Saturday, February 14, 2009

THE MISSING BIBLICAL STUDIES CARNIVAL XXXVII has been posted by N. T. Wrong on Wrong's retired blog. Wrong has also published a Biblioblog Top 50 for January. Like Mark Goodacre I have no idea why PaleoJudaica is missing when blogs that post considerably less frequently and sometimes less on topic are listed. How about it, N. T.?

UPDATE (15 February): Now the blog is blocked off with password protection. Odd.
A SYMPOSIUM on Archaeology, Politics, and the Media is being held at Duke University in April.
DURA-EUROPOS is best known to historians as the site of an ancient Syrian synagogue with marvelous frescoes of biblical episodes. But it's been in the news recently because excavators have found evidence in it of early chemical warfare:
Why Chemical Warfare Is Ancient History

By Ishaan Tharoor Friday, Feb. 13, 2009 (Time Magazine)

The prospect of chemical and biological warfare in this age of anthrax scares and WMD can feel — like the threat of nuclear Armageddon before it — like a uniquely modern terror. But a British archaeologist's recent find offers a reminder that chemical weapons are nothing new — in fact, they are nearly 2,000 years old. Simon James, a researcher at the University of Leicester in the U.K., claims to have found the first physical evidence of chemical weaponry, dating from a battle fought in A.D. 256 at an ancient Roman fortress. James concluded that 20 Roman soldiers unearthed beneath the town's ramparts did not die of war wounds, as previous archaeologists had assumed, but from poison gas.

BOOK REVIEW by the Archbishop of Caterbury in the Financial Times:
Mother of God

Review by Rowan Williams

Published: February 13 2009 17:17 | Last updated: February 13 2009 17:17

Mother of God: A History of the Virgin Mary
By Miri Rubin
Penguin £30, 400 pages
FT Bookshop price: £24


The strength of this book by Miri Rubin, one of the most interesting and original of British medieval historians, is that it charts the ways in which Mary is “used to think with”. Perhaps its most dismaying pages are those that deal with how Mary’s identity became a way of framing Jewish-Christian debate. Mary is unmistakeably Jewish – indeed, for some Christians, archetypally Jewish; she is the exemplary Jewish person, the one who does what God meant the Jewish people to do. It makes sense that she is specially concerned for her own kin. But, in legend after legend, that concern is shown chiefly in procuring conversions, often after threats and violence.

It is not surprising that medieval Jewish polemicists hit back with abusive and defamatory representations of Mary. And Rubin is right to note the radical difference in this respect between Jewish and Muslim attitudes to Mary: the Koran has more about Mary than the Bible does, and Islamic tradition is often extravagant in her praise. Nothing is really at stake here between Christians and Muslims; but the Jewish-Christian debate in the Middle Ages is another matter. For at least some Jewish writers reacting to Christian triumphalism, Mary is something of a symbol of infidelity to her people – a metaphorical as well as literal adulteress. There is room for a whole book on this subject and Rubin is uniquely equipped to write it.

PSEUDEPIGRAPHA WATCH: the Enochic literature serves as inspiration for yet another novel: Angelology by Danielle Trussoni. According to Publisher's Weekly it has just been contracted by Viking for a very large sum.
The novel has been gaining buzz as a Da Vinci Code-esque work; it follows a young nun in upstate New York who, in uncovering a correspondence between the former mother superior and Abigail Rockefeller, unwittingly reignites an ancient war between a society of angelologists (a group that studies angels) and the Nephilim (the monster-like descendants of angels and humans). The book pulls from a variety of religious and mythical histories and, per Simonoff, "blends biblical lore, the Orpheus myth, the apocryphal Book of Enoch and the fall of the rebel angels, with bravura storytelling."

Friday, February 13, 2009

VISION OF GABRIEL WATCH: April DeConick reports on The Gabriel Stone Seminar at Rice University.

Background here.
THE COURT CASE over the land dispute involving the Syriac Mor Gabriel monastery in Turkey continues (background here) and is generating some international attention:
Because of these allegations, the court hearing about the land dispute has garnered international attention. Yesterday’s hearing was attended by many representatives from the European Syriac community, the European Commission and the Dutch, Finnish and Swedish embassies.

When the representatives walked into the small courtroom in Midyat, which in all likelihood had never before witnessed such a crowded hearing, locals complained that “because of the Europeans, they would not be able to find a place in the room.”

Yılmaz Kerimo, a Swedish parliamentarian of Syriac origin who traveled to Midyat for the hearing, said they were not there to put pressure on the Turkish justice system but rather to observe Turkey’s attitude as it seeks accession to the EU.

“Turkey wants to join the EU. We are here to observe Turkey’s attitude on its way to the EU. We wish this court case had not started in the first place, but we hope it will end in accordance with the law,” he said.
No pressure.
APOCRYPHA WATCH: Haydn's Return of Tobias is reviewed in the Financial Times. Excerpt:
The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment has set the pace with Il ritorno di Tobia , the least known of Haydn's large-scale works. This early oratorio, based on an obscure story of healing from the Apocrypha, has long been eclipsed by The Creation and The Seasons . It lacks their iridescent tone-painting, offers no psychological insights. Its decorative arias sound like early Mozart, not the work of a practised court composer - indeed it was written not for his Esterháza patron but a Viennese charity.

Shut the turgid libretto, close your eyes, and what we heard on Tuesday was a succession of pulsing arias, elegant love songs and majestic choruses, underpinned by verdant woodwind choirs and fizzed up strings. ...
The story is found in the book of Tobit.
AN OBITUARY for Rabbi Dr. Joseph M. Baumgarten has been published by Rabbi Moshe Shuvalsky in the Baltimore Jewish Times. Excerpt:
He was awarded a scholarship to the Graduate School of Johns Hopkins University and received his Doctorate in Mathematics in 1954. Rabbi Baumgarten was a post graduate of Ner Israel Rabbinical College from 1950-53, and entered the bond of matrimony in 1954 with his late Rebbitzin Dr. Naomi Z”L, (daughter of the late Rabbi Alex Shlomo Rosenberg, the founding director of Kashrus of “OU”). Rabbi Baumgarten was the director of the department of Hebrew at Ner Israel for a few years.

Prof. William F. Albright of the Johns Hopkins University, hearing what Dr. Baumgarten had to say about “Dead Sea Scrolls” in the possession of the famous eminent Professor, Dr. Albright declared that Dr. Baumgarten is an authentic Archaeologist. The pen of Dr. Baumgarten published hundreds of papers pertaining to this aforementioned scholarly subject.

Rabbi Dr. Baumgarten held the chair as Professor of Rabbinic Literature at the Baltimore Hebrew University for more than half of a century and through his teachings and actions succeeded to inspire numerous students to observe the precepts of the Torah. For more than fifty years, Rabbi Baumgarten served as the beloved spiritual leader of the B’nei Jacob Congregation.
Background here and here.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

THE FIFTH GOSPEL, Michel Faber's novel about newly recovered Aramaic scrolls about the life of Jesus, is reviewed by Christopher Guerin in PopMatters. Excerpt:
In The Fire Gospel, he finds resonance by structuring chapters according to books of the Bible, i.e., Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Judges (a hilarious take on Amazon customer reviews), Acts, Revelations [Revelation, dang it! - JRD], and Lamentations. And, a nice stroke, Malchus, though a devout believer and anchorite, is also rather pathetic, and a bore, who is really just another Theo Grippen writing to bring his own fire to humankind two thousand years earlier.

The conclusion of the book leaves the religious question open. Theo, to his credit, or his damnation, depending on your point of view, has attempted to release his fellow man from the fetters of religion, hoping to refocus its efforts on the clear and present challenges facing it. It’s possible that he survives the effort. It’s possible also that he sees his mistake, not that “bringing fire” is not a good thing, but that, like the crucifixion of Christ, itself the supreme Promethean example, no good deed goes unpunished.
Background here.
How Torah Revolutionized Political Theory

By Rabbi David Wolpe (Jewish Journal)

Why do we read the Bible? For religion to be sure, but also for politics. After all, unlike the New Testament, which was written in the era of Roman rules and did not have to offer prescriptions for governance (the Romans handled all that), the Bible was a manual not only for individual piety, but also for setting up a society. What does it teach that the surrounding worlds did not know?

First, the Torah teaches a fundamental lesson in freedom. The rabbis explain the rationale for freeing the Israelites from Egypt, despite the general acceptance of slavery in the ancient world. Human beings should be, the rabbis imagine God declaring, servants to me, and not servants to servants.

Such a characteristic rabbinic observation might serve as a recurrent motif for Joshua Berman’s study, “Created Equal: How the Bible Broke With Ancient Political Thought.” Berman combs through biblical tradition to distinguish it from the political organizations of surrounding cultures.

He sums up:
Berman concludes his book by tossing a conceptual bridge across the ages: “If there was one truth the ancients held to be self-evident it was that all men were not created equal. If we maintain today that, in fact, they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, then it is because we have inherited as part of our cultural heritage notions of equality that were deeply entrenched in the ancient passages of the Pentateuch.”

The Torah was not only revolutionary in its time, but also remains revolutionary. Why did Bibles have to be smuggled into the former Soviet Union? Because the Kremlin knew that the principles shining through the Scripture could bring down tyrannies. The Torah changed the assumptions of the ancient world and helped forge the modern one. By reminding us of its ideals, Berman’s book reminds us how far we still have to go to reach them.
Interesting perspective, one that I think makes a valid point but perhaps also over-reads the biblical text. I shouldn't say much more without reading the book rather than just a review of it, but I did have reservations about this:
3. Secrecy. The book of Leviticus is often thought, well, somewhat dull. But in all the directions for the priests there is a powerful statement: the priestly class is not in possession of secret knowledge. That which they do can be known by anyone. As Berman notes, there is egalitarianism at the heart of the biblical world that is powerful, pervasive and revolutionary.
I think Leviticus presupposes a considerable amount of secret knowledge alongside the public knowledge it presents. It would not be possible to run a complete priestly cult based solely on the information in Leviticus. And the prophet Ezekiel was a Zadokite priest and he presumably got his strange visionary ideas from somewhere. It wasn't Leviticus.

UPDATE (22 February): Rabbi Wolpe e-mails:
As I am a devout reader of your blog, I was delighted to see my review posted. I want to immunize the author - I think the Leviticus point may have been more mine than his, and I accept your strictures, at least in part. The book may presuppose some secret knowledge but the gestalt of it (can I use that term?) is that secrecy is not at the heart of the sacrificial or indeed the entire spiritual system. I'll rest with that, with thanks.
Thanks for that. This is the mainstream view. My own suspicion is that Ezekiel gives us a better indication of what the pre-exilic Temple cult was like and Leviticus gives the expurgated post-exilic version, which cut out the visionary esoteric elements. I can't prove this yet and don't have time to do any serious work on it, but I believe Seth Sanders has a similar view to mine and is working on the question at present.

In any case, I think Rabbi Wolpe and I largely agree on the ideology of Leviticus.
ARAMAIC WATCH: A Syriac Department is opening in a Turkish University.
The university is planning to create a department that will focus on the language and literature of the Syriac people, who populate the Middle East and who have lived side-by-side with Muslims in peace and prosperity in Mardin for centuries. Artuklu University Rector Serdar Bedii Omay said a Syriac department was in the works and that university officials have met with leaders from the local Syriac community to achieve this goal. Present at the meeting were Deyrulzafaran Monastery Metropolitan Salibe Özmen, Archbishop Gabriyel Akyüz of Kırklar Church and other members of the Syriac community.
THE VALMADONNA LIBRARY EXHIBITION by Sotheby's is profiled by Edward Rothstein in the New York Times. Excerpt:
These 13,000 books and manuscripts were primarily collected by one man, Jack V. Lunzer, who was born in Antwerp in 1924, lives in London and made his fortune as a merchant of industrial diamonds. The collection’s geographical scale is matched by its temporal breadth, which extends over a millennium. But this endeavor is not just an exercise in bibliophilia. These are all books written in Hebrew or using Hebrew script, many of them rare or even unique. Most come from the earliest centuries of Hebrew printing in their places of origins and thus map out a history of the flourishing of Jewish communities around the world.

The collection’s historical gaps and boundaries are also revealing because they often implicitly mark periods of decline, which, we learn elsewhere, often meant public conflagrations of copies of these very books or even exterminations of the communities themselves.

The collection, named after the Italian town that Mr. Lunzer’s family has long been associated with, is known as the Valmadonna Trust Library. Sotheby’s has put it on sale as a single collection. Through next Thursday it is being handsomely displayed to the public, while luring the large institutional libraries and collectors who might be prepared to pay at least $40 million for what Sotheby’s, echoing scholars in the field, describes as “the finest private library of Hebrew books and manuscripts in the world.”
Background here.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

NINA BURLEIGH has an essay at the Bible and Interpretation website:
Wily Scholars and Detectives

Since the publication of my book, I have received a variety of messages from characters who want/believe the ossuary and tablet to be real. They consistently accuse me of having had an agenda in writing the book, which simply stated is to advance the agenda of the Israel Antiquities Authority, which faked the fakes, and then planted evidence against Mr. Golan, in the interest of destroying the Israeli antiquities trade itself.

By Nina Burleigh

Nina Burleigh is the author of four critically acclaimed nonfiction books. Her latest, Unholy Business: A True Tale of Faith, Greed and Forgery in the Holy Land (Collins 2008), tells the story of the unraveling of a Bible relic forgery scheme in Israel, and the intriguing world of biblical archaeology and relic collectors.
February 2009
Background here.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

More antiquities arrests in the north

POLICE in the north appear to have uncovered a ring of antiquities smugglers following new reports yesterday of three more arrests on top of another nine earlier in the week.

Quoting Turkish Cypriot press reports, state television CyBC yesterday said three people had been arrested after being found with a 145-year-old church bell.

CyBC also referred to the theft of a bible from the monastery of Apostolos Varnavas [St Barnabas].

The book’s value was in the region of €1.5 million, the report said.

It was not immediately clear whether the bible referred to was the one seized in Famagusta more than a week ago for which nine people were arrested.

The Cyprus Church has made no comment on the seizure of a bible or whether or not anything matching its description had once belonged to, or was stolen from any church building in the occupied areas.

So maybe it's a modern Bible stolen from a church. But meanwhile Steve Caruso (Aramaic Blog) suspects it is a forgery that someone tried to sell him last July and David G.K. Taylor of Oxford University is convinced it's a fake, and a disappointing one at that.

UPDATE (11 February): In an update to the post linked to above, Steve Caruso clarifies that the document he was offered is not the same as the one in the news, but that they both fit what he thinks is "a consistent pattern of forgeries that are showing up in Turkey."
SOTHEBY'S has a vast Judaica collection coming up for sale. The AP reports:
The complete library, valued at more than $40 million, is being shown in its entirety for the first time at Sotheby's Manhattan galleries until Feb. 19. The trust has asked the auction house to facilitate the sale of the complete collection to a public institution or private collector. It will not break up the collection or sell individuals works.

The Valmadonna Library is the lifelong pursuit of Jack Lunzer, an 88-year-old collector from London who was in New York on Monday for the opening of the exhibition.

Lunzer will not benefit from the proceeds of the sale, which is being handled by the trust, which will also decide whether to accept an offer from a collector or an institution.

But Lunzer has made his wishes known. "I would like our library to be acquired by the Library of Congress," he said. "That would be my great joy."


Lunzer's most prized acquisition — one he pursued for more than 25 years — is a nearly pristine complete edition of the Babylonian Talmud printed in 1519-1523 by Daniel Bomberg, a Christian printer of Hebrew books.
UPDATE (11 February): The Art Daily has more here. Notably:
Codex Valmadonna I
The jewel in the Valmadonna Library’s crown is one of the most important privately-owned books in the world - a Pentateuch (Hebrew Bible), written in England the summer of 1189. Known as the Codex Valmadonna I, this extraordinary book is the only dated Hebrew text in existence from medieval England, before King Edward I’s 1290 edict expelling the Jews. The year following this manuscript’s creation, 1190, mobs in York attacked the Jewish community living there, massacring the population, and looting their property; the books and manuscripts were exported and subsequently sold back to Jewish communities abroad. The Codex Valmadonna I is thus thought to have survived this journey, having been displaced from its home in England. ...
TOO BUSY to blog today. Sorry. Maybe this evening, but no promises.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Approaching Yehud: New Approaches to the Study of the Persian Period
reviewed by Walter Brueggemann (The Christian Century)

Approaching Yehud: New Approaches to the Study of the Persian Period
edited by Jon L. Berquist
Society of Biblical Literature, 249 pp., $29.95 paperback
Berquist provides a series of specific studies concerning the recovery and interpretation of a colonial community that must maintain its distinct identity in the face of a seductive and insistent empire.
click here to buy from

Before considering the specific content of this book, it is useful to recognize the importance of its having been published at all. The word Yehud in the title is the term used in documents from the fifth century BCE to refer to the territory in and around Jerusalem that functioned as a colony of the Persian Empire. That colony became the venue for the construction of Jewish identity and the formation of a Judaism in which the inhabitants of the colony inescapably engaged in a high-wire act of accommodation and resistance to the empire. The book reflects an increasingly intense scholarly focus on the Persian period of Judaism as the generative period for the formation of the Hebrew Bible and the construction of Jewish identity.

INTERNATIONAL SEPTUAGINT DAY was yesterday (8 February). I didn't know that.

(Via John Hobbins at Ancient Hebrew Poetry.)

Sunday, February 08, 2009

WORD CLOUDS of the Torah and the Four Gospels (both KJV) have been posted online. Apparently "Unto" is central to their messages. Who knew? And here's one for PaleoJudaica, but it seems only to include posts from the last week on the current page.

From BYU Librarian Ryan L. Combs, who also points me to the Wordle - Beautiful Web Clouds website, where you can make your own web clouds. Have fun!
TU B'SHEVAT, the New Year for Trees, begins tonight at sundown.