Saturday, February 13, 2016

Magical gems

AWOL: The Campbell Bonner Magical Gems Database. A very cool collection. These look to be mostly Greco-Egyptian, so much of what you see comes from Egyptian and Greek iconography and mythology. But there's some (probably indirect) Jewish influence as well. It wouldn't surprise me to see Christian material too, although I didn't happen to notice any in quickly skimming through the database.

The vellum market is narrowing

TIMES HAVE CHANGED: Vellum: UK's last producer of calf-skin parchment fights on after losing Parliament's business. As of next month, archive copies of Acts of Parliament will cease to be printed on vellum, saving £80,000 in costs (Adam Lusher, The Independent).
In the company’s original office, with its 1855 safe, overlooked by a photograph of the firm’s founding father, the general manager of parchment and vellum makers William Cowley receives a steady stream of phone calls from sympathisers and customers.

Paul Wright tells them how parchment and vellum are “the earliest writing materials, in use since man stepped out of a cave, wrapped some skins round a few sticks to make a tepee, and started scribbling on his tent walls”. He added: “All of humankind’s history is on parchment and vellum. Magna Carta was written on parchment. The Dead Sea Scrolls: parchment, in 435BC.”

Today, he says, William Cowley, based in Newport Pagnell, Buckinghamshire, may be the only company in the world making “proper” vellum in the proper way – “without any harsh chemicals, by hand and hard, pigging work”.

The dating of 435 BCE for the Dead Sea Scrolls is, of course, centuries too early, but the point does remain. I do not assume that Mr. Wright actually made the error. He may have been misquoted or misunderstood.

The company disputes that Parliament will actually save as much as £80,000 with this cost-cutting measure.

Yazidi Sun Ladies are coming for you, ISIS.

WAR IN THE MIDDLE EAST: Former ISIS sex slaves now army of ‘Sun Ladies’ ready to defeat terror group (Hollie McKay, Fox News).
They call themselves the “Force of the Sun Ladies,” a name that reflects the culture’s solar reverence. Monotheistic and embracing elements of several religions, Yazidi once numbered 650,000 in Iraq, nearly all on the northern Nineveh Plain. ISIS’ genocidal campaign to “purify” Iraq of non-Muslims led to the slaughter of thousands and displaced at least 200,000.


“Our elite force is a model for other women in the region,” she said. “We want to thank all the other countries who help us in this difficult time, we want everyone to take up weapons and know how to protect themselves from the evil.”

The women willfully stepped into the line of fire as a support force to the Peshmerga on Nov. 13, the day the Kurdish forces took back their hometowns and villages from ISIS occupation. The newly formed unit engaged in direct combat and later helped clear streets and buildings rigged with explosives.

As with the Christians, Kurds and Iraqi military, they know the imminent battle to retake Mosul will be the real test. Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul is the terrorist group’s regional base. Most of the Yazidi women who escaped ISIS were held in Mosul and can help provide valuable intelligence, as well as boots on the ground. And fighting to free those left behind provides added motivation.
PaleoJudaica has been following the fate of the Yazidis, whose unique religion has interesting and yet-to-be-clarified parallels with ancient Gnosticism, for many years. Generally the news has not been good and it has only gotten worse since the rise of ISIS.

Now the survivors are fighting back. More power to them.

Related (AWOL): Monuments of Mosul in Danger. Mosul fell to ISIS in June of 2014.

Grabbe et al. (eds.), The Seleucid and Hasmonean Periods and the Apocalyptic Worldview

The Seleucid and Hasmonean Periods and the Apocalyptic Worldview (The Library of Second Temple Studies)

by Lester L. Grabbe (Editor, Series Editor), Gabriele Boccaccini (Editor), Jason M. Zurawski (Editor)

This tightly focused collection of essays, from an invited seminar of international specialists, centres on the question of the apocalyptic worldview around the time of the Maccabean revolt. What was the nature of apocalyptic at this time? Did the Maccabees themselves have a distinct apocalyptic worldview? These questions lead to other, more specific queries: who of the various groups held such a view? Certain of the essays analyse the characteristics of the apocalypses and related literature in this period, and whether the apocalyptic worldview itself gave rise to historical events or, at least, influenced them.

The collection begins with two introductory essays. Both the main and short papers have individual responses, and two considered responses by well-known experts address the entire collection. The volume finishes with a concluding chapter by the lead editor that gives a perspective on the main themes and conclusions arising from the papers and discussion.
To be released on 25 February 2016. This is the proceedings volume of the First Enoch Seminar Nangeroni Meeting.

The cast of "Kings and Prophets"

TELEVISION: Meet the "Of Kings and Prophets" Cast featuring Ray Winstone (Aaron Welsh, ABC).
The cast of of Kings and Prophets contains a group of seasoned actors and that deliver suspenseful performances that’ll keep you on the edge of your seat. Don't miss the "Of Kings and Prophets" series premiere TUESDAY MARCH 8 10|9c on ABC!
There is a video trailer too. With a giant! Or at least a very big guy. Background here and here.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Gnosis: Journal of Gnostic Studies

GNOSIS: JOURNAL OF GNOSTIC STUDIES is now taking subscription orders on the Brill website.
Gnosis: Journal of Gnostic Studies

Gnosis: Journal of Gnostic Studies is a peer-reviewed publication devoted to the study of Gnostic religious currents from the ancient world to the modern, where ‘Gnostic’ is broadly conceived as a reference to special direct knowledge of the divine, which either transcends or transgresses conventional religious knowledge. It aims to publish academic papers on: the emergence of the Gnostic, in its many different historical and local cultural contexts; the Gnostic strands that persisted in the middle ages; and modern interpretations of Gnosticism – with the goal of establishing cross-cultural and trans-historical conversations, together with more localized historical analyses. The corpus of Gnostic materials includes (but is not restricted to) testimonies from outsiders as well as insider literature such as the Nag Hammadi collection, the Hermetica, Neoplatonic texts, the Pistis Sophia, the books of Jeu, the Berlin and Tchacos codices, Manichaean documents, Mandaean scriptures, and contemporary Gnostic fiction/film and ‘revealed’ literature. The journal will publish the best of traditional historical and comparative scholarship while also featuring newer approaches that have received less attention in the established literature, such as cognitive science, cognitive linguistics, social memory, psychology, ethnography, sociology, and literary theory.
The journal was announced back in October of 2015.

Vampires in Jewish tradition?

THE UNDEAD: Did Jews Once Believe in Vampires? Secure in their monotheism, Jews may scoff, but some of the earliest texts on vampires were written in Hebrew by their coreligionists. (Elon Gilad, Haaretz).
The vampires that abound in popular culture today are for the most part a literary embellishment of the old Slavic belief that under certain circumstances, the dead can rise from their graves at night and kill their neighbors, friends and family.

Modern Jews might scoff at vampire culture, secure in their monotheism ruling out belief in such nonsense. But they should hold their tongues. Some of the earliest texts on vampires were written in Hebrew by their coreligionists, albeit after learning about the plague of the undead from their neighbors.

This article really deals with a period later than PaleoJudaica's main focus, but it raises an interesting question that has never been dealt with here. Lilith, of course, comes ultimately from the Bible and before, and in later traditions she was beautiful, seductive, murderous, and even a drinker of the blood of her infant victims. But Gilad correctly says that she was a demon rather than a vampire. The terafim are also biblical, but any identification of them with vampires is probably medieval. Likewise with the other apparent early Jewish mentions of vampires.

Kristianpoller, Traum und Traumdeutung im Talmud — Hebrew translation

Traum und Traumdeutung im Talmud

(Dreams and their interpretations in the Babylonian Talmud)

By Alexander Kristianpoller

Publisher: The Hebrew University Magnes Press
Jewish Thought, Talmud
Publish date: January 2016
Language: Hebrew
Danacode: 45-131132
ISBN: 978-965-493-850-1
Cover: Hardcover
Pages: 196
Weight: 650 gr.

The present comprehensive and orderly collection of texts from the Babylonian Talmud allows a deep insight into the knowledge of the rabbis about the importance and decryption of dream experiences and dream messages.
It covers, inter alia, the emergence of dreams and their healing power, mysterious Atonement and possibilities of influencing the content of a dream, nightmares, dream and prophecy, sexual dreams, rules and techniques of dream interpretation.
The Talmudic texts are added through detailed explanations and contemporary Jewish and non-Jewish parallels.

This book was first published in Vienna in 1923. It is Kristianpollers' thesis, written in his 20s. The thesis was finished as a book in 1914 but publication was delayed due to the first world war.

The Hebrew translation was initiated by the authors' son, Professor Nahum Kristianpoller, in memory of his parents who perished in the Holocaust.

On the Karaites

THE KARAITES ARE ALIVE AND WELL: Karaite Jews: The readers of Hebrew scriptures (EKREM BUĞRA EKINCI, Daily Sabah).
The Karaim are a Jewish community that completely reject the Talmud oral law and only recognize the Torah. They continue their existence in different regions, including Lithuania and Turkey, and it is rumored that Istanbul's Karaköy neighborhood is named after them
The article has lots of interesting historical background. I am not a specialist on the Karaites and I can't vouch for the specifics, but overall it looks accurate to me.

Past posts on the Karaites are collected here and links.

CORRECTION: Reader Eric Cohen writes in response:
Without being an expert, I wouldn't trust the Daily Sabah column on the Karaites, based on its identification of Saadia Gaon as a Karaite. He was, as described, a pioneer in the scientific study of Hebrew. He was also one of the most vehement opponents of Karaism,and would likely be horrified by this identification.
Quite right. How did I miss that one? Comes of trying to do too many things at once this morning. For more on Saadia Gaon, see, for example, here. Very grateful for the correction.

Yadin's last night in America

THE ASOR BLOG: Yigael Yadin’s Last Night in America: ASOR and the Biblical Archaeology Movement (Eric M. Meyers).
Whatever inspired Yadin, be it the Dorot program or the simple fear that in the greater and ever-changing Middle East Israel’s place in it and its archaeology might ultimately be slighted or diminished, he convened a high-powered ASOR group to meet at Leon and Shelby White Levy’s apartment in Manhattan on June 27th, 1984. In attendance were the Levys, Joy, Dick Scheuer, Ernie Frerichs, Jim Sauer, ASOR President, myself, ASOR First Vice President, and possibly Phil King, past ASOR President, whose participation I cannot recall. Yadin was so concerned about the future of the field of biblical archaeology, he said, that he intended to devote his final days — he was 67 when he died—to ensure the future of the field in the United States and he offered to lecture anywhere and turn over all of his lecture fees, which were very high even in those days, to a central fund except for his personal expenses. ...
He died the next day. His untimely death was a great loss to the field in many ways.

The ASOR Blog requires free registration to read the whole post.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Jost on the THEOT Project at SBL 2015

BELATEDLY, ON LAST NOVEMBER'S SBL MEETINGS: Garry Jost Presents at National Conference (Marylhurst University).
Dr. Jost presided over the Ethiopic Bible and Literature session with the theme: The THEOT Project (Textual History of the Ethiopic Old Testament Project). In the same session, Jost gave two presentations. The first, A Preliminary Report on the Families of Manuscripts for the Ethiopic Book of Ruth, was presented jointly with Dr. Daniel Assefa of the Capuchin Franciscan Institute of Philosophy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The second, Orthographic Variation in Ethiopic Obadiah: A Test Case in Methodology, featured Dr. Jarod Jacobs of Warner Pacific University as co-presenter.
Past posts on the Textual History of the Ethiopic Old Testament Project are here and here.

Damage to Aleppo synagogue

SYRIA AT WAR: 9th-century synagogue in Aleppo sustains minor damage in Syria fighting.
(JTA) — An ancient synagogue in Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, sustained minor damage in fighting, according to photos provided by locals to an Israeli-American peace activist in the war-torn country.

The damage to a corner of the building was probably caused by shelling, according to Moti Kahana, the founder of the Amaliah not-for-profit group, which aims to relieve the suffering of refugees from Syria and empower women there. Debris covered the corner area, making it difficult to ascertain the extent of the damage to the synagogue, which is believed to have been built in the ninth century.

Background on the now-destroyed Jobar Synagogue, mentioned later in this article, is here and links. Let's hope that the Aleppo Synagogue does not come to share its fate.

Video on buried treasures of the Temple Mount

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: VIDEO: Revealing the Buried Treasures of the Temple Mount (Israel Today). The title might make you think this was more speculation about those lost Temple treasures, but it is actually about the important work of the Temple Mount Sifting Project and is worth watching. Background here and many, many links.

Jefferson and Judaism

SURPRISINGLY, MAYBE. SORT OF: Thomas Jefferson: Jewish Student Of Talmud? (Saul Jay Singer, The Jewish Press). Excerpt:
Jefferson was not a particular friend of the Jews, and he certainly wasn’t an admirer of Judaism, but his passionate and influential advocacy of equal rights for all, including specifically freedom of religion, had an enormously positive impact upon Jewish rights in America. He almost certainly studied Talmud and, though by no means determinative, some genetic evidence does exist to support the proposition that he was descended from Sephardic Jews.

Rubenstein on Talmudic stories

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Talmudic Stories, Then and Now: A Retrospective by Jeffrey Rubenstein.
The editors of the “Ancient Jew Review” Website asked me to reflect on my scholarship on the stories of the Bavli and my “trilogy” of books, Talmudic Stories, Narrative Art, Composition, and Culture (1999), The Culture of the Babylonian Talmud (2003), and Stories of the Babylonian Talmud (2010), and I am grateful for this opportunity.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

St Maron's day and the Maronites

ARAMAIC WATCH: 15 things you probably didn’t know about Maronites (Jason Lemon, StepFeed).
Maronites throughout the region celebrate the feast of Saint Maroun on Tuesday. Annually, on Feb. 9, adherents to the sect remember their founder. As the largest Christian group in Lebanon, the Maronite community has long had a significant influence on Lebanese society as well as within the broader Levant region. So, in honor of the holiday, we thought we’d share some facts about the sect that you might not know.
Regular readers of PaleoJudaica know at least some of these things, notably '2. Syriac or “Christian Aramaic' remains the liturgical language of the church." For many past posts on the Maronites and their efforts to preserve and even revive their Aramaic liturgical language, see here and here and links.

The Lod Mosaic is in Miami

THE EXHIBITION OPENS TODAY: Ancient Roman mosaic unveiled at Frost Museum of Art (Phillip Valys,
Mysteries surround the enormous, ancient and well-preserved Roman mosaic that will debut Wednesday at the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Art in Miami.

Measuring 50 feet long and 27 feet wide, the 1,700-year-old stone floor depicts a menagerie of wild birds, domestic mammals and mythical sea creatures, all grouped around an octagonal centerpiece of lions, tigers, elephants and giraffes. The mosaic, on loan from the Israel Antiquities Authority, comes to Miami through an international museum tour.

Background to this exhibition is here. For much more on the Lod Mosaic, which has been traveling to exhibitions worldwide for some time, follow the links there. See also here and links for a second mosaic discovered at Lod.

Aleppo Codex registered by UNESCO

MANUSCRIPT: Oldest surviving copy of the Hebrew Bible recognized in International Memory of the World Register (i24 News).
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on Monday officially added the Aleppo Codex, believed to be the world’s oldest surviving copy of the Hebrew Bible, to its International Memory of the World Register.

According to Dr. Adolfo Roitman, the head curator of the Shrine of the Book Museum in Jerusalem, where the Codex now resides, all current versions of the Old Testament stem, “in one way or another, from this ancient manuscript.”

It was written in the town of Tiberias, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, in or around 930 CE, and then moved to Jerusalem, from where it was stolen when the Crusaders sacked the city in 1099.

It was later ransomed by the Jews of Cairo, and brought to that city.

But the Codex is significant not only for what it contains, but also for what it doesn’t. Some 190 pages of priceless text – around 40% of the total - are missing. These include four out of five books of the Pentateuch - the first section of books in the Bible also called the Five Books of Moses - as well as five books from the last section - Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel and Ezra.

The oldest complete Hebrew Bible is the Leningrad Codex (on which see here and here). The oldest fragmentary manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible are among the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Aleppo Codex is the oldest more-complete-than-not Hebrew Bible. For many, many past posts on the Aleppo Codex, see here and links or run the term through the search engine. This recognition by UNESCO is good news.

More archaeologists object to Western Wall compromise

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Archaeologists: New Western Wall prayer site will damage antiquities. Signatories to letter of protest warn of harm to ‘diamond in Jerusalem’s archaeological crown’ due to planned site for mixed-gender worship (Times of Israel).
Creating a new plaza at the Western Wall will damage “the most important archaeological site for the Jewish people,” nine senior Israeli archaeologists warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday, days after plans for a multi-denominational site were announced.

The “diamond in Jerusalem’s archaeological crown” must not be harmed accommodate the needs of various Jewish religious streams, they wrote, Israel Radio reported.

The protest drives another spoke into the wheel of the plan to expand an existing area south of the main Western Wall prayer site by creating a plaza over ruins from the Temple in an area known as Robinson’s Arch.

Signatories to the protest letter include Dan Bahat, who excavated the Western Wall tunnels; Ronny Reich, head of the Archaeological Council of Israel, who exposed part of the paved road beneath Robinson’s Arch; Jerusalem Prize winner Gabriel Barkay, who directs the Temple Mount Sifting Project; and Israel Prize laureate Amihai Mazar.

Eilat Mazar has also objected to the plan on archaeological grounds. The article does not say whether she was one of the nine signatories.

Background here and here.

Postdoc on pre-modern Eurasian manuscripts


Advertising Ends on: Extended Until Position is Filled
Advertising Started on: Wednesday, December 16th, 2015
College: Graduate College
Department: Interdisciplinary Programs


Salary: $42,840.00 - $46,344.00


Full/Part Time Status: Full Time
Percent Time: 100%

Position Description:
The Obermann Center at the University of Iowa welcomes applications for a full-time, twelve-month Postdoctoral Scholar. The one-year residency will begin on August 10, 2016. The position is funded through the generosity of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and is part of the 2016-2017 Mellon-Sawyer Seminar, “Cultural and Textual Exchanges: The Manuscript Across Pre-Modern Eurasia,” led by co-PIs Timothy Barrett (Center for the Book), Paul Dilley (Religious Studies and Classics), and Katherine Tachau (History).

Our seminar is an interdisciplinary collaboration dedicated to mapping cultural exchanges across Eurasia from roughly 400 CE - ca. 1450 CE, by focusing on the development, distribution and sharing of manuscript technologies. We will convene approximately fifteen times over the course of the 2016-2017 academic year, in dialogue with a series of invited speakers who are internationally recognized experts in the various manuscript cultures of pre-modern Eurasia. Four of the seminar meetings will be followed the next day by hands-on workshops at the University of Iowa’s Center for the Book, in which participants will reproduce historically significant book structures, with their associated materials, under the guidance of conservators. The seminar will also develop an innovative website tracking the development of Eurasian manuscript formats and materials chronologically and geographically.

Candidates in any related field, including Archaeology, Art History, Classics, History, East or South Asian Studies, and Near Eastern Studies, Religious Studies, are encouraged to apply.
Follow the link for further particulars. This is a very open-ended position that could involve Jewish manuscripts or Jewish texts transmitted in a pre-modern Eurasian context. Go for it!

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Davies on The Hebrew Canon and Politics

The Hebrew Canon and Politics

This paper was prepared for a seminar held at the Centre for Advanced Research in Oslo on April 29th 2015, convened by Prof. Terje Stordalen. I am grateful to the scholars present for their comments. The arguments should be seen as a development of those formulated in my Scribes and Schools. The Canonization of the Hebrew Scriptures, Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998.

By Philip R Davies
Chair, Palestine Exploration Fund
Emeritus, University of Sheffield, England
February 2016

CFP: Dating Early Christian Papyri

ROBERTA MAZZA: Dating early Christian papyri: old and new methods. A call for papers for the Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in San Antonio this November.

The Talmud, the fall of Jerusalem, and Kamtza and bar Kamtza

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Finders Keepers, Inferior Land for Wedded Bliss, and Other Property Matters. ‘Daf Yomi’ zig-zags from impure wine to the Talmud’s apocryphal reasoning for the destruction of the Temple.
This week’s Daf Yomi reading could have been designed to demonstrate the Talmud’s extremes of halakha and aggada. In the space of a few pages in Tractate Gittin, the sages moved from highly technical debates about property law to extravagant legends about the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple by the Roman general Titus. One of the things that makes reading Daf Yomi consistently interesting is that you never know when this kind of shift is going to happen: The Talmudic discussion, like a river, follows its own course, paying no attention to the boundaries of logic or subject matter. Indeed, all of this week’s reading, in chapter 5 of Gittin, is unrelated to the ostensible subject of the tractate, which is divorce.
The aggada comes in here:
It was toward the end of this week’s reading that we came to some of the most famous aggadic stories in the whole Talmud. These stories deal with the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 CE, at the end of the ruinous Jewish rebellion against the Roman Empire. Josephus, the Jewish priest and general who wrote the only surviving history of the rebellion, offers a variety of explanations for the catastrophe—political, religious, and economic. The Talmud, however, reduces the complex event to a moral homily: “Jerusalem was destroyed on account of Kamtza and bar Kamtza.”
Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Second Temple precedents

J-WIRE: ASK THE RABBI. Rabbi Raymond Apple answers readers' questions. In one answer he cites two Second Temple-era Jewish sources as precedents for modern practice:

Q. Is it wrong for a father and son to have the same first name?

A. It was certainly done in ancient times. The Apocrypha records that Tobit called his son Tobias: “When I came of age I took a wife from our kindred, and had a son by her whom I named Tobias” (Tobit 1:9).

Josephus had a brother whose name was Matityahu ben Matityahu: “I was born to Matityahu… I was brought up with my brother, whose name was Matityahu” (Life of Flavius Josephus 1, 2). Elsewhere Josephus refers to Chananiah ben Chananiah and Yochanan ben Yochanan (Antiquities 20:9:2, 10:1:2). Talmudic literature refers to Chanina ben Chanina, Bonias ben Bonias, Leizer ben Leizer, Yosef ben Yosef, Chiyya ben Chiyya, Ba bar Ba, etc.
Cross-file under Old Testament Apocrypha Watch.

CFP: The Other Within

H-JUDAIC: Extended Deadline - Call for Papers: "‘The Other Within’ – The Hebrew and Jewish Collections of The John Rylands Library".
The aim of this conference is to convene scholars, curators and students researching areas represented in the Library’s Hebrew and Jewish collections, including (but not limited to): the Cairo Genizah; medieval Hebrew manuscript codices; early printed Hebrew books; Samaritan manuscripts; and, the collections of Moses Gaster. It will take place as part of a programme of activities at the John Rylands Research Institute that aim to facilitate the study of the Library’s Hebrew and Jewish holdings. This includes the 2015-2018 externally-funded project to catalogue the Hebrew manuscripts and two ongoing projects on the Gaster collections.
Somehow I missed the original call for papers, but there's still time: "Due to significant interest, the submission deadline for paper proposals has been extended to 17:00 GMT on 26 February 2016."

Monday, February 08, 2016

International Septuagint Day 2016

Today is the 10th annual International Septuagint Day! So don’t forget to read some Greek Old Testament, browse some early editions of Liddell Scott, and brush up on your accentuation rules in celebration.
This is also the first anniversary of the launch of the International Organization of Septuagint and Cognate Studies (IOSC) Facebook page.

Review of Laneri (ed.), Defining the Sacred

Nicola Laneri (ed.), Defining the Sacred: Approaches to the Archaeology of Religion in the Near East. Oxford: Oxbow, 2015. Pp. ix, 186. ISBN 9781782976790. $50.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Aren M. Maeir, Bar-Ilan University (

The volume under review is an excellent collection of studies on the archaeology of religion in the ancient Near East, dealing with various cultures, finds, issues and periods, ranging from the early Neolithic period until the Iron Age, and while mostly within the realm of the “classical” ancient Near East, includes a study on ancient Turkmenistan. Most of the papers were originally presented at a session on the archaeology of the ancient Near East at the 8th International Congress on the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East which was held in Warsaw in 2012. To this several papers were added to broaden the topics and periods covered in the volume.

The first chapter (“Introduction: Investigating archaeological approaches to the study of religious practices and beliefs,” pp. 1-10), by the volume’s editor, Nicola Laneri, provides an overview and introduction to the volume. In the chapter, Laneri very discusses and summarizes issues such as: what is religion?; an overview of the archaeology of religion; previous studies on the archaeology of religion in the ancient Near East; and a general overview of the papers in the volume. One thing that would have improved this introduction, and in particular the discussion of the definition of religion and the archaeology of religion, would have been some reference to those who question the very definitions of religion as used in modern research as formulations based on modern western perceptions of the topic that are perhaps not always relevant for the study of ancient, non-western cultures (e.g. C. Martin, “Delimiting Religion”, Method and Theory in the Study of Religion 21/2 [2009], 157-176).
Most of the essays are about the pre-biblical period, but this one is of interest:
In “Where to Worship? Religion in Iron II Israel and Judah” (pp. 90-101), Beth Alpert Nakhai, discusses the types (national, community, personal) and locations of worship in Iron Age II (10th-6th cent. BCE) Israel and Judah. Differentiating between the various contexts, she attempts to place these within the context of the political and societal developments of this period, such as the formation of two distinct kingdoms, religious reformations, etc. While the overall scheme that she provides seems very likely, the newly published Iron IIA-B temple found at Moza (see S. Kisilevitz. 2015. The Iron IIA Judahite Temple at Tel Moza. Tel Aviv 42: 147-164), just outside of Jerusalem, may call into question some of her (and other scholars’) suggestions regarding the lack of temples in non-urban contexts in Iron Age Judah.

Meghillot XI-XII

NOW OUT: MEGHILLOT Studies in the Dead Sea Scrolls XI-XII 2014-2015 (ed. Jonathan Ben-Dov and Menaham Kister). The link leads to a pdf of the English front matter. Purchasing information is here.

HT the IOQS Facebook page and the Orion Center.

Talmudic synopses on demand

Enter Shamma Friedman. For decades, Friedman has been at the forefront of both talmudic philology qua philology (think dusty book filled offices, but also trips to pastoral European monasteries which are home to ancient Talmudic manuscripts) and digital research in the humanities. Since the eighties, Friedman has headed the Saul Lieberman Institute of Talmudic Research of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Friedman and his staff have poured thousands of hours into transcribing almost every single partial and complete manuscript of the Bavli. After years of being available on CD-ROM, the institute’s databank of Talmudic manuscripts went online in 2011 and has become one of the most relied upon tools for scholars of the Bavli. Now, in what will surely be remembered as a watershed moment in the history of talmudic philology, the institute has developed software that can automatically create synopsi. Using the software, synopses of a chapter of the Talmud can be created within the span of just a few minutes, and the day on which scholars will have synopses to the entire Bavli at their fingertips does not seem too far off.
Cross-file under Technology Watch.

Ancient terraces in the Judean Hills?

TECHNOLOGY WATCH: Are Jerusalem’s Historic Terraces Really That Ancient? A new study says that most of the agricultural terraces surrounding Jerusalem were built during the Ottoman era. But critics are taking steps to counter the findings (Nir Hasson, Haaretz).
The man-made terraces in the Judean Hills surrounding Jerusalem are at the center of a fierce debate after a new study claimed the agricultural features were mainly built by Arab workers in the past 400 years. Critics dismiss the study and say it merely reflects the most recent building work.

The UNESCO-protected village of Battir, south of Jerusalem, features one of the most famous terraces and became the subject of lengthy legal arguments when the Defense Ministry’s plan to place the West Bank separation barrier through it threatened to ruin postcard sales. The terraces around Ein Karem, the neighborhood of Ramot and other locations were also used as examples arguing against urban development. In several locations in the Jerusalem Forest and Nahal Refa’im, the Jewish National Fund and Jerusalem Development Authority have embarked on projects designed to refurbish old terraces, as well as building new ones.

The power of a man-made terrace lies in its simplicity: It is a series of steps, with the earth held back by a wall of stones to enable tilling the mountainside. Its simplicity actually makes it difficult to date a terrace. In contrast to ancient structures, terraces are not usually part of a wider complex, which might include other artifacts that could be dated.

To add a further level of complexity, the terraces we see nowadays are the result of a never-ending project of building, reconstruction and repairing – a process that has continued for many generations. Thus, even if artifacts are found nearby, it’s difficult to ascertain whether they belong to the time the terrace was originally constructed or to a later time when it was repaired.


Clearly, the study has raised questions regarding the ability of scientific tools to solve archaeological questions. In recent years, archaeology in Israel has been relying heavily on analyses being conducted in laboratories. Some critics claim there is an excessive reliance on these methods, and that even numerical results require interpretation and juxtaposition with archaeological and historical sources, in order to place them in the right context.

More on the legal controversy over Battir (Betar) is here and links.


NEW TESTAMENT APOCRYPHA WATCH: New Bibliographical Resource: “e-Clavis: Christian Apocrypha”. NASSCAL is crowdsourcing the Christian Apocrypha.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

DSS Master's scholarship

UNIVERSITY OF GRONINGEN: Florentino García Martínez Research Master Scholarship, established by Jan Overmeer.
The Qumran Institute of the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies (University of Groningen) is delighted to present the Florentino García Martínez Research Master Scholarship for excellent students. The scholarship is specifically for students in the fields of Hebrew Bible, early Judaism and Dead Sea Scrolls.

The scholarship is € 1,000 and is meant to cover some of the expenses connected with the two-year Research Master programme at the Faculty’s Graduate School.
Follow the link for further particulars. Past recipients of the scholar are noted here and here.

Interview with Zahi Hawass

ASOR BLOG: Interview with Zahi Hawass (Alex Joffe).
Few individuals are so closely identified with Egypt – and ancient Egypt – as Zahi Hawass. Formerly Minister of State for Antiquities, Hawass has been Chief Inspector and Director of the Giza Plateau, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, and has excavated at numerous sites throughout Egypt. He is also the face of Egyptian archaeology, having appeared in countless TV programs that have spread the story of ancient Egypt worldwide. In January Ancient Near East Today editor Alex Joffe had the pleasure of interviewing Hawass in New York City at the opening of the new Discovery of King Tut exhibit.
A recent story involving Zahi Hawass and King Tutankhamun's tomb is here and links.

Still more on saving Iraqi manuscripts

SYRIAC WATCH? Iraqi Jesuit saved 1,000 manuscripts (Catholic Culture).
An Iraqi Jesuit estimates that he saved 1,000 ancient manuscripts, including biblical and liturgical books, from the advance of the Islamic State.

“If Daesh burns down a church we can rebuild it, but the manuscripts are our history,” Father Gabriel Tooma told an international news channel. “If they get destroyed, then we are lost, and our culture will be forgotten.”

The brief article does not specify the language(s) of the saved manuscript, but since Father Tooma is reportedly now running an orphanage and a school in the Aramaic-speaking town of Alqosh in Iraq, it seems likely that Syriac manuscripts were involved.

For a similar recent story about a priest saving manuscripts from the depredations of ISIS in Iraq, see here and here.

Time Scanning Jerusalem

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Time Scanners series provides high-tech look at ancient sites (Jennifer Nixon, Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette).
What is it? Time Scanners, one hour-long episode per set from PBS

How much? $24.99 each

When? Now

They're scanning time? No. They're scanning buildings as a way of taking people back in time. Sort of. Basically, the series uses modern technology to explore ancient sites, trying to solve mysteries and make the structures and people who built them more relatable for the people of today.

Using a mobile laser scanner, which bounces pulses of light off objects to map them, host Dallas Campbell, structural engineer Steve Burrows and their team use their fancy gadgets and meet with local archaeological and history experts to do some high-tech, in-depth exploring:
Along with the Colosseum and Machu Picchu, there is:
Jerusalem: The Temple Mount is examined to see how King Herod's builders managed to create a structure that survived centuries of war and earthquakes. Then the team goes to Herodium, a palace and man-made mountain south of Jerusalem, to find out how it was built and what happened to the palace structures within it.
There's more on the series here.

Third Punic War anniversary

PUNIC WATCH: Lessons from history: the end of the Third Punic War (1985). After 2,131 years of living on a razor's edge, a 1985 'treaty of friendship' marked the end of the Third Punic War. Simran Uppal explains the significance of this long-awaited signing. (Simran Uppal, Cherwell).
The Third Punic War between Rome and Carthage started in 149 BC and ended on this very day, February 5th – but that is, rather bizarrely, 5th February 1985. The Romans took Carthage in 146 BC, but caught up in the general hubbub of razing a city to the ground and sowing its fields with salt, and quite understandably forgot the proceedings for an official end to the war.

This detail passed the world by until the 1960s, when some historian – presumably with too much time on their hands – picked up on it. Eventually, then, the mayors of Rome and Carthage got involved (Ugo Vetere and Chedly Klibi, also leader of the Arab League at the time) and arranged to sign a treaty, 2,134 years after war began, in the Tunisian president’s villa looking out over the Mediterranean.

This actually happened, but cross-file under Can't Make It Up.