Saturday, June 23, 2012

SOTS Book List 2012

Deborah W. Rook (ed.) with the assistance of Holly Morse, Society for Old Testament Study Book List 2012 (London: Sage, 2012)

Reading the un-openable DSS

GOOGLE has a scholar working on reading the un-openable Dead Sea Scrolls:
Computer Science Professor to Become Visiting Research Scientist at Google Cultural Institute

Published: Jun 22, 2012 (University of Kentucky News)
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (June 22, 2012) — Brent Seales, director of the University of Kentucky Center for Visualization and Virtual Environments and Gill Professor in UK's Computer Science department will temporarily leave UK to accept a position as a visiting research scientist at the Google Cultural Institute. Specifically, Seales will be helping read the un-openable Dead Sea Scrolls through visualization. His role in this project will last for one year, which will be spent working in Paris.

Follow the link for a cool video on his digital reading of carbonized scrolls from Herculaneum. Past posts on Professor Seales's work on these scrolls, which appears to have met with some success since, are here and here. This is really cutting-edge stuff.

Background on the Google/Israel Museum Digital Dead Sea Scrolls Project is here and here and links.

Bit by bit, a letter at a time, whatever it takes. Until we're done.

Forthcoming book: Lapin, Rabbis as Romans

FORTHCOMING BOOK (release date 31 July):
Hayim Lapin, Rabbis as Romans: The Rabbinic Movement in Palestine, 100-400 CE (OUP)

Conventionally, the history of the rabbinic movement has been told as a distinctly intra-Jewish development, a response to the gaping need left by the tragic destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 CE. In Rabbis as Romans, Hayim Lapin reconfigures that history, drawing attention for the first time to the extent to which rabbis participated in and were the product of a Roman and late-antique political economy. Lapin discusses how rabbis as a group were relatively well off, literate Jewish men, a kind of sub-elite in most provinces of the Roman empire. That rabbis were deeply embedded in a wider Roman world is clear from their marriage choices, the rhetoric they used to describe their own group (often mirroring that used for Greek philosophical schools), their open embrace of Roman bathing habits, and their ambivalence towards theaters and public entertainments. Rabbis also form one of the most accessible and well-documented examples of a 'nativizing' traditionalist movement in a Roman province. It was a movement committed to articulating the social, ritual, and moral boundaries between an Israelite 'us' and everyone else. To attend seriously to the contradictory position of rabbis as both within and outside of a provincial cultural economy, says Lapin, is both to uncover the historical contingencies that shaped what later generations understood as simply Judaism and to reexamine in a new light the cultural work of Roman provincialization itself.

Friday, June 22, 2012

DNA and the Queen of Sheba?

Queen of Sheba's gift? Evidence of genetic mixing
Genome study ties Ethiopia to Syria, Israel and other lands outside of Africa

By Stephanie Pappas (MSNBC)
updated 6/21/2012 2:50:25 PM ET

The Queen of Sheba's genetic legacy may live on in Ethiopia, according to new research that finds evidence of long-ago genetic mixing between Ethiopian populations and Syrian and Israeli people.

The Queen of Sheba, known in Ethiopia as Makeda, is mentioned in both the Bible and the Quran. The Bible discusses diplomatic relations between this monarch and King Solomon of Israel, but Ethiopian tradition holds that their relationship went deeper: Makeda's son, Menelik I, the first emperor of Ethiopia, is said to be Solomon's offspring.

Whether this tale is true or not, new evidence reveals close links between Ethiopia and groups outside of Africa. Some Ethiopians have 40 percent to 50 percent of their genomes that match more closely with populations outside of Africa than those within, while the rest of the genomes more closely match African populations, said study researcher Toomas Kivisild of the University of Cambridge.

"We calculated genetic distances and found that these non-African regions of the genome are closest to the populations in Egypt, Israel and Syria," Kivislid said in a statement.


Tracing the genomic changes, the researchers found that the non-African and African genes first mingled about 3,000 years ago rather than during more recent times, the researchers reported Thursday in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

That timeline confirms what linguistic studies have suggested about links between the Middle East and Ethiopia during this time period, the researchers wrote. It also matches records and tales of the reign of the Queen of Sheba from about 1005 to 955 B.C., when trade routes were established and a royal son, perhaps, was born. Relations between the Horn of Africa and the Middle East would continue for centuries.

The genetic evidence is interesting, but hardly surprising. There would have been some trade between the two regions and you know how it is with traveling salesmen. But evidence of interbreeding between the populations of Ethiopia and Israel/Syria doesn't exactly count as proof, or even evidence, of a romantic liaison between Solomon and the Queen of Sheba as narrated in the thousand-year-old Ethiopian national epic, the Kebra Negast. True, the article doesn't quite say it does, but it also neglects to mention the very late date of the Ethiopian traditions, and the nonspecialist reader will likely come away with that impression.

Follow the "Kebra Negast" link above for many background links on the Queen of Sheba.

This is a new one

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS: The Dead Sea Scrolls as inspiration for an interior design editorial?

New book: Segal, Sinning in the Hebrew Bible

A NEW BOOK BY ALAN SEGAL is being published posthumously by Columbia University Press:
Columbia University Press is pleased to announce the publication of Sinning in the Hebrew Bible: How the Worst Stories Speak for Its Truth by Alan F. Segal.

"Segal's posthumous book displays in abundance his life-long reputation as a superb teacher. Using the lens of doublets-parallel stories scattered throughout the biblical narrative-Segal guides the reader through the thickets of biblical history and a century of biblical scholarship. This book is an excellent guide for all students who wish to penetrate beneath the surface of the biblical text to discover the events and narratives that shaped our sacred Scriptures."
-Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky, Jewish Theological Seminary, author of Sage Tales: Wisdom and Wonder from the Rabbis of the Talmud

§ Segal taught two of Barnard's most popular courses: "Life After Death" and "Introduction to the Hebrew Bible."
§ Segal introduces readers to key concepts of biblical study in clear easy to understand language
§ Uses the Bible's seedier stories of rape, concubines, and human sacrifice to show what they reveal about the society of the time and why they were important to the narrator
§ Discusses archaeological research to date biblical events
§ Especially useful for church or synagogue study groups that embracing critical readings

Stories of rape, murder, adultery, and conquest raise crucial issues in the Hebrew Bible, and their interpretation helps societies form their religious and moral beliefs. From the sacrifice of Isaac to the adultery of David, narratives of sin engender vivid analysis and debate, powering the myths that form the basis of the religious covenant, or the relationship between a people and their God.

Rereading these stories in their different forms and varying contexts, Alan F. Segal demonstrates the significance of sinning throughout history and today. Drawing on literary and historical theory, as well as research in the social sciences, he explores the motivation for creating sin stories, their prevalence in the Hebrew Bible, and their possible meaning to Israelite readers and listeners. After introducing the basics of his approach and outlining several hermeneutical concepts, Segal conducts seven linked studies of specific narratives, using character and text to clarify problematic terms such as "myth," "typology," and "orality." Following the reappearance and reinterpretation of these narratives in later compositions, he proves their lasting power in the mythology of Israel and the encapsulation of universal, perennially relevant themes. Segal ultimately positions the Hebrew Bible as a foundational moral text and a history book, offering uncommon insights into the dating of biblical events and the intentions of biblical authors.

Alan F. Segal (1945-2011) was professor of religion and Ingeborg Rennert Professor of Jewish Studies at Barnard College, Columbia University. He is the author of a number of books, including Life After Death: A History of the Afterlife in Western Religion, Paul the Convert: The Apostolate and Apostasy of Saul of Pharisee, and Rebecca's Children: Judaism and Christianity in the Roman World.

To view the table of contents, or find out more about this work go to:

If you would like a review copy, please hit reply or e-mail your mailing address.

With best wishes,
Meredith Howard

Meredith Howard
Publicity Director
Columbia University Press
phone: 212-459-0600, ext 7126
fax: 212-459-3677
61 West 62nd St.
New York, NY 10023

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Tomb raiders, Modi'in, and the Copper Scroll

Tomb robbers, ancient tunnels and a cryptic Dead Sea Scroll bring drama to a sleepy suburb
Antiquities theft is on the rise around the quiet commuter town of Modi’in

By Matti Friedman June 21, 2012, 9:08 am 1 (The Times of Israel)

Before dawn on June 6, the members of a small squad from the Israel Antiquities Authority rappelled to the bottom of an ancient well, crawled through a narrow entrance into a 2,000-year-old horizontal tunnel and surprised two men scouring the passageway for artifacts.

The men, Palestinians from the West Bank, were cornered. They gave themselves up without a fight.

The incident followed another arrest, this one in February, by Antiquities Authority officers of five illegal diggers hiding in a cave in the same area — part of a notable rise in activity by antiquities thieves in the hills around Modi’in, a burgeoning but sleepy commuter city of 80,000 known more for clean parks than for ancient artifacts and tomb raiders.

“There is no doubt that we have seen an increase in the number of antiquities sites being damaged in the Modi’in area,” said Shai Bar-Tura, an officer with the Antiquities Authority unit that combats theft.

Suggested reasons for the increase include the construction of the West Bank security barrier in other areas once popular with antiquities thieves; a greater public awareness of the wealth of archaeological finds in the hills near Modi’in, which are full of the remains of 2,000-year-old villages and warrens of escape tunnels dating to the Jewish revolts against Rome; and even — perhaps fancifully — a connection to a mysterious treasure map in one of the most cryptic of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

And that treasure map is, of course, the Copper Scroll:
Others have offered a more colorful explanation for the interest in the area, and particularly in Haruba itself.

Haruba is a name that appears in one of the strangest of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Copper Scroll — a long list of directions, hammered in Hebrew letters on copper, to places where gold and valuable vessels lie buried. Many scholars believe the Copper Scroll is a guide to the location of Temple treasures hidden around the time of the Temple’s destruction in 70 CE.

“In Haruba, which is in the Valley of Achor,” reads the scroll, discovered at Qumran in 1952, “beneath the steps that enter to the east, 40 lath cubits: a chest of silver and its vessels. Weight: 17 talents.”

The cryptic scroll lists other locations where treasure is buried, including “in the residence of the queen, on the west side,” 12 cubits underground, and “in the pit that is next to the eastern gate at a distance of 15 cubits.”

Haruba near Modiin indeed appears to be a popular site for antiquities thieves, but archaeologists tend to agree that the site has nothing to do with the Haruba of the Copper Scroll — the scroll appears quite clearly to list locations in and around Jerusalem and the Judean Desert, not near Modiin. And some scholars believe the sentence doesn’t refer to a site called “Haruba” at all, but should properly be translated, “In the ruins of the Valley of Achor.”
This article covers a lot of ground, both literally and metaphorically, and I encourage you to read it all. An earlier post on possible Copper Scroll-inspired looting at Modi'in is here. Another fairly recent post on Modi'in is here.

Cross-file under "Busted!"

Review of Arbel, Forming Femininty in Antiquity

Vita Daphna Arbel. Forming Femininity in Antiquity: Eve, Gender, and Ideologies in the Greek Life of Adam and Eve. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. 256 pp. $74.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-19-983777-9.

Reviewed by Nancy Klancher (University of Pittsburgh)
Published on H-Judaic (June, 2012)
Commissioned by Jason Kalman

Metonymic Eve: As Eve Fares, So Fare All Women?

In her new reading of the Greek Life of Adam and Eve (GLAE), Vita Daphna Arbel redeploys the study of literary antecedents and tradition histories in the service of a Bakhtinian-feminist analysis of the GLAE’s literary and ideological “multivocality,” “reading against the grain.” She defines her subject as “the multiplicity of voices, cultural traditions, and countertraditions that seem to be embedded in the GLAE framework and their relations to power, ideological stances, and gender conceptualizations” (p. 7). In so doing, she moves beyond the long-standing scholarly prioritizing of theological readings of the GLAE, and in particular of the figure of Eve. She instead focuses our attention on the diverse and contradictory representations of Eve that coincide in this complex text and their relationship to “specific theological traditions, exegetical views, as well as gender ideologies and cultural norms of the time” (p. 113).


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

More on the beauty of Moses

JARED CALAWAY: The Beauty of Moses according to Josephus.

Background here.

"Georgian Script" Summer School

ALIN SUCIU: Kartvelological Summer School “Georgian Script” (July 17-26, 2012, Tbilisi). Not mentioned in the post, but lots of Old Testament Pseudepigrapha were translated into Old Georgian.

Steinstaltz receives Presidential Award


Photo by: Mark Neimann
Rabbi Steinsaltz Receives Presidential Award (

Last night, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, a Lubavitcher known for his phenomenal translation of the Talmud into Hebrew received the Presidential Award of Distinction from Israeli President Shimon Peres for his extraordinary and unique donation to the Jewish world and heritage.
Follow the link for more photographs of the event.

Background on the award is here. Background on the Steinsaltz Talmud is here with many links.

True Blood and blood libel

HAS TRUE BLOOD invoked the Jewish blood-libel myth?

UPDATE: Shockingly, it seems they also got the "Aramaic" wrong.

Gold hoards in the news

TWO GOLD HOARDS RECENTLY DISCOVERED IN ISRAEL are featured in a nice National Geographic pictorial: Pictures: "Emergency" Gold Treasures Found in Holy Land.

Background on the Bar Kokhba-era hoard is here and links. Background on the Megiddo hoard is here and links (also with links to past ancient-bling posts).

In related news, in The Media Line (via the Agade list) Aryeh O'Sullivan reports on an exhibition of ancient gold objects at the Bible Lands Museum: Pure Gold to Celebrate Museum Anniversary. Excerpt:
Gold, and lots of it.

The Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem is marking its 20th anniversary with an exhibit of a collection of ancient gold jewelry and artifacts. Most of it has been tucked away in storerooms and never seen in public before, not in Israel nor anywhere else in the world.

The private collection is called Pure Gold and fills the ground floor of the museum where its 400 pieces literally shimmer in their glass cases.

Among the displays are a Roman-era wreath of gold laurel leaves, a magnificent silver and gold horn cup made literally for kings two thousand six hundred years ago, a Canaanite goddess pendant and an exquisite Greek pendant of Aphrodite.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Not the Genesis Apocryphon

FORBES moves into Old Testament Pseudepigrapha territory:
5 Management Tips from the Bible!

At an archeological excavation at the site of the Dead Sea scrolls in Khirbet Qumran, a lost book of Genesis was discovered in 2009. A translation of the Aramaic has just been published and its views on management are considered by Biblical scholars to be enlightening and surprisingly relevant for today’s business owners.
Mildly amusing, but Bill Cosby is a lot funnier.

Monday, June 18, 2012

New book: Geiger, Das hebräische Partizip in den Texten aus der judäischen Wüste

Das hebräische Partizip in den Texten aus der judäischen Wüste

Gregor Geiger
The function of the participle within the Hebrew tense system has considerably changed between biblical and postbiblical Hebrew. This investigation studies the participle in the Hebrew manuscripts from the Judaean Desert, its formation, its usage, and its meaning, compared with those in other Hebrew traditions and dialects, especially the language of the Hebrew Bible. The biblical Hebrew tense system continues to be used in the Scrolls, while there is a clear difference between the tense system of the Scrolls and that of mishnaic Hebrew. This fact allows us to draw conclusions in the field of language studies; but it also provides us with a piece of the puzzle in our understanding of the sociology and religion of the Qumran community.

Review of Friedman, The Aleppo Codex

THE ALEPPO CODEX, by Matti Friedman, is reviewed briefly by Brian Bethune in Maclean's. Excerpt:
It was presented to Itzhak Ben-Zvi, president of Israel, and a furious group of the Aleppo Jews living in Israel launched an unsuccessful case in rabbinical court to recover their property from the state. The records of the lawsuit were suppressed for decades. When Friedman unearthed them, though, he gained an inkling why. When the manuscript went on public display in 1960, it was missing close to 200 of its 500 leaves, a loss the government said had occurred during the codex’s hidden years. Yet none of the claimants in rabbinical court even mentioned the shocking mutilation. Friedman’s painstaking investigation of just what happened to the Aleppo codex—and when—is a fascinating account of the role of sacred relics in creating a national identity, and also of the lure of old and treasured objects.

Raiders of the Lost Relics

RADIERS OF THE LOST RELICS is an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Matthew Kalman which deals with the the new finds at Khirbet Qeiyafa, the minimalist-maximalist debate, the recent discussion of the Talpiot Tombs, and pretty much everything else.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

UNESCO and the Temple Mount

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: UNESCO report exposes Dome of Rock renovation. UN body condemns Israel for skipping meeting on Mugrahbi Bridge plans; Israel denies knowledge of meeting, blames Jordan (Jerusalem Post).

Presidential visit

PRESIDENT OBAMA has visited the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.

(photo credit: Sabina Louise Pierce)

Background here and links.

SBL exploring Qur'an scholarly network

THE SOCIETY OF BIBLICAL LITERATURE has received a large grant to lay the groundwork for a Society of Qur'anic Studies: SOCIETY OF BIBLICAL LITERATURE SUPPORTS EXPLORATION OF QUR’AN SCHOLAR NETWORK. (Click on link to download press release as pdf file.)

Congratulations to Emanuel Tov

From Nili Wazana (

We are happy and honored that our teacher, colleague and friend, Prof. Emanuel Tov was appointed a member to Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities.

Prof. Emanuel Tov is Prof. emeritus of the department of Bible at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His scholarship specializes in various aspects of the textual criticism of Hebrew and Greek Scripture and in the Qumran Scrolls, as well as other aspects of biblical studies.

He was the Editor-in-Chief of the Dead Sea Scrolls Publication Project, completed in 2006.

In 2004 he received the Israeli Emet prize for Science, art and culture, and in 2009 the Israel Prize in biblical studies.
Congratulations to Professor Tov on this well-deserved honor.