Saturday, June 06, 2009

PHOENICIAN WATCH: Live dangerously and die with a smile on your face - whether you want to or not.
Ancient Death-Smile Potion Decoded?
James Owen
for National Geographic News
June 2, 2009

Thousands of years before the Joker gassed comic book victims into a grinning death, Phoenician colonists on the island of Sardinia (map) were forcing smiles on the faces of the dead.

Now scientists say they know just how the ancient seafaring traders created the gruesome smiles some 2,800 years ago—not with a toxic gas like Batman's nemesis but with a plant-based potion.

And someday that plant might be used to Botox-like effect, perhaps reducing rather than adding smile lines, the researchers speculate.

The thought of lots of Hollywood celebrities going around with scary, hemlock water-dropwort induced smiles is, well, scary.

Slow news day.

Friday, June 05, 2009

PRESIDENT OBAMA quoted the Talmud in his Cairo speech:
The Talmud tells us: "The whole of the Torah is for the purpose of promoting peace."
The reference is b. Gittin 59b.
AN UPDATE in the Toronto Star on the coming Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition in the Royal Ontario Museum:
A look at life in the Holy Land in days of Jesus

Jun 04, 2009 04:30 AM
Stuart Laidlaw
Faith and ethics reporter

The Royal Ontario Museum has months of programming ready with speakers from around the world coming to Toronto to talk about the Dead Sea Scrolls, which go on display later this month.

"They are some of the most noted Dead Sea scholars of our time," says Julian Siggers, vice-president of programs and content communication. "But they will be presenting in a very populist format."

The Anne Tanenbaum Lecture Series begins June 23, four days before the historic exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls opens on the 27th.

This is in addition to the Director's Signature Series of lectures already underway featuring political commentator Christopher Hitchens last week, author A.J. Jacobs next Tuesday, and social critic Camille Paglia on June 16.

The aim will be to help ordinary people understand the importance of the scrolls and become engaged in the exhibit, he said.

Weekend programming for families has been planned for the summer and fall to help visitors understand the food and the culture of 2,000 years ago, when the scrolls were written.

The scrolls, discovered a little more than 60 years ago just as the modern Jewish state of Israel was coming into being, date from the time of Jesus, and are considered one of the most important archeological discoveries of the 20th century.

The first lecture, by University of Notre Dame professor Eugene Ulrich, will look at the impact of the scrolls on our understanding of Old and New Testaments.

Hindy Najman of the University of Toronto is also quoted and is on the lineup of speakers. The full list of speakers can be found here.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

MORE SAMARITAN NEWS: Tom Heneghan, writer of the Reuters article noted yesterday, has a post on the Reuters Faith World Blog, Visiting the Samaritans on their holy West Bank mountain, which contains background information. (Be sure also to check out the update to yesterday's post, with a letter from Sharon Sullivan Dufour.)

Also relevant, on the IDF website note this Invitation to the Grand Opening of the Good Samaritan Mosaic Museum. Excerpt:
The site, identified with the biblical city of Ma'ale Adumin, is now home to the first museum of its kind in Israel and one of the largest in the world, which will display mosaics and other archeological findings discovered in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip. Additional exhibits include mosaics and artifacts from Jewish and Samaritan synagogues, as well as various objects found in Christian churches.
(Via Joseph I. Lauer.)

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

AN UPDATE ON THE SAMARITANS appears in a Reuters article:
Samaritans use modern means to keep ancient faith
Tue Jun 2, 2009 9:58pm EDT

By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor

KIRYAT LUZA, West Bank (Reuters) - Guardians of an ancient faith with a cameo role in the Bible, the 750 surviving followers of the Samaritan religion are using surprisingly modern methods to keep their tiny community alive.

Internet acquaintances, mail-order brides and pre-nuptial genetic tests have all become familiar to Samaritans trying to plan future generations despite a shortage of young women within their own tight-knit community.

Such openness to the outside world seems baffling in a group that considers itself the original Israelites and upholds rigid traditions about diet, sex and the Sabbath

For an earlier article about Shura, see here.

UPDATE (4 June): In response to this article, Sharon Sullivan Dufour, North American Representative of the A.B. Institute of Samaritan Studies, e-mails:
Dear Jim:

I am writing from Holon, Israel, near the end of a three week visit in which I spent the past 7 days upon the summit of Mount Gerizim, living in the Kiryat Luza neighborhood among the Israelite Samaritans. I was so pleased, as I always am, to see PaleoJudaica cover articles on the Israelite Samaritans. As the North American Representative of the A.B. Institute of Samaritan Studies I would like to make a few comments on the article by Tom Heneghan.

It is unfortunate that the Israelite Samaritans are to this day judged by standards of later Jewish traditions, and not to the written Torah (Pentateuch) itself which the Samaritans hold to fervently in determining all matters of their religious tradition. It should not be considered baffling at all that in 1924 one of the prominent priests, Abraham b. Phinhas on behalf of the High Priest Yitzhaq b. Amram [1855-1932] lifted a long-held ban against marriages with the Jewish community, and allowed a few men to marry women from the Jewish community because the Samaritans have kept the law found in Deuteronomy17:8-9 that allocates authority to the High Priest in matters of practices that are not clearly stated in Torah, and because the Israelite Samaritans consider the Jews as part of the ancient people of Israel. Therefore, in 1924 the priests had very little difficulty in making the decision in favor of marriage for four male individuals who otherwise would not have had wives, nor procreated to carry on their family line. Recently it was decided by the High Priest Shalom b. Amram [1922-2004] that marriages were acceptable with non-Israelite girls from other religions due to the lack of girls among the Israelite Samaritans. For the Torah itself is not according to the later Jewish practice of tracing matrilineal descent, but traces it through the males of whom several married non-Israelite wives: such as the wife of Moses. The Israelite Samaritans translate the word in Numbers 12:1 "Kaashet" as "Beautiful" relating to Zipporah, with no meaning of ethnicity. Onkelos, the famous Jewish convert of the first century CE and nephew of the Roman Emperor Titus, suggested that the true meaning was not one of nationality, “Cushite” but had a true meaning of “beautiful.” In addition several of the Patriarchs took wives from outside the Israelite faith, such as the wife of Joseph, and the wife of Judah, and the Canaanite wife of Simeon.

Secondly, the current practice of Samaritan men who marry outside of the Samaritan community is no longer a matter of necessity due to genetic defects, nor to a lack of women. The current practice is based upon the change in religious tradition that was decided in 1924 by the High Priest Yitzhaq b. Amram and currently a matter of choice among some Samaritan males. Many Samaritan men don’t like the idea of making a match within the community to a woman they have known all their lives, but prefer it be based on love and followed by the condition that she joins the community, and practices all of the commandments of the Torah according to the Israelite Samaritan Tradition. It should be noted that there is no ritual conversion process for these women.

Lastly, I am in Israel working with Israelite Samaritan Benyamim Tsedaka, and here as an advisory member in a recently awarded National Endowment for the Humanities Grant with this goal: to bring together religious studies scholars and members of the Israelite Samaritan community – two groups that have a significant stake in the cultural and scholarly value of the (Michigan State) university’s Samaritan archive – through an online environment in which they can view and interpret the Samaritan texts, interact with members of their own communities, and interact with one another. See full article here:

You may notice in the article that the Samaritan manuscript collection was a donation on behalf of the family of E.K. Warren, a humanitarian in the early 1900s who played a major role in reversing the population decline (at that time only 146 individuals) among the Samaritans who nearly were an extinct people. On May 25, 2009 Warren’s great grandson, Charles “Gus” Whalen accepted the posthumous Samaritan Medal of Peace on behalf of his great grandfather by the High Priest of the Israelite Samaritans, Elazar b. Tsedaka, the High Priest since February 2004. See article here: Benyamim Tsedaka and I are sole partners in an historical project of the first English translation of the Israelite Samaritan version of the Pentateuch (SP), parallel to the English translation of the Jewish Text (MT), to be published this year.
There's more on Sharon and this Samaritan Pentateuch translation here.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: The BBC is taking Jewish-Temple denial in Palestinian circles rather more seriously than it deserves.
Disputed facts under ground in Jerusalem

By Tim Franks
BBC News, Jerusalem


Broadcast journalism does not just depend on accuracy and impartiality. Unfortunately, it also demands concision.

And, so pity the reporter who has to deal with a story about that - albeit important - bit of Jerusalem "known to Jews as the Temple Mount, and to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary". That's five seconds of what may be your 40-second news piece for radio.

The reason for this circumlocution is what we politely call "competing narratives".

Here are the narratives:
The Western Wall was built by King Herod, 2,000 years ago. Jewish tradition - and western scholarly consensus - holds that it was one of four walls which supported the huge plaza on which the Second Temple was rebuilt.


Not everyone agrees that the wall is the only remaining part of the Temple complex, destroyed by the Romans in AD70.

Al-Quds University states, on its website, that "the Al-Aqsa compound (ie the Haram al-Sharif - site of al-Aqsa Mosque, and the Dome of the Rock, the third holiest site in Islam) cannot possibly be in the same place as the first or second temple".

There is muddle here, and Mr. Franks misquotes the Al-Quds University website. The relevant passage (my bold font) in context is this:
The "temple" issue dominates the politics about Jerusalem today. An assumption is made that the present Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa compound is the same location of the "Temple Mount" or "Mount Moriah." But as Ernest L. Martin has demonstrated (working strictly within biblical scholarship), the Al-Aqsa compound cannot possibly be in the same place as the first or second temple. Further, what is called the "first temple," associated with the legendary Solomon, was in fact a pre-monotheistic place where many gods were worshipped. As scholars like Herbert Niehr document, the "first temple" was dominated by Syro-Phoenician traits and appealed to pagan worshippers living in the area. Various "pagan" sites existed until after Constantine converted to Christianity in the early 4th century. At that time, Constantine's mother Helena determined many biblical sites, most coinciding with pagan temple locations.
The passage actually says, correctly, that the Al-Aqsa compound is not the site of one of the Temples. But this specific part of the platform (which is a Seleucid southern extension of the original platform) is the site of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, not the Dome of the Rock. The latter (the site of the Dome of the Rock) may be the site of the Temple(s) - most reconstructions put the Temple there and all of them close by on the platform. The exact location of the First and Second Temples in the area of the Herodian Temple platform is debated, but not that they stood somewhere within what is now that platform.

That said, Mr. Franks's misquote does seem to reflect more or less correctly the claim of the Al-Quds website, which continues:
The Wailing or "Western" Wall is a focus of Jewish veneration. It is a site associated with a past memory, as Moshe Dayan once noted. The Wailing Wall is assumed to be what remains of Herod's Temple. But that Herod was a Jew is debated by some and rejected by others (he came from tribes east of the Jordan and had a Hellenistic cultural background). Judaism was different from how some see it today; like Christianity and Islam, it should not be confused with "ethnicity."

Further, the Wailing or "Western" Wall is a most likely candidate for being the wall of a fortress built for Roman legions (as Ernest Martin reports, citing other scholarship). Even if we assume that Herod built a "second temple," the building was reportedly destroyed in the 1st century AD. The Romans, then the Byzantine Christians, had prevented people of the Jewish faith from living in the city for hundreds of years. At other times, the two then-contending religious groups had exchanged expulsions and massacres, particularly before and during the Persian invasion of 614 AD. The hundreds of skulls at the Monastery of Mar Saba are said to be evidence of those massacres. One wonders then, under such circumstances, how the traces of any temple in Jerusalem could possibly have been preserved.
Herod's genetic background is irrelevant here (see here for discussion). The point is that he extensively refurbished (to the point essentially of tearing down and rebuilding) the Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount. There is no debate in the specialist literature about the Western Wall and the platform of which it is a part being Herod's Temple platform. The business about it being a Roman fortress is simply nonsense. I have collected evidence for the existence of the Iron-Age II Judean ("Solomonic") Temple here and for the Second and Herodian Temples here. There is no surviving material evidence for the pre-Herodian Temples, but the inferential (literary) case for them is overwhelming and universally accepted by specialists.

There are "competing narratives" here only in the sense that there are "competing narratives" betweeen evolutionary theory and creationism. One is serious scholarship and the other is religious and political propaganda. I have some sympathy for reporters who have to try to sort through all the archaeological complexities of the Temple Mount. (I had help this morning from my colleague, Kristin De Troyer, who just taught a course on the Jerusalem Temple this semester. Any errors in this post are my mistakes, not hers.) But minimally reporters need to get it straight that there is no debate among specialists in specialist literature about the existence of the Iron Age II Judean Temple and the Second and Herodian Temples in Jerusalem on the Temple Mount platform. Again, narratives to the contrary are propaganda, not scholarship.

The fact that Jews and Muslims use different terms for the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary is a separate issue: all it means is that the site means something different (and not mutually exclusive) to Jews (site of the Temples) and Muslims (a stop on the Night Journey or Miraj, Muhammud's visionary ascent to heaven).

The remainder of the article covers the fact that there are differences in the narratives of Jewish and Muslim tour guides in Jerusalem, a point also covered pretty thoroughly by Nadia Abu el-Haj in Facts on the Ground, which I have reviewed here and to which the title of the this article obviously alludes.
TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: A stone lifted from a Temple Mount excavation twelve years ago has reportedly been returned by the conscience-stricken tourist who nicked it.
Twelve Years after a Stone Disappeared from an Israel Antiquities Authority Excavation South of the Temple Mount, a Tourist from New York Confessed:"I Took It. My Conscience Bothers Me and I Am Asking for Forgiveness"

The stone, which weighs twenty one kilograms, was returned to Jerusalem this week

In 1997, a twenty one kilogram fragment of a marble column disappeared from one of the excavations the Israel Antiquities Authority was conducting south of the Temple Mount.

Several weeks ago, the IAA received an unexpected e-mail from a priest in the state of New York: "I am requesting forgiveness for a member of my congregation", he writes. "The fellow confessed to me that twelve years ago he took a stone from Jerusalem and his conscience has bothered him ever since. I wish to return the stone to Israel and hope that you will forgive the man for his transgression".

A letter from the fellow was attached to the heavy stone fragment, which arrived in Jerusalem in a wooden crate that was specially constructed for the flight back to Israel. ...
This from the Independent Media Review Analysis website. There are links to photos on the IAA website, but I can't find an IAA press release about it. The Jerusalem Diaries blog links to what seems to have been the relevant press release, but that link is no longer working.

The best part of the story is that the stone weighed 21 kilograms. How did he get it out of the country in the first place?

No charges are being pressed.

UPDATE: The IAA press release (temporary URL) is here. (Via Joseph I. Lauer, of course.)

Monday, June 01, 2009

AN ESSAY ON QUMRAN by Robert R. Cargill has been posted at the Bible and Interpretation website:
The Fortress at Qumran: A History of Interpretation

It is possible that Qumran was established as a fort during the Hasmonean period, was abandoned, and was later reoccupied and expanded by Jewish sectarians.

By Robert R. Cargill
Center for the Digital Humanities,
Qumran Visualization Project


May 2009


Recent research into the archaeology of Khirbet Qumran, the site associated with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, has generated new debate about the origin of the settlement. Many scholars now question the conclusions of the site’s excavator, Roland de Vaux, who argued that the settlement was initially established as a sectarian settlement. Renewed examination of Qumran points to the origin of the settlement as a fortress dating to the Hasmonean period. This article examines the history of the interpretation of Qumran as a fortress, the sudden rejection of this interpretation with the discovery of the scrolls, and the slow and contentious return to this original interpretation. The article demonstrates that it is not necessary to reject the idea that the settlement at Qumran was a fortress in order to argue that later sectarians present at the site were responsible

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Maria-Zoe Petropolou, Animal Sacrifice in Ancient Greek Religion, Judaism, and Christianity, 100 BC to AD 200. Oxford Classical Monographs. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. Pp. xii, 336. ISBN 978-0-19-921854-7. $120.00.

Reviewed by Paul Dilley, Kansas State University (

Word count: 1337 words

This important book is a survey and analysis of animal sacrifice in Greek polytheism, Judaism, and Christianity, from 100 BC to AD 200, in the eastern Mediterranean. It is part of a recent resurgence of studies on sacrifice in the Hellenistic and Roman periods, and its relationship to Judaism and Christianity.1 The author is motivated by "the fact that Christianity is known as a religion with no altars for slaughter, in combination with the historical fact that early Christians came from religious environments where animal sacrifice was practiced" (p. v). Despite this ultimate goal of understanding Christian sacrifice, the work is most useful as a series of individual studies. Petropoulou bases her research almost entirely upon textual sources, both literary and epigraphic; given the geographical area of study, most of these are in Greek, although she also considers the Mishnah in English translation. Rather than assuming a decline in Greek animal sacrifice in the Roman period, a frequent assertion made popular especially by the influential scholar M.P. Nilsson, Petropolou demonstrates its continued significance during the first two centuries of the development of Christianity. In this context, she then explores Hellenistic Jewish, early Rabbinic, and early Christian attitudes to animal sacrifice.