Tuesday, June 07, 2005

VERY SLOW NEWS DAY. Just as well, since I was occupied with end-of-year meetings etc. in the morning and with partying an important business lunch in the afternoon. I've been back for a while and have been indulging myself with reading Hebrew and Latin and installing some useful Unicode keyboards.

As for blogging, here's one little news item. It seems that the script for Indiana Jones 4 has now been approved by Lucas and Spielberg, although Harrison Ford has not yet read it. (Via Explorator.) Personally, I wish they would leave the old trilogy alone, but they haven't asked me. (How much better the Star Wars mythos would be if they had left that old trilogy alone! But I'd best not get started on that one.)

Monday, June 06, 2005

SEMITIC CELTS? So says an archaeological research fellow at Oxford University who was formerly also the chief archaeologist at English Heritage. The article was in Sunday's Times of London.
British genes are invasion-proof
Abul Taher
THE genetic make-up of modern Britons has hardly changed from the Ice Age hunter-gatherers who were the country�s original inhabitants, a leading archeologist claims in a new book.

According to the theory, 80% of the genetic characteristics of the average white British person can be traced back to a few hundred nomads who arrived here about 14,000 years ago.

David Miles, formerly chief archeologist at English Heritage, claims the other 20% of traits derive ultimately from the Celts, whom he argues were a Semitic race of farmers from what is now Syria and Israel.


His book, The Tribes of Britain, is based on a branch of science known as �archeogenetics�. DNA samples are taken from human skeletal remains to discover ethnic groupings and physical characteristics.

Miles, a research fellow at Oxford University, says the first human settlers arrived around 12000 BC as Britain was thawing from the last ice age. They were from parts of what is now western Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark. They followed herds of animals they were hunting, eventually moving across a land bridge to what is now eastern England.


The Celts, who arrived after about 6500 BC, when the hunter-gatherers would have numbered about 5,000, were the first farmers to move across Europe from their homeland in the Middle East. They migrated in search of new farmland as their expanding population caused land to become infertile.

The movement from the Middle East, which took thousands of years, brought crops and the first farm animals such as sheep to Britain by about 5000 BC.


Here are David Miles's Oxford web page and his English Heritage web page.

I know this is outside the usual chronological limits of PaleoJudaica, but it's so weird I had to note it. I have to say I'm skeptical, but then again I know nothing about "archeogenetics." Any archaeologists out there want to comment?
THE FOURTEENTH WORLD CONGRESS OF JEWISH STUDIES takes place at the Hebrew University from 31 July to 4 August 2005. The web page for the congress is here. You can download a PDF-format program in English or Hebrew with over 670 sessions, about half of which have to do with matters of paleoJudaic interest.

(Heads up, Cynthia Edenburg.)
Jewish home found in City of David
By ETGAR LEFKOVITS (Jerusalem Post)

A Second Temple Jewish house has been uncovered in Jerusalem's ancient City of David, Israel's Antiquities Authority announced Sunday.

The 2,000 year old private home, which archeologists believe was part of a complex of homes belonging to affluent people, was discovered during an excavation at the history-rich site last month.


More specifically, the house was excavated in Silwan. Given the current controvery about the area, one has to wonder if this announcement was politically timed.
BOOK REVIEW in the Jerusalem Post:
More than myth

Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism
By Howard Schwartz
Illustrated by Caren Loebel-Fried
Oxford University Press
618pp., $50

Recounting and expounding on close to 700 myths, Howard Schwartz's Tree of Souls is not only impressive for the sheer bulk of its material, but unsettling with its revolutionary claims about just what makes a Jewish myth.

Schwartz, a prolific writer on Jewish folktales and myths, and a professor of English at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, has produced a collection that includes all the obvious canonical texts from the Bible, Talmud, Midrash, Kabbala and Hassidism. But the surprises and gems lie in the more fringe inclusions: texts from the Apocrypha and the Pseudepigrapha, literature from non-rabbinic sects like the Samaritans, Sabbateans and Karaites, and citations from halachic texts.

Add to that selections from the myths collected by S. Ansky in Eastern Europe, and by the Israel Folktale Archive (a collection of over 20,000 myths from immigrants from Morocco, Kurdistan, Yemen, Afghanistan, Romania, Iraq and India, among others), then mix in the stories of some near-contemporaries like Franz Kafka, and some contemporaries like Reb Zalmen Shachter-Shalomi of the Jewish Renewal movement, and you can begin to see just how widely Schwartz has cast his net.


Sounds like a very interesting collection. Incidentally, this article marks the first mention of the pseudepigrapha by the media in 2005.

CORRECTION: Make that the second mention. The first was in late January, noted here.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

JOHN BROWN'S EFFORTS to find oil in Israel, based on idiosyncratic exegesis of certain biblical passages, are featured in Newsweek's Periscope today. As with other media treatments, it did not occur to Newsweek to ask a biblical scholar what the Hebrew words actually mean. I have discussed this already here and here.
ANOTHER TALMUD REFERENCE: Parent.com has an article on "Boy or Girl?
The lowdown on whether you can really sway the odds"
in which they assert the following:
Strategies for conceiving a child of a particular sex have been around for centuries. The Talmud, a major book of Jewish law, says that if a wife's orgasm precedes her husband's, the baby will be a boy.

Typically, no reference is given. Can one of my Talmudist readers tell us if this is really in the Talmud and, if so, where?

UPDATE: Thanks to Nahum J. Stone, Carla Sulzbach, Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky, and Simon Montagu for sending the references, which are Berakhot 60a and Nida 25b 28a 31a. It's an interesting pericope, which creatively construes Leviticus 12:2 to say that if a woman "produces seed" ("ejaculates"? -- the verb translated "conceived" in the RSV is the causative verbal form of the root ZR(, "seed") she bears a male. Therefore if the female orgasm happens first, the child will be male, whereas if the male orgasm is first, the child will be female. The Berakhot passage is in a context that asks whether praying can affect the sex of a child. It concludes that because the order of male-female orgasm normally determines it, prayer only has an effect in cases of simultaneous orgasm.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

THE ORIGINAL AFRICAN HERITAGE STUDY BIBLE is the subject of an article in the Los Angeles Times:
Bible Emphasizes Roles of Blacks, Africa in History

� This King James Version's depiction of Moses, Jesus and Mary as dark-skinned instills pride in an ancient heritage.

By K. Connie Kang, Times Staff Writer

When real estate developer Karen Bunkley bought a copy of the Original African Heritage Study Bible for a class at Holman United Methodist Church in Los Angeles two years ago, she couldn't put it down.

The text is the King James Version. But, in a marked departure from traditional Bibles, it highlights all the passages that refer to Africa or Africans and includes commentaries putting such history and culture into context. It also contains maps of Africa and illustrations of Bible characters � Moses, Jesus, Mary � all with dark skin and curly hair.


I've not seen this and can't comment on it. But here is what biblical scholar Vincent Wimbush has to say about it:
Vincent L. Wimbush, a professor of religion at Claremont Graduate University, says his view of the African heritage study Bible is "mixed."

"I see the project as a response � almost a desperate cry on the part of people away from the center of the discourse about the Bible," he said.

In trying to correct the "Europeanization" of the Bible, however, they may be making the same mistakes that Europeans made by whitening the Bible, Wimbush said.

"That just leaves us playing the same kind of the game: Mine is better than yours," he said. "I think that whole game is flawed, suspect and dangerous."
JOSEPHUS IN THE NEWS: Moneyplans.net has recycled an article on "Dead Sea Minerals and Skincare Products : Cleopatra's Beauty Secret" that extols the healing virtues of Dead Sea mud. It originally came from the Jerusalem Post, although this is not acknowledged. For commentary on the references to the Queen of Sheba, Cleopatra, and Josephus, see my earlier post here I don't know whether Josephus actually said anything like this or not.
MORE ON THE PROPOSED SILWAN HOUSE-DEMOLITIONS: This UPI article has lots of details from both sides of the controversy and is worth a read.
Palestinian neighborhood fears demolitions


The two-story house is one of 88 that Jerusalem's municipality says have been built illegally and should be removed to restore an open public area in the valley that it wants to make a national park. The archaeological and ancient remains in that area "have an international and national value and they give the city its status as one of the most valuable cities in the world," Jerusalem City Engineer Uri Shetrit said.

It is the most important archaeological site in the country, said Amihai Mazarm a professor at the Institute of Archaeology. Large areas have been excavated, King David's palace was probably there, but dense Arab and Jewish construction in recent years prevents archaeological digs, he told United Press International.

"The issue is who lives in the village (now), not where David walked 3,000 years ago. ... This cannot be a reason to take (down) houses of people who have lived here all their lives," said peace activist Meir Margalit of the Israel Committee Against House Demolitions.

Palestinians and peace activists suspect the municipality's moves in Silwan are part of Israel's efforts to surround Jerusalem's Arab neighborhoods with a string of Jewish homes. That would cut East Jerusalem from its West Bank hinterland and then East Jerusalem could hardly be the Palestinian state's future capital.


Friday, June 03, 2005

SPECIAL TREASURES of the Jewish Theological Seminary Library are now available for viewing online. Among these are Cairo Geniza fragments of Talmudic and other texts and of texts by Maimonides, including one containing his signature.

(Via Hagahot.)

Thursday, June 02, 2005

MENE MENE TEKEL UPHARSIN: Philologos has a good column on this mysterious phrase.
Haredim riot in renewed grave protest
By ETGAR LEFKOVITS (Jerusalem Post)

Several dozen haredim pelted motorists, buses and police with stones Wednesday night at a central Jerusalem thoroughfare in renewed protest over what they believe is the desecration of ancient graves during construction of the trans-Israel highway, police said.


Once again, archaeologists say there are no ancient graves there.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

ESCHATOLOGY IN THE NEWS: Arutz Sheva has a piece by one Moshe Lerman entitled In the Footsteps of the Moshiach," which gives a very (very) detailed exegesis of Daniel's seventy weeks (Daniel9:24-27) , combined with Lurianic Kabbalah, with the agenda of proving that Meir Kahane was the Messiah ben Joseph (the suffering messiah in rabbinic tradition who dies in battle -- I can't find a good link) and that the new Sanhedrin is predicted in scripture. If I am reading Lerman correctly, he reckons that Daniel's final seven weeks of years began around 1970 (20 years before Kahane's assassination). This is a wonderful modern-day example of actualization of scripture for current events in the exegete's time (one of my research interests for the second temple period). Which is by no means, of course, to endorse the writer's political views, exegesis, or forecasts.
BLOGGING -- how ... Ciceronian.
Fire Destroys Part of Dead Sea Reserve

Tuesday May 31, 2005 9:31 PM

JERUSALEM (AP) - Two-thirds of Israel's Ein Gedi nature reserve was destroyed by fire Tuesday, causing considerable damage to animal and plant life in the lush oasis sandwiched between the harsh Judean Desert and the Dead Sea.


Also at risk are archaeological sites, including ruins from the Chalcolithic period about 4,000 B.C., when inhabitants first began to use copper. During the Byzantine period, the Jewish residents of the area built a synagogue there. Ein Gedi also is mentioned in the Bible.

The cause of the fire isn't known yet. It seems no one was injured, but there's nothing about whether any of the archaeological sites were damaged.

UPDATE: My doctoral student, Ian Werrett, e-mails to point to this Jerusalem Post article, which suggests that the fire was started by a cigarette. He adds:
As you know, I was on the archaeological team working at the Byzantine site in Ein Gedi in 1996/97 and, based on the description of the fire in the Jerusalem Post, I doubt that it came anywhere near the Byzantine site or the ancient tell of Ein Gedi. It sounds to me that the fire happened in Nahal David, which is half a mile or so to the west of these two sites. Having said that, the Chalcolithic site is on the cliffs above Nahal David and could have been damaged but, if memory serves, there is little to no vegetation around the Chalcolithic ruins.
GRAVE CONTROVERSY CONTINUES: The construction of Highway 6 near Kibbutz Regavim is proceeding again, despite Hareidi Orthodox protests, but the Israeli Transportation Minister has promised to stop it if any ancient graves are actually found.
THE PLAN TO DEMOLISH PALESTINIAN HOMES IN SILWAN is receiving vigorous press coverage. There are articles in the Jerusalem Post, Ha'aretz, Al Jazeera, and the Scotsman. Reuters considers whether the demolition of a mosque is involved and Scoop reports that there will be a protest rally in Silwan this afternoon.