Saturday, May 16, 2009

PROFESSOR EMANUEL TOV has won the Israel Prize! Here's the Hebrew University press release:
Hebrew University Prof. Emmanuel Tov Wins Israel Prize for Research in Bible

February 26, 2009 - Hebrew University Prof. Emmanual Tov will be awarded the Israel Prize 2009 for his research in the Bible, the Education Minister Prof Yuli Tamir announced.

In explaining their decision, the awarding panel stated that, Prof. Emmanuel Tov of the Hebrew University's Department of Bible Studies and the Mandel Institute of Jewish Studies is ''a leading researcher of international renown in the research of early versions of the Bible and its formation in ancient times. He made the most important contributions to research of the Septuagint and research of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Prof. Tov wrote the fundamental books on using the Septuagint in Bible research and on textual critique of the Bible. He has published most of the complex material of the Dead Sea Scrolls and created databases for the research of Greek translations of the Scrolls.''

Prof. Emmanuel Tov was born in Amsterdam in 1941. When the Germans occupied Holland, his parents sent him, at just one year old, to be cared for by a Christian family. At the end of the war, in which his parents perished, Emmanuel moved to his uncle's house in Amsterdam where he studied at the Classical Gymnasium and at Talmud Torah. From the age of 14, he became active in the youth movement 'Ichud HaBonim' in Holland and then went to Israel for a year where he coordinated the movement's activities, programs and training.

In 1961 he immigrated to Israel, settled in Jerusalem and studied Bible and Classics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He completed his master's degree at the department of Bible Studies and traveled to the United States to attend a program at the department of Near Eastern Studies at Harvard University. While he was in the United States, he worked as a teaching assistant and began writing his doctoral thesis. On his return to Israel, he began working as an assistant at the University Institute in Haifa and at the Department of Bible Studies at the Hebrew University. He became a professor at the Hebrew University in 1986 and has taught there until today. In 1990, he was appointed the J. L. Magnes Professor of Bible, and since 1991 he has served as head editor-in-chief of the Dead Sea Scrolls Publication Project, preparing all the fragments from the Judean Desert for publication in a forty-volume series.

Prof. Tov is married to Lika. They have three children - Ophira, Ariel and Amitai - and four grandchildren.
Sorry to be so late on this one, but it got less press than it deserved and I was way too busy this semester. Belated congratulations to Professor Tov! A well-deserved honor.

Congratulations also to Hebrew University archaeologist Amihai Mazar, who was also a winner of the Israel Prize this year.

Friday, May 15, 2009

ROBERT DEUTSCH has published an article on an epigraphic mystery in Biblical Archaeology Review:
Tracking Down Shebnayahu, Servant of the King
How an antiquities market find solved a 42-year-old excavation puzzle
You can read the article yourself, but it concludes:
Thus, the Shebnayahu seal impression found at Lachish can now be positively identified as belonging to the “servant of the king,” who is very probably the same person against whom Isaiah prophesied and whose tomb still overlooks the Kidron Valley in Jerusalem. He probably sent a letter from King Hezekiah’s court written on papyrus to an official at Lachish. After wrapping the papyrus letter in string, he placed a blob of clay on the string and stamped it with his seal. What the letter said, we will never know.
A few observations:

1. The bulla inscription that provided the solution comes from the antiquities market. A smart forger would produce just this sort of fake, which seemed to solve a longstanding problem. That said, presumably it would be quite difficult to forge a second seal impression when a genuine impression was already available, and this may rule out forgery. But I would like to know more about the authentication of this bulla and I wish Deutsch had addressed the issue.

2. This story well illustrates the antics of Carol Newsom's angel Lacunael, whose divine vocation is to go around smiting ancient inscriptions at just the spots that will leave maddening ambiguities for epigraphers.

3. Robert Deutsch himself is a somewhat controversial subject at present, since he is one of the accused in the (seemingly endlessly) ongoing Israel forgery trial. A BAR promotional e-mail says:
In the current issue of BAR, editor Hershel Shanks explains why we published "Tracking Down Shebnayahu, Servant of the King" by Robert Deutsch, a scholar and antiquities dealer in Israel who has been indicted for forgery. Shanks explains that not only is Deutsch eminently qualified as a scholar but that the Israeli prosecution has failed to produce any evidence of his guilt at the trial that is now entering its fourth year. "Now it is time to apply the rule that a man is considered innocent until proven guilty," says Shanks--and certainly we all benefit from Deutsch's scholarship.
Shanks's editorial in defense of publishing Mr. Deutsch is here. Some background to the forgery trial is here.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

MORE ON THE SCROLL BUST: Joseph I. Lauer notes that most of an article in Hamodia ("published in Brooklyn and dated 19 Iyar 5769 - May 13, 2009") has been posted online and it contains new information about scholarly discussion of the document of Miriam Barat Ya‘aqov:
It was written by Miriam bas Yaakov, probably a widow, declaring to her brother-in-law, a brother of her former husband Shaul, that she received all the money promised in her kesubah.

Dr. Chagai Misgav, of Hebrew University, told Hamodia that details in the document reveal much about the way Jews wrote documents in those times. It is dated for Kislev, arba lechurban Yisrael, year four to the destruction of Israel, which Misgav says means the churban of the second Beis Hamikdash.

"This is interesting, since in all other documents written at that time, the year is dated to the rule of the Roman Caesar at the time," says Misgav. "However, since this is not a regular document but a receipt, they didn't write it according to the regular customs but instead wrote the date according to the churban Beis Hamikdash."

Indeed, the Rambam in hilchos Gerushin writes that in those days they would usually write the date on a get according to the years of the king, although there were some who had the custom to refer to the number of years since the churban Beis Hamikdash.

Amir Ganor, director of the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Theft in the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), believes that four years after churban Yisrael alludes to the fall of Bar Kochba.

"Since we don't have any other evidence of the Jews dating after the churban Beis Hamikdash yet we have found coins and other evidence of them counting to the years of the Bar Kochba rebellion, this document may be dated to four years after the fall of Bar Kochba," Ganor told Hamodia.
The document is still in the process of being authenticated. The end of the article (Joe says it's five more paragraphs) is only available in the print edition.

Background here.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

ARAMAIC WATCH: A University of Queensland museum has just acquired a Palmyrene stele bearing an as-yet undeciphered Aramaic inscription:
Artefact a prized addition to UQ antiquities museum
Published: 13 May 2009

The R.D. Milns Antiquities Museum at UQ has just welcomed an ancient carved funerary column or 'stele' to their collection, which originally stood at Palmyra in present-day Syria.

Museum Director Dr Sonia Puttock said the museum's $18,000 big purchase for the year was "very significant".


The museum previously purchased a fragment of a similar stele around 20 years ago, but the latest purchase is of a whole male bust that is from the late second to third century AD.


"The stele is of a man wearing a toga, but it is very much in the local style, so it is likely a native man aspiring to a Roman lifestyle. He has also got a funerary garland in his hand, similar to Egyptian mummy paintings."

The limestone stele, which is associated with a male funeral, also contains an Aramaic inscription that hasn't yet been translated, however Dr Puttock says that will happen soon.

"One of our previous trainee workers, a woman from Northern Italy who received a scholarship from her university, Udine, to come and work at the museum for nine months, will be translating it. She is also doing some research on it for us," Dr Puttock said.

The stele, originally from what is now central Syria, was purchased from well-known London dealer Charles Ede.

Do antiquities laws really allow the sale and transport of inscribed stelae from Syria (to London?) to Australia? I'm surprised. Although if it's on the antiquites market, I would rather it end up in a museum than in private hands.
BORIS JOHNSON, the Mayor of London, approves of the upcoming Aramaic and Latin production of Ben Hur:
Boris Johnson, a long-time supporter of the continuation of Latin studies, gave his approval to the show.

"Ave! This is a fantastic idea. Cives londinii spectabunt et mirabuntur," (The citizens of London will look on in wonder) he said.

"We have much to learn from the Romans, not least since the horse is the ultimate low-carbon vehicle," he added.
Background here.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

THE UNIVERSITY OF ST. ANDREWS and its School of Divinity both have come in at third place - just after Oxbridge - in the new Guardian league tables. Details:

University League Table 2010

University Guide 2010: Religious Studies and Theology

Just thought you'd like to know, especially if you are a current or prospective St. Andrews student.

Mark Goodacre has further commentary here.
ARAMAIC WATCH: More on the Ben Hur production coming live to London. The Independent sounds a bit skeptical:
Ben Hur: The blockbuster no one will understand

Stage show of Ben-Hur to use ancient languages of Latin and Aramaic

By Arifa Akbar, Arts Correspondent

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

On-stage chariot races, herds of horses, camels, vultures, eagles, 400 performers and a supporting cast which includes Jesus Christ, Tiberius Julius Caesar and Pontius Pilate ... What else to do but set Ben-Hur the stage show in Latin and Aramaic? The £5m production will show at the 20,000-seat O2 arena in London from 15-19 September.

Only one song in the score – written by Stewart Copeland, formerly a rock drummer for the Police – will be composed in English.

Actors will learn their lines in the ancient language of the Romans and the Jews. A narrator will explain the action in the native language of whichever of the seven countries the play is touring, among them France and Germany, as well as England.

As with The Passion of the Christ, there really should be Greek in there as well.
MORE ON THE SYRIAC MOR GABRIEL MONASTERY and the land dispute associated with it:
Arameans want prime minister to mediate over Mor Gabriel
Arameans have appealed to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in a letter seeking his mediation in a land dispute between the Mor Gabriel Monastery and the surrounding villages that has already been heard in court.


The Syriac Universal Alliance (SUA), a worldwide umbrella organization of national federations of Aramean people, in their letter to Erdoğan, indicated that they wanted him to mediate in the conflict. The SUA also asked the prime minister to “ensure that the decisions of the relevant Turkish authorities are reversed and relevant cases are resolved to the benefit of the Aramean people in order for the current public condemnation of Turkey to end.”


12 May 2009, Tuesday (Today's Zaman)
Related article here. And AINA has a long article by Nuri Kino (translated from Swedish) on the whole controvery and court case.

Background here.
POPE BENEDICT XVI is currently on a visit to the Holy Land. I've been following the story but so far haven't seen much of interest for PaleoJudaica. But here is some AFP coverage.
LAG B'OMER began last night at sundown.

Monday, May 11, 2009

THE BIBLIOBLOG TOP 50 – APRIL 2009 has been out for awhile and I've been meaning to note it.
A CONFERENCE ON CODEX SINAITICUS is taking place at the British Library in July:
Codex Sinaiticus Conference
British Library Conference Centre, 6-7 July 2009

Codex Sinaiticus is one of the world's outstanding manuscripts. Together with Codex Vaticanus, it is one of the earliest extant Bibles, containing the oldest complete New Testament. This treasured codex is indispensable for understanding the earliest text of the Greek Bible, the transmission of its text, the establishment of the Christian canon, and the history of the book. Over 400 leaves survive and are held across four institutions: the British Library, Leipzig University Library, St Catherine's Monastery and the National Library of Russia in St Petersburg.

To celebrate the virtual re-unification of all extant leaves of Codex Sinaiticus, on 6-7 July 2009, the British Library is hosting an academic conference on topics relating to Codex Sinaiticus. A number of leading experts have been approached to give presentations on the history, text, conservation, paleography and codicology, among other topics, of Codex Sinaiticus. Selected conference papers will be edited and published as a collection of articles.
For background on Codex Sinaiticus, go here and keep following the links back.
Hard Times Give New Life to Prague’s Golem

Published: May 10, 2009

PRAGUE — They say the Golem, a Jewish giant with glowing eyes and supernatural powers, is lurking once again in the attic of the Old-New Synagogue here.

The Golem, according to Czech legend, was fashioned from clay and brought to life by a rabbi to protect Prague’s 16th-century ghetto from persecution, and is said to be called forth in times of crisis. True to form, he is once again experiencing a revival and, in this commercial age, has spawned a one-monster industry.

There are Golem hotels; Golem door-making companies; Golem clay figurines (made in China); a recent musical starring a dancing Golem; and a Czech strongman called the Golem who bends iron bars with his teeth. The Golem has also infiltrated Czech cuisine: the menu at the non-kosher restaurant called the Golem features a “rabbi’s pocket of beef tenderloin” and a $7 “crisis special” of roast pork and potatoes that would surely have rattled the venerable Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel, the Golem’s supposed maker.


The surge in popularity of the Golem also anticipates the 400th anniversary in September of Rabbi Loew’s death in 1609, at nearly 100. A Jewish mystic and philosopher who a leading scholar of the Talmud and kabbalah and wrote at least 22 books, he was known widely as the Maharal, a great sage.

Few here dispute that the Golem, who is often depicted as either a menacing brown blob or an artificial humanoid, has become a lucrative global brand. But it is also a profound irritation to Prague’s Jewish leaders that Rabbi Loew’s legacy has been hijacked by a powerful dunce whom the Talmud characterizes as a “fool.”

“I am frustrated by the legend of the Golem in the same way I am frustrated that people buy Kafka souvenirs on every street in Prague but don’t bother to read his books,” Rabbi Karel Sidon, the chief rabbi of the Czech Republic, lamented. Alluding to the recent rise of neo-Nazis in the Czech Republic and elsewhere, however, he hastened to add, “We like the Golem because he protected the Jews.”

Rabbi Barash emphasized that in the Talmud, the Golem was considered a dumb klutz because he was literal-minded, could not speak and had no “sechel,” or intellect. “If in school,” he said, “you didn’t use your brains, the teacher would say, ‘Stop behaving like a golem.’ ”


Background here and here.
ARAMAIC WATCH: The APF reports on more efforts in Israel to preserve Aramaic as a spoken language, combined with yet another land dispute. Excerpt:
"Shlomo malfonito" -- "Hello teacher" -- intone some 20 pupils in the Arab-Israeli village of Jish, where half the population is Maronite, a people who for centuries have lived in the mountains of Lebanon and nearby.

The children get free lessons in Aramaic, an ancient tongue spoken during the time of Jesus Christ and kept alive down the centuries by fellow Maronites.

Shadi Khalul, 33, organised the lessons and teaches the language of his ancestors along with his brother, sister-in-law and three others so the young people in the northern village remember their roots in Biram some four kilometres (2.5 miles) away.

That village was razed by Israel in 1953, nearly five years after the authorities of the then six-month-old Jewish state evacuated its 1,050 residents in November 1948. They said it would be a temporary measure.
SCROLL-BUST UPDATE: Joseph I. Lauer notes that the IAA press release is now at a permanent URL here. Here's the opening again:
A Rare 2,000 Year Old Hebrew Document Written on Papyrus was seized in an Operation (5/5/09)

A document thought to be an ancient text written on papyrus was seized yesterday (Tuesday) in an operation led by the Intelligence Office of the Zion Region and the Undercover Unit of the Border Police in Jerusalem, in cooperation with the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery and the Archaeological Staff Officer in the Civil Administration.
The document is written in ancient Hebrew script, which is characteristic of the Second Temple period and the first and second centuries CE. This style of the writing is primarily known from the Dead Sea scrolls and various inscriptions that occur on ossuaries and coffins. The document itself is written on papyrus. The papyrus is incomplete and was in all likelihood rolled up. It is apparent that pieces of it crumbled mainly along its bottom part. The holes along the left part of the document probably attest to the damage that was caused to it over time. The document measures 15 x 15 centimeters.

Also, the Art Daily has an article based on the press release with the full-sized photograph included. It's nice that a good photo has been published so quickly. And hats off to the Israeli police for catching this one.

Background here.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Phoenician replica readies for Mediterranean crossing


FOCA, Turkey - A team of 20 rowers will next week aim to cross the Mediterranean Sea in a replica Phoenician-style "bireme" ship from Turkey to France.

The Kybele boat -- named after an Anatolian goddess -- will leave the Turkish village of Foca near Izmir and travel 2,300 miles (3,700 kilometers) to the ancient port of Marseille in southern France.

Related story here.