Saturday, February 12, 2005

THE RECENTLY ESTABLISHED "MONARCHIST" SANHEDRIN met in Jerusalem this month to discuss the exact location of the Temple on the Temple Mount. Their agenda is to rebuild the Temple on that spot and reestablish the Davidic monarchy.
UPDATE ON THE JERUSALEM SHROUD: James Tabor, one of the excavators, has some authoritative comments on the ANE list. I'm not sure he says anything new, but he summarizes the current state of knowledge and also discusses the plans for publication.

Friday, February 11, 2005

WELCOME BACK to the Bible and Interpretation news site!
OLD TESTAMENT PSEUDEPIGRAPHA WATCH: Over at the Philo of Alexandria blog Torrey Seland notes that a new commentary on Pseudo-Phocylides is about to be published in De Gruyter's Commentaries on Early Jewish Literature series.
THIS TRAGIC STORY has been getting some media attention:
After infant's death from herpes, scrutiny turns to circumcision rite

The death of one infant boy from herpes and the infection of two others has focused attention on an ancient practice that is still used in some fervently Orthodox communities as they circumcise babies.

New York City health officials are investigating whether the mohel who operated on the three boys had infected them. The city's legal department has been granted a temporary restraining order against Rabbi Yitzhak Fischer until the investigation is complete.

Fischer practices a custom called metzitzah b'peh � loosely translated as oral suction � that is considered an integral part of the brit milah in parts of the Jewish world, though it is met with shock and distaste in others. It's not known if Fischer carries the herpes virus, but the restraining order forbids him from practicing metzitzah b'peh, and demands that he wear surgical gloves when he performs a circumcision.


The article goes on to discuss the Talmudic rules for the practice and the response by present-day physicians in the medical journal Pediatrics. Curiously, this Jerusalem Post article, like all the others I've seen, doesn't give the specific reference in the Talmud. One of the authors of the Pediatrics article, biologist Rabbi Moses Tendler of Yeshiva University, sums up as follows:
"Metzitzah is strictly medieval medicine, and it should have given way to modern medicine. "We have a tradition that says that when it comes to medicine, you don't look into the Talmud. You seek the most competent physician to tell you what to do."

UPDATE: Reader Dan Rabinowitz e-mails:
The Talmud passage appears in the Tractate Shabbat first on page 133A in the Mishna and then on page 133,B here is the full quote of the Talmudic passage in English

"Sucking out the blood." R. Papa said: "The circumciser who does not suck out the wound places the child in danger, and should be discharged from office." Is this not self-evident? It certainly must be dangerous not to do this, or the Sabbath would not be violated in order to perform that duty! We might assume, that the blood having already come to the surface it would run out of itself, and hence by sucking it out the Sabbath is not violated; hence we are given to understand that this is not so: the blood is moved only by the suction, and the Sabbath is violated; but failure to do this would involve danger for the child and hence it is permitted, and is regarded the same as applying a plaster or caraway seeds (mentioned further on in the Mishna), the omission of which would also involve danger to the child.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

HUGOYE: JOURNAL OF SYRIAC STUDIES has just published a new issue (8.1, January 2005) online. Note in particular the following:


Jacob of Edessa's version of Exodus 1 and 28.
Alison Salvesan, Oxford University

Project Reports

Digitization of Syriac Books and Other Holdings at The Catholic University of America.
Monica J. Blanchard, The Catholic University of America

Vatican Syriac Manuscripts: Volume 1.
Kristian S. Heal, Brigham Young University

Conference Report

The Bible of Edessa, Towards a New English Translation of the Syriac Bible, Leiden, August 2, 2004.
Wido T. van Peursen, Leiden University

And there are other articles, book reviews, project reports, announcements, etc.
THE SCHOTTENSTEIN ARTSCROLL TALMUD is the subject of an article in the New York Times: "An English Talmud for Daily Readers and Debaters." Incidentally, it explains the name:
The publishing process has been costly - $250,000 a volume - and that explains a basic mystery of the undertaking: Why is it called "Schottenstein"? Rabbi Scherman said that ArtScroll realized that sales would never cover the costs, and enlisted donors. Jerome M. Schottenstein, an Orthodox Jew who had studied the Gemara at Yeshiva University High School for Boys in Manhattan in the 1940's and went on to found a department store empire based in Columbus, Ohio, financed a large share of the project; since his death, in 1992, his family has sustained the gift.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Israeli archaeologist Gabriel Barkay (mentioned here before as the excavator of the Ketef Hinnom silver amulets) has given a lecture in New Orleans on his salvage excavation of the WAQF's Kidron Valley dump.
Temple Mount destruction stirred archaeologist to action (Baptist Press News)
Feb 8, 2005

NEW ORLEANS (BP)--Gabriel Barkay's excitement over new discoveries at the Temple Mount -- the Jerusalem site that carries great significance to the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths -- is tempered by the destructive events that led to them.

Barkay, professor of archaeology at Bar Ilan University near Tel Aviv, visited to New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary for a Jan. 27 lecture sponsored by the seminary's Center for Archaeological Research.

"In November 1999, the Islamic authorities carried out a huge excavation of [the part of the Temple Mount known as Solomon's Stable]," Barkay said. "They built a modern entrance to the building instead of the existing entrance, and they dug a huge pit with the help of bulldozers and 300 [dump trucks] that removed the dirt from the earthen fills of this spot."


"Who knows how many inscriptions we lost in this way?" Barkay said. "Who knows how many decorated stones were defaced in this manner? The earth was saturated with ancient materials, and it was dumped in the Kidron Valley to the east of the Temple Mount."


Just two months ago, Barkay put his archaeological know-how into action; he got a license to excavate the dumping grounds in the Kidron Valley.

"We began a project of collecting the dirt from the dumping areas. We moved the piles of dirt to a well-protected area," he recounted. "We covered them with plastic sheets. Each pile was marked with the exact place of origin and exact depth we could estimate from which it came."

His team used sifting machines to separate stones from more delicate items. Then they began searching through the material by hand.

"This effort already yielded some scores of coins," he said. "We have coins from the 12th century, the 19th century, up to the first century B.C. We have some second-century B.C. Antonian coins. We have some Herodian coins."

Among the other things, the team found a Christian charm bearing the image of John the Baptist with an infant Jesus and the Jordan River in the background. They found an alabaster dish from the Persian Period and an ivory comb from the Second Temple period. Though much had already been lost, the substance of what they are finding is encouraging amid the delicate and unfortunate situation.


This destruction of antiquities on the Temple Mount is a major archaeological scandal that should be getting more attention. The site is an important part of humanity's cultural heritage and the damage done to it is an affront to all archaeologists and historians.

UPDATE (11 February): David Nishimura at Cronaca comments: "I'm not happy about the damage done by the military occupation of Babylon, but the attention it has received is wholly disproportionate to what has been happening for far longer in Jerusalem."

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

QUMRANICA, my new weblog, is now officially up and running. I've just made my first post to it and I'll posting a lecture summary on it late this afternoon (GMT).

PaleoJudaica is an open-ended blog on which I post information on anything I find that has to do, more or less, with ancient Judaism, along with my own musings. Qumranica, however, is built around an undergraduate course on the Dead Sea Scrolls which I am currently teaching here at the University of St. Andrews. Qumranica is to function, first, as a kind of bulletin board for the course, noting when lecture summaries and abstracts of student papers are posted to the course website and providing space for my summaries of our seminars and perhaps sometimes also for student reflections and comments e-mailed by outside readers. Second, I will note on the blog any interesting media items pertaining to the Dead Sea Scrolls which I find online. And, third, I will sometimes use Qumranica to note interesting websites having to do with the Scrolls.

Qumranica will run until sometime in May. I haven't decided yet on the exact closing date. Meanwhile PaleoJudaica will continue as usual, although anything Qumran-related will generally go to Qumranica.

Do go and have a look.

UPDATE: Bad link fixed. Thanks to David Meadows for pointing it out to me.

Monday, February 07, 2005

THE BIBLIOBLOG BLOG seems to have vanished. You okay Zeth?
THE FROM THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS TO THE BIBLE IN AMERICA EXHIBIT, currently showing at High Point in North Carolina, has a sleazy connection that has been mentioned here before, but this article by by Barbara Thiede ("For shame! Slick marketers find gold mine in selling God") in the Charlotte Observer (free registration required) is a good opportunity to highlight it. The meat of the story is this:
A group of private dealers in rare Bibles has opened an exhibit in High Point. The exhibit includes antique biblical texts, sections from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, and fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls. A mock biblical market featuring books, videos and jewelry for sale sits alongside.

What's wrong with a private exhibition of ancient manuscripts and early printed Bibles? Is there anything inappropriate about making good money from entry fees to see such an exhibit? Is it immoral to profit from the sale of related items in the accompanying gift shop?

The problem is simple: The promoters are selling God.

One of the participants, the Arizona rare-book business of Craig Lampe and John Jeffcoat called, has lent various artifacts to the show. Go to their Web site, and you can find out what sort of items they market.

One is a 400-year-old Torah.

Its marketers are selling it bit by bit. They cut it into panels, exactly according to their customers' specifications, like cloth in a fabric store.

The Torah, the Web site explains, was damaged in a fire. But you can buy a surviving column. You can buy two.

Sure enough, this is the page at the website.
Ancient Hebrew Torah Scroll Panels:
From the World�s Oldest Scriptorium

A panel of leather from an incomplete ancient Hebrew Torah Scroll of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament). These hand-written, one-of-a-kind pieces are approximately 300 to 400 years old. They were produced in the world�s oldest continually operating scriptorium, a 2,400-year old scriptorium in South Yemen, about 1,000 miles south of Israel. These are pieces of the same type of �Bible� that Jesus read, and quite possibly from the same scriptorium! They are available as approximately 22 inch tall segments of any length you desire from 9 inches to 9 feet or more! Each comes with a beautiful Certificate of Authenticity.

In a word, for $100 you can have a column sliced out of a damaged three- or four-hundred-year-old Torah scroll and turned over to you to hang on your wall. While you're at it, it seems you can buy individual leaves removed from the first printing of the King James Bible or from "the earliest available printing" of the Tyndale Bible.

In some past entries I have tried to cut antiquities dealers some slack, although I have to say my attitude has been hardening in light of the ongoing forgery scandal in Israel. I'm still open to discussion about whether it is acceptable, say, to sell potsherds that otherwise would be discarded or buried in museum basements. But this is another matter. I'll leave aside the question of whether the exhibition promoters should be selling God. My concern is that they are mutilating precious, historic manuscripts and scattering them to the wind for the sake of a few bucks. It certainly seems beyond the pale to me, and I hope that if you or someone you know are considering spending your money on this exhibit, you will keep this in mind.
GLASS'S AHKEHATON is showing at the Boston Conservatory:
Original staging, fine performance enliven Glass's tale of Egypt

By Richard Dyer, Globe Staff | February 7, 2005

The new director of opera at the Boston Conservatory is baritone Sanford Sylvan, who is leading the school, and its operatic training, in a new direction. Last weekend he made his debut as a stage director with Philip Glass's "Akhnaten." The conservatory had the cast for it, and as a performer who premiered works by Glass and John Adams, Sylvan feels that it's important for young singers to get an early start on learning how to deal with the special theatrical, musical, and vocal demands of this new kind of music-theater.

"Akhnaten," now 21 years old, is the third work in Glass's trilogy of "portrait" operas. Akhnaten was the most fascinating of Egyptian pharaohs, the man who introduced monotheism to Egypt. Glass presents his story in a series of isolated but defining moments (the funeral of his father, his own coronation, etc.). The texts are ancient and sung in the original languages (Egyptian, Akkadian, biblical Hebrew), while a Scribe delivers spoken translations in the language of the audience to bridge the scenes.


Sunday, February 06, 2005

Held in Israel every four years, the Maccabiah Games is named for Jewish warrior Judah Maccabe [sic] who fought against the ancient Greeks. The first Maccabiah Games were held in 1932 with approximately 390 athletes from 14 countries participating in the competition. At the 1935 games, a German delegation of 134 Jews flouted Nazi Germany's order not to attend the games and the delegation refused to fly the German flag during the opening ceremonies. In 1950, 800 athletes representing 19 countries attended the first games to be held after the Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel.

The 17th Maccabiah Games take place in Israel this July.
THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS EXHIBIT IN MOBILE is covered yet again, this time in an article in the Times Picayune (New Orleans): "Dead Sea Scrolls come to Mobile museum". It's a good piece; well researched and with some interesting reflections for a popular audience on the importance of the Scrolls for our understanding of the development of the biblical canon and the biblical text. Excerpt:
Although the Exploreum's marketers have accurately pitched the exhibit to their Bible Belt audience as "The oldest surviving texts of the Bible," the scrolls actually reflect the Bible's complicated, organic development, [James] Bowley [of Millsaps College] said. It is a story far removed from the image of a collection of books that appeared long ago and never varied from their original forms.

Indeed, the Hebrew Bible -- the Christian Old Testament -- did not exist when the scrolls were produced. Not until about the second century would a consensus emerge on which books would be discarded and which should be included in an authoritative collection of this sacred literature, Bowley said.

One scroll, the Book of Jubilees, seems to have been terribly important to the Essenes, he said. By contrast, there's only a tiny scrap of the Book of Chronicles, reflecting their own theological emphasis. Yet today Jubilees is out of the Bible and Chronicles is in.

"Different Jewish communities had different collections of scrolls," he said. "The Essenes would have had many that other communities would have, plus some others."

Biblical evolution

Moreover, the scrolls deeply underscore a point scholars had already known: There was no standard version of biblical texts in play. Instead, individual biblical compositions and other Jewish writings developed through time and went through various stages and editions before arriving at the form we have today, Bowley said.

"People writing different versions of Jeremiah are Jews of the same period, with the same concept of God. While the versions might have some differences in terms of order or arrangement, does that change our basic concept of God? No. It doesn't change the theology."

UPDATE: And here's a nice backgrounder about the genesis of the exhibition in the Gulf Coast Exploreum, also in the Times Picayune. When their state funding was cut,
Marketing Director Eleanor Kulin had a thought. "I sat at my computer one day, and I literally Googled 'Dead Sea Scrolls.' "

She got a hit, in more ways than one.

What Kulin found was that the famous scrolls were in the United States and had just closed at the Public Museum of Grand Rapids, Mich., where administrators had been floored by the success of the exhibition.

Officials at the Exploreum talked it over, then resolved to make a serious run at grabbing the scrolls for Mobile.

It seemed like a natural. Even then, Kulin said, she could see the headlines that now grace the advertising aimed at Alabama's heavily evangelical populace: "Featuring the oldest surviving texts of the Bible."