Saturday, July 05, 2008

ARCHAEOLOGY FOR KIDS: I noted this last fall, but now that it's the summer holidays, readers in New York who have kids might appreciate another mention:
‘ARCHAEOLOGY ZONE: DISCOVERING TREASURES FROM PLAYGROUNDS TO PALACES’ (Sunday through Thursday) Children will step into the shoes of an explorer like Indiana Jones in this 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 room from the Ottoman period (about 1900), where young archaeologists can dress in costume. (Through June 15, 2009.) Sunday 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 and members.

Friday, July 04, 2008

PICTURES OF THE JEWISH GOLD-GLASS MEDALLIONS recovered from Nazi loot have been posted by Dorothy King on her PhDiva blog.

Background here.
Iraq creates task force to probe stolen antiquities

BAGHDAD (AFP) — Iraq said on Thursday it has created a special task force to investigate the theft of valuable ancient Judaic manuscripts that later turned up in Israel.

The rare books, confiscated during the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, were rescued from US bombing at the start of the 2003 war and then sent to the United States for restoration but later wound up in Israel instead.

Background here.
A SYRIAC TOOLS AND RESOURCES WEBSITE has been placed online by MGVHoffman.
THE SAN DIEGO NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM is pleased with its haul from last year's Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition:
The San Diego Natural History Museum reported that it has broken all attendance records with its past two blockbuster exhibits, "Dead Sea Scrolls" and "A Day in Pompeii."

During the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2007, the museum recorded 726,000 visitors, more than double the 134-year-old museum's usual attendance. The "Dead Sea Scrolls" exhibit drew 393,975 visitors and "Pompeii" drew 131,199. By comparison, the next most-popular exhibit in the museum's history was the "Chocolate" exhibit in 2005, which drew 70,290 visitors.

The museum's next major exhibition is "Water H2O=Life," opening July 19.
On a related note, the Isaiah Scroll exhibition in the Israel Museum continues to get attention.
HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY to my American readers.

(Wikimedia Commons image)

Thursday, July 03, 2008

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Dorothy King points to a good mystic's-eye view of the place.
PALEOJUDAICA has been listed as one of The Top 100 Liberal Arts Professor Blogs as compiled by Online University Reviews. Scroll down to the last section, Theology. AKMA is there too, and Cronaca appears in the Art section. Welcome to any readers referred from the list. You can find out more about this blog at the ABOUT PALEOJUDAICA.COM link in the sidebar to the right. Note also the MEMORABLE PALEOJUDAICA POSTS link immediately below it and a fifth-anniversay recap here.
BIBLICAL STUDIES CARNIVAL XXX has been published by Tyler Williams at the Codex blog.
THOMAS JEFFERSON'S LANGUAGE SKILLS are underlined in a new biography, The Road to Monticello, by Kevin Hayes. Adam Kirsh reviews it in the New York Sun:
And this doesn't even scratch the surface: Jefferson read constantly, copiously, in many languages. (He even designed a rotating bookstand that allowed him to consult five books at a time.) Naturally, as an Enlightenment philosophe in good standing, he knew French long before he was posted to France as America's ambassador. He also read Italian and Spanish, which he taught his daughters using "Don Quixote" as a textbook.

Like most Virginia planters, Jefferson studied Latin and Greek as a boy; unlike most, he actually learned them, and used them for the rest of his life. Studying the marginalia in Jefferson's law books, Mr. Hayes discovered apposite quotations from Herodotus and Euripides, in the original. Much more unusually, however, Jefferson was also a student of Anglo-Saxon. At a time when the language of "Beowulf" had not yet entered the college curriculum, Mr. Hayes writes, Jefferson's "sizable collection of Anglo-Saxon books included nearly all of the important studies of the language." He studied the Bible in polyglot editions that included Hebrew and Aramaic; he read the first translations of Indian and Persian literature, just then appearing in English. To amuse himself in retirement, Jefferson even bought Robert Morison's "Dialogues and Detached Sentences in the Chinese Language, With a Free and Verbal Translation in English."

All these languages gave Jefferson a wide field for reading, and, what he loved almost as much, for collecting. One of the chief pleasures of "The Road to Monticello" is Mr. Hayes's evocation of a world, almost unimaginable in the age of Amazon, when buying good books was an art in itself. ...
PRIESTLY VESTMENTS are being reconstructed (as far as that is possible, given our limited knowledge) by the Temple Institute:
Third Temple preparations begin with priestly garb

Wearing a turban and a light blue tunic threaded with silver, a man stands in a workshop in Jerusalem's Old City beside spools of white thread affixed to sewing machines. A painting of high priests performing an animal sacrifice beside the First Temple illustrates the function of the room.

On Monday, the Temple Institute started preparing to build a Third Temple on Jerusalem's Mount Moriah, the site of the Dome of the Rock and the Aksa mosque, by inaugurating a workshop that manufactures priestly garments.

No digging, please, on the Temple Mount, apart from controlled, scientific archaeological excavations. And the time is not yet right even for those.

UPDATE (12 July): More here.
SYRIAC TEXTS GALORE! On the Hugoye list Kristian Heal e-mails the following:
We have added a number of additional Syriac titles to the resources section of our website ( These titles were digitized at BYU as an extension to the BYU-CUA Syriac Reference Library project ( We will be adding more titles soon.

Some titles may already be available elsewhere (Google Books, Internet Archive etc). It would be nice for someone to take on the task of producing a master list of Syriac titles available on-line in the various collections.
The Mingana and Wright catalogues look especially useful.

Then Steven Ring replies:
Thank you very much for this invaluable Syriac resource!

Although it now needs updating a little and not only to add your titles,
last year I began to compile a master list of Syriac books and
manuscripts available on-line .
The prototype list can be accessed at:

Over the next month, I will endeavour to update this list and mend some
links which have since broken....
Of course, the list is invited to send me any new links and corrections.
This looks exceedingly useful. Many thanks to Kristian and Steven.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

NEWSWEEK has a number of Bible-related articles in its current online issue, some of which are of interest. First:
Raiders of the Lost Tomb
A book and movie allege the final resting place of Mary, Joseph and the King of Kings has been found. Controversy to follow.
By Lisa Miller and Joanna Chen | Newsweek Web Exclusive

In Jerusalem, that ancient and holy city, people's houses are built on bones. For thousands of years, hundreds of generations of Jews, Muslims and Christians have been laid to rest in its rocky soil. Tova Bracha has always known that the tiny, rose-bordered concrete plot next to her apartment building covers an ancient Jewish burial tomb, but she never thought much about it. "It just didn't seem important when there are so many tombs anyway that have been found around Jerusalem," she says. Rushing home for the Sabbath, her arms full of groceries, Bracha laughs at the suggestion that the tomb might be of considerable religious interest. Maybe she can make a fortune selling trinkets to tourists, she jokes. Maybe the value of her home will soar.

This week the Discovery Channel, together with HarperSanFrancisco, announces the release of "The Jesus Family Tomb," a television documentary and a book that aim to show that the tomb next door to Tova Bracha's apartment, located in a nondescript suburb called East Talpiot, is, well, the family plot of Jesus Christ. Spearheaded by a well-known TV director named Simcha Jacobovici, and produced by "Titanic" director James Cameron, "The Jesus Family Tomb" is—both in book and movie form—a slick and suspenseful narrative about the 1980 discovery of a first-century Jewish burial cave and the 10 bone boxes, or ossuaries, found therein.

Most specialists are skeptical. Background here and follow the many links back.

Second this:
But Did It Happen?
Like Any Good Mythic Narrative, Genesis Gets The Customs And Culture Of Its Setting Right
By Sharon Begley | NEWSWEEK
Oct 21, 1996 Issue

Tower of Babel

But starting with chapter 12, which introduces Abraham, Genesis starts reading like good historical fiction, reflecting the places, culture and customs of the second millennium B.C., says archeologist Amihai Mazar of Hebrew University in Jerusalem. (Genesis was compiled much later, however--between the 10th and fifth centuries B.C.) In chapter 13, for instance, when Lot, son of Abraham's dead brother, parts company with his uncle and strikes out for ""the whole plain of the Jordan,'' he saw ""that all of it was well-watered.'' Archeologists, notes Robert Alter in his new translation of and commentary on Genesis,* ""have in fact discovered traces of an ancient irrigation system in the plain of the Jordan.'' When Lot sits ""in the gate of Sodom'' in chapter 19, the reference is to a large chamber in the gateway of Canaanite cities, where residents would gossip, transact business and settle legal matters. And Egyptian records show that peasants paid a 20 percent tax on crops; Joseph, in chapter 47, orders that ""when the harvests come, you shall give a fifth to Pharaoh.''
Something seems to be missing at the beginning of the article. This piece is disappointing. It relies to a large degree on old scholarship. It quotes authors in a way that gives the impression they were being interviewed, although this is unlikely in at least one case, given that Nahum Sarna died in 2005. I haven't followed this area for some time, but even back in the 1980s this position was being challenged by people like Thomas Thompson and John Van Seters, neither of whom are mentioned. The bottom line is that a lot of the supposed parallels between Genesis and Middle Bronze Age culture are poorly formulated and are not comparing like with like (I call this the fallacy of the middle term). And other more defensible parallels have equally good parallels later in the first millennium BCE.

Third, a piece on the Sacred exhibition:
The Sacred History
An exhibit of religious manuscripts serves as a timely reminder of the teachings the three major faiths share.
By Carla Power | Newsweek Web Exclusive

September 11 made Samuel Huntington's "clash of civilizations" thesis a fashionable map for the 21st century. Right-wing pundits and religious zealots alike used it to argue that Islamic and Western societies have always been incompatible. Now "Sacred," on view at London's British Library (through Sept. 23), provides an elegant riposte to clash-mongers. The collection of manuscripts from Christianity, Islam and Judaism underscores that the traditions of the three religions bear striking similarities. Their emphasis on scriptural truth is the same, their cultures are intertwined and their followers lived—usually peacefully—in multicultural societies for centuries.

Background here.

UPDATE: Reader Adam Peiper e-mails:
The article "But Did It Happen" was written in 1996 so it obviously couldn't quote any scholarship from after 1996. The date "October 21, 1996 issue" is written below the author's name Sharon Begley.

I was snookered too when I was searching the Google News search and I noticed other old articles from Newsweek that appeared; some from 2006. I suspect that Newsweek recently placed many of their old articles recently on-line and the "Google News" feature returns them as "new articles" even though they may have been published over a decade ago and only now appear online.
My bad for not noticing the date, and Professor Sarna was alive at the time after all. Still, Newsweek isn't entirely off the hook, since they were ignoring even 1980s scholarship.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Nazi looted relics returned to former owner's heirs

Mon Jun 30, 2008 7:01pm EDT

By Jeremy Lovell

LONDON, July 1 (Reuters) - Three ancient medallions looted by the Nazis in World War Two and missing for more than 60 years are being returned to the heirs of the former owner, the Commission for Looted Art in Europe said on Tuesday.

The three gold-glass relics from the 4th century AD are decorated with some of the earliest known depictions of Jewish symbols from the Second Temple period.

Found in the Rome catacombs in the 17th century, they were part of the collection in Poland of Countess Isabella Dzialynska.

Hidden for safekeeping at the outbreak of war, they were found and taken by the Nazis in 1941 and sent to Austria on the orders of Adolf Hitler where they were once again looted by locals at the end of the war.

The three medallions were acquired in the 1960s by the Israel Museum Jerusalem which, under the deal with Dzialynska's heirs, is keeping two of them bearing the ancient Jewish symbols.

UPDATE (2 July): The ArtDaily has more information:
Israel Museum Restitutes Three Ancient Roman Gold-Glass Medallions
JERUSALEM.- The Israel Museum announced today the restitution of three gold-glass medallions dating from the fourth century CE, two from the catacombs in Rome and one discovered in Cologne, to the heirs of the Dzialynska Collection at Goluchow Castle in Poland. Of the three medallions, two are decorated with Jewish motifs, representing some of the earliest known depictions of Jewish symbols from the Second Temple to appear outside of the Land of Israel. Given the historical importance of the medallions to the Museum’s collections and to the patrimonial heritage of the State of Israel, the Israel Museum and the heirs have worked together to enable the Museum to repurchase one of the medallions with Jewish iconography for its permanent collection. The second medallion bearing Jewish symbols has been purchased by a donor and friend of the Israel Museum, for long-term loan to the Museum.

Distinguished by iconic imagery of the Holy Ark, the Lions of Judah, and the Temple Menorah, these two medallions were identified in Vienna by the well-known Judaica dealer Joseph Steiglitz and were purchased for the Israel Museum in 1965 by founder Teddy Kollek through the generosity of Museum donor Jakob Michael, New York, in memory of his wife, Erna Sondheimer-Michael. The third was acquired by Teddy Kollek in Vienna at the same time and donated by Teddy and Tamar Kollek to the Israel Museum in 1970. Given their rarity and their archaeological significance, the two medallions with Jewish motifs have been featured on permanent display in the Israel Museum’s archaeology galleries and in several special exhibitions and publications, with Goluchow Castle identified as part of their history of ownership beginning with the 1986 publication, “Treasures of the Holy Land: Ancient Art from the Israel Museum.”

Read it all.

UPDATE (4 July): For photos, see here.

Monday, June 30, 2008

MOSUL TORAH SCROLL UPDATE: The story of the 400-year-old Torah scroll that was recovered from a ruined synagogue near Mosul and sold to a synagogue in Baltimore was noted in PaleoJudaica last October-November (here and here). At the time I expressed concern about whether the relevant antiquities laws had been followed, but no one responded to my query and I heard no more about it. But now this story has come to the attention of the Iraq Crisis list and is generating some discussion. And Paul Barford has a long post that raises pertinent questions at the SAFECorner blog. It sounds as though my concerns were not misplaced.

Stay tuned ...

UPDATE: Note that Dorothy King has contacted the U.S. Army to try to establish what happened.
THE MICHELANGELO CODE? Somehow I've neglected to post on this one, although it's been in the news for a while:
Michelangelo 'hid secret code in Sistine Chapel'

By Malcolm Moore in Rome (The Telegraph)
Last Updated: 12:01am BST 18/06/2008

Michelangelo hid a secret code in the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel made up of mystical Jewish symbols and insults aimed at the pope, according to a new book.

The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, which the renaissance artist worked on for four years in the early 16th century, is actually a "bridge" between the Roman Catholic Church and the Jewish faith, according to The Sistine Secrets: Unlocking the Codes in Michelangelo's Defiant Masterpiece.

The book, which is already on the New York Times bestseller list, is the work of Rabbi Benjamin Blech, an associate professor of Talmud at Yeshiva University in New York, and Roy Doliner, a tour guide at the Vatican.

Scanning through the arrangement of figures on the vast 14,000 square foot ceiling, the authors have found shapes that correspond to Hebrew letters.

For example, the book states, the figures of David and Goliath form the shape of the letter gimel, which symbolises g'vurah, or strength, in the mystical Kabbalah tradition.


The book adds that the tree of life in the fresco is not, as usually thought, an apple tree, but instead a fig tree according to ancient Jewish tradition.

The authors believe the entire Sistine Chapel, which they say is built to the same proportions as the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, is a "lost mystical message of universal love" which was intended to be decoded.

The authors believe Michelangelo picked up his knowledge of Judaism while at the court of Lorenzo de Medici in Florence.

It sounds interesting, but specialists don't seem to be impressed (read on in the article). For Michelangelo and Moses' horns, go here and keep following the links back.
A MUSEUM OF LANGUAGES has opened in College Park, Maryland:
Museum benefits from university partnership
Diana Elbasha (The Diamondback)
Issue date: 6/26/08 Section: News

Carrie Clarady, a senior research assistant for the university's Center for the Advanced Study of Language, kicked off the National Museum of Language's current lecture series Sunday standing beside a projected image of "The Cherokee Syllabary," an alphabet-like array of the language's native phonetics.

The museum, which opened in College Park in May, will host presentations explaining the complexities of the Cherokee language, "one of the 300 languages native to North America," Clarady said.

"The university already has a strong linguistic program," she added. "I hope to see it one day become a language research center." In its first month of existence, and in the months of preparations preceding its grand opening, students have already been put to work, researching and drafting lectures for various lecturers.

Clarady spoke to a crowd of about 25 in a room wallpapered with displays of the "founding languages" - Sumerian, Phoenician, Greek, Roman, Hebrew and Arabic. Each language's display contained the alphabets of their influential writing systems, as well as various photos and artifacts.

The museum also hosts an interactive exhibit called "The Name Game." Going well beyond its icebreaker namesake, the activity allows users to type their names into a computer and within seconds have a printed sheet with such written in four foreign languages: Arabic, Assyrian, Hebrew and Punjabi.

"A large chunk of today's world is about language," said Amelia Murdoch, a former employee of the National Security Agency. She said the NSA often did not understand how language and culture were intertwined or language nuances such as different dialects. This ignorance inspired her to found the National Museum of Language, she said.

Well done.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Poisonous ink killed Monks?


Washington, June 28: Monks who wrote Biblical texts and other religious materials might have died out of exposure to toxic mercury, with which the red colour ink they used for scripting was made, according to a study.

Kaare Lund Rasmussen, a University of Southern Denmark scientist at the Institute of Physics and Chemistry, believes that the ink might have been the culprit.

He came to this conclusion after studying medieval bones from six different Danish cemeteries.

The researcher says that his study also describes a previously undocumented disease called FOS, which was like leprosy and caused skull lesions.


Lund Rasmussen says that mercury "was used (in the ink) in the first place because cinnabar (a type of mercury) has this bright red, beautiful colour."

A separate study by Israeli scientists recently found cinnabar on four fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which include passages from the Hebrew Bible.

"(Even today) one should really not touch, or much less rub, the parchment pages of an incunabulum," Discovery News quoted Lund Rasmussen as warning.


The study will be published in the August issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science.
Ugh. I myself have not worked with any of the Scrolls that use red ink. But, as far as I know, no Qumranologists have developed skull lesions or leprosy symptoms.
PAUL FLESHER has a column in the University of Wyoming News on reading in antiquity and its various pitfalls that we don't think of today. Excerpt:
As late as the fifth century, for example, Greek was written in a continuous form with no breaks between the words. Nor did it yet indicate accents and breathing marks. Different accents and breathings changed the sound and meaning of the words being read. A reader had to know by memory the possible spoken words represented by the incomplete written code. The task of a Greek reader was to decipher the written text and render it into speech so it could be understood.

As Semitic languages, Hebrew and Aramaic had developed the practice of word separation many centuries before the Greeks. The problem facing these languages was that writing represented the consonants, but not the vowels. Readers had to know every possible oral combination of vowels that could be placed with a particular set of consonants to make valid, spoken words.

Readers had to choose the right vowels to give the right meaning. For instance, take the two consonants "R" and "N." One could supply vowels to make the present-tense "run" or the past-tense "ran." The letters could also stand for the boys name "Ron" or the girls name "Erin."
There's a classic illustration of both problems, which I sometimes use in my undergraduate classes. I write GDSNWHR on the board and ask the students what it says. The answer, of course, is supposed to be that it can say either "God is now here" or "God is nowhere," and without a context you can't tell which. But once one of them looked at it and said "Good snow here." (This was in Iowa.) Exegesis is always full of surprises.