Saturday, December 09, 2006

PETER KIRBY has a podcast on "The Week in Early Writings" in which he reads aloud selected blog posts (including one from PaleoJudaica). He's soliciting feedback on the project, so drop him a note if you have any.
FOR MANY MORE PHOTOS of the "Church of the Ark," go here.
THE BIBLES BEFORE THE YEAR 1000 EXHIBITION is reviewed again, this time in the Washington Times.

UPDATE: The International Herald Tribune has a much longer and more detailed review. Excerpt:
A fragmentary scroll found in a cave at Khirbet Qumran ("The Qumran Ruins" in Arabic) on the northwestern shores of the Dead Sea preserves a few lines from Isaiah copied before 73 B.C. Many similar fragments surfaced at Qumran, making the 1947 find by Arab shepherds a landmark in the history of Hebrew manuscripts.

The other huge discovery made half a century earlier was that of manuscripts in the Genizah (store room) of the Ben Ezra Synagogue dating from 882 A.D. at Fustat, the early Islamic city near Cairo. There they lay, because in Jewish law, flawed manuscripts must be set aside. These included fragments of vellum scrolls with lines from the Genesis copied in the 5th or 6th century or perhaps later.

A series of fascinating revelations came with the pages of a manuscript of which the vellum pages had been washed out to be used again. The earlier text, still legible, retains a literal translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek made by Aquila around 125 A.D. A fragment in a 6th-century hand, on loan from Cambridge University Library, illustrates the continued prevalence of Greek as a cultural language in some Jewish circles at a time when Syriac (the modern version of Aramaic), had long been the spoken language across the Semitic Near East.

Written over Aquila's half-washed translations, the later text reproduces Hebrew poetry by Yannai, a Near Eastern writer who composed one poem for every weekly portion of the Torah read in the synagogue. Few of his poems were known prior to the opening up of the Genizah. Hundreds have now been recorded.
As usual, there seems to be a glitch or two:
The earliest complete Christian Bibles, all in Greek, date from the 4th and 5th centuries. A fourth-century volume, possibly copied in Caeserea, Palestine, is on loan from the monastery of Saint Catherine in Mount Sinai.
Actually only part of this manuscript (the Codex Sinaiticus) is in the exhibition.

And I'm not sure about the following:
Not least among its treasures, the earliest near-complete dated manuscript of the Bible copied in 929 A.D. is believed to have also come from the Genizah. A page decorated with a scrolling pattern and an arcade with alternate triangular and round arches symbolizing the Temple Ark bears striking analogies to Koranic illumination in Syria.
This makes it sound as though there's a "near complete" copy of the Hebrew Bible dated to 929 on exhibit. I've not heard of such a manuscript coming from the Cairo Geniza and I doubt very much that this is correct; the Cairo Geniza produced fragments of codices and scrolls, not complete or even near-complete manuscripts. Can someone give us the story on this manuscript?

Also, I just noticed the following symposium, which is being co-chaired by one of my History-Department St. Andrews colleagues:
The Old Testament in Byzantium

Symposiarchs: Professors Paul Magdalino (University of St. Andrews and KoƧ University, Istanbul) and Robert Nelson (Yale University).
Venue: The Meyer Auditorium, the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Dates: December 1–3, 2006

This symposium, designed to complement an exhibition of early Bible manuscripts at the Sackler Gallery of Art, examines the use of the Greek Old Testament as text, social practice and cultural experience in the Byzantine Empire. Not only are reminiscences of the Old Testament ubiquitous in Byzantine literature and art, but Byzantines revered and identified with Old Testament role models. The phenomenon has never received systematic investigation, despite the fact that this was the part of its tradition that Byzantium shared most widely with other cultures – not only its Christian neighbors, but Judaism and Islam.
The program and abstracts are also available via the link.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Vatican archaeologists find tomb believed to be that of Apostle Paul
Updated 12/6/2006 5:04 PM ET

ROME (AP) — Vatican archaeologists have unearthed a sarcophagus believed to contain the remains of the Apostle Paul that had been buried beneath Rome's second largest basilica.

The sarcophagus, which dates back to at least A.D. 390, has been the subject of an extended excavation that began in 2002 and was completed last month, the project's head said this week.

"Our objective was to bring the remains of the tomb back to light for devotional reasons, so that it could be venerated and be visible," said Giorgio Filippi, the Vatican archaeologist who headed the project at St. Paul Outside the Walls basilica.

The interior of the sarcophagus has not yet been explored, but Filippi didn't rule out the possibility of doing so in the future.

There's nothing about the size of the sarcophagus being unusual, so it appears he wasn't a midget after all.

(Via Archaeologica News.)
MUSEUM OF TOLERANCE UPDATE: From the Jewish Journal of greater L.A.:

Fate of Jerusalem Museum of Tolerance Rests With Israeli High Court

Israel's highest judicial and executive authorities both have weighed in on the protracted dispute surrounding construction of a $200 million Center of Human Dignity-Museum of Tolerance in the heart of Jerusalem. The ambitious Simon Wiesenthal Center project, designed by famed Los Angeles architect Frank Gehry, has been stalled since February, when the Israeli Supreme Court issued an injunction halting any construction work. The court acted on a petition by two Palestinian groups, which asserted that the planned museum would sit atop an ancient and sacred Muslim cemetery.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, the Wiesenthal Center's founding dean, and his lawyers in Jerusalem have argued that the site has been used as a parking lot and underground garage for decades and that Islamic courts had ruled that the onetime cemetery had thus lost its sacred character.

Hier said that he had offered a number of compromises to resolve the dispute, but that the Muslim plaintiffs were stalling and "trying to run out the clock."

Attorney Durham Saif, representing the Palestinian side, said that in its most recent hearing in October, the court told the Wiesenthal Center to submit a redesign of the museum, so that construction would not damage the cemetery.

The next court hearing is scheduled Jan. 3, but in the meantime, Hier said, the delay has added more than $1 million to the cost of the project and has slowed down fundraising in the United States.

BENYAMIM TSEDAKA is speaking on (and for) the Samaritans in Savannah this Sunday:
Samaritan shares story of ancient culture
Coastal Empire | Local News (Savannah Morning News)
Dana Clark Felty | Thursday, December 7, 2006 at 12:30 am

Savannah may boast thousands of Biblical "Good Samaritans."

But an ethnic Samaritan, a descendant of the ancient community of Samaria, will be speaking at a downtown synagogue Sunday.

Benyamim "Benny" Tsedaka, an elder of the Israeli Samaritans, will make a presentation on the history of the culture, from the height of their population - about 1.5 million between the 4th and 5th centuries - to the present day.

Samaritans number about 700 today, with most living in just two communities: Kiryat Luza in the West Bank, and in the city of Holon in Israel.

The public is invited to attend the presentation Sunday at Temple Mickve Israel. Reservations are required by noon today to attend a luncheon at 12:15 p.m. Sunday but are not required to hear the speaker at 1:15 p.m.

I have more on Mr. Tsedaka here, here, and here.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

METATRON, ALIEN ABDUCTOR? This article in UFO Digest critiques a couple of surveys done on alien abductions. This paragraph in it surfaced in one of my Google News searches:
The control word, TRONDANT, originally thought to be an arbitrary, made-up word, was in fact a real word. The word “Trondant” is a title for the angel Metatron, or Sefer Ha-Heshek. (By the way, the Metatron stories and their connection to possible ancient, alien abductions and contacts, is an interesting topic in itself. But that’s another story.) ...
I dare say.
THE BOOK OF 2 ENOCH is cited in a horoscope at Artvoice:
ARIES (March 21-April 19): In the ancient Hebrew text known as the Second Book of Enoch, the author describes his trip through the ten heavens and a meeting with God. He’s surprised to find that hell is here, located in the northern regions of the third heaven. Why is this relevant to you? Because I believe it might help you understand an apparent anomaly that will soon appear. While you’ll be having expansive adventures in circumstances that resemble paradise, there’ll also be a diabolical area nestled right in the midst of the beauty. It won’t be a big deal or terrible annoyance as long as you recognize it early and plot a course around it.
Arieses, you are warned!

(2 Enoch, of course, is preserved in Old Church Slavonic, not Hebrew.)

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

PATRISTICS CARNIVAL #1 has been posted at hyperekperisou by Phil S. It links to lots of posts of tangential relevance to ancient Judaism.
ARCHAEOLOGIST DAVID USSISHKIN replies to El-Haj at the Solomonia blog. See especially point #5, which clarifies the use of the bulldozer.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

'Church of the Ark' found on West Bank

By Harry de Quetteville in Shiloh (The Daily Telegraph)
Last Updated: 1:40am GMT 04/12/2006

Archaeologists claimed yesterday to have uncovered one of the world's first churches, built on a site believed to have once housed the Ark of the Covenant.

The site, emerging from the soil in a few acres in the hills of the Israeli occupied West Bank, is richly decorated with brightly coloured mosaics and inscriptions referring to Jesus Christ.

According to the team, led by Yitzhak Magen and Yevgeny Aharonovitch, the church dates to the late 4th century, making it one of Christianity's first formal places of worship.

"I can't say for sure at the moment that it's the very first church," said Mr Aharonovitch, 38, as he oversaw a team carrying out the final excavations before winter yesterday. "But it's certainly one of the first." He said the site contained an extremely unusual inscription which referred to itself, Shiloh, by name.

And this almost has the ring of an Indiana Jones movie:
The team at Shiloh is considering whether to dig under the beautiful mosaics that they have uncovered, in order to find traces of the Ark. "We have to decide whether to fix the mosaics here or take them to a museum," said Mr Aharonovitch.

Jewish residents in the modern settlement of Shiloh, which sits on a hill amidst Palestinian villages, want the team to keep digging.

David Rubin, a former mayor of Shiloh, said: "We believe that if they continue to dig they'll reach back to the time of the Tabernacle," referring to the portable place of worship where the Israelites housed the Ark.
I suspect the issue is whether to move the mosaics to see if there's an earlier (pre-exilic?) shrine there. The location of sacred spots tends to be very conservative and not apt to move even if the local religion changes, so it's not an unreasonable to look for an earlier sanctuary at the same spot. Whether "traces of the Ark" are likely to be found is quite another matter and the formulation is a little sensationalistic. I'll believe it when I see it.

UPDATE (6 December): Reader Menachem Brody e-mails:
There is no question- walls and entrance to a monumental building from the time of the Second Temple are clearly visible to the West and to the North of the excavated mosaic.

Buildings from the time of the Judges are found on the Tel itself, as well as a very likely location for the site of the Tabernacle.

No need to look for the Ark- as well documented, was lost to the Philistines at the battle of Even HaEzer, and was returned to Jerusalem by David...
UPDATE (9 December): For more photos of the excavation, see here.
STUDIA PHILONICA ANNUAL 2006 is out, and Torrey Seland has the table of contents over at the Philo of Alexandria blog.
JUDAS MAY NOT HAVE BEEN A GOOD GUY in the Gospel of Judas after all:
Judas no hero, scholars say
Last Updated: Monday, December 4, 2006 | 9:43 AM ET
CBC News

Some scholars are refuting an interpretation of a 1,700-year-old document claiming to prove that Judas was a hero and not a villain.

Craig Evans, a professor of New Testament studies at Acadia Divinity College in Nova Scotia, was part of the team that unveiled the Gospel of Judas last spring.

"The big headline was in April that the text was discovered," Evans said.

"The second big headline is right now: oops, maybe we misinterpreted it and we need to rethink it."

This, of course, is old news to regular readers of PaleoJudaica, where I reported in early October that Professor Louis Painchaud was challenging the positive interpretation of Judas in the Gospel of Judas in a paper he presented at the Ottawa Workshop on Christian Apocrypha. Craig Evans was at the workshop too, and it looks as though he found Painchaud's challenge persuasive. The article reports, however, that Elaine Pagels remains unconvinced.
BRIEF REVIEWS of Geza Vermes's book, The Nativity: History and Legend, have appeared in the Guardian and the Independent.

Monday, December 04, 2006

LARA CROFT - Antiquities looter. Well, yeah.

(Also via Explorator 9.31-32.)
PETER KIRBY could use some help with his Open Scrolls Project. I've noted the project before, but he has recently mentioned it again on his Christian Origins blog and e-mailed me about it, so I'm pointing it out again. If you have the time, the expertise, and the inclination, give him a hand.
"THE TREASURES OF TIMBUKTU" are covered in an article in The Smithsonian. For past PaleoJudaica coverage of the Timbuktu manuscripts, see here and just keep following the links back.

(Via Explorator 9.31-32.)

Sunday, December 03, 2006

MY REVIEW of Andrei A. Orlov's The Enoch-Metatron Tradition has been published by the Review of Biblical Literature.
NATIVITY STORY REVIEWS have been collected by Mark Goodacre at the New Testament Gateway blog. And he starts his own review of the film here.
THE SAN DIEGO DEAD SEA SCROLLS EXHIBITION is receiving substantial private funding from philanthropists Joan and Irwin Jacobs.
GEZA VERMES fisks the traditional Christmas story in the London Times:
The real Christmas story
Geza Vermes
A close reading of Matthew shows the emotional truth of the Nativity
There are three variations on the theme of Christmas. In addition to the potpourri of the traditional Nativity story, the careful reader of the New Testament can discover two further accounts in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.


Four features in this story are without basis in the Gospels. The date of Christmas on December 25 does not appear until AD334 when in a Roman church calendar the Nativity of the Lord replaces the pagan feast of the Unvanquished Sun. Before the 4th century, the birth of Jesus was celebrated on January 6 (Epiphany), or April 21 or May 20.

The idea that Joseph was an old widower with a grown-up family comes from the apocryphal Protoevangelium of James, written in the 2nd century in an attempt to make less puzzling the by then current doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary and the gospel references to brothers and sisters of Jesus. The presence of an ox and an ass in the stable is also alien to the New Testament.

As for the kings or wise men, they were neither. Matthew calls them magi, magicians or stargazers, without mentioning their number. The figure of three is no doubt deduced from the reference to the gifts left by them: gold, frankincense and myrrh.

He also takes a critical look at the Gospel Nativity stories. Professor Vermes has e-mailed to say that he is not responsible for the article's title. He will also be on the BBC program on the Dead Sea Scrolls, noted yesterday, and he has a new book out: The Nativity: History and Legend (Penguin). Reviews are coming out, but don't seem to have reached Google yet.

UPDATE (5 December): Some reviews are noted here.

UPDATE (23 December): Another review is noted here.
ARAMAIC WATCH -- Aramaic in Wyoming:
Pastor attempts to teach Lord's Prayer in Aramaic
Saturday, December 02, 2006
By Charles Honey

[Grand Rapids] Press Religion Editor

WYOMING -- While walking or running in the early morning, the Rev. Larry Bradford chants the ancient words.

"Abwoon d'bwashmaya, nethqadash shmakh": "Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name."

Bradford said chanting the Lord's Prayer in the language Jesus spoke brings him closer to God, the mysterious words resonating like "a body prayer."

"The breathing in and breathing out, the movement, for me makes the Lord's Prayer come alive," said Bradford, interim rector of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church. "Whether while still in meditation or out walking in nature, it's as close to God as I can get."

Beginning Sunday, the first in Advent, Bradford hopes to bring his congregation closer by teaching them the Lord's Prayer in Aramaic.

A NEW EDITION OF THE MIKRAOT GEDOLOT is receiving anonymous private funding to continue:
Anonymous contribution keeps Bar-Ilan U. Bible project afloat
By Ofri Ilani, Haaretz Correspondent

The first attempt in 500 years to update the Bible was in danger of being eliminated by continued budget cuts at Bar-Ilan University, but was saved at the last minute by an anonymous contribution.

On the shelf in Professor Menachem Cohen's office at Bar-Ilan University sit nine volumes of an edition of the Bible with numerous commentaries known as Mikra'ot Gedolot.

It appears they are using the Aleppo Codex to correct copyist errors the biblical text, but I assume they must also be collating manuscripts of Rashi's commentaries, etc.
'Expected One' first in a series of novels on Mary Magdalene
BY FRANCIS MOUL / For the Lincoln Journal Star

(“The Expected One, Book One of the Magdalene Line” by Kathleen McGowan, Simon & Schuster, $25.95, 449 pages.) Twenty years. Four continents. A first draft of 12,000 pages. That’s the effort that went into the latest best-selling novel about the life of Jesus Christ, Mary Magdalene and the family they supposedly created.

This is not about “The Da Vinci Code,” that famous novel and movie that involved a conspiracy by the Catholic Church to eliminate the last descendants of Christ. Kathleen McGowan’s book goes far beyond that and opens up a totally different schism from the very days of Christ’s preaching, a conflict that lasts for 2,000 years.

Sounds pretty wild.