Monday, December 31, 2007

RALPHIES 2007. Once again I'm taking up Ed Cook's invitation to post best-of-the-year varia. For PaleoJudaica Ralphies from 2005 and 2006, follow the links. Ed's latest Ralphies are here. All the usual disclaimers apply: the only things taken into account are those I have seen or heard (or meant to look at or deliberately avoided, etc.) and "best" is best according to my own entirely idiosyncratic tastes.

BEST FICTION BOOK: No contest here:
Stephen R. Donaldson, Fatal Revenant (The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant) (New York: Putnam, 2007)
(Past posts on the series are here, here, and here.) Donaldson just moves from strength to strength. The viewpoint character continues to be Thomas Covenant's companion, Linden Avery, and Covenant's involvement in the the story continues to be, well, complicated. Go Linden! Do something they don't expect.

Honorable mention goes to:
Charles Stross, The Atrocity Archives (New York: Ace, 2004)
Spooks meets H. P. Lovecraft meets Dilbert. Enough said.

BEST NONFICTION BOOK: I read fewer technical books this year than usual, and very few that were actually published in 2007. Of those I read that were published in the last couple of years, the best was certainly:
John M. G. Barclay, Flavius Josephus: Against Apion (Brill, 2006)
Another superb volume in the Brill commentary series on Josephus.

For honorable mention:
Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (Eerdmans, 2006)
This one might have made first place but I haven't actually, er, read it yet. But I did read some of it in manuscript and our postgraduate seminar spent several weeks reviewing it just before Richard retired, so I do have a good idea what's in it. The book is clearly an important challenge to the field of New Testament form criticism and it will be very interesting to follow its long-term effect.

BEST MOVIE: I saw very few movies this year, partly because I was busy and partly because the offerings were so dire. I was happy to be among the droves that stayed away from the rash of rampantly money-losing Hollywood anti-war films. Apart from that, I took my eleven-year-old son to a number of children's movies. Of these, the best was Ratatouille, a hilarious mixture of American values and French cooking.

BEST TELEVISION: Last year I mentioned the British series Life on Mars. It concluded with a second season in 2007. This season had a warmed over feel to it and wasn't entirely satisfactory, but the last two episodes were spectacular. The best television moment of 2007 (and surely one of the creepiest) was Sam Tyler's moment of personal apocalyse in the concluding episode.

Sam's moment of satori

If you've seen it, you know what I mean. If you haven't seen the series yet, the DVD really is worth renting. I look forward to the sequel spin-off Ashes to Ashes in 2008.

The 2007 season of Doctor Who was also excellent. David Tennant gets better and better and if he pulls off another season like the last two, he could displace John Pertwee as my favorite Doctor. Also deserving of honorable mention is ITV's Primeval, a time travel show involving "anomalies" from the past and future that periodically expel entertaining monsters that have to be dealt with. It was aimed at the vicinity of my son's demographic and it cannibalized the special effects from last year's Prehistoric Park, but I quite enjoyed it. I'm looking forward to series 2 in 2008.

BEST MUSIC: Thanks to airline soundtracks, access to a car radio in the States for a while, and YouTube, I actually did listen to a little new music in 2007 (both newish and new to me). Of the newish songs I heard, the one I liked best was How to Save a Life by The Fray. Of the new-to-me variety, how could I not love The Mespotamians by They Might Be Giants? And I especially enjoyed discovering the first music video ever shown on MTV, Video Killed the Radio Star, by the Buggles. My favorite new song of 2007 is this parody of the latter, posted in October: YouTube Killed the TV Star.

Best wishes for 2008!

UPDATE (6 January 2007): Mark Goodacre has published his Fourth Annual Ralphies.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

AN OBITUARY FOR EDWINA M. WRIGHT has been posted on the Union Theological Seminary website. Excerpt:
Gifted Scholar, Beloved Teacher
Professor Edwina Wright joined the Faculty of Union Seminary in 1998 as an Assistant Professor of Old Testament and later became the Director of Language Studies and Adjunct Professor of Biblical Languages. She taught introductory courses in Biblical Hebrew and Biblical Greek and an intermediate level reading course in Biblical Hebrew.

In addition to teaching, Professor Wright directed individualized courses in Biblical Aramaic and Ethiopic. She also administered the Hebrew diagnostic examination for Old Testament doctoral students and worked with the Biblical Field in providing linguistic support for students taking the Biblical exegesis practicum. She also helped plan the Summer Biblical Hebrew and Biblical Greek courses. Professor Wright worked with representatives of the Union Latino community and the Academic Office to develop Union's first course taught in Spanish, which focused on the development of conversational skills and the discussion of ministry within the Latino context.
Background here.
JESUS WAS NOT BORN IN BETHLEHEM, BUT IN ANOTHER TOWN OF THE SAME NAME. This is evidently being seriously argued by an Israeli archaeologist. This Sky News article was noted just before Christmas by Jack Sasson and Joseph I. Lauer:
Archaeologist Questions Site Of Nativity

By Dominic Waghorn
Middle East correspondent
Updated:23:56, Sunday December 23, 2007
Millions are about to celebrate the story of Christ's nativity.
But - and it may not be the best time of year to bring this up - that story could have a flaw in it. We may have got wrong the place where it happened all this time.

Thousands have visited the town of Bethlehem, south of Jerusalem, in the run-up to Christmas.

But, according to Israeli archaeologist Aviram Oshri, this is the wrong Bethlehem.

There is little evidence anyone was living in the traditional Bethlehem at the time of Jesus' birth, he says, and controversially he has an alternative site.

Oshri points to another Bethlehem in the rolling hills of the Galilee.

"There is the fact that Jews were living here at the time of Jesus, that is absent in the other Bethlehem," he says.

"We have a Christian community, a very large Christian community, living here and defending itself by building a fortification wall, signifying that the spot was very important for them.

"We have a large church with a cave underneath which is exactly the same as the other Bethlehem."

Oshri has found the remains of the strong fortification walls among olive trees on the edges of Bethlehem of the Galilee. Early Christians here were protecting something important, the real site of Christ's birth, he believes.

But at some point all traces linking this place to the nativity disappeared. "They did not die out, they were killed off, deliberately" says Oshri.

Why would early Christians cover up the real place of Christ's birth? The answer may be found in the bible.

The Old Testament prophets had predicted that the Saviour of the Jews would be born in Bethlehem of Judea.

To be the Messiah, Jesus could not be born in the Galilee - so could the early Christians have changed the story on purpose to reinforce the messianic credentials of Christ?

The problem for Oshri is that the key piece of evidence has been destroyed.

In the 1960s the Israelis built a road through the ruins of the early Christian church in the heart of his Bethlehem.

The cave underneath the church was only partially damaged but he cannot get permission or funding to excavate it.

Touting a theory undermining the claims of the established church might not make him friends.

It's hard to judge a theory on the basis of a single newspaper article on it, but this one does seem to me to be unnecessarily complicated. The birth narratives in Matthew 1 and Luke 2 clearly place Jesus' birth in Bethlehem of Judea. Matthew makes a point of associating this with the royal oracle in Micah 5, which he interprets to mean that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem of Judea. (In fact, the oracle probably just alludes to the origin of the Davidic line in David's home town, but that's neither here nor there.) Now either Jesus actually happened to be born in this Bethlehem or he was actually born somewhere else, likely in Nazareth, and the Bethlehem birth narratives are later midrashic compositions based on the messianic prophecy in Micah. (The latter seems much more likely to me.) Oshri's theory asks us to believe that Jesus was actually coincidentally born in another Bethlehem (which I confess I've never heard of before this) in Galilee, but that the Gospel birth narratives transferred the location to the Judean Galilee in light of the Micah passage and that all knowledge of the real birth in the Galilean Bethlehem was successfully suppressed, even though this was an obvious weakness that ought to have been fully exploited by the enemies of the early Jesus movement and which should have left an apologetic trail in its wake.

That said, Oshri does cite some archaeological evidence in favor of his theory. I am not qualified to speak to the accuracy of this, but if it's true that the Judean Bethlehem was not an inhabited Jewish site at the turn of the era, it does speak against the historicity of Gospel birth narratives, but these have plenty of other problems on other grounds. If they are unhistorical midrashic stories, the historical situation of Bethlehem at the time scarely matters. It's interesting that the Galilean Bethlehem seems to have been an important Christian site later on, but if this is so, the reasons are not clear.

But all that said, Oshri has formulated a falsifiable theory and I wouldn't be at all disappointed if he does get the funding to excavate the site. I doubt that he will confirm his theory, but he's bound to find something interesting.

Incidentally, I see Jesus' Davidic lineage as a different issue from his supposed birth in Bethlehem. Paul refers to Jesus descent from David in the 40s in Romans 1:3, and there is adequate evidence later on that Jesus' family were leaders in the early church and were considered to be of the Davidic line. I see no reason to doubt that genealogical traditions about the royal lineage were kept in the first century and that Jesus and his family belonged to that line.

Two recent articles in Biblical Archaeology Review make the respective cases for Jesus' birth in Bethlehem or an unknown location (Nazareth?). See Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, "Bethlehem…Of Course" and Steve Mason, "O Little Town of…Nazareth?" I think Mason makes by far the stronger case, but read them and decide for yourself.

UPDATE: Joseph Lauer e-mails to tell me that Simcha Jacobovici visited the Galilean Bethlehem and talked with an archaeologist (Oshri?) about the theory of it being Jesus' birthplace in an episode of The Naked Archaeologist series. The episode summary reads:
Jesus: The Early Years

The Gospels sometimes contradict one another in their descriptions of Jesus' early years, and to this day little is known about how he spent his childhood. Now, as host Simcha Jacobovici reveals, archaeology is helping to uncover clues about his early influences – and even his birth. Could it be that the famous manger was in a different Bethlehem entirely?
The trailer for the episode is here, but it's not very informative. I have some less than enthusiastic observations on The Naked Archaeologist series here.
THE TOP TEN DISCOVERIES OF 2007 are featured in Archaeology Magazine's January-February 2008 issue. The one of interest for PaleoJudaica is the Nebo-Sarsekim Cuneiform Tablet. From the runners-up, note also Alexander's Isthmus, Tyre, Lebanon. The two stories were discussed on PaleoJudaica here and here.

If the Vision of Gabriel inscription is genuine, it certainly belongs in the top ten.
MORE ON THE "VISION OF GABRIEL": The Biblical Archaeology Society has put up a page on it:
A New Dead Sea Scroll in Stone?
You can download a transcription of the Hebrew text and an English translation. (Via Joseph I. Lauer and the Agade list.)

Also, subscribers to Biblical Archaeology Review can download Ada Yardeni's article in the Jan-Feb 08 issue of BAR here.

UPDATE: Stephen Goranson e-mails:
I'm not sure what to make of it yet. The BAR description "Dead Sea Scroll" may be less than apt since it's not a scroll and, perhaps, not reliably known to be from near the Dead Sea. It reminds me a bit of the "Angel Scroll" or "Visions of Yeshuah Ben Padiah Scroll," as Stephen Pfann called it--which has not to my knowledge been authenticated--also supposedly from Jordan. As for writing on stone, if genuine, the new text would not be quite unparalleled. In 1955 in Qumran Locus 129 de Vaux uncovered a "plaque de calcaire inscrite" (with ink or paint?), Humbert and Chambon, Fouilles... 1994 page 332, KhQ 2207). The latter was published by A. Lemaire in Humbert and Gunneweg, Khirbet Qumran...II: etudes... 2003 pages 360-2. Unfortunately, these 5 lines of text are not especially clear, though apparently religious.
Interesting. For the supposed Ben Padiah scroll, see here. As far as I know it has yet to be produced or authenticated.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

IS THE "VISION OF GABRIEL" GENUINE? Søren Holst e-mails the following interesting observations on the "Vision of Gabriel" (or the "Dead Sea Scroll in stone"):
I just discovered that Norwegian Qumran scholar Årstein Justnes was blogging about a seminar on this text as early as May.

Not much is added to what you've already blogged concerning the content of the text, but it is reported that ideas in the seminar varied as to the genre of the text (Torleif Elgvin: "prophetic/charismatic", Magne Sæbø: "midrash", [J.J.?] Collins: "Quais-prophetic" )

Justnes, however, has severe doubts about the authenticity of the inscription (and he is not prone to doubting authenticities all over the place). He gives five reasons:

1) peculiar language with "artificial" expressions
2) unfocused and incoherent content
3) ink-on-stone is a previously unheard-of writing medium impossible to date by C14
4) provenience unknown (except for the vague "east of Jordan")
5) clever forgeries have been copious lately

Personally, I'd say 5 is irrelevant until proven relevant, 4 is highly deplorable but hardly decisive, 1 and 2 could point either way (as my old teacher Fred Cryer used to say, "a new inscription that does NOT have oddities but is done strictly acc. to Gesenius/Kautzsch -- now, THAT's suspicious") -- but 3 is certainly interesting.
Søren also has a post on the text is his own (Danish) blog, PergaMent.

I've now skimmed through the Cathedra article and looked fairly carefully at the transcription of the text. The language is peculiar (1) and the text is pretty incoherent (2), but I would have to spend a lot more time on the inscription (more than I have to devote to it any time soon) before I would be willing to take a position either way on its genuineness. On the one hand, my default position is to be suspicious of unprovenanced inscriptions (4, 5), but on the other, Ada Yardeni is not a paleographer easily fooled by fakes (3).

UPDATE (30 December): More here (next post).
THE RESCUE OF THE SARAJEVO HAGGADAH in the mid-1990s is retold in an historical novel. Here's a review in the San Francisco Chronicle:
People of the Book
By Geraldine Brooks
VIKING; 372 PAGES; $25.95

Let's cut to the chase, which Geraldine Brooks certainly does - repeatedly - in her intense, gripping new novel. "People of the Book," like her Pulitzer Prize-winning previous novel, "March," is a tour de force that delivers a reverberating lesson gleaned from history.

"March," about the father in Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women," whose ideals are dashed in the Civil War, makes a passionate case for the moral and spiritual costs of war. "People of the Book" focuses on the pernicious persecution of Jews through six centuries, contrasting it with the wondrous occasions when Christians, Jews and Muslims cooperate.

At the heart of Brooks' new novel is the Sarajevo Haggadah, a gorgeously illuminated Sephardic treasure dating to 14th century Spain and used during Passover seders to tell the story of the Jews' exodus from Egypt. Brooks first learned of the rare Hebrew codex while in Sarajevo covering the Bosnian war as a correspondent for the Wall Street Journal. After the war, it was revealed that the Haggadah had been rescued from the National Museum by a Muslim librarian during heavy shelling, and hidden for safekeeping in an underground bank vault. In an afterword, Brooks notes that this was the second time the Sarajevo Haggadah was saved by a Muslim in the 20th century: In 1941, an Islamic scholar - the subject of Brooks' recent New Yorker article, "The Book of Exodus" - hid the volume from pillaging Nazis in a mosque in the mountains for the duration of the war.

Taking her inspiration from these two feats of cross-cultural heroism, Brooks fabricates a compelling, multicultural history of the codex and the people behind it. She hangs all this, cleverly, on a fictional, snappy young Australian book conservator named Hanna, who is called to Sarajevo in 1996 to restore the manuscript. While working on the Haggadah, Hanna retrieves various artifacts from its ancient binding and parchment - an insect wing fragment, a white hair, wine and salt stains - which provide clues to the book's provenance.

And there's another review in the Minneapolis Star. Excerpt:
In alternating chapters, the story moves back in time, and we meet the people Hanna has become obsessed with, the "people of the book, the different hands that had made it, used it, protected it." Among them is Lola, a young Jewish girl in World War II-era Sarajevo who fights with the resistance and is ushered to safety (along with the haggadah) in the mountains by Serif Kamal, the Muslim librarian of the National Museum; an anti-Semitic, syphilitic book binder and his Jewish doctor in 1894 Vienna; the alcoholic, conflicted priest who saves the book from being burned in 1609 Venice; a young girl whose family suffers terribly during the Spanish Inquisition; and, in 1480 Seville, we finally meet the mysterious illustrator of the beautiful codex.

All of these sections are richly imagined, almost unbearably tense, and tackle, sometimes obliquely, other times directly, the issues of exodus, marginalization, and brutality during periods of extreme nationalism: the Alhambra Decree, the Waidhofen Manifesto, the Venetian Ghettos, National Socialism, just to name a few. Arcing over these various set pieces, and holding it all together, is the story of Hanna's antiquarian sleuthing, which is much more exciting than it has any right to be. Who knew that "because parchment is flesh, human bacteria can degrade it"? Or that a single cat hair could serve as a paintbrush? Or that there's an actual instrument known as a "video spectral comparator"?
It sounds good.

Wikipedia has a capsule history of the Sarajevo Haggadah here. I'm pasting in the text, minus the links:
Sarajevo Haggadah
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Sarajevo Haggadah is an illuminated manuscript that contains the traditional text of the Passover Haggadah which accompanies the Passover Seder. It is the oldest Sephardic Haggadah in the world, originating in Barcelona around 1350. The Haggadah is presently owned by the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo, where it is on permanent display.

The Sarajevo Haggadah is handwritten on bleached calfskin and illuminated in copper and gold. It opens with 34 pages of illustrations of key scenes in the Bible from Creation through the death of Moses. Its pages are stained with wine, evidence that it was used at many Passover Seders. It is considered to be the most beautiful illuminated Jewish manuscript in existence and one of the most valuable books in the world. In 1991 it was appraised at US$700 million[1].

Storied history

The Sarajevo Haggadah has survived many close calls with destruction. Historians believe that it was taken out of Spain by Spanish Jews who were expelled during the Inquisition in 1492. Notes in the margins of the Haggadah indicate that it surfaced in Italy in the 1500s. It was sold to the National Museum in Sarajevo in 1894 by a man named Joseph Kohen[2].

During World War II, the manuscript was hidden from the Nazis by the Museum's chief librarian, Dervis Korkut, who at risk to his own life, smuggled the Haggadah out of Sarajevo. Korkut gave it to a Muslim cleric in Zenica, where it was hidden under the floorboards of either a mosque or a Muslim home. During the Bosnian War of the early 1990s, when Sarajevo was under constant siege by Bosnian Serb forces, the manuscript survived in an underground bank vault. To quell rumors that the government had sold the Haggadah in order to buy weapons, the president of Bosnia presented the manuscript at a community Seder in 1995.

Afterwards, the manuscript was restored through a special campaign financed by the United Nations and the Bosnian Jewish community in 2001, and went on permanent display at the museum in December 2002.

Recently, the museum has authorized the publication of a limited number of reproductions of the Sarajevo Haggadah, each of which have become collector's items. In May 2006, a Sarajevo publishing house announced the forthcoming publication of 613 copies of the Haggadah on handmade parchment that attempts to recreate the original appearance of the 14th century original.[3][4]

There is a brief mention of the manuscript in the motion picture, "Welcome to Sarajevo". The book "People of the Book" by Geraldine Brooks creates a fictionalised version of the history of the Haggadah from its origins in Spain to the museum in Sarajevo.
There's a photo too.

The rescue of the Haggadah from the Nazis in World War II is narrated here. Excerpt:
The book had very turbulant history. Here we would like to describe how it had been saved during WW2 from the Nazi Germans. At that time (1941-1945) Sarajevo belonged to Independent State of Croatia (NDH), and director of the Sarajevo Museum was JOZO PETRICEVIC, a Croat. When German troups entered Sarajevo in April 1941, the Museum was visited by a German general Fortner, who ordered to bring Haggadah immediately.

- But mister general, - said Petricevic - one of your colonels came yesterday and carried off the book.
- What was the name of the colonel? - asked the suspicious general.
- We were not allowed to ask his name. - answered Petricevic recourcefully.

The German general, whose intention was to take the book by force, ordered to search the Museum. The Haggadah was already hidden by Petricevic and his colleagues. Of course, Petricevic risked his life during the whole WW2 period, hiding the book from the eyes of German officers. It is not excluded that Petricevic collaborated with local Sarajevo NDH officials in doing so.
And there are a couple of nice, enlargeable images at this Yale University Library site (scroll down).

UPDATE: Another review, in the Rocky Mountain News.

UPDATE (6 January 2008): More here.
ANOTHER OBITUARY FOR JOHN STRUGNELL, in the Times of London. Unfortunately, the headline mispells his name. But that aside, it is fair and balanced: forthright about his problems but also about his many contributions. Excerpt:
Whether at some level the comments represented his actual views is debatable. What is incontrovertible, however, is that he maintained good relations with several Jewish and Israeli scholars, some of whom signed a letter in support of him, which was published in the Chicago Tribune. Emanuel Tov, who succeeded him as editor-in-chief of the Dead Sea Scrolls, continued to visit him and speak kindly of him in later years. His loudest critics were people who did not know him well, if at all. His colleagues and students, Jewish as well as Christian, testified that he was without personal malice, and that he was unfailingly generous and helpful to them regardless of their religion and ethnicity.

Strugnell was not a prolific scholar, but he had enormous influence on his field. In part this was through the students he trained. But he was also involved in the initial publication of some extremely important texts, which revealed aspects of Ancient Judaism that were previously unknown. These included the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifices (Shirot 'olat ha-Shabbat, an important document of ancient Jewish mysticism); an unpublished Halakhic Letter from Qumran, later known as 4QMMT (from the Hebrew Miqsat Ma'asei ha-Torah; an important document of early Jewish legal interpretation) with Elisha Qimron; and a large wisdom (sapiential) text known as 4Q Instruction with Daniel J. Harrington.
UPDATE: The name is spelled correctly in the print version.

Friday, December 28, 2007

M. R. JAMES has been terrorizing Iyov this holiday season.

A few of the many PaleoJudaica posts on James are here, here, and here.

I fully agree with Iyov about reading material for this time of year, "when darkness reigns over the Northern hemisphere," but let me remind you of an additional suggestion or two I made a couple of years ago.
A COURSE ON RABBINIC JUDAISM is to be taught at Chico State University (in California) next semester:
Rabbi to teach about pivotal era for Judaism
By LARRY MITCHELL - Staff Writer [Chico Enterprise Record]
Article Launched: 12/27/2007 12:00:00 AM PST

Those interested in Judaism and its history may enjoy a class that will be taught by Rabbi Julie Danan at Chico State University next semester.

The course, "Rabbinic Judaism: Talmud and Midrash," concerns how Judaism changed between the first century and the end of the sixth century.

"After the destruction of the Temple in the year 70, Judaism changed from a religion of temple, sacrifices and priests, to a religion of synagogue, prayer and rabbis," Danan wrote in an e-mail, describing the course. "Torah study and good deeds became the major values. The rabbis and sages of the first few centuries of the Common Era shaped Judaism as we know it."

Danan is the rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel in Chico. She is also a lecturer at Chico State.


WITH A capacity of eight million volumes, the Library of Alexandria will host a Centre for Hellenistic Studies as of 2008. The Alexander S Onassis Foundation and the Vardinoyannis Foundation will share the centre's funding as part of their efforts to boost Greek culture abroad and promote the history of the Hellenistic era, during which the ancient library was created.

"We are glad that our agreement coincides with the fifth anniversary of the library's opening and with the recent visit to Greece of Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak, who is also the library's greatest supporter," Marianna V Vardinoyanni, Unesco goodwill ambassador and member of the board of directors of the Library of Alexandria, told a press meet on December 17.

Vardinoyanni pointed to the library's central role in ancient times, as well as its function as a cultural bridge between Greece and Egypt. "The ancient library was a meeting point for leading intellectuals and scientists for a period of seven centuries, while maintaining its strong ties with Greece and its culture. Greek was the main language used. It was at this library that the Old Testament was translated for the first time from Hebrew into Greek... And the Macedonian descent of its founder, Ptolemy, underlines the distinct relationship between Greeks and the library and by extension the longterm friendship and collaboration between Greece and Egypt," she said.

This is good news. I think it's interesting and rather a good sign that the politics of the establishment of this Centre allow for the prominent mention of the translation of the Jewish scriptures into Greek in Alexandria.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

ANOTHER JOHN STRUGNELL OBITUARY, at the Harvard Divinity School website.
THE STORY ON THAT ANCIENT IRAQI CHURCH is picked up by APF. The article is the same, but there are more photos.
ISRAELI ARCHAEOLOGIST DAN BAHAT was lecturing in St. Louis last week:
Excavations illuminate Bible, Israel


According to Professor Dan Bahat, former district archeologist of Jerusalem, who supervised most of the major excavations in the city for 15 years, various discoveries may not absolutely "prove" the truth of the Bible stories they seem to support, but "they do help illuminate the Bible." Bahat was in St. Louis last week, where he gave two lectures, one concerning Jerusalem sites from the Crusader period, and another on major biblical sites, including the City of David, the Pool of Shilocach and the Plaza at the Western Wall.

Sounds like the lectures were interesting, although I would not be confident that the details are being reported accurately. At the end of the article, Kathleen Kenyon is turned into "Catherine Kenyan."

UPDATE: David Stacey e-mails:
Jim, Re your doubts about the accuracy of the reporting in the article on Dan Bahat. I very much doubt that, at stated, he emigrated to Israel in his late 30's. Forty two years ago he was a supervisor at Masada having completed a three year degree course at HU. If he had only emigrated in his late 30's he would then have had to have been about 40. Thus, today he would have reached the ripe old age of 82. Although its many years since I last met Dan I dont believe he's a day over 70!
UPDATE (28 December): Joseph Lauer e-mails with a list of errors in the article which he has sent in a polite note to the writer:
Among the errors are the following:
1. You have "Pool of Shilocach". While some would call it the "Pool of Siloam", it should read "Pool of Shiloach".
2. You have "Caesaria" but it should be "Caesarea".
3. You refer to "Rev. Adolph Robinson" when it should be "Rev. Edward Robinson (1794-1863)".
4. You have "Nebuchandezzar" but it should be "Nebuchadnezzar".
5. You have "noted archeologist Catherine Kenyan" when it should be "Kathleen Kenyon" or "Dame Kathleen Mary Kenyon (1906-1978)".

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A GRINNELL PROFESSOR'S WORK ON THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS is profiled in the Des Moines Register:
Teacher gives tools to explore meaning


Grinnell, Ia. - There's no one else quite like Henry Wolfgang Morisada Rietz.

The Grinnell College professor of religious studies, scholar of ancient languages and member of an international team studying the Dead Sea Scrolls would no doubt consider that the ultimate compliment.


Rietz's work with the Dead Sea Scrolls began in 1990 when he was a graduate student at Princeton Theological Seminary, where he earned his master's degree in divinity and a doctorate in New Testament biblical studies.

Among his instructors was James Charlesworth, a professor of New Testament language and literature and founder of the Dead Sea Scrolls project.

Charlesworth quickly tapped Rietz to join his select team, which includes paleographers, archaeologists, chemists, imaging specialists, anthropologists and philologers from around the world.

"He was extremely gifted academically, especially with languages and Hebrew theology," Charlesworth said. "I saw an outstanding, wonderful personality who was willing to do hard work. He's the most important person to me on the team."

Rietz clearly views being involved in the project with the same excitement a UFO buff would have in winning an all-access pass to Area 51.

The scrolls have been a source of fascination and controversy among biblical scholars since 1947, when the first fragile leather and papyrus documents - which date before the time of Jesus - were discovered in caves around Qumran, about 20 miles east of Jerusalem.

Comprising tens of thousands of fragments of 800 or so works, including the oldest-known versions of the Hebrew Bible, the scrolls offer a window into life in ancient Israel at a time when Judaism was in transition and a new religion - Christianity - was being born.

The goal of the Dead Sea Scrolls project is to publish all the nonbiblical texts in 12 volumes, with the original language on one side of each page and the English translation on the other.

Twenty-two years into the effort, they're halfway there.

Serving as associate editor under Charlesworth, Rietz's main duty is to ensure consistency in the original-language texts and the translations, a task that pulls on his knowledge of Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Aramaic and Syriac.

And Out of Zion Will Come the World's First Nano-Torah

by Ezra HaLevi

( Out of Zion has come the world’s tiniest Bible, engraved in gold on silicon, to illustrate the science of nanotechnology.

More than 300,000 words and 1,200,000 letters, including vowels have been placed on less than half a square millimeter, allowing the tiny Torah to fit inside the first dot of the first letter of a traditional Torah scroll.

“We took a piece of silicon and evaporated a very small layer of gold over it, about twenty nanometers thick,” explained Ohad Zohar, a Ph.D. student at the Technion, on Israel National Radio’s Yishai Fleisher Show. A nanometer is about a billionth of a meter.


What did you make this for?” asked Fleisher.

“It is not for ordinary use, of course,” Zohar said. “To read it you need very expensive equipment. You cannot read it with a magnifying glass or even the best optical microscope. You need an electron microscope to read it. It is not intended to replace any storage devices out there. We did this as part of a massive educational program aimed at mostly high school students to explain different methods of storing information and spark an interest in Nanotechnology.” The project was sponsored and conducted at the Russell Berrie Nanotechnology Institute at Haifa's Technion Institute of Technology.

“What does the future hold for such technology?” Fleisher asked.

“The current technology is predicted to continue shrinking and doubling capacity for many years until some ultimate limitation is reached,” Zohar said. “Storing the same amount of information will take four times this area on a modern hard disk, and about 140 times this area on a triple layer DVD. Our nano-bible is [currently] a record holder. But in the future we can think about putting information, one bit per atom, on a substrip. On our Bible, we used 14 nanometers diameter for the smallest dot we had. So if we use an atom, the diameter will be only one tenth of a nanometer – two hundred times smaller. This is interesting. It is 160,000 times denser than our Bible.

“Also, the information for our Bible is encoded in small holes 20 nanometers deep, but the chip itself is half a millimeter thick. To achieve higher storage densities we will have to utilize the volume of the storage media and not only its surface. One working example we are familiar with is the storage of our genetic information in DNA molecules. If we could achieve a comparable storage density, we could fit a billion copies of the bible in the volume of our chip.”

This is a gimmick, of course, but it's based on cutting-edge technological innovations that are likely to be important in more practical ways in due course.

Background here.
ARAMAIC WATCH: An ancient church in Iraq awaits proper study and reconstruction.
Ancient church awaits restoration in Iraq desert

Iraqis determined to restore ancient Al-Aqiser church - 1,500 years old - to past glory.

(Middle East Online)

AIN TAMUR, Iraq - No-one celebrated Christmas in Al-Aqiser church on Tuesday, for what many consider to be the oldest eastern Christian house of worship lies in ruins in a windswept Iraqi desert.

But 1,500 years ago, the first eastern Christians knelt and prayed in this barren land, their faces turned towards Jerusalem.

The remains of Al-Aqiser church lie in the windswept sand dunes of Ain Tamur, around 70 kilometres (40 miles) southwest of the Shiite shrine city of Karbala, forgotten by most.

But some Iraqis are determined to restore the ancient edifice to its past glory.

"It is a place of worship, a church, and without doubt, the oldest church of the East," said Hussein Yasser, the head of the antiquities department of the province of Karbala.

"According to our research, it was build 120 years before the emergence of Islam in the region," Yasser said.


"The church was built facing Jerusalem," said Yasser, who has been struggling since 1993 to attract funds and interest to restore the church and carry out excavations in the area.

His efforts were briefly rewarded some years ago when the authorities agreed to finance a brief excavation that lasted six months.

The work revealed an archway which he believes probably belonged to an underground crypt, bearing inscriptions in Syriac -- the language spoken by the first Christians.

"I am sure there is a city underneath the sand," said Yasser, a Shiite Muslim.


Ain Tamur police chief Mahfoud al-Tamimi said he agreed that Al-Aqiser must be saved.

"The church does not belong to the Christians only or to the Muslims. It belongs to the world," Tamimi said.

"The world must help us save it," he said, calling for the church to be added to UNESCO's world heritage site list.
That sounds like a good idea to me.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

APRIL DECONICK may have gotten her Christmas present from the National Geographic Society.
BEACHCOMBING NEAR CAESAREA: Somehow I missed this one from a week ago.
Sisters stumble upon remains of Roman soldier on beach
By ETGAR LEFKOVITS (Jerusalem Post)

A woman walking on the beach with her sister near Caesarea stumbled upon the 2,000 year-old bones of a Roman soldier, police said Tuesday.

Julia Shvekky, 53, of Kibbutz Barkai was walking along the beach with her sister, Janet Daws, who is visiting from London late Monday afternoon looking for sea shells and mosaic pieces when they came across the ancient remains.

"We were walking on the beach looking for interesting bits and pieces and we said to ourselves wouldn't it be nice if we found something really interesting," Shvekky said Tuesday.


The bones - apparently those of a Roman soldier - had been exposed from a nearby Roman cemetery and were likely washed down to the beach-front during the recent winter rains, according to police.

"Song of Songs" brought to life in stained-glass at Bedford temple
THE JOURNAL NEWS [Lower Hudson online, NY]

(Original publication: December 25, 2007)

BEDFORD - As the sunlight streamed in through the stained-glass windows, the turtle doves glimmered a little, and the yellow torah scroll - stretched over Mount Sinai - came alive.

The Tiffany-style windows depicting King Solomon's "Song of Songs" from the Old Testament form the backdrop for the ark, where the torah is kept, and the podium in the recently built secondary chapel at Temple Sha'ary Tefila.

The windows were the result of a collaboration between Bedford-based artist Linda Altabef and stained-glass artist Doris Cultraro of Rhinebeck, in Dutchess County.


When [Robert] Krasnow [co-chairman of the temple's buildings and grounds committee] approached Altabef to design the five panels, she had the perfect scene in mind.

"I chose King Solomon's 'Song of Songs,' which Rabbi Akiva, one of the greatest sages of the Talmud, has described as the 'Holy of Holies,' " said Altabef.

The song was composed by King Solomon as an allegory, she said, a duet of longing between the husband (God) and wife (Israel, "or the Jewish people").

Altabef, who owns a home in Israel and travels there frequently, said her imagery was inspired by her trips, and her love of Judaism.

The turtle doves symbolize God's loyalty to his mate Israel, the herbs frankincense and myrrh were used in the incense burned in the Temple in Jerusalem, a window depicts the clouds of glory, which is thought to have protected the Jewish people during their exodus from Egypt.

Cool. Follow the link for a photo.
MERRY CHRISTMAS to all those celebrating.

Monday, December 24, 2007

MORE ON THE ALEPPO CODEX and the effort to recover more of its lost pages:
Search hastens for lost pages of oldest Hebrew Bible

By Jay Bushinsky (Washington Times)
December 24, 2007

JERUSALEM — A worldwide hunt is under way for missing segments of the oldest and most reliable copy of the Hebrew Bible, nearly half of which disappeared 60 years ago during anti-Jewish riots in Aleppo, Syria.

Although the effort has been under way for some time, it has accelerated in recent months.

The Ben-Zvi Institute here is spearheading the effort and hopes to enlist the help of Aleppo's now-dispersed Jewish population, some of whom live in the U.S.

"We are appealing to the older members of Aleppo's once-great Jewish community, who are scattered throughout the world, to look for the missing fragments and bring them to us," said Zvi Zameret, the institute's director.

Then there's this rather interesting statement:
Mr. Zameret said the institute has contacted Syrian Jewish communities around the world in search of lost parts of the codex.

"We do not intend to compromise on this," he said. "It is in our highest and ultimate interest to find as many of the missing pages as possible."

He said the request has spurred many reactions and responses.

"In one instance, we received several pages that were willed to us by the late Shmuel Sabag, who had emigrated from Syria to the USA and settled in Brooklyn," he said. "No material compensation whatsoever was requested for sending us this precious material."
My understanding was that Mr. Sabag gave them a single fragment, not several pages (see here). I wonder if the reporter got this wrong, or if there's more to the story.

More background here and here.

UPDATE (4 January 2008): More here.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

THE CALL FOR PAPERS for the 2008 Society of Biblical Literature meeting in Boston is available at the SBL website. The page been up for a while, but I've not mentioned before this. As always, there are many good sessions; something for everyone.
AN OBITUARY FOR JOHN STRUGNELL by Daniel Harrington has been posted at the SBL Forum. Excerpt:
Much of Strugnell’s most important scholarly work came in the early years of his collaboration with the Dead Sea scrolls editorial team in Jerusalem. There he showed a remarkable facility in assembling fragments, deciperhing badly damaged manuscripts, and identifying texts. His most significant publications appear in the DJD volumes devoted to 4QMMT (with Elisha Qimron) and 4QInstruction (with Daniel J. Harrington). In recent years he took a special interest in the Qumran wisdom texts and wrote several articles on their language and interpretation.

Perhaps even more important to Strugnell than his own publications was his commitment to train a new generation of scholars who might work successfully on Qumran texts and in the field of Second Temple Judaism. They include Harold Attridge, James H. Charlesworth, John Collins, Carol Newsom, Eileen Schuller, Thomas Tobin, and Sze-kar Wan. He gave to his doctoral students enormous amounts of time and attention, patterned after the Oxford tutorial system in which he was educated. I was one of the first beneficiaries of his generosity at Harvard in my work on Pseudo-Philo’s Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum. He was also remarkably generous in helping other students and professors with their projects. When I once asked why he was spending several weeks poring over a huge book manuscript written by a fellow scholar, he said, “This is going to be an important book, and I want to make it as good as I can.”

As editor-in-chief of the Dead Scrolls project Strugnell sought to maintain the integrity and continuity of the project while opening it up and restructuring the team and their assignments. He included Israeli scholars such as Emanuel Tov and Devorah Dimant and worked closely with Elisha Qimron on 4QMMT. The great European scholars Florentino García Martínez and Émile Puech regard him as one of their teachers too. These distinguished students and scholars have gone on to train their students in Qumranology and Second Temple Judaism. In his modest way Strugnell was a remarkably effective teacher.
Even for an Ancient People, There’s Always Saturday Night

Article Tools Sponsored By
By JAMES ANGELOS (New York Times)
Published: December 23, 2007

THE dancing at Ali Baba restaurant in Fresh Meadows, Queens, began before dinner was served. A tuxedo-clad D.J. spun earsplitting Middle Eastern melodies set to reggaetón beats. On the dance floor, beneath a bronze chandelier that hung like an upside-down minaret, women in long dresses swung their hips and howled celebratory shrills. Men with their suit jackets removed stretched out their arms and wiggled their shoulders as they shuffled about. Small children spun in place and ran in circles.

The few dozen revelers who had gathered on this Saturday night were Mandaeans, members of the oldest surviving Gnostic sect, one of a group of religions that originated near the first century A.D. Most of the partygoers emigrated from Iraq in the past few decades, coming from a region where Mandaeans have lived for 2,000 years.

Gatherings like this one, held periodically for the 300 or so Mandaeans scattered around the New York region, along with similar events around the country, go beyond giving the diaspora a sense of belonging. They also allow young members of the community to meet and to kindle the relations that will perpetuate the religion, to which someone can belong only when born to Mandaean parents.

But this isn't just any party:
On this night, the crowd had gathered in celebration of a religious holiday Mandaeans call the Little Feast. The faithful, who revere John the Baptist as a great teacher, and whose doctrines share elements of Judaism and Christianity, might have commemorated the event in their homeland by dressing in white and performing ritual baptisms in the Tigris River.

But November temperatures in New York were not quite conducive to river baptisms, nor were any Mandaean priests living in the area to conduct such a ceremony. The celebration in the restaurant’s rented party room, which was decorated with fountains along stone walls and plastic palm trees strung with white lights, was a kind of modern alternative to the traditional rituals.

Best wishes to the Mandaean community for 2008.

(Heads up, reader Michael Pitkowsky.)

Background here.
EDWINA M. WRIGHT -- Requiescat in pace. I was very sorry to get the following news, sent by Alan Cooper to the Agade list:
This afternoon's e-mail brought the following sad news from Mary McNamara, VP of Union Theological Seminary in New York.

Edwina Wright was a versatile Semitist who earned her doctorate at Harvard under the supervision of John Huehnergard. For many years she served as assistant professor of Bible and then as director of language instruction at Union.

Win was a brilliant pedagogue who inspired love and devotion in her students, and also an empathetic and compassionate colleague. She had resigned her Union appointment last summer partially for reasons of health, but her sudden death was completely unexpected. While she was a gifted scholar and a marvelous teacher, she also was painfully modest about her own abilities and achievements, reticent about publishing and uninterested in self-promotion. I will miss her.
Win Wright and I were doctoral students together in the Harvard NELC program in the late 1980s. We hadn't been in touch for many years and I didn't know she was ill. I remember well her self-effacing humor and her quiet determination to finish what she started.

The Union Theological Seminar website has the following notice about her:

Director of Language Studies and Adjunct Professor of Biblical Languages

Professor Edwina Wright, received the B.A. from Douglass College, Rutgers University (1967), the M.A. from Eastern Baptist Seminary (1969), the M.Div. from McCormick Theological Seminary (1985), and the Ph.D. from Harvard University (1996). She joined the Faculty of Union Seminary in 1998 as an Assistant Professor of Old Testament and last year, began her new position as Director of Language Studies and Adjunct Professor of Biblical Languages. Her primary responsibilities in this position include the teaching of introductory courses in Biblical Hebrew and Biblical Greek and an intermediate level reading course in Biblical Hebrew.

In addition to her regular academic teaching, Professor Wright periodically directs individualized courses in Biblical Aramaic and Ethiopic. She also administers the Hebrew diagnostic examination for Old Testament doctoral students and works with the Biblical Field in providing linguistic support for students taking the Biblical exegesis practicum. As Director of Language Studies, she assists Dean Hayes and Registrar Edie Hunter in planning for the Summer Biblical Hebrew and Biblical Greek courses. This past year, she worked with representatives of the Union Latino community and the Academic Office in the development of Union's first course to be taught in Spanish. The class, Spanish for Ministry, is a one-credit course being taught during the spring 2007 semester, which focuses on the development of conversational skills and the discussion of articles that highlight ministry within the Latino context.

Prof. Wright's participation in the Union community has included: serving on Auburn's Kneeland Award Committee; support of the Black Women's Caucus and of Fierce, the caucus of gay and lesbian students of color; support of the Poverty Initiative primarily through invitations to Willie Baptist, scholar-in-residence, to speak to Biblical Greek students regarding Jesus' response to the poor; attendance at the Students of Color Retreats; and occasional participation in student-sponsored dramatic events.

Prof. Wright's primary research interests include Semitic Philology and Historical Linguistics, particularly regarding the Afro-Asiatic language family. Her teaching has also included courses dealing with the prophetic literature of the Hebrew Bible.
UPDATE: Again from the Agade list - John Huehnergard writes:
Edwina (Wyn) Wright, Director of Language Studies and Adjunct Professor of Biblical Languages, Union Theological Seminary

Wyn Wright, who died yesterday, was the first person to complete a Ph.D. with me. She was brilliant, perhaps the best language learner I have ever met; she could get the grammar down so quickly it was scary. And she always wanted to move on to another language; I first studied Amharic, Tigrinya, and Mehri because Wyn wanted to learn them, and so we worked on them together (with her usually several chapters ahead). She was a wonderful teacher, who will be greatly missed by many former students at Union and at Harvard. She had a beautiful voice, and would occasionally sing in subway stations. And she was one of the warmest, kindest, wisest people I have ever known.

After deciding to leave Union last year, for health reasons, Wyn had moved in with her mother Mary. Mrs. Wright told a friend that she and Wyn had had a perfect time together until Wyn became very ill a short time ago.

There will be a memorial service scheduled sometime after the holidays. If you wish to reach the family, Mrs. Wright's address is:

Mary Wright
2 Bowers Road
Mendham, NJ 07945
UPDATE (30 December): More here.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

ED COOK has posted his Fourth Annual Ralphies. I'm working on mine and plan, as usual, to post it on New Year's Eve.
Project leader Simon Tanner, of the Centre for Computing in the Humanities at King's College London, said the difficulty of photographing the scrolls would be deepened by the fact that in many cases there is little contrast between the writing and the material on which it is written.

The team would be using a digital camera offering up to 20 times more resolution than a conventional model and an infra-red camera that would enable the script to be more easily read against the background.

Tanner said he had worked on more than 450 digitisation projects and the scrolls were the most technically challenging he had faced. The Israel Antiquities Authority faced complex handling and conservation issues in making the scrolls available for digitisation.
Background here.
A BUILDING OF KING HEROD? I don't recall hearing about this one before.
Unknown Monumental Building Of Herod The Great (73-4 BC) Unearthed

ScienceDaily (Dec. 21, 2007) — This year Thomas Pola, professor for theology at TU Dortmund, and his team have continued the excavations in the East Jordan Land. With their findings on the mountain Tall adh-Dhahab (West) in the Jabbok Valley the archeologists could substantiate one assumption: everything points to the fact that the building remains from the Hellenistic and Roman era, found in 2006, were part of a yet unknown monumental building of Herod the Great (73-4 BC).

This assumption is based on the floors of one of the discovered peristyle yards (yards enclosed by continuous columns) which the archeologists were able to excavate. Prof. Pola sees the parallels with the architecture of Herod’s West Jordan Alexandreion as prove that there also was a monumental building of Herod the Great on the plateau of the mountain Tall adh-Dhahab. That would mean that in addition to his reign over the West Jordan Land, the Jewish king had a security system with which he could have controlled the ancient long-distance traffic in the middle Jordan Valley and the access ways to the plateau of the East Jordan Land.


Friday, December 21, 2007

SUN, SURF, SAND, and Dead Sea Scrolls. A good combination.
HAPPY WINTER SOLSTICE to pagan readers and anyone else celebrating.

UPDATE: Happy Yalda festival too.
Millions of Iranians all over the world Friday night will celebrate `Yalda', the longest night of the year and the first night of winter as a token of victory of the angel of goodness over the devil of badness.

`Yalda' is a Syriac word meaning birth and according to Mithraism, a faith that initially originated from Persia and later spread out throughout the ancient civilized world, the first day of winter which falls on December 21 this year, was celebrated as the birthday of Mithra, the angel of light.

Ancient Iranians believed that two groups of angels -- good and bad -- were in constant fight on the earth with each other and that on the dawn of the first day of the month of `Dey', beginning December 21, and with the victory of the rising sun as the symbol of 'Ahuramazda', the Zoroastrian god, over the evil of darkness the fight would come to an end.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

"RECONSTRUCTING PETRA": The Smithsonian has a nice article. Excerpt:
Directly ahead is a sheer cliff lined with elegant carvings reminiscent of Greek and Roman temples, a surreal vision in this remote mountain valley surrounded by desert. This is the back door to Petra, whose very name means rock in Greek. In its heyday, which began in the first century B.C. and lasted for about 400 years, Petra was one of the world's wealthiest, most eclectic and most remarkable cities. That was when the Nabatean people carved the most impressive of their monumental structures directly into the soft red stone. The facades were all that remained when 19th-century travelers arrived here and concluded that Petra was an eerie and puzzling city of tombs.

Now, however, archaeologists are discovering that ancient Petra was a sprawling city of lush gardens and pleasant fountains, enormous temples and luxurious Roman-style villas. An ingenious water supply system allowed Petrans not just to drink and bathe, but to grow wheat, cultivate fruit, make wine and stroll in the shade of tall trees. During the centuries just before and after Christ, Petra was the Middle East's premier emporium, a magnet for caravans traveling the roads from Egypt, Arabia and the Levant. And scholars now know that Petra thrived for nearly 1,000 years, far longer than previously suspected.


The Nabateans developed a writing system—ultimately the basis of written Arabic—though the inscriptions they left in Petra and elsewhere are mostly names of people and places and are not particularly revealing of their beliefs, history or daily lives. Scholars have had to use Greek and Roman sources to fill in the picture. Greeks in the decades after Alexander the Great's death in 323 B.C. complained about Nabateans plundering ships and camel caravans. Scholars believe that such raids whetted the Nabateans' appetite for wealth. Eventually, instead of attacking caravans, the raiders began guarding them—for a price. By the second century B.C., Nabateans dominated the incense trade from southern Arabia. Within several decades, they had assembled a mercantile empire stretching for hundreds of miles. The people who a few generations earlier had been nomads were now producing eggshell-thin pottery, among the finest in the ancient world, as well as grand architecture.

By 100 B.C., the tribe had a king, vast wealth and a rapidly expanding capital city. Camels lumbered into Petra with boxes of frankincense and myrrh from Oman, sacks of spices from India and bolts of cloth from Syria. Such wealth would have attracted raiders, but Petra's mountains and high walls protected the traders once they arrived in the city. The Siq, a twisting 1,000-yard-long canyon that in places is just wide enough for two camels to pass, made the eastern part of the city impregnable. Today it serves as Petra's main entryway. It may be the most dramatic entrance to an urban space ever devised. In ancient times, though, the primary entrance into Petra was likely the road by which I came by donkey.
It seems like a good article, but I'm surprised that it doesn't mention the cache of Nabatean documents in the Babatha archive. This is the largest surviving corpus of Nabatean texts.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

MORE ON THE "DEAD SEA SCROLL IN STONE": Manuscript Boy and reader Aaron Koller e-mail to note that it was published in Cathedra 123 (2007): 155-66. (Not available online, I'm afraid.) MB mentions it in passing here. Koller notes that Israel Knohl discussed it at some length in a Haaretz article in September:
'In three days, you shall live'
By Israel Knohl

The first mention of the "slain Messiah" called Mashiah ben Yosef (Messiah Son of Joseph) is in the Talmud (Sukkah 52a). In my book "The Messiah Before Jesus" (University of California Press, 2000), I argue that the story of this slain messiah is based on historical fact. I believe it is connected to the Jewish revolt in the Land of Israel following the death of King Herod in 4 B.C.E. This Jewish insurrection was brutally suppressed by the armies of Herod and the Roman emperor Augustus, and the messianic leaders of the revolt were killed. These events set the slain Messiah Son of Joseph tradition into motion and paved the way for the emergence of the concept of "catastrophic messianism." Interpretations of biblical text helped to shape the belief that the death of the messiah was a necessary and indivisible component of salvation. My conclusion, based on apocalyptic writings dating to this period, was that certain groups believed the messiah would die, be resurrected in three days, and ascend to heaven (see "The Messiah Before Jesus," 27-42).

Ada Yardeni and Binyamin Elitzur recently published the text of a fascinating text they call "Hazon Gabriel" or the Gabriel Revelation (Cathedra magazine, vol. 123). This text, engraved in stone, conveys the apocalyptic vision of the Archangel Gabriel. Yardeni and Elitzur date it by its linguistic features and the shape of the letters to the end of the first century B.C.E.

Knohl's theories about first-century messianic beliefs remain controversial, so bracket those as you read about the text. It seems, though, that this is a stone inscription discovered in the Transjordan, with a text that presents an eschatological revelation by the angel Gabriel and which mentions David, Ephraim, the prince of princes, the slain of Jerusalem, and the merkavah (chariot - God's throne-chariot?). I don't have access to the journal here, but I'll try to get hold of a copy of the article.

UPDATE: Alex Panayotov has pointed out to me that there is an English abstract of the Cathedra article online:
Ada Yardeni and Binyamin Elitzur

A First-Century BCE Prophetic Text Written on a Stone: First Publication

This is the first publication of a Hebrew inscription of 87 lines, written in ink on a large stone. Its precise provenance is unknown. The text is arranged in two columns, similar to the columns in a Torah scroll, and is written in a ‘Jewish’ script of the late first century BCE resembling the script evidenced in Qumran scrolls; however, its contents and style are different. The text contains a verse from the biblical book of Haggai, with minor changes, and expressions from Zechariah and Daniel. It also contains expressions from later Jewish literary sources, such as Hechalot literature, Piyyut, Talmud, and Midrash, as well as some that have no parallels elsewhere. Due to its bad condition, the inscription is difficult to interpret, but the expression which may be translated as ‘thus said YHWH, the God of armies, the God of Israel’ appears many times, with slight variations, similarly to expressions in biblical prophecies, and the name Jerusalem is mentioned several times. The text is written in the first person, the speaker identifying himself as ‘I, Gabriel’, probably referring to the angel by this name. It seems that the composer of the text belonged to the supporters of the Davidic dynasty and may have been addressing his opponents. However, since no similar text has been discovered to date, it is difficult to determine its precise nature.
UPDATE (29 December): More here.

UPDATE (30 December): More here.
Israeli boffins put Bible on microchip

December 19, 2007 - 11:41AM (

Israeli scientists said on Tuesday they have created the world's smallest Bible, fitting a Hebrew-language version of the holy book on a gold-coated silicon chip smaller than a pinhead.

Researchers from Technion, Israel's Institute of Technology, were able to pack the 308,428-word Hebrew Bible - known to most as the Old Testament - on a 0.5 millimetre square, Ohad Zohar, who directed the project, told AFP.

"This is the world's tiniest Bible," Zohar said. "The Guinness Book of World Records has a Bible 50 times bigger."

Follow the link for an image of the beginning of the text (Genesis 1).

(Heads up, my colleague Nathan MacDonald.)

UPDATE (26 December): More here.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A DEAD SEA SCROLL IN STONE? This just in from the Agade list:
From Dorothy Resig (

The Biblical Archaeology Society is pleased to announce the
publication of the following feature articles in the January/February
issue of Biblical Archaeology Review (Volume 34, Number 1):

"A New Dead Sea Scroll—in Stone?"

The first English publication of a new text written on a 3-foot-high
stone. The script dates to the turn of the era—just like a Dead Sea
Scroll. The inked writing is laid out in prepared columns—just like a
Dead Sea Scroll. The text contains Bible-like prophecies—just like
some of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

First I've heard of this. It sounds very similar to the Balaam text from Deir 'Alla, which, however, is from a much earlier period (c. 700 BCE). There's nothing yet at the BAS website on the Jan-Feb issue of BAR, but I look forward to hearing more.

UPDATE (19 December): More here.
PSEUDEPIGRAPHA AND ARAMAIC WATCH: The Odes of Solomon and other ancient Syriac poetry pertaining to the Nativity are discussed in Commonweal Magazine:
The Mary We Never Knew
New Light from the Syrian Tradition

Sally Cunneen

It’s hard to maintain the spirit of anticipation that should mark the season of Advent when Christmas itself has become little more than an occasion for extravagance and consumption. We could all use some fresh inspiration concerning what Advent is preparing us for.

I have found an unexpected source for such insight in the increasing number of English translations from ancient Syriac literature. It turns out that the early Christians pondered the same questions we face. And while Gnostic texts have been widely touted in the mainstream media in recent decades as alternatives to the canonical Gospels, the lesser-known Syrian Christian tradition opens up an equally ancient but orthodox theology and devotionalism that are surprisingly fresh, deeply human, and, despite the differences in time and culture, relevant to our own needs.

Of the three international languages of the early church, Greek, Latin, and Syriac, Syriac was closest to the Aramaic and Hebrew of Jesus and the Bible. It was rich in imagery and imagination, and was widely used in the Middle East until it was supplanted by Arabic, following Islam’s sweeping military conquests in the seventh century. The Odes of Solomon, which translator James Hamilton Charlesworth calls “the earliest Christian hymnbook,” suggests that there was a vital Christian community of Syriac speakers even before the end of the first century. At a time when prayers to Mary did not yet exist in the Western church, the description of the Nativity in The Odes is startling:

Syriac is clearly "in" this year.
A REPORT ON THE JERUSALEM SYNDROME from a Reuters journalist at the FaithWorld blog:
Desperately seeking the Jerusalem Syndrome
December 17th, 2007, filed by Ari Rabinovitch

One of the basic rules of journalism is to “be in the right place at the right time.” This is not easy to do when the story you want to cover happens only 10 or 12 times a year, at any one of dozens of locations indoors or outdoors and at any hour of the day or night. The odds were against me massively, but why should I let that get in the way when the story was as interesting as the Jerusalem Syndrome described in my feature “Come to Jerusalem, see the Messiah“?

Only about a dozen Jerusalem tourists per year suddenly get agitated, imagine themselves to be characters from the Bible, fashion makeshift togas out of hotel sheets and go out to holy sites to recite the Psalms, sing hymns or harangue passers-by to repent. There are enough anecdotes around to write a colourful story about the syndrome, but I wanted to get closer to the story. Maybe even see a syndrome sufferer first hand.

No such luck, but he did miss one at the Western Wall by just a week:
Just last week, the site apparently proved so overwhelming for a young woman in her 20s that she stripped naked and lay on the group, muttering “the holy temple, the holy temple” and “it is all from God” while pointing at the sky. She was later sent to hospital for a psychiatric evaluation.
Poor thing. Although there is a biblical precedent (1 Samuel 19:19-24), not everything done in the Bible is a good example to follow.
19] And it was told Saul, "Behold, David is at Nai'oth in Ramah."
[20] Then Saul sent messengers to take David; and when they saw the company of the prophets prophesying, and Samuel standing as head over them, the Spirit of God came upon the messengers of Saul, and they also prophesied.
[21] When it was told Saul, he sent other messengers, and they also prophesied. And Saul sent messengers again the third time, and they also prophesied.
[22] Then he himself went to Ramah, and came to the great well that is in Secu; and he asked, "Where are Samuel and David?" And one said, "Behold, they are at Nai'oth in Ramah."
[23] And he went from there to Nai'oth in Ramah; and the Spirit of God came upon him also, and as he went he prophesied, until he came to Nai'oth in Ramah.
[24] And he too stripped off his clothes, and he too prophesied before Samuel, and lay naked all that day and all that night. Hence it is said, "Is Saul also among the prophets?"
For more on the Jerusalem Syndrome, see here.

Monday, December 17, 2007

YALE UNIVERSITY is offering a free, not-for-credit online course on the Hebrew Bible.

(Via the T&T Clark blog.)
Cabinet okays renewing controversial Temple Mount Mugrabi excavation
By Akiva Eldar, Haaretz Correspondent

Tags: Temple Mount, Jerusalem

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) has been instructed by the cabinet to continue its work at the Mugrabi walkway near the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The cabinet recently instructed the IAA to complete the work "as soon as possible, with full transparency and with the cooperation of the relevant bodies."

Excavations at the site, a walkway leading to the Mugrabi Gate at the Temple Mount, were halted in June after they raised an international protest. At the end of September, following a report in Haaretz that the Ministerial Committee for Jerusalem Affairs had approved the continuation of the work, Science, Culture and Sport Minister Ghaleb Majadele appealed the decision to the cabinet secretariat and it was frozen. Two weeks ago, Majadele acceded to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's request to withdraw his appeal.

On November 29, the cabinet approved the Ministerial Committee for Jerusalem Affairs decision, instructing the IAA to "remove any finding that is not archaeological, and provide a solution to elements of conservation, esthetics, security, safety and possible social impairments." The latter element was a reference to homeless individuals who have taken shelter in structures at the site that have no archaeological value.

The cabinet decided to allocate NIS 3.5 million for the completion of archaeological and conservation work. The director-general of the Prime Minister's Office was charged with locating this money, as well as the funds for construction of a permanent bridge at the site, at an estimated cost of NIS 14 million. The budgetary source will be located as soon as the plans are approved by the Jerusalem Regional Planning Commission.

This sentence is strange:
The phrase "removing any find that is not archaeological" refers to all Palestinian finds and most of those of the Ottoman period.
I'm not at all sure what "Palestinian finds" are. The term does not have an archaeological meaning. And what is "archaeological" and what isn't in this context? What does "removing" it mean? It sounds almost sinister, as though some finds are "archaeological" and (by implication) should be treated accordingly, while others are not and should just be "removed." On his list, Joseph I. Lauer writes:
With regard to the statement in the English article that "The phrase 'removing any find that is not archaeological' refers to all Palestinian finds and most of those of the Ottoman period", the Hebrew version (which should be referred to) states that this refers "to the removal of all post-1700 finds - that is, most of the finds from the period of Ottomon rule."
That is somewhat helpful, but still doesn't explain what the post-1700 finds are and what "removing" them involves. I doubt that Haaretz is giving us a clear understaning of what's going on.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

MORE ON CARTAGENA: The 2005 Carthaginians and Romans Festival at Cartagena (a festival discussed earlier here) has a spot on YouTube:

Are those Phoenician cherubim from about 0:03 to 0:21?
APOCRYPHA WATCH: The story of Tobit figures in a London Times review by Waldemar Januszczak of a National Gallery exhibition of Renaissance German stained glass. He certainly has his own take on the story.
At its outset, however, I was much taken by a beautiful little panel from the Lower Rhine, produced anonymously in about 1520 and showing Tobias and Sarah tucked up in bed on their wedding night. Both of them appear to be sleeping soundly. And so, at the foot of their bed, is their dog, curled up neatly in a single circle of glass.

The story of Tobias and Sarah is one of my favourite examples of madly inventive biblical moralising. If you don’t know it, then your own past has been too godless and you are probably keener than you should be on sex with married women. According to the Apocrypha, Sarah was a dangerous woman. No fewer than seven of her husbands died on their wedding night, murdered cruelly by wicked spirits as they tried, unsuccessfully, to consummate the marriage. Undeterred by this nuptial carnage, Sarah’s cousin, Tobias, fell in love with her, and was about to become her eighth victim when the Archangel Raphael came down to him and advised him to catch a giant fish in the River Tigris, and to remove its heart, gall and liver. On the appointed wedding night, the angel advised Tobias to grill the fish’s liver in the nuptial chamber, so its smell would scare off the evil demons. All this Tobias did, and the marriage was successfully consummated. And the two of them lived happily ever after.

But none of the scary sexual fearfulness that underpins this weird tale of Sarah and Tobias, or any of its mad mood of fish-frying primitive magic, has been allowed to disturb the air of quiet German domesticity that the anonymous glass master of the Rhine has brought to his sweet telling of the story. There’s no hint of wedding-night anxiety. No touch of conjugal excitement. All of the story’s biblical terror has been smothered in an eiderdown of comfortable married bliss. Look how properly Sarah and Tobias are dressed for their wedding night, in their neat village bonnets. Look how well ordered the fateful bedchamber is. Sarah might be a dangerous demon in bed, but when it comes to cleaning and sweeping, she’s a perfect German Hausfrau.

The show’s point is that the stained-glass artists of Germany were mimicking the moods and approaches of the painters of the time, and therefore avoiding the ecstatic, light-filled sensuality you find in medieval stained glass. It’s true; they were. Accompanying this lurch into an unexpected realism – who would ever have imagined that a stained-glass window might one day go in search of house-proud village moods! – were various technical and stylistic developments that are, indeed, mightily impressive.

Look, for instance, at the rolled-up curtain hanging to the right of Sarah’s bed. It’s a fabulous piece of illusionism that really captures the folds and squashings of the cloth. And what about the decorated blue bedspread? All its folds are amazingly convincing, but I particularly enjoyed the two lumpy creases that mark the spot where Tobias and Sarah have chastely folded their hands over their genitals. At least, I think that’s what the folds mark.

What’s happening here is that German stained glass is trying, rather desperately, not to be stained glass at all. It’s trying to copy the illusionism and detail you find in, say, a Dürer painting. The show has a decent stab at describing the techniques involved in achieving this difficult descriptive-ness. Some of the best effects were achieved not by adding, but by taking away. The design of Sarah and Tobias’s fabulously illusion-istic bedcloth involved covering the blue glass in a dark film, then selectively scratching sections of it away. And how typical of the Germans to be extra-good at this.
Overall, he wasn't much impressed by the exhibit.
THE SAN DIEGO DEAD SEA SCROLLS EXHIBITION receives yet another review, this one in the Salt Lake Tribune:
The Dead Sea Scrolls in San Diego
Words apart
Exhibit provides a fascinating glimpse of these ancient, mysterious manuscripts
By Kurt Kragthorpe
The Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated: 12/15/2007 03:14:36 PM MST

SAN DIEGO - The impact of the Dead Sea Scrolls, written more than 2,000 years ago, painstakingly pieced together and displayed under glass at the San Diego Natural History Museum, is being recorded on index cards, preserved in plastic sheets in a looseleaf binder on a table positioned just outside the exhibit.
Visitors have expressed their impressions, with one describing the tour as "one of the greatest experiences of my life." That was from a 93-year-old woman.
And then there was the guest who wrote, "Now I can die, after seeing the scrolls for myself." Judging by his handwriting and his spelling of "othentick," Joshua Lopez is probably about 10.
More than 300,000 visitors over the past six months have witnessed the most extensive collection of the Dead Sea Scrolls ever displayed in the U.S.
Discovered in caves in Israel some 60 years ago, the scrolls contain manuscripts from the Hebrew Bible. The 12 scrolls being displayed through the exhibit's Jan. 6 closing depict the Ten Commandments from Deuteronomy, as well as parts of Psalms, Genesis, Leviticus and other Old Testament books.
Another guest commented that the exhibit was "breathtaking and humbling, to be so close to the origins of how our faith has been recorded."

ROBERT ALTER'S PSALMS TRANSLATION is reviewed in the Washington Times. Excerpt:
Ever since the King James Bible came off the press at the close of the Elizabethan era, biblical scholars on both sides of the Atlantic have attempted to correct and update it. The most recent laborer in this vineyard is Robert Alter, who teaches Hebrew at Stanford. In his "The Book of Psalms," he focuses on eponymous Bible book and seeks to present the passages "in a kind of English verse that is readable yet sounds something like Hebrew." I'm not competent to judge the accuracy of his translation, but I am bold enough to say that his revised version fails to come trippingly off the tongue.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

CARTAGENA, Hannibal's home town, is gearing up for the tourist season. So far so good.

More on Cartagena here.
A SCHOLAR OF PHOENICIAN STUDIES has been appointed an honorary member of Malta's National Order of Merit:

(in absentia)

A Senior Research Fellow in Archaeology at the Centre for Classics and Archaeology, Melbourne University who since 1990 has devoted much of her scholarly efforts to a better and more detailed understanding of Malta’s ancient past especially the Phoenician and Punic periods. Her service to Malta is achieved through her international standing as a scholar and her promotion of Maltese heritage. Her publications include four substantial books on Malta and a large number of articles, reviews and reports. Her detailed studies on Malta are considered benchmarks in the discipline and are often cited in scholarly works. In 2005 she organised a Round Table at the 6th International Congress of Phoenician-Punic Studies in Lisbon and in 2006 she organised another conference in collaboration with Heritage Malta and the University of Malta on Phoenician-Punic Ceramics.

Since 1996 she has been senior investigator in charge of pottery finds at the excavations at Tas-Silg, conducted by the Department of Classics and Archaeology, University of Malta. Dr Sagona has a commitment to promote Maltese heritage to the public at large. She has done this through interviews for a film documentary and public lectures at the University of Melbourne and Sidney, the Maltese Historical Association (Melbourne), and the Archaeological Society (Malta). She encourages students in Australia to pursue the study of Malta, whereas in Malta, during her annual visit, she has willingly trained students in her specialist area and encouraged them with their research.
Congratulations to Dr. Sagona.
MODERN ALEXANDRIA is profiled in a Travel piece in the NYT. Some of its ancient history comes up as well.
A City of Legend Embarks on a New Journey

Published: December 16, 2007

ON a cloudless morning in mid-September, it was not quiet around the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, the modern disc-shaped library in Cleopatra’s ancient hometown in Egypt. Outside, students flirted and joked on the edge of a reflecting pool. Behind them, cars whizzed by on the Corniche, the spruced-up sea road that hugs the Mediterranean.

Inside, a tour guide, a fast-talking young woman wearing a bright hijab, led a group of tourists into the library’s immense reading room, stopping on a wooden terrace that looked down onto more terraces. The sun threw spots of blue and green light onto the floors through colorful glass as she pointed out the library’s art galleries, theaters, rare manuscript collections and planetarium, as well as its more than half a million books.

But the thing that caught everyone’s attention was the Espresso Book Machine in the main reading room. The giant photocopier-like machine can print, on demand, virtually any book, complete with color covers and glue bindings in minutes.

It is a fitting symbol for Alexandria, a faded metropolis that is rising again from the sea, one replicated landmark at a time.


In recent years, however, efforts by preservationists and the government to restore the city’s luster have started to bear fruit. The first sign of Alexandria’s renewal was the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, the glimmering vision in steel and glass that opened on the Corniche in 2002.

Built near the site of the original Library of Alexandria — perhaps the ancient world’s greatest, with an unrivaled collection that included original manuscripts of Euripides, Aeschylus and Sophocles — the Bibliotheca seeks to resurrect that lost monument with shelf space for eight million books and a massive granite wall inscribed with what officials say are characters from all the world’s written languages.


And there are plans, though still not financed, to restore the city’s Eastern Harbor with an underwater archaeology museum, a waterfront promenade and hotels, including one inspired by the third-century B.C. Pharos lighthouse, whose ruins lie underwater.

THE SAN DIEGO DEAD SEA SCROLLS EXHIBITION has been extended for a week to 6 January. Not surprisingly, attendance has been very high:
The San Diego Natural History Museum extended the exhibition, which opened in June, to meet demand. Delle Willett, the museum's director of marketing, said 315,552 people had seen it as of Dec. 13 and 10,400 others have bought advance tickets.

"Our normal attendance for the entire year is usually under 300,000," she said. "So we've really outdone ourselves. This is huge."

Friday, December 14, 2007

John Strugnell, 1930 - 2007
Dead Sea Scrolls project editor lost post after anti-Semitic remarks

By Mary Rourke, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
December 14, 2007
John Strugnell, a prominent biblical scholar who was the editor in chief of the Dead Sea Scrolls project for six years but was dismissed from his position for anti-Semitic remarks he made during an interview with an Israeli newspaper, has died. He was 77.


He was replaced by Emanuel Tov, an Israeli scholar who had been a part of the team. With Tov's encouragement, Strugnell continued working on the scrolls.

In his close to 40 years on the project he translated and deciphered several liturgical and biblical texts, including, in the 1990s, a work of previously unknown Jewish wisdom literature that he completed with Father Daniel J. Harrington.

"John Strugnell was one of the first and most brilliant decipherers of the Dead Sea Scrolls," said Harrington, a former student of Strugnell who is on the faculty of Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Mass. "He had a genius for reading them and piecing them together."

Strugnell also trained several generations of scholars in the painstaking work of deciphering the scrolls and was generous with his time and expertise both toward students and colleagues, Harrington said.

UPDATE: There is also a brief and unhelpful mention of Strugnell's death in the Seattle Times (scroll down to "Passages"). I think it is unconscionable for them to highlight his dismissal for anti-Semitic remarks without mentioning his illness at all.

UPDATE: A short but excellent Strugnell obituary by Sidnie White Crawford has been posted at the Biblical Archaeology Society website.