Saturday, July 19, 2008

THE HADRIAN EXHIBITION is reviewed in the Guardian by Mary Beard. The review is quite thorough and has insightful spots, but it tries way too hard to be knowingly relevant, flogging the Iraq war connection for all it's worth and more.
A very modern emperor

He pulled his troops out of Iraq, was an avid art collector and had an intriguing, and tragic, sex life - of all the Roman emperors, Hadrian seems the most recognisable. But, as the British Museum explores his legacy in a new exhibition, Mary Beard asks to what extent he is our own creation

Saturday July 19, 2008
The Guardian

Within hours of taking the throne, in August AD117, the emperor Hadrian made one major strategic decision. He issued the order to withdraw the Roman troops from Iraq (or Mesopotamia, as he would have called it). His succession had been a messy one, in the usual Roman way. Despite a well-earned reputation for effective administration in most areas, the Romans never really sorted out the transfer of imperial power. Hadrian's leadership bid was more reminiscent of what goes on in the Labour party than in the House of Windsor. It involved a good deal of manipulation, double-dealing, back-stabbing (in Rome this was real, not metaphorical) and perfect timing. A couple of rivals had made their bid too soon, leaving Hadrian as the only plausible candidate to be adopted by his elderly predecessor Trajan, just a few days before he died.


He diverted the legions to more winnable campaigns elsewhere. There was unrest, as usual, in the Balkans. And in the near east he had to finish stamping out a Jewish revolt which, according to some wild and fearful Roman estimates, had cost half a million Greek and Roman lives. Fifteen years later, prompted among other things by a recent ban on circumcision, the Jews rebelled again under Shimon bar Kokhba. Charismatic or charlatan, depending on your point of view (the predictably hostile Saint Jerome later claimed that he "fanned a lighted straw in his mouth so that he appeared to be breathing out flames"), he commanded a force that was at first a match for the Romans. In the end, Hadrian's forces had to resort to the most ruthless form of ethnic cleansing, constructive starvation and mass slaughter of the enemy that went far beyond the casualties inflicted by the Jews. In Rome, and among generations of antisemitic ideologues up to the 20th century, the victory was hailed a triumph over religious fanaticism and political insurrection.

The new exhibition at the British Museum, Hadrian: Empire and Conflict, features evocative objects from both sides of this Jewish war. There are simple everyday items recovered from a Jewish hideout: some house keys, a leather sandal, a straw basket almost perfectly preserved in the dry heat, a wooden plate and a mirror - evidence of the presence of women, according to the exhibition catalogue (as if men did not use mirrors). But with or without the women, these are all bitter reminders of the daily life that somehow managed to continue, even in hiding and in the middle of what was effectively genocide. From the other side, there is a magnificent bronze statue of the emperor himself, which once stood in a legionary camp near the River Jordan. The distinctive head of Hadrian (bearded, with soft curling hair and a giveaway kink in his ear lobe) sits on top of an elaborately decorated breast-plate, on which six nude warriors do battle. It is a striking combination, even if - here as elsewhere - the catalogue raises doubts about whether the head and body of this statue originally belonged together.


The British Museum exhibition presents Hadrian as an appropriate successor to the first emperor of China and his terracotta army, both key figures in the foundation and development of early imperial societies. Maybe so. But an even better reason to visit this stunning show is to see how the myth of a Roman emperor has been created - and continues to be created - out of our own imagination and the dazzling but sometimes puzzling array of statues, silver plates and lost keys of slaughtered Jewish freedom-fighters.
Background here.
A PH.D. SCHOLARSHIP in ancient Jewish literature is available at Manchester University. Details can be downloaded here. This is one of the two fully-funded AHRC scholarships noted here last year, which remains to be taken up. The deadline for application is 25 August 2008 with a view to entering the program in September 2008 or January 2009.

Friday, July 18, 2008

CYRUS THE GREAT is getting a working over by Spiegel:
UN Treasure Honors Persian Despot

By Matthias Schulz

A 2,500-year-old cuneiform document ceremoniously displayed in a glass case at the United Nations in New York is revered as an "ancient declaration of human rights." But in fact, argue researchers, the document was the work of a despot who had his enemies tortured.

An engraving of Cyrus the Great, a mighty ruler but not necessarily a humane leader.
Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlevi was planning a record-breaking gala. First he proclaimed the "White Revolution," a land reform program, and then declared himself the "Light of the Aryans." Finally, in October of 1971, he had taken it upon himself to celebrate "2,500 years of the Iranian monarchy." The organizers of the celebration had promised to deliver "the greatest show on earth."

The Shah had 50 opulent tents set up amid the ruins of Persepolis. Invited dignitaries included 69 heads of state and crowned monarchs. The guests consumed 20,000 liters of wine, ate quail eggs with pheasant and gilded caviar. Magnum bottles of Château Lafite circled the tables.

At the high point of the festival, the Shah walked to the grave of Cyrus II who, in the 6th century B.C., had conquered more than 5 million square kilometers (1.9 million square miles) of land in a long and bloody war.

Religious leader Ayatollah Khomeini, still in exile at the time, was also quick to issue his scathing criticism: "The crimes committed by Iranian kings have blackened the pages of history books."

But the Shah knew better. Cyrus, he announced, was a very special man: noble and filled with love and kindness. The Shah insisted that Cyrus was the first to establish a right to "freedom of opinion."

'Ancient Declaration of Human Rights'

Pahlevi also ensured that his view of history would be taken to the United Nations. On Oct. 14, just as the party in Persepolis was in full swing, his twin sister walked into the United Nations building in New York, where she handed a copy of a cuneiform document, about the size of a rolling pin, to then Secretary General Sithu U Thant. Thant thanked her for the "historic gift" and promptly praised it as an "ancient declaration of human rights."


'The UN Made a Serious Mistake'

Art historian Klaus Gallas, who is preparing a German-Iranian cultural festival to take place in Weimar next summer, has now brought the matter to the public's attention. During his preparations for the festival he discovered the inconsistencies between the Shah's claims and the Cyrus decree. "The UN made a serious mistake," says Gallas.

Despite having been contacted by SPIEGEL several times, the organization has declined to comment on the incident. Indeed, the UN Information Service in Vienna continues to insist that many still consider the cuneiform cylinder from the Orient to be the "first human rights document."

The aftermath of the hoax has been disastrous. Even German schoolbooks describe the ancient Persian king as a pioneer of humane policies. According to a forged translation on the Internet, Cyrus even supported a minimum wage and right to asylum.

"Slavery must be abolished throughout the world," the fake translation reads. "Every country shall decide for itself whether or not it wants my leadership."

Even Shirin Ebadi, the 2003 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, was taken in by the hoax. "I am an Iranian. A descendant of Cyrus the Great," she said in her speech in Oslo. "The very emperor who proclaimed at the pinnacle of power 2,500 years ago that ... he would not reign over the people if they did not wish it."

The experts are now stunned at this example of a rumor gone wild.

Er ... or not so much. Back in 2004 (here and here and in 2007 here) I disputed the notion of Cyrus as an upholder of human rights. Like all figures in antiquity he lived by a different, and by our standards rather barbaric, code of conduct. He doesn't look too bad in comparison to the Neo-Assyrian or Neo-Babylonian empires, mainly because he figured out that you get taxes out of subject peoples more easily if you mostly leave them to their own devices. But for the time that was a step forward and it did involve a new level of tolerance. Not that that should make him a human rights icon today. We should understand him on his on terms for his own time. Compare the Economist's evaluation of the Emperor Hadrian in the article cited in the post just before this one:
Hadrian was a complex, contradictory figure, ruling for 21 years. He was a dictator, sometimes regarded as a “prince of peace” by Europeans. Israelis point to him as the perpetrator of the first Holocaust. “He was not necessarily a likeable man, but his achievements were awesome,” says Thorsten Opper, the museum’s specialist in classical sculpture and the show’s curator.

From the Economist:
Strutting on the stage

Jul 17th 2008
From The Economist print edition
“Hadrian: Empire and Conflict” will be at the British Museum from July 24th until October 26th

A MASSIVE stone head of the Emperor Hadrian is the first exhibit a visitor sees in the British Museum’s exploration of “the life, love and legacy of Rome’s most enigmatic Emperor”. He is bearded with carefully coiffed curly hair, and that unmistakable deep diagonal crease in the earlobes which helps identify authentic ancient portraits of Hadrian. The head was discovered only last August in Sagalassos in south-west Turkey, and it has never been seen in public before. The decision to allow it to leave the storehouse in the local museum was taken at cabinet level in Ankara after detailed negotiations between Neil MacGregor, the British Museum’s director, and Turkey’s ambassador to London. It is a brilliant coup de théâtre.

This exhibition is not linked to an anniversary. The closest it gets to a relevant contemporary reference is to emphasise that one of Hadrian’s first acts on becoming Emperor in 117AD was to withdraw Rome’s army from Mesopotamia (modern Iraq). Mr MacGregor says the exhibition is one of a series exploring great rulers who shaped our world.

From ArtDaily:
The British Museum Presents Hadrian: Empire and Conflict Exhibition in London

LONDON.-The British Museum presents Hadrian: Empire and Conflict, on view through October 26, 2008. The Roman Emperor Hadrian (117 to 138AD) is best known for his passion for Greek culture, interest in architecture, his love for Antinous, and of course the eponymous wall he built between England and Scotland, then Caledonia. This exhibition, supported by BP, will look beyond this established image and offer new perspectives on his life and legacy, exploring the sharp contradictions of his personality and his role as a ruthless military commander. Incorporating recent scholarship and the latest spectacular archaeological discoveries, the exhibition will feature over 180 objects from 28 lenders from Italy to Georgia, from Israel to Newcastle. Loans of dramatic sculpture, exquisite bronzes and architectural fragments will be brought together and displayed for the first time in the UK, alongside famous objects from the Museum’s own collection such as the iconic bronze head of Hadrian and the Vindolanda tablets. This exhibition will be held in the Round Reading Room, often compared to one of Hadrian’s architectural masterpieces, the Pantheon in Rome.


Hadrian was a man of great contradiction in both his personality and reign: a military man and homosexual, he combined ruthless suppression of dissent with cultural tolerance. He reacted with great ferocity against the Jewish Revolt in 132 AD (examples of poignant objects belonging to Jewish rebels hiding in caves near Jerusalem will be included in the exhibition), but he was also a dedicated philhellene, passionate about Greek culture. He took a young Greek male lover, Antinous, who accompanied him on his travels around the empire. In AD 130, Antinous drowned in mysterious circumstances in Egypt. Consumed by grief, Hadrian founded a new city, Antinoupolis, close to the spot where he died and had Antinous declared a god, linked to the Egyptian deity Osiris. A cult of Antinous-Osiris sprang up resulting in statues, busts and silverware featuring the image of the newly deified youth.

Background here.
WIKIPEDIA meets the Library of Alexandria. And bravo to Wikipedia founder, Jimmy Wales, for putting in a word for imprisoned Egyptian blogger Abdel Kareem Nabil Seliman.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

VISION OF GABRIEL WATCH: Mark Goodacre has a roundup of bloggers' commentary in "Gabriel's Revelation" Tablet .
THE GNOSTIC GOSPELS and Mary Magdelene come to the London theatre:
The Magdalene Mysteries at Southwark Playhouse
Sunday 13 July 2008
Elizabeth Peasley

It is well worth catching this intriguing contemporary dance, voice and music theatre production this week at Southwark Playhouse as it arrives at next stop on its tour from Rome and St James's Piccadilly.

Performed by a talented group of actors and superb singers the production takes you on an imaginary journey with Mary Magdalene as the focus.


This innovative form of theatre is based on stories of Mary Magdalene from early historical documents such as the Gospels in the Bible, Gnostic and medieval texts and later sources.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

VISION OF GABRIEL WATCH: Israel Knohl e-mails:
I would like to inform you that I have just published a Hebrew article on the "Gabriel Revelation" in the Hebrew Periodical "Tarbiz". In the appendix to the article I give my reading of the text. The article is posted now at the Shalom Hartman Institute website together with my English translation of the "Gabriel Revelation".
The page on the Shalom Hartman Institute website is here. You can download the Tarbiz article as a pdf file here.

Also, April DeConick has a discussion of the possible background of Hosea 6:1-3 to the "three days" in the Vision of Gabriel here. As you can see, I have left a comment for her.
COKE CANS in Ethiopic.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

AN ONLINE SYRIAC STUDY GROUP has just been started up by Todd Goodwin:
Welcome to Studying Syriac. This is the website for an online study group formed in May 2008, with the aim of helping a disparate and scattered group of independent students make progress in their study of the Syriac language.

There is a wide range of useful material on this site, which is available to anyone interested in studying Syriac. But essentially it is a tool for our study group to communicate together, compare the answers to Syriac exercises, and discuss the various aspects of the language as we study together.

An account is required to use the site fully.
(Via the Hugoye list.)
Distinguished Professorship/Jewish History

Vacancy #29F004
Position #6790

The University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Department of History seeks applications for the Charles and Hannah Block Distinguished Professorship in Jewish History, beginning August 2009. Those currently holding the rank of Professor or advanced Associate Professor with a notable record of scholarly publication and teaching in any period of Jewish History are encouraged to apply. Ph.D. in history or related discipline required. Responsibilities include: teaching four courses per year, including undergraduate courses in Jewish History from antiquity to the present as well as upper-level undergraduate and graduate courses in specialty; active research; and outreach to area educators. Funds from the Rhine Family Endowment for Jewish History will be available to support research, outreach, and related programs for the region. Salary will be competitive based on experience and publications. A comprehensive university situated in the historic port city of Wilmington, UNCW enrolls nearly 12,000 students and offers graduate fields in European, U.S., Global, and Public History at the M.A. level.

To apply, please complete the online application process available on the Web at A letter of application and curriculum vitae, should be attached to the online application – not emailed, mailed or faxed. Microsoft Word or Adobe PDF attachments are required. In addition, please have three letters of reference sent to Prof. Mark Spaulding, Search Committee Chair, Department of History, UNCW, 601 S. College Rd., Wilmington, NC 28403. For questions regarding the online application process, contact Ms. Tammie Grady at (910) 962-3307. Priority consideration will be given to online applications received by December 1, 2008, but will be accepted until the position is filled.

UNCW actively fosters a diverse and inclusive working and learning environment and is an equal opportunity employer. Qualified men and women from all racial, ethnic, or other minority groups are strongly encouraged to apply.

Librarian, Library of Congress: Hebraic Section, AMED, Collections and Services Division, Library Services

Manages the development and growth of library collections in the Hebraic Section. Solicits information and recommends and selects acquisitions of new materials for collections. Develops the reference collections and the general collections, including materials in all formats (print, microform and electronic), emphasizing projects that focus on filling major gaps in the collections.

(Via the H-JUDAIC list: here and here.)
PORING OVER THE KABBALAH to try to explain the latest rumors about the doings of Madonna and her circle:
“These are all very talented people—especially Lenny Kravitz,” Rabbi Allan Nadler, the director of the Jewish Studies Program at Drew University, said last week. “But what a field of academia I’m in!” He explained that he’d been exchanging e-mails with a colleague in Jerusalem about possible textual antecedents—say, in the Zohar or the Sefer Yetzirah—for soul-mate poaching, and they had been unable to come up with any. “One of the dominant features of Kabbalah was teaching self-denial and asceticism,” he said. Nadler is an out-spoken critic of the Kabbalah Centre, in Los Angeles, where Madonna, Britney Spears, and Demi Moore, among others, have supposedly found inspiration. “It teaches self-fulfillment to the point of becoming God,” he said. “So these are gods-in-training.” Not that he thought a more authentic dedication to Lurianic Kabbalah could help a millionaire ballplayer. “The true Kabbalists, they fasted, and I think baseball players need their carbs,” he said, and added that Rodriguez’s bronzed complexion seemed incompatible with intense Aramaic study. “If you’re a Kabbalist, you really have no time for the sun.”
I disagree. A balanced life finds time for both Aramaic and the sun.

UPDATE: Joshua Waxman find precedent for soul-mate poaching in Genesis Rabba.

Monday, July 14, 2008

MARK TWAIN slept here.
RACHEL ELIOR is speaking on the Dead Sea Scrolls at the North Carolina exhibit:

Israeli professor Rachel Elior will present the first lecture of the series "Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls and Why Were They Written?" on Thursday at 7 p.m. at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences.

The lecture is part of a series the museum is holding with The Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit. Elior is the John and Golda Cohen Professor of Jewish Philosophy and Jewish Mystical Thought at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She will speak about topics on which the scrolls were written, their authors and the circumstances under which they were written.

Exhibit background here. More on Professor Elior's work on the Dead Sea Scrolls here.
VISION OF GABRIEL WATCH: James Carroll has thoughts in the Boston Globe. Excerpt:
The "Gabriel Revelation" may be hard evidence of such expectation, but it builds on even older strands of Jewish faith. "In two days He will make us whole again," the prophet Hosea had declared. "On the third day He will raise us up." (Hosea 6:2) Resurrection defined a Jewish hope. Without reference to the controversial Gabriel tablet, the Jewish and Christian scholars Jon D. Levenson and Kevin J. Madigan, in their recent book "Resurrection: The Power of God for Christians and Jews," write, "In fact, not only the notion of the resurrection of the dead, but the expression of God's vindication of Jesus in the language of resurrection, owes its origin to its parent religion, Judaism."

That Christianity defined itself as the polar opposite of Judaism was an accident of history, with lethal consequences. The two religions are and will remain distinct, but it is urgently important that Christians, especially, correct the mistake that saw Jesus in radical opposition to his own people. He remained a devoted Jew to the end, and his first followers understood him, after his death, in fully Jewish terms. If Christians had continued to do so, the tradition of anti-Judaism, which spawned anti-Semitism, would not have developed.
Background here.
Israeli lifeguard discovers ancient sea relic

By ARON HELLER – 8 hours ago

JERUSALEM (AP) — An Israeli lifeguard taking his regular morning swim off the Mediterranean coast in southern Israel discovered a 2,500-year-old marble talisman to ward off the evil eye, the Israel Antiquities Authority said Sunday.

The lifeguard turned over the ancient disc that once adorned the bow of an ancient warship or cargo ship to keep evil away, the Israeli archaeology body said.


Sunday, July 13, 2008

THE PHOENICIAN SHIP EXPEDITION sets out to circumnavigate Africa on 1 August in a reconstructed Phoenician ship:
Phoenicia Expedition Launching August 1; Will Rewrite History Through Unprecedented Voyage

Crew Attempts to Prove Ancient Phoenicians Were First to Circle Africa

LOS ANGELES--(BUSINESS WIRE)--In H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, history is altered by a scientist who seeks his own epic adventure, traveling through time. Similarly, a group of present-day adventurers are seeking to rewrite history through their own amazing journey. The Phoenicia Expedition will circumnavigate Africa in an attempt to prove that the Phoenicians were the first people to conquer such a feat. Led by businessman and adventurer Philip Beale, the expedition will recreate the voyage of a 600 B.C. Phoenician vessel, a modern day “time machine” that will sail some of the world’s most dangerous waters.

August 1 marks the beginning of a 17,000-mile journey that includes 20 crewmembers from across the globe. The voyage will begin in Syria, take the crew around the Cape of Good Hope - one of the most treacherous passages in the world, and will end in the Mediterranean Sea.

Background here. The Phoenician Ship Expedition's website is here. They're still signing up crew. Now's your chance!
Grave discovery halts work on hospital's emergency center
By SAUL SINGER (Jerusalem Post)

Construction on a 200-bed underground emergency facility at Ashkelon's Barzilai Medical Center, which began in March and was speeding ahead amid concerns over a resumption of violence from the Gaza Strip, has ground to a halt after the discovery of ancient graves at the building site.

The hospital is now negotiating with the Religious Services and Health ministries over how to proceed, Barzilai's deputy director, Emile Hay, told The Jerusalem Post.


The graves date from the Byzantine era, according to Antiquities Authority spokesperson Yoli Shwartz.

"In light of past excavation around Barzilai and the general Ashkelon area, the graves are most likely either of Christian or pagan inhabitants," said Dr. Haim Goldfus, senior lecturer of archaeology at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

Ashkelon was the heart of Christian and pagan life in the Byzantine era, and it is unlikely that the graves are Jewish, he added.