Saturday, July 26, 2008

Art That Does Not Hide Itself
By Menachem Wecker The Forward)
Thu. Jul 24, 2008

Most of the works that appear in the exhibit Idol Anxiety, at the University of Chicago’s David and Alfred Smart Museum of Art, feature Christian and pagan content. But exhibit curator Aaron Tugendhaft credits the “heightened awareness” he developed from studying the Talmud as a child with helping him discover “valuable distinctions not seen by others” in the process of how objects avoid becoming idols.


This spectrum is evident in two objects, one Jewish and one Christian, that hang side by side in the show. The Jewish image, an ink-on-parchment 19th-century Yemeni “Holy Tree” amulet, incorporates Hebrew text and diagrams of the 10 sephirot, or divine attributes in Kabbalah. The show suggests that this amulet avoids the Second Commandment’s ban on representing the divine by giving physical form to the divine attributes rather than trying to depict God directly. In modern art terms, the amulet is an abstraction rather than a naturalistic portrait.

The Christian kabbalist who created the companion piece shared no such concerns about directly representing God. The 1515 woodcut from the first printed edition of the New Testament in Syriac shows Jesus crucified, with a haloed saint looking up at him. An eagle beside the saint identifies him as John, and between him and the cross is the first verse of John’s Gospel, “In principio erat verbum” (“In the beginning was the word”). Behind Saint John are a seven-branch menorah and a football-shaped form that circumscribes the 10 sephirot. The artist joined the sephirot with the crucifixion through lines representing the stigmata that connect each sephirah with one of Jesus’ wounds. Where the “Holy Tree” carefully draws the line at representing attributes of God, the woodcut maps the divine body over the human body.

There are photos of both pieces in the article.

Friday, July 25, 2008

STILL MORE THOUGHTS on the new Deuteronomy (?) fragment that contains a Samaritan reading (background here and here). Mladen Popovic has e-mailed to note Shemaryahu Talmon's article "A Masada Fragment of Samaritan Origin," Israel Exploration Journal 47 (1997): 220-32, which argues that a hymnic fragment from Masada which mentions Mount Gerizi[m], writing the name as one word, and which is written in the paleo-Hebrew script, is of Samaritan origin. (This seems plausible enough and it would not be too surprising if both Samaritan and Jewish refugees ended up on Masada late in the Great Revolt.) Talmon mentions one additional piece of evidence which seems relevant: Josephus uses the Greek form of the name and it comes down to us in the manuscripts written continuously (Jewish War 1 §63), which comfirms that Jews sometimes, not always, wrote it that way.

Also, David Stacey e-mails:
" If it is a Samaritan fragment, this raises the question of whether the reported Qumran provenance is correct and, if it is, what the Qumran sectarians were doing with a Samaritan manuscript. Given their exclusivist sectarian worldview, it doesn't seem likely that they would have had cordial relations with the Samaritans.

Again, this whole discussion depends on the fragment being genuine, which remains to be demonstrated." -
I, as you know, approach Qumran as an archaeologist not as a textual scholar. Even if the fragment is genuine and the provenance is correct what evidence is there to suggest that Qumran was a sectarian settlement? As an archaeologist I can not directly connect the people who inhabited the site with the scrolls beyond the fact that at least some of those inhabitants were aware of the existence of the scrolls. Even most textual scholars now accept, do they not, that some of the scrolls must have come from elsewhere? And surely the scrolls could have arrived in Qumran at different times, from different places, and for different reasons? In my DSD article (vol.14.2 - 2007) I explained why some of the accepted dating was wrong and showed that some of the identifications of areas which were supposed to 'prove' sectarianism were wrong, and, indeed, that throughout the 70 years of Hasmonean occupation the site was probably only capable of sustaining limited, seasonal industrialists. Surely the insistence that Qumran was a high-class sectarian society, despite considerable indications to the contrary, muddies the whole issue?
I approach Qumran as a specialist in the texts, so when I said "Qumran provenance," that was shorthand for "coming from the Qumran library found in those caves around the site." And it is my position, and that of most specialists in the Dead Sea Scrolls (Norman Golb is an exception), that it is a sectarian library. This has been argued repeatedly and at length elsewhere and I'm not going to rehearse those arguments here. (I have addressed the issue online here, here, here, and here.) I am not an archaeologist and I hold no particular position about the use of the site and that question doesn't much matter for the point I was making. (For some discussion on this blog see here, here, here, here ,here, here, here, here, and here.) But the consensus position that the library is sectarian does raise the question of how a Samaritan biblical fragment got into it, if that's what happened. It's not impossible, but it's striking and worthy of further exploration.
THE CODEX SINAITICUS PROJECT is still getting lots of attention in the press. Here's a piece from CNN:
World's oldest Bible goes online
By Ed Payne

LONDON, England (CNN) -- The oldest known surviving copy of the New Testament gets the modern touch Thursday when parts of it go online for the first time.
The full manuscript of the Codex Sinaiticus will be online a year from now.

The full manuscript of the Codex Sinaiticus will be online a year from now.

The British Library plans to begin publishing the Codex Sinaiticus, a 4th century text handwritten in Greek, on its Web site. The Gospel of Mark and the Book of Psalms go online Thursday. The full manuscript is to be online in a year.

Translations of the Codex Sinaiticus have long been widely available, but publishing images of the manuscript online will let anyone see pages that, until now, have been viewed in detail mainly by academia.

Some people seem struck by the fact that this oldest, or at least very old, Bible includes the Apocrypha. The Cleveland Leader headlines this with "World's Oldest Bible Gets Digitized, Includes Disputed Apocrypha Books" and notes:
The Codex contains all of the New Testament, and also includes part of the Old Testament, and originally contained the entire text of the Christian Bible. It also includes Apocrypha, the 14 disputed books of the Old Testament which are typically omitted from the Protestant Bible. The Codex also contains two early Christian texts, "Epistle of Barnabas" and the "Shepherd of Hermas."
And someone posting on Associated Content notes the Apocrypha connection and makes much of 2 Maccabees being in the Apocrypha, evidently being unaware that 2 Maccabees is not found in Codex Sinaiticus.

Background here.

UPDATE (31 July): Bad link fixed. The paragraph on 2 Maccabees has been deleted at Associated Content.
Museum Offers Gray Gaza a View of Its Dazzling Past

Published: July 25, 2008

GAZA — It may sound like the indulgence of a well-fed man fleeing the misery around him. But when Jawdat N. Khoudary opens the first museum of archaeology in Gaza this summer it will be a form of Palestinian patriotism, showing how this increasingly poor and isolated coastal strip ruled by the Islamists of Hamas was once a thriving multicultural crossroad.

The exhibition is in a stunning hall made partly of stones from old houses, discarded wood ties of a former railroad and bronze lamps and marble columns uncovered by Gazan fishermen and construction workers.

And while the display might be pretty standard stuff most anywhere else — arrowheads, Roman anchors, Bronze Age vases and Byzantine columns — life is now so gray in Gaza that the museum, with its glimpses of a rich outward-looking history, seems somehow dazzling.


His collection includes thousands of items, but some of the most extraordinary will not go on display now, including a statue of a full-breasted Aphrodite in a diaphanous gown, images of other ancient deities and oil lamps featuring menorahs.

Asked why, Mr. Khoudary noted Hamas’s rule and the conservative piety of the population and said simply, “I want my project to succeed.”

He did, however, bring a Hamas government minister to see the exhibition recently and pointed out two crosses on Byzantine columns to make sure he had no objections. The gap between what he calls the narrow-mindedness of today’s Gaza and the worldliness of the past is what most saddens him, he said.

A prominent construction company owner, Mr. Khoudary, who is 48 and a proponent of coexistence and global culture, has been collecting for 22 years, ever since he came across an Islamic glass coin and fell in love with its link to a bygone era. Since then, he has asked all his construction workers to save whatever they dig up so that he can search it for treasures. Local fishermen know that anything old that washes ashore will fetch a decent price from Mr. Khoudary.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

AT LAST! A detailed report on the recent Dead Sea Scrolls conference in Jerusalem:
The Qumran Quandary
By ZIV HELLMAN (Jerusalem Post)

Cover story in Issue 8, August 4, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.

The Judean desert in the vicinity of the Qumran caves, on the west coast of the Dead Sea, is bleak, dusty, hot and barren. Little life stirs here. The bright blue of the vast salt lake belies its own lifelessness. It is easy to see why the original view of those who lived here 2,000 years ago and apparently wrote over 900 parchment manuscripts is that of ascetic monks who spent all their time laboriously copying sacred texts in an isolated community.
But 60 years after the discovery of the first Dead Sea scrolls by two Beduin shepherds - and seven years after the last of the scrolls to be unearthed was published and made available to scholars - that view has largely been discarded. In its place are a plethora of competing theories about who lived at Qumran, what their relationship to the scrolls was, and what legacy they left behind.
Archaeological digs at Qumran and surrounding settlements have revealed not an isolated, penurious community, but in some respects a rather flourishing one, which in the Second Temple period contained installations for blacksmithing and tanning and what seems to be an immense pottery factory. The residents there traded with other settlements, kept a stable, grew crops and raised sheep. Based on theories that the residents lived a communal lifestyle, some have termed it "the first kibbutz," complete with agriculture, light industry, a communal dining room and a common treasury - a cache of hundreds of silver coins was found on the site.
Loud rows are now erupting at academic conferences over a question that was once considered too ridiculous to ask: did the Qumran community include women and children? And the recent stunning discovery of a "Dead Sea Stone" - a first century BCE tablet found on the east coast of the lake, and possibly describing a suffering messiah who dies and is resurrected three days later - has stirred renewed interest in tracing the precursors of early Christian theology in the desert.
These were just a few of the hotly-debated topics at an early July conference in Jerusalem to mark the 60th anniversary of the discovery of the scrolls. Some 36 researchers from Israel, the United States, Canada, Austria, Germany, Britain and Belgium gathered in the Shrine of the Book - which houses the most famous scroll, that containing the complete text of the Book of Isaiah - on the grounds of the Israel Museum. The event was a testament to the persistent and even increasing interest in what are some of the world's most renowned historical documents.

The Vision of Gabriel stone gets some attention too, but the rest of the conference is not neglected.

(Heads up, reader Yoel Heltai.)
Ancient Bible with a murky past is on the path to a new era of clarity

Alexi Mostrous (London Times)

The story of the Codex Sinaiticus Bible, the oldest complete copy of the New Testament in existence, reads like a script from an Indiana Jones film.

Ever since a German explorer controversially removed it from an Egyptian monastery, four countries have fought for control over the ancient manuscript.

From today, extracts from the 4th-century Greek original can be viewed online. Behind the scenes, however, “harsh and negative” discussions continue between Britain, Russia, Egypt and Germany to establish who has the right to the priceless artefact.

Seems like a good summary of the current understanding of the rediscovery of the manuscript.

The Codex Sinaiticus Project website goes live today with Mark and the Psalms. I'll link to it when they've been posted.

Background here.

UPDATE (1:45 pm BST): The site ( is now live, but the photo page is oversubscribed ("Too many concurrent connections (> 100.000). The manuscript page is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.").
SENATOR OBAMA has visited the Western Wall:
Obama visits Jerusalem's Western Wall
Wed Jul 23, 2008 11:34pm EDT

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama made a surprise pre-dawn visit to Jerusalem's Western Wall on Thursday, at the end of a trip aimed at showing his strong support for Israel.

Obama, wearing a Jewish skullcap, placed a prayer he had written in the wall and bowed his head while a rabbi read a psalm calling for peace in the holy city.

UPDATE: It was Psalm 122:
( Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama wound up his two-day visit to Israel Thursday morning with a pre-dawn visit to the Western Wall (Kotel), where he and his wife quietly read Psalm 122.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

FURTHER THOUGHTS on the new Deuteronomy (?) fragment with a Samaritan reading in it. A couple of readers have pointed out that the orthography of the phrase "Mount Gerizim," is written as one word (בהרגרזים - HarGerizim), and Menachem Brody notes that this is typically Samaritan and offers further support for a Samaritan provenance for the fragment. This is correct, although we don't know the origin of the spelling and it might well be an old Jewish spelling. Some Septuagint manuscripts have Greek spellings of "Mount -" names transliterated with the "Mount" part (Αρ) attached directly to the name, and the Old Latin has the unseparated spelling Argarzim in 2 Maccabees 5:23 and 6:2 for Mount Gerizim. Note also the unseparated spelling Armagedon (Αρμαγεδων) for "Mount Megiddo" (הר מגידו) in Revelation 16:16. Some LXX papyrus fragments also use the unseparated Greek spelling of Mount Gerizim (αργαριζιμ), although it has been argued that these are also of Samaritan provenance.

For a discussion of this issue which collects the relevant evidence, see R. Pummer, "ΑΡΓΑΡΙΖΙΝ: A Criterion for Samaritan Provenance?" Journal for the Study of Judaism 18 (1987): 18-25. The article should be online here (a paid subscription site), but there's a glitch at present and the page displays articles from the wrong journal. I've e-mailed Ingenta to inform them of the problem.

The fact that this new fragment has both the reading "Mount Gerizim" in this passage and the unseparated spelling of the name does present a pretty good case for a Samaritan provenance, although it's not quite conclusive. The reading could still be an early variant later seized on by the Samaritans to support their own temple on the site, and we don't know for sure how widespread this spelling of the name was in this early period.

If it is a Samaritan fragment, this raises the question of whether the reported Qumran provenance is correct and, if it is, what the Qumran sectarians were doing with a Samaritan manuscript. Given their exclusivist sectarian worldview, it doesn't seem likely that they would have had cordial relations with the Samaritans.

Again, this whole discussion depends on the fragment being genuine, which remains to be demonstrated.
LANGUAGES IN DANGER is a new book by Andrew Dalby which "considers the consequences of the current language crisis, in which a language is dying every two weeks." He's produced a list of ten for the Guardian, although it's not entirely clear what the criteria are for inclusion. Coptic is certainly threatened, but Greek is a stretch, and French more so. The Indus Valley language isn't threatened, it's long gone and remains undeciphered. And I am very skeptical about anyone being able to reconstruct the language of "Eve." Anyhow, there you have it.

From the Guardian:
So many exhibitions talk big then give you a few casts and copies and wall texts. This show delivers: it is an archaeological treasury whose beauty is the result of exceptional loans of some of the supreme works of Roman art from the Capitoline and Vatican museums in Rome, the Louvre in Paris, and new archaeological finds such as a colossus of Hadrian, excavated recently in Turkey. There are handwritten letters from the Jewish rebel leader Simon Bar Kokhba, and a papyrus fragment on which is written the Alexandrian poet Pankrates's celebration of a lion hunt where Hadrian deliberately missed his own shot, in order "to test to the full the sureness of aim/ Of his beauteous Antinous".

The Romans lived as if history were a book that concerned them - they displayed their flaws and crimes as proof that they belonged on its pages. The darkest stories and judgments on them are to be found in their own histories: see this, then read the Annals of Tacitus. This exhibition has the realism and the grandeur you find in Tacitus. Under the blue dome of the Victorian Reading Room inspired by Hadrian's architectural masterpiece, the Pantheon, Roman art at long last gets its triumph.
From Reuters:
Hadrian has echoes today
Wed Jul 23, 2008 8:47am BST

By Jeremy Lovell

LONDON, July 22 (Reuters Life!) - He had his fingers burned in ancient Iraq, fought insurrections on several fronts and built a huge wall to protect a fractious frontier, but still had time to boost the economy and leave major artistic legacies.

Many of the trials and tribulations that faced Rome's emperor Hadrian nearly 2,000 years ago still resonate today.

"The conflict zones in Hadrian's day are the conflict zones of today," said Thorsten Opper, curator of a new exhibition, "Hadrian - Empire and conflict" at London's British Museum.

Background here and just keep following the links back.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

MORE ON THE CODEX SINAITICUS PROJECT: That AP article I alluded to yesterday is out.
Scholars plan to reunite ancient Bible _ online

By RAPHAEL G. SATTER – 8 hours ago

LONDON (AP) — The oldest surviving copy of the New Testament, a 4th century version that had its Gospels and epistles spread across the world, is being made whole again — online.

The British Library says the full text of the Codex Sinaiticus will be available to Web users by next July, digitally reconnecting parts that are held in Britain, Russia, Germany and a monastery in Egypt's Sinai Desert.

A preview of the Codex, which also has some parts of the Old Testament, will hit the Web on Thursday — the Book of Psalms and the Gospel of Mark.

I am also quoted later in the piece, accurately, if telegraphically.
James Davila, a professor of early Jewish studies at St. Andrews University in Scotland, said the Codex also includes religious works foreign to the Roman Catholic and Protestant canons — such as the "Epistle of Barnabas" and the "Shepherd of Hermas," a book packed with visions and parables.

Davila stressed that did not mean the works were necessarily considered Scripture by early Christians: They could have been bound with the Bible to save money.
The point I was making was that, given the expense of producing a large codex like this, it would be understandable if the compilers of a Bible included some books that were considered valuable for reading in church, even if they didn't consider them scripture. That may explain the inclusion of the Epistle of Barnabas and the Shepherd of Hermas, although The Shepherd actually was considered scripture by some early Christians. But the fact that these two books come after the New Testament, at or near the end of the manuscript, supports the possibility that they were included as a non-scriptural appendix.

It's a good article. I look forward to seeing the preliminary site when it opens.
VISION OF GABRIEL WATCH: April DeConick has an Index of links on the Apocalypse of Gabriel.
HADRIAN – A titan of antiquity or worse than Hitler? Could be both too, I suppose.

Background here.

UPDATE: In support of the second option:
Emperor of the first holocaust: How the death of his male lover left Hadrian a tyrant

By William Napier (Daily Mail)
Last updated at 11:20 PM on 21st July 2008

The elderly, distinguished-looking Israelite is thrown to the ground by a group of hard-faced soldiers who spit on him, kick him and call him a filthy old Jew.

His name is Rabbi Akiba ben Joseph, one of the greatest scholars of his day. But that means nothing to these ruthless military men who continue to beat and insult him as their senior officer looks on approvingly.

An appalling scene from Nazi Germany, perhaps?

No. The scene took place in the Roman Province of Judea, in AD135. And the senior officer is none other than the Emperor Hadrian himself, witnessing the torture and death of the rabbi with grim satisfaction.

Yet when he had ascended the imperial throne 18 years before, Hadrian was hailed as one of the most enlightened and peace-loving of all emperors. What had gone so terribly wrong?

Rabbi Akiba, the Romans would say, was the spiritual inspiration behind the Jewish Revolt which had raged for the past four years, and left so many hundreds of thousands dead throughout Judea.

Now, Hadrian sat on his fine white Spanish horse and watched the muscled legionaries inflicting a punishment of unimaginable brutality on their captive.

They stretched him out on the ground, ripped his ancient, tattered robe from his emaciated body, and fixed iron hooks into his flesh as the rabbi began to mutter the ancient prayer of his people, the Shema Yisrael.

Then the Romans roped the hooks up to four horses, cracked their whips, and the animals pulled in four different directions. The old man's voice rose to a scream, but still he prayed even as his body was torn apart: 'Hear, O Israel, The Lord is our God, the Lord alone!'

Hadrian finally turned his horse away in disgust and gazed out westwards over the mountains of Judea, this wretched, fanatical little province, towards the sunlit calm of the Mediterranean.

How had it come to this? This scene of utter degradation and death which, he knew, was also the death of all his own hopes and ideals?

I think we should be cautious of equating the suppression of the Bar Kokhba revolt – which for all its brutality was ultimately a military conflict – with the Holocaust, which really was an ideological attempt to annihilate the Jewish people. Also, our historical sources for the Bar Kokhba revolt are very sketchy and often late, and this article takes them literally, uncritically, and even plays up and augments the lurid details, as above.

UPDATE: In any case, the exhibition is doing quite well so far:
Wall-to-wall Hadrian at British Museum
Louise Jury, Chief Arts Correspondent (This is London)

He has shown more box office pulling power than Michelangelo - even if he cannot quite rival the Terracotta Warriors.

Hadrian, the Roman emperor best known in Britain for his wall, is set to be the next big draw at the British Museum with more than 20,000 tickets sold in advance of the exhibition opening on Thursday.

That compares with around 14,000 for the Renaissance artist and 100,000 for the ancient Chinese army.


Monday, July 21, 2008

German University to Put World's Oldest Bible Online

(Deutsche Welle)

The world's oldest surviving semi-complete copy of the Bible, a 4th-century manuscript in ancient Greek that was discovered in a waste-paper bin by a German scholar, is set to be published online.

The Codex Sinaiticus, rediscovered in a monastery in the Sinai Peninsula by Konstantin von Tischendorf in 1844, contains half the Jewish Old Testament and most of the Christian New Testament, the University of Leipzig Library said on Monday, July 21.

The library added that it would go online on Thursday.

The project website is here. For past PaleoJudaica coverage of Codex Siniaticus, see here.

It's not exactly the oldest Bible; its one of the oldest Christian Bibles which is bound in a single binding. The oldest is probably Codex Vaticanus, but only by a few decades. Both are in Greek, both come from the fourth century, and both are damaged and incomplete. Headline quibbles aside, this is an important and welcome project and I'm very happy to see it coming online.

I'm discussing this story with an AP reporter this afternoon, so you may hear more from me about it presently.

UPDATE (22 July): For the AP article, see here.
THE HADRIAN EXHIBITION is featured in the Scotsman:
The exhibition also reminds us that Rome was an empire based not just on law and trade, but also on bloodshed – for among Hadrian's legacies was his brutal suppression of a huge Jewish revolt, leading to the banning of Judaism and the deaths of perhaps half a million people.

Modern politicians often struggle to come across as recognisable human beings yet Hadrian comes over as a painfully human, flesh-and-blood figure. And the most fascinating part of the exhibition is the section on his personal life.
The London Times discusses the Emperor's coronary health:
Hadrian, the Roman Emperor, is returning to conquer London again. Installed as emperor in AD117, he came to Britain to crush a revolt and around AD122, as part of his campaign, he initiated the building of a 73-mile wall to keep out the troublesome Scots. This week he will be on show at the British Museum. Fortunately, as his face is carved in stone, he can't express the horror at finding that his old enemies, the Scots, are now governing England and controlling its purse-strings.

Many will know of Hadrian only because of his wall, but medical students have another reason. They have been looking at pictures of his busts for years - focusing on his ear lobes. Hadrian's lobes display marked lobar creases. These are pronounced creases running diagonally across the lobe of the ear. They are not disfiguring, but are an intriguing early sign that all may not be well with a person's coronary arterial system.

Also, Dan Snow had a special on Channel 4 last night on Hadrian, which I missed.
Snow delivered his presentation at breathless pace, but then he can't have had a lot of time left over from the travelling, given an itinerary that stretched from the Roman granite mines in Africa to sites in Turkey and Jerusalem. Hadrian, incidentally, might have been big on infrastructure projects, but he wasn't much interested in multicultural outreach. He provoked a rebellion in Judaea by outlawing circumcision and planning to build a new capital on the Temple Mount. So great were the quantities of blood shed when he finally put down the resulting insurrection that farmers didn't need to use fertiliser for seven years, though one had the feeling that this fact hadn't actually been verified by independent experts. Despite his administrative and imperial success, things started going downhill for Hadrian after his lover, Antinous, drowned in the Nile and the end of his life was marked by ill health and paranoia. Having built what may have been the biggest retirement home in history, a villa complex two-thirds the size of Rome, he died without ever getting time to enjoy it.
Background here.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

TWO ANCIENT BIBLICAL SCROLL FRAGMENTS, reportedly from Qumran Cave 4, have been published by James H. Charlesworth on the Institute for Judaism and Christian Origins website.

One is a fragment of Deuteronomy 27:4b-6 that, very interestingly, reads with the Samaritan Pentateuch in having Moses command the Israelites to build an altar on Mount Gerizim, not Mount Ebal as in the Masoretic Text. Charlesworth argues that this is actually a copy of a Samaritan Pentateuch, which is possible. 4QpaleoExodm also has the Samaritan Pentateuch's expansions taken from elsewhere in the Pentateuch, but it lacks the historical/theological changes pertaining to Samaritanism vs. Judaism. This variant in the new Deuteronomy manuscript is a significant historical difference from the MT, and arguably it is an alteration to support the theological position that the Samaritan temple was the legitimate sanctuary of YHWH. That said, it's also possible that this is just a variant reading, perhaps even an original one, which was used later by the Samaritans to advance their own political and theological agendas. I would be more convinced that this is a Samaritan manuscript if it had an unequivocal Samaritan theological alteration such as the addition of this same passage (with Mount Gerizim in it) after Deuteronomy 5:21(18) as part of the Ten Commandments. (Conceivably that actually is where it comes from in this manuscript, but we don't have any context that would tell us.)

The other fragment is of Nehemiah 3:14-15. If it actually is a Qumran fragment, it is quite important, since it would be the only surviving bit of the book of Nehemiah recovered from Qumran.

Both fragments are quite significant; so much so that one has to wonder about their authenticity. I look forward to hearing the details of their authentication in the formal publications.

(Via Jim West.)

UPDATE (21 July): Further thoughts. One point in favor of Charlesworth's interpretation is that a cultic installation with a stone altar dating to the Iron Age I period has actually been excavated on Mount Ebal and it has been argued that this is the altar mentioned in Deuteronomy 27 (reported as actually built in Joshua 8:30-32). If so, then "Mount Ebal" is the original reading in Deuteronomy and "Mount Gerizim" is a secondary Samaritan alteration. Therefore this manuscript fragment (assuming it's genuine) is from a Samaritan manuscript. It's possible that the writer of Deuteronomy either had a tradition of an ancient Israelite altar on Mount Ebal or knew of the ruins of an ancient altar there, but it's an interpretive leap, even if a plausible one, to connect the archaeological site with the text of Deuteronomy.

Also, Sharon Sullivan Dufour has relayed a message from Benyamin Tsedaka, who is currently at the SES (Societe des Etudes Samaritaines) conference in Papa Hungary, which opened yesterday. The information about the new manuscript "has created quite a stir of excitement among the scholars at the SES." Mr. Tsedaka points out that this fragment, if it is a Samaritan text, could also come from the book of Exodus. This passage is added to Exod 20:17 in the Samaritan tradition. Unless we find more of the text, we can't be sure whether this was a Deuteronomy manuscript or an Exodus manuscript.

UPDATE (23 July): More thoughts here.