Saturday, December 31, 2005

RALPHIES: Okay, I don't promise to do this every year, but this year I'll take Ed Cook up on his invitation to post some best-of-the-year opinions. These are all things that I have read or seen in 2005 and I make no pretense of being comprehensive or particularly objective.

We're heading to Edinburgh to spend New Year's Eve with friends, so this is likely to be my last post today.

BEST NONFICTION BOOK: Ray Kurzweil, The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology. Kurzweil is a renowned inventor and AI specialist who has a good track record for predicting developments in the computer revolution over the last couple of decades. In this, his latest book, he extrapolates current technological trends, arguing that our knowledge is increasing doubly exponentially (i.e., it doubles in regular periods, with the periods themselves rapidly decreasing). He predicts miracles of genetic engineering in the next decade or two; nanotechnology, reversal of aging, and human-level computer intelligence (reverse-engineered from the human brain) by the late 2020s; cheap human-level computer intelligence -- costing about as much as a present-day PC -- in the 2030s, with "uploading" of wetware human minds not long after; and the "Singularity" in the mid-2040s. The term "Singularity" in this context was, I believe, coined by the science fiction writer and computer-science professor Vernor Vinge about 20 years ago. The Singularity is the point at which we present-day human beings can no longer understand the coming technological changes and therefore can no longer make useful extrapolations, but according to Kurzweil it will involve computation so powerful that producing trillions of interconnected human-level intelligences that operate millions of times faster than the human brain will be a trivially cheap matter.

Whether or not Kurzweil's whole scenario is right, it's hard to dispute that some of it is on the right track. Keep taking those vitamins. And get ready to grab the scruff of the tiger's neck and hold on tight, because we are going for a ride!

BEST FICTION BOOK: If you allow a book that I read in 2005 but which was actually published in 2004, then I choose Stephen R. Donaldson, The Runes of the Earth (Putnam). If Donaldson is not the best-ever writer of epic fantasy, he comes in only behind Tolkien and then only just. And he is more prolific and wider-ranging than Tolkien (also writing space opera and detective fiction). This is the seventh book of a projected ten in the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, and it appeared more than twenty years after the immediately preceding volume in the series. It seems that after Donaldson published the first trilogy, his publisher kept badgering him to write a sequel. The plan Donaldson finally came up with was so audacious that it has taken him until now to tackle the third and last part of the series. Ten years have passed in our world and thousands in the Land, when Linden Avery is returned to it. This is quite similar to the scenario in books four through six, but it is an entirely new situation, and the book, which unfolds at a relentless pace, is very hard to put down. And, yes, Covenant figures in it, in more ways than one. This volume sets a very promising stage for the Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant.

If you insist on a book actually published in 2005, then it would have to be Richard "make it personal" Morgan, Woken Furies (Orion). This is the third book about his anti-hero Takeshi Kovacs. In his future world human minds are contained in durable (but not indestructible) computerized "stacks" that fit into the spinal columns of interchangeable human bodies ("sleeves"). If your sleeve is killed, your stack can be retrieved and reloaded into another sleeve, but "real death" ("RD") is an ever-present danger, especially if you're not careful about your backup files. Kovacs is a former "Envoy," a kind of mental martial artist who can be beamed from world to world by a loose interstellar government to be loaded into military-grade sleeves to put down revolutions and the like. Altered Carbon was Morgan's first novel, also about Kovacs. Not only could I not put it down; when I finished it I prompted started it again from the beginning and read it through a second time. Woken Furies is of comparable quality. Morgan has a gift for creating a realistic future with believable slang. He also gets points in my book for something he did in real life. You may recall the story of blogger Joe Gordon, who was fired from the Waterstone's book chain about a year ago. Morgan wrote a public letter to the company to protest Gordon's firing. He didn't have to do that and he took a risk to criticize in public a major distributor of his own work. Thanks in part to him and other SF writers, plus about a million bloggers, the industrial tribunal went well and Gordon was offered his old job back, but he had found a better one and so accepted a settlement from Waterstone's instead.

BEST SCHOLARLY BOOK: Frank Moore Cross et al., Qumran Cave 4 XII: 1-2 Samuel (Discoveries in the Judean Desert 17; Oxford: Clarendon, 2005). I'm reviewing this for The JSNT Booklist, so I won't say too much here. This is the official edition of some of the text-critically most interesting biblical manuscripts from Qumran. It won the award for best work on biblical textual criticism of 2005 at the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog. Of course I think it was the only nomination, and I nominated it, but it still deserves it. (Full disclosure: Cross was my doctoral supervisor.) It surely also deserves the award for the longest-awaited text-critical work; more than half a century. I won't claim that I've read it all, but I've skimmed and spot-checked it pretty thoroughly and it upholds the high standards of the DJD series and it will be required reading for anyone working on the books of 1-2 Samuel for the foreseeable future.

BEST MOVIE: I'm with Ed on this one. Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was the best film I saw in 2005, which is not to say that I saw many. But it was very good, far ahead of what was done to LOTR, and it left Star Wars III behind coughing in the dust. That the special effects were fantastic goes without saying (and Hollywood produces endless crap movies with great special effects). But the settings were right, the children looked and acted like the Pevensies, and the film condensed the story while consistently staying true to it. Georgie Henley (Lucy) was the best actor and did a terrific job for her age. Aslan comes in second, and he really did look just like a lion who could talk. And Tilda Swinton comes third, as a suitably evil White Witch. My only criticism was that the battle scene got a little cheesy.

BEST MUSIC: I'm sorry to say that I didn't listen to any new music in 2005.

In lieu of that, I give you the BEST TELEVISION MOMENT of 2005, at the end of "Bad Wolf," the penultimate episode of the 2005 season of Doctor Who:
DALEK: We have your associate! You will obey or she will be exterminated!
DALEK: Explain yourself!
THE DOCTOR: I said no.
DALEK: What is the meaning of this negative?
THE DOCTOR: It means no.
DALEK: But she will be destroyed!
THE DOCTOR: No! 'Cause this is what I'm going to do: I'm going to rescue her! I'm going to save Rose Tyler from the middle of the Dalek fleet, and then I'm going to save the Earth, and then, just to finish off, I'm going to wipe every last stinking Dalek out of the sky!
DALEK: But you have no weapons! No defenses! No plan!
THE DOCTOR: Yeah! And doesn't that scare you to death?
ROSE TYLER: Yes, Doctor?
THE DOCTOR: I'm coming to get you.

The Doctor switches off the communication link.

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 30, 2005

ARAMAIC WATCH: Zinda Magazine is an English "Periodical for the Assyrian & Syriac Speaking Communities." The current issue (24 December 2005) has information on Aramaic television stations in Iraq, Europe, and Australia. Excerpts:
(ZNDA: Arbil) After months of broadcasting test videos and images of a serene and quiet life in north Iraq, Ishtar TV will begin broadcasting its satellite television programs on Thursday, 22 December at 6 pm, Iraq time.

Equipped with the latest tools in audio-visual technology and digital programming, Ishtar TV is expected to technically produce the highest quality programs with a focus on the Assyrian, Syriac, and Chaldean audiences around the world. The programs will be produced in Syriac (Assyrian), Arabic, and Kurdish.


(ZNDA: Stockholm) A new satellite TV channel is planning to broadcast test images as early as March 2006. “Bahro Suryoyo TV” will be financially supported by various Syriac organizations in Europe. These include the Syriac federations in represented by the Syriac Universal Alliance. The Syrian Orthodox Church will also be producing programs and support the programming of the Bahro Suryoyo TV.


(ZNDA: Sydney) The first Assyrian worldwide television channel will be bringing its 24/7 programming to Australia's through PanGlobal TV.

PanAmSat on 19 December announced that AssyriaSat has signed a multi-year agreement with GlobeCast Australia to deliver its programming through PanGlobal TV, a joint marketing alliance between PanAmSat and GlobeCast Australia, to viewers throughout Australia. AssyriaSat will be carried on the Australia Beam of PanAmSat's PAS-8 Pacific Ocean Region satellite located at 166 degrees East Longitude. As a result of this transaction, PanGlobal TV will now offer 27 channels of multi-ethnic programming to the Australian subscribers of this Direct-to-Home platform (DTH).


I've already noted the last here.

(Via Robert Griffin on the Aramaic list.)
THE YEAR IN REVIEW: Here's some international news from 2005 relating to ancient Judaism, Judaism in academics, and one or two other matters. Most of the stories were noted in PaleoJudaica. A lot more happened, of course, some of it more interesting than the stories here, but they are taken from an article in the Connecticut Jewish Ledger.

JERUSALEM -- A group of Jewish scholars attempts to recreate the ancient Sanhedrin tribunal in Jerusalem. According to the Jerusalem Post, the 71 Orthodox scholars who convened believe they can reconstitute the Second Temple-era Sanhedrin and that one of their members, Rabbi Yosef Dayan, could qualify as a Jewish monarch because he can trace his lineage to King David.


NEW YORK -- The Artscroll publishing house completes its 73-volume translation of the Talmud, a $23 million project that took more than 15 years.

MARCH 2005

NEW YORK -- Tens of thousands of Jews gather in Madison Square Garden and other locations throughout the world to mark the end of the Daf Yomi, a seven-year cycle of Talmud study.

APRIL 2005

ROME -- Pope John Paul II, who made positive Jewish-Catholic relations a pillar of his papacy, dies at age 84. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany is selected to succeed him.

LONDON -- Britain’s Association of University Teachers votes to boycott two Israeli universities over Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. The boycott, which sparks outrage in the Jewish world, is overturned in May.

JUNE 2005

NEW YORK -- Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, the longtime chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, the Conservative movement’s flagship institution, announces his retirement.

JULY 2005

MOSCOW -- The Reform movement announces a plan to translate the Plaut Modern Torah Commentary into Russian, which would be the first modern translation of the Torah into Russian.

JERUSALEM -- The Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, the Jerusalem affiliate of the Conservative movement’s flagship institution, the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, receives official recognition as an Israeli academic institution.


ROME -- Jewish catacombs under the ancient city of Rome thought to be copies of Christian sites are found to predate them by at least a century, suggesting that Christian burial practices may have been modeled on Jewish ones.


JERUSALEM -- Hebrew University Prof. Robert Aumann was named co-winner of the 2005 Nobel Prize in economics.
SO YOU DISCOVER that the World-Wide Web is the Antichrist (WWW = vav vav vav = 666). How do you get the word out? Set up a website!

Thursday, December 29, 2005

YOU'LL NOT SEE NOTHING LIKE THE MIGHTY OG: You may recall that early in December I posted on the biblical giant Og, who may appear also as an avenging spirit called "the mighty Og" in a Phoenician inscription from Byblos. Well, there's more. I had forgotten at the time that the Gelasian Decree mentions the lost Book concerning the giant named Ogias who is stated by the heretics to have fought with a dragon after the Flood, which I noted in my first lost books post. It may be that this story conflated the biblical Og with the story of the primordial giant and dragon-slayer Ohyah in the Book of Giants. This is the conclusion of W. B. Henning in an important, but now dated, article on "The Book of the Giants." M. R. James has also discussed the lost Book of Og(ias). Og is a legendary figure in the rabbinic literature too, in which we hear that he survived the Flood and was enslaved by Noah. See the online Jewish Encylopedia article on "Og" for details.

Joe Cathey is considering writing a short story about Og, and I hope he does, but he should be forewarned that it's already has been done. "Aunt Naomi" (Gertrude Landa) published a retelling of Og's story in 1919 as "The Giant of the Flood" in her Jewish Fairy Tales and Legends. It would make a good children's bedtime story. Of course all she had were the biblical and rabbinic legends, so there's ample scope for Joe to give us something that factors in the Book of Ogias and the Phoenician inscription.

As for me, I will be including some of this stuff in the More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha volume, in the listing of Lost Books and probably in the general introduction to the Book of Giants. And aside from MOTP, maybe there's scope for an article on Og too. We'll see.

Meanwhile, here's an illustration from Aunt Naomi's book which shows Og riding a unicorn during the Flood:

UPDATE (31 December): Joe Cathey reports that he is working on his Og story.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

ARCHAEOLOGY MAGAZINE has a new issue out (January/February 2006). There's not much of relevance to ancient Judaism, but do note the review by Paul B. Harvey, Jr., of HBO's Rome. It concludes:
On balance, then, as a visualization of ancient Rome, "Rome" is certainly better than most of its genre, but lacks the dramatic tension of that classic series, "I, Claudius". We do not see here the political implausibilities of "Gladiator", but neither do we see a strictly accurate (or, in many instances, even convincing) portrayal of historical personalities. And as a dramatic series, "Rome" does not leave the viewer at the end of an episode eager to see what happens next. We already know.

Rome is showing in Britain right now and I've seen perhaps half of the episodes. The casting of the main characters is pretty good but, as usual with such things, the series makes a lot of stuff up.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

TWO ANCIENT HISTORIANS have been elected to the Israel Academy of Sciences and the Humanities:
The new members are: Prof. Margalit Finkelberg, head of classical studies at Tel Aviv University. Born in Minsk in 1947, she came on aliya in 1975 and received her Ph.D. at the Hebrew University. She has an international reputation in the fields of literature and religion in ancient Greece.

Prof. Ya'acov Klein of the Hebrew language and Bible departments at Bar-Ilan University was born in Hungary in 1934. He came to Israel and developed into one of the world's leading experts in ancient Sumerian culture and Mesopotamian literature.

Congratulations to them both, and also to the two scientists elected at the same time.
SOME REFLECTIONS ON HANUKKA and the Hasmonean dynasty by Eli Kavon in the Jerusalem Post:
Did the Maccabees betray the Hanukka revolution?

The events that comprise the story of Hanukka are among the most dramatic and stirring in human history. The uprising of a small band of Jewish guerrillas against a Hellenistic empire many centuries ago has inspired poets and politicians, Jews and Christians alike. The Hanukka story is certainly one of mankind's greatest, the tale of a downtrodden and persecuted people who fought against overwhelming odds and emerged victorious.

Yet, there is a history rarely explored concerning the events both before and after the successful rebellion of the Maccabees against the evil Seleucid king Antiochus IV.

DAVID PATTERSON, founder of the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, died on 10 December. The Jerusalem Post has an obituary.
To paraphrase the ancient Roman, David Patterson found Hebrew and Jewish studies in Europe after World War II largely scorched earth and burned brick, yet he imparted a marble quality to their heartening revival at the Oxford Centre.

There's also a brief obituary from the NYT published in the Indiana Star and the Independent has one too, but it's behind a subscription wall.

May his memory be for a blessing.

Monday, December 26, 2005

MORE ON MODI'IN: An article in Haaretz discusses candidates for the ancient city:
The Hasmoneans were here - maybe
By Ran Shapira

In late 1995, not far from the city of Modi'in, whose construction had begun a short time earlier, several excavated burial caves were found. The find aroused tremendous excitement initially, mainly because on one of the ossuaries an engraved inscription was interpreted to read "Hasmonean." Had they found a burial plot belonging to the family of the Hasmoneans?

When the discovery was announced, the archaeologist digging there, Shimon Riklin, explained that this was not the grave built by Simon the son of Mattathias the Priest for his father and his brothers, which is described in the Book of Maccabees I. The use of ossuraies - stone containers for secondary burial, in which the bones of the dead who had been removed from their original burial place were placed - began in the second half of the first century BCE, more than a century after the beginning of the Hasmonean Revolt. However, the discovery reinforced the theory that the town of Modi'in, where the revolt broke out in 167 BCE, lay not far from the burial caves, in the area of the present-day Arab village of Midya.

A short time later, the excitement died down. A thorough examination made it clear that the word "Hasmonean" was not engraved on the ossuary. ...

In the decade that has passed, two prominent candidates have joined the steadily lengthening list of locations that have been proposed as the site of ancient Modi'in. The most recent is Khirbet Umm al-Umdan, a site revealed in salvage digs conducted in 2001 by Alexander Onn and Shlomit Wexler-Bdolah of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) in the area of the city of Modi'in, on a hill north of the road that connects it with Latrun.


Dr. Shimon Gibson, who conducted the excavations on behalf of the IAA in the area of modern Modi'in in the mid-1990s, when the momentum of construction and development in the area began, actually believes that he has a more worthy candidate. That would be Titura Hill, an archaeological site in the heart of modern Modi'in. In his opinion, one day we will discover that Titura Hill is a site of national importance. At the second Modi'in Conference - a one-day seminar scheduled to take place in the city tomorrow - Wexler-Bdolah and Gibson will present their reasons for identifying each of the sites with the ancient settlement.


(Via Joseph I. Lauer on the ANE list.)
ZOHAR TRANSLATION WATCH: Reader Carl Kinbar e-mails:
Just in case you hadn't checked out the website for the Pritzker Zohar in some time (at ), there have been some additions. Beyond posting (1) the Aramaic text in PDF for each volume they are now also making available (2) a PDF indicating emendations by underlining, and (3) a "user friendly" version, also with emendations underlined, indicating the corresponding page numbers in the translation, and Biblical verse citations. Very useful.

So it is. For more on Daniel Matt's ongoing translation of the Zohar, see here.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Maaloulians begin festivities to commemorate the birth of Jesus at dusk on Dec. 9 with special chants. This marks the beginning of a 15-day fast during which no meat and no dairy products are consumed. On Christmas Eve, which is usually bitterly cold, there is a complete fast to represent Christ's sacrifice, followed by an evening feast at which presents are given to all the village children, followed by a night of praying and dancing.
Christmas is one of the most treasured times for Rana Wehbe, who greets visitors to Ma'aloula's Byzantine Convent of St. Serge and St. Bacchus.

And this is interesting:
Locals such as Wehbe and the village's mayor, Azar Sikris Barkil, are convinced that they could have spoken with the Al Masih as the Messiah is known in Aramaic. The convent's superior, Father Toufik Eid, who is from Lebanon, is not so sure.
"The difficulty with saying that Jesus would understand this is that every language evolves and this one has had 2,000 years to evolve," said Father Eid. "We believe that Jesus spoke Aramaic, but he also spoke Hebrew, and possibly Greek and Latin."
The Aramaic spoken by Jesus in Mel Gibson's controversial film The Passion of the Christ, was written by a Catholic priest and academic from California.
Nobody in Ma'aloula has apparently seen the film. However, those who had seen brief clips from it said that they could not understand any of what was said to be Aramaic.

Actually, Al Masih is Arabic for "the Messiah." For more on Ma'aloula, go here.

(Cross file under "Cosmic Synchronicities," of which 2005 has had more than its share.)

Saturday, December 24, 2005

HAPPY FIRST BLOGIVERSARY to Michael Pahl's The Stuff of Earth!
PSEUDEPIGRAPHA WATCH: The Sibylline Oracles make an appearance an a Telegraph (UK) editorial:
Christmas and the end of history
(Filed: 24/12/2005)

In the misty morning of Roman history, an old woman came to King Tarquin and offered to sell him nine books at a huge price. He laughed. She went away, burnt three books and returned, offering the six left at the same price, only to be rebuffed again. A third time she came, with only three books still unburnt. Tarquin bought them at the price first named. For she was the Sibyl of Cumae, and the scrolls of her prophecies were lodged for centuries in the holiest site of pagan Rome, the temple of Jupiter.

Ancient Rome wanted to know its future, and yet feared to know, for the Sibylline prophecies spoke of ashes, suicide, rape, terror, looting and a terrible fall from pride that would bring despair to humankind. And so it came to pass.


There is, though, an unlikely place where both the prophets of Israel and the Cumaean Sibyl are honoured, and that is on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo's incomparable frescoes show her opposite the prophet Ezekiel. The idea comes from the poet Virgil, for in his fourth Eclogue he talks of a Cumaean prophecy coming true; he speaks of a virgin, the birth of a boy, the beginning of a golden age, with a new generation born from heaven. No wonder Christian poets and artists took it for an inspired prophecy. There, on Michelangelo's painted plaster, the puzzles of the pagan Sibyl and the Bible's prophecies are reconciled. But the world's conflicts still await reconciliation, and only in a spirit of hope can we wish all of our readers a Happy Christmas.

No pagan Sibylline Oracles survive, but there are Christian and perhaps Jewish oracles attributed to the Sibyl. Not all the surviving Sibylline Oracles are included in Charlesworth's Old Testament Pseudepigrapha volumes. The More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project is publishing still more.
THE SIXTH-CENTURY JESUS SEAL from Tiberias is covered by the Discovery Channel:
Early Image of Jesus Found
By Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News

Dec. 23, 2005 — A rare 6th-century seal that bears the likely image of Jesus on one side and a cross symbol signifying the name "Christ" on the back recently was excavated in Tiberias, Israel, according to archaeologists who continue to work at the site.

Since seals with this imagery do not appear before the middle of the 6th century, the object is one of the first to show such early Christian symbolism.


The article has good photos of both sides of the seal and lots of new details about it and its discovery.
NAZARETH VILLAGE, the simulation of first-century Nazareth located near modern Nazareth, is back in the news with its annual Christmas celebrations:
Nazareth Village re-creates life as Jesus knew it
Replica designed to improve understanding of Scriptures

Matthew Kalman, [San Francisco] Chronicle Foreign Service

Friday, December 23, 2005

Nazareth, Israel -- On a rocky hillside in Nazareth, the town where Jesus grew up and spent much of his life, a familiar scene is taking shape. In the courtyard of a stone stable, surrounded by rough-hewn wooden farming implements, a young man and his wife are comforting their newborn son. They are dressed in simple, handwoven tunics, and the baby is lying on a bed of fresh straw in an animal's trough.

It is as if they had been transported back in time 2,000 years to the birth of Christ and the simple rural community where Mary and Joseph lived, probably less than a mile away. This is Nazareth Village, an authentic re-creation of a first-century Holy Land farm.


Friday, December 23, 2005

"JERUSALEM SYNDROME" is the subject of an article in Haaretz. Don't let this happen to you!
Messianic mania
By Neri Livneh


In most big cities around the world, when you see someone loudly singing or shouting to himself, the tendency is to conclude that he is a possibly deranged homeless person, and while some may view such characters as an environmental hazard, they usually aren't dangerous to themselves or their surroundings. But the Jerusalem-maniacs who come from abroad have a different quality.

"For years, the theory was that people came to Jerusalem and went crazy here, that there was something particular to Jerusalem that made people become seized by a psychosis," says [psychiatrist Prof. Moshe] Kalian. "But our argument is that the people who go crazy here come here from the outset with a history of mental problems and that Jerusalem is the stage upon which they perform their big show." To paraphrase Hamlet, there's a method to their madness. In "Jerusalem Syndrome," it takes the form of "biblical delusions."

THE HISTORICAL JESUS is discussed in Slate in an ongoing e-mail exchange between John S. Kloppenborg, Larry Hurtado, and Alan Segal, three heavyweights in the field.
Jesus and the Gospel—What Really Happened?

(Mark Goodacre has already noted this. Safe travels and happy holidays, Mark.)
REFLECTIONS ON HANUKKAH, and the history of its interpretation, in the Jerusalem Post:
Hanukka and Hellenization

Hanukka, which begins Sunday night, has meant different things to different generations. Initially it was celebrated as a reminder of faith's victory over heresy, good over evil, and the few over the many.


UPDATE: And here's a very different take by James Ponet in Slate:
The Maccabees and the Hellenists
Hanukkah as Jewish civil war.

Also, the Jerusalem Post has a timely tourist piece on Modi'in.
MORE ON THE POOL OF SILOAM: The story of its excavation is being recycled in Haaretz for the holidays, but with new information. The article also notes other recent discoveries, such as a cache of cylinder seals near Warren's Shaft.
True size of Pool of Siloam discovered due to sewer blockage
By Nadav Shragai, Haaretz Correspondent

If the central sewage line for Jerusalem's Old City, which runs down the slope of the village of Silwan, had not gotten blocked a year ago, it would probably have been many years before we would have discovered the real dimensions of the historic Pool of Siloam from the Second Temple Period.

The pool, whose present small dimensions date from Byzantine times, is the outlet for the spring water coursing through the ancient Hezekiah's tunnel. It was once huge - three to four dunams.

And if the huge dimensions of the pool had not been discovered, it is doubtful that the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Elad association, which is working for the development of the area also known as the City of David, would not have come across the dramatic discovery now underway: the far end of a street dating from the Herodian period, which begins at the outer southwestern corner of the Temple Mount and is familiar to visitors to the Western Wall.


UPDATE: evidently those "cylinder seals" in the English version are "seals and bullae" in the Hebrew article. This according to Victor Avigdor Hurowitz, who also notes some other glitches in a post on the ANE list.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

MIRECKI UPDATE: Sort of. Please have a look again at my 10 December Paul Mirecki post and follow the link to Loren Rosson's blog in today's update. In the comments I post some corrections to the first post and I have more to say about "intelligent design." There's also a little more news about the Mirecki situation.
HAPPY SECOND BLOGIVERSARY (slightly belated) to the Philo of Alexandria blog!
JUDAISM, FOOD, AND ASCETICISM: Jay Michaelson reviews two interesting books in the Forward:
Mystical Bodies, Mystical Meals: Eating and Embodiment in Medieval Kabbalah
By Joel Hecker
Wayne State University Press, 296 pages, $44.95.

Holy Men and Hunger Artists: Fasting and Asceticism in Rabbinic Culture
By Eliezer Diamond
Oxford University Press, 240 pages, $49.95.

Two recent studies, Rabbi Eliezer Diamond's "Holy Men and Hunger Artists: Fasting and Asceticism in Rabbinic Culture" and Joel Hecker's "Mystical Bodies, Mystical Meals: Eating and Embodiment in Medieval Kabbalah," both grapple, in different ways, with the contradictory tendencies regarding food in the Jewish religious tradition. Diamond, professor of Talmud and rabbinics at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, discusses talmudic culture, and Hecker, professor of Jewish myticism at ReconstructionistRabbincal College, covers Kabbalah. But both end up in similarly ambivalent places: Diamond's rabbis seemed to yearn for asceticism but nonetheless couldn't quite reject the Jewish emphasis on the this-worldly, and Hecker's zoharic texts vacillate between seeing food as a necessary evil and praising it as a connection to God.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

JUSTIN DOMBROWSKI has a request:
REPRINT: Gustaf Dalman's Grammatik des Jüdisch-Palästinischen Aramäisch

I am trying to get this fine out-of-print grammar reprinted by Wipf and Stock. The cost will be roughly $30-35 / volume.

jedombrowski - at - msn -dot- com

If you're interested, drop him (not me) a note.
HAPPY WINTER SOLSTICE to all our neopagan friends.
PHIL HARLAND'S BLOG, Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean has moved to a new location. Be sure and update your bookmark. He has been writing about humor in antiquity and I like his recent posts on ancient jokes about scholars, ancient jokes with ethnic stereotypes, and his link to graffiti from Pompeii. (The last link is not recommended for those easily offended.)
ARTSCROLL'S TRANSLATIONS are given an unfavorable review by Yeshiva College senior Alec Goldstein in The Commentator:
What's Wrong With Artscroll?
By: Alec Goldstein
Issue date:
12/19/05 Section: Opinion

ArtScroll translations make study and prayer difficult for three reasons. First, ArtScroll uses big words needlessly. Second, it uses Hebrew words in English translations. Finally, it ineffectively distinguishes between translating words either literally or figuratively.


Tuesday, December 20, 2005

THE SBL FORUM for December is now posted and has lots of good stuff, as usual. Note in particular, Nicolae Roddy, "A New Program Unit: Religious Experience in Early Judaism and Early Christianity." Congratulations also to Jim VanderKam, who has been appointed the new editor of the Journal of Biblical Literature. And Deinde blogger Danny Zacharias also publishes "Bookends Review: Bibliographic Software For Mac" in this issue.
ARAMAIC WATCH: The AssyriaSat channel will soon be bringing Aramaic programming to Australia:
PanAmSat (NYSE: PA) today announced that AssyriaSat has signed a multi-year agreement with GlobeCast Australia to deliver its programming through PanGlobal TV, a joint marketing alliance between PanAmSat and GlobeCast Australia, to viewers throughout Australia. The world's first and only Assyrian television station will be carried on the Australia Beam of PanAmSat's PAS-8 Pacific Ocean Region satellite located at 166 degrees East Longitude. As a result of this transaction, PanGlobal TV will now offer 27 channels of multi-ethnic programming to the Australian subscribers of this Direct-to-Home platform (DTH).


Launched in October 2002, AssyriaSat is the first Assyrian worldwide television channel. Originating from the Assyria Vision (KBSV-TV) studios at the Assyrian Cultural Center of Bet Nahrain in Ceres, California, it features a wide variety of family-oriented programs, including news reports, general entertainment, cultural and educational shows. The station broadcasts its programming worldwide 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

"AssyriaSat is very pleased to announce this relationship with GlobeCast Australia using the PanGlobal Platform on PanAmSat's PAS-8 satellite," said Dr. Sargon Dadesho, CEO of AssyriaSat. "With this agreement, AssyriaSat will be able to reach thousands of Aramaic-speaking homes throughout Australia."


Monday, December 19, 2005

WELCOME TO VISITOR NUMBER 200,000, who arrived at 06:42:49 PM GMT. The IP address was quite uninformative, so I can't give you any additional general information, even country of origin. But if you think it may have been you, and you're interested, drop me a note with your IP address (which I won't make public) and I'll tell you.

Sorry, no free book, though. I have to say I'm baffled by the custom some people are following of giving out a free book to their 100,000th (or however many) visitor. The way I see it, dear readers, I'm giving you PaleoJudaica for free nearly every day of the year. And I should give you a book too? If any of you want to give me a book, well, that would be fine. (Some of you have, and I'm grateful.) But there's no need to. Just keep coming back and keep telling your friends about PaleoJudaica.
ASSIMILATED TO THE BLOGOSPHERE: Kevin P. Edgecomb has a new blog called biblicalia. I have mentioned Kevin before on PaleoJudaica here and here. And he tells us more about himself here. Welcome!

(Via Chris Weimer at Thoughts on Antiquity.)
HAPPY BLOGIVERSARY to Dr. Cathey's Blog!
THE COPTIC GOSPEL OF JUDAS is to be published under the auspices of the National Geographic Society, with a documentary and article planned for the spring of 2006, followed by three books. John Dart (journalist and author of a good popular book called The Jesus of Heresy and History) has an article in the Christian Century in which Charles Hedrick describes the contents:
Long-lost Gospel of Judas to be published
by John Dart


Hedrick said the last six pages of the Judas document describe a heavenly scene in which Allogenes is being tested and tried by Satan, followed by an earthly scene in which Jesus is being watched closely by scribes. At one point Judas is told, "Although you are evil at this place, you are a disciple of Jesus." The last line of the text says, according to Hedrick: "And he [Judas] took money and delivered him [Jesus] over."

So, Hedrick said, "it appears that Judas is working at the behest of God when he betrays Jesus as part of the divine plan." When translations of the Gospel of Judas are released with accompanying analyses, Hedrick expects that "there will be a lot of sensationalism, but it will dribble out, leaving only the scholars interested."

Yet, in academic and religious circles, the text may stir excitement for years, according to a scholar from the University of Ottawa. "It is a major discovery not only for Coptic, Gnostic or apocryphal studies, but also for ancient Judaism and early Christianity," said Pierluigi Piovanelli in an e-mail to colleagues in 2004 when the first plans to publish were announced.


You can read Piovanelli's original announcement here, which was available at PaleoJudaica long before the press got wind of the story. And for more on the Coptic Gospel of Judas, see these links.
MORE ON THE TIMBUKTU MANUSCRIPTS -- The Toronto Star has an article:
The treasures of Timbuktu
Wealth of words | The belief that Africa had no written history has been disproven in the fabled centre that once was a seat of Islamic scholarship
Dec. 18, 2005. 01:00 AM

Time has not been kind to this once-great centre of civilization, which in the early 1500s inspired the Spanish explorer Leo Africanus to paint a picture of a learned, cultured and peaceful place where books were the main industry, where one literally walked on "gold."

Lured by this promise of riches, European explorers tried for centuries to find Timbuktu. By the time the first ones finally arrived in the 1800s, they found a desolate desert outpost not all that different from the sand-swept town of today, with no evidence of all the fabled wealth. Hence, the Western myth about a never-never place with little to offer the world — a myth that is about to be exploded.

Today, treasures are being unearthed here that are radically changing the way the world views Timbuktu, Africa and her history. They're called the "Timbuktu manuscripts" and they disprove the myth that Africa had no written history.

While many thousands have been recovered, there are still hundreds of thousands of manuscripts hidden away in wells and mud-walled storerooms in northern Mali. Huge collections have been passed down in families over many centuries, kept out of sight for fear that European explorers, and then French colonists, would abscond with them.

"Before, all the manuscripts were kept in our homes," says Abdelkader Haidara, who has inherited his family's collection of 9,000 written works dating back to the 16th century.

"Then, in 1993, I had an idea to open a private and modern library that would be open to everyone."

Thanks to funding from an American foundation, Haidara has been able to open his Mamma Haidara library and catalogue 3,000 of the manuscripts, some of which date back to the 1100s.


There's lots of interesting information in the article. For more on the Timbuktu manuscripts and their potential relevance for ancient Judaism, see here and here.

UPDATE: Bad link fixed.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Jesus skeptics on the run (LA Times)
• Anne Rice's latest novel relies on a biblical scholarship more trusting of the New Testament.

By Charlotte Allen, Charlotte Allen is author of "The Human Christ: The Search for the Historical Jesus." She co-edits the InkWell blog for the Independent Women's Forum.

ANNE RICE'S "Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt," her novel about the boy Jesus whose family has not gotten around to telling him that he is the messiah, is a national bestseller. That's not surprising. Rice is a seasoned storyteller whose 26 previous novels on subjects ranging from vampires to sadomasochistic erotica have sold more than 75 million copies. With "Christ the Lord," she transferred her flair for the supernatural to a new market of Christian believers who share the faith she has re-embraced.

What is interesting — and portentous — is that just as "Christ the Lord" was nearing release in early September, Robert Funk, founder of the Jesus Seminar, died. The Jesus Seminar is still going strong. But Funk's death and Rice's novel constitute a kind of symbolic marker of the passing of a brand of dogmatic hyper-skepticism toward the Gospels and the rise of a new and more generous biblical scholarship that holds, contra the seminar, that the Gospels and other New Testament writings constitute virtually our only record of what Jesus said and did. These scholars contend that there is no point in trying to deconstruct the Gospels to find the "real" Jesus. They maintain there is nothing in the historical or archeolological record of the 1st century that makes the Gospel accounts of Jesus' life inherently implausible.


I think that Allen is a little hard on Funk and the Jesus Seminar, but they can't complain that they haven't asked for confrontation. I come down somewhere in the middle of this debate, insofar as I have the right to an opinion at all. I'm skeptical of the historicity of much of the material in the Gospels but I don't think that it's inherently implausible that Jesus thought of himself as a messianic redeemer and/or a divine being. Such ideas were in the air.

UPDATE (19 December): Bad link fixed.
THAT VISITOR'S CENTER AT THE WESTERN WALL PLAZA, and the objections to it by the Palestinian Authority, are covered briefly in a Jerusalem Post article:
Palestinians slam Kotel visitors' center


The Palestinian Authority has lambasted a new visitors' center at the Western Wall plaza.

"Israel is constructing a heritage center dedicated to show a fabricated heritage that might help them to deceive the foreign visitor into believing Jerusalem is a historical place of the Jews," an article about the new center on the Palestinian Authority's official Web site read.


Saturday, December 17, 2005

MORE ON THE MEGIDDO "CHURCH" EXCAVATION, including interviews with the prisoners who are doing the digging:
Morover / Dig they must (Haaretz)

Wednesday midday, Megiddo Prison
"I found it is all mosaic floor," Yehuda Batir says in his broken Hebrew. He is 25, born in Uzbekistan, has been in Israel only two and a half years and is already serving time in Megiddo Prison for domestic violence. Now he is working there as part of a "rescue dig" organized by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), which is uncovering what turned out to be a mosaic of perhaps the oldest church ever found anywhere, dating back to the fourth century C.E.

"First I found corner," Batir continues. "I go, dig with hoe, saw here a little, 10 centimeters, and I think to myself there is something here. There was plaster, shards, no pictures. After that I saw fish and I know it is Christian."

THE TWO ANCHORS FROM THE DEAD SEA are now on display in the Israel Museum:
Dead Sea anchors were carefully designed
By MEIR RONNEN (Jerusalem

Two remarkably well-preserved wooden anchors more than two millennia old, discovered recently on the shores of the Dead Sea, are now on view opposite the book shop at the Israel Museum, on loan from the Israel Antiquities Authority.


The first anchor, approximately 2,500 years old, was found where the Ein Gedi harbor was once located, and may have been used by the Jews of biblical Ein Gedi. The later anchor, some 2,000 years old, was constructed according to the best Roman technology and probably belonged to a large craft used by one of the rulers of Judea. As the sea recedes further, we may yet get to see the ship to which this anchor belonged.


The article has detailed information on the materials and construction of both anchors. The Madaba Map mosaic and a lot of ancient coins are on display with the anchor.

Friday, December 16, 2005

MORE JEWISH-TEMPLE DENIAL, this time from the International Press Center, Palestine. A reader alerts me to the article "Israel Funds Construction Acts beneath Al Aqsa Mosque at the Cost of NIS 68 Million." The relevant passage reads:
The construction works are planned to be financed by several ministries; phased over five-year period. These include propping up what is called as "Heshmonaem Tunnel" - a tunnel that passes under Al-Aqsa mosque - and building a befitting infrastructure for it, in addition to air-conditioning installation; restoration works of Al-Buraq wall, setting up additional arrival halls to receive the tourists who come to visit Al-Buraq square; constructing a heritage centre - dedicated to show a fabricated heritage that might will help them to deceive the foreign visitors into believing Jerusalem as a historical place of the Jews; building a police station; carrying out a marketing project to encourage the Jewish soldiers and students visit the Islamic holy square of Al-Buraq along with Al-Aqsa mosque.

Also, an Israeli government statement mentioned that Al-Buraq wall which is allegedly called by the Israelis as the "Wailing wall" would be part and parcel of the Jewish religious and historical heritage.

My emphasis. I've posted on the tunnel excavation here and here, and here. The recent attempts to change the name of the Western Wall to the "Buraq Wall" (at the same time claiming that it is a Muslim-era artifact rather than a wall of the Herodian Temple Platform) have been noted here and here. Pointing out the constant repetition of this nonsense gets monotonous, but I don't think it should be ignored.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

MORE SAD NEWS: I am sorry to note the death today of Israeli archaeologist Ruth Amiran, mentioned by Victor Avigdor Hurowitz on the ANE list.
IN THE MAIL -- my review copy of the long awaited 1-2 Samuel DJD volume has arrived:
Frank Moore Cross et al., Qumran Cave 4 XII: 1-2 Samuel (Discoveries in the Judaean Desert 17; Oxford: Clarendon, 2005)
DEFINITIONS OF "APOCALYPTIC" (WRITINGS) AND THE GENRE "APOCALYPSE" are collected by Alan S. Bandy over at Café Apocalypsis. Looks useful.
ANOTHER CELEBRATION of the 1600th anniversary of the invention of the Armenian alphabet:
Armenians Celebrate Their Letters

Published: December 13, 2005

IT'S not every day you are invited to a 1,600th birthday party, let alone one for an alphabet.

But last week, that's exactly what brought more than 200 people to a parking lot in New Milford, N.J., across the street from a CVS and a karate studio, where they huddled together in a shivering herd, clapping their mittens and whispering prayers in frosty breath to the Armenian alphabet, created in the fifth century.

The Hovnanian School, a private day school that teaches the Armenian language, held the party and celebrated the occasion by unveiling an alphabet mural. ...

Linguists say the Armenian alphabet is one of the oldest in the world that is still in use. It has proved remarkably durable, surviving a carousel of empires, vast migrations and even genocide. Armenia is a small country with a big diaspora, and its language is valued as the glue that has held the community together. Today's 38 letters vary little from the original 36, which were first brushed by an Armenian monk around A.D. 405 in order to translate the Bible.


Harvard University held a conference in honor of the anniversary in October.
THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS are coming to Seattle in 2006:
Pacific Science Center to Present Dead Sea Scrolls

SEATTLE--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Dec. 14, 2005--Pacific Science Center today announced the upcoming West Coast premiere of Discovering the Dead Sea Scrolls, opening September 23, 2006.

This major new exhibition will feature 10 of the Dead Sea scrolls, including four scrolls never before seen by the public. Also included is a collection of artifacts from the ancient settlement of Qumran near the Dead Sea, along with interactive exhibits on the science behind the excavation, conservation, and interpretation of the scrolls.


And the Seattle Post Intelligencer has more:
Tickets go on sale today for the first show of Dead Sea Scrolls in the Northwest, which will open Sept. 23 at the Pacific Science Center. Bryce Seidl, the center's president and chief executive officer, said at a news conference Wednesday he hoped 250,000 people would attend during the 105-day run.

The exhibit will feature 10 scrolls and scroll fragments. Some are biblical in nature and others are what is being called "sectarian." The biblical scrolls and fragments, which represent the earliest versions of the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament, concern the books of Genesis, Exodus, Isaiah, Ezekiel and Psalms. A handful of facsimiles on various subjects, including the book of Deuteronomy, will also be shown.

In addition, the show will include a collection of artifacts -- mostly pottery, wooden bowls and coins -- from Qumran, the area of the Judean desert where the scrolls were found, as well as displays of the technology involved in the discovery of the scrolls, their preservation and interpretation.

And there's still more from the Seattle Times:
Among the 10 scrolls or scroll fragments to be shown in Seattle is a text that relates the fourth to sixth days of the biblical creation story, with God dividing the light from darkness and creating humankind. Another parchment describes God speaking to Moses through a burning bush. Neither scroll has been exhibited before.

The exhibit also will include manuscripts that describe life in the Middle East shortly before the birth of Jesus Christ. One is a list of rules that spell out behavior and customs among a sect that inhabited the Judean desert where the scrolls were found in 1947. Spitting on the floor was frowned upon, latrines were supposed to be a certain distance from houses, and men were exhorted to use only their left hands when urinating.

This article also tells how the exhibition was arranged.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

THIS IS KIND OF FREUDIAN, but I guess the Shrine of the Book does look like one. And it was for a good cause.
ROBERT ISRAEL AUMANN, recent winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, has also published on game theory and the Talmud. See his articles "On the Matter of the Man with Three Wives" [PDF file] (Paper 46, updated and revised [I think from a 1985 original - JRD] for the Rabbinic public), Moriah 22, 3-4, Tevet 5759 (January 1999): 98-107 (in Hebrew) and "Risk Aversion in The Talmud," Economic Theory 21 (2003): 233-239. (From his full list of publications here.)

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

FEMALE SCRIBES aren't any easier to find than female bibliobloggers, but Aviel Barclay-Rothschild is one (a scribe, that is), and she also has a blog: Netivat Sofrut: diary of a Soferet. I have no idea if she would want to be known as a biblioblogger, but she certainly talks about the Bible and also posts samples of her own biblical scrolls. She has a post on medieval female scribes here.

(Via Manuscript Boy, who has more on female scribes at Hagahot. He also has some good thoughts on the limits of the contribution of manuscripts to scholarship. Read the comments too.)
M. R. JAMES was a remarkably prolific and varied writer. He was a major contributor to the field of biblical apocrypha and pseudepigrapha in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He also wrote and published good ghost stories. Now Rick Brannan has run across another James work that is new to me:
Old Testament Legends: Being Stories Out of Some of the Less-Known Apocryphal Books of the Old Testament

This is republished online in Project Gutenburg's "plain vanilla text" format. The book appears to be a collection of stories from various Old Testament pseudepigrapha retold for children. Here's the table of contents:


There's also a zip file with the full text of the book, page by page (the image quality is not great), and all of the illustrations. Here, for example, is "EPHIPPAS AND THE DEMON OF THE RED SEA BRING THE GREAT PLLLAR TO SOLOMON," a scene from the Testament of Solomon chapter 24:

Cool stuff. You can also read James's ghost stories online (again, through Project Gutenburg) here and here. And another seminal work of his is also online: The Lost Apocrypha of the Old Testament (noted here on PaleoJudaica a while ago). And see the first link in this post for still more. Plus Ed Cook has more yet in this Ralph post from some time ago.

Monday, December 12, 2005

I'VE UPDATED Saturday's Paul Mirecki post yesterday and this morning, and will continue to do so for a while as the situation develops.
ASSIMILATED TO THE BLOGOSPHERE: Here's a fairly new Brazilian blog, Observatório Bíblico, run by Professor Airton José da Silva. Welcome!
RABBINICS CONFERENCE: The Institute for the Study of Rabbinic Thought at Robert M. Beren College, Beit Morasha of Jerusalem, is holding its Eighth International Conference on Rabbinic Thought on Monday – Thursday, December 26-29, 2005. It will take place at the Kiryat Moriah Campus, 3 Ha'Askan, Jerusalem. Email:; website: The program is as follows:
Monday, December 26th

9:30 Chaim Milikowsky (Bar-Ilan U.), Chair

Prof. Benjamin Ish-Shalom (Rector, Beit Morasha), Greetings

Prof. Moshe D. Herr (Hebrew U.), A Hundred Years of the Study of Rabbinic Thought: Problems, Achievements, Challenges

Prof. Rabbi David Weiss-Halivni (Columbia U.), Talmudic Research and the Breaking of the Vessels

12:00 Prof. Shlomo Naeh (Hebrew U.), Chair

Prof. Menahem Kahana (Hebrew U.), Numerological Consideration in the Study of Rabbinic Literature

Rabbi Dr. Benjamin Lau (Beit Morasha), On the Possibility of Biographical Study of Rabbinic Literature

14:00 Prof. Leib Moscowitz (Bar-Ilan U.), Chair

Rabbi Prof. Daniel Sperber (Bar-Ilan U.), Fundamental Ethical Values in Halakha

Dr. Cana Werman (Ben-Gurion U.), Contemplations on the development of Halakha

Rabbi Dr. Yehuda Brandes (Beit Morasha), Aggadic and Halakhic Representations of Levirate Marriage

Tuesday, December 27th

10:00 Prof. Jonah Frankel (Hebrew U.), Chair

Dr. Alon Goshen-Gottstein (Beit Morasha), The Two-Powers Polemic: The Textual Evidence

Prof. Yaakov Elman (Yeshiva U.), Theological Dialogue in Amoraic Babylonia

Prof. Steven Fine (Yeshiva U.), Jewish and Samaritan Houses of Study and Synagogues in Late Antiquity


Prof. Aharon Shemesh (Bar-Ilan U.), Punishment in Qumran and the Beginnings of Midrash

Ms. Avital C. Hochstein and Prof. Hanna Safrai (Hartman Inst.), Inclusion and Exclusion of Women in Halakhic Midrash of the Type “Ein Li Ela”

Dr. Noam Zohar (Bar-Ilan U.), From the Biblical Mishpatim to Mishnah Tractate Nezikin: Two conceptual Schemes -- One Adopted, One Rejected


Gala Evening in honor of Rabbi Dr. Yehuda Brandes's book, Applied Aggada

At Heikhal Shlomo, 58 King George St., Jerusalem

Wednesday, December 28th


Prof. Avigdor Shinnan (Hebrew U.), The Sources of Rabbi Akiba’s Wealth in the Aggada

Dr. Joshua Levinson (Hebrew U.), Stories of Confrontation Stories between Rabbis and Witches

Dr. Reuven Kipperwasser, “A King who Invited Guests” Parables


Prof. Menahem Fish (Tel-Aviv U.), Religious Polemics and the Prayer Controversy

Dr. Uri Erlich (Ben-Gurion U.), Prayer in Rabbinic Literature: A Developing Database

Prof. Shamma Friedman (Bar-Ilan U.), Innovation and Progress of The Saul Lieberman Institute’s Database of Textual Witnesses: Images of Fragments

Thursday, December 29th

10:00 Prof. Albert Baumgarten (Bar-Ilan U.), Chair

Prof. Marc Hirshman (Hebrew U.), Concepts of the Election of Israel in Rabbinic Thought

Ms. Yifat Monnickendam (Bar-Ilan U.), The Polemic over Resurrection of the Dead in Rabbinic Thought and the Church Fathers

Prof. Harry Fox (U. of Toronto), Socio-Linguistics as Identification of Status in Rabbinic Thought


Prof. Yair Lorberboim (Bar-Ilan U.), Holiness and Imitatio Dei in Tanaitic Thought

Rabbi Dr. Oded Yisraeli (Ben-Gurion U.), The Zohar of the Aggada

Sunday, December 11, 2005

I AM VERY SORRY TO NOTE the death today of Professor Hayim Tadmor, reported on the ANE list by Victor Avigdor Hurowitz. May his memory be for a blessing.
EILAT MAZAR has published an article on her monumental building in Jerusalem in Biblical Archaeology Review. It is available online, downloadable as a PDF file:
Did I Find King David's Palace?

(Via Explorator 8.33.)
ANTIQUITIES AS ASSESTS TO BE SEIZED? American victims of a Hamas terrorist attack in Israel are trying to seize Iranian antiquities in American museums to pay for the judgment they won against Iran. I don't object to the principle these people are trying to establish (i.e., seizing external assets of states that support terrorism in order to compensate the victims), but I think antiquities should be off limits.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

A NEW ARAMAIC FRAGMENT OF TOBIT has surfaced in the Schøyen Collection. Ed Cook has an analysis over at Ralph. He says he's confident it's genuine.
REGARDING PAUL MIRECKI: I've been following this situation closely, but haven't said anything about it yet, partly because I've been busy, partly because it's tangential to my usual topics, and partly because the situation has been changing so fast and I've been taking notes and thinking about it. But here are my thoughts at present.

The basic story is that Paul Mirecki, Professor of Religion at the University of Kansas, has been heavily criticized for insulting e-mail comments he made about creationists and fundamentalists in connection with a course on creationism and "intelligent design." It seems that this was a private e-mail that someone then circulated approvingly. He also made intemperate comments about Catholics, Fundamentalist Zionists, etc. on a discussion board for the KU Society of Open-Minded Atheists and Agnostics. He ended up withdrawing the course, then earlier this week he reported that he was stopped on the road and beaten up by two men driving a pickup truck who specifically mentioned the controversy. Then, late in the week, he resigned as chair of the Department of Religion. Now he has hired a lawyer. There's also summary article from today here.

To start with, I think what he wrote (and he has acknowledged that he wrote it and has apologized) was unpleasant, unconstructive, and unfair. But, frankly, I've heard worse from some Democrats about President Bush and some Republicans about President Clinton, and in both cases the comments have been made in public and with no thought that anyone could be offended. Free speech includes free speech that other people don't like, or it's not worth much. Whether he should have canceled the course (and I'm sorry that, for whatever reason, it isn't going forward) or resigned as department chair are things best sorted out between him and his department.

It looks as though he spoke (i.e., wrote) too freely because he was under the impression that he was writing something in private, although he posted his e-mail comments on an archived list that seems to have been accessible to the public. One private message -- the one that started the controversy -- was also circulated by someone else. But however they were made public, this reinforces the principle that you should never put something in an e-mail if you don't want it to be read by pretty much everyone in the world.

The beating, of course, is appalling, and I can't say I'm encouraged to hear a number of people just saying they don't believe it happened. This article has a picture of the bruises, which look to me to have been administered with considerable enthusiasm. Are we really supposed to believe that he battered himself and then involved the media and the police just to get media sympathy? If that were true it would be quite reprehensible -- and also weird -- but people who make the claim had better back it up with some serious evidence or they could end up looking pretty bad themselves. I'm taking Mirecki at his word unless someone offers me strong evidence to do otherwise.

As for the wider issues that started the whole controversy, rude comments aside, Mirecki is right that creationism is not a viable scientific theory and "intelligent design" is a very weak philosophical argument. And it is perfectly legitimate to teach a class that explains why. Creationism is nonsense and flies in the face of both scientific method and the actual evidence. "Intelligent design" is a superficially plausible attempt to cast doubt on evolution and bring creationism in again through the back door, but its arguments simply don't hold up to anyone who knows anything about serious metaphysics or scientific cosmology. For example, the "fine-tuned universe" argument is based on the assumption that all of reality is contained in the visible universe, but there are plenty of reasons to doubt that this is the case. We don't even know the actual size of the universe we're in: all we can see is in our own past-light cone, which may be a very small part of the whole. The many-worlds theory of quantum physics holds that there are an infinite number of parallel universes. There are good physical arguments (involving both quantum computation and the "two-slit experiment") in favor of it and a fair number of physicists accept it. Moreover, the Big Bang itself may be just a small eddy in an infinite quantum-fluctuating vacuum. In other words, the fact that the parameters of our universe are set to many decimal places to produce life may just be an extremely unlikely coincidence that nevertheless is unremarkable among the infinity of other possibilities that are realized elsewhere. And once you grant that such a coincidence has to happen somewhere, it's no surprise that we find ourselves in a universe of the sort that produces intelligent life. Where else are we going to find ourselves? (The technical term for this general point is the "weak anthropic principle.") And so on.*

Back to Mirecki: the reaction of elements of the Kansas legislature to these events has been disappointing:
The university’s action wasn’t enough for conservative lawmakers, who said they want to know whether professors teaching other courses are letting their biases get in the way.

“This may show a bigger problem than just Professor Mirecki,” said Rep. Brenda Landwehr, a Wichita Republican. “It may show we’re not providing fair and balanced opportunities to our students.”

Landwehr has called for hearings when the Legislature resumes next month. She said she wants to know whether professors are exhibiting any intolerance, whether it’s religious, political or any other kind.

Landwehr also questioned whether Mirecki should be allowed to teach religious studies courses.

“It’s hard to teach religion if you don’t believe in it,” she said.

I've taught courses on Judaism, Asian religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Chinese religions, Shinto, etc.), Islam, and early Christianity. Sorry, but it's pretty hard to believe in all of them, and any attempt to do so would fail to take any of them seriously on their own terms. One can teach about religious beliefs and practices accurately and fairly without believing in them. I imagine this was just a poorly thought-out, off-the-cuff comment, but the Balkanization it implies is chilling. If Kansas legislators are going to pressure universities to allow only adherents to teach a religion, and that only from an insider's faith perspective, Kansas has a problem.

Likewise, the zero tolerance of "any intolerance" of any kind is ill considered. Personally, I'm intolerant of, say, cannibalism, al-Qaeda, clitorectomies, Nazis, and Aztec human sacrifice, and I don't see why anyone should try to be tolerant of them in class, online, or elsewhere. I don't think Rep. Landwehr would disagree, but while she's criticizing Mirecki, she needs to think more carefully about statements she herself is making in public as an elected public official.

Professor Mirecki made some mistakes and has paid more for them than he ought to have. But that doesn't justify teaching creationism in public schools or using the incident to interfere with the academic freedom of professors of religion in Kansas. I hope that cooler heads speak up more about this and that they prevail in the long run.

*Just to be clear, I have nothing in principle against people making arguments for the existence of God from metaphysics or scientific cosmology. Theologians have been advancing these for a long time and continue to do so, joined by the occasional physicist. Some of what they've done is quite interesting, although I doubt that a great many people have been converted to theism via that route. But these theologians and scientists operate on a more sophisticated level than the proponents of "intelligent design" and -- crucially -- they don't promote their positions as alternatives to evolutionary theory. I have no problem with these arguments being studied in university courses, but these should be courses on theology and science or on the philosophy of religion (both of which would quickly reduce the "intelligent design" arguments to mincemeat), and not science courses.


David Deutsch, The Fabric of Reality (London: Penguin, 1997).

UPDATE: I suppose Rep. Landwehr could have been saying just that atheists and agnostics shouldn't teach religion rather than that only people who believe in a religion should teach it, which is how I first took her statement. But this is no better, pretty much for the reasons I've already given. It's possible to teach a religion at the university level fairly and accurately without believing in that religion or any religion. And if my second interpretation is what she meant, its both discriminatory and unconstitutional. Whatever she meant, it was out of line.

UPDATE (11 December): Rebecca Lesses comments.

UPDATE (12 December): More good commentary from Rebecca here. She also notes this article, in which Mirecki says that he was forced to resign as department chair.

UPDATE (13 December): The University of Kansas begs to differ: "KU: Mirecki left leadership post voluntarily".

UPDATE (22 December): Note this post on Loren Rosson's blog, The Busybody. In the comments I interact with an anonymous commenter and offer some corrections and expansions of this post. Also, the Religion Department of the University of Kansas now has a new acting chair.

Friday, December 09, 2005

QUMRAN ARTICLE: Shai at the Hebrew and Aramaic Philology blog summarizes a Hebrew article on the Dead Sea Scrolls which raises implications also for the redaction and development of biblical literature:
E. Tov, “Implications of Qumran Finds for the Literary Analysis of Hebrew Scripture”, Meghillot 3 (2005), pp. 191-204

Thursday, December 08, 2005

BRUCE CHILTON'S NEW BOOK on Mary Magdalene is reviewed by bibliobabe Lesa Bellevie.
Youths reveal racy Bible calendar (BBC)

A German Protestant youth group has put together a 2006 calendar illustrated with erotic scenes from the Bible.

The 12 re-enacted passages feature a bare-breasted Delilah cutting Samson's hair and a nude Eve offering an apple.

The Nuremberg-based group said they wanted to represent the Bible in a way that would entice young people.


I dare say it will. And, yes, the article does include a sample illustration.

(Via Tzvee Zahavy.)
"ABC? QED!" Philologos explains the origins of the term "abecedary" and also the letter C. Timely.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

BAR ILAN UNIVERSITY is protesting Hanan Eshel's arrest:
Bar-Ilan delays archaeology meet to protest IAA complaint
By Amiram Barkat (Ha'aretz)

Bar-Ilan University has postponed indefinitely its annual archaeology conference in protest over a police complaint lodged by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) against Dr. Hanan Eshel, a senior member of the school's archaeology department.

The IAA submitted the complaint after Eshel allegedly failed to turn over a rare artifact in his possession. According to the IAA, an indictment is to be issued shortly against the archaeologist.

The Archaeological Council, Israel's senior professional body of archaeologists, which advises the IAA, objected to the authority's move. It said disciplinary procedures might have been opened against Eshel before a police complaint was lodged. Dozens of archaeologists signed a petition recently condemning the IAA action.


Background here. Jim West has posted a copy of the petition here.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

HOW NOT TO GIVE A CONFERENCE PAPER: Maria Doerfler has some good advice based on her experiences at the recent AAR meetings.
STUDIA PHILONICA ANNUAL 17 (2005) is now out. Torrey Seland has details.
Manuscripts 'treated as fossils'
By Julianna Kettlewell
BBC News science reporter

A palaeontologist has come up with a novel way of studying historical manuscripts, by treating them as fossils from an extinct species.

John Cisne, writing in Science magazine, says manuscripts from the Middle Ages have a lot in common with animal populations.

For this reason, he claims, he can work out how many copies of a manuscript once existed and how regularly they were destroyed, simply by applying a biological model.

Historians have cautiously welcomed this rare link between the arts and sciences.


This is cool, if it actually works. It reminds me of Hartmut Stegemann's technique for reconstructing the column arrangement of a whole Dead Sea Scroll and placing its fragments in order and in the right columns (based on the shapes and damage-patterns of the fragments), which often can be done pretty well even when all you have are some badly damaged fragments that represent only part of a scroll. The problem with such techniques, of course, is testing them to see if they do work. Stegemann's method has been verified by independent reconstructions of the Hodayot Scroll (1QHa) by Stegemann and Puech, cross-verified by the texts of the Cave 4 Hodayot manuscripts. I'm pretty sure it's also been tested on biblical manuscripts whose contents are known, but I can't find discussion of the latter anywhere. I wonder if some similar test could be applied to Cisne's method.


Annette Steudel, "Scroll Reconstruction," Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls (ed. Lawrence H. Schiffman and James C. VanderKam; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 842-44.

(Via Pete Williams at the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog.)

UPDATE (8 December): Ken Penner e-mails:
Perhaps you were thinking of Herbert's A New Method for Reconstructing Biblical Scrolls, and its Application to the Reconstruction of 4QSam-a (Brill, 1997)?

Yes, I think that's an example.
TZVEE ZAHAVY has a blog:
THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS EXHIBIT AT DISCOVERY PLACE (Charlotte, North Carolina) opens on 1 February.

Monday, December 05, 2005

BIBLIOBLOGGING, ETC., AGAIN: The SBL session continues to generate comments. Chris Weimar has now posted his thoughts on "'Biblioblogging' 'Femiblogging' and Blogdom" on his Thoughts on Antiquity blog. One comment regarding this:
Furthered by some of Jim Davila's remarks (again, I'm getting this information second-hand, so correct me if I'm wrong) about who are bibliobloggers (professors and graduate students only?), the next thing you know people are angry over who is a biblioblogger and who isn't and why women are being excluded from this white-middle-age-male association and whathaveyou nonsense and then...Tim B. leaves.

In my paper I said that I took "bibliobloggers" to mean "bloggers who have a primary or at least a significant focus on academic Biblical Studies" and that I understood this to be the general view. When I counted them up I was counting "academic specialists in biblical studies or postgraduate students in the field." In fact, it turns out that at least a couple of those I was counting fall outside those more narrowly defined limits, so the first definition is more accurate and is the one that I prefer for my own use of the word. Others, of course, are welcome to use it however they like.

My interest is in biblical studies and early Jewish studies from historical, archaeological, and philological perspectives and I tend to read blogs that work more from those perspectives than not. I don't care what you call them and they don't all deal with the Bible (e.g., Hagahot and Hebrew and Aramaic Philology rarely do, if ever). My interests should not be taken as in any way definitive. They're just, well, what I'm interested in.

Also, Chris draws attention to a new blog by Lesa Bellevie called The Magdalene Review, which keeps track of media references etc. to Mary Magdalene and related matters.

UPDATE (6 December): Mark Goodacre comments on Chris's post here. Also, Chris worries that I thought he was attacking me. I didn't. On the contrary, he pointed out something I had said which turned out to be incorrect (that the bibliobloggers I was counting in my survey were all either academic specialists or postgrads) and I was happy to have the opportunity to correct it. If I sounded defensive, it was not from anything he said. I just wanted to keep it clear that by expressing my opinion I am not making authoritative, prescriptive pronouncements.
BLEG FOR A PHOENICIAN GIANT: I'm wondering if any of my readers can help me with a question I've had for some time. I have a vague memory from perhaps twenty years ago, when I spent a lot of time working with Phoenician, that there is a Phoenician inscription that refers to the biblical figure Og, King of Bashan, (עוג מלך־הבשן) who is mentioned in Numbers 21:31-35; Deuteronmy 1:4; Deuteronomy 3:1-11; Joshua 12:4-5 and 13:12; and a few other biblical passages. The passage in Deuteronomy 3 indicates that he was a giant and the passages in Joshua trace his ancestry back to the Rephaim, who were also known as giants (see 2 Samuel 21:16-22, ילידי הרפה).

At the SBL meetings I asked a bunch of Northwest Semitists about this and a couple of them vaguely remembered it too, one suggesting that it was found in a curse in one of the Byblian inscriptions, which invoked King Og. But no one could remember which text it was precisely and, after I got home, I checked all the Phoenician inscriptions from Byblos and could not find a reference to Og in any of them. And no Og is mentioned in the names indices for Donner and Rôlling's Kanaanäische und Aramäishe Inscriften or Gibson's Syrian Semitic Inscriptions, vol. 3, Phoenician Inscriptions. I don't have access to Benz's Personal Names in the Phoenician and Punic Inscriptions.

So -- is my memory at all correct? Is there a Phoenician, Punic, or Neo-Punic inscription that mentions Og? I'm collecting material on the giants and on ancient non-Israelite mentions of figures from the Hebrew Bible, both for the More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project, and I would be very grateful if someone can either point me to the relevant inscription or else tell me authoritatively that there isn't one.

UPDATE (3:30 pm): My thanks to Arne Halbakken, who located the reference for me in HALAT. Wayne Pitard was right: the reference is in a Phoenician inscription from Byblos (Byblos 13). It was published in 1974 by Wolfgang Rölling in "Eine new phoenizische Inscrift aus Byblos," Neue Ephemeris für Semitische Epigraphik, vol 2, 1-15 and plate 1. Apparently J. Starkey published it first in 1970. It is a damaged 7-line funerary inscription that Röllig dates to around 500 BCE. It appears to say that if someone disturbs the bones of the occupant, העג יתבקשנ האדר, "the mighty Og will avenge me." Og the giant, King of Bashan? Could be. The Rephaim were ghosts too. I wonder how common the name was.

UPDATE (29 December): I've posted much more on Og here.

(UPDATE 7 September 2011): I should note that I no longer think that this inscription refers to Og the giant. I will explain my reasons in my general introduction to the Book of Giants, which is to be translated for volume 2 of the More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project.
ENOCH/METATRON at the SBL conference: Rebecca Lesses reports on her review of Andrei Orlov's book The Enoch/Metatron Tradition. She also had a car-malfunction adventure coming home from the conference.