Thursday, January 17, 2019

Hebrew forgeries from Arab countries

THE NATIONAL LIBRARY OF ISRAEL BLOG: A glimpse into the flourishing counterfeit industry of manuscripts from Arab countries (Hen Malul). The essay is in Hebrew, but you can read a very comprehensible Google English translation here (link now correct!). There are also many photos of fake manuscripts.
Hebrew letters that do not make up any sentence, prints on metals - and a Star of David everywhere: The National Library is flooded with appeals from "collectors" and antique dealers from Arab countries, who offer "historical manuscripts" that supposedly belonged to Jewish communities in Islamic countries.
The Jordanian lead codices (on which much more here and links) get a mention, although I don't see any clearly lead-codex-like artifact among the photographs.

I have been approached a few times in the last three weeks for help with supposed Hebrew writings. One message from the UAE included photos of a scroll that was obviously not very old.

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The Talmud is still big in South Korea

TALMUD WATCH: Talmud-inspired learning craze sweeps South Korea (Tim Alper, JTA).
“Koreans don’t have to emulate Jewish belief systems,” educational researcher Seol Dong-ju said, “but we do need to copy the way Jews teach their children.”

The result is dozens of private chavruta-themed academies, with busy branches in major cities throughout the country, catering to everyone from toddlers to adults. Some make use of Korean-language Talmudic texts, while others follow entirely secular curricula.

Kim Jung-wan, who directs one such academy — the Havruta Culture Association — explains that South Korea’s Jewish education quest is over 40 years old. It began in the mid-1970s, when Korean translations of Talmud-inspired stories by Rabbi Marvin Tokayer, an American military chaplain stationed in Japan, first arrived in Seoul bookstores.

Tokayer’s stories were a runaway success. The Talmud, the vast Hebrew and Aramic compendium of first millennium law and lore, effectively went viral in South Korea: In the decades since, hundreds of Korean versions of the Talmud have appeared, mostly deriving from English-language translations and commentaries. These range from picture story books for children to thicker, more ponderous volumes for adults.
Background here and here.

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Intersectionality and ancient "Judaism?"

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Engaging with Intersectionality and 1st-2nd c. "Judaism" (Shayna Sheinfeld).
In 2018, the Construction of Christian Identities SBL seminar organized a review panel on Maia Kotrosits’s Rethinking Early Christian Identity: Affect, Violence, and Belonging (Fortress, 2015).

To open this forum and as a member of the steering committee of the Construction of Christian Identities SBL seminar, I want to begin with some reflection on what the goals of this seminar have been in order to bring Kotrosits’s work into discussion with our larger aims.

[...]

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On ancient Greek

PHILOLOGY: Greek to Me. The Comma Queen on the pleasures of a different alphabet (Mary Norris, The New Yorker).
A few years ago, in the Frankfurt airport on the way home from Greece, I bought a copy of Virginia Woolf’s “The Common Reader,” which includes her essay “On Not Knowing Greek.” I already had the book at home, but I was impressed that anything by Woolf was considered airport reading. When I was about ten years old, my father, a pragmatic man, had refused to let me study Latin, and for some reason I assumed that “On Not Knowing Greek” was about how Woolf’s father, too, had prevented his daughter from studying a dead language. I pictured young Virginia Stephen sulking in a room of her own, an indecipherable alphabet streaming through her consciousness, while her father and her brother, downstairs in the library, feasted on Plato and Aristotle.

Well, apparently I had read only the title of the essay. Of course Virginia Woolf knew Greek. ...
Of course she did. Sean Connery also makes a cameo appearance.

This article is not specifically about ancient Judaism, but it is full of fun facts about ancient Greek. HT Philo scholar Ellen Birnbaum.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Operation Scroll: still looking ...

THERE'S COMPETITION: The Race for the Next Dead Sea Scrolls, and Why We May Lose It Decades after first ancient Jewish texts were found at Qumran, hundreds of caves around the Dead Sea could yield more. But we have to hurry (Moshe Gilad, Haaretz premium).
The conversation with [Dr. Oren] Gutfeld takes place at the entrance to the cave. In the two excavation seasons conducted in Cave 53, many non-scroll objects have been found, some of them valuable, some from prehistoric times and from the Second Temple era.

I asked if somewhere inside he expects, every time he begins to explore a new cave, to find scrolls. He looks at me and considers for a moment. “We come to each new cave with zero expectations. We try to understand the daily lives of those who used it,” Gutfeld says – then admits, “Almost every night I dream of finding a scroll. If we get lucky and find even one written line, that would be the best.”

Albeit scroll-less, every day of digging in the Judean Desert caves reveals new things about the material culture of people of the “Yahad” community (the cult that operated here), he says. “Discovering a scroll would be the ultimate, but it’s just as important to find things that shed light on who they were.”
This is a good, thorough article that strikes a reasonable balance between coverage of the so-far imaginary scrolls that archaeologists hope to find and the actual material culture that they have been uncovering in the caves.

I hope they get some government funding to speed up the work. The danger is real that looters will get to any really important artifacts ahead of the archaeologists.

Read it all. If you aren't a subscriber, you need a free registration with Haaretz.

For more on the excavations in Cave 53a and 53b, as well as links to earlier posts on Operation Scroll, see here.

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What was in the ancient Israelites' pantry?

ARCHAEO-BOTANY: What Ancient Seeds Found in Archaeological Excavations in Israel Tell Us. Well-preserved seeds found in archaeological digs in Israel offer a singular glimpse into the lives of the people who were nourished by them thousands of years ago (Ronit Vered, Haaretz premium).
“What we’re doing as botanists or as archaeologists is to come to these people’s homes and check their pantry,” says Prof. Ehud Weiss, head of the Archaeological Botany Lab in the Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology at Bar Ilan University. “That home existed 2,000 or 6,000 years ago, but then, as now, our pantry says a lot about who we are. The food we eat reflects our socioeconomic situation and is indicative of the society we live in and relations with the environment. A central question in archaeology is: Who were the people whose cultural remnants we uncover?

“The information archaeological botany provides is fascinating, and relevant for understanding the human race. We are what we eat, and knowledge in our field has become so precise that we now have a high capability of classifying every plant we find in archaeological digs. With the aid of that information, it’s possible to reconstruct modes and customs of nutrition, economy, agriculture, religion and culture.”
Beer is involved. Ancient beer, that is. I don't know about modern.

Also, they are developing a digital database of seeds.

A few past posts on research on ancient seeds in Israel are here, here, here, and here.

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Ferguson on the Qumran Psalms manuscripts

THE ETC BLOG: Anthony Ferguson on Texts Preserving Psalms from Qumran (John Meade).
Last week, guest blogger, Anthony Ferguson, described his recently defended and completed dissertation on the 'Non-Aligned' Texts of Qumran and reported on its major conclusions. I asked Anthony to write another post on the texts preserving Psalms at Qumran, and he kindly obliged. Thank you, Anthony, for your labors, and we look forward to reading more of your work in these areas in the future.
Background of Dr. Ferguson's PhD thesis on "non-aligned" biblical Dead Sea Scrolls is here and here.

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The population of Jerusalem in antiquity

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: Ancient Jerusalem: The Village, the Town, the City. As published in Biblical Archaeology Review, May/June 2016 (Hershel Shanks).
A new study of Jerusalem’s population in various periods has recently been published by one of Israel’s leading Jerusalem archaeologists, Hillel Geva of Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and the Israel Exploration Society. Geva bases his estimates on “archaeological findings, rather than vague textual sources.” The result is what he calls a “minimalist view.”

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Tuesday, January 15, 2019

More from the Talmud on ritual animal slaughter

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Slaughtering With Intent. In this week’s ‘Daf Yomi,’ why a Jew may not sacrifice an animal in such a way that its blood flows into the ocean, and other rules protecting worshippers from the limits of paganism.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

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Qasr Al-Yahud and Joshua's crossing?

JEWISH PILGRIMAGE MINEFIELD TOO: CROSSING THE JORDAN. A Christian pilgrimage site called Qasr al Yahud has started drawing Jewish visitors, attracted by its biblical history (Sara Toth Stub, Tablet Magazine). The site is thought by some to be where Jesus was baptized, so it has attracted Christian pilgrims since late antiquity.
There is no known historical or textual evidence of Jewish pilgrimage to the site in ancient times, in Talmudic times, or even during the Second Temple period, according to Rehav Rubin, a professor of geography who specializes in maps and pilgrimages of the Holy Land.

“Jews never came to Qasr al Yahud in the past centuries as pilgrims, it’s only something just from the last decade,” said Lior Chen, a graduate student in anthropology at Hebrew University who is completing a dissertation and fieldwork on the site. In his research Chen has found that motivations of the Jewish visitors range from interest in the Bible to politics to simply getting a close-up view of the border with Jordan, which is just a few meters across the water from Qasr al Yahud, demarcated by a rope running down the middle of the river.
Despite the lack of historical precedent, the site is becoming a pilgrimage site for Jews in commemoration of the biblical story of the Israelites' crossing of the Jordan under Joshua. This only started when the site reopened in 2011.

For background on Qasr Al-Yahud, its Christian pilgrimage tradition, and the ongoing de-mining project there, start here and follow the links.

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BHD on Machaerus

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY has published two essays on Machaerus, the reputed site of the execution of John the Baptist:
Machaerus: Beyond the Beheading of John the Baptist. Explore the site with reconstructions of the Herodian palace.

Anastylosis at Machaerus, Where John the Baptist was Beheaded. Restoration work gives archaeological context to Biblical scene (Megan Sauter).
I also noted the first one when it came out in 2015. As usual, both essays are summaries of BAR articles that are behind the subscription wall.

For past PaleoJudaica posts on Machaerus, start here and follow the links.

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Cahana-Blum, Wrestling with Archons

THE NSEA BLOG: NEW BOOK: WRESTLING WITH ARCHONS: GNOSTICISM AS A CRITICAL THEORY OF CULTURE.
Jonathan Cahana-Blum, Wrestling with Archons: Gnosticism as a Critical Theory of Culture. Lexington Books, 2018. Pages: 210 • Trim: 6 1/4 x 9
Follow the link for details.

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Monday, January 14, 2019

More on the Ark and Kiryat Yearim

ARCHAEOLOGY AND ... SPECULATION: Biblical site tied to Ark of the Covenant unearthed at convent in central Israel. Excavation uncovers a unique, monumental structure previously unknown in the region. Was it a shrine — or the site of David’s triumphant parade of the legendary ark? (Amanda Borschel-Dan, Times of Israel).
A massive 8th century BCE man-made platform discovered at a Catholic convent in central Israel may have served as an ancient shrine to the Ark of the Covenant, said leading Tel Aviv University archaeologist Israel Finkelstein. Unearthed at Kiriath-Jearim, the shrine gives potential new insight into the political machinations of the sibling kingdoms of Judah and Israel.

Remains of the monumental elevated podium have been unearthed on a Judean hilltop long associated with the location of biblical Kiriath-Jearim. According to the Hebrew Bible, the spot was the 20-year home of the legendary Ark of the Covenant until taken by King David and paraded to Jerusalem.

The joint expedition by Tel Aviv University and the College de France is not on the trail of the elusive ark, however. Indeed Finkelstein, the dig’s co-director, does not believe the Ark of the Covenant existed.

[...]
Okay, I think I have this straight. Professor Finkelstein thinks there wasn't an Ark of the Covenant; it's just a legend. Well, that could be right.

But he thinks that the legend was around in Northern Israel in the eighth century B.C.E. and that this big platform at the site of Kiryat Yearim (Kiriath Jearim) was a shrine built in commemoration of the legendary Ark in order to legitimate the place as a sacred site.

Now, two caveats. First, I haven't read the original report and I don't know if what he said is being reported with full nuance, although Ms. Borschel-Dan is generally very good about such things. Second, I'm not an archaeologist and I have no opinion about the archaeology of the site.

That said, I am very skeptical about the conclusions as reported. It's hard enough to formulate credible connections between the biblical narrative and archaeology. And these particular conclusions involve a lot of speculation that goes well beyond what the biblical texts say.

Call me when they excavate a plaque that says "This site is dedicated to the Ark of the Covenant."

Meanwhile, this is a really interesting excavation on its own archaeological terms. I am going to keep that separate from any speculation about how it may connect with the Bible or with a real or imaginary Ark of the Covenant.

Past posts on the excavation at Kiryat Yearim are here and links. And for many past posts on the Ark of the Covenant, follow the links from that same post.

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More ancient Aramaic found in Saudi Arabia

ARAMAIC WATCH: Hieroglyphic inscriptions discovered in Saudi Arabia (Egypt Today). Yes, I know what the headline says. And the discovery of an Egyptian Hieroglypic inscription of Ramses III in Saudi Arabia is important. But slipped in with that report is the following:
The Hieroglyphic inscription was found on a fixed rock, near the Tayma oasis. It bears a royal signature (a double cartouche) of King Ramesses III. Several additional Aramaic, Thamudic and Nabataea inscriptions, as well as ancient illustrations of cattle, ostriches and snakes were discovered. King Ramses III is the most famous ruler of the 20th Dynasty known by the Greeks as Rampsinitus. He followed his father Ramses II's reign to embark on massive construction projects.
(My bold-font emphasis.)

Thamudic is an ancient North Arabian dialect. Nabatean (Nabataean) is an Aramaic dialect used by speakers of Arabic in North Arabia. There's more on North Arabian and Nabatean here and links and here. And for more on Aramaic in ancient Arabia, see here and links.

I believe the Tayma oasis is the site where the last king of Babylon, Nabonidus, pursued his worship of the moon god Sin rather than running his kingdom. The story is alluded to in the Aramaic Prayer of Nabonidus in the Dead Sea Scrolls, on which more here.

There is no more information in the article about the content of the new Aramaic and Nabatean inscriptions.

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"The Polymorphous Pesah"

THE BIBLICAL REVIEW BLOG: Article on pesaḥ by Mira Balberg and Simeon Chavel (William Brown).The article is:
Mira Balberg and Simeon Chavel, “The Polymorphous Pesah: Ritual Between Origins and Reenactment,” in Journal of Ancient Judaism 8 (2017), 292-343.
William provides a summary and a link to the (long) full text at Academia.edu.

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Exodus trickery

DR. RABBI ZEV FARBER: Exodus through Deception: Asking for a Three-Day Festival (TheTorah.com).
From God’s first command to Moses, through the story of Israel’s escape, the demand for a three-day festival in the wilderness plays a prominent role in the plague narrative. Part of this ruse was Israel’s request to “borrow” Egyptian finery for the festival. Why does God want the Israelites to use deception?
Spoiler: source criticism is involved.

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Sunday, January 13, 2019

Roman-era decapitation graves in England

OBVIOUSLY, A ZOMBIE OUTBREAK WAS THWARTED: England's Strange Case of Decapitated Bodies. During construction in England a grisly discovery was made. Nearly half of 52 skeletons in a Roman burial ground had been buried with the skulls between the legs of the deceased (Candida Moss, The Daily Beast).

Yes, I know: not about ancient Judaism. But Professor Moss also discusses ancient Jewish and Christian burial practices for comparison. So that's my excuse.

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Review of Marshall, The Portrayals of the Pharisees in the Gospels and Acts

READING ACTS: Book Review: Mary Marshall, The Portrayals of the Pharisees in the Gospels and Acts (FRLANT 254) (Phil Long).
Marshall, Mary. The Portrayals of the Pharisees in the Gospels and Acts. FRLANT 254; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2015. Hb; €89.99.
Excerpt:
Too frequently it is assumed the Gospels and Acts have a uniform, negative view of Pharisees. On the contrary, Marshall contends the Gospels and Acts are complex and each writer has an individual view of the Pharisees. Her goal is not a “quest for the historical Pharisee,” but rather to fairly and accurately describe how each of the four Gospel author’s presented the Pharisee in the service of their own theological agendas.

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Paths to Masada

SO MANY TRAILS: HIKE OF THE MONTH – MASADA. Make your visit to Masada an Unforgettable Hiking Experience! (Erez Speiser, Jerusalem Post).
There are 4 main trails to reach the top of Masada. They vary greatly in length and difficulty, providing a solution for any taste and skill level.
Pro tip: do not climb the Snake Path to Masada in July like I did.

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Boardman, Alexander the Great

NEW BOOK FROM PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS:
Alexander the Great
From His Death to the Present Day


John Boardman

Editions
Hardcover 2019 29.95 24.00 ISBN9780691181752 176 pp. 6 1/8 x 9 1/4 8 page color + 36 b/w illus.
E-book ISBN9780691184043

An illustrious scholar presents an elegant, concise, and generously illustrated exploration of Alexander the Great’s representations in art and literature through the ages

John Boardman is one of the world’s leading authorities on ancient Greece, and his acclaimed books command a broad readership. In this book, he looks beyond the life of Alexander the Great in order to examine the astonishing range of Alexanders created by generations of authors, historians, and artists throughout the world—from Scotland to China.

Alexander’s defeat of the Persian Empire in 331 BC captured the popular imagination, inspiring an endless series of stories and representations that emerged shortly after his death and continues today. An art historian and archaeologist, Boardman draws on his deep knowledge of Alexander and the ancient world to reflect on the most interesting and emblematic depictions of this towering historical figure.

Some of the stories in this book relate to historical events associated with Alexander’s military career and some to the fantasy that has been woven around him, and Boardman relates each with his customary verve and erudition. From Alexander’s biographers in ancient Greece to the illustrated Alexander “Romances” of the Middle Ages to operas, films, and even modern cartoons, this generously illustrated volume takes readers on a fascinating cultural journey as it delivers a perfect pairing of subject and author.
You can read the Introduction to the book at the link.

Some past PaleoJudaica posts on Alexander the Great are collected here. Alexander had a creative reception in Jewish tradition, notably in the Book of Daniel, Josephus, and one recension of the Alexander Romance.

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Saturday, January 12, 2019

Another Knoppers memorial

THE ANXIOUS BENCH: Remembering Gary Knoppers (1956-2018). By Philip Jenkins, who was once Professor Knoppers's department chair:
Just looking at the sober scholarly themes he addressed so meticulously, you would never guess the wonderful and playful sense of humor that so informed his life. As his department head in the mid-1990s, I remember putting together his file for tenure and promotion. He and I had a manic series of conversations about drafting a letter of evaluation for the college committee, but drawing the whole text from his particular field of study (“He is a mighty man of valor” … “There is none like unto him in the Land of Israel”….). Fortunately for his later career, I never dared submit it, and eventually decided to go with something more mainstream.
Also includes a section by Deirdre Fulton on Gary's impressive contribution to biblical studies.

Background here and here.

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Aramaic Studies on linguistic diversity

ARAMAIC WATCH: The journal Aramaic Studies has a new thematic issue out:
Volume 16 (2018): Issue 2 (Nov 2018): Special Issue: Aramaic—Linguistic Diversity across Three Millennia
It includes articles on Aramaic grammar, Samaritan Aramaic, Neo-Mandaic, and Neo-Aramaic.

It looks like this is a subscription-only page. I'm seeing the full articles, but I'm using my University computer, which probably is accessing through an institutional subscription.

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Compendium of James Ossuary essays in B&I

THE BIBLE AND INTERPRETATION: Remembering the James Ossuary. Older Articles from B&I (Written by Paul Flesher and Rochelle Altman). Nothing new here, but it's handy to have the list of links.

For many, many past PaleoJudaica posts on the James Ossuary and its controversial inscription, start here and follow the links or run "James Ossuary" through the search engine.

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Lexundria

THE AWOL BLOG: Lexundria: A Digital Library of Antiquity. It's early days yet, but this site already includes the complete works of Josephus and some other items of interest. You should go and have a look.

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Friday, January 11, 2019

Armenia! Exhibition reviewed in NYRB

THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS: Between Two Empires (Peter Brown).
Armenia!
an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, September 22, 2018–January 13, 2019

Armenia: Art, Religion, and Trade in the Middle Ages
Catalog of the exhibition edited by Helen C. Evans
Metropolitan Museum of Art, 351 pp., $65.00 (distributed by Yale University Press)
As I have already mentioned, the exhibition covers the full span of Armenian history, with some attention to its connections with Jewish tradition. On the latter, Professor Brown mentions one example:
[The fifth-century Battle of] Avarayr would never be forgotten. Heavily stylized, it was depicted as late as 1500, in manuscripts from the war-torn region of Lake Van. In one on view in the exhibition, the Persians advance behind a row of war elephants. This evoked a deep, pre-Christian past, for the original account of the battle drew heavily on the description of the confrontation between the war elephants of King Antiochus Eupator and the Jewish hero Judas Maccabaeus in the Book of Maccabees from the second century BC. Both battles were remembered as manifestations of heroic courage. Both showed a nation at war in defense of its religion. By following the Book of Maccabees, the Armenian writers found a way to express, for the first time in Christian history, the idea that an entire group of warriors could die in battle as martyrs for the faith.
I noted another review of the exhibition here.

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Where did we get archangels?

REMNANT OF GIANTS: Where did Archangels come from? (Deane Galbraith). I am doubtful of a euhemeristic explanation. But who knows?

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Knoppers obituary

NOTRE DAME NEWS: In memoriam: Gary Knoppers, John A. O’Brien Professor of Theology (Josh Weinhold).
Knoppers’ research specializations included Hebrew scriptures, ancient historiography, ancient Near Eastern and biblical law, inner-scriptural exegesis, textual criticism and the history of early Jewish and Samaritan relations.

“Gary is esteemed as a scholar and teacher,” said Timothy Matovina, chair of the Department of Theology. “But I think he will be missed most for his gentle and congenial humanity that helped make our department and the wider University a community of learning, compassion, and faith."
Background here.

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Ariel Bloch, 1933-2019

SAD NEWS: Ariel Bloch, a pioneer in the fusion of Arab and Hebrew studies, dies at 85 (John Hickey, Berkeley News).
Ariel Bloch, who used his career at UC Berkeley as a way to fuse Arab and Hebrew culture, died in Richmond on Dec. 14 at the age of 85 after a lengthy illness.

A professor in the Department of Near Eastern Studies, Bloch specialized in Arabic linguistics, but he took on Hebrew and Aramaic as subspecialties and did what he could to encourage a multilingual balance of both of the languages and the cultures.

[...]

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