Saturday, July 23, 2005

HOMICIDE BOMBERS -- BLAME THE JEWS? And Christians. There's an article by a psychologist named Rona Fields in a Canadian publication called the Tyee which tries to explain the mentality and historical origins of homicide bombing.
The Deadly Martyr Complex
Suicide bombers seek love and acceptance

The subtitle may be tongue in cheek, but it's still tacky and insulting to the many who have been murdered and maimed by these monsters, including the recent victims in Iraq, London, Israel, and Egypt. But authors don't write headlines, so this is probably from an editor who was trying to be cute.

I won't comment on the psychological part of the article, but here's what she has to say about historical origins:
Their choice isn’t a new one. Terrorism became the primary tool of anarchists and nihilists in the late nineteenth century. But martyrdom homicides go back historically to at least the time of the ancient Zealots of Judea.

Two millennia of martyrdom

The idea of martyrdom never had a name in Hebrew or Aramaic. Instead it derives from the Greek, mytros or witness. The early Christians, who were tortured to death for their witnessing for Christ, became the martyrs memorialized on icons. These iconic images proved a powerful attraction both for group memory and for exciting new adherents or followers.

Islam adopted the martyrdom image despite he fact that they eschewed graven images of human beings. But the grandson of Mohammed who stated that it is better to die in dignity than to live in humiliation became the iconic figure for Shia Islam. Those who die on the path to Allah become martyrs in Islam. Similarly, Pope Urban II recruiting for the Crusades promised that all who died in the reclamation of the Holy Land from the infidels would be forgiven all venal sins and ascend immediately to Heaven (paradise).There is historical precedent on all sides.

There's quite a bit of goalpost moving here. The "Zealots" (I think she means the Sicarii) did not engage in homicide "martyrdoms." The Latin word sicarius means "dagger assassin." They would get close to a target in a crowd, stab the target with a small dagger hidden on their person, then melt back into the crowd and get away. This is assassination, it is not a homicide "martyrdom": the objective was for the assassin to get away.

One could argue that the Sicarii who died at Masada were "martyrs" and that they committed suicide, but they were not suicide martyrs in the sense the phrase is used today in militant Islamist circles. According to Josephus' account (Antiquities 8.8-9, the specifics of which we, however, have considerable reason to doubt), they voluntarily committed suicide rather than surrender to the Romans. This was a horrific decision based, rightly or wrongly, on their unwillingness to submit to slavery or worse by the Romans. Perhaps Dr. Fields considers them "martyrdom homicides" because they killed their wives and children too. Again, without trying to justify that decision, it was an intragroup attempt to choose the least of very great evils for the group and, according to Josephus, the wives were fully involved in the decision. But this, if anything like it really did happen, is quite different from today's "suicide bombers": the Sicarii did not use suicide as a way of killing innocent civilian noncombatants on the enemy side as a terror tactic. This is one of the reasons I prefer the term "homicide bomber" to "suicide bomber" (although neither is entirely satisfactory). The point is that the suicide is used to kill innocent people on the other side.

In short: the first-century "Zealots," i.e., Sicarii, did not engage in "martyrdom homicides" in the modern sense.

Two small points: you would think that someone who had just written a book on martyrdom would be able to write out the Greek word for "martyr" (martys or martus -- μαρτυς [sorry, originally had genitive form here]) properly. And you would think that she would have found out that the Hebrew term for "martyrdom" is qiddush ha-Shem (קדוש השם), "sanctification of the Name (of God)."

Then there's the matter of Christian martyrdom, which has been a value in Christianity pretty much from its inception. But nonviolence and purely passive resitance have been part of this ideology from the beginning. The martyr does not commit suicide; he or she declines to resist when someone, usually the authorities, executes the martyr because of the martyr's religious beliefs. No suicide and no killing other people.

Then there is the issue of martyrdom in war: the doctrine that soldiers who die in battle for a particular cause will go immediately to heaven or paradise. This has certainly been an Islamic idea going back to the Hadith (the early non-Qur'anic traditions about the life of Muhammad). I wasn't aware that the Crusaders used it as well, but it doesn't surprise me that they did. But even this -- and, again, I am not justifying it -- is quite a distance from homicide "martyrdom." Telling a soldier that if he dies in battle he will go to heaven will make him a fiercer fighter, but it's not the same as telling him to kill himself in such a way that he murders as many innocent civilians as possible (thousands in the case of 9/11). There is no moral equivalence.

When did homicide "martyrdoms" start?
Nationalist ideas blended with religious, and the connection of maryrdom with terrorism merged fully during the Civil War in Lebanon in the 1980’s. Suicide bombings of the American Embassy in Beirut and the Marine Corps barracks on the perimeter of that city and the relentless suicide bombings of the Israeli forces and their Lebanese allies, the SLA in southern Lebanon were claimed by their perpetrators as the most successful weapon of mass destruction and least costly to produce.

In the 1980s in militant fundamentalist Islamist circles. This is what Dr. Fields pretty much admits here, it's what I read elsewhere, and it agrees with my own memories.

I hope the pyschology part of this article is better researched and reasoned than the historical part.

UPDATE: The Sunday Times repeats the same meme. Response here.
THE JEWISH CATACOMB STORY is taken up by the Los Angeles Times in a short article. (Requires free registration.)

Friday, July 22, 2005

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Gabriel Barkay and his team appear not to have run out of money yet. They're still sifting rubble from the Waqf's illicit excavations of the Temple Mount. Christianity Today has the latest:
70 Truckloads of Treasures
Temple Mount dig uncovers new finds.
by Gordon Govier | posted 07/21/2005 09:00 a.m.

Overlooking Jerusalem at Tzurim Valley National Park, archaeologists and volunteers work on one of Jerusalem's most unusual excavations. They are sifting tons of dirt removed in 1999 by Islamic work crews who were remodeling an underground area of the Temple Mount—known as Solomon's Stables—to create the Marwani Mosque (CT, March 6, 2000, p. 27).


The biggest surprise has been large amounts of remains from the early Christian or Byzantine period.

Barkay said part of Jerusalem's history will have to be rewritten. Most historians thought the Temple Mount was largely deserted then.

Although they are only about halfway through the 70 truckloads of dirt, Barkay planned to stop the process at the end of June in order to analyze the finds. He said he doesn't know when they'll start up again. Funding remains a critical issue.

Indeed. Michael Pahl ask whether this might not be "a not-so-implicit appeal to wealthy American evangelicals to fund the project?" I hope some of them take it as such.
THE SEVEN-DAY WEEK: according to Jack Sasson, we have the ancient Israelites to thank for it.
APOCALYPTO -- the next Mel Gibson movie:
Gibson Faces Apocalypto Now
Mel directs another historical epic
(Empire Online)
22 July 2005

Last year, he made one of the world's biggest ever indie films. Now, Mel Gibson is returning to ancient history to write and direct Apocalypto, which readers may be relieved / disappointed to know is "not religious in theme" and which is, we're promised, more of an action movie.

The story is set in "an ancient civilisation" some 3,000-odd years ago. While the title might suggest that this is the mother of all disaster movies, it is in fact a Greek word meaning "an unveiling" or a "new beginning", rather than, say, the end of all creation (cause, you know, we're still here). ...

Obviously related to the word "apocalyptic," which does mean "revelation" or "unveiling." "Apocalypto" looks faux-Italian to me.
What's not clear is whether this is the same ancient action movie that Gibson was planning last year. That was based on the Jewish story of the Maccabees, a group that rose up in rebellion against a corrupt King, and reconsecrated the defiled Temple in Jerusalem. However, the fact that their story, while not Biblical, is the basis for the Jewish feast of Hanukah, and that this film is not religious in theme, means that he may have written a different story in the intervening months.

If Gibson did say the movie is set 3000 years ago, it can't be about the Maccabean revolt. It took place in 167-165 BCE, less than 2200 years ago. This wouldn't have been all that hard to look up.

What happened to Boudicca?

The only promising event from 3000 years ago I can think of is the conquest of Jerusalem by David, but that's just a wild guess. It may be from an entirely different part of the world. We'll see. If he really does this one, I hope it's filmed in another ancient language.

UPDATE: Carla Sulzbach e-mails:
now, here's an idea: a movie about the destruction of Ugarit - that's only slightly over 3000 years ago. There are many questions to be apocalypted: who where the Ugaritans, how was the city destroyed, and.... most vexing: how correctly to vocalize that tantalizing language. Subtitles could be in cuneiform, Hebrew and Roman and perhaps in Aramaic for Mel's earlier audience. This could be followed up by Ugaritic action figures - cool gods too!

Just an idea on another very hot day.


UPDATE (25 July): The mystery is revealed here.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

MORE TERRORISM IN LONDON: There have been four "attempts" at explosions in London, at least one of which may have been an actual explosion. The events are centered in Warren Street, Oval Street, and Shephards Bush. There seems be a bus involved too at Hackney Road. So far no casualties have been reported. Some Tube lines have been shut down. I'm listening to the BBC right now. The Command Post is also updating regularly. Speculation that this is a botched attack in which only the detonators went off in three cases and the scenes may provide the authorities with important forensic evidence.

UPDATE (22 July): So the Al-Qaeda weenies missed. Nyah, nyah, nyah! Losers. I don't doubt that they'll try again, but I hope this is a sign that our efforts against them worldwide are wearing them down.

This weekend let's all hoist a tankard for London and spit on the floor for Al-Qaeda.
Twenty-nine new documentary collections inscribed on the Memory of the World Register

21-06-2005 11:10 am Twenty-nine documentary collections in 24 countries have been inscribed on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register. These additions bring to 120 the total number of inscriptions on the Register to date. They include, for the first time, collections from Albania, Azerbaijan, Colombia, Cuba, Italy, Lebanon, Namibia, Portugal, Sweden, Ukraine, United Kingdom and United States of America. The Director-General of UNESCO, Koïchiro Matsuura, approved the inscriptions, which were recommended by the 14-member International Advisory Committee of UNESCO’s Memory of the World Programme.


Some interesting documents and collections include:
Albania - Codex Beratinus 1 and 2, of the 6th and 9th centuries respectively. Beratinus 1 is one of the three or four oldest surviving Gospel codices and contains non-standard pre-canonical passages. Beratinus 2 contains Gospel writings from the standard-text period. Its uniqueness stems mainly from its format: gold letters on purple parchment. The codices are kept at the National Archives of Albania in Tirana.

Italy - The Malatesta Novello Library. The library contains works on philosophy, theology and biblical nature as well as classical and scientific books from different provenances. It is a rare example of a complete, beautifully preserved collection from the mid-15th century, just before the advent of printing in Europe. The collection is a unique example of a humanistic library of the Renaissance, a time when the dominance of Christian writing and teaching was giving way to more secular considerations. The collection is kept in its original building in the town of Cesena.

Lebanon - Evolution of the Phoenician Alphabet. The inscribed alphabet on the sarcophagus of King Ahiram of Byblos, 13th century B.C., is the earliest known example of alphabetical as opposed to hieroglyphic or cuneiform writing. It is the base from which most subsequent alphabets have been developed. The sarcophagus is kept by the National Museum in Beirut.

Lebanon - Commemorative stela of Nahr el-Kalb, Mount Lebanon. The Commemorative Stele of Nahr el-Kalb on Mount Lebanon are a series of stones pillars depicting Lebanese history from the 14th century B.C. to the present through the inscriptions left by successive armies, Pharaonic, Assyro-Babylonian, Greek, Roman, Arab, French and British. Situated on a strategic north-south road, the stela, carved with inscriptions in different languages, evoke the history of Lebanon and testify to its relations with the rest of the Middle East and the West.

Back when I was following such things closely, it was generally agreed that the Ahiram inscription was from the 10th century BCE, not the 13th.
DISENGAGEMENT IN GAZA could create a messy situation regarding antiquities and archaeology:
Palestinians: Israel to steal artifacts
By ORLY HALPERN (Jerusalem Post)

Palestinian archaeologists say they fear that when Israel withdraws from Gaza it will also take priceless archeological artifacts. Israeli officials have acknowledged this is a possibility.


According to international law, it is illegal for an occupying power to remove ancient artifacts, movable and immovable, from the land.

But Israel accuses the Palestinians of being unable to safeguard ancient sites in the West Bank's Areas A and B, under Palestinian control, where looting by Palestinians is common and most of the looted items are sold to Israelis.


Everyone seems to agree that current Israeli antiquities laws are part of the problem.

There is also this claim from the Palestine News Agency:
Israeli Bulldozers Destroy Remains of Byzantium Church in Gaza

GAZA, July 20, 2005, (WAFA)- Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities (MTA) revealed Wednesday that Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) destroyed a very important archeological site south of Gaza.
. Director General of MTA, Dr. Moin Sadeq, told WAFA that Israeli troops razed yesterday (Tuesday) a site of huge remains of Byzantium Church, close to the shore of Deir Albalah City, south of Gaza.


I'm taking this report with a good pinch of salt unless it is confirmed by major mainstream media.
Jewish catacomb came first, study finds

A Jewish catacomb in Rome predates its Christian counterparts by at least 100 years, indicating that burial in the city's sprawling underground cemeteries may not have begun as a Christian practice, according to a study published Wednesday.

Scholars have long believed early Christians were the first to bury their dead in Roman catacombs. But Dutch experts from Utrecht University who dated organic material from a Jewish catacomb in the city say it appears early Christians inherited the practice from Jews.


The research has just been published in Nature:
Death in Rome

Radiocarbon dating of wood from one the Jewish Villa Torlonia catacombs (underground cemeteries) to the northeast of Rome shows that it pre-dates its Christian counterparts by 100 years or more. This suggests that burial in Roman catacombs may not have been a strictly Christian practice, as is commonly believed, and that its origin may lie in Jewish traditions.

Brief Communications:
Radiocarbon dating: Jewish inspiration of Christian catacombs

A Jewish cemetery in ancient Rome harbours a secret that bears on the history of early Christianity.

Leonard V. Rutgers, Klaas van der Borg, Arie F. M. de Jong and Imogen Poole

The site requires a paid personal or institutional subscription to access the article.
THE JOURNAL OF SEMITIC STUDIES has a new issue out (50.1, Spring 2005). Here is the table of contents:
M.E.J. Richardson
The First Fifty Years: Background and History
J Semitic Studies 2005 50: 1-22

Victor Sasson
The Tell Dan Aramaic Inscription: The Problems of a New Minimized Reading
J Semitic Studies 2005 50: 23-34

Aaron Schade
A Text Linguistic Approach to the Syntax and Style of the Phoenician Inscription of Azatiwada
J Semitic Studies 2005 50: 35-58

Hans Rechenmacher and Christo H.J. van der Merwe
The Contibution of Wolfgang Richter to Current Developments in the Study of Biblical Hebrew
J Semitic Studies 2005 50: 59-82

Bernard S. Jackson
Revolution in Biblical Law: Some Reflections on the Role of Theory in Methodology
J Semitic Studies 2005 50: 83-116

Philip Davies
J Semitic Studies 2005 50: 117-136

Erik S. Ohlander
Fear of God (taqwa) in the Qur'an: Some Notes on Semantic Shift and Thematic Context
J Semitic Studies 2005 50: 137-152

Alan S. Kaye
Semantic Transparency and Number Marking in Arabic and Other Languages
J Semitic Studies 2005 50: 153-196

Plus lots of interesting book reviews.

The abstracts are free, but the site requires a paid personal or institutional subscription to access the PDF files of the articles and reviews.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

WISH LIST OF LOST BOOKS: Michael Pahl writes:
I've often thought what a boon it would be to New Testament scholarship if we could have a copy of Papias' "Expositions of the Logia of the Lord." Given Papias' desire for living tradition over against written record, it could provide tremendously valuable insights into the nature of the oral Jesus tradition at the beginning of the second century and perhaps shed more light on that oral tradition back into the first century. I was just reminded of this today, and this led me to think about this more broadly: Out of all the lost documents related to early Christianity--those mentioned by early Christians but no longer extant, those for which we have fragments or quotations but not whole manuscripts--which would I most wish to be discovered?

After giving his list he adds:
Anyone else have a similar wishlist? If we hurry, we may get it off in time for Christmas... :-)

This is a subject near and dear to my heart, since the More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project on which my colleague Richard Bauckham and I are working, aims to include a list of all Old Testament pseudepigrapha mentioned in surviving literature from antiquity to the present, whether or not the works survive themselves. So here is my preliminary list of now lost or highly fragmentary ancient pseudepigrapha of which I would like to have complete manuscripts in their original languages.

The Stichometry of Nicephorus mentions:
  • The Testament of Moses
  • The Assumption of Moses
  • Eldad and Modad
  • Of the Prophet Elias
  • Of the Prophet Sophonais
  • Of Zacharias the father of John
  • Pseudepigrapha of Baruch, Ambacum (Habakkuk), Ezekiel, and Daniel

The List of the Sixty Books mentions some of these and also (some overlap?):
  • Adam
  • Lamech
  • Vision of Esaias
  • Apocalypse of Sophonias
  • Apocalypse of Zacharias

The Gelasian Decree mentions in addition (again, possibly some overlap with above?):
  • The book, concerning the daughters of Adam, of Leptogenesis
  • The book which is called the Penitence of Adam
  • The book concerning the giant named Ogias who is stated by the heretics to have fought with a dragon after the Flood
  • The book which is called the Penitence of Jannes and Mambres
  • The Writing which is called the Interdiction (or Contradiction) of Solomon

We have bits of some of these, but none (or at least very few) of them complete. Add to them the Aramaic Book of Giants (see also here) and the Nazarene Apocryphon of Jeremiah in Hebrew, mentioned by Jerome.

That's all I can think of off the top of my head (with the help of M. R. James's The Lost Apocrypha of the Old Testament). If I've missed some lost Old Testament pseudepigrapha known only by title or small fragment, drop me a note and let me know.

Incidentally, some very good news about our More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project is going to be announced soon. Watch this space.

Also, blogging may be light for a while. The page proofs for my book, The Provenance of the Pseudepigrapha: Jewish, Christian, or Other? have arrived, thanks to a remarkably quick production on Brill's part. I was just getting started on them this afternoon when I got a call from the Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha asking if they could e-mail me the proofs for my 27,000-word article, "(How) Can We Tell If a Greek Apocryphon or Pseudepigraphon Has Been Translated from Hebrew or Aramaic?" and would I be able to manage a turnaround by Monday. (The narrow window is due to a technical glitch that is no one's fault and it can't be helped.) This is good news, since it means that the article should be out next month and the book in the fall. But it also does mean that I'm going to be pretty busy reading proofs and supervising the book indexing for some time. Bear with me.

UPDATE: Michael Turton and Stephen Carlson post their wish lists. And Jim West posts his.

UPDATE (21 July): Ken Ristau posts his wish list.

UPDATE (22 July): Manuscript Boy posts his medieval wish list. But one of his wished-for books is in the future.

UPDATE (24 July): Justin Dombrowski posts his wish list of five. I also especially covet his first two.

UPDATE (25 July): Christopher Heard weighs in at Higgaion. I've thought of some more, which I'll try to post presently.

LATER: Lost treatises of the first-century Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria: three books missing from Questions and Answers on Exodus, one book from Drunkenness, and three books from Dreams. We also lack That Every Fool is a Slave (the companion piece to Good Person), two books On Covenants, a treatise On Rewards, the lives of Isaac and Jacob, perhaps a companion piece to Contempl. Life, and the promised sequel to Eternity (assuming it was written). There are also references to a treatise On Piety, although it has also been suggested that this is another name for Virtues. (The treatise names are from the SBL Handbook.) A number of Philo's treatises also survive only in Armenian translation, and I would like the Greek originals of those too, please.

I should perhaps also note the "external books" forbidden by R. Akiva in the Mishnah (Sanhedrin 10.1), although these are to be read at your own risk! Then there's also the passage in Mishnah Pesahim 4.9 (some manuscripts) which refers to a "book of healings" suppressed by King Hezekiah. Not that there was such a book in Hezekiah's time, but it's possible that a pseudepigraphon with that description was circulating in the Tannaitic period.

UPDATE: Ellen Birnbaum, Philo scholar, e-mails to say she approves of my list of lost Philonica. She adds:
Years ago, Hanan Eshel mentioned to me as a great desideratum the history of the Jewish war against Rome by Justus of Tiberias. (Though this is [probably] non-biblical, I thought I'd mention it anyway.)

In Against Apion, Josephus cites several sources that would illuminate our knowledge about attitudes of non-Jews towards Jews, and there are also the fragmentary Acts of the Alexandrian Martyrs (CPJ 2: nos. 154-59). Though your criteria for inclusion may be Bible-related works, some of these (esp. counter-accounts of the Exodus) may fall into that category in a perverse sort of way!

UPDATE (26 July): Reader Eric Rowe e-mails:
FWIW, at the top of my wish list would be Origen's Hexapla, partly for the (albeit possibly few) new readings, but mainly for its sheer importance.

Indeed. Also, on the H-Judaic list, Michael Stone is looking for the Book of Noah in rabbinic and later literature:
First, any references in Rabbinic or later texts to a book, testament or other document attributed to Noah. I am, of course, familiar with Sefer Noah in Jellineck, Bet HaMidrash.

If he finds any references, I hope he will share them with the list.

Also, Joe Cathey points to excerpts from a classical article on the Book of Giants by W. B. Henning which is now online. It discusses the story of Ogias the giant.

UPDATE: Brandon Wason has some suggestions over at Novum Testamentum.

UPDATE (5 August): Speaking of ancient lost books, many of these books might as well be lost for all people know about them, but thanks to new funding for the MOTP project, you should be able to read them soon.

UPDATE (30 December 2006): I've added to my lost books wish list here and here. See also here and here.
I HOPE THIS STORY gets as much attention as Silwan and Babylon have:
Developers and purists erase Mecca's history

By Laith Abou-Ragheb

MECCA, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) - Some of Islam's historic sites in Mecca, possibly including a home of the Prophet Mohammad, are under threat from Saudi real estate developers and Wahhabi Muslims who view them as promoting idolatry.

Sami Angawi, an expert on the region's Islamic architecture, said 1,400-year-old buildings from the early Islamic period risk being demolished to make way for high rise towers for Muslims flocking to perform the annual pilgrimage to Islam's holiest city.

"We are witnessing now the last few moments of the history of Mecca," Angawi told Reuters. "Its layers of history are being bulldozed for a parking lot," he added.


I have nothing against commercial development and better housing in Mecca, but they should not come at the expense of the city's historic architecture.
JOE CATHEY has published "A Short Note on Recent Forgeries" at the Bible and Interpretation website, in which he calls for "a marriage between chemical/geological and epigraphical/palaeographical analysis" of inscriptions. I think he's right.
NEWS ABOUT THE JOURNAL HENOCH: I've been meaning to mention this, but Mark Goodacre has beaten me to it.
Report: Russian nationalists ask court to probe Jewish leaders
By The Associated Press

MOSCOW - A group of Russian nationalists has asked a Moscow court to order an investigation of Jewish leaders over the abridged halakhic guide Kitzur Shulhan Arukh, an ancient text that the nationalists say incites hatred, a news agency reported Tuesday.

The reported request was the latest move in a months-long campaign aimed at banning Jewish organizations in Russia, an effort that has raised fears of a resurgence of anti-Semitism and questions about the government's commitment to fighting racism.


More details here. These guys are persistent, aren't they? It appears that anti-Semitism is all too alive and well in Russia.
MORE ON THE NEW UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITES IN ISRAEL: YNetNews has some information on the process of choosing the sites:
Preserving world's biblical heritage

Israel hopes UNESCO selection of ancient archeological areas as world heritage sites will encourage international tourism
By Tamar Treblisi Hadad
IS THE ISRAEL MUSEUM NEGLECTING THE BIBLE? Suzanne F. Singer of Biblical Archaeology Review expresses some concerns in the Jerusalem Post ("Dont sell the Bible short"):
Here's what worries me. Museum deputy director, Dor Lin, says in the supplement that next year changes will occur in the archaeology exhibits. "Every artifact will be a piece in the archaeological puzzle that influenced man." My concern is that in the service of what is perceived as greater universalism, meant to entice people for whom the Bible is not important, the Israel Museum is embarking in a direction that is neither good for attracting more visitors nor fulfilling its potential as the only national museum prepared to tell the story of the Jewish people in its land.

Focusing strictly on marketing, it's a mistake to conclude that secular people from all over the world who come to the museum will not be fascinated to discover that places and events in the Bible can be linked, even if with uncertainties, to sites and artifacts in Israel. And needless to add, the many Christian visitors as well as Jews who already care about their Bibles – both Hebrew Bible and New Testament – will be eager to discover connections they can see in the land.

I don't have any particular view about what the Museum is doing, but I agree that it is a mistake to assume that secular people aren't interested in biblical subjects. No matter where I go or whom I talk with, when I mention that I work on the Dead Sea Scrolls, people are always interested.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

WELCOME to the 150,000th visitor to increment PaleoJudaica's counter! The visit came at 11:11:08 PM GMT from a Google referral that leaves me pretty sure I know who the visitor was. I won't mention a name, but the service provider is in Connecticut. Drop me a note if you want to confirm who you are.

For comparison, it took from 24 March 2003 to 7 May 2004 to get the first 50,000 visitors; then to 1 February 2005 to get the next 50,000. And now less than six months more for the next 50K. That's progress!
CONSENSUS AGAIN: Mark Goodacre has a post that collects links to the discussion so far and then he adds his own comments. I agree with nearly everything he says (and his point 1 fills out nicely the point I made briefly in my first post in reply to Michael's original fourth point). But I do want to nuance Mark's reply to Joe Weaks's defense of the necessity of trusting the consensus in areas on which we are not experts:
That's a useful corrective, but I don't feel so negative. Our field is not that huge. It only feels that way because of the increasing specialisation. And this is all a good reason for post graduate students to become minor experts in as many topics as possible. After all, one has to teach across a range of subjects; some intensive course work on a given topic can persuade one of how to approach a consensus well.

In the nature of things we're stuck with increasing specialization for the foreseeable future and the only way to work around it is to keep an eye on what other people are doing and start from the consensus position, if there is one, when moving outside one's immediate research specialty either for teaching or research. We've even reached the point of specializations within specializations. It used to be that Qumran studies was a subfield of biblical studies. Now it is not only an independent field, it's one that itself contains various subfields. I can't form an expert opinion on every question in Qumran studies even though it's one of my areas of specialization. I don't have expertise at all on the archaeology and even for the texts I don't have time to do the necessary intensive study of each text to have off-the-cuff fully-informed opinions about all the problems associated with it. I just try to look at some of the secondary literature and to focus on specific problems when my research requires it. When I teach -- even honours seminars on Qumran, let alone introductory Bible classes -- I rely very frequently on consensus positions rather than my own intensive research. I expect Mark does the same. If not, my hat is off to him.

UPDATE: In an update to the same post, Mark replies, "Actually, I research everything I teach on in infinite detail and that's why I never sleep." Oh, okay. I thought he never slept because of all the blogging.

Seriously, read his whole update, which has some good advice on how to stay on top of your field. Let me add that you should be sure not to miss the beer (yes, and whiskey) drinking after the conference seminars. It may impair your judgment, but it's a good opportunity to hear experts summarize what they're thinking about current issues in the field.

Just noticed I had forgotten to link to Mark's post above. Now remedied.
Archaelogists [sic] discover link to Lebanon's commercial past

By Mohammed Zaatari
[Lebanon] Daily Star staff
Saturday, July 16, 2005

SIDON: Archaeologists at the "Freres" excavation site near the fortress in Sidon have unearthed a plate that holds exciting clues to Lebanon's linguistic and commercial past.

Archaeology expert and field supervisor Dr. Claude Serhal announced the discovery of a small plate with cuneiform writing dating back to the fourth century B.C. She said it is the first discovery of its kind in Sidon and the third in Lebanon. The writing proves that cuneiform was used in Sidon for trade operations, contracts, and correspondence.

According to preliminary studies by the British experts, the clay plate was made locally. It is five centimeters long and three centimeters wide and has writing on both sides. Deciphering has not yet been completed.


This is very interesting. It's unusual to find cuneiform in this region at all, and especially this late, since it was dying out in the fourth century BCE. I wonder what it says.

(Via Archaeologica News.)

Monday, July 18, 2005

DEAD SEA DISCOVERIES has a new issue out (12.2, 2005). Here's the table of contents:

4QPseudo-Daniela–b (4Q243–4Q244) and the Book of Daniel
pp. 101-133(33)
Author: DiTommaso, Lorenzo

New Fragments from Qumran: 4QGenf, 4QIsab, 4Q226, 8QGen, and XQpapEnoch
pp. 134-157(24)
Authors: Eshel, Esther; Eshel, Hanan

Were the Priests all the Same? Qumranic Halakhah in Comparison with Sadducean Halakhah
pp. 158-188(31)
Author: Regev, Eyal

Gen 24:14 and Marital Law in 4Q271 3: Exegetical Aspects and Implications
pp. 189-204(16)
Author: Rothstein, David

Reconstructing and Reading 4Q416 2 ii 21: Comments on Menahem Kister's Proposal
pp. 205-211(7)
Author: Wold, Benjamin G.

Book Reviews

Also, I think I missed an earlier issue last year (11.3, 2004). Table of contents:

Reading Wisdom at Qumran: 4QInstruction and the Hodayot
pp. 263-288(26)
Author: Matthew J. Goff

More on the Qumran Roundel as an Equatorial Sundial
pp. 289-292(4)
Author: George M. Hollenback

Did John the Baptist Eat like a Former Essene? Locust-eating in the Ancient Near East and at Qumran
pp. 293-314(22)
Author: James A. Kelhoffer

Methodological Problems in Reconstructing History from Rule Texts Found at Qumran
pp. 315-335(21)
Author: Sarianna Metso

The Temple Scroll Courts Governed by Precise Times
pp. 336-358(23)
Author: Barbara Thiering

Reply to Dong-Hyuk Kim's Paper on "Tov's Qumran Orthography"
pp. 359-360(2)
Author: Emmanuel Tov

Books in Debate

Books in Debate
pp. 361-372(12)

Book Reviews

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Hundreds of stolen relics found in northern home
By ETGAR LEFKOVITS (Jerusalem Post)

Hundreds of ancient artifacts believed to have been stolen from scores of archaeological sites across the country have been found in the home of an Israeli-Arab in northern Israel, Israel's Antiquities Authority announced Sunday.

The antiquities, including coins, jewelry, and makeup utensils, have been impounded by police, said Amir Ganor, head of the Authority's anti-theft division.


There have been a number of looting arrests lately, which seems like a good sign.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

THE NEW LEVITICUS SCROLL gets some thoughtful commentary in the biblioblogosphere. As noted by a number of others, Tyler Williams has a thorough analysis of photographs of two fragments. Ed Cook has some scattered thoughts. Both Tyler and Ed think the scroll is probably genuine, but Joe Weaks counsels caution. I would be cautious too. The question is, would it be cost-effective to go to the trouble of making a convincing forgery of some scroll fragments in return for $3,000? I'm not sure. The seller was asking for $20,000, which may mean he was expecting to get much more that $3,000. Would a forger and an allied middleman make (or think they would make) a good enough profit on this if it were a scam? I'm not quite willing to rule it out. It looks as though a lot of Hebrew seals and ostraca were forged (at least there are way too many of them around to be accounted for by genuine chance discoveries). How much money and efffort does it take to forge a seal, bulla, or ostracon, and how much would it take to forge such scroll fragments? How much did a forged seal or ostracon sell for? Those are the sort of question we should be asking.

I think Ed is wrong on one point:
This scroll is not very sexy (c'mon — Leviticus?), and therefore it is probably authentic. A fake scroll would have mentioned Jesus or Paul and been offered for sale to the Israel Museum for $5 million, after a breathless article touting its importance had been published in BAR. But I'm glad they're doing tests on this one.

Anything to do with the Bible is sexy and any biblical manuscript at all is very sexy. The potential market for forgeries isn't limited to Christians, and Leviticus is a foundational document for Judaism. And it might seem like a better strategy for a forger to make a quick, smaller profit on fragments of a biblical book than risk more attention and more vigorous reprisals from a faked blockbuster.

I hope the scroll is genuine, but I'm keeping an open mind right now. I do know that Hanan Eshel would not be easily fooled, so if this scroll is a forgery, it's a very good one. We'll see.

UPDATE: In an update to the same blog post, Ed Cook grants my point about the sexiness of Leviticus and adds the following:
I am wondering, though, if ancient animal skin suitable for forgery can be easily found. Other forgeries on stone, ceramic, or papyrus are less easily detectable since uninscribed ancient pieces of these materials are common. But truly ancient animal skin suitable for forgery must be rare (but I speak under correction). I agree that we should be cautious.

Agreed about the ancient animal skin, but do we know yet that the skin is ancient? It doesn't sound as though the fragments were authenticated before the sale. The seller has the money. Can he be traced if it turns out to be modern leather? How difficult is it to make modern leather look ancient?

If the leather does turn out to be ancient, I'd say it's extremely likely that the scroll is authentic. I truly hope that I'm just being a pessimist and that the tests will show this to be the case.

Ed continues:
Speaking of unauthenticated scrolls, whatever happened to the so-called "Angel Scroll"?

I e-mail Stephen Pfann in March to ask if there was any news. I did not receive a reply.

UPDATE (19 July): On the g-Megillot list Joe Zias comments on the precedent being set by paying the looter for the fragment. He is not pleased.

Also, and I just knew this was going to happen, Google is now referring people to PaleoJudaica via the search term "sexy."
UCLA Live Announces Theatre Festival Lineup (

By Nicole Kristal

UCLA Live will present six compelling works at its Fourth International Theatre Festival, to take place October through December on the UCLA campus, including Los Angeles-based Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine's one-man show about a military man in Uganda infected with AIDS, French actor Isabelle Huppert's take on Sarah Kane's 4.48 Psychosis, and Polish theatre company Song of the Goat performing a work based on The Epic of Gilgamesh. The festival is the only of its kind in Los Angeles.


The next play in the festival, Chronicles: A Lamentation, makes its West Coast debut at the festival. Described by [UCLA Performing Arts Director David] Sefton as possessing a faintly religious or ritualistic quality, the internationally award-winning piece is based on the ancient Sumerian poem, The Epic of Gilgamesh, and is presented by Polish theatre company Song of the Goat. Sefton booked the play after seeing the performance last summer in Edinburgh. "It's virtually impossible to describe. You could just as easily put it on the dance series. Its use of text is the way a lot of dance companies would use text. It's extremely physical," said Sefton.

The play also features a number of ethnic traditions, including numbers sung in Albanian and Greek, as well as dialogue in ancient Aramaic. "You're not meant to understand the actual spoken and sung language. It's more about the sense it conveys," said Sefton, who described the mood of the play as "wistful."


Actually, the Epic of Gilgamesh is written in Akkadian, although it is indeed based on Sumerian sources.

Albanian, Aramaic, Akkadian, Sumerian, what's the difference? Right?
NEW WORLD HERITAGE SITES IN ISRAEL: 17 have been added to UNESCO'S list this week.
The inscribed sites in Israel included three tells - prehistoric mounds that conceal layers of ancient settlement - from more than 200 such sites in Israel. Megiddo, Hazor and Beersheba all contain archeological evidence of cities with biblical significance.

Four towns along the ancient incense route were also added to the list: Haluza, Mamshit, Avdat and Shivta, along with their associated fortresses and agricultural landscapes. All are located in the Negev.