Wednesday, December 07, 2005

BAR ILAN UNIVERSITY is protesting Hanan Eshel's arrest:
Bar-Ilan delays archaeology meet to protest IAA complaint
By Amiram Barkat (Ha'aretz)

Bar-Ilan University has postponed indefinitely its annual archaeology conference in protest over a police complaint lodged by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) against Dr. Hanan Eshel, a senior member of the school's archaeology department.

The IAA submitted the complaint after Eshel allegedly failed to turn over a rare artifact in his possession. According to the IAA, an indictment is to be issued shortly against the archaeologist.

The Archaeological Council, Israel's senior professional body of archaeologists, which advises the IAA, objected to the authority's move. It said disciplinary procedures might have been opened against Eshel before a police complaint was lodged. Dozens of archaeologists signed a petition recently condemning the IAA action.


Background here. Jim West has posted a copy of the petition here.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

HOW NOT TO GIVE A CONFERENCE PAPER: Maria Doerfler has some good advice based on her experiences at the recent AAR meetings.
STUDIA PHILONICA ANNUAL 17 (2005) is now out. Torrey Seland has details.
Manuscripts 'treated as fossils'
By Julianna Kettlewell
BBC News science reporter

A palaeontologist has come up with a novel way of studying historical manuscripts, by treating them as fossils from an extinct species.

John Cisne, writing in Science magazine, says manuscripts from the Middle Ages have a lot in common with animal populations.

For this reason, he claims, he can work out how many copies of a manuscript once existed and how regularly they were destroyed, simply by applying a biological model.

Historians have cautiously welcomed this rare link between the arts and sciences.


This is cool, if it actually works. It reminds me of Hartmut Stegemann's technique for reconstructing the column arrangement of a whole Dead Sea Scroll and placing its fragments in order and in the right columns (based on the shapes and damage-patterns of the fragments), which often can be done pretty well even when all you have are some badly damaged fragments that represent only part of a scroll. The problem with such techniques, of course, is testing them to see if they do work. Stegemann's method has been verified by independent reconstructions of the Hodayot Scroll (1QHa) by Stegemann and Puech, cross-verified by the texts of the Cave 4 Hodayot manuscripts. I'm pretty sure it's also been tested on biblical manuscripts whose contents are known, but I can't find discussion of the latter anywhere. I wonder if some similar test could be applied to Cisne's method.


Annette Steudel, "Scroll Reconstruction," Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls (ed. Lawrence H. Schiffman and James C. VanderKam; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 842-44.

(Via Pete Williams at the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog.)

UPDATE (8 December): Ken Penner e-mails:
Perhaps you were thinking of Herbert's A New Method for Reconstructing Biblical Scrolls, and its Application to the Reconstruction of 4QSam-a (Brill, 1997)?

Yes, I think that's an example.
TZVEE ZAHAVY has a blog:
THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS EXHIBIT AT DISCOVERY PLACE (Charlotte, North Carolina) opens on 1 February.

Monday, December 05, 2005

BIBLIOBLOGGING, ETC., AGAIN: The SBL session continues to generate comments. Chris Weimar has now posted his thoughts on "'Biblioblogging' 'Femiblogging' and Blogdom" on his Thoughts on Antiquity blog. One comment regarding this:
Furthered by some of Jim Davila's remarks (again, I'm getting this information second-hand, so correct me if I'm wrong) about who are bibliobloggers (professors and graduate students only?), the next thing you know people are angry over who is a biblioblogger and who isn't and why women are being excluded from this white-middle-age-male association and whathaveyou nonsense and then...Tim B. leaves.

In my paper I said that I took "bibliobloggers" to mean "bloggers who have a primary or at least a significant focus on academic Biblical Studies" and that I understood this to be the general view. When I counted them up I was counting "academic specialists in biblical studies or postgraduate students in the field." In fact, it turns out that at least a couple of those I was counting fall outside those more narrowly defined limits, so the first definition is more accurate and is the one that I prefer for my own use of the word. Others, of course, are welcome to use it however they like.

My interest is in biblical studies and early Jewish studies from historical, archaeological, and philological perspectives and I tend to read blogs that work more from those perspectives than not. I don't care what you call them and they don't all deal with the Bible (e.g., Hagahot and Hebrew and Aramaic Philology rarely do, if ever). My interests should not be taken as in any way definitive. They're just, well, what I'm interested in.

Also, Chris draws attention to a new blog by Lesa Bellevie called The Magdalene Review, which keeps track of media references etc. to Mary Magdalene and related matters.

UPDATE (6 December): Mark Goodacre comments on Chris's post here. Also, Chris worries that I thought he was attacking me. I didn't. On the contrary, he pointed out something I had said which turned out to be incorrect (that the bibliobloggers I was counting in my survey were all either academic specialists or postgrads) and I was happy to have the opportunity to correct it. If I sounded defensive, it was not from anything he said. I just wanted to keep it clear that by expressing my opinion I am not making authoritative, prescriptive pronouncements.
BLEG FOR A PHOENICIAN GIANT: I'm wondering if any of my readers can help me with a question I've had for some time. I have a vague memory from perhaps twenty years ago, when I spent a lot of time working with Phoenician, that there is a Phoenician inscription that refers to the biblical figure Og, King of Bashan, (עוג מלך־הבשן) who is mentioned in Numbers 21:31-35; Deuteronmy 1:4; Deuteronomy 3:1-11; Joshua 12:4-5 and 13:12; and a few other biblical passages. The passage in Deuteronomy 3 indicates that he was a giant and the passages in Joshua trace his ancestry back to the Rephaim, who were also known as giants (see 2 Samuel 21:16-22, ילידי הרפה).

At the SBL meetings I asked a bunch of Northwest Semitists about this and a couple of them vaguely remembered it too, one suggesting that it was found in a curse in one of the Byblian inscriptions, which invoked King Og. But no one could remember which text it was precisely and, after I got home, I checked all the Phoenician inscriptions from Byblos and could not find a reference to Og in any of them. And no Og is mentioned in the names indices for Donner and Rôlling's Kanaanäische und Aramäishe Inscriften or Gibson's Syrian Semitic Inscriptions, vol. 3, Phoenician Inscriptions. I don't have access to Benz's Personal Names in the Phoenician and Punic Inscriptions.

So -- is my memory at all correct? Is there a Phoenician, Punic, or Neo-Punic inscription that mentions Og? I'm collecting material on the giants and on ancient non-Israelite mentions of figures from the Hebrew Bible, both for the More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project, and I would be very grateful if someone can either point me to the relevant inscription or else tell me authoritatively that there isn't one.

UPDATE (3:30 pm): My thanks to Arne Halbakken, who located the reference for me in HALAT. Wayne Pitard was right: the reference is in a Phoenician inscription from Byblos (Byblos 13). It was published in 1974 by Wolfgang Rölling in "Eine new phoenizische Inscrift aus Byblos," Neue Ephemeris für Semitische Epigraphik, vol 2, 1-15 and plate 1. Apparently J. Starkey published it first in 1970. It is a damaged 7-line funerary inscription that Röllig dates to around 500 BCE. It appears to say that if someone disturbs the bones of the occupant, העג יתבקשנ האדר, "the mighty Og will avenge me." Og the giant, King of Bashan? Could be. The Rephaim were ghosts too. I wonder how common the name was.

UPDATE (29 December): I've posted much more on Og here.

(UPDATE 7 September 2011): I should note that I no longer think that this inscription refers to Og the giant. I will explain my reasons in my general introduction to the Book of Giants, which is to be translated for volume 2 of the More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project.
ENOCH/METATRON at the SBL conference: Rebecca Lesses reports on her review of Andrei Orlov's book The Enoch/Metatron Tradition. She also had a car-malfunction adventure coming home from the conference.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

WHERE IS MISS MABROUK? She is not responding to comments on her most recent blog post on 10 November. I have expressed concern before and now another blogger has as well. But, surprisingly, the first comment on the latter post indicates that Alaa of Manal and Alaa (see here too) isn't worried. I hope he's right.
NEW TESTAMENT APOCRYPHA SERIES: I've been meaning for some time to take note of Phil Harland's ongoing series of blog posts on New Testament Apocrypha, the most recent of which (#22) is on Secret Mark, with special reference to Stephen Carlson's new book. I only recently realized that the series is tied to a graduate course Phil is teaching this semester. There are lots of interesting entries, including this list of online resourses and this recent post on The Ascension of Isaiah, which is both a New Testament Apocryphon and an Old Testament pseudepigraphon. Good stuff.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

MORE ON PLAGIARISM: Gad I pity anyone plagiarizing in one of Horace Jeffery Hodges's classes. He has wonderful advice on how to hunt plagiarizers down in his latest post on the subject. (Be sure and follow the links for earlier posts and a reply by Mark Goodacre.) I'll have to link to this stuff again next semester when the essays for my Old Testament 2 course are close to being due.

UPDATE (4 December): There's a helpful index of the posts here.
HAROLD BLOOM is interviewed ("'Cons Who Rule a Ruined World'") by Beliefnet about his new book Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine. The interview is very excerptable, but you should read it all, so I'll limit myself to two quotes:

On the New Testament:
And then I remember taking as an undergraduate--out of real curiosity--a course in New Testament Greek and read the entire Greek Testament and got to know it pretty well and got more and more puzzled by something: How can it possibly be that we don't have an Aramaic Gospel of Jesus Christ? All the scholars agree that he spoke Aramaic to his disciples, who would have known no other language, and to the crowds in Galilee, who clustered around him, and they knew no other language. If you believed that this particular personage from Nazareth, whom I refer to in the book as a "more or less historical figure"--if you believed that this was indeed God or the son of God or the anointed Messiah, how can you fail to preserve the actual words, sentences, that he had spoken? How could you not commemorate his discourses literally? Why is there no Aramaic gospel? And what makes me especially suspicious from the start is, as you know, scattered through the gospels are some seven or eight Aramaic phrases, which have been put in more or less, as it were, to spice it up or authenticate it, though it's never explained why they are there. That they did not preserve an Aramaic gospel makes me very suspicious indeed.

On Yahweh:
There's a kind of scamp in there. But he also goes violently crazy as he leads the Israelite host in that ridiculous, mad 40 years wandering through the wilderness, trekking back and forth. He gets crazier and crazier and the poor things get crazier and crazier. One of my favorite passages in the book is what I am talking about--the ridiculous attempt on the part, first, of the neo-Platonising Jews like Philo of Alexandria, and then later the high rabbinical sages to get rid of what they might call the anthropomorphic element and say he isn't a man, he isn't a human, he doesn't do certain things, since it's made very clear that he's walking down the road frequently, that he's picnicking, that he's doing this, that, and the other thing, that he's burying Moses with his own hands, he is closing the door of the Ark with his own hands, and so on.

Yahweh is a human, all-too-human, much, much too human God, and very scary. He is irascible, he's difficult, he's unpredictable, and he himself doesn't seem to know what he is doing.

UPDATE: But Ed Cook is not impressed with Bloom as a punster.
BRUCE CHILTON has a new book out on Mary Magdalene:
The Jesus-was-married theory says Jews expected men to wed. That's generally true, but modern rediscovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls confirmed that some Jewish holy men in ancient times remained celibate.

There's also this issue, raised by Bruce Chilton of Bard College in "Mary Magdalene: A Biography" (Doubleday, $23.95): Judaism's Talmud said a husband cannot move his wife from place to place. Couples usually resided with the wife's parents. Jesus' "constant travel, irregular birth, and unstable economic status made him nobody's ideal husband or son-in-law," Chilton comments.

"If Jesus were to have had a sexual partner, Mary remains the best candidate," he thinks. But there's no historical evidence that Jesus did.

Chilton chides feminists and New Agers who cite depictions of Mary Magdalene to claim ancient Gnosticism exalted women and is therefore preferable to orthodox Christianity.
The earliest Gnostic text, the second-century Gospel of Thomas, says women must make themselves males to enter the kingdom of heaven. That gender elitism contrasts with the basic spiritual equality in biblical Judaism and Christianity.

Actually, it's Josephus and Philo who say the Essenes were celibate. The Scrolls never mention celibacy explicitly (odd for a supposedly celibate group), although one passage in the Damascus Document may allude to a celibate sectarian group-within-the-group. Regarding the Talmud reference (typically, the article doesn't actually give the reference), the Talmud was edited many centuries after the time of Jesus and one would have to argue that the traditions in the specific passage were very early on other grounds. But if Chilton is citing the Talmud, I assume he does this. For a different view on the Gospel of Thomas, see here. I have more on Mary Magdalene here.

Then there's this from this A.P. article, which belongs in the You Can't Make This Up File: "There's even a "Complete Idiot's Guide" to her, and a forthcoming film version of the 'Magdalene' comic books' woman warrior."

Friday, December 02, 2005

ONE OF MY LOST BOOKS (the "book of healings" suppressed by King Hezekiah according to the Mishnah) is the subject of an article today in the Jerusalem Post:
World of the Sages: Books of Remedies

Our sages credit the righteous monarch, King Hezekiah, ruler of the Kingdom of Judah for 29 years, with a number of achievements.

One of these accomplishments was the hiding of a certain "Book of Remedies" (M. Pesahim 4:10; B. Pesahim 56a). This feat was so lauded by the Talmud that it is offered as one of two possible merits that Hezekiah invoked when he was beseeching God to be healed of his fatal illness, saying: "I have done that which is good in Your eyes" (Isaiah 38:3) - that which is good, namely, the suppression of the Book of Remedies (B. Berakhot 10b).

What is this Book of Remedies? Who authored the work? And perhaps most importantly, what is so commendable about its censorship? The commentators have long debated these questions.

A SEMINAR ON COPTIC PAPYROLOGY is to be held in Vienna in July.
ST. CATHERINE'S MONASTERY IN SINAI and its manuscripts are the subject of an article in Al Ahram by Jill Kamil. Regrettably, it has a disturbing number of errors.
The importance of the written word

St Catherine's Monastery in Sinai is famed for its unique collection of manuscripts. Jill Kamil looks into the wealth of the scriptorium and the plan to update its literary wealth

Deep in South Sinai, snuggled amidst dry gorges and naked valleys, 17 centuries of uninterrupted asceticism in an orthodox monastic centre trace back to the reign of the Roman Emperor Justinian in the sixth century. Never in its long history has St Catherine's Monastery been conquered, damaged, or destroyed. It is famous for its icons and manuscripts, and it is the latter that is about to receive attention.

The Ministry of Culture, in cooperation with the custodians of the monastery, have announced a three-phase project, the first of which includes comprehensive documentation of all the manuscripts -- one of the richest monastic collections in the world and second in importance only to the Vatican.

So far, so good, and I'm glad to hear about the project. But then we get this:
The holy fathers of St Catherine's exercise much secrecy and reserve regarding their heritage, especially their sacred manuscripts. This is largely owing to their unfortunate experience with Konstantin von Tischendorf, a German scholar from the vicinity of Leipzig. He took a precious codex, the oldest translation of the Bible into any language, to old St Petersburg and gave the monks a handwritten note saying that he was taking the work on loan in order to copy it and promising to return it undamaged. The monks counted on the return of the precious codex, but they never saw it again.

The great significance of the Codex Syriacus or the Syrian codex, which is now of international fame, is that it is the only known copy of the Greek New Testament in its original uncial script. It was discovered in 1892 and the text is a palimpsest -- which is to say, a text partly erased so that the parchment on which it was written could be used again, as indeed, it was. In this case, the underlying fifth-century text is now so faded as to be virtually invisible.

This is very confused. The manuscript described in the first paragraph is the Codex Sinaiticus, not the Codex Syriacus. Tischendorf's role and honesty in handling the manuscript continues to be debated. The second paragraph then refers to the palimpsest Codex Syriacus, which is a different manuscript. As one might guess, it is in Syriac (follow the link and scroll down to "The Old Syriac") and therefore isn't in Greek uncial letters or any other kind of Greek letters. Kamil has conflated the two manuscripts and includes information about both as though they were the same.

Then the garbling gets even worse:
Its discovery revolutionalised biblical analysis. Before then, von Tischendorf and other scholars believed the Gospel according to Matthew was earlier than Mark's, and that John and Matthew had been direct eye-witnesses to the events in the life of Jesus. Study of the codex led Tischendorf to think otherwise. Through literary detective work, he studied the order of events in the ancient texts, compared biblical stories, and provided evidence -- subsequently hotly disputed but today generally accepted -- that the Gospel of St Mark was written before those of Matthew and Luke. If this is indeed so, then it is somewhat startling to learn that some of the most treasured biblical stories do not appear in it. Were they, perhaps, later additions? Although it is not known exactly where the codex was written, it was certainly not in the monastery where it was found; it had not then been built.

Marcan priority was first proposed in the 1830s, whereas Tischendorf (at least according to his version of the story) located Sinaiticus at St. Catherine's Monastery piecemeal between 1844 and 1859. Syriacus was located in 1892 by Agnes Smith Lewis and her sister Margaret Dunlop Gibson. The discovery of Marcan priority had nothing to do with Tischendorf and progress on the Synoptic problem was not based on study of Sinaiticus or Syriacus. See Stephen Carlson's Synoptic Problem FAQ and Two-Source Hypothesis website for specifics on the history of research.
Von Tischendorf presented the Syrian codex to then Czar of Russia Alexander II. After Tischendorf's death in 1917, however, the Russian revolution in the same year resulted in financial problems for Russia which caused the precious bible, consisting of 346 folia and a small fragment, to be sold to the British Museum for the then enormous sum of GBP100,000. Little wonder that the monks were subsequently reluctant to let anyone gain access to their library. They have been suspicious of scholars who wish to carry out research in their archives ever since -- even if they hold the highest credentials.

This is Codex Sinaiticus again. Tischedorf died in 1874. At least some of the Codex remains in St. Petersburg.

Then a few paragraphs down:
Among the greatest treasures is Mt Sinai Arabic Codex 151, which is probably the oldest Arabic translation of the Bible from its original Aramaic -- the language in common use for 1,000 years.

It's misleading to say "from its original Aramaic." Only a few chapters of the Bible in Daniel and Ezra (and one verse in Jeremiah) were originally written in Aramaic. I think what she's trying to say is that this Arabic Bible was translated from a Syriac version, as was most literature translated into Arabic.

A little farther down, on the room full of manuscripts rediscovered in 1975:
The horde included ancient biblical texts and other documents, as well as Greek texts in uncial script which shed new light on the history of Greek writing. To their delight the monks recognised some dozen leaves of their sacred Syrian Codex; today the 53 leaves originally purloined by von Tischendorf are preserved in Leipzig, 346 leaves and a fragment are in the British Museum, and the dozen newly-discovered leaves remain at St Catherine's.

This is Codex Siniaticus again. And, again, some material (I don't know how much) remains in St. Petersburg.

The main points of the article -- that St. Catherine's is an incredibly important repository of manuscripts and that the new work on documenting the collections is a good thing -- are correct. But it's a pity that the piece was otherwise so carelessly researched. I thought Jill Kamil was more on top of things than that. I hope next time she deals with New Testament manuscripts and research she'll start by having a look at Mark Goodacre's New Testament Gateway.

UPDATE (3 December): Peter Head comments at Evangelical Textual Criticism.
Russian researchers discover giants' graves in Syria

Just to be clear -- in case you're here from a search-engine referral -- I'm being sarcastic and the story is bogus. There may be tombs in Syria traditionally associated with the giants, but "scientists" are not looking to find actual giant bones in them
NEO-EBIONITES? Well, sort of.
MAZAR'S PALACE IN JERUSALEM is covered in a long article ("A Dig Into Jerusalem's Past Fuels Present-Day Debates") in the Washington Post. Not much new in it, but it collects a lot of information that is already fairly well known. It notes that Israel Finkelstein has visited the site. His take:
He believes all buildings described in the Bible were built more recently than Mazar and others believe, perhaps by a century. The interpretation would mean that Jerusalem developed into a thriving, fortified city well after David and Solomon. But Finkelstein said Mazar's find appeared to show that Jerusalem, while perhaps not important during David's time, began emerging as an important city earlier than he previously believed.

"This is the missing link we have been looking for. It represents the first step in the rise of Jerusalem to prominence in the 9th century," he said. "Why does it have to be the palace of David? Once you bring that in you sound like something of a lunatic."

UPDATE (3 December): Joe Cathey points to a howler in the article which I missed.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

THE ORION NEWSLETTER for November 2005 (for the Orion Center for the Study of the Dead Sea Scrolls) is now available online. It may have been there for a while; I just noticed it because a hard copy arrived in the post this afternoon.
KEEP AN EYE ON THE NETS WEBSITE, which keeps adding provisional PDF-file versions of their translations of the Greek (LXX) texts of biblical books. Rick Brannan notes the latest additions on ricoblog.
JEWISH STUDIES, AN INTERNET JOURNAL has posted a new article: Emmanuel Friedheim, "Timi De-Romi and Tyche De-Romi: A Reexamination of the Historical Significance of a Talmudic Expression" (in Hebrew). You can download it as either a Word or a PDF file.

The Talmud Yerushalmi (‘Avodah Zarah 3.3) uses the obscure expression /timi de-Romi/, a term which puzzled scholars until the publication of a Geniza fragment which reads /tyche de-Romi/ instead, i.e., the Greek goddess of Fortune. Indeed, J. N. Epstein and S. Lieberman considered this reading authentic. However, examination of archaeological and historical sources suggests that the /lectio difficilior/ /timi de-Romi/ might also be viable, as demonstrated at length in this article, for in the Nabatean area and among Arabs from the Palmyrene region pagans referred to the goddess /Tyche/ as /time/.
THE SHEFFIELD BLOGGING SEMINAR is on Monday, 5 December. I look forward to the blog reports and I hope the papers will also be posted online.
MORE ON APRIL DECONICK'S NEW BOOK on the Gospel of Thomas (from an Illinois Wesleyan University press release):
Professor's Book Offers New Understanding of The Gospel of Thomas

By Staff

(AXcess News) Bloomington, IL - Rather than representing a "new" or "lost" Christianity or some late Gnostic heresy, The Gospel of Thomas is one of the earliest texts from the first Church run by Jesus' family in Jerusalem and pre-dates the literary sources used by the synoptic Gospels, according to a new book by an Illinois Wesleyan University professor.

April DeConick, associate professor of religion at Illinois Wesleyan, is the author of "Recovering the Original Gospel of Thomas," published by Continuum.


In addition, she says that the text was originally written in Aramaic, which was Jesus' native language, and suggests that the Gospel of Thomas probably came from Syria, which had first been evangelized by the Aramaic-speaking Christians from Jerusalem.


"They were very certain that they were living in the very end times," DeConick said. "The ethic of how they were living was end-time living: don't worry about raising a family, don't worry about food and clothes, just get out and convert as many people as possible so that when God's judgment comes as many will be saved as can be. I think that was the mentality that is shown in these original sayings."

Once the end of the world did not materialize, those preachers who were performing the "Kernel" began to refocus their apocalyptic expectations. Instead of teaching about a cosmic end, the preachers refocused their message to mystical beliefs and practices. This led to the accretions that have caused the Gospel of Thomas to be misunderstood, DeConick says.

DeConick believes that the Gospel was first used in the years 30-50 C.D. [This is obviously a typo for A.D.]



UPDATE: Coincidentally, just yesterday I came across the friendly skripture study blog, a group blog whose members (including Crystal, a frequent commenter on the NT Gateway blog) have been systematically commenting on the sayings in the Gospel of Thomas over the last few months.