Saturday, November 24, 2007

ARCHAEOLOGIST AREN MAEIR lectured recently at BYU on "biblical archaeology:
Scholar sees change in biblical archaeology

Caution replaces rash claims to prove Bible
By Carrie A. Moore
Deseret Morning News
Published: Saturday, Nov. 24, 2007 1:17 a.m. MST

Contrary to the quest of many biblical archaeologists in years past, today's "new image" of excavating ancient Near Eastern sites isn't focused on proving that the Bible is an ancient historical document.

Yet there's no reason to shy away from comparing scientific findings to biblical text, either, says a longtime archaeologist.

The challenge is to use caution, rather than leaping to what seem to be "logical conclusions" about findings that go well beyond the actual science involved with high-profile finds, some of which turn out to be forgeries.

That is according to Aren Maeir, chairman of the department of archaeology and Land of Israel Studies at Bar Ilan University in Tel Aviv. Rather than trying to "verify beliefs according to archaeological remains," Maeir said archaeologists driven by science are leaving those kinds of discussions to theologians. Archaeologists seek to provide information on what they find in the ground, when they believe it originated and how it may or may not play into theological discussions.

WHAT I BOUGHT ON E-BAY. Well, not me, but someone. A revelatory dream figures in the story.
Get in on eBay: Local man buys ancient Hebrew text online
By Rhys Saunders The Daily Times [Farmington, NM]
Article Launched: 11/24/2007 12:00:00 AM MST

FARMINGTON — One Farmington man was so overcome by divine inspiration that he recently bid on — and won — an eBay auction for an original 18th century Kabbalah book.

Thaddeus Beeley said he first became curious about the ancient text after talking to a friend studying Kabbalah at the time. Kabbalah refers to a set of beliefs and practices that supplement traditional Jewish interpretations of the Bible.

According to many who study the ancient texts, an intimate understanding and mastery of the Kabbalah brings one spiritually closer to God and enriches a person's experience of Jewish sacred texts and law.

"I was just getting curious and I wanted to get something that was an original, unchanged text," 23-year-old Beeley said. "I was browsing online and stumbled upon it."


That same night, something strange happened to Beeley. When he went to sleep inside his Farmington home, he dreamed of the book.

"I had this dream that someone bad got it, and they were trying to keep it covered up, and keep it for bad," he said.

When he awoke, Beeley decided he must have the Kabbalah text.

"I waited until the last minute," he said. "I think that's the best way with eBay, so you can get it the cheapest."

With 10 minutes left until the auction closed online, a second bidder vied for the ancient text, Beeley said.

"The bid went up, so I went up to $90," he said. "Then it went up to $110, then to $120, and I thought, I'm just going to put in $150.'"

Sixty seconds away from the close-out time on the item, Beeley won the bid.

"When I finally got it, it was even more incredible than I thought," he said. "It was printed around 1780, it smelled like an old library and it looked like an old treasure map. There's an inscription on the front of the book that is in Hebrew. I still don't know what to do with it yet, and I still haven't translated it."

I HEAD FOR ST. ANDREWS later today. Busy now, but I'll try to get in some blogging later, maybe at the airport.

Friday, November 23, 2007

‘ARCHAEOLOGY ZONE: DISCOVERING TREASURES FROM PLAYGROUNDS TO PALACES’ (Saturday through Thursday) Children will step into the shoes of an explorer like Indiana Jones in this new exhibition at the Jewish Museum, but the adventures will be purely scholarly. Still, there is plenty of excitement in analyzing artifacts like a jar handle, a clay jug and a bangle, and figuring out the purpose behind ancient pieces like a Greek helmet and a bull-shaped vessel. This interactive show also includes a recreated home from the Ottoman period (about 1900), where young archaeologists can dress in costume. (Through June 15, 2009.) Saturday through Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 5:45 p.m., and Thursday to 8 p.m., 1109 Fifth Avenue, at 92nd Street, (212) 423-3200, Free with admission: $12; $10 for 65+; $7.50 for students; free for under 12, members and for all on Saturdays.
THE MOSAIC FLOOR of the Roman-era synagogue found recently in the Galilee is the subject of LiveScience's Image of the Day for today.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

JAMES ROBINSON will be lecturing in Florida a week from tomorrow.
Biblical Scholar to Discuss Dead Sea Scrolls, Historical Jesus at UCF Seminars
Nov. 21, 2007

By Jessica Saggio (UCF News)

Biblical scholar James Robinson will discuss the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Christian Scriptures and the historical Jesus during a seminar Friday, Nov. 30, and Saturday, Dec. 1, at the University of Central Florida.

Robinson was part of a team of scholars that produced a translation of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1992. He is a fellow at the Westar Institute, which has worked to uncover the “historical Jesus” from the Christian Scriptures. Robinson has most recently been involved in the work to reconstruct and translate the non-canonical gospels of Thomas and Judas discovered in Nag Hamadi, Egypt, during the 1940s.

Actually, he edited a translation of the Nag Hammadi Coptic Gnostic Library in the 1970s. But he was also involved with the production of the Facsimile Edition of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1991. That was a collection of photographs, not a translation, but it's probably what the writer had in mind.

Also, the Gospel of Judas was not discovered at Nag Hammadi and I think it was found later than the 40s.
ARAMAIC WATCH: Yesterday Pope Benedict preached a homily "On the Teachings of Aphraates." Aphraates was a fourth-century Syriac-speaking church father who took some interest in Jewish traditions. Excerpt:
I would like to introduce this world through Aphraates, also known as "the wise one." He was one of the most important and enigmatic characters of fourth-century Syriac Christianity. He lived in the first half of the fourth century and was a native of the Nineveh-Mosul region -- today’s Iraq.

We have little information about his life; he had strong ties with the ascetic-monastic environment of the Syriac Church, on which he reflected a great deal in his work. According to some sources, he was the head of a monastery, and later ordained a bishop. He wrote 23 speeches known as Expositions or Demonstrations, in which he discusses different topics of Christian life, such as faith, love, fasting, humility, prayer, ascetic life, and also the relationship between Judaism and Christianity, and between the Old and New Testaments. He writes in a simple style, with short sentences and at times contrasting parallelisms; nevertheless he manages to make consistent speeches by developing articulated arguments.

Aphraates came from a clerical community halfway between Judaism and Christianity. The community was very closely linked to the Mother Church of Jerusalem, and its bishops were traditionally chosen among what were called James' "relatives," the "Lord’s brother" (cf. Mark 6:3): These people were connected to the Church of Jerusalem by blood and faith.

Aphraates spoke Syriac, a Semitic language like the Hebrew of the Old Testament and like the Aramaic spoken by Jesus himself. The ecclesial community in which Aphraates lived wanted to stay faithful to the Judeo-Christian tradition, of which it felt it was a daughter. Therefore it maintained a close relationship with the Jewish world and its sacred books.

Significantly Aphraates defines himself as a "disciple of sacred Scripture," of both the Old and New Testaments (Exposition 22,26), which he considered his sole source of inspiration, and so often mentioned it that it became the center of his reflections.
HAPPY THANKSGIVING! Very busy today with family and friends. I do intend to post some more SBL thoughts and photos, but it may be a while. I'm also planning to visit the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition in Balboa Park tomorrow. I'll let you know what I think.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Digging Biblical History At 'The End Of The World'
ScienceDaily (Nov. 21, 2007) — Tel Aviv University archaeologists are studying Tel Megiddo, the New Testament location of "Armageddon," and unearthing truths about King Solomon.

Some come to dig the archeological site at Tel Megiddo because they are enchanted by ancient stories of King Solomon. Others come because they believe in a New Testament prophecy that the mound of dirt will be the location of a future Judgment Day apocalyptic battle. Hence the second, rather more chilling name for the site: "Armageddon."

Tel Megiddo has been the subject of a number of decisive battles in ancient times (among the Egyptian, Hebrew and Assyrian peoples) and today it holds a venerated place in archaeology, explains site co-director and world-renowned archeologist Prof. Israel Finkelstein.

Looks accurate, although the author needs to learn how to spell "lightning."
Remains Of Ancient Synagogue With Unique Mosaic Floor Found In Galilee
ScienceDaily (Nov. 21, 2007) — Remains of an ancient synagogue from the Roman-Byzantine era have been revealed in excavations carried out in the Arbel National Park in the Galilee under the auspices of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The excavations, in the Khirbet Wadi Hamam, were led by Dr. Uzi Leibner of the Hebrew University's Institute of Archaeology and Scholion -- Interdisciplinary Research Center in Jewish Studies.


The excavators were surprised to find in the eastern aisle of the synagogue a mosaic decoration which to date has no parallels -- not in other synagogues, nor in art in Israel in general from the Roman-Byzantine period. The mosaic is made of tiny stones (four mm. in size) in a variety of colors. The scene depicted is that of a series of woodworkers who are holding various tools of their trade.

Near these workers is seen a monumental structure which they are apparently building. According to Dr. Leibner, since Biblical scenes are commonly found in synagogue art, it is possible that what we see in this case is the building of the Temple, or Noah's ark, or the tower of Babel. The mosaic floor has been removed from the excavation site and its now in the process of restoration.


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: The San Francisco Chronicle has a summary of the current state of play regarding the Iron Age II artifacts found on the Temple Mount during the Waqf's latest digging project.
Temple Mount discovery leads to dispute in Jerusalem

Matthew Kalman, Chronicle Foreign Service

Sunday, November 18, 2007

(11-18) 04:00 PST Jerusalem --

Israeli archaeologists say that ancient remains from the era of Solomon's Temple were discovered last month for the first time on the holiest site for Judaism, reigniting a historical and political debate over an area that also is holy to Muslims.

Much of it is a rehash of old news, but the following is new:
However, Yusif Natsheh, a Waqf archaeologist, disputed the findings.

"I was present throughout this work and neither I, nor any Waqf official, recall seeing these items in the trench," said Natsheh. "I only heard about them in the press, weeks after the work was finished. If they were found, then why were they taken outside the compound?"

Natsheh said the trench was less than 3 feet deep and wondered how the Israeli archaeologists could hit a layer dating back to the First Temple without first slicing through the Byzantine and Roman periods, which logically would be above them.

"All of this archaeology and science in Jerusalem is manipulated for different political attitudes," said Natsheh. "It is not archaeology, it is not history, it is just spoiled politics."

Seligman dismissed Natsheh's accusation as "outrageous. Categorically, 100 percent of these findings came from the Temple Mount, and we stake our reputation on that."
I simply do not believe that the Israeli archaeologists are salting the site. As for the stratification, the Herodian architects presumably used a lot of fill from the demolition of the previous site when they built the Temple Platform, and it's not surprising to find pockets of earlier material in the mix. Or at least that's one possible guess at what's going on. When people take it upon themselves to carry out construction without controlled scientific excavation on an important site like this one, this is what you get.
CONSTRUCTION HAS BEEN HALTED at a Tel Aviv building site due to the discovery of ancient material remains:
Ancient artifacts found at Tel Aviv building site

Construction of luxurious skyscraper in city's north halted after Israel Antiquities Authority finds Byzantine relics on site, launches exploratory dig

Ofer Petersburg
Published: 11.20.07, 11:01 / Israel Money (

Gazit-Globe's latest real estate venture in northern Tel Aviv came to a surprising halt recently, after an initial land survey discovered an archeological site on the premises, Yedioth Ahronoth reported Tuesday.

The land survey, preformed by the Israel Antiquities Authority, discovered traces of antique pottery, presumed to be from the Byzantine era (4th to 15th centuries A.D), as well as evidence of an ancient wine-press.

Archeologists believe the area use to be a Philistine settlement. The first archeological findings in the area were made in the late 1940s, when pottery scribes discovered there were identified as ancient shipment logs dating back to the days of the First Temple.


Monday, November 19, 2007

LANE'S ARABIC-ENGLISH LEXICON IS ONLINE in a very convenient format, courtesy of David Instone-Brewer.

(Via Peter Williams at Evangelical Textual Criticism.)
THE ISRAELI FOREIGN MINISTRY responds to the claims of the Turkish report on the Mughrabi Gate excavations:
Responding to the Turkish paper's report, The Israeli Foreign Ministry said: "Israel is cooperating fully with UNESCO, which had sent a professional team to the site of the dig and published a report refuting all the allegations against Israel.

"UNESCO has established a process that involves international institutions in the Israeli operations near the Mugrabi Gate, including Jordan and the Waqf. The archeological findings uncovered in the area are known to all, and work to disprove the claims against Israel."
Background here.

For the UNESCO report, see here.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

ARAMAIC WATCH: A Palmyrene necropolis with inscriptions has been found in Syria.
Syria finds second century skeletons, statues

Archaeologists uncover 2nd century necropolis, statues in Syiran town of Palmyra.
(Middle East Online)

DAMASCUS - Syrian archaeologists have uncovered a 2nd century necropolis and statues in the central town of Palmyra, along with several skeletons, museum director Walid Assaad said on Thursday.

According to inscriptions on a 75 centimetre (30 inch) by 60 centimetre (24 inch) sculptured panel found there, the cemetery belonged to a pagan family. The tablet showed two people of Palmyra.

"The first, named Mallay, is wearing a military uniform and has a sword in his belt which he is holding by the hilt. The second, called Yadeh Bel, is wearing traditional Palmyran clothes," Assaad quoted archaeologist mission leader Khalil Hariri as saying.


Besides the necropolis and panel, the researchers found the bust of a Palmyran man, 60 cms high and 55 cms wide, and bearing the name: Zubeiba, son of Shamune."
The Yadeh Bel panel is pictured. The inscriptions seem to run across the top, but the lighting makes the letters unreadable, at least for me.

(Via the Agade list.)
Marvin Meyer (ed.), The Nag Hammadi Scriptures: The International Edition (New York: HarperCollins, 2007)
A new translation of the Nag Hammadi Library, along with The Gospel of Mary and The Act of Peter from the Berlin Codex (plus Greek fragments of the former from Oxyrhynchus) and The Gospel of Judas (Meyer's translation) and The Book of Allogenes (just a couple of small fragments) from the Tchacos Codex. The title of the volume is a little inaccurate on two counts: the book contains more than the Nag Hammadi Library and that library itself contains more than Gnostic scriptures (such as a fragment of a translation of Plato's Republic). But that's a very small point and I can see why they didn't produce a title with endless qualifications. The editors have sensibly chosen to translate the titles of the individual works in ways that are more informative than in the older Robinson edition, but less cool. For example the The Hypostasis of the Archons becomes The Nature of the Rulers and Trimorphic Protennoia becomes Three Forms of First Thought. I've only had the chance to page through the volume a little, but it has Robinson's imprimatur (he was on the advisory board and wrote the preface) and contributions from highly respected specialists (e.g., Elaine Pagels and Karen King) and it looks to be an important contribution to the field.

San Diego Harbor. The peninsula in the far background is Point Loma, from where the fire picture was taken a few weeks ago. Coronado Island lies in between.

Another view from the same floor:

The San Diego Convention Center is on the left. The Coronado Bridge is in the background.

The book display in the Convention Center:

Click on the images for enlargements.

UPDATE: Same view as first photo in the late afternoon fog:

THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS are to be digitized by Kings College London's Centre for Computing in the Humanities according to Computer Weekly.

Background here.