Saturday, April 19, 2003


"Archaeologists find coins from Bar Kochva era in Ein Gedi Reserve" (Jerusalem Post �requires free registration; via Archaeologica News

A wallet containing nine coins from the period of Bar Kochva was discovered in a small cave at the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve on the eastern periphery of the Judean Desert.

Thrilled archaeologists reported that amongst the find, three coins were minted by Jewish authorities from the period of Bar Kochva.

Haaretz has an article with a photograph of one of the coins:

"Bar Kochba era mint coins found in Ein Gedi Nature Reserve"

The BBC also has an article on the find (with a photo of a coin, but it doesn't say it's one of the discovered coins):

"Israeli caves yield ancient coins"
BUSY WEEKEND: family and social stuff, plus I have twenty-some essays from my Old Testament class to get started on, and the lawn kind of needs to be mowed. But I'll try to slip in a little blogging. The war seems to be winding down and I hope there will be no more major upheavals worth blogging on. I will still try to note interesting stories, but not with the same vigor as in the last week. Francis Deblauwe and Nicholas Postgate also have websites that are keeping track of media coverage of Iraq's antiquities. (Links via the wesite of Ralph W. Klein).

Meanwhile, here are some recent Iraq pieces:

"Why a Museum?"(Opinion Journal via Tim Blair)

"The history of Ur"(Christian Science Monitor)

"Taking Stock in Baghdad" (Archaeology Magazine)

"Iraq back on the tourist map" (London Times; requires paid registration outside the U.K.)

"The new dark age" (the Guardian)

"Editorial: Iraq's rebirth at biblical Ur" (The Globe and Mail)

"Pennsylvania archaeologists to help Iraq museum" (the Mercury News)

Friday, April 18, 2003


BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - "Next year," they say, "in Jerusalem."

The rallying cry of centuries of Jews is a fading echo this Passover in Baghdad, among a disappearing, dispirited remnant of an ancient and important Jewish community.

"Somebody used to know how to make 'seder'" - the traditional Passover dinner - "but not me," a sad young woman, at 37 one of youngest Iraqi Jews in Baghdad, said Thursday, first day of the seven-day holiday commemorating the Jews' flight to freedom from Egypt.


What of Baghdad's Jews? Will they leave now that they're freer to do so?

"They're too old," he [Sasson Salah] said. "I think in five years, at the most, there will be no Jews left in Baghdad."

If so, it will sound the knell for a community that stretches back millennia, to the "Babylonian captivity" of 10,000 Jews seized from the conquered kingdom of Judah and brought here in 597 B.C.
SADDAM AND NEBUCHADNEZZAR -- the end of the matter.

(From Day by Day).
A BOOK REVIEW from the Denver Journal:

Jobes, Karen H. and Mois�s Silva, Invitation to the Septuagint (Richard S. Hess)

As they picked through the smashed pottery and ransacked cabinets inside Iraq's National Museum this week, curators at the internationally famous facility noticed disturbing evidence that the worst thefts were not the work of random looters.

They found glass-cutting tools on the floor. Replica artifacts that the curators had switched with genuine treasures were left untouched in their display cases while the genuine artifacts that had been hidden in vaults were missing. The vaults had been opened with keys.

This suggests an organized heist that was likely planned in advance by conspirators outside Iraq, according to leading academics who gathered in Paris yesterday at the headquarters of UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Where did the looters get the keys?

Thursday, April 17, 2003


"UNESCO Chief Urges Iraqi Artifact Embargo" (Washington Post)

Looters had keys to Iraqi antiquity vaults (Baltimore Sun)

Israel Museum Announces Project to Restore and Upgrade Historic Shrine
Tuesday, April 1, 2003 � Monday, June 30, 2003

The Israel Museum

JERUSALEM, ( � Israel, Jerusalem, March 2003 - The Israel Museum, Jerusalem today announced plans to restore its Shrine of the Book, the building which houses the Dead Sea Scrolls, which are considered to be among the most important archeological treasures uncovered in the last century and perhaps the most important patrimonial treasures of the State of Israel and the Jewish people. The renovation project will refurbish the Shrine, ensuring an optimal environment for the preservation of the Dead Sea Scrolls and enhancing its display facilities to improve the experience of viewing the Scrolls. Construction begins on April 1, 2003, and will require that the Shrine remain closed to the public for approximately one year. During this time, treasures from the Shrine will be on display in a comprehensive exhibition, Envisioning the Temple: Scrolls, Stones, and Symbols, which opens on May 30, 2003, at the Israel Museum.

"Museum says theft planned" (Charlotte Observer)

"The thief of Baghdad" (Washington Times)

"Pilfered treasures a hard sell?" (News24)

"U.S., scholars spar on looting of artifacts" (Philadelphia Inquirer)

"Barbaric Iraq results" (Charleston Gazatte)

"Bush Panel Members Quit Over Looting" (Washington Post)

"Victims of Civic Passivity" (Washington Post)

"Museum Pillage Described as Devastating but Not Total" (New York Times)

"A Job for Unesco" (New York Times)

"An Army for Art" (New York Times)

I'm sure there's more, but that's all I have time to dig up right now. The UNESCO panel meets today in Paris. I'll post info as it comes it.
HAPPY PASSOVER! (And Easter, coming up. And - belatedly - vernal equinox for any neopagan readers. Etc.)

Wednesday, April 16, 2003


Some interesting editorials and articles can be found at the following links:

"Rumsfeld Denies U.S. Blame for Iraq Museum Plunder" (Reuters)

"Yale-driven petition aims to protect Iraq antiquities" (New Haven Register)

"Curators Appeal for a Ban on Purchase of Iraqi Artifacts" (New York Times)

"Plundered Iraqi treasures head for illegal market" (SwissInfo)

"How Iraq Can Recover its Plundered Treasures" (Pacific News Service)

"Ancient Conflict Played Out in Ur" (about a meeting of the Iraqi opposition at this ancient site, perhaps with an eye to its historical significance; Washington Post)
THE BRITISH NEW TESTAMENT SOCIETY now has a call for papers up for its September meeting in Birmingham. I am co-chair of the NT and Second Temple Judaism Seminar for the conference.
TC: A JOURNAL OF TEXTUAL CRITICISM has the following article in its most recent (2002) issue:

Johann Cook, The Translator(s) of the Septuagint of Proverbs

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

MUSEUM LOOTING THE WORK OF BAATHIST OFFICIALS? Kanan Makiya, an Iraqi dissident now back in Iraq, reports the following in his War Diary in the New Republic online (via Instapundit again:
I spoke by sat-phone with friends in Baghdad... One friend told me that the looting of the National Museum--something that cut deeply into me--was the work of newly deposed Baathist officials, who had been selling off our patrimony as they saw their days were numbered. As the regime fell, these (ex-)Baathists went back for one last swindle, and took with them treasures that dated back 9,000 years, to the Sumerians and the Babylonians. One final crime perpetrated by Saddam's thugs.

If true, this puts the whole episode in a rather different light.
PALEOJUDAICA BREAKS 1000! We're now at a little over 1000 visits since PaleoJudaica opened three weeks ago. Greetings new readers from Google and other searches! For more information on this blog see the "About PaleoJudaica" link to the right. Do come back. I sometimes even actually talk about ancient Judaism!
MORE EDITORIALS on the museum lootings by Michele Catalano, the "Mother of All Webloggers," from the Command Post Op/Ed page:

"a 7,000 year old text or a seven year old child?"

and in the Boston Globe:

"Crimes Against History"
UPDATE ON MASADA ANNIVERSARY: the news items I mentioned yesterday appear to have been wrong. According to Josephus, the fall of Masada was on 15 Nisan (either 73 or 74 C.E.), which this year is this Thursday, 17 April (also the first day of Passover). You can read Josephus' account of the fall of Masada by following this link to book VII of the Jewish War and starting at chapter 8.
@�&*$^*% BLOGGER froze my screen three times this afternoon and is now refusing to publish more than a screen at a time. I'll have more when they get the problem fixed.
IN DEFENSE OF THE TROOPS AND THE LOOTERS (from the New York Post, again via Instapundit). Some excerpts:

As Col. Eric Wesley, executive officer of the 3rd Infantry's 2nd brigade (the mechanized unit that was the first to reach Baghdad and which controls most of the city), said yesterday, "You've got to look at the looting in the context of almost 30 years of oppression. It's orderly. It's mostly directed at government buildings, and it has already attenuated to a significant degree."

Capt. Greg Robertson of the 4th Battalion, 64th Armored Regiment, explains the true situation in detail: "To say there that there is anarchy is not true, to say that there is looting is true. But if we shot looters, we'd be shooting women and children left and right."


In the meantime, real stories have been missed or swamped - including the true security situation here in the city, which is far more tenuous than the anti-American left or celebratory right seem to understand. Says Capt. Greg Robertson, "Baghdad is 'under control,' but it is not 'secured' in a technical military sense. (The definition of 'secured' is when you can maintain maneuverability in all areas without opposition.)"


That's why the American forces here cannot devote more troops to police work in liberated areas, and why they deem the city unsafe for the return of relief agencies.

Yes, even the most benign and directed looting can quickly turn ugly - and some of it is indeed quite awful (obviously, the looting of the National Museum and Library is a tragedy). Still, you can surely forgive the people of Baghdad for taking advantage of the disappearance of a brutal and oppressive state to (in the words of Col. Willie Williams) "take back some of what had been stolen from them."

As I said earlier, I can see this, although I am glad that the locals are displaying adaptability - as Neal Stephenson would say - in finding ways to restore order (see previous post).
THE British Museum, accused in the past of being one of the world�s leading looters of imperial treasures, is to come to the aid of a sister institution devastated by war.

Downing Street has asked a leading academic from Britain�s national archaeological collection in Bloomsbury to draw up a list of antiquities that may have been looted from the Baghdad museum so that details can be distributed to soldiers patrolling the borders of Iraq.

Iraq�s priceless national collection traced the origins of modern civilisation in ancient Mesopotamia - the birthplace of writing, cities, codified law, mathematics, medicine and astronomy. Its virtual destruction in little more than a day of lawlessness is seen as a disaster comparable to the 5th-century destruction of the library at Alexandria, or an earlier sacking of Baghdad by the Mongols in 1258.

The pillage of the collection is considered to be not just Iraq�s loss but the world�s, and has distressed Western archaeologists and historians as much as those in Iraq. One � Professor John Russell, of the Massachusetts College of Art, in Boston - broke down in tears yesterday as he described the treasures lost.

There are hopes, however, that at least some of the collection may be recovered if the looters can be intercepted before they leave Iraq.

The United States will take a "leading role" in protecting Iraqi antiquities and will help to repair damage to artefacts and the National Museum of Iraq, which was looted last week, Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, said.

"The United States will be working with a number of individuals and organisations not only to secure the facility, but to recover that which has been taken and also to participate in restoring that which has been broken.

"The United States understands its obligations and will be taking a leading role with respect to antiquities in general, but this museum in particular."


"Muslims save Baghdad's Jewish community centre from looters" (via Instapundit):
Iraqi Muslims came to the aid of Baghdad's tiny Jewish community yesterday, chasing out looters trying to sack its cultural centre in the heart of the capital.

"At 3am, I saw two men, one with a beard, on the roof of the Jewish community house and I cried out to my friend, 'Hossam, bring the Kalashnikovs!'" said Hassam Kassam, 21.

Heither Hassan nor Hossam, who is the guard at the centre, was armed at the time but the threat worked in scaring off the intruders.

Two hours later, the looters returned again and Hassan Kassem used the trick once more.

and Lysistrata vs. the looters (via the Command Post):
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Some people are surrendering the booty they took in the Dura district of Baghdad, perhaps in response to a rumored edict by a Muslim cleric forbidding Iraqi wives from having sex with looter husbands.

Muslim clerics have been demanding that ill-gotten goods be surrendered, though none here could confirm the sex-ban order, said to have been issued in Najaf. One cleric said the rumor of the edict was widespread and that it would be consistent with Islamic teaching.

It seems the Iraqis are coming up with creative strategies for solving their own problems. Bully for them.

Monday, April 14, 2003

ONE MORE: According to and other sources, tonight (14 April) is the anniversary of the suicides of the defenders of Masada (at least according to Josephus) in the early 70s C.E.
BLAIR COMMENTS ON LOOTED MUSEUM in an address to Parliament (from Voice of AmericaNews):
Mr. Blair also expressed concern about the looting of Baghdad's archeological museum, and he said efforts are on to deal with the problem.

"There is a conference happening this Thursday at which the director of the British Museum will attend in order to see what we can do and of course we will also be making provisions to make sure that no stolen works of art can come onto the market," he said. "So we will do everything we possibly can in relation to this and we understand that it is a serious responsibility for us."

UNESCO also hopes to enter Iraq soon to assess the damage (from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation). There is a meeting in Paris scheduled for Thursday (from Reuters) - presumably the one the Prime Minister refers to above.

Meanwhile, "US Forces and Iraqis Begin Joint Patrols of Baghdad" (from the New York Times).

Enough for now! Goodnight.

"U.S. 'WILL REPAIR' IRAQI HERITAGE" (from the BBC via the Command Post):
The United States has pledged to recover and repair the priceless antiquities looted from Iraq's national museum in the wake of the entry of US troops.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said the Baghdad museum was "one of the great museums in the world" and that the US would take a leading role in restoring it.

Read the whole thing, as the saying goes.

Grossfield, Bernard
Schiffman, Lawrence H., ed.
Targum Neofiti 1: An Exegetical Commentary to Genesis, Including Full Rabbinic Parallels

Rowland, Christopher
Christian Origins: The Setting and Character of the Most Important Messianic Sect of Judaism

Roddy, Nicolae
The Romanian Version of the Testament of Abraham: Text, Translation, and Cultural Context


These links have some commentary on the looting of the Baghdad Museum:

The Independent
FindLaw's Legal Commentary
Interview with Donald Rumsfeld which discusses the looting
The Guardian
The Washinton Post

They are generally much harder on the U.S. troops than I have been. I think I agree with the comment of art historian John Russell in the Washington Post:
"I wasn't there [when the looting took place], and I don't know what the situation was, but I do know what's at stake," Russell said. "The need for policing should have been obvious. If it was impossible to do, then I'm sympathetic; if it wasn't, then I'm really irritated."

There needs to be an investigation.

A small positive note from the Guardian article:

Books seemed to have escaped, and in a remote corner a few Islamic manuscripts and even some Hebrew texts remained unscathed. So too do the items in basements the looters failed to penetrate.

This is the only item of good news, though the museum staff were unwilling to say exactly what was saved, perhaps for fear of prompting more looting.

And, finally, some indication from Fox News that the situation in Baghdad is improving:
BAGHDAD, Iraq - With lawlessness easing in Baghdad, several hundred Iraqi policemen volunteered Monday to take part in joint patrols with U.S. troops to quell looting and violence in the capital.

Sunday, April 13, 2003


The New York Times reports

American archaeologists said that they had lost contact with their Iraqi colleagues in recent weeks. The last they had heard was that several antiquities officials and researchers had barricaded themselves in the Baghdad museum. They had hidden some of the most precious artifacts elsewhere, and protected others with sandbags.

My emphasis. Let's hope that at least the hidden items are still secure.
A PROFILE OF BIBLICAL SCHOLAR AMY-JILL LEVINE is in the Denver Post. Last week Professor Levine was the speaker for the Theologian in Residence program, a consortium in Kansas. Professor Levine,
a self-described "Yankee Jewish feminist who teaches in a predominantly Protestant divinity school in the buckle of the Bible Belt," is committed to exposing anti-Jewish, sexist and heterosexist theologies.

Read it all.

A civilisation torn to pieces

Baghdad, reports Robert Fisk, is a city at war with itself, at the mercy of thieves and gunmen. And, in the city's most important museum, something truly terrible has taken place

13 April 2003

They lie across the floor in tens of thousands of pieces, the priceless antiquities of Iraq's history. The looters had gone from shelf to shelf, systematically pulling down the statues and pots and amphorae of the Assyrians and the Babylonians, the Sumerians, the Medes, the Persians and the Greeks and hurling them on to the concrete.

Our feet crunched on the wreckage of 5,000-year-old marble plinths and stone statuary and pots that had endured every siege of Baghdad, every invasion of Iraq throughout history only to be destroyed when America came to "liberate" the city. The Iraqis did it. They did it to their own history, physically destroying the evidence of their own nation's thousands of years of civilisation.

Not since the Taliban embarked on their orgy of destruction against the Buddhas of Bamiyan and the statues in the museum of Kabul perhaps not since the Second World War or earlier have so many archaeological treasures been wantonly and systematically smashed to pieces.

Lots more information in the article, but this gives you the general picture. I've been thinking all morning about what to say about this. [Blogger was down this morning so I'm posting in the afternoon.] I am profoundly saddened by the loss of all these precious relics. But I also don't think that Robert Fisk, is being very fair in his analysis (nothing new there). I don't exactly blame the looters: they're going after anything that represents the Baathist government to them and not being very discriminating about it. And perhaps they're running amok beyond that � it's hard to tell from the news reports. If we'd spent decades under a ruthless dictatorship, I'm not sure we'd be behaving much differently. So what exactly are the American troops supposed to be doing about the looting? I hardly think that putting one tank and two soldiers in front of the museum would have prevented it- as suggested by the deputy director of the museum according to today's London Times (requires paid registration outside the U.K.), unless those soldiers were prepared to shoot the looters � but current rules of engagement have"prohibited the use of deadly force to prevent looting", and rightly so. The antiquities are not worth the price of even a single human life. Allied forces are trying to recruit local leaders to help, but many of these are tainted by past connections (as Fisk points out). I see very little, if anything, that could have been done to prevent the looting in the short term, and it's the short term in which the massive damage is being done. The bottom line, in my humble opinion, is that this is yet another consequence of the evil of Saddam and the Baathists, and if it's part of the price of liberating the Iraqi people from them, then it's worth it. I say that with a heavy heart indeed.

What do you think?