Saturday, May 24, 2008

ANY MORE BABES LIKE YOU? Christianity Today looks at some impressive second-temple-era ladies, mostly fictional:
Five Intertestamental Beauties
Don't mess with these women.
by William Griffin

"Are there any more babes like you up there? If so, we don't stand a chance!" (Judith 10:19).1 That was an Assyrian military officer speaking to the Jewish Judith. She'd come down from her hillside village, heading toward the Assyrian general's tent with murder in her heart.

The same statement could just as well have been applied, mutatis mutandis, to such other extraordinary women found in intertestamental literature as Esther, Vashti, Sophia, and Susanna. Which is to say, they were the sort who, despite a blindfold, could take creation apart and reassemble it again as though it were a Rubik's Cube.

First thing one notices about these women is that they were smart.

You may notice that the translations are pretty free. See the first footnote.
A FIXED-TERM HEBREW BIBLE POST (12 months) has opened at the University of Edinburgh.
Applications are invited for the post of Teaching Fellow in Hebrew and Old Testament Studies in the School of Divinity (New College).

You will have a PhD (or equivalent) in Hebrew and Old Testament and will contribute to core teaching in degree programmes at Honours and postgraduate levels.

You will have excellent reading ability in biblical Hebrew, and experience, or strong promise of teaching ability in biblical Hebrew and in Old Testament studies.

The post is available from the 1 August 2008 for one year.

Salary Scale: £28,290 - £33,780
The application deadline is 4 June 2008.

(Via the SOTS list.)
HYRCANUS BEN JOSEPH and his estate in what is now Jordan are featured in a Jerusalem Post article:
Paradeisos found

It is, as Josephus said, a "paradeisos." The first-century Jewish historian describes it in detail in his Antiquities of the Jews, Book 12, and he gets most of it right. As you leave the sprawling western suburbs of Amman, you enter a desert of few trees and shrubs, and after 20 minutes you suddenly spy a green patch that grows larger and larger as you approach and soon it becomes this paradise of greenery and classical ruins.

To the north, it is hemmed in by high limestone cliffs riddled with caves, and to the south, it is cut off by the deep gorge of the Wadi es-Tsir. In between are terraced fields of fruit and vegetables dotted with small houses surmounted by dovecotes. You have arrived at Airaq al-Amir (also spelled 'Iraq el-Emir) that Josephus called Tyros.

It was the estate of Hyrcanus ben Joseph, one of the first Hellenizers, who had to flee from his brothers in Jerusalem after he had usurped the tax-collecting rights of their father Joseph ben Tobiah. He fled to the family property across the Jordan, near Rabbat Ammon, and there he transformed it into a Hellenistic country estate, but he was not its founder.

That was one of his ancestors, Tobiah the Ammonite servant (court official), who had opposed the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem by Nehemiah. Another was Tubias the animal breeder who supplied exotic animals to his royal Egyptian customer Ptolemy II from this estate in Ammon. Hyrcanus's father Joseph had been tax-collector for Ptolemy IV Philopator for 22 years and had brought prosperity to himself and his compatriots in Palestine, until such time as his energetic youngest son Hyrcanus bribed his way in Alexandria to take over the lucrative position.


Friday, May 23, 2008

GEZA VERMES attended the Balzan Foundation's international Symposium on "The Truth" in Switzerland, speaking on "The Truth about the Historical Jesus." He is interviewed by the National Catholic Reporter.
Bible scholar rips pope's book, warns of chilling effect
Posted on May 19, 2008 01:40am CST.

Lugano, Switzerland

A leading New Testament scholar, and former Catholic priest, has criticized Pope Benedict XVI’s 2007 book on the Gospels, Jesus of Nazareth, saying that its insistence on identifying the historical Jesus with the Christ of traditional Christian faith has “turned back the clock” on modern scholarship.

The comments from Geza Vermes, author of the acclaimed book Jesus the Jew and a longtime professor at Oxford, came during a summit of leading Western intellectuals May 16-17 in Lugano, Switzerland, devoted to the theme of “truth.” The gathering was sponsored by the Balzan Foundation, which awards the Swiss-Italian equivalent of the Nobel Prize.

Bible Museum to host symposium

GOODYEAR - The Bible Museum will host the Forbidden Book Symposium on May 9-10. The free symposium deals with the Apocrypha, the 14 books no longer included in the 66-book Bible most Protestant Christians are familiar with.

Information: 623-536-8614. The museum is in the Hampton Inn and Suites, 2000 N. Litchfield Road, Goodyear.
ARCHAEOLOGY continues to ride on Indy's coattails:
If Harrison Ford can play an archaeologist in the "Indiana Jones" movies, why can't you? You probably won't snag a starring role in a Hollywood blockbuster. But you can always find an archaeological dig looking for some help, particularly if you're willing to pay for helping.

The life of an archaeologist isn't all about fighting Soviet spies or unearthing unspeakable ancient evils, of course. Often it's about sorting through somebody else's trash - except that this trash could be thousands of years old. That's where students and tourists can help out, by pitching in on the fieldwork.

Unlike your typical tourist vacation, fieldwork opportunities will require you to get your hands dirty. But you also will learn much more about ancient cultures that vanished, as well as modern cultures that still survive. The price tag can range from free, to $25 a day, to thousands of dollars for a two-week trip.

Most of these sessions are offered only in the summer, and in those cases it may be too late for this year. But you'll have plenty of time to plan out next year's adventure - or you can use the Internet to turn yourself into an armchair archaeologist.

Here are 10 online destinations to explore:
Follow the link to read about them.

UPDATE: Crystal skulls too:
But the Quai Branly's skull, along with others in prestigious museums such as the Smithsonian Institution and the British Museum, are all phonies. The museum concedes that it knows little about the skull. Explanatory text next to the skull's display case doesn't explain much: "19th century? Europe?"

The bigger question: Why is a museum promoting an artifact it knows isn't authentic?

Partly because the public doesn't really care, notes Esther Pasztory, an art-history professor at Columbia University. "People want to see Aztec art," she notes, even if it isn't really Aztec art. Museums should clearly disclose counterfeit artifacts, she says, adding that known fakes still have their fans.

Fakes were once a source of embarrassment for museums. But more recently, they have become objects of fascination. In 1990, the British Museum put its most famous examples on display, including a sarcophagus that once was thought to be from the sixth century but was actually made in the 19th century.
LAG B'OMER began last night at sundown.
LAMED VOVNIKS (Lamed Vavniks) are featured by Philologos. Excerpt
Shimon ben Yohai certainly did not have the modesty attributed by later Jewish legend to a Lamed-Vavnik, but his boast caused the talmudic sage Abbaye, who lived slightly more than 100 years after him, to add to it (Abbaye’s remark is found in the same passage in Sukkah):

“There are never less than 36 just men in the world who greet the Shekhinah [God’s worldly presence] every day, for it is written [in the book of Isaiah 30:18], “Blessed are all who wait for Him” [ashrei kol h.okhei lo], and [the word] lo [“for Him,” spelled Lamed-Vav] is numerically equal to 36.”

Abbaye’s interpretation is in the nature of a numerical pun, since by reading the verse from Isaiah as if there were a comma between “wait” and “for Him,” he gives it the meaning of “Blessed are all who wait, [the] 36.” Although he does not explicitly say that these 36 men keep the world from destruction, his statement, read in the context of Shimon ben Yohai’s declaration, implies that they have the power to ward off the harshness of God’s judgment. This, then, would appear to be the source of the Jewish legend of the Lamed-Vavnik.

But what, in turn, is the source of Abbaye’s statement? It seems highly unlikely that he would have hit on such an interpretation of Isaiah 30:18 had he read it without preconceptions. Rather, he must have been looking to begin with for a biblical verse that could be construed in such a fashion. Why?

This question was addressed by Gershom Scholem, the great scholar of Jewish mysticism, in a short essay published in German in 1962 and in English in 1971, under the title “The Tradition of the Thirty-Six Hidden Just Men.” In this essay, Scholem speculates that the number 36 “originates in ancient astrology, where the 360 degrees of the heavenly circle are divided into thirty-six units of ten, the so-called ‘deans.’” (In astrological literature, these units are more commonly known as “decans.”)
Background here.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

I'M OFF to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull with my son and his buddy. I'll let you know what I think.

LATER - Initial reactions:

Many chase scenes. Maybe too many. Dialogue was too predictable, as was some of the action. We noticed a number of bits nicked from The Mummy Returns. Indy is still in good form, but the mileage shows. The consensus of the boys was that it was a good movie, but not such a good Indiana Jones movie. In any case it was unquestionably the silliest of the four, which took some doing. I liked the ending. Do see it: whatever the quality, it's a cultural icon. Three stars of five.
THE ENOCH GRADUATE SEMINAR for 2008 now has its schedule posted on the Enoch Seminar website.

Also, Gabriele Boccaccini e-mails:
While we are preparing for the event, I am very pleased to announce you that the Third Enoch Graduate Seminar will be held in two years (July 2010) at the Catholic University of Budapest, Hungary, and will be chaired by Ida Froehlich, Armin Lange, Geza Xeravits and myself--a recognition for the leadership in Central Euroepe. Unlike the Enoch Seminar (which is a thematic conference), papers from ALL fields and subfields of Second Temple Judaism and Christian Origins (Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, Dead Sea Scrolls, New Testament, Philo and Josephus, etc.) are accepted at the Enoch Graduate Seminar. The deadline for submitting paper proposals will be in the Fall 2009 (we will pick up the best 24 ones). It is very important that we start "advertising" the event as soon as possible and have all most talented graduate students from all around the world attend the event.

The 2012 Fourth Enoch Graduate Seminar will be at the University of Notre Dame, chaired by James VanderKam, Hindy Najman, and myself.
PROMOTION: I am very happy to report that I have just been promoted to (Full) Professor. I did mention my blogging in the promotion application under innovative teaching, but I doubt it was the deciding factor.
Israeli artist inspired by Dead Sea Scroll vessels

BY: JENNIFER DADDARIO Staff Reporter [Cleveland Jewish News]

It was a normal visit to The Israel Museum in Jerusalem to see the Dead Sea Scrolls, but it changed artist Avital Sheffer’s life.

After Sheffer, 53, took a closer look at the vessels that held the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Sabra altered her career. Within a week, she was enrolled in a ceramics class, and soon after, she began making her own ceramic vessels.


The artist, who now lives in Australia, creates large, non-functional ceramic vessels inspired by ancient and Middle Eastern glassware and metalware. All are adorned with Hebrew text. “They are contemporary expressions of my interpretation of ancient classical forms,” Sheffer explains in a phone interview from Israel. The vessels are about 3 feet tall and range from $3,200 to $3,900.


Sheffer spends a great deal of time doing research and seeking out ancient manuscripts to re-create on her vessels. To find the ancient documents n anything from love letters to passages from the Bible or prayer books n Sheffer visits museums and libraries all over the world. “Because the Hebrew language is considered sacred, all manuscripts were preserved, even simple letters and documents,” she explains.


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Project Digitizes Works From the Golden Age of Timbuktu

Published: May 20, 2008

From Timbuktu to here, to reverse the expression, the written words of the legendary African oasis are being delivered by electronic caravan. A lode of books and manuscripts, some only recently rescued from decay, is being digitized for the Internet and distributed to scholars worldwide.

These are works of law and history, science and medicine, poetry and theology, relics of Timbuktu’s golden age as a crossroads in Mali for trade in gold, salt and slaves along the southern edge of the Sahara. If the name is now a synonym for mysterious remoteness, the literature attests to Timbuktu’s earlier role as a vibrant intellectual center.

In recent years, thousands of these leather-bound books and fragile manuscripts have been recovered from family archives, private libraries and storerooms. The South African government is financing construction of a library in Timbuktu to house more than 30,000 of the books. Other gifts support renovations of family libraries and projects for preserving, translating and interpreting the documents.

Now, the first five of the rare manuscripts from private libraries have been digitized and made available online ( to scholars and students. At least 300 are expected to be available online by the end of the year.

Then there's this interesting aside:
Many documents in the graceful Arabic calligraphy are a visual delight. Although the writing is mostly in Arabic, quite a few manuscripts are in vernaculars adapted to the Arabic script, which is sure to pose a challenge for scholars.
Hmmm... Garshuni maybe? (Syriac written in Arabic script.) And who knows what else. Hebrew and Greek manuscripts are also known. Background here and keep following the links back.

(Via the Agade list.)

UPDATE (22 May): Bulbul e-mails:
The "quite a few manuscripts ... in vernaculars adapted to the Arabic script" NY Times articles mentions are almost certainly written in what is usually referred to as 'ajami'. This terms is used as a
designation of the practice to write African languages like Hausa, Yoruba, Wolof and many others and often as a generic term for various modifications of the Arabic script necessary to adequately record the various languages of East Africa. The website
[] is a good overview of the subject. Confusingly enough, in some instances, the term 'ajami' is used as if it referred to a particular language (e.g. "Liste des manuscripts en langues arabe et ajami") which is bound to cause some confusio, just like it so often happens with karshuni/garshuni.
He then very tactfully points out that my definition of Garshuni above is wrong: it is actually Arabic written Syriac script. Oops! That was a silly mistake. Thanks for the correction. Bulbul has a post on Garshuni/Karshuni here.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

PICTS AND COPTS in contact in late anquity? So says Magnus Linklater in the London Times:
Around the 6th century, the Picts converted to Christianity and some of their carvings show links with the Middle Eastern Coptic church. This image (left), of two hands receiving a loaf of bread from a raven, depicts StAnthony and StPaul the Hermit in the desert. It is found on a monastery wall in Egypt and a Pictish stone at St Vigeans, Dundee.
Unfortunately the online article has no image.
VIENNA JOB UPDATE: Armin Lange e-mails a link to a web page containing the advert I posted last week:
The Faculty of Historical and Cultural Studies of the University of Vienna announces the position of a Full Professor of Jewish History, Religion and Literature in Rabbinic Times (70-1000 CE) (full-time permanent position under private law).
MORE ON THE ARCHAEOLOGY AND POLITICS of the City of David/Silwan from the AP:
The organization funding the digs, the Elad Foundation, is associated with the religious settlement movement and is committed to preventing Israel from ever ceding the area in a peace deal. It says it has a yearly budget of close to $10 million, nearly all of it from donations, and is buying up Palestinian homes in Silwan to accommodate Jewish families. Around 50 have moved in so far, living in houses flying Israeli flags and guarded by armed security men paid for by the Israeli government.

At the same time, the City of David digs have expanded through the neighborhood, carried out by respected Israeli government archaeologists with funding from Elad.
The site at the City of David is seen next to the Arab neighborhood of Silwan near Jerusalem’s Old City.

The site at the City of David is seen next to the Arab neighborhood of Silwan near Jerusalem’s Old City.

Fakhri Abu Diab, a neighborhood activist, said the Elad Foundation has made it clear that he and his neighbors are in the way.

“They want the land without the people,” he said.

None of the finds that the archaeologists highlight for the public are from the eras of Christian or Muslim rule. “They are looking only for Jewish ruins,” said Abu Diab. “It’s as if we’re not here.”

Elad denies having any intention of driving out Silwan’s Palestinians. “There will always be Jews and Arabs living together here,” said Doron Spielman, Elad’s international director of development. Dozens of Silwan Arabs are employed by Elad, he said, and the foundation’s activities include neighborhood beautification projects that improve life for Palestinian residents.

Still, he said, “We do not deny we have a Zionist dream — to reveal the ancient city beneath the ground and create a thriving Jewish neighborhood above the ground.”
TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH (indirectly) - another quarry:
Another Second Temple quarry uncovered
By ETGAR LEFKOVITS (Jerusalem Post)

For the second time in the past year, archeologists have uncovered a Second Temple Period quarry whose stones were used to build the Western Wall, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Monday.

The latest archeological discovery was made in the city's Sanhedria neighborhood, located about two kilometers from the Old City of Jerusalem.

The quarry was uncovered during a routine "salvage excavation" carried out by the state-run archeological body over the last several months ahead of the construction of a private house in the religious neighborhood.

The quarry is believed to be one of those used to build the Jerusalem holy site because the size of the stones match those at the Western Wall.

Background here and here.

Monday, May 19, 2008

COMPUTER GEEK KEN FISHER, co-founder of Ars Technica, is a also a philology geek:
Ken Fisher, one of the co-founders of Ars Technica, may be just a pen-protector expression of the Condé Nast way. After we discussed our common interest in fourth-century Coptic texts — O.K., he talked, I listened — he said that he had been approached by a number of parties interested in buying the site. After talking to people at and Reddit, he and his partners decided that the Condé Nast way left them the best chance of developing what had been a hobby on steroids into a business.
When I first read this quote in a NYT piece on Condé Nast's investments in tech publications, I figured that Fisher just meant that he had read one of the translations of the Nag Hammadi Library or the like. But when I found his brief bio at the Ars Technica site, I realized my error:
I'm currently a Ph.D. student in Religion at Harvard's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. I'm now working on my dissertation, and hope to be finished in a few years. I have worked in IT for most of my "career years," performing senior administrative functions at two different universalities, as well as running my own consulting business on the side. I tend now to focus all of my energy on my studies, but I still consult from time to time to pay the bills.
He's the real thing. Cool.

UPDATE: Brent Landau, Harvard doctoral candidate in NT and early Christianity, e-mails to say that Ken Fisher "is definitely the real deal" and that he is doing his dissertation on ritual practice in the Gospel of Philip.
MORE ON THE PSALMS SCROLL that was on display for the President's Conference in Jerusalem: The IAA has a press release.

(Via Joseph I. Lauer's list.)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

THAT STORY ABOUT THE QUEEN OF SHEBA'S PALACE - supposedly excavated in Axum, Ethiopia - now has coverage by the London Times and Fox News. It recycles the earlier story, and repeats some errors (Menelik, Queen of Sheba's - ahem - "liason" with Solomon), but introduces a healthy note of skepticism.
The discovery, announced by the University of Hamburg last week, has stirred skeptical rumblings from the archaeological community.


Many archaeologists believe that their profession should not be in the business of myth-chasing. Even if the Ark were found, it would be impossible to establish scientifically whether it was the original receptacle for the Ten Commandments.

Iris Gerlach of the German Archaeological Institute in Sanaa, Yemen, believes the religious centre of Sheba is in present-day Yemen.

Although she does not go head-to-head with her colleague Professor Ziegert, the message is clear: A relic such as the Ark would have been stored in an important religious city rather than in Aksum.

There may an interesting story in this, but we're not there yet.

(Via Explorator 11.4)
HARRISON FORD has been elected to the Board of Directors of the Archaeological Institute of America. Now if they can just get Angelina Jolie signed up ... (Maybe they shouldn't have dissed Lara Croft!)

(Via the Agade list.)

Also, don't miss the link in that announcement to the article on crystal skulls by Jane MacLaren Walsh in the current issue of Archaeology Magazine. Alas, they are fakes - a multi-generational industry that began in the Victorian era.
Impressed by their technical excellence and gleaming polish, generations of museum curators and private collectors have been taken in by these objects. But they are too good to be true. If we consider that pre-Columbian lapidaries used stone, bone, wooden, and possibly copper tools with abrasive sand to carve stone, crystal skulls are much too perfectly carved and highly polished to be believed.
THE BOOK OF 2 SAMUEL has been made into a musical, with the Archangel Metatron as one of the characters:
Reconsidering a King as a Lord of the Dance
The Spirit That Moves Theater J's 'David' Comes From the Sole

By Celia Wren
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, May 18, 2008; Page M04

You might think of it as the original "Dancing With the Stars." The biblical book of 2 Samuel recounts how David, king of Israel, leaped and capered in worshipful jubilation as the ark of the covenant -- symbolizing God's presence -- progressed toward Jerusalem.

That scriptural episode has long fascinated Yehuda Hyman, a Los Angeles playwright and former professional dancer. With the gamboling-monarch anecdote at the back of his mind, Hyman found himself musing more broadly on the David story. The upshot is "David in Shadow and Light," a musical receiving its world premiere at Theater J. Boasting a libretto by Hyman and a Middle Eastern-flavored score by Daniel Hoffman (a klezmer violin virtuoso), the show runs through June 22 under Nick Olcott's direction.

"David" is a chronicle of the biblical hero, from his slingshot triumph to his exploits as army commander to the highs and lows of his reign over Israel. With a quarter-million-dollar budget, a four-person band and staging that runs to puppetry and other high-concept touches, the musical is the boldest, costliest and most time-intensive production ever for Theater J, according to Artistic Director Ari Roth.

The cast includes Matt Pearson (MetroStage's "tick, tick . . . BOOM!") as the young David, and Bobby Smith doubling as Saul and the older David. Will Gartshore portrays Saul's son Jonathan. Enlivening the musical's postmodern-frame tale (based on a legend from a midrash, a storytelling exegesis of biblical texts), Donna Migliaccio depicts the Archangel Metatron, who is screening a movie biography of David for Adam (Norman Aronovic), of Garden of Eden fame.

Note: it was a sling, not a slingshot. Also, in case you're wondering, Metatron does not actually appear in 2 Samuel. I'm not sure which midrash served as the inspiration. Anyone know?

Cross file under "Metatron watch."

UPDATE (17 June): More here.
VISION OF GABRIEL UPDATE: A technical glitch has been fixed and Israel Knohl's article "'By Three Days, Live': Messiahs, Resurrection, and Ascent to Heaven in Hazon Gabriel" is back up on the Shalom Hartman Institutute website. They send apologies for the glitch.

Background here and here.

UPDATE: N. T. Wrong brings in an Ugaritic connection (via Abnormal Interests).