Saturday, December 02, 2006

BIBLICAL STUDIES CARNIVAL XII is up at the Dr Jim West blog.
HAPPY SECOND BLOGIVERSARY (slightly belated) to Ralph the Sacred River.
EL-HAJ'S BOOK, FACTS ON THE GROUND, is excerpted at the Solomonia blog here and here.

Regarding the first quote, my experience at Tel Dor was that all periods were studied carefully by Israeli archaeologists. If a bulldozer was in fact used at Lachish -- and the author does not claim she saw this and does not report the names of those who told her -- it doesn't sound like a good idea to me. But I would have to know the specific reasons before I could comment, and I could comment only as a nonspecialist (i.e., not an archaeologist).

As for the second quote, I have not studied the report on Avigad's burnt houses. But from the description it seems very likely that the fires had something to do with the Roman-Jewish conflict around 70 CE. I don't know whether they were caused by the Roman destruction of the city or by conflicts between Jewish factions within the beseiged city. I doubt that the cause was someone smoking in bed. There is plenty of literary evidence for the Roman destruction of Jerusalem (and the literary material is what I know), so whatever happened to these particular sites, that destruction is not in doubt.

I do hope to get around to reading El-Haj's book one of these days, but lately I haven't had adequate time to do much more important reading, and that's not likely to change soon, so don't hold your breath. One can only tell so much from excerpts, and I'm not going to pronounce on the book without actually reading it through. Give the tenure review committee my good wishes and sympathy. They have a hot potato.

UPDATE (6 December): The excavator of Lachish responds.
RAGEH OMAR will be hosting a program on the Dead Sea Scrolls on BBC 4 this Tuesday:
Dead Sea Scrolls
Tuesday 5 December
9.00-10.30pm BBC FOUR (Schedule addition 13 Novermber)

In the winter of 1947, Bedouin looking for a lost goat on the shores of the Dead Sea discovered a cave whose contents rocked the academic world. The Dead Sea Scrolls were the Biblical find of the age. Dating from the time of Jesus, it was hoped that they would shed light on the birth of Christianity and the Jewish world of the first century.

But the scrolls were soon embroiled in controversy, with allegations of conspiracy and cover-up – and the rumours persist today, thanks to The Da Vinci Code.

Most people have heard of the Scrolls, but what do they actually contain? Do they deserve their controversial reputation and can they change people's understanding of Jesus?

In Secrets Of The Scrolls, Rageh Omaar tells the remarkable story of the Dead Sea Scrolls. He uncovers the truth behind the myth and discovers that their story is far from over. As Rageh says: "I guessed that the Dead Sea Scrolls would be a puzzle, but the more I met those who understood the contents of these documents, the more I realised that there are, in fact, many, many intriguing puzzles within the wider puzzle."
Bob Newhart plays against type
By Rick Bird
[Cincinnati] Post staff reporter

Imagine a befuddled, hesitant Bob Newhart-type character guarding humanities' great secrets and artifacts like the Dead Sea Scrolls, Noah's Ark, Poseidon's Trident, King Arthur's Excalibur.

"I would be terrified at the thought of that," Newhart says with a laugh.

The legendary comedian/actor reprises his role as Judson, head of a mysterious monolithic library in "The Librarian: Return to King Solomon's Mines" (8 p.m. Sunday, TNT) in the sequel to the Indiana Jones spoof TV movie that first aired two years ago. Noah Wyle ("ER") produced the movies, also starring as a nerdy and reluctant action-adventure hero with 22 academic degrees.

Actually Newhart's librarian is a different character than he usually plays, a sort of smug all-knowing taskmaster who sends Wyle's hero on missions to prevent the bad guys from acquiring legendary artifacts that will give them more evil powers.

I've not heard of this series before, but it sounds funny, and Bob Newhart is always good. I hope it makes it across the pond. There's another review of the show here.

UPDATE: This review is considerably less positive. And the New York Times grudgingly acknowledges that the first movie was "inexplicably successful."

Friday, December 01, 2006

THE DIET OF THE INHABITANTS OF MASADA (throughout its history) is being studied by an Israeli archaeologist:
What peach did they dare to eat at Masada?
By Ran Shapira

The Roman army commander and naturalist Pliny described, in his book "The Natural History," a rare and unique variety of peach that ripens at an early date, in the summer, and not in the fall, as did all the other peach varieties around in his day. No one knows what this rare variety was called in antiquity, but Prof. Mordechai Kislev, an expert on botanical archaeology, claims that peaches matching Pliny's description appear in a wall drawing in the city of Herculaneum, near Pompeii, and that they also grew in the Land of Israel and were part of the diet of Masada's residents.


Masada's residents did not suffice with just peaches, of course. In excavations at the site conducted by the late Prof. Yigael Yadin, abundant remains of fruits and grains were found. At the beginning of his academic career, in the early 1970s, Kislev received from Yadin all the remains of plants unearthed until then at Masada, and a few years ago, other botanical remains were added to the collection, having been uncovered in excavations there by Prof. Ehud Netzer and Dr. Guy Shtiebel. Today the collection includes thousands of items, representing all the periods when the mountain was inhabited: from the construction of Herod's palace on the peak of Masada in 37 BCE to the era of Roman rule after the conquest of the mountain in 73 CE.

Almost 30 years elapsed from the time Kislev received the findings from Yadin until he found the time and assistance to research the material. In the last three years, he has returned to the collection, with help from Suheil Zeidan, of the Jewish National Fund, and his colleagues Dr. Orit Simchoni and Yonit Tabak, a master's student. The team found that Masada residents enjoyed the full variety of foods produced by the Land of Israel: wheat, barley, apricots, plums, pomegranates, peaches, almonds, figs, grapes and olives.


Thursday, November 30, 2006

THE "BLOGGER@" E-MAIL ADDRESS in the Masthead is now working again. Sorry for the inconvenience while it was down.
CHUCK JONES has a newish blog on the Persepolis Fortification Archive Project that I've been meaning to mention for some time. Among other things, it keeps track of news about the controversy over the tablets.

Today is St. Andrews Day and I am heavily involved in our fall graduation ceremonies and festivities from this morning on, so blogging will be a low priority.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

AN EXCERPT from Nadia Abu El-Haj's Facts on the Ground has been posted on the blog of the University of Chicago Press. The excerpt deals with the views of the Israeli archaeologists Yigael Yadin and Yohanan Aharoni about archaeology and the biblical Conquest traditions, with special reference to the excavation of Hazor. Broadly speaking, the account of the views and disagreements of Yadin and Aharoni look right to me, but this isn't my area of specialty. If any archaeologists have comments, please send them to me. (Send them to jrd4 at st-andrews dot ac dot uk -- I haven't forgotten that I need to get the paleojudaica address fixed, but I'm unbelievably busy this week and I'm doing well to manage any blogging at all.)

(Heads up, Chuck Jones.)

UPDATE (2 December): More here.
HOW'S YOUR AVESTAN? On the Agade list, Jack Sasson noted the following:
At P. Oktor Skjaervo has posted introductory surveys (in PDFs) of:

* Introduction to Young Avestan
* Introduction to Old Avestan
* Introduction to Old Persian
* Introduction to Sogdian

* Introduction to Zoroastrianism
* Introduction to Manicheism

With this disclaimer:
"The material on this site is intended for teaching and learning. As such it is constantly corrected, updated and, hopefully, improved. It is therefore recommended that you check back regularly for updates. Obviously, it reflects the author's current opinions on many issues, but not on all. Therefore, if you want to cite anything here for the purpose of scholarly discussion, please check with the author first. Many points of interpretation and translation have been discussed in various articles, as well, for which see the Bibliography"
Professor Skjaervø, by the way, is translating the Manichaean Iranian fragments of the Book of Giants for the More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

SCROLL DOWN to the update to yesterday's post on the Barnard College tenure controversy if you want to hear me grumble some more about the media.
Byzantine arch found at site of renovated Jerusalem synagogue
By Nadav Shragai, Haaretz Correspondent

A high arch which had been part of the skyline of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City in Jerusalem since the Six Day War has recently disappeared. It belonged to the Hurva Synagogue, Israel's grandest, most important synagogue until the War of Independence.

The arch, a remnant of the synagogue bombed by the Jordanians in 1948, was removed due to the renovation and reconstruction of the synagogue now in progress.

Excavations at the site, directed by archaeologists Hillel Geva and Oren Gutfeld, have exposed findings from various periods of the synagogue's history. The most significant is an entire arch standing along remnants of a stone-paved street from the Byzantine period, which split from the Cardo (one of Jerusalem's main streets during the Roman and Byzantine period) and ascended east to the center of the Jewish Quarter. The arch - 3.7 meters wide, 1.3 meters thick and five meters high - is built of one row of large hewn stones. Geva believes it formed the entrance gate to the Byzantine street.


The excavations, which began in 2003, also unearthed structures and pottery from the First Temple period, remnants of rooms from the Herodian period (Second Temple), burnt wooden logs (evidence of fire that took place after the destruction of the Second Temple), and three plastered ritual baths carved in rock from the Second Temple period.

AN SBL PHOTO SET has been posted by Joe Weaks at the Macintosh Biblioblog. Yours truly appears in the e-listers photo.
THE JOURNAL OF NEAR EASTERN STUDIES has a new issue out (65.4, October 2006). One article may be of interest:
The Servant's Tale: How Rebekah Found a Spouse
Jack M. Sasson
Perhaps also:
The Terms "Assyria" and "Syria" Again
Robert Rollinger
There are also lots of interesting reviews.

(Requires a paid personal or institutional subscription to access.)

Monday, November 27, 2006

THE PRESIDENT OF BARNARD COLLEGE, Judith Shapiro, has published an open letter to Alumnae about Nadia Abu El-Haj's book Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society and the tenure controversy surrounding her and it. Excerpt:
Once a teacher-scholar is appointed to the Barnard faculty, she becomes subject to the rights and responsibilities specified in our Code of Academic Freedom and Tenure. In the case of a tenure review, we solicit outside letters from distinguished scholars in the candidate's field. The reviewers are not chosen by the candidate and she does not know who they are.

In this case, and with specific reference to Facts on the Ground, these reviewers will certainly include archaeologists with appropriate expertise and broad comparative perspectives. While it is a legitimate cultural anthropological enterprise to show how archaeological research can be used for political and ideological purposes — something that is common not merely to Israelis and Palestinians, but is a pervasive pattern in many parts of the world — it is, needless to say, of the essence that the archaeological enterprise itself be addressed responsibly and knowledgeably. That is something to be determined by those in a professional position to do so. The Faculty Committee on Appointments, Tenure, and Promotion, along with the Provost, gives long and careful consideration to such outside evaluations, among other kinds of information, when they make a recommendation to me about whether a faculty member should be tenured. The decision then is mine.
This sounds right to me.

(Via the Inside Higher Ed article "Input or Intrusion." Incidentally, contra one commenter, I didn't quite say the book was "daft." I said that if the newpaper article's account of the contents was accurate, it did seem so. I have not read the book. I hope to get around to reading it, but it's not high on my list of priorities right now.)

UPDATE (28 November): In the New York Sun Daniel Pipes also uses the same one-word quote of me without any qualification. I have no interest whatever in defending the book, but I haven't read it and am dependent to no small degree on newspaper reports that I generally don't trust much (and at the time I wrote last week's post that was all I had seen). I do wish people would take the trouble to represent what I actually say, nuance and qualification included. And, by the way, I'm not an archaeologist; I'm a philologist and a historian of religion. But I am an expert on ancient Jewish history.

This episode doesn't increase my faith in what I read in the press. The ironic thing is that I'm quite sympathetic to the concern of Pipes and others about the book, based on what I've heard about it. But I still want what I say to be represented accurately and I'm not going to pronounce on it definitively without actually reading it -- if and when I get time.

I've been fiddling with the exact wording of this update for a few hours, but I think it says now what I want to say.

UPDATE (2 December): More here and here.

UPDATE (28 September 2007): Okay, I've finally had time to read the book and I've posted a review here.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

SOME SBL 2006 BLOG POSTS are collected over at Observatório Bíblico.
ALSO AT MYSTICAL POLITICS, Rebecca has posted an abstract of her SBL paper on "Magical Knowledge in 1 Enoch" (which, unfortunately, I was unable to attend) and she wonders if Joseph Smith knew the Enochic books or other pseudepigrapha.
MIRCEA ELIADE'S FASCISM is the subject of a post by Rebecca Lesses over at Mystical Politics. Ironically, the unsolved murder in 1991 of Eliade's star student, Ioan P. Culianu, also a Romanian, has been attributed by some to Iron Guard remnants. (See also here.) Culianu did important work on Gnosticism, among other things.
MORE MAGIC from Manuscript Boy at Hagahot.