Sunday, March 24, 2019

Gabriel Barkai and Susa

BELATEDLY, PURIM RELATED: DIGGING UP QUEEN ESTHER: THE ISRAELI ARCHAEOLOGIST WHO EXCAVATED IN IRAN. Under the rule of the Shah, Dr. Gabriel Barkai was able to take part in the excavations that took place in Susa, the same city mentioned in the book of Esther (Jerusalem Post). Just to be clear, they did not dig up Queen Esther. But they did find some interesting things, such as the following:
"One of the things I still remember is how they built a small garage near the site which was composed entirely of mud bricks brought in from the dig," he said. "One would believe these were plain bricks but once inside I saw they all had inscriptions from different times," Barkai added.

"The 'garage' was simply a trick," he said, "to prevent them from being stolen! As an Israeli scholar not used to such a great wealth of texts I was stunned, some of the inscriptions were in Aramaic."
For more on Susa, see here.

The Persepolis fortification archives also give us lots of ancient epigraphic material, some in Aramaic, from another ancient capital of Persia. Follow the links back for many posts on the subject.

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Ten biblical(ish) sites

PHOTO ESSAY: Explore 10 Biblical Sites: Photos. These tantalizing archaeological finds may—or may not—offer material evidence of ancient locations, characters and stories written about in the Bible (Sarah Pruitt, History.com). A nice selection and nice photos.

Run the site names through the PaleoJudaica search engine for more on most of them.

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NGSBA Excavation Preliminary Reports

THE AWOL BLOG: Open Access Journal: NGSBA Excavation Preliminary Reports. Containing reports on salvage excavations etc. in Israel. Despite the title, lots of them are labeled as "final reports."

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Why is there no archaeological record of Jesus?

RELIGION PROF: Archaeology and Jesus. James McGrath collects many good links.

As James and Bart Ehrman note, the vast majority (99.99%) of people who lived in Jesus' time and place left no archaeological imprint. Nothing.

A few political figures did. There is the tomb of Queen Helena in Jerusalem, although the sarcophagus inscription may be for another woman in the royal family. And there is also material evidence (coins and inscriptions) for some members of the Herodian family. Also for Pontius Pilate (here, here, and probably here). I'm sure there are others, but I don't have time to be comprehensive.

But most people from Jesus' place and time who left such an imprint were unimportant regular people. It just happens that the epitaphs on their gravestones or ossuaries survived to the present.

How much of an archaeological imprint will you have left two thousand years from now? Humbling thought.

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Saturday, March 23, 2019

Review of The Construction of Time in Antiquity (ed. Ben-Dov and Doering)

BRYN MAYR CLASSICAL REVIEW: Jonathan Ben-Dov, Lutz Doering (ed.), The Construction of Time in Antiquity: Ritual, Art, and Identity. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2017. Pp. xii, 296. ISBN 9781107108967. £75.00. Reviewed by Kassandra Miller, Union College (millerk3@union.edu).
The Construction of Time in Antiquity, edited by Jonathan Ben-Dov and Lutz Doering, explores, in their words, "the relationship between time and human agency" (p. 3) as it is articulated within a variety of cultures (including Babylonian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Jewish, and Christian) and social contexts (political, legal, medical, historical, theological, and artistic). This volume celebrates the diverse and complex ways in which people shape—and are, in turn, shaped by—their own temporal concepts and structures. In addition to nuanced case studies, the thirteen contributing authors also present useful lenses and heuristics that will help future researchers to navigate this exciting, burgeoning field.
I noted the conference that was the basis for the book here.

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What is manna?

ATLAS OBSCURA: The Very Real Search for the Bible’s Mythical Manna Scholars, soldiers, and scientists have long puzzled over the supernatural substance (Erica X Eisen). Then again, maybe it's just a story.

I know, I know. That's no fun. So read on. And for more fun with manna, see here and link.

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The algorithms keep coming for coins

NUMISMATICS: A new method for understanding ancient coin images (Ingrid Fadelli, Tech Xplore).
Two researchers at the University of St. Andrews, in Scotland, have recently developed a new machine learning-based method for understanding images of ancient coins. Their study, pre-published on arXiv applies computer vision and machine learning to ancient numismatics.

[...]
That's at my home institution.

Earlier I noted a project in Germany with similar aims.

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"Greek Papyri" film classic

VARIANT READINGS: The Film “Greek Papyri.” Brent Nongbri reports that this 1971 film, “Greek Papyri–The Rediscovery of the Ancient World,” is now on YouTube. He adds some information about the cast members in a second post: The Cast in “Greek Papyri.”

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Friday, March 22, 2019

The Economist on Alter's Bible translation

WITH A PODCAST INTERVIEW: A monumental new translation of the Hebrew Bible. Robert Alter’s version has taken decades to produce. He makes the case for a more literary rendering of the ancient text ("Prospero," The Economist).
“The Art of Bible Translation” focuses on five main linguistic elements: syntax, word choice, sound play and word play, rhythm and the language of dialogue. For each of these, Mr Alter provides examples that illustrate the challenges involved, showing how a literary sensibility can affect the outcome for the better. ...
Plus a cautionary tale involving awareness of pop cultural idiom.

For past posts on Alter's translation of the Bible, start here and follow the links.

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Museum exhibit for Beit Shemesh roadworks controversy

ROADWORKS VS. ARCHAEOLOGY UPDATE: In Beit Shemesh, new highway collides with surprise biblical-era settlement. Unusual exhibit at Jerusalem’s Bible Lands Museum, ‘Highway to History,’ examines the State of Israel’s fraught attempts to balance preserving the past and developing the future (Amanda Borschel-Dan, Times of Israel).

The controversy over Highway 38 has sparked a lot of public interest, including a Facebook group calling itself the "Knights of the Tel." But even if the entire site could be preserved, its conservation would require a "unicorn chasing" amount of funding.

Background here and links.

UPDATE: Apologies for the bad link, which is now fixed. Also, I forgot to mention that our friend the god Bes appears in this exhibition.

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The Talmud on the no-meat-with-dairy law

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Kosher Overreach. In this week’s ‘Daf Yomi’: Are the laws of kashrut based on an overly wide interpretation of a single verse in Deuteronomy?
But Chapter 8 of Chullin is different. It focuses on a subject that is of concern to every Jew who keeps kosher, because it has to do with the consumption of meat rather than its production. This is the prohibition against eating meat and milk in the same meal, which is one of the central rules of kashrut. It may come as a surprise, then, to find that the Torah never actually issues such a prohibition. What the Torah forbids—twice in Exodus and again in Deuteronomy—is much more specific: “You shall not cook a kid in its mother’s milk.”
Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

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Judaea Capta coin of Agrippa II

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: Judaea Capta Coin Uncovered in Bethsaida Excavations. Judaea Capta coin issued by Agrippa II found at Bethsaida (Robin Ngo). This object was discovered and this essay first published in 2014. It was published again in 2016. For some reason it just came up in my searches, so here it is finally.

A recent post involving Herod Agrippa II is here. And for another Judaea Capta coin, this one overstruck during the Bar Kokhba Revolt, see here. Cross-file under Numismatics.

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Thursday, March 21, 2019

Memory and biblical allusions in Esther

IT'S STILL PURIM: Using Memory, Megillat Esther Confronts the Jewish People with their Past (Dr. Orit Avnery, The Torah.com).
Although the book of Esther seems to have “forgotten” important Jewish themes like God, a closer look reveals that memory and biblical allusions play an important role in how the book tells its story.

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Exhibition on Jews, money, and myth

AT THE LONDON JEWISH MUSEUM: Jews Have Been Seen as ‘All About the Benjamins’ for 2,000 Years, New Exhibition Shows. From Judas and his 30 pieces of silver to internet memes presenting avaricious Jewish bankers, anti-Semitic imagery linking Jews to money is nothing new. The ‘Jews, Money, Myth’ exhibition at London’s Jewish Museum is confronting the problem head-on (Daniella Peled, Haaretz premium). Much of the exhibition involves modern materials, some of them quite chilling. But it also includes ancient coins and a letter from the Cairo Geniza.

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Jester Bes vessel excavated

ARCHAEOLOGY AND ICONOGRAPHY: Found in Jerusalem’s City of David: The Egyptian God Bes. Pottery fragment dated to Persian period found in Jerusalemite household garbage pit 2,500 years ago (Ruth Schuster, Haaretz). Unfortunately phrased sub-headline, perhaps jinxed by Bes for fun. The fragment was found recently in the 2,500-year-old pit. It was not found 2,500 years ago, at least not by archaeologists.

For more on Bes and the discoveries at Kuntillet ‘Ajrud, see here and links.

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Julia Berenice

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: Women of the Ancient Near East: Julia Berenice. Meet the Herodian royal who “bewitched” a Roman emperor (Carly Silver).
This March 2019 is Women’s History Month. To celebrate, let’s meet Julia Berenice: queen of Judea, political operator in a Roman arena, and lover of Titus—the destroyer of Jerusalem.

[...]
She also attended one of the trials of the Apostle Paul with Herod Agrippa II (Acts 25:13-26:32).

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Site-Seeing Susa

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: Site-Seeing: Surprising Susa. Discover the ancient Persian capital (Todd Bolen).
Even for the intrepid traveler who tours Iran, the ancient Persian capital of Susa often gets left off the itinerary. The preferred path through Persia begins at the famous Persepolis, makes a quick stop at Pasargadae, and heads straight north for Isfahan and Tehran. But the Biblical action all happened at Susa. ...
Also Purim related, because of the connection with the Book of Esther.

Todd Bolen is familiar to my regular readers from his Bible Places Blog. I link to it often.

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Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Purim 2019

HAPPY PURIM to all those celebrating! The festival begins tonight at sundown.

Last year's Purim post is here, with links. Posts on Purim since then are here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

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Hygoye 22.1 (2019)

A NEW ISSUE: Hugoye: Journal of Syriac Studies 22.1 (2019). This is a high-quality, peer-review, open-access journal. Issue 21.2 was noted here. And for more, follow the links from there. Cross-file under Syriac Watch.

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The funny phrasing of Leviticus 1:1

DR. ELAINE GOODFRIEND: Is There a Symbolic Meaning to the Awkward Syntax of Leviticus 1:1? (TheTorah.com).
“And He called to Moses and YHWH spoke to him” (Lev 1:1). Why is YHWH, the subject of this verse, missing from the opening phrase, and appearing only after the second verb? Traditional and critical scholars struggle to explain this syntactic problem.
I'm skeptical. There aren't enough examples to convince me that the explanation offered here is real. But you decide. I just blog.

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Remorseless Cannibals and Loving Scribes in Ethiopic

ETHIOPIC WATCH: Priests, scholars gather to celebrate Princeton’s Ethiopian manuscripts. Ethiopian scholars and priests shared their knowledge of Ethiopia’s ancient tradition of written literature and bound manuscripts with a large audience at Princeton on March 12 (Jamie Saxon, Princeton University Office of Communications).
[Associate Professor Wendy Laura] Belcher said there are three facts about Ethiopia that are critical to understanding the significance of these manuscripts; as many mistakenly assume that Christianity in Africa arrived with Europeans.

“First, the Highland Ethiopians converted to Christianity in the fourth century, before most of Europe had even heard of Christ,” Belcher said. “Second, they have been using an African written language for more than 2,000 years, despite the stereotype that Africa is a place without writing. Third, they have been making bound books since the sixth century. This form of Christianity is really ancient, and has nothing to do with Europe.”

About 20 items from the collections were on display, including biblical books in translation, such the Gospel of John, the apocryphal Enoch and a psalter; as well as indigenous Ethiopian texts, including many saints’ stories (especially those about the Virgin Mary); textual amulets (small scrolls that people carried for protection and good luck); and a rare divination text titled ’The Cycle of Kings.”
The title of the University Library event was “Remorseless Cannibals and Loving Scribes: Samples and Highlights from Princeton University’s Collections of Ethiopian Manuscripts (1500s-1900s).”

For more on Princeton's collection of Ethiopic manuscripts, see here. Also, I am glad to hear that a new English translation of the Kebra Negast is in the works.

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Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Consent and agency in the Book of Esther

PURIM IS COMING: But Queen Vashti Refused: Consent and Agency in the Book of Esther (Dr. Jason M. H. Gaines, TheTorah.com).
Personal agency and consent—granted or withheld—pervade the book of Esther, and are inextricably related to pre-existing power structures such as gender and social status.

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Shayegan (ed.), Cyrus the Great: Life and Lore

BIBLIOGRAPHIA IRANICA: Cyrus the Great: Life and Lore. Notice of a New Book: Shayegan, Rahim M (ed.). 2019. Cyrus the Great: Life and Lore. Boston: Ilex Foundation. With essays on Cyrus, his historical background, and his reception history.

For many other posts on Cyrus the Great, start here and follow the links.

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On the Machaerus excavation

ARCHAEOLOGY: Lost biblical fortress of Machaerus restored after 50 years of excavations (Saeb Rawashdeh, Jordan Times).
AMMAN — Prior to 1968, the hilltop of Machaerus, overlooking the Dead Sea near Mount Nebo was an untouched “virgin” site, according to Hungarian archaeologist Gyozo Voros.

Speaking at the “Book Launch and Public Lecture Machaerus III” event at American Centre of Oriental Research on Wednesday, Voros said that 50 years of excavation had finally uncovered a mountain of evidence on one of the most important sites in the region.

[...]
A long, thorough article on the site and the excavation. For past PaleoJudaica posts on Győző Vörös's excavation of Machaerus (the reputed site of the execution of John the Baptist), see here and links. And for past posts on John the Baptist, see here and links

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On John the Baptist

CANDIDA MOSS: The Misunderstood Man Behind Lent. Lent commemorates the forty days and nights that Jesus spent in the wilderness after his baptism. But Jesus never would have ended up there if not for the work of John the Baptist (The Daily Beast).

John Turner also has republished an essay on The Head of John the Baptist in The Anxious Bench

Some past posts on the Baptist, one of which also brings in the intriguing Mandean (Mandaean) traditions about him, are here, here, here, here, and here.

Incidentally, Salome is not actually mentioned by name in the New Testament accounts of the beheading of John the Baptist. One reading in Mark 6:22 gives the name of the daughter as the same as her mother, "Herodias." But this may be a mistake for a reference to her as the daughter of Herodias. Scholars generally seem to read the New Testament story alongside Josephus's and identify the daughter as Salome.

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Monday, March 18, 2019

Talmudic-era wine press and mosaic excavated at Korazim

ARCHAEOLOGY: ANCIENT WINE PRESS WITH TALMUDIC PERIOD MOSAIC FLOOR DISCOVERED IN GALILEE. This is the only mosaic from the time of the Talmud that has been found in the ancient Jewish village of Korazim (Jerusalem Post). The mosaic has a "patterns of squares and diamond shapes."

The town was also around in the time of Jesus. It is known as Chorazin in the New Testament.

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Review of Stone, Secret Groups in Ancient Judaism

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Book Note | Secret Groups in Ancient Judaism (James Tucker).
Stone, Michael E. Secret Groups in Ancient Judaism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018. Pp. ix + 192. Hardback $74.00. ISBN 9780190842383
Excerpt:
An analysis of the insider and outsider sources can illuminate how secrecy and esotericism were realized apropos the social practices of initiation, graded revelation, and hierarchical structure. This is Stone’s claim, and indeed the study provides a strong argument to demonstrate its utility.
I noted the publication of the book here. And you are likely to be hearing more from me about it. Stay tuned!

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The Golden Gate of the Temple Mount

LEEN RITMEYER: The Golden Gate of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The interior of the Golden Gate in the 1970’s. This gate has been in the news lately.

Cross-file under Temple Mount Watch.

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Free articles from AJS Review

H-JUDAIC: AJS Review FirstView: 3 Full Free Articles Available Online. Two have to do with Rabbinics:
A Seven-Headed Demon in the House of Study: Understanding a Rabbinic Demon in Light of Zoroastrian, Christian, and Babylonian Textual Traditions by Sara Ronis

From Dungeon to Haven: Competing Theories of Gestation in Leviticus Rabbah and the Babylonian Talmud by Shana Strauch Schick
For you, special deal!

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