Saturday, February 04, 2012

Torah scroll fraudster

THIS IS SAD. And strange. And annoying.
'Jewish Indiana Jones' faces jail for $1m fraud after lying about daring trips to save ancient Torah scrolls
  • Claimed he was 'beaten up, thrown in jail, and [went] $175,000 into debt' to rescue relics
  • Said he found priceless scroll at Auschwitz using metal detector
By Rebecca Seales (Daily Mail)

Last updated at 2:14 PM on 3rd February 2012

A Jewish charity founder who claimed he travelled the world as a 'Jewish Indiana Jones' to rescue holy scrolls has admitted he was a $1 million fraudster.

Menachem Youlus told the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, New York he lied about making risky trips to obtain vintage Torah scrolls in Europe and Israel for six years.

The texts are sacred to the Jewish faith, and followers believe they contain the rules that God intended mankind to live by.

Among the fantastical tales Youlus invented were detailed accounts of recovering Torah lost or hidden during the Holocaust, including at the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland and the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany.

Youlus, 50, who owns the Jewish Bookstore in Wheaton, Maryland, allegedly boasted that he had been 'beaten up, thrown in jail, and gone $175,000 into debt, to bring these holy scrolls out of less-than-friendly places, back to safety and a new life.'

The court heard he had fabricated various exploits between 2004 and 2010 in order to obtain funds from his Save a Torah charity and some of its contributors.

'I know what I did was wrong, and I deeply regret my conduct,' Youlus said yesterday.
One of Mr. Youlus's supposed exploits, this one in Iraq, was noted in PaleoJudaica here and here. At the time I commented on what seemed like a difficulty in the story. I never received any clarification about that matter and in light of recent events, it may have been a significant point. Apparently he did have a Torah scroll, but one may wonder whether it really came from Iraq. The specific episode is not mentioned in the Daily Mail article.

UPDATE (7 February): More here.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Golden Jubilee for Vermes, Dead Sea Scrolls in English

Emeritus Fellow Geza Vermes celebrates Dead Sea Scrolls golden jubilee

2 February 2012

Wolfson College was honoured to welcome Emeritus Fellow Geza Vermes and Penguin Books on 23rd January for the 50th Anniversary of the publication of his The Dead Sea Scrolls in English, which has sold an estimated half-a-million copies worldwide.

The article also reports that the latest version of this translation is set to go online with the Google/Shrine of the Book online publication of the Scrolls (on which see, e.g., here).

Biblioblog Carnival for February

THE BIBLIOBLOG CARNIVAL FEBRUARY 2012 has been posted by Amanda MacInnis at the Cheese-Wearing Theology blog.

CSSS Symposium XII November 10, 2012, plus Syriac SBL

The Canadian Society for Syriac Studies (CSSS) will hold its annual Symposium XII entitled Studies on Syriac Manuscripts: Texts, Illuminations, and Collections, on Saturday November 10, 2012, 9 am to 5 pm. The CSSS welcomes a limited number of speakers to present papers related to this theme. There will be no registration fee; however, participants are expected to cater for their own travel and accommodation. Those interested are requested to email us the topic title, an abstract, and a short biography.

Best wishes.

Board of Directors


Canadian Society for Syriac Studiers

Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations

University of Toronto

4 Bancroft Avenue

Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5S 1C1

Tel. 416-978-3184

FAX 416-978-3305
Posted on the Hugoye list.

And on a related note, Cornelia Horn flags another Syriac event: Call for Papers SBL Syriac Literature and Interpretations of Sacred. The call for papers for the November 2012 SBL meetings opens tomorrow. If you're in the SBL, I assume you will automatically get a message about it, but I'll post a link here anyway.

New book: Greengus, "Laws in the Bible and in Early Rabbinic Collections"

NEW BOOK from Wipf and Stock:
Laws in the Bible and in Early Rabbinic Collections
The Legal Legacy of the Ancient Near East

By Samuel Greengus

Book Description

The remarkable discovery of ancient Near Eastern law collections or "codes," beginning with the Laws of Hammurabi and followed by many other collections in decades following, opened a new window upon biblical law. This volume seeks to examine within a single study all of the biblical laws that are similar in content with ancient Near Eastern laws from Sumer, Babylonia, Assyria, and Hatti. The book also examines a small but important group of early rabbinic laws from postbiblical times that exhibit significant similarities with laws found in the ancient Near Eastern collections or "codes." This later group of laws, although absent from the Bible, are nevertheless of comparable antiquity. The presentation focuses on the actual law statements preserved in these ancient law "codes." The discussion then adds narratives, records, and reports of legal actions from ancient sources outside the laws-all of which relate to the formal law statements. The discourse is non-polemical in tone and does not seek to revisit all theories and interpretations. The format allows readers, including those who are new to the subject of biblical law, to engage the primary sources on their own.
(Via the Agade list.)

Bad news for Classicists

CONSTANTINA KATSARI: Redundancies at the Foundation of the Hellenic World.

Possibly cross-file under "Higher Education Bubble," although this sounds more like a side effect of the Greek economic disaster in general.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Etrogs in an ancient garden at Ramat Rachel

POLLEN from a Persian-Period garden has yielded up some surprises:
Jerusalem dig uncovers earliest evidence of local cultivation of etrogs

Pollen reveals ancient palace grew the citrus in its garden.

By Zafrir Rinat (Haaretz)

Tags: Jerusalem Israel archeology Tel Aviv University

The earliest evidence of local cultivation of three of the Sukkot holiday's traditional "four species" has been found at the most ancient royal royal garden ever discovered in Israel.

The garden, at Kibbutz Ramat Rachel in Jerusalem, gave up its secrets through remnants of pollen found in the plaster of its walls.


Then, Lipschits said, he and his colleagues had a "wild thought": If plasterers had worked on the garden walls in springtime, when flowers were blooming, breezes would have carried the pollen to the walls, where it would have become embedded in the plaster.

Enlisting the aid of Tel Aviv University archaeobotanist Dr. Daphne Langot, they carefully peeled away layers of the plaster, revealing pollen from a number of plant species.

Most of the plants were wild, but in one layer of plaster, apparently from the Persian period (the era of the Jewish return from the Babylonian exile in 538 B.C.E. ) they found pollen from ornamental species and fruit trees, some of which came from distant lands.

The find that most excited the scholars was pollen from etrogs, or citrons, a fruit that originated in India. This is the earliest botanical evidence of citrons in the country.


Coptic incantation texts online

ALIN SUCIU has found yet another venerable Coptic resource online: A. Kropp, Ausgewählte koptische Zaubertexte.

The Coptic magical texts draw on a great many Jewish traditions. You can find lots of them in English translation in Marvin Meyer and Richard Smith (eds.) Ancient Christian Magic: Coptic Texts of Ritual Power.

Google and the Dead Sea Scrolls

LINA BROYDO visits the Dead Sea Scrolls online with Google and on site in Israel: Google Offers Stroll Through Dead Sea Scrolls (The Epoch Times). The Discovery Times Square exhibition is also mentioned in passing, but not reviewed.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Speaking of replicas of archaeology sites ...

Blooming Prairie couple design, build cave for Vatican.

Posted: Jan 31, 2012, 10:10 am
By John Weiss
The Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

BLOOMING PRAIRIE — Once the 800-square-foot cave replica was shipped to the Vatican, Chris and Linda Beech were able to take a deep breath and get back to their usual jobs of writing computer games.

But there was no peace during the month the Blooming Prairie couple worked up to 16 hours a day in a local garage to fashion a replica of a cave where the famed Dead Sea Scrolls were found.

Okay, maybe I could have made this one up, but it's still pretty odd.

Ancient language composition

ADAM MCCOLLUM has a post on Translating into and composing in ancient languages at the hmmlorientalia blog.

Coptic apocrypha

ALIN SUCIU: P. Lacau, Fragments d’apocryphes coptes. Downloadable as a pdf file. They include apocryphal gospels (?), the Acts of Pilate, and an Apocalypse of Bartholomew.

Herod's Tomb again

TODD BOLEN is skeptical of the Haaretz report on the proposed reconstruction of Herod's Tomb: Reconstruction of Herod’s Tomb Criticized. Excerpt:
Whether or not a monument that helps the public to visualize the tomb (and thus increases visits to the site) is a good thing or not can be debated. Haaretz misleads, however, in suggesting that there is a widespread movement among archaeologists against a plastic model. A more accurate headline would be: “Two archaeologists condemn Israeli plan to rebuild ancient tomb.”
Background here.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

New Book: Dimant (ed.), "The Dead Sea Scrolls in Scholarly Perspective"

NEW BOOK from Brill:
The Dead Sea Scrolls in Scholarly Perspective: A History of Research

Edited by Devorah Dimant

The volume consists of 27 surveys of research into the Dead Sea Scrolls in the past 60 years, written by 26 authors. An innovation of the volume is that it covers Qumran scholarship in separate countries: the USA, Canada, Israel, France, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, Italy and the Eastern bloc. Each essay also carries a detailed bibliography for the respective country. Biographies of all the major scholars active in the field are briefly given as well. This book thereby exhaustively surveys past and present Qumran research, outlining its particular development in various circumstances and national contexts. For the first time, perspectives and information not recorded in any other publication are highlighted.

Afghan manuscripts update

THE AFGHAN JEWISH MANUSCRIPTS are mentioned briefly in a Reuters article on another Afghan antiquity: Germany returns two millennia old Afghan sculpture. The relevant passage:
Ancient Jewish scrolls, which [Omara Khan] Massoudi [the director of Afghanistan's National Museum] confirmed were recently smuggled out, are currently being kept by private dealers in London.
This is the first confirmation I have seen from an Afghan official that the manuscripts come from Afghanistan. Assuming, of course, that he was understood and cited correctly.

Background here.

Cuts in Hebrew at Temple U

Hebrew major cut deserves a fair compromise

January 30, 2012 by Donald Hopkins
Filed under Commentary, Opinion, (The Temple News)

PMHopkins argues that while the decision to cut Hebrew as a major is logical, the non-tenured track position is still necessary.

This year, many of the interdisciplinary programs have fallen to the wayside, in the wake of budget cuts and student apathy toward certain academic subjects. Recently, Temple administration announced its intentions to eliminate the Hebrew major effective Fall 2012 and consolidate it within the Jewish studies major. Furthermore, the administration plans to eliminate the only non-tenured track position for Hebrew – occupied by Dr. Ayala Guy. Temple has justified this consolidation as part of a larger trend to save money as well as a response to lack of student interest.

Two questions have to be addressed, when considering whether this elimination and consolidation of the Hebrew major is a good idea for the university and its’ student body. First, is there a benefit to Hebrew existing outside the Jewish studies program as a separate major? Second, is the plan to eliminate the only stable teaching position for the Hebrew language, conducive to the study of language?

The authorities at Temple do seem to be trying to think this through and not just make random cuts to meet a budget. As long as these cuts have been preceded by, say, the cutting of two administrative posts, I would say they are reasonable.

Ostromir Gospels added to UNESCO’s Memory of the World Program

Old Russian book part of Memory of the World

Tags: Russia, World, UNESCO World Heritage , Commentary, Culture, Gospel
Olga Bugrova

Jan 30, 2012 17:11 Moscow Time

The Ostromir Gospels, the second oldest dated East Slavic book, has been included in UNESCO’s Memory of the World Programme, an international initiative launched to preserve the documentary heritage of humanity. The Voice of Russia’s Olga Bugrova reports.

The Ostromir Gospels was written in Church Slavonic in 1057 for St.Sofia’s Cathedral in Veliky Novgorod. The book was created by deacon Gregory for his patron, Posadnik Ostromir, possibly as a gift for the monastery. Though classified as the first Russian book, in fact, it isn’t. The Novgorod Psalm Book discovered in 2000 was written several decades earlier. It consists of four wooden plates covered in wax with the text scribbled over it with a sharpened stick. Researchers have yet to establish the exact date of the Novgorod Psalm Book.

The Ostromir Gospels has survived in good condition, which makes the manuscript still more valuable. All 294 sheets covered with large Church Slavonic characters used for solemn occasions have been preserved in full. The book is richly studded with miniatures and gems. At present, the monument is kept at the Russian National Library in St.Petersburg. Alexei Alekseev, who heads the Library’s manuscript department, comments:

"The original is stored in a special case. Each sheet is stored separately with special paper inserted between the sheets. We take it out when it needs airing. In the near future, we plan to post a digital copy of the manuscript on our website so that it could be accessible to all people interested in Russian history."


Book review: Hidary, "Dispute for the Sake of Heaven"

Richard Hidary. Dispute for the Sake of Heaven: Legal Pluralism in the Talmud. Providence Brown Judaic Studies, 2010. xii + 441 pp.
$65.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-930675-77-3.

Reviewed by David Levine (Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion, Jerusalem)
Published on H-Judaic (January, 2012)
Commissioned by Jason Kalman
This is a knowledgeable and broad-minded study, and Hidary brings a variety of skills to his research. Philological technique is coupled with literary sensitivity throughout the book, and textual analyses and their resultant conclusions are placed within theoretical
considerations of legal pluralism. Historical contextualization plays a prominent role in the conclusion when explanations are considered for the differing approaches of the Talmudim. In the spirit of Hillel's _u'dela mosif yesuf_ (Avot 1:13: "One who does not add, will meet his end"), I will offer a few thoughts and responses to some of
the points made.

Monday, January 30, 2012

A list of biblical verses cited in the Talmud

MICHAEL SATLOW and his team have compiled a list of all the biblical verses cited in the Babylonian Talmud. Like the new index of the Talmud, this a resource that will undoubtedly be very useful. For details see his recent post at the Talmud Blog: One pesuk, two pesuk, three pesukim more…- Guest Post by Michael Satlow.

Review of Roberge, "The Paraphrase of Shem"

The Paraphrase of Shem (NH VII,1): Introduction, Translation and Commentary
Roberge, Michel

Leiden: Brill, 2010 pp. xii + 192. $122.00

Series Information
Nag Hammadi and Manichaean Studies, 72

Description: This book presents the first comprehensive interpretation of the Paraphrase of Shem, Codex VII,1 in the Coptic Nag Hammadi Library. The lenghty introduction discusses the literary genre of the treatise, its plan and system, its situation among the Gnostic systems, its provenance and date. The translation sets out the text in paragraphs, with headings and subheadings. A short commentary follows the translation. The analysis of the system shows that the author is working from a model of the universe, whose principles have been drawn from Stoicism and Middle Platonism. While dipping into the springs of the major Sethian and Valentinian systems, the author follows his own way and offers an original system, anticipating in many respects Manichaeism.

Nag Hammadi and Gnostic, Literature

Review by James F. McGrath

Sunday, January 29, 2012

A Herod's Tomb theme park?

Top archeologists condemn Israeli plan to rebuild ancient tomb

The plan, promoted by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the Gush Etzion Regional Council, includes rebuilding the tomb of Herod the Great in West Bank.

By Nir Hasson (Haaretz) Tags: West Bank Jerusalem Israel archeology

An unusual plan to rebuild the tomb of Herod the Great at the Herodium site, southeast of Jerusalem, has spurred opposition on the part of top archeologists.

The plan, which is being promoted by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the Gush Etzion Regional Council, includes building a lavish mausoleum in its original size out of light plastic material, and turning it into a visitor’s center. The plan is the first of its kind in the realm of Israeli archeological digs, as most sites consist of either miniaturized or renovated historical sites that use the original materials found at the site.

Well it couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

Best quote in the article: "'It’s crazy - Archeology is not Disneyland,' said one top archeologist who asked to remain anonymous."

Background on Herod's tomb (if that's what it is) is here and links.

UPDATE (1 February): Todd Bolin comments skeptically on the report.

Tur Abdin

Exploring the Tur Abdin a forgotten treasure of southeastern Turkey

29 January 2012 / PAT YALE , MARDİN (Sunday's Zaman)

Imagine a landscape of narrow country roads hemmed in by dry stone walls. Imagine village after honey-colored village, each with its church tower punctuating the skyline.

Imagine golden-stoned houses blending softly into the scenery. The cotswolds in the UK? No, believe it or not this is a description of the Tur Abdin, the strangely named area immediately around Midyat in Turkey that was, until recently, off-limits to visitors because of the troubles in the Southeast.

Tur Abdin sounds as if it should be the name of a tour company bringing visitors to the area, but actually it just means “Mountain of the Servants,” a name that extends way back to the pre-Roman era. The name is actually a bit of an oddity since although the land is undoubtedly high in relationship to its surroundings most visitors will think it hilly rather than mountainous. Mostly you will find yourself roaming around a lofty plateau that was once the local heart of Syriac (Suryani) Orthodoxy, a form of Christianity believed to have evolved from that taught by St. Peter in Antioch (Antakya) in the first century.

In the fourth century monasticism was introduced to the area, and at one time there were so many monasteries here that some writers called it “the Mount Athos of the East.” Today, however, a mere 5,000 Syriac Orthodox Christians are thought to live in Turkey compared with, say, 80,000 in Sweden. Most of them speak Turoyo, a variation of the Aramaic believed to have been spoken by Jesus.

That is, a very late and developed dialact of an Anatolian branch of Aramaic, not directly related to the first-century Galilean dialect that Jesus spoke.

Fellowships and grants

SOME FUNDING OPPORTUNITIES for various relevant areas of research are gathered below. Click on the links for further details for each.


Within the European Research Council Advanced Grant 2011 "FOUNDMED. Foundations in medieval societies. Cross-cultural comparisons" there are three open positions for postdoctoral research fellows to be filled at the Department of History of Humboldt-University, Berlin (TV-L HU 13, 100 %, approx. EUR 2.000 net./month) to run from June 1, 2012 initially for five years.

reference number DR/007/12
Job description: research services within the framework of the ERC Advanced Grant 2011 “FOUNDMED. Foundations in medieval societies. Cross-cultural comparisons” for the field of Jewish Studies / Medieval Jewish History; collaboration in an intercultural comparative study of foundations in the premodern era; tasks to upgrade one’s academic qualifications

Requirements: (preferably above-average) graduate and doctoral degree in the field of Jewish Studies / Medieval Jewish History; willingness to work in Berlin; good command of Hebrew and English, at least passive command of German; willingness to collaborate with scholars from four other academic disciplines in preparing an “Encyclopedia of Premodern Foundations” based on intercultural comparative research; knowledge of the history of foundations is an advantage but not a requirement
The other two ERC fellowships mentioned above are in Byzantine studies and Islamic/Middle Eastern studies.

The Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations of Yale University invites applications for support of publication of texts and studies in Judeo-Arabic Literature of the Karaite Sect.


In its efforts to promote education, Gorgias Press offers annually the Gorgias Book Grant. This program offers outstanding graduate students grants in the form of Gorgias Press publications. Grants consist of books in the value of $500.00 per grant. Each year, two grants are distributed.

2011-2012 Grant Field: Any field within the scope of Gorgias Publications
Application Deadline: February 29, 2012
Grant Date: April 2012