Friday, October 07, 2005

ACADEMIC BLOGGING is the subject of a good article ("The Blogosphere as a Carnival of Ideas") by Crooked Timber blogger Henry Farrell in the Chronicle of Higher Education. (Via Instapundit.) It's hard to know what to excerpt, so do read it all. Excerpt:
Most important, the scholarly blogosphere offers academics a place where they can reconnect with the public. The links between academic argument and wider public debates are increasingly tenuous and frayed. It's far harder than it used to be for academics to become public intellectuals (not that it was ever very easy, or very common). This has malign consequences, not only for the quality of debate on both sides of the divide, but also for public perceptions of the academy. It's also a source of considerable frustration to many academics, who either believe that their academic expertise could be valuable to a wider audience, or resent the distorted public perception of what they do. Blogging democratizes the function of public intellectual. It's no longer necessary for an academic to lobby the editors of The Washington Post's op-ed page or The New York Review of Books in order to make his or her voice heard. Instead, he or she can start a blog and (with interesting arguments and a bit of luck and self-promotion) begin to have an impact on the public conversation.

Amen to that. On that note, I've been meaning to say that this term has been especially busy and I'm behind on my non-work-related e-mail. If you've e-mailed lately and I haven't replied, apologies. I do read my e-mail and I try to get around to replying to anything I think needs a response, but it can take me a while.

UPDATE: Also, if you want to make sure I read your message, please put something like "blog" or "PaleoJudaica" in the header. Despite filters, I still get a lot of junk mail and much of it has unpredictable words in the header. If the header doesn't make immediate sense to me, I tend to discard the message unread. I don't doubt that occasionally I have trashed real messages, because a number of times, including once today, I have nearly discarded a message, but then changed my mind and read it and found it to be from a PaleoJudaica reader. So please help me out and make your message headers unambiguous. Thanks!

Thursday, October 06, 2005

AN ACADEMIC PUBLICATION? This article in the Kentucky Lake-Times refers readers to the Quarterly Journal of Nestorian Studies, which is online at, where we find the following blurb:
Quarterly Journal of Nestorian Studies
Welcome to the English edition of the Quarterly Journal of Nestorian Studies, an academic publication concerning "the Illustrious Religion" throughout the world. Here you will find articles and translations of historical documents on the Ancient Apostolic Orthodox Nestorian Faith, Aramaic and Nasarean (Nasrani), Essene, Dead Sea Scrolls, and much more. The Quarterly Journal of Nestorian Studies is published in Nasramit by the Catholicos Patriarch Research Centre at Mishqana.

I'm afraid that if you have a look at the brief articles on the page, you will see that they are not academic at all. They are anonymous, quote church authorities for their scholarship, and seem to want to assert that at least parts of the Greek New Testament are based on the Syriac Peshitta. The Peshitta is actually a translation of the Greek New Testament into Syriac, an Eastern dialect of Aramaic rather different from the Palestinian Aramaic Jesus spoke, and no attempts to show that it contain earlier Aramaic material from the mouth of Jesus have ever been found persuasive by specialists. In short, don't believe the label. This site is a religious one that promotes a particular denominational agenda. They're welcome to do that, but they should not label it an "academic publication."
MADONNA'S NEXT ALBUM will include a song devoted to pre-eminent Kabbalist Isaac Luria.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

AN IMPORTANT NEW RESEARCH INSTITUTE has been founded recently at St. Mary's College and is mentioned by Daniel Driver at Figured Out. This area has been an interest of mine for some time and I hope to be involved with their research.
HAROLD BLOOM is interviewed in the Forward about his new book, Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine, in which, it seems, he sets out to offend nearly everybody.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

FROM THE DEPARTMENT OF COSMIC SYNCHRONICITIES: This year Rosh HaShanah and Ramadan (in most Arab countries) start in the same twenty-four-hour period. Again, best wishes to those observing either.
IRAQ'S DRAFT CONSTITUTION is now being printed and distributed in Arabic, Kurdish, and Aramaic:
[U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan] Haq said some 4 million copies would be printed in Arabic - at a rate of 250,000 a day - while the Kurdish north will get 1 million. Another 250,000 will be printed in Turkoman, and 150,000 in Syriac languages, modern variants of the Aramaic spoken in Jesus' time.

The referendum is on 15 October.
THE XIVTH INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE OF ETHIOPIAN STUDIES will begin this Monday at the Institute of Ethiopian Studies at Addis Ababa University.
According to Professor [Richard] Pankhurst, the Institute of Ethiopian Studies is actively working to build up its liibrary and museum to present knowledge about Ethiopia's cultural history.

The museum has been largely re-organized for the conference, with a renovated art gallery opening up for visitors at the time of the Conference. In addition there will be new features, such as exhibitions depicting Emperor Menilik's Swiss advisor, Alfred Ilg, history of Ras Mekonnen building and history of Ethiopian patriots.

The library is particularly interested in acquiring photographic copies of the several thousand Ethiopian manuscripts now held in libraries and museums all over Europe and North America. For the development of so many aspects of Ethiopian studies, it is essential that the IES obtain photographic copies by scanning as well as microfilming the important Ethiopian manuscripts not only in Ethiopia but also in foreign countries.

I bet there are lots of manuscripts of Old Testament pseudepigrapha among them.

Monday, October 03, 2005

THE ANCIENT PERSIA EXHIBITION in the British Museum is covered in an article in the Lebanon Daily Star ("Ancient Persia comes alive in British exhibition"). Excerpt:
While the Athenians often defined their own democratic system in opposition to Persian monarchy and autocracy, recent scholarship has acknowledged the highly tolerant and adaptable nature of the Ancient Persians. The Achaemenid king had the title of "king of kings" as well as "king of lands," revealing the flexible nature of his rule: while the different corners of the empire were mostly ruled by satraps (governors) from the central Persian royal family or nobility in order to preserve loyalty, local kings frequently retained their thrones and countries were permitted to function as they wished, as long as the Achaemenid king received his financial dues. In return for the reaping of wealth from around the empire, the Achaemenids promised security and protection, and to back such promises they had formidable military power.


Interest in the Achaemenid Empire was renewed in 19th century Iran, and was used during the reign of the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in 1971 to reawaken nationalism when the 2,500th anniversary of the foundation of the Persian Empire by King Cyrus the Great was celebrated. Thanks to his appearance in the Old Testament, Cyrus I has been hailed in the Western world as an upholder of religious tolerance and human rights. When he conquered Babylon in 539 B.C., he reinstated religious tolerance and allowed various exiled peoples, including the Jews, to return to their homes.

The Cyrus Cylinder, discovered in 1879, on which is carved Cyrus's statement on entering Babylon, has become, perhaps simplistically, an icon of human rights. There is even a replica at the United Nations in New York. The Cylinder forms the final stage of the exhibition, suggesting that it symbolizes Ancient Persia's principal legacy. However, it is evident from the earlier displays that we can learn more today from the tolerance, flexibility and adaptability that were central to the Achaemenid Empire's administration than from an official royal statement.

I think this gets a little carried away. Although it's true that the Persian Empire looks pretty good in comparision to, say, the Assyrian and Babylonian Empires, it still was an empire, with "hegemony" and "oppression" and all those other bad things we associate with imperialism today. It was not a liberal democracy and Cyrus' liberal policies came more from expediency and enlightened self-interest than from any interest in human rights. Still, his rule does look better on that count than the government of the Mullahs in Iran today.
ROSH HASHANAH, the Jewish New Year, begins tonight at sundown. This will be the year 5766. More here. Best wishes for the new year.
BLOGGER WAS DOWN all morning, but seems to be recovered now.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

MORE ON THE TIMBUKTU MANUSCRIPTS, which I have already mentioned here and here. The Independent Online, South Africa, has an article ("Timbuktu - learning at the heart of Africa"). Excerpt:
Today the manuscripts offer proof that Africans' intellectual capacity extended beyond oral history and archaeological findings, which have long been regarded as the African way of recording history.

Experts say the manuscripts could be the most ancient to have survived in sub-Saharan Africa and are important because they offer a glimpse into the views of black Muslim scholars over the centuries.

The manuscripts were commissioned to be copied by governments, for which the artisans were paid a handsome sum of 24g of gold per copy. Some of these copies, which are adorned with gold leaf and vibrant colours, can be seen at the exhibition.

Riason Naidoo, project manager for the South Africa-Mali Project, said: "Copiers were treasured people in Timbuktu. They were paid a high salary and had a high status."

The manuscripts were mainly written in local languages using Arabic script. This makes it difficult for scholars outside of Mali to understand the meanings.

French colonisation has also contributed to much of the local population's inability to understand the scripts today.

Some of the manuscripts were also written in Hebrew, showing that Jewish traders passed through the area in search of gold.

Predictably, antiquities trafficking is a problem.
PROFESSOR STANISLAV SEGERT, who taught Hebrew Bible and Northwest Semitics for many years at UCLA, has died at the age of 84. Ed Cook, who was one of his doctoral students, has posted an obituary over at Ralph. I studied with Segert as an undergraduate and Master's student in the late '70s and early '80s and Ed and I overlapped. Everything Ed says about him as a man is spot on. I remember Professor Segert's immense erudition, his great humility, and his quiet sense of humor. All his students were in awe of him and had much affection for him. I remember with great gratitute his kindness to me when I was the most callow of undergraduates. His lectures included asides with amusing stories and wry comments, often about his experiences with communism in Czechoslovakia. Once he mentioned that the goverment required him to take Marxism classes for some years and that he had had few illusions about Marxism before them, and none afterwards.

His scholarly record speaks for itself. He was a master of the traditional scholarly disciplines in our field and was also very open to and interested in newer approaches, including structuralism, deconstruction, and advances in epigraphic photography. Like Ed, I have his books on my bookshelf and refer to them regularly.

Requiescat in pace.

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.)