Saturday, January 28, 2012

NPR interviews Talmud indexer

DANIEL RETTER is interviewed by NPR about his new index of the Babylonian Talmud: A Lawyer, Not A Sage, Creates Talmud Index. Excerpt from the transcript:
RETTER: Well, it was a seven-year labor of love. The methodology involved was the idea of being able to find entries or topics. And once we had the entries or the topics, we would build on them and have subentries and subtopics. And once we had all of those, then we would develop the sources or find the sources. So about seven - almost seven years ago, I decided that this was what was needed.

And my wife, Margie - who's a lawyer in her own right - said to me, Danny, one minute. You know, we're very traditional. The Talmud study's very traditional. The rabbis are very traditional. And I'm not so sure that you want to do something as revolutionary as this without getting the haskamah, or the approbations or the endorsements of the various rabbis throughout Israel, throughout America, throughout the world. And if you work for - on this for many, many years and you finish it and then it's not accepted for whatever reason, then you've really worked for nothing.

So taking her good advice, I worked for about two years, and we developed a template where we covered all of the various track dates, the 63 track dates. And then I basically went around the world, went to Israel, rather than went to America. And unlike the normal author who writes a book and then seeks endorsements, here was a situation where I just sketched out the basic idea, the basic plan with many, many examples, and then I went to the various rabbis, both rabbis - the Sephardic rabbis, the Ashkenazic rabbis, the Chassidish Rebbes, the Lithuanian scholars. And they not only were very much encouraging, but they said, Mr. Retter, or Daniel, do it quickly, because this is needed.
"Track dates" is, of course, an amusing error for "tractates."

Background on the Talmud index is here.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Ancient Wine

ANOTHER CRUCIAL CONTRIBUTION of ancient Israel to modern civilization: Ancient Wine.

Fun fact (unverified): "The Talmud describes 60 types of wines."

"Footnote" nominated for an Oscar

FOOTNOTE has been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Background on the film is here and links.

More murder at Nag Hammadi

NAG HAMMADI is back in the news; not, alas, for any new discoveries of Gnostic manuscripts: Two Copts Killed in Egypt For Refusing to Pay Extortion Money (AINA).

It seems that this is getting to be a dangerous place.

Background here.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

New issue of Hugoye

HUGOYE: JOURNAL OF SYRIAC STUDIES has just published a new issue (15.1). TOC:
Volume 15 (Winter 2012)

George A. Kiraz


Ktabe Mpassqe, Dismembered and Reconstituted Syriac and Christian Palestinian Aramaic Manuscripts: Some Examples, Ancient and Modern
Sebastian P. Brock, University of Oxford

A Tentative Checklist of Dated Syriac Manuscripts up to 1300
Sebastian P. Brock, University of Oxford

Syriac in Library Catalogues
J.F. Coakley, University of Cambridge

Corpora, eLibraries, and Databases: Locating Syriac Studies in the 21st Century
Kristian Heal, Brigham Young University

A Guide to Manuscripts of the Peshitta New Testament
Andreas Juckel, University of Münster


Recent Books on Syriac Topics
Sebastian P. Brock, University of Oxford

Book Reviews

Martin Heimgartner, Timotheos I, Ostsyrischer Patriarch: Disputation mit dem Kalifen al-Mahdi
Vittorio Berti, Theologisches Seminar, Universität Zürich

Patrik Hagman, The Asceticim of Isaac of Ninevah
Robert A. Kitchen, Knox-Metropolitan United Church

Françoise Petit, Lucas Van Rompay, Jos J.S. Weitenberg, eds., Eusèbe d'Émèse, Commentaire de la Genèse. Texte arménien de l'édition de Veise (1980), Fragments grecs et syriaques, avec traductions
Edward G. Mathews, Jr., Independent Scholar

Bernhard Maier, Semitic Studies in Victorian Britain. A Portrait of William Wright and his World through his Letters
Adam C. McCollum, Hill Museum and Manuscript Library

Barsawm, Ignatius Afrem I, Omid & Mardin Manuscripts
Andrew Palmer, University of Münster


Beth Mardutho Summer 2011 Internship Report

Manuscripts from Eastern Christian Traditions at SBL (2011)

International Syriac Language Project (2011)

16th International Conference on Patristic Studies

Sixth North American Syriac Symposium
And don't forget that this journal has a call for papers out, noted here.

Virtual Bible museum

THE BIBLE AND ARCHAEOLOGY - ONLINE MUSEUM is noted by Todd Bolen at the Bible Places blog. Lots of nice photos, and the captions seem pretty reasonable.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Afghan manuscripts update

THE AFGHAN JEWISH MANUSCRIPTS are treated in a JTA article by Ben Harris: Mystery swirls around Judaic manuscripts discovered in Afghanistan. It has some new information, or at least new rumors:
But that doesn't mean there aren't lots of colorful stories floating around. One story, which several of those involved had heard, involves a Russian-Jewish billionaire who supposedly had expressed interest in purchasing the manuscripts but had pulled out after his attorneys advised that he may run into legal difficulties. No one would divulge his name.

It “adds an element of mystique,” [antiquities dealer Lenny] Wolfe said. “I personally never spoke to any Russian oligarch. What I’ve heard is hearsay. I don’t trust hearsay.”

Menashe Goldelman, a London-based expert in Middle Eastern antiquities who has authored a 23-page report on the documents, told JTA that they emerged on the London market several months ago. Goldelman said he had been enlisted by a dealer to sell the documents on his behalf. At present, Goldelman said he was trying to broker an agreement with the various dealers to bring the collection together. Goldelman estimates their total value at about $5 million.

“They are not things that are stolen from an institution or found in a legal excavation,” Goldelman said. “At some point, everything that comes from the ground goes to the black market. The black market, this is the institution that helps to save this material. If something has, let’s say, commercial value, it gets saved. If you don’t have a commercial value for the manuscript, they go and put it in the fireplace.”

Goldelman's involvement may not reassure skittish buyers about their provenance. In 2010, two professors reportedly accused him of trafficking in stolen antiquities and protested his scheduled appearance at a conference in Israel. Goldelman's lawyer denied the accusations and threatened to sue for libel.

None of the experts who have spoken publicly on the matter of the Afghan documents appeared to be too troubled by unanswered questions about their origins, seeming to accept such things as the cost of doing business in ancient artifacts.

“What is important for us is that these fragments and documents don’t get buried again in some safe of a collector,” said Haggai Ben-Shammai, a professor of Arabic at Hebrew University and the academic director of Israel's National Library. Ben-Shammai said the library was searching for a donor who would acquire the manuscripts on its behalf.

“We don’t have the means to acquire them on our own,” Ben-Shammai said. “We need some assistance in this.”
I note that the number of texts is back down to 150. The number "200 or more" was suggested at one point. The current article raises the possibility of a Karaite connection for the manuscripts. And this is the first I've heard that "a few are probably older" than a thousand years. I wonder what that means.

This case illustrates the difficult choices scholars have to make in dealing with unprovenanced antiquities. On the one hand, we don't want to encourage looting. But on the other, it would be culpable negligence to ignore discoveries like this because they were not excavated in situ. I don't have a good solution.

Meanwhile, if you know of any philanthropists with a few million to spare, you might want to show them this article.

Background here and links.

New book: Hovhanessian (ed.), "The Canon of the Bible and the Apocrypha in the Churches of the East"

NEW BOOK on the Christian Orthodox biblical tradition from Peter Lang:
Hovhanessian, Vahan S. (ed.)

The Canon of the Bible and the Apocrypha in the Churches of the East

Series: Bible in the Christian Orthodox Tradition - Volume 2

Year of Publication: 2012

New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2012. VIII, 113 pp.
ISBN 978-1-4331-1035-1 hb.

Book synopsis

The Canon of the Bible and the Apocrypha in the Churches of the East features essays reflecting the latest scholarly research in the field of the canon of the Bible and related apocryphal books, with special attention given to the early Christian literature of Eastern churches. These essays study and examine issues and concepts related to the biblical canon as well as non-canonical books that circulated in the early centuries of Christianity among Christian and non-Christian communities, claiming to be authored by biblical characters, such as the prophets and kings of the Old Testament and the apostles of the New Testament.


Contents: Eugenia Scarvelis Constantinou: The Canon of Scripture in the Orthodox Church - Daniel Alberto Ayuch: The Prayer of Manasses: Orthodox Tradition and Modern Studies in Dialogue - Slavomír Céplö (bulbul): Testament of Solomon and Other Pseudepigraphical Material in Ahkam Sulayman (Judgment of Solomon) - Anushavan Tanielian: The Book of Wisdom of Solomon in the Armenian Church Literature and Liturgy - Nicolae Roddy: Visul Maicii Domnului («The Dream of the Mother of the Lord»): New Testament Romanian Amulet Text - Eugenia Scarvelis Constantinou: Banned from the Lectionary: Excluding the Apocalypse of John from the Orthodox New Testament Canon - Vahan S. Hovhanessian: New Testament Apocrypha and the Armenian Version of the Bible.
Noted by Vahan S. Hovhanessian at the Hugoye List.

Incidentally, Dr. Hovhanessian is a contributor to volume one of the More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project, now in press.

Some Coptic biblical fragments in Dublin

ALIN SUCIU: A Preliminary Report Concerning the Coptic Biblical Fragments in the Possession of the Trinity College in Dublin.

Errata list for Sokoloff's "A Syriac Lexicon"

THE NEW EDITION OF BROCKELMAN'S LEXICON SYRIACUM, edited by Michael Sokoloff and published by Gorgias press, has now produced a pdf document with corrections to first printing and orthographic variants. I noted the first printing of the Sokoloff edition in 2009 here. The current advert for the book is here.

This is an excellent way of circulating errata lists for complex works such as lexicons.

(HT Abu 'l-Rayhan Al-Biruni on FB.)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

More on the Afghan manuscripts

THE JEWISH MANUSCRIPTS FROM AFGHANISTAN are covered in a Reuters article that has some new details: Scholars intrigued by Afghan scrolls. Excerpt:
The cache is being kept by private antique dealers in London, who have been producing a trickle of new documents over the past two years, which is when Shaked believes they were found and pirated out of Afghanistan.

It is likely they belonged to Jewish merchants on the Silk Road running across Central Asia, said T. Michael Law, a British Academy postdoctoral fellow at Oxford University's Center for Hebrew and Jewish Studies.

Cultural authorities in Kabul had mixed reactions to the find, which scholars say is without a doubt from Afghanistan, arguing that the Judeo-Persian language used on the scrolls is similar to other Afghan Jewish manuscripts.

National Archives director Sakhi Muneer denied the find was Afghan, arguing that he would have seen it, while an adviser in the Culture Ministry said it "cannot be confirmed but it is entirely possible."

"A lot of old documents and sculptures are not brought to us but are sold elsewhere for 10 times the price" the ministry pays, said adviser Jalal Norani, explaining that excavators and ordinary people who stumble across finds sell them to middlemen who then auction them off in Iran, Pakistan and Europe.
As Mr. Norani notes, the looting is unfortunate. We can only hope that the site of origin can be located and excavated properly some day. But even if we are that lucky, much important context for the manuscripts will have been lost.

Still, and especially given the volatile politics of the region, we are lucky to have them at all.

HT Sue Homer on FB. Background here.


HEKHAL: The Irish Society for the Study of the Ancient Near East
HEKHAL was created by a group of four(*) Trinity College Dublin graduates who wish to promote research in the fields of ancient near eastern history and historiography, biblical studies, and archaeology with the long-term aim of increasing both academic and public understanding of the biblical and ancient near eastern world and its texts.

HEKHAL will strive to meet these aims through the organisation of events including conferences, seminars, lectures, workshops, web resources and the publication of annual conference proceedings. Although we are “The Irish Society for the Study of the Ancient Near East”, we are by no means restricting our membership or participation in the society to those residing in Ireland. If you’re out there and interested, you’re more than welcome to join us and participate in all events.

All upcoming events shall be announced on this website. The first thing we will be doing is hosting a series of afternoon seminars and lectures. If you are interested in attending or participating in any of these, please see the “Events” page of this website and know that we will be delighted to do all that we can to facilitate your participation.

(*Hekhal has acquired a fifth founder since parthenogenesis.)
Click through to the website for more.

Monday, January 23, 2012

New book: Townsend & Vidas, "Revelation, Literature, and Community in Late Antiquity"

NEW BOOK from Mohr Siebeck:
Revelation, Literature, and Community in Late Antiquity

Ed. by Philippa Townsend and Moulie Vidas

This volume stems from a conference held at Princeton University, which brought together leading scholars in the study of ancient religions. Claims to divine revelation are not simply a common trope in ancient religious texts: they often determine the structure of these texts and of the communities that produce them. The authors of the studies collected here examine the literary and social functions of revelation in late antiquity from early Christianity and rabbinic Judaism to early Islam, contributing both to our understanding of the phenomenon of revelation as well as to the study of the great transformations, interactions, and tensions typical of this important period. With contributions by: Pavlos Avlamis, Patricia Crone, Martha Himmelfarb, Eduard Iricinschi, Michael Pregill, Annette Reed, Daniel Schwartz, Gregory Shaw, Philippa Townsend, Christine Trevett, John Turner, Azzan Yadin, Yuhan Vevaina, Moulie Vidas
(Via Abu 'l-Rayhan Al-Biruni on FB.)

Latest on Talmud Blog Book Club

THE TALMUD BLOG BOOK CLUB has finished its discussion of its first book and has posted a response by the author. See the post Clearing out the Living Room. Next it will be discussing an article: Zvi Septimus’ “Trigger Words and Simultexts: The Experience of Reading the Bavli," now available as a pdf file in the post Updates Regarding the TBBC. The next book on their agenda is Talya Fishman, Becoming the People of the Talmud: Oral Torah as Written Tradition in Medieval Jewish Cultures, noted on PaleoJudaica recently here.

Wayne Stiles visits the Western Wall Tunnel

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Wayne Stiles reports on the Western Wall Tunnel:
Sights and Insights: Jerusalem down under

01/23/2012 11:09 (Jerusalem Post)

The Western Wall Tunnel allows visitors to explore the full length of the Kotel, seeing first-century Jerusalem.

Wayne Stiles is an author who has never recovered from his travels in Israel and loves to write about them from his desk in Texas.

Question: What major site in Jerusalem can a visitor see without wasting daylight but that still requires men to wear a hat? (Okay, so you could wear a yarmulke instead of a hat. And really, most men remove the hat after ten minutes anyway.)

Answer: The Western Wall tunnel.

When you say the words “Kotel” or “Western Wall,” most folks think of the Western Wall plaza, the place where bar- and bat-mitzvahs regularly occur and where soldiers are inducted. It’s the spot where Jews come to pray—as well as many tourists—and the place of national prayer gatherings.

But like the tip of an iceberg, the Western Wall plaza represents only a small part of the whole picture. Most of the Kotel lies buried beneath the rubble of time and hasn’t seen the light of day for centuries. Because the site represents part of the Western Wall, the tour requires all men to cover their heads respectfully.

I have collected some earlier posts on Jerusalem tunnels and caves at the end of this post.

UPDATE (24 January): Todd Bolen comments and shares some of his own photos.

Egyptian blogger update

EGYPTIAN BLOGGER Maikel Nabil Sanad has been "pardoned":
Egypt pardons jailed blogger as generals brace for anniversary protests

Maikel Nabil Sanad among almost 2,000 prisoners convicted by military tribunals over the past year who are set to be released

Jack Shenker in Cairo, Sunday 22 January 2012 11.57 GMT

An Egyptian blogger jailed by the military junta for insulting the army has been officially pardoned, as the country's ruling generals attempt to bolster public support before protests planned for the Wednesday's anniversary of the uprising.

Maikel Nabil Sanad, a 26-year-old Coptic Christian who became a cause celebre for activists opposed to the post-Mubarak military government, was among almost 2,000 prisoners convicted by military tribunals over the past year who are set to be released after an announcement by Egypt's de facto leader, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi.

Sanad was imprisoned in March over a blogpost titled "The army and the people were never one hand", inverting a popular Egyptian chant in support of the military.

He refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of the army court that convicted him and staged a high-profile hunger strike behind bars that saw him come close to death several times. He resisted efforts by the authorities to certify him insane and have him transferred to a secure psychiatric unit, and was designated a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International.

High time. He should not have been arrested in the first place. But maybe the new Egyptian Government is finally catching on that the world is watching.

Background here.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Dragons in the news

HERE BE DRAGONS is an entertaining survey of dragon mythology by Rouwen Lin in the Malaysia Star. Excerpts of interest:
The Sumerian and Babylonian dragon myths, symbolising the creation of order out of chaos, were the earliest to surface, with written records going back several thousand years BC.

“Their myth was of a dragon – symbolising chaos – being defeated by a god, who thereafter proceeded to create the world, largely out of parts of the dismembered dragon. The dragon in question was vast, ferocious, had a scaly body, horns and claws. These are also generally the features of later dragons,” says tropical marine biologist Peter Hogarth, who is retired, but was until recently a senior lecturer in Biology at the University of York, Britain.


In Beowulf, the earliest Germanic epic, and The Saga Of The Volsungs, a later Norse prose mythical saga based on early materials, the dragons show influence from the classical Roman and Greek dragon myths (which were in turn influenced by ancient Semitic, near-eastern and biblical dragon concepts). Also, the dragon-like creatures of Egyptian myths and in the most ancient sources in the Western European tradition do not have wings – “so one can say that Western dragons acquired their wings from the Asian myths,” he adds.

[Robert] Miller [II, S.F.O., associate professor of Old Testament at The Catholic University of America] points out that the biblical dragons are clearly derived from the ancient Near Eastern dragon myths of ancient Israel’s neighbours.

“There are many, many connections in the words used and images involved that show Israel knew the dragon myths of ancient Mesopotamia (Iraq) and the Canaanites (their neighbours in the Levant). Israel used these myths in different ways in the Bible; they either co-opted the dragon slaying myth of some other god or they demoted the dragon to an ordinary (if rather large) animal.”


“The Old Testament doesn’t have a devil with a pitchfork to symbolise evil; it has a dragon. The Bible says God ‘slew the dragon’ to articulate God’s total power over evil personified,” says Miller.

Evan adds: “The saint doing combat with the dragon symbolises the cosmic or spiritual battle of the divine forces of God against the demonic, diabolical, or satanic forces of evil. In the end, the biblical tradition says, the dragon Satan will be destroyed and all evil will be destroyed with it.”
Dragons figure prominently in some earlier PaleoJudaica posts here, here (the link to the Times article has rotted, sorry), here, here, here, and here.

Back story to "Rashi's Daughters"

THIS ARTICLE on Maggie Anton has some interesting background on the author and the genesis of the books:
Author of 'Rashi's Daughters' to speak, sign books in Savannah on Jan. 23

Posted: January 22, 2012 - 12:03am

By Linda Sickler (Savannah Morning Herald)

Author Maggie Anton’s gift is taking little-known women from history and fleshing them out into strong, vibrant characters.

The author of the “Rashi’s Daughters” trilogy will be in Savannah on Monday.

“I lecture about the research and history behind my novels and sign books and sell them, too,” Anton says.

Though geared toward Jewish women, her novels — “Joheved,” “Miriam” and “Rachel” — are growing in popularity among men and readers of all faiths.


Here's part of the story, but there's more:
“The teacher [of her Talmud class] pointed out that Rashi had no sons, only daughters, who were reputedly learned,” Anton said. “I became intrigued and decided to do research for the fun of it.”

She found the names of Rashi’s daughters and evidence they were highly educated. “I discovered that France and northern Europe were part of the 12th century renaissance and that it was an incredibly enlightened time throughout Europe and the Arab world. Women had much higher status and a higher place in society and were more active than I ever expected.”

The research intensified, and “it was as if something possessed me,” Anton said. “I don’t even remember deciding I was going to write about these three women.”

Starting in 1997, she finished her first draft in 2000. “My goal was to write a book I wanted to read.”

“By that point, people knew I was doing this, and quite a few wanted to read it,” Anton said.

But by 2004, her agent still hadn’t sold the first novel, so Anton and her husband decided to start a small press and publish it themselves.
Background here and links. And I have more posts on Rashi here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Not counting incidental mentions.