Saturday, November 07, 2015

More on Jenkins, The Many Faces of Christ

NEW TESTAMENT APOCRYPHA WATCH: Baylor scholar shows ‘Lost Gospels’ not actually lost (CARL HOOVER, Waco Tribune).
Scholars and writers who believe Christianity has its present shape because of suppression of “lost gospels” by church leaders in the early centuries of the faith, which is a premise of Dan Brown’s novel “The Da Vinci Code,” simply haven’t looked hard for those gospels, according to a Baylor University historian.

If they had, they would have realized that alternative or extra-canonical accounts of the life of Jesus Christ lived on in many Christian churches for more than a thousand years, Baylor distinguished professor of history Philip Jenkins said.

In his new book “The Many Faces of Christ,” Jenkins finds that writings such as the Gospel of Nicodemus, the Gospel of James, the Infancy Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Mary survived for centuries in churches in Ethiopia, Central Asia, the British Isles and the Middle East.

Though falling outside what was considered canonical, those lost scriptures still influenced Christian tradition by filling in stories where Old and New Testament accounts were thin or absent: the Harrowing of Hell, Christ’s visit to Hell after his death; the conception, childhood and death of the Virgin Mary; Satan, not the serpent, in the garden of Eden; the life of Adam and Eve; and accounts of angels and saints.

There's more on the book here.

Aliyari Babolghani, The Elamite Version of Darius the Great Inscription at Bisotūn

BIBLIOGRAPHIA IRANICA: Elamite Version of the Behistun Inscription. New book:
Aliyari Babolghani, Salman. 2015. The Elamite Version of Darius the Great Inscription at Bisotūn. Introduction, Grammar of Achaemenid Elamite, Transliteration, Persian Translation, Comparision with other Versions, Note and Index. Tehran: Nashr-e Markaz.
Normally I would not have flagged this one as of interest, but it happens that this very text came up earlier this week here.

Metatron's cube tattoo

ARCHANGEL METATRON WATCH: Tattoo artists explain what you need to know before getting a trendy 'sacred geometry' tattoo (Kim Renfro, Tech Insider).
"Metatron's cube" is another well-known sacred geometric pattern. It's actually a variant of the original "flower of life."
Well okay, maybe, but what's with the giant beetle eating it? Creepy.

More on Metatron's Cube here. More on tattoos — otherwise generally associated (for good or, frequently, for ill) with ancient languages — here and links.

Gemstone scarabs from the Israel Museum

Ramat Gan, Israel, November 2, 2015: The Harry Oppenheimer Diamond Museum in Ramat Gan will open a new exhibition of rare Egyptian scarabs made from gemstones on November 23, 2015. The exhibition, entitled Protective Force: Egyptian Scarabs from Gemstones, will explore the significant role of gemstones in ancient Egyptian culture as well as the fascination with scarabs throughout history.

The scarabs featured in the exhibition are from the collections of the Israel Museum, but have not been displayed. They include scarabs made from various gemstones, some bearing special inscriptions, as well as other amulets. In addition, the exhibition features Victorian jewelry set with ancient scarabs, which shows the fascination in these amulets even in modern cultures.

Scarabs were the most popular amulets in ancient Egypt, from the time of the Middle Kingdom until the Ptolemaic Period. Based on the image of the dung beetle, they were seen to represent the heavenly cycle of rebirth and therefore signified renewed growth. Primarily used as amulets for protection or good luck, scarabs were often used in ceremonies and were buried with the dead. In addition scarabs were used as personal or administrative seals or were incorporated into jewelry.


A Roman shield from Dura-Europos

CONSERVATION: An ancient Roman shield gets a makeover thanks to a Yale team (Bess Connolly Martell, YaleNews).
A Roman shield — painted with scenes from the Trojan War and possibly used in parades during ancient times — is being brought to light in a whole new way by a Yale team over 2,000 years after it was created and 80 years after it was excavated.

The shield — which dates back to the mid-third century A.D. — was discovered in 1935 by Yale archaeologists at the site of Dura-Europos, in present-day Syria. The site was first excavated by a French team in 1922; Yale joined the excavation in 1929. The shield is one of three that were found stacked together at the excavation site, all of which are in the collection of the Yale University Art Gallery (YUAG).

The three oval painted shields “are extraordinarily rare examples of ancient painting techniques on wood,” says Anne Gunnison, assistant conservator of objects at YUAG.


Dura-Europos was founded by Macedonian Greek settlers around 300 B.C. Several different groups inhabited the region over the centuries, including Greeks, Parthians, and Romans; soldiers and civilians; and early Christian, Jewish, and pagan communities. Located on the Euphrates River, Dura-Europos was situated at the crossroads of several major trade routes. In its last historical phase, the city was a Roman military garrison, which was sacked by the Sasanians in 256 A.D. After that event, Dura-Europos was not re-inhabited.

Gunnison explains that in order to fortify the city, the Romans built up their walls, and in doing so, intentionally buried a lot of material. When the site was excavated beginning in the 1920s and 1930s, archaeologists found the shields and other material under those ramparts.

Dura-Europos is an important source of information about late-antique Judaism in Syria. It has not fared well during the recent war. Background here and here with many links.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Ben Carson and the pyramids

POLITICS MEETS JUNK HISTORY: Israeli Experts: No, Ben Carson, the Pyramids Were Tombs, Not Grain Silos. Archaeologists counter GOP hopeful’s view that Egyptian pyramids were built by Joseph to store grain with the known facts.
Israeli Egyptologists are snorting at Republican hopeful Ben Carson’s latest bombshell – that the ancient pyramids of Egypt weren’t built as tombs for pharaohs, but as grain silos.

Admittedly, said bombshell was dropped in 1998, while Carson was speaking at Andrews University, a school associated with the Seventh-day Adventist Church, to which he belongs. It’s low to trash people for things they did as kids. But Ben Carson is now 64, so he must have been about 47 then, which is old enough to know better.

Moreover, according to the Telegraph, he told CBS News last week that he still holds that opinion, based on ... well, nothing.

No, Joseph did not build the Egyptian pyramids as grain silos. They are tombs of Pharaohs from long before any viable time frame for Joseph, if there was a historical Joseph, which seems doubtful. Mr. Carson's "theory" is a new one as far as I know, but it reminds me of the notion, still sometimes circulating in Egypt, that the Israelites built the pyramids. That one seems to have been started by Josephus, with the later help of a Scotsman names Smyth and then Menachem Begin. So there is precedent for a politician advancing goofy notions about the pyramids. On that see here, here, here, and here.

Two other thoughts. First, who are these "scientists" who say, "Well, you know there were alien beings that came down and they have special knowledge and that’s how they were"—? Second, it must have taken the media an extraordinary amount of rooting around in Mr. Carson's past to come up with this one. If this is the worst scandal they can find, he's doing pretty well. It bothers us historians, but most people won't care.

UPDATE (8 November): More here.

Egyptian monasteries deluged

COPTIC (ETC.) WATCH: Antiquities ministry protects monasteries of Wadi El-Natroun from rain storms. The monasteries of Saint Macarius and Saint Pishoy are still in a well-preserved condition and are safe after the rain (Nevine El-Aref, Ahram Online).
On Wednesday Mohamed Abdel Latif, head of the Islamic and Coptic Antiquities Department, told Ahram Online that the heavy rain that hit the country yesterday had a negative impact on Coptic Monasteries in the Wadi El-Natroun area.

He continued to say that the dome that covered the ceiling on the side chamber neighbouring the Virgin Church at Deir Al-Surian fell down. This dome, Abdel Latif asserted, does not have any decoration, adding that the rest of the monastery and its side buildings, such as churches, the tours, and the monks’ cells are in a well-preserved condition and were not affected by the rain.
More on the monasteries of Wadi Natrun is here. More on the architecture of the Deir Al-Surian Monastery is here. The latter has come up often on PaleoJudaica with reference to its precious repository of manuscripts in Coptic, Syriac, Ethiopic, and Arabic. Follow the link at the end of the latter post for many past posts.

Metatron Due Diligence Report

ARCHANGEL METATRON WATCH: ATTENTION SHAREHOLDER: Metatron Due Diligence Report - Broad Street Alerts.
Metatron, Inc. is a corporate network of highly-related fast growing multi-sector businesses that transact through the Internet and mobile devices. Metatron companies operate in several business sectors including online dating, credit card processing, next-gen relational database development, search engine advertising optimization, and mobile device applications.
Unsurprisingly, Metatron's portfolio seems to be doing well.

Palmyra and Russian airstrikes again

PALMYRA WATCH: Russia again carries out airstrikes near ancient Syrian city. Russia's air force says it carried out strikes near the ISIS-held city of Palmyra for the second time this week (Arutz Sheva and AFP). This article confirms that there were Russian airstrikes in the area on Monday, as well as Thursday, but a Russian statement claimed that they only hit targets at considerable distance from the ancient architecture, which contradicts the earlier report.

Background here and links.

VanVeller, “Paul’s Therapy of the Soul"

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Dissertation Spotlight: Courtney Wilson VanVeller.
Courtney Wilson VanVeller “Paul’s Therapy of the Soul: A New Approach to John Chrysostom and Anti-Judaism” Boston University, 2015

Thursday, November 05, 2015

The Ethiopic Bible online

AWOL: התנ"ך בגעזה – Ethiopic Bible. Old editions, but apparently (not my field!) still of some use. Plus Dillman's 1865 Ethiopic-Latin lexicon.

More Acra skepticism

BIBLE PLACES BLOG: Is This Really the Akra? Todd Bolen too has his doubts.
Has the Akra been discovered? On Monday the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) circulated a press invitation to “A Solution to One of the Greatest Questions in the History of Jerusalem.” The location of the Hasmonean fortress of the Akra has long eluded archaeologists, but recent work in the Givati parking lot in the Central Valley below Dung Gate has uncovered a massive structure from this period.


The archaeologists have found important remains that will fill in significant details in Jerusalem’s history. For that they are to be commended. But they must know that they will not be able to get away in making sensational claims that are not supported by the evidence.

Background here.

On Slavonic pseudepigrapha

OLD CHURCH SLAVONIC WATCH: The “Other” Lost Scriptures: Beyond the Dead Sea Scrolls, Slavonic texts break all the rules (Philip Jenkins, Aleteia).
The story begins in the 19th century, when scholars across Europe were rummaging through medieval manuscripts in old libraries and religious houses. Russian scholars were researching a medieval judicial codex called the Just Balance (Merilo Pravednoe), a collection of historical laws and commentaries. It was not surprising that a legal work compiled in the 14th century should include abundant religious and biblical-sounding material, but much of it sounded bizarre. The manuscript proved to contain an otherwise unknown pseudo-biblical book, 2 (Slavonic) Enoch, or the Book of the Secrets of Enoch. The second book of Enoch tells how the ancient patriarch traveled through the heavens, guided by angels, and witnessed the fate of spiritual beings, good and evil. It clearly stems from a world in which Enoch was seen as the source of vast bodies of esoteric wisdom. 2 Enoch foreshadows dozens of other apocalyptic works and tales of heavenly journeys, up to and including the works of Dante himself.

2 Enoch was probably written in Greek and was then translated into other languages, but the vast majority of what we know comes from these Slavonic texts. It survives in both longer and shorter versions, and the longer has clearly been adapted for Christian purposes. The shorter, older version takes us back to a work written by an Alexandrian Jew somewhere around the 1st century AD—roughly the time of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Slavonic literature is not my specialty, but I know enough to want to nuance the claim in the last quoted sentence. Some material in the shorter version of 2 Enoch may well go back to as early as first-century C.E. Judaism, but the Greek text went through a long period of transmission in the Byzantine period, then it was translated into Old Church Slavonic and again underwent a long period of transmission before the surviving late medieval manuscripts were produced. There is reason to doubt that what we have now, even in the linguistically older short version, is a pristine exemplar of any putative first-century text. It should also be noted that fragments of the short version in Coptic have also been discovered (see here).
The similarity between the ancient apocrypha and much later Dualist ideas could be a coincidence, but it is far more likely that those Slavonic writings themselves helped Eastern European thinkers move in Dualist directions during the tenth century. If that idea is correct, we would be looking at a direct influence from the long-extinct fringes of Second Temple Judaism through the heresies of medieval Europe.
Maybe. That's an interesting possibility.

A new edition of the Slavonic text of 2 Enoch was published by Grant Macaskill in 2013. And follow the links there for additions background on 2 Enoch, plus see here. Professor Macaskill also wrote a few relevant online essays for our class on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha some years ago: The Slavonic Pseudepigraph: An Introduction, An Introduction to 2 Enoch, and Enoch and Salvation. And more on Old Church Slavonic and other Slavonic pseudepigrapha is here with many links.

Cross-file under Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Watch.

Musical War Scroll

CONCERT: From Sorrowing Earth. A landmark celebration of the music of Nigel Butterley who celebrates his 80th birthday this year (DAVID BARMBY, PerformingArtsHub).
The Arcko Symphonic Ensemble comprised upwards of 60 musicians for this long-planned celebration of Nigel Butterley’s music and his 80th birthday. Conducted by the ensemble’s founder Timothy Phillips, this co-operative of formidable skill performed Butterley’s From Sorrowing Earth (1991) and Elliott Gyger’s From Joyous Leaves (2015), on this occasion receiving its first hearing. Pianist Zubin Kanga contributed the exquisite Butterley miniature Uttering Joyous Leaves (1981) before the featured composer’s large-scale radiophonic work, In the Head the Fire (1966). Throughout this celebration there was a palpable sense of esteem, indeed affection, from the performers, composers present and members of the audience alike towards Nigel Butterley, also present in the Auditorium, who has held his own unique and important voice in Australian contemporary music – as a composer, educator and performer – for nearly six decades.

It was news to me that Butterley's In the Head the Fire was inspired by the Qumran War Scroll:
Sitting as we did through this nearly half-century-old composition based on the then recently discovered War Scroll (one of the Dead Sea Scrolls), we were reminded of Butterley’s early vivid originality, confidence and virtuosity in writing for voice and orchestra. Butterley had attended the first performance of Britten’s War Requiem in Coventry Cathedral in 1962 and composed the exquisitely beautiful Laudes celebrating four sacred buildings in 1963. He returned from Europe deeply inspired by the numinous. Although it was very good to hear this important composition again, In the Head the Fire is, without doubt, a work of unrestrained, apocalyptic religious fervour. Particularly, much babelesque shouting and commotion accompanied by blaring shofar made for a cerebrally draining first half; without an apparent shared context, the concert would perhaps not have suffered from its excision.
Cross-file under Popular Culture Watch (Dead Sea Scrolls).

(Traditional) Tomb of Joseph's Tomb repaired

PICKING UP THE PIECES: Joseph’s Tomb restored after October arson attack by Palestinian rioters. A team of 50 workers went to the holy site during the night to repair the damages caused by Palestinian rioters (JEREMY SHARON, Jerusalem Post).
The Jewish holy site of Joseph’s Tomb in the Palestinian city of Nablus was restored and repaired Tuesday by the Shomron Regional Council after it was set ablaze and severely damaged by Palestinian rioters last month.

A team of 50 workers, including stone masons, painters, welders and electricians arrived at the site at 1:00 a.m. on Tuesday with an IDF escort to carry out the necessary repairs and worked through the night until approximately 6:00 a.m. to complete the restoration.

The most serious damage was done to the stone tomb itself inside the external structure as the rioters smashed and broke several marble panels overlaid on the tomb with hammers, iron bars and other instruments.

Background here and here and links.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Aramaic at ed-Dur (UAE)

ARAMAIC WATCH: A rich history uncovered: Sharjah exhibition showcases unearthed UAQ artefacts (Rym Ghazal, The National).
Ed Dur is on the coast of UAQ [Umm Al Quwain], overlooking the shallow lagoon of Al Bayadha creek.

It flourished from the late first century BC to the first century AD. Archaeological evidence shows similarities between relics found at Ed Dur and those in Mleiha, Sharjah that lies inland to the south-east of the port.

Understanding how people lived then and exploring the close relationship between the port and the internal trade centre that reached an apex of prosperity, is part of latest Sharjah exhibition Ed Dur: Glimpse into Civilisation. It is a collaboration between Sharjah Museums Department and the Department of Archaeology and Heritage in UAQ.

With the exhibition going on at the Sharjah Archaeology Museum until March, 26, it features 79 artefacts – 69 from the UAQ museum and 10 from Sharjah Archaeology Museum.

The exhibition traces the historic relationship between the major inland settlement of Mleiha and the coastal port of Ed Dur, and how it contributed to the way the region evolved as a centre of transport and commerce, linking East and West.
The exhibition includes a couple of ancient artifacts inscribed in Aramaic. First, in a Temple of the sun god Shamash:
Stories of Shamash in pre-Islamic Arabia have been passed down the ages through poetry and oral history, but with no physical evidence of worship.

Then a rectangular stone basin was discovered in Umm Al Quwain. It had nine lines of Aramaic inscription, mostly damaged, but with one clear word: “Shamash”.

“It is the only temple discovered in Arabia dedicated to the sun god,” says Alyaa Al Ghufly, director of archaeology and heritage in UAQ.

Discovered in the late 1980s and built from mud and beach rocks, the temple is only part of the story of the Ed Dur civilisation of UAQ, where an archaeological excavation of about four kilometres makes it one of the UAE’s largest.
Second, on coins:
A name inscribed on the coins in Aramaic, Abi-el, has left experts wondering. It is unknown who the name refers to – a regional ruler or perhaps a deity?

Dr Ernie Haerinck, an archaeologist who worked on the site, earlier speculated that perhaps Ed Dur was a kingdom run by a woman.

“The coins minted locally have a name added to them in Aramaic. It is ‘Abi-el’, the daughter of so and so,” says the Belgian.
More on Aramaic at ancient ed-Dur is here. And past posts on Aramaic in ancient Arabia are collected here.

Has the Acra been found?

ISRAEL ANTIQUTIES AUTHORITY PRESS RELEASE: Has the Acra from 2,000 years ago been found? Researchers with the Israel Antiquities Authority believe they have found the remains of the stronghold - the Acra - which the Greeks used to control the Temple more than 2,000 years ago - and evidence of the Hasmonean attempts to conquer the stronghold.
In recent months, excavators believe that they have exposed evidence of the Acra citadel on the City of David hill: a section of a massive wall, a base of a tower of impressive dimensions (width c. 4 m, length c. 20 m) and a glacis. The glacis, which was built next to the wall, is a defensive sloping embankment composed of layers of soil, stone and plaster, designed to keep attackers away from the base of the wall. This embankment extended as far down as the bottom of the Tyropoeon - the valley that bisected the city in antiquity and constituted an additional obstacle in the citadel's defenses. Lead sling shots, bronze arrowheads and ballista stones that were discovered at the site and stamped with a trident, which symbolized the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes, are the silent remains of battles that were waged there at the time of the Hasmoneans, in their attempt to conquer the citadel which was viewed as a ‘thorn in the flesh' of the city.
Whatever this is, it is an important discovery. But Leen Ritmeyer, who is an archaeologist with expertise in ancient Jerusalem, isn't buying the identification with the Acra (Akra): Was One of Jerusalem’s Greatest Archaeological Mysteries solved?
The Seleucid Akra therefore stood on a hill very close to the Temple Mount. What hill is there to be seen in the Givati parking lot? It appears therefore that the Israel Antiquities Authority once again tries to make sensational headlines with an unworkable theory in order to get some publicity.
I don't have an opinion on this one. It will be interesting to see how the discussion develops.

Both links above HT Joseph Lauer.

UPDATE (5 November): More here.

C-14 dating for that Turkish Syriac manuscript

SYRIAC WATCH: Bible to undergo carbon test (Hurriyet Daily News).
A carbon test will be applied to a gilded Bible that was seized last week in Turkey’s northern province of Tokat.

The bible, thought to date back around 1,000 years, was found in a police operation targeting a group in Tokat that was illegally selling historical artifacts.

During the operation, a 21x16-centimeter, 10-page gilded Bible was found, written in Syriac and including religious pictures.

The ancient Bible has been delivered to a local museum.


1. I'm glad the manuscript is now in a museum.

2. It's not exactly a Bible. It contains excerpts from the Gospel of Matthew, presented out of order.

3. I'm skeptical about the use of carbon-14 dating in this case. This method of dating works best on object older than 1,000 years. This manuscript has been held by smugglers under who-knows-what conditions and it can hardly be assumed to be in a pristine state. The degree of contamination with more recent materials could badly throw off the C-14 dating. This is all the more of a concern in that the manuscript as it stands now may be cut-and-pasted from a genuinely old manuscript and doctored up with new drawings.

4. Most importantly, the Turkish authorities should make the manuscript available immediately to specialists in Syriac language, paleography, and codicology. They could tell pretty quickly if it is genuine and how much it may have been altered from its original condition.

Background here.

Palmyra hit by Russian airstrikes?

PALMYRA WATCH: Suspected Russian jets hit Syria’s ancient IS-held Palmyra. At least eight airstrikes reported in city renowned for its Roman-era ruins; 10 said killed in nearby assault (SARAH EL DEEB, AP). However this develops, it isn't likely to be good for civilians or for the ruins, both caught in the middle of the conflict.

Many more posts on Palmyra, its history, the ancient Aramaic dialect spoken there (Palmyrene), and the city's tragic recent fate in the hands of ISIS are here and links.

The test of the suspected adulteress in the Talmud

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: A MAGICAL POTION REVEALS AND HUMILIATES SEXUALLY UNFAITHFUL WOMEN—AND SHOWS TALMUDIC RABBIS DECLARING ONE OF THEIR OWN RITUALS OBSOLETE. Also in discussion during this week’s ‘Daf Yomi’: How long does the sex act take? As long as it takes to eat an egg, or to reach for a loaf of bread?
This is the kind of biblical passage that tends to make modern readers uncomfortable—not just for its supernaturalism, but for its sexism (no similar ordeal is prescribed for adulterous men) and for its harshness. However, if there is one thing I’ve learned over the last three-plus years of reading Daf Yomi, it is that if something in the Bible troubles us, it usually troubled the rabbis as well. The rabbis were very pious men, but they were also practical-minded, and they could not have been happy with a legal procedure that rested on something as illogical and unreliable as magic. Nor did they like the idea of men forcing their wives to undergo a public and humiliating ordeal that might end in their bursting like an overfilled balloon. From the very beginning of Tractate Sota, then, we see the rabbis doing what they often do when confronted with a difficult biblical law: They hedge it around with restrictions and conditions, so as to make it virtually impossible to enforce.

Indeed, one key thing about the sota ritual is that, by the rabbis’ time, it was completely defunct. Like all rituals that had to take place in the Temple, it could not be performed after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E. ...
Matters actually were more complicated than this. There survives among the Cairo Geniza manuscripts a magical incantation in Hebrew (JTSL ENA 3635.17 and T.-S. K 1.56), copied somewhere in the Middle East in the 11th-12th centuries C.E., which adapts the sotah rite for use without the Temple. How and even whether it was actually used is unknown, but someone seems to have thought that they could revive the practice. For more see Peter Schäfer, "Jewish Liturgy and Magic," in Geschichte—Tradition—Reflexion (Hengel Festschrift), vol. 1, Judentum (ed. Hubert Cancik, Hermann Lichtenberger, Peter Schäfer; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1996), 542-56.

Background on Tractate Sotah (Sota) is here and here.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

On female beauty in ANE antiquity

ASOR BLOG: Who’s the Fairest of them all? Feminine Beauty in the Hebrew Bible and Iron Age Ivory Sculpture (Amy Rebecca Gansell).
Beauty is a beast. It is a powerful phenomenon that inspires and challenges us yet today. In the era of the Hebrew Bible, ivory sculptures of women presented visual and tactile models of female attractiveness, while the scripture demonstrated beauty’s positive and negative potential. In biblical culture the ideal concurrence of inner and outer beauty seems to have ultimately supported social and cultural values rooted in spousal fidelity and childbearing. Thus, women of all classes could aspire to and be celebrated for their beauty, inside and out.
This recent post pertaining to female beauty in the Talmud makes for an interesting comparison.

On cuneiform

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS: What the Heck is Cuneiform, Anyway? (Anne Trubek, The Smithsonian). Inspired by the recent recovery of additional lines from the Gilgamesh Epic (on which more here), this article is not without merit, but it has a number of errors and misunderstandings. My understanding (which may now be out of date) is that the invention of cuneiform seems to go back before the Sumerians, because its applicability to the Sumerian language is imperfect, as thought it had been invented for a language with a somewhat different phonology.

Be that as it may, on the term cuneiform:
Cuneiform means "wedge-shaped," a term the Greeks used to describe the look of the signs.
I know of no record of ancient Greeks discussing this writing system. If they had, it would have been remarkable if they had used the Latin term "cuneiform." I think the word was coined by modern scholars. Google says it originated in the 17th century (C.E.!).

Then there's this howler:
By the 4th century B.C., the Sumerians had taken this system to another level of abstraction and efficiency, moving it from proto-writing to writing.
That should be the fourth millennium B.C.

On the decipherment of Akkadian:
As with the Rosetta Stone, on which the same text is written in hieroglyphics, demotic, and Greek, Rawlinson discovered the cliffs of Behistun also contained the same words written three times in three different languages: Old Persian, Elamite, and Babylonian. Since the other languages had been translated, he could thus translate cuneiform.
Almost. Old Persian was already know through Avestan and its script was easier to decipher. Rawlinson and others used it to decipher the Babylonian (Akkadian). Elamite is still imperfectly understood. The issue was transliterating cuneiform; it can't be translated. It's a writing system, not a language. It was the Babylonian (Akkadian) that required translating once the cuneiform was transliterated. Naturally the process of transliteration and translation overlapped to some degree.

The final paragraph is also a little confusing when it talks about "cuneiform" (meaning "Sumerian") being "taught as a classical or dead language for generations after it ceased to be a living language." Again, Sumerian is a language, cuneiform is a writing system.

The article could also have said a little about the syllabic nature of the cuneiform writing system.

There may be more problems, but I don't have any more time to comb through the article. Caveat lector!

Some additional reflections on the importance of cuneiform literature are here. More on Henry Rawlinson's work is here. (There are other past posts on him, but the links have rotted.)

UPDATE: More on the Elamite version of the Behistun inscription is here.

Oxford's Da Vinci Code unit?

THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE: Da Vinci Code crew's leap of faith. From Chaucer's Canterbury Tales to the Indiana Jones films, the age-old fascination with holy relics has inspired pilgrims, crusaders and writers alike (The Times New Zealand).
Now Oxford University is dispatching some of its most distinguished academics on the quest, setting up a new research unit - with expertise ranging from genetics to theology and much in between - dedicated to studying Christian relics.

The group, which looks destined to be nicknamed the "Da Vinci Code Department", will attempt to separate the myth from the reality of venerated items across Europe and beyond that have inspired devotion and macabre fascination in equal measure.

In what is thought to be the first research body of its type, the unit, based in Keble College, will bring together experts in radiocarbon dating, genetics, osteology - the study of bones - chemistry, geography and archaeology with leading authorities in ancient Greek and Hebrew, Byzantine studies, ecclesiastical history and theology.

I grant you that any connection with ancient Judaism is tenuous and will probably consist mostly or entirely of debunking legendary links to traditional relics. But that's progress too.
Professor Tom Higham, deputy director of the Oxford radiocarbon accelerator unit and founder of the new relics research "cluster", previously worked in teams that established that a collection of bones found in Wales could not be those of St David, and that a fragment of wood venerated for centuries in Ireland as a piece of the "true cross" was about 1000 years too young to fit the bill.

The team has a waiting list of relics across Europe to be investigated.
I bet.

On the Ashkar-Gilson Exodus fragment

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: What Is the Oldest Hebrew Bible? The formation of the Hebrew Bible from the Dead Sea Scrolls to the Aleppo Codex (Jennifer Drummond). This is a summary of a current-issue BAR article by Paul Sanders which is behind the subscription wall.

More on the Ashkar-Gilson Manuscript is here, here, here, and here.

Luz’s Hermeneia Matthew Commentary for free

FOR YOU, SPECIAL DEAL: Get Luz’s Hermeneia Matthew Commentary FREE This Month from Logos (Nijay Gupta). That's for volume 1. And you can get volume 2 for $2.00.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Biblical Studies Carnival 10/15

READING ACTS: Biblical Studies Carnival – October 2015.

More on that Syriac manuscript in Turkey

THE SYRIAC MANUSCRIPT recovered recently from smugglers by the Turkish police has been the subject of some discussion on Facebook and on the Hugoye list. Briefly, the video of the manuscript gives a pretty good look at all the text. It contains material from the Gospel of Matthew, but out of order. The general view seems to be that the manuscript in the form presented now looks fake, although it is perhaps possible that a genuinely old manuscript has been used and doctored with modern drawings to make it look more interesting. All of this is just informed speculation at this stage, and we won't know anything definitively unless and until the Turkish authorities make the manuscript available for specialists to study properly. Meanwhile, have a look at the discussion at the Hugoye list, which is devoted to Syriac matters. So far there are posts on the manuscript here, here, here, here, and here.

Enoch Seminar website renovated, with new reviews

THE ENOCH SEMINAR ONLINE WEBSITE has been relaunched in new and improved form. Coinciding with the relaunch, three new book reviews have been published, including one of mine:
  • Ariel Feldman’s review of Joan Taylor, The Essenes, the Scrolls, and the Dead Sea.
  • James Davila’s review of Vicente Dobroruka, Second Temple Pseudepigraphy. A Cross-cultural Comparison of Apocalyptic Texts and Related Jewish Literature.
  • Patrick Pouchelle’s review of David Hamidović, ed., Aux origins des messianismes juifs. Actes du colloque international tenue n Sorbonne à Paris, les 8 et 9 juin 2010.

Joosten lecture online

JAN JOOSTEN'S INAGURAL LECTURE AT OXFORD has been posted online by Marieke Dhont as an audio file: Inaugural Lecture Jan Joosten Oxford, 27 October 2015.

Background here.

Journal of Ancient Judaism 6.1

THE JOURNAL OF ANCIENT JUDAISM has a new issue out (6:1, October 2015). I have already noted the article by Eva Mroczek, but there's more. Follow the link for the full TOC. You need a paid personal or institutional subscription to read the articles, but the abstracts can be viewed for free.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Grabbe on the Alamo and Masada

History and the Nature of Cultural Memory: The Alamo and the “Masada Complex”

This article has been published in History, Memory, Hebrew Scriptures A Festschrift for Ehud Ben Zvi ( Eisenbrauns, 2015).

By Lester L. Grabbe
University of Hull
October 2015

Studia Palmyreńskie

PALMYRA WATCH: Studia Palmyreńskie. AWOL flags the online version of a Polish journal on Palmyra which ran from the 1960s to the 1990s. The articles are in English, French, German, and Polish.

Many more posts on Palmyra, its history, the ancient Aramaic dialect spoken there (Palmyrene), and the city's tragic recent fate in the hands of ISIS are here and links.

Jacobus on Zodiac Calendars and Angels in the Dead Sea Scrolls

EVENT: Zodiac Calendars and Angels in the Dead Sea Scrolls
Institute of Jewish Studies UCL
Wednesday, 4 November 2015 from 18:30 to 20:00 (GMT)
London, United Kingdom

Helen R. Jacobus argues that biblical stories involving encounters between angels and humans before the Flood were used to teach algebra, astronomy and astrology in Jewish circles more than 2,000 years ago. She discusses the previously unknown ancient scientific texts discovered at Qumran.

Dr Jacobus (PhD Manchester) is an honorary research associate at UCL. Her book Zodiac Calendars in the Dead Sea Scrolls: Ancient Astronomy and Astrology in Early Judaism, is published by the Institute of Jewish Studies, UCL (Brill).
The event is free, but you should register in advance at the link (and you can make a donation if you want to). Dr. Jacobus's book on Zodiac calendars in the DSS was noted here. See also her related online essays here and here.

Some Greek OT

THE REST OF CODEX SINATICUS: Isaiah 66 and Jeremiah 1 in Sinaiticus, on Display at the British Library (Peter M. Head, ETC). As Peter notes, the New Testament of Sinaiticus is now on loan to the British Museum for the Egypt: Faith After the Pharaohs exhibition.