Saturday, June 16, 2007

THE WISDOM OF SOLOMON meets the Mafia.
HEROD THE GREAT'S ACCOMPLISHMENTS are reflected on in Forbes:
Herod's Lost City
Todd Pitock 06.18.07

From the shoreline of Caesarea on Israel's north coast, it's just a few fin kicks and a short descent below the sun-glazed surface of the Mediterranean until you reach the sunken ruins of the harbor that made this one of the great cities of antiquity.

My dive-buddy, Avi Baz, is a buoyant 56-year-old spirit who can go to depths on either of two of his favorite subjects: diving and Caesarea. Like most Israelis, he is fluent in Hebrew, English and politics. We float on our backs a couple of hundred yards toward a buoy that marks one point of entry into Caesarea's newly opened Underwater Archeology Park, a roped trail where recreational divers can view artifacts and excavated ruins along the contours of the sunken marina.

"The visibility will be excellent," Avi says. "I tell you, there is nothing like this in the world. Do you realize," he adds, "that after the fall of the Roman Empire, the technological know-how [that built this port] disappeared for more than 14 centuries?"


Friday, June 15, 2007

Armchair archeologists can explore Qumran virtually
By Tom Tugend, Contributing Writer (Jewish Journal)

After glancing at the nearby caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were stored, I walked through the entrance to the main building at Qumran, checked out the scriptorium with its ink wells and oil lamps and the pottery-making workshop, and then up to the four-story tower for spotting approaching Roman legions.

Although it was a hot day, I was perfectly comfortable because my virtual walking tour of the desert settlement was conducted at a sophisticated UCLA computer site, courtesy of the Qumran Visualization Project.

"What we've built here is a fully reconstructed, three-dimensional, real-time, interactive model of Khirbet Qumran," explained Robert C. Cargill, a graduate student in the UCLA Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures.

Joining Cargill was his department chairman, professor William Schniedewind, who initiated the project to graphically enliven his class on ancient Israel and to probe current scholarly disputes on the genesis of the Dead Sea Scrolls.


Cargill and Schniedewind, who developed the computer model over a 15-month period, plan to eventually replace the panoramic photography with satellite imagery, which will allow them to simulate the surrounding topography and terrain. They also hope to create virtual models of the caves where the scrolls were found.

Joseph I. Lauer notes that the UCLA virtual Qumran site can be found here.
AN ANCIENT JEWISH SETTLEMENT has been found in Israel in a salvage excavation:
Second Temple Jewish settlement found between Jerusalem and TA
By ETGAR LEFKOVITS (Jerusalem Post)

A Second Temple Jewish settlement has been uncovered between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, including structures that may have been used as hiding places during the Bar Kochba Revolt, Israel's Antiquities Authority announced Monday.

I've been meaning to note this one, but things have been busy around here.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

THE ANCIENT BIBLICAL MANUSCRIPTS CENTER at the Claremont School of Theology has a semi-annual newsletter called The Folio, which I have been receiving for many years. I notice that the ABMC website now has an archive of The Folio starting with its inception in 1981 and complete up to 2005. (These are photographic reproductions in PDF format and some of the files are very large.) The archive preserves a lot of the history of the ABMC and each Folio issue usually has an interesting article on some research subject. For example, the current one (24.1, not yet online) has a piece by Marvin A. Sweeny on "Targum Jonathan on Zechariah 3: An Early Vision of Heaven."

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A PAGE FROM A TALMUD MANUSCRIPT in the British Library is available online. Manuscript Boy has the details over at Hagahot.
THE CRADLE OF CHRISTIANITY EXHIBITION is in Atlanta on its final stop. It contains, among other things, a fragment of the Temple Scroll.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

FRAGMENT OF THE MONTH: The Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit at Cambridge University has a new feature on its website:
A fragment that has provoked interest in the Unit in the last month will be displayed together with a brief explanation as to why it deserves attention.

Day in, day out, Unit researchers are working on cataloguing and describing the Taylor-Schechter Collection; hundreds and thousands of manuscripts are examined each month. Just occasionally work stops and colleagues call each other over to take a look at an unusual, unexpected or particularly interesting fragment. In itself the small piece of paper or vellum may not be that significant — when viewed in the wider context of the tens of thousands of pieces in the Collection — and it may ultimately get no more than a brief mention in one of the Genizah Series catalogues, but it has provoked our interest for a moment and so earned a place here.
So far, three fragments have been posted:

April 2007, two new responsa of Moses Maimonides

May 2007, St Augustine in the Genizah

June 2007, Redating a leaf from a medieval Hebrew Book of Tobit (T-S A45.25)

(Via Jack Sasson's Agade list.)
UNESCO'S MEMORY OF THE WORLD PROGRAM is doing great work in manuscript preservation, through both conservation and digitization. The UNESCO website has a page on the project (link above). There's an introductory interview with Abdelaziz Abid, "a programme specialist in the Memory of the World programme." Excerpt:
That means that digital documents are even more fragile than those on traditional materials?

Of course. A piece of parchment can survive for several centuries. Newsprint lasts several decades. It isn’t that the CD-ROM or the USB key can’t last for decades too, but the way in which the information is coded soon becomes obsolete. The problem isn’t the lifespan of the physical materials, but the progress in formats.

In Yemen, manuscripts were discovered in the main Sana’a mosque by chance that had remained walled up for 13 centuries! If you forget a digital document somewhere, at the end of ten years there’s nothing left of it.

If we don’t pay attention to preserving digital documents, we will leave a black hole for future generations. They’ll find Sumerian clay tablets, Chinese, Arabic and European manuscripts and paper…and getting to the 20th and 21st centuries, nothing! We must preserve traces of what we have created.
As regular readers know, I keep a special eye out for manuscript collections and hoards that may preserve early Jewish texts and somewhat later Jewish and Christian biblical apocrypha and pseudepigrapha. A couple of the projects seem relevant.

Timbuktu manuscripts: Africa’s written history unveiled

Long forsaken treasures

But do the indigenous populations of Mali know that they possess, under their feet or in their attics, hundreds of thousands of vital manuscripts dating from the 13th to the 19th century? Nothing is less certain. Because of a sanctified notion of African oral tradition, an absence of translation due to lack of funds (barely 1% of texts are translated into classical Arabic, French or English) and a certain reserve about rummaging through the memory of Africa, however honorable, government authorities are hesitant to exhume what resembles a political golden age.

Let us judge for ourselves: treatises on good governance, texts on the harmful effects of tobacco, pharmacopeial synopses…works on law (particularly on divorce and the status of divorced women), theology, grammar and mathematics sit in dusty heaps in private libraries or at the Ahmed Baba Documentation and Research Centre in Timbuktu. Written commentaries by the sages of Cordoba, Baghdad or Djenne can still be seen there. On screen-fronted shelves, legal acts regulating the lives of Jews and apostate Christians testify to the intense commercial activity of the era. Parchments concerning selling and freeing slaves, the market prices of salt, spices, gold and feathers are propped against correspondence between sovereigns from both sides of the Sahara, illustrated with illuminations in gold.

All this is frightening. It is intimidating, to the point that even scientists are troubled by so much available knowledge. George Bohas, professor of Arabic at the Ecole normale supĂ©rieure in Lyon and an initiator of the Vecmas program (evaluation and critical editing of sub-Saharan Arabic manuscripts) notes, “We estimate the body of existing manuscripts at 180,000, of which 25% have been inventoried, less than 10% catalogued, and 40% are still in wooden or iron containers!” Not counting all the manuscripts stashed in the homes of families, who don’t want to give them up, either out of ignorance or for sordid profiteering reasons.
PaleoJudaica has been following the story of Timbuktu's manuscripts for some time. See here and follow the many links back.

The second project is:

The Matenadaran, from copyist monks to the digital age
In the heart of Erevan, capital of Armenia, the Matenadaran houses seventeen thousand manuscripts and 30,000 documents, some dating back to antiquity. Texts on very varied subjects, written in Arabic, Persian, Syriac, Greek, Latin, Amharic, Japanese and certain Indian languages, are stored together in this museum-library, created at the same time as the Armenian alphabet in 405. Today the Matenadaran is entering the digital age thanks to UNESCO.
Good stuff. Who knows what they're going to find in these collections?

UPDATE: The dratted transition to New Bloggger seems to have screwed up a lot of my internal links in past posts, which is most irritating. Earlier references to the Timbuktu archives can be found here, here, here, and here.

Monday, June 11, 2007

THE SACRED EXHIBITION AT THE BRITISH MUSEUM gets an article in Newsweek. It concentrates on later manuscripts in the exhibit, but here are some interesting things it mentions:
With the Middle East riven by religious and political tensions, it's bittersweet to see such gorgeous proof of its multifaith history. A 13th-century Christian manuscript from near Mosul, Iraq, depicts the three Marys at Jesus' tomb. While many of the details are Byzantine, the tomb's onion dome and the stylized cedar trees draw on Islamic artistic traditions. A similar culture-melt between Islam and Judaism is apparent in a 17th-century manuscript by the Jewish Persian poet Imrani, called "Fathnama," or, "The Book of Conquest." Written with Hebrew characters in Judeo-Persian, the dialect of Iranian Jews and based on the Old Testament books of Joshua, Ruth and Samuel, the manuscript includes a delicate illustration of Joshua's attack on Canaan, with turbaned, bearded priests blowing rams' horns outside the gates of Jericho.

"Sacred's" manuscripts are a reminder that ancient mono- theisms played a critical role in spurring the global spread of culture. On display is a Torah from 17th-century China, made for the Jews of Kaifeng, whose community and synagogue in northern China lasted from the mid-12th to the mid-19th century. Among the British Library's astonishing array of Christian manuscripts are a number of Ethiopic Psalters, with Christian clergymen in bright Ethiopian robes, and the Angel Gabriel appearing in a traditional house with ostriches strutting on its roof.
For more on the exhibition, see here.
ARAMAIC WATCH: The Boston Globe reports on a researcher in Syriac Christianity who just received a Guggenheim Fellowship:
Christian-Muslim history not all hostile

By Rich Barlow | June 9, 2007

From the Crusades to 9/11, history has given many laypeople a tale of unrelenting hostility between Christians and Muslims. Michael Penn, who teaches religion and gender studies at Mount Holyoke College, is assembling a different picture by poking in an obscure nook of history.

He recently was awarded $120,000 in grants, including the prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship, for research into Syriac Christians who, he says, "arguably have the most direct relationship with Muslims" during Islam's formative years. Populating what is today Iran, Iraq, and eastern Turkey, these Christians lived under Muslim occupation from shortly after the Prophet Mohammed's death in 634. Few moderns know the Syriac language, so troves of documents from the period were largely ignored until Penn began burrowing into archives at the British Library and elsewhere.

That's an exaggeration, but it's very true that there are treasure troves of Syriac manuscripts crying out to be studied and very few researchers to study them. The focus of this article is Syriac and Muslim-Christian relations, but ancient apocalypses do get a mention.

Cogratulations to Professor Penn.

(I haven't meant to neglect you all, but I've been very busy in the last week with the New Testament and Hebrew Bible searches, among other things, and it really has been a quiet week in the news.)