Wednesday, June 06, 2007

A CULTURAL CENTER IN THE UAE has arranged to digitize the manuscripts in St. Catherine's Monastery and to archive copies of them:
Centre to help preserve monastery's collection

By Daniel Bardsley , Staff Reporter [Gulf News]

Dubai: A senior church leader in the Middle East has praised a Dubai cultural centre for offering to preserve Christian heritage.

Archbishop Damianos of Sinai, the Abbot of St Catherine's Monastery in Egypt, has thanked the Juma Al Majid Centre for Culture and Heritage for saying it will assist in taking copies of the monastery's well-known collection of manuscripts.

Some of the manuscripts at the Greek Orthodox monastery date back 1,500 years and the Juma Al Majid Centre will provide expertise and equipment so that digital records of the documents can be taken.


St Catherine's Monastery was built in the sixth century at the foot of Mount Moses. As well as holding an important collection of Arab mosaics, Greek and Russian icons and western oil paintings, the monastery has what has been described as one of the most significant collections of illuminated manuscripts in the world.

There are more than 4,000 volumes in the collection, most of them in Greek, with others in, among other languages, Arabic, Syriac, Slavic, Latin and Georgian.

Archbishop Damianos, who is himself Greek, said in the future it might even be possible to organise an exhibition of some of his monastery's manuscripts in the UAE. "Dubai is not so far from Egypt - it is only three hours," he said.

I don't know the Juma Al Majid Centre and its website is currently under construction, but this sounds like a positive development.
ISRAEL BOYCOTT UPDATE: Scholars for Peace in the Middle East has posted a petition against the UCU Israel-boycott resolution. The text reads:
We are academics, scholars, researchers and professionals of differing religious and political perspectives. We all agree that singling out Israelis for an academic boycott is wrong. To show our solidarity with our Israeli academics in this matter, we, the undersigned, hereby declare ourselves to be Israeli academics for purposes of any academic boycott. We will regard ourselves as Israeli academics and decline to participate in any activity from which Israeli academics are excluded.
Their goal is to get 5000 signatures. The count at present is 638. I have signed it. If you are an academic anywhere in the world and you wish to as well, the petition is here.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

AN ALTERNATE HISTORY of the works of Philo of Alexandria is noted by Torrey Seland. Regular readers will be aware of my interest in alternate or counterfactual history (see, for example, here, here, here, and here).
MORE ON THE CAIRO GENIZA EXODUS FRAGMENT, now on display in the Israel Museum. The Art Daily has an article:
Rare 7th-8th C. Scroll Fragment in First-Time Public Display

The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, announced the unveiling of an extremely rare and never-before-exhibited Hebrew scroll fragment from what is known as the "silent era" – the six-hundred year period from the 3rd through 8th centuries CE from which almost no Hebrew manuscripts have survived. The fragment, dating from the 7th or 8th century, is believed to have been part of the Cairo Genizah, a vast depository of medieval Jewish manuscripts discovered in Cairo's Ben Ezra Synagogue in the late 19th century.

The manuscript is a fragment of a Torah scroll from the book of Exodus (13:19-16:1), which includes the Song of the Sea, widely recognized as one of the most beautiful examples of biblical poetry. The Song celebrates the Israelites' safe crossing of the Red Sea, praises the Almighty for vanquishing their enemies, and anticipates their arrival in the Promised Land.

The main new information is about the private owner of the manuscript and its recent movements:
Until the late 1970s, the Song of the Sea manuscript was part of the Hebrew manuscript collection of Lebanese-born American physician Fuad Ashkar. Dr. Ashkar was not aware of the historical significance of the Song manuscript until he contacted Professor James Charlesworth at Duke University, now the George L. Collord Professor of New Testament Language and Literature at Princeton Theological Seminary. Carbon analysis proved that the manuscript dated from "the silent era" of Hebrew biblical manuscripts and was therefore one of a few of its kind ever to have surfaced worldwide. The fragment was subsequently housed in the Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Special Collections Library at Duke University.

In 2004, Prof. Charlesworth brought the manuscript to the attention of Dr. Adolfo Roitman, and it is now on extended loan to the Museum. Since its arrival in Jerusalem, the manuscript has undergone extensive conservation treatment, undertaken by Michael Maggen, head of the Israel Museum's Paper Conservation Laboratory, in consultation with Duke University.
The article also has a nice close-up of a passage in the manuscript.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

RISA LEVITT KOHN, curator of the upcoming Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition in San Diego, is interviewed by
Overseeing the Scrolls: Questions for Risa Levitt Kohn

Saturday, June 2, 2007
| Decades ago, when a group of Arabian nomads known as the Bedouins entered a cave and found pots and jars of pottery, they broke them to see what treasure they contained. Finding nothing except for some parchment with writing on it in the last jar, they left the cave and carried the parchment with them, eventually turning it over to an antiquities dealer in Bethlehem.

At least, that's the legend surrounding the initial discovery of one of the most important groups of documents and relics in history -- the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were found in 11 caves between 1947 and 1954. Some of the scrolls will be on display this month through December in an exhibit at the Natural History Museum in Balboa Park.

Risa Levitt Kohn is the exhibit's curator. Kohn took a two-year sabbatical as director of the Jewish Studies Program at San Diego State University to put the show together, her first such stint for a museum. More than 20 of the 100 or so experts who've dedicated their careers to studying the scrolls will lecture on their importance to several disciplines when the show opens at the end of June.

MARTIN GOODMAN'S LATEST BOOK is reviewed in the Jerusalem Post:
Age of empire

Rome & Jerusalem: The Clash of Ancient Civilizations
By Martin Goodman
Allen Lane
639 pages; 25

History, with the apparent wisdom of hindsight, seems inevitable.

Certainly traditional Jewish explanations of the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE speak of it as something that had to happen. Most teachings maintain that causeless hatred was the reason for the disaster, citing the murderous factional fighting among Jerusalem's defenders prior to the city's fall. Others brood on the wickedness of "Edom," the code word for Rome, as something that meant a violent collision with Jews sooner or later.

Not, so, claims Martin Goodman, professor of Jewish studies at Oxford University and a specialist in the period. Jerusalem's fall, and the consequent loss of status of Jews in the Roman Empire, was mostly sheer bad luck.