Friday, December 31, 2004

ED COOK recounts the story of the appearance and eventual purchase of the ivory pomegranate. The question Stephen Carlson asks in the comment also occurred to me.

Here's another. In my exchange with Lawrence Mykytiuk over unprovenanced bullae (inscribed clay seals) I asked when the "monster forgery machine" started operation. At the time available information pointed to the 1980s, but if Lemaire saw the inscribed ivory pomegranate in an antiquities shop in 1979, it appears that sophisticated forgers were active as far back as the 1970s. If we follow Larry Schiffman's dictum "The most exciting things are the things most likely to be forged," what other important inscriptions need to be looked at again? Should the Avigad bullae be reauthenticated? Mykytiuk wrote to me in August:
Since then, it has become difficult indeed to find any experienced, senior epigrapher who seriously doubts the authenticity of the first-known bulla of Berekyahu. How many can you name? What reasons do they give?

None. But the same could have been said until very recently about the ivory pomegranate, and that Baruch bulla certainly counts as one of the "most exciting things." Clearly we can no longer rely upon authentications from the 1980s and 1990s. As I've said before, I don't keep up much with Northwest Semitic epigraphy any more, so I'm asking those who do. Which are the exciting inscriptions we need to look at again? How do we go about reautheticating them? What new questions need to be asked about lapidary inscriptions, bullae, papyri, etc.?

If you want realtime expert commentary on the forgery scandal as it unfolds, keep an eye on Ralph the Sacred River and Serving the Word.
SETH SANDERS comments on the forgery scandal and promises to tell us in the next installment "why this may not really be the problem at all." I'm not entirely sure what "this" is (the forgery scandal itself?), but his next post should be interesting.
THE APOCRYPHAL GOSPELS are the subject of this popular article from Cox News Service. It summarizes some of the more outrageous episodes in them.
ALEXANDER THE GREAT KNEW HEBREW? And Babylonian? Today's New York Times has an article on Alexander ("The World of Alexander Was Rich and Beautiful Even Before the Movies") by Wendy Moonan, which is based on an interview with Professor Dimitrios Pandermalis. In it she says in passing (my emphasis),
Alexander grew up in the Macedonian court, which once welcomed Euripides the playwright and Pindar the poet. There he met visitors from all over the known world: Persia, Egypt, Crete, Sicily and the Dardanelles. Philip II hired Aristotle to tutor Alexander at age 14 in Greek, Hebrew, Babylonian and Latin, rhetoric and justice. From him Alexander probably acquired his lifelong love of learning and openness to foreign cultures.

Surely this is a misunderstanding. Aristotle was a good Greek who would have disdained the idea of learning a foreign language. Although it wouldn't surprise me if Alexander later picked up enough Aramaic to get along (it was the diplomatic language of the Persian empire), and it's conceivable that he even learned a little Babylonian (i.e., Akkadian) along the way, I don't know of any positive evidence that he knew either. And I think it's vanishingly unlikely that he knew Hebrew. Any classicists want to comment?

UPDATE: David Meadows agrees and notes that the reference to Latin is equally improbable. But I'm not sure that Professor Pandermalis should be blamed; he's not being quoted here and the problems may be due to the reporter attempting to fill in background.

I suppose it's useful to close the year with a reminder that in 2004 the mainstream media remained without a clue about ancient history.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: This Ha'aretz article ("Doomsday scenarios") gives an overview of the security nightmare that is the Temple Mount. Hard to excerpt, but here's a bit:
On the face of it, the Shin Bet and the police should now be experiencing a sense of deja vu. Once again Jewish fundamentalists are talking about an attack on the Temple Mount in messianic terms, as a means to achieve a political goal. In the 1980s, the idea was to prevent the withdrawal from Sinai; today they want to scuttle the disengagement plan. But the Jewish Division (an operational unit in the branch to foil terrorism and prevent Jewish and foreign subversion) can only envy Hazak and his colleagues, and not only because they succeeded in foiling two attempts to attack the Temple Mount (the second was almost negligible, by a group of newly religious and eccentric criminals from Jerusalem's "Lifta Gang"). Today, the Shin Bet has to cope with the zealots of the third millennium - the "hilltop youth" in the West Bank.

"There is a fundamental difference in the worldview of the hallucinatories among the hilltop youth who want to destroy the mosques, and the members of the Jewish underground back then," the senior defense official explains. "The members of the underground considered themselves part of the state and thought they would help the state with their acts. The hilltop youth are from a different world - bolder, more determined, and do not view themselves as being part of the state. On the contrary, they are divorced from Israeli society."

Read it all.
Museums Advised to Check Bible-Era Relics

Associated Press Writer

Experts advised world museums to re-examine their Bible-era relics after Israel indicted four collectors and dealers on charges of forging items thought to be some of the most important artifacts discovered in recent decades.


Ed Cook puts it well:
The implications of these indictments, especially if followed by convictions, are enormous. It is not an overstatement to say that biblical archaeology may require a generation of disciplined, rigorous re-examination of all unprovenanced epigraphic material in order to be regarded again as a scientific discipline.

Read his whole post.

UPDATE: Here's a list of the artifacts claimed to be forgeries. So far.
MEMORABLE PALEOJUDAICA POSTS: This time of year many bloggers like to post retrospective comments on the past year. As before, I'm inclined to wait for these until PaleoJudaica's anniversary in March. But in order not to be a complete New Year's Scrooge, I've set up a new link on the links page to the right: Memorable PaleoJudaica Posts. Under it I've collected what I think are the best and most interesting posts since the blog started. It happens to have come out to seven for 2003 and seven for 2004, although I didn't plan it that way. Have a look, and if you think I've missed anything really notable, please drop me a note and remind me of it so I can consider it.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

RESISTANCE IS FUTILE: Seth Sanders has been assimilated to the Blogosphere. His new blog is Serving the Word: "The Hebrew Bible and related matters ancient and modern, through the lenses of philology, anthropological linguistics and political theology." (Via Ralph.)

You will be assimilated.
LENINGRAD CODEX ONLINE: Reader Ted Blakley e-mails:
You mentioned in a recent blog that you were going to be updating your links pages. You may already be familiar with this site but I just became aware of it today through an email sent to B-Hebrew by Christopher V. Kimball. If you aren't familiar with it, it's the electronic version of the Lenigrad Codex in Unicode/XML format. It is searchable and the thing that I really liked about it was how customizable it is. You can view the text with or without vowel points, with or without accents. You can choose verse mode or chapter mode, change the size of the fonts, etc. (And if you are using Mozilla Firefox it displays the Hebrew with fewer problems than other browsers).

I'll add this to the links page along with some other things sometime in the next few days. By the way, thanks to Ed Cook's helpful suitable-for-an-idiot advice, I seem to have gotten the Unicode Hebrew and Greek fonts working on my home system.
THE ASIAN TSUNAMI DISASTER has left me without anything useful to say, apart from - for what it's worth - "I'm sorry." Ed Cook and Mark Goodacre have information on contributing to the disaster relief. As for theological reflections, I can't do better than Roger Kamenetz.

UPDATE: The above was not in response to anyone else's comments. To reiterate what I've already said in the About page, I blog on what I please, when I please, for my own reasons, entirely at my whim and according to my own standards. Anyone who has a problem with that is welcome to go and read another blog.
ARAMAIC WATCH: Some good news from Iraq regarding Aramaic and Hebrew studies, relayed by an Assyrian-American (Chicago Tribune via AINA):
Allow me one small example of why nearly two-thirds of Iraqis have consistently told the pollsters that they expect life will be improving in their country. When I studied at the University of Baghdad [in the early 1980s], Hussein had banned the study of the Assyrian native language, Aramaic/Syriac. This is the language that Jesus spoke. Many Americans heard it for the first time in Mel Gibson's film, "The Passion of the Christ." Assyrians around the world were thrilled to hear their language used to tell this redemptive story. And now, there is a resurrection of sorts for our language in Iraq with a new department of Syriac language at the University of Baghdad. And alongside it is a new Hebrew department, the other ancient and revered language banned by Hussein.
ODED GOLAN and three others have been indicted on forgery charges in Israel:
4 indicted on charges of antiquities fraud
12/29/2004, 10:01 a.m. CT
The Associated Press

JERUSALEM (AP) � Israeli authorities indicted four antique dealers and collectors Wednesday on charges of running a sophisticated forgery ring that created a trove of fake biblical artifacts, including some hailed as among the most important archaeological objects ever uncovered in the region.

The forged treasures include an ivory pomegranate touted by scholars as the only relic from Solomon's Temple, an ossuary that reputedly held the bones of James, Jesus' brother, and a stone tablet with inscriptions on how to maintain the Jewish Temple, officials said.

"During the last 20 years, many archaeological items were sold, or an attempt was made to sell them, in Israel and in the world, that were not actually antiques," the indictment said. "These items, many of them of great scientific, religious, sentimental, political and economic value, were created specifically with intent to defraud."

The 27-page indictment charges Israeli collector Oded Golan, along with Robert Deutsch, Shlomo Cohen and Faiz al-Amaleh, on 18 counts including forgery, receiving fraudulent goods and damaging antiquities. Deutsch is an inscriptions expert who teaches at Haifa University.


Now, with any luck, we will get to the bottom of this unpleasant business.
2004 IS THE 800TH ANNIVERSARY of the death of Maimonides (as noted here and here). In commemoration, the Jewish National and University Library has published digitized copies of some Maimonides manuscripts and early editions.
Writings of Maimonides
Manuscripts and Early Printed Editions

The site requires the use of a special viewer, which must be downloaded.

(Noted by Benjamin Richler on the H-Judaic List.)

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

My thanks to Rua da Judiaria for naming my blog on his "Magen David'Ouro Os Melhores Blogs de 2004." I appreciate the boost - now, can you tell me what this means in Portuguese?

PaleoJudaica was named in the same Rua da Judiaria post (noted here). I've linked to a Google translation, but meanwhile a few days ago Claude Detienne e-mailed the following translation:
Golden Star of David
The best 2004 blogs

I had promised to myself not to make any assessment of the year in the Judiaria, especially because here we are already in the year 5765 which began on the last 15th of September, but, after a bit of thinking... I thought it was worth to make known the blogs I consider the best of 2004, a distinction guided by the most absolute subjectivity. It is worth what it is worth: the guarantee of my continuous daily visits.

Thanks Claude. Also, regarding the Google translation, Carla Sulzbach e-mailed "It is reassuring to see that Google knows to leave Magen David in Portuguese intact." Then she points to this Google translation of a German site which transmogrifies "magen David" repeatedly into "stomach David."
MORE ON M. R. JAMES from Ed Cook over at Ralph.
ISLAM, HISTORY, AND MYTHOLOGY: Al Jazeerah recently published a long and very interesting article by Zeeshan Hasan on the history of the theology of the afterlife in the Bible and early Christianity, with special reference to its implications for the Qu'ran and Islam. I was busy when it came out and by the time I could come back to it I couldn't find it any more. But it's been reprinted by MuslimWakeUp!:
Myth Over History: Jesus and the Development of Afterlife Beliefs in the Abrahamic Traditions

The piece discusses the history of belief in the afterlife from the earliest texts in the Hebrew Bible, through the New Testament, and into the first few centuries of Christianity. The approach is historical critical and, although it sometimes oversimplifies problems (for example, by leaving the Enoch literature out of the discussion of the origins of apocalyptic thought), it's a good-faith effort to portray the situation accurately. The payoff is especially interesting. The author argues that the Qur'an made creative use of mythological themes from the earlier religions and therefore not every statement in it need be taken as literally historical:
The above discussion has important consequences for Muslim views of both culture and orthodoxy. Islam holds the Qur'an to be divine revelation; so we cannot accept the assertions of Western scholars that the Qur'anic positions on Jesus and the identity of all previous revelations are due to ignorance of history on Muhammad's part. In fact, we can find alternative explanations.

As we have seen, the Qur'anic picture of Jesus does not correspond to the historical reconstruction of Jesus as apocalyptic preacher, as the Qur'an retains traditional elements of the story such as the virgin birth and Jesus as logos/'Word' which are later Christian theological developments.

However, here we need to ask the question of why the Qur'an talks about Jesus at all. In fact, the reason the Qur'an talks about Jesus is to link Muhammad's message with the religion and culture of Christianity, which was already known and respected in Arabia. In establishing this link, the Jesus of the historians is irrelevant; what is necessary is the Jesus of Christian mythology. It is through mythology and not history that religion and culture is expressed.

It is the narrow-mindedness of our modern perspective which leads us to expect history, precisely because we have forgotten how to respect cultures and their mythologies. Fundamentalists typically deride culture for its implicit inclusion of many different traditions and consequent �impurity� in Islamic terms; but the Qur'an itself is showing its respect for earlier Christian culture and mythology by largely accepting it and rejecting only one of its many claims�the divinity of Jesus.

The historical lack of belief in afterlife on the part of previous prophets is likewise a problem of our current mindset. The unfortunate fact is that we are conditioned to think of religion in terms of orthodoxy, and thus we perceive a problem whenever we cannot find that orthodoxy. But the fact that the Qur'an asserts the identity of the messages of all prophets means that the Qur'an is not interested in asserting any kind of historical orthodoxy. Rather, the Qur'an is interested in asserting a continuity of the Judeo-Christian-Muslim traditions regardless of the lack of historical orthodoxy on afterlife. As in the case of the Qur'anic story of Jesus, the Qur'anic stories of the Jewish prophets serve to illustrate this continuity of tradition and mythology.

So the Qur'an does not share our current fascination with either orthodoxy or history, and focuses on inclusiveness and the mythological connections between cultures. This has important consequences for the open-mindedness of Muslim societies.

Recently in Bangladesh, Ahmadi Muslims have been attacked as non-believers due to their supposed belief in the prophethood of their spiritual leader, Mirza Ghulam Ahmed of Qadian. And yet, even if this charge were true, would it be nearly the deviation from orthodoxy as Abraham's apparent lack of belief in an afterlife? Likewise, in Bangladesh there are radical fundamentalist groups who are so opposed to non-Islamic manifestations of local Bengali culture that they are willing to plant bombs at traditional Bengali New Year celebrations and Sufi shrines. And yet, the intrusions of local culture that they so violently oppose are little different from the intrusion of Christian mythology (as represented by the virgin birth) which the Qur'an easily accepts.

This sort of grappling with historical issues is very important for the Islam of the twenty-first century, and I commend Zeeshan Hasan for tackling them. This is a good step forward, and I hope this piece will be widely circulated in Arabic and English in the Muslim world. More please.

Monday, December 27, 2004

HUNTING FAKES: The current issue of Archaeology Magazine looks at the problem of forgeries in museum collections:
Conversations: Hunting Fakes

A Smithsonian sleuth says counterfeits lurk in museum collections the world over.

Jane Walsh, an anthropologist at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, is best known for her work with museum collections and for exposing several crystal skulls, once thought to be Precolumbian, as nineteenth-century German fakes. She is now working with several museums to create a database that can be used to identify bogus Precolumbian jade, crystal, and other stone artifacts. She talked to ARCHAEOLOGY about why you shouldn't always trust what you see at museums.


The recent announcement by the Israel Museum concerning the inscribed ivory pomegranate tends to support her viewpoint.

UPDATE (30 December): Yep.
YOU PROBABLY HAVE HEARD that former Panther Reggie White has died unexpectedly. I don't follow sports news myself and only vaguely recalled his name. But here's a detail that caught my eye:
In recent years, friends say, White intensely studied ancient Hebrew to learn more about the original language that was translated into the Old Testament of the Bible. His studies connected him with the Jewish community.
THE REMAINS of a fourth-century B.C.E. village have been found near Tel Aviv:
Archeologists find ancient village near Tel-Aviv

Archeologists have discovered a village near the Mediterranean coast dating from the 4th century B.C., the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Sunday - a rare find.


Sunday, December 26, 2004

THE FACE OF JESUS as a twelve-year-old boy has been reconstructed by Italian Police, using computer-generated aging (and, evidently, de-aging) software on the Shroud of Turin image. James Charlesworth is not impressed, and not just because the Shroud's image hasn't been authenticated (probably because it isn't authentic). He has a good point, if perhaps overstated - let's leave the Nazis out of it. The limpid eyes are a Jesus stereotype and the blond highlights in the hair just don't work.

(Via Archaeologica News.)
IN CASE YOU SPENT 2004 ON ANOTHER PLANET, Bishop Tom Wright has an announcement: The Da Vinci Code is 'lousy history.'
DR. JOSEPH CATHEY, who reviews books on the Hebrew Bible etc. frequently for the Review of Biblical Literature, has been assimilated to the Blogosphere. His new blog is called Dr Cathey's Blog.
SOME ZOROASTRIANS are interviewed in the San Francisco Chronicle about Matthew's magi:
Matthew' s account of the magi does not actually say there were three wise men, nor does it describe them as kings.

They are not even mentioned in the other gospel stories.

Nevertheless, three gift-giving Zoroastrians pop up every year around this time -- even though Christmas is not one of their holidays.

And that's just fine with Silloo Tarapore, a Zoroastrian Sunday school teacher who lives in Lafayette.

"We're OK with it,'' said Tarapore, who was busy this week preparing for the upcoming 13th annual North American Zoroastrian Congress.

"Zoroastrians are so used to being a minuscule cultural minority that things like that don't bother us at all.''

An interesting popular article about the magi and about modern Zoroastrianism.
TWO NEW TRANSLATIONS OF THE GILGAMESH EPIC are reviewed in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

GEZA VERMES has an article on Jesus in yesterday's Times:
When you strip away all the pious fiction, what is left of the real Jesus?

It's a good summary of one mainstream view of the historical Jesus. I'm not sure whether we can really say that he had no political ambition. Nor am I prepared to rule out that he had some sort of messianic consciousness or even thought of himself as an angel or a god. There's some contemporary precedent for such ideas in the figure of Melchizedek in the Dead Sea Scrolls and also the figure of Enoch in the Similitudes of Enoch, and some of the material in the Gospels points in that direction. There's so much about Jesus which we just don't know. But the stratigraphic approach does lead to pretty much the picture Vermes presents.

He had e-mailed me earlier this week to alert me that the piece was coming out on Friday, but I couldn't find it yesterday. Evidently the Times isn't indexed by Google. But Helenann Hartley had the link.
MORE ON THE IVORY POMEGRANATE FORGERY: Today's A.P. article has some additional information on how the forgery was detected (my emphasis):
Snyder said the pomegranate was examined by several scholars before and after the purchase and was authenticated for the museum by Israeli archaeologist Nahman Avigad.

The director said the pomegranate was examined with the technologies available at the time. "I think care was taken," Snyder said. "If one does not take advantage of opportunities to bring into a museum setting objects that don't surface in excavations, you might miss great objects."

He said the pomegranate was re-examined with a new type of microscope that detected synthetic material in the inscription, between the ivory and the patina.

The museum said another ancient object displayed with the pomegranate, a 2,600-year-old silver amulet with a priestly blessing carved into it, was re-examined and deemed authentic.

The Ketef Hinnom silver amulets were scientifically excavated, so I don't doubt that they are authentic.

As for the pomegranate and other forgeries, I'm struck by how the forgers often seem to be some years inside the scholarly response cycle. In other words, the forgers can produce forgeries that are undetectable by the best current methods of evaluation, but the forgeries are uncovered not too many years later by new technologies unknown to the forgers or the original autheticators. I doubt the forgers care; they've already safely made their sale and crawled back into the woodwork.

I don't know if there's a solution to this problem. It may be that a century from now forgers will be producing undetectably forged first-century scrolls using nanoreplicators that deposit just the right number of C-14 atoms into the manufactured parchments to make them appear ancient, and it will only be ten or twenty years later that scholars will use the new Berry-phase data-recovery technology to detect that the quantum entanglements of the forged scrolls are all from the twenty-second century.
MERRY CHRISTMAS to all those celebrating.

Here's the earliest preserved meditation on Matthew's star of Bethlehem story, by Ignatius of Antioch in his letter to the Ephesians in the early second century:
19:1 And hidden from the prince of this world were the virginity of Mary and her child-bearing and likewise also the death of the Lord -- three mysteries to be cried aloud -- the which were wrought in the silence of God.

19:2 How then were they made manifest to the ages? A star shone forth in the heaven above all the stars; and its light was unutterable, and its strangeness caused amazement; and all the rest of the constellations with the sun and moon formed themselves into a chorus about the star; but the star itself far outshone them all; and there was perplexity to know whence came this strange appearance which was so unlike them.

19:3 From that time forward every sorcery and every spell was dissolved, the ignorance of wickedness vanished away, the ancient kingdom was pulled down, when God appeared in the likeness of man unto newness of everlasting life; and that which had been perfected in the counsels of God began to take effect. Thence all things were perturbed, because the abolishing of death was taken in hand.

Friday, December 24, 2004

FOR YOUR CHRISTMAS PRESENT I've updated the links page for PaleoJudaica, adding perhaps a couple dozen new sites, including some blogs I've been meaning to link to. Enjoy.
THE POOL OF SILOAM STORY is being recycled for Christmas:
Archeologists uncover pool believed to be site of Biblical miracle
Dig where Jesus said to restore blind man's sight

By Ramit Plushnick-Masti, Associated Press | December 24, 2004

JERUSALEM -- Archeologists in Jerusalem have identified the remains of the Siloam Pool, where the Bible says Jesus miraculously cured a man's blindness, researchers said yesterday -- underlining a stirring link between the works of Jesus and ancient Jewish rituals.

The archeologists are slowly digging out the pool, where water still runs, tucked away in what is now the Arab neighborhood of Silwan. It was used by Jews for ritual immersions for about 120 years until 70 AD, when the Romans destroyed the Jewish Temple.

THE IVORY POMEGRANATE IS A FORGERY according to the Israel Museum:
Museum: Solomon's Temple relic a forgery
12/24/2004, 12:47 a.m. CT
The Associated Press

JERUSALEM (AP) � The Israel Museum announced Friday that one of its most prized possessions, an ivory pomegranate touted as the only existing relic from Solomon's Temple, is a forgery.

The thumb-sized pomegranate dates to the Bronze period, meaning it is older than the first Jewish Temple, and the inscription was added recently, the museum said, releasing findings by a committee of experts.

The inscription, in ancient Hebrew lettering, reads: "Belonging to the Temple of the Lord (Yahweh), holy to the priests."

Scholars had believed that the cream-colored pomegranate, which has a hole in the bottom, was used as the top of a scepter carried by a temple priest.

The temple was built in the 6th century B.C. and expanded by Herod before being destroyed in the year 70. Today, the Dome of the Rock � a Muslim shrine that is part of the Al Aqsa complex � is located near the site of ancient temple.

Actually, it's the second temple that's dated to the six century B.C.E. Solomon's temple would have been built in the tenth century, and it was from the latter that the ivory pomegranate was thought to come.

In addition, as already noted by Mark Goodacre and others, Oded Golan is to be indicted on forgery charges next week:
Israel's Justice Ministry said Thursday it will charge the owner of the ossuary and the tablet, Israeli antiquities collector Oded Golan, with forgery next week. However, ministry spokesman Jacob Galanti would not say whether the charges referred to the ossuary and the tablet, or to others.

UPDATE: More details on the ivory pomegranate story in this Ha'aretz article.

UPDATE (25 December): More here.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

MONTAGUE RHODES JAMES is well known for his ghost stories, classic dramatizations of which are currently being shown on BBC4, as pointed out by Mark Goodacre. Mark notes his Apocryphal New Testament, but James was also a major contributor to the recovery and publication of Old Testament Pseudepigrapha in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I cite his editions a number of times in The Book. Bob Kraft has some interesting information in Reviving, Refurbishing, and Repurposing the Lost Apocrypha of M.R. James page. And here's a page by Rosemary Pardoe (whom I don't know) on M.R. James and The Testament of Solomon, which includes some of James's work on the T.Sol. In June I linked to James's translation of Pseudo-Philo's Biblical Antiquities.

As for his ghost stories (some of which you can find here), I agree with Mark that they're a great read. When I read them years ago, I remember being convinced that one was set in St. Andrews (which has a perfect Lovecraftian atmosphere for such things), although I can't remember which one now. The whole collection is available in Britain in a cheap paperback, although it seems to be out of print in the USA.

UPDATE (28 December): More here.
MY PORTUGUESE IS VERY RUDIMENTARY, but I could make out that this (Google translation here) is a compliment. Thanks!

UPDATE (28 December): A better translation, plus more, here.
HELENANN HARTLEY, whom I first met a few years ago at my Dead Sea Scrolls Conference (she was Helenann Francis then), has been assimilated to the blogosphere. Her new blog, "Helenann Hartley," has to do with "general musings on daily life with a focus on all matters religious" and she promises to keep a special look out for news relating to the Apostle Paul. Welcome Helenann. (Heads-up, Mark Goodacre.)
THERE'S A BRIEF OBITUARY for Jonathan A. Goldstein by Linda Yannay in today's H-Judaic Digest.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

HAPPY BLOGIVERSARY (slightly belated) to Torrey Seland's Philo of Alexandria blog!
CANA IN GALILEE, the site where Jesus is reported in John 2 to have turned water into wine, is being excavated. Maybe. There seems to be some dispute over the exact identification of the town, and two rival sites are being excavated. Stone jar fragments have been found at both (cf. John 2:6).

We're off to buy some lumber for those shelves. More later, maybe.

UPDATE: David Meadows over at Rogue Classicism notes the silliness of the A.P. article. This occurred to me too, but I didn't have time to pursue it because we were about to go out the door. The article (second link above) has this bit:
Israeli archaeologist Yardena Alexander says the Arab town was built near the ancient village.

The jar pieces date to the Roman period, when Jesus traveled in the Galilee.

"All indications from the archaeological excavations suggest that the site of the wedding was [modern-day] Cana, the site that we have been investigating," said Alexander as she cleaned the site of mud from winter rains.

American archaeologists excavating a rival site several miles to the north also have found pieces of stone jars from the time of Jesus and say they have found biblical Cana.

Another expert, archaeologist Shimon Gibson, cast doubt on the find at modern Cana, since such vessels are not rare and it would be impossible to link a particular set of vessels to the miracle.

"Just the existence of stone vessels is not enough to prove that this is a biblical site," and more excavations are needed, he said.

My bold-font emphasis. The emphasized phrase is weird. It seems to imply that someone was claiming not only that the excavation is of the right town at the right time (which is possible, if yet to be proven), but that it had found the actual room of the wedding and the actual jars that Jesus used (which is silly). I'm quite sure the archaeologists said no such thing. The only guesses I can hazard are either that the reporter misunderstood and incorrectly paraphrased whatever Gibson said or that the reporter misunderstood what the excavators said and asked Gibson if he thought that the jars were the ones from the wedding at Cana story.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

TWO MORE SUGGESTIONS on what bloggers on biblical subjects should call themselves:

Scriptoblogger - Peter Kirby on the Christian Origins blog.

Biblogger (apparently pronounced "bye blogger") - Ed Cook here and here at Ralph.

Meanwhile, Rub�n G�mez at the Bible Software Review blog is sticking with biblioblogger.
TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: More on the planned (or is it just proposed?) rebuilding of the Mughrabim Gate walkway:
Engineer: Western Wall embankment could collapse
By Nadav Shragai (Ha'aretz)

The Jerusalem Municipality is demanding that an embankment leading from beside the Western Wall, via the Mughrabi Gate, to the Temple Mount be demolished immediately, for fear of its collapse.

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: This sounds ominous:
Target: The Temple Mount
By Nadav Shragai (Ha'aretz)


But among the extremists in the Temple Mount movements, a different wind is blowing these days. As the evacuation of the Gush Katif settlements draws near, a return to the old beliefs - the ones that Rabbi Yeshua Ben Shushan tried to put into practice 25 years ago, in the framework of the Jewish underground - has become evident. On the eve of the evacuation of the Yamit settlement in Sinai, Ben Shushan, basing himself on kabbalistic sources, concluded that "Muslim control of the Temple Mount is the root of the corruption of the Jewish nation, and this control gives Islam a spiritual wellspring from which its believers draw the strength of their presence in Israel." Ben Shushan and some of his comrades therefore reasoned that removing this "abomination" from the mount by blowing up the mosques would halt the withdrawal from Sinai.

In recent years, this simplistic outlook has penetrated the extreme margins of religious society, particularly the group known as the "Hilltop Youth" and small groups of the newly religious. The worldview of some of these groups is characterized by uncompromising messianism, alongside an anachronism that almost blatanly disconnects them from Israeli society and the state. Some of these young men "dropped out" of mainstream ultra-Orthodox or religious Zionist society because of crime or drug problems.


The writer does see some room for hope though:
The only people capable of reaching such groups - or groups that are not "kabbalistic," but view blowing up the Temple Mount as an effective means of torpedoing the evacuation of Gush Katif - in order to prevent an attack on the mount and the disaster that the Muslim world would wreak on us in retaliation, are the rabbis of the Temple Mount movements.

Most of these rabbis understand that blowing up the mosques would not only fail to hasten the redemption or prevent territorial withdrawals and settlement evacuations, but would in fact accelerate the withdrawals and evacuations. Most also understand that even though it might have been possible to act differently 37 years ago and establish a significant Jewish presence on the mount, the wall that separates the people of Israel from the mount would only be reinforced by such a mad act, while the state of Israel and its government would pay a much higher price, first and foremost on the Temple Mount, if the mosques were damaged.
HERE'S AN OBITUARY from the Times of London for the Rev Professor Carsten Thiede, who died last week. The obit mentions his work on the Dead Sea Scrolls but doesn't note his controversial attempt to support the presence of New Testament documents among them. Requiescat in pace.
HAPPY WINTER SOLSTICE (or whatever it is you're supposed to say) to any Neopagan readers.

UPDATE: Also, happy Shab-e Cheleh (Festival of Yalda) to any Iranian readers.

Monday, December 20, 2004

ANOTHER SUGGESTION: Rick Brannan on Ricoblog proposes:
It seems the common thread that holds such blogs together as a group is a primary focus on Biblical literature. Yes, it's about the Bible (hence �biblioblogger� and other suggestions �bibliablogger�, �biblicoblogger�, �biblicablogger�) but y'all reference other material as well � as evidenced by the excellent multi-blog thread on NT background literature last week. So, I thought, how about �Bib-Lit Blogger�? I'm not sure if it would be better dashed (Bib-Lit Blogger) camel-cased (BibLit Blogger or BibLitBlogger) or as a compound word (Biblitblogger or Biblit Blogger). But it has some of the same alliterative goodness that makes �biblioblogger� roll off the tongue, with just a bit more specificity than �biblioblogger� offers.

Doesn't grab me, although it's no worse that many of the other suggestions. So far none of the proposals (including mine) combine what we do in a few intuitively obvious, baggage-free, esthetically tolerable syllables. Let's keep trying.
THE JAMES OSSUARY STORY is profiled by 60 Minutes in an article called "Holy Fake?" based on a program shown last night, which I haven't seen. (I guess they have good reason nowadays to take an interest in forgery detection. Better late than never.) There's little if anything new in it as far as I can see (I'm not sure I've heard the accusations in the last paragraph before this), but it's not a bad summary of the history and state of play. It concludes:
Does he think the ossuary is real or fake? "I would say it's probably real," says [Ben] Witherington.

But the Antiquities Authority continues to insist it's a fake. And not only that. They claim Golan has been making forgeries and millions of dollars for the last 15 years. And they say the real casualty here is knowledge itself, our passion to dig down to the real foundations of our history, and our faith.

"It seems to me that there's really two possibilities when you're dealing with the James ossuary and other recent discoveries," says [Bob] Simon. "Either they're real or you've got a group of very talented forgers."

"There've been good forgers for hundreds of years," says [Neil] Silberman. "But a 16-year-old with a basic graphics program can take absolutely documented inscriptions, and rearrange the letters, and reproduce them and it makes it very much harder just to see the difference between something new and something genuine."

"So both sides are getting better. The forgers are getting better, as is science in discovering forgeries is getting better," says Simon.

"Well, that's what we call progress in archaeology, I guess," says [Neil] Silberman.

The latest twist: Oded Golan reportedly tried to sell fakes to major museums in London, Paris and New York, and he may have succeeded. The Israeli police say they plan to indict Golan on multiple charges of forgery and fraud in the next few months.

On the one hand, at least a few scholars like Witherington still seem to think that the James Ossuary inscription is probably fully genuine. On the other, the case that the IAA makes for it being partially faked seems overwhelming: (1) the fake patina and (2) the forgery lab, complete with forgeries in progress, in Golan's house. If Witherington and those like-minded want to defend the authenticity of the full inscription, those are the big charges they need to refute. I've not put the work into the inscription to form a strong opinion about it, but I am pretty skeptical. As I keep saying, I hope this comes to trial and, if so, I will be watching closely.

Two other comments. First, this passage is odd:
But 60 Minutes knows where it [the ossuary] turned up: in the Tel Aviv apartment of Oded Golan, an Israeli entrepreneur, amateur pianist and one of the world's biggest collectors of biblical antiquities.

Help me out here. Wouldn't someone who didn't know the story read this and then think that 60 Minutes was breaking the whole Golan connection right there? Golan's role as the dealer involved has been known for a long time. Maybe I'm being too picky here, but the phrasing seems kind of misleading to me. Surely the program was clearer about this?

Second, there's this passage:
The ossuary was returned to Golan. But then, just two months after it had been exhibited in Toronto, there was another extraordinary revelation.

A tablet was secretly offered to Israel's National Museum, with a reported price tag of $4 million. Why so much? It was billed as the only remnant of the Temple of King Solomon, a godsend for religious Jews, because it would strengthen their claim to the Temple Mount, which has been contested for centuries by Jews and Muslims.

First the ossuary, and then the tablet, both revealed in the space of two months? It was an amazing coincidence, but the amazing coincidences don't stop there.

Amir Ganor, head of the Antiquities Authority Detective Unit, was put on the tablet's trail and all leads pointed to the apartment of Golan. They confiscated the tablet and decided to take the ossuary as well. But when Golan led them to it, the detectives could barely believe their eyes.

The rest of the article never gets around to mentioning that this tablet, the so-called Joash Inscription, was shown to be a forgery too, by multiple converging lines of evidence, including its patina. Simon does refer to doubtful "other recent discoveries" but doesn't say the tablet is among them. I think that's rather careless. Again, I hope the program itself made all this clear.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

REFLECTIONS ON THE GOOGLE LIBRARY in the NYT: The Tower of Babel, the Library of Alexandria, and the Letter of Aristeas (inter alia) are discussed. The article concludes with a fictional character's reflection:
The world encyclopedia, the universal library, already exists and is the world itself.

Yes, but it could be better indexed.
My point is that St Matthew's account of the Nativity - the basis of all Christmas celebrations - appears in a quite different light when it is considered as the product of a particular Jewish linguistic, literary and religious context, rather than the sentimental narrative we have inherited.

The doctrine of the miraculous conception and birth of a God-man was based on a remarkable mistranslation into Greek - wilful or otherwise - of Isaiah's original, quite specific Hebrew words. As for the episode of the massacre of the innocents and escape to Egypt, its similarity to the rabbinic story of the birth of Moses is so striking that it hardly can be attributed to coincidence. In both we find dreams, a murderous king advised by interpreters of sacred writings, and the frustration by divine intervention of wicked plans. Nor is it conceivable that Josephus and the rabbis, spokesmen of Jewish tradition, copied their birth legend of Moses from Matthew.

We are led inescapably to this conclusion: that the awesomely influential Nativity story in the first book of the New Testament is a speculative, rather than a historical text. Far from being a report of a literal happening, it is an amalgam of flawed Greek-Christian scriptural references, and of "birth tales" current in Judaism in the first century AD. The story with which we are all so familiar is not fact, but folklore.

But still a great story and worth appreciating as such.

UPDATE: Ed Cook comments on the article over at Ralph.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

THE "HOW TO READ A SCHOLARLY PAPER" DISCUSSION has been going on among Bibl- ..., uh, bibli- ..., er, you know, those guys, for some time. Mark Goodacre has a detailed roundup with lots of good links and thoughts. I keep meaning to write up a brief guide for our postgraduates on how to read a conference paper. Maybe if I ever get around to it I'll post it online. Here are a few random thoughts, some of which may already have been said, since I haven't been keeping up with the discussion.

[Damn Blogger! I wrote out this whole post from notes I had saved previously, and when I tried to save the complete post, Blogger ate it and left me with nothing but my old notes. Grrr. This is the reconstructed version - which, to be fair, is better than the lost one. But if you ever want to save a substantial post before posting, always copy it before you hit the Save button.]

1. I nearly always read a printed paper rather than presenting it from notes or memory. But I don't just read from the article manuscript: I go over the whole thing carefully to try to make sure the thought flows well for an oral presentation, that there isn't a lot of extraneous detail (isn't it annoying when someone keeps reading out lists of primary references?), that important footnote content is moved into the presentation, and that the paper is cut to fit the time available with an eye toward including the substance and the main arguments and dropping anything that isn't central. Sometimes I throw in a joke or two as well.

I don't like to give extemporaneous presentations because it's too easy to forget an important nuance or accidentally drop something I wanted to say. It's also harder to keep track of the time. But maybe that's just how my mind works. I used to be a professional actor but, rather than making me want to do spontaneous presentations, it makes me want to (and I hope better able to) give presentations of a written text which keep the audiences' attention.

2. I almost always pass out a paper handout that has an outline of the presentation with the main structural points and the main arguments, any necessary lists of primary references, and the full text of any critically important primary-text passages.

3. I don't like Power Point for a number of reasons. First, as I like to say to my students, a paper handout doesn't crash and have to be rebooted just as you're supposed to be starting your presentation. And its fonts always work. Second, a paper handout leaves the listener with the basic arguments and primary references in a permanent format that's easy to carry home and ponder later. Third, I just don't like the way the slide format of PowerPoint herds one in the direction of sound bites and a jumpy presentation. (For more on that, see the article PowerPoint is Evil.)

Granted, the papers I present usually aren't to huge audiences and I rarely need more than 50 copies of handouts, often fewer. If I gave papers on, say, the Synoptic Gospels which required hundreds of handouts, I might feel differently.

Also, some might object that PowerPoint allows one to include neat, and sometimes very useful, graphics. Fair enough, but neat graphics can also deteriorate all too easily into cute ones, and useful graphics can usually be accommodated on a paper handout. I've even been known to throw in a Dilbert cartoon or the like on mine once in a while.

Besides the paper handout, I normally post the full text of the oral versions of my conference papers online. If you're just starting to present at conferences, you probably shouldn't do this. But if you've been publishing and presenting papers for a while, it's a bonus for your audience (and anyone else) to have access to them after the presentations.

4. Very important: If you do read a printed text, make sure to read it aloud to yourself at least once before you present it. First, this will allow you to time it and find out if it's too short or (more likely) too long, so you can adjust accordingly. Few things at conferences irritate me more than a presenter who goes on so long that there's no time for questions or, worse, who goes into someone else's time slot. Sloppy, unprofessional, and too common.

Second, the first time or two you do a dry run reading, it's a good idea to have someone else, such as a spousal unit or patient friend listen to you, just to get feedback not on content, but on presentation. There's a strong temptation to speak too fast in order to fit everything in. Don't do this. You should feel as though you're speaking slightly uncomfortably slowly. That's the best speed for your audience to take it in. Also, don't mumble. Project your voice from your diaphragm, not your upper chest. If you don't know what that means, find a friend who knows something about public speaking and ask him or her to show you.

Third, reading aloud will alert you to infelicities, typos, gaps, poor grammatical constructions, thoughts that flow poorly, and bits that don't just make sense, all of which you would otherwise miss. Quite likely after doing this you will want to go back not only to the oral version, but even to the article to make a few corrections.

These are just my own rules for giving a paper and they may or may not work for you. If not, find an approach that fits your own style. But some of the above may well be useful.

Hmmm ... maybe I'll just refer our postgraduates to this post.

Oh and, Mark, I'm glad to hear that I'm not the only one who daydreams about Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Friday, December 17, 2004

DONE BUT NOT FINISHED: The Book has just been sent to The Publisher - all 210,000 words, plus bibliography. I learned long ago that a book is never finished until I actually hold the final product in my hands. As I've said before, I'm very grateful to the University of St. Andrews and the Arts and Humanities Research Board for their support.

I don't doubt that The Series Editor and The Reader(s) will have Suggestions For Improvement in due course (and I don't even want to think about the indexing), but for now I'm immensely relieved to set it aside and think about other things. My holiday break starts this evening, with an agenda that includes putting up shelves with my wife, playing with my son, reading fiction, and generally not working on The Book. As for the fiction, I'm rereading Stephen R. Donaldson's First and Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, since I recently bought his latest: The Runes of the Earth, the seventh book in the series, with three more projected. And Neal Stephenson's The System of the World, the final volume of his Baroque Cycle, is in the queue as well.

Oh yes, and there's blogging of course. One of my goals during the break is to update the long neglected links page, so if you've found any dead links, please drop me a note.
THE VULCAN SALUTE - a Kabbalistic ritual gesture?
QUMRAN EXCAVATION UPDATE - The Jerusalem Post has a long and detailed article ("A Crack in the Theory") on the recent excavation of Qumran by Yitzhak Magen and Yuval Peleg and the controversial theories they have formulated around it. Excerpts:
AFTER 10 years of work at Qumran, when Magen and Peleg's crew reached the bottom layer of the large pool, they were stunned to uncover a previously unseen white sediment. The powder has turned out to be the most significant clue yet to the Qumran mystery, they say.

"It was the most important thing ever found at Qumran: the bottom of the pool has some three tons of high-quality clay," Peleg told the Post. "We started to understand the site - there were no Essenes."

Qumran in the Second Temple period was not much more than a small, dusty, muddy, and smoky pottery-industry work station, devoid of spirituality, according to the clay sediment in conjunction with their other findings, he says.

The finding of "buckets and buckets" of burned dates also led the archeologists to confirm that the only other activity going on at Qumran was the production of date honey, stored in small ceramic vessels made there.

Initially, to check that the powder was indeed viable clay, the archeologists threw the fine chalk-colored residue into a vat and added water. Then they delivered the clay to a potter and asked her to fire away. The potter gave the clay a quick thumbs-up. Her first vase adorns Magen's Jerusalem office, together with dozens of handmade drawings of Qumran artifacts.


Considering that the texts are so diverse, that there are often numerous copies of the same text written in different styles, that some texts contradict each other, and taking into account the regional migration patterns during that period, Magen and Peleg say the natural conclusion is that the scrolls didn't come from one library or even from Jerusalem libraries alone, but from synagogues and libraries all over. As such, they constitute the broadest possible representation of Second Temple Jewish thought, and not just the Judaism of the Essenes, or of any one sect or geographical area.

Many scholars have long held that there were three main sects of Jews in the Second Temple period: the Sadducees, the Pharisees and the Essenes. Reconsidering that the scrolls are a broad representation of Judaism could support a theory that there were actually dozens of streams, the authors add. "The Essenes may have been one of several groups that wrote the scrolls.

I wish the sentence in bold-font (my emphasis) were right, but I just can't see it. The high density of sectarian works, the lack of other viewpoints such as pro-Hasmonean ones (e.g., no 1-2 Maccabees), and the lack of Greek texts all mark the Qumran library as a sectarian collection. I think Magen and Peleg are probably right that it's a collection of separate libraries that have been consolidated, but they were sectarian libraries to start with. I've been saying this for years.

The fact that sectarians converged on this point to deposit their religious libraries would certainly imply that the site had some sort of sectarian connection to start with, but if the archaeology indicates not, that whole aspect will need to be rethought. I look forward to reading their report when it comes out and to listening to the reactions of other archaeologists.
SIX SPECIAL LECTURES IN HONOR OF GEZA VERMES, which were presented in Oxford last June on his eightieth birthday, are now available on the Journal of Jewish Studies website. Congratulations, Geza!

Thursday, December 16, 2004

ANTIQUITIES LOOTING in Israel and the West Bank. It just goes on and on:
Grave robbers ransack Holy Land history
Hundreds of archaeological sites raided every year

By Megan Goldin
Updated: 3:38 p.m. ET Dec. 15, 2004

HEBRON, West Bank - As night falls, grave robbers fan out across the southern West Bank hills on a macabre mission.

Armed with metal detectors, shovels and pick axes, the thieves unearth graves last touched thousands of years ago and scoop up whatever loot they can find before slipping into the night, leaving broken pottery and scattered skeletons behind.

�The damage is irreparable,� said Amir Ganor, the head of the Israel Antiquities Authority robbery division. �It is not like a forest that burns down and can be replanted. If an antiquities site is robbed, then it is destroyed for good.�


Wednesday, December 15, 2004

DAVE KOPEL e-mails:
I noticed your question about the source of my statement regarding the Talmud reference to Syrians having droit du seigneur. It's from Rashi, and appears in a footnote of the Vilna Talmud from Mesorah Pubs. The material will appear (properly cited) in a book I'm writing on religious attitudes towards self-defense.

Thanks, Dave, for taking the time to reply.

If it's in Rashi, then the claim is much later than the Talmud. The Talmud does assert that gentile authorities inflicted this custom on Jews in b. Ketubot 3b (pointed out to me by reader Joshua Waxman). But there's no mention of the Syrian government (or the beheading woman) in that passage and the Soncino edition notes (for what their worth) apply it to the Romans. I don't know; I'm not a Talmudist. But even if the Talmud did say this about the Syrian government, it was edited many centuries after the Seleucid period. As far as I know, there is no contemporary evidence to indicate that the Seleucid government used droit du seigneur as a policy toward Jews and I think it's very unlikely. If you want to claim this (repeated here), you should back it up with primary sources from the Seleucid period. I doubt that there are any. You can make your point, that Jewish tradition has historically recognized the right - indeed the duty - of self-defense and resistance of evil, without distracting from it by including this dubious legend as a fact.

Good luck with your book.
THE REMARKABLE LIFE OF SEMITIST AND POLYMATH CYRUS H. GORDON is profiled by Professor Gary A. Rendsburg for the SBL Forum. Excerpt:
I come now to the most characteristic trait of Gordon: his broad horizons. I think it is safe to say that no scholar of the Bible, certainly no one whom I have mentioned in this paper (with the possible exception of Gaster), had such broad horizons as Gordon. The list of fields in which he worked and made important contributions is simply staggering: field archaeology, glyptic art, cuneiform law, Amarna letters, Bible, Hebrew language, Ugaritic, Aramaic magic bowls, Nuzi tablets, Minoan Linear A, Homer and Bible, and on and on. The list of subjects that he taught includes even more fields: Egyptology, Coptic, Hittite, Hurrian, Sumerian, Classical Arabic, and more. Gordon was exceptionally proud that, beyond the usual cadre of Bible and Semitics people, he produced the best of America's Hittite, Hurrian, and Sumerian scholars: Harry Hoffner in Hittite, Fred Bush in Hurrian, and David Owen in Sumerian. Another case in point: Gordon was very proud of his student Loren Fisher, who distinguished himself in Ugaritic studies especially, but whom Gordon trained in a variety of subjects, including Coptic. Gordon loved to relate how it was Fisher who taught James Robinson Coptic when both were on the faculty at Claremont, and of course Robinson went on to become one of this country's leading experts on the Nag Hammadi texts.

Many years ago, while still an undergraduate, I nearly dropped out of the field of biblical studies, but reading Gordon's book Forgotten Scripts: The Story of Their Decipherment persuaded me to stay.
MARK GOODACRE notes the good news that the Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism is publishing again and the current articles are available online.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

REQUEST FOR HELP: I've mentioned that I'm doing the final proofreading for The Book, which I intend to send off to The Publisher by the end of the week. I'm stuck on a reference. The problem article is
George MacRae, "The Coptic Testament of Abraham," Studies on the Testament of Abraham (ed. George W. E. Nickelsburg; SBLSCS 6; N.p.: Scholars Press for the Society of Biblical Literature, 1976)

I have a photocopy of this but the last page is missing. The article begins on p. 327. I'm pretty sure it ends on p. 340, but not absolutely certain. If you have this book handy and would check it and drop me an e-mail with the exact pagination, I would be very grateful.

I'll even throw in a free subscription to PaleoJudaica.

UPDATE: Pp. 327-40 was correct. My thanks to Stephen Goranson, who gets the free subscription to all 2005 PaleoJudaica posts, to be accessed at Can you beat that?

Well, maybe.
MARK GOODACRE writes in favor of keeping "biblioblogger," and I have to say I'm sympathetic to his argument from emergent order. He also notes what seems to be first use of the term in David Meadows's Rogue Classicism.

Meanwhile, Eric Sowell has been reduced to expletive deletion when he mentions us.
REBECCA LESSES of the Mystical Politics blog has posted the abstract of her SBL paper, "'He Shall Not Look at a Woman': Gender in the Hekhalot Literature." I take a slightly different line in my book Descenders to the Chariot, pp. 279-81 (I argue that is possible that there were female Hekhalot mystics). But everyone seems to think I'm wrong.

Rebecca also has an interesting post on exorcisms and amulets in present-day Israel.
Western Wall Hill - Out; Temple Period Finds - In (Arutz Sheva)
16:26 Dec 13, '04 / 1 Tevet 5765

Jerusalem city engineers will take down the hill jutting out from the Western Wall, replacing it with a bridge. Archaeologists expect to find treasures, such as a tall gate from the Second Temple.

The Jerusalem Municipality has decided to take down the hill that leads up from the Western Wall (Kotel) entrance to the Temple Mount, for fear that it might otherwise collapse. The walkway up the hill leads to the Mughrabim Gate, which is currently the only entrance for Jews to the Temple Mount. The city plans to replace the hill with a bridge that will lead into the Mughrabim Gate.

The plans are a bonanza for students of Jerusalem history, as the removal of the hill will uncover an eight-meter high gate leading into the Temple Mount. The gate, dating from the period of the Second Temple, is known as Barclay's Gate, after the 19th-century American consul who first identified it.


Articles from the Associated Press and the Jerusalem Post also cover the story, but with less about the archaeology angle.
BS BLOGGERS? Now there's a thought.

Monday, December 13, 2004

"LET THERE BE LIGHT" - A Hannukah display of ancient oil lamps in the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem. The article has some nice pictures.
JUDAS MACCABEUS ON THE WEB is a new site belonging to Tim Spadling. I've only skimmed it through quickly, but I see it has lots of good resources. I think I've already linked to his Cleopatra site. He also has websites on Hieroglyphics and on Alexander the Great on the Web. I haven't had a chance to look at the last two, but you can find links to them on his other sites.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

THEY DON'T JUST DREDGE UP ANTIQUITIES from the receding waters of the Dead Sea. Recently a parchment with a modern-day political curse was found there:
The mother of all Palestinian modern-day curses (Jerusalem Post)
By Yoav Stern
During a Dead Sea-area dig in 2002, Prof. Yizhar Hirschfeld discovered two small packages wrapped in cloth. The contents of one of them, just recently made public, was a scathing curse aimed at Israeli leaders.

"Oh God almighty, I beg you God to destroy Ariel Sharon, son of Devorah, son of Eve." Thus opens a unique text, written in eloquent Arabic, on parchment found more than two years ago at the bottom of the Dead Sea.


The article isn't a satire. As it observes, the Middle Eastern cursing tradition goes back thousands of years.
BIBLIOBLOGGING (OR WHATEVER) REVISITED: Eric Sowell has a summary post on responses to my post about what we Bible bloggers should call ourselves. I agree that "Bible blogger" could have unfortunate connotations, but I don't care very much for any of the proposed alternatives. I guess I like "bibliabloggers" best among them. Let's keep thinking about it; I'm quite open to suggestions.
IT'S NOT JUST INSCRIPTIONS: According to this columnist in the West Virginia Huntington Herald Dispatch, forgeries are a problem for Jewish antiques in general, not just Jewish antiquities.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

THE CODING HUMANIST (Eric Sowell) has some reader feedback regarding Jewish texts as NT background from Ken Penner and Arne Halbakken. And keep an eye on Eric's blog, since more may well be coming. (One of the disadvantages to separate-page blog entries is that you can no longer say "and just keep scrolling up." That's one of the reasons I went back to weekly page entries. The other was that single-post pages gobbled up my allotment of free search engine pages, with lots left over unindexed.)

Eric also calls for more Bible bloggers.

By the way, I'm inclined to stop using the term "biblioblogger." I don't remember where it came from, but it's confusing: it looks like it could mean "bibliography blogger" or "book blogger" or "Bible blogger" or maybe even something else. "Bible blogger" ("academic Bible blogger," if you want to be precise) is much more straightforward and I think that's what I'm going to say from now on. It doesn't cover all of what I or some others do, but it's close enough. Go thou and do likewise, if you feel so inclined. Or feel free to drop me a note to tell me why I'm wrong, if you disagree.

UPDATE (12 December): For some responses go here.
THE ABSENTEE VOTE could make a big difference for Aramaic-speaking Christians in Iraq in the upcoming elections.
MEL GIBSON'S The Passion of the Christ is one of the contenders for best foreign-language film in the Golden Globe awards. Nominees are to be announced on Monday, with a winner picked in January. The film has already been ruled ineligible for the best drama award. It's also not allowed to compete for the best foreign-language film award at the Academy Awards.
PRESIDENT Bush sent a special message to Jews this week to mark Chanukkah, the festival of lights. The President drew a parallel between the Maccabees, an ancient tribe of Jewish warriors, and American troops currently fighting in the Middle East. �The bravery of the Maccabees has provided inspiration through the ages,� he said. �We must remain steadfast and courageous as we seek to spread peace and freedom throughout the world.�

Friday, December 10, 2004

ARAMAIC WATCH: The Maronite Archbishop in Jerusalem is featured in the Jerusalem Post. Excerpt:
Maronites, one of the principal religious groups in Lebanon, are members of one of the Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church. The Maronite Church is the only eastern church which never separated from Rome. While it elects its own bishops, its ultimate authority is the pope. Instead of Latin, the language of the liturgy is Syriac, an ancient dialect of Aramaic.

Paul Sayah's formal title is Archbishop of Haifa and the Holy Land, Exarch (Patriarchal Vicar) in Jerusalem, Jordan and the Palestinian Territory. While there are an estimated seven million Maronites worldwide, and some 800,000 remaining in Lebanon, Sayah's "flock" is relatively small, though geographically widespread. There are approximately 12,000 Maronite Christians throughout the entire area, of whom 9,000 are in Galilee and 1,000 in Jerusalem. There are Parish priests in each location, as well as nuns who have a key role in running the church's institutions.
A BETH SHEAN VENUS is to go on display in Israel (NYT):
A Venus Rescued From Ruins

Beth Shean has been one of Israel's richest archaeological sites since the 1920's. There, in the Jordan valley, near the river and the Sea of Galilee, archaeologists have unearthed objects spanning 4,000 years. One of the latest discoveries, a second-century Roman sculpture of Venus, goes on view March 29 at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

"While demarking the boundaries of the Dar Castle in Naein just a few weeks ago, archeologists stumbled upon an Achaemenid settlement," said Mohsen Javery, an archeologist in Isfahan.

Covering an area of 2.5 to 3 sq hectares, the dwelling is littered with Achaemenid potteries, making experts hopeful they would discover new points about the lifestyle of people living in that era.

The Achaemenid Dynasty was a dynasty in the ancient Persian Empire, including Cyrus II the Great, Darius I and Xerxes I.
JUDITH MIDRASH SOURCES: Dan Rabinowitz e-mails:
Here are the midrash sources for the Judith story that connect it to the story of Chanukah. Yellnick, Betei Midrashim, Vienna, 1877 Heder Beit page 12; Heder Vav page 2 and Heder Aleph, p. 132. There are also a couple of books that were printed in the 16th and 17th centuries that also have the Judith story connected to Chanukah, they are, Ma'ashe Yehudit, Constantinople, 1552; Ma'aseh Yehudit, Venice, 1650 also in the Hemdat Yamim, attributed to Nathan of Gaza this story is connected to Chanukah, see Hemdat Yamim, Venice, 1757 volume 2 pp. 56a-58b. See also , Eisenstein, Otzar Midrashim, New York 1928, vol. 1 203-209 who has a couple of the narratives. All of these are fairly late.

However, there have been questions to the connection between Yehudit to Chanukah from the at least the 16th century, see Azariah de Rossi, Me'or Enayim, chapter 51 recently translated by J. Weinberg, Yale University Press, 2001 pp. 637-639.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

UPDATE on my "Philo or the Pseudepigrapha?" post: Thanks to Eric Sowell (also here), Torrey Seland, Stephen Carlson, Mark Goodacre, Justin Dombrowski, and Ed Cook for their comments on (and praise of) the post. I'm glad it was useful.

I should also have thought to mention my Old Testament Pseudepigrapha website, which has material from a course I have taught a number of times at the University of St. Andrews.

As for Eric's and Ed's question, yes, the Mishnah and the other Tannaitic rabbinic texts are relevant too, but I'm not an expert on them and am hesitant to comment about how to use them for NT background. Ed has some observations. I suppose also that NT scholars could get away with judicious use of rabbinic passages that Neusner has isolated on stratigraphic grounds to be from the first century. I have a bunch of notes on how NT scholars should (and shouldn't) use Jewish sources, from a postgraduate seminar I gave a few years ago. Maybe one of these days I'll pull them together into an article.
"AUDACIOUS JUDITH": Dave Kopel, guest-blogging at, has a Hanukkah essay on Judith. It includes related material from the rabbinic literature and links to lots of Renaissance paintings of Judith and Holofernes like this one. (I like the hat.)

I don't know the rabbinic stuff well, but two thoughts occur to me. When Kopel writes
According to ancient Jewish sources, during the period of Syrian rule, Syrian officers in Israel had the authority to rape all Jewish brides. The bride would be allowed to marry her husband only after submitting to the Syrian officer.

he should make clear that this is not historical. I certainly know of no contemporary evidence that any such policy existed. It's a typical folkloric theme designed to make baddies look badder.

And his comment
Scholars may never be able to determine with certainty if there was a Jewish woman who beheaded an enemy officer. But the persistence of the story in Judith, the Midrash, and the Talmud, suggests that the story may well be true, in some form.

even as hedged, is far fetched. The book of Judith is replete with gross historical errors and the other versions of the story are much later and, if anything, less plausible. The Judith story is just a story. Its persistence and popularity are explained by the fact that it's such a good story, not because of some elusive historical core. That said, its moral is just as Kopel indicates. He recognizes that the book of Judith isn't historical and I don't think he gains anything by trying to find historicity somewhere in the story.

Note also the link to his article "The Torah and Self-Defense" (PDF file) in the Penn State Law Review, which is full of interesting material from Jewish and early Christian exegesis of Pentateuchal passages pertaining to self-defense. One point: of the verb frequently translated ("thou shalt not") "kill" in the sixth commandment he says
The Jewish Publication Society commentary on Exodus explains that the Hebrew verb stem �applies only to illegal killing and, unlike other verbs for the taking of life, is never used in the administration of justice or for killing in war.�

Nahum Sarna, the author of the quoted commentary, is not quite correct here. The verb is used of execution by the avenger of blood, which was a valid form of the administration of justice in ancient Israel. I have discussed the whole issue here. But, even though Kopel goes on rather too much about killing lice and bacteria, his point is valid that the sixth commandment doesn't ban all killing, even of human beings.

Another interesting tidbit: he points out a saying of Jesus which advocates the death penalty.

UPDATE: Reader Dan Rabinowitz e-mails:
The article from Dave Kopel, contains many inaccuracies, perhaps the most glaring is this quote from the Talmud

"Likewise, the Talmud (a collection of the oral Jewish law, along with commentary) includes this story:

Jewish women were uniquely affected by the oppression, since the Greeks [the Syrians, who were hellenizing successors of part of Alexander the Great's empire] decreed that every virgin bride must first submit to the local Greek commander. Hence, they too were saved by the Chanukah miracle. Further, a woman actually served as an instrument of the miraculous deliverance, for Yehudis the daughter of Yochanon, the Kohen Gadol [the Jewish high priest], fed the Greek general cheese to increase his thirst, and then gave him wine to drink until he became inebriated. She then cut off his head, and this sight caused the enemy soldiers to flee.

There is no such piece in the Talmud. The Talmud does record that there was such a decree, however, this story of the abolition does not appear there. The ONLY place that it appears in later Midrashim (very late) and in some medieval commentaries. Now to be fair some of the commentaries are on the Talmud, however that does not mean that the Talmud actually says that.

Does anyone have specific references in the rabbinic literature to the story of the beheading woman?

UPDATE (10 December): More here.

UPDATE (16 December): More here. (Dave Kopel replies.)
DR. LOUIS H. FELDMAN will be giving a public lecture at Yeshiva University this morning. Menachem Butler e-mails:
The following will be taking place tomorrow afternoon [Thursday] at the Yeshiva University campus in Washington Heights, NY. For more information, please email

thank you,





Dr. Louis H. Feldman

(Abraham Wouk Family Professor of Classics and Literature, Yeshiva University)

This Thursday, December 9, 2004 Rubin Shul, 2:45-3:45 (club hour)

For more information, please contact: Menachem Butler -


Wednesday, December 08, 2004

UNICODE UPDATE: Danny Zacharias and Eric Sowell, bless their hearts, are promising to produce Unicode tutorials, respectively, for the Mac and PC platforms. Danny writes, "We will inform everyone when the tutorials are online and available." Watch this space.
LYCHNOLOGY IN THE NEWS: that is, the study of ancient lighting. Here's a timely article in the Lebanon Daily Star on lamps and lighting in antiquity.
Clay lamps shed new light on daily life in antiquity
Information-rich lighting devices reveal trade, religion, art and technology.

By Eric C. Lapp
Special to The Daily Star
Wednesday, December 08, 2004


Archaeologists are not able to excavate ancient light. However, they do recover the objects that housed, controlled, and sustained it. In antiquity, the chief instruments used for everyday lighting purposes were oil lamps, lanterns, torches, lamp-stands, candles, and hanging lamps. Among these devices, clay oil lamps would ultimately emerge as the most popular for satisfying the lighting needs of ancient peoples. They were comparatively easy to manufacture, inexpensive, and highly mobile.

Syria-Palestine and Arabia experienced a vibrant "lamp culture" in antiquity. This is evidenced by the significant quantities and diverse types of locally manufactured lamps found at archaeological sites throughout the region. Lamp images portrayed on mosaics and on small objects (i.e. coins, seals, lamps, and glass vessels), and literary mention of lamp use in religious texts, represent further examples of this dynamic lamp culture. Given the importance of light in the religious customs of the lands from where the three Abrahamic faiths originate, it is no wonder, then, that lamps figure prominently there in word, image, and form.


Tuesday, December 07, 2004

HAPPY HANUKKAH to my Jewish readers. This seven-day holiday begins this evening at sundown.
THE JOURNAL HENOCH, published by the Department of Oriental Studies at the University of Turin, now has a web page. It includes an index of all 25 volumes published so far.
Launched in 1979, Henoch contains studies on Old Testament, intertestamental literature, rabbinical and Post-biblical literature, mediaeval and modern Judaism. In addition a number of review articles are currently published, on Hebrew epigraphy, biblical archaeology, history and textual criticism of the Old Testament text, mediaeval Jewish literature. Henoch also publishes the Series Quaderni di Henoch.

Monday, December 06, 2004

HERE'S SOME COPTIC GOSPEL OF JUDAS NEWS, or at least gossip. Michael van Rijn, who has been mentioned before in this connection, has a long report on the alleged inside history of the Gospel of Judas since its discovery in the 1970s. (I can't find a permalink, but the report is labeled "Update: 3-12-2004".) It includes a photo of one leaf of the manuscript with a translation of it into English, which he says was given to him by Charles Hedrick. As before, I can't vouch for any of it: I blog, you decide. If anyone is in touch with Professor Hedrick, or if he happens to see this post, I would interested in anything he has to say about the story.

UPDATE (7 December): Sorry, the link was accidentally left out. It's there now. Also, Wieland Willker has more on the Textual Criticism list. Apparently he's been in touch with Charles Hedrick, who confirms that the photo is of the Gospel of Judas and that the translation is his.
PHILO OR THE PSEUDEPIGRAPHA? Eric Sowell, the Coding Humanist writes:
I was thinking the other day that the OT Pseudepigrapha would be more significant to study as a backdrop to the NT times. I asked Hall Harris about it and he said Philo would be. Anybody else have an opinion on this?

Like Torrey Seland (second commenter), I don't see why it has to be an either-or choice. There are good reasons to study both. (Incidentally, I am not the Jim who posted the first comment.) I have a good bit to say about this in The Book, especially with regard to the Old Testament pseudepigrapha. But while you wait for that, here are some thoughts.

First, another critically important Jewish corpus for the New Testament background is, of course, the Dead Sea Scrolls. I would say that they are more important for that purpose than either Philo or the pseudepigrapha. We have them in their original Hebrew and Aramaic in a physical context datable to the first century C.E. and located in Palestine, and they cover a huge range of Jewish themes and ideas. They are a treasure-trove of cultural, historical, and linguistic information. If you have to limit your study to one corpus (but don't!), pick them.

Second, Josephus is perhaps more important than Philo (I'm not as sure about some of the pseudepigrapha) for NT background. Again, he's a first-century, Greek-speaking Jew (but he also knew Aramaic and, presumably, Hebrew) and he comes from Palestine and knew of John the Baptist and the Jesus movement and probably Jesus himself. He gives us an enormous amount of information about the people, the place, and the period, but always from his perspective as a survivor of the Great Revolt who owed his position to the Roman conquerers of Judea and who wanted to make the Jews (and himself) look as good as possible to the Romans. See Steve Mason's Josephus web page for lots of goodies on Josephus.

Third, most (perhaps not all) of the Old Testament Apocrypha (Deuterocanonical books) are relevant as NT background material too.

As for Philo, he is useful for NT background because his works are certainly Jewish, they appear to have been transmitted with reasonable accuracy, and they are almost exactly contemporary with Jesus. Philo's disadvantages are that he is a Greek-speaking, Diaspora Jew who writes with a Hellenized philosophical agenda in Alexadria, a big city. Presumably he had relatively little in common with an Aramaic-speaking, uneducated Galilean carpenter and his followers, although perhaps more with Paul and the writer of Hebrews.

The OT pseudepigrapha are a messier problem, mainly because nearly all of them were copied and transmitted by Christians, often in a translation with the original being lost. (For the issue of translation, see here). The big questions are which texts were composed by Christians but sound Jewish because they are on Old Testament subjects, which are genuinely Jewish compositions, and of the latter, which have been transmitted without substantial Christian alteration?

The most common approach among NT scholars - I dare say even today - has been to assume that any work that doesn't have obvious Christian bits, or that doesn't have obvious Christian bits that can be argued to be secondary additions, is a Jewish composition. But this doesn't work for two reasons. First, as Robert Kraft has pointed out (see especially here and here), the most reasonable approach is not to assume that a work is Jewish until proven otherwise, but to reverse the burden of proof. We should start with the earliest manuscripts of the work and their social context and then work backwards from there as the evidence requires. Sometimes this lead us to argue for a Jewish origin, and if so, well and good, but often there isn't persuasive evidence and in those cases the default working hypothesis is that the document is a (sometimes late antique) Christian composition, since our manuscripts were produced and transmitted by Christians. The point is that we know that these documents had a Christian context and that Christians liked them and must have made some sort of sense of them. Earlier contexts are by no means excluded, they just have to be argued for with positive evidence, not assumed.

For arguments that Christians may well have written OT pseudepigrapha without any Christian references see here. For an evaluation of how some of the Dead Sea Scrolls would have been received by scholars if they had been passed down to us the same way the OT pseudepigrapha were, see here and here.

The second reason is that there is rather a wide range of possible authors of Old Testament pseudepigrapha. Many people in antiquity had the means, motive, and opportunity to compose such texts (as Ross Kraemer said to me in San Antonio). They could be Jews or Christians (of varying levels of commitment to what I call "boundary maintenance" - distingishing themselves from other groups), but there were also "God-fearers" (i.e. gentiles who had a strong interest in Judaism and some commitment to Jewish praxis, but didn't convert), "sympathizers" (gentiles who were interested in Judaism but who may not have been involved at all with a Jewish community), Jewish-Christians of various flavors, Samaritans, and quite likely other groups we know nothing about. Often it is reasonable to keep some or all of these possible authorships in mind for a text without preferring any one of them, and sometimes there are hints within a text that point to one or another of these - hints that have been ignored because scholars have been so keen to claim pseudepigrapha as first-century Jewish texts in order to use them as NT background. More on all this here.

In my own research I have concluded that the following pseudepigrapha are Jewish beyond reasonable doubt and were written either within a century of the crucifixion of Jesus or earlier and may be reasonably used for background to the New Testament writings. Texts shown to be Jewish on external grounds (mostly fragmentary preservation among the Dead Sea Scrolls): the Book of the Watchers, the Astronomical Book, the Book of Dreams, the Epistle of Enoch (all in 1 Enoch), and the book of Jubilees. Texts shown to be Jewish on internal grounds: Aristeas to Philocrates, 2 Baruch, 4 Ezra, the Assumption or Testament of Moses, Psalms of Solomon, and Pseudo-Philo's Biblical Antiquities. These are certainly very important for understanding both first-century Judaism and earliest Christianity.

Texts that are Jewish beyond resonable doubt and that were composed in the early centuries C.E., but not necessarily within a century of the crucifixion, include: the Similitudes of Enoch and 3-4 Maccabees. It is dicier to use these for New Testament background, since they may be considerably later than the New Testament writings.

Some other pseudepigrapha are likely to be Jewish but cannot be shown to be so beyond reasonable doubt, such as various bits of the Sibylline Oracles. Other texts may be Jewish but then again may not be, such as the Testament of Job and Joseph and Aseneth. Still others are often used as Jewish texts but in my opinion are probably Christian compositions; for example, the Testament of Abraham.

For all of these works, apart from the Dead Sea Scrolls, the texts are reasonably well established, but they have been passed in down long and sometimes pretty dodgy manuscript traditions, in some cases including multiple layers of translation with only the most recent translation-layer surviving. It would be prudent to concentrate on general themes and repeated ideas in them rather than on individual proof-texts.

Incidentally, the reason I'm making so much of this methodology for isolating genuine Jewish documents is that I think it serves our understanding of ancient Judaism far better if we limit our reconstruction to works that can be shown beyond reasonable doubt to be Jewish. In other words, granting that in many cased we just can't tell if a pseudepigraphon is of Jewish origin, it is better to exclude doubtful cases and base our reconstruction on what we know that we know. A false positive does more harm than a false negative: if we think we are studying ancient Judaism (or NT background) with a first-century-C.E. Jewish text and in reality it's a third-century-C.E. Christian composition, we pollute our corpus with erroneous information that distorts our understanding. Better to leave it out until such a time as we can be sure what its origin actually is, even if the price is potentially leaving out genuine Jewish works if we can't be sure beyond reasonable doubt that that's what they are.

For my detailed evaluations of each of the OT pseudepigrapha listed above - as well as of Philo, Josephus, and the Old Testament Apocrypha, you will have to wait for The Book (provisional title: Christian Transmission of Jewish Pseudepigrapha: What Can We Know and How Do We Know It?). The five papers of mine that I linked to in this post are conference papers that give summaries of early drafts of some of the chapters.

Speaking of The Book, I'd better get back to it.

UPDATE (9 December): More here.