Saturday, October 01, 2005

Artful mending
By NATHAN BURSTEIN (Jerusalem Post)

Israel and the Vatican engaged in an uncharacteristically public war of words this summer, after a papal statement issued in July excluded a bus bombing in Israel from a list of terrorist attacks that occurred in other parts of the Middle East and London.

Any lingering tensions were set aside Tuesday, however, as Vatican officials took part in the official opening of the Israel Museum's newest exhibit, "Rome to Jerusalem: Four Jewish Masterpieces from the Vatican Library."


I noticed two interesting tidbits unrelated to the article topic.
In his remarks, [the Papal Nuncio] Archbishop Sambi noted that the Vatican is currently working on another project conceived in Israel – a catalogue documenting the hundreds of other items in the Vatican's Judaica collection, an idea suggested by Israeli President Moshe Katsav at a meeting with Pope John Paul II in December 2002.

This sounds like an exciting project.

And there's this:
[the director of the museum, James] Snyder joked that, contrary to long-standing rumors, the Vatican does not have among its holdings the large gold menorah taken from Jerusalem during the Roman destruction of the Second Temple.

I discussed this rumor last year here. I'm not surprised to hear that it's false.

(Via Bible and Interpretation News.)
AN EXHIBIT OF ILLUSTRATED RELIGIOUS TEXTS is showing at Rockefeller Chapel at the University of Chicago. The paintings are by artist Victoria Martin.
The exhibit consists of seven paintings, two of which are large murals. Each piece contains illustrated religious text from various traditions. The work is written in ancient languages, including Sanskrit, Hebrew, and Greek, and the style of the text resembles that of medieval illuminated manuscripts. Martin has worked with scholars from the Oriental Institute and the Spertus Museum in order to ensure accuracy in the text of her paintings.

There's a photograph of several of the Hebrew texts here. The first from the left is Numbers 21:8 and the next one over is Exodus 3:14. I can't make out the other two.
GIVEN THIS, these comments by Israeli archaeologist Meir Ben-Dov about the Waqf's excavations at the Temple Mount seem to me to be unfortunately timed:
"They took earth out of here with tractors, and there was a huge outcry. Never mind that when I work with tractors, they complain that I'm destroying the antiquities of our land, but here no damage was caused. A tool is a tool, the question is how it is operated. Didn't [archaeologist Nahman] Avigad work with tractors? But here it's forbidden. It caused an uproar. Now they are sifting through the earth, and what discoveries have they found? Mameluke findings? There's nothing there. Everything that Saladdin threw around, here and there, and some Israeli ceramics as well. So what? At digs you sometimes throw things out, you have to compromise. How can anyone say that they are destroying Jewish remains here, when they are not destroying Jewish remains? Soon we'll see who is destroying and who isn't," he says.

A sixth-century B.C.E. inscribed Hebrew seal impression sure sounds like Jewish (or at least Judean) remains to me, and not something to be thrown out. This just does not seem to me to be the sort of area in which uncontrolled tractor excavation is appropriate. And, by the way, since when do Mameluke and Crusader-era findings counted as "nothing?"

(Via Bible and Interpretation News.)

Friday, September 30, 2005

SOME HEBREW MANUSCRIPTS FROM THE VATICAN are on display in the Israel Museum:
Rare manuscripts from Vatican go on display at Israel Museum
By Nadav Shragai (Ha'aretz)

The Vatican library has loaned the Israel Museum four illuminated Jewish manuscripts from the 13th and 15th centuries, which will be on exhibit to the public for the next four months.

The manuscripts include a 15th-century manuscript of Maimonides' Mishne Torah, a 15th-century manuscript of Rabbi Jacob ben Asher's Arba'ah Turim, a 13th-century manuscript of the Bible, and a 13th-century book of Psalms.


And happy 40th birthday to the Museum!

(Via Bible and Interpretation News.)
SOME SOUTH ARABIAN INSCRIPTIONS are being restored in Yemen:
Ancient Inscriptions Receive Expert Attention
By [Yemen] Observer Staff
Sep 29, 2005 - Vol.VIII Issue 39

SANA’A - The American Embassy is funding a project that will help restore sticks that bear engravings dating back to the time of the Kingdom of Sheba.

The project is being carried out by the American Institute for Yemeni Studies.

“The sticks are wood cylinders, 10-30cm long and 2-5cm in diameter, made from palm stalks or branches of ‘ilb trees. The texts engraved on the sticks are 1-15 lines long, written in a cursive form of musnad called zabur-script.

The inscriptions are letters, accounts, contracts, notes of debts, receipts, lists of personal names and names of tribes, school exercises, etc -- i.e. they contain information about daily life in the South Arabian civilization, of a kind not found in the public inscriptions of kings, temples, etc...” said Christopher Edens, the Director of the American Institute of Yemeni Studies.


Sheba is mentioned occasionally in the Bible, most notably with reference to the legendary Queen of Sheba.

(Via Archaeologica News.)
A CONFERENCE ON RASHI took place earlier this month at Portland State University:
Rashi conference creates symbiosis between scholars
By Rabbi David Rosenberg, Special to the Jewish Review

The details of Rashi's life have dissolved into legend, but Judaism's greatest commentator remains an incomparable figure who holds the key to all our sacred texts.

The Rashi Conference at Portland State University Sept. 18-19 was a rare event that presented three prominent scholars: Ephraim Kanarfogel, Ph.D., professor of Jewish history at Yeshiva University and author of books on medieval Jewry; Martin Lockshin, Ph.D., professor of humanities at York University of Toronto and author of books on the commentaries of Rabbi Shmuel ben Meir, a grandson of Rashi; and Cecille Oppenheim Beyl, M.D., an expert in medieval history.

MORE ON THE NEW HEBREW SEAL IMPRESSION found in the Temple Mount rubble. Reader Menachem Brody points me to this Ha'aretz article in Hebrew (לראשונה: ממצא כתו מבית ראשון התגלה בהר הבית), which has a photo of the object and which reports that the impression comes from the "dynasty of David" (בית דוד), not the time of David and is "more than 2500 years old." The surviving fragment (looks like about half the impression) is less than centimeter in size and has three lines of writing. One name on it ends in "-yahu" (יהו-).
SPEAKING OF FEAST DAYS, today is the Feast Day of St. Jerome, paradigmatic ancient Christian Hebraist and translator of the Latin Vulgate. The other paradigmatic ancient Christian Hebraist was Origen, who produced the Hexapla. But he was a heretic, so he doesn't get a feast day. Apart from these two, scarcely a gentile Christian in antiquity knew Hebrew.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

THE JOURNAL OF NEAR EASTERN STUDIES has a new issue out (64.4, October, 2005). The articles are in other areas, but some of the reviews are of interest for ancient Judaism, notably a review of The Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

(Heads up, Chuck Jones on the ANE list.)
Breakaway sect from Judaism
shrinking in numbers in Ukraine

By Vladimir Matveyev (Jewish Telegraphic Agency)
September 28, 2005

EVPATORIA, Ukraine, Sept. 28 (JTA) - Residents of this small Black Sea resort town like to call their city "the Jerusalem of the Crimea."

They have good reason: Evpatoria, population 120,000, is home to about 800 Karaites, members of a sect that broke off from mainstream Judaism in eighth-century Iraq.

Karaites accept the Torah and celebrate most Jewish holidays, but they reject the Talmud and rabbinical Judaism, and have clashed with mainstream Jewish leaders over the centuries.


Estimates of the worldwide Karaite population range from 24,000 to 50,000. The largest number live in Israel, where they have a separate Beit Din, or rabbinical court, and are not allowed to marry Jews. About 2,000 live in the United States, and smaller but tightly-knit groups persist in Lithuania, Poland, Russia and the Crimea.

EMANUEL TOV gave a lecture on the Dead Sea Scrolls at Trinity Western University a week ago.
TODAY IS THE FEAST DAY OF THE ARCHANGELS (Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael). Here's a capsule history of the archangel Michael in Catholic tradition.
ON TALMUD TRANSLATIONS: The Jewish Exponent has an article ("The Conversion of Texts: Good for the Jews?") on Talmud translations and their importance. And here's a bit of interesting news in it:
Of note, Artscroll just last year completed its project of translating the Talmud into English, and publishing it with exhaustive explications. ...

Artscroll is currently enmeshed in a project similar to the 72-volume Talmud behemoth; the Brooklyn-based publishing house is now tackling the Jerusalem Talmud, a text codified a little more than a century before the Talmud. The first volume is expected next month.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Megiddo, Moussaieff, and Me

Being a graduate student in archaeology and a dealer in antiquities is a contradiction in terms; one is a position of scholarship and stewardship; the other is a position of commodification that traffics in objects and scholarship.

By Alexander H. Joffe
Archaeologist and Historian.
September 2005
THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS MEET ART: A Santa Monica Museum exhibition of the works of Beat-Generation artist Wallace Berman includes paintings apparently inspired by the Dead Sea Scrolls:
The catalog astutely traces relationships between Semina and the work of Surrealist poets such as Antonin Artaud and the mystical wing of Judaism represented by the Cabala. Another, more popular source goes unidentified, however, and given Berman's keen interest in the imagery and mechanics of mass media it seems too explicit to ignore. The Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in 1947 when a Bedouin shepherd boy stumbled on seven rolls of ancient parchment hidden in a cave on the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea, had grown to some 800 ancient manuscripts, texts and fragments when 10 more caves were explored over the next decade. The aged Hebrew and Aramaic communication galvanized the scholarly and the public imagination, culminating in the 1955 book on the ancient papyri by America's preeminent literary critic, Edmund Wilson.

It's hard to imagine the scrolls weren't at least part of the inspiration for Berman's "parchment paintings" — thin paper brushed with wood stain, inscribed with Hebrew letters in black ink, then torn, abraded and mounted on small square canvases in imitation of ancient fragments — which he began in 1956. [Berman's magazine] Semina, begun immediately prior to the parchments, is like a sequence of modern manuscript fragments communicating mystical utterances in words and pictures, an artifact of 20th century spiritual intercourse.
MORE ON THE MIQVEH AND WALL in Jerusalem mentioned in the previous post:
Israel to open new archaeological site

Associated Press

JERUSALEM - Israel unveiled an underground archaeological site near a disputed Jerusalem holy shrine on Tuesday, nearly a decade after the opening of an exhibit in the same area sparked widespread Palestinian rioting.

The latest discovery included a ritual bath from the period of the second Jewish Temple, destroyed in 70 A.D., and a wall that archaeologists said dates to the first Jewish Temple, destroyed in 586 B.C. The findings strengthen Jewish ties to the shrine also claimed by Muslims.

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: A late First-Temple-era seal inscribed with Hebrew has been discovered in the rubble from the Temple Mount:
First Temple-era seal discovered
By ETGAR LEFKOVITS (Jerusalem Post

A First-Temple period seal has been discovered amidst piles of rubble from Jerusalem's Temple Mount, an Israeli archaeologist said Tuesday, in what could prove to be an historic find.

The small - less than 1 cm - seal impression, or bulla, discovered Tuesday by Bar-Ilan University archaeologist Dr. Gabriel Barkay amidst piles of rubble from the Temple Mount would mark the first time that an written artifact was found from the Temple Mount dating back to the First Temple period.


The piece says the seal is 2600 years old, which would put it just before the exile. The article also reports:
Meanwhile, in a separate major archaeological development in Jerusalem, a Jewish ritual bath, or mikva, dating back to the Second Temple period, and a First Temple Wall have been found in an underground chamber adjacent to the Western Wall tunnels, the Antiquities Authority's Jerusalem regional archaeologist Jon Seligman said during a tour.

UPDATE: some of the less snarky comments on the Free Republic site raise good questions about this article. Is the seal impression 2600 years old or "from the time of David?" It can't be both. And how are three lines of Hebrew fitted onto a one-centimenter surface? Is the seal impression damaged and incomplete or are the letters minute (seems unlikely) or is the reported size incorrect?

UPDATE (30 September): More here.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

ROBERT DEUTSCH replies to Alexander Joffe on the Bible and Interpretation website.
Joffe and BAR

I never sold to Mr Moussaieff even one of the items he [Joffe] mentions, but instead, I did publish the majority of his epigraphic material!

Robert Deutsch
Archaeologist and Epigrapher
OTHMAR KEEL wins a major Swiss prize for his work:
Religious historian wins science prize
(NZZ Online)

Professor Othmar Keel, a religious historian at Fribourg University, is to receive the 2005 Marcel Benoist prize for his work on the Bible's Old Testament.


Congratulations to Professor Keel.

Monday, September 26, 2005

MERKAVAH MYSTICISM MEETS ART: The Modern Art Museum of Fort Wort has an exhibition of the paintings etc. of German artist Anselm Kiefer, which includes themes from the pre-Kabbalistic mystical Hekhalot literature.
A weighty world of art

ART REVIEW: Anselm Kiefer's giant works tackle life's big issues

12:00 AM CDT on Sunday, September 25, 2005

By JANET KUTNER / The Dallas Morning News

FORT WORTH – It's a visceral experience – scorched landscapes that reek of death and destruction, lead books that carry the weight of the world. Anselm Kiefer, one of the most prodigious talents to emerge from postwar Germany, uses his generation's efforts to surmount the nation's troubled past as a springboard for exploring the age-old quest for transcendence.


Steeped in literature, history, folklore, theology and mystical beliefs as disparate as alchemy and the Jewish doctrine of Kabbalah, Mr. Kiefer grapples with the big issues: good vs. evil, innocence and guilt, church and state. But he speaks in terms that anyone with feeling can understand.


One of the largest paintings in the show, The Heavenly Palaces, actually has a massive piece of lead attached to the canvas. It lends an ominous, cloudlike presence to a cavernous hall.


The Heavenly Palaces takes its name from an ancient Hebrew book known as the Sefer Hechaloth, which describes an ascent through seven heavenly palaces that lead to one in which the wise will be united with God.


Sefer Hekhalot is the Hekhalot text also known as 3 Enoch, a book that tells of Enoch's tranformation into the archangel Metatron, the "Little YHWH," who takes Rabbi Ishmael on a tour of the secrets of the universe. But it sounds to me as though the inspiration may actually be from the Hekhalot Rabbati, the Greater Book of Heavenly Palaces, which actually does include instructions for and an account of the ascent through the seven celestial palaces to the throne room of God. In any case, this is cool.
CLASSES START TODAY and summer is well and truly over. Wow, that went fast! I read lots of Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, Latin, and Arabic; finished a draft translation of my eclectic reconstructed Aramaic and Greek text of Aramaic Levi for the More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project; made some overall progress in setting up the MOTP Project now that Richard Bauckham and I have our research fellowship grant; wrote most of an article on the Hekhalot literature and ancient Jewish apocalypses; did some work on my upcoming paper on the history and politics of the Temple Mount; made notes on some other projects; got page proofs and indices done for The Book; and managed to get to the beach on most of the (rare) nice days we had in this end of Fife.

This semester I'm teaching biblical Hebrew; supervising a couple of new postgradutes along with the two I already have; continuing to run our postgraduate program (which looks to have a record intake this year); and I'm hoping to get caught up on some of the articles I've promised to write. The MOTP Project will be keeping us busy too, and I hope at least to start thinking about my translation of the Hekhalot texts. And, of course, there's blogging.

Best wishes for a good academic year.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

STILL MORE TROUBLES FOR BRUCE FERRINI: He has now filed for bankruptcy. David Nishmura notes the story over at Cronaca.
TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Physicist Asher Kaufman's theory that the Temple was situated to the north of the Dome of the Rock is covered today in the Jerusalem Post ("Location, location, location"). This section clarifies his agenda:
I contacted Kaufman and he kindly offered to meet me in the quiet order of his home in the Beit Hakerem neighborhood. His soft Edinburgh accent, gentle manner and reasoned arguments are hard to reconcile with the final "proposals" he outlines at the end of his book.

The building of the Third Temple, he says, will be "something wonderful for the Jewish People, and for the world as a whole" – although he does not believe that ritual sacrifice will be reinstated.

Since he locates the Holy of Holies north of the Dome of the Rock, he believes the whole area of the Temple Mount could be divided into a Jewish and Muslim area, Al-Aksa Mosque being within the Moslem area.

The Dome of the Rock would be within the court of the Temple. "In ancient times, strangers other than of the Jewish faith were permitted entry into this court.... This means that there would be free access to the Dome of the Rock. It could be administered by the Muslims without any change."

As I've said before, I can't comment on the archaeological merits of his theory. But I have to say that I find what he says here naïve. I can't imagine that the Palestinian Authority would agree to anything like this arrangement and, for a change, I agree with them. There should be no more excavation on the Temple Mount, apart, perhaps, from scientific archaeological excavation. But even this (which is politically impossible at present anyway) should probably wait until there are less intrusive methods than the one currently available.