Monday, February 18, 2019

Mosaic on Alter's Bible

MOSAIC MAGAZINE has published three essays on Robert Alter's recently completed translation of the Hebrew Bible:

How to Judge Robert Alter's Landmark Translation of the Hebrew Bible. Finished after decades of labor, this one-man English translation is a stupendous achievement. How does it hold up against the masterpieces (and follies) that have come before? (Hillel Halkin).
Reading the Bible as literature—if that is all we read it as—remains an act of rebellion today, if not against a divine giver of the Bible who no longer commands our credence, then against the Bible itself, which does not wish to be read in this way. It is regrettable that, in his excellent introductions to, and commentaries on, the literary qualities of the books of the Bible, Alter has not dealt with this issue, which is ultimately a translator’s as well. Perhaps he still will.
The first response to Halkin's essay:

What It Means to Read the Bible as Nothing More than Great Literature. Like all of the other methods that have been devised for approaching the Bible, the literary method has its inevitable limitations (Jon D. Levenson).
Another difficult point, however, is in what sense the Bible can be said to wish or not to wish something. Does a book have will or desire? Is there any reason to take any voice within a book, however insistent it may be, as normative for interpretation?
The second response:

Is the Alter Bible Jewish, in Some Definable Sense? Robert Alter himself conspicuously does not call his own version Jewish in any way. Can we? (Leonard Greenspoon).
Nonetheless, Jewish it is. This may become clearer if we look at it from the outside, as it were—and in particular at the criticisms leveled by John Updike at Alter’s translation of the Torah, The Five Books of Moses, published separately in 2004.
Remember, Mosaic only gives you full access to three articles per month without a paid subscription. This uses up all three, but they are three good ones.

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

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"Daphnis and Chloe in the Garden of Eden"

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: Lovers’ Tale. A closer look at Daphnis and Chloe in the Garden of Eden.
In “Daphnis and Chloe in the Garden of Eden” in the July/August 2013 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Theodore Feder explores how a second-century pagan love story alludes to the Biblical tale of Adam and Eve. In this post, delve deeper into the story with passages from the pagan romance, their Biblical counterparts and images of artistic representations of the lovers and their idyllic garden.
Noted belately for Valentine's Day.

For more on ancient Greek novels (not including Daphnis and Chloe) see here.

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The Jewish temple at Leontopolis

THE ANXIOUS BENCH: The Forgotten Temple (Philip Jenkins). Not forgotten, of course, by PaleoJudaica and its readers.
It is intrinsically likely that Leontopolis should have been a prime creative center. As I said, it had the skilled literate people on staff and in the neighborhood, and moreover it was close to Alexandria. Can any of the texts we know have come from there?
Some fun speculation follows. Add to it Gideon Bohak's proposal that Joseph and Aseneth is connected with the priesthood of the Leontopolitan temple (mentioned here).

Some other past posts on the Jewish temple at Leontopolis in Egypt are here and here.

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

Review of Linguistics & Biblical Exegesis (ed. Mangum and Westbury), plus a blog series on Acts.

READING ACTS: Book Review: Douglas Mangum and Josh Westbury, eds. Linguistics & Biblical Exegesis (Phil Long).
Mangum, Douglas and Josh Westbury, eds. Linguistics & Biblical Exegesis. Lexham Methods Series 2; Lexham Press, 2016. 262 pp. $24.99
While we're here, I should note that for some time Phil Long has been posting a detailed exegetical series on the Book of Acts, appropriately for a blog called Reading Acts. He is up to chapter 10 at the moment. If Acts interests you, do go and have a look.

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

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Archaeology of the Battle of the Aegates

PUNIC WATCH: Underwater Archaeologists Find Surprising Artifacts from Major Roman Naval Battle (Owen Jarus, Live Science).
Archaeologists exploring the site of a naval battle fought 2,200 years ago between Rome and Carthage have uncovered clues to how the battle may have unfolded — as well as several mysteries.

The finds suggest that Carthage reused captured Roman warships during the battle and that Carthaginian sailors may have thrown cargo overboard in a desperate attempt to help their ships escape the Romans.

According to historical records, the naval battle occurred on March 10, 241 B.C., near the Aegates Islands, not far from Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea. ...
The new finds fit well with what we hear from Polybius. He says that in a previous naval engagement at Drepana the Carthaginians had captured many Roman ships (1.51). And the Roman fleet took the Carthaginians by surprise at the Battle of the Aegates. The Carthaginians ships were deployed hastily and overloaded, while the Roman fleet was streamlined and well prepared (1.60-61). Both naval engagements took place during the First Punic War.

It's always exciting when archaeology connects up in a coherent way with ancient literary accounts of an event.

Every so often I like to mention again why "Punic Watch" is a feature of PaleoJudaica.

Cross-file under Maritime (Marine) Archaeology, on which see also the posts collected here and here.

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

On Dating Biblical Texts to the Persian Period, ed. Bautch and Lackowski

BIBLIOGRAPHIA IRANICA: On Dating Biblical Texts to the Persian Period. Notice of a New Book: Bautch, Richard J., and Mark Lackowski (eds.) (2019). On Dating Biblical Texts to the Persian Period. FAT 2.101. Mohr Siebeck.

Follow the link for a description, TOC, and ordering information.

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

Interview with Jodi Magness

AUDIO: Archaeologist Unveils Mosaic Art Hidden In Ancient Israel Synagogue (Sandra Averhart, WUWF88.1, NPR for Florida's Great Northwest).
Dr. Jodi Magness as been directing excavations in the ancient village of Huqoq in Israel’s Galilee, where crews discovered mosaics depicting biblical scenes and the first non-biblical story ever discovered decorating an ancient synagogue.

Sandra Averhart talks to Dr. Jodi Magness, an archeologist and scholar of religion. She will be speaking in Pensacola Sunday, Feb. 17 about her research team's discovery of mosaics in an ancient synagogue in Israel.
That's today.

For past posts on the Huqoq excavation, its ancient synagogue, and its splendid mosaics, start here and follow the many links.

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

Lustful, greedy Lot?

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: Abraham and Lot in the Bible. Examining ancient Jewish interpretations (Megan Sauter).
Dan Rickett investigates ancient interpretations of Lot’s character in his Biblical Views column “Safeguarding Abraham,” published in the January/February 2019 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review. He shows that ancient interpreters frequently painted Lot as greedy and unscrupulous—a foil to Abraham’s righteousness.
As usual, the full BAR article is behind the subscription wall, but this BHD essay gives you a summary of it.

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

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Another review of Fredriksen, When Christians Were Jews

BRYN MAYR CLASSICAL REVIEW: Paula Fredriksen, When Christians Were Jews: The First Generation. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2018. Pp. viii, 261. ISBN 9780300190519. $27.50. Reviewed by Andrew S. Jacobs, Scripps College (andrew@andrewjacobs.org).
Paula Fredriksen’s new book spins a lucid and straightforward narrative of "the first generation" of an eschatological Jewish movement that would become, despite itself, Christianity. Fredriksen centers her narrative on the city of Jerusalem, the site of the Temple of the God of Israel, where Jesus’s mission culminated, his life ended, and the movement in his name developed numerically and theologically after his death. Transformed in and by the city of David, Jesus’s followers went forth to gather in all the people of Israel; encountering god-fearing pagans in the Jewish synagogues, they began to expand their target zone while waiting for the imminent return of Jesus and the end of the world. Paul, at first alarmed by the sociologically disruptive separation of pagans from their gods, attempted to discipline (or "persecute") these Jewish Jesus-followers; then, altered by his own experience of Jesus, he became the most influential theorist of this Jewish eschatological movement.

[...]
For earlier reviews of the book, see here.

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Should Codex Sinaiticus have been rebound?

VARIANT READINGS: Newsreel Footage of Codex Sinaiticus from 1933. With background and characteristically insightful commentary from Brent Nongbri, including information on the debate about the rebinding of the codex in the 1930s.

By the way, Codex Sinaiticus is not a fake.

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

Was Alexander declared dead prematurely?

PALEO-FORENSIC SPECULATION: Why Alexander the Great May Have Been Declared Dead Prematurely (It's Pretty Gruesome) (Owen Jarus, Live Science).
Alexander the Great may have been killed by Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare neurological condition in which a person's own immune system attacks them, says one medical researchers [sic].

[...]
Could be. We'll never know unless someday we recover his body.

Ancient Judaism took an interest in Alexander the Great, in the Bible and elsewhere. So I like to keep track of news about him. For past posts see here and links.

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

Resources for learning Classical Ethiopic (Ge'ez)

THE AWOL BLOG: ምምሃረ፡ልሳነ፡ግዕዝ - MEMHĀRA LESĀNA GE'EZ: RESOURCES FOR LEARNING GE'EZ-- THE CLASSICAL LANGUAGE OF ETHIOPIA. Cross-file under Ethiopic Watch and News You Can Use.

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Friday, February 15, 2019

The Talmud on weasels and wombs

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Womb Raider. In this week’s ‘Daf Yomi,’ Talmudic rabbis imagine a situation involving a weasel, a cow’s womb, a fetus, vomit, and a firstborn calf. Naturally.
One of the things that can make Talmudic reasoning feel so foreign is that the rabbis take exactly the opposite approach [from “hard cases make bad law”]. They love hard cases; in fact, they will frequently invent hypothetical situations that are improbable and convoluted, precisely in order to test the outer limits of legal concepts. When people use the word “Talmudic” to describe reasoning that is overly complicated and detached from the real world, it is this kind of hypothetical argument that they have in mind.

Over the course of my Talmud study, a few such examples have stuck with me because of their sheer weirdness. ...
You really want to keep reading for this one.

I have discussed another weasel-themed Talmudic (Mishnaic) passage here.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

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

Nathan and Topolski (eds.), Is there a Judeo-Christian Tradition?

OPEN-ACCESS BOOK FROM DE GRUYTER:
Is there a Judeo-Christian Tradition?
A European Perspective

Ed. by Nathan, Emmanuel / Topolski, Anya

Series:
Perspectives on Jewish Texts and Contexts 4

eBook (PDF)
Publication Date: March 2016
Copyright year: 2016
ISBN 978-3-11-041659-6
Includes articles on ancient Jewish-Christianity and the relationship between ancient Judaism and early Christianity.

HT AJR.

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

Kraken is coming for Hebrew paleography

ALGORITHM WATCH: Tikkoun Sofrim.
Tikkoun Sofrim is a joint French Israeli project aimed at making Medieval Hebrew manuscripts openly and freely available as texts.The project is combining automatic Handwritten Text-Recognition (HTR) and Crowdsourcing.

In the first stage we analyse the manuscript layout and train Kraken, a deep learning engine for automatic reading. Kraken is transcribing quite well, with an error rate of less than 10% and often even less than 5% at the letter level.

However this is not quite good enough.

In order to further improve Kraken’s automatic reading and provide accurate editions of the texts, we need the human eye. The tool in this website is aimed at achieving this goal.
It needs the human eye for now.

The Singularity is Near.

HT The Talmud Blog on Facebook.

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

A 400-year-old Torah book seized in Turkey?

APPREHENDED: Turkish police find 400-year-old Torah in Aydın province (Daily Sabah).

The Turkish police are doing an impressive job of disrupting the work of antiquities smugglers. That said, most of what they are recovering seem to be fake artifacts. Still, that's good. It keeps the smugglers from duping people who might otherwise have wasted money on them.

There is a photo at the top of this article which I infer to be of the seized "Torah." The article doesn't actually say. But assuming that it is, it does not look like a Torah manuscript to me. I am no expert on seventeenth-century Torah codices, but some things don't add up.

The writing on the cover is in Hebrew letters. I see the word "fire," followed by "You are the King of the World/Eternity." There seem to be some other words, but it's hard to tell because there don't seem to be spaces between the words in the marginal writing. Some of the lettering does not readily add up into words.

Moreover, the writing and layout are clumsy and do not look like the work of a professional scribe. There is no photo of the inner contents, but I can't imagine that there is a Torah inside.

The menorah design on the cover is worth noting too. Menorahs are a favored decoration in the rash of recent fake manuscripts that have been turning up.

It could be an early modern Hebrew book of some sort. But I think most likely it is another modern fake. I would have to see the contents of the codex to be able to say any more.

The article mentions two "gold plated Torahs that were seized recently. I have commented on (at least) one of those stories here and here. And I have commented on the report of the seizure of a 1900-year-old Torah scroll here. None of these reports was credible.

For other manuscripts and artifacts seized from smugglers by the Turkish authorities, both recently and in recent years, start here and follow the links. I have not seen a single case that seems to be a genuine ancient artifact.

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

Thursday, February 14, 2019

It's February 14th!

AND YOU KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS: AND TODAY WE CELEBRATE... THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 14 Saints Cyril and Methodius (Aleteia). Cyril and Methodius Day is actually celebrated on three different days in Eastern Europe. This is the first one for 2019. We celebrate Cyril and Methodius here at PaleoJudaica for their invention of the Slavonic alphabet, which let to the preservation of some fascinating Old Testament pseudepigrapha (etc.) in Old Church Slavonic which otherwise would mostly have been lost.

And yes, I hope you all have a nice Valentine's Day too.

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

Is Codex Sinaiticus a Fake?

SPOILER: NO. Is Codex Sinaiticus a Fake? New Evidence (Elijah Hixson, The ETC Blog).

There's been so much debunking to do lately.

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

More on Apollonius of Tyana

NEWSWEEK HAS TAKEN UP THE STORY: WHO WAS APOLLONIUS? CONTROVERSIAL 'BIBLE CONSPIRACIES' DOCUMENTARY CLAIMS JESUS WAS REALLY GREEK PHILOSOPHER (Katherine Hignett). The headline is unfortunate. This "documentary" is not credible and no specialist is defending it. There is no controversy.

But otherwise the article is good and I commend it to you. The interview with Prof. Sam Boyd of the University of Colorado, Boulder, gives an overview of why the claim of the film is wrong and what the actual interesting points of comparison between Apollonius and Jesus are.

It is unfortunate that the film is spreading misinformation. But the positive side is that Apollonius of Tyana is getting some publicity. And the media, to give them due credit, are generally correcting the errors of the film.

Background here.

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More on those four "Aramaic" books from Turkey

UPDATE: 4 ancient books depicting life of Jesus seized in Turkey's Denizli (The Daily Sabah). This is the article mentioned in yesterday's post, which I have only now been able to find.

This article includes a larger version of the image of the four books. The cover of the second from the right has some Syriac writing on it, although it's too blurry for me to be sure what it says.

The article also includes another photo of two pages in one of the books. They contain color images, mostly in gold leaf, and writing in the Greek alphabet. On the left is an image of an eagle on a pedestal, holding a cross. On the right, two people doing something. Is that a game board or a box between them?

The writing, as far as I can make it out, is gibberish. I see no actual Greek words and many of the letter combinations look bizarre.

It's a fake.

The way to bet is that they are all fakes. But I would have to see more of the other three to be sure.

By the way, both articles had this odd sentence:
Archaeology Professor Fahriye Bayram from Pamukkale University confirmed the authenticity of the books, saying that they had been requested and used by royals.
I don't know what the last clause means. Perhaps it was translated badly from Arabic. UPDATE: Sorry, that should be Turkish. I must have been thinking of SANA instead of the Daily Sabah.

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

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Was Jesus really Apollonius of Tyana? No.

JUNK HISTORY WATCH: Low-budget Amazon Prime documentary prompts explosion of interest in theory Jesus was a Greek man called Apollonius. ‘What about this person, Jesus? Was he real? Was he created? Was he an alien?’ film asks - to the general annoyance of theological experts (Tom Barnes, The Independent). I was going to ignore this story, but it seems to have gained some traction thanks to the recent coverage in Sputnik.

Yes, it is annoying. This is not a theory. It is not even a hypothesis. It is a notion that has no basis in any kind of historical reality. The sources for Jesus are much earlier and better than those for Apollonius. I don't doubt that Apollonius was a real philosopher who lived in the first century, but our main source for him is a biography by Philostratus written in the third century. You can read the whole, long work in the Loeb Classical Library translation here and here (for free).

There are some interesting similarities between Jesus and Apollonius as divine mediator figures, but they were quite different people and it takes willful obtuseness to suggest that they were the same person.

I see that back in 1998 my class on Divine Mediator Figures in the Biblical World had a seminar on Apollonius. You can read a student summary of some of the issues we discussed here. It assumes introductory material posted here and the bibliography on Apollonius posted here and also the bibilography on exorcism and anthropology here.

You can watch the trailer for the whole Bible Conspiracies "documentary" with the Independent article at the link. Apparently other themes include ancient aliens and Bible Code numerology. It's disappointing that Amazon Prime is promoting this drivel.

UPDATE (14 February): More here.

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

More Aramaic books seized in Turkey

HERE WE GO AGAIN: 4 Ancient Assyrian Books Depicting Life of Jesus Seized in Turkey (Daily Sabah via AINA).
Turkish police have seized four invaluable ancient books written in Syriac and Aramaic, including one depicting the life of Jesus Christ.

Anti-smuggling police teams carried out an operation in southwestern Denizli province upon receiving intelligence that smugglers were planning to sell the ancient books.

Written on papyrus, the leather bound books are thought to be over 1,000 years old and were smuggled from the Middle East.

[...]
There is a low quality photo of the covers of the four books. They have decorations in gold leaf and they look similar to other recent objects emerging in Turkey (here and here - as noted, the former is a fake).

One of the four new books seems to have writing on it, but it's too small for me to read.

My guess is that they are modern fakes or modern or early modern devotional objects. They do not look a thousand years old to me. But any definitive conclusions about them would require an art historian (I am not one) and/or better photos.

In recent years many such objects have been seized from smugglers in Turkey. Mostly we hear nothing more about them, although in a few cases the information presented was enough for specialists working from the photos to figure out what they are. None have turned out to be ancient or of any great interest. For details, see here and follow the many links.

I always like to underline my appreciation of the work of the Turkish police in disrupting smuggling networks. I only wish the media were as diligent about careful and cautious coverage of what is seized from the smugglers.

UPDATE: I should also mention this post as potentially relevant: Hebrew forgeries from Arab countries.

UPDATE (14 February): More here. At least one of the books is a fake.

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

Review of Fredriksen, When Christians Were Jews

MARGINALIA REVIEW OF BOOKS: When Jesus Was Jewish. Larry W. Hurtado on Paula Fredriksen’s When Christians Were Jews.
This latest book by Paula Fredriksen is aimed at a broad readership, and so heavily draws on some of her earlier works, especially Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews: A Jewish Life and the Emergence of Christianity (1999), and Paul: The Pagans’ Apostle (2017). But the present book skilfully and readably weaves its own narrative and stands on its own as a succinct account of the earliest stage of what became Christianity. She succeeds admirably in presenting a compact account for “general readers” that is built on her much fuller work. The emphasis is on the Jewishness of Jesus and the earliest Jesus-followers, and their Jerusalem orientation, including particularly a positive view of the temple. ...
Professor Hurtado has also posted another review of this book on his blog.

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

More on Scott Carroll's manuscripts

VARIANT READINGS: Scott Carroll’s Christian Manuscripts. Brent Nongbri continues his excavation of video presentations to establish the contents of the ancient manuscripts owned by the Green Collection, Scott Carroll, etc.

In this one he infers Carroll's ownership of some manuscript fragments of Greek biblical (Old and New Testament) and Classical works.

Background here and links.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Rains reveal Bar Kokhba Revolt coin

NUMISMATICS: Rains unearth rare Bar Kochba-era coin hailing ‘freedom of Israel.’ Nature and Parks Authority tour guide stumbles on 1,885-year-old find while on training hike in Lachish region (MICHAEL BACHNER and TOI Staff, Times of Israel).

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Review of Mandel, The Origins of Midrash

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Book Note | The Origins of Midrash (Yitz Landes).
Paul D. Mandel,The Origins of Midrash: From Teaching to Text. Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism 180. Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2017.
Excerpt:
And yet, Paul Mandel argues in his recent book, The Origins of Midrash: From Teaching to Text, that midrash was not always—indeed, not originally—interpretation, as such. Rather, for much of antiquity, including during the early rabbinic period, the Semitic root d.r.sh referred to teaching—textual or otherwise. Mandel thus overturns the consensus understanding that early uses of the root d.r.sh refer to textual interpretation, and that only later was the root expanded to encompass teaching more generally.

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2019 Coptic and Syriac Summer School

ALIN SUCIU: Dumbarton Oaks/HMML Coptic and Syriac Summer School (July 7-August 2, 2019).
Upon the invitation of Fr. Columba Stewart, next summer I will teach an intensive Coptic course in the United States, together with my colleague, Victor Ghica (Norwegian School of Theology, Oslo). The course is funded by Dumbarton Oaks and will be hosted at HMML, Collegeville, Minnesota, between July 7 and August 2. The deadline for applications is February 15, so, if interested, there is still time to apply. We will do lots of Coptic literature and manuscripts! Here follows the official announcement.

[...]
Should be a good Summer School. I have linked often to Dr. Suciu's interesting blog posts on mostly Coptic matters.

You may recall that Fr. Columba Stewart is one of Iraq's heroic Manuscripts Men.

Cross-file under Coptic Watch and Syriac Watch.

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On graffiti (art)

HYPERALLERGIC: The Clandestine Cultural Knowledge of Ancient Graffiti. Today we are used to thinking of graffiti as subversive or illegal, but ancient people didn’t necessarily see graffiti in this way at all (Michael Press).
Whatever the definition, scholars love ancient graffiti. Whether painted or inscribed, made quickly or over some time, these texts and drawings provide glimpses of a world otherwise largely invisible to us. Many examples of graffiti (but certainly not all) were inscribed by ordinary people who may not have engaged in other types of writing, or they might reflect the everyday lives of people — elite and non-elite — that is otherwise only hinted at in literary and historical sources. ...
For the work of Karen Stern on ancient Jewish graffiti, mentioned in this essay, see here and links.

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