Saturday, March 10, 2007

UNESCO Mughrabi report due in days
By ETGAR LEFKOVITS (Jerusalem Post)

A week after a group of UNESCO officials toured the contested Israeli archaeological dig under way outside Jerusalem's Temple Mount, the organization has still not published its findings, officials said Thursday.

The routine salvage excavation, which began last month in the archeological garden adjacent to the Western Wall ahead of the planned construction of a new bridge to the Temple Mount, has triggered protests in the Arab world.

The four-member UNESCO team which visited the site last week came to Jerusalem at Israel's invitation as part of its efforts to display "full transparency" over the dig, Antiquities Authority spokeswoman Osnat Guez said.

The group made no statement after the visit.


The mission report, currently under preparation, will be presented to the director-general of UNESCO in the upcoming days. Thereafter, it will be made available to the Organization's Governing Bodies as well as the World Heritage Committee," UNESCO spokeswoman Sue Williams said Thursday.

THE DISCOVERY OF THE KETEF HINNOM SILVER AMULETS was described by the excavator, Gabriel Barkay, in a a lecture at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Excerpt from the article in the Baptist Press News:
Then Barkay described for his audience how, in 1979, a group of 12-year-olds from an archaeology club in Tel Aviv had come to the dig. Barkay thought the children were “pesky.” One in particular, a boy named Nathan, was always “tugging on my shirt and asking silly questions,” Barkay said.

Barkay assigned Nathan to a far-off, unimportant task: clearing out an ancient repository cave to prepare it for being photographed. Nathan took to the task with a hammer and “expressed his frustration by hammering the floor of the repository.” Barkay recalled being quite perturbed when young Nathan, who had not been on task very long, tugged on this shirt to tell the archaeologist that the hammer had broken through the floor of the cave and there was something below.

Upon inspection, Barkay realized that what he had thought was the floor of the chamber was, in fact, the ceiling of another ancient chamber underneath. Nathan had opened up a chamber where Barkay would make his most renowned discovery.
Thank goodness for pesky boys.

Friday, March 09, 2007

MASADA is reportedly still in urgent need of repairs:
Masada Needs $18M Repair Or Will Soon Be ‘Gone Forever'

Bloomberg News
March 9, 2007

JERUSALEM — Masada, one of Israel's biggest tourist attractions and a symbol of the country's struggle for survival, is in danger of collapse after heavy rainfall four years ago damaged some of its supporting walls.

The 4,600 feet of wall damaged by the water must be fixed before irreversible harm is done, the head of the preservation department at the Israel Nature and National Parks Protection Authority, Zeev Margalit, said by telephone.

"What collapses today will be gone forever," he warned. "Masada could fall tomorrow, or it could fall a year from now, or even 10 years from now. We have the tools to slow down the deterioration process and stop it now."

HOUSTON – Imagine making Robert's Rules of Order into a musical comedy and you understand what Rabbi Judith Z. Abrams did in giving the Talmud a Broadway-style makeover.

"My whole mission in life is to make people fall in love with the Talmud," said Abrams, who operates Maqom, a Web site dedicated to adult Talmud study.

Abrams hopes A Talmud Tale will show audiences that studying the ancient works is not just for Orthodox Jews.

THE MASADA DATE SPROUT is still thriving:
Researchers hoping for a date with history

By Joel Greenberg

Chicago Tribune


JERUSALEM - In quarantine under protective netting, a palm sapling coaxed from a seed nearly 2,000 years old is growing in southern Israel.

Researchers nurturing the plant, nicknamed Methuselah after the biblical figure said to have lived 969 years, are worried about the seedling's exposure to modern pests.

"Things have changed in 2,000 years, and we have this plant that is frozen in time, like Rip Van Winkle," said Elaine Solowey, a horticulturist from the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies at Kibbutz Ketura in the southern Negev region.

"We have date trees across the road with modern diseases," Solowey said. "There's only one tree like this, and I feel very responsible for it."

The fledgling date palm was grown from a seed found by archeologists at the desert fortress of Masada, where Jewish rebels took their own lives in A.D. 73 rather than submit to Roman forces that captured the stronghold after a long siege. Carbon dating has shown the seed to be from around the 1st Century.

If the plant is female and continues to grow normally, researchers say, it could produce fruit in three to four years, replicating the ancient date of Judea, a valued export also known for its medicinal properties.


Thursday, March 08, 2007

THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CHANNEL has forthcoming programs on the Dead Sea Scrolls and on Cain and Abel. For the Dead Sea Scrolls show there is an impressive lineup of scholars, but they also include conspiracy-theorist Michael Baigent, whose nonsense inspired the Da Vinci Code. That alone indicates to me that the producers haven't a clue what they are doing, and I can only hope that the qualified scholars will be able to salvage the show.

Apart from Jon Levenson (who is excellent), I don't know much about the people lined up for the Cain and Abel program. It looks as though they are combining an attempt to get at the original-audience meaning of the story with a look at its history of interpretation. This could work quite well. But it's not a good sign that the program is looking for "where the biblical Eden actually existed."

I won't be able to see either show anytime soon, but I'll be watching the reactions to it with interest.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

MORE THOUGHTS ON THE TALPIOT TOMB: Dr. Alexander Panayotov, our Research Fellow for the More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project, sends the following interesting thoughts:
Just few observations on inscription 701 from the tomb in the Talpiot quarter of Jerusalem (the so-called ‘Mary Magdalene’ inscription). This is a standard Greek funerary inscription. The formula is: X(name in nom.) followed by Y(name in gen.) meaning X son/daughter of Y. Thus, there are a number of possible readings (names after Prof. Bauckham’s postings):

A. Mara son/daughter of Mariamenon/Mariamene

Note Ed Cook’s observation that the name Mara could be a masculine one. [Although Ed is referring to the supposed Aramaic word for "master" rather than a name. - JRD]

The obvious hitch in this reading is that the inscription starts with name in genitive, which, of course, should be read as ‘Of Mariamenon/Mariamene…’. This doesn’t, however, contradict the reading above. It is not impossible that the person who inscribed the text in Greek was still following the local manner of writing (i.e. from right to left). Or, just, the Greek text was arranged in a different way for reasons we don’t know. The name Mara occurs on inscription, dated to the 1st century CE, from Taucheira-Arsinoe in Cyrenaica. The editors of SEG (vol. 16, 1959, no. 918) and the Lexicon of Greek Personal names (vol. 1, 1987, p. 298) consider Mara a feminine name. This reading, however, presumes that the name is in the nominative.

Another possibility is to read the name Mara as the genitive form of Maras. The Doric genitive singular ending –a, was, in later periods, applied to feminine and masculine names ending in –as. According to Tal Ilan’s lexicon the name Maras occurs on papyri from Egypt. However, I was not able to double check her sources (we don’t have the books she refers to in the library). Thus, the inscription could also be read as:

B. Of Maras son/daughter of Mariamenon/Mariamene.


C. Of Mariamenon/Mariamene daughter of Maras.

It is, of course, possible that we can have reading C with the name Mara in the nominative – although not grammatically correct it really depends on the level of knowledge of Greek, which the author of the inscription possessed. This, we just don’t know.

My observations are preliminary. I was not able to consult Rahmani’s corpus and have been working with the photos published on the Discovery website. This means that I am not aware of the archaeological and epigraphic context of the tomb. There are many questions still withstanding. Like, was the inscription added later to the ossuary? Do we know if some of the ossuaries, or the whole tomb, were re-used (which means inscribing new names, formulas, etc.)? Whatever the case, I think that this inscription does not mention a person with alternative name, but follows a standard Greek funerary formula.

Dr Alexander Panayotov
School of Divinity
University of St Andrews
St Mary's College, South Street
St Andrews KY16 9JU
UPDATE: Craig Evans has similarly suggested the interpretation "Mariamne's (daughter) Mara (or Martha)" in a guest post at Deinde.

Plus, Hugoye: Journal of Syriac Studies 10.1 (Winter 2007) has been published. It is a "commemorative issue."

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

NEW TESTAMENT JOB, again at the University of St. Andrews:
THE UNIVERSITY OF ST ANDREWS invites applications for a Professorship in New Testament (equivalent to a Full Professorship in North America). We are seeking applicants with a strong international research profile in New Testament. You will contribute to the School’s existing strengths in exegetical, literary and historical scholarship. Specialism within the area of New Testament is open, though a research interest in the interface between biblical studies and Christian theology and/or history of interpretation is highly desirable. You will be committed to excellence in teaching and you will be expected to teach students from undergraduate to doctoral level. You are a team-player who will be fully involved in the School's research, supervisory and administrative roles. Informal enquiries to Dr Jim Davila (Tel. +44-1334-462834; email: Further information about the School of Divinity can be found at: Application forms and further particulars are available from Human Resources, University of St Andrews, College Gate, North Street, St Andrews, Fife KY16 9AJ, (tel: 01334 462571, by fax 01334 462570 or by e-mail The advertisement and further particulars can be viewed at Please quote ref: ME163/07. Closing Date: March 30th 2007. The University is committed to equality of opportunity.
Again, I would be grateful if other bibliobloggers would copy or link to this job advert and the earlier one.
ADDENDA AND CORRIEGA from Richard Bauckham to his earlier essay on the Talpiot tomb:
Addenda and Corrigenda on Marian Names

(1) To understand why and how Hebrew names acquired Greek forms, it helps to know that Greek nouns never end in consonants other than n, r and s. So ‘Mariam’ in Greek looks barbaric (hence Josephus, e.g., never uses it). Maria and Mariamme are obvious ways of adapting the name to a more Greek-looking form.

(2) I made a mistake about the NT’s use of Mariam and Maria (that’s the danger of doing this sort of work in a hurry). The NT in fact uses both quite often. It’s virtually impossible to be sure of the figures because for most occurrences of one there are variant readings giving the other. For the same reason it is difficult to discern any rationale for the choice of one rather than the other. But a couple of points are interesting. First, it is clear that Luke calls the mother of Jesus Mariam throughout chapters 1-2. This suits very well the ‘Hebraic’ atmosphere that Luke is evoking in those chapters. Second, in the UBS text Mary Magdalene is always Maria except in Matt 27:61; John 20:16, 18. The former, if correct, is just anomalous. But in John 20:16 it is Jesus who addresses Mary as ‘Mariam,’ to which she replies ‘Rabbouni’. For Jesus to use her Hebrew name here is obviously appropriate, and that usage in then continued in v 18 (whereas in vv 1, 11 she is Maria). Incidentally, my mistake about NT usage in my original post makes no difference to the rest of my argument there.

(3) I should have mentioned the inscriptions on the ossuary that Rahmani numbers 108. Across the lid of the ossuary, the name Mariame is written twice (in Greek), while on the underside of the lid is written (in Greek) first Mariamnou (but the last letter is not certain), then, under it, Mariame. Rahmani takes Mariamnou to the genitive of Mariamne, and so finds an early instance of this form of the name. However, the correct genitive would, of course, be Mariamnes. It seems easier to suppose that the nominative would be Mariamnon, which would be another instance of the diminutive that appears as Mariamenon on ossuary 701 (the alleged Mary Magdalene ossuary). Rahmani himself takes Mariamenon on that ossuary to be a diminutive of Mariamene. Mariamnon would be a contracted form.

(4) Apparently some manuscripts of the Acts of Philip (sometimes?) have Mariamme rather than Mariamne. Bovon makes this point, but I have not found it in the apparatus of his edition. If accurate, it strengthens my case.

Monday, March 05, 2007

THE UNIVERSITY OF ST ANDREWS invites applications for a Readership/Professorship in Old Testament/Hebrew Bible (roughly equivalent, respectively, to an Associate or Full Professorship in North America). We are seeking applicants with a strong international research profile in OT/HB. You will contribute to the School’s existing strengths in philological and historical scholarship. Specialism within the area of OT/HB is open, though a research interest in the interface between biblical studies and Christian theology and/or history of interpretation is highly desirable. You will be committed to excellence in teaching and you will be expected to teach students from undergraduate to doctoral level in Old Testament and Hebrew. You are a team-player who will be fully involved in the School's research, supervisory and administrative roles. Salary - £41,392-£47,194 pa (Reader) or negotiable (Professor). Informal enquiries to Dr Jim Davila (Tel. +44-1334-462834; email: Further information about the School of Divinity can be found at: Application forms and further particulars are available from Human Resources, University of St Andrews, College Gate, North Street, St Andrews, Fife KY16 9AJ, (tel: 01334 462571, by fax 01334 462570 or by e-mail The advertisement and further particulars can be viewed at Please quote ref: SK162/07 Closing Date: March 30th 2007. The University is committed to equality of opportunity.
Note that the deadline is not far away. I would be grateful if fellow biblobloggers would feel free to reproduce this advert in full on their blogs or to link to this post.

UPDATE (6 March): Another job, this one in New Testament.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

THOUGHTS ON THE IMPRISONED EGYPTIAN BLOGGER: Bridget Johnson suggests something that can be done:
Kareem's imprisonment will not be the last, unless the freedom-loving global community takes a stand and says, "We're not willing to live like that!"

So what action should be taken?

First, Egypt is bucking to host a stage of the United Nations-sponsored Internet Governance Forum in 2009.

Unless Kareem is freed and press rights guaranteed, the United Nations should thumb its nose at Egypt's inclusion.

Everyone should also send a letter protesting Kareem's imprisonment to the Egyptian Embassy,, and the federal government should lobby directly to Mubarak on Kareem's behalf.

And, last but not least, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights should immediately get involved to free Kareem -- perhaps this sketchy UN body can finally earn its keep.

True democracy in the Arab world starts with these brave bloggers.

Turn our backs on Kareem, and we turn our backs on everything for which we've been fighting.
TALPIOT TOMB WATCH: There's no way I can keep track of everything being written on this subject and I'm much too busy to even think of trying. But I'll try to keep pulling out something interesting from time to time. This Scientific American article qualifies:
Special Report: Has James Cameron Found Jesus's Tomb or Is It Just a Statistical Error?
Should You Accept the 600-to-One Odds That the Talpiot Tomb Belonged to Jesus?
By Christopher Mims

When Associated Producers, the production company behind the new documentary The Lost Tomb of Jesus, contacted Andrey Feuerverger, he was, to put it mildly, surprised. "This is not in the usual run of things one gets to do," notes the University of Toronto statistician dryly, alluding to Associated Producers's somewhat unusual request that he calculate the odds of a tomb in Israel being the last resting place of Jesus Christ.

Despite his previous lack of interest in biblical archaeology, Feuerverger would spend two years on what turned out to be a labor of love. At the end of all of his figuring, he told the documentarians, including director James Cameron of Titanic fame and award-winning investigative journalist Simcha Jacobovici, that there was a one in 600 chance that the names—Jesus, Matthew, two versions of Mary, and Joseph—scribbled on five of the 10 ossuaries (or caskets for bones) found in the Talpiot tomb could have belonged to a different family than the one described in the New Testament.

Read it all -- it's pretty good -- but note the following.
It was only when Feuerverger assumed that some of the names were exceptional, and fit with scholars' beliefs about the historical family of Jesus, that his calculation became worthy of advertising. According to Feuerverger, the most important assumption by far was the one that dealt with the inscription that appears on the ossuary that the documentarians assert belonged to Mary Magdalene.

"The extraordinariness of the Mariemene e Mara inscription gets factored into the calculation as a very rare name," says Feuerverger. By the logic of the historians and archaeologists enlisted by the production team, this inscription is so rare that Feuerverger could safely assume that this was the only woman who possessed this name out of all of those listed in the Lexicon. This changed the odds that this tomb belonged to just any Mary Magdalene from roughly one in three to one in 80.
As Richard Bauckham has explained in his lengthy discussion of this part of the inscription, the word Mara makes much more sense as the name "Martha." (See also Ed Cook's post "Mary the Master.") This means that one of Feuerverger's basic assumptions is wrong. If we make the odds here one in three rather than one in 80, his one in 600 odds have to be reduced to one in 22.5, which sounds more reasonable.

Another point: Professor Bauckham tells me that the tomb held 35 ossuaries/bodies, most of which had already been destroyed by the time the archaeologists got to them. What are the odds that just these six ossuaries of Jesus and his immediate family randomly survived out of the 35? It's not incredibly improbable, but it is unlikely, and makes the scenario advanced in the film yet more implausible.

[CORRECTION (5 March): Richard e-mails:
Just to be accurate, I didn't mean we know there were 35 burials, just that that's the number of burials a tomb of this size could have accommodated. I think I'm right in saying it's very probable there were more than 10.]
There's also this:
U.N.C. Charlotte archeologist Tabor, a consultant on the documentary who has studied over 500 burial chambers throughout Israel, pooh-poohs the naysayers.
Professor Tabor has e-mailed me and others about this sentence:
In a Web article put up yesterday at the Scientific American site I am referred to as someone who has excavated over 500 tombs (sic!). Since I have never excavated even one tomb, and I am not even an archaeologist and have never claimed to be such, this is more than an overstatement. I am sure each of you have experienced such things in dealing with the press. Christopher Minns is a good reporter and tried to do a credible job in his story but I surely want you to know that I would never say such a stupid thing.
It looks as though the sentence has been partially corrected (from "excavated" to "studied"?), but Tabor is still erroneously described repeatedly as an archaeologist. This happens to me a lot too.

UPDATE: And here's an interesting exposition in the L.A. Times of the sensationalist agenda behind the film:
Tomb' can't keep Christianity down
'Tis the season for so-called discoveries to do away with Christianity.

By Charlotte Allen, CHARLOTTE ALLEN is an editor at Beliefnet and the author of "The Human Christ: The Search for the Historical Jesus."
March 4, 2007

EASTER IS around the corner, so it must be time for a dramatic revelation that will blow the lid off Christianity.

Remember the Gospel of Judas? Right around now last year, the "newly discovered" (actually, knocking around for 30 years until a high-price buyer could be found) Gnostic papyrus was supposed to prove that Judas Iscariot was actually a good guy. This year, the breaking news, to be uncovered tonight on the Discovery Channel in a $4-million documentary film produced by James Cameron of "Titanic," is that archaeologists have found Jesus' tomb in Jerusalem and that the ossuary containing DNA from his bones proves that he didn't rise from the dead. Talk about the Titanic — Cameron's findings aim to sink an entire religion.