Saturday, September 09, 2006

TWO GENIZOT in the greater Kansas City area are the subject of an article in the Kansas City Jewish Chronicle. Excerpt:
According to the Encyclopedia Judaica, a genizah is a place for storing books or ritual objects that have become unusable. Genizot have been around for thousands of years. Often, they were simply rooms attached to synagogues.
In the Kansas City area, however, the two genizot are located in cemeteries - Kehilath Israel Blue Ridge Cemetery, at 1901 Blue Ridge Blvd. in Independence, Mo., and at Mount Carmel Cemetery, 5529 Ditzler St. in Kansas City, Mo.
Jim Jones, the caretaker at Mount Carmel, said that when Congregation Beth Shalom cleaned out the basement at the Wornall Road location in 2005, hundreds of prayer books were disposed of by putting them in the genizah.
"Anything that's tattered and old that the synagogue has, that's what I dispose of," Jones said.
Mount Carmel's genizah, dedicated in 1957, looks like a granite tombstone, except that it contains a chute that conveys items into a chamber below. Jones keeps the lid locked most of the time.
Despite the sentimental value some people attach to ritual garments, yarmulkes and tallitot are not considered shemot.
"We have had people say, 'Please bury my tallis, it's old.' But we still remove one of the fringes because you don't want to bury a functioning tallis," said Rabbi Herbert Mandl of Kehilath Israel Synagogue. "Ninety-nine percent (of what goes into the genizah) is books - anything with God's name in it: a Chumash, a prayer book, a Bible - not a novel or anything. Things like a lulav or an etrog are just thrown out. There's a thing in the Talmud that says specifically they are articles of use, and they can just be discarded."
The genizah at KI Blue Ridge Cemetery was built in 1971, Rabbi Mandl said, when the chapel was built. "It's a beautiful structure," he said. "I don't think anyone has anything quite like it in town."
There's even a picture of the one at KI Blue Ridge Cemetery.

Also, the article notes that there's now a mail-in Geniza service with a website at Yet another wonder of modern technology.

As most readers will know, a vast number of extremely important ancient and medieval Jewish manuscripts were recovered a little over a century ago from the "Cairo Geniza," a large geniza in the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Old Cairo that was in use for a thousand years or so.
CONGRATULATIONS to Seth Schwartz and his bride Judith Margolin.
She is a daughter of Phyllis and Irwin Margolin of Ardsley, N.Y. Her father retired as a director of product research at the Revlon Research Center in Edison, N.J. Her mother is a professor of English at Monroe College in the Bronx.

The bridegroom, 47, is the Gerson D. Cohen professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and a director of the graduate program in ancient Judaism. He graduated magna cum laude from Yeshiva and received a Ph.D. in ancient history from Columbia. He is the author of “Imperialism and Jewish Society: 200 B.C.E. to 640 C.E.” (Princeton University Press, 2001).
PETRA is the subject of a Travel piece in the New York Times. It's short on pictures, but you can find more of those over at

Friday, September 08, 2006

TWO NEW ARTICLES have been published by Jewish Studies, an Internet Journal (both downloadable here):
Rivka Raviv, "The Talmudic Formulation of the Prophecies of the Four Kingdoms in the Book of Daniel"


The concept of four kingdoms is found in several prophecies in the Book of Daniel, and similar non-biblical traditions are shared by many cultures (Persian, Greek and Roman). Our article deals with the formulation of the concept of four kingdoms in classical rabbinic literature. First, we will investigate to what extent the rabbis’ discussion relates directly to the biblical concept and not to the extra-biblical concept of four kingdoms. Next, we will review areas in which the rabbis reformulated the biblical concept: by updating its interpretation according to historical changes, and identifying the fourth creature as a boar, which represents the Roman Empire; and by granting great significance to the concept and thus transforming it from a marginal biblical concept to a seminal rabbinical concept. At the same time, we will see how the concept of four kingdoms became a central motif in the interpretation of the entire Bible, grapple with the deterministic view that emerges from the prophecies in the Book of Daniel, and compare this view to the one commonly found in classical rabbinic literature.

Baruch Alster,"The ‘Forlorn Lady’ in the Interpretation of the Song of Songs


This article discusses the idea, raised by a few traditional Jewish exegetes, that the female protagonist of the Song of Songs is a “forlorn lady” whose husband deserted her, and who is arguing with her friends (the “Daughters of Jerusalem”) over the chances of his return. After viewing the concept of the “forlorn lady” in opposition to other traditional narrative approaches to the Song, we introduce two major commentaries (Rashi and R. J.H. Altschuler) that interpret the Song according to this concept, and show how they develop the plot along these lines. We then attempt to explain why Peshat exegetes adopted this idea, which to many readers seems incompatible with the simple sense of the Song

Thursday, September 07, 2006

AN OBITUARY FOR TIKVA FRYMER-KENSKY has been published by the University of Chicago. Excerpt:
"She was unique. I don't know of another scholar in the world who combined as she did mastery of Assyriology with sustained attention to feminist readings in the service of biblical theology," said Divinity School Dean Richard Rosengarten. "Hers was a capacious intellect, and all her work was inflamed by her deep passion for the material both in its original context and in ours. This combination made her a remarkably compelling scholar and teacher, and one whose absence is deeply felt already."

Around the Divinity School, Frymer-Kensky was known for her warmth and also her staunch commitment to interreligious dialogue and understanding as well as for her scholarship. William Schweiker, Professor of Theological Ethics, recalled that Frymer-Kensky was committed to the full range of programs in the Divinity School, at home during Divinity School worship services, and that she loved working with the students in theology and ethics as well as the school's Christian ministerial students.
(Via the Agade list.)
Let the festivities begin

Chaldean Festival and Southfield’s Autumnfest take over Evergreen this weekend

By April Lehmbeck
C & G Staff Writer

SOUTHFIELD — Welcoming the autumn season is an annual tradition in the city, but this year there’s another reason to celebrate.

The Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce is hosting its first Chaldean Festival on the front lawn of the Southfield Civic Center.

“The festival is going to have a lot of free family entertainment. We expect to see thousands,” chamber Executive Director Martin Manna said, adding that they hope the two events that weekend will complement each other. “We’re proud of the relationship we’ve established with the city of Southfield.”

The Chaldean Festival will run from noon to 10 p.m. on Sept. 9 and 10.

The event is being held to celebrate the heritage of Chaldean-Americans, who are from Iraq, speak Aramaic and are Catholic. Activities will include music, food and shopping. Activities will be available for children, as well.

Some of the musicians will perform in Aramaic.
FIRST-CENTURY B.C.E. BURIAL CHAMBERS have been found by construction workers in Tel Aviv:
Ancient Burial Cave Found Under Tel Aviv School

September 6, 2006 7:30 a.m. EST

Ryan R. Jones - All Headline News Middle East Correspondent

Jerusalem, Israel (AHN) - Tel Aviv municipal workers doing routine street repairs last week stumbled upon a large ancient burial cave that extends under a nearby high school.

PAULA FREDRIKSEN is interviewed by Vision's David Hulme about Paul and Judaism. Much of the interview is given also on video. Excerpt:
DH Can you speak to the problem of anachronism and its effect on understanding Paul?

PF I’m a historian, and the most grave “original sin” for a historian is anachronism. What that means is that you lift something out of its historical context and put it in a different historical context, and so misinterpret it. If in addition we think of Paul as an orthodox Christian, we will only misinterpret him that much more. He’s living in a period where he’s not thinking in a Trinitarian manner. The idea of the Trinity hasn’t been conceived yet. His letters will have Jesus Christ in them; they will have God the Father in them; he will talk about the Spirit of God. Those are the textual origins that will be used to formulate the doctrine of the Trinity, but Paul’s not thinking in a Trinitarian way.

People reading Paul assume that he’s hostile to Judaism because he’s the “inventor” of Christianity. In fact, he’s still imagining himself as a Jew and he’s presenting Christianity in continuity with Judaism. The fact that Paul is such a huge figure for Christianity makes it almost impossible for us not to interpret him anachronistically when we look at him, because it’s so important that his message speak immediately to modern Christianity. If we allow ourselves to see how much his message actually cohered with first-century Judaism, then we have to relinquish an immediate connection between him and us, between this ancient Jewish messianic movement and the modern church.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS EXHIBITION at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle starts later this month:
Dead Sea Scroll exhibit offers abundant educational opportunities

By Sam Bennett (Lynnwood Journal Newspapers, WA)

Pacific Science Center's new exhibit, "Discovering the Dead Sea Scrolls," is designed to enlighten, as well as attempt to set the record straight.

The exhibit, which runs Sept. 23 through Jan. 7, will attract international attention for unveiling four scrolls never seen by the public.

An important aspect of the exhibit will be it's educational component in the form of a series of lectures that coincide with the run dates.

I've already noted the exhibit here and here.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

A BNTC ROUNDUP has been posted by Mark Goodacre. Mark calls for photographs. I took very few this time and the only one I'm inclined to publish is here. Maybe some of the others will oblige. I also have conference-related posts here, here, and here.

Many thanks to Sheffield University for hosting a very successful conference and to all the people involved in making it work. And thanks especially to Ela Nutu, who set me up with an Internet connection in my room and helped me sort out initial gremlins with it, and who seemed to be everywhere at once throughout the conference, making everything run smoothly.
GEORGE E. MENDENHALL is interviewed by OpEdNews about the origins of Israel and the Jewish people:
The Common Origin of and Split Between Arabs and Jews - An Interview with Professor George E. Mendenhall
Evidently this is only the first part of the interview and there is more coming.
AN ANCIENT COIN seems to have been found in someone's grocery change in South Carolina. This according to
Woman Finds Potentially Ancient Coin In Grocery Change

(Sumter) When the coins come out of the cash drawer, they all sound the same. And when Lynn Moore picked up her change and walked out of a Sumter Bi-Lo last November, she had no reason to believe her coins were any different.

Boy, was she wrong.

“It's definitely not a penny," said Lynn.

It wasn't until she emptied her change that she noticed.

“I threw it in a vase right next to my kitchen table," said Lynn. She continued, "I dumped it out into my hand and noticed that one coin was very odd looking."

For 10 months, she kept it to herself. Then, Ken Lyles saw it. Ken has collected and studied coins for 50 years, and says this one is definitely not American.

“My research on it would tell me that it (was made in) approximately 132 to 135 A.D."

Mr. Lyles says the shape, uneven edges, and weight of the coin means it definitely pre-dates modern mints. According to his reference books, the coin is from ancient Hebrew society.

I'm not a numismatist, but it sounds like Mr. Lyles thinks it's a coin from the Bar Kokhba Revolt. The photograph is dreadful. The letters look like they might be Hebrew, but I can't make out what the inscription says. Would any coin experts out there like to comment?

UPDATE (6 September): Ian Werrett wrote to suggest that the coin is a fake:
In particular, the dots around the border and the vine leaf are far too pronounced to be the genuine article. Furthermore, the edge of the coin, with its rounded edge that is free from any obvious dings or dents, has a very similar look to those coins that have been produced by modern companies in order to be sold as souvenirs in Jerusalem and elsewhere.
Then in a later message he found the coin on this website with a clear picture showing that the Hebrew script is modern. The web page owner, David Garstang, notes:
There is no question that these are NOT real ancient coins. The only question is whether they were created with intent to fool collectors or as some sort of commemorative token. I suspect the latter, because the script is such an obvious giveaway to anyone with much experience.

BEWARE!!! There are many of these coins (most in the lighter brass-colored metal) floating around, and they are turning up as "sucker bait" on web auction sites. One fellow asked me (and others) for help in authenticating one of these. I told him that, though I was not an expert, I knew it was not authentic. It then came up for auction, with the fellow claiming, you guessed it, "I know nothing about this coin, but someone says it might be a Bar Kochba".
Bottom line: it's a modern fake. It sounds as though copies of it are circulating widely.

Monday, September 04, 2006

GOOD PAPERS AT THE BNTC: I don't have the energy to summarize (even briefly) every paper I heard during the conference, but these struck me as particularly interesting. I enjoyed other papers as well, so no offense to those I don't mention.

James Harding, (title changed to something like the following) "Noah, Enoch and Mediatorial Polemics in Luke 17:22-37."
Follows recent proposals by VanderKam and Orlov that Enoch sees the Son of Man as his heavenly double in 1 Enoch 71. Proposes that in the Gospel of Luke (at least), Jesus regarded the Son of Man as his own heavenly double, as with Enoch in the Similitudes.

Jonathan Campbell, "Early Jewish Scriptures: Eight Theses."
I reproduce his eight theses from the handout with his permission, with one or two clarifications in square brackets:
  • (1) late Second Temple scripture was essentially bipartite [Mosaic and prophetic]
  • (2) presumed antiquity was the main desideratum for all scripture
  • (3) previously unknown scriptures were periodically '(re-)discovered'
  • (4) neither the Torah nor the Prophets constituted canons
  • (5) disputes sometimes arose about scriptural authority
  • (6) pseudepigraphy does not relate primarily to scripture's reception
    or pseudepigraphy pertains chiefly to the production of scripture
  • (7) the compositional-redactional production of scripture continued up to 100 CE [and beyond]
  • (8) geography and finance impacted on both scripture's production and reception

Peter Williams, "Farewell to the Prologue of John" (abstract here).
The prologue of the Gospel of John is uncontroversially taken today to consist of John 1:1-18. But Pete showed in a dazzling, graphics-rich presentation that the ancient manuscripts of and commentators on John did not divide the text up this way. Their paragraph markers and comment show that generally saw a strong break after verse 5, and weaker breaks in other spots, but no strong break after v. 18. So 1:1-18 was not widely accepted as a unit until the early modern perod.

Grant Macaskill,"Calendar and Polemics in 2 (Slavonic) Enoch."
The calendrical system described in 2 Enoch has suffered enormous corruption in the surviving medieval manuscripts, but it refers to an annual solar cycle of movement through "gates" over a period of 364 days. The text of the parallel lunar cycle of "gates" is extremely corrupt in the manuscripts but could possibly be reconstructed approximately along the lines of the Qumran/Jubilees year of twelve 30-day months with four intercalary days, one in each of the four seasons. But this is by no means certain.

UPDATE (5 September): Conference roundup info here.
THE UNDERWATER MUSEUM OF CAESAREA MARITIMA is reviewed by Michael Luongo for Excerpt:
In mid-August, just two days after a cease-fire halted the war between Israel and Hezbollah, I went to see the ruins. A few days earlier, cafe customers could see missiles flying over Haifa, about 35 kilometers (22 miles) away, though no bombs landed in Caesarea. On the day I visited, the place was almost deserted when I dove off the pier and plunged into the Mediterranean with my underwater guide Natasha.

Sunken Remains

The brackish green sea was as warm as the desert air; it also was silty, with sand and sediment floating around us. As we went farther out, the pressure increased, the temperature decreased and the currents got stronger.

Soon we spotted huge concrete caissons that were the port's foundations, serving as walkways and the ground floor of warehouses. Some are still solid, while others have been broken apart by earthquakes or waves.

The tops of some caissons have cross forms hashing their surfaces, hollowed out remains of the long-gone wooden beams used to mold them in the open sea. A concrete mix, using volcanic ash from Mount Vesuvius, was poured into the wooden forms. Both the material and the method were innovations developed especially to create the port.
Lebanon's Coast Is Drowning in Oil
A spill caused by an Israeli airstrike has blackened popular beaches and threatens the economy and delicate ecosystems.

By Borzou Daragahi, [Los Angeles] Times Staff Writer
September 4, 2006

BEIRUT — The azure waters of the Mediterranean have long been a symbol of Lebanon's fun-loving character and proud maritime history. But the country's prized 135-mile coast has become its biggest environmental disaster.

Thick gobs of oil have clogged the coast's coral reefs. Sandy beaches have become black-stained no-go zones. Rocky fishermen's coves have become dark soups of crude. All are the result of Israeli airstrikes on seaside oil tanks in the first days of the war against Hezbollah.

Between 3 1/2 and 5 million gallons of oil have fouled more than half of the Lebanese coast, and the damage grows each day that the fractured central government fails to begin the cleanup. Scientists have compared it to the 1989 Exxon Valdez tanker, which ran aground in Prince William Sound, Alaska, dumping 11 million gallons of oil.
Byblos is not mentioned in this article, but it is surely still very much affected.
JEWISH TOMBSTONES IN YEMEN are the subject of an article ("Jewish Tombstones in Aden (Part 1)") by Professor Aviva Klein-Franke in the Yemen Times. Excerpt:
Discoveries of Hebrew epitaphs by travelers

Jacob Saphir was the first to copy Hebrew inscriptions in Aden’s ancient cemeteries and to publish ten of them. Looking for physical evidence supporting the legends of the Jews’ arrival in southern Arabia in biblical times, Saphir felt that he had made an important discovery. In his opinion the ages of the inscriptions which he had copied corresponded to the time referred to in the legends. The earlier dates among the inscriptions copied by Saphir fell between the first and the sixty-first year of the Contracts Calendar. Saphir believed that these dates related to the third century BC. He also documented other epitaphs from the end of the first millennium CE and from the beginning of the second millennium CE. He noted that there were inscriptions written in different styles, despite the fact that those inscriptions gave closed dates and the epitaphs were found side by side in the same area. Saphir discovered a group of epitaphs from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries CE, which belonged to one family clan of H alfon, Bundar and Madmu n. According to Ben-Zvi and Goitein, Madmun in Hebrew means S emarya.

Saphir’s discoveries indicated that the cemetery was used by the community for many generations throughout the centuries and that individuals could own part of the cemetery for use by their families.

As a member of an Austrian scientific delegation, Heinrich David Mu¨ ller travelled to southern Arabia at the end of the nineteenth century. In 1889 Mu¨ ller brought to Vienna approximately 100 squeezes of Hebrew inscriptions. Among these was a group of inscriptions from Aden’s Jewish cemeteries. Most of them date to the years between 20 and 54 in the Calendar of the Contracts. Izhak Ben-Zvi travelled to Aden in January, 1950. He visited the ancient cemeteries, the local state archaeological museum and a private museum, belonging to Mr. Kaiky Muncherjee, an Indian merchant residing in Aden. Ben-Zvi claimed that there were hundreds of sepulchral slabs in the ancient cemeteries. The deeper he entered into the ancient cemetery the earlier were the dates on the epitaphs. He mentioned that many people had epitaphs in their homes and added that it would be difficult to estimate how many slabs with Hebrew inscriptions there were in total. All the inscriptions he examined were dated in relation to the Seleucid Era. For the first time, photographs of four of them were published.
There has been some controversy about the dating of the tombstones.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

HENRY ASGARD KELLY'S BOOK ON SATAN is discussed in the Chicago Tribune (reprinted in Dallas Morning News):
Satan: Father's little helper?

12:00 AM CDT on Saturday, September 2, 2006

By MANYA A. BRACHEAR Chicago Tribune

For centuries, popular culture has treated Satan as God's nemesis – an angel consumed by pride and cast out of heaven to run his own evil empire.

But Henry Ansgar Kelly says poor Satan has gotten a bad rap. For decades he has pleaded the devil's case, arguing that Satan is simply one of God's celestial agents with the dirty job of gauging humanity's virtue.

While that job has made Satan cynical and jaded over time, Dr. Kelly said, it doesn't make him the mastermind of evil.

"Christian tradition has laid a lot of blame on Satan for things they're causing themselves," said Dr. Kelly, 72, a former Jesuit exorcist and now a medieval scholar at the University of California, Los Angeles and author of three books about the devil. "I am pessimistic about human nature. I think we are totally capable of doing what we have done. You can blame it on psychosis if you want."

But you can't blame it on Satan, he said.

During a three-day "Satan Seminar" at Loyola University Chicago last month, Dr. Kelly – the author of Satan: A Biography (Cambridge University Press, $19.99) – preached his controversial gospel to an understandably tough crowd of biblical scholars.

For more on Kelly's book, see here.