Saturday, October 17, 2009

PROFESSOR GEZA VERMES received a tribute from the U.S. House of Representatives last month during his lecture tour in the States. He was also given the the keys of the cities of Monroe LA and Natchez MS and the Secretary of State of Louisiana proclaimed 29 September (the date of his lecture in Baton Rouge) "Geza Vermes Day" for the whole State.

Congratulations to Professor Vermes for these well-deserved honors, and well done to (my former home state) Louisiana, to Mississippi, and to Congress. I'm glad to see that Southern hospitality is still alive and well.

This is the text of the House tribute:

E2302 CONGRESSIONAL RECORD—Extensions of Remarks September 17, 2009



Thursday, September 17, 2009


Madam Speaker, I rise today in recognition of Professor Geza Vermes, an internationally renowned biblical scholar. His commitment to inspiring and educating the world has been unwavering, and he deserves our congratulations. Among his impressive list of endeavors, Vermes is perhaps best known as publisher of the first English translation of the Dead Sea Scrolls. His latest work, ‘‘The Story of the Scrolls,’’ is set to be published in February, 2010. Since 1957, Vermes has been teaching in England. Today, he is Professor Emeritus of Jewish Studies and Emeritus Fellow for Wolfson College, and is a lecturer at Oxford University and throughout the world. In addition, Vermes is a Fellow of the British Academy (1985) and the European Academy of Arts, Sciences and Humanities (2001), holder of an Oxford higher doctorate and honorary doctorates from the universities of Edinburgh (1989), Durham (1990), Sheffield (1994) and the Central European University of Budapest (2008). On September 24, Vermes will be a guest lecturer at the University of Louisiana—Monroe. It is an honor to welcome such a distinguished and esteemed scholar to the 5th District.

Madam Speaker, I ask my colleagues to join me in saluting Professor Geza Vermes for his remarkable career and countless accomplishments.
LOGOS BIBLE SOFTWARE is floating the possibility of an electronic edition of Charlesworth's Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. If you're interested, visit the page and preorder it.

Friday, October 16, 2009

GOOD NEWS FROM SHEFFIELD! This just in from Louise Lawrence on the British New Testament Society list:

Staff and students in the Department of Biblical Studies at the University of Sheffield would like to thank all of you who wrote to the Vice-Chancellor on our behalf. Hundreds of letters were sent from all over the world, and we have been truly touched by the level of support.

The Department of Biblical Studies is no longer under review and the proposal that it should be reconfigured as a Postgraduate Centre has been withdrawn. The Vice-Chancellor has asked the Faculty of Arts and Humanities to consider a short, medium and longer term plan for the Department, and a decision has now been taken that the Department will recruit undergraduates for the Biblical Studies degree in 2010. The Faculty of Arts and Humanities will work closely with colleagues to ensure that students are appropriately supported, including through the recruitment of additional staff.

We could not have achieved this without your support and the commitment and energy of our students, undergraduate and graduate. We cannot thank you enough.
I heard rumor of this last night on Facebook, but this is the first announcement I've seen. This is a good decision by the Sheffield hierarchy.

Background here.
NOTES ON THE CONSERVATION of the Dead Sea Scrolls in an article by Dylan Robertson in The Varsity (in connection with the Royal Ontario Museum exhibition):
Conservators and biblical scholars sorted and catalogued thousands of pieces of scrolls. Although some had been kept in jars and remained mostly undamaged, most were found in thumbnail-sized bits. One cave alone contained more than 10,000 fragments.

The team compared each piece by texture, colour, and handwriting, assembling the pieces like a massive jigsaw puzzle.

“You have to realize that no computers or analytical tools were used at the time,” said Rahimi.

When a match was found, the pieces would be scotch-taped together and sandwiched between two glass panels.

This process proved to be devastating to the scrolls. Although some were written on papyrus, most were parchment, an organic material highly sensitive to changes in temperature and light. The natural light from the Scrollery’s large windows, combined with the pressure of the glass plates and chemicals from the transparent tape, proved to be detrimental.

One of the most surprising things at the ROM exhibit is photographs of the scientists of the time piecing together ancient scrolls while blithely holding lit cigarettes between their fingers.

As technology improved, so began an effort to restore the scrolls.

First, the scrolls were recorded and photographed. Scientists then removed the adhesive residue from the tape using organic solvents. The pieces were cleaned of any oils and stains, and the back of the scrolls were reinforced if needed.

Conservationists then arranged the scrolls on acid-free cardboard and attached the pieces with hinges of Japanese tissue paper. These sheets were then put in protective boxes in a climate-controlled store room and checked periodically.

When being prepared for exhibition, each scroll was cross-stitched through a frame in order to hold it together.
It's easy to forget that the much-maligned original team of Scrolls scholars devoted ten years of their lives to sorting the many thousands of small fragments into their respective manuscripts - this based just on the handwriting; the content; and the color, consistency, and shape of the leather fragments.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Hartmut Stegemann (Editor), Eileen Schuller (Editor), Carol Newsom (Translator), Qumran Cave 1.III: 1QHodayota: With Incorporation of 4QHodayota-f and 1QHodayotb (DJD XL; Oxford: Clarendon, 2009)
Review copy for Henoch.
ARAMAIC WATCH: The West Semitic Research project is doing important work on the Aramaic texts from the Persepolis Fortification Archive, covered in a University of Chicago press release.
Technology brings new insights to ancient language

October 14, 2009

New technologies and academic collaborations are helping scholars at the University of Chicago analyze hundreds of ancient documents in Aramaic, one of the Middle East’s oldest continuously spoken and written languages.

Members of the West Semitic Research Project at the University of Southern California are helping the University’s Oriental Institute make very high-quality electronic images of nearly 700 Aramaic administrative documents. The Aramaic texts were incised in the surfaces of clay tablets with styluses or inked on the tablets with brushes or pens. Some tablets have both incised and inked texts.

Discovered in Iran, these tablets form one of the largest groups of ancient Aramaic records ever found. They are part of the Persepolis Fortification Archive, an immense group of administrative documents written and compiled about 500 B.C. at Persepolis, one of the capitals of the Achaemenid Persian Empire. Archaeologists from the Oriental Institute discovered the archive in 1933, and the Iranian government has loaned it to the Oriental Institute since 1936 for preservation, study, analysis and publication.


Scholars from the West Semitic Research Project at the University of Southern California helped the Persepolis Fortification Archive Project build and install an advanced electronic imaging laboratory at the Oriental Institute. Together, the two projects are making high-quality images of the Aramaic texts and the seal impressions associated with those texts. They are distributing the new images to the international research community through the Internet.

Inked and incised texts pose different problems that call for different imaging solutions. Making high-resolution scans under polarized and filtered light reveals the ink without interference from stains and glare, and sometimes shows faded characters that cannot be seen in ordinary daylight. Using another advanced imaging technique, called Polynomial Texture Mapping, researchers are able to see surface variations under variable lighting, revealing the marks of styluses and even the traces of pens in places where the ink itself has disappeared.


Impacts are far-reaching
The collaboration between the Oriental Institute at Chicago and the West Semitic Research Project at Southern California began with support from a substantial grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in 2007. To date, the teams have made high-quality images of almost all the monolingual Aramaic Fortification tablets. The next phase of the work, supported by a second Mellon grant that runs through 2010, will make images of the short Aramaic notes written on cuneiform tablets, seal impressions on uninscribed tablets and previously unrecorded Elamite cuneiform texts.

Read it all, and while you're at it have a look at the excellent photo of one of the texts.

(Via the Persepolis Fortification Archive Project blog.)

For background on the Persepolis archive and the political controversy in which it is mired, see here and here. More on the site of Persepolis here.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

AN ESSAY ON THE TEXT OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, with special reference to the Westcott-Hort edition and their "Western non-interpolations," has been published by James Tabor at Bible and Interpretation:
Older is Not Always Better: Remembering Wescott and Hort

By James D. Tabor

Chair, Dept. of Religious Studies,

University of North Carolina at Charlotte

October 2009
One of the more fascinating aspects of Westcott and Hort’s work was their upholding of certain readings from the so-called Western textual tradition, based on manuscripts like Codex Bezae (designated D). Generally scholars are agreed that the Western text is heavily interpolated with loose paraphrasing and lots of traditional and even apocryphal material added. However, at the end of Luke in particular, as well as a few other scattered places, the Western text is strangely shorter than the Neutral/Alexandrian text, with some surprising omissions that Wescott and Hort judged to be closer to the original.

Wescott and Hort identified nine of these passages, which they labeled by the rather cumbersome term “Western non-interpolations.” They put them as brackets as secondary additions to the original in their edition of the New Testament. I am a great fan of the original Revised Standard Version and to this day prefer it to the New Revised Standard Version (1989), which seems to be the scholarly preference today. The RSV New Testament was published in 1946–the year of my birth. It was roundly condemned as the “Devil’s Bible” and actual book burnings were reported in some circles. The passion and hatred was fueled by any number of features of this impressive new translation but I think the most widespread charge was that the scholars were trying to destroy God’s revelation by a subtle removal of key passages, including the secondary ending of Mark (16:9-20), which was printed in smaller text to mark it as an addition to the original text. In fact, the protest was so great that eventually subsequent printings of the RSV put the text size back to normal and just added a note indicating that these verses were likely secondary to the original.
I like the RSV better too.
The Footprints of the Builders of the Lod Mosaic were Exposed

While removing the mosaic from the ground, Israel Antiquities Authority conservators were surprised to discover 1,700 year old foot and sandal prints beneath it

Head of the Israel Antiquities Authority Art Conservation Branch, “It’s exciting. This is the first time I have ever encountered personal evidence such as this under a mosaic”.

(Temporary IAA press release, via Joseph I. Lauer's list.)

Background on the Lod Mosaic is here.

UPDATE (29 March 2010); The permanent location of the press release is here.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

THE EARLY JEWISH MONOTHEISMS PROJECT at the University of Göttingen now has a website.
The origins and development of monotheism in ancient Israel has been one of the most significant debates within the study of the Old Testament of the last thirty years. It has generated numerous books and articles and resulted in a significant shift in scholarly consensus and added considerably to our understanding of ancient Israelite religious life and thought.

Unfortunately, the discussion is frequently concluded prematurely with the exilic ‘breakthrough’ to monotheism by Deutero-Isaiah. Often scholars have worked with assumptions about the nature of monotheism which has obscured the fact that the meaning and consequences of belief in one God continue to be under negotiation into and beyond the Persian period.

The Sofja-Kovalevskaja Research Group under the leadership of Dr Nathan MacDonald seeks to examine the considerable diversity in Israelite and Jewish monotheistic thought and practice during the exilic and Persian periods, particularly through an examination of the relevant biblical texts. This website describes the academic activities of the research group and seeks to provide a number of resources for those who are interested in the subject of monotheism
And a blog.

Dr. Nathan MacDonald is a colleague at the University of St. Andrews who is currently on a five-year secondment at the University of Göttingen for this project.
Luigi Garlaschelli created a copy of the shroud by wrapping a specially woven cloth over one of his students, painting it with pigment, baking it in an oven (which he called a "shroud machine") for several hours, then washing it.

His result looks like the cloth that many Christians through the centuries have believed is the actual burial shroud of Jesus, he told CNN.
Presumably the student was removed before the baking.

Full article here.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Michael Sokoloff, A Syriac Lexicon

A Translation from the Latin, Correction, Expansion, and Update of C. Brockelmann's Lexicon Syriacum
Gorgias Press & Eisenbrauns
By Michael Sokoloff
English and Syriac
Hardback, Black, 6 x 9 in

The second edition of Carl Brockelmann's Lexicon Syriacum, published in 1928, is rightly considered to be the best dictionary of Syriac ever written. However, its Latin language and the ordering of words according to triliteral Semitic roots make its use difficult for most students and scholars. Moreover, the dictionary was composed in an extremely concise manner, which meant that references were given without citing any of the text. This often makes the glosses impossible even for someone who knows Latin.

In the 81 years that have passed since the book's publication, there have been great advances in both Aramaic and Semitic studies. Moreover, Syriac studies—especially the publication of the critical texts of classical authors, such as Ephrem—have greatly enhanced our knowledge of Syriac and have made the publication of a new and up-to-date dictionary imperative. However, because a new dictionary project does not yet exist and would take decades to complete, this edition of Brockelmann's work has been undertaken to make Syriac vocabulary more accessible to scholars, students, and Syriac speakers. Following are the changes introduced into the Syriac Lexicon in this revision:

The meanings are given in English, not Latin
The vocabulary is ordered alphabetically.
All text citations have been verified by consulting the original publications, and where new critical editions have appeared (e.g., those of E. Beck for the works of Ephrem), references have been changed to point to the new editions.
Text citations with partial or complete translations have now been provided.
All of the etymologies have been thoroughly revised.
Two electronic indexes (English-Syriac and Text References) have been prepared.
This dictionary is an essential tool for anyone working in Syriac studies, Semitic linguistics, and biblical studies.
The link above is to the Gorgias Press page. You can also buy it from Eisenbrauns.
TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: I haven't had time to follow this story closely, but this aticle should give you some idea of what it's about.
PM to Arabs: Don't believe lies on Temple Mount dig

In attempt to defuse tension in east Jerusalem, Netanyahu calls on Arab sector not to believe extremists' claims that Israel planning to conduct excavations under Muslim holy site. 'You are a part of the State of Israel,' he says. MK Erdan: Abbas not a partner

Roni Sofer
Latest Update: 10.12.09, 10:56 / Israel News
MORE ON THE TEN COMMANDMENTS SCROLL in the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum (Toronto Star):
"The response to the intellectual part of this show has been very strong," Royal Ontario Museum director William Thorsell said Friday as he opened the final instalment of the scrolls exhibit, featuring the oldest known parchment of the Ten Commandments.


As part of the second phase of the show, the Ten Commandments scroll goes on display today. But to prevent light or humidity damage, it will only be on view until Oct. 18, said Risa Levitt Kohn, curator of the exhibit, and for a total of 80 hours. The scroll, discovered in a cave at the Dead Sea in 1952 and dating from 30 to 1 BC, is remarkably well-preserved, she said. "You can still read them, depending how good your Hebrew is," says Kohn, a Toronto native and director of the Jewish Studies Program at San Diego State University.
Background here.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

THE BIBLICAL STUDIES DEPARTMENT AT THE UNIVERSITY OF SHEFFIELD is under threat of closure, as was abruptly announced last week. This is the only department in the UK devoted solely to biblical studies and it has been well known for many years for its innovative scholarship and its out-of-the-box thinking. This seems to have taken people completely by surprise, which does not say much for a consultation process. The University of Sheffield also seems to think that it can preserve the doctoral program in biblical studies, but it is hard to imagine that this kind of vote of no confidence won't damage its reputation and recruitment. The University seems at least to be listening to the protests, although they are also reportedly discontinuing recruitment to the undergraduate program for 2010-11. They would be well advised to work closely with the department to find strategies for increasing its financial contribution to the University rather than shutting the department down in the very optimistic hope that the same benefits can still be reaped from its postgraduate program.

There is further background at the Save Biblical Studies website and this call for action at the SBL Forum. There is also a Don't shut down Biblical Studies at Sheffield Facebook page.

UPDATE (16 October): Good news here.