Saturday, January 12, 2008

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: "Fighting words," heard by a Toronto Star reporter and already familiar to PaleoJudaica readers.
For the most part, the visit proceeded calmly, but fireworks awaited when our group emerged into the sunshine.

No sooner had we replaced our footwear than we were taken in hand by the guide from the Israeli Tourism Ministry, one Gila Traybovitch.

She led her charges east of the Al-Aqsa Mosque to a gaping cavity in the plaza's surface, an area that legend says marked the location of King Solomon's stables and is now the site of extensive digging and construction work carried out by the Waqf despite widespread opposition among Israelis.

While the two Muslim guides protested, Traybovitch proceeded to denounce the Waqf project, charging it has been undertaken without expert archeological guidance and in violation of Israeli law.

"There's a whole world underneath us," she stormed. "This was done absolutely without supervision."

She said debris trucked out of the site by the Waqf and cast away as waste has yielded many precious artifacts, including official seals from the era of the First Jewish Temple.

"It really hurts to see such terrible damage done."

By this time, the Muslim guides had had enough.

"Time is over – 10:30," shouted Mohamed Abdochtish, waving at the assembled journalists to leave.

Traybovitch continued to speak out against what she regards as the intentional desecration of Judaism's holiest site, but Abdochtish begged to differ.

"This is the holy area of Islam," he told a reporter in his imperfect English, as the group hurriedly departed. "No Jewish (people) and nobody else have anything holy here. Here, Muslim and nothing else."

No blood was shed, but those sounded like fighting words.
A PHOTO ARCHIVE OF EARLY QUR'AN MANUSCRIPTS survived World War II after all. This story is peripheral to the usual range of PaleoJudaica, but it's too interesting to pass up.
The Lost Archive
Missing for a half century, a cache of photos
spurs sensitive research on Islam's holy text
By ANDREW HIGGINS (Wall Street Journal)
January 12, 2008; Page A1

-- Munich, Germany

On the night of April 24, 1944, British air force bombers hammered a former Jesuit college here housing the Bavarian Academy of Science. The 16th-century building crumpled in the inferno. Among the treasures lost, later lamented Anton Spitaler, an Arabic scholar at the academy, was a unique photo archive of ancient manuscripts of the Quran.

The 450 rolls of film had been assembled before the war for a bold venture: a study of the evolution of the Quran, the text Muslims view as the verbatim transcript of God's word. The wartime destruction made the project "outright impossible," Mr. Spitaler wrote in the 1970s.

Mr. Spitaler was lying. The cache of photos survived, and he was sitting on it all along. The truth is only now dribbling out to scholars -- and a Quran research project buried for more than 60 years has risen from the grave.

"He pretended it disappeared. He wanted to be rid of it," says Angelika Neuwirth, a former pupil and protégée of the late Mr. Spitaler. Academics who worked with Mr. Spitaler, a powerful figure in postwar German scholarship who died in 2003, have been left guessing why he squirreled away the unusual trove for so long.


Quranic scholarship often focuses on arcane questions of philology and textual analysis. Experts nonetheless tend to tread warily, mindful of fury directed in recent years at people deemed to have blasphemed Islam's founding document and the Prophet Muhammad.

A scholar in northern Germany writes under the pseudonym of Christoph Luxenberg because, he says, his controversial views on the Quran risk provoking Muslims. He claims that chunks of it were written not in Arabic but in another ancient language, Syriac. The "virgins" promised by the Quran to Islamic martyrs, he asserts, are in fact only "grapes."

Ms. Neuwirth, the Berlin professor now in charge of the Munich archive, rejects the theories of her more radical colleagues, who ride roughshod, she says, over Islamic scholarship. Her aim, she says, isn't to challenge Islam but to "give the Quran the same attention as the Bible." All the same, she adds: "This is a taboo zone."

Ms. Neuwirth says it's too early to have any idea what her team's close study of the cache of early texts and other manuscripts will reveal. Their project, launched last year at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Science and Humanities, has state funding for 18 years but could take much longer. The earliest manuscripts of the Quran date from around 700 and use a skeletal version of the Arabic script that is difficult to decipher and can be open to divergent readings.

For more on "Christoph Luxenberg" see here and here. But that's just an aside. The real news is that this archive should revolutionize the study of the textual criticism of the Qur'an.

UPDATE (13 January): Stephen Goranson e-mails:
In case it's of interest, a good new book surveys current approaches to the history of the text of the Qur'an: The Qur'an in its Historical Context. ed. Gabriel Said Reynolds (Routledge, 2008).

Table of Contents:
Foreword D. Madigan. Notes on Contributors. List of Images. Map: Locations Cited in the Present Volume. Abbreviations. Introduction: Qur'anic Studies and its Controversies G.S. Reynolds Part 1: Linguistic and Historical Evidence 1. The Qur'an in Recent Scholarship - Challenges and Desiderata F. Donner 2. Epigraphy and the Linguistic Background to the Qur'an R. Hoyland 3. Reconstructing the Qur'an: Emerging Insights G. Böwering 4. Reconsidering the Authorship of the Qur'an. Is the Qur'an Partly the Fruit of a Progressive and Collective Work? C. Gilliot 5. Christian Lore and the Arabic Qur'an: The "Companions of the Cave" in Surat al-Kahf and in Syriac Christian Tradition S. Griffith Part 2: The Religious Context of the Late Antique Near East 6. The Theological Christian Influence on the Qur'an: A Reflection S.K. Samir 7. Mary in the Qur'an: A Reexamination of Her Presentation S.A. Mourad 8. The Legend of Alexander the Great in the Qur'an 18:83-102 K. van Bladel 9. Beyond Single Words: ma'ida - Shaytan - jibt and taghut. Mechanisms of Translating the Bible into Ethiopic (Ga'az) Bible and of Transmission into the Qur'anic Text M. Kropp 10. Nascent Islam in the 7th Century Syriac Sources A. Saadi Part 3: Critical Study of the Qur'an and the Muslim Exegetical Tradition 11. Notes on Medieval and Modern Emendations of the Qur'an D. Stewart 12. Syriac in the Qur'an: Classical Muslim Theories A. Rippin. Bibliography. Index of Biblical Verses. Index of Qur'anic Verses. Index of People, Places and Subjects
Note also the 2006 Cambridge Companion to the Qur'an.

Friday, January 11, 2008

JOSEPH DAN is interviewed at the OUP blog about his new book, Kabbalah: A Very Short Introduction.
SPEAKING OF THE BAR KOKHBA REVOLT, it is mentioned again in an Independent article on the Emperor Hadrian's sexual orientation. This in relation to an upcoming exhibition at the British Museum.
Hadrian the gay emperor
His attempt to fortify the Roman Empire is well known. But an exhibition focuses on another side of the man

By Arifa Akbar
Published: 11 January 2008

The bust is classically Roman, the face imperious. But this is no ordinary emperor. As a major new exhibition at the British Museum makes clear, Publius Aelius Traianus Hadrianus was not only a peacemaker who pulled his soldiers out of modern-day Iraq. He was also the first leader of Rome to make it clear that he was gay.

Hadrian: Empire and Conflict will see the bust make pilgrimages to both ends of Hadrian's Wall, the first time it has left the British Museum since being found in the Thames 200 years ago. But it is the singular life-story of the gay emperor that is likely to capture the interest of most visitors.


As the "people's king" – he travelled with his troops and ate the same rations – he laid the foundations of the Byzantine Empire and changed the name of Judea to create Palestine, among other legacies.

At times, however, even Hadrian's Rome played the role of violent occupier. During a suppression of a Jewish rebellion in Judea, Roman warriors were dispatched to take control ofthe region, leading to the death of 580,000 Jews. "It was probably as a punishment that he changed the name of Judea to Palestine," said Mr [Thorsten] Opper [curator of the exhibition].

The exhibition, which brings together loans from 31 countries, will display sculpture, bronzes and architectural fragments. Highlights include the Vindoanda tablets from Hadrian's Wall and a bronze head of the emperor discovered in the Thames in 1834, which will travel to both ends of Hadrian's Wall. The head comes from a statue that may have been erected in a public space in London AD122 to commemorate Hadrian's visit to Britain.

Other highlights are a bronze bust from Israel found in 1975, a papyrus fragment of Hadrian's autobiography from the Bodleian Library that has never before been on public display, fragments from Hadrian's tomb and gilded bronze peacocks measuring two metres lent by the Vatican's Museum for the first time.
UPDATE: The Guardian has an article on the exhibition too, with some additional information of interest:
The exhibition, with loans from the Louvre, the Vatican and 29 other institutions, will include beautiful sculptures only excavated in the last few years, exquisite portraits both of his wife and his male lover Antonius, one tattered piece of papyrus which is the only surviving fragment of his autobiography - and house keys found hidden in a cave in Israel, left by people fleeing the aftermath of the Jewish rebellion.
ISRAELI OPPOSITION LEADER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU has given president Bush an ancient coin:
At the beginning of the meeting, which ran 45 minutes over the time allocated to it, Netanyahu gave Bush an ancient coin discovered in Jerusalem that dates from the third year of the great Judean revolt against the Romans in the first century CE. The coin bears Hebrew writing, signaling that the Jewish people's connection to Jerusalem has lasted thousands of years.
This article says that this was from the first Jewish revolt against Rome (66-70 CE), but I know of no Jewish coins that dated themselves to this revolt. I suspect that it was a coin from the Bar Kokhba revolt in 132-135 CE.

Do any numismatists out there want to comment?

UPDATE: Reader Simon Montagu e-mails:
The report at (Hebrewsite) quotes the inscription on the coin: שקל ישראל שנה ג' (למרד)
ירושלים הקדושה

There are indeed such coins from the Great Revolt and I found one illustrated online at

(I'm not a numismatist, but I have Ya'akov Meshorer's catalogue of
Jewish coins of the second temple period)
Thanks for the correction.

UPDATE (12 January): Carla Sulzbach e-mails with a website on coins of the Jewish War here.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

A RECONSTRUCTION OF A PHOENICIAN BOAT is setting sail soon from Tyre:
Modern version of Phoenician boat to spread Lebanese spirit
By Mohammed Zaatari
Daily Star staff
Wednesday, January 09, 2008

TYRE: A Phoenician-style boat will soon set sail for Europe from the port city of Tyre in a bid to highlight the contributions of the ancient peoples of current-day Lebanon to human civilization, as well as the role that the country can continue to play in modern global society.

The ship was named Europa, after the Phoenician princess Europa, the daughter of Agenor, the Phoenician king of Tyre. According to Greek mythology, Europa was abducted and taken to Crete by Zeus, the king of the gods, who had transformed himself into a great white bull. Legend has it that the continent of Europe is named after her.


Wednesday, January 09, 2008

IN HONOR OF THE COLDEST WEATHER THIS WINTER, the heating system of St. Mary's College chose to die just before the end of the break, leaving the whole College without heat. Fortunately, the problem was soon located and the relevant area isolated, so the rest of the College now has heat. Unfortunately, my office is within the isolated zone and doesn't, so I have a space heater going full blast next to me in my unheated room. But, fortunately, I was about to move to Richard Bauckham's old office anyway, so the contents of my current office are being transferred as I write. I should be in a warm room soon.
CLASSICAL STUDIES is under siege at Bar Ilan University:
Will classical studies still be here in 10 years?
By Ofri Ilani (Haaretz)

Many departments in Israeli universities have shrunk in recent years, but few have sustained the kind of mortal blow taken by Bar-Ilan's Department of Classical Studies. In under five years, the number of faculty positions was cut by 40 percent.

Department head Prof. David Schaps, who specializes in Greek and Roman history, recalls another period when classical culture was neglected. "We call it the Dark Ages. It was only 1,000 years later that the value of that knowledge was recognized again, and not all of it could be reconstructed," he said. "The same thing could happen to us. There are areas that don't interest our generation, and we are allowing them to disappear. They might interest people in the future, and they won't forgive us."

Bar-Ilan, Tel Aviv University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem all have small classics departments. Bar-Ilan's is now competing for the honor of being the university's smallest department. At the start of the decade, it had 4.5 faculty positions. Now there are 2.75 positions.

"VISION OF GABRIEL" UPDATE: The Cathedra article on the "Vision of Gabriel" ("Dead Sea Scroll in Stone") in Hebrew is available in pdf format here, with a drawing of the inscription here -- as reported in this Hebrew article.

(Heads up, Søren Holst. Background here.)
THE ZOHAR TRANSLATION currently underway by Daniel Matt is profiled by the Stanford Review:
Stanford Press revives interest in masterpiece of Kabbalah


It is a teaching that is fabled to drive unprepared readers mad. It is a book of ancient Jewish wisdom. Or is it?

The Zohar—a compendium of enigmas that forms the basis of the Kabbalah—is getting a long-awaited renewal thanks to Stanford University Press's new translation, which Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel calls "masterful." The influential critic Harold Bloom calls it "a superbly fashioned translation and a commentary that opens up the Zohar to the English-speaking world." The series already has received a $10,000 Koret Jewish Book Award for "monumental contribution to the history of Jewish thought"—even though it has produced only four of a projected dozen volumes to date.

"Ultimately, it will be the biggest project Stanford University Press has ever done," press director Geoffrey Burn said. "This project will dwarf anything the press has committed to."

It's a good summary of the text and the project. I found this bit especially interesting:
Who wrote this masterpiece? Matt estimates that 75 to 80 percent comes from Moses [de León], who died in 1305. The rest may indeed be ancient texts, or perhaps the result of a collaborative effort with other contemporary kabbalists. But the question may be rather like asking whether Shakespeare or Holinshed wrote King Lear.

"You lose a lot if you only see it as an ancient composition," Matt said. Moses subtly and artfully introduces references to the effect of the Crusades on Spain, or the anguish of the Jews in an alien land. Moreover, "there's a constant interaction with earlier sources."
Scholem demonstrated that the Zohar was a medieval work and thought that Moses wrote all of it. More recent scholars have allowed for the possibility of a collaboration that drew on some older sources. I hope Matt will have more to say on this in due course.

Good article. Read it all.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Scroll to Mr. Bush Reminds Him of His Historic Role

by Hillel Fendel

( A historic document is planned to be submitted to visiting US President George Bush upon his arrival this week, calling upon him to choose to be remembered like Cyrus, and not like Nebuchadnezzar.

The document, grandly transcribed on parchment and furled into a scroll, is addressed to the the "Leader of the West." It reminds President Bush to "declare to the world" that he will honor G-d's word and act "towards settling the Jewish People throughout their entire Land."

The document was signed by three figures, including the world-renowned Torah scholar, philosopher, social critic and author Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, once termed by Time magazine as a "once-in-a-millennium scholar." Rabbi Chaim Richman, representing the Temple Mount movements, and Dr. Gadi Eshel of the New Jewish Congress are also signed upon the proclamation.

The scroll is likely to be presented to Mr. Bush during his visit this week to Israel by a prominent political and social figure.

This is a new one, but we all know who was like Nebuchadnezzar.
THE SABBATEAN DÖNMEH of Thessaloniki are the subject of a piece in Balkan Travellers:
The Dönmeh: the Judeo-Islamic Mystery of Thessaloniki

Text and photographs by Albena Shkodrova

Neither Muslims nor Jews, but rather a bit of both, Thessaloniki’s Dönmeh were the most influential group in the city over a period of almost 400 years. The rumours that the founder of modern Turkey, Kemal Atatürk, was one of them remain unconfirmed. But spending a few days in present-day Thessaloniki makes one wonder whether the city has really managed to rid itself of the influence of the eclectic, and often purely extravagant, tastes of the now extinct sect.


This is Yeni Jami, the ‘New Mosque’. A strange mixture of Art Nouveau and Moorish architecture from the time of the Arab Khalifate in Spain, it starts out with a stained glass window above the door and continues with rounded arches, ending with a sharp-edged, ornamental roof frieze and two wooden clock towers, decorated with multiple Stars of David.

At the entrance, the sign that says “Archaeological Museum” is both uninspiring and false. The building, however, contains the history of one of the most unusual religious communities on the Balkans – the Judeo-Muslim Dönmeh. Nominally, the building was built to serve as a mosque. Its inside is that of an Iberian synagogue. But it is neither one nor the other, and since 1962, it no longer houses an archaeological museum either, as a special building for it was constructed half a kilometre to the West.

The situation with the mosque-synagogue completely corresponds to the fate of those who built it. Their community, which arose in the city during the seventeenth century, was called by the Ottoman Empire’s authorities “turn-coats” – the literal meaning of the word dönmeh.


Zevi himself was arrested on his way to Istanbul, after asserting that he was headed to get some sense into the sultan. The Sublime Porte presented him with a choice: to be immediately beheaded and thus, to continue his saintly mission in the hereafter, or to convert to Islam. Zevi settled on the latter option without much difficulty and was released. Many of his followers went with him and this is how one of the strangest religious hybrids known in the region was created.

Historians describe this denomination as mystical Islam with elements of Judaism. Its followers pray in mosques, make pilgrimages to Mecca and abide by Ramadan’s rites. At home, however, they follow Judaic rituals. They pray to the Messiah in the name of “God, the God of Israel,” while their prayer is made up on the model of the Islamic one.

For more on Shabbetai Zvi, the mystical messiah of sin, and the Sabbatean movement, go here and keep following the links back.

Monday, January 07, 2008

ARAMAIC WATCH: Songs in Hebrew, Syriac, etc. figure in a Turkish play.
'Ashura' to be cooked and performed on stage
Monday, January 7, 2008

ISTANBUL – Turkish Daily News

Muharram, the first month of the year according to the Muslim calendar, will be greeted with the play "Ashura" during which the traditional ashura desert that is made from various kinds of fruit, beans and cereal will be prepared and shared with the audience.


Ashura depicts the story of of those people, languages and religions that have been forced to migrate for many centuries for the sake of creating a �homogeneous� society on the lands of Anatolia, and were thus left scattered all over the world. It tells us of the migration routes through songs that were sung in 12 languages.

Ashura contains 25 songs in Greek, Hebrew, Syriac, Turkish, Armenian, Arabic, Kurdish, Zaza (accent of Kurdish) and Sephardic languages. The play aims to draw attention to the reality that Anatolia, with its different ethnic groups and cultures is beyond the definition of mosaic; it is more like an ashura.

I'm not sure what "Sephardic" is.

UPDATE (8 January): A couple of readers have e-mailed to suggest that Sephardic is Ladino.
PEOPLE OF THE BOOK gets yet another review, this one in the NYT by Janet Maslin. She isn't enthusiastic. Excerpt:
A Literal Page Turner of a Mystery

Published: January 7, 2008

“For the librarians,” says the dedication page of Geraldine Brooks’s new novel, “People of the Book.” That’s an understatement. What librarian could resist a novel that has the word book in its title, is centered on an intrepid book conservator, exults in book-preservation exotica (“I know the flesh and fabrics of pages, the bright earths and lethal toxins of ancient pigments”) and has a plot about a rare book with a long, fraught and serpentine history?

But the intense bibliographic appeal of “People of the Book” turns out to be a mixed blessing. It lands Ms. Brooks neck-deep in research. It overburdens her tale in ways that make it more admirable than gripping.

Although nobility is one of this work’s most conspicuous attributes, “People of the Book” is also schematic and histrionic, piling serial tales of suffering onto the Sarajevo Haggadah and those who determined its fate. When one character threatens to put the Haggadah in jeopardy, another character warns, “You will be sowing intercommunal dissent over the very artifact that was meant to stand for the survival of our multiethnic ideal.”


Sunday, January 06, 2008

PEOPLE OF THE BOOK, by Geraldine Brooks, is reviewed by Jonathan Yardley in the Washington Post. Excerpts:
Now, in a similar vein, we have Geraldine Brooks's People of the Book. The good news is that this new novel by the author of March, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2006, is intelligent, thoughtful, gracefully written and original. Brooks has built upon her experience as a correspondent in Bosnia for the Wall Street Journal to construct a story around a book -- small, rare and very old -- and the people into whose hands it had fallen over five centuries, people who "had known unbearable stress: pogrom, Inquisition, exile, genocide, war."

The people are inventions, but the book itself is very real: "The Sarajevo Haggadah, created in medieval Spain, was a famous rarity, a lavishly illuminated Hebrew manuscript made at a time when Jewish belief was firmly against illustrations of any kind. It was thought that the commandment in Exodus 'Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image or likeness of any thing' had suppressed figurative art by medieval Jews. When the book came to light in Sarajevo in 1894, its pages of painted miniatures had turned this idea on its head and caused art history texts to be rewritten." Now it is 1996. The book has survived the wartime violence in Bosnia because the head of the library at the National Museum in Sarajevo, a Muslim, saved it from almost certain destruction by hiding it "in a safe-deposit box in the vault of the central bank." Hanna Heath, a 30-year-old Australian book conservator, has been called in by the United Nations to inspect its conditions and repair it as necessary.


As to the ending of People of the Book, well, that's for you to find out. Suffice it to say that it's a book that resides comfortably in a place we too often imagine to be a no-man's land between popular fiction and literature. Brooks tells a believable and engaging story about sympathetic but imperfect characters -- "popular" fiction demands all of that -- but she also does the business of literature, exploring serious themes and writing about them in handsome prose. She appears to be finding readers and admirers in growing numbers, and People of the Book no doubt will increase those numbers.
Earlier reviews are noted here.
MARK GOODACRE has published his Fourth Annual Ralphies.
Date: Fri, 4 Jan 2008 09:54:45 -0500
From: Adam Mendelsohn [amend@BRANDEIS.EDU]
Subject: CFP: "The Bible and Computers: Present and Future of a Discipline"

From: "J. de Prado Plumed" []
Subject: Bible and Computers 2008 conference, El Escorial (Madrid)
Sent: Wednesday, January 02, 2008 7:52 AM

International Conference on "The Bible and Computers: Present and Future of a Discipline"

El Escorial (Madrid), June, 16th-19th, 2008

" Following the example set by the previous seven Conferences organised by the Association Internationale "Bible et Informatique", and especially after the last AIBI-7 Conference held in Leuven (2004), the Universidad Complutense de Madrid is organising a new International Conference on the Bible and Computers, which is scheduled to take place in June 2008.

The enormous advance and technical achievements provided in the last thirty years by the application of computers technology to the edition and analysis of Biblical texts require a critical evaluation from a historical perspective. This evaluation should focus on the mentioned achievements, but also on the failed objectives, and future challenges as well. There is a need to evaluate the current tools available in the field of Bible and computers, and a necessity to consider the adequate research trend in order to satisfy the increasing demand of software related to the computer assisted programs for linguistic analysis of the Bible."

Paper proposals and abstracts of maximum 1 page should be sent to the following e-mail address:
Presentations will be limited to 20 minutes.

The organisation will offer financial support to 5 young scholars or doctoral students interested in attending the conference. Applicants should send CV and a cover letter including a brief statement of their current research by email (

Note that call for papers closes on January 31st 2008.
(Via the H-JUDAIC list.)
THE QUMRAN NON-BIBLICAL TEXTS are now available in electronic format for Mobile PDA and Cell Phones in a module with Unicode fonts produced by OliveTree Bible Software. Drayton Benner has additional information at the OliveTreeBlog.