Saturday, December 04, 2004

THE MACABEES AND JERUSALEM: More seasonal theories, but based on serious archaeology in this case.
How the Maccabees Reshaped Jerusalem (Jewish Journal)

by Bill Gladstone, Jewish Telegraphic Agency


�The problem is that Herod the Great built so thoroughly that many remains of the Maccabeans have almost disappeared,� said Dan Bahat, a senior lecturer at Bar-Ilan University who is spending the academic year lecturing at St. Michael�s College at the University of Toronto.

The Maccabeans, who founded the Hasmonean dynasty, likely inspired King Herod�s vision of the Temple, said Bahat, whose specialty is Jerusalem of the Second Temple period.

In recent years, the former chief archaeologist of Jerusalem has supervised the excavations of the Western Wall tunnel, the ancient subterranean passage that extends along the western perimeter of the Temple Mount.

A large water channel that was discovered in the tunnel has been accepted by many archaeologists as a Maccabean-built aqueduct and, according to Bahat, almost certainly is the most visible Maccabean relic in the Old City.

�This is the most important remain of Hasmonean Jerusalem today,� he said. �It�s an enormous ditch that was excavated from the surface in order to supply water to the fortress named Baris, which was the seat of the Maccabean family before they moved to a place in the area of today�s Jewish Quarter.�

The apocryphal Book of the Maccabees offers ample evidence that the legendary leaders of the Jewish revolt against the Greeks were great builders. As further evidence, Bahat cites the fine mosaics and frescoes excavated in various Maccabean palaces in Jericho.

MORE STAR OF BETHLEHEM THEORIES: As I said before, it's that time of year. I have no idea how valid the astronomy is and, as I said in the previous post, I'm skeptical about the history. I blog, you decide.
New Theories Suggest a Less-Than-Spectacular Star of Bethlehem

c.2004 Newhouse News Service


While scientists disagree on the particulars, "one thing is absolutely certain," said Mark Kidger, an astronomer with the Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias in Spain's Canary Islands. "Whatever the Star of Bethlehem was, it was not an extraordinarily spectacular object."


Michael R. Molnar proposes that the heavenly sign was an eclipse of the planet Jupiter that took place in the constellation Aries, among other regal portents, on April 17 of the year 6 B.C.

That morning, just before dawn, Jupiter, a planet associated with kings, emerged from behind the sun to rise in the east, appearing as a morning star. Later that day, the moon moved in front of -- or occulted -- Jupiter.

While such events can be dramatic, this one was invisible, lost in the glare of the noonday sun. Even so, the Magi would have predicted it, argues Molnar, a retired Rutgers University astronomer who lives in Warren, N.J.


Kidger, author of "The Star of Bethlehem: An Astronomer's View," disagrees.

Occultations aren't rare and so wouldn't have excited seasoned skywatchers, he said. He noted that the moon occulted various planets almost 200 times between 20 B.C. and 1 B.C.

Kidger argues that what the Magi observed was a series of astrological portents, each of which has been individually suggested as the star. Together, they led up to a not particularly brilliant, but long-lived nova -- a distant, exploding star -- recorded by the Chinese in 5 B.C.


Friday, December 03, 2004

BIBLIA HEBRAICA QUINTA: The first fascicle of the new 5th edition of Biblia Hebraica (the Megillot) can now be ordered, and a number of people have referred me to this PDF order form. It contains a sample page from Ruth and a page that describes the project (in German and English). Looks good, but it would have been helpful if the description page explained clearly how the new edition improves on BHS.
ED COOK explains the title of "Ralph the Sacred River" and comments on Dead Sea Scrolls coverage in U.S. News & World Report.
THOUGHTS ON UNICODE AND THE MACINTOSH: Over on Deinde, Danny Zacharias has some thoughts on Unicode and the Mac, precipitated by Mark Goodacre's lament that more biblical scholars are not using the Unicode fonts and my e-mail to him (update here) asking for more information on Unicode for the Mac. Like all the discussions I've seen, Danny's sends my head spinning. Examples:
First off, many computer users who know they should start using unicode fonts do not realize that it means more than just downloading a new font, it means setting up a language bar with different keyboards to use, which is part of the operating system and not the word processor. Other computer users, knowing that this type of setup needs to take place, sit content with the classical fonts and push off the unicode conversion process for later.


What I love about Mac is that no outside software is required; the language bar manages the keyboards as well as the layouts without any other software.


Okay, you need something called a "language bar" that you have to "set up," but which good-naturedly "manages" some "keyboards" and "layouts" for you, and all of this is part of your operating system. Yikes!! Darn right I'm going to stick to the SBL fonts until someone explains to me, in simple steps suitable for an idiot, where I can find the fonts (ahem, free fonts, thank you, like the SBL fonts I use now) and how I can do all this setting up and managment delegation.

Danny is thinking of producing a Unicode tutorial for the Mac. More power to him!

UPDATE: Ed Cook e-mails:
Try this. Go to Mac Help on your Help menu. Type in "changing language" in the search cartouche when the window comes up. Then click on the topic "Changing language on your computer."

Ken Penner e-mails:
Regarding your blog entries about Unicode on the Mac, apparently the level of difficulty in setting your keyboard to type Unicode Greek depends on the version of your OS (it becomes easy with 10.2).

For a free Unicode Greek keyboard (including setup instructions), see
Or (bottom of page)

Chuck Jones e-mails:
Since you like the free SBL fonts and you're interested in compliance with such standards as Unicode, you might be interested in looking at The SBL Font Foundation:

"The Society of Biblical Literature, with assistance from Tiro Typeworks and support from members of the SBL Font Foundation, is developing a new series of high-quality fonts to foster biblical scholarship.

Fonts in the series are attractive and legible on computer screens and in print, include characters and symbols found in critical editions, display complex scripts, and transfer between operating systems and applications that support Unicode/OpenType standards. Each character in a Unicode font is assigned a unique code, and this makes it possible for scholars and publishers to exchange texts between Unicode environments without converting texts or losing data."

Current members of the Foundation are:

American Bible Society,
American Schools of Oriental Research,
Baker Book House,
Brill Academic Publishers,
German Bible Society,
Logos Research Systems,
Westminster John Knox,

Many thanks, all. This goes on my agenda for the holiday break. I don't think I'll be able to get to it before then; I have to finish The Book (which is currently at the soul-destroying proofreading and double-checking-everything stage.)
PETER KIRBY is redesigning his Early Christian Writings website and he wants your feedback.
THE SCH�YEN COLLECTION has been mentioned before on this blog, with reference to its Qumran fragments and early biblical manuscripts.

Now it develops that this collection also includes many of the "Dead Sea Scrolls of Buddhism, also mentioned here not long ago. A Norwegian named Atle Omland has noted on the IraqCrisis list that he has a website on "Buddhist manuscripts from Afghanistan in The Sch�yen Collection."

I agree with him that this material should be repatriated as soon as it is practical to do so. My concerns are that we be very sure first of the security of the museum in Afghanistan, as well as of its topnotch conservation resources, and that top quality photographs should be taken of all of the fragments before they are moved again, to make sure no information is lost. (The photographs on the Sch�yen collection website are not top quality, although I imagine that the original prints are much better than the small digital files that have been posted. But probably infra-red or ultraviolet photos, or photos with various color filters would also be needed to bring out all the epigraphic information.)

More grist for the debate over how to handle antiquities on the market and in private hands.
BLOGGER NEEDS TO UPGRADE ITS SERVERS. Or something. It's getting harder and harder to get into the system to update blogs. And the publishing button is taking longer and longer to cycle through and often just leads to an error message. I'm told I'm not the only one having these problems.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

University of Glasgow

Department of Theology & Religious Studies


The Department of Theology & Religious Studies in the University of Glasgow is offering a two-fifths University Teacher post in Hebrew/Old Testament Studies/Judaism for one year, commencing February 1st 2005, pro-rata on Lecturer Scale A.

The appointed person will have a doctorate in one of the subjects indicated, with the ability to teach biblical Hebrew at levels one and two a requirement. In addition s/he will be asked to contribute to the department�s teaching in either or both of Judaism or Biblical Studies up to Level 2, together with associated administrative duties.

The Department is a flourishing centre for Theology and Religious Studies, rated 5 in the last RAE. It has a very active programme in Biblical Studies and Judaism, and lively research centres for Literature, Theology and the Arts, Islamic Studies, and Interfaith Studies. Further information about the department can be viewed on our web-site,

Interested applicants should send their cv to the Head of Department, Dr Mona Siddiqui at
University of Glasgow
Department of Theology and Religious Studies
G12 8QQ

to arrive by December 30th 2004. Interviews will be held in the week beginning January 17th, 2005.

[Please address any enquiries about this position to Dr Alastair G Hunter (]
BLESSED ARE THE CHEESEMAKERS: The Forward has an article, "When the Hero Is Judith, and the Latkes Are Cheese," on cheese and Judaism, with special attention to Hanukkah. Excerpt:
For cheese, the hero of this particular Hanukkah story is not Judah but Judith. The Book of Judith, like The Book of the Maccabees, is to be found in the Apocrypha. According to the story recounted there, during the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar, Assyrian armies were laying siege to the small but militarily significant town of Bethulia, near Jerusalem. One of its residents, the beautiful widow Judith, was determined to save her townspeople. She managed to gain entrance to the Assyrian camp, whereupon the enemy General Holofernes espied her. Intending to seduce the beautiful widow, Holofernes invited her into his tent for a banquet. There Judith fed the general salty cheeses so that she might then ply him with goblets of wine to slake his thirst. Eventually Holofernes fell drunkenly asleep, at which point Judith seized her opportunity and lopped off his head with his own sword; the hea, she carried back to her comrades in a sack. When the Assyrian armies discovered their leader dead, his head carried aloft by Jewish fighters, they fled in panic and the town was saved.

Since that time, Judith has been a name of honor for Jewish girls � think of 20th-century Jewish artists such as Judy Holliday (n�e Judith Tuvim), Judy Chicago (n�e Cohen) and Judy Blume (n�e Sussman) � and dishes made with cheese have been a tradition at Hanukkah celebrations, to remind us of Judith's heroism.

The Judith story doesn't involve the Maccabean revolt, which is the basis for Hanukkah, but it does involve defeating an evil pagan ruler.

The article also has some recipes for cheese dishes. Enjoy.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

SEMITIC PHILOLOGIST EDWARD COOK has been assimilated to the Blogosphere. His new blog is entitled "Ralph the Sacred River." I have no idea what the title means, but the blog's remit is "Observations on language (mostly ancient), religion, and culture." Check out his posting on the Copper Scroll in relation to the recent Nova program on the Cave of the Letters

UPDATE (2 December): A couple of readers have pointed out that the title is a play on a line from Coleridge's "Kubla Khan":
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.

No one seems quite sure what the allusion means though. Maybe an example of slippage of meaning between oral and written versions of a text? Perhaps Ed will enlighten us in due course.

UPDATE (3 December): More on "Ralph" here.
THE NEW ASOR POLICY ON UNPROVENANCED CUNEIFORM TEXTS, which was discussed by Eric Meyers in the SBL session on "The Forgery Crisis", has now been published on the IraqCrisis list:
[Iraqcrisis] New ASOR Policy Re: Unprovenanced Cuneiform Texts in Iraq

UPDATE: Now online on the ASOR website here.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

DR. MARILYN J. LUNDBERG, whom I saw last week in San Antonio, has a cool career as an Old Testament scholar. Hear all about it on a KCLA "" webcast from August, 2003. She is associated with the West Semitic Research Project and Inscriptifact, both of which have been mentioned on PaleoJudaica. This is a very cool introduction for nonspecialists to the fields of Hebrew Bible and ancient Northwest Semitic epigraphy, one of the best I've encountered. It contains reflections on her doctoral disseration about the structure of the YHWH speeches in Job; advice to students on preparing to be a scholar; and a story about photographing pre-Mosaic inscriptions on a cliff in Egypt which involved a military convoy and a snakebite kit. Oh - and there's Indiana Jones music too.
Bethlehem Star now falls under computer's gaze (ic Wales)

Nov 29 2004

David Williamson, Western Mail

A WELSH university is carrying out research into one of the world's most enduring mysteries - the star of Bethlehem.

Martin Griffiths, from the University of Glamorgan, is fascinated by the Biblical story which led the mysterious Magi from the East to the infant Christ.

Rather than dismissing the story as pure mythology, he thinks that it is likely something extraordinary did appear in the night sky 2,000 years ago.

The bright light, he speculates, may not have been an actual star but could have been caused by a unique conjunction of the planets.


A triple conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn was seen in the constellation Pisces in 7BC. This blaze of light would have excited peoples in neighbouring cultures who looked for signs in the skies.


Anything's possible, but if I had to bet, I would bet that the star story is a legend, probably arising from messianic speculations based on Numbers 24:17 - a passage given messianic import both by ancient Jews and early Christians.

Also, for more on the Magi, see here.
THE FIVE BOOKS OF MOSES, Robert Alter's new translation of the Pentateuch, is reviewed by the Christian Science Monitor. Excerpt:
Alter's combination of a freshly minted text and splendidly concise commentaries makes the biblical words resonate. And as this example suggests, the reader of the King James Version of The Bible will not be disappointed by Alter's translation. He preserves what he calls the "direction" of that translation in its paradoxical combination of dignity and "homespun timelessness."

He chides modern translations for uniformity and blandness. Furthermore, the language of Moses is varied and discontinuous in a way not captured by traditional translations. Alter's English, especially when understood in light of his commentary, returns the variegated richness to the text.

Monday, November 29, 2004

TIMBUKTU MANUSCRIPTS: I could have sworn I had mentioned this story already, but I can't find any reference to it in my archive, so I guess not.
Lost texts find new life

By Philip Smucker International Herald Tribune

Monday, November 29, 2004
TIMBUKTU, Mali There was a time, centuries ago, when the Sahara was arguably one of the best places on earth to buy a book. From West Africa's Atlantic coast across the sandy expanses to the White Nile in the east, camels laden with chests full of books and manuscripts trekked from one oasis to the next. In caravan cities like Timbuktu, tanners, leather workers and scribes worked to replenish the rich stock of political treatises, scientific manuals, law books and sacred texts.

Many of these works were lost during the colonial era, when Africa became known as a continent with no written history. But others survived, their pages frayed but still intact, some hidden beneath mud homes, others stashed in desert caves, a trove of ancient documents dating from as long ago as 1,000 years.

Today, thanks to outside help, Timbuktu is at the edge of a cultural revival. Increasingly known as a repository of Africa's intellectual heritage, it is attracting scholars seeking to rediscover and preserve the lost texts.


Entire libraries of African texts - mostly written in Arabic, but often transcribed from local African languages - were handed down from father to son over the centuries. In those medieval times, religious and political assemblies met in the courtyards of Timbuktu's many libraries to take up legal matters and to resolve communal disputes. Elders applied ancient texts to the understanding of current affairs.


This is not directly relevant to ancient Judaism, but it occurred to me when I first read about these archives some months ago, that it was entirely likely that Jewish texts - pseudepigrapha, for example - translated into Arabic (perhaps via Syriac or Ethiopic) could be among the manuscripts. The following tidbit offers some encouragment for that hope, and even for the hope of Jewish manuscripts actually transmitted by Jews:
One of Timbuktu's largest remaining libraries, the Fondo Kati, is run by Ismael Diadie Haidara, an eclectic scholar who claims Germanic, Jewish and Black African descent.

"Timbuktu was a melting pot for centuries," said Diadie Haidara, who has written several books, including one on the Jews of Timbuktu, who flourished here centuries ago and built a synagogue that lasted through the 19th century.

I will be watching this story closely.

UPDATE: There's more on Ismael Diadie Haidara and the Jews of Timbuktu here, here, and here.
AVRAHAM NEGEV, Nabatean scholar, has died. (Ha'aretz - scroll down for the story.)
Avraham Negev, archaeologist, dies at 81

Avraham Negev, professor emeritus at the Hebrew University's Institute of Archaeology, died on Saturday in Jerusalem, following a severe illness. Negev was a leading scholar of Nabatean archaeology in Israel. Born in 1923 in Pinsk as Avraham Eisenberg, Negev immigrated to Palestine with his family as a child. In 1947, he lost his right hand as a commander in the Haganah police force. In 1953, he began to study archaeology at Hebrew University, and in 1959-1961 led archaeological excavations at the Nabatean site of Avdat. In 1972, he edited the first edition of the Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land. (Amiram Barkat)

May his memory be for a blessing.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

The never-ending search (BBC)
By Brendan O'Neill

Fascination with the Holy Grail has lasted for centuries, and now the Bletchley Park code-breakers have joined the hunt. But what is it that's made the grail the definition of something humans are always searching for but never actually finding?

Could an obscure inscription on a 250-year-old monument in a Staffordshire garden point the way to the Holy Grail - the jewelled chalice reportedly used by Jesus and his disciples at the Last Supper?

Short answer: no. Nevertheless:
That is one theory entertained by Richard Kemp, the general manager of Lord Lichfield's Shugborough estate in Staffs.

Kemp has called in world-renowned code-breakers to try to decipher a cryptic message carved into the Shepherd's Monument on the Lichfield estate.

The monument, built around 1748, features an image of one of Nicholas Poussin's paintings, and beneath it the letters "D.O.U.O.S.V.A.V.V.M."

It has long been rumoured that these letters - which have baffled some of the greatest minds over the past 250 years, including Charles Darwin's and Josiah Wedgwood's - provide clues to the whereabouts of Christ's elusive cup.


The story is kind of fun, and the article brings in the risible but bestselling Da Vinci Code as well. You can find a clearer picture of the inscription here (The Age, subscription-only I'm afraid).

I agree with Richard Holloway in the BBC article:
"It's all good fun but absolute nonsense", says Richard Holloway, former Bishop of Edinburgh. "The quest for the Holy Grail belongs with the quest for the ark Noah left on Mount Ararat or the fabled Ark of the Covenant Indiana Jones is always chasing. There ain't any objective truth in any of it - but of course it's a dream for publishers, who know the world is full of gullible people looking for miracles and they keep on promising that this time the miracle's going to come true.

"Only it isn't - but the money keeps rolling in."

Okay, so its a slow news day.