Saturday, August 22, 2009

STEVE MASON has a very interesting Bible and Interpretation essay on method in ancient history and philology:
Methods and Categories: Judaism and Gospel

In my view, then, we all benefit from a constant return to basics. If we force ourselves to return to the basics over and over again, not to recite the catechism of received opinion but actually to rethink what we are doing and why, to kick the tires again and check the worthiness of our assumptions and categories, our work will never become old. When it comes to rethinking the human past, there will always be much to do.
Adapted from Josephus, Judea, and Christian Origins (Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 2009)
Paradoxically, then, it appears the Christians invented a system called Judaism, just as they invented paganism. Judaean culture on its own terms—the laws, customs, and traditions emanating from the mother-city of Jerusalem—had been something else altogether. It had been a vibrant and living civilization, which Judaean authors such as Philo and Josephus compared to other great civilizations of the time: Egyptian, Athenian, Spartan, and Roman.
The discussion of euangelion, "gospel," is also fascinating and his concluding reflections on methodology are a must-read.

UPDATE (24 August): Daniel O. McClellan comments here.
THE LAST EMBER, by Daniel Levin, is reviewed by Ross King in the Los Angeles Times. Excerpt:
An endearing aspect of "The Da Vinci Code" phenomenon has been the creation of a new kind of action man. The boffin-as-hero, exemplified by Robert Langdon, marks a change from the traditional male adventurers of page and screen: the gun-toting muscleman, the caped superhero, the suave secret agent lethally accessorized with an exploding fountain pen. Guns and gadgets now have to make room for middle-aged professors more familiar with biblical symbolism than how to deal with ominously ticking briefcases or what to wear for cocktails in South American embassies. These eggheads may not be destined for glory as articulated dolls or interactive video games, but their ability to foil evil cults by drawing on a knowledge of dead languages and ancient statuary has undeniably captured readers' imaginations.
Dead languages and ancient statuary rule.
LOOKING ASKANCE at Egyptian synagogue restoration:
Babylon & Beyond
Observations from Iraq, Iran,
Israel, the Arab world and beyond

EGYPT: What's behind Jewish synagogue restoration?

August 21, 2009 | 11:58 am (Los Angeles Times)

Is historical preservation or modern day cultural politics behind the restoration of the Maimonides synagogue in Cairo's ancient Jewish quarter?

Although most Egyptians are against efforts linking their country to Jewish or Israeli heritage, the move has been interpreted as an attempt by Culture Minister Farouk Hosni to win international recognition ahead of his controversial bid to become head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Hosni's bid to become the next UNESCO director-general was set back in 2008 when he said that he'd personally burn Hebrew books if he found any in Egyptian libraries. Since then, it is been reported that the ministry has been trying to make amends for Hosni's comments. It recently has begun allowing the translation of books written by Jewish and Israeli authors, a move that dismayed many Egyptians.

Perhaps it is political, but I like to say that if it weren't for politics there are a lot of things that wouldn't get done.

According to this AFP article the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Cairo, home of the Cairo Geniza, has also been restored.

Friday, August 21, 2009

THOMAS L. THOMPSON gives a "minimalist" capsule history of ancient Israel and early Judaism ("Biblical Archaeology and the Politics of Nation Building"), with modern political reflections, at the Bible and Interpretation website. Excerpt:
A similar use of caricature and anonymity in referring to the same group of “minimalist” scholars, with methods reflecting apologetic purpose, a discourse that is closed to any who do not share the same political biases and a rhetoric of distrust for critical questions is also to be noticed among secular scholars who make an essentially nationalistic (rather than theological) plea for a return to biblically oriented archaeology.ii I am, therefore, led now to ask similar questions: Is Biblical Archaeology, as practiced in Israel and Palestine today, dominated by politically directed apologetics or is it a legitimate scholarly discipline? I can hardly answer this question fully here. However, the stringent apologetics of this discipline, the lack of openness, the distrust of critical questions and the dogmatic historical assumptions are so marked and commonplace that one must at least attempt to open the discussion.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Dig unearths ancient cult figurines of Aphrodite
By Ofri Ilani

Remains of an ancient cult to the goddess of love have come to light in the southern Golan Heights site of Susita

At the site, on a 350 meter-high-plateau overlooking the eastern shore of Lake Kinneret, archaeologists found a cache of three figurines of Aphrodite (whom the Romans called Venus), dating back about 1,500 years. The figurines, made of clay, are about 30 centimeters tall. They depict the nude goddess standing, with her right hand covering her private parts - a type of statue scholars call "modest Venus."

UPDATE: Was there still an Aphrodite cult as recently as 1500 years ago? That date sounds off to me.

UPDATE (16 September): It looks as though there was, if clandestinely. Details here.
MORE JEWISH-TEMPLE DENIAL, this time from a lecturer at Al-Quds Open University (with video):
PA University Lecturer: No Jewish Connection to Western Wall

by Israel National News

( A Palestinian Authority university lecturer was the latest PA academic to rewrite history and deny Jewish history in Jerusalem, which was the Jewish capital for a full 1,600 years before Muhammad authored the Muslim Koran. The lecturer denied the Jewish people's connection to the Western Wall of the Jewish Temple.

Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) reported that Shamekh Alawneh, who teaches modern history in the televised lectures of Al-Quds Open University, said Jews invented the connection to the Wall for political purposes, to convince European Jews and Zionists to come to “Palestine.”

The Jewish claim to the Western Wall “has no historical roots," he said on a television program called “Jerusalem – History and Culture.” The Jews’ claim, he said, is “political terminology to win the hearts and the support of the Zionists in Europe, so they would emigrate and come to Palestine. Nothing more!”

For the Herodian Temple Platform, of which the Wailing/Western Wall is a part, see here. For similar claims and an explanation of the "Al-Buraq Wall," see here.
Uproar over Palestinian archaeology congress

Dearth of Israeli researchers attending provokes accusations of bias.

Haim Watzman
Hisham's palaceHisham's palace is one of many important archaeological sites in the West Bank.Wikimedia Commons

A row has broken out between scholars over an international conference held last week on the relationship between the archaeology, heritage and politics of the West Bank and its surrounding regions.

Senior Israeli archaeologists have accused conference organizers of including only speakers who presented Palestinian points of view. But Claire Smith, president of the World Archaeological Congress (WAC), the organization that sponsored the conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah, says Israelis were not deliberately excluded.

Seems to be a good summary of the current state of the dispute.

Background here.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

THE WORLD ARCHAEOLOGICAL CONGRESS has published a Statement on the WAC Inter-Congress in Ramallah on its website, which opens:
The World Archaeological Congress Inter-Congress on Structural Violence was held in Ramallah, Palestine from 8th to 13th August, 2009. There have been reports that WAC banned Israeli archaeologists from attending this Inter-Congress. These reports are untrue. A public discussion forum has been established as a way of exploring the issues surrounding these reports.

Background here.

(Via the Agade list.)
AN OBITUARY FOR GRAHAM STANTON has been published in the London Times:
Graham Stanton: New Testament scholar

Graham Stanton provided personal and intellectual leadership in British New Testament studies in the generation following the retirement of his Cambridge mentor, C. F. D. Moule (obituary, October 5, 2007).

Via Mark Goodacre's NT Blog.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A THIRD CENTURY C.E. MANSION being excavated in Jerusalem is featured in an IAA press release (link here is to the IMFA website):
Third century CE mansion exposed in the City of David excavations
17 Aug 2009

An Israel Antiquities Authority excavation in the City of David has revealed a large third century CE building – apparently a large mansion - in excavations in the City of David, in the Walls Around Jerusalem National Park.

(Communicated by the Israel Antiquities Authority Spokesperson)

A spacious edifice from the Roman period (third century CE) – apparently a mansion that belonged to a wealthy individual – was recently exposed in the excavations the Israel Antiquities Authority is carrying out in the 'Givati Car Park' at the City of David, in the Walls Around Jerusalem National Park. The excavations are being conducted at the site on behalf of the IAA and in cooperation with the Nature and Parks Authority, and are underwritten by the ‘Ir David Foundation.

According to Dr. Doron Ben-Ami, the excavation director on behalf of the IAA, together with Yana Tchekhanovets, “Although we do not have the complete dimensions of the structure, we can cautiously estimate that the building covered an area of approximately 1,000 square meters. In the center of it was a large open courtyard surrounded by columns. Galleries were spread out between the rows of columns and the rooms that flanked the courtyard. The wings of the building rose to a height of two stories and were covered with tile roofs”.

A large quantity of fresco fragments was discovered in the collapsed ruins from which the excavators deduced that some of the walls of the rooms were treated with plaster and decorated with colorful paintings. The painted designs that adorned the plastered walls consisted mostly of geometric and floral motifs. Its architectural richness, plan and particularly the artifacts that were discovered among its ruins bear witness to the unequivocal Roman character of the building. The most outstanding of these finds are a marble figurine in the image of a boxer and a gold earring inlaid with precious stones.

The (temporary) IAA link to the release is here (via Joseph I. Lauer). Earlier PaleoJudaica coverage of the marble figurine and the earring are here. Note (see latter link) that a gold coin hoard was found last year at the same site, but apparently not the same building.
Christopher Rowland and Christopher R.A. Morray-Jones, The Mystery of God: Early Jewish Mysticism and the New Testament (CRINT III 12; Leiden: Brill, 2009)
I am one of the reviewers of this volume in the Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism Group at the November meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in New Orleans.

Monday, August 17, 2009

COPTIC WATCH: An essay in Égypt monde arabe by Samuel Rubenson on "The Transition from Coptic to Arabic." Excerpt:
4 It is thus significant, that although Egyptian in the form represented by the various Coptic dialects had been the spoken language of the population at large for many centuries, as a literary language it was a fairly recent innovation.It was only in the fourth century that translations of Greek texts became widely diffused and only in the fifth century that literary texts began to be written in Coptic 2. The emergence of Coptic as a language of literature was, moreover, to a large extent linked to the emergence of a new religions and social culture manifested in the Manichaean, Gnostic and Christian movements and crystallized in the rise of monasticism. Although originating in the Greek-speaking society, they soon began to use Coptic. The success of these new movements and their associated shift to Coptic greatly contributed to the decline of Greek. Coptic literature was thus originally and primarily a vehicle for new ideas born in late Hellenistic times, and to a great extent either based on Greek (or in a few cases, Syriac) texts, or more or less modeled upon these. Not only were content and form borrowed, but as muchas 25% of the vocabulary was Greek. Not only technical terms but also particles and common verbs were borrowed 3. As a literary language therefore, Copticis as much part of the Greek Hellenistic legacy as of the ancient Egyptian.

5 After the Arab conquest of Egypt, Coptic continued to be used by the Christian population and remained the sole language of the Church for at least three centuries. During the first century of Arab rule,it seems as if the use of Arabic was mainly limited to the immigrants, and the internal affaire of the military ruling elite. It was only with the large-scale immigration of Arabs, the defeat of Coptic peasant résistance to the new rulers and the repressive taxation of the Copts with the subsequent conversion oflarge parts of the population to Islam in the later eighth and in the ninth century, that Arabic became the main spoken language. By the early ninth century, the use of Arabic among Christians had become widespread but was still regarded as contrary to their fidelity to the Christian heritage 4. But during the tenth and eleventh centuries, this changed rapidly. Within a few generations Coptic died out as a spoken language, and by the end of the twelfth century, Arabic had become the main written languageof the Church. As is evident from the linguistic works of the great Coptic scholars of the thirteenth century, Copticwas already a classical language known only by those who studied it from preserved texts 5.

6 Compared with the transition from Syriac and Greek to Arabic among the Christians of Mesopotamia, Syria and Palestine, the developments in Egypt are strange. While the Christians in these other areas started to translate their heritage into Arabic within a century after the Arab conquest and soon even to write theological treatises in Arabic, the Copts seem to have resisted any use of Arabic for almost two hundred years 6. But when the Copts gave in to Arabic, they did so much more thoroughly than any other Christians in the Middle East. Whereas Syriac, and to some extent Greek, at least as the spiritual language of the monasteries and the language of the liturgy, has continued to be widely used even till the present, Coptic died out almost completety. While there is a great literature in Syriac from the Middle Ages and while Syriac continues to be spoken today, there areno important Coptic authors after the tenth century and evidence that Coptic was no longer understood by the majority of Christians, by the end of the eleventh century. The two problems that arise from this comparison are : why there was initially a much greater reluctance, on the part of the Copts, to accept Arabic; and why Coptic was then so rapidly forsaken.
(Via Explorator.)
THE ROM DEAD SEA SCROLLS EXHIBIT is criticized from the perspective of the Palestinian protesters in the Bullet (Socialist Project). It opens:
Even before the highly anticipated six-month, $3-million collaboration between the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) and the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) showcasing the Dead Sea Scrolls was officially launched in late June, the exhibit was already the subject of growing controversy. “Dead Sea Scrolls: Words that Changed the World,” as the exhibit is entitled, first attracted international attention in April when Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and executives at the ROM were each sent letters of protest from senior officials of the Palestinian Authority (PA) – signed by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Minister of Tourism and Antiquities Khouloud Diabes, respectively – declaring that the scrolls were in fact illegally seized by Israel following its occupation and subsequent annexation of the West Bank in 1967.[1] The PA not only called for the repatriation of the scrolls but further argued that they merely represent one example of possibly millions of other artifacts that have been systematically looted by Israel from occupied Palestinian territory over several decades, a message that has since been echoed by a chorus of supportive community groups who continue to organize weekly pickets outside of the ROM in protest.
Demonstration at the ROM

The majority of the Dead Sea Scrolls were excavated in eleven caves near the site of Qumran, one kilometer along the northwest shore of the Dead Sea, by the Palestine Archaeological Museum (also referred to as the Rockefeller Museum) in a joint expedition with the Department of Antiquities of Jordan and the Ecole Biblique Française between 1947-1956. Originally found quite by chance by an Arab Bedouin named Mohammed Ahmed el-Hamed in 1947, the scrolls are by now widely regarded as one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of the twentieth century. Consisting of approximately 900 documents in various states of completeness, the scrolls are said to represent the oldest known version of the Old Testament Bible (approximately 150BC-70CE) and are considered sacred to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam alike; they are written largely in Hebrew, but many can be found in Aramaic and Greek script as well.

The scrolls were displayed at the Palestine Archaeological Museum in east Jerusalem until 1967, whereupon after the Six-Day War they were seized and relocated to the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum in western Jerusalem. Several additional excavations have since occurred in the West Bank and east Jerusalem whose artifacts continue to be illegally appropriated by Israel, under the auspices of the IAA, from what is internationally recognized as occupied Palestinian territory. Israel unilaterally declared Jerusalem its “...complete and united capital” following the Jerusalem Law of 1980; however, the decision was immediately deemed null and void under UN Security Resolution 479 and later reinforced by successive UN Resolutions, 242 and 338, that together call on Israel to withdraw completely from all territories occupied in 1967.

As I've mentioned before, most of the Scrolls (which are highly fragmentary) remained in the Rockefeller Museum (PAM) in a carefully controlled environment (and were not on display) at least until about 1990. I know a lot of sources online say otherwise, but I was there. I know these Scrolls have undergone a lot of conservation since and it's possible they may have been moved, although I haven't heard about it. But the Israel Museum website only mentions having the well-preserved Cave One Scrolls and Temple Scroll at the Shrine of the Book.

For background to the dispute and to the exhibition, go here and follow the links.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Metro station in Algeria's capital: link to the past

By Pierre-Yves Julien (AFP) – 3 days ago

ALGIERS — Workmen digging the foundations of a new metro station in Algeria's capital stumbled on an archaeological goldmine that gives new meaning to "time travel" -- opening a window on 2,300 years of history.

Relics from the French colonial era lie on top of those from the Ottoman period, in turn covering those from the Middle Ages and early Roman Empire.

Then comes what archaeologists hope will be ruins from the Punic period -- when Phoenician traders established north African outposts in the first millennium BC.


Beneath that came the remains of a Paleo-Christian church dating from the 4th or 5th century AD, said Francois Souq, director for the Mediterranean region at the National Institute for Preventive Research (INRAP) in the southern French city of Nimes.

The bases of columns are still visible, surrounding a nave around 20 metres (65 feet) wide, with the floor covered in mosaics.

The archaeologists hope that by digging a bit deeper they will uncover remains dating from the Punic era, when the Phoenicians built trading posts along a 1,200-kilometre (745-mile) stretch of the Algerian coastline.

One of the ports was Icosium, the ancient city on which Algiers now stands.

Archaeologists believe Icosium would have been founded in the 3rd century BC although they admit their knowledge is limited.

Among the few clues so far was a pot of money discovered during the building of a road near the Casbah.

It contained coins with the Punic inscription for Icosium and the effigy of a man who could have been Melqart, a Phoenician god.

(Via the Agade list)
MORE ON PROFESSOR DONALD W. PARRY and his work on the Biblia Hebraica Quinta:
Utahn's work with Dead Sea Scrolls adds insights for Bible translation

By Scott Taylor

Deseret News
Published: Friday, Aug. 14, 2009 7:52 p.m. MDT

PROVO — With its scriptural texts coming from the Holy Land's Old Testament era and its publication pedigree traced back to Germany at the turn of the 1900s, Biblia Hebraica Quinta will be a global product with worldwide benefits — and a Utah connection.

That Utah tie comes through Donald W. Parry, a Brigham Young University professor of Hebrew Bible. Parry is one of two dozen editors selected from across the world — and one of only a couple from the United States — for the current Biblia Hebraica Quinta project.

It's the fifth edition of Biblia Hebraica — the version of the Hebrew Bible published under the auspices of the Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft (German Bible Society), which oversees 141 global Bible societies. Biblia Hebraica Quinta in turn will be used for future translations of the Old Testament into almost as many languages.

Background here.
THE LAST EMBER is a new, Second-Temple-Judaism-themed thriller that has just come out. There are a number of reviews etc. online. Here's one:
Book review: ‘The Last Ember’ aglow with plot energy

By Alex Jurek

9781405039062The Last Ember
by Daniel Levin
Riverhead Hardcover
432 Pages

Archeology as arena of struggle for the past and the future is brought alive as it hasn’t been in a long time in this smart thriller that takes on Biblical holy objects, secret plots of the prisoners of ancient Rome, and those who would today contemplate acts of archaeological terrorism, fashioning these elements into an engrossing and highly readable read filled with mystery, suspense and thrills.

Fans of Dan Brown’s last religious-themed mega-thriller will find plenty of goodies in the pages of this book, brimming with not just action and ancient mysteries but complex modern day politics surrounding archeology of the Temple Mount.

TIME TO PARTY! Biblical-themed, ancient-style costumed toga parties, grand openings & weddings serving vegan dips.