Saturday, May 16, 2015

Parthian Sources Online

AWOL: Parthian Sources Online. "This website is a digital collection of texts from the Parthian empire, one of the biggest and longest-lasting empires of antiquity."

Hebrew tattoo disaster

JAMES MCGRATH: Bad Hebrew = Free Advertising.

This tattoo reminds me of a Punic inscription (R 1534, el Ḥofra, Algeria) engraved on stone by an illiterate stonemason who accidentally included the instructions with the inscription: "and you will write 43 letters!" (וכתבת מספרמ ארבעמ ושלש).* (Cross-file under Punic Watch.)

Over the years I have collected various stories about tattoos in ancient languages (here and follow the links), some done correctly, but others with unfortunate results like this one.

*Segert, A Grammar of Phoenician and Punic, 16.151.1.

Gabbay and Secunda (eds), Encounters by the rivers of Babylon

BIBLIOGRAPHICA IRANICA (NEW BOOK): Encounters by the rivers of Babylon.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Report from Jews visiting the El Ghriba Synagogue

TRAVEL VIDEO: El Ghriba Festival in Tunisia (Natalie Jacobs, San Diego Jewish Journal). Judie Fein reports from Tunisia.

Background on Jewish pilgrimage to this ancient synagogue and on the current situation in Tunisia is here and links.

A new threat to Palmyra

BARBARIANS AT THE GATES: Monitor: IS threatening Syria’s ancient Palmyra. As jihadists near UNESCO world heritage site that tradition says was built by King Solomon, experts warn of imminent destruction (AFP).

Palmyra has also been under threat from the Syrian civil war but, at least until relatively recently
and in no small part thanks to the efforts of what sounds like a local militia, the site has remained relatively unscathed. I hope it is spared the depredations of ISIS.

More background on Palmyra is here and links. And more on ISIS's assault on the past is here and links.

Another DSS party

DISCOVERY BALL: Malibu Seen: Having a Ball with History (Kim Devore, Malibu Times).
After last year’s super successful exhibit Pompeii, you’d think the California Science Center would be hard pressed to top itself, but it did with another fascinating look back at the past. To kick things off, the institution hosted its annual Discovery Ball.

The numbers are in and it turns out that the mesmerizing showcase of the Dead Sea Scrolls proved the Center’s most successful fundraiser yet.

Eight hundred black tie and well-heeled guests arrived at the annual Discovery Ball, which went all out and raised a whopping $1.5 million!

Guests enjoyed a lavish cocktail party in an unusual setting, reminiscent of the caves of Qumran where the ancient scrolls were discovered.

The ball actually took place on 7 March, well before the Israel Independence Day party at the same venue, so I'm not sure why this article is coming out so late. But it sounds like everyone had a good time. Background on the exhibition is in that last link and the links therein.

Encyclopedia Talmudit

PROJECT: The “Encyclopedia Talmudit” is a monumental labor of love and learning (Jonathan Kirsch, Jewish Journal).
A vast body of Jewish writing rooted in distant antiquity is headed for cyberspace, thanks to the visionary efforts of an Israeli rabbi who comfortably straddles the worlds of science, faith and scholarship.

Rabbi Avraham Steinberg is chief executive officer of the “Encyclopedia Talmudit” (Talmudic Encyclopedia), a work-in-progress that began in 1942 as an audacious effort to rescue and preserve the writings of Jewish sages even as the Jewish people itself faced extinction at the hands of Nazi Germany and its allies. Thanks to the work of its founding editors, the Talmudic Encyclopedia now consists of 33 volumes and some 1,200 entries that summarize and explain the wisdom of the Talmud in a series of short topical entries.

Given the vast scope of the Talmud, it is not surprising that 33 volumes represent about half of the work in its entirety. Steinberg aspires to complete the print version of the Talmudic Encyclopedia within 10 years, which is why he is traveling widely in the United States to raise funds in support of the enterprise. The campaign was jump-started with a generous contribution from Dov Friedberg, whose matching gift is conditional on the publication of the Talmudic Encyclopedia in its entirety within a decade.

The project, which is staffed by "strictly Orthodox" writers, is written in a Classic-Modern form of Hebrew and is also slated to go online.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Sources for Judeans in the Babylonian Exile

ASOR BLOG: New Sources and Insights on Judeans in the Babylonian Exile (Yigal Bloch). A survey of both long-known cuneiform references to Judean exiles in Babylon (the Murashu texts etc.) and the newly published Babylonian Judeain cuneiform tablets.

Access to the full essay requires free registration.

Historical war crimes?

UNESCO DIRECTOR-GENERAL: Demolition of historical sites called war crime (AP). This at a conference being held in Egypt in response to ISIS's depredations against archaeology and history in the Middle East.

Related: Iraq: IS demolishes ruins to cover up looting. New evidence shows Islamic group’s destruction of historical treasures hides its theft of priceless artifacts (Paul Schemm, AP).

Background here and links.

Ancient Jewish finds in Sinop?

IN TURKEY: Ancient necropolis found during construction (Hurriet Daily News).
The traces of an ancient necropolis have been unearthed during the construction of a culture center in the northern province of Sinop’s Gelincik neighborhood. The construction has been halted and excavation work has begun with the permission of the General Directorate of Cultural Heritage and Museums.

Sinop Museum Director Hüseyin Vural said many artifacts dating back to the 4th century B.C. have been found through the eastern border of the necropolis.

“There are tombs and amphora among the artifacts as well as tomb gifts such as various types of Greek pottery, scent bottles and coins. We have also unearthed findings related to the Jewish faith in the west of the necropolis area. Works have been continuing,” he said.

Details are scarce so far, but this is worth keeping an eye on.

Via Mark Miller at Ancient Origins. There was also a report yesterday, but the English was so bad it was very hard to follow, so I decided to wait for something clearer. The Governor of Sinop, if he is being quoted correctly and in context with the "6,000 years," seems to be confused about the chronology.

On scholarship and mainstream consensus

PHILIP JENKINS has a new series at the Anxious Bench on distinguishing scholarship in biblical studies from pseudo-scholarship. The first essay deals with Jacobovici's and Wilson's The Lost Gospel and the second on scholarship and science.

I Want to Believe
I have no wish to waste any more time on the book itself, but the whole phenomenon does raise some important points about the nature of fringe and controversial scholarship, and its relationship to the mainstream, or the scholarly consensus. Even as I write the words, I know that “mainstream” and “consensus” are both words to raise hackles, and many lay readers have a natural preference for those they see as courageous entrepreneurs, as scholarly heretics. The problem, though, is that most non-specialists simply do not understand the assumptions from which scholars work. In my next few columns, I want to suggest just why that scholarly consensus matters, whether we are dealing with alternative scriptures, bizarre historical claims, or pseudo-archaeology. I’ll also try to explain how we can tell the difference between real scholarship and fringe speculations.
Outliers and Iconoclasts
At this point, you might be objecting that this represents an “argument from authority,” which in certain circumstances can lead to a kind of logical fallacy. But in most instances, basing yourself in scholarly authority and consensus is emphatically not a fallacy. Whenever I hear that objection, the other person is commonly deploying what I call the “argument from lack of authority,” namely that something is likely to be true precisely because it breaches the consensus. If someone presents a wildly unorthodox idea (Serapis was the first Christ; the Sphinx is twelve thousand years old), they scorn scholarly assaults. Did not the scholars of the day mock at iconoclastic pioneers like Copernicus and Galileo, who would be triumphantly vindicated?
More on The Lost Gospel here and links. Past discussions of the idea and value of scholarly consensus at PaleoJudaica etc. are collected here.


YONA SABAR: Hebrew Word of the Week: Mammon.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Judeo-Arabic Psalter

AT HEBREW BOOKS: THE BOOK OF PSALMS IN JUDEO-ARABIC. Judeo-Arabic is Arabic written in Hebrew letters. This 1898 edition of the Book of Psalms in a Judeo-Arabic translation can be downloaded for free at the link. It gives no information on where the translation comes from, and I doubt that many scientific text-critical and philological principles were at work in the production of the edition, but it gives you the Psalms in Judeo-Arabic. For readers looking for a familiar text to read, as one does, for brushing up on or improving their Judeo-Arabic, this looks like a useful resource.

More on Judeo-Arabic here and here.

Bibliographia Iranica

NEW BLOG: Bibliographia Iranica, "A predominantly bibliographic blog for Iranian Studies."

This is a reboot and expansion (with more contributors) of Arash Zeinis blog, to which I link often. He gives full background to the new blog here.

A couple of interesting posts on the new blog include:

A grammar of early Judaeo-Persian

Judeo-Persian manuscripts in the library of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America

A recent PaleoJudaica post on Judeo-Persian, with links to more, is here.

Aramaic-speaking-Christian unity

MODERN ARAMAIC WATCH: Chaldean, Assyrian, Syriac unity pivotal to survival of Iraqi Christians (Natasha Dado, Arab American News).
DETROIT — “To the Chaldean and Assyrian community of Michigan, enough with the division,” said Noor Mattr, a young Iraqi Christian activist at a rally for Iraq’s religious minorities in August. “You will never agree on everything. However, I beg you guys to unite for the sake of our people back home. Our survival back home depends on your unity here.”

Many Chaldean, Assyrian and Syriacs agree with Mattr’s message of unity and believe the future of Iraq’s Christians depends on it.

"If we do not unite now, say goodbye to our history,” said Olivia, a local Chaldean who chose not to use her real name. “No more of our history. No more Chaldeans, Assyrians and Syriacs."


Chaldeans, Assyrians and Syriacs are all the indigenous peoples of Iraq and Christians who speak Aramaic— the language of Christ.

They all trace their roots back to the Nineveh plains of northern Iraq and a time long before the establishment of the Republic of Iraq.

Background here and links.

SPEAR award

CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL SIX: Six Texas A&M Faculty Members Named Arts & Humanities Fellows, notably to:
• Daniel L. Schwartz, assistant professor of history in the College of Liberal Arts, specializes in late Roman history, with a focus on culture, religion and education. His forthcoming projects include an edited volume on conversion to Christianity and Islam during Late Antiquity and an article on religious violence in fifth and sixth century Roman Syria. Of particular interest to him is Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic that flourished among Middle Eastern Christians, but which is generally neglected by today’s ancient and medieval scholars. For his Arts & Humanities Fellowship, Schwartz will develop a digital publication called SPEAR: Syriac Persons, Events and Relations, to advance the study of Syriac.
Each fellowship comes with $15,000 for the project. Cross-file under Syriac Watch.

Review of Hannibal books

PUNIC WATCH: The Lion of Carthage. What Hannibal could not overcome was the Roman willingness to sustain mass casualties and raise new legions (Michael Kulikowski, WSJ). This essay surveys the story of Hannibal using these two books as his launching point:
Mastering the West
By Dexter Hoyos
Oxford, 337 pages, $29.95

By Eve MacDonald
Yale, 332 pages, $38
Every decade brings us a dozen or more books on the Punic Wars, and few can say anything that is both new and true. Carthaginian silence—“Roman ownership of Hannibal’s story,” as Ms. MacDonald aptly terms it—leaves us free to shuffle the same pieces into faintly new patterns time and time again. Perhaps unsurprisingly, people’s favorite book on the Punic Wars tends to be the first one they read. Mr. Hoyos’s venture is clear and competent, good on disputed analyses and contradictory evidence. Ms. MacDonald, for her part—relying on a lot of plausible speculation, argument by analogy and the occasional leap of analytical faith—succeeds in placing Hannibal firmly in the world of Hellenistic warlords from which he sprang: Her Hannibal is no alien semitic creature atavistically hostile to the Mediterranean civilization of Greece and its satellites but instead a stunningly successful product of that civilization, using its political repertory and military technology at a level that no contemporary could match, at least at first. The books offer different things, one unexceptionable and a bit dull, the other enthralling but sometimes beyond historical proof. Tastes vary, and neither will steer the newcomer wrong, but I suspect most will prefer the speculative provocations of Ms. MacDonald to the bloodless certainties of Mr. Hoyos.
More on Hannibal and the Punic Wars here and links.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Syriac post at Vanderbilt

H-JUDAIC: JOB: Vanderbilt University, Divinity School, VAP in Syriac and Digital Humanities. A one-year, renewable post. "The committee will begin review of applications immediately, with priority given to those applications received by May 22. Applications will be accepted until the position is filled." So don't dawdle.

Sage-shopping in the Talmud?

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Marriage: A Math Problem. Studying who’s owed what, when, and how much in cases of divorce, widowing, and inheritance.
In practice, however, it’s easy to imagine that this open-ended legal system could present some problems. If two Sages followed different legal traditions, rival litigants could easily engage in “sage-shopping,” finding the one who would be most sympathetic to their claim. And if rabbis of equal sanctity made opposite rulings in a case, whose view would prevail? Exactly this problem came up in this week’s Daf Yomi reading, in Ketubot 94b. Chapter Ten of Ketubot deals with complex issues of inheritance and debt, one of which is how to deal with rival deeds to the same property that were issued on the same date. Say that Yaakov owns a house, and he signs a deed giving it to Reuven, but later the same day he signs another deed giving it to Shimon. Who gets the house?
Marital financial law is complicated. Especially financial law for polygamous marriages.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Jewish weddings

EXHIBITION: CT Humanities provides funding for wedding exhibit at Jewish Historical Society (West Hartford News).
WEST HARTFORD >> The Jewish Historical Society of Greater Hartford recently received a grant from Connecticut Humanities to partially support its upcoming new exhibit, “Breaking The Glass: The American Jewish Wedding.”

This grant will be used to help design and fabricate text panels detailing the history of the Jewish wedding. The catalogue accompanying the exhibit will also contain information on the wedding rituals and traditions of several other faiths to provide further insight into the importance of the wedding ceremony throughout the world..

A highlight of the exhibit will be antique wedding gowns from the UCONN Historical Costume and Textile Collection, and reproductions of ancient ketubot (marriage contracts) from the Beinecke Library Judaic Collection at Yale University. ...
More on Jewish marriage contracts (ketubot/ketuvot) here and links.

Bar Kokhba papyri

ANNIVERSARY: This Day in Jewish History / Archaeologist announces finding 2,000-year old letters by Bar Kochba in desert cave. The letters presented by Yigael Yadin were signed by Bar Kochba, the man revered by modern Israelis — but who led the Jewish nation to disaster (David B. Green, Haaretz).
On May 12, 1960, archaeologist Yigael Yadin, appearing at the Jerusalem residence of President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, announced the astounding discovery of a cache of 2,000-year-old letters.

The letters had been signed by the legendary Jewish warrior Shimon Bar Kochba, leader of a devastating second-century revolt against Rome, and had been found high up in a cave overlooking the Nahal Hever canyon, west of the Dead Sea.

JTA has posted the original announcement of the find here. More on the Bar Kokhba revolt is here and links.

Cyril and Methodius Day, round one

SAINTS' DAY: Bulgarian Orthodox Church commemorates Saints Cyril and Methodius (FOCUS News Agency). There is much celebrating in the Eastern Orthodox Churches of these two saints and their invention of the Old Church Slavonic alphabet, with key dates ranging from February to July. Technically Saints Cyril and Methodius Day is on 24 May in the Gregorian Calendar, but that translates to 11 May in the Julian calendar, and so it was also celebrated yesterday. Background on the day and why it matters to PaleoJudaica (hint: Slavonic Old Testament Pseudepigrapha) is here.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Review of Edelman and Ben Zvi (eds.), Remembering Biblical Figures

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Edelman and Ben Zvi, Remembering Biblical Figures in the Late Persian and Early Hellenistic Periods: Social Memory and Imagination (Nathan Schumer).
Edelman, Diana and Ehud Ben Zvi, editors. Remembering Biblical Figures in the Late Persian and Early Hellenistic Period: Social Memory and Imagination. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

Remembering Biblical Figures in the Later Persian & Early Hellenistic Periods is a new edited volume examining the biblical texts through the theoretical lens of social or collective memory. Social memory suggests that groups form shared memories as part of their constitution of group identity. Thus, such shared memories of the past (in this case, the Biblical past) should be interrogated in order to see what they can tell us about the group that treats them as memories rather than what they can tell us about the Biblical period itself. Epistemologically, memory studies claims that while depictions of the past may not be true in a conventional historical sense, they were true for the people who remembered them. The book incorporates recent research on the neuroscience of memory in order to show that this theoretical lens is widely applicable, but also draws on the traditional canon of memory studies, including the influential scholars and theorists Maurice Halbwachs and Pierre Nora.


Arcosolium robbers thwarted in the Galilee

MORE LOOTING ARRESTS: Israeli Antiquities Squad Stops Wannabe’ ‘Tomb Raiders’ at Ancient Roman Catacomb (Tazpit News Agency/The Jewish Press).
By Michael Zeff In a dramatic ambush operation, Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) officials caught two would-be grave robbers red-handed as they tried to pilfer an ancient Roman period burial site in the Galilee today.

IAA anti-theft task force officials apprehended the duo moments before they breached the burial chamber on Sunday, task force chief Nir Distelfeld told the Tazpit News Agency “We managed to prevent severe desecration and irreversible damage to a beautiful and important catacomb,” Distelfeld said.

The burial chamber, called an Arcosolium, was part of a larger set of underground catacombs located on a preservation site of ancient Roman and Byzantine ruins in the upper Galilee. The suspects managed to dig their way into the main cave but were stopped by task force members before they succeeded in damaging or stealing any antiquities.


Dig episode 10

KIMBERLY WINSTON: ‘Dig’ ends its TV run not with a bang but a flood. For the blood moon tetrad see here and links. Ms. Winston concludes:
“Dig” has been both lauded and condemned by critics. Most lamented its borrowing of plot elements from better known — and more widely consumed — pieces of pop culture like “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “The Da Vinci Code.” But the creators of “Dig” delivered what they advertised — a fast-paced puzzle of a story that entertained. And they did it with a heavy dose of religious history, imagery and themes that — to their credit — were almost entirely based on fact.
Well, sort of. And not including the ninja Essenes.

Background here and links.