Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Babatha archive

SCROLLS FROM THE JUDEAN DESERT: Babatha & the Role of Women in the 2nd Century. Exploring the mysterious 2nd-Century find in the Cave of Letters (Dr. Henry Abramson,
Nearly two thousand years ago, a Judean woman hiding from Roman soldiers buried her most precious legal documents in a cave. Discovered by an Israeli archaeologist, Babatha's archive reveals a vivid portrait of the life of a second-century woman.

For past PaleoJudaica posts on the Bar Kokhba Revolt and the scrolls discovered in the Judean Desert which date to that approximate period, see here and links. These include links to posts on Babatha and her archive, not least Philip Esler's recent book, Babatha's Orchard.

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The first philologists

NEW BOOK FROM MOHR SIEBECK: EVA CANCIK-KIRSCHBAUM / JOCHEM KAHL, Erste Philologien. Archäologie einer Disziplin vom Tigris bis zum Nil. Unter Mitarbeit v. Klaus Wagensonner. [First Philologies. Tracing a Discipline between Tigris and Nile.] 2018. XVI, 471 pages. 29,00 €. sewn paper. ISBN 978-3-16-155425-4.
Published in German.
As complex notation systems or script emerge in Egypt and Mesopotamia both cultures develop large bodies of written lore over the millennia addressing various areas of knowledge. Compilation, care, and transmission of these texts between 3000 BC until the turn of the eras required a high degree of specialisation. Minute familiarity with the script(s) and language(s), their structure and characteristics, as well as the methods of compilation represent the foundation of philological work. These involve, for instance, techniques for transferring knowledge over time, comparing texts and reassembling knowledge into new editions, or interpreting and commenting on texts in circulation. A main goal of this study is to make available vantage points, which allow glimpses into the primary sources, where actors, institutions, and methods engage systematically with the written lore. In doing so, the book aims to illuminate first philologies in the ancient civilisations of Egypt and Mesopotamia.

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INL manuscripts at NYU

EXHIBITION: National Library of Israel brings rare, ancient manuscripts to New York University (JTA).
Two dozen rare manuscripts from the collections of the National Library of Israel are on display in New York.

The illustrated and illuminated manuscripts in Persian, Arabic, Turkish and Hebrew include a Royal Quran from the personal library of an Ottoman sultan. It is the largest ever display of National Library of Israel artifacts outside of the country.

The works will be on display as part of the exhibit “Romance and Reason: Islamic Transformations of the Classical Past,” at New York University’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World through mid-May.


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Update on medical school Phoenician

PHOENICIAN WATCH: For Doctors in Training, a Course on Phoenician (Edward Fox, Al-Fanar Media).
Last fall, the medical school of Saint Joseph University of Beirut offered, for the first time, a course in a subject not usually associated with the study of medicine: an introduction to written Phoenician, an ancient Semitic language from a region that includes the modern state of Lebanon.

“The first semester has been a real success,” said Maroun Khreich, the professor teaching the course, “and registration has opened for the spring semester.” He said that 35 people enrolled for the first semester, among them medical students, professors and alumni.

Offering the course was the personal initiative of Roland Tomb, dean of the medical school and a man with wide interests: he is a specialist in dermatology but also has a doctorate in philosophy and ethics, and has studied theology and ancient languages.

This article explains the background of this surprising course of study for a medical school. It seems that medical students have to take electives too in order for them to be well rounded individuals. Ancient Phoenician is an unusual elective, but it makes some sense in Lebanon. The Lebanese are interested in the ancient Phoenicians. People like to learn about the history and ancient culture and language of their country. More power to them.

Background here.

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Friday, February 23, 2018

Rollston on the Isaiah bulla

CHRISTOPHER ROLLSTON: The Putative Bulla of Isaiah the Prophet: Not so Fast.
In sum, in light of the fact that there almost twenty people mentioned in the Bible whose names are based on the same root word as the name “Isaiah” (and thus plenty of people walking around with that name or its basic equivalent); and in light of the fact that the word being read as “prophet” is lacking the critically important letter (the alep); and in light of the fact that there are plenty of names in the Bible that begin with nun and bet (and so that second word could be a lot of different things); and in light of the presence of a yod and the absence of the article on this new bullae…I feel obliged to state that we had better be cautious about assuming too much. Of course, the assumption that this is a bulla of Isaiah the prophet is scintillating, but it is certainly not something that we should assume is at all certain. It’s not.
There have been many article on this story since it came out yesterday. I'm not going to try to round them, because they are mostly very repetitive. But Professor Rollston is a professional Northwest Semitic epigrapher and paleographer. His view carries special weight, so read the whole essay.

I am pleased to see that he has come to the same conclusion that I reached yesterday and that he brings in some additional evidence. This bulla may preserve the signature of the prophet Isaiah, but then again it may not. The evidence is not conclusive.

Background here.

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Divination and the Torah

DR. JONATHAN STÖKL: Ancient Israelite Divination: Urim ve-Tummim, Ephod, and Prophecy (
In the Prophets, Israelite leaders such as Joshua, Saul, David, and Ahab use divination to help them make decisions, just as their ancient Near Eastern counterparts did. Why then, does the Torah sidestep the divinatory character of these objects and practices, and instead, emphasize their ritual and religious character?

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Tophets and child sacrifice

THE ANCIENT NEAR EAST TODAY: Understanding Tophets: A Short Introduction (Adriano Orsingher).
Few historical issues are as controversial as child sacrifice in the ancient Mediterranean and Biblical worlds. The Biblical term Tophet is conventionally used to refer to a type of open-air cremation sanctuary. The common element characterising Tophets is the presence of an open space where urns containing cremated remains of animals and/or children were deposited.

It seems that specialists are still debating whether Tophets involved child sacrifice. For past posts on the issue, see here and links. Cross-file under Punic Watch.

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Tarbiz 85.1 (2018)

Ronnie Goldstein | YHWH’s Inheritance and His Enthronement

Shraga Bar-On and Yakir Paz | The Land of God to the Sons of God: Deuteronomy 32: 8-9 and the Inheritance of the Land of Israel

Shlomi Efrati | A Quire of Chapters of Sanhedrin and Megillah, Part 1: A Unique Textual Tradition of the Babylonian Talmud

Mordechai Akiva Friedman | The Shabbat Evening Prayer in the Palestinian Congregation of Fustat in Abraham Maimonides’ Times

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Thursday, February 22, 2018

A bulla of Isaiah (the prophet?)

EPIGRAPHY: In find of biblical proportions, Prophet Isaiah’s seal claimed to be unearthed. Chanced upon near a seal identified with King Hezekiah, a tiny clay piece may be the first-ever proof of the prophet, though a missing letter leaves room for doubt (Amanda Borschel-Dan, Times of Israel).
Mazar’s team uncovered the minuscule bulla, or seal impression, during renewed excavations at the Ophel, located at the foot of the southern wall of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The discovery was published on Wednesday in an article, “Is This the Prophet Isaiah’s Signature?” as part of a massive March-June issue of the Biblical Archaeology Review dedicated to its recently retired founding editor, Hershel Shanks.

The clay impression is inscribed with letters and what appears to be a grazing doe, “a motif of blessing and protection found in Judah, particularly in Jerusalem,” according to the BAR article.

The oval-shaped bulla, however, is not intact. On its legible portion, there is an inscription with First Temple Hebrew letters that seem to spell out the name l’Yesha’yah[u] (Belonging to Isaiah). On a line below, there is the partial word nvy, which presumably spells out “prophet.”

“Because the bulla has been slightly damaged at the end of the word nvy, it is not known if it originally ended with the Hebrew letter aleph, which would have resulted in the Hebrew word for ‘prophet’ and would have definitively identified the seal as the signature of the prophet Isaiah,” Mazar said.
That is the central discovery, although there are other inscribed bullae and much additional information in the article. So read it all. And the BAR article is even more informative, so ditto.

Past PaleoJudaica posts on the Hezekiah bulla, which was found less than ten feet from this one, are here, here, here, here, and here.

Just a few observations on this latest discovery:

1. These inscribed bullae (seal impressions) are very important discoveries, no matter who is mentioned on them. I believe this is the first time the name Isaiah has appeared in an epigraphic discovery, although readers should fact-check me on that.

2. The angel Lacunael, has been hard at work on this discovery and he must be very proud of himself.

3. I do not yet have a view on whether the bulla belonged to the prophet Isaiah or to someone named Isaiah (son of) NBY. But a couple of observations point more in the direction of the latter possibility, but not decisively so.

First, there is the principal of banality. If we have two possible interpretations of a new inscription and one is very exciting and ties it directly to the Bible, while the other is more humdrum, the humdrum interpretation is probably right. Because very exciting finds are very rare. But to balance that point, it would be quite a coincidence if some other Isaiah in Jerusalem c. 700 BCE had a father whose name happened to look rather like the word "prophet."

Second, and more substantively, there is an orthographic issue. The spelling of Hebrew c. 700 BCE did not usually mark internal long vowels with consonants. So I would expect the word "prophet" to be spelled nb' (as it is spelled twice in the Lachish ostraca a century later) rather than nby'. The articles mention this point, but I would underline it a little more.

I hope the bulla does turn out to preserve the signature of the prophet Isaiah, but we'll just have to see. Or maybe we won't. We may never know.

UPDATE (25 February): More here and here.

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Supreme Court rules on Persepolis archives

THE PERSEPOLIS ARCHIVES CASE: US Supreme Court blocks Hamas bomb victims’ claim to Iran artifacts (Mark Sherman, AP).

For the basics of the Persepolis archives case, which has been going on for years, see here. Subsequent related posts are here and here. The archives are not directly relevant to ancient Judaism, but they provides us with background information on scribal practice and Aramaic in Iran in the Persian Period. And the case has raised some difficult questions about balancing the rights of terrorism victims to compensation with our obligation to preserve records from antiquity as responsibly as possible.

Follow the links here (cf. here) for many past posts on ancient Persepolis, as well as on the archives case and my own comments on it.

The Supreme Court has been busy lately. As before, I assume this is the end of this case, but I am not a lawyer and I don't know for sure.

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The Mithraeum at Caesarea

ATLAS OBSCURA: Caesarea Maritima Mithraeum. An ancient underground cultic temple where sunlight penetrates on the summer solstice.
In the 1970s, an underground vaulted room near the port was discovered by a team of archaeologists—one of several similar structures that were probably originally built as warehouses. This one, however, was special: During the end of the first century or beginning of the second century CE, it was converted into the temple of the god Mithras.
As usual with Atlas Obscura, there are some nice photos for the essay.

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The Hannibal's bell in Hannibal

PUNIC WATCH (TIDBIT): USS Hannibal served in three wars (Danny Henley, Hannibal Courier-Post).
The bell of a ship that saw action in three wars will be the centerpiece of a planned memorial when Hannibal’s riverfront is renovated.

"Hannibal" in this case is Hannibal Missouri.
[Mary Lynne] Richards [of the Hannibal Parks and Recreation Department] reported to the Park Board during its Thursday, Feb. 15, meeting that the bell had at one time sailed aboard the USS Hannibal (AG-1). It was reportedly one of only a handful of ships to see action in the Spanish-American War, World War I and World War II, for which it received a handful of commendations.

Decommissioned for the final time in August 1944, it was sunk in the Chesapeake Bay in March 1945 for use as a bombing target.

“Before they did (sink the Hannibal) they took the bell off of it and sent it to the city of Hannibal, although it was not named for the city, but the general,” said Richards, referring to Hannibal Barca, a Carthaginian general known for leading an army that featured elephants across southern Europe and the Alps Mountains against Rome in the Second Punic War. “It’s kind of neat that we got this bell.”

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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Redfield on Rabbinic ethnography

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Curiouser and Curiouser: In Search of Rabbinic Ethnography (James Redfield).

The essay is on the genesis and development of his PhD dissertation: "The Sages and the World: Categorizing Culture in Early Rabbinic Law." Stanford University (Religious Studies), 2017.

Excerpt from the essay:
The Mishnah, in its typically terse and declarative style, does not develop this description of wedding practices. Nor does it portray villagers called to testify that they remember the crunch of roast wheat, the hymn at a bridal procession, or the sheen of a bride’s hair. Yet as the text reading evoked those images, it expanded my preconceptions of “law” to a far wider variety of things, people, practices, and modes of thought. If legal language falls on a spectrum from purely normative to thickly descriptive–from Do’s & Don’ts, on one end; to what we really do, on the other–then I came to see rabbinic law as closer to the latter (especially in the associative, generically hodgepodge Tosefta; the Talmuds; and “minor tractates”; not to mention the rabbinic “wisdom” traditions of sayings, exempla, and anecdotes). Early rabbis did not simply lay down rulings by fiat or tradition, but cited real-world evidence to prove or exemplify their propositions. On the contrary, as they debated what one should (not) do, they took many roundabout detours to study, describe, and classify what people were actually doing; driven by a desire to develop their normative theories, of course, but also by a degree of curiosity in its own right.

Are there patterns among these descriptive detours, the rabbit-holes of the rabbinic imagination? Do they point to consistent interests? Retrace stock motifs and techniques? How can we map their interconnections, and how are they linked to normative projects–broadly defined–at the nerve-center of this rabbinic canon?

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Supreme Court declines to hear Golb case

THE RAPHAEL GOLB CASE: Supreme Court Won't Take Case of Dead Sea Scrolls Defendant. The Supreme Court won't take up the case of a blogger convicted of criminally impersonating his father's academic rivals on the subject of the Dead Sea Scrolls (AP/US News).

HT Jim West.

I have been following the Raphael Golb internet impersonation case for years, because of its (sad) connection with the Dead Sea Scrolls. I suppose this means the appeals stop here. But I'm not a lawyer, so I don't know for sure.

Recent posts on the case are here, here, and here. And follow the links in those for many earlier posts.

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Excerpt from Goodman, A History of Judaism

LOS ANGELES REVIEW OF BOOKS: Judaism Without a Temple: An Excerpt from Martin Goodman’s “A History of Judaism.”

I noted the publication of the book last year here.

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Hempel on that coded Qumran calendar

THE CONVERSATION: Dead Sea Scrolls deciphered: esoteric code reveals ancient priestly calendar (Charlotte Hempel).

Past PaleoJudaica posts on this story are here and here.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Review of "Early Jewish Literature: An Anthology"

READING ACTS BLOG: Book Review: Early Jewish Literature: An Anthology (Phil Long).
Wright, Archie T., Brad Embry and Ronald Herms. Early Jewish Literature: An Anthology. 2 Volumes. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2018. 728, 256 pp. $125.00, Hb.
The conclusion:
Early Jewish Literature is a major contribution to the ongoing study of the literature of the Second Temple period. Students and scholars alike will benefit from this collection of a wide range of material. The literature collected in these two volumes are sufficiently different from the now venerable Old Testament Pseudepigrapha and the inclusion of Dead Sea Scroll material makes these useful volumes indeed.

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New book on the scholarship of the KJV

Labourers in the Vineyard of the Lord
Scholarship and the Making of the King James Version of the Bible

Mordechai Feingold, California Institute of Technology
The centrality of the King James Bible to early modern culture has been widely recognized. Yet for all the vast literature devoted to the masterpiece, little attention has been paid either to the scholarly scaffolding of the translation or to the erudition of the translators. The present volume seeks to redress this neglect by focusing attention on seven key translators as well as on their intellectual milieu. Utilizing a wide range of hitherto unknown or overlooked sources, the volume furnishes not only precious new information regarding the composition and early reception of the King James Bible, but firmly situates the labours of the translators within the broad context of early modern biblical and oriental scholarship and polemics.

Contributors are James P. Carley, Mordechai Feingold, Anthony Grafton, Nicholas J. S. Hardy, Alison Knight, Jeffrey Alan Miller, William Poole, Thomas Roebuck, and Joanna Weinberg.

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Josephus and Sir Roger L’Estrange

HISTORY OF INTERPRETATION: Josephus in the hands of Sir Roger L’Estrange (Roger Pearse).
Sir Roger L’Estrange is probably mainly remembered today for his activities as a journalist and violent pamphleteer for the court during the reign of Charles II.[1] As with others of Charles’ partisans, there was a strong element of ingratitude in all this. L’Estrange had fought for Charles I in the civil war, but had received a pardon in 1653 from Oliver Cromwell, after which he had prospered under the commonwealth. He was made surveyor of the press by the king in 1662, although the king did not see any reason to pay him a salary.

But how many of us are aware that this controversial figure was also a translator, and produced a translation of the works of Josephus?

The seventeenth century was a busy time.

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Herodium architecture at the Israel Museum

AT THE HOLY LAND PHOTOS' BLOG Carl Rasmussen has a couple of posts on architecture fragments from Herodium on display at the Israel Museum:

Herodium Display in Israel Museum

King Herod’s Tomb at the Israel Museum

For many past posts on Herod the Great and Herodium, start here (cf. here) and follow the links.

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Monday, February 19, 2018

Assyrian inscriptions under Jonah's (traditional) Tomb

ASSYRIOLOGY: Beneath Biblical Prophet's Tomb, An Archaeological Surprise (Owen Jarus, Live Science).
Deep inside looters' tunnels dug beneath the Tomb of Jonah in the ancient Iraq city of Nineveh, archaeologists have uncovered 2,700-year-old inscriptions that describe the rule of an Assyrian king named Esarhaddon.

The seven inscriptions were discovered in four tunnels beneath the biblical prophet's tomb, which is a shrine that's sacred to both Christians and Muslims. The shrine was blown up by the Islamic State group (also called ISIS or Daesh) during its occupation of Nineveh from June 2014 until January 2017.

Past posts on the (traditional) Tomb of Jonah and its sad fate under the regime of ISIS are here and links. This post noted the announcement of discovery of the Assyrian palace underneath the tomb. The current article gives new information on the inscriptions.

HT Joseph I. Lauer.

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Review of Goldbeck and Wienand (eds.), Der römische Triumph in Prinzipat und Spätantike

BRYN MAYR CLASSICAL REVIEW: Fabian Goldbeck, Johannes Wienand (ed.,) Der römische Triumph in Prinzipat und Spätantike​. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2017. Pp. xii, 595. ISBN 9783110445688. €99,95 (hb). Reviewed by Christian Rollinger, Universität Trier​ (
With renewed interest in the subject booming since the early 2000’s, the body of literature on the Roman triumph and its many different facets has become so vast as to be almost bloated and, at first glance, it could conceivably seem that there can scarcely be anything more to add.1 That this impression is as unfortunate as it is mistaken is clearly demonstrated by this timely book, the result of a conference held in 2012 in Berlin. With few exceptions (which look to the late republican and the early medieval period), all the papers collected in this volume concern themselves with the Roman triumph as it presented itself in many hues and variations to the contemporaries of the early, high, and late Roman empire. No fewer than eighteen chapters attempt to analyse a variety of aspects relating to the triumph ritual itself, to its literary descriptions, its representation in various media, and the concomitant architectural elements that came to litter the main metropolises of the empire. The result is a sturdy volume of almost 600 pages and a veritable kaleidoscope of different perspectives and methodologies that significantly expand our understanding of the dynamic evolution of what was and was always to remain a singularly Roman ritual.

Naturally Josephus's account of the Roman triumph over Judea receives attention.

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Another review of Graybill, Are We Not Men?

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Book Note | Are We Not Men? Unstable Masculinity in the Hebrew Prophets (Sarah Fein).
Graybill, Rhiannon. Are We Not Men? Unstable Masculinity in the Hebrew Prophets. Oxford University Press: New York, 2016.
I noted another review of the book here.

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The Hexapla

THE ETC BLOG: What was the Hexapla? (John Meade).

Background here and links.

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Sunday, February 18, 2018

What did the Romans do with executed bodies?

The Final Days of Jesus and the Realities of Roman Capital Punishment: What Happened to All Those Bodies?

What is the probability that the body of someone who had suffered capital punishment for offenses against the Roman state would be buried? The results of this inquiry indicate that the Gospel accounts of the execution and burial of Jesus comport well with Roman law and Roman practice in a time of relative peace.

See Also: The Final Days of Jesus: The Thrill of Defeat, The Agony of Victory: A Classical Historian Explores Jesus’s Arrest, Trial, and Execution (Lutterworth Press, 2018).

By Mark D. Smith
Professor of History
The College of Idaho
Board of Directors: Bethsaida Excavations Project
February 2018
Past PaleoJudaica posts on the crucified man skeleton are here and links.

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Høgenhaven et al. (eds.), Rewriting and Reception in and of the Bible

Rewriting and Reception in and of the Bible
Ed. by. Jesper Høgenhaven, Jesper Tang Nielsen, and Heike Omerzu

[Redaktion und Rezeption (in) der Bibel.]
2018. IX, 411 pages.
Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 396
159,00 €
ISBN 978-3-16-155006-5

Published in English.
The contributions in this volume critically engage with Mogens Müller's work on ancient Judaism, the Septuagint, the New Testament gospels, and the reception history of the Bible, covering a variety of topics within the field of biblical rewriting and reception. Rewriting and reception are parts of a continuous process that began within biblical literature itself and have continued in the history of interpretative communities where the Bible has been received and cherished in innumerable ways until today. The present volume aims to further the scholarly debate on important topics within biblical studies. It demonstrates that the notion of reception can be addressed from very different angles and from diverse hermeneutical and methodological viewpoints, all of which offer fresh insights into ancient texts and their afterlife.

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James and Sirach (Ben Sira)

READING ACTS BLOG: James and the Wisdom of Sirach. Phil Long has an ongoing series of posts on the New Testament Epistle of James. This seems like a good opportunity to mention it.

Cross-file under Old Testament Apocrypha Watch.

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Who did Jesus look like?

REMNANT OF GIANTS: Joan Taylor knows what Jesus looks like: he is basically Bret from Flight of the Conchords (Deane Galbriath). Now you know.

For more on Joan Taylor's new book, What did Jesus Look Like?, see here and links.

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