Saturday, May 09, 2015

Menorah Coin Project

THE ISRAELI NUMISMATIC SOCIETY: MENORAH COIN PROJECT. "13,000 Judaean coins classified die per die."

HT Explorator 18.01.

Ancient lifespans

NO. NEXT QUESTION? Did Ancient People Really Have Lifespans Longer Than 200 Years? (Tara MacIsaac, Epoch Times - rprt. Ancient Origins). Most people died in childhood in antiquity, but even those who survived childhood illnesses very frequently died young - in childbirth, if women, or in warfare, if men. The ancients were doing very well to make it to 50. To date, there are no verifiable cases of anyone living past the age of 120, but hopefully technology and medical science are about to change that, probably for some people alive today.

Journal of Jewish Lore and Philosophy

AWOL: Open Access Journal: Journal of Jewish Lore and Philosophy. Just the 1919 volume. This journal developed into the Hebrew Union College Annual and it is primarily of historical interest, but it's good to have it online anyway.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Dig interlude

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: TV Series “Dig” Delivers Drama. New archaeology TV show captures the excitement of discovering the Biblical world (Ellen White).
The archaeology TV show is to Biblical archaeology what Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code is to church history. Some of the names, places, dates and even methods are correct, but the writers and producers do not let themselves get bogged down by facts and accuracy. They are telling a story, and it is pure fiction. An enjoyable, if convoluted, mystery, but not the place to go looking for a documentary.
Indeed not.

"Interlude" because I'm still waiting for Kimberly Winston's history-based review of the final episode (10), which aired yesterday. Background here and links,

Vandalism near Mount Meron

THIS IS SAD: 2,000-year-old synagogue near Mount Meron vandalized. Religious graffiti sprayed on ancient walls of recently renovated historic site (Itay Blumenthal,Ynet News).
Students from the Bnei Akiva Yeshiva in Meron were shocked on Wednesday when they discovered graffiti on 2,000-year-old walls near the ancient synagogue on Mount Meron.

The walls were sprayed with large, colorful letters that spelled out "Na Nach Nachma Nachman MeYerushalayim" – a reference to a slogan widely used by a subgroup of haredi Jews.

The students informed inspectors from the Antiquities Authority, who arrived quickly. Further damage to the site was discovered when the Nature and Parks Authority found similar graffiti at the Hurbat Sheva ruins south of Meron.

Gnostic music

AT THE MET: Johann Johannsson’s ‘Drone Mass’ Bridges Ancient and Modern at Temple of Dendur (Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim NYT).
In program notes for the Met performance, Mr. Johannsson acknowledges the new resonance that the term has gained recently as public fascination — and anxiety — with the airborne drone has grown. The text of his Mass is that of an ancient Egyptian Coptic hymn that consists of only free-floating vowels. “Putting these Gnostic texts in the context of the Temple of Dendur, with the title ‘Drone Mass,’ creates some kind of poetic resonance, which I can’t quite explain, either,” he said in an interview.
HT Sachyn Mital's review notice of the performance at PopMatters: Jóhann Jóhannsson - "Drone Mass" Met Museum World Premiere, which quotes the Met with the additional information that "'Drone Mass' [is] a contemporary oratorio which fuses the sounds of string quartet, electronics, and vocals, and uses texts based on the Coptic Gospel of the Egyptians."

Penn's 2015 student marshals

CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL OF THE FOLLOWING AT PENN STATE UNIVERSITY: College of the Liberal Arts selects spring 2015 student marshals - and in particular to this budding young ancient historian:
Classics and Ancient Mediterranean Studies

Maria Andrews is the daughter of Steven and Barbara Andrews of Spring Mills. She is graduating with a bachelor of arts degree in classics and ancient Mediterranean studies and minors in ancient Greek, Latin, anthropology and Jewish studies. She has pursued the study of ancient languages and cultures of Greece, Rome, the ancient Near East and Egypt, among others. Andrews also studied Arabic and was awarded the Robert E. Dangler Classics Prize given to the outstanding student majoring in classical studies. She will pursue graduate work in classical studies at the University of Alberta. Christopher Moore, lecturer in philosophy, will escort her as the faculty marshal.

Grooms at Lag B'Omer

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Watch: Grooms Revive 3,000-Year-Old Tradition on Temple Mount. Grooms visit Mount on Lag B'Omer ahead of wedding night, in tradition dating back to First Temple times 3,000 years ago. (Ari Yashar). I will take the word of Arutz Sheva that this custom is mentioned in the Talmud and is therefore ancient (although, typically for the media, no specific reference is given). But there is no evidence that it goes back three thousand years.

The demolition of Susya

DUELING NARRATIVES: Everyone agrees that a Palestinian settlement built on an archaeological site in the south Hebron hills (mentioned briefly in passing at PaleoJudaica here, here, and here) is facing demolition. Beyond that:

ARUTZ SHEVA: Arab Settlement on Ancient Jewish Village to be Demolished. Supreme Court throws out petition of Arab squatters allowing demolition of 80 illegal buildings on site of ancient Susya (Ari Yashar).

+972: Palestinian village of Susya faces imminent demolition. Since the Israeli army evicted residents of Susya from their village in order to establish an archeological site in its place, the Israeli military has refused to issue the Palestinians any building permits. Now, the High Court has given the army a green light to demolish the village and forcefully transfer its residents (Mairav Zonszein).

I blog, you decide.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Lag B'Omer celebrations

ANNUAL EVENT: Tens of Thousands Celebrate Lag B'Omer in Meron. Largest annual Jewish celebration begins at the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. Watch it happen live on Arutz Sheva.
Tens of thousands of Jewish worshippers are converging on the town of Meron in northern Israel to celebrate Lag B'Omer at the Tomb of the ancient Jewish scholar and mystic Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.

The yearly mountaintop gathering at the tomb of the Jewish leader, seen by many as the father of the kabbalistic movement, is believed to be the largest Jewish festive gathering in the world.


Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai - also known as "Rashbi" - was a tannaitic sage who lived during the second century in ancient Israel. One of the most eminent disciples of Rabbi Akiva - a leading scholar who also served as spiritual leader of the Bar Kochba Revolt against Roman occupation - Rashbi was himself forced into hiding by Israel's Roman occupiers after criticizing the regime.

He is also the traditional author of the Zohar (actually a medieval work). More on him and the legends about him here and links.

Final volume of Matt's Zohar translation

COMING IN DECEMBER: The Zohar: Pritzker Edition, Volume Nine. Translated by Daniel C. Matt. SERIES: Zohar: The Pritzker Editions.
Sefer ha-Zohar (The Book of Radiance) has amazed readers ever since it emerged in medieval Spain over seven hundred years ago. Written in lyrical Aramaic, this masterpiece of Kabbalah exceeds the dimensions of a normal book; it is virtually a body of mystical literature, comprising over twenty sections. The bulk of the Zohar consists of mystical interpretation of the Torah, from Genesis through Deuteronomy.

The ninth volume of The Zohar: Pritzker Edition completes this running commentary on the Torah. ...
Daniel Matt's edition and translation of the Zohar is a massive project whose progress I have been following since 2003 and which began some years before that. A couple of early posts that give background are here and here. (The links have rotted in both, but the excerpts are reasonably informative.) For more, start here and just keep following the links back. It will be good to have this important project completed.

The El Ghriba Synagogue in Tunisia

THAT'S THE SPIRIT! Hundreds of Jews Make Pilgrimage to Ancient Tunisian Synagogue, Despite Terror Threats.
( Hundreds of Jews are making a pilgrimage to the ancient Tunisian synagogue of El Ghriba on the island of Djerba, despite warnings of a possible terror attack against Jewish targets.

“There is a lot of security, there are soldiers and police everywhere and that is very reassuring to us,” French-Jewish tourist Lorine Bendayan told AFP.

I can't find any clear information on exactly how old this synagogue is, but people seem to think it was founded in antiquity. The current structure dates to the nineteenth century.

Background on the situation in Tunisia is here and links.

Dig and the Temple Institute

TELEVISION: 'Dig' isn't wrong: People really are trying to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. But they're not evil like the Order of Moriah in 'Dig.' Not that they're any closer to building the Third Temple than their fictional counterparts. (Elon Gilad, Haaretz).
Currently airing around the world, the television series "Dig" tells the story of a ruthless international conspiracy to build a Third Temple in Jerusalem, and bring about the end of days. The show is fictional - but there really is an organization dedicated to bringing about the Third Temple in Jerusalem. It's a non-profit called the Temple Institute and is a lot less menacing than the organization in the show.

Like its sinister fictional counterpart, the real-life Temple Institute, which was established in Israel in 1987, is doing, or trying to do, the groundwork for rebuilding the Temple. But unlike the show’s "Order of Moriah," they don't run around openly waving guns, covertly breeding future high priests and murdering red-cow breeders, Norwegian or otherwise. Their work centers on benignly researching Judaism's ancient texts in the hope of uncovering the lost secrets of the Temple, and on recreating various objects associated with Temple worship.

Also, there really aren't any ninja Essenes. Never were.

As for the Temple Institute, no, they aren't evil, but I stil don't want anyone digging around on the Temple Mount. As I keep saying, leave it as it is until we can study what's buried there using non-invasive and non-destructive technologies, probably not very long from now.

This is a nice article summarizing the agenda of the Temple Institute and what they think they have accomplished so far. As an historian I remain skeptical of some of their claims to have reconstructed vestments, architecture, etc. associated with the Temple cult.

There's more on Dig here and links, and more on the Temple Institute here and links.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Coinage of Kyrene

COIN WEEK: Coinage of Kyrene: A Greek City in Libya. There is an ancient Jewish connection:
During the Roman period, the Jewish population of Cyrenaica grew. In the Gospels, Simon of Cyrene, perhaps visiting Jerusalem, was forced by Roman soldiers to carry the Cross on which Jesus was crucified[8]. Growing tensions between Jews and Romans in Cyrenaica erupted in rebellion in 115 CE. Known as the “Kitos War”[9] this revolt dragged on for two years, with massacres and atrocities that shocked even Roman historians. The province was virtually depopulated, and Emperor Trajan resettled it with Greek-speaking colonists brought in from other provinces. This may have been the occasion for an extensive coinage of silver drachms (3.2 grams) and hemidrachms (1.6 grams) bearing the stern face of Trajan obverse, and Zeus Ammon reverse.

The oldest (complete) copy of the Ten Commandments

EXHIBITION: Ten Commandments Dead Sea scroll to go on display for two weeks in Israel. World’s oldest complete copy of Ten Commandments has only previously been displayed overseas, but will be at Israel Museum for first time (AP).

You can read more about the exhibition in the Wall Street Journal: The Israel Museum Presents ‘A Brief History of Humankind.’ Inspired by a book by Yuval Noah Harari, Jerusalem’s Israel Museum is celebrating its first half-century with a look at humankind, from ancient artifacts to contemporary works (Jessica Dawson).

Technically the oldest copy of the Ten Commandments is the Nash Papyrus (second century BCE), which was found well before the Dead Sea Scrolls. It is not quite complete, though: a few letters are missing here and there, so the carefully phrased headline of the AP article is correct. The article does not specify which Qumran manuscript is on display, but I can see from the photo that it is 4QDeuteronomyn (late first century BCE).

Bar Kokhba's pyrrhic victory

ELON GILAD: The Bar Kochba revolt: A disaster celebrated by Zionists on Lag Ba'Omer. On Lag Ba'Omer, Israeli children celebrate the Jewish rebels' victory over the Romans 2,000 years ago. Yet as victories go, Simon Bar Kochba's was a Pyrrhic one (Haaretz).
While many view the Bar Kochba Revolt as a tale of heroism, - it is equally a case study in the folly of religious and nationalistic fanaticism. Either way, it is a seminal moment in Jewish history.
Some past discussions of the Bar Kokhba revolt, many in the context of Lag B'Omer, are noted here, here, here, here, here, and here. And the site of Betar (Battir) has been in the news a lot lately.

Remember, with a free registration you can read a limited number of Haaretz premium articles each month.

Ashkelon travelogue

TRAVEL: At Ashkelon tel, they’ve found clay tickets but no theater — yet. British PM William Pitt the Younger’s niece started the treasure hunting in this unique southern Israeli city, and it continues to this day (Aviva Bar-Am, The Times of Israel).
Finally, in 1985, archeologist Lawrence Stager arrived from Harvard, and with the blessing of the Israel Antiquities Authority has been digging Tel Ashkelon ever since. Among the site’s most exciting discoveries are a forum, fabulous statues, massive fortifications, and one of the only two bronze-era gates found in Israel. Today, Ashkelon’s ancient gate – the oldest in the country – is the only one that visitors can walk right through.

The first National Park in Israel was established in Ashkelon. Named for Yigael Yadin, the first Israeli to insist on physical preservation of our heritage, this is a unique and remarkable site. But the antiquities in Ashkelon reach well beyond the borders of the official venue. Indeed, any visit to Ashkelon should include, besides the park itself, several exciting attractions located well inside the modern city. Summer visitors take note: an excellent beach is accessible from the park. (From the first of April, Ashkelon National Park is open from 8:00-20:00 – and you can stay until 22:00.)
As I've mentioned before, I was on the Ashkelon excavation staff as a lowly assistant square supervisor for a couple of years in the late-80s. But most of the really interesting discoveries came after my time. The article keeps it upbeat and neglects to mention the infamous ruins of a brothel at the site.

Ashkelon is very much worth a visit if you have the chance.

Lag B'Omer 2015

LAG B'OMER: THE COUNTING OF THE OMER begins tonight at sundown. Best wishes to all observing it.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

2015 York Christian Apocrypha Symposium

COMING IN SEPTEMBER: 2015 York Christian Apocrypha Symposium Details. Fakes, Forgeries, and Fictions: Writing Ancient and Modern Christian Apocrypha (Tony Burke, Apocryphicity). Looks like an excellent lineup.

Marriage inheritance and financial documentation in the Talmud

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Divorce Court: Talmud. Settling scores, carving up estates, negotiating claims, in biblical law. Plus: A virgin is worth twice as much as a widow or divorcee.
Tractate Ketubot has ranged widely over many aspects of the laws of marriage, in the process revealing some of the rabbis’ key assumptions about gender relations and sexuality. But the name of the tractate comes from the actual contract, the ketubah, that makes a Jewish marriage official; marriage law, in the Talmud, is a subset of contract law. In Chapter 9, which Daf Yomi readers covered this week, the fine points of that contract were at issue, as the rabbis determined how to deal with the tricky property claims that can arise in the context of marriage and inheritance. This chapter shows the Talmud as a code of civil law, rooted in the Bible but worldly in its distinctions and concerns.

More on Jewish marriage contracts (ketubot/ketuvot) here.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Caesarea travelogue

TOURISM: Caesarea: Herod's city by the sea. Travel writer Vivienne Mackie describes her trip to Caesarea for the News Gazette.

Report of Jewish-Temple-denying Palestinian website

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: New Arab Site Erases Temple Mount's Jewish Nature. Website by Palestinian Arab journalists warps history from Islamic perspective to claim Mount is exclusive property of Islam. (Dalit Halevy, Ari Yashar, Arutz Sheva).
The site includes pictures of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and sites adjacent to it, along with an explanation of their history from an Islamic perspective trying to claim the site is exclusively Muslim, and denying the Jewish nature of the ancient site.
This could be another case of Jewish-Temple denial, but the article doesn't give a URL for the website and my modern Arabic is probably not good enough to read it anyway, so I can't check the evidence and the exact wording for myself.

Rounded or rectangular Decalogue?

ART HISTORY: Squaring the Circle. The Israeli Chief Rabbinate has cut the arches off the 10 Commandments (Shalom Bear, The Jewish Press).
In the Israeli Rabbinate's new logo, the McDonald's arches have been excised from the 10 Commandments.

There is a controversy over what the stone tablets on which the 10 Commandments were written actually looked like.

Artistically, the tablets are almost always drawn as two rectangles with McDonald’s-like arches on top.

But the Gemorah (Baba Batra 14a) describes the two tablets as rectangular, and doesn’t mention any arches, McDonald’s or otherwise.

The Israeli Rabbinate, not unreasonably, is going with the Talmud on this one. But there's a complication in that the closest ancient Near Eastern analogue, the Code of Hammurapi stele, has the rounded top.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Samaritan Passover 2015

Members of the Samaritan sect in Israel skewer sheep for the traditional Passover ceremony in West Bank city of Nablus (Khaleda Rahman, The Daily Mail)
  • Passover is a commemoration of when the children of Israel were freed from slavery and led out of Egypt by Moses
  • Some Jews practiced animal sacrifice for Passover in ancient times, but today it is only done by the Samaritans
  • They were descended from the ancient Israelite tribes, but broke away from mainstream Judaism 2,800 years ago
  • Because of a less than strict adherence to Judaism and part-pagan ancestry, they were despised by ordinary Jews
With lots of photos. On the last bullet point, it depends on what you mean by a "less than strict adherence to Judaism." I think the Samaritans would say that that they held a strict adherance to Samaritanism. But yes, until recently, there was considerable hostility between Samaritans and Jews. Past posts on the Samaritan Passover, which comes a little after the Jewish Passover, are here and here and links.

Epigraphy cycling

Cycling, history and Independence. A guided family bike tour on Israel's Independence Day. (Joanna Shebson, Jerusalem Post). The epigraphic part comes at the end of the article:
At the end of our tour [apparently in the vicinity of the the ruins of Etri], my 11-year-old son picked up an old piece of pottery and screamed with excitement. This might sound like it’s right out of a movie, but it’s true! He recognized ancient Hebrew writing on the back, and our guide pulled out an iPhone to Google the ancient Hebrew alphabet.

With bated breath, we waited to see if the message was legible. Sure enough, it spelled “Michael Ben- Baruch.”

The guide explained to us that the artifact we had found might not be authentic, but the “thrill of the find” kept my boys smiling for the rest of the day.

We carefully wrapped the piece and left a message for the Israel Antiquities Authority to set up a time to come and see it. They will be able to tell us if it’s authentic or if it was placed on the scene recently.

Here is the inscribed ostracon:

Alas, it appears to be a fake. The lettering looks freshly inscribed and the plene spellings of "Michael" (with a yod) and "Baruch" (with a vav) are anachronistic for the paleo-Hebrew script.

Orlov, Divine Scapegoats

Divine Scapegoats
Demonic Mimesis in Early Jewish Mysticism

Andrei A. Orlov - Author
Price: $95.00
Hardcover - 352 pages
Release Date: May 2015
ISBN13: 978-1-4384-5583-9


Explores the paradoxical symmetry between the divine and demonic in early Jewish mystical texts.

Divine Scapegoats is a wide-ranging exploration of the parallels between the heavenly and the demonic in early Jewish apocalyptical accounts. In these materials, antagonists often mirror features of angelic figures, and even those of the Deity himself, an inverse correspondence that implies a belief that the demonic realm is maintained by imitating divine reality. Andrei A. Orlov examines the sacerdotal, messianic, and creational aspects of this mimetic imagery, focusing primarily on two texts from the Slavonic pseudepigrapha: 2 Enoch and the Apocalypse of Abraham. These two works are part of a very special cluster of Jewish apocalyptic texts that exhibit features not only of the apocalyptic worldview but also of the symbolic universe of early Jewish mysticism. The Yom Kippur ritual in the Apocalypse of Abraham, the divine light and darkness of 2 Enoch, and the similarity of mimetic motifs to later developments in the Zohar are of particular importance in Orlov’s consideration.

Semitics post at Yale

FULL-TIME JOB: Yale University, Faculty of Arts and Sciences (Humanities), Religious Studies: Lector or Senior Lector in Semitic Languages.
Location: New Haven, CT

Closes: Nov 1, 2015 at midnight Eastern Time (GMT-4 hours)

YALE UNIVERSITY, the Department of Religious Studies, is seeking to make a full-time appointment of a Lector or Senior Lector whose teaching responsibilities may include Aramaic, Advanced Syriac, Ugaritic, and additional Semitic languages, such as Ethiopic, beginning July 1, 2016. Ph.D. preferred but not required. Interest in the use of technology in teaching desirable. Rank dependent on qualifications and experience. Initial appointment will be up to three years, with possible renewal. Yale University is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer. Yale values diversity among its students, staff, and faculty and strongly welcomes applications from women, protected veterans, persons with disabilities, and underrepresented minorities. Please submit a detailed letter of application, curriculum vitae, evidence of effective teaching, a sample of scholarly or pedagogical writing, and three letters of reference. Review of applications will begin November 1, 2015.

Epiphanies of the Divine in the Septuagint and the NT

CONFERENCE AT THE UNIVERSITY OF NOTTINGHAM: Epiphanies of the Divine in the Septuagint and the New Testament: Mutual Perspectives. NCTL Learning and Conference Centre, Nottingham 14-16 May 2015.
The Department of Theology and Religious Studies in collaboration with the Centre for Bible, Ethics and Theology (CBET) will host the V. International Symposium of the Corpus Judaeo-Hellenisticum Novi Testamenti.

The Corpus aims to improve the understanding of individual New Testament writings as an integral part of the culture of Hellenistic Judaism. Drawing on a rich history of scholarship, the project seeks to provide an innovative tool that gives a single overview of the Jewish-Hellenistic parallels that have been put forward for the understanding of a given text in the New Testament.
Via the BNTC list.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Biblical texts on wood and bark

ETC: Texts on wood and bark (Peter M. Head). Peter mentions the documents recovered at Novgorod and the possibility of Christian texts being among them. The Ostromir Gospels, although not excavated, come from there. But more directly relevant, among the excavated items is the Novgorod Psalm Book (same link, plus here), also written in wax on a wooden tablet.

Also, there's lots more on Vindolanda and its texts here and links.

Cross-file under Church Slavonic Watch.

Another review of Houston, Inside Roman Libraries

George W. Houston, Inside Roman Libraries: Book Collections and Their Management in Antiquity. Studies in the history of Greece and Rome. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014. Pp. xvi, 327. ISBN 9781469617800. $59.95.

Reviewed by Scott G. Bruce, University of Colorado at Boulder (


George Houston’s primer to the contents and organization of Roman libraries from the late Republic to the time of Constantine is a valuable work of scholarly outreach intended for students and scholars new to the study of ancient book culture. More expository than argumentative, it discusses in clear and accessible prose “everything that one might find in a Roman library” (p. 1) from the book rolls themselves to the furniture, storage containers, buildings, and personnel that facilitated their use by Roman readers. The introduction to the book lays out basic information on the physical characteristics of papyrus scrolls in antiquity and provides the reader with a vocabulary of technical terms used throughout the study, including opisthograph (a scroll with writing on both sides), sillybon (a tag denoting the author and title of a work, usually attached to the end of a scroll), and stichometric counts (evidence for the enumeration of lines copied by professional scribes, perhaps to calculate their rate of pay). There follow six chapters on the assembly of Roman book collections, the papyrological evidence for ancient book lists, two case studies of the physical remains of book collections from Herculaneum and Oxyrhynchus, the storage facilities that housed ancient libraries, and the personnel who worked in them.

An earlier review with commentary on the book's relevance for ancient Judaism is noted here.

The youngest Aramaist

MODERN ARAMAIC WATCH: Hamilton’s Assyrians have youngest church reader in world (Carmela Fragomeni, Hamilton Spectator).
At Hamilton's St. Mari Assyrian Church, parishioners endearingly call George Hashimoto, 13, their "small deacon."

"We're proud of him," says Evette Haddad. "He's unique, so we gave him that little title."

George is the church's "Old Testament Reader." It's a distinguished position requiring investiture by the Assyrian bishop in Toronto — an honour bestowed when George was only seven.

St. Mari's priest, Father Younan Marwan, says George is very smart and was "the youngest in our church in the world, I'm sure, when he started reading."

George, whose mother is Assyrian from Iraq and father is Japanese, has spoken and read Assyrian fluently since an early age.

He was seven when he started. Maybe there is hope for Aramaic as a living language.

von Soden's Akkadian dictionary

AWOL: Wolfram von Soden: Akkadisches Handwörterbuch. Now badly out of date, especially after the completion of the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary, but still a useful resource for Assyriologists.