Wednesday, May 07, 2003

MORE ON OIL MINISTRY: scroll down to the update on yesterday's post.
TODAY IS THE ANNIVERSARY OF THE FOUNDING OF THE LIBRARY OF ALEXANDRIA, at least according to the Egypt State Information Service. They don�t give an ancient source and I have no idea if we actually know even the year it was founded, let alone the day, but this is a good excuse to round up some things on the Library. Here�s a great website on the Library of Alexandria for a course on Greek science at Tufts University. There is a new library in Alexandria meant to emulate the ancient one, and it is discussed in this National Geographic article. There is also an online Digital Library of Alexandria under construction. According to the legend in the Letter of Aristeas, King Ptolemy II (285-247 B.C.E.) ordered the librarian, Demetrius of Phalerum, to commission a translation of the Pentateuch in Greek. This was done by seventy-two translators from Palestine in seventy-two days. The story was written long after the fact, but most specials seem at least to accept the third-century date for the translation of the Pentateuch.

The main library was destroyed, apparently accidentally, by Julius Caesar in a battle with Pompey. The associated library of the Temple of Serapis may have survived much longer and there are various legends about its destruction. Evaluations of the evidence for the destruction of the Library of Alexandria can be found here, here, and here.

Tuesday, May 06, 2003


An embedded reporter denies that the Ministry of Oil was protected by American troops while looting went on elsewhere.

"Bad Reporting in Baghdad" (The Weekly Standard)
From the May 12, 2002 issue: You have no idea how well things are going.
by Jonathan Foreman
05/12/2003, Volume 008, Issue 34


More irritating is the myth constantly repeated by antiwar columnists that the military let the city be destroyed--in particular the hospitals and the national museum--while guarding the Ministry of Oil. The museum looting is turning out to have been grotesquely exaggerated. And there is no evidence for the ministry of oil story. Depending on the article, the Marines had either a tank or a machine gun nest outside the ministry. Look for a photo of that tank or that machine gun nest and you'll look in vain. And even if the Marines had briefly guarded the oil ministry it would have been by accident: The Marines defended only the streets around their own headquarters and so-called Areas of Operation. Again, though, given the pro-regime sources favored by so many of the press corps huddled in the Palestine Hotel, it's not surprising that this rumor became gospel.


Jonathan Foreman is a correspondent for the New York Post, embedded with the Scout Platoon of the 4th Battalion, 64th Armored Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division in Baghdad.

UPDATE (7 May): Andras Reidlmayer has a post to the IraqCrisis list which collects photographs and evidence that the Oil Ministry was hit by a U.S. airstrike and then looted on 9 April but occupied from that afternoon on by U.S. Marines. There was at least one tank there sometime before Baghdad fell.

US soldiers take up positions outside the burning Oil Ministry in Baghdad before the city fell to coalition forces(AFP/File/Ramzi Haidar )

Sat Apr 12, 2:50 AM ET

US soldiers take up positions outside the burning Oil Ministry in Baghdad before the city fell to coalition forces(AFP/File/Ramzi Haidar )

THE WEB PAGE OF ROBERT DEUTSCH has lots of goodies including the texts of articles he has published in peer-review journals back as far as the 1980s. Some recent ones of interest include:

"A Lead Weight of Hadrian: The Prototype for the Bar Kokhba Weights" (originally published in Israel Numismatic Journal Vol. 14, 2000-2, Pp 125-128)

"A Lead Weight of Shimon Bar Kokhba"
(originally published in Israel Exploration Journal Volume 51, Number 1, 2001, Pp 96-9)

"Five Unrecorded 'Yehud' Silver Coins" (originally published in Israel Numismatic Journal #13, 1994-1999, Pp 25-6)

(via Bible and Interpretation)

Monday, May 05, 2003


"Most antiquities feared lost in looting found intact in museum" (Austin American-Statesman)

By Christine Spolar
Sunday, May 4, 2003

BAGHDAD � The vast majority of the Iraqi trove of antiquities feared stolen or broken have been found inside the National Museum in Baghdad, according to American investigators who compiled an inventory over the weekend of the ransacked galleries.

A total of 38 pieces, not tens of thousands, are now believed to be missing. Among them is a single display of Babylonian cuneiform tablets that accounts for nine missing items.

As the byline says, the article originated in the Chicago Tribune (I've verified this from their website, although I'm not registered and so cannot actually access the article there). I hope this news is true, but I think it will be weeks or more before we get a clear idea of the damage and in the meantime we should be skeptical of all such reports, positive or negative.

UPDATE (3:02 pm): That was the positive; here's the negative. Same comments apply:

"Experts Despair of Iraq's Stopping Loss of Relics" (New York Times)


NASIRIYA, Iraq, May 4 � The ransacking of the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad last month may have prompted urgent calls for a clampdown on trafficking in Iraqi antiquities, but Iraqi and American officials concede that it will be almost impossible to prevent the continued illegal export of treasures from ancient Mesopotamian sites.

The immediate focus is on trying to recover what was stolen from the museum, but in the rare roadblocks still operated by American and British troops here, the search is for weapons, not for antiquities. The only success to date came when a unit of the Iraq National Congress stopped a truck and found a steel case containing 453 small objects taken from the museum.


"What happened to the Iraq museum is only the tip of the iceberg," said Jean-Marie Durand, a French archaeologist. "For years, the whole country has been looted. At Larsa, the site was turned over by a bulldozer. It looked like the moon."


The resulting traffic, in the main in small pieces that generally sell for hundreds, or at most a few thousand, dollars, is profitable because the cost of looting is minimal, and a large turnover is possible. Mesopotamian antiquities of greater value, on the other hand, are more likely to be noticed by museums or archaeologists if they are put on sale publicly at, say, auctions.

The antiquities dealer in my banner ad was advertising a cuneiform tablet and an Aramaic incantation bowl.

�Sabean Mandeans pray for peace in Iraq" (Middle East Online, UK)

On banks of Tigris, Sabeans praying for suffering in war, for future Iraq that must retake path of unity, democracy.

By Beatriz Lecumberri - BAGHDAD
Just off the banks of the Tigris River in the heart of Baghdad's old city lies the temple of Sabean Mandeans, a tiny community that despite its reclusiveness has been hit hard by the war.

In a rite of purification, Sabean Mandeans with long beards, white tunics and rustic sandals immersed themselves up to their waists in water.

"Thirty-three of our followers were killed in the American air strikes. They were civilians who were at home," temple priest Ala Dehle Kama recalled with clear bitterness.

The dead, he explained, had parted the world without receiving their final baptism, a ritual of utmost significance as it is supposed to bring the follower out of suffering and into the light.

For Kama, the Sabean Mandeans are praying not only for their dead, but for all who suffered in the war, and for a future Iraq that must "retake the path of unity and democracy."


"Collectors, archaeologists debate who should own nation's history" (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

Interesting article that discusses whether antiquities should be kept solely in their country of origin or dispersed for safety among many countries. Iraq is the focus, but many of the issues apply readily to biblical or ancient Jewish antiquities.

Great. Now my blog is hawking antiquities in the banner ad. Please remember I have no control over these ads!

Lehrhaus Judaica, an adult school for Jewish studies, has online courses (i.e., a series of written and illustrated lectures) on "Fifty Years of the Dead Sea Scrolls" and "A Journey Through Jerusalem," both by by Jehon Grist, Ph.D. I've skimmed through them and both look like useful resources for students and nonspecialists. (Via the Rutgers University Virtual Religion Index)

Sunday, May 04, 2003


I've already mentioned SAVAE, the San Antonio Vocal Arts Ensemble, who have theories about ancient Jewish music and who have tried to recreate such music in their own CD, Ancient Echoes. Now National Public Radio has a piece on them (which our St. Mary's postgraduate Bruce Hansen was kind enough to point out to me):

Music from the Time of Jesus
Ensemble Recreates Sacred Songs of Ancient Times

The article includes a link to an audio interview that gives a taste of the music. (You may need to download the free software to hear the audio.) Some of it sounds more like church liturgical music than I would expect for the first century, but I can't claim to know anything about ancient Jewish musicology. Interesting stuff, anyway.

Saturday, May 03, 2003


"Monuments Recall Another Empire That Ignored Writing on the Wall" (New York Times)

A thoughtful essay by Alan Riding on how ancient Babylon had become a symbol of Saddam's regime to the people of Iraq, including the looters.

An Introduction to Aramaic
Greenspahn, Frederick (Review of Biblical Literature)

Philip S. Alexander and Geza Vermes, Qumran Cave 4, XIX: Serekh Ha-Yahad and Two Related Texts (Dennis Pardee) p. 132

Frank Moore Cross, From Epic to Canon: History and Literature in Ancient Israel (Dennis Pardee) p. 133

(both from the latest issue of the Journal of Near Eastern Studies. You have to open the PDF review file and then scroll down to the proper page.)

Friday, May 02, 2003

THE INSTITUTE OF MICROFILMED HEBREW MANUSCRIPTS has a website. In the past I have gotten microfilms of medieval Hekhalot manuscripts from them and Dr. Richler has always been very helpful. For those interested in such things, there is also an e-mail discussion list on Hebrew manuscripts to which I subscribe. Its message volume is low and generally pretty technical. It has a website and there is also an old page with an announcement of its inception which is a little more informative. (Scroll about three-quarters of the way down the page or do a page search for "Rabbi Yehoshua Scult".)

Thursday, May 01, 2003


"Loss Estimates Are Cut on Iraqi Artifacts, but Questions Remain" (New York Times via Iraqcrisis)

The bottom line is that fewer antiquites were lost from the Baghdad Museum (and elsewhere) than originally thought, although no one yet knows what the actual number is. Some items have been returned by looters and some were removed by staff before the war and are in safe hands. The actual number is somewhere between the extremes given above. I hope it turns out to be closer to the lower number!

Also, check out this site from the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology:

The Cultural Heritage of Iraq

"Gilgamesh tomb believed found" (BBC, via Archaeologica News)

Archaeologists in Iraq believe they may have found the lost tomb of King Gilgamesh - the subject of the oldest "book" in history.

The Epic Of Gilgamesh - written by a Middle Eastern scholar 2,500 years before the birth of Christ - commemorated the life of the ruler of the city of Uruk, from which Iraq gets its name.

Now, a German-led expedition has discovered what is thought to be the entire city of Uruk - including, where the Euphrates once flowed, the last resting place of its famous King.

Maybe. I can't remember anything about Gilgamesh being buried in the Euphrates and I can't find anything about this in the Epic. But it sounds as though they're finding lots of interesting things anyway.

What, you ask, does this have to do with ancient Judaism? Well, the Gilgamesh Epic has a Flood story with parallels to both the J and P versions of the Flood, and the Priestly writer comes in the PaleoJudaic time period. Plus, a Sumerian Gilgamesh fragment quotes the same proverb as Qoheleth 4:4b, and Qoheleth's advice in 9:9-10 is strikingly similar to the advice of Siduri the barmaid to Gilgamesh in Tablet X iii, at least showing that some of Qoheleth's ideas have a background in Gilgamesh material. And Gilgamesh himself appears as a giant in the Aramaic Book of Giants from Qumran (for a summary of which, follow this link).

So there!