Saturday, September 13, 2003

HANAN ESHEL reports that he may have found a Qumran text that tells a different version of the Aqedah (Genesis 22, the binding of Isaac), one in which God did not order Isaac to be sacrificed. Jim West on Ioudaios-L points to this Star Telegram article on the Dallas "Dead Sea Scrolls to the Forbidden Book" exhibit. The relevant passage reads:

The center has designed one gallery room to look like a cave. The tiny, darkened fragments hang in frames above infrared photographs that reveal their original text. Noted archaeologist and scholar Hanan Eshel of Bar-Ilan University in Israel studied these fragments of the books of Genesis and Isaiah that are on display.

In one fragment, Eshel believes he may have discovered an ancient commentary on Chapter 22 of Genesis that contradicts the traditional interpretation of God ordering Abraham to sacrifice his son Issac. In other words, Eshel said, he now believes that God may not have asked Abraham to sacrifice his son.

"God called Isaac 'My son,' not 'your son,' " Eshel said. "This is the first time we have found this distinction."

The passage sounds interesting, but without seeing it all in context it's hard to tell how likely the proposed interpretation is. (It's interesting, isn't it, that the echo of Gen 22:2 in Mark 1:11 also has God saying "my beloved son," although in this case the change in possessive pronoun seems to come from the influence of Psalm 2:7.) The article has more information on the exhibit and several photos of ancient manuscripts.

Also, here's an article from 5 September in the North Texas Daily about another lecture by Eshel in Texas, this one about his archaeological work on the Bar Kokhba era. Excerpt:

Eshel began his work in 1986, the same time that the Israeli Cave Research Center was founded. A small comb was found in a cave north of Jericho, spurring further research into the caves. To date, Eshel's discoveries include 19 Greek and Aramaic economical documents, several coins and skeletal remains.

Eshel primarily studies areas of Israel associated with the Bar Kokhba Revolt in A.D. 135. Jewish rebels fled from Roman armies and into desert caves, only to die of starvation or at Roman hands. "Although I'm dealing with a catastrophe that happened more than 1,900 years ago, the struggles of the 20th century make me feel connected to struggles in the past," Eshel said.

Past excavations focused on religious artifacts, and Eshel said he believes what he found sheds even more light on the lives of the people that lived at that time. "We will never know exactly what happened from [A.D.] 132 to 135, but you can still learn history from economical documents," Eshel said.

The most recent excavation took place late 2002 in Ein Gedi, Israel. Eshel and his team found several coins, arrows, pots and two Greek documents.

Eshel said he has no immediate plans for another excavation, but there is still more work to be done. "There are still illegal excavations, and I'm always afraid of looters." He has a license to survey Ein Gedi and keeps a close eye on possible discoveries.

By the way, Jim West's web page, which sends me a lot of traffic, has changed its address. The new address is