Saturday, July 11, 2009

EXTRAORDINARY FINDS AT THE MT ZION EXCAVATION are reported by James Tabor. Lots of interesting new architecture and artifacts. This in particular caught my epigrapher's eye:
1. A stone vessel with an ancient inscription of ten lines written in an archaic Jewish script. Such stone vessels were used in connection with maintaining ritual purity related to Temple worship, and they are found in abundance in areas where the priests lived. We have found a dozen or more on our site over the past three years. However, to have ten lines of text is unprecedented. One normally might find a single name inscribed, or a line or two, but this is the first text of this length ever found on such a vessel. We have shared high-resolution photos with various epigraphic experts in Jerusalem who are working together to try and decipher this text. It is written in a very informal cursive hand and is quite difficult to read.
Note also that they are dependent on donations to continue the work. Details on contributing are at the end of the post.

Friday, July 10, 2009

ROM Scrolls attendance beyond expectations

James Bradshaw

Toronto — From Thursday's Globe and Mail Last updated on Friday, Jul. 10, 2009 02:47AM EDT

Attendance at the Royal Ontario Museum's Dead Sea Scrolls: Words that Changed the World exhibition has exceeded even its organizers' most hopeful projections, attracting an average of more than 2,000 people each day since it opened.

TORY LEADER DAVID CAMERON is descended from a Jewish Renaissance Hebraist according to a University of Manchester scholar:
Illustrious Jewish roots of Tory leader revealed

10 Jul 2009
David Cameron’s Jewish history goes back hundreds – if not thousands - of years, according to a University of Manchester historian.

Dr Yaakov Wise, who specialises in Jewish history, says the Tory leader is descended from a German-born Jewish scholar whose writings furthered the study of Hebrew in European Christendom at a time of widespread hostility toward its Jews.

And according to Dr Wise, who has been using archival material to examine the Cameron family tree, the Tory leader could also be a direct descendent of the greatest ever Hebrew prophet, Moses.

Cameron is a descendent of banker Emile Levita, who came to Britain as a German immigrant in the 1850s. Emile Levita was himself a descendent of Elijah Levita, who lived from 1469-1549.

During the last years of his life Elijah Levita produced, among other works, two major books: the 1541 Translator’s Book, the first dictionary of the Targums or Aramaic commentaries on the Hebrew Bible.

His lexicon of 1542 explained much of the Mishnaic Hebrew language and was a supplement to two important earlier dictionaries.

The bit about his being descended from Moses is rather more speculative. There's a Wikipedia article (take usual caveats as read) on Elia Levita here.
QUMRAN SCHOLAR LARRY SCHIFFMAN has become an officer in an organization for inter-religious relations:
New Leaders to Represent World Jewry to Other Faiths

NEW YORK, July 9 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- IJCIC, (The International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultation) the consortium charged with representing world Jewry in its relationships with other faiths, announced the election of new officers. IJCIC which is comprised of the three major religious streams and major secular organizations has existed for over 40 years. It is widely recognized as the spokesgroup and representative body for dealings with other world religious bodies.

Rabbi Richard Marker has been elected as Chair of IJCIC after serving for two years as vice chair. Professor Lawrence Schiffman who will assume the role of Vice Chair, and Betty Ehrenberg, who will serve as Treasurer, join him.


Schiffman, who serves as Edelman Professor of Hebrew and Judaic studies and chair of the Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University is an internationally known scholar of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Rabbinic Judaism. His writings have helped to redefine our understanding of the Jewish background of Christianity. In both academic and religious contexts, he has been active throughout his career in interfaith relations. He is a member of the international team that published the entire corpus of the Dead Sea Scrolls, a past president of the Association for Jewish Studies and a Fellow of the American Academy for Jewish Research. He has served as visiting professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University and the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome. He serves IJCIC as a delegate of the Orthodox Union.


Thursday, July 09, 2009

RAPHAEL GOLB has pleaded not guilty to ID theft in response to charges that he assumed the identity of Dead Sea Scrolls scholar Larry Schiffman in order to defame him.

Background here.
THE LOD MOSAIC has come to the attention of the New York Times:
Polishing a Lost Gem to Dazzle Tourists

Published: July 8, 2009

LOD, Israel — The beauty of the exquisitely preserved ancient mosaic only seemed to underline the incongruity of its surroundings.

The late-Roman-era mosaic floor, one of the largest and finest in Israel, was unveiled by the authorities last week for just the second time since it was discovered 13 years ago in the dilapidated eastern section of this poor town near the international airport, south of Tel Aviv.

Some 1,700 years old, the magnificent tiled floor spreads over almost 2,000 square feet, shaded from the harsh summer sun by a thin awning and surrounded by a canvas fence. A panoply of colorful depictions of birds, fish, exotic animals and merchant ships, the mosaic conjures up an intriguing reminder of Lod’s more glorious past.

Background here.
Gideon Bohak, Ancient Jewish Magic: A History. Cambridge, UK/New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008. Pp. ix, 483. ISBN 9780521874571. $135.00.

Reviewed by David Frankfurter, University of New Hampshire ( )

Word count: 2445 words

This learned and thoughtful book, building on the spate of publications of Jewish magical texts over the past thirty years (as well as the refinement of the study of magic in the ancient Mediterranean world), aims first of all to replace Ludwig Blau's 1914 Das Altj├╝dische Zauberwesen as the essential resource on ancient Jewish magic. But Bohak, who readers might know best for his superb on-line collection of University of Michigan magical texts is also a very engaging writer. In many ways, Ancient Jewish Magic reads more like an extended essay on the place of magic in developing Jewish religion than a systematic tour of sources. With amusing metaphors and asides about contemporary Israeli politics, and at the same time little jargon, the book deserves (and rewards) a leisurely read as much as reference consultation. (Indeed, the publishers seem to have opted against reference consultation. The Table of Contents is so woefully inadequate, lacking all Bohak's critical sub-sections, that the volume can be difficult to consult for particular topics).

The overall goal of the book is to describe the development of Jewish magical practices from the Second Temple through late rabbinic eras. This development reflected an increasingly confident sense of what is foreign to Judaism, the increasing hegemony of rabbinic sages, and an increasingly textual sense of magic itself. Magic, in Bohak's perspective, was neither peripheral nor entirely central to formative Judaism.

UPDATE: Dead link now fixed. Sorry!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

TECHNOLOGY WATCH: Another manuscript imaging and digitizing project:
High-tech imaging reveals hidden past in ancient texts
July 7th, 2009

( -- It might simply look like a smudge, but even the slightest stain on the ancient writing surface of papyrus could obscure a revelation of a past civilization. Now, with the advent of high-tech imaging, some of those secrets could reveal fascinating insights into everyday life of early Egyptian, Greek and Roman societies.

For the last four weeks, a team of national researchers and scholars examined dozens of papyri among the thousands of papyrological pieces in the University of Michigan collection. Using multi-spectral imaging, the Ancient Textual Imaging Group—led by acclaimed papyrology expert Stephen Bay of Brigham Young University—examined ancient text written on papyrus that had become illegible because they are stained, discolored and faded. Recording through a range of filters, the technology captures high-resolution color images, making clear the layers of text hidden beneath words and letters written on levels of papyrus.

The Ancient Textual Imaging Group, based at Brigham Young, is conducting a two-year venture to record illegible papyrus documents from historically significant U.S.-based collections. The project is supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

For other manuscript imaging and conservation projects see here, here, and here, following the links back as indicated.
The ultimate goal of this site is to permit the identification of biblical quotations in all Jewish and Christian literature of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. For the time being, it already allows simple interrogation in a corpus of about 400,000 biblical references.
(Via the Agade list.)
THE COPPER SCROLL is the subject of an essay by Robert R. Cargill at the Bible and Interpretation website: "On the Insignificance and the Abuse of the Copper Scroll." Excerpt:
Scholars aren’t quite sure what to do with the Copper Scroll. Milik concluded the Copper Scroll was placed in Cave 3 around 100 CE, after the other scrolls were abandoned in the other caves. Others like Lancaster Harding and Cross believe the Copper Scroll to be the folklore of Qumran. Still others believe it describes actual treasure belonging to the residents of Qumran. I join the scholars who conclude that the Copper Scroll describes articles from the second Jerusalem Temple (most likely legendary) supposedly hidden after its destruction in 70 CE, in keeping with later date of its composition. The Copper Scroll was most likely placed in Cave 3 long after the rest of the Dead Sea Scrolls were placed in their respective caves. And while it was discovered during the excavations that produced the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Copper Scroll should not be considered part of this collection because its author(s), script, style, language, genre, content, and medium are otherwise unattested among the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Because of this irregularity, amateur treasure hunters and even some scholars regularly appeal to the Copper Scroll in a seemingly perpetual effort to promote sensational fringe theories, raise money, and bring attention to their far-fetched claims. Sensationalists prey on the ambiguous and everyone loves a treasure hunt; the Copper Scroll is both.
There follows much entertaining debunking.

I think the Copper Scroll is a genuine (i.e., not legendary) list of treasures, perhaps treasures associated with the Temple. I have more on the Copper Scroll here (follow the links back) and here.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

THE LOD MOSAIC is going to New York in March to be displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art while a visitor's center is being built for it in Israel:
Ancient Mosaic to Be Displayed at Metropolitan Museum of Art
By Genevieve Long & Dalia Hartaz
Epoch Times Staff Jul 6, 2009

LOD, Israel—An archaeological treasure from Israel will make its maiden journey for display to New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in March. The Lod Mosaic, as it is dubbed, is an extraordinarily rich and detailed mosaic that was discovered 13 years ago in the city of Lod in central Israel.

It has been undergoing excavation and is now being prepared for transport to labs where it will be cleaned and restored. The work’s next stop after that will be New York City.

This was noted in earlier coverage, but this article has more details. Background here and here.
Ancient Temple Mount quarry found in Jerusalem
By ETGAR LEFKOVITS (Jerusalem Post)

A quarry from the late Second Temple Period that produced stone to build the Temple Mount's supporting walls has been uncovered in central Jerusalem, the Antiquities Authority said Monday.

The latest discovery brought to three the number of quarries found in the city over the past two years which archeologists believe were used in the construction of the Temple walls.

The 2,030-year-old quarry, which spans more than one dunam (0.1 hectare), was discovered during a salvage excavation on the city's Rehov Shmuel Hanevi ahead of planned construction of residential buildings at the site, the Authority said.

(Thanks to readers who brought this to my attention.) For the other two quarries in the Jerusalem area, go here and follow the links. And for another quarry found recently in the Jordan Valley, see here and here.

Monday, July 06, 2009

JASTROW'S DICTIONARY of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic Literature is under consideration for electronic publication at Logos Bible Software and I understand some initial work on the project has already been undertaken. Kent Hendricks e-mails:
Logos Bible Software recently announced a digitization project for Marcus Jastrow’s Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic Literature. This new edition will be fully searchable, including words and phrases in any language buried deep within individual entries. It will also contain extensive linking, which readers will find especially useful when following cross-references, citations, and Hebrew Bible references. Most importantly, the electronic edition will fix some of the issues in the print versions, and use a more readable font.
The price is somewhat higher than the reprint available on Amazon, but Kent notes:
First, the recently-published print copies have been criticized for their poor quality—a difficult font for reading, blurry text, etc. Our edition will fix those issues, and add extensive linking, searching, and all of the other great features of having an electronic edition. The higher price, in our view, reflects a much higher quality book than the one currently in print.

Second, the production costs for a book of this size are very high. Other publishers have not re-typeset the original 1903 edition, which is why they can sell it for $33-$34. Since we plan on redoing the original 1903 edition from scratch (with the same content, of course), our project is significantly more expensive. Even at $49.95, we will still need a lot of orders.
So if you are interested, put in a pre-order now.
THE CODEX SINAITICUS has gone online today:
Historic Bible pages put online (BBC)

About 800 pages of the earliest surviving Christian Bible have been recovered and put on the internet.

Visitors to the website can now see images of more than half the 1,600-year-old Codex Sinaiticus manuscript.

Fragments of the 4th Century document - written in Greek on parchment leaves - have been worked on by institutions in the UK, Germany, Egypt and Russia.

Experts say it is "a window into the development of early Christianity".

The BBC piece is good but there are some more details in this Reuters article. Background here - follow the link at the bottom of the post. To celebrate the event, the British Library is holding a conference on Codex Sinaiticus today and tomorrow.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

VISUALIZE THIS: Science fiction author Alastair Reynolds has a proposal for using computer technology to simulate the past:
The Tech Lab: Alastair Reynolds


Science fiction author Alastair Reynolds, author of Revelation Space and Century Rain, wonders if we could do a better job of looking back into history.

If there's a silver lining to the dark cloud of CGI-dominated blockbusters that seem to infest the cinema lately, it's this: the same digital technology that can make Spiderman or Hulk leap around the screen in a singularly unconvincing fashion, can also be used to create something infinitely more interesting: the past.

Imagine if you could actually walk around in a simulated version of a scene from history? Wouldn't that be worth an hour of anyone's time?

I'm not talking about the Star Trek holodeck here. I'm talking about something we could have sometime next week, if the appropriate technologies were combined.


Imagine visiting an historical site a few years down the line, something like the Roman spa in the city of Bath. Instead of being given the option to hire a handset with a pre-recorded commentary, you get given a pair of goggles, with an associated earpiece.

They're a bit scuffed from repeated use, but they've been thoroughly cleaned since the last person used them. You put them on and move into the museum proper. The goggles are preset for 45AD, but you can move the left-hand slider up and down to surf through the ages. If you wish you can even skip to post Roman times and stroll around the greening ruins.

Importantly, there's a second slider on the right side of the goggles. This one is preset to low immersion: when you first don the goggles, it displays the simulated overlay as a ghostly tracery, a bit like the vector graphics of old arcade games. You can see where walls and floors used to be, but you're still firmly anchored to the real world.

Turn the slider up a bit, though, and the overlays become progressively more solid, more photo-real.

Turn it up a bit more and the glasses begin selectively deleting what they don't want you to see - the modern walls that are in the wrong place, the modern ceiling that should show the blue sky and clouds of Roman Britain instead. What's more, the slider goes even further up the scale.

Reynolds had a brief slot on a BBC program in February discussing some of these ideas. I remember seeing it, which is odd because I didn't watch the whole program. Either I happened to switch on the television (itself unusual) at exactly the right time or, perhaps more likely, the BBC used the clip in an advert.

Alastair Reynolds is one of my favorite SF authors and I'm currently reading his The Prefect.

UPDATE: A tangetially related item here: Ancient Tourism.
PROFESSOR MARTIN HENGEL - 1926-2009. I've just learned the sad news that Martin Hengel passed away on 2 July. There's a brief Wikipedia article on him here. See also Larry Hurtado's article, "Martin Hengel's Impact on English-speaking Scholarship" in Expository Times 20.2 (2008): 70-76 (requires a paid personal or institutional subscription to download, but Michael Bird has an excerpt here). Professor Hengel's contribution to New Testament and Second Temple Judaism studies was vast. Requiescat in pace.