Friday, February 22, 2013

The Cyrus Cylinder and the "N" word

SURPRISE, SURPRISE, it turns out it's possible to write a New York Times column on the Cyrus Cylinder without mentioning nuclear war: Find the Missing Word.

Background of the Cyrus Cylinder and its upcoming trip to the United States is here with many links.

Durham Conference: The Construction of Time in Antiquity

On 3–4 March 2013, a two-day international conference, The Construction of Time in Antiquity, will be held in Durham, England. The conference is sponsored by the Institute of Advanced Study (IAS) and the Faculty of Arts and Humanities of Durham University and is convened by Lutz Doering and Jonathan Ben-Dov. The conference is free and open to all; however, seating is limited, so please write to to register your name.

The Construction of Time in Antiquity
Durham University, University College, Senate Suite, 3–4 March 2013
Sunday, 3 March 2013

13.00–13.30 Start of the Conference with Buffet Lunch

13.30–13.45 Welcome

13.45–14.30 John Steele (Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island): Real and Constructed Time in Babylonian Astral Medicine

14.30–15.15 Lorenzo Verderame (Università Sapienza di Roma): Mapping the Mythical Time in Rituals: The Mesopotamian Case


15.45–16.30 Alexandra von Lieven (Freie Universität Berlin): Divine Figurations of Time in Ancient Egypt

16.30–17.15 Ivana Petrovic (Durham University): Greek Festivals as Medium of Communication between Gods and Men


17.45–18.30 Robert Hannah (University of Otago, currently IAS Fellow): The Antikythera Mechanism

18.30–19.15 Jörg Rüpke (Universität Erfurt): Constructing Future Time: Divination by Calendars

19.45 Conference Dinner (for speakers)

Monday, 4 March 2013

9.00–9.45 Sacha Stern (University College London): Calendars, Politics, and Power Relations in the Roman Empire

9.45–10.30 Ted Kaizer (Durham University): Re-constructing Religious Time at Dura-Europos: Another Look at the Feriale Duranum


11.00–11.45 Jonathan Ben-Dov (Haifa University, currently IAS Fellow): Time and National Identity: The Sabbath in Jewish Hellenistic Writings

11.45–12.30 Lutz Doering (Durham University): The Beginning of the Day in Ancient Jewish Sources

Break, Buffet Lunch

14.30–15.15 Daniel Stökl Ben Ezra (Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris): Seasoning the Bible - Biblifying Time Through Fixed Liturgical Reading Systems (Lectionaries)

15.15–16.00 Robert Hayward (Durham University): The Ember Days in Early Christianity


16.30–17.15 Clemens Leonhard (Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster): Why Did They Celebrate? Appointed Times and Festivals in Early Christianity

17.15–17.45 Final Discussion

Review of Marienberg, La Baraïta de-Niddah

THE TALMUD BLOG: On the Margins: A Review of E. Marienberg’s ‘La Baraïta de-Niddah’.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

More on the Herod Exhibition

A VIDEO ON THE HEROD THE GREAT EXHIBITION has been posted by Arutz Sheva: Video Sneak Peak: The Israel Museum "Herod the Great" Exhibition. It interviews Dr. Silvia Rozenberg, Co-Curator of the exhibition.

Background here with many links.

Computer advances (?) in biblical studies

A COUPLE OF RECENT STORIES on supposed new discoveries in biblical studies arising from computer analysis are worth noting, but perhaps more for their amusement value than any serious advances in the field.

First, the "Search Visualizer" meets the King James version of Genesis: New Analysis of Genesis Reveals 'Death Sandwich' Literary Theme (ScienceDaily). Not to be confused with the Birthright-Eating-Red-Pottage Theme.

Second: New findings on debated authorship (NewsMaker).
University of Adelaide researchers have provided new evidence on the long-debated authorship of two famous texts – the US Federalist Papers and the Letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament.


The researchers turned their attention to the Letter to the Hebrews, traditionally attributed to Saint Paul, but debated since the third century AD with scholars suggesting Barnabas, Luke and Clement of Rome as alternatives.

Testing was done, using the original Koine Greek texts, with these four possible authors, plus the three other gospel authors, Matthew, Mark and John and another possible author, Ignatius of Antioch.

“What we found is that the Letter to the Hebrews is indeed closest to Paul than to any of these other authors,” Professor Abbott says. “But the sting in the tail is that this positive result had only a weak likelihood weighting. There are two possibilities: Luke was the second closest match so there may have been some collaboration between the two, for example if Paul wrote the letter in Aramaic (the Hebrew language) and then Luke translated it into Greek. Or it may simply mean we have yet to find the true author!
If I had to bet, I would bet the latter.

I love this bit:
If the Vatican were to agree to supply us with more extra-canonical texts that we haven't tried, we would be happy to do more exhaustive tests.”
Hey Vatican, can I have some more extra-canonical texts too? I'm starting to run out.

A second Iron-Age inscription at Khirbet Qeiyafa

LUKE CHANDLER: Information on the second Qeiyafa inscription coming later this year.

Again, via Joseph I. Lauer.

Background on the first Qeiyafa inscription is here and links. Some other interesting recent finds at the same site are noted here and links.

Byzantine-Era Industrial ruins found in Jaffa


Photograph: courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

An Ancient Industrial Installation was Revealed beneath the Asphalt in Yafo (February 2013)

The Israel Antiquities Authority exposed remains of an installation for extracting liquid which dates to the Byzantine period

Archaeological excavations of the Israel Antiquities Authority provide a glimpse at hundreds of years of magnificent history that lies beneath the busy streets. The excavations are being conducted prior to modernizing the infrastructure, on behalf of the Tel Aviv municipality, by the Mashlama Le-Yafo, within the framework of the Magen Avraham Compound project. Recently impressive remains of an industrial installation from the Byzantine period which was used to extract liquid were exposed on Hai Gaon Street.

Installations such as these are usually identified as wine presses for producing wine from grapes, and it is also possible they were used to produce wine or alcoholic beverage from other types of fruit that grew in the region. Yafo’s rich and diverse agricultural tradition has a history thousands of years old beginning with references to the city and its fertile fields in ancient Egyptian documents up until Yafo’s orchards in the Ottoman period.

According to Dr. Yoav Arbel, director of the excavations on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “This is the first important building from the Byzantine period to be uncovered in this part of the city. The fact that the installation is located relatively far from Tel Yafo adds a significant dimension to our knowledge about the impressive agricultural distribution in the region in this period. The installation, which probably dates to the second half of the Byzantine period (sixth century – early seventh century CE), is divided into surfaces paved with a white industrial mosaic. Due to the mosaic’s impermeability such surfaces are commonly found in the press installations of the period which were used to extract liquid. Each unit was connected to a plastered collecting vat. The pressing was performed on the mosaic surfaces whereupon the liquid drained into the vats. It is possible that the section that was discovered represents a relatively small part of the overall installation, and other elements of it are likely to be revealed in archaeological excavations along adjacent streets which are expected to take place later this year”.

Upon completion of the excavation the installation was covered over, and new infrastructures were laid in place above it without damaging it, thereby enabling the continued work on the infrastructure without compromising the preservation of the antiquities for future generations.

The Magen Avraham Compound project constitutes another tier in the development of the tourist, commercial and residential region in Yafo and encompasses seven streets: Noʽam, Magen Avraham, Hai Gaon, Yossi Ben Yossi, Ardon, Ba’alei Ha-Tosafot and Resh Galuta.
The municipality is modernizing the underground infrastructure, roads and sidewalks within the framework of the project. The overhead electrical and telephone wires are being lowered as well and street furniture and landscaping are being added.

The infrastructure development was preceded by the Israel Antiquities Authority excavations because the region is an official, declared antiquities site. As was the case with antiquities that were previously uncovered, this project also reflects the cooperation and balance between the historical archaeological finds and their preservation on the one hand and the necessary development of the city on the other.
Via Joseph I. Lauer.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Sabbath and circumcision

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN by Adam Kirsch in Tablet Magazine: Birth Right: You wouldn’t expect that the tractate on Shabbat would be the place to discuss circumcision. You’d be wrong.
When my son was born on a Friday and I contacted a mohel to schedule the bris for the following Saturday, I was surprised to be asked whether the baby had been delivered by Caesarean section. If boys are delivered traditionally, I learned, they must be circumcised on their eighth day of life; but if they are delivered by C-section, the ritual can be postponed if the eighth day falls on Shabbat. I didn’t ask the mohel for the halakhic reasoning behind this distinction—as a new parent I had enough things to think about—but I finally learned it from reading the Talmud this week.

In Shabbat 135a, Rabbi Asi explains that the distinction has to do with the ritual purity status of the mother. Vaginal delivery renders the mother impure, tamei, for seven days, and it is only at the expiration of this term that circumcision takes place, as we learn from Leviticus: “If a woman bears seed and gives birth to a male, she shall be impure seven days, and on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.” The rabbis drew the corollary that, if a woman is not impure because she delivered by C-section, her son does not need to be circumcised on the eighth day. And since it is preferable not to perform a circumcision on Shabbat unless absolutely necessary, the circumcision or milah can be postponed until the ninth day in such cases. Of course, in Talmudic times Caesarean section would have been a very rare and dangerous operation, performed without anesthetic using unsterilized tools. The rabbis could hardly have imagined that in our day almost a third of births would happen this way.

Caesarean section in antiquity was usually done either in cases when the mother was already dead or when both mother and baby could be expected to die without intervention. This particular intervention would have a chance to save the baby, but the survival of the mother, although it (remarkably) was not unheard of, would have been unusual. For some data on pre-modern Caesarean section see Samuel Lurie's article The changing motives of cesarean section: from the ancient world to the twenty-first century.

As I have remarked before, it is difficult to imagine the brutality of the world in which the ancients lived.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Chasing biblical manuscripts

SHOCKER: New Testament Scholar: Chasing Biblical Manuscripts Is Nothing Like 'Indiana Jones'.

Herod exhibition and BAS

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY (BAS) has put up a couple of posts this week on the Herod the Great exhibition at the Israel Museum:

Herod the Great—The King’s Final Journey
Take a closer look at the exhibit with a web-exclusive slideshow
(Suzanne F. Singer)
The Israel Museum’s exhibit Herod the Great—The King’s Final Journey guides visitors through the Herodian world and the end of the illustrious king’s life, as brought to light by the late archaeologist Ehud Netzer. Read the article “Herod the Great—The King’s Final Journey” by Suzanne F. Singer as it appears in the March/April 2013 issue of BAR , and take a look at additional web-exclusive highlights from the exhibit in the Bible History Daily slideshow.
Ehud Netzer Publications Available to Public
Rediscover Herod's tomb through archaeologist Ehud Netzer's scholarship
(Noah Wiener)
In a commemoration of the scholarship of Ehud Netzer, Biblical Archaeology Society has made a special collection of his groundbreaking scholarship from the BAS Library available for free.
Background on the exhibition is here and links.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Stolen artifacts recovered

Ancient Stolen Artifacts Discovered in Beit Jann

The Carmiel police and the Antiquities Authority Theft Prevention Division discovered hundreds of stolen artifacts during a search of a private home in the Arab village of Beit Jann.

Arrowheads, lamp fillers, counterweights and nails were uncovered, as well as glassware and 300 coins from the Roman-Hellenist period.


Review of Green, The Aroma of Righteousness

Deborah A. Green. The Aroma of Righteousness: Scent and Seduction in Rabbinic Life and Literature. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2011. xiv + 286 pp. $69.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-271-03767-7.

Reviewed by Jonathan Brumberg Kraus (Wheaton College)
Published on H-Judaic (February, 2013)
Commissioned by Jason Kalman

Tracking the Trail of Scent in Rabbinic Literature

Deborah A. Green’s analysis of the language and sensory experience of smell in early rabbinic Judaism is--I’ll risk the cliché--a breath of fresh air in the often stodgy discipline of rabbinic textual studies. Reading Green’s book reminded me of Wayne Meeks’s critique of “the air of unreality pervading much of the recent scholarly literature” about ancient Christian texts back in the early 1980s.[1] Green’s expansion of what began as a textual study of literary references to olfaction to “the relevant history, archaeology, and cultural data” they presupposed resonated with me (p. 3). At last, a fellow reader who remembers that texts under critical consideration were composed by living, breathing, feeling human beings! And with their olfactory-enhanced concern with the emotionally charged subjects of love and death, the same texts affect us too as living, breathing, feeling human beings, even if not quite in the same way. Just as Meeks and others turned to sociology and social history to flesh out “the air of unreality” pervading descriptions of ancient Christianity, so Green and a cohort of scholars have recently turned to the sensory dimensions of ancient Jewish and Christian texts and practices, to re-embody human experiences and emotions latent in them.[2] This scholarship notably shares a multidisciplinary interest in current biological and cognitive neuroscience research on the physiology of the senses and emotions, as well as philosophical and social historical studies on how western European intellectual tradition generally, and the study of Jewish religious texts in particular, have maligned the “lower senses” of smell, taste, and touch (pp. 3-4).


Monday, February 18, 2013

Heller on the making of the early Hebrew book

Further Studies in the Making of the Early Hebrew Book

Marvin J. Heller

Further Studies in the Making of the Early Hebrew Book contains essays on aspects of the early Hebrew book most often treated in a cursory manner if addressed at all. The largest section of the volume is concerned with the makers and places of Hebrew books, mainly addressing book-makers poorly remembered or controversial and print-shops that issued a small number of books in a brief period of time. The section on varia addresses aspects of the book trade such as small books, incomplete books published as a prospectus, competing simultaneous editions, and errors and variations in books. Two smaller sections deal with book arts such as incunabula frames and pressmarks; variations between medieval and current Sephardic Haggadot.

New book by Leonard Greenspoon

Biblical Archaeology Society Announces the Digital Publication of Leonard Greenspoon’s New Volume

NewswireToday - /newswire/ - Washington, DC, United States, 02/14/2013 - Biblical Archaeology Society announces the digital publication of Leonard Greenspoon’s new volume, along with new eReader editions of four popular print publications -

For more than a dozen years, Leonard J. Greenspoon’s “The Bible in the News” column has been one of the most popular and enjoyed sections of the widely read magazines Bible Review and Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR).

For his column, Greenspoon, who is the Philip M. and Ethel Klutznick Chair in Jewish Civilization at Creighton University, scours the world’s newspapers and popular media looking for interesting, entertaining and often surprising references to the Bible and its timeless collection of sayings, characters and fables. Greenspoon’s perceptive eye and insightful commentary are matched by a charming, tongue-in-cheek humor that always brings a sly smile to the reader’s face.

Developed exclusively for eReaders, the brand-new book The Bible in the News: How the Popular Press Relates, Conflates and Updates Sacred Writ brings together all of Greenspoon’s “The Bible in the News” articles and columns into a single collection, beginning with his August 2000 feature article “Extra! Extra! Philistines in the Newsroom!” until his recent column in the November/December 2012 issue of BAR. This entertaining array of columns, whose topics range from Adam and Eve in pop culture to North American highways and byways numbered 666 (the number of the beast according to Revelation 13:18), has been conveniently arranged into chapters focusing on Biblical episodes and passages from both the Old and New Testaments. The book’s final chapter explores general biblical themes and topics that often appear in media reports, from exceptional Bible translations to champagne bottles named for lesser known biblical characters like Rehoboam and Melchizedek.

These and many other fascinating stories about the Bible’s vibrant and continued presence in today’s media culture are found in this eBook, The Bible in the News. Leonard J. Greenspoon is author of BAR’s popular “The Bible in the News” column, and holds the Philip M. and Ethel Klutznick Chair in Jewish Civilization at Creighton University in Omaha. He is editor-in-chief of the Studies in Jewish Civilization series, which is publishing its 24th volume this fall. He also co-authored, with the late Harvey Minkoff, BAS’s free guide to modern Bible translations, The Holy Bible: A Buyer’s Guide. BAS also released new digital editions of four popular print volumes: Aspects of Monotheism, The Rise of Ancient Israel, Feminist Approaches to the Bible and The Search for Jesus.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

New CAL features

THE ARAMAIC BLOG: New Features at the Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon (CAL).
A bunch of new search options are now available at the Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon over at Hebrew Union College.

Lod Mosaic in Philly

THE LOD MOSAIC is on its last stop in the United States, before heading to Paris and then back to Israel:
Mosaic floor discovered in Israel on view at Penn Museum in Philadelphia

Kristie Rearick/South Jersey Times By Kristie Rearick/South Jersey Times
on February 15, 2013 at 12:38 PM, updated February 15, 2013 at 7:18 PM

Bringing a mosaic floor — one believed to have come from the home of a wealthy Roman living in the Eastern Roman Empire at about 300 CE — into the Penn Museum in Philadelphia, was not an easy task.

Background on the mosaic and its earlier travels is here and links.

Tomb of ancient sage vandalized

VANDALISM: Temple-Era Sage's Tomb Defaced Near Tzfat (Arutz Sheva).
Unidentified vandals caused damage to the tomb of Second Temple era sage Yonatan Ben Uziel Saturday. The tomb is located near Amuka, in the vicinity of Tzfat, in the Upper Galilee.
Including, whatever this means, Druze-themed graffiti.

Anime Metatron

ARCHANGEL METATRON WATCH: 8 Interesting Uses of World Religious Figures.
2. Metatron (Demonbane) In a world of Cthulu mythos, one Jewish archangel rises up as a magical girl-nun trying to stop an evil organization from summoning The Ancient Ones. Specifically, she'd rather not be used as control vessel for them, instead mounting her Hunting Horror motorcycle in a suit of white angelic armor. In Jewish apocrypha, Metatron is the angel incarnation of Enoch and the ancestor of Noah.
More in Jewish mysticism than Jewish apocrypha.

Ruth Calderon's Talmud lesson

THE TALMUD BLOG: A Talmud Lecture in the Knesset.
... when was the last time a Talmud shiur went viral like this?