Saturday, March 17, 2007

When right to left is really right Dead Sea Scrolls’ Hebrew is the opposite of how we read, and theories abound as to why
Dead Sea Scrolls’ Hebrew is the opposite of how we read, and theories abound as to why.

Special to The Star

As Union Station’s exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls moves toward the halfway mark of its three-month run, many visitors are asking this question:

Why must Hebrew, the language in which many of the scrolls are written, be read right to left?

No one knows for sure, but there are interesting theories. As early as 3000 B.C.E./B.C., most Egyptian hieroglyphs were written to be read from the right.

Stephen J. Andrews, who teaches Old Testament, Hebrew and archaeology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, says one scholar proposed that the right-to-left direction was due to most people being right-handed. So a scribe would begin on the side where the hand that did the writing was resting.

A similar theory is that the language in ancient times was chiseled into stone. A right-handed person would hold the chisel in the left hand and the hammer in the right. If he tried to go left to right, his left hand would constantly be blocking his view of what he was doing. That would happen much less when chiseling right to left.

But this theory has problems, Andrews says, because early cuneiform and inscriptions are written left to right.

Maybe it's because God is right-handed?
TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: The MEMRI Blog reports that "The Turkish daily Hurriyet reports that a Turkish technical team will be leaving for Israel on March 20 to inspect the repair work being carried out near the Temple Mount in Jerusalem."

Friday, March 16, 2007

UNICORNS IN MONTANA? Alas, apparently not.
Prosecutor: Unicorn defense was a mixup

March 14, 2007

On Tuesday, a Billings prosecutor had told a district judge that Phillip C. Holliday Jr., 42, claimed a unicorn was driving when his truck crashed into a light pole earlier this month.

But on Wednesday, the chief prosecutor said it was all a misunderstanding. Apparently, Holliday told police an unnamed woman was driving when his truck hit the pole -- not a unicorn.

An understandable mixup. After all, there are unicorns in the Bible, and I suppose Montana might be a good place to look for them, although somehow Wyoming seems more likely.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

THE MANDAEANS now have some allies in the U.S. Congress, which is good news:
U.S. House members seek help for a religious minority in Iraq
Associated Press Writer

March 14, 2007, 4:44 PM EDT
TRENTON, N.J. -- The plight of Mandaeans _ an endangered religious minority in Iraq _ has drawn the attention of five members of Congress who want the Bush administration to do more to help them.

In a letter to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, the four Republicans and one Democrat call for appropriate resettlement programs for Mandaean refugees that have fled to Jordan, Syria, Yemen and Indonesia, where community members say there is still persecution.

The five U.S. House members _ Joseph R. Pitts, R-Pa., Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, Trent Franks, R-Ariz., Michael E. Capuano, D-Mass., and Marilyn N. Musgrave, R-Colo. _ also want a refugee resettlement program in the U.S. to be expanded to include Mandaeans.

The letter, dated Tuesday, was initially released Wednesday by the New Jersey-based Mandaean Society of America.

Mandaeanism, which treats John the Baptist as a great teacher, has survived for two millennia, but the war in its major homeland of Iraq now threatens its existence.

Many have fled amid targeted killings, rapes, forced conversions, and property confiscation by Islamic extremists, according to the Mandaean Society of America.

COL. GADHAFI is trying to promote antiquities tourism as part of his program to open the Libyan economy:
The government would privatize banks and other state firms. Tens of thousands of government workers would be encouraged to leave their jobs with promises of three years' salary and training to open businesses. The hope is to build up sectors like construction and tourism -- using Libya's extensive Phoenician, Roman and Islamic antiquities as a draw.
TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: The UNESCO report on the Mughrabi Gate excavation is out and the contents are as expected:
A report for the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, released in Paris on Wednesday, said Israel should have sought the advice of international organizations before it started the archaeological work.

The panel also said work done on the site was already sufficient to examine the structure of the ramp, and Israel "should be asked to stop immediately the archaeological excavations."

In February, however, UNESCO concluded that the excavations posed no threat to the stability of the site, and the new report also credits Israel with adhering to "professional standards."

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

STEPHEN J. PFANN says that "Mary Magdalene Is Now Missing" from the Talpiot Tomb. Maybe better "still missing," but the point is he has an interesting new reading of the inscription on the relevant ossuary.
  • The original transcription of the inscription was incorrect.

  • The inscription does not read “Mariamene the Master”nor does the name Mariamene or Mariamne appear on the ossuary at all.

  • The inscription reflects the writing of two distinct scribes who wrote in different forms of the Greek script.

  • The correct reading of the inscription is “Mariame and Mara,” based on parallels from contemporary inscriptions and documents.

  • The ossuary thus contained the bones of at least two different women, interred at two separate times, one named Mariame and the other Mara.

  • No support exists for ascribing the ossuary to Mary Magdalene.
Mark Goodacre has comments here.
TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: UNESCO should be releasing its report on the Mughrabi Gate excavation today. Here's a preview:
UNESCO to call for halt to Jerusalem dig-reports
14 Mar 2007 08:39:57 GMT
Source: Reuters

JERUSALEM, March 14 (Reuters) - United Nations experts will call on Israel to halt excavations near Jerusalem's most sacred Islamic site and proceed only under international supervision, people briefed on a UNESCO report said on Wednesday.

Israel's archaeological excavations 50 metres (165 feet) from a religious compound known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif and to Jews as Temple Mount sparked Muslim protests.

The Paris-based United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which surveyed the site, is expected to issue its report on the dig later in the day.

The report will say the work being carried out at the site complies with international standards, according to officials briefed on the findings.

But the report will call on Israel to suspend the project and draw up a new work plan in consultation with Jordanian authorities and the Waqf, a body that oversees Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem.

BRIAN ROSE, President of the AIA, has just been named the James B. Pritchard Professor of Archaeology at the University of Pennsylvania. Pritchard is most widely known for editing the incredibly useful (although now dated) Ancient Near Eastern Texts (ANET) anthology. Congratulations to Professor Rose and also to the other two Classicists who have also received Chairs.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

MORE BAD NEWS regarding the imprisoned Egyptian blogger:
Court Upholds Prison for Egypt Blogger

Monday March 12, 2007 2:46 PM

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) - An Egyptian appeals court on Monday upheld the four-year prison sentence given to an Egyptian blogger who criticized conservative Muslims and was convicted of insulting Islam and Egypt's president, court officials said.

Abdel Kareem Nabil's sentence last month had been widely condemned by local and international rights groups as a bid to curb free expression.

Nabil, a 22-year-old former student at Cairo's Al-Azhar University, had been sentenced to three years in prison for insulting Islam, the Prophet Muhammad and inciting sectarian strife, and another year for insulting President Hosni Mubarak.

Restoring the glory of Herod the Great
By Eli Ashkenazi (Haaretz)

"This is the pinnacle of my career in restoration." This was how Italian expert renovator Maurizio Tagliapietra defined his work on the preservation project of the palace of Herod the Great in Massada, near the Dead Sea, before returning to Italy. The complex project, headed by the Israel Nature and National Parks Protections Authority (INNPPA), was completed last week after three years of preparations and two weeks of work.


Before the current project began, the paintings were removed from the walls, put on fiberglass slabs and returned after being sealed in glass to protect them.

"This preservation technique turned out to be disastrous. The damage sustained during the past 40 years has been greater than that of the previous two millennia. The frescoes were crumbling," Margalit recounts.

To save the frescoes of the Northern Palace, the INNPPA launched the restoration project three years ago with funding from the ministries of finance, environment, tourism, industry, trade and education. The Israeli UNESCO (United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization) committee also participated in the project, along with the Dead Sea Water Authority. The Antiquities Authority then issued an international tender that resulted in Tagliapietra's involvement.

After much deliberation, the archaeologists decided not to return the ruined frescoes to the site after they had been restored. "This wasn't an easy decision," says Margalit. "In renovation projects we always prefer to keep the articles at the original site, but the damage was just too extensive."

The frescoes were put into a special renovation laboratory built at the bottom of the Massada complex. Most are to remain in the new museum built at the site, which will soon be opened to the public. However, some of the frescoes were returned to the palace's southern wall, which is less exposed to damaging sunlight.

"We decided to replace the frescoes removed from the palace with replicas in order to return the color into the palace," says Orit Borbnik, conservation manager at the INNPPA. "These are exact copies prepared with the same techniques that were used on the original pieces during the times of Herod the Great," she adds.

Philistines, but Less and Less Philistine

Published: March 13, 2007

Archaeologists have applied more polish to the long-tarnished reputation of the Philistines.

Recent excavations have raised the estimation of Philistines.

In recent years, excavations in Israel established that the Philistines had fine pottery, handsome architecture and cosmopolitan tastes. If anything, they were more refined than the shepherds and farmers in the nearby hills, the Israelites, who slandered them in biblical chapter and verse and rendered their name a synonym for boorish, uncultured people.

Archaeologists have now found that not only were Philistines cultured, they were also literate when they arrived, presumably from the region of the Aegean Sea, and settled the coast of ancient Palestine around 1200 B. C.

At the ruins of a Philistine seaport at Ashkelon in Israel, excavators examined 19 ceramic pieces and determined that their painted inscriptions represent a form of writing. Some of the pots and storage jars were inscribed elsewhere, probably in Cyprus and Crete, and taken to Ashkelon by early settlers. Of special importance, one of the jars was made from local clay, meaning Philistine scribes were presumably at work in their new home.

The discovery is reported in the current issue of The Israel Exploration Journal by two Harvard professors, Frank Moore Cross Jr. and Lawrence E. Stager. ...
Biblical scholars and archaeologists have known for a long time that the Philistines weren't so philistine, but I'm glad the NYT has found out too. The article has some cool photos of the inscriptions.

By the way, I worked on the Ashkelon dig for a couple of seasons in the late 1980s.
Tourists help excavate ancient sites in Holy Land

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

By Marshall Thompson, The Associated Press

JERUSALEM -- Deep in a 2,000-year-old tunnel system outside Jerusalem, a young woman unearthed a rare oil lamp used in ancient rituals during an archaeological dig.

For Abby Krewson, the discovery is especially gratifying: Krewson is a 10th-grader from Philadelphia participating in a "dig for a day" archaeological experience with her family and a Bible college group.

"I didn't expect to find something like that, so it's very exciting," Krewson said.

Tourists like Krewson pay $25 to spend the day working in ancient tunnels in Israel's Bet Guvrin National Park, about 20 miles southwest of Jerusalem.

Participants do the dirty work, digging and sifting through the ruins, while their fees underwrite the more difficult parts of archaeological work: washing pottery shards, logging finds, and publishing papers in academic journals.

Ian Stern, director of Archaeological Seminars, which is licensed by the Israeli government to do the dig, said it's a "Tom Sawyer-ish, paint-the-fence-white kind of a situation."


The caves were made in the Hellenistic period, about 2,200 years ago, and are found near Maresha, the ancient capital of the biblical Edom and possible birthplace of King Herod the Great, Stern said. The dig is one of the richest in the world, Stern said.

2nd-Temple Jewish Town Uncovered in Jerusalem

by Hillel Fendel

( In the course of preparing tracks for the new light-rail system in Jerusalem, remains of an ancient Jewish community just north of the Holy Temple have been uncovered.

Rescue digs, required by law before any major construction work in Jerusalem and environs, have found a major set of remains of a Jewish town from post-Second Temple times. A long strip of land, 400 dunams (100 acres) in size, has been uncovered in which can be seen roads, alleys, houses, public buildings, a mikveh (ritual bath), and more.

The community was located east of the old Roman highway leading from Jerusalem to Shechem (Nablus) - roughly along the same route as today's Shechem Way, or Highway 60.

This is an old story, which I have noted here, here, here, and here.

Monday, March 12, 2007

ZAHI HAWASS is reportedly calling for a boycott of archaeologists who work with Israel on "the excavations currently going on in East Jerusalem" (apparently the Mughrabi Gate excavation). I'm surprised, and I don't think this is at all justified.

(Via Explorator 9.46.)
Metatron . . . has cuboctahedral symmetry . . . the layers of sintered metal powder are aligned with the junctions along one fourfold axis, creating a pattern of concentric circles.
NEWS on the upcoming Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition in San Diego, which begins on 1 July.
The San Diego Natural History Museum is at work preparing for an exhibit of the priceless ancient writings, which will cover two floors and 12,000 square feet of space. It will run for six months.


In a scroll room, 27 scrolls will be displayed through the course of the exhibition — 15 at any one time. The switch will be made during the fall. The scrolls will include biblical books of Leviticus, Isaiah and Job. There will be the Damascus Document and the War Scroll, which highlight the life and thoughts of the Qumran community. Also included will be the Copper Scroll from Jordan, the only scroll inscribed on copper. Another will be what has been deemed the best preserved manuscript of Deuteronomy. It contains the text of the Ten Commandments.