have noted recent coverage of the Syriac Revelation of the Magi here and here.

Over at the Bible Places blog, Todd Bolin collects Christmas-Related Posts.

The notion that the Christians pilfered the date of the pagan celebration of the birth of the Sun and assigned it to Jesus has been challenged in a recent dissertation by Steven Hijmans at the University of Groningen. Judith Weingarten summarizes the discussion at the Zenobia blog: Whose Christmas Is It Anyway? (Updated). And Dr. Hijmans summarizes his own case in an reprint of a 2003 article: "Sol Invictus, the Winter Solstice, and the Origins of Christmas", Mouseion, Number 47/3 (2003), 277-298 (via Rogue Classicism).

Finally, a little light relief for fans of Christmas and of Queen:

Via James McGrath and Mark Goodacre.

Oh, and also, this year's Hanukkah post collects a lot of historical links.

UPDATE: And here's a Christmas/Hanukkah present from the Israel Antiquities Authority: Temple-related epigraphic find (next post).

More blither from the Jordan Lead Codices FB page

FAKE METAL CODICES WATCH: It's been quiet on this front for some time, but now Daniel McClellan has a post responding to some of the latest blither from the Jordan Lead Codices Facebook page: In Response to David Elkington. And note also his earlier post, David Elkington Again on the Jordan Codices, based on a radio encounter with Elkington on Coast to Coast. I admire Daniel's patience.

Background, with endless links, here.

New novel: "The Temple Mount Code"

"THE TEMPLE MOUNT CODE," by Charles Brokaw (f): Linguistics expert Thomas Lourds heads to Jerusalem to decode an ancient manuscript that his friend is murdered over, and political leaders want to wage a global war.
I hate it when that happens.