Saturday, February 05, 2005

ARAMAIC WATCH: In "Losing Jesus' Language" Christianity Today interviews cultural historian and native Assyrian Dr. Eden Naby about the Assyrian community and its language. Excerpt on Aramaic:
The Passion of the Christ was in Aramaic. Could Assyrians watch without the subtitles?

Many people could understand much of it. If I didn't want to see the subtitles and just listen, I had to close my eyes, which I didn't want to do. I understood about 50 percent, and I'm not as well acquainted with our written language as some.

I could follow about that much of the Aramaic too.
Is there a larger interest in Aramaic because of the movie, and has it affected your community?

I'd like to say that Mel Gibson had an effect on the community, but I don't think it's Mel Gibson at all. In terms of the visibility of Aramaic, it certainly created a lot of visibility outside of our community.

We simply do not have facilities to propagate our written language. We had greater literacy in our community in 1920 than we do today. The reason is that before 1920 the West had an enormous interest in our language. There is a story about the 50th celebration of the American presence in northwest Iran, which was in 1884. They had invited some Persian dignitaries and a missionary was sitting next to one of the Persian officials. The official noticed a lot of women sitting together with books in their hands, and the official turned the missionary and said, "what are those women doing with those books. Women in your community can read?" and they asked for all the women who could read to stand up. 600 women stood.

I don't think we have 600 women in Iran today who could read our language. We have a population of 15,000. There has been no opportunity for our people to study our language.

So there are Assyrians in Iran too. They haven't gotten nearly the media attention of the ones from Iraq.

(Heads-up, reader Carl Mosser.)
FORGERY SCANDAL IMPLICATIONS: The Winston-Salem Journal has a thoughtful piece on some of the political implications of the forged Bible-related inscriptions.
Archaeological fakes hurt Jewish claims to Holy Land

By Michele Chabin


Indictments in a sophisticated antiquities forgery ring have cast a pall over the entire field of biblical archaeology and could provide new arguments for those seeking to delegitimize Jewish claims to the Holy Land.

That's because religious leaders and even governments use the presence or absence of archaeological discoveries to bolster their claims to truth and territory, or to refute someone else's.


Read it all. I have noted elsewhere how the Jewish-temple deniers are playing the story for their own purposes. The financial damage the forgers have caused pales in comparison to the damage they have done to the serious archaeology and history of the biblical period.

UPDATE: Sorry, it's an A.P. article that appears in a number of places.

Friday, February 04, 2005

THE PETRA: LOST CITY IN STONE EXHIBIT is coming to Calvin College in April. And there will be a public lecture on Petra by Neal Bierling at Calvin next week: "Petra: A Rose Red City Half as Old as Time".
IU reinstates overseas study archeology program in Israel

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University has reinstated a summer overseas study program in Israel that was suspended three years ago after the U.S. State Department issued a travel warning for that country.

The three-week program involves participation in an archeological dig at Tel Beth Shemesh, an ancient city from biblical times. It will take place in June if enough students sign up for it, according to Kathleen Sideli, associate dean of international programs and director of overseas study.

IU suspended its overseas study programs in Israel in 2002 in keeping with a policy that requires the university to withdraw from programs in countries under State Department travel warnings.


Thursday, February 03, 2005

Bene Israel descended from shipwrecked Jews (Canadian Jewish News)


Samson Joseph Isaac Talkar, a member of Mumbai�s venerable Bene Israel community, was talking about the long history of his people in India. �We have been here for 2,000 years,� said Talkar, a formal and earnest man of 68 who was an assistant police commissioner in Mumbai, India�s biggest city, before his retirement in 1995. Talkar, a policeman for 38 years who specialized in homicide, added, �We observed our religion and we did not forget our Shabbat and our Shema. In the course of time, we forgot some of our prayers, but not the essentials of the Judaic faith.�

Like all Bene Israel, the predominant sub-group of Indian Jewry today, Talkar is familiar with the broad outlines of his people�s historical narrative. His forefathers, Jews from ancient Palestine, migrated to India before the destruction of the Second Temple, and have been here ever since. �We�re the descendants of seven families,� explained Joshua Aaron Shapurkar, a 30something tourist guide who shows foreigners the sharply contrasting sights of his pulsating metropolis.

The story that Talkar and Shapurkar tell, though shrouded in legend, is identical. Around the second century BCE, a vessel from the Land of Israel was shipwrecked off India�s tropical Konkan coast. The survivors, seven men and seven women, swam safely to shore, settled in the village of Navgaon and began working in agriculture, mainly as oil pressers. �We mingled with the locals,� said Talkar, whose physical features and speech rhythms are exactly the same as dusky-complexioned Hindus. �There was a change in our colour.�


I don't know what, if any, historical evidence there is for the legend of the shipwreck 2000 years ago, but this group clearly had a Jewish consciousness going back a very long time. Interesting story.
LOCUSTS OR CAROB PODS - which did John the Baptist eat? Philologos has a discussion in the Forward. I have no idea what the philological evidence is. Would anyone who has some expertise on the John the Baptist's diet like to comment?

UPDATE: Two responses. Peter Head e-mails:
J. Kelhoffer, "Locusts and Wild Honey (Mark 1:6c and Matt 3:4c): The Status Quaestionis concerning the Diet of John the Baptist," Currents in Biblical Research (formerly Currents in Research: Biblical Studies) 2/1 (2003): 104-127.

Also has a book in production:

The Diet of John the Baptist: "Locusts and Wild Honey" in Synoptic and Patristic Interpretation. Forthcoming in Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament [first series]; T�bingen: Mohr Siebeck, early 2005.

Stephen Goranson e-mails:
In the latest issue of Dead Sea Discoveries 11 (2004) 293-314 James A. Kelhoffer argues that John the Baptist ate locusts (the insects) and that such was not a rare practice. Kelhoffer has a whole book on the subject of John the Baptist's diet forthcoming. For a description, see (scroll to "Recent Publications"):

UPDATE: Joe Cathey e-mails:
While in East Africa � specifically Tanzania and Kenya � we ate locusts. The bugs can either be eaten raw {e.g. uncooked} or cooked over a piece of tin rather quickly. Mainly long enough to kill them and to keep them from squirming. They aren�t all that bad and actually have very little taste.

Maybe he should have tried the stir-fry recipe.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

THE NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF THE SEPTUAGINT (NETS) has been adding more books to its page of provisional English translations. There are now translations of 23 books of the Bible (12 of them the minor prophets) downloadable in PDF format. One more volume, Psalms, has already been published. Another extremely useful web resource.

Via ricoblog.
THE SCHOTTENSTEIN ARTSCROLL TALMUD is the subject of an article in the Jerusalem Post. Excerpt:
"It is one of the greatest Jewish literary accomplishments in the past 100 years, opening up the sea of the Talmud to everyone," said Rabbi Stuart Grant, principal of Judaic studies at the North Shore Hebrew Academy High School on New York's Long Island. "The notes on the bottom open up a whole world of medieval and relatively contemporary commentaries, which are not necessarily found immediately on the page."

Still, Grant said, students at his yeshiva use the Artscroll as a reference in Talmud study, not as a primary text.

"It shouldn't become a crutch and thus an impediment to being able to make one's own learning of the material in its original," he said.

A translation of the Yerushalmi (Palestinian Talmud) is also in the works.
ROCHELLE ALTMAN has posted a point-by-point response to Peter Daniels's review of her book on the ANE list.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Margins of writing, origins of cultures:
Unofficial writing in the ancient Near East and beyond

Oriental Institute Conference, February 25-26, 2005
1155 East 58th Street, Chicago, IL

Organizer: Seth L. Sanders

This is a conference on the politics of writing in the ancient Near East: what happens when people write their own languages, in environments dominated by imperial standard languages like Egyptian, Babylonian or Aramaic? This conference will be the first of its type, bringing together linguists, anthropologists, and scholars of the ancient Near East to discuss new directions for research. Among the senior scholars participating will be Harvard's Peter Machinist (Hebrew Bible), Chicago's Michael Silverstein (Linguistic Anthropology), Michigan's Piotr Michalowski (Assyriology), and Theo van den Hout, executive editor of the Chicago Hittite Dictionary. Younger scholars include William Schniedewind, (UCLA) whose recent How the Bible Became a Book is arguably the first study of the Bible to see the question of writing as decisive for both literature and history, and John Kelly (Chicago), author of the forthcoming Technography, a study in the anthropology of knowledge focusing on the grammarians of ancient India and the engineering of Sanskrit.

The papers look fascinating. The web page has detailed information, including notes on the conference format, context, and objectives; paper abstracts; and brief presenter bios. This paper is of particular interest for ancient Judaism:
William Schniedewind, UCLA
"Aramaic, the Death of (Written) Hebrew, and Jewish Nationalism in the Persian Period"
By 581 BCE (the Babylonian exile), the linguistic landscape in Palestine had changed dramatically and the written Hebrew language was almost lost in the mist of the displacement of the Jewish people. There was no social infrastructure for scribal training in Hebrew during the Persian period; instead, Jewishscribes were trained in Aramaic, which was the language of the Achaemenid empire. The paleo-Hebrew script ceased to be used, and Aramaic script replaced Hebrew script even in the copying and writing of Hebrew manuscripts. While Aramaic undergoes transformations typical of a living language and script, the Hebrew script is essentially frozen and revived as part of nationalistic movements in the Persian and Hellenistic period. Vernacular Hebrew continued to be used throughout this period and would have been critical for the revival of Hebrew later in Hellenistic period.

Michael Silverstein, University of Chicago, Respondant
THE COUNT IS A BIT OFF, due to the weekend glitch, but I'll ignore that and just say welcome to PaleoJudaica's nominal 100,000th visitor, who arrived from the University of Maryland at 09:34:24 PM GMT. Chances are you know who you are. Feel free to drop me a note so I'll know too.

UPDATE (2 February): the visitor was Maxine Grossman (IP address confirmed), who writes:
Unless someone else has claimed the honor, it looks like I'm your 100,000th visitor. I checked in yesterday afternoon to look for updates on Qumranica and/or the SBL resolution.

Congratulations on the remarkable success of this blog! It's consistently informative and always a fun read. Keep up the good work.

SBL RESOLUTION SURVEY UPDATE: I've been extremely busy lately, so I've only now gotten around to checking for the final results of the survey, which closed on 25 January. The survey site just says the following:
This survey is currently closed.

Please contact the author of this survey for further assistance.

Can anyone tell me if the results are posted somewhere? I can't find them on the SBL website, but I don't have time to search it thoroughly. I think it's odd that the survey site itself doesn't give the final results.

In any case, now that the survey is closed, I'll mention something that Wieland Willker told me shortly after it opened. There was a serious security hole on the site. You could vote multiple times as long as you deleted the cookie between votes. (I e-mailed Matthew Collins about this as soon as I found out, but I never received a reply.) For obvious reasons, I didn't want to say anything about this while the survey was still active, but it should be noted now. This, along with other security problems already noted, shows that the results cannot be trusted and should not be used to determine any action by the SBL. And, of course, I have already argued at length that the whole idea, at least as formulated and implemented in this case, was inappropriate for the SBL.
PROFESSOR DANIEL HARLOW will be lecturing on the Dead Sea Scrolls at Central Michigan University:
MEDIA CONTACT: Cynthia Drake, (989) 774-7333
PROGRAM CONTACT: Gregory Spinner, (989) 774-1445

Daniel Harlow, an expert on the Dead Sea Scrolls, will give a presentation at 8 p.m. Feb. 15 in Central Michigan University�s Park Library Auditorium.

Harlow, an associate professor of religion at Calvin College, will discuss �Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls: What the Qumran Texts Tell Us About Early Christianity.�


Monday, January 31, 2005

ORIENTAL INSTITUTE DEAD SEA SCROLL FRAGMENT UPDATE: Raymond D. Tindel, Registrar and Senior Curator, Oriental Institute Museum, writes on the ANE list that it's a fragment from "The Wiles of the Wicked Woman."
THE ST. ANDREWS DEAD SEA SCROLLS WEBSITE has been fully revised with a view toward the 2005 version of my Dead Sea Scrolls course, which begins a week from tomorrow. I've also finally made public the Qumranica blog, which will go with the course. I won't actually begin posting on the blog until next week, but if you have a look at the "About Qumranica" link on the right, under the scroll photo, you can read all about it.

If you're planning on following the course, you should go ahead and order any of the textbooks you don't have and also try to locate a copy of either The Dead Sea Scrolls Encyclopedia or the Anchor Bible Dictionary (or both) in your local library. That's a minimum list of resources you'll need to get the most out of the online component of the course.

I haven't yet finished this semester's bibliography, but I hope to have it up in a few days.


UPDATE: Just to clarify, the course is available for credit only to registered St. Andrews students physically present in the classes. But anyone who wants to can follow the blog and the web pages; no need to register or sign up for anything. It's an honours-level course, which corresponds roughly to North American upper-division undergraduate courses. For more information, see the "About Qumranica" link on the Qumranica site.
RIGHT AROUND NOW, my hits counter should be registering its 100,000th visitor. With uncannily precise timing, the counter has gone dead and vanished from my Bravenet account. At first I thought it might be that Bravenet's free counters have a 100K-bug self-destruct mechanism, but it appears that I am not alone with the problem:
My counter stat in my site has changed to a picture that says, "Counter code has changed. Please update your code." But I come here to copy the code and my counter stat is MISSING!

I just checked yesterday and it was still working...

So it seems that this announcement on their support center page, posted today, is probably more relevant:
We are currently experiencing some technical difficulties which may result in your services not working. We are working to fix these issues and expect to have everything resolved shortly. Thanks for your patience and understanding with this matter.

I've registered a "service ticket" and we'll see what happens. Meanwhile, welcome to visitor #100,000, whoever you are and whenever you show up, and boo to Bravenet for their timing.

UPDATE: Well, now the counter is back, but it clearly wasn't counting hits since sometime early on Sunday. Based on past readings for Sunday and Monday, I would guess it lost about 250 hits, so it would have reached 100K later today. But whatever; the milestone should be reached in the next day or two by any reckoning. For what it's worth, PaleoJudaica took 13.5 months to get to 50K hits, but just under eight to get from there to nearly 100K. I've noticed a fairly sharp increase in hits since around the holidays. I thought at the time it was because many people had time off and were spending more of it websurfing. But the spike hasn't dropped off much, so it may be that the advent of new biblioblogs such as Ralph the Sacred River, Serving the Word, the Macintosh Biblioblog, as well as Zeth's Biblioblog aggregator, has increased our overall audience.

In any case, for whatever reasons, thanks for visiting both PaleoJudaica and Qumranica and do keep coming back to both.
THE TOMB OF GILGAMESH STORY has resurfaced and is causing a small stir in the Biblioblogosphere (see here and here and here). The same story was reported by the BBC in the spring of 2003, but then was promptly dismissed as "pure speculation" by German archaeologist Ricardo Eichmann. (Eichmann, incidentally, is also skeptical about the existence of the Queen of Sheba).

I wouldn't get too excited about this one. It looks to me as though AINA was just recycling an old story they ran across.

But, as an aside, current news in Iraq is more exciting. Congratulations to the Iraqi people on the successful carrying out yesterday of democratic elections. They have a long way to go, but this was a major step forward and, I hope, a harbinger of things to come in the Middle East.
SHALOM PAUL will lecture on the Dead Sea Scrolls in Columbus, Ga., next week"
Author, scholar speaks on scrolls (Columbus Ledger-Enquirer)

From staff reports

Shalom Paul, chairman of the Bible department of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, will give a free lecture about the Dead Sea Scrolls at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 7. The lecture will be at the Continuing Education Center at Columbus State University, 4025 University Ave.


Sunday, January 30, 2005

WE'RE IN EDINBURGH visiting friends, and I'm working from a very unfamiliar system, so blogging is likely to be limited. There doesn't seem to be much happening of interest anyway, although I will note that the Bible and Interpretation News site is now promising to reopen in February. Strength to their arm.

I'd better post this before I accidentally shut IE down again. I expect to be home late this afternoon and may have more to say then.