Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Left-handers in the Bible

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: Left-Handed People in the Bible. Is there a genetic link to Benjamite lefties?
The Hebrew Bible mentions left-handed people on three occasions: the story of Ehud’s assassination of the Moabite king (Judges 3:12–30), the 700 Benjamites who could use the sling with deadly accuracy (Judges 20:16) and the two-dozen ambidextrous warriors who came to support David in Hebron (1 Chronicles 12:2). All of these stories of left-handed people in the Bible appear in military contexts, and, curiously, all involve members of the tribe of Benjamin.

[...]
As usual, this essay is an (interesting) summary of a BAR article that is behind the subscription wall: Boyd Seevers and Joanna Klein, Biblical Views: “Left-Handed Sons of Right-Handers,” from 2013.

In Ferniehirst Castle in Scotland there is a left-handed (i.e., upwards counter-clockwise) spiral staircase. The story is that in the early 1500s Sir Andrew Kerr had it built because he himself was left-handed and he trained his follows to swordfight left-handed. The layout of the staircase made it easier for them to defend the castle entrance from above. I have found mixed views on whether it would have made an attack from below harder or easier for right-handers.

There is also mixed evidence on whether left-handedness ran in the Kerr Clan. It doesn't seem to today.

I have seen the staircase myself, but I don't know how much else of the story is true. For some commentary and links, see here.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Ghosts of Roman coin minting

TECHNOLOGY WATCH: Greenland ice cores track Roman lead pollution in year-by-year detail. Studying the ice cores may help reconstruct fluctuations in the ancient economy (Kiona N. Smith, Ars Technica).
Lead pollution could provide a proxy for the general state of the Roman economy, but historians would need a detailed record of changes in pollution levels from year to year. That was found 2,500 miles away in the ice sheets of Northern Greenland. Paleoclimatologist Joe McConnell of the Desert Research Institute and his colleagues turned to a 423-meter-long ice core taken by the Northern Greenland Ice Core Project.

The core records nearly 2,000 years of annual ice buildup, from 1100 BCE to 800 CE. Each layer records slightly less than a year’s worth of accumulated ice, which traps other material, like lead from mines and foundries in Europe. McConnell and his colleagues say they’ve dated the layers with an uncertainty of just one or two years, making it easy to compare lead pollution with historical events.
The Punic Wars provide one example of this correlation:
McConnell and his colleagues saw a characteristic pattern around wars throughout Roman history. When conflict came to a mining region, as it did during the three Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage, it disrupted life and work in the region. That shows up as a year or two of slightly cleaner ice in Greenland, since Europe was producing less lead pollution.

At the outbreak of the first Punic War in 264 BCE, for instance, the amount of lead in the Greenland ice layers dropped abruptly. But production ramped up again closer to the final years of the war, as Carthage minted more silver coins to pay its mercenary forces.
Cross-file under Punic Watch and Numismatics (Sort Of).

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Talmud manuscripts

TALMUD WATCH: Surviving Manuscripts of the Talmud: An Overview (Dr. Menachem Katz, TheGemara.com).
What we know about the surviving manuscripts, and how they contribute to Talmud study
HT AJR. For more on the long oral transmission of the Babylonian Talmud, see here. For more on the Hachi Garsinan Talmud project, see here and here.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

The Kingdom of Aksum

HISTORY: The Kingdom of Aksum – Africa’s lost Empire. The Aksumite Empire was an ancient kingdom that existed in Ethiopia from 100 CE to 940 CE. Centred on the city of Axum in Ethiopia, the nation grew from the proto-Aksumite Iron Age period around 400 BCE to its height around the 1st century CE (Heritage Daily).

This is a nice capsule history of the Ethiopian Kingdom of Aksum (Axum). For past PaleoJudaica posts involving Aksum, start here and follow the links. In particular, this post and this one give background on why Aksum is of interest for ancient Judaism.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Ammon, Moab and Edom

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: Who Were the Ammonites, Moabites and Edomites in the Bible? Ancient Israel’s neighbors east of the Jordan (Megan Sauter).
The kingdoms of Ammon, Moab and Edom fought with the Israelites and the Judahites over territory. The Bible presents things from the Israelites’ and Judahites’ point of view, and archaeological discoveries help show us the other side. By looking at what these ancient peoples wrote and left behind, we are able to better understand their perspective. We now have a fuller picture of their kings, gods and daily life.
This essay is a taster for a 2016 BAR article by Joel S. Burnett: “Ammon, Moab and Edom: Gods and Kingdoms East of the Jordan.” You need a paid subscription to read the full article, but the BHD essay gives a nice brief overview of the topic.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

On the Lives of the Prophets

READING ACTS: The Lives of the Prophets. Another installment in Phil Long's current summer series on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha.

I don't doubt that the Lives of the Prophets contains some Jewish traditions. But there's a good case that the best context for it is the world of late-antique Byzantine Christianity. See David Satran, Biblical Prophets in Byzantine Palestine. Reassessing the Lives of the Prophets (SVTP 11; Brill, 1994).

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Moses and Zoroaster as authors

DR. YISHAI KEIL: How the Concept of Mosaic Authorship Developed (TheTorah.com).
In the Persian period, the Torah, which is made up of various law collections, was ascribed to Moses as revealed by YHWH. A parallel development was taking place in Achaemenid Persia that sheds light on this process: The sacred texts called the Avesta, that contain the law​​ (dāta) and tradition (daēnā) of Zoroastrianism​, were being collectively ascribed to Zarathustra (Zoroaster) as revealed by Ahuramazdā.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Satlow on the field of Judaism in late antiquity

MICHAEL SATLOW: Jews and Judaism in Late Antiquity: Taking Stock. Professor Satlow has been a major figure in the field for a long time and he is well placed to give us an overview of its development over the last generation.

HT AJR.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Very busy

I AM GOING TO BE VERY BUSY FOR THE NEXT COUPLE OF WEEKS. Nevertheless, I expect to blog daily, at pretty much the usual volume. Sometimes it may be later in the day.

Do keep visiting as usual. There is plenty of good blogginess coming!

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Monday, May 21, 2018

The Sifting Project has found some cool coins

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: 5 rare Jewish coins discovered by Temple Mount project. Coins, minted by autonomous Jewish province of the First Persian Empire in late 4th century BC, attested to existence of commercial, administrative life in and around Second Temple and Temple Mount; 'These were the first coins ever minted by Jews,' says project's co-director, adding pilgrims would convert their tithes into these coins. (Itzchak Tessler, Ynet News).

The "Project" is, of course, the Temple Mount Sifting Project, on which more here and oh so many links.

This article has lots of background on the YHD coins, including that they apparently have been used as partial inspiration for the design of the new Israeli shekel. Cross-file under Numismatics.

The Temple Mount Sifting Project is still looking for funding!

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Was the Priestly writer anti-Temple?

DR HACHAM ISAAC S. D. SASSOON:The Tabernacle: A Post-Exilic Polemic Against Rebuilding the Temple (TheTorah.com).
The Priestly Torah discusses the Tabernacle at extraordinary length, emphasizing its portability. Nothing in P ever says this structure was meant to be temporary. P’s Tabernacle was not foreshadowing the Temple, but was a polemic against Haggai and Zechariah’s agitation to build the Second Temple.
Surprisingly, P never tells the Israelites to build a Temple when they reach the Promised Land.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

4 Baruch

READING ACTS: What is Fourth Baruch? Another in Phil Long's current summer series of blog posts on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha.

For past posts in this series over the last couple of years, see here and links.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

The royal wedding had a Coptic connection

COPTIC WATCH: Coptic Orthodox Archbishop of London gives prayer at UK's royal wedding. Anba Angaelos is the first Coptic Orthodox Archbishop of London, having served as General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom since 1999 (Ahram Online). Sadly, the prayer was not in Coptic.

But never mind. Congratulations and all best wishes to the newlywed royal couple.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

The vision of Ezekiel

EZEKIEL CHAPTER ONE, the Merkavah vision of Ezekiel, is the haftarah (reading from the prophets) for the first day of Shavuot (which started yesterday at sundown). This chapter is the foundation for both Jewish and Christian mysticism and its traditions have also been influential on Islamic mysticism. For some comment on the influence of the passage on Jewish tradition, see Why Read Ezekiel on Shavuot? Tradition connects the prophet's vision to the revelation at Sinai by Michael Fishbane at My Jewish Learning.

In Christian mysticism, Ezekiel's vision was to a large degree mediated through the work of Pseudo-Dionysius the Aeropagite, a late-antique Neoplatonist philosopher and mystic. For more on those traditions, see the Wikipedia article on Christian angelology.

And for more on Ezekiel's Merkavah vision, see here and here and links.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Judges in Pseudo-Philo

READING ACTS: The Book of Judges in Pseudo-Philo (LAB) (Phil Long). Phil's opening post on this book was noted here. His series on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha continues.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Why does the Torah come in five books?

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS: Why Is the Torah Divided into Five Books? (Dr. Elaine Goodfriend, TheTorah.com).
The division of the Torah into five books is not mentioned anywhere in the Bible, yet this division may be ancient and inherent. Already in Second Temple times, Philo speaks of it, and by the early first millenium C.E., the Torah became known by the Greek name, Pentateuch, literally, “five scrolls.” Is this division due to practical, thematic, or symbolic considerations?
Fun fact: the first recorded person to use the term "Pentateuch" for the Torah of Moses was a Gnostic Christian. He said that Moses only wrote part of it.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Archaeology and Virtual Reality

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: Virtual Reality in Archaeology. Visualizing antiquity through modern lenses (Abby VanderHart). Past posts on Lithodomos and similar technologies are here and links. And here's an older post on the prospect of such technologies — a prospect that today is partially realized.

Cross-file under Technology Watch.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Shavuot 2018

THE FESTIVAL OF SHAVUOT (Weeks, Pentecost) begins tonight at sundown. (For real this time!) Best wishes to all those celebrating. Last year's post gave links with biblical background.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Mobile sifting update

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Archaeologist for a day: Find Temple Mount treasures — at a school near you. The Temple Mount Sifting Project takes its show on the road with a pilot program in which it uses dirt to connect students to the past and future of the Jerusalem holy site (Amanda Borschel-Dan, Times of Israel).
Petah Tivka high school pupils got their hands dirty on Wednesday and Thursday this week when the Temple Mount Sifting Project’s new mobile unit paid a visit.

The Yeshurun High School’s hands-on experience was the second of the pilot project’s pit stops in an effort to “bring the mountain to Muhammad.” Previously, elementary school pupils in Tekoa also had the opportunity to sift for treasure during a special session with the Temple Mount Sifting Project’s staff using wet-sifting apparatus.

Students are given a presentation by an archaeologist on the history of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount in particular, and are then trained on how to search to artifacts among the dirt. Using water, they “wet-sift” batches of dirt, and sort out the various rocks, pottery and other debris.

So far the pupils in Petah Tikva have found huge amounts of pottery, mosaic tiles, glass and metal. Luckier students have discovered a Crusader coin, a 1st century CE coin, a partial 3rd century CE oil lamp, an iron hook, a leg of an unidentified, potentially First Temple period cultic clay object, all of which will be cleaned and analyzed at the Sifting Project’s Jerusalem lab.

[...]
I noted the new mobile sifting project here. This article gives details about how it's going.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Philo at Oxyrhynchus

NEWS YOU CAN USE: The Oxyrhynchus Codex of Philo of Alexandria (Brent Nongbri, Variant Readings). And don't forget to read his follow-up post on the archaeology of the Philo codex: Excavating the Oxyrhynchus Philo Codex.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Krul, The Revival of the Anu Cult ...

NEW BOOK FROM BRILL:
The Revival of the Anu Cult and the Nocturnal Fire Ceremony at Late Babylonian Uruk

Series:
Culture and History of the Ancient Near East, Volume: 95

Author: Julia Krul

In The Revival of the Anu Cult and the Nocturnal Fire Ceremony at Late Babylonian Uruk, Julia Krul offers a comprehensive study of the rise of the sky god Anu as patron deity of Uruk in the Late Babylonian period (ca. 480-100 B.C.). She reconstructs the historical development of the Anu cult, its underlying theology, and its daily rites of worship, with a particular focus on the yearly nocturnal fire ceremony at the Anu temple, the Bīt Rēš.

Providing the first in-depth analysis of the ceremony, Julia Krul convincingly identifies it as a seasonal renewal festival with an important exorcistic component, but also as a reinforcement of local hierarchical relationships and the elite status of the Anu priesthood.

Publication Date: 26 April 2018
ISBN: 978-90-04-36493-6
As I've said before, I like to keep track of developments in the study of late ancient Babylonia, because of its background interest for Judaism of the Second Temple Period.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Archaeology, Jerusalem, and the Jewish people

DISCOVERIES: ARCHEOLOGY IS CHANGING THE (SUR)FACE OF JERUSALEM. Archaeology provides the most powerful proof of the authenticity of Jewish history and the connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel, and particularly, Jerusalem (Moshe Dann, Jerusalem Post). This article has a clearly-stated agenda, and the interpretation of some of the discoveries is controversial. But it gives a nice summary of some important recent and longstanding archaeological findings associated with Jerusalem.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Hygoye 21.1 (2018)

A NEW ISSUE: Hugoye: Journal of Syriac Studies 21.1 (2018). It's always good to see another issue of this excellent open-access journal. It is associated with the Beth Mardutho Syriac Institute and the Hugoye e-mail list. For more on both of those, see here. Cross-file under Syriac Watch.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

The Canaanite alphabet in Egyptian?

THE HISTORY OF THE ALPHABET? Earliest Version of Our Alphabet Possibly Discovered (Owen Jarus, Live Science).
The earliest example of our alphabet — a possible mnemonic phrase that helped someone remember "ABCD" — has been discovered on a 3,400-year-old inscribed piece of limestone from ancient Egypt, a scholar believes.

Three of the words start with the ancient equivalent of B, C and D, creating what may be a mnemonic phrase.

Thomas Schneider, a professor of Egyptology and Near Eastern Studies at the University of British Columbia, reported the discovery in a paper published recently in the Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research. This discovery "would be the first historical attestation of 'our' alphabet sequence," he told Live Science in an email.

[...]
This is a different — and more credible — story than the one a couple of years ago about an Egyptian inscription containing Semitic words. Thomas Schneider also figured in that one, but as a skeptic.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Mobile sifting

THE TEMPLE MOUNT SIFTING PROJECT BLOG: Restarting the Sifting!!
Hello everyone, we have some HUGE news to share with you. The Temple Mount Sifting Project is renewing its activity outside the lab! For the first time in the history of archaeological research in Israel –the site will be coming to you. We will be bringing the antiquities-rich soil that was illegally removed from the Temple Mount in the late 90s to various communities and institutions throughout Israel. Students and volunteers will be able to sift through this material and take part in the important work of recovering the ancient artifacts within. A sifting activity was undertaken yesterday in the Yeshurun School in Petach Tikva – but this is just the beginning! We’ve already started taking requests from other communities throughout Israel.
Follow the link for details. The post also has a bonus section with discoveries in honor of Jerusalem Day.

For many, many past posts on the Temple Mount Sifting Project, start here and follow the links. They are still looking for funding!

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Geniza Fragments 75

GENIZA FRAGMENTS, the Newsletter of the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit, Cambridge University Library has published its April 2018 Issue. Some topics are a new novel about the Cairo Geniza, the Bible scribe Samuel ben Jacob, and a Festschrift for Geoffrey Khan (congratulations!).

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Correction! Shavuot starts on Saturday evening.

SORRY ABOUT THAT. Please ignore the deleted post. It was meant for Saturday. I pushed the wrong button somewhere.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

A horse-racing curse in an Aramaic amulet

ARAMAIC WATCH: Ancient Jewish gambler’s chariot race curse found in decoded 5th Century scroll. A nailed-shut amulet uncovered in Turkey in the 1930s, written in Jewish Aramaic and newly translated, pleads for help from Balaam's ass at the track (Amanda Borschel-Dan, Times of Israel).
When a typical nailed-shut 5th century curse scroll was uncovered by the University of Princeton in a 1930s excavation under the hippodrome in the city of Antioch (now in Turkey), the team of archaeologists didn’t realize what a unique find they had in hand.

It would take almost another 90 years to discover that the amulet, made of thin lead, is the only known example of a curse written by Jews against a chariot horse racing competitor.

In the curse, written in a Jewish dialect of Aramaic in Hebrew lettering, the gambler beseeches God and his panoply of angels to thwart the competing horse and cause him to “drown in the mud,” said Tel Aviv University doctoral student Rivka Elitzur-Leiman, who recently deciphered the miniature 8.8 x 2.1 cm lead tablet.

[...]
I am currently working on a new English translation of the late-antique Hebrew magical tractate Sefer HaRazim ("The Book of the Mysteries"). It includes a magical rite for making race horses swift. But I agree that (as far as I know) this new Aramaic amulet is the only surviving ancient Jewish cursing rite that involves horse racing.

This discovery is also covered in an article in Haaretz by Ruth Schuster: Ancient Scroll Shows Jews Tried to Hex Chariot Races in Turkey 1,500 Years Ago. Ancient Greeks and Romans were notorious for their elaborate curses but a metal tablet with a hex in Aramaic is the first evidence that the Jews indulged too, Israeli researchers say.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Pseudo-Philo's LAB

READING ACTS: Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum (LAB) (Phil Long). A good quick overview of this book.

This is the first text covered in Phil's new OT Pseudepigrapha series for summer, 2018.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Festscrift for Leonard Greenspoon

FORTHCOMING BOOK FROM PURDUE UNIVERSITY PRESS:
Found in Translation: Essays on Jewish Biblical Translation in Honor of Leonard J. Greenspoon (Hardback)

James W. Barker (Editor) Anthony LeDonne Editor) Joel N. Lohr Editor)
format: Hardback
publisher: Purdue University Press
pub. date: 07/15/2018
page count: 317pp
subject(s): Language Arts & Disciplines, Jewish Studies, Global Languages and Literatures
language: English
dimensions: 6.00" x 9.00"
ISBN 10: 155753781X
ISBN 13: 9781557537812
status: Awaiting Publication

Book Description
Found in Translation is at once a themed volume on the translation of ancient Jewish texts and a Festschrift for Leonard J. Greenspoon, the Philip M. and Ethel Klutznick Professor in Jewish Civilization and professor of classical and near Eastern studies and of theology at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. Greenspoon has made significant contributions to the study of Jewish biblical translations, particularly the ancient translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek, known as the Septuagint. This volume comprises an internationally renowned group of scholars presenting a wide range of original essays on Bible translation, the influence of culture on biblical translation, Bible translations’ reciprocal influence on culture, and the translation of various Jewish texts and collections, especially the Septuagint. Volume editors have painstakingly planned Found in Translation to have the broadest scope of any current work on Jewish biblical translation to reflect Greenspoon’s broad impact on the field throughout an august career.
Congratulations to Professor Greenspoon!

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.