Saturday, April 02, 2016

Today's Palmyra update

PALMYRA WATCH: Syria’s Palmyra scarred forever by IS jihadists. Many temples, columns and other treasures have been destroyed by group, with even partial recovery expected to take years (Sammy Ketz, AFP). The antiquities director Maamoun Abdulkarim says that the Temple of Bel can only be partially restored and that even that could take five years.

Also, the team that is reprinting the Arch of Triumph from Palmyra plans to go to the ruins themselves to aid the reconstruction: Palmyra Triumphal Arch Comes to Life in 3-D-printed Display (Aida Akl, Voice of America).
The Triumphal Arch of the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra – destroyed by Islamic State (IS) militants last October – is being resurrected, thanks to digital technology and 3-D printing. The replicated structure is going on display around the world on April 19 in a fitting tribute to the city’s recent liberation from IS control.

Reconstructing the 2000-year-old Triumphal Arch to mark UNESCO’s World Heritage Day 2016, is the UK-based Institute for Digital Archeology (IDA), a joint venture between Harvard University, Oxford University, and Dubai’s Museum of the Future. The arch will be displayed in London, New York and Dubai.

IDA teams will be first on the ground in the liberated Palmyra and hope to be part of its reconstruction. “As soon as our teams are given access to the Palmyra site, our first step will be to consult with local stakeholders to learn of their priorities,” Roger Michel, IDA’s founder and Executive Director, said in an email.

The team will then build a large-scale 3-D printing grid near the site of the reconstruction.

“This will dramatically reduce cost and allow local stakeholders to participate in the building process,” he said. “After rough-printing the reconstruction, the next step is to provide surface finishes that match the appearance and texture of the original objects or architecture.”

There's a video too, of an impressive Skynet-like device rebuilding a monument.

And lest we forget that this is not just about antiquities and ruins: Palmyra mass grave: Tortured women & children among dozens of ISIS victims unearthed by Syrian army (

And finally, some more general information about the rescue of antiquities in Syria during the war: With jihadis at the door, Syrians rush to rescue history. Undercover archaeologists and curators have been smuggling artifacts out of Islamic State territory in the hope of preserving them from looting and destruction (MAEVA BAMBUCK, AP).

Background on Palmyra is here and follow the links.

Jones on canon

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Is there a Canon in this Class? (Chris Jones).
We also can’t teach them that way. Most of us are comfortable teaching the historical-critical method, showing students how to unravel the compositional histories of biblical texts and how to read them in their ancient contexts. But when our students conceptualize the Bible as something that has always existed, or as something that was always going to exist, teaching them compositional history and contextual reading strategies is not enough.
Earlier contributions to the AJR discussion are noted here and links.

New editions of Jacob of Sarug's homilies

SYRIAC WATCH: GORGIAS PRESS has published a number of new editions of the Syriac homilies of Jacob of Sarug. These two look particularly interesting:
Jacob of Sarug’s Homilies on the Six Days of Creation: The Second Day
Edited and Translated by Edward G. Mathews Jr.
(Texts from Christian Late Antiquity 40)

Title: Jacob of Sarug’s Homilies on the Six Days of Creation: The Second Day
Series: Texts from Christian Late Antiquity 40
Availability: In Print
Publisher: Gorgias Press
Edited and Translated by Edward G. Mathews Jr.
ISBN: 978-1-4632-0553-9
Availability: In Print
Publication Date: 1/2016
Language: English and Syriac
Format: Paperback, Black, 6 x 9 in
Pages: 55

In this second part of Homily 71, On the Fashioning of Creation, Jacob treats the making of the firmament: what it was, where it was, what – as far as can be determined – was placed above it and what below it, its purpose and utility for humanity, and the importance of its place in the Genesis account of the six day progression of creation.

Recognized as a saint by both Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian Christians alike, Jacob of Sarug (d. 521) produced many narrative poems that have rarely been translated into English. Of his reported 760 metrical homilies, only about half survive. Part of a series of fascicles containing the bilingual Syriac-English editions of Saint Jacob of Sarug’s homilies, this volume contains his homilies on the Six Days of Creation. The Syriac text is fully vocalized, and the translation is annotated with a commentary and biblical references. The volume is one of the fascicles of Gorgias Press’s The Metrical Homilies of Mar Jacob of Sarug, which, when complete, will contain all of Jacob’s surviving sermons.

Jacob of Sarug's Homily on the Chariot that Prophet Ezekiel Saw
Fascicle 14: Translation and Introduction by Alexander Golitzin; Edited with Notes by Mary T. Hansbury
(Texts from Christian Late Antiquity 3)

Title: Jacob of Sarug's Homily on the Chariot that Prophet Ezekiel Saw
Subtitle: Metrical Homilies of Mar Jacob of Sarug
Series: Texts from Christian Late Antiquity 3
Availability: In Print
Publisher: Gorgias Press
Fascicle 14
Translation and Introduction by Alexander Golitzin
Edited with Notes by Mary Hansbury
ISBN: 978-1-59333-735-3
Availability: In Print
Publication Date: 2/2016
Language: English and Syriac
Format: Paperback, Black, 6 x 9 in
Pages: 169

Recognized as a saint by both Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian Christians alike, Jacob of Sarug (d. 521) produced many narrative poems that have rarely been translated into English. Of his reported 760 metrical homilies, only about half survive. Part of a series of fascicles containing the bilingual Syriac-English editions of Saint Jacob of Sarug’s homilies, this volume contains his homily on the Chariot which the Prophet Ezekiel saw. The Syriac text is fully vocalized, and the translation is annotated with a commentary and biblical references. The volume is one of the fascicles of Gorgias Press’s Complete Homilies of Saint Jacob of Sarug, which, when complete, will contain all of Jacob’s surviving sermons. In Syriac and English.

Biblical Studies Carnival CXXII

NT WRONG REDIVIVUS: Biblical Studies Carnival CXXII (March 2016).

The mysterious origins of the Nag Hammadi Library

LARRY HURTADO: Recent Questions about the Nag Hammadi Codices.
The implications are considerable. If, for example, the Nag Hammadi codices weren’t composed by and for Pachomian monks, and weren’t hidden in the 4th century from “orthodox” bishops, and don’t, thus, reflect some variant-version of early Christianity, that’s quite a lot to take on board. If, as Denzey Lewis and Blount contend, instead, these texts (at least in the 4th century) circulated among somewhat elitist individuals of esoteric tastes and rather eclectic reading habits, then these codices can’t really be used as they often have been to “re-write” 4th century history of Egyptian Christianity. So, it will now be interesting to see how the scholarly discussion moves forward. But, to my mind, these articles, particularly the Denzey Lewis and Blount study, can’t rightly be ignored.
Those are big implications.

Friday, April 01, 2016

Progress at Palmyra

PALMYRA WATCH: Russia archaeologists ‘offer to rebuild Palmyra.’ (Times of Israel Blog). I bet they did. The Russians are certainly milking the positive publicity of the retaking of Palmyra for all it's worth, but I suppose they've earned it. Now I expect them to do a superb job on the restoration.

Meanwhile, progress: Syrian sappers say 1230 mines rendered harmless in Palmyra. According to Lieutenant Qassen Shpib of the Syrian engineer troops engaged in demining efforts, it's only half of the approximate number of explosive devices in the city (Tass).

Also, a little good news: Palmyra's dynamited temple can be restored, de-miners use robots (Reuters).
Satellite pictures taken after the 2,000-year-old temple was dynamited by the jihadi group, and other images broadcast since Syrian government forces retook the city on Sunday, show almost the entire structure collapsed in a heap of rubble.

It was one of several important monuments blown up in the city last year including the temple of Baal Shamin, a victory arch and funerary towers. The city museum, home to treasured artefacts, was ransacked and statues were smashed or defaced.

Despite the extensive damage, Maamoun Abdelkarim [Syria's antiquities chief] said that the Temple of Bel had not been pulverised and its foundations were largely intact.

Consecrated to a Mesopotamian god, the Temple of Bel later served as a Christian church and a mosque. In an inner sanctuary, carvings showed seven planets surrounded by the signs of the zodiac, and a procession of camels and veiled women.

"What was said about it all being turned to dust - it's not dust," Abdelkarim told Reuters in Damascus. "There is still a lot of the structure ... that can be reused and renovated."
Background here and links.

Q document recovered!

IT'S THAT DAY AGAIN: Archaeologists Find Q (Bosco Peters, Peter Williams, ETC).
The earliest collection of the sayings of Jesus, written down in Hebrew by Jesus’ disciple Matthew, has been found.
These sayings, older than our gospels, now leave us with unprecedented questions: if they disagree with the gospels, which do we follow? Should we add this to the Bible?

Joseph Aviram Turns 100

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: Israel Exploration Society’s Joseph Aviram Turns 100 (Hershel Shanks).
Yom huledet sameach! Happy birthday, Joseph (he pronounces it Yosef). On March 16, 2016, Joseph Aviram turned 100 years old!
Happy belated birthday to Dr. Aviram! A past post about him is here.

Temple Institute trying to recruit priests

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH? Job opening: High priests needed for ancient Temple ritual (Michele Chabin, Religion News Service). Actually, the Temple Institute seems to be looking for priests in general, although I suppose that would include a high priest. I'm not sure what the plural "high priests" in the headline is supposed to be about.

To be clear, as I have already said many times, I do not support the rebuilding of the Third Temple or any other excavation or construction on the Temple Mount. Even archaeologists should wait to study its contents until we have non-invasive and non-destructive technologies that allow us to do so without damaging the site or the buildings that are already there.

My interest in this story is purely sociological.

Past posts on the Temple Institute and its various projects are here and follow the links back.

Brent Seales lectures at Baylor

TECHNOLOGY WATCH: Professor speaks on preserving past using technology (Rachel Leland, Baylor Lariat).
Computer Science and Papyrology, the study of ancient texts written on papyrus, may not appear to intersect, but digital imaging technology offers benefits and collaboration opportunities for researchers in both fields.

Baylor University hosted researcher Dr. Brent Seales who gave a lecture called “Digital Unwrapping: Homer, Herculaneum and the Scroll from Ein Gedi.”

Past posts on Dr. Seales's work on the Herculaneum papyri are here and links (related post here). Past post on the recovery of the text from that carbonized Leviticus scroll are here, here, here, here, and here.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

"Demining" Palmyra

PALMYRA WATCH: Russian Experts Arrive in Syria to Demine Recaptured Palmyra. After Palmyra was recaptured by Syrian troops and Russian airstrikes after a 10-month ISIS reign, Russia has pledged to help clear the archaeological site of mines (AP). UNESCO plans to send in a mission to tackle the restoration of the ancient monuments once this is done.

Background here and links.

Joffe on biblical archaeology

How to Chase a White Whale[1]
A Response to “Biblical Archaeology: The Hydra of Palestine’s History.”

But what bothers Thompson of course is that the Bible is, for some, scripture, and Jewish scripture at that. There has always been a self-evident quality to his biblical antipathy. There is simply too much, well, Jewish stuff, in there, that connects, for better or worse, the past and present. His entire oeuvre has been a concerted effort to sever the Bible from the Jews and their Iron Age ancestors. This forces special pleading and head standing; hence such odd statements as “there is in Israel today, no political room for a post 722 BCE Israel.”

By Alex Joffe
Editor, The Ancient Near East Today
Archaeologist and Historian
March 2016
This essay is in response to Thomas Thompson's essay Biblical Archaeology: The Hydra of Palestine’s History, which was published in Bible and Interpretation in October of 2015 and which I noted here. Thomas responds to Joffe in the comments section. I am very happy for the most part to leave it to others who are better informed than I to debate the relationship of the Bible to the archaeology, epigraphic remains, and history of the Iron Age II in this region. I do step in with a comment once in a while if I think I have something useful to say.

The texts in the Bible — both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament — were not written with our archaeological and historical questions in mind and very frequently are not of much use for answering those questions. We are, of course, ever tempted to try to extract such answers from the texts, and not entirely without success. But ultimately the texts had their own concerns— ones we often do not understand very well — and were indifferent to ours, and that should make us cautious about our historical conclusions. The lack of scholarly consensus about Iron Age II Israel is, I think, symptomatic of this problem and the question of the historical Jesus runs up against it as well.

Copeland (ed.), The Oxford History of Classical Reception in English Literature 1: 800-1558

NEW BOOK FROM OUP: Penn professor edits new book on classical reception in English literature (Jacquie Posey, Penn Current).
Ancient Greek and Roman poets have inspired generations of writers who came after them. Now, a new book edited by Rita Copeland, the Sheli Z. and Burton X. Rosenberg Professor of the Humanities in the School of Arts & Sciences, offers the most comprehensive account ever written of the reception of classical writing in medieval and early Tudor English literature.

Reception history is a field of literary studies that examines how later periods respond to and assimilate products of earlier literary cultures, building on and around these earlier traditions.

“The Oxford History of Classical Reception in English Literature 1: 800-1558” (“OHCREL”) is the first volume in an Oxford University Press five-volume series devoted to the classical tradition in English literature. “OHCREL” synthesizes existing scholarship and presents new research. An international team of experts collaborated on each of the five volumes.

Ancient Judaism also figures in the book:
“OHCREL” also outlines how the history of Jewish antiquity found a place in medieval English culture through translations and adaptations of the ancient historian Josephus and his “Jewish Wars.”

Rare coin returned to Israel

NUMISMATICS: German doctor returns ancient coin he took from Israel 25 years ago.
(Israel Hayom/Exclusive to A German doctor has decided to return a rare ancient coin he discovered on a visit to Jerusalem 25 years ago.

The bronze coin picked up by Dr. Tonio Sebastian Richter dates to 178-179 C.E. and is imprinted with a profile of the Roman Emperor Commodus. The name “Ashkelon” appears on the coin in Greek script.

Richter took the coin back to Berlin, cleaned it, and realized it was an ancient artifact. He tried to find information about the coin, and kept it in his possession until he heard that the Israel Museum was celebrating 50 years since its founding and decided to return the coin.

Good for him. The coin turned out to be unique, so he did the right thing. It's easy to find coins in Israel on a hike or whatever. In some places they just pop up from the ground after a rain. But if you find one you should show it to an archaeologist or numismatist to make sure it isn't something rare that belongs in a museum.

PTS appoints Mark Smith

GOOD NEWS: Princeton Theological Seminary Appoints Mark S. Smith as Professor of Old Testament (Krystal Knapp, Planet Princeton). Congratulations both to Professor Smith (and the other two appointments) and to Princeton Theological Seminary.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Today's Palmyra roundup

PALMYRA WATCH: ISIS Fighters Laid Mines Around Palmyra’s Ancient Ruins Before Retreating, Syrians Say (RICK GLADSTONE and HWAIDA SAAD, NYT).
The Syrian forces that recaptured the storied city of Palmyra from Islamic State occupiers this past weekend have encountered dozens of mines that the expelled militants laid as booby traps around treasured ancient ruins sites, Syria’s state media reported Tuesday.

Accounts of the Palmyra victory published by the official Syrian Arab News Agency also reported that Russia’s military, which has helped the Syrian forces regain momentum against insurgents with a six-month bombing campaign, was sending 100 mine clearance engineers and trainers of bomb-sniffing dogs to help rid Palmyra of the mines planted by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh.

The expulsion of the Islamic State from Palmyra, the ancient “Bride of the Desert” oasis seized by the militant extremist group 10 months ago, is regarded as a turn in the five-year-old war and an enormous propaganda victory for President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and the Russians.

The Palmyra news also has left the United States and other Western and Arab opponents of Mr. Assad in the awkward position of welcoming it while still insisting that the Syrian president’s autocracy and suppression of dissent was the underlying cause of the Syria war.

There's more geopolitical analysis of the retaking of Palmyra in this UPI article by Professor Paul Rogers: Explaining the strategy behind the battle to rescue the ruins of Palmyra.
There is clear evidence that Russia has been directing its most recent airstrikes at opponents of the Assad regime in north west Syria, rather than targeting IS. This is not surprising given that IS has scarcely been involved in the opposition to Assad. One major effect of the Russian campaign has been to strengthen the regime as a prelude to a negotiated settlement. This would have significant Russian involvement which, from Moscow's standpoint, would ensure that post-war Syria would have considerable Russian influence.

Now that Putin has seen that policy reasonably on track, the Russian forces have had time to turn their attention to supporting Assad's advance on Palmyra, an IS outpost since May 2015.

Its loss was a major symbolic blow. Within a short time, IS fighters made a great show of wantonly destroying ancient ruins in the town.

In taking the city back, Putin can now claim to be doing the west's job for it. The Palmyra triumph is further proof of Russia's power and influence – a message that will go down very well with domestic audiences. Russia Today is reporting that experts from the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg have offered their services in the restoration process.
And then there's this: Trapped and surrounded by murderous ISIS fighters, the heroic Russian 'Rambo' who wiped them all out by calling in airstrikes on HIMSELF (Will Stewart, Daily Mail). His name was Alexander Prokhorenko and his action, which brought about his own death along with his enemies, contributed to the retaking of Palmyra. Whatever one thinks of the Russian strategy in Syria, that was a badass way to die. Requiescat in pace.

Some soul-searching: Should I Feel Guilty for Worrying About Palmyra’s Stones, When ISIS Slaughters Humans? (Larry Cohler-Esses, The Forward). As regular readers know, I recognize and sympathize with the author's concerns. But we should worry about both and not waste our energy on feeling guilty. I focus on the stones because PaleoJudaica is a blog about ancient history and that is the area I am most qualified to comment on.

Finally, I can't resist noting this one: A Gateway Could Be Opened When the Temple of Baal Is Erected in Times Square (MICHAEL SNYDER, Charisma News).
In April, part of the Temple of Baal that stood in Palmyra, Syria, will be reconstructed in Times Square in New York City and in Trafalgar Square in London. The specific portion that is being erected in both cases is the 48-foot-tall arch that stood at the entrance to the temple.

The Institute of Digital Archaeology is the organization behind this effort, and the display of these two arches is intended to be the highlight of UNESCO's World Heritage Week late next month. After seeing my initial story, one of my readers observed that an arch is really just a gateway or a portal. In other words, it can serve as both an entrance and an exit. So could it be possible that we will be unknowingly setting up a gate or a portal of some sort in Times Square?

The worship of Baal, also known as Bel, can be traced all the way back to ancient Babylon. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Marduk was "the chief god of the city of Babylon," and ultimately he became known as "Bel" or "Lord":

[Some additional earnest Encylopedia and Wikipedia research is omitted here.]

So now we are setting up a "gateway" or a "portal" for the chief God of ancient Babylon in the heart of our most important city next month.

Does anyone else out there find this more than just a little bit creepy?

Where to start? First of all, no one actually worships Baal or Bel anymore, which would seem to me rather to pull the teeth of this perceived threat. Second, this worry is a nice example of the fallacy of equivocation with reference to the word "gate." Third, the author has clearly been watching too much Stargate.

Background on the long, sad story of Palmyra is here and links. More on the reconstruction of the arch of the Temple of Bel in Times Square (and Trafalgar Square in London) is here. And for Palmyra's Temple of Bel vs. its Temple of Baal (both destroyed by ISIS), see here.

Robinson obituary

THE CLAREMONT SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY: In Memoriam: Professor Emeritus James Robinson.

Background here.

More on acquiring women in the Talmud

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: By Talmudic law, Jewish Men Purchase Brides as They Would a Slave or a Piece of Real Estate. Sure, the woman consents, but the ‘specter of ownership’ hangs over the relationship. Plus: If you’re buying a woman, what is she actually worth in hard currency?
This is not to say that marriage is a kind of slavery. Crucially, a woman cannot be betrothed without her consent. (Legally, at any rate; in practice, there are many ways of pressuring a woman, or for that matter a man, to get married whether they want to or not.) But since a man does purchase his wife with money, the specter of ownership necessarily hangs over the relationship. That is surely one reason why the Gemara is so concerned to define exactly what “acquiring” means in this context. If a man acquires a wife with money, is the money actually her price? Or is it more of a symbolic offering, meant to publicly establish the woman’s value?
Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Still looking for the Shapira scrolls

THEY'RE STILL FORGERIES, THOUGH: Author plays Indiana Jones on the trail of ‘the World’s Oldest Bible.’ In 1883, Moses Shapira claimed to have found ancient parchments with the text of Deuteronomy in the Judean Desert. But they were dismissed as forgeries, and he committed suicide. Decades later, the Dead Sea Scrolls were uncovered in the same area. Chanan Tigay set out to discover if Shapira was wronged (MATT LEBOVIC, Times of Israel.
BOSTON — Whether or not the “oldest Bible” he hunted was forged, journalist Chanan Tigay just wrote a myth-shattering prequel to the epic 1947 discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Set for publication by HarperCollins on April 12, “The Lost Book of Moses: The Hunt for the World’s Oldest Bible,” follows Moses Wilhelm Shapira, a Polish-born, Jerusalem-based treasure hunter who, in 1883, claimed to have found the oldest copy of the Bible. Unfortunately for the charming, social-climbing Shapira, his musty parchments’ authenticity was called into question during their exhibition at the British Museum, sending the Polish-born Shapira into a tailspin.

Without needing a spoiler alert, Tigay opens the book by examining Shapira’s suicide in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, six months after the accusation of forgery. Putting Shapira’s 1884 death up front helped Tigay probe what he said most intrigued him about the story — “what was it, in the end, that led Shapira to believe there was just no way to go on,” as the award-winning writer told The Times of Israel in an interview.


The Tigay family’s affinity for Deuteronomy includes the 40-year-old author’s father, Biblical scholar Jeffrey H. Tigay, who in 2003 wrote the Jewish Publication Society’s commentary on the book.

I'm glad someone has written a book on the Shapira scrolls, and Mr. Tigay was obviously the right person to do it. They are an interesting topic. But, even though they are lost, we have quite a bit of information about them and no one in the last century and more has been able to mount a convincing case that they were genuine. I have discussed the issue in greater detail here, here and links. I have not seen Mr. Tigay's book, but I assume that if he managed to recover any of the lost scrolls, he would have mentioned it in the interview. I do hope that some of the scrolls survive somewhere (there is some hope for this) and are recovered someday. They are important in the annals of biblical forgeries and would be worthy of study for that reason, if for no other.

Rome's Jewish catacombs opening

TOURISM: Rome’s Jewish catacombs to open to the public (Josephine McKenna, Religion News Service).
ROME (RNS) Beneath a former vineyard near the legendary Appian Way lies one of the Italian capital’s untold secrets, a vast underground catacomb where Jews buried their dead nearly 2,000 years ago.

While Rome has more than 40 Christian catacombs, which attract hundreds of thousands of tourists every year, there are only a handful of Jewish catacombs and they are usually open to small groups and private tours.

Now the Jewish catacombs of Villa Randanini will open to the public from May 1 to June 5 as one of several initiatives by the Italian cultural ministry to broaden the scope of Pope Francis’ Jubilee Year of Mercy.


Visitors can see inscriptions in Hebrew, Greek and Latin, which give clues about an individual’s family connections, status or line of work. While the catacombs have been sacked over the centuries, visitors can still see many colorful frescoes and tablets with depictions of the traditional Jewish candelabra.

The walls of family “cubicles” or tombs are covered in dancing maidens, birds, grapevines and floral tributes, and there are also pockets of kokhim, a type of Jewish burial chambers.

Nice photos with a couple exemplars of the ever-present menorah motif. Coincidentally, Rome's Jewish catacombs (the Vigna Randanini) came up recently in a PaleoJudaica post about James Joyce's peregrinations in Rome.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Reckoning up the devastation in Palmyra

PALMYRA WATCH: As Isis is driven out, the extent of damage to Palmyra becomes clear. Two major temples appear to have been completely destroyed, but Palmyra is tragically only the latest victim of religious iconoclasm (David Keys, The Independent).
The iconoclasts of Isis have been driven out of this vast Unesco World Heritage site – and archaeologists are about to assess the damage. Preliminary information suggests that less of the ancient ruined city has been damaged and destroyed by Isis than previously feared.

However, two major temples – those of Bel and Baal Shamin – appear to have been completely destroyed. Certainly aerial photographs of the former suggest that the main temple building has been totally erased. However, it’s not yet clear where the rubble has been taken to – so potentially, it may be that some elements can be recovered. Also destroyed are a series of ancient tombs.

The monumental stone blocks of the great Roman triumphal arch, toppled by Isis, appear to be intact – and it may well be possible for conservators to eventually re-erect it. The ancient city’s spectacular Roman theatre has not been destroyed – probably because Isis used it for public executions. Various other structures – including several ruined temples also appear not to have been targeted by the organisation.
Other evaulations sound less optimistic:

UN expert says Palmyra likely beyond repair after IS carnage. During its 10-month occupation, Islamic State destroyed the 2,000-year-old Temple of Bel and shrine of Baal Shamin (AFP).

Syrian experts shocked by damage inside Palmyra’s museum. Ancient site found devastated, but not completely destroyed, after government forces drive out Islamic State (ALBERT AJI, AP).

And here is a background article on the historical importance of Palmyra:

Why Palmyra, Recently Liberated, Is a Historical Treasure. Fabulously wealthy and distinctly multicultural, this desert crossroads also had a rebellious streak (Kristin Romey, National Geographic).

And finally, the Jerusalem Post has an evaluation of the larger political context of the recapture of Palmyra by Assad's forces:

Jerusalem Post Editorial: Palmyra recaptured. There are reasons for cautious optimism.
With the victory at Palmyra, Syrian forces under Assad’s rule have succeeded not only in pushing back various “moderate” Sunni opposition forces, but also ISIS troops. The eminent [read "imminent" - JRD] collapse of the Syrian government has been prevented – for the time being – and now Assad in on the offensive, thanks to Russian support.

Still, neither the Palmyra victory nor the gains made by Assad as a result of Russian intervention should be exaggerated.
Background here and many links.

Jesus in the DSS?

REMNANT OF GIANTS: Simcha Jacobovici sees Jesus where there is no Jesus (again): This time in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Deane Galbraith evaluates Mr. Jacobovici's latest claims and finds them wanting. No giants are involved this time, though.

Interview with Jodi Magness

ARCHAEOLOGIST: Q&A with Galilee archeology expert, Jodi Magness (AUDREY LEYNAUD, The Daily Tar Heel).
She's not Indiana Jones, but she's an archaeology expert all the same. UNC Kenan Distinguished Professor Jodi Magness has been excavating the ancient village of Huqoq in Galilee, Israel since 2011. Recently, she discovered the remains of a synagogue, which featured rare mosaics, and will be speaking about her findings at Genome Science Building tonight. Staff writer Audrey Leynaud spoke to Magness about her research, her discoveries and her travels.
More on the Huqoq excavation and its mosaics is here and links. Professor Magness comments that ancient synagogue mosaics are unusual. A number of others have been mentioned in past posts here, here, here, and links.

Fr. Ephrem Lash, 1930-2016

PRIEST AND PHILOLOGIST: Fr Ephrem Lash - obituary. Popular Orthodox priest-monk who was a prolific translator and spoke at the General Synod (The Telegraph).
Fr Ephrem Lash, Archimandrite of the Ecumenical Throne, who has died aged 85, was a compelling but eccentric figure in the world of English Orthodoxy, a world by no means devoid of eccentricity.

He was a lucid and precise translator and a priest-monk of humble simplicity in his daily life, with a mischievous wit. His medieval appearance – black cassock, black monastic hat (latterly a Georgian hat replete with crosses), with a beard resembling, it was once said, a rampant clematis – cloaked his enthusiasm for the latest electronic devices. On his smartphone he had downloaded the Old Testament in Hebrew and Greek, and the Greek New Testament.

Lash had many friends, but he could seem formidable. He devoted himself to translating the beautiful texts of the Byzantine liturgy, because, he would say, “not all the old ladies in my parish know classical Greek”. ...

Coming down from Oxford in 1954 he taught classics at the Oratory School in London, and later at the Hardye School, Dorchester. Having decided to seek ordination, he was sent by his bishop to train at the Saint-Sulpice Seminary in Paris. There he was taught by the Syriac scholar, Fr Graffin – who was delighted to find that his English student had a genuine interest in Syriac – and worked on the Syriac version of the Cathedral Homilies of Severus, a sixth-century patriarch of Antioch.

Lash acquired a thorough knowledge of French, and the syllabus at St-Sulpice included Hebrew. He also learnt Coptic, Ethiopic and Armenian and gained familiarity with Church Slavonic. While in Paris he was ordained deacon, but never advanced to the priesthood in the Catholic Church, perhaps because he and his bishop in Britain did not see eye to eye about Lash’s future.

In 1974 Lash returned to Oxford to work (as a “harmless drudge”, he said) with Professor James Barr on the Oxford Hebrew Dictionary. He found himself ill at ease with post-Vatican II English Catholicism, though he had lived happily enough through the changes in France, and began to worship at the Orthodox church in Canterbury Road, Oxford.

Requiescat in pace.

The Talmud in Italian

TALMUD WATCH: When in Rome: Talmud Gets New Italian Translation, First in 500 Years. Ambitious project, possibly first of its kind headed by a woman, will present initial completed volume on April 5 at ceremony hosted by the country’s president (Anna Momigliano, Haaretz).
In 1553, the authorities in Rome burned all the Talmuds they could find in a Counter-Reformation crackdown on Jews. But now, nearly half a millennium later, the Talmud is once again being translated into Italian in an ambitious project funded by the Italian government.

The first translated volume, the Rosh Hashanah tractate, will be presented on April 5 during a ceremony in Rome hosted by Italian President Sergio Mattarella. The book is being published by La Giuntina, a company that has specialized in Jewish texts since 1980, and will be available in bookstores the same day.


The translation project began in 2010, when Clelia Piperno, a law professor at the University of Rome, approached the Italian Ministry of Education, Universities and Research with the idea, and then-Education Minister Mariastella Gelmini agreed to allocate 5 million euros ($5.6 million) to the project.

The "once again" is an odd non sequitur. At least according to other news reports, this is the first time the Talmud has been translated into Italian.

That having been noted, there is a lot in this article, so read it all before it goes behind the subscription wall. But one more excerpt, cross-filed under Technology Watch:
What makes the Italian project unique is that it is entirely a digital effort, with new software that was designed specifically for it.

In order to allow several translators to work simultaneously on such a complex text and let them exchange inputs and feedback in real time, researchers at the Institute of Computational Linguistics created a software program called Traduco (Italian for “I translate”).

Traduco is “a collaborative Web environment” designed to support the simultaneous work of several translations on particularly complex text. Originally designed for the Talmud, Traduco could be extended in the future “to ensure the translation of other texts and other languages,” said one of its creators, Andrea Bellandi, in a statement on the Institute of Computational Linguistics’ website.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Palmyra has been recaptured

PALMYRA WATCH: Syrian Troops Said to Recapture Historic Palmyra From ISIS (HWAIDA SAAD and KAREEM FAHIM, NYT).
BEIRUT, Lebanon — The Syrian Army said Sunday that it had fully captured Palmyra, routing Islamic State fighters who had occupied the city with its ancient ruins for almost a year, and handing President Bashar al-Assad a strategic prize. It also gave Mr. Assad something more rare: a measure of international praise.

The head of Unesco, the United Nations agency that had designated Palmyra’s ruins a World Heritage site, hailed the “liberation” of the city from the militants in a statement issued last week as Syrian troops were advancing. On Sunday, Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary-general, called the retaking of the ancient city “fortunate” and said the Syrian government could now protect and restore the sites, wire services reported.

Judging from the many news reports this morning, it is clear that Palmyra has indeed been recaptured. I'm not going to follow UNESCO and say "liberated." Recapture by Baathist forces does not count as liberation in my book. (If you're unfamiliar with Baathism, it's a Stalinist Arab-nationalist ideology, one that was also followed by Saddam Hussein.) But — and this speaks for the evil of ISIS rather than the goodness of the Baathists — Palmyra is better off now than it was. And I hope the Russians, whose contribution has been invaluable, also take some responsibility for making sure that both the civilian population and the city's antiquities are well cared for. Regarding the latter:
Antiquities officials feared that several significant monuments had been fully or nearly destroyed, including the Temple of Baalshamin, as well as the Temple of Baal, which served as the modern backdrop for concerts at the Palmyra Music Festival.

The arrival of government troops provided an opportunity to inspect the damage more closely. Mr. Abdulkarim, the antiquities director, said Sunday that he hoped to visit the city within a day or two, after being unable to travel there for two years because of the fighting.

There had been damage to the fence of the city’s medieval citadel, “but it can be fixed,” he said. And some stones at the Temple of Baal are still intact, he said.

“We will try to rebuild it,” he said. “It won’t be like before.”

State television footage from inside the city’s museum showed exhibits knocked over and extensive damage to the building, including a hole in the ceiling that appeared to have been caused by shelling or an airstrike.

In recent hours new photographs of the ruins etc. have been published: Syria civil war: Palmyra damage in pictures (BBC).
New images have emerged from Palmyra, hours after Syrian troops recaptured it from the Islamic State group (IS).
The pictures reveal the extent of destruction wrought by the group during their 10-month occupation of the Unesco World Heritage site.
While some treasured monuments have been destroyed, much of the ancient city's ruins are said to remain intact.
Syria's antiquities chief Maamoun Abdulkarim said authorities had been "expecting the worst".
But he told the AFP news agency that "the landscape, in general, is in good shape".

The Guardian also has photos and a brief video: Palmyra after Isis: images taken following Syrian recapture offer hope amid ruins. Some parts of the ancient citadel seem to have survived occupation by Islamic State and escaped its desire to destroy important archaeological sites.

Background here and links.

Journal of Jewish Languages 4.1

H-JUDAIC: TOC: Journal of Jewish Languages issue 4.1. There is nothing immediately relevant to ancient Judaism, but there are articles on Judeo-Arabic and (modern) Neo-Aramaic.

Star of David at Elephantine?

ICONOGRAPHY: Brouhaha over block engraving on Egypt's Elephantine Island. A block engraved with the Star of David has been removed from the Osiris Nesmeti Temple on Elephantine Island in Aswan (Nevine El-Aref, AhramOnline).
After an official report, a block engraved with the Star of David has been removed from the Ptolemaic temple of the god Osiris Nesmeti on Elephantine Island in Aswan.

This article is not the most lucid, but it seems to be implying that a hexagram carved on this Ptolemaic temple to Osiris may be ancient. That's possible, and the hexagram is known in Jewish iconography as far back as late antiquity, but that does not mean that this particular case is a Jewish symbol. I don't know of it being such as early as the Ptolemaic period and the architectural context in this case is not promising. Also, I don't know what part, if any, the hexagram symbol may have played in Hellenistic-era Egyptian religion. The stone is now being studied, so let's wait and hope for more information.

I have mentioned Elephantine island many times in connection with the important Judean Aramaic papyri from the fifth century BCE which have been excavated there. Background here and here and links.

UPDATE (29 March): Reader Robert Schwartz e-mails:
I would like to supplement your essay titled above with:

The Messianic Idea in Judaism: And Other Essays on Jewish Spirituality by Gershom Scholem, Schocken, 1995

There is a chapter "The Star of David: History of a Symbol" You can read part of it by using the "Look Inside" feature of the Amazon Web Site. Other Parts are on Google Books.

Scholem sees the hexagram connection with Judaism as quite recent, at least in the scale of Jewish history.

Kedem Center ruling reversed

THE DOWNSIZING HAS BEEN UPSIZED AGAIN: Israeli Agency OKs Right-wing NGO's Plans to Build Large Visitors' Center in East Jerusalem. After pressure from the Justice Ministry, the National Planning and Building Council overturns a decision to limit the size of the center, which the Elad group is planning to build in Silwan (Yair Ettinger, Haaretz).
he National Planning and Building Council ruled this week that a right-wing organization can build a 16,000-square-meter center in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, overturning the decision by the council’s appeals subcommittee limiting the size to 10,000 square meters.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked had pushed for the reversal of the size restrictions on the center planned by the Elad group. The facility will cover 16,000 square meters and tower seven stories over the Givati parking lot, adjacent to the walls of the Old City.

The national zoning panel reopened debate on the issue after Justice Ministry Director General Emi Palmor took the unusual step of attending a council meeting in January that voted on the proposal.

There always seems to be one more meeting or one more appeal that changes the plan for this Center. I think we'll just have to wait and see what ends up being built, if something eventually is.

Background here and links.

Revisiting the Ivory Pomegranate

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: Ivory Pomegranate Revisited: A Relic from Solomon’s Temple? Under the microscope at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. This is just an introductory summary of the BAR article. The article itself is behind the subscription wall. But the story could be important. Bruce Zuckerman is the best epigraphic photographer out there and Ada Yardeni is one of the world's premier palaeographers. If they and their epigrapher colleagues mentioned in the article are ready to reassess the genuineness of the inscription on the Ivory Pomegranate, their work deserves a hearing. In a peer-review publication, please.

Cross-file under Epigraphy. The first PaleoJudaica post that noted that the genuineness of the inscription was being questioned, back in 2004, is here. Other posts about the object are collected here and here. Watch this space.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Easter 2016

HAPPY EASTER to all those celebrating. Biblical and related passages concerning Easter are collected here. And see also here for correct information on the origin of the word.

NT textual criticism thrives

GOOD TO HEAR: The Flourishing Field of New Testament Textual Criticism (Tommy Wasserman, ETC).
In this blogpost I would like to mention another important sign that the discipline of New Testament textual criticism is currently beginning to flourish, and that the 21th century might become a new golden era: the representation of textual criticism at international conferences. There are now a number of established units and seminars at various meetings:

Ong on the multilingual Jesus

The Multilingualism of Ancient Palestine and the Multilingual Jesus

Within this public ministry, Jesus seems to have used Aramaic most often in more private settings with his disciples, and Greek almost always in more public settings, especially when there are crowds present.

See Also: The Multilingual Jesus and the Sociolinguistic World of the New Testament (Brill, 2015).

By Hughson T. Ong
McMaster Divinity College
Hamilton, ON, Canada
March 2016
Past posts on the question of which languages Jesus spoke are here and links.

I know I am behind on Bible and Interpretation. I will catch up as I find time.

Four new SBL books


Refutation of All Heresies
M. David Litwa

The Refutation of All Heresies (ca. 225 CE) is a treasure-trove of ancient philosophy, astrology, medicine, magic, gnostic thought, numerology, heresiography, ecclesial politics, and early Christian studies in general. Offered here for the first time in almost a century is a full English translation, along with a newly-edited Greek text, extensive notes, and a thorough introduction.
Paper $99.95, ISBN 9780884140856
Hardcover $119.95, ISBN 9780884140870
Kindle, ASIN B01B554CFW
Google Play, ISBN 9780884140863
886 pages • Writings from the Greco-Roman World 40

Evagrius’s Kephalaia Gnostika: A New Translation of the Unreformed Text from the Syriac
Ilaria L.E. Ramelli

Evagrius had a striking impact on the development of spirituality, of Origenism, and of the spiritual interpretation of the Bible in Greek, Syriac, and Latin Christianity. This English translation of the most complete Syriac version of Kephalaia Gnostika makes Evagrius Ponticus’s thoughts concerning reality, God, protology, eschatology, anthropology, and allegorical exegesis of Scripture widely available.

Paper $65.95, ISBN 9781628370393
Hardcover $85.95, ISBN 9781628370416
Kindle, ASIN B016N470IG
Google Play, ISBN 9781628370409
524 pages • Writings from the Greco-Roman World 38

Reincarnation in Philo of Alexandria
Sami Yli-Karjanmaa

Philo of Alexandria is an important representative of Hellenistic diaspora Judaism. His writings, devoted to a large extent to the allegorical exegesis of the Books of Moses, profoundly influenced Christian theology during its formative centuries. The strong element of Greek philosophy in Philo’s thought has been recognized since antiquity, but his relation to the Pythagorean-Platonic tenet of reincarnation has been a neglected, even avoided, topic in research. This book confirms the view—common in the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries—that Philo accepted the doctrine even though he preferred not to speak openly about it. The book shows how allegorization enables Philo to give a reincarnational interpretation to very different scriptural passages.

Paper $42.95, ISBN 9780884141204
Hardcover $57.95, ISBN 9780884141228
Google Play, ISBN 9780884141211
326 pages • Studia Philonica Monographs 7

The Studia Philonica Annual XXVII, 2015: Studies in Hellenistic Judaism
David T. Runia and Gregory E. Sterling, editors

The Studia Philonica Annual is a scholarly journal devoted to the study of Hellenistic Judaism, particularly the writings and thought of the Hellenistic-Jewish writer Philo of Alexandria (circa 15 BCE to circa 50 CE). All contributors are experts in the field of Hellenistic Judaism. The volume includes extensive bibliography and book reviews.

Hardcover $51.95, ISBN 9780884141273
Kindle, ASIN B01BVX00WM
Google Play, ISBN 9780884141266
282 pages • Studia Philonica Annual 27

The Oxyrhynchus papyri get more media attention

ATLAS OBSCURA: Oxyrhynchus, Ancient Egypt's Most Literate Trash Heap. An ancient Egyptian landfill of plays, gospels, and mash notes gives new meaning to trashy writing. (Romie Stott). "Trashy writing." Get it, get it? The article tries a little too hard to sound hip, but it gives a good overview of the history of the excavation of the site and the importance of the enormous cache of ancient papyri it produced.
It's basically the closest thing we have to discovering the Library of Alexandria in a landfill. Academics familiar with it throw around terms like "unparalleled importance" and "holy grail" and aren't trying to be hyperbolic. It contained a lot of other ancient literature that would otherwise be totally lost–most famously a Sophocles comedy and the poetry of Sappho–not to mention extensive details about everyday life in Egypt, Greece, and Rome. It also held the biggest cache of early Christian manuscripts ever discovered.
The good work by that army of amateur papyrologists in the Ancient Lives Project is bringing this important collection of manuscripts quite a lot of welcome attention.

Background on the project and on the Oxyrhynchus papyri in general is here and here and oh so many links.