Saturday, June 28, 2008

ARAMAIC WATCH: Aramaic (Syriac) made a good showing at the recent Fez World Musical Festival in Morocco. From the BBC:
A performance by Lebanese singer Ghada Shubeir, was one to remember.

Accompanied by the Qanoon, an Arabic string instrument, she chanted Christian hymns in Syriac (a liturgical language used in some Middle Eastern churches which is related to Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus Christ).

The performance was incredibly crisp, and its spiritual roots stretched back hundreds of years.

Ms Shubeir said after the concert it was the first time she had been invited to perform in a Muslim country.
And from the Guardian:
These [cross-cultural] connections were even more movingly expressed by Ghada Shbeir, a Maronite from Beirut who gave a recital of ancient Christian songs, accompanied by qanun under the giant oak. Her voice at first sounded Arabic, with inflections typical of the region, but it was possible to detect the signature intervals of early European music. Many songs were in Aramaic, the pre-Hebrew language of Palestine spoken by Jesus.
Nitpicks: Syriac is not "related to" Aramaic; it is an Aramaic dialect. And Aramaic is not pre-Hebrew; it developed more or less contemporaneously with Hebrew. But the point is that the music was good.
Rare Iraqi Jewish books 'surface in Israel'

Fri Jun 27, 9:29 AM ET

JERUSALEM (AFP) - Some 300 rare and valuable books confiscated from Iraq's Jewish community by Saddam Hussein's regime have been secretly spirited into Israel, an Israeli newspaper reported on Friday.

The books include a 1487 commentary on the biblical Book of Job and another volume of biblical prophets printed in Venice in 1617, the Haaretz daily said.


"We bought them from thieves," Mordechai Ben-Porat, an Iraqi-born Jew and the founder of Jerusalem's Babylonian Jewry Heritage centre told the newspaper, adding that the foundation paid some 25,000 dollars (16,000 euros).

In the beginning, Ben-Porat sent an emissary to Baghdad who shipped the books directly to Israel, but once the Americans caught wind of his activities they forbade further shipments, forcing him to smuggle the rest, he said.

The article says that these items are part of the Iraqi Jewish archive, the rest of which is now awaiting restoration at the Library of Congress (background here). Jeff Spurr has some useful comments on the Iraq Crisis list. He is skeptical of the claimed provenance for this new find.

UPDATE (4 July): More here.
Exhibit tells story of scrolls Duke let go

Yonat Shimron, Staff Writer (News and Observer)

In 1950, Duke University was offered a chance to buy a portion of what is now considered the most important archaeological discovery of the 20th century. The university turned it down.

Now, the Dead Sea Scrolls are in the possession of the Israel Antiquities Authority and routinely travel to museums worldwide, drawing thousands of visitors who pay upward of $20 to view them.

An exhibit of the scrolls opens today at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh, showcasing the historic artifacts Duke once passed up.


Friday, June 27, 2008

LECTIO DIFFICILIOR, the European Electronic Journal for Feminist Exegesis, has published a first issue with some interesting looking articles in English and German.

(Via the Agade list.)
RUMORS of the demise of ancient Greek are exaggerated. And Latin borders on becoming a status symbol.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

CONGRATULATIONS TO ED COOK, who is taking up an an academic post in Semitics at the Catholic University of America. And congratulations to the Catholic University as well; they've made a great appointment. I hope this means that we will be hearing more rather than less from Ed at Ralph the Sacred River.
SOME DEAD SEA SCROLLS are coming to the Museum of Natural Science in Raleigh, North Carolina:
"Many of these pieces have never been on public display before, and a lot of the artifacts have not left Israel before," said Dr. Risa Levitt Kohn, associate professor of Hebrew Bible and Judaism at San Diego State University's religious studies department, director of the Jewish Studies Program and a consultant to the science museum.

The Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit, which opens Saturday and runs until Dec. 28, features 12 scrolls – four of which have never been publicly displayed – and more than 100 artifacts from the Qumran ruins, everyday items from pottery to leather to sandals to basketry.

The exhibit, on loan from the Israel Antiquities Authority, was created specifically for the museum and will never be recreated elsewhere.

"The general public can actually come and see authentic pieces that are 2,000 years old and recognize the biblical books from which they came and be able to experience this firsthand," Kohn said. "I think, for people living in North Carolina, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

Six of the scroll fragments — among them are the Ten Commandments, the books of Genesis and Isaiah, and a Jewish book called Jubilees — will be on display three months and then switched out with six others.
There's video too. The museum's website for the exhibition is here. A list of the texts to be displayed is here (sidebar on the right). I published the first Genesis fragment (1:18-27; 4QGend) in DJD 12.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

IBIZA, the international party hotspot, was founded by the Phoenicians:
I would highly recommend everyone to make the obligatory island tour the first entry in your itinerary before doing what you really came here for -- party! Because for the rest of your trip, your body clock will function on the opposite, your day will become night and night will be your day. Sleep in totally unheard of in this part of the planet.

So, I did see the fortress and the oldest part of the city. Dalt Vila, which literally means "the Upper town" rests atop of the hill by the sea. Founded not too long ago, about 654 BC to be exact, by the Phoenicians, this area was a thriving commercial center during the Punic era. D'Alt Vila is unquestionably the most iconic part of the city and was declared a world heritage site by Unesco.
More here.
CANT MAKE IT UP: A Phoencian theme park in Lebanon:
Beating the heat is easier than you might think
Beirut offers slew of venues to keep kids happy

By Esther Krenz Muller
Special to The Daily Star
Thursday, June 19, 2008

BEIRUT: Children across Lebanon are wrapping up their school year and anxious to get away from their desks for a dose of summer. However, having youngsters sit around indoors at home is hardly an ideal way for them to spend their free time, and the country - the Beirut area in particular - has far more options than was previously the case.

Theme parks, especially those involving swimming pools and water slides, are a favorite for children of all ages - and more than a few parents. Such aqua-boasting enterprises have long been a favorite method for beating the summer heat. With numerous, state-of-the-art water and other amusement parks, the capital region has become an ideal vacation destination for many young families.


The Phoenician Theme Park Habtoorland in Jamhour (05-768888) has over 30 rides and attractions that bear the markings of the ancient Phoenicians. The motifs of the park set the stage for timeless stories, with the organizers' creation of an archetypical Disney-style experience. The park has a number of attractions which drive home the theme-driven approach: a cruise down the Nile on the back of a crocodile, a mission in your own battleship, or a ride on the "Colossus" roller-coaster. The locale rounds out its offerings with special events such as plays, ballroom dancing and karaoke competitions.

UPDATE (6 July): Carthage Land too!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

John Day (ed.), Society for Old Testament Study Book List 2008 (London: Sage, 2008)
Full of goodies, as usual.
YONA SABAR'S SON is publishing a book:
My Father’s Paradise: A Son’s Search for His Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq Ariel Sabar. Algonquin, $25.95 (352p) ISBN 978-1-56512-490-5

For his first 31 years Sabar considered his father, Yona, an embarrassing anachronism. “Ours was a clash of civilizations, writ small. He was ancient Kurdistan. I was 1980s L.A.” Yona was a UCLA professor whose passion was his native language, Aramaic. Ariel was an aspiring rock-and-roll drummer. The birth of Sabar’s own son in 2002 was a turning point, prompting Sabar to try to understand his father on his own terms. Readers can only be grateful to him for unearthing the history of a family, a people and a very different image of Iraq. Sabar vividly depicts daily life in the remote village of Zahko, where Muslims, Jews and Christians banded together to ensure prosperity and survival, and in Israel (after the Jews’ 1951 expulsion from Iraq), where Kurdish Jews were stereotyped as backward and simple. Sabar’s career as an investigative reporter at the Baltimore Sun and elsewhere serves him well, particularly in his attempt to track down his father’s oldest sister, who was kidnapped as an infant. Sabar offers something rare and precious—a tale of hope and continuity that can be passed on for generations. Photos. (Sept. 16)
(Review from Publisher's Weekly.)

Monday, June 23, 2008

PSEUDEPIGRAPHA WATCH: A new edition of Sibylline Oracles books 1-2.
Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2008.06.21
J.L. Lightfoot, The Sibylline Oracles: With Introduction, Translation, and Commentary on the First and Second Books. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. Pp. xxiii, 613. ISBN 978-0-19-921546-1. $220.00.

Reviewed by Aaron Kachuck, University of Cambridge (

Word count: 2383 words

It is hard to do justice in the course of a review to any of Jane Lightfoot's monumental contributions to classical scholarship, but this is particularly the case with her new text, commentary, and discussion of the first two books of the Sibylline Oracles, Judaeo-Christian texts that adopt the narrator, form, and language of Greek hexameter poetry and oracles. In the essay portion of this book, L. has built on the work of scholars such as R. Buitenwerf, J.J. Collins and H.W. Parke to produce new and incisive formulations of the problemata confronted by the scholar of Sibylline Oracles Books I-III, and answers to those questions that she believes can be reasonably deduced from the evidence. Lightfoot does not shy away from withholding a definitive conclusion when none seems to suggest itself from the extant material, leading her to sensibly conclude many of her deeply researched questions not with artificially confident answers, but with the questions to which her and others' research has not been, and may never be, able to respond (see, for example, p. 219). L. exercises a healthy skepticism towards overly creative, and not sufficiently evidence-based, answers to textual problems. And problems in the Sibylline Oracles are inevitably textual problems because of the extreme scarcity (sometimes total dearth) of external evidence relevant to the discussion, and it is because of the textual nature of these questions that L.'s utilization of methods derived from classical philology yields such solid results. L.'s work represents the first comprehensive commentary in English on the first two books, such that all future study of the text will benefit from L.'s editing of the text and apparatus criticus for the first two books.

Sounds excellent.

(Via the Agade list.)
Incense on the brain
By Ran Shapira

For thousands of years frankincense was one of the main ingredients of the incense burned in the Temples in Jerusalem and at other rituals, of other religions and peoples, from Southeast Asia to the Middle East, extending as far as Greece. Buddhism and Christianity refer to frankincense as a substance that can affect a person's mood. In the Bible it is mentioned in the list of ingredients used to make the incense that burned when the priests entered the Tabernacle and, later, the Temple.

In an attempt to explain why it was necessary to use incense, Maimonides wrote that the Temple was in effect a giant slaughterhouse. According to him, the incense was needed to cover up the strong odor emanating from the blood of the sacrifices, the seared meat and other odors that wafted through the Sanctuary.

But frankincense resin was not just used for the incense, says Dr. Avraham Shemesh, of the Ariel University Center of Samaria. In rabbinic literature, it is mentioned among the minahot, the afternoon offerings made at the Temple. Such offerings, brought on behalf of a sotah (a woman suspected of infidelity), for example, contained frankincense. Apparently, this ingredient was meant to have a psychological affect.

Shemesh, who specializes in the history of medical science, also notes that according to rabbinic literature, someone sentenced to death is given wine laced with a bit of frankincense before the execution, "so he would become confused." Maimonides claimed that the wine was given to the convict in order to get him drunk, and Rashi (a medieval biblical and Talmudic commentator) explains that the frankincense was given to convicts so they would not worry. In other words, he emphasizes frankincense's calming effect.

Giving mice a high

It was precisely this calming effect, already known in ancient times, that led groups of researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Ariel University Center and partners in the United States to try to develop a drug to treat depression and anxiety out of the active ingredient in frankincense resin. In biblical times, frankincense plants grew near the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea basin. Today, hardly any frankincense trees remain in Israel. The largest concentrations can be found in eastern Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and India.

Frankincense was also often used in magic rites, for whatever that's worth.
A DEAD SEA SCROLLS CONFERENCE is being held in Jerusalem in July:
Sunday, July 6

IN CELEBRATION of 60 years since the remarkable discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and in honor of the 60th anniversary of the State of Israel, the Israel Museum will hold a landmark three-day conference, with Israeli and overseas experts representing a variety of disciplines. The marathon of sessions over the course of the the conference will focus on Scroll-related themes including life in Qumran, biblical interpretation, scientific and cultural approaches to the Scrolls, language and Qumran literature, and the Scrolls as an educational tool. Noted scholars who will make presentations at the conference include Prof. George Brooke of the University of Manchester, Prof. James Charlesworth of Princeton Theological Seminary, Prof. John Collins of Yale University, Prof. Devorah Dimant of Haifa University, Prof. Lawrence Schiffman of New York University, Prof. Emanuel Tov of Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Prof. James VanderKam of University of Notre Dame.


Sunday, June 22, 2008

A TOURING STUDENT from Dubuque's Emmaus Bible College found a LMLK seal among the discarded potsherds at Ramat Rahel:
The group toured the entire country. At Ramat Rachel, south of Jerusalem, they examined an excavation of the important 8th century BC site. Discarded pottery fragments littered the ground, and the students picked through them. [Sarah] Lepisto spied a jar handle, picked it up and saw it bore an inscription. She didn't think much of her find at first.

"The chances were pretty slim that I had found anything significant on a site that had already been excavated and now was open to the public," Lepisto said.

But her find was important. [Faculty member Steve] Sanchez and the tour guide recognized the inscription as coming from the time of Israel's kings. It was one of thousands of LMLK seals, which were stamped on the handles of large storage jars around Jerusalem during the reign of Hezekiah, king of Judah.
Well spotted!