Saturday, September 27, 2008

MUSEUM OF TOLERANCE UPDATE: In an LA Times article on the Los Angeles Museum of Tolerance there's this:
In Jerusalem, a proposal to build a second Museum of Tolerance, designed by Frank Gehry and costing more than $200 million, is being deliberated by Israel's Supreme Court. Should it go forward, some fear, the project could further aggravate Israeli-Palestinian relations. When construction began early in 2006 on what had long been a parking lot, builders found bones from an abandoned Muslim cemetery said to date from the time of the Crusades. Israeli Arab groups sued to stop the project. [Founder Rabbi Marvin] Hier says he received an e-mail from the Supreme Court two months ago saying it would render a decision soon.

"We expect to win handily," he says, and with $115 million already raised, construction would resume immediately upon a favorable ruling. "You'll have protests for two or three days," then things will go back to normal, he predicted.

Ran Boytner, director of international research at UCLA's Cotsen Institute for Archaeology, is not so sure. As head of the Israeli-Palestinian Archaeology Working Group, the Israeli-born scholar is trying to write ground rules for cooperation between the sides to protect ancient sites. Building on a former Muslim graveyard could be "a galvanizing event," says Boytner, who thinks protests could be vehement "because of the symbolic importance of who is building the building. This is the Museum of Tolerance."
Background here.
A NEW MAIMONIDES BIOGRAPHY is reviewed by Steven Nadler in the New York Sun:
"Maimonides" (Doubleday, 594 pages, $35), Joel Kraemer's biography of the man known among observant Jews as "the RaMBaM" (for Rabbi Moses ben Maimon), has been 20 years in the making and is clearly the product of great study. Mr. Kraemer is a scholar of the first rank, and his book is informed by historical, religious, and biographical erudition. He is as fluent working through the genizah texts and the urban geography of a medieval Spanish city as he is drawing out the contemporary relevance of ancient Arabic religious rivalries and the import of Maimonides's halachic or legal writings.


There can be no question that Mr. Kraemer, with impeccable scholarly skill and breathtaking erudition, has written a monumental, immensely learned volume, a real labor of love (albeit one that is in serious need of a good editor). As a source for the details of Maimonides's life and of his world, this will probably be the standard biography of Maimonides for some time to come. However, Mr. Kraemer simply does not do justice to the rich and complex thought of this intellectual titan. The philosophy of the greatest Jewish philosopher of all time deserves better than this.

UPDATE (27 September): Bad link fixed. Sorry, I was in a hurry yesterday.

Friday, September 26, 2008

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Apparently more Jewish-Temple denial from the Palestinian Authority.
PA Blindly Bashes Jews' 'Imaginary Temple'

by Nissan Ratzlav-Katz

( The Palestinian Authority, run by PLO Fatah chief Mahmoud Abbas, is again making efforts to popularize Muslim denial of the Jewish connection to Jerusalem, especially to the site of the two Jewish Temples. The PA claims fly in the face of the archaeological evidence, as well as the history of Jerusalem as endorsed by the most authoritative Muslim sources.

According to Itamar Marcus and Barbara Crook of the Palestinian Media Watch organization, Fatah-controlled television broadcasts have been promoting a music video that "denies any historical connection between the Jewish people and Jerusalem." Building on the denial of Jewish rights in Jerusalem and the claim that the Temple Mount is "ours," meaning it is Muslim, PMW explains, that "the lyrics repeat the Palestinian fabrication that Israel is planning to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque and therefore it needs protection."

As translated by PMW, the video clip that appeared on PA TV on September 23, 2008, includes the lyrics, "Oh [Sons of] Zion, no matter how much you dig and no matter how much you destroy, your imaginary Temple will not come into being, Al-Aqsa is ours. Al-Aqsa is ours, Oh Muslims, Al-Aqsa is ours." It goes on to call for another Saladin, the Muslim conqueror of Jerusalem in 1187, according to PMW.

There's video.

I think "imaginary Temple" means, "Temple that never really existed." I suppose one could parse it to mean "Temple you only imagine you are going to rebuild." Both fit the standard PA message and both may be implied. The first is nonsense. As for the second, I am not in favor of any building on the Temple Mount.

The article also has an error:
* In January 2008 archaeologists discovered a stone seal that includes the name of a family, Temech, whose members were servants during the First Temple, were exiled to Babylonia and then returned to Jerusalem. The seal was found near the Dung Gate walls of the Old City. The Book of Nehemiah (Chapter 7) refers to the Temech family by name.
The corrected reading of the seal is "Shlomit."
WHO WROTE THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS? The Wall Street Journal has an essay by a lawyer named Jordana Horn, evidently inspired by the new exhibition at the New York Jewish Museum. Excerpt:
There are two competing theories about the scrolls. The first is that they belonged to a single religious sect living nearby the caves, most likely the Essenes. The second theory is that the scrolls are a random collection of texts reflecting the beliefs of many Jewish groups of the period; the caves, under this theory, are a repository for sacred texts from various Jewish communities fleeing the Romans during the Jewish revolt of A.D. 68.

The issue is whether these fragments of parchment tell the story of the religious activity of a particular, arguably proto-Christian, denomination or, alternatively, the story of a wider swath of the Jewish people. In other words, are the scrolls a lens affording an unparalleled view of Jews at a crucial, pre-Diasporan moment or, rather, an in-depth account of a single sect's intellectual development?

Susan Braunstein, the Jewish Museum's curator of archaeology and Judaica, is reluctant to express support for either school of thought. And the exhibit cites scholars on both sides. On one wall there is a quote from Israeli archaeologists Yitzhak Magan and Yuval Peleg, stating that the scrolls belonged to refugees who fled during the Jewish revolt. Just a few feet away are words from E.P. Sanders, a historian of early Judaism and Christianity, stating that many of the scrolls are from the monastic celibate Essene community of Qumran.

In an interview, Norman Golb, a professor of Jewish history and civilization at the University of Chicago and a leading proponent of the second theory, expressed deep concerns about the nature of previous Dead Sea Scrolls exhibitions in America. "I think all of them have been in the nature of efforts to brainwash the public about the significance of the scrolls," Mr. Golb said. While he noted the Jewish Museum's attempts at even-handedness, he was concerned that the lectures running in tandem with the exhibit are being given only by scholars who subscribe to variants of the single-sect theory.

This theory -- that the scrolls represented an intellectual precursor to Christianity -- actually came first and was even propounded by the man who discovered the caves and their scrolls, the Rev. Roland de Vaux, a French biblical scholar, archaeologist and monk. After reading the scrolls, he announced with pride that they had been authored by an Essene sect and asserted that the sect was the forebear of his own Dominican movement.
My own working hypothesis is that the Scrolls are a collection of (Essene?) sectarian libraries from various places in Judea, brought together at the time of the war with Rome, which I think combines the best of both views.

I think the treatment here of the Essenes as "proto-Christian" or "an intellectual precursor to Christianity" is overdone. The Scrolls do provide some interesting background to early Christianity, but the view that Christianity descends directly from the Essene/Qumran sectarian movement is decidedly a fringe one.

If one accepts the Essene hypothesis and the (not quite inevitably following) corollary that Qumran was an Essene settlement, there is a case to be made that the Essene social structure is somehow ancestral to the structure of the Christian monastic movement several centuries later. This has sometimes been assumed, but I don't know of anyone actually arguing the case in any sustained way. I may have missed it though. I don't pretend to keep up with all the secondary literature on Qumran and it's not a question I'm particularly interested in.

UPDATE (2 October): Last Friday Stephen Goranson wrote to challenge some of the comments about De Vaux in the article:
The article claims of de Vaux that "After reading the scrolls, he announced with pride that they had been authored by an Essene sect and asserted that the sect was the forebear of his own Dominican movement." Oh, when and where was such an putative announcement? Let's quote, not myth and hearsay, but de Vaux in NTS 1966 (p. 99 n.1 [cf RB 1966 p.229]) review of G. R. Driver's Scrolls zealot-theory book: "...Driver often speaks of the 'monastery' of Qumran: thus in 'quotes'. I am keeping the 'quotes', because I have never used the word when when writing about the excavations of Qumran...."

De Vaux concluded an Essene connection after some excavation and communal evidence; he was actually a relative late-commer to the Essene identity, years after Sukenik, after Sowmy, after Brownlee, after Dupont-Sommer and others. In RB 1959 p, 300 he cautioned *against* Bagatti's view that Dominus Flevit ossuary inscriptions were Christian. Most Christian historians think Christian monasticism started later, though scholarly discussion would need to include debates about Eusebius' comments on Philo's De Vita Contemplativa, which includes the two earliest known uses of the Greek word monasterion 25, 30).
He also reports that the Raleigh exhibit discusses the theories of Yuval Peleg.

For more on Golb, Magen and Peleg, etc., see here and follow the links.

UPDATE: David Stacey e-mails:
De Vaux may not have used the term 'monastery' but his early conviction that Qumran was a sectarian community ['Qumran is not a village or a group of houses; it is the establishment of a community…. for the carrying on of certain communal activities’ (de Vaux 1973: 10)] appears to have influenced some of the scientific analyses carried out at the site.


De Vaux, R., (1973), Archaeology and the Dead Sea Scrolls (OUP).
Beyond that, I'm not going to turn this post into a forum for debate on the topic. Those interested can follow the links, where most of the views are covered.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

PSA FLIGHT 182 crashed thirty years ago today at 9:02 am in North Park, San Diego, after being hit by a Cessna 172. All 137 people on the passenger jet and the Cessna died, as did seven on the ground. San Diego is my home town, but I was not there that day; it was the first day of classes in my freshman year at UCLA. At the time it was the worst aviation disaster in US history and all San Diegans were deeply marked by it.

Requiescat in pace.

(Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons. Click on image for a larger version.)

UPDATE (26 September): This year's memorial service is covered in the San Diego Union-Tribune.
THE PERSEPOLIS CUNEIFORM ARCHIVE, and the controversy over whether it should be confiscated by the US Government as compensation for terrorism sponsered by the Iranian Government, continues to be in the news. Chuck Jones has a detailed roundup at the Persepolis Fortification Archive Project blog.

Background here (keep following the links back from "controversy") and here. This story is tangential to PaleoJudaica's interests, but the in-principle issues around the controversy, along with the Aramaic connection, keep me interested.
THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS EXHIBITION coming to the Royal Ontario Museum in June of 2009 has gotten a lot of press today. From the ArtDaily:
Premier McGuinty Announces the Dead Sea Scrolls at the ROM

TORONTO.- Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty today announced that the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) will present the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition, one of the most important exhibitions in the Museum’s history, from Saturday, June 27, 2009 until Sunday, January 3, 2010. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for ROM visitors to view these historical treasures, the subject of great scholarly and public interest, as well as heated debate and controversy, since their discovery over 60 years ago. A collaboration of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and the ROM, Dead Sea Scrolls, the largest and most comprehensive exhibition of these materials ever assembled in Canada, will be on display in the ROM’s Garfield Weston Exhibition Hall on level B2 in the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal.

Premier McGuinty said, “I want to congratulate the ROM for bringing this compelling exhibition to Toronto. It is a great opportunity for visitors and it will attract people to the city from all over North America. That's good for the ROM, it's good for Toronto and good for the economy."


The ROM will display 16 authentic Dead Sea Scrolls during the six month engagement—eight different scrolls for each three-month period—including fragments from the books of Genesis, Deuteronomy and Psalms as well as the sectarian Community Rule, War Scroll and Messianic Apocalypse. Five fragments, never before publicly displayed, are being conserved especially for the ROM. All scrolls will be presented with full interpretations, translations and background information.

Also showcased will be artifacts from Khirbet Qumran, the ancient site closest to where the scrolls were discovered, in addition to unique pieces from Jerusalem during the period of the Second Temple. Visitors will learn about the fascinating discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, their academic and biblical significance, as well as the period in history in which they were written. Objects from the ROM’s own collections will complement the display, providing additional context to life in ancient Judea almost 2,000 years ago.
There's also a nice picture of the Psalms scroll from Cave 11 (11Q5).

According to the National Post, the ROM CEO has high hopes for attendance:
The exhibition — which ROM CEO William Thorsell prefers to call a “project” to emphasize its cross-provincial community outreach and educational aspects — is being billed as the biggest Dead Sea Scrolls event ever to come to this country.

In an interview following yesterday’s announcement, Thorsell acknowledged his hope that the Scrolls will roll attendance numbers upwards at the country’s largest museum. Toronto Life magazine reported in its September issue that the ROM’s $135-million Michael Lee-Chin Crystal, which opened in June, 2007, has not drawn as many new visitors as hoped, falling well short of goals as high as 1.65-million people per year.

Thorsell said the ROM is on track for one million visitors in the year ending next March 31.

“We’re looking for 200,000 to 300,000 extra visitors on top of that” to be lured in by the Scrolls, he said, adding that the museum has a longer-term target to stabilize at 1.3- to 1.4-million annually “with or without so-called blockbusters,” such as the Scrolls exhibition.
I hope they do well. In the past, DSS exhibits have consistently exceeded attendance targets.

There is also coverage in the Toronto Star and

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Livia Capponi, Il tempio di Leontopoli in Egitto: Identit√† politica e religiosa dei Giudei di Onia (c. 150 a.C-73 d.C.). Pubblicazioni della Facolt√† di Lettere e Filosofia dell'Universit√† di Pavia 118. Pisa: Edizioni ETS, 2007. Pp. 255. ISBN 9788846719430. €18.00 (pb).

Reviewed by David Noy, University of Wales Lampeter (

Word count: 1623 words

There have been numerous chapter-length and book-length studies of the Jews of Graeco-Roman Egypt published recently. Livia Capponi goes into a more localised aspect of the topic with a monograph on the history of the Jews of Leontopolis near Heliopolis in the Nile Delta. The evidence with which she has to work is scanty: some passing references by Josephus (who is quite able to contradict himself and is unlikely to have had any personal knowledge or particular interest), a few late sources, and just over 90 inscriptions that can be attributed to the site or to nearby Jewish settlements. There are no papyri, and Philo notoriously says nothing whatsoever about Leontopolis, provoking the question of whether this indicates hostility between Alexandria and Leontopolis or just lack of interest.

This in particular caught my eye, since I'm always on the lookout for evidence for Jewish mysticism:
The most original part of the book is a study of the theology of the epitaphs: "una teologia mistica?". Capponi thinks that there are traces of mysticism, without messianic or eschatological messages but with a spirituality based on love for family and community and a belief in reward in the afterlife. Her views are based mainly on the verse epitaphs: 12 out of a total of 91 epitaphs attributed to the Jews of the southern Nile Delta. She argues that they show ideals which are not found in other metrical epitaphs from Egypt, and that they should therefore not be dismissed as too Hellenised to provide evidence for Jewish beliefs. The deceased are praised for moral qualities and values that in some cases seem to be specifically Jewish and can be compared to those found in the Letter of Aristeas, such as wisdom and justice. The author suggests that some show beliefs about the afterlife that seem more Pharisaic than Sadducean, contrary to what has previously been suggested. She thinks that references to "burning" can be taken literally as showing the use of cremation, rather than being metaphors or conventional language used out of context. It is true that there is evidence for cremation from Alexandria, as the author notes, but it is from a necropolis in which Jews were buried rather than a "Jewish necropolis". Since it would be difficult to use the exact wording of the epitaphs to claim that Jews literally believed in deities called Hades and Tyche, it is also difficult to be sure that they literally practised "burning", and the question will probably remain open until a cremation urn is found with a clearly Jewish name written on it.
Gideon Bohak has argued that the long version of Joseph and Aseneth is connected with the Jewish Leontopolitan priesthood (see the review) and it might be worthwhile to look at this pseudepigraphon in comparison to these inscriptions.

Via PhDiva Dorothy King.
Christian group building replica of ‘Wailing Wall’

Evangelicals say they hope to show support for Israel
September 22, 2008 - 10:30PM

Locals who have longed to visit the Western Wall in Jerusalem but can't afford the trip soon will be able to mimic the experience without leaving town.

Every Home for Christ, which evangelizes in about 100 nations, will spend $2.3 million on a replica of the Western Wall - also known as the Wailing Wall - and an auditorium to house it. Construction inside its Springs headquarters, the Jericho Center for Global Evangelism, is scheduled to begin Oct. 1, with a grand opening set for April 1.


The replica will fill 2,500 square feet of an 8,000-square-foot, 300-seat auditorium, which will be used to train missionaries and teach about prayer.

About 50 tons of stone will be used to construct the mini two-story wall that, along with the auditorium, is being financed by donations. Stones will be cut from an ancient mine outside Jerusalem used for thousands of years to build the city's most impressive structures.

This group seems to have an awful lot of disposable income.

Cross file under "Temple Mount Watch (sort of)."

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

MY BOOK, The Provenance of the Pseudepigrapha, is reviewed by Kevin P. Edgecomb over at Biblicalia. Thanks Kevin!
MORE MANUSCRIPT DIGITIZING at the College of Saint Benedict/St. John’s University:
Fr. Columba Stewart travels the world
September 19th, 2008 by Tan Tuohy (The Record)

By Britta Kolb

Tucked away near the Alcuin Library is a hidden resource of historical wealth. The Hill Museum & Manuscript Library houses 30 million photographically preserved pages from 100,000 manuscripts, found in 270 libraries all over the world. Buried among the chaos of books and research is the office of Fr. Columba Stewart, OSB, the man behind the scenes.

Fr. Stewart (or “Just Andy,” as his family members call him), earned a degree from Harvard, attended graduate school at Yale and received his doctorate from the University of Oxford. He has been the executive director of the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library since 2003. During that time, Fr. Stewart has expanded HMML’s core mission of digitizing and archiving manuscript images from two preservation sites to 22, and there is no slowing down the progress being made. HMML now works in Lebanon, Syria, Ukraine, India, Malta, Italy and other regions in the Middle East kept quiet for security reasons.

Having traveled frequently to HMML’s many different sites abroad, Fr. Stewart has a lot of work ahead of him. Three of the places that need urgent attention are Iraq, Ethiopia and Georgia, where HMML will make a preliminary visit this October. The Ethiopian connection is a long-standing one, dating to the early 1970s.

“We have a collection of nearly 9,000 Ethiopic manuscripts at HMML, but many more are at risk in Ethiopia and need to be digitally preserved and catalogued so they are accessible to all who seek to understand what those ancient stories can teach us,” Fr. Stewart said.

Bring it on!
ARIEL SABAR, author of My Father's Paradise, about his Aramaic-speaking UCLA-professor father Yona, is interviewed in a Nextbook podcast.
For journalist Ariel Sabar, Aramaic has always been more than a linguistic relic used in reciting the Kaddish or Kol Nidre. Sabar's father, Yona, grew up speaking Aramaic in an isolated Kurdish-Jewish enclave in northern Iraq. Yona moved to Israel in 1951, just after his bar mitzvah, an underprivileged refugee in a new country full of them. A disciplined and determined young man, Yona went to university and then graduate school, before becoming a professor of Near Eastern languages at UCLA. In Los Angeles, with his accent and old Chevette, Yona was completely different from the fathers of Ariel’s friends, and as a teenager Ariel rebelled against what he saw as Yona's bumpkin ways. But when Ariel became a father himself, he decided to learn more about Yona’s unlikely journey from the mountains of Kurdistan to the leafy streets of Los Angeles.

Ariel Sabar spoke with Nextbook about his new book, My Father’s Paradise: A Son's Search for His Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq (Algonquin, 2008), in which he weaves together Yona’s story with the larger history of Kurdish Jews.
Background here.

Monday, September 22, 2008

A REVIEW of the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition in Raleigh, NC:
History, Mystery

Found in caves in an ancient land, Dead Sea Scrolls speak to us today

By Linda Brinson | Editorial Page Editor (

Published: September 21, 2008

RALEIGH - First, you must step into the cave. Well, it's not really a cave, it's a room in the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences on West Jones Street in downtown Raleigh. But it has been made to look and feel like a cave, and the dim light, chilly atmosphere and relative quiet quickly make you forget about the throngs of noisy schoolchildren outside in the midday heat, waiting for their turn to see the whale skeleton and the dinosaur and the museum's other wonders.

The photo is of one of the Genesis manuscripts that I edited in DJD 12.

Background here.

Also, Jodi Magness is lecturing on Thursday the 25th at Craven Community College in New Bern NC.
BETWEEN INTERNET OUTAGES, a new window being installed at home, and Pre-Sessional Week, I haven't managed to blog today. Maybe later.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS EXHIBITION at the New York Jewish Museum opens today. The ArtDaily has an article:
The Dead Sea Scrolls: Mysteries of the Ancient World Opens at the Jewish Museum

NEW YORK.- The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls was one of the archaeological sensations of the 20th century. Treasured objects of ancient religious observance and intense modern scholarly debate, these parchment texts were found, starting in 1947, in caves in the Judean Desert, east of Jerusalem and near the Dead Sea. Created over 2,000 years ago, the scrolls turned out to contain previously unknown Jewish compositions as well as the oldest surviving copies of the Hebrew Bible. When biblical scholars first learned of these texts, they were electrified by their potential for new revelations about Judaism and Christianity. Over time, some 900 separate scrolls were found in neighboring caves. They are collectively called the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The Dead Sea Scrolls: Mysteries of the Ancient World opens at The Jewish Museum on September 21, 2008 and remains on view through January 4, 2009. This new exhibition features fragments of six scrolls, which have never been seen in New York City before. Three of the scrolls are being exhibited for the first time anywhere. Revered and revelatory, the Dead Sea Scrolls on display, together with over 30 artifacts discovered near the caves where the documents were found, provide new insights into the varied beliefs of ancient peoples and religious diversity today. A seven-minute film further enriches the visitor experience.

The piece also has a nice photo of the Aramaic Apocryphon of Daniel (4Q246-209)

Background here.