Saturday, August 11, 2007

THE SAN DIEGO DEAD SEA SCROLLS EXHIBITION is reviewed by blogger Iyov. Here's part I. More is promised. I'm glad to hear that my book is being hawked in the gift shop.
SPEAKING OF INDIANA JONES, the fourth movie began filming in June and is scheduled for release on Memorial Day (22 May) 2008. Karen Allen returns in the role of Marion Ravenwood and Cate Blanchett and John Hurt also join the cast. Here's the official website. Ford is looking pretty well preserved:

Friday, August 10, 2007

MORE BIBLICAL APOCRYPHA: JEFF'S BIBLE. I especially liked the cyborgs. Cyborgs are a definite sign of apocryphicity.
SAMARITAN CUISINE is the subject of an Haaretz article by someone who may have seen Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom too many times. (Shall we call it Willie Scott syndrome?)
8 days on Mount Gerizim
By Ronit Vered

In 1824, James Mourier described the experiences of Hajji Baba, one of the escorts of the first Persian ambassador to the English court, beginning with the first formal dinner to which he was invited. Hajji Baba was astounded to see that the guests did not even think about washing their hands before the meal, he was bowled over by the sumptuously laid table and appalled by the terrible cacophony - waiters' shoes clicking, the scraping of sharp metal instruments, and the lively social conversation around the table. In 19th-century Persia, the rigorous rules of manners mandated eating with one's fingers, so that washing them was elementary; reclining on the floor for meals, with all the portions placed simultaneously in the center; and focusing on the act of eating without idle chatter. He also reported with regret on his total failure concerning the use of the instruments of torture - the diverse spoons, the knives, the forks and so on; and described the spasm of consternation that seized his neighbors when force of habit impelled him to share his bread with them, drink from their glass or use his fingers to scoop food from the serving bowl.

A Western outsider who happens upon a joyous banquet of the Samaritan community might for a moment be afflicted with the Hajji Baba syndrome. At the wedding feast for the groom in the Samaritan community, held at midday on Wednesday, the members of the family use their hands to tear into large slices of cooked mutton, browned chickens roasted in cinnamon, or zaatar (wild hyssop) and mounds of rice garnished with roasted walnuts and pine nuts. Also on the tables are bowls of green-bean soup, stuffed vine leaves and cutlery, but most of the eating is done with the hands, or with the aid of the pita awaiting each diner on a plate.

A Samaritan wedding is a long feast of eight days, an ancient custom that has almost disappeared from our high-speed world. The entire community, from Holon and from Mount Gerizim, takes part in this merry occasion, which includes innumerable abundant meals cooked jointly by the community's women. There is no joy like cooking together and eating together. The meals are dedicated to the groom, the bride and to both of them together, and are usually held in the morning and in the middle of the day. At night, even on the evening of the actual marriage ceremony, the custom is to only drink and eat sweets, a tested recipe for a surge of energy on the dance floor.

The piece also notes the "Paradise for guests and tourists - Samaritan restaurant" and a Samaritan cookbook by Pnina Tsedaka.
CAN'T MAKE IT UP: JEWISH PULP FICTION. But classical pulp fiction generally had much higher literary standards than the quoted passages, which sound like they come from a parody of a romance novel.

I have Sussman's book, which I mentioned here, but I didn't find it very interesting and I haven't read much of it.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME! The weather is sunny so far and we're driving down the coast a little later to meet friends at the Anstruther Fish Bar and then to go on from there as the spirit moves.

UPDATE (9 August): The weather was still fine after lunch, so we spent the day at the beach in Elie. Birthday present included 24 Series 5 and Michael Crichton's latest novel Next.

Timbuktu Hopes Ancient Texts Spark a Revival

Published: August 7, 2007

TIMBUKTU, Mali — Ismaël Diadié Haïdara held a treasure in his slender fingers that has somehow endured through 11 generations — a square of battered leather enclosing a history of the two branches of his family, one side reaching back to the Visigoths in Spain and the other to the ancient origins of the Songhai emperors who ruled this city at its zenith.

“This is our family’s story,” he said, carefully leafing through the unbound pages. “It was written in 1519.”

The musty collection of fragile, crumbling pages, written in the florid Arabic script of the sixteenth century, is also this once forgotten outpost’s future.

A surge of interest in ancient books, hidden for centuries in houses along Timbuktu’s dusty streets and in leather trunks in nomad camps, is raising hopes that Timbuktu — a city whose name has become a staccato synonym for nowhere — may once again claim a place at the intellectual heart of Africa.

“I am a historian,” Mr. Haïdara said. “I know from my research that great cities seldom get a second chance. Yet here we have a second chance because we held on to our past.”


The South African government is building a new library for the institute, a state-of-the-art facility that will house, catalog and digitize tens of thousands of books and make their contents available, many for the first time, to researchers. Charities and governments from Europe, the United States and the Middle East have poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the city’s musty family libraries, which are being expanded and transformed into research institutions, drawing scholars from around the world eager to translate and interpret the long forgotten manuscripts.

The Libyan government is planning to transform a dingy 40-room hotel into a luxurious 100-room resort, complete with Timbuktu’s only swimming pool and space to hold academic and religious conferences. Libya is also digging a new canal that will bring the Niger River to the edge of Timbuktu.

Libya is really getting into the presevation of history business lately.
Traders brought books and manuscripts from across the Mediterranean and Middle East, and books were bought and sold in Timbuktu — in Arabic and local languages like Songhai and Tamashek, the language of the Tuareg people.

Hebrew and Greek too. In the past (see link below) I've speculated that there could be copies of biblical pseudepigrapha somewhere in these archives, but there's no word of anything like this yet.
Yet the city has been making a slow comeback for years. Its manuscripts, long hidden, began to emerge in the mid-20th century, as Mali won its independence from France and the city was declared a Unesco world heritage site.

The government created an institute named after Ahmed Baba, Timbuktu’s greatest scholar, to collect, preserve and interpret the manuscripts. Abdel Kader Haïdara, no relation of Ismaël Diadié Haïdara, an Islamic scholar whose family owned an extensive collection of manuscripts, started an organization called Savama-DCI dedicated to preserving the manuscripts. After a visit from Mr. Gates [Henry Louis Gates Jr., the Harvard professor of African studies] in 1997, he was able to get help from American charities to support private family libraries. With the support of the Ford and Mellon foundations, families began to catalog and preserve their collections.


Abdel Kader Haïdara, who in many ways started the renaissance by wandering the desert in search of manuscripts, persuading families to allow their treasures to see the light of day, said Timbuktu’s best days lie ahead of it.

“Timbuktu is coming back,” he said. “It will rise again.”
I hope he's right.

The article also has a few nice photos. For past PaleoJudaica coverage of the Timbuktu archives, go here and follow the links in the update at the bottom of the post.

(Via the Agade list.)
Bible gets dash of poetic licence

A POETIC priest will undertake a marathon reading of his Bible-based limericks as part of this year's Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Christopher Goodwins, 71, expects it will take him three hours to read the whole of his book, The Bible in Limerick Verse.

Mr Goodwins, who lives in The Causeway, Isleham, has condensed the Bible into 1,001 limericks, but has never given a public reading of the whole book.

He even includes the Apocrypha. If I make it to the Fringe this year I'll have to keep an eye out for him. Click on the link for info on ordering his CD.
A BYZANTINE-ERA CHURCH has been discovered in Tiberias:
Impressive Byzantine church discovered in excavations in Tiberias
7 Aug 2007
Israel Antiquities Authority excavations in Tiberias exposed a Byzantine church paved with mosaics and dedicatory inscriptions, one of which reads: "Our Lord (Jesus), protect the soul of your servant…"
The discovery, in the heart of the ancient Jewish city, refutes the theory that the Jews of Tiberias prevented the Christians from establishing a church in the middle of their neighborhood.
The Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs press release also mentions Jewish, Islamic, and Early Bronze age remains recovered in the same excavation.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Charlotte E. Fonrobert and Martin S. Jaffee (eds.) The Cambridge Companion to the Talmud and Rabbinic Literature (CUP, 2007).
Time machine theory: a step forward in travelling backwards?

from Research Watch (52 articles) (Gizmag)

August 7, 2007 From H.G Wells' classic novel to Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, the popular imagination has long been enthralled by the prospect of time travel. Now researchers at the Israel Institute of Technology, Techion, have released a paper outlining theoretical advances that could one day assist in liberating the notion of a time-machine from the realms of pure science fiction. The research by Prof. Amos Ori of the Technion’s Faculty of Physics centers around a new model of space-time that overcomes some (but not all) of the theoretical stumbling blocks that would prevent the required curvature of space-time needed to facilitate time travel.

The paper entitled “A Class of Time-Machine Solutions with a Compact Vacuum Core” was published recently in the scientific journal Physical Review and in it Prof. Ori posits theoretical model for space-time that could develop into a time machine.

“In order to travel back in time, the spacetime structure must be engineered appropriately,” explains Prof. Ori. “This is what Einstein’s theory of general relativity deals with. It says that spacetime can be flat. That is – it has a trivial, simple structure. But it can also be curved with various configurations. According to the theory of relativity, the essence of gravitational fields is in the curving of spacetime. The theory of relativity also defines how space is curved and how this curvature develops over time.”

Alas, this time machine, if it is ever built, can't take us back to times paleo-Judaic either:
“The machine is spacetime itself,” he explains. “Today, if we were to create a time machine – an area with a warp like this in space that would enable time lines to close on themselves – it might enable future generations to return to visit our time. We, apparently, cannot return to previous ages because our predecessors did not create this infrastructure for us.”

This final point means that – unless some ancient civilization built a time machine or such a phenomena somehow exists in nature – there is no way to go back in time beyond the point at which the time machine was constructed, even in theory.
For much more on time travel, especially the work of Ronald Mallett of the University of Connecticut, see here and follow the links.
Playing the Part of ‘Rav’ for San Francisco’s Karaite Community
Daniel Treiman | Mon. Aug 06, 2007 (The Forward)

By day, Joe Pessah is a marketing applications manager for a tech company in California’s Silicon Valley. In his spare time, however, the 62-year-old Mountain View resident pursues a much more unusual vocation.

Pessah is the “acting rav” for America’s Karaite community, a now-tiny Jewish sect that broke more than a millennium ago with rabbinic Judaism. While adhering to the Jewish Bible, the Tanakh, Karaites rejected the divine origin of the Mishnah, or Oral Law, and the authority of the Talmud.

Karaites maintain many practices that set them apart from mainstream contemporary Jews (known to Karaites as “Rabbanites”). Hewing closely to what they see as the Tanakh’s plain meaning, Karaites do not extend the biblical prohibition against cooking a calf in its mother’s milk into a sweeping ban on mixing meat and dairy. (They’ll eat chicken and dairy together, and some will eat beef with dairy so long as they’re not from the same source.) On some matters though, the Karaites are more stringent than other Jews. For instance, they believe that the prohibition on kindling fires on the Sabbath bans cooking and electricity use. (That means hot plates and light timers are out.)

At one time, Karaites posed a vigorous challenge to rabbinic authority. Today, however, their global population is estimated at only about 30,000, most living in Israel, where they have a number of synagogues.

The Karaites’ only North American synagogue, Congregation B’nai Israel in the San Francisco suburb of Daly City, serves a population of immigrants from Egypt. ...
THE GREENFIELD PRIZE FOR YOUNGER SEMITISTS is being offered again this year:
American Oriental Society

Jonas C. Greenfield Prize
For Younger Semitists

The American Oriental Society is pleased to announce a call for submissions for a prize to honor eminent Semitist and AOS member, Jonas C. Greenfield (10/30/26—3/13/95). The Greenfield Prize now carries a cash award of $3000, and is granted every three years to a younger scholar for the best published article in any area of Semitic studies that has been published during the most recent two-year period.

The next Greenfield Prize competition period is from June 2007 through May 2008. According to the stipulations of the donor, candidates for the current competition must be forty years old or younger by June 1, 2008. Deadline for submission of application letter and materials is December 15, 2008.

The selection of the award-winning article will be made by the AOS Greenfield Prize Committee. The results of the competition will be announced in February 2009. Presentation of the award will take place at the 2009 Annual Meeting of the American Oriental Society in Albuquerque, NM.

Applicants must submit by December 15, 2008:
three (3) copies of the published article and
three (3) copies of their C.V.s (including date of birth) to:

Greenfield Prize Committee
American Oriental Society
Hatcher Graduate Library
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1205
Follow the link for more information.

(Via Jack Sasson's Agade list.)

Monday, August 06, 2007

JEWISH STUDIES, AN INTERNET JOURNAL has published two new articles that can be downloaded as PDF files:
Yitzhak Brand, “Just Weights” – Heavenly and Earthly Justice: A Study of the Laws of Weights and Measures in Rabbinic Literature (Heb.)

The laws of weights and measures in rabbinic literature are characterized by rigorous – sometimes perfectionist – standards. The extraordinary nature of these standards becomes conspicuous in a comparison between these laws and, for example, the laws of ona’ah. The punctiliousness here is partly explained by the resemblance between the conduct of a merchant – measuring and weighing – and of a judge: the merchant, measuring out quantities and amounts, is obligated to avoid committing any injustice. His weights must be just, his measurements exact. Further study reveals that the image of the judge is, in fact, the earthly reflection of the image of Divine justice. At the center of this image are the tools of Divine judgment: just weights and measures. A person who weighs and measures is required to bear Divine justice in mind at all times, as he employs the tools of earthly justice. Now any distortion of measurement – beyond representing deceit and injustice – becomes a rebellion against God. One who measures falsely may be compared, as it were, to an idolater.

Arnon Atzmon, Mordechai’s Dream: From Addition to Derashah (Heb.)

Examining the history of the story of Mordechai’s dream (MD) and its journey from one literary context to another over the ages may help illustrate the different approaches used by authors in different eras to adapt the text to their own particular literary frameworks.

In the Greek additions to the Esther scroll, MD serves as a kind of introduction. The dream, together with its interpretation, frames the plot, providing it with a new context. This would mean that the Second Temple-period scribes tampered with the biblical text, altering the very nature of its story.

The Hebrew reworking of MD recorded in Josippon is apparently based upon the Vulgate, where MD, located with other additions at the end of the scroll, lost its original context. Josippon’s composer reworked MD and inserted it into the plot sequence as a crucial link. Here the biblical text is illuminated via a medieval extra-biblical composition, in the form of rewritten Bible.

Midrash Esther Rabbah draws upon the MD version found in Josippon, and uses MD to gloss the verses illuminating their exegetical-midrashic aspects.
Alternatively, see the website to download them as Word files.

I especially liked the 10-meter-high inflatable Noah's Ark.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

IT'S THE TIME OF THE YEAR FOR VACATION BIBLE SCHOOL, and this sounds like a good one:
Vacation Bible School takes children back to ancient biblical times

This week, wide-eyed children walked into the parish hall of St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church and back in time to the year 10 A.D. in the old city of Nazareth.

The elaborate Jewish village that greeted the 50 children — including a temple, a carpenter’s shop, a sheep crossing and a typical home — had a lot of “wow” factor for those participating in Vacation Bible School.

“It’s like going into a big time machine,” Marshall Drake, 10, said.

And it was all hands-on, meant to evoke the feel of ancient Jewish life and help children understand how Christianity is rooted in Judaism, said Judy Carter, who guided the Vacation Bible School to fruition.

MORE ON THE ANCIENT JEWISH VILLAGE AT SHUAFAT - This is in the Detroit News, but it seems to be a reprint of a NYT article that I missed:
Jerusalem's past, future meet

Archaeological find at site of planned rail line shows conflict in ancient city from different eras.

Isabel Kershner / New York Times

Dig nearly anywhere in this city and you hit the remains of an earlier civilization. One of the latest such finds is a narrow strip of antiquity that runs down the middle of a main road through what is now Shuafat, a Palestinian neighborhood in north Jerusalem.

Soon it will be covered by tracks for a light railway, part of a new mass transit system for the city. Both the history being unearthed and the planning under way are filled with the kind of controversy that seems to be a Jerusalem specialty.

The urban community being uncovered existed for about 60 years, from A.D. 70 to A.D. 130, the period between two anti-Roman Jewish revolts, coins found at the site reveal.

"It's an archaeological feast," said Rachel Bar-Nathan, the Israel Antiquities Authority director of the dig.

One surprise is that the nameless community appears to have housed a mixed population of Romans and Jews. Several of the excavated private dwellings contained a mikvah, or Jewish ritual bath.

The article also discusses the politics of the area.

For past coverage of the excavation see here, here, and here.
FATAL REVENANT, the second volume of the last series of the Thomas Covenant novels, is scheduled to be released on October 9th. You can download chapter one and the first half of chapter two from the Stephen R. Donaldson website. The second half of chapter two will be posted on August 9th.

We now return you to our regularly scheduled programming.