Saturday, February 07, 2009

HEADWALL PHOTONICS has a brag-sheet in Laser Focus World on the use of its technology on the Khirbet Qeiyafa inscription:
Headwall spectral imager helps decipher 10th century B.C. Hebrew text

February 6, 2009
--Spectral instrumentation manufacturer Headwall Photonics (Fitchburg, MA) announced that its Hyperspec short-wave infrared (SWIR) spectral imaging instrumentation was used by archeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority to analyze five lines of text found on an ancient shard of pottery that dates back 3,000 years in history. The inscribed pottery shard, known as an ostracon, was scanned and imaged in the range of 1000 to 2500 nm.

Background here and follow the links back. And there's more on the technology here.
THE SITE OF HIPPOS-SUSSITA is the subject of a Tourism piece in the Jerusalem Post:
Sussita, the horse-shaped city

Sussita was the central city of the Golan in Hellenistic and Roman times, though its name was then Hippos. It was still the central city in Byzantine times, when it was the seat of the bishop of the See of Palaestina Secunda, but its name was then changed to Sussita. Both names, in Greek and Aramaic, mean "horse" or "horse-shaped" and the city is so, perched on a rounded hill, with its head to the Golan and its tail to the Kinneret.

More on Hippos-Sussita here, here, here, here, here, and here.
MORE ON THE LOOTED SYRIAC BIBLE: Reuters has a very helpful article. As suspected, the manuscript seems to be later than first suggested, perhaps very much later.
"Ancient" Syriac bible found in Cyprus
Fri Feb 6, 2009 7:57am EST

By Sarah Ktisti and Simon Bahceli

NICOSIA (Reuters Life!) - Authorities in northern Cyprus believe they have found an ancient version of the Bible written in Syriac, a dialect of the native language of Jesus.

The manuscript was found in a police raid on suspected antiquity smugglers. Turkish Cypriot police testified in a court hearing they believe the manuscript could be about 2,000 years old.

The manuscript carries excerpts of the Bible written in gold lettering on vellum and loosely strung together, photos provided to Reuters showed. One page carries a drawing of a tree, and another eight lines of Syriac script.

Experts were however divided over the provenance of the manuscript, and whether it was an original, which would render it priceless, or a fake.

Experts said the use of gold lettering on the manuscript was likely to date it later than 2,000 years.

"I'd suspect that it is most likely to be less than 1,000 years old," leading expert Peter Williams, Warden of Tyndale House, University of Cambridge told Reuters.

Turkish Cypriot authorities seized the relic last week and nine individuals are in custody pending further investigations. More individuals are being sought in connection with the find, they said.


"One very likely source (of the manuscript) could be the Tur-Abdin area of Turkey, where there is still a Syriac speaking community," Charlotte Roueche, Professor of Late Antique and Byzantine Studies at King's College London told Reuters.
Pete Williams is well-known to PaleoJudaica readers. The region of Tur-Abdin (Tur Abdin) has come up in PaleoJudaica in connection with Syriac here, here, here, here, and here.
Stories regarding the antiquity of manuscripts is commonplace. One case would be the Yonan Codex, carbon dated to the 12th century which people tried to pass off as earlier.
There's more on the Yonan Codex here.

The rest of the article gives the interesting information that Cambridge scholar JF Coakley thinks the manuscript could be quite late - 15th to 19th century or later. The article includes a photo of a not-very-informative page of the codex.

Background here.

Friday, February 06, 2009

BIBLICAL STUDIES CARNIVAL XXXVIII has been posted by Judy Redman at Judy's Research Blog. Lots of good stuff, as usual.
PRESIDENT OBAMA misattributed a Talmud quote in a recent speech - noted by Julia Duin in the Washington Times Belief Blog:
Before we go on to that, must mention that the Chief Executive's speechwriters need to be a bit more on the ball in terms of quoting Scripture. At one point, the new president said, in his National Prayer Breakfast speech this morning, "The Torah commands, "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow." "

That is not in the Torah, aka the Old Testament. It's from the Talmud, specifically a quote from Rabbi Hillel in the book Talmud Shabbos. (The Talmud, a 20-volume biblical commentary, was compiled by Jewish sages in second-century AD Babylon.)
The reference is b. Shabbat 31a. The positive formulation, "Love your neighbor as yourself" does appear in the Torah in Leviticus 19:18.

Ms. Duin makes her own error in her comments. The Babylonian Talmud was compiled (based on lots of earlier material) in (roughly) the sixth century, not the second.

UPDATE (7 September): Reader Aryeh Amihay e-mails in defense of the President:
In relation to your post on President Obama’s misattributed Talmud quote I wanted to add that the story of Hillel as it appears in tractate Shabbat, has Hillel stating that “What is hateful to you, do not to your neighbour. that is the whole Torah, while the rest is the commentary thereof; go and learn it.” In other words, according to Hillel himself this is what the Torah commands, rendering the president’s statement true (he did not say he was quoting from the Torah, only that this was what the Torah commands).
Modi’in: City Of The Past And Future

By Harold Gellis (Five Towns Jewish Times Online, NY)
Published on Thursday, February 05, 2009 - COMMENTS (0)

Over 2,000 years ago, an unprecedented miracle took place in an ancient Jewish town in the center of Judea. In the obscure town of Modi’in, the high priest Matthias, Judah Maccabee, and a handful of followers rose up in battle against the mighty Greek empire. The Chanukah festival commemorates their ultimate victory.

After two millennia, another remarkable miracle has again taken place in Modi’in. The town of the Hasmoneans has come to life again. In the land where the Maccabees lived and fought, there is now Israel’s newest city. In the 21st century, Modi’in, the city of the past, is now the city of the future.


[Alex] Weinreb [deputy mayor of Modi’in], an amateur archaeologist and fierce environmentalist, is dedicated to preserving Modi’in’s past as well as ensuring its ecological future. Standing on a hill among the ruins and artifacts of the Hasmonean era, he envisions the site as a future cultural and educational center. “In the planned center, students will be able to do their dissertation on Modi’in,” muses Weinreb. “One will be able to have his bar mitzvah in the same beit k’nesset where Judah Maccabee had his bar mitzvah.”

What is needed, however, for the planned center is funding. And funding is also needed for other infrastructure in Modi’in, as well; in a city where there are more births annually than in any other city in the country except B’nei Brak, there is no hospital!


On Givat HaTeturah, a hilltop in Modi’in full of Hasmonean relics, Efraim Weiss of Pearl Skolnik describes the interconnected past and present of Modi’in: “On this hill, the Maccabees lit fires on their way to Jerusalem. On Chanukah, all the schools come up here for different activities. But they have to dress warmly because it gets quite cold here.”

A major construction project for Givat HaTeturah that would have destroyed the hilltop’s archeological treasures was thwarted by Alex Weinreb, who vigilantly works to preserve Modi’in’s ancient heritage. Givat HaTeturah is now a municipal nature site.

In the municipal building framed by the menorah, Alex Weinreb can cite an additional list of impressive accomplishments. Weinreb, the avid archaeologist, has established environmental, cultural, and historical educational programs and institutions about Modi’in and its heritage, including marking the festival of Chanukah with annual cultural events. An equally avid environmentalist, Weinreb also stood up to the phone companies and made them remove their cellular towers from the city in order to reduce cellular radiation.

But to understand the future direction of Modi’in best, one has only to look at Alex Weinreb’s slogan—“Alex Weinreb doesn’t stop at the green!”
Well, the preservation of archaeological sites and the educational programs do sound worthwhile.

UPDATE: Reader Shai Secunda e-mails:
Just to let you know, many archaeologists now consider a site in the southern end of the city (in the Buchman neighborhood) to be the site on ancient Modiin, and not Titura hill. This site contains the remains of a possible synagogue, but is fenced off and not yet open to the public.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

A CUNEIFORM TABLET at the Bible Lands Museum:
Historical treasure at Bible Lands Museum

Rare 4,000 year-old cuneiform tablet that sheds light on beliefs and practices of religious Babylonian customs during Tu B'Shvat now on display at Bible Lands Museum

Published: 02.04.09, 11:45 / Israel Travel

As part of Tu B'Shvat celebrations the Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem reveals a rare 4,000 year old cuneiform tablet that sheds light on the beliefs and practices of the religious Babylonian customs during Tu B'Shvat.

The connection with Tu B'Shvat, which comes up in a few days, is pretty tenuous, but the tablet is quite interesting in itself.
The rare tablet takes the visitors to the ancient month Shabatu, 4,000 years ago. It is the only known example of a text recording the daily routine followed in the temples of the capital city of Larsa, which neighbored Ur in ancient Mesopotamia. In over six hundred and thirty lines, the tablet registers the rites performed in the temples during the month of Shabatu. This month is identical to the Hebrew month of Shevat and they are both the eleventh month of the year.
Given the troubles over Iraqi antiquities in recent years, it would have been helpful if the article had said more about its provenance and the route that brought it to Jerusalem. I suspect it's from a Larsa archaeological excavation, but I don't know. Anybody out there have information?
LOOTERS have been caught with what seems to be an ancient Syriac Bible. The report is muddled:
Nine arrested over 2,000 year-old Syrian bible
By Simon Bahceli (Cyprus Mail)

A TWO THOUSAND year-old Syrian Orthodox bible, believed to have been smuggled into the island from southeastern Turkey, has become the subject of major police operation in the north that has so far led to the arrest of nine suspects.

The bible, estimated to be worth around €2 million, was seized during a raid at the Famagusta bus terminal last Friday where smugglers were seeking to sell it to buyers in the north. It is thought Turkish Cypriot police had been tipped off about the impending sale.

Although the north’s ‘antiquities department’ refused yesterday to comment on the bible, because it was “the subject of an ongoing inquiry”, a statement from police said it was bound in deerskin, written in gold letters in the Syriac language, and believed to be around 2000 years old. The bible may have come from the heartland of the Syrian Orthodox community in southeastern Turkey, where a small community remains, despite often being caught in the crossfire between Kurdish rebels and the Turkish military.

“It is very likely to come from the Tur-Abdin area of Turkey, where there is still a Syriac speaking community,” Dr Chalotte Roueche, professor of Late Antique and Byzantine Studies at King College, London told Reuters yesterday.

In 1994, the British historian William Dalrymple wrote that the community “could die out within one generation”. However, conditions are reported to have improved in recent years with the Turkish government making efforts to protect religious minorities in the country.

Roueche added, however, that it was impossible to say for sure whether the bible was either from that area, or whether it was as old as the Turkish Cypriot police thought.

“The problem about this description is that a Syriac gospel-book could be from the 4th century, but it could date from several centuries after that, well into the middle ages. Indeed, I think that gospel books may still have been being written in Syriac then. Obviously the smugglers will have wanted to date it as ancient as possible,” Dr Roueche added.

Dr. Roueche has it right. I think the chances of this being a two thousand year old complete biblical codex in Aramaic are minimal. The Syriac language is the Aramaic dialect of Edessa and is first recorded, I believe, in the second century C.E. The codex (bound book) rather than the scroll, is also characteristic of the period well after the second century C.E. Still, if this is an ancient or even Medieval Syriac Bible codex or codex of the Gospels or some such, it is still of great interest and it's very fortunate that the authorities recovered it.

The oldest surviving complete Syriac Bible (Old and New Testament plus some Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha) is Codex Ambrosianus B.21, Milan, from the sixth or seventh century C.E. I have commented on it here. Unfortunately, the photographs seem to have been purged in our recent website upgrade. I'll try to get them back up soon.

UPDATE (7 February): More here.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

MORE ON THE IRANIAN CUNEIFORM TABLETS that the U.S. court is trying to confiscate and sell off to recompense victims of terrorism:
World Iranologists ask Obama to bar seizure of Achaemenid tablets
Tehran Times Culture Desk

TEHRAN -- About 700 Iranologists and Iranian cultural heritage lovers have recently signed a petition asking President Barack Obama to prevent confiscation of Iran’s 300 Achaemenid clay tablets loaned to the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute.

The petition has been organized by the European Iranologist Society (Societas Iranologica Europaea, SIE) in its website

Background here and follow the links back. I have commented on the case here, here and here. If so minded, you can sign the petition here. I have signed it. I'm not sure what the President's powers are in this case, but the statement is still worth making.
WHEN ISRAEL AND THE ARABS WERE ALLIES. It has happened! Excerpt from the paper abstract by Peter Feinman, posted at HNN:
Thus there once was a time when Arabs and Israel were allies and Israel was part of the Semitic world around it as brother, cousin, and husband to its many peoples, when the image of Isaac and Ishmael standing together as one matched the historical record of 853 BCE. One prays that we won't have to wait another 2861 years for these peoples to be allies and part of the same family once again.
The event in question was the Battle of Qarqar, between the Assyrian King Shalmaneser III and a coalition of West Semitic groups (including King Ahab of Israel), Arabs, and others.
THE SLAVONIC PSEUDEPIGRAPHA PROJECT has an announcement, sent to me by Andrei Orlov:
The Slavonic Pseudepigrapha Project would like to announce the launch of two new resource pages devoted to 2 (Slavonic) Enoch ( the Apocalypse of Abraham (

The resource pages include original manuscripts, translations, extensive bibliographies, and research articles pertaining to these important apocalyptic works which survived in Slavonic language.

The Slavonic Pseudepigrapha Project ( is an electronic resource developed by scholars from the Theology Department at Marquette University (Milwaukee, USA).
Readers might also be interested in my colleague Grant Macaskill's online lecture, "The Slavonic Pseudepigrapha: An Introduction."

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

ANOTHER DEFENSE of the Jerusalem Museum of Tolerance by Rabbi Marvin Hier, "the founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and its Museum of Tolerance":
Op-Ed: Museum a beacon of hope in the center of Jerusalem

By Marvin Hier · February 2, 2009 (JTA)

LOS ANGELES (JTA) -- On Oct. 29, 2008, the Israeli Supreme Court rendered a unanimous decision permitting the Simon Wiesenthal Center to resume construction on its Museum of Tolerance project on the site of the municipal parking lot in the heart of western Jerusalem. The court denied the contention of the project’s chief opponent, Sheik Raed Salah, a notorious anti-Semite and Hamas supporter, that the parking lot was a Muslim cemetery and allowed construction to resume even on the small portion where bones were found.

For half a century, hundreds of Jews, Christians and Muslims parked their cars every day on the site, with no protest whatsoever from any Muslim groups, religious leaders, nongovernmental organizations or professors.

As the court noted, “for almost 50 years the compound has not been a part of the cemetery, both in the normative sense and in the practical sense, and it was used for various public purposes." It also said, "During all those years no one raised any claim, on even one occasion, that the planning procedures violated the sanctity of the site, or that they were contrary to law as a result of the historical and religious uniqueness of the site." And, "For decades this area was not regarded as a cemetery by the general public or by the Muslim community."

"No one," the court said, "denied this position."

In 1964, the highest Muslim authority, the Muslim Religious Council, even ruled that the adjacent Independence Park (Mamilla Cemetery) was a "mundras," an abandoned site where building is permissible. Today, mundras is a widely relied-upon categorization and sanctioned throughout the Arab world -- in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian territories.

Background here and follow the links back.
CONGRATULATIONS to Prof. Casey Elledge, who is one of seven faculty members who just received tenure at Gustavus Adolphus College:
Casey Elledge holds a B.A. in English from Centenary College, and both a M.Div. and Ph.D. from Princeton Seminary. Elledge is Chair of the Gustavus Lecture Series as well as a member of the Achievement Recognition Committee and the Academic Petitions Committee. Since arriving at Gustavus in 2002, Elledge has been a part of five major academic publications and four general audience publications. His publications include Life after Death in Early Judaism: The Evidence of Josephus and The Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls: An Introductino to Qumran and Its Literature.

Monday, February 02, 2009

DEAD SEA SCROLLS FRAGMENTS FOR SALE (by Michael R. Thompson, Booksellers, at their display at the San Francisco Antiquarian Book Fair later this month):
29. [DEAD SEA SCROLLS]. Original fragment from Daniel, Chapter 5, Verse 13-16. Found at Qumran, on the Dead Sea, in Cave 4, some time between 1952 and 1956. The fragment itself dates between 50 BC - AD 68 (the Roman destruction of Qumran). 32 mm. x 30 mm., written in Hebrew on brown animal hide. Preserved between glass, and enclosed in cloth chemise, in full black morocco clamshell slipcase. $275,000
Includes the verse translated in English as: "Art thou that Daniel, which art of the children of the captiuity of Iudah..."

30. [DEAD SEA SCROLLS]. Original fragment from Exodus, Chapter 18, Verse 6-8. Found at Qumran, on the Dead Sea, in Cave 4, some time between 1952 and 1956. The fragment itself dates between 150 BC - AD 68 (the Roman destruction of Qumran). 11 x 34 mm. written in Hebrew on brown animal hide. Preserved between glass, and enclosed in cloth chemise, in full black morocco clamshell slipcase. $145,000
Includes the verse translated in English as: "Moses told his father-in-law all that the Lord had done to Pharoah and to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake, all the hardship that had befallen them on the journey, and how the Lord had delivered them.”
I don't know if these are genuine or not, but if they are, it is unfortunate to find them like this in the public marketplace, although I suppose it's better than their being lost entirely. If you should happen to be in the position to buy these, I hope you will consider donating them (or at least be willing to sell them) to a museum, preferably one in Israel. If you must keep them, please, please be willing to make them available for specialists to study. It will do no harm to the value of the fragments and it will insure that the contribution they can make to history is not lost.

(Noted on Joseph I. Lauer's e-mail list.)

UPDATE (15 February): More here.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

A BIBLICAL MUSEUM is planned in Virginia:
LU professor has plans for biblical museum

By Christa Desrets

Published: January 31, 2009 (Lynchburg News and Advance)

Randall Price has big plans for what is now a small space in DeMoss Hall at Liberty University.

Price, an archaeologist and Liberty professor, is executive director of LU’s Center for Judaic Studies, which opened in fall 2008.

Price plans to implement academic coursework and degree programs in Jewish studies. He also is working with school officials to establish a Biblical Museum at the university that would house antiquities from the biblical period.

Preliminary plans for a 10,000-square-foot museum already have been drawn, and Price hopes that within a couple of years it will be built.

His own collection of antiquities, as well as those that he could get on loan from dig sites, would be housed at the museum to provide the school and Lynchburg a window to the past.

“We felt there was a need to have a program in Jewish Studies because we want our Christian students to understand the issues,” said Price, who over the past 30 years has traveled to Israel more than 90 times.

With that goal in mind, in December, Price led 12 students, four from Liberty, in the school’s first archaeology program. They traveled to Qumran in eastern Israel, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered about 60 years ago in nearby caves.