Thursday, May 24, 2007

A NEW INTRODUCTION TO THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS is coming out, authored by a Comparative Lit professor at Arizona Western College (Pam Kuhlken) and by senior biblical and Scrolls scholar David Noel Freedman.
THE CAIRO GENIZA gets a nice little profile in the Canadian Jewish News. Excerpt:
As with other major discoveries discussed in this column, it was locals who first brought the material to the attention of the outside world. At first, Europeans noticed something new in the Cairo antiquities market. It was thanks primarily to the efforts of two sisters, Agnes Smith Lewis and Margaret Dunlop Gibson, residents of Cambridge, that the renowned university there obtained the bulk of the collection.

This was indeed quite fortuitous, since they brought the material to the attention of the man who would be forever associated with the Genizah documents, the redoubtable and legendary Rabbi Solomon Schecter, who at that time was the reader in talmudic and rabbinic literature and keeper of the collection of Hebrew manuscripts at Cambridge.

Fortunately, Rabbi Schecter was probably the one man in the world who would be able to fully appreciate and analyze the material. One of the first documents he came across was the Wisdom of Ben Sira, popularly known as Ecclesiasticus, which he published. His study of the material is still a landmark of scholarship.

But Rabbi Schecter realized that he would have to go to the source, to the genizah of the Ben Ezra synagogue itself. What he found there astounded both him and the world. It contained more than 100,000 documents, which have since given us a unique and unparalleled look into a prominent Jewish community of 1,000 years ago.
The article also discusses recent Canadian contributions to Geniza research, including the refurbishment of the Ben Ezra synagogue, a ditigization project on the texts, and a possible upcoming conference.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

MEETINGS AND EXAM MARKING all day today. I'll try to post something tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

A 7TH-CENTURY CE SCROLL FRAGMENT OF EXODUS, apparently from the Cairo Geniza, is on display at the Israel Museum:
Rare scroll fragment to be unveiled

A rare Torah scroll fragment from the Book of Exodus dating back to the 7th century that includes the famous Song of the Sea will be unveiled Tuesday at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, the museum announced Monday.

The manuscript, which is a fragment of a Torah scroll from the Book of Exodus (13:19-16:1), comes from the six-hundred year period from the 3rd through 8th centuries known as the "silent era," from which almost no Hebrew manuscripts have survived.

The Song of the Sea manuscript is one of a kind in terms of its historical and literary significance," said Israel Museum Director James S. Snyder. "It bridges the gap in the period of history between the Dead Sea Scrolls [1st-2nd century CE] and the Aleppo Codex [10th century], both of which are permanently housed in the Shrine of the Book."

HAPPY SHAVUOT (FESTIVAL OF WEEKS, PENTECOST) to all those celebrating. It begins this evening at sundown.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Professor Dame Mary Douglas
Challenging and wide-ranging social anthropologist whose ideas and influence reverberated far beyond her discipline

Dame Mary Douglas was one of the outstanding British social anthropologists of the latter half of the 20th century. Her books, Purity and Danger (1966) and Natural Symbols (1970), were seminal for anthropologists and were widely appreciated in other disciplines.

A Sunday Times survey of “Makers of the 20th Century” in 1991 listed Purity and Danger among the 100 most influential nonfiction works since 1945; only four women and four anthropologists made the list.

Starting as an Africanist, she branched out to cover contemporary Western society, addressing such topics as risk analysis and environmentalism, and food and consumption. Old Testament religion was another interest, first in her famous discussion of the “abominations of Leviticus”, in Purity and Danger, and latterly in studies of Numbers and Leviticus.

The obit is quite interesting and informative.

(Via the Agade list.)
HANNIBAL'S ROUTE through the Alps is under investigation by a Classics Lecturer at Stanford:
"Few historical problems have produced more unprofitable discussion than that of Hannibal's pass over the Alps," said the mid-20th-century historian F. W. Walbank, whom Patrick Hunt, a lecturer in the Classics Department, quotes in acknowledging the difficulty and exhilaration of researching the subject. Hunt, director of the Stanford Alpine Archaeology Project, estimates that 20 major studies and articles have focused on it in the past century alone.

He has been investigating the question for the past decade. Now, he hopes he may have found the answer.

"It may be hubristic and definitely ambitious of me to think I might be able to prove that route," he conceded. His most notable predecessor was Napoleon Bonaparte, who reputedly carved his name under Hannibal's on rocks he found in the Alps.

But Hunt has new scientific tools to assist his investigation, and with them have come a profusion of evidence. As the first geoarchaeologist to tackle the question, Hunt has employed methods as diverse as analyzing rock weathering rates, scrutinizing lichen growth, studying pollen records and modeling historical glaciation on computers to help him envision how the land today might be different from that described in ancient texts. Ultimately, the tools will help him comprehend how feasible it was that certain paths were taken by Hannibal and his army traversing the mighty Alps.


The next leg of his investigation is to look for hard evidence in the form of artifacts. "You have to assume that an army of 25,000 people plus elephants is going to leave a record of its passage," Hunt said. "But to date, not one Carthaginian coin has been found in the Alps proper."

And so he proposes new methods. "I think the topography has sufficiently changed over several millennia so that if the evidence is there, it's not going to be on the surface. I would look not on the direct route, but down the precipices," he said. Also, he said, efforts should be focused where the geology is stable, where rapid erosion would not have buried remains deeply.

Hunt and his team have identified 19 sites to excavate and are awaiting from the European governments the permits that are required before any evidence can be removed from the land. Hoping to be at the cusp of a breakthrough, Hunt and his research have attracted attention and funding from Helen and Peter Bing and the National Geographic Society.

I hope they get funding and find something.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS go on display in San Diego next month.
Jerusalem's Temple Mount: Historic Preservation with 3D Laser Scanning
Thursday, 01 March 2007

A 1.851Mb PDF of this article, complete with images, is available by clicking HERE

The Temple Mount is a 35-acre historic site in the Old City of Jerusalem which is of central importance to Judaism, Islam and Christianity. It was the site of the first and second Jewish Temples in Jerusalem and is currently the site of two major Muslim shrines, the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque. The mount is hemmed in by an enclosure wall that was erected to create a level platform on which Herod the Great could rebuild the Jewish Temple in the first century B.C. In February 2004 an earthquake displaced a portion of the mount's eastern wall ( cover photo and Figure 1). To analyze the deformation and determine whether remediation was needed, the Israel Antiquities Authority engaged Mabat 3D Technologies, Ltd., of Tirat-Carmel, Israel to document and measure the displacement using 3D laser scanning.

The bulge in the southern wall was also scanned.

(Cross file under Technology Watch.)
THE POPE'S NEW BOOK ON JESUS is reviewed by Geza Vermes in The Times:
Jesus of Nazareth
The scholar Ratzinger bravely declares that he and not the Pope is the author of the book and that everyone is free to contradict him

By Pope Benedict XVI, reviewed by Geza Vermes

I LEARNT ABOUT the imminent appearance of Pope Benedict XVI’s book on Jesus at the University of Princeton about four weeks ago. I attended there an international conference on methodology in the quest of the historical Jesus where I was to give the opening address. The title, Jesus of Nazareth, not “Jesus, the Son of God” or something similar, seemed to imply that the Pope was one of us, a seeker after historical truth. Indeed, his preface explicitly states that his study incorporates modern historical criticism, and is intended to portray Jesus as an “historical” figure “in the strict sense of the word”. I must confess, however, that my initial reaction was overoptimistic.

There follows a summary of historical-Jesus scholarship from the nineteenth century to the present. Then there is a discussion of the book. Here's an excerpt:
Yet I must protest against the reiterated papal claim that the divine Christ of faith – the product of his musings – and the historical Jesus – the Galilean itinerant healer, exorcist and preacher – are one and the same. In the absence of a stringent linguistic, literary and historical analysis of the Gospels, especially of their many contradictory statements, the identification is without foundation. One must declare groundless Benedict’s appeal to “canonical exegesis”, an exercise in biblical theology whereby any text from the Old or the New Testament can serve to explain any other biblical text. Such an approach to biblical studies would force back Catholic Bible experts, already the objects of frequent papal disapproval in Jesus of Nazareth, to a preCopernican stage of history.

As a final comment, may I, after a lifetime of study of Judaism and early Christianity and in the light of hundreds of letters inspired by my books, voice the conviction that the powerful, inspirational and, above all, real figure of the historical Jesus is able to exercise a profound influence on our age, especially on people who are no longer impressed by traditional Christianity. While scholarly exegesis removes some of the mystery enveloping the church’s Christ, it does not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Contrary to Pope Benedict’s forebodings, the world would welcome this authentic Jesus.
Read it all.