Saturday, October 17, 2015

Anxious Noah

PHILIP JENKINS has published a new series of posts at the Anxious Bench, this one on the (more or less) lost Book of Noah. Since this week's reading in the Jewish liturgy is the story of Noah, this seems like a good time to link to his posts.

Noah’s Book

Reading Noah

Noah’s Magic

The More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project is working on some of the material that Professor Jenkins mentions and has already published one text relevant to the Book of Noah which escaped his attention. In Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: More Noncanonical Scriptures, vol. 1, Martha Himmelfarb published an excerpt from a medieval Hebrew text call the Book of Asap which fragment may be an excerpt from the Book of Noah. See her chapter "The Book of Noah" on pp. 40-45. In volume 2 we intend to publish all surviving fragments of the Book of Giants in any language. Also for volume 2, I am currently working on a new translation of the Hebrew magical treatise Sefer HaRazim (the Book of Mysteries, on which more here and links) which takes into account recently published manuscript evidence.

Additional past posts on ancient lost books are collected here and links.

The Temple menorah among Alaric's treasures?

THOSE TEMPLE TREASURES AGAIN: Italy to dig for ancient Roman treasure sought by Nazis. Haul from tomb of Alaric, king of the Visigoths who sacked Rome, thought to include gold, silver and priceless Menorah looted from Second Temple (Nick Squires, The Telegraph).
Italian archaeologists are to start excavations in search of a fabled cache of ancient Roman treasure which, according to legend, was buried alongside the Gothic king who sacked the city in the 5th century.

The body of Alaric, king of the Visigoths, is said to have been buried at the confluence of two rivers in Cosenza, southern Italy, alongside tonnes of silver and gold, even the priceless Menorah that the Romans looted from the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD.

The story of the lost treasure fascinated Hitler, who sent Heinrich Himmler, the chief of the SS, and a team of Nazi archaeologists to try to find the hidden loot.

They failed, as had many others before them. Now there is a fresh effort to find the legendary loot.

This is an interesting story with Indiana Jones resonances, including foiled, rapacious Nazis. But some caution is called for. The enthusiastic account of Alaric's treasures seems to come from the mayor of Cosenza. An archaeologist was more reserved:
But others are less sure that the treasure exists – or ever existed.

“We need to be cautious,” Pietro De Leo, a medieval historian from Calabria University, told Corriere della Sera newspaper. “There are few doubts that the king of the Goths was buried in Cosenza. But I don’t believe there was an immense treasure.”
The excavation of Alaric's tomb would be very important, and the search for it seems to be the real archaeological story. Whether vast treasures or the Temple menorah show up in the tomb remains to be seen. As usual, I am not holding my breath.

Past posts on the Temple menorah and notions about where it might be now are collected here.

Levine on Jesus and ancient Judaism

INTERVIEW: Faces of Faith: Amy-Jill Levine wants you to understand Jesus’ world (ELAINE GARRISON, Kansas City Star).
Amy-Jill Levine, a New Testament and Jewish studies professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., is on a mission to show us Jesus as a first-century Jew. Followers will better understand Jesus’ teachings when they understand the world in which he lived, the roles of women, and the laws that governed that world.

Levine is making several appearances in Kansas City supporting her book, “Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi,” while talking with educational groups, churches and synagogues. While traveling, she answered a few questions by email:

More on the above-mentioned book is here.

The PA, UNESCO, and the Western Wall

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: PA Tries to Claim Western Wall at UNESCO. Proposal, likely to pass due to Muslim majority, would have Kotel renamed Buraq Plaza and made part of Al-Aqsa Mosque. (Ari Yashar, Arutz Sheva)
In an attempt to gain international legitimacy for its rewriting of history, the Palestinian Authority (PA) will submit a resolution to UNESCO (UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) next week claiming the Kotel (Western Wall) as its own.

The proposal calls to have the Kotel in Jerusalem - which is an outer wall of the Temple Mount that is the holiest site in Judaism - recognized as part of Al-Aqsa Mosque located on the Mount, reports Yedioth Aharonoth on Friday.


A copy of the proposal reveals its main points, which begin with the call "to declare and confirm that the Western Wall is part of Al-Aqsa Mosque, and is called Buraq Plaza. The same applies to the Mughrabi Gate."

The PA has been advancing such ideas for some time. On the name "Al-Buraq Wall" (a.k.a. the "Western Wall" or "Wailing Wall") see here, here, here, and here.

More pre-ISIS photo of Palmyra

PALMYRA WATCH: Getty acquires first photos ever taken of ancient ruins ISIS recently destroyed (Mike Boehm, L.A. Times).
“The ongoing Syrian civil war now threatens to obliterate Palmyra utterly. These photographs represent rare primary documents of a region and world heritage site in crisis, preserving the memory of its ancient monuments… for posterity,” said Frances Terpak, curator of photography at the Getty Research Institute.

They were taken in 1864 by Louis Vignes, a French naval officer, during an expedition to Syria and Lebanon sponsored by Albert, duc de Luynes, a French aristocrat who was an art collector and archaeologist.
Background on Palmyra, its history, the Aramaic dialect spoken there, and, not least, its sad recent fate under ISIS occupation is here and many links. Some other pre-occupation photos are noted here and here.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Interview with Andrew Perrin about Aramaic dream-visions

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Andrew Perrin Discusses the Dynamics of Dream-Vision Revelation in the Aramaic DSS (Brian Davidson). Excerpt:
The question of the (dis)unity of the ADSS is my guiding question throughout the study. A central item of debate in current research on these materials is whether they are best described as a “collection” (a disparate group of texts, sharing only their compositional language) or a “corpus” (a coherent group of writings, evidencing shared literary topoi or ideological patterns). Since dream-vision episodes, allusions, or interpretations are found in at least twenty of the thirty Aramaic compositions identified at Qumran, this feature can serve as a gauge for working towards an answer to this question.
I noted Perrin's book here when it came out in 2013.

Manuscript curator post at the British Library

Curator of Ancient and Medieval Manuscripts
Vacancy Details

Salary: £32,000 to £36,800
Location: St Pancras
Job Type: Permanent
Vacancy Group: Collections
Category: Curator, Conservation, Collection Care
Closing Date: 11/15/2015
Date Posted: 10/15/2015
Reference: 0045

The British Library holds an internationally renowned collection of manuscripts relating to the ancient and medieval world. As Curator of Ancient and Medieval Manuscripts, with a special responsibility for Classical, Biblical and Byzantine Manuscripts, you will use innovative and traditional ways of interpreting and presenting these collections through online resources and engagement with academic and general users. You will manage projects relating to ancient and medieval manuscripts and use your specialist knowledge to support the development, management and promotion of these collections.

With a post-graduate degree, or equivalent, in a relevant subject, you will have experience of research in Classics and /or Byzantine Studies and a personal area of expertise relevant to the collection. Strong knowledge of Ancient Greek and Classical Latin, excellent written and oral communication skills in English, and the ability to promote the collections to a wide range of audiences are essential.

To help transform research on and engagement with these collections, please visit
Appointments are usually made at the bottom of the pay scale.

Closing date 15 November 2015.
Interview Date: 26 November 2015.
Follow the link for further particulars.

In which I prophesy

JAMES MCGRATH: Blogging Temples (and Jim Davila the Prophet). Thanks James.

Background here and links.

Book sale

PHILOLOGY: A Seminary Sells a Diverse Range of Books (EVE M. KAHN, NYT).
St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, which hosted Pope Francis a few weeks ago, is downsizing its art and book collections while shrinking its campus in Wynnewood, Pa., near Philadelphia.


On Oct. 27, Swann will offer about 250 volumes from the seminary. The auction lots (with estimates starting at a few hundred dollars each) spotlight the wide-ranging interests of the faculty members. In addition to world religions, the topics include honeybees, plant names, medieval Norwegian conquerors, ancient Roman food, Danish explorers in Arab lands, Persian explorers in China, French fireworks, Egyptian geography and Italian coin collections. The text languages include Icelandic, Breton, Slavonic, Maltese, Armenian, Kurdish, Coptic, Persian, Syriac, Tibetan, Sanskrit and Burmese.

The book in the photo is in Syriac. Cross-file under Slavonic Watch, Armenian Watch, Coptic Watch, and Syriac Watch

Tomb of Joseph complex set on fire

ISIS SMILES: Palestinian Youth Set Fire to Joseph's Tomb in Nablus. Hundreds gathered and threw Molotov cocktails at the compound; Palestinian security forces stepped in when some broke in and threw flammable materials inside. The IDF condemned the demonstration, as well as the attack of any holy site. (Jack Khoury, Gili Cohen, Chaim Levinson and Jonathan Lis, Haaretz).
The tomb, identified as the resting place of the Biblical Joseph, sits on the slope of Mount Gerizim in Nablus and near the Balata refugee camp.

Joseph's Tomb was not included in the grave list of holy sites which was transferred to the Palestinians as a result of the second Oslo agreement signed in 1995. When the IDF pulled out of Nablus that same year as a result of the agreement, Od Yosef Hai, a yeshiva founded in the 1980s, it's name a Biblical reference, became a Jewish and Israeli enclave in the area. But in 2000, because of the outbreak of the second intifada, Israel completely withdrew from the grave, as it was too difficult to defend. 

In recent years, every month at night, worshippers would gather at Joseph's Tomb to pray. The visits were coordinated with the military forces and Palestinian security.

There were many conflicts around the grave in recent months due to uncoordinated visits. In 2011, Ben-Yosef Livnat was killed and three of his friends were wounded by a Palestinian policeman after visiting the area without clearing it with the IDF.
This is not the first time there has been such violence at the (traditional) Tomb of Joseph. Some of this is touched on in past posts here, here, and here.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Review of Layton, The Canons of Our Fathers

MARGINALIA REVIEW OF BOOKS: In the Footsteps of Shenoute – Caroline T. Schroeder. Caroline T. Schroeder on Bentley Layton’s The Canons of Our Fathers.
Shenoute of Atripe, known in the Coptic Orthodox Church as St. Shenoute the Archimandrite, directed a federation of monasteries for men and women in Egypt from the mid 380s until his death in 465. The corpus of literature surviving from Shenoute and his successors Besa and Zenobios arguably constitutes the largest and most illuminating body of evidence for earliest Christian monasticism, especially when one considers that the majority of these documents are neither hagiographical nor legendary, but rather letters, sermons, treatises, and monastic rules written contemporaneously (or in very close temporal proximity) with the events and phenomena they describe. Every student of Christianity or monasticism should study these sources.

Why don’t we? Because they are largely inaccessible, something Canons of Our Fathers seeks to change. Shenoute and his successors wrote in Coptic, the last phase of the Egyptian language family. When Arabic overtook Coptic as the primary language of Egypt, local Christians no longer read Coptic fluently, and the manuscripts were no longer used and copied. When the White Monastery was “discovered” by Europeans, these manuscripts were taken or purchased by antiquities traders, scholars, and perhaps others and then dispersed page by page (not even codex by codex) across the globe, primarily in Western libraries, museums, and private collections. (Fig. 4) As a result, the pages of one letter or sermon might be in two, three, or more locations. Even fragments that have been published may not have been translated into a modern language.
More on Shenoute is here, here, and here. And there's more on the manuscripts of the White Monastery here and links. Cross-file under Coptic Watch.

A draft notebook of KJV OT Apocrypha

OLD TESTAMENT APOCRYPHA WATCH: Earliest Known Draft of King James Bible Is Found, Scholar Says (JENNIFER SCHUESSLER, NYT).
The King James Bible is the most widely read work in English literature, a masterpiece of translation whose stately cadences and transcendent phrases have long been seen, even by secular readers, as having emerged from a kind of collective divine inspiration.

But now, in an unassuming notebook held in an archive at the University of Cambridge, an American scholar has found what he says is an important new clue to the earthly processes behind that masterpiece: the earliest known draft, and the only one definitively written in the hand of one of the roughly four dozen translators who worked on it.

The notebook, which dates from 1604 to 1608, was discovered by Jeffrey Alan Miller, an assistant professor of English at Montclair State University in New Jersey, who announced his research on Wednesday in an article in The Times Literary Supplement.

The notebook contains a draft of material from the Old Testament Apocrypha:
But he also came across an unassuming notebook about the size of a modern paperback, wrapped in a stained piece of waste vellum and filled with some 70 pages of Ward’s nearly indecipherable handwriting.

The notebook had been cataloged in the 1980s as a “verse-by-verse biblical commentary” with “Greek word studies, and some Hebrew notes.” But as Professor Miller tried to puzzle out which passages of the Bible it concerned, he realized what it was: a draft of parts of the King James Version of the Apocrypha, a disputed section of the Bible that is left out of many editions, particularly in the United States.


Further, he said, the notebook contains a complete draft for the book of the Apocrypha known as 1 Esdras, but then, after a run of blank pages, only a partial manuscript for the book known as the Wisdom of Solomon, suggesting that Ward picked up the slack for another translator.

You can read Professor Miller's article in the TLS here.

A Karaite on the treasures of the Temple Mount

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Hidden Treasures of the Temple Mount (Nehemia Gordon, Times of Israel Blog).
Recently, I had the privilege of holding in my hand one of the most precious treasures ever unearthed. I was standing in a small laboratory in a nondescript Jerusalem office building holding an actual fragment of the Second Temple. It was a tiny piece of highly decorated white limestone that still bore the burn marks from when the Romans set fire to the Temple in 70 CE (see photo). I’ve been to the Western Wall countless times and am always deeply moved by the experience. But the Kotel is the outer retaining wall that held up the platform on which the outer courtyard of the Second Temple was built. Now I was holding an actual piece of the Temple itself, uncovered by the Temple Mount Sifting Project.

The Temple Mount Sifting Project has found many treasures in the rubble illicitly excavated and dumped by the Waqf. More on those paving stones is here. More on the Immer seal is here. Other interesting finds are noted here, here, and here.

It's interesting to note that according to the author profile the author of this blog post is a Karaite.

Nachman Avigad

ELAINE ROSE GLICKMAN: The Man Who Found the Menorah (The Streets of Jerusalem Blog, Jerusalem Post). Excerpt:
Born in 1905 in Zawalow, Austria, (now part of Ukraine), Nachman Avigad made aliyah in 1925 and received his master’s and Ph.D. in archaeology from Hebrew University. He participated in digs at the Beit Alpha and Hamat Gader synagogues, then directed the excavations at Beit Shearim, where he personally identified the family tomb of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, the redactor of the Mishnah. Nachman Avigad also published the last of the Dead Sea Scrolls, excavated the mountain fortress at Masada, authored numerous articles – especially on Hebrew seals – and identified a seal belonging to the Israelite queen Jezebel (the identification has been contested, but I’m placing my bet with Nachman Avigad).
Avigad was one of the premier Northwest Semitic epigraphers of his generation. He published one of the Dead Sea Scrolls (the Aramaic Genesis Apocryphon) but this was not the "last" of the Scrolls, whatever that means. It was found in Qumran Cave I. Also, it may be that he did some work at Masada, but Yigal Yadin was the chief excavator and Avigad is not on Yadin's list of staff members of the expedition. Perhaps a reader knows the details and can fill us in. Many of the Hebrew seals Avigad published were unprovenanced and some of these are probably forgeries. I have no particular view one way or another about the YZBL seal.

UPDATE (25 October): Reader David Stacey e-mails: "Jim - see IEJ 7 (1957) pp 1-60. - The Survey and Excavation of Masada 1955-56 - Avi-Yonah, Avigad, Aharoni, Dunayevsky, and Gutman." Also, I see I commented on the YZBL seal in a post back in 2007.

On ancient readers and how they read

PAUL V.M. FLESHER: UW Religion Today: Ancient Readers.
When people read the Bible, the works of Homer or any other ancient text, they link themselves to the people who read these works millennia ago. “We have read the same text,” they may think, “so, we are alike.” This happens particularly within religions; modern Christians who read the Bible, for instance, often imagine themselves to be like the ancient Christians who read the same Bible.

But, nothing could be further from the truth. In the ancient world, reading was a different kind of activity from what it is today. The difference in reading indicates a difference in character in three ways.


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The NYT backtracks further on the Jewish temples

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Rick Gladstone's now infamous article, Historical Certainty Proves Elusive at Jerusalem’s Holiest Place, published last week in the New York Times, now prominently indicates just below the headline, "Editor's Note Appended," with a link to the note at the end of the article:
Editors’ Note: October 13, 2015
An article on Thursday, with the headline “Historical Certainty Proves Elusive at Jerusalem’s Holiest Place,” examined the scholarly debate about two ancient Jewish temples on the Temple Mount, a site sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians. While the article laid out the history of the Jewish temples and the archaeological and historical evidence about them, the headline and a passage in the initial version of the article implied incorrectly that questions among scholars about the location of the temples potentially affected Jewish claims to the site and Israel’s broader assertion of sovereignty over Jerusalem. In fact, as the article was later corrected to clarify, the scholarly debate is a narrower one, focused on the precise location on the Temple Mount where the long destroyed temples once stood. All versions of the article should have made clear that the archaeological and historical uncertainties about the site — unlike assertions by some Palestinians that the temples never existed — do not directly challenge Jewish claims to the Temple Mount.
The note is also published under "Corrections" here.

Some problems remain with the article itself: the implications that Matthew Adams said that the very existence of the temples was an "academically complex subject"; the implication that only "many Israelis" think otherwise; and the lack of mention of the Waqf's illicit and damaging excavations on the Temple Mount.

But the new editorial note does refer to both temples as historical; it makes clear that claims that there were no temples on the Temple Mount come from "some Palestinians" and do not fall under "archaeological and historical uncertainties about the site"; it says that the issue at question, insofar as there is an issue at all, is where exactly the temples stood on the Temple Mount; and it confirms that the historical evidence does not support political claims that there is no Jewish connection to the site.

Well done, all those who challenged the Times on the serious problems with this article. And I give the Times credit for making this fuller correction, although a good bit of the damage caused by the article cannot now be undone.

I think we can call this one a win.

Background here, here, and here.

Additional Note: In 2005 I published an essay about blogging on the SBL Forum website in which I predicted that there would come a time when:
... any professional news story will be subject to immediate criticism by experts and eyewitnesses; these worthwhile responses will be indexed next to the story itself by intelligent software; and everyone will know to check for them. The emergent order we can see developing around us even now will let the cream rise to the top and hold the media (and bloggers!) accountable for their every word as soon as it is uttered.
And I have further comments on the subject in a 2010 SBL paper. We aren't there yet, but we're getting closer.

Tov publications online

AWOL: Open Access Publications of Emanuel Tov.

Museum opening at Cairo Airport

COPTIC WATCH: Ministry of Antiquities opens museum at Cairo International Airport. The museum displaying pieces of Egypt's distinguished history will open at the end of October (Nevine El-Aref, AhramOnline).
[Elham Salah, head of the Museums Section of Egypt's Ministry of Antiquities] explains that the objects show the daily life of the ancient Egyptians as well as their religious beliefs. The Islamic era is presented through a collection of lamps, plates, chandeliers and a copy of the Quran, while the Coptic era is shown through a collection of objects depicting religious rituals inside Cathedrals as well as Coptic manuscripts. A copy of the Holy Bible is also exhibited.

Review of Magny, Porphyry in Fragments

Ariane Magny, Porphyry in Fragments: Reception of an Anti-Christian Text in Late Antiquity. Ashgate studies in philosophy and theology in late antiquity. Farnham; Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2014. Pp. 202. ISBN 9781409441151. $104.95.

Reviewed by John Granger Cook, LaGrange College (


It has become fashionable in recent years to produce editions of Porphyry’s Contra Christianos, despite the manifest problems associated with the text.1 Ariane Magny’s refreshing examination of the fragments attributed to Porphyry’s work against the Christians is a revised dissertation done under the guidance of Gillian Clark. At this time in Porphyrian scholarship, such a careful monograph is probably of more practical use than another attempted edition of the lost text. After an introduction and a chapter on methodology, Magny limits her investigation to three primary authors from whom most of the alleged fragments have been drawn: Eusebius, Jerome, and Augustine. She does not include other authors such as Didymus the Blind and Theophylact who preserve texts associated with what is usually entitled the C. Christ. of Porphyry. In addition, Magny (11) rather casually dismisses the texts from the anonymous philosopher of Macarius Magnes’ Monogenes (formerly called the Apocriticus) that Adolf Harnack thought derived from Porphyry.2 She calls her method (22-23) “decontextualization” (or “deconstructing the cover-text”)—a method which includes analyzing the rhetorical strategies of the Christian authors who transmit texts and ideas from Porphyry or other pagan critics of Christianity. Herein lies the strength of her book. Such a method is hardly revolutionary, but it does call attention to the problem of working with the fragments of a book whose disappearance is in part explained by an imperial prescription in 448 C.E.3

Porphyry, by the way, was the first one in late antiquity to figure out that the Book of Daniel was a work of the Maccabean period.

Review of Kalmin, Migrating Tales

Richard Kalmin. Migrating Tales: The Talmud's Narratives and Their Historical Context. Oakland: University of California Press, 2014. 312 pp. $65.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-520-27725-0.

Reviewed by Dvora E. Weisberg (Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Los Angeles)
Published on H-Judaic (October, 2015)
Commissioned by Matthew A. Kraus

A Thousand and One Sasanian Nights

Like his previous book, Jewish Babylonia between Persia and Roman Palestine (2006), Richard Kalmin’s Migrating Tales represents an attempt to understand the literature of the Babylonian Talmud in its cultural context. While the earlier book focused on Palestinian rabbinic and Persian Christian traditions, this book considers Talmudic narratives against non-rabbinic narratives, both Christian and pagan, from the Roman East. Kalmin’s readings support his contention that there was a growing “cultural unity” that crossed the borders of the two major empires of the time, Rome and Sasanian Babylonia. He argues that the rabbis of the Babylonian Talmud were influenced by both Mesopotamian Christians and groups in the eastern Roman Empire. This influence can be attributed in part to Persian conquest of portions of the eastern Roman Empire in the third century and again in the sixth. The book also considers the Babylonian rabbis’ awareness of Christianity and relations between the two religions in this period.


Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Magness, the Temple Mount, and the NYT

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: One of the scholars interviewed for that New York Times article on the Temple Mount and the Judean/Jewish temples thereon, archaeologist Jodi Magness, has published a letter in the Times in response to the article: The Temple Mount in Jerusalem. With reference to it see also:

NY Times Source Slams Article on Temple Mount (CAMERA).

Scholar Rips NYT for Disputing Jewishness of Temple Mount ( Washington Free Beacon)

Professor Magness originally sent in a longer letter, but the Times required it to be pared down for publication. Joe Lauer has already circulated the original, longer letter on his e-mail list, but, with Professor Magness's permission, I publish it here as well:
To the Editor;
As one of the specialists interviewed for and quoted in "Historical Certainty Proves Elusive at Jerusalem's Holiest Place" (8 October 2015), I am writing to set the record straight.
The question of the existence and location of two successive temples on Jerusalem's Temple Mount is not nearly as contested as the reporter who wrote the article suggests. During a telephone conversation that lasted over an hour, I explained to the reporter as follows:
1) Literary/historical sources leave little doubt that there were two successive ancient temples in Jerusalem dedicated to the God of Israel, the first destroyed in 586 B.C.E. and the second destroyed in 70 C.E.
2) These same sources, as well as archaeological remains (e.g., the Temple Mount platform as it exists today, which is a product of Herod's reconstruction), indicate that these temples stood somewhere on the Temple Mount.
3) The only real question, then, is where exactly the temple(s) stood on the Temple Mount. I explained to the reporter that the site of the Dome of the Rock is the most likely spot for various reasons, despite the lack of archaeological evidence/excavations.
I told the reporter that one would have to be an "extreme skeptic" to doubt the existence of these temples, and that this would be comparable to those who question the existence of an historical Jesus. I also told him that I do not know of any legitimate or credible scholars who doubt the existence of the two temples or who deny that they stood somewhere on the Temple Mount.
I don't know why the reporter chose to present the information the way he did, but the article misrepresents the views of a majority of scholars who specialize in the history and archaeology of Jerusalem.
Jodi Magness, Ph.D.
Kenan Distinguished Professor for Teaching Excellence in Early Judaism
Department of Religious Studies
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
So, let us sum up. The reporter, Rick Gladstone, who wrote the article "Historical Certainty Proves Elusive at Jerusalem’s Holiest Place" in the New York Times, had detailed, accurate information about the scholarly state of the question concerning the ancient temples in question. He had this, minimally, from Professor Jodi Magness and Dr. Matthew J. Adams, director of the Albright Institute. Nevertheless, Mr. Gladstone wrote and published the original article to assert, incorrectly, that whether there were Jewish temples on the Temple Mount was "an explosive historical question," one "which many books and scholarly treatises have never definitively answered." In so doing he redistributed the quotations from Dr. Adams such that it appeared, erroneously, that Dr. Adams was saying that the question whether the temples ever existed, at least on the Temple Mount, was "an academically complex question."

It is good that the Times issued a small correction and it is good that they published at least a much abbreviated version of Professor Magness's letter. But the article has still done a lot of damage at a time when political tensions over the Temple Mount are very high. Many people will not see the corrected version of the article or Professor Magness's letter, and much of the information in her original letter has been removed — notably the parts that make clear that she said the above at length to the reporter.

If the New York Times does this poorly on a politically charged story about which I happen to know something and the background of which I happen to be able to track down, it is hard for me not to wonder what might be going on in other politically charged stories in the Times which I am not in the position to check up on. Who knows? I blog. You decide.

The previous two posts on this story, which along with this post document everything in detail, are here and here.

UPDATE (14 October): More here.

When did ancient "Re-Judaization" begin?

LARRY HURTADO: “Re-Hebraization/Judaization” Among Roman-Era Jews.
In short, the analysis in the CPJ suggests strongly that an increasing expression of Jewish ethnic and religious particularly began much earlier than Collar proposes. Even the increased emphasis on Torah and observing its commandments that she highlights in later Roman Jewish inscriptions is surely reflected already in developments such as the emergence of the Pharisees, a party particularly concerned to promote observance of Torah among Jews.

Vows, Palmyra, Queen Helena, and the Talmud

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: When Making a Vow, Consider Where You Stand. Because a corpse is always a source of ritual impurity, and because on a geological timescale corpses are everywhere under our feet, aren’t all religious Jews impure?
The ancient Roman city of Palmyra made headlines this summer, for the first time in 1,500 years, for a tragic reason. Motivated by religious zeal against paganism, ISIS destroyed some of the best-preserved structures from the ancient world, including the Temple of Bel—the Mesopotamian god known in the Hebrew Bible as Baal. (Indeed, some of the Hebrew prophets might have applauded the destruction, given their hatred of Baal-worship.) But Palmyra was not only a pagan city; it was also home to a substantial Jewish community, as this week’s Daf Yomi reading testified.

Yes, further to this post, Palmyra (Tadmor) is mentioned in the Talmud and elsewhere in the rabbinic literature. A reader has sent in additional references, but I've been busy and I will get to them as soon as I can. Background on Palmyra and its recent devastation by ISIS is here and many links. Cross-file under Palmyra Watch.

In Nazir 19b, this question is raised in connection with another woman, Queen Helena of Adiabene, also in modern Syria. Helene once vowed, “If my son will return from war safely, I will be a nazirite for seven years.” He did, and as we have seen earlier in the Tractate, such conditional vows are effective; so she obeyed the nazirite prohibitions for seven years. But even though Helena avoided corpses for all that time, she was living in ritual impurity anyway, since her whole country was tamei. When she subsequently visited the Land of Israel, then, Beit Hillel ruled that she had to perform her naziriteship all over again, since only now was she truly pure. As a result, she had to be a nazirite for seven more years, for a total of 14. Nazirites outside the Land of Israel are, in a sense, only pretending, or doing a trial run for the real thing.
More on Queen Helena of Adiabene and rabbinic legends about her is here. My caution concerning rabbinic stories about her applies to the one above too. And follow the links for some related historical and archaeological issues.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Elad wins a court case

POLITICS: Settler Group Wins Right to Run Jerusalem Archaeology Park After Appeal. Court rules against state, allows Elad to operate site adjacent to West Wall (Nir Hasson, Haaretz).
The right-wing City of David Foundation, better known as Elad, will be allowed to operate the Jerusalem Archaeological Park adjacent to the Western Wall, after the Jerusalem District Court on Monday overturned a lower court ruling that had voided the agreement enabling it to do so.

The court accepted Elad’s appeal of the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court ruling in its entirety, reinstating the agreement the NGO had signed with the Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter to manage the park and the adjacent Davidson Center, both major tourist attractions located south of the Western Wall plaza.

Elad manages the City of David National Park, just outside the Old City, and is also involved in settling Jews in the adjacent, predominantly Arab village of Silwan. The City of David National Park is connected to the Jerusalem Archaeological Park via a Second Temple-era drainage tunnel whose excavation was completed in 2012.

There have been so many of these cases about this area recently that, to be honest, I'm not sure if I have noted this particular one before or not. See the posts here, here, here, and links, and work it out for yourself, if you can.

Magadala Stone replica

IN PENNSYLVANIA: Magdala Stone replica to be displayed at two Delco churches (Patti Mengers, Delaware County Daily Times)
St. Mary Magdalen Church in Upper Providence this week will become the temporary home of what some believe could be the replica of an artifact from the residence of the parish namesake — a follower of Jesus Christ who lived nearly 2,000 years ago in Israel.

The Magdala Stone, unearthed six years ago in an ancient synagogue along the Sea of Galilee while excavation was under way for a retreat facility, is considered by some to be one of the most significant archeological finds of the last 50 years.

More on the Magdala Stone and the Magdala excavation is here and links.

Monday, October 12, 2015

More on that NYT article

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: The blowback continues over last week's New York Times article whose original form indulged in explicit support for Jewish-Temple denial. And I have some new information to break as well below. My original post on the story is here.

Some of what has come out since yesterday:

NY Times Angers Historians, Archaeologists Over Article Questioning Jewish Link to Temple Mount (Sharona Schwartz, The Blaze). Archaeologist Gabriel Barkay adds his voice:
“It was based on ignorance, simple ignorance; you cannot ignore all the literary evidence” of the existence of Jewish temples on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount site, Prof. Gabriel Barkay, codirector of the Temple Mount Sifting Project, told TheBlaze by phone Sunday.
I think "ignorance" is generous. It is clear that the writer had the correct information available and presented the story the way he did nonetheless.

New York Times Amends Article Questioning Jewish Temples’ Existence on Temple Mount (JTA)

Jerusalem Through the Lens of the New York Times (Yarden Frankl,

Also, the Irish Times has reprinted the NYT article, but it has reprinted the original, uncorrected version. The third paragraph appears as follows:
The question, which many books and scholarly treatises have never definitively answered, is whether the 37-acre site, home to Islam’s sacred Dome of the Rock shrine and al-Aqsa Mosque, was also the precise location of two ancient Jewish temples, one built on the remains of the other, and both long since gone.
(My bold emphasis.) And just in case readers miss the point, the IT has added its own very unhelpful subtitle to the article: "Did Temple Mount really contain King Solomon’s temple? No one really knows." I have a screen shot, in case any of this is changed. The damage of the New York Times article continues to propagate.

Then one Philip Weiss of Mondoweiss adds his take: Hectored by Zionist wannabe archaeologists, ‘NYT’ recasts article on Jewish temples. Yep, "wannabe archaeologists" like Leen Ritmeyer, Jodi Magness, and Gabriel Barkay. Oh, and mere experts in Second Temple Judaism like Michael Satlow and myself. In his essay Mr. Weiss makes the following very interesting observation: "But the crazy part– as many of Gladstone’s Zionist critics are also pointing out on twitter– is that the original question is the only one the article really deals with." He had earlier indicated that this original questions was "whether the temples were on the Temple Mount" (his emphasis).

He cites the quotations from Matthew J. Adams, Rivka Gonen, Wendy Pullan, and Jane Cahill and says, "Gladstone then cites several other authorities, questioning whether the temples were even on the site." He then adds:
Too bad the Times didn’t stick to its guns on the question. The appearance that it folded under pressure is confirmed by the fact that Gladstone tweeted his changes out to his assailants, Liebovitz and Goldberg. They are just performing a traditional Zionist role, in the tradition of Yigael Yadin and Moshe Dayan– archaeologists.

I have no idea where the temples stood; the issue is why the NYT would raise a question, presumably based on reporting, and then withdraw it under pressure from Zionists who hector you as a “truther.” And if it was really wrong, why not take down the whole article?
He has no idea where the temples stood, yet on the basis of his lack of knowledge of the whole subject he is sure the Times succumbed to political pressure. It doesn't seem to occur to him that the Times might have made the alteration because the article did not correctly reflect what specialists in the area actually think.

I do not know why the New York Times did not take down the article. They might have been wise to do so, because the problems with it just keep getting worse. Keep reading.

I cite Mr. Weiss not because his uninformed opinion counts for anything, but because it illustrates the harm the article has done. Note that he cites the quotations from Matthew J. Adams to demonstrate that the article cites experts "questioning whether the temples were even on the site."

With that as context, I can report that I received the following e-mail from Dr. Matthew J. Adams, Director of the W. F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem. (In my earlier post I referred to him as "Mr.," following the usage of the NYT article. I give his correct title here.) I reproduce his communication with his permission:
Dear Jim,

I saw your blog post from yesterday concerning the NYT article. Thanks for your good detective work!

Indeed, my comments had been separated from their context and redistributed into the NYT article according the author's intentions, not mine.

The academically complex question to which I referred was concerning the "First Temple" and the sources related to it. My first comment following "It's an academically complex question" was:

"First, it's pretty clear that the temple built (or restored) by Herod stood on the Haram/Temple Mount. Archaeological and Textual sources make this fairly certain."

I then proceeded to discuss the complexities of the source material for the "First Temple".

Thanks again for the hard work on this!
So, I was correct in my inference in my original post. Indeed, Dr. Adams's comments were reordered out of context in the New York Times article contrary to his intentions. He was not saying that it was an academically complex question whether Jewish temples ever stood on the Temple Mount. He was saying that the source material for the First Temple is an academically complex issue, a correct point that I also made in considerable detail in my earlier posts, especially the one on the evidence for the First Temple.

This is turning into a real embarrassment to the New York Times. I don't think the story is quite over yet, so watch this space.

UPDATE (14 October): More here and here.

The NPAPH-project

PHOTOGRAPHS: Welcome to the NPAPH-project!
The Non-Professional Archaeological Photographs-project has the aim to preserve non-professional documentation of archaeological campaigns – prior to the 1980s – to the future and make it accessible to the public via digital archives. Furthermore, the project pleads for an international collaboration between archaeological institutions in order to connect these digital archives and bring them under the attention of the public by the use of this website.

There's a page for Khirbet Qumran (Grollenberg). Via Charlotte Hempel (via Joan Taylor) on the IOQS Facebook page.

A Columbus biography in a polyglot Psalter

NOTED FOR COLUMBUS DAY: ‘Catholics in the New World: A Selection of 16th-18th Century Texts’ and ‘Religious Liberty and the Founding of America’ Reviews (JULIA M. KLEIN, WSJ). Published on 21 September, but I've been saving it for today.
As this city prepares for Pope Francis’ Sept. 26-27 visit, the conversation has focused on security cordons, ticketing snafus, travel nightmares and commercial paralysis. But on a less apocalyptic note, the visit also is spurring museums to exhibit treasures appealing to religious tourists. Two modest displays illuminate the Western Hemisphere’s checkered history of evangelism and tolerance. “Catholics in the New World: A Selection of 16th-18th Century Texts” at the Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia includes the oldest surviving book printed in the New World (the 1543/44 “Doctrina Breve,” from Mexico City) and the first book printed in South America (the 1584 “Doctrina Christiana” from Lima, Peru).

An even earlier Old World text—a 1516 Genoese book of psalms in Hebrew, Greek, Arabic, Aramaic and Latin—features the first biography of Christopher Columbus. It seems both quirky and fitting that it appears as a commentary to Psalm 19’s verse, “their words reach to the ends of the world.”

Past posts on Columbus and various PaleoJudaic matters are here and links.

Mroczek, The Literary Imagination in Jewish Antiquity

The Literary Imagination in Jewish Antiquity

Eva Mroczek


The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls revealed a world of early Jewish writing larger than the Bible, from multiple versions of biblical texts to "revealed" books not found in our canon. Despite this diversity, the way we read Second Temple Jewish literature remains constrained by two anachronistic categories: a theological one, "Bible," and a bibliographic one, "book." The Literary Imagination in Jewish Antiquity suggests ways of thinking about how Jews understood their own literature before these categories had emerged.

Using familiar sources such as the Psalms, Ben Sira, and Jubilees, Mroczek tells an unfamiliar story about sacred writing not bound in a Bible. In many texts, we see an awareness of a vast tradition of divine writing found in multiple locations only partially revealed in available scribal collections. Ancient heroes like David are not simply imagined as scriptural authors, but multi-dimensional characters who come to be known as great writers and honored as founders of growing textual traditions. Scribes recognize the divine origin of texts like the Enoch literature and other writings revealed to ancient patriarchs, which present themselves not as derivative of material we now call biblical, but prior to it. Sacred writing stretches back to the dawn of time, yet new discoveries are always around the corner.

While listening to the way ancient writers describe their own literature-their own metaphors and narratives about writing-this book also argues for greater suppleness in our own scholarly imagination, no longer bound by modern canonical and bibliographic assumptions.
Shipping in April 2016.

From tablet to tablet

OUP BLOG: Words from books (Edwin Battistella).
October is an important month for book festivals—in Boston, Austin, Madison, Baton Rouge, and of course Frankfurt, Germany, which hosts the world’s oldest book festival. In honor of these book festivals, I want to delve a bit into the way that the language of books expanded the English vocabulary.

The earliest books were not books per se, but inscriptions on stone or wood. The term stele, for an upright stone, wooden slab, or clay, is still a very specialized term. Soon, however, clay, wooden tablets, and papyrus scrolls made writing more portable. Fast forward to today, when tablets now refer to computers and we scroll on our computer screens, tablets, and phones. The meaning of both words has been extended to follow changes in reading technology.

A nice, quick overview of the development of writing from antiquity to the present.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The NYT and Jewish-Temple denial

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Historical Certainty Proves Elusive at Jerusalem’s Holiest Place (RICK GLADSTONE, New York Times). I wrote a long post about this article on Friday. Then I reread the Times article and realized the problems with it were even more extensive than I had first thought and that more needed to be said. I had to get some other work done, so I set this post aside until I had more time, which is now.

Meanwhile the article's bogus historical assertions have been called out by many. A selection:

There Was a Temple on the Temple Mount (Michael Satlow)

The so-called “elusive” location of the Temple in Jerusalem (Leen Ritmeyer)

New York Times Gives Credence to Muslim Claims of No Jewish Temples Ever on Temple Mount (The Algemeiner)

The Temple, the Times and the BDS Supporter (Alex Safian, CAMERA)

The Times Declares History is Bunk (JONATHAN S. TOBIN, Commentary Magazine)

The blowback has been so great that the Times has had to revise the article a little and post the following:
Correction: October 9, 2015
An earlier version of this article misstated the question that many books and scholarly treatises have never definitively answered concerning the two ancient Jewish temples. The question is where precisely on the 37-acre Temple Mount site the temples had once stood, not whether the temples had ever existed there.
I'm glad they posted the correction, but that doesn't let them off the hook for irresponsible journalism. The two questions are not hard to mix up: one is a real question and the other is made-up Palestinian propaganda. They should have known better.

The references above point to errors in the article, but problems remain that require further discussion and nuancing, so I have rewritten the earlier draft of this post to take into account new developments and make such points as I think remain to be made. The article originally began:
Within Jerusalem’s holiest site, known as the Temple Mount to Jews and the Noble Sanctuary to Muslims, lies an explosive historical question that cuts to the essence of competing claims to what may be the world’s most contested piece of real estate.

The question, which many books and scholarly treatises have never definitively answered, is whether the 37-acre site, home to Islam’s sacred Dome of the Rock shrine and Al Aqsa Mosque, was also the precise location of two ancient Jewish temples, one built on the remains of the other, and both long since gone.
(My bold emphasis.) The second paragraph has been rewritten as follows:
The question, which many books and scholarly treatises have never definitively answered, is where on the 37-acre site, home to Islam’s sacred Dome of the Rock shrine and Al Aqsa Mosque, was the precise location of two ancient Jewish temples, one built on the remains of the other, and both long since gone.
(My bold emphasis.) I have no problem with the second paragraph as it now stands. The third paragraph, which remains unchanged, is a different matter:
Those temples are integral to Jewish religious history and to Israel’s disputed assertions of sovereignty over all of Jerusalem. Many Palestinians, suspicious of Israel’s intentions for the site, have increasingly expressed doubt that the temples ever existed — at least in that location. Many Israelis regard such a challenge as false and inflammatory denialism.
Excuse me? "Many Israelis?" There is no historical debate whether Jewish temples stood on "the site," meaning somewhere on the Temple Mount. PaleoJudaica has endless posts on Jewish-Temple denial, which originates in Palestinian propaganda, is widely circulated in the Arab world, and is sometimes facilitated by the Western media. Start here and follow the links or, for more, run the terms "Jewish temple denial" through PaleoJudaica's search engine. It is disappointing to see the Times speaking so imprecisely, as though some Israelis and everybody else thought it was fine.

The fourth paragraph raises further concerns:
“This is a very politically loaded subject,” said Matthew J. Adams, Dorot director of the W. F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem. “It’s also an academically complex question.”
What's that? The director of the Albright Institute says that whether there were Jewish temples on the Temple Mount is "an academically complex question?" Not so fast. Scroll down well into the article and we read this:
“The sources for the first temple are solely biblical, and no substantial archaeological remains have been verified,” said Wendy Pullan, senior lecturer in the history and philosophy of architecture at the University of Cambridge, in the book “The Struggle for Jerusalem’s Holy Places.”

Mr. Adams said, “We just don’t have enough primary source data, textual or archaeological, to say where it was with any confidence.”
If you put Mr. Adams's two quotes together in this context, they say something rather different: that where the First Temple stood on the Temple Mount is an academically complex question and we don't have enough primary data to answer it confidently. Was he really talking about the question of there being ancient Jewish temples at all on the Temple Mount or was he talking about the location of one or both of the earlier temples? I don't have access to the full transcript, but reading the two quotations together in this context makes sense for what the director of the Albright Institute would likely have actually said. If so, the placement of the first quote in its current context in the article gives an incorrect impression of what he was saying.

CAMERA objects to Dr. Pullan's comments on the grounds of her political connections. These don't interest me one way or another, although the Times could have noted them in the interest of full disclosure. My concern is about the historical accuracy of her statement, which should be considered alongside the following two excerpts (the next three quoted paragraphs below), a little later in the article:
Jane Cahill, an expert on Jerusalem’s early history who was a senior staff archaeologist for Hebrew University’s City of David Archaeological Project, said “nobody knows exactly” where the temples once stood, although “pretty powerful circumstantial evidence” suggests they were on the site.

“Because there have been no organized excavations there, and not likely to be, circumstantial evidence is probably all we’re going to have,” she said.
Again, I would like to see Ms. Cahill's full quotation. I suspect she was saying that no one knows exactly where the temples stood on the Temple Mount, which is correct. As framed now, her statement could be taken to imply that there might have been Jewish temples somewhere or other, but not necessarily on the Temple Mount, which is a bizarre thought. The temples were somewhere else in the vicinity of Jerusalem but through some mixup everyone forgot about that and (understandably) got the erroneous idea that they stood on that big platform? I don't think so.
Archaeologists agree that far more information is known that corroborates the existence of the second temple at the site than the first.
That is true. It is almost correct that the only evidence for the First Temple is references in the Hebrew Bible, although I want to nuance that a bit, and it is true that there is no "substantial archaeological" (i.e. architectual) evidence so far for the First Temple. But there is good reason why there shouldn't be. A decade ago I collected the evidence for the existence of the Second and Herodian Temples and the existence of the First Temple, where I dealt with the questions in considerable detail.

But to recap briefly here: starting from first principles, other ancient Near Eastern peoples had their own national temples and it would be very notable anomaly if the late-Iron Age Judeans didn't. There is a clear, persistent, and consistent memory that there was such a temple and it stood on that site, and that's why the Second Temple was built there. And there is supporting epigraphic etc. evidence in addition, although the readings are sometimes unclear and one could interpret the Arad inscription in other (less convincing) ways.

I am aware of no peer-review publication that argues that there was no Iron Age Judean temple somewhere on the Temple Mount. Where exactly on the Temple Mount and when exactly in the Iron Age II it was built are more complicated problems on which there is debate.

Skipping a bit more:
Further corroboration of the temple’s existence is in the New Testament, based on its account of anger at Paul by Jews who accused him of having violated the trespass restriction: “He has brought Greeks into the temple and defiled this holy place,” reads a passage from Acts 21:28.
The New Testament has many references to the Herodian Temple. See my post linked to above on the Herodian and Second Temple for some, not all, of them.

Finally, I note, as have others, that the Times mentions the Waqf administration of the Temple Mount, but fails to mention its destructive illicit excavations there and the efforts of the Temple Mount Sifting Project to recover what data can be recovered from the discarded rubble. See recently here and here and just keep following those links back.

Let us be clear: the New York Times published an article making seriously erroneous assertions about the scholarly state of the question regarding the evidence for Judean/Jewish temples on the Temple Mount. It was called out on them and published a retraction, although questions remain about the content that was left unchanged. The inspiration for the now-corrected historical mischaracterization was Palestinian propaganda about the Temple Mount. And the Times published the article just at a time when disputes over the Temple Mount are particulary intense in the region. I give them some credit for the correction, but the article was still exceedingly unhelpful. Many people will have read it and will never see the correction. The New York Times has not covered itself with glory on this one.

UPDATE: I have just received an e-mail from Joseph I. Lauer indicating that Jodi Magness, one of the specialists quoted in the article, has written to the Times protesting and correcting the misrepresentation of scholarship in this article. Her letter will be published by the Times. Watch this space.

UPDATE (14 October): More here, here, and here.

The Greek Bible in Spanish

THE SPANISH TRANSLATION OF THE SEPTUAGINT IS COMPLETE WITH THIS VOLUME: La Biblia griega - Septuaginta, IV. Libros proféticos. Natalio Fernández (dir.), María Victoria Spottorno (Ediciones Sígueme). HT Jay C. Treat at the IOCS Facebook page.

Jesus' wife — the novel

IN PROGRESS: Sue Monk Kidd Writing Novel on 'Jesus' Wife, Ana' (MICHAEL GRYBOSKI, The Christian Post)
Best-selling novelist Sue Monk Kidd is working on a book that will take place during the first century, and is expected to feature a married Jesus of Nazareth.

The author of such notable novels as The Secret Life of Bees and The Invention of Wings is working on a story whose narrator will be the wife of the Messiah.

"Monk has given the book the working title Ana, the Wife of Jesus. A release date hasn't been set," reported The Associated Press on Tuesday.

The CP article also places the announcement of recent stories (Dan Brown, Gospel of Jesus' Wife) pertaining to "Jesus' wife." She is very famous, considering that there is no historical evidence that she ever existed.

The DSS in Finnish

A NEW TRANSLATION OF THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS — IN FINNISH: Raija Sollamo & Mika S. Pajunen (toim.): Kuolleenmeren kadonnut kansa. HT Hanna Tervanotko at the IOQS Facebook page.

Syriac news

SYRIAC WATCH: Syriac Summer School (James McGrath, Exploring Our Matrix). The content of the post is broader than the title indicates. Some of the links have already been noted here, but many not. And this point is also well worth repeating: "If you are a grad student looking to set yourself apart, or a scholar looking to branch out into something new, diving into Syriac will be well worth your while."