Saturday, February 07, 2015

HUCA 82-83

H-JUDAIC: TOC: Hebrew Union College Annual.
Volumes 82-83 of the Hebrew Union College Annual are now available in print and electronically.
Just to be clear, although the date of the volume is 2011-12, it just came out. Follow the link for the TOC, which includes a number of articles on ancient Judaism.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Lied on manuscript digitization

LIV INGEBORG LIED: Digitization and manuscripts as visual objects: effects of a media change.
So, how will the transformation of manuscripts into visual objects online change scholarship on texts and manuscripts? As has also been pointed out in the above mentioned research on media shifts, there is no one-to-one relationship between technological change on the one hand and change in social practices (what people do with media [Kratz 1959]) on the other. Until someone decides to answer the question based on actual empirical research we don’t yet know how this shift influences scholarly practices. For now, all answers will necessarily be hypothetical and suggestive, and I’ll phrase them in the form of follow-up questions.
PaleoJudaica has been following many different manuscript digitization projects over the years. Start here and follow the links.

Abraham and Nimrod

ARASH ZEINI: Abraham and Nimrod. Zarathustra too!

Thursday, February 05, 2015

More on the new Ben-Hur movie

NOW FILMING: Morgan Freeman to star in Kazakh director's Ben-Hur (Dinara Urazova , Tengrinews).
Kazakh director Timur Bekmambetov has begun to film an epic historical drama Ben-Hur, produced by Paramount Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Tengrinews reports citing the press release posted on the official website of Bekmambetov’s film company Bazelevs.

The role of Judah Ben-Hur in the new movie will be played by Jack Huston. Morgan Freeman will perform the role of Ilderim, while Rodrigo Santoro will take the role of Jesus Christ.

The plot of the new film is based on a classic of American literature - the novel by Lew Wallace "Ben-Hur: A Tale Of The Christ," first published in 1880. The novel takes place in Palestine under Roman rule at the time of Jesus Christ. In the story, the young and wealthy Jew Judah Ben-Hur looses everything as he is betrayed by his best friend, ending up in slavery. On his journey Ben-Hur meets Jesus, an event which helps him find his path in life.

Background here. Past posts on the 2009 live O2 production (in Aramaic and Latin) of Ben-Hur are here and here and links, and past posts on the classic 1959 movie are here and here.

The Gospel of the Lots of Mary

NEW COPTIC TEXT: Newfound 'Gospel of the Lots of Mary' Discovered in Ancient Text (Owen Jarus, Live Science).
A 1,500-year-old book that contains a previously unknown gospel has been deciphered. The ancient manuscript may have been used to provide guidance or encouragement to people seeking help for their problems, according to a researcher who has studied the text.

Written in Coptic, an Egyptian language, the opening reads (in translation):

"The Gospel of the lots of Mary, the mother of the Lord Jesus Christ, she to whom Gabriel the Archangel brought the good news. He who will go forward with his whole heart will obtain what he seeks. Only do not be of two minds."

This looks like a good popular treatment of what looks like a very interesting new text that was published by AnneMarie Luijendijk last year. The text classes itself as a "gospel" in its own title, but by our genre classifications it is not one. Rather it sounds like an example of "Sortilege," a text that uses biblical verses and phrases to give its readers divinatory guidance — sort of a Bible-inspired I Ching. Jeff Childers gave a very interesting paper on some of these texts at the Bible as Notepad Conference last December. In the little I have seen there is not much information on the biblical passages used in this text, but the blurb for the monograph confirms that it is "replete with biblical phrases."

So no, this is not a new apocryphal gospel. But it is a new late antique Coptic text of considerable interest for ancient divinatory practices, and it is always good to have new texts.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Tu B'shevat 2015

TU B'SHEVAT, the New Year for Trees, began last night at sundown.

This year Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz has an article on The Evolution Of Tu b’Shvat for The Jewish Week.

Also inspired indirectly by today's holiday, Elon Gilad asks Did ancient Jews worship trees? in Haaretz, with the sub-heading "The Hebrew words for 'oak' and 'terebinth' seem to derive from the ancient word for 'god - el."

Regarding the latter, I would not make too much of an apparent similarity between these tree names and the word for "god" in Canaanite; this could just be a coincidence. But it would not surprise me if ancient Israelites practiced divination by dendrology. Various forms of divination have existed in Israelite and Jewish circles from antiquity to the present and the practitioners did not and do not think of this as worship of anyone other than God.

But one ancient Israelite custom which was pretty close to tree worship and is only hinted at in this article, is the worship of the Canaanite goddess Asherah (see here and here) as consort to the God of Israel. The Deuteronomistic Historian complained about this (e.g., 1 Kings 16:33; 2 Kings 21:7, 23:14-15) and there is epigraphic evidence for it as well. It appears to have been a fairly widespread practice in some circles, and her symbol seems to have been a sacred pole or tree used in her cult. But this would not have been tree worship; rather the tree or pole would have been considered a receptacle for the essence of the goddess and it would have been she who was being worshipped.

But none of this has anything directly to do with Tu B'Shevat; it only arises because trees are also involved.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Jenkins on a Zoroastrian inscription

ALEITIA: The Forgotten First Eastern Christians. History has neglected these early Christians outside Europe and the Mediterranean. Philip Jenkins turns to a third-century Zoroastrian inscription for a snapshot of early Eastern Christianity. Excerpt:
The leading figure in Persia’s Zoroastrian priesthood was one Kartir (or Kerdir), a revolutionary figure who departed from the standard imperial model of wide-ranging cultural tolerance. In the 270s, at Naqsh-e Rajab near Persepolis, Kartir commissioned some immodest inscriptions that vaunted his services to this faith and his empire. Among these very informative words, we find a boast of his intolerant and persecuting activities, and how he had “smitten” various minority religions:

“The heresy of Ahriman [the Devil] and the demons departed and was routed from the empire. And Jews and Buddhists and Hindus and Nazarenes and Christians and Baptists and Manicheans were smitten in the empire, and idols were destroyed, and the abodes of the demons disrupted and made into thrones and seats of the gods.”
Interesting commentary follows. Professor Jenkins has been discussing early Eastern (mostly Syriac) Christianity and related matters quite a bit over at The Anxious Bench.

Flesher receives Gitin Award

CONGRATULATIONS TO PAUL FLESHER: UW’s Flesher Receives Distinguished Professorship Honor.
February 2, 2015 — Professor Paul Flesher of the University of Wyoming’s Department of Religious Studies has received a prestigious award that includes funding for a four-and-a-half month residency in Jerusalem in spring 2016.

The Seymour Gitin Distinguished Professorship award is given by the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research (AIAR) in Jerusalem.


Flesher is internationally known for his research on the Jewish Aramaic translations of the Hebrew Bible, known as the Targums, as well as his work on early synagogues, from their origins into the Rabbinic period. Since 2011, he has been part of an archaeological team that is unearthing a late Roman (fifth century) synagogue at Huqoq in Israel’s lower Galilee which has a floor covered in mosaics. The site has already become famous for its depictions of the Samson story (Judges 13).

Professor Flesher has been quoted often on PaleoJudaica, mostly, but not exclusively, regarding the James Ossuary (most recently here). More on the Huqoq mosaics here with many links.

UPDATE (12 February): More here. Note that the full press release makes clear that his research project involves mosaics other than the ones at Huqoq. Also, I have fixed a dead link above.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Power, Authority and Canon

Power, Authority and Canon
6 May 2015
New College, University of Edinburgh

The theme of the conference revolves around the issues of historical and theological ramifications of canonization. Why were some texts and not others elevated to the status of “holy scriptures”? What are the effects in conferring authority on these texts? Website:

0900-0915 Welcome

0915-1000 John Collins (Yale University), “Uses of Torah in the Second Temple Period”

1000-1045 Michael Satlow (Brown University), “Bad Prophecies”

1045-1100 Coffee

1100-1145 Manfred Oeming (Universität Heidelberg), “The Way of God: Ethicsand Ritual as Birthplaces of Canonicity”

1145-1230 Timothy Lim (University of Edinburgh), “The Insufficiency of Divine Inspiration”

1230-1330 Lunch

1400-1445 John Barton (University of Oxford), “How far does the content of canonical texts matter?

1445-1530 Walter Moberly (University of Durham), “Canonicity and Religious Truth: What Role, if any, Should Traditional Canon Play Today?”

1530-1615 Craig Evans (Acadia Divinity School), “Jesus and the Beginnings of the Christian Canon of Scripture”

1615-1700 Tea

1700-1745 Shaye Cohen (Harvard University), “Some Reflections on the Canon”

1745-1800 Closing Remarks

A Special Event:
On 5 May, Professor Shaye Cohen will give a Gunning lecture on “The Bible and the Mishnah”, Martin Hall, New College, 5pm

Registration at

Day fee: £30 (concession £15) includes conference attendance, refreshments and lunch. Contact: Jean Reynolds, School of Divinity, New College, Mound Place, Edinburgh EH1 2LX, Tel: 44-(0)131 650 8948. Email:
E-mailed by Timothy Lim. Looks very interesting.

Still more on the Babylonian-Judean cuneiform tablets

PHILOLOGY! ‘By the rivers of Babylon’ exhibit breathes life into Judean exile.
Never-before-showcased clay tablets documenting the first diaspora go on display at Jerusalem’s Bible Lands Museum
(Ilan Ben Zion, Times of Israel). Another article that gives still more details about this important discovery. Read it all, but I will just comment on two passages.
“It puts a face on the real people who went through these fateful events,” Dr. Filip Vukosavović, curator of the exhibit, told The Times of Israel. The tablets preserve a wealth of Judean names — including the familiar Natanyahu — of the exilic community, and even include a handful of Aramaic inscriptions.
This is easy to miss, but, if accurate, it's very important. We have almost no Babylonian Aramaic from this period. We know plenty of Aramaic was written in Babylonia in the Second Temple Period; there is even a special Akkadian word for an Aramaic scribe (sepīru), distinguished from a scribe who copied cuneiform tablets (tupsharru). But Aramaic was normally written on perishable materials and almost none of it survived the humid Babylonian climate. To have even a little Babylonian Aramaic from the period of the Exile is in itself a major discovery. (Cross-file under "Aramaic Watch.")
Each document catalogs when and where it was written and by whom, providing scholars with an unprecedented view into the day-to-day life of Judean exiles in Babylonia, as well as a geography of where the refugees were resettled. The earliest in the collection, from 572 BCE, mentions the town of Al-Yahudu — “Jerusalem” — a village of transplants from Judea.
This is a bit garbled. The phrase Al-Yahadu is Akkadian for "town of Judea," which makes sense as a name for a village of exiled Judeans. It doesn't have anything directly to do with Jerusalem. This article from the 2011 Story of Iran and the Jews Exhibition (noted here) discusses the correct meaning of the phrase.

Background here and links.

Ashkelon looting arrests

AND AGAIN: Tomb raiders arrested in Ashkelon National Park for looting, damaging ancient site. Three suspects found with metal detector and digging equipment claim they were looking for "worms to go fishing" (, Jerusalem Post).
Three Beduin men were arrested Friday night for breaking into and attempting to loot an ancient burial site in Ashkelon National Park, the Israel Antiquities Authority Robbery Prevention Unit announced on Sunday.

According to an IAA spokesman, the suspects, all in their 30s, drove an SUV from their village outside Beersheba to the Byzantine-era tomb equipped with a sophisticated metal detector and digging equipment.

“They broke into the ancient tombs and during their digging caused irreparable damage to gravestones, ancient pottery, and coffins,” said IAA robbery unit inspector and archeologist Guy Fitoussi.

Other recent looting arrests in Israel are noted here and links.

Happy bicentennial to the CMS College, Kottayam, Kerala

SYRIAC WATCH: Kerala college oldest in India, set to turn 200 in February (Vinod Nedumudy, Deccan Chronicle).
Kochi: One of the most prestigious colleges in Kerala, the CMS College, Kottayam, is set to turn 200 next month, becoming the oldest Indian college.

Associate professor of Malayalam, Dr Babu Cheriyan, who has chronicled the history of the college Towards Modernity: The story of the first college in India, found references from various historians that suggest that the college was started in 1815, March with 25 students, mainly belonging to Syriac studies, and not in 1817 as widely believed.

There's lots more on the study of Syriac in Kerala here (cf. here) and links.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Punic moat in Spain

PUNIC WATCH: 2,200-Year-Old Moat Discovered in Spain (Archaeology Magazine). Better yet, the moat had Carthaginian artifacts in it.

More details here: Found in Spain: traces of Hannibal's troops. Spanish archaeology students have discovered a 2,200-year-old moat in what is now the Catalan town of Valls, filled with objects providing evidence of the presence of troops of the Carthaginian general Hannibal in the area (Jessica Jones, The Local).

Coptic summer school

ALIN SUCIU: International Summer School “The Coptic Bible and Coptic Literature in the Digital Age” (Göttingen/Hamburg, July 20 – August 1, 2015).
The Institute for Egyptology and Coptic Studies at the University of Göttingen and the Corpus of Coptic Literary Manuscripts (CMCL) at the Hiob-Ludolf-Institute for Ethiopian Studies, University of Hamburg, will be offering a two-week summer school “The Coptic Bible and Coptic Literature in the Digital Age”. The summer school will focus on cataloguing and editing Coptic manuscripts – Biblical and literary – using both traditional scholarly techniques and new methods in the Digital Humanities (DH).

The Summer School is associated with two major projects, the ”Digital Edition of the Coptic Old Testament“ in Göttingen and the “Corpus of Coptic Literary Manuscripts (CMCL)” in Hamburg, and will profit from the expertise of the staff members as well as that of international experts.