Saturday, August 02, 2008

216 BC - A Carthaginian army lead by Hannibal defeated a numerically superior Roman army at the Battle of Cannae. It happened during the Second Punic War as Rome and Carthage battled it out for control of the mediterranean and its trade and riches.
More here.

UPDATE (4 August): Dorothy King has more here.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Seal of King Zedekiah's minister found in J'lem dig
By ETGAR LEFKOVITS (Jerusalem Post)

A seal impression belonging to a minister of the Biblical King Zedekiah which dates back 2,600 years has been uncovered completely intact during an archeological dig in Jerusalem's ancient City of David, a prominent Israeli archeologist said on Thursday.

The seal impression, or bulla, with the name Gedalyahu ben Pashur, who served as minister to King Zedekiah (597-586 BCE) according to the Book of Jeremiah, was found just meters away from a separate seal impression of another of Zedekia's ministers, Yehukual ben Shelemyahu, which was uncovered three years ago, said Prof. Eilat Mazar who is leading the dig at the site.

The excavation at the history-rich City of David, which is located just outside the walls of the Old City near Dung Gate, has proven, in recent years, to be a treasure trove for archeologists.

"On the one hand it is so unexpected to find such a fragile bulla in such harsh conditions of excavation, while on the other hand it was logical to find precisely here the bulla of Gedalyahu ben Pashur - only meters away from the place where we found the bulla of Yehukhal ben Shelemyahu - since these two ministers are mentioned side by side in the Bible as having served together in the kingdom of King Zedekiah," Mazar said.


Both ministers are mentioned in the Book of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 38 1-4) along with two other ministers when they came to King Zedekiah demanding the death of the prophet Jeremiah for preaching to the besieged city to surrender.

Again, excellent news. An Iron Age II (i.e., First Temple era) Hebrew inscription scientifically excavated and bearing a name that (given the date and location) is very likely to be of a person mentioned in the Bible. That's pretty impressive.

For the Yehukhal (Jehucal) seal, see here, here, and here.

Incidentally, assuming Pashhur the father of Gedaliah is the same person as Pashhur the son of Malchiah (they both are mentioned in Jer 38:1), he also figures in the More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project. Darrell Hannnah is translating Jeremiah's Prophecy to Pashhur, a brief apocryphal text preserved in Sahidic Coptic and Ethiopic. You can read more about it here.

(Via Joseph I. Lauer's list.)

UPDATE (4 August): More here. Also, Douglas Mangum has blog roundups on the Biblia Hebraica blog here and here.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

EPIGRAPHIC NEWS from Jack Sasson's Agade list:
From Foy Scalff (


On July 21, 2008, the Neubauer Expedition to Zincirli, directed by Prof. David Schloen of the University of Chicago and by associate director Amir Fink, found an inscribed basalt stele at the site of Zincirli (pronounced "Zin-jeer-lee") in Gaziantep province in southeastern Turkey.

The remarkably well-preserved stele, 70 centimeters wide and 95 centimeters tall, was found intact in its original location. It was set into a stone wall with its protruding tenon still inserted into the stone-paved floor. The alphabetic inscription on the stele is written in Sam'alian, the language spoken in the region of Zincirli (ancient Sam'al) during the Iron Age.

It commemorates the life of "Kattammuwa servant of Panamuwa," probably a high official of King Panamuwa, who reigned during the eighth century B.C. A bearded figure is depicted on the stele, seated in a chair in front of a table laden with food. Beside him is a thirteen-line inscription, elegantly carved in raised relief and preserved in almost pristine condition nearly three millennia after it was inscribed. It describes the establishment of the memorial stele and associated mortuary rites. This stele is unique in its combination of pictorial and textual features and thus is an important addition to our knowledge of ancient language and culture.

An analysis and translation of the inscription will be presented by Prof. Dennis Pardee of the University of Chicago at the November 2008 meeting of the Society for Biblical Literature in Boston and will be published soon thereafter.

Zincirli is the site of the ancient walled city of Sam'al, capital of an Iron Age kingdom that inherited both West Semitic and Neo-Hittite (Luwian) cultural traditions. The 40-hectare (100-acre) site was first excavated more than a hundred years ago and produced a number of royal inscriptions and other fascinating finds that are on display in various museums. Since 2006, Zincirli has been excavated annually by a team from the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago—the Neubauer Expedition, a large-scale and long-term project of archaeological research at this important site.
This is excellent news. It's exciting to have a new, substantial Northwest Semitic inscription, one that was actually excavated scientifically and whose provenance and authenticity are not in doubt.

UPDATE (1 August): Peter Bekins comments at Balshanut and notes some bibliography on the language of Sam'al. He also points to a post by H H Hardy at Daily Hebrew. Hardy has seen the inscription, but cannot disclose its contents before Dennis Pardee presents a paper on in at the SBL meetings in November. But he promises "it is well worth the admission price for the Boston meeting, both from the point of view of philology and archeaology!" I'll be looking forward to Professor Pardee's presentation.
SHE'AN NIGHTS – more virtual history:
She'an Nights, a multi-media multi-sensory night tour of the ancient city of Beit She'an-Scythopolis, has recently opened at the Beit She'an National Park, located in the Jordan Valley. Developed at a cost of $3 million in a joint initiative of the Ministry of Tourism via the Israel Government Tourist Corporation, the Israel Nature and National Parks Protection Authority and the Beit She'an Municipality, this unique project is the first of its type in the world in an archeological site and the fourth largest such project in the world.


She'an Nights, which is expected to attract 400,000 visitors annually, will operate nine months of the year, offering visitors the opportunity to enjoy the site in the cool night air in a region known for its sweltering summer days. After watching a 10 minute presentation that relates the history of the area (in English or Hebrew), visitors set off on a multi-sensory experience as they stroll through the streets of the excavated city of Scythopolis with its marble columns, stone streets, bathhouses, temples and mosaics, while watching audiovisual presentations projected onto dozens of giant screens on the columns, walls and even the tel behind the site.

Related story here.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

ARAMAIC WATCH: The Catholic News Service has a nice piece on Maaloula (Ma'aloula, Malula) with information on its new Aramaic Institute:
In the Syrian desert, the language of Jesus lives on

By Brooke Anderson
Catholic News Service

MAALOULA, Syria (CNS) -- Aramaic, the language of Jesus that flourished in villages thousands of years ago, is being kept alive in the Syrian desert, about an hour's drive from Damascus.

Today, Aramaic is spoken in Maaloula, an ancient mountainous town with two historic monasteries, Catholic and Orthodox, both built into the cliffs.

Georgette Halabi, a tour guide at St. Serge Melkite Catholic convent in Maaloula, grew up speaking Aramaic.

"I don't write it," she said. "But I want to learn."


In the summer of 2007, the language went through something of a renaissance in Maaloula when the town, with the encouragement of the Syrian government, opened the Aramaic Language Institute. The program teaches written Aramaic to students of all ages, particularly children, and is affiliated with the University of Damascus.

"I've been studying since the school opened," said 11-year-old Murshed Diab, as he played with his friends on a hot summer evening after classes. "It's useful. They teach us songs in Aramaic."

His sister, Bushra Diab, 13, added: "People here don't speak Arabic. It's Aramaic. They teach us the alphabet, and I'm already starting to learn complex grammar."

The two siblings began singing an Aramaic song they learned in school, and their playmates quickly joined in.


A group of scholars from Germany started studying Aramaic in Maaloula about 20 years ago, when the language had begun to die.

"The Germans opened our eyes and showed us we had something special," Rihan said. "A lot of Arabic had entered the language, and it (Aramaic) had almost died. It was resuscitated."

Now, Maaloula's relatively new Aramaic Committee is trying to gather information on the language from the town's elders to create a modern Aramaic dictionary. But Rihan said he hoped this was only the beginning.

Indeed. More power to them.

Background here. This article is much more upbeat than the NYT piece in April. And here's a post noting the founding of the Aramaic Institute in 2004.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

TEL BEIT SHEMESH is giving up its secrets to archaeologists:
'The land, my lord, will be lost forever'
By Ran Shapira (Haaretz)
Tags: Canaan, Egypt, excavation

"To the king my lord and my sun: These are the words of your servant, Belit-nesheti [literally, "mistress of lions/lionesses"]. I fall at the king's feet seven times over. I must tell the king that this country is witnessing [acts of] hostility and that the land of the king, my lord, will be lost forever."

A Canaanite queen from one of the cities in Palestine's lowland sent this desperate request in the 14th century B.C.E. to Pharaoh, king of Egypt. The name of the city ruled by Belit-nesheti is not mentioned in this letter or in others that depict violent acts that aroused in her a justified feeling that she was facing a dire threat.

During that period, the city of Gezer, and the Ajalon and Sorek valleys were the scene of events that seriously challenged the rule of Belit-nesheti and other monarchs.

In another letter, she conveys the following information: "The Apiru have written to Ajalon and Zorah and the two sons of Milkilu [king of Gezer] have been almost beaten to death. I must inform the king of this act." In yet another letter, she relates that one of the cities in the area under her rule has fallen to the Apiru, and she calls to the king, "I beg the king to save his land from the hands of the Apiru, before it is too late."

The Apiru, mentioned in various documents from different parts of the ancient Near East, were a people that had been uprooted from society and which had abandoned its native land. They formed bands that engaged in robbery and in the collection of protection money, and they served as mercenaries whom the rulers of the various Canaanite cities under Egyptian rule at the time recruited as a military force when they wanted to attack their enemies. The Apiru were supported by the powerful rulers of neighboring cities who sought to seize control of her city.

Her cries for assistance from Pharaoh, who was during this period the supreme ruler of the region and of a number of Canaanite cities, elicited no response, as indicated by the findings that have recently been discovered in Tel Beit Shemesh, about a half-hour's drive from Jerusalem. Prof. Shlomo Bunimovitz and Dr. Zvi Lederman, both of Tel Aviv University's Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology, have been conducting excavations there since 1990. In their scholarly opinion, the city was devastated in a monstrous wave of violence; the remnants extant from that massive act of destruction have been uncovered in the past few weeks. In Tel Beit Shemesh, site of this ancient Canaanite city, archaeologists have discovered entire walls that collapsed in a huge fire, which apparently occurred in the mid-14th century B.C.E. Inter alia, they have found a structures containing more than 200 toppled bricks, which show the effects of exposure to the extreme heat of the massive blaze. Adjacent to the bricks, the foundations of the plastered walls from which they fell have also been uncovered.


Belit-nesheti's letters are part of a collection of letters written in cuneiform in the Akkadian language (the lingua franca of that era) on clay tablets, that was discovered in the late 19th century in Egypt in Tel Amarna, which is located midway between Cairo and Luxor. ...
This looks like a rare case of ancient inscriptions and archaeology mutually informing one another.

UPDATE: Dead link now fixed. Sorry.
THE RAMAT RACHEL ARCHAEOLOGICAL DIG has a blog, maintained by Keren Pedersen. Keren writes, "In case you're not familiar with the dig's particulars, it's at the Ramat Rahel kibbutz outside Jerusalem, with the earliest known settlement there a probably-Assyrian administrative center from around the time of King Hezekiah." So far they've found some la-melekh seal impressions, a Byzantine coin hoard, and a bomb.

UPDATE (31 July): Bad link fixed. Sorry, I seem to have a lot of these this week.
WANT TO SEE some fake Syriac? Go here. Story here, here, and here.

Caveat emptor! (How do you say that in Aramaic?)

Monday, July 28, 2008

THE GOSPEL HOAX by Stephen C. Carlson is reviewed by Jill Kamil in Al-Ahram. Excerpt:
Carlson reveals in his Gospel Hoax that Smith's career, at the time he penned the fake, had come to a standstill. In 1955 he was denied tenure at the university where he had begun his career. "A successful hoax could be exactly what Smith needed," Carlson wrote, "to prove to himself that he was smarter than his peers and might even jump start his career in the process." But that motive, if that was the reason for his hoax, was overcome by events when Smith landed a position at Columbia University, wrote a successful book on ancient history, and was made a full professor in 1962. Was his intention, then, ultimately to fool and then enrage the Establishment, while the scholar in him had to make his confession by planting clues of deception in the text? Carlson thinks so. He suggests that it was a joke in order to reveal, if and when it was eventually discovered, just how clever he was!

If Morton Smith's invention of Secret Mark was, as Carlson reveals, a brilliant work of deception, it is unfortunate that he is not around to witness his exposure. Morton Smith died in 1991.

I like Hurtado's comment: "Far from being some lost version of the story of Jesus, Secret Mark is uncovered as a great practical joke -- one that keeps Morton Smith laughing from his grave".
IT'S NOT MERKAVAH MYSTICISM but maybe it's the next best thing:
A Virtual Tour of Our Holy Temple

Wednesdays: July 30, August 6 and 13
7:30 - 9:00 pm

This summer, nearly 2,000 years since the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, Chabad of Greater St. Louis will unveil Heaven on Earth, a three-week interactive course developed by the renowned Rohr Jewish Learning Institute, which recreates the ancient Jerusalem Temples from the ground up. Heaven on Earth will be offered at the Lazaroff Chabad Center, at 8124 Delmar Blvd., in University City, on three consecutive Wednesday evenings, 7:30 to 9 pm, beginning on July 30.

Through an interactive and innovative virtual tour, Heaven on Earth will enable students to conceptualize the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, allowing them to “walk through” the Temple’s ancient corridors, throng with the crowds through Jerusalem’s gates, and discover the marvels of architecture and design that were integral to this sacred site. Heaven on Earth provides students with an explanation for the central role the Holy Temple plays in the life and history of the Jewish people, and why to this day Jews of all stripes pray for the Temple’s rebuilding and converge upon the Western Wall, its surviving remnant.


Sunday, July 27, 2008

BORIS JOHNSON orates in Latin and offers current political commentary on the Emperor Hadrian.
FUN FACT: Robinson Crusoe has been translated into Coptic:
Despite such a title, and despite the absence of a love angle, the positive reception was immediate and universal. Before the end of the year, the first volume had run through four editions. By the end of the 19th century, the book had spawned multitudinous editions, including children’s picture books with little or no text. The book was translated even into languages such as Inuit, Coptic, and Maltese. ...
I wonder about Aramaic.
THE VISION OF BARACK – another newly published messianic inscription:
He ventured forth to bring light to the world
The anointed one's pilgrimage to the Holy Land is a miracle in action - and a blessing to all his faithful followers

Gerard Baker (London Times)

And it came to pass, in the eighth year of the reign of the evil Bush the Younger (The Ignorant), when the whole land from the Arabian desert to the shores of the Great Lakes had been laid barren, that a Child appeared in the wilderness.

As usual with such things, its authenticity is debated. And in any case, elements of the account are arguably legendary.

(Background here.)