Saturday, November 12, 2005

RENOWNED QUMRAN SCHOLAR GEZA VERMES has an essay in the Times of London on Jewish-Christian relations:
Moving on from reproach to rapprochement
By Geza Vermes
Israel’s state visit to the Vatican is a challenge to faith leaders
NEXT Thursday the son of the caretaker of a Jewish school in Tehran will pay a state visit to the son of a Bavarian policeman. In plain language, Moshe Katsav, President of Israel, will be received amid pomp and ceremony in the Vatican by Pope Benedict XVI.

This event leads him to reflect on the history of relations between Jews and Christians, which has not always been constructive, to say the least. He has some advice for both:
Jews will have to stop being afraid of Jesus and treating Him as taboo. When we look at Him through the prism of history, rather than theology, and in the light of all the freshly gained knowledge of the world in which He lived, He reveals Himself as Jesus the Jew, who in the judgment of Martin Buber, one of the greatest modern Jewish thinkers, deserves an “important place in the religious history of Israel”.

The task Christians have to confront is, if anything, even more challenging. They must face up to the fact that the image of Jesus and the formulation of His message have come down to the Church not in their original language — they were delivered to simple Aramaic-speaking Galilean Jews — but in a culturally alien language (Greek) and in a form adapted to the needs of Hellenised non-Jews of Syria, Egypt, Asia Minor, Greece and Rome. The saying, Traduttore traditore (a translator is a traitor), applies not just to texts but to the transmission of religious ideas as well.

Christians will need to discover the Jewish meaning of the authentic message preached and practised by Jesus and a way to apply it to their own circumstances today. Take His command to behave like children of God. Jesus does not advocate childishness, a lack of self-confidence and a constant demand for help and mediation — from priests, saints, the Virgin Mary or even from Himself — but recommends His own Jewish notion of a son of God, which entails boundless trust in the heavenly Father who can be reached directly by all his children. Such an outlook may turn out to be more exciting than the humdrum doctrine which churchgoers quite often hear from the pulpit.

During the past three decades, scholars on both the Jewish and the Christian sides have made great advances in clearing the path for a new understanding of Jesus and His gospel. Will Christian leaders and teachers of today and tomorrow be lion-hearted enough to come to grips with the challenge that beckons?

Let's hope so.
THE "GOLIATH" MEME continues to be spread in the media; that is, that the inscribed postsherd from Tel es-Safi has the name "Goliath" written on it, whereas in fact, at least according to this Jerusalem Post article, there are two names similar but not identical to Goliath: 'WLT and WLT (אולת and ולת). The Independent reprints the AP article that makes the claim about the name Goliath, as do many other newspapers.

In addition, epigrapher Lawrence Mykytiuk is interviewed (apparently in a Purdue University press release) about the potsherd with the correct understanding that the names are similar but not identical to Goliath.

Claims are being made that these names, whether Goliath or something similar, have some bearing on the historicity of the David and Goliath story in 1 Samuel 17. I'm not so sure. It's been a long time since I read about this, but I believe Goliath was a family name used by Jews in the first century BCE, which implies it could have been known and used any time between them and whenever the name originated. I can't find an online discussion that isn't behind a subscription wall, but the main reference seems to be:

Rachel Hachlili, "The 'Goliath' Family in Jericho," Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 235 (1979): 31-66.

Friday, November 11, 2005

RICK BRANNAN has posted his SBL paper for the upcoming CARG Blogging session. It's really good, so be sure and read it whether or not you can come to the session. I'm working on my paper for the same session and I intend to post it here before I leave for Philadelphia.
REDATING THE SECOND TEMPLE? Diana Edelman summarizes her new book on the Bible and Interpretation website:
Redating the Building of the 'Second' Temple

It is hard see what benefit would have accrued from rebuilding the temple under either Cyrus or Darius while Jerusalem remained unoccupied and in ruins. How would either king have benefited from a pilgrimage site in a destroyed city in an underdeveloped, distant province?

A summary of the main arguments made in D. Edelman, The Origins of the 'Second' Temple: Persian Imperial Policy and the Rebuilding of Yehud (London: Equinox, 2005).

By Diana Edelman
University of Sheffield
November 2005

If I'm reading her right, she thinks the Second Temple was actually built in the reign of Artaxerxes I (c. 464-423 BCE), sometime after the 21st year of his reign. It's very difficult to evaluate this sort of argument on the basis only of a summary of a book, but a few thoughts occur to me.

  • First, the only hard datum about the date of building of the Second Temple I can find is the reference in an Elephantine papyrus dated 407 BCE to the high priest and the priests in Jerusalem, which certainly seems to imply a Temple there and then. See here for discussion. This does not conflict with Edelman's interpretation.
  • Second, she also should take into account the evidence of the Enochic Animal Apocalypse (see link just cited). In fact, 1 Enoch 89:72 could be used to support her argument. One reading says that two "sheep" (Zerubbabel and Joshua?) started rebuilding Jerusalem (the "House"), after which the Temple (the "Tower") was rebuilt (v. 73). But another reading of v. 72 says three sheep, which would include either Sheshbazzar or Nehemiah. If the latter is intended, the text could be read to say that the Temple was rebuilt in his time. This would be especially interesting, because the Animal Apocalypse rejects the validity of the Second Temple and thus is witness to a different propaganda tradition and possibily a different line of historical memory about the Second Temple. But it's a very difficult passage and any interpretation of it is speculative.
  • Third and sed contra, I don't find it incoherent that the exiles might have put more work sooner into rebuilding the Temple than into rebuilding the city. Religious people have their own priorities that don't necessarily make sense from a modern secular perspective. Look at all the time, money, and effort Europeans put into building cathedrals in the Middle Ages. So I don't see a problem in principle with the biblical accounts.

In brief, Edelman's theory seems to involve a lot of speculation and extrapolation, but I wouldn't rule the possibility out. I'll be interested in reading her book.


Patrick A. Tiller, A Commentary on the Animal Apocalypse of I Enoch (SBLEJL 4; Atlanta, Ga.: Scholars Press, 1993), 336-40

George W. E. Nickelsburg, 1 Enoch 1: A Commentary on the Book of 1 Enoch, Chapters 1-36, 81-108 (Hermeneia; Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress, 2003), 387-95

UPDATE (12 November): Regarding my point #3, reader Robert Schwartz e-mails:
Of course they would have. The Temple was the attraction that would jumps start the city's economy by requiring the people to make their tri-annual pilgrimages.
YOU CAN SEE A PHOTO of part of the Tel Zayit abecedary in this New York Times article. The article also notes some letters that are out of the traditional order. (Via this post at the Language Log, which has a number of useful links and which was found via Yitzhak Sapir on the ANE list.)

These discoveries seem to be pouring in fast and furious and I'm too busy writing my SBL paper etc. to keep up with them properly. But I'm trying at least to note interesting developments.

UPDATE: I see it's the same NYT article I cited before. But the photo wasn't there originally!
GOLIATH WAS HERE. Well, maybe not that Goliath, but a Goliath nonetheless.
Finding Said to Boost Proof of Goliath

JERUSALEM, Nov. 11, 2005
(AP) Archaeologists digging at the purported biblical home of Goliath have unearthed a shard of pottery bearing an inscription of the Philistine's name, a find they claimed lends historical credence to the Bible's tale of David's battle with the giant.

While the discovery is not definitive evidence of Goliath's existence, it does support the Bible's depiction of life at the time the battle was supposed to have occurred, said Dr. Aren Maeir, a professor at Bar-Ilan University and director of the excavation.

"What this means is that at the time there were people there named Goliath," he said. "It shows us that David and Goliath's story reflects the cultural reality of the time." In the story, David slew Goliath with a slingshot.


A sling, not a slingshot. Sigh.

UPDATE: It seems that maybe it's just someone who had a name a bit like Goliath. That's rather less interesting, although a tenth-century BCE inscribed ostracon is in itself very important news, whatever it has on it. Christopher Heard has lots of links and commentary over at Higgaion.

UPDATE (12 November): More here.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

MANDAEANS IN IRAN: The Gnostic, Aramaic-speaking (in their liturgy) Iraqi Mandaeans have been getting some attention in the news since the war, and rightly so, but let's not forget the plight of the Mandaeans in Iran. From the U.S. State Department's International Religious Freedom Report 2005 on Iran:
There was no substantive change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the reporting period. Members of the country's religious minorities--including Sunni and Sufi Muslims, Baha'is, Zoroastrians, Jews, and Christians--reported imprisonment, harassment, intimidation, and discrimination based on their religious beliefs. Government actions created a threatening atmosphere for some religious minorities, especially Baha'is, Jews, and evangelical Christians.


Baha'is, Jews, Christians, Mandaeans, and Zoroastrians constitute less than 1 percent of the population combined. ... The Mandaeans, a community whose religion draws on pre-Christian gnostic beliefs, number approximately 5,000 to 10,000 persons, with members residing primarily in Khuzestan in the southwest.


According to the U.N. High Commission for Refugees' (UNHCR) background paper on the country, the Mandaeans are regarded as Christians and are included among the country's three recognized religious minorities. However, Mandaeans regard themselves not as Christians but as adherents of a religion that predates Christianity in both belief and practice. Mandaeans enjoyed official support as a distinct religion prior to the Revolution, but their legal status as a religion since then has been the subject of debate in the Majlis and has not been clarified. The small community faces discrimination similar to that faced by the country's other religious minorities. There were reports that members of the Mandaean community experienced societal discrimination and pressure to convert to Islam, and they often are denied access to higher education. Mandaean refugees have reported specific religious freedom violations and concerns, such as being forced to observe Islamic fasting rituals and to pray in Islamic fashion, both in direct violation of Mandaean teaching.

As noted, Jews, Baha'is, Christians, Zoroastrians, and even Sufi Muslims don't have it easy in Iran either.
TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: More Waqf construction?
Archaeologists decry Wakf 'renovation'

By ETGAR LEFKOVITS (Jerusalem Post)

In a renewed dispute, a group of Israeli archaeologists has condemned the Wakf's planned renovation work of an ancient tower adjacent to the Temple Mount, warning that such a move is part of a long-running plan by the Islamic Trust to expand a recently-created mosque at the Jerusalem holy site.

The non-partisan 'Committee Against the Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount,' which has been leading the public campaign against Wakf construction at the site has sent a letter to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the Director of the Antiquities Authority Shuka Dorfman lambasting the proposed renovation work on the historic structure.


I shall be watching this one closely.
THE HOWLER OF THE WEEK goes to this headline at regarding the (roughly?) 10th century BCE abcedary discovered in Israel:

PA Archaeologist Discusses 12,000 Year–Old Alphabet
Israel halts Indian conversions (BBC)

Israel has stopped converting people in north-east India who say they are from a biblical "lost tribe" following complaints from the Indian government.

Delhi did "not view positively" conversions to another religion, Israel's foreign ministry said.

The 6,000-strong Bnei Menashe community in India's north-east say they are descendents of one of the 10 tribes exiled in the 8th Century BC.

Israel says it will now convert members when they emigrate.


Ha'aretz has more here.
IF YOU BUILD IT, THEY WILL COME. In theory, anyway.
A theme park for the Holy Land?

American Evangelicals and Israeli officials plan to unveil this month a $60 million park where Jesus walked.

By Ilene R. Prusher
| Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

JERUSALEM – Officials in Israel say that out of about 2 million people who will realize their dream of visiting the Holy Land this year, more than half will be Christian. And among those, more than half will be Evangelical.

With that in mind, the Israeli ministry of tourism has gone public with a plan to build - in partnership primarily with American Evangelical churches - a sprawling Holy Land Christian Center on the northern shores of the Sea of Galilee, home to some of the most notable chapters in Jesus' ministry. The center, to be built on approximately 125 acres that the Israeli government is offering free of cost, would be a Christian theme park and visitors' center, one that would be particularly attractive to Evangelicals and other Christians who want to spend more time in the places where Jesus walked.

Highlights may include a Holy Bible Garden, full of plants and trees mentioned in the New Testament, and equipped with quiet sites for reflection and prayer. A Sea of Galilee Amphitheater will overlook the mouth of the Jordan River and hold 1,500-2,000 worshippers. And the park will have a Christian Experience Auditorium and a Multimedia Center. The center would also feature an online broadcast center, which would give religious leaders an opportunity to address their followers back home, live, near the tranquil blue waters of the Sea of Galilee (which today is considered a lake).


This seems kind of goofy to me, but I guess they think there's a market for it. I hope they're right that it won't degenerate into a Disneyland.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

AN ANCIENT ABECEDARY has been discovered carved in a stone at Tel Zayit in Israel.
A Is for Ancient, Describing an Alphabet Found Near Jerusalem

Published: November 9, 2005

In the 10th century B.C., in the hill country south of Jerusalem, a scribe carved his A B C's on a limestone boulder - actually, his aleph-beth-gimel's, for the string of letters appears to be an early rendering of the emergent Hebrew alphabet.

Archaeologists digging in July at the site, Tel Zayit, found the inscribed stone in the wall of an ancient building. After an analysis of the layers of ruins, the discoverers concluded that this was the earliest known specimen of the Hebrew alphabet and an important benchmark in the history of writing, they said this week.


The date is not certain, but evidently both ceramic typology (from the stratum at the site) and epigraphic considerations point in that direction. The inscription is already being brought into the minimalist/maximalist debate, perhaps prematurely.

A few other comments:
The two lines of incised letters, apparently the 22 symbols of the Hebrew alphabet, were on one face of the 40-pound stone. A bowl-shaped hollow was carved in the other side, suggesting that the stone had been a drinking vessel for cult rituals, Dr. Tappy said. The stone, he added, may have been embedded in the wall because of a belief in the alphabet's power to ward off evil.

I'm having trouble picturing this. Was the stone originally part of the wall or reused later as a wall stone? Is the inscription on the same side as the bowl (so you could review your ABCs while you took a drink at the water fountain between classes?) or on the other side (the outside of the wall?)? What is the evidence that the use was cultic rather than, say, in a classroom for a scribal school?
Another baffling peculiarity is that in four cases the letters are reversed in sequence; an F, for example, comes before an E.

F before E? What does that mean? The Pe before the Ayin maybe? Or the Vav before the He?

The ANE list has had rumors of this inscription in recent days. I look forward to Ron Tappy's paper on it in the ASOR/AAR/SBL meetings in Philadelphia later this month.

UPDATE (12 November): More here.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

HERE'S AN INDEX OF MISHNAIC REFERENCES in M. H. Segal's A Grammar of Mishnaic Hebrew. It was compiled by J. Boas. Click on the relevant link on the page to download the PDF file.

(Via Martin Baasten on the ANE List.)

UPDATE (9 November): Truncated link fixed.
HERE'S A JESUS MOVIE that places him in India during the years of his life which are not covered in the four gospels, and maybe after the crucifixion too:
Kolkata filmmaker traces Christ's 'India trail' (

By Sujoy Dhar, Kolkata: Where was Jesus Christ between the age of 12 and 30 years? He supposedly visited India during this period, according to a theory, and a filmmaker here has tried to follow Christ's yet unexplored trail in his new movie.

Though the Bible does not give credence to such theories, engineer-turned filmmaker Subhrajit Mitra's "The Unknown Stories of the Messiah" focuses on the unexplored life of Christ and his unaccounted years in the Bible.

Did Christ visit India after his crucifixion? Is a tomb in the Kashmir Valley that of Christ? These are some of the controversial questions Mitra raises in his film.


"Neither the Bible nor the mainstream gospels give credence to such theories but the scrolls found in caves near the Dead Sea or at Nag Hammadi (in Egypt), believed to be the first drafts of the Bible, corroborate the alternative theory about Christ," Mitra told IANS.


This alternative theory was strengthened after some scrolls (dating back to between 200 BC and 100 AD) were discovered in 1947 in a group of caves near Khirbat Qumran in Jordan at the northwestern end of the Dead Sea.

Two years before that, in 1945, some scrolls dating back to 350 AD were found tucked into a large jar at Nag Hammadi village in upper Egypt.


Maybe it will be an entertaining movie, but this historical rationale is bogus. The Dead Sea Scrolls never mention Jesus and I'm pretty sure they never mention India either. The Nag Hammadi library has a number of noncanonical gospels and apocalypses, but they do not mention India and certainly do not place Jesus there.

I'm not an expert in this area, but as far as I know, the earliest text to connect a first-generation Christian figure with India is the third-century Syriac Acts of Thomas, which has Thomas (not Jesus) evangelizing India. As far as I know, claims about Jesus himself going to India are modern. Here's a site that claims to collect the information, but I can't speak for its accuracy or completeness.
THE EGYPTIAN BLOGGER arrested by the Egyptian authorities is covered again by the AFP (here and here). The mainstream media is not leaping on the story.

UPDATE: More here. Don't forget to sign this petition. It will take you just a minute and you need not have your name posted in public.
THE ANCIENT CHRISTIAN SITE AT MEGIDDO is the subject of a National Geographic photo essay.

Monday, November 07, 2005

The Faculty of Theology of the University of Copenhagen is pleased to announce an MA-level Distance Learning Course: "Introduction to the Dead Sea Scrolls".

For general information and links to application form, point your browser to and click "Dead Sea Scrolls Course" in the top bar.

For further information, please contact assistant professor, Ph.D. Søren Holst at

Associate Professor, Ph.D. Carsten Selch Jensen
Coordinator of the Distance Learning Programme
at the University of Copenhagen's Faculty of Theology

(From Søren Holst on the g-Megillot list.)
CONGRATULATIONS TO THE JOURNAL OF SEMITIC STUDIES, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary on 16 November.
THE THIRD-CENTURY "CHURCH" AT MEGIDDO is the subject of a somewhat more temperate article ("Site May Be 3rd-Century Place of Christian Worship") in the Washington Post. Excerpts:
Judging by the age of broken pottery discovered on the floor, the distinctive mosaic style, inscriptions citing Jesus and the apparent pre-Byzantine design of the building, state archaeologists said the structure was most likely a public place of Christian worship that dates to the mid-3rd or early 4th century. If true, the find would join the early 3rd-century Christian gathering place at Dura Europus in Syria as one of the oldest of its kind.


Some archaeologists not involved in the project said the conclusions, while tantalizing, might be premature given that only 10 percent of the site has been excavated. Workers have yet to turn up a dated inscription or other evidence that firmly establishes the year the structure was built.

Zeev Weiss, an archaeology professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem who runs the largest excavation project here in the Galilee region, said: "There is no question that what they have found is connected to Christianity. The only questions concern the design of the structure, the use of the structure and the date.

"To my mind, they don't really know what they have," said Weiss, who nonetheless called the discovery "very interesting." "That's probably why they are hesitating to call it a church."
THE LUBAVITCHER REBBE is the subject of a conference at New York University:
"Reaching for the Infinite:" Scholars At NYU On the Lubavitcher Rebbe
NEW YORK CITY — Sunday, November 06, 2005 (Lubavitch News Service)

“Menachem Mendel Schneerson is larger than life,” said Elliot Wolfson, a professor at NYU and scholar of Chasidism. “To speak of him is fraught with danger.”

And yet that’s precisely what a cadre of academics and scholars of Chasidic thought are attempting to do this week as they tackle a variety of themes related to the Rebbe and his legacy. Coming to NYU’s Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies, from as far as Australia, Israel and the U.K., the academics are presenting at a conference billed “Reaching for the Infinite, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Life, Teachings and Impact.”


The article doesn't mention that some Lubavitchers believe he was the messiah.

UPDATE: Steven Weiss is attending the conference and has put up a number of posts on it already.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Dictionary of Manichaean Texts being compiled in Britain

TEHRAN, Nov. 5 (MNA []) -- The most comprehensive Dictionary of Manichaean Texts is being compiled at the British Academy.

The project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Board.

The three volume dictionary is being compiled by Professor Sims-Williams, Dr. Gunner Mikkelsen and a number of other scholars. The first volume entitled “Texts from the Roman Empire” was published in early 1999, and the remaining volumes are now in course of preparation, covering the texts from Iraq, Iran, Central Asia and China.


Most cool.
Prison dig reveals church that may be the oldest in the world
By Amiram Barkat, Haaretz Correspondent, and AP

A mosaic and the remains of a building uncovered recently in excavations on the Megiddo prison grounds may belong to the earliest church in the world, according to a preliminary examination by the Israel Antiquities Authority.

One of the most dramatic finds suggests that, instead of an altar, a simple table stood in the center of the church, at which a sacred meal was held to commemorate the Last Supper.

Photographs of three Greek inscriptions in the mosaic were sent to Hebrew University expert Professor Leah Di Segni, who told Haaretz on Sunday that the use of the term "table" in one of them instead of the word "altar" might lead to a breakthrough in the study of ancient Christianity. It is commonly believed that church rituals based on the Last Supper took place around an altar.


There's also a photo of one of the inscriptions.